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Trip 30 -- Bonaire Walk

Day 2: Kralendijk to Rincón
Friday, February 4, 2022

Today: 25638 steps/19.94 km/12.39 mi/3h 42m
Total: 27049 steps/21.12 km/13.12 mi/3h 53m

"Seth!" a man called from across the street this morning.

I know two people on Bonaire. Who else could it be but Todd?

We'd both been admiring the docked Wind Surf, a five-masted sailing ship whose operator, Windstar, claims it to be the world's largest sailing cruiser.

He crossed over to join me. "I hope it runs on sails, and doesn't consume all that fuel," he said. "Greener for the environment."

And also hopefully better for the residents, I thought. At our discussion last night they'd mentioned how a certain operator insists on running its own land tours and operating its own buses, so the excursion money doesn't make it into the local economy.

"Beautiful ship," I said. Our exchange contoured briefly, and then I continued my walk to the Terramar Museum.

When I told people in Kralendijk that I was walking to Rincón, they reacted with expressions of doubt, as though no one could possibly cover the distance between Bonaire's two towns on foot.

Maybe it was because Rincón is socially a world away from the capital. In discussing it with Mimi and Todd, I'd learned that Rincón is a more down-to-earth working-class town inhabited by people of African descent, rather than those with Dutch or other white ancestry.

Maybe it was because Rincón isn't on the radar of people looking to get into the water. It's among hills, which is one reason the Spanish established the town in 1527: It was out of the view of pirates. The Spanish, who marked the island "Y de Brasil" (Brazilwood Island), soon gave up on it, as they did Aruba and Curaçao, calling them "islas inutiles" -- useless islands -- because of the absence of gold and silver. The Dutch wouldn't come for another 109 years.

And maybe it was because they didn't realize there were places to stay in Rincón. There are, admittedly, very few. One place called the Heritage Design Inn has just one room. The Web site was acting up, so I messaged them on WhatsApp to see whether they had space.

"Unfortunately for that period I'm full," she replied immediately. "Thank you anyway for your interest."

I explained that my walking tour necessitated my finding a room in Rincón; I'd thought I had a place nearby at a lodge called Arawak, but they'd sent a message several days after I'd made the online booking, saying that the lodges would be out of service until June.

"Do you know if there are any other places in Rincón?" I asked her.

"Of course. In the same place as my place. My aunt does have some rooms for rent."

Those rooms happened to be at Rose Inn, the de facto hub of activity in Rincón. It's where I'd wanted to stay all along. And the room was a bargain at $50 per night.

And just maybe, at least for some Bonairians, the prospect of walking to Rincón for pleasure struck a nerve. The Terramar Museum gave an overview of Bonaire's history from its earliest civilizations through the late 19th century, where it abruptly ended with a display of life after slavery.

The presentation began awkwardly, with a general Caribbean timeline whose captions were partially obscured by a temporary art exhibit. For a while I wondered why, for instance, the description of the smallpox epidemic of the Greater Antilles in 1518 was illustrated by a painting of a lionfish, until I cracked the code and realized I was looking at two overlapping displays that had nothing to do with each other.

Then the rooms took me through the civilizations before the arrival of Europeans, followed by Columbus's impact and the slave trade. I'd rarely seen the numbers displayed with such bluntness: "From 1441 to 1867, Europeans shipped approximately 12.5 million enslaved Africans to Europe and the Americas in over 35,000 voyages." The Dutch slave trade was abolished in 1863, after which many newly free people worked the salt pans in southern Bonaire, staying there for the six-day workweek before returning briefly to their families in Rincón and to collect their food allotments. One caption gave an example:

"Every Saturday on our day off, we have to walk northward, from the salt pans in the south to Rincon, where we receive our weekly rations. We don't get much -- only six jars of maize, some beef, coffee, and rum. Our families are living in Rincon, and luckily they grow additional food to supplement our meager rations. I don't get to spend much time with my wife and children because on Sundays we have to start work again after a long walk back to the salt pans."

And here I am walking it for sport, I thought. Pretty frivolous in comparison.

After five kilometers I reached Captain Don's Habitat, and beyond that was uncharted territory for me. The dive resorts became houses. The road veered inland to the right, but a path continued forward, taking me to a neighborhood of modern homes. I rejoined the road and soon came to a fork; uphill to the right would have been the direct way to Rincón, but I wanted to stay on the perimeter for a while.

The road went left, back to the shore and the STINAPA headquarters, where divers headed to the string of entry points just north can pay their marine fee if they haven't paid it online. The road along the coast was now much narrower, taking divers to sites with colorful names: Oil Slick Leap, Witch's Hut, 1000 Steps. There were really only 72 steps, not counting the three or four along the rock from the staircase to the beach, but maybe if you're clad in fins and carrying a tank of air, it feels like a lot more.

Occasionally an obvious walkway led away from the road, giving walkers a respite from the traffic. I had such success with one path that I followed what looked like another, only to have it peter out into aloe, cactus, and other vegetation. There must be a way, I thought, as I continued for a few minutes, the growth becoming more dense but never quite closing off my progress.

I was only about 50 meters from rejoining the road -- I could see it heading uphill -- and I very much did not want to retrace my steps. Carefully I picked my way through, at one point pulling a thorn out of my shoe, until I could take a step up and follow the road once more.

I explored the remains of Landhuis Karpata, a yellow cluster of buildings. Built in the late 19th century, it was a goat farm and a plantation for aloe and other goods to be shipped around the Caribbean. Now only the frames of the buildings remain, with some tile and utility fixtures, much like the dormitories and offices of Tenerife's leper colony without the graffiti.

