We almost missed Bonaire, but it ended up being bliss. The most beautiful water we'd ever seen, a little waterfront with the nicest ice cream shop and one of the boats we'd met in Curaçao joined us there for good company. What else to ask for?

Last ice cream in Bonaire
Helmet photo with our buddies from Fin, after a day of scooter island exploration

Yalçın approved water and free hull cleaning

If you have ever been on the water outside of Turkey with Yalçın, you know he has high standards for the water color and the level of transparency. The label "Yalçın approved water" isn't easily earned, but Bonaire went beyond all expectations. You can jump on the side of your boat, see the white sand bottom, the mooring, the fish who live there and simply snorkel right here.

To end up the notorious dive paradise it is today, Bonaire had to put in place a bunch of regulations. One of them is that anchoring is forbidden in the marine park that encompasses the entire island as well as the side island of Klein Bonaire. When snorkeling, it seemed obvious it had made a difference to the marine floor but it had the annoying consequence of limiting all cruising boats to a mooring field on a limited area by the waterfront. With a limited number of spots in such a special destination, free mooring balls are challenging to come by, especially during the hurricane season when the ABC islands (Bonaire is the B) are a common hide out for cruisers. Luckily for us, a few waves of Northbound boats had already left the ABCs on the previous weather windows and the moorings seemed less scarce. Yet, a boat in Curaçao decided to check-out as they learnt we had too and seemed kinda of determined to beat us there - not very friendly. We were lucky to have the option to ask our friend Hans (who sold us the liferaft and was himself on the mooring field) to put a fender on a ball for us, the way cruisers secure moorings for one another for 24H, enough time to make the passage from Curaçao after checking out. We returned the favor the following day to our friends from SV Fin, who ended up having many moorings to choose from.

The mooring that had been saved for us was in shallow waters, on the first row in front of the waterfront. Usually not a favorite amongst cruisers as they become unusable during what is called reversals, the wind switching from its customary East to the West, during which the mooring field is entirely open to the wind, with waves breaking on the shallows. Without enough free slips in the marina and nowhere else to anchor (forbidden!), boats just drift around for the duration of the reversal. Luckily for us, none were in the forecast and in any case, a West wind would have been too favorable for us to skip for pursuing our travel. So, we were happy with our first-row mooring: it was in range of a wifi connection from a coffee shop on land and we could see the bottom under the boat!

We spent the first few days scrubbing the hull that was covered in barnacles from our stay in Spanish waters. The perfect visibility made this usually tedious job a breeze, and the detached barnacles falling on the white sand attracted so many colorful reef fish, that in the end, it was more like a snorkeling session than a scrubbing one! After taking a break from scrubbing for a few days, we realized that the remaining barnacles had disappeared on their own! The reef fish had simply finished the job for us while having a feast! Seemed too good to be true but our friends confirmed their barnacles were gone too! We were starting to think this tourist tax was worth it after all, a free bottom cleaning was coming with it!

The tourist tax

So yeah, Bonaire seemed amazing and had seduced us at first sight, but there are things that had deterred us to the point that, if the weather had allowed us to go North earlier, we would have missed this gem. The tourist tax! We knew about the mooring situation and $11.5 a night was already a little budget compared to the $0 a night we are used to at anchor. We had heard so many times that Bonaire was amazing, that we were ready to bite the bullet and offer ourselves some nice days in Bonaire - with still the fear of getting stuck there for a long time waiting for a suitable weather window to cross the Caribbean Sea, while mooring fees melted our budget. In Curaçao though, we heard about a new tourist tax of $75 per person for setting foot on the island. We were outraged, mostly because this tax supposedly came as a replacement of an accommodation and car rental tax that wasn't affecting cruisers earlier on and also because there was a chance our perfect weather window showed up shortly after our arrival to Bonaire and we would have owed $150 for only a few days. The tax had been implemented in July, so we were annoyed at our bad luck and tried desperately to find a way to escape it. After learning that the price of a night on the mooring ball was increasing from $11.5 a night to $35 a night on January, 1st, we gave up our principles, happily took out the deal with the cheap mooring and the tourist tax as our last chance to ever experience this amazing place that Bonaire is. Still a bit bitter that we probably won't be able to ever come back by boat...

Underwater world

Our first snorkeling trip was to Klein Bonaire. We dinghied across the channel between the mooring field and the little island. Each dive site is marked with a buoy on which boats until 38 feet can tie up, meaning we'd be able to come back with Tirb on principle. For now, we were there with Bris Bouchon, the dinghy, and were able to go in the water 2 or 3 times before mooring on the No Name beach on the northern side of the small island. Every time we jumped in, gorgeous schools of colorful fish welcomed us in the dark blue water. The sea floor covered in marine fauna and flora was gradually sloping up towards the island where you could snorkel in shallow transparent waters. It was properly amazing. We had never seen such a landscape, nor such clear water. I even saw my first Bonaire turtle in the shallow area, but it disappeared right away, probably scared by my unexpected presence. We later learnt the No Name Beach is a turtle nesting area with dozens of nests that had hatched already for the most part. We walked a bit on the beach but none could be seen. The sand was so white on that beach that we shared with all the other tourists brought by charters and water taxis from the main island. We came back the next day with our friends from SV Fin. In both cases, the wind picked up throughout the morning, making it safer to return to our boats after a few hours in the water.

