Eighth Windsurfing Trip To
Setting the StageAlthough it was a bit early in the windsurfing season (risk of little wind) our schedules and Delta's Frequent Flyer charges "encouraged" us to travel early this year. We left for Bonaire on New Year's Day, 2011, returning on Jan. 15.
As usual, Ann Phelan, Caribbean Wind and Sun Vacations took care of the details in Bonaire. We had a good visit, got in some good windsurfing, met some old friends, and made some new ones.
Getting there and backWe again used Delta Frequent Flyer tickets since the fares were running around $900 to $1000. The flight to Bonaire departed Atlanta a little late, but ended up arriving about 10 minutes early. Customs/Immigration entering Bonaire was its usual quick and efficient process, followed by reasonably decent baggage delivery. We made it to the on-airport Hertz rental car center and then to the Sonrisa Hotel within less than an hour of landing.
Arriving at Bonaire. A view of the northern end of the island and Lake Gotomeer
The return flight left about 15 minutes late, because the inbound flight was 20 minutes late and then it took a long time to load all the luggage. We made up the time and actually landed on time in Atlanta, but then the problems began. Although we were on time, there was a plane in our gate, apparently disabled, so we waited, and waited... After 45 minutes and several updates from the pilot, always optimistic, we were informed that a different gate was available, so we took almost 10 minutes to taxi to it. Then we sat again... There was no ground crew available so we could not pull up into the gate. (Someone thinks it is safer to sit out on the active ramp for 15 minutes rather than pull into the actual gate without the guys with the orange batons there to walk the plane in.) Anyway, we sat there about 15 minutes and finally pulled into the gate over an hour after we actually landed. Passport control, Customs, and Immigration were all quick. However, we have to claim our luggage twice in the process and both times Delta was terribly slow. By the time we had our bags and left the airport, it was over 2.5 hours after we had landed.
Bonaire's Flamingo airport.
This time AB Car Rental didn't have an economy car available, so I used my IBM Employee/retiree discount at Hertz and got a decent small car. Hertz is on the airport so it is a little quicker than the off-airport AB. The car performed fine and served our purposes.
There had been two "political" changes on Bonaire since our last visit. Last Oct. 10 (note that was 10/10/10) the Netherlands Antillies was dissolved and Bonaire became a "Special municipality" of the Netherlands. On the day we arrived (Jan 1) Bonaire adopted the US Dollar as the official currency. The combination of the two, especially coming under more of the Dutch laws, control, and taxes, seemed to be causing some concern and confusion among some businesses but should not have any effect on visitors.
Where we stayedAs in the prior 4 visits, we stayed at the Sonrisa Boutique Hotel. It is now about 3 years old and the plants and trees have really grown. The coconut trees had some almost ripe coconuts. There was less construction down the street and the road was in better condition, so in general there was less traffic noise. As usual, Jacqueline was a wonderful hostess, Sonja kept the room and facilities in excellent shape, and the new guy, Stephen, helped out around the office.
Around the pool at Sonrisa.
The main disturbance to our peace and quiet at the Sonrisa was a bird that we nicknamed the "Bonaire rooster". Most mornings, a little before sunrise (long before we wanted to get up) it would seemingly sit just outside our room and break out in all kinds of loud song. It was both funny and somewhat frustrating. We frequently saw two pairs of parrots which also called the Sonrisa home. The "Bonaire Rooster" and the parrots are pictured at the top of this page.
A new feature of the Sonrisa was a rinse tank and storage room for the use of divers and their equipment. They had painted a mural on the side of the little enclosure. Although almost finished, it was still a work in progress while we were there.
The mural on the side of the rinse room.
As last time, we took several snacks that are hard to find on Bonaire and had our usual afternoon (after windsurfing) wine and cheese and snack break out by the pool. It was always one of the highpoints of the day.
Where we usually had our afternoon refreshments.
The Sonrisa includes a nice breakfast, typically including a sandwich, yogurt, fruit, coffee, juice, and sometimes cookies. We usually took one of the sandwiches, combined it with some leftovers from dinner or some cheese we bought locally, and that provided our lunch most days.
Windsurfing commentsAlthough we were visiting very early in the season, we had very good wind for the two weeks. There was only perhaps 2 days when we really wished for more wind. The wind was up and the tide was up so there was no problem with fin-dragging but the combination did make for very choppy conditions a couple of days. We tried out several new windsurfing boards and generally enjoyed the warm weather and warm water. As usual, we sailed out of Bonaire Windsurf Place, mainly because we think they have better equipment and a better "off the water" facility.
