Windsurfing with Friends
January – February, 2020
We knew that we would be tired of the cold weather by mid-January, so we had scheduled our annual visit to Bonaire for Jan. 20 – Feb 8. By the time the departure rolled around, we were definitely ready for the warm, sunny, island of Bonaire. We felt right at home as soon as we approached and landed at the Flamingo Airport.
This will be a fairly short report because not had changed from the last couple of visits. The main thing that was different this time was the lack of wind: not a good thing for windsurfers!
As with the last couple of years, we cashed in Delta Frequent Flyer miles instead of paying the rather expensive fare. Since it was not many more miles, we again signed up for “Comfort+” seats in both directions. As last year, this (and Gold Medallion status) got us a free upgrade to First Class on the trip to Bonaire, so we could relax a little better. We were not so lucky on the return flight, in several ways.
While we were using the check-in kiosks at the Bonaire airport in preparation for departure, the kiosk stopped for several minutes and, when it came back, Delta was not listed as an available airline. To make a rather long story somewhat shorter, the local Delta computer had crashed and they could not get it restarted. The local Delta staff ended up doing everything by hand: checking us in and providing makeshift boarding passes, checking luggage, and, finally, boarding the plane. There was a lot of confusion about how to do things as they had never had to do this before and there was apparently no real plan in place. By the time everyone was finally on the plane, we actually departed Bonaire about two hours late. We made up a few minutes in the air, then immigration and baggage claim were quicker than usual, so we actually got home about an hour later than I had expected. I would really have appreciated an upgrade to first class on this flight, but no such luck.
Night over Atlanta.
As usual, we stayed at the Sonrisa. We like it because it is so handy to downtown and there are a lot of restaurants within walking distance. We have gotten to know the people who run the Sonrisa and they are more like friends than “hotel managers”. We were sad to hear that the manager for the past 5 or 6 years, Viktor, was leaving the Sonrisa a couple of days after we arrived. His daughters were growing up and he was going off in other directions to help them. About a week after we got there, Viktor left with one daughter to accompany her to a major windsurfing contest (race) in Japan. Miranda, who was previously Viktor’s assistant, was taking over management of the Sonrisa, and her friend, Carla, was now assisting with the breakfast service and other activities.
The view from our apartment at the Sonrisa
While the location is convenient, it is also close to a major road which large trucks use to haul construction materials from the port to a storage location south of town. Unfortunately, this activity frequently happens at night because the cruise ships occupy the docks during the day. Most rooms are not impacted very much by this noise, but our unit, on the 2nd floor, has a lot of windows, most of which face the busy road. The Sonrisa has windows that are more decorative than functional and they let in both noise and outside air, making the air conditioner work harder than it should have to. Roger, the owner of the Sonrisa, told us that he has new, modern, windows on order and they should be installed about late spring. We look forward to checking them out during our next visit.
As usual, we knew quite a few of the people who were staying at the Sonrisa, and we made some more new friends. Penny and Yvon (from Canada) were again there when we arrived and the regular “Northeast crew” (Ellen and Jack, Cheryl, Heidi and Arman, and Tina) arrived a week after we did. A first-time visitor, Robert was scheduled for a week at the Sonrisa, but was having so much fun that he extended his visit for another week. Although somewhat younger than the rest of us, Robert fit right in with all the other crazy windsurfers.
We also had a couple of feline visitors most days. A couple of cats apparently lived next door and, like any normal cats, they also claimed the Sonrisa as part of their domain. One or both of them visited most days, looking for a friendly pet and perhaps some food. Of course, we didn’t feed the cats at all… no, we wouldn’t do that!
One of the friendly cats.
Although we have always come to Bonaire primarily for the windsurfing, I think these days that we come just as much to see the many friends we have made over the years. That was a good thing this year, as the wind did not cooperate, and we had a lot of days with little or no wind, leaving us plenty of time to visit with our friends. On one day we stopped by the Bonaire Windsurf Place to snorkel in the bay some and the anemometer was reading 0 (as in “zero”). Even the 10 minute average wind speed was zero. No one we talked to had ever seen that before.
Gabriella provides a colorful demonstration of windsurfing.