From Karpata I took the road inland and uphill, detouring briefly to Alta Mira Unjo for the views of Rincón. This gave me a true sense of the town's protected position, with hills all around and only the most distant view of the sea.

Alas, there was no path down the other side, so I retraced my steps from the viewpoint to the road and descended into Rincón.

I found the Rose Inn but not my hostess, Emma (I hadn't given an arrival time more specific than "sometime in the middle of the afternoon"), so I walked a couple of blocks to the Cadushy Distillery. Since 2009 they've been making and bottling a sweet liqueur made from the cadushi or Peruvian apple cactus, a tube-shaped cactus found all over the island. They've since expanded to liqueurs that pay tribute to other Dutch islands -- cherry for Aruba, calabash for Curaçao -- and spirits, including spiced rum and the only Caribbean whiskey. The bartender let me try them all, after which I had a cactus-liqueur-and-7-Up cocktail and a rum pop, which I realized was the first food I'd gotten around to eating today.

Emma had the same calm, friendly persona as Gea from the Seacow snorkeling trip. She showed me to my room, which had a homey red-and-blue quilt and conveniences I wasn't expecting, such as air conditioning, a refrigerator with two bottles of water, and that refreshing rarity among lodging these days: a television set that comes on at the last-watched channel rather than the hotel's own programming.

Tomorrow will be a long walk around Washington Slagbaai National Park, so I headed to a supermarket and stocked up on salami, cheese, bananas, juice, and half a giant avocado -- the ABC islands are so good at desalination that tap-water refills in the bottles I already have will do -- before having a short exploration of Rincón around dusk. I followed the music, coming upon bars alive with loud speakers and people enjoying beers. Here I stood out as a visitor, because of my skin color and because everybody knows everybody else, and the greetings were never short of welcoming.

I would have had a beer at Boy's Grill, but I was enticed by the fruit ices, exactly the refreshment I was looking for. I sat down with a mango ice.

"How are you doing?" the woman at the next table asked. She spoke with the authority, roughness, timbre, and bluntness of Elaine Stritch. Originally from Wisconsin, she's lived on Bonaire for more than 40 years.

"Great," I said. "I just arrived."

"The best one is peanut," she said, referring to my ice cup.

"Tomorrow," I said. And I told her of my plans to walk Washington Slagbaai National Park tomorrow.

I'd been careful with whom I'd discussed my park plans. Officially, the park has only one entrance, and it's also the exit, and it's way in the east. That is the way cars must go in.

But the park occupies the entire northern bulge of the island. What I really want to do is enter at the west, not far from where I left the shore today at Karpata, and follow the route around the northern shore until I reach the official access point. That way I can continue, as logically as possible, my clockwise route around the island. Surely there's a pathway in somewhere, and I've already paid the park fee. Mimi, Todd, and the bartender at the Cadushy Distillery had been adamant that such a plan was impossible.

"Talk to George!" the woman at Boy's Grill said. "Tell him Mama -- or Petrie -- sent you."

"George is at the main gate?" I asked. I had reservations about entering through the official gate, in case they had some kind of rule against walking the park. They are strict about getting everyone out by five. I would have to convince them that I can cover the whole 34-kilometer loop by then.

"Yes. George will work with you. He'll want to help you."

"Do you think I can exit the park somewhere else?"

"Yes, you'll be able to come out at Goto." That's where I'd have arrived if I'd continued past Karpata. "Just...talk to George! We call him Kultura. He'll tell you about every plant, every rock. He'll help you find a way. There's also a good museum at the entrance."

"That means going in reverse, but it will be OK." I'd already had one noncontinuous stretch, in Aruba, when I'd gone back and walked the short stretch the dogs had prevented me from covering the first time. I preferred to continue my route around Bonaire clockwise, but going counterclockwise wouldn't be the end of the world; I'd be coming back to Rose Inn regardless. Same steps and distance, just a different direction.

"Yes. It's best if you go to the entrance so you can register and they know you're there. They had to helicopter someone out of there a few days ago."

"I heard about that." Todd and Mimi had mentioned it.

"She was our bird watcher!"


"Just...oh, talk to George!"

Someone from the restaurant brought me a pomegranate. "I have so many," she said. "So I give one to you. Maybe you'll come back tomorrow."

"They have okra soup tomorrow," Petrie said.

"See you then!" I said.

What I wanted for dinner was Andrew's favorite at Rose Inn, the goat curry, but they had stopped serving food at four. The connected restaurant on the other side, Kosbonso, didn't serve it, but their ribs with rice and beans made for a tasty dinner. I sat outside, where the music from indoors had the effect of being merely loud instead of unbearable.

"How long are you staying?" the woman at the next table asked. She was among a party of three.

"Until Sunday."

"Sunday afternoon?"

"Sunday morning."

"Oh. When you start walking toward the park, and you come to the telephone booth, that's where I live. We have some food and drinks on Sunday afternoons." I had no idea whether she was inviting me to her bar or her house, but it didn't matter. The hospitality of the people of Rincón amazed me.

"That's so kind of you! But I have a long walk on Sunday. I have to get to Red Palm Village."

"I see. Where are you staying here? With Emma?"

"Yes." I usually don't tell people where I'm staying, but this seemed a trustworthy place.

"Good choice!"

They left, I finished my second Heineken, and I headed back to my room to prepare for tomorrow's park excursion.

Go on to day 3