One of the most enjoyable parts of our trips to Bonaire are making new friendships and renewing old ones. Besides the guys at BWP, Roger, Elvis, Patun, Ro, Kenneth, Raimy, and Taty (currently ranked as the best freestyle windsurfer in the world) we've gotten to know numerous visitors to Bonaire. Caprice and Christoph, who have a house on Bonaire, were there again, and always fun to talk with. Peter and Tim from Canada arrived a few days after we did and, as usual, they were lots of fun and even took us to the Maiky Snack for lunch one day, which was fun and a bit of an experience, just getting to it. Sue and Ian from the Guernsey Islands also arrived about a week after we did and just added to the fun. We added a new friend, John from Calgary, Alberta. He was also staying at Sonrisa and it was his first time to Bonaire, but I suspect it won't be his last.
Tim talking to Ian in background, Peter, Sue talking to Susan with Caprice and Christoph listening.
One of the lighter moments occurred when the manager of the restaurant at BWP rescued a small bird. Apparently the bird decided the man's hair resembled the bird's nest and took up residence there for almost an hour while the man resumed his work in the restaurant. This made the front page of the local newspaper the next day with a picture similar to the one below.
The Birdman of Bonaire
The Cruise Ships are still in BonaireAs in other recent years, several cruise ships visited Bonaire while we were there. I'm not sure what the effect is on other parts of the island, but we can definitely see the result around Lac Bay. To be honest, it did not seem to be as bad a problem this year as previously. I don't know if this is because the people at BWP are learning to control the crowds better or if we are just getting used to all the additional visitors.
A busy day at Lac Bay/Sorobon Beach
We would not mind putting up with all the cruise ship people if we could see some improvements on the island that are a result. The road going into Sorobon beach is terrible and could be fixed relatively easily and the toilet facilties are completely inadequate when the cruise ships appear. It would seem to be a reasonable thing for the government to spend a little of the port fees to make a few very simple infrastructure improvements. I'm sure the cruise people would appreciate it also.
One of the large cruise ships, as seen from La Guernica.
A Snorkeling Excursion.After a few days of windsurfing the forecast was for light wind so we scheduled a day off and decided to take an organized snorkeling excursion. The general consensus from talking to several people is that the Woodwind offers one of the best excursions on the island, and we could walk from the Sonrisa to their dock, so we gave them a try. Although they were full on the day we wanted to go, we showed up on a "stand-by" basis and when some others did not show, we got on board. The Woodwind is a nice sized trimaran and the staff were very helpful, continuously offering drinks and snacks while on board and pointing out the sights while in the water.
View of the Woodwind from water level
After the stop to find turtles (we saw 5 or 6 turtles of various sizes and types) we made a leisurely sail back to the starting point while the crew served a very tasty lunch. Either the relatively simple food was very good, or we were very hungry! Overall, a very enjoyable way to spend the day.
Another relaxing day offAfter several more days of windsurfing we decided to take another day off and just did some relaxed touring around town. We walked through town, had breakfast and took a long walk down the waterfront. We did get caught a bit in a brief but heavy rain shower and took shelter under some store awnings.
At noon we drove out to BWP and met up with Peter and Tim who took us to the Maiky Snack for lunch. It is very much a place for the locals but also draws quite a few visitors. Susan had the fish and I had the goat, which turned out to be very tasty and better than other goat dishes I've had.
Restaurants we visitedWe've developed our list of favorite restaurants and we tend to visit the same ones each time. On this trip the only really new restaurant we visited was the Maiky Snack. I'll briefly review the places we did visit, in no special order. This was an unusually wet/rainy period in Bonaire. This affected our choice of dinner destinations several nights since many of the Bonaire restaurants are primarily outside seating.
City CafeWe usually visit the City Cafe when we can't think of any other place to go. This time we arrived on New Year's Day and many restaurants were closed and the ones that were open were booked solid, so we went to City Cafe. Nothing special, but solid and reasonable.
CapriccioCapriccio is our favorite restaurant and we again visited it three times this trip. Although they have excellent seafood, we've come to really like their pastas. Capriccio has one of the best wine cellars in the Caribbean and an unbelievable selection of Italian wines. We enjoy having Lola, the manager, recommend a good wine to go with our meal and she always makes excellent recommendations.