We had the usual crowd: besides the ones already mentioned we visited with Janet and Walter, David and Kathy, Joyce and Al, Caprice and Christoph, Piotr (Peter) and Gabrysia (Gabriella), Peter, Tim, Andy and Paul, Sue and Ian, and Heinz, Werner, and Wolfgang. I’m sure I left someone out, but sometimes it is difficult to keep track of everyone, much less remember them all.
Typical action (or lack thereof) on the deck of the Windsurf Place.
When we first arrived, we had a couple of days of decent wind, although the tide was also high, causing very choppy water within the bay. Then the wind died for about 10 days. I went out on a couple of low-wind days, just to remember what it is like to get on a board, but couldn’t do much. The biggest sail the Windsurf Place has is a 8.8 meter sail and I got all too familiar with it. The last few days the wind came up again, although for a couple of the days, the wind and tide were so high and the bay so choppy, we didn’t go out. Of the 20 days we were there, I only sailed 11 days and a couple of those could not really be classified as “sailing”. Susan was a little more choosy (smarter?) about her sailing and only sailed 8 days. This video shows Heinz out sailing on one of the better days. As a study in how to properly windsurf, here is a video of Gabriella showing very good form.
As in recent years, there were quite a few cruise ships visiting Bonaire. Most of the people from the ships do not present a problem for windsurfers as they tend to be cautious and stay out of our way. One or two of the ships, however, tend to bring people who believe the entire beach belongs to them and have no idea of the power of the wind in a sail, just standing in the narrow walking channel where we have to bring our boards and sails in and out.
Andy, in blue shirt, is trying to make his way through the cruise ship crowd.
As usual, I took my waterproof camera out among the windsurfers and got quite a few photos which I then distributed among our friends. I’ll include some of the phots at the end of this report.
The lack of wind meant that we had lots of time available for touring other parts of the island, so we visited a couple of places we had not been to before.
Most mornings when we were not going to windsurf we would take a walk around town. Our routes would vary somewhat, but usually included walking along the waterfront in Kralendijk where there were frequently cruise ships in port. One day we saw a familiar ship, the WindSurf.
The WindSurf is not your typical cruise ship.
Besides being a very appropriately named ship for Bonaire, we had spent two weeks on the WindSurf a little over a year ago for a cruise in the northern Caribbean. In addition, we are scheduled to sail on the WindSurf again this May on a cruise around Italy, starting in Venice and ending in Rome. That cruise is now very much in doubt as the Coronavirus is interrupting much of the travel activity in Italy.
One day we made our normal northern loop tour, but added in an extra stop. This tour takes us up the costal road, north out of Kralendijk. We stopped at a couple of overlooks along the one-way part of the road, then turned inland toward Rincon. We stopped at a small parking area with several picnic tables where we could look out over the Goto Meer ( Goto Lake) and beyond that toward the mountains (well, pretty good hills, anyway) of the national park. We ate the sandwiches we had brought with us and watched a mockingbird beg for some of our bread. We did give him some apple. From here the road circles the southern edge of Goto Meer, where you can usually find some Flamingos out in the lake.
One of the Flamingos in Goto Meer.
We continued a couple more miles into Rincon and made a stop at a place we had not stopped at previously: the Cadushy Distillery. Here they take material from the Cadushy Cactus plant, process it, combine it with alcohol made from Sorghum, and produce a unique liquor. The distillery provided a tasting of several different versions of the liquor (they make versions representing several other islands, including Aruba, Curacao, Saint Maarten, and Saba), each in a different color. While I cannot really say the liquors are delicious, they are somewhat unique. After the tasting they explained the process of making the liquor. After such an entertaining visit, I had to purchase a bottle, of course.
The ”tasting room” of the Cadushy distillery
After leaving the distillery, we continued through Rincon and back south toward Kralendijk, stopping at Seru Largu, the highest point in the southern half of the island, for a view over the island.
The view of the southern part of Bonaire From Seru Largu
After exploring Seru Largu for a while, we headed back to the Sonrisa for the highlight of many days, our daily wine, fruit, and cheese out by the pool.
On another windless day we took the southern loop tour, heading south by the airport and continuing along the costal road toward the salt pans and salt mountains. On this day, the lack of wind made for an very unusual sight as the water in the salt pans was so calm that it provided a very effective “mirror lake” effect for the salt mountains.