We also explored the North of the island with Tirb twice. In particular, we moored at 1000 steps which is a popular snorkeling site also accessible from the beach after 60 or so (!) steps. Both times we saw amazing marine beings and had an incredible adventure. The first time, I spotted an octopus in a shallow rocky area. I waited for very, very long for a chance to see it move, and when I was (almost) ready to give up and swim back to the boat, he came out of hiding and swam, away, then spread his tentacles like a skirt on a prey (?), before settling for a little while again. I got it on camera and was so thrilled I waited a little longer to observe the octopus in action! My interest in octopuses had been sparked by the incredible Netflix movie 'My Octopus Teacher' which I warmly recommend. At that same time, Yalçın who free dives and therefore goes deeper than me saw what we later identified as a huge green mureine, it was also quite a sight!

On our second time in 1000 steps, we arrived a little late after testing our storm sails and maneuvers on a Sunday. Needless to say, we weren't the only ones who had the idea to sail over. Luckily the mooring was free when we arrived. A small motorboat tried to beat up to it and we ended up offering them to tie to our stern nonetheless. Not sure if the park would officially appreciate, but they were 5-6 people on that small boat and it felt sad if they'd miss the chance to snorkel here. I brought Yalçın back to where I had seen the octopus but it was nowhere to be found this time - and unless they move, they are pretty well camouflaged anyway. We did see an eel snaking through the rock. As we swam back to the boat, we decided to check the spot where I had seen a turtle breathe at the surface just moments earlier and see if we'd be lucky enough to see one in the water. It was a long shot, but since we'd started our sail in Mexico, my dream had been to see a turtle in the water, based on a brief memory of the beauty of a turtle swimming in Australia... Despite jumping overboard at appropriate times and sometimes coming quite close, I had never managed to swim with one. But today was the day. I found my turtle gently swinging on a purple seaweed at the bottom. How funny! I was desperately trying to cry out to Yalçın so that he would see it too. No way I'd swim to him and risk losing sight of my turtle though. After a while and a lot of signaling, I hinted he may have found one as well, which was the case indeed! He observed and filmed his little turtle before coming over. After what almost looked like a nap in the bush, my turtle took off from her swing and started swimming above the corals and fish, calmly, like a queen inspecting her kingdom. My heart was racing and we followed her on this very special guided snorkel tour. No fish seemed to mind her. We swam and swam with her, sometimes capturing her marine flight thanks to the GoPro. I was in awe the whole time. I could have followed her forever. At some point, Yalçın decided to swim back to the boat. I lingered some more. My turtle took a breath at the surface. I don't know if it's true, but I felt I may have been disturbing her pooping my head and camera out as she did the same. I had to let her go. I swam slower and let her disappear in the blue. Au revoir dear friend...

I'll be forever thankful for this encounter. I really wish I could have communicated that to her: my admiration, my love and my apologies for all the harm humans have done to her species and habitat, tell her that I hope we can do better, that I'll try to do better. That's really the first time I feel the urge to talk with such a different being and I'm sure you're thinking I'm tripping right now. It was an indescribable feeling...

We also had a bunch of epic snorkels within walking distance or right by the boat where we spotted another octopus (together with Yalçın this time) and other eels, as well as pretty uncommon fish since we could go at sunset.

Overall, l'eau de Bonaire (the water of Bonaire) was amazing. And yes, the regulations and non-anchoring policies were annoying but hell, it made a difference and opened for us a whole new world!

Over-water, the island

We loved the surroundings of the mooring field. The waterfront with cute stores and restaurants, coffee shops and Dutch-style buildings reminded me of Saint-Jean de Luz, the place I spent my childhood vacations on the Atlantic coast. We made a point by visiting the ice cream shop with a view of the water and high-speed internet almost every day!

Almost everyday, one or two cruise ships came to the island for the day. Arrived in the morning making vibration on the hull that were quite scary at first when had identified it yet. Most boats were huge, some had sails and some we recognized from before, including one from our time in Ensenada 1.5 years ago!

We had seen the Norwegian Jewel (top right) in Ensenada in March 2021

Bonaire was also home to a fancy Turkish / middle East restaurant. Even the customs officer recommended it to Yalçın when he saw he was Turkish. It took us a while, but we eventually decided to go there for dinner, and it didn't disappoint. The food was delicious and we even got two rounds of grilled sücük (someone had been deprived!!). The Turkish owners were lovely and genuinely happy to see a Turk visiting Bonaire, they could recall 4 in total since starting the restaurant! Cihan, the waiter, son and brother of the cook, even offered us Turkish coffee, Marie's very first! And his Dad, also a sea lover, came at the end of his service for a chat. We walked home with our hearts filled with Turkish warmth.

Another highlight of our land time in Bonaire was a scooter trip with our friends from Fin. The North of the island is a National Park with yet another high fee for entering, so we decided to explore the South side. We were promised salt dunes, flamingoes, lighthouses and a lagoon on the other side. Despite a rainy start, which was a little wet on the scooter, the day went beautifully. With exploration from the bike in the morning, wraps from a food truck, a quick dip in the lagoon and a hike to a blow hole on the windward side. We ended the day on a grocery trip (you gotta take advantage of having wheels for a change!) and a gourmet burger before saying goodbye a few days later to our friends. They were bound for Puerto Rico, going for the Northbound passage through the Caribbean Sea we had all been waiting for when we met in Curaçao. When we left for Sainte-Lucia, almost a week later, we were in the same mindset as they were pretty much: happy to finally have chosen our weather window for this exciting passage but also deeply sad to leave this true diver's paradise that Bonaire is indeed...

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