Capriccio at night with Susan guarding the entrance.
Bistro de ParisWe ended up visiting Bistro de Paris twice. The first time there was a definite threat of rain so we were looking for inside seating. We both had fish (Wahoo for Susan and Barracuda for me, I believe) and it was very good and the service attentive. Another night we met up with Jacqueline and Roger and they made reservations at Bistro de Paris, so we paid them a second visit. This time I had the Wahoo that Susan had the first visit and she had a special that evening, a shrimp dish. Both were very good as was the service. BdP is a good, reliable, and tasty performer.
Susan at Bistro de Paris.
Bobbejan'sLast year we had problems when we tried to visit Bobbejan's but this time we joined Jacqueline and Roger, Naomi (a friend of theirs), and John (windsurfer and guest at Sonrisa) for dinner at Bobbejans. Service faltered a couple of times, but Roger was able to remind the staff that we were there and things picked up again. The food was the usual very good but inexpensive fare that we remembered from past visits; definitely a very good value. If you don't mind some possible service problems, it is worth a visit. Bobbejans is primarily a take-out restaurant, so if you want some good simple food "to-go", this would be ideal.
At Bobbejans: Roger, Jacquelin, Susan, Naomi and John
CasablancaA few days into our visit we decided that we needed some substantial meat to reinforce our lunch sandwiches. The logical solution was to visit Casablanca and order the mixed grill. We've had the mixed grill once before but were again amazed at the amount of meat it included. There was a whole (but small) chicken, several cuts of beef and pork, and some ribs. All in all, enough to enhance our lunch for at least three days. While not exactly top notch, the meat was flavorful and cooked as ordered. The mixed grill is more for quantity than quality, but for our purposes, it fit the bill.
Wil's GrillOn the first night with no threat of rain we went to Wil's Grill. Wil's Grill is another of our favorites and they almost always have some special dishes of some kind. Tonight we split a salad and Susan had the Barracuda while I had the Yellowtail snapper. As usual both the food and the service were excellent. One thing we noticed at Wil's, as well as most other restaurants we visited this year, was more patrons. It seemed that business was significantly better this year than either of the past two years.
La BracaLast year we visited La Braca shortly after it had opened and, although it showed promise, we felt that there were some rough edges in the menu. This year we paid a return visit to see if things had changed any, and they had. The decorative covering over the seating area had changed, although the new version probably offered no better protection from the elements. (Thankfully, this was another rain-free evening.) The menu was considerably more "conventional" this time in that some reasonable, and good, sides accompanied the primary entrees. Susan had a pan fried Wahoo and I had a Mediterranean style Wahoo. Both were good, but my wahoo could have used a touch of sauce to provide a bit more spice and interest. Service was good and very pleasant.
The front of La Braca
Pasa Bon PizzaWe visited Pasa Bon for a good, simple, casual meal and it came through on all counts. We had the Pasa Bon salad, a large deluxe pizza and a bottle of Amstel beer. A good salad, tasty pizza, and cold beer is hard to beat! As usual, service was friendly and prompt and we had enough leftover pizza for a hearty lunch the next day.
La GuernicaAnother "regular" restaurant we like is La Guernica. We visited them one evening, without a reservation as usual, and they only had indoor tables but there was one near the front that offered a good view and protection from the threatening weather. It also offered a good view of the ship in port that evening. We had several Tapas and then split a Dorado entree, making for a delightful meal.
The front of La Guernica
A "Picnic"The evening after we ate at the Maiky Snack we were not very hungry so we decided to have a little picnic. We took some leftovers, some cheese and crackers, and a bottle of wine, walked down to the waterfront and found a nice bench. We opened the wine and enjoyed our light meal while watching the sun set. A very enjoyable meal.
General CommentsFor the first time in several years neither of us had any colds or other illness and suffered no significant windsurfing injuries during our stay. To top it off, we managed to miss one of the worst snow storms to hit the Atlanta area in 10 years. There was still snow covering all the ground when we returned home almost a week after it fell.
It is very difficult to beat the combination of warm weather, warm water, great windsurfing, visiting with good friends, comfortable accommodations, and lots of excellent restaurants to choose from. Our tradition of having our wine and snacks around the Sonrisa pool in the afternoons after windsurfing just tops off the experience, like a shot of Bailey's in cup of good strong coffee... Excellent!
I had to get one picture of me in here...
Sunset on the flight home. Appropriate end to a beautiful trip.