The salt mountains as seen when there is no wind
We drove on around, stopping at the deserted kite boarding beach and the slave huts. A little past the southern-most point of the island, we saw a large flock of Flamingos in the salt pans.
A large flock of flamingos in the salt pans of southern Bonaire
I think this was the largest group of Flamingos we have ever seen and it was impressive. The photo above and this video do not even show all of the birds.
We continued on around, stopping, as we usually do, at the lighthouse. A very unusual sight though, was the water. Where there are almost always good size waves crashing up on the rocky beach, the ocean was perfectly calm, with hardly a ripple. It actually seemed a bit eerie.
A calm ocean along the eastern shoreline is not normal.
We drove on around to the windsurfing area and The Windsurf Place to verify that there was no wind here also. When we looked out across the bay, there were absolutely no windsurfers anywhere to be seen. This is when we observed the wind indicator showing a wind speed of zero.
A very unusual sight on Lac Bay: No windsurfers!
On another day with no wind we decided to go snorkeling. We first went to Te Amo beach (across the road from the airport) because it has a nice sand beach and a small sandy entry into the water. Once in the water we quickly discovered that the visibility was very poor. There were actually some waves coming in from the Northwest, which is almost unheard of, and I think this caused some turbulence in the water along that beach, putting a lot of sand into the water. We decided to go for “Plan B” and head out to Lac Bay and try the inside of the reef that protects the bay.
We have snorkeled here several times in the past. It used to be real good, but some storms tore up much of the coral several years ago. You have to walk out about 200 yards from the beach to get to the reef area, but this time there were no windsurfers to watch out for. When we got to the reef area, we were glad to see that the coral was slowly recovering. Old Elkhorn corals were still in fairly bad shape, but there was some new growth on them.
The Elkhorn Coral was slowly recovering.
There used to be large fields of Staghorn coral but it is fairly fragile and much of it was destroyed by the storms. Now, as you can see in this video, patches of it are coming back, and the small fish really seem to love this coral.
As we started to wade back toward the beach, a strange marine animal came paddling up toward us.
Heidi is going to get on a board one way or the other.
But it was only Heidi…. We should have known that Heidi would figure out some way to get on a board, even on a windless day.
Perhaps because of the lack of wind, getting together with our friends was even more important this trip. One couple with a beautiful villa on the island invited us to dinner with them one evening. Since they were making Beef Bourguignon, we picked up a couple of bottles of a Bordeaux wine to enjoy and we all had a very pleasant evening.
Another evening some other friends invited us and a few other windsurfers for wine and snacks at their very nice “penthouse” suite. We could look out over much of the island from the balcony while enjoying wine and very good friendships.
One evening a group of about 10 windsurfers got together for dinner at Eddy’s, a restaurant on the north side of town. Anytime you get a bunch of windsurfers together, there will be fun and laughter. Another night we met a similar group at Sebastian’s for their Sunday night Italian special.
But possibly the most interesting meet-up is a bit involved and needs some explanation. The past two years we had met Airane, a young woman from Montreal, who was staying at the Sonrisa. This year she was staying at a different resort, but we got in contact with each other. She and her Italian friend, Giorgio (an Italian who had been living on Bonaire for about 5 years), invited us to have dinner with them and Giorgio would prepare a true Italian Pasta Carbonara. We volunteered to bring the wine, but then we had trouble finding what I thought an appropriate variety. The evening before we were to meet them, we were eating at Capriccio, the excellent Italian restaurant with a great wine list, so I asked Lola (co-owner, hostess, Sommelier) what wine she would suggest to accompany Carbonara. After thinking a moment, she suggested a Barbara and, since I generally like Barbara, I quickly agreed. Then Lola said, “I have several nice Barbaras and can sell them to you ‘to go’”. She said that, besides serving the wines in Capriccio, they act as a wine distributor for Italian wines to several other restaurants and stores on the island. We left with a couple of bottles of Barbara under our arm. The next day Airane emailed that Giorgio was so serious about having a nice Carbonara that he had gone to his friend Lola and purchased some fresh pasta. We all had a good laugh about Lola’s involvement in our dinner: and both the pasta and Barbara were excellent! Lola apparently did not realize the connection until the next day when Giorgio stopped by Capriccio and explained the whole story to her.
