Trip 30 -- Bonaire Walk
Day 3: The north
Saturday, February 5, 2022
Today: 48919 steps/38.42 km/23.87 mi/6h 59m
Total: 75968 steps/59.54 km/37.00 mi/10h 52m
At 7:30 a.m., Rincón was an orchestra of chickens and wild goats. The occasional dog added bass; fortunately the dogs of Rincón were fenced in (or, less fortunately for the dogs, tied up) or too lazy to acknowledge me. A donkey stopped and posed for a photo; then it went on its way silently.
I hadn't heard it, but it had rained during the night, giving a light sheen to the roads' surface. There was a light sprinkle as I walked the access road toward Washington Slagbaai National Park, but it stopped before I reached the gate.
The woman at the gate scanned my code to verify that I'd paid the park fee. I was the fourth party to enter today, less than 15 minutes after the 8 a.m. opening time.
"What do you plan to do in the park?" she asked.
"I'm planning to walk around the park. What I really hope to do is enter here and exit somewhere in the west." She cocked her head in interest. "Is George here?"
"George is on vacation."
She summoned a park ranger and said what I assume is the Dutch equivalent of "This guy thinks he's gonna walk our park."
She turned back to me. "What is the number of your car?"
"I don't have a car."
"You can't enter without a car," he said. "Maybe if you arrange it in advance. But I am not going to give you permission to do that."
"Petrie is not with us."
"She said George could help me."
"George is not here, and you're talking to the wrong guy. You need to come during the week and speak to a manager." Ah, the we-won't-help-you-on-a-Saturday nonsense. I haven't bought that excuse for years. "I can't give you permission. I used to give permission, and they..." He stomped his foot a couple of times to indicate a punishment that I hoped was not that severe.
"I'm just going to walk along the roads."
"You cannot go in without a car."
Nowhere on the park's Web site (where the "Hiking" link didn't work, if that gives you an idea of what they think of walkers) did it mention that one must arrive at the park in the company of a ton or more of metal in order to explore it. The site did say, "Only enter the park with a four wheeled motor vehicle with a spare tire," but it was listed under "recommendations," along with drinking water and sun protection. It hadn't crossed my mind until a few days ago that it could be mandatory.
I realized that any time wasted arguing would be better used figuring out where to walk.
"May I visit the museum?"
It had a small exhibit of native musical instruments and food, plus animal skeletons, bird nests, and a display captioned "Sharks are worthy of protection!" Sharks have gotten a bad rap since the film "Jaws,” but shark attacks are very infrequent. Andrew Jalbert points out that you are statistically more likely to be killed by a cow than by a shark -- though I suppose one usually can see the location of a cow early enough to get away.
I glanced at the displays and snapped a few photos for later reading; I couldn't concentrate. It was time to be walking.
MapMyWalk was having one of her split-personality days, as she's been suffering since Tenerife. Up through Curaçao her announcements were cheery and rapid, in the kind of voice you might expect an upbeat restaurant hostess to have. "Right this way! I'll show you to your table."
But lately, and more and more often, it's been a slower drawl more reminiscent of the voice on New Jersey Transit that says, "When leaving the treyyyn, please watch the gaaap." It's so uninspiring that I wouldn't be surprised if it slowed my pace.
Thankfully I heard the perky voice and, egged on, I set off back toward Rincón and then across the north with an urgency that suggested I had some catching up to do. It wasn't until my tenth kilometer that I exceeded a ten-minute kilometer.
At Karpata I'd seen a map of hiking and mountain-biking trails abutting the park near a place called Dos Pos. A satellite view on Google Maps suggested that perhaps around there was a back entrance to the park.
A sign showed the turnoff to the Dos Pos Trail, which was marked with rocks painted pink. "See, this is for mountain bikes but it's perfectly fine to walk it, too," I told the lizards.
The trail was lovely, with gentle ups and downs and views of the modest hills that constitute Bonaire's highest peaks. It became narrower and rockier, and it was hard to imagine navigating it on a bike. At times it opened up to a view of Goto Lake to the west.
For a while it followed the park boundary. They most certainly did not want people coming in this way. A barbed-wire fence bore a sign announcing: "Warning. Private terrain. Trespassing strictly forbidden. Shooting may be in progress." I guessed they weren't talking about a film.
"Wow, they really have a fence along the whole park," I told the birds.