The “Wine wall” at Capriccio, with just a few of Lola’s wines.
Another small side story….. We used to enjoy going to a restaurant called “Wil’s Grill”, named after Wil, the owner and chef. The food was always good and prepared with just a slightly different flair. Several years ago, he had some kind of health issue and they sold the restaurant to reduce the stress level. For the past couple of years, we would see Wil or his wife Sue at a booth in the plaza on cruise ship days, selling variations of a pepper sauce they called “Flaming Flamingo”. Some of you probably know that for the past 7 or 8 years I have been making a pepper sauce I call “Flaming Gator”, since I went to the Univ. of Florida where the ”mascot” is an alligator. Last year we bought a bottle of the Flaming Flamingo sauce and I should point out that, as a good chef, Wil’s sauce is all about nuances of flavor while mine is very much of the “hit him over the head with a hammer” kind of flavor, and a lot of heat. I had brought some bottles of Flaming Gator with us and finally was able to give Sue a bottle one day and also thanked both her and Will for the excellent meals when they had the restaurant.
Speaking of restaurant, it is time for a brief review of the restaurants we visited, in no special order.
Dining in Bonaire
Sebastian’s: Since we were arriving on a Sunday, we decided to go to Sebastian’s and take advantage of their Sunday Italian Night special: either pizza or Pasta for $16 and reduced price on the house wine. We got a good table for the two of us: the view overlooking the water was great, the food was good, and the service was a bit “relaxed”. We have found that the Sunday night special brings so much business that they bring in inexperienced wait staff and service can suffer. The next Sunday night we ended up at Sebastian’s again, with eight other windsurfers at the table with us. This time we had a more interior table where we did not have much breeze and more noise. Again, the food was fine, but with our large group, the service was really bad. From past experience, on any other night, the service would be very good although the prices would be significantly higher.
The entrance to Sebastian’s restaurant.
Cuba Compangue: Despite the name, there are few, if any, actual Cuban dishes offered at Cuba Compangue. We usually go there when we just want something light, like salads, which is what we had on this visit, along with glasses of wine. One advantage of eating light is that we feel justified in a visit to Gio’s afterwards.
Gio’s: Gio’s is about ice cream in several types and many flavors. Several times we stopped at Gios after dinner and had their coffee, but it is not just coffee. You get a cup of good, strong coffee, a very small dish of ice cream, a bit of whipped cream, and a small glass of water. It makes for a very nice after-dinner event.
Mezze: Mezze is a “lightly Middle-Eastern” restaurant: some different dishes, but nothing radical. We visited once and had very nice meals and good, friendly service.
At Sea: Four or five years ago At Sea was the top place to go and reservations were required, probably a couple of days in advance. This year, they were relatively idle, almost deserted sometimes. We stopped one night and got in without reservations and had a nice meal. We both had seafood and it was good, but not really outstanding, while the service was attentive. But the prices were definitely high for what we got, including the wine prices. I suspect the “just OK” food at high prices was keeping people away: there are too many other good restaurants
Capriccio: Andre (co-owner and chef) and Lola (co-owner, hostess, sommelier) have been running Capriccio as long as long as we have been going to Bonaire (since 2004) and it remains at the top of our list. This year we visited three times and each time we had tasty Italian food, good service, and excellent wine. It was on our second visit that we asked Lola for a wine recommendation to accompany Carbonara and she provided the Barbara. On our third visit we introduced Robert to Capriccio and Lola and we all had a couple of laughs with her about her friend Giorgio, his pasta Carbonara, and Lola’s Barbara. The Capriccio wine list must be seen to be believed, with a huge selection of Italian wines. I understand that Lola and Andre return to Italy each summer for several weeks and select the wines to be shipped to Bonaire. After dinner, I always make it a point to get back to the door to the kitchen and give Andre two “thumbs up” in appreciation of the meal.
The front of Capriccio just after the sun has set.
La Terazza: La Terazza does not operate like a normal restaurant: you do not order your dishes from a menu. Instead, each course is determined by the chef and served in sequence. When you have had enough, you say “stop”. The courses follow a normal sequence: appetizer, salad, soup, entrée, etc. I’m not sure what would come next as we have never gone beyond 4 courses. You can get a wine paired with each course, which we did, naturally. You are charged for how many courses you order/eat, with each course costing the same. On our visit this year all courses were very tasty and nicely presented and the paired wine was excellent. Our server, “Manuk”, was very knowledgeable about the wine as well as the food and she made our visit more delightful.