The trail soon overlapped another one, resulting in alternating pink and blue blazes -- great for a Scrabble player -- and eventually led me to a dirt road. Here there was a gate into the park, chain-locked and sporting a notice of a security camera in addition to the sign about shooting and, if the point hadn't been made clear enough, "No trespassing."
Well, at least I hadn't tried to come here first.
The road continued along the park border. I followed it but turned back when I heard a vehicle approaching the gate from the park side. The chain was unlocked, and a pickup truck came through. I knew what the answer would be, but I had to ask.
"May I enter the park here?" I asked.
"It's closed here. This entrance is for rangers only. You can enter over there," he said, pointing to the path I'd just taken with a gesture that seemed small considering the park entrance was about ten kilometers away.
"I tried. They wouldn't let me in without a car."
"Yes, you need a car."
"Do you know why that is?"
"Maybe you get lost. Then it takes two days to find you."
"Even with him?" I asked, gesturing at the Dalmatian in the pickup.
"A big expense for the government."
"I would just walk the roads."
"You say that now, but maybe you'll go off the road when you get there," he said with a casual immediacy that suggested he had given this explanation to would-be walkers before.
I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of this response. What would stop me from doing the same with a car? Leave the vehicle, then wander wherever I wanted? Or did they have rangers between every pair of sites to ensure that everyone continued the route with the obligatory cargo of gas-guzzling machinery? (And why hadn't I thought to ask one of the other visitors if I could join their group, just to get in, and then start walking when I was out of sight of the gate?)
But instead I said, "I understand that you want to keep people safe." We said goodbye and he drove away.
I'd now been sipping water for a few hours. It was time to release its effects. I made sure to leave my mark by aiming through the fence.
Just before I rejoined the paved road, I sat for a snack on a rock opposite a giant aloe plant with long arms that seemed to be beckoning. Would I have seen something like that in the park? Come to think of it, what was I missing in the park, other than the ability to reach the island's northernmost point? The trail I'd walked had been enjoyable. I was about to see a flamingo sanctuary. There were probably the same plants and lizards here as in the park. Washington Slagbaai was known for birding, but the birds did not much care about fences and trespassing warnings.
The more I thought, the more absurd the regulation became. I'd paid an exorbitant (I now considered it exorbitant) fee to promote the conservation of the environment. Was I not trying to explore the park in the greenest way possible? No one would have less of an effect on nature than a walker.
The park's layout, with its one-way roads, wants everyone to drive from point A to point B, get out and ooh and aah and take photos, and then drive to C and do the same. I just don't like to travel that way: everyone doing exactly the same thing, in a convoy of thousand-kilo machines.
If they really want to foster an environment-protecting experience, they shouldn't let cars in the park at all. They should run a bus from Kralendijk with a stop on the outskirts of Rincón at a purpose-built parking lot. They could check everyone's entry fee on the bus before letting them off at the entrance. Then people could walk or borrow bicycles (or ride their own), and the park's management could run frequent shuttles (or, since I'm fantasizing, light rail) among the sites for people who want or need transportation.
What experience would I have had in the park? Dodging vehicles driven by distracted visitors? Maybe I had a better experience on the Dos Pos Trail.
And let's suppose I managed to get in through a back way, and I got caught by a ranger who forced me into his car to bring me to the exit. Would kidnapping be a valid reason to break my no-car rule?
The only park situation where I can see requiring a vehicle is something like a safari, where it provides protection from wild animals. But in a small area with no on-path hazards (except the vehicles themselves)? I couldn't think of another park with such a strange requirement. Arikok in Aruba had numerous entry points. At Jozani Forest on Zanzibar I'd hired a guide to show me the back way out, but I can't recall any rule prohibiting my doing it alone.
No, Washington Slagbaai really is an oddball.
I reached Goto Lake, Gotomeer in Dutch, and admired the flamingos. A fence extended from the parkland through the lake, in case I had any thoughts about swimming my way in. A bridge led from the shore to the flamingos' habitat, and it was similarly clearly off-limits.
Evidently I looked suspicious, though, because the leader of a small group approached me.
"Where are you from?" was his opening, a rude way to start the conversation.
"United States," I replied. Perhaps I should have added, "And you?"
"You know you're not allowed to go over there," he said. "It's protected." For a moment I thought he meant the extension of the road I was on, but then I realized he meant the bridge, the one with all the "No entry" notices.