Patagonia: As with Capriccio, we have been going to Patagonia ever since our first visit, although it is now in its third location in that time. We typically go to Patagonia when we have had enough seafood or pasta and think it is time for some beef. They serve some very good cuts of beef and there is enough left to make sandwiches for the next day or two. On this visit they had a Paella special and Susan loves good Paella, so she had that and reported it to be very good.
Blue Garden: Another time we decided that we needed some meat leftovers so we headed to Blue Garden and we each had their Mixed Grill. This is not a dish for someone looking for excellent quality meat, but for someone looking for lots of it. It included beef, pork, chicken, and sausage, mostly overcooked, but enough to provide sandwich materials for a couple of days. Oh yes, they also make excellent Caipirinhas using true Brazilian Cachaca.
La Cantina: La Cantina is probably the current top-notch restaurant in Bonaire. We have visited for dinner each of the years since it opened about 3 or 4 years ago and it has always been good. They serve little Amuse-bouches that are presented on a piece of wood in the shape of Bonaire and Kline Bonaire. The primary specialty is seafood and you can choose the size piece you want and, if you desire, even the exact piece of fish from the display case. It generally comes with some nicely seasoned roasted potatoes and accompanying veggies. It was all very good. La Cantina seems to bring in servers from Holland on some kind of internship so there are usually some inexperienced servers. While service is generally very good, occasionally it falls down, as it did for us at the end of the meal this time.
Eddy’s: We met about 8 or 10 other windsurfers one evening at Eddy’s. This is a casual place just north of Kralendijk and on several nights they feature live entertainment, such as the guitar-player/singer the night we were there. Our waiter was almost as entertaining as the singer though. The menu tends toward more local style dishes, although nothing very radical and we had a nice meal.
Sunset on the Seawall: On our last night we were going to meet Airane and a friend of hers for dinner but they ended up with a time constraint, so we decided to just meet at the waterfront and have a glass of wine while watching the sun set.
Susan and Airane and her friend on the wall, watching the sunset
Susan and I cut some cheese and sausage and took some crackers for us all to munch on while drinking the wine. After that we just went back to the Sonrisa and finished up some leftovers, clearing out the refrigerator.
And here is the sunset they were watching.
As previously mentioned, our departure was delayed by about 2 hours, so by the time we took off and passed by and over Lac Bay, all the windsurfers had left and it looked deserted.
Lac Bay at about 6:00 PM: No windsurfers left on the water
The flight was comfortable and, since we were in Comfort+, we got some wine to go with the cheese and sausage we had brought with us. Although we certainly enjoy the warmth of Bonaire (both the weather and our friends), it was kind of good to get back home.
Some of our Canadian crew relaxing on the beach.
Tina left before I got any “on the water” photos.
Sue always wears a faded pink cap but had some colorful leggings this year.
Sue’s husband Ian is one of those people who always makes it look easy.
Heinz is out having a good ride.
Tim is taking advantage of one of the few good wind days.
If Peter is on or even near the water, he is grinning.
The other “Peter” (properly, “Piotr”) showing good form.
David was wearing a bright rib protector this year, so we could see him easily.
Kathy (David’s wife) is seldom in a hurry, but gets where she is going in style.
Here comes Gabriella again.
Andy, part of the Canadian crew, is easy to spot: tall and wearing a white hat.
Al is about the only sailor still using the old ProTech boards: It works for him!
Werner and the other Germans seem to like black hats.
Ellen is another experienced sailor who always makes it look easy.
Caprice seems to be aiming for me: thankfully she missed.
Cheryl stayed away from me most of the time, but I did get a couple of photos.
Once Christoph is set in his stance, I don’t think anything could upset him.
Heidi was always sailing too far out to get a good photo: this will have to do.
Wolfgang has his hands full: besides windsurfing, he has to keep Heinz and Werner under control!
We hope to see all our friends again next year in Bonaire.
Until then, stay safe and healthy.
Happy sailing everyone!