I wanted to say, "And do you see me going over there?" But instead I said, "Yes, I know."
"I'm a tour guide, and I see a lot of people do it. Maybe you want to get a selfie with a flamingo."
"No, I'd never."
Father along was a lookout across the lake to the Wasao Hills. A plaque said that goats used to be raised in the area, and farmers would call their goats home by shouting into the bush. The shouts, unique to each farmer and understood by his goats, would echo throughout the hills.
I tried it. "Hello!"
"Hello, hello, hello!" the hills repeated back.
"Let me in!"
"In, in, in!"
"You should let people walk!"
"Walk, walk, walk!"
"Walk, walk, walk!"
Music to my ears.
I decided I'd head up to Playa Frans, the last place before the northwestern park boundary. This proved to be a longer trip than it looked like on the map. The walk around the giant cylinders of the Bonaire Petroleum Corporation took a half-hour, the continuation along the shore another half-hour -- not counting the 20 minutes I spent following and then retracing a side path of packed washed-up coral that dead-ended. When I'd returned to the dirt road, I stopped to listen to the conversation of two shorebirds, perhaps sandpipers. One was in view, atop a cadushi; after it spoke, its fellow conversant, a few cacti north, would repeat the phrase or answer with something similar.
Playa Frans was a cluster of about ten houses, plus what looked like the remains (or partial construction) of a central fish market, where I took shelter from an early-afternoon drizzle. A couple of small boats were anchored slightly offshore. I had some of my food, which attracted the attention of three smallish birds -- ruddy turnstones, my bird-identification app thinks -- and a rooster. They came surprisingly close, an arm's length away from me. I would have fed them -- the pomegranate seemed the most appropriate -- but I didn't want to risk harming them.
The advantage of not seeing the park was that I could probably make it back to the Rose Inn in time to have their goat stew before they stopped serving food at four. Google Maps told me that I was 13 kilometers from Rincón. It was almost 1:30. Time to hurry out of there.
After the first kilometer the rain picked up strongly, creating rivulets along the dirt road and making patches of it slippery. "Stop!" I yelled every time my foot slid. I needed to keep pace. The rain lasted about 20 minutes and then lightened to a trickle.
I followed the western shore road to Karpata, filling in the last segment I hadn't walked, and then turned inland on the same road as yesterday. The same group of wild donkeys welcomed me at the town's entrance. I arrived at the Rose Inn at 3:41.
The goat stew was served with rice and beans and a piece of tutu (polenta). It was plenty rich and tasty unadorned, but it was enhanced by the three condiments: a spicy onion relish, a red hot sauce, and a beet sauce. A pair of Heinekens completed the meal. No one else was eating; there were maybe eight other people, in a semicircle, chatting energetically and having Heinekens of their own.
I napped and showered before heading back to Boy's Grill. It was noisy not from music but from people fervently playing dominoes. The grill was going at the back. The few plastic tables were occupied, and those not eating sat in plastic white chairs along the perimeter. The only available chair suitable for eating was at the bar, and I didn't mind that.
Petrie wasn't there, and neither was the okra soup. But Eugeline, who had gifted me the pomegranate, welcomed me once again. I had grilled chicken in her special peanut sauce, accompanied by her two vibrant hot sauces: mango and "killer."
"I also have my own ice cream," she said.
"You made the ice cream?"
"I do everything," she said. "I'm the owner."
I tried her piña colada-flavored ice cream; it was full-flavored and the perfect sweetness.
"I make bread, too," she said, holding up a batch of buns.
"I need one of those for a sandwich tomorrow!" I said.
Back at the Rose Inn, Emma said she hadn't heard of the park's car rule, but I assured her I'd had a good day anyway. And I had. I may not have explored Washington Slagbaai, but I'd gotten as far northwest, northeast, and north "middle" as one can get on Bonaire without the encumbrance of a small building on wheels.
Emma recommended other sights in the area: the museum behind the inn and a grotto on a hill where I could see all of Rincón. And she assured me that walking along the eastern shore, my hope for tomorrow, was possible, even though there did not seem to be a road on the map.
I like this town. I feel as though if I stayed here a while, I'd be accepted. Maybe join in a dominoes game. Get to know Petrie, Eugeline, and Emma better. If people are what make a town, Rincón gets the highest marks.
Go on to day 4