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Trip 30 -- Bonaire Walk

Day 6: The eastern bulge
Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Yesterday: 42332 steps/30.79 km/19.13 mi/6h 25m
Grand total: 201101 steps/152.62 km/94.83 mi/29h 32m

Bonaire's eastern bulge wraps around Lac Bay, terminating at Lac Cai Beach. The direct way to the beach from Red Palm Village passes the Mangrove Center, where I'd booked their afternoon kayaking and snorkeling tour. But first I wanted to head up the bulge near the coast, to fill in the section south of the lagoon that I'd missed on Sunday.

Anna and Leo opened Red Palm Village five and a half years ago, and 16 photos displayed next to their restaurant's open-air kitchen show the progress from the land purchase to the celebratory toast. Anna welcomed me on Sunday with a glass of apple juice, the refreshing taste I needed after the long hike around the east and the tramping through the dirt neighborhoods by Lagoen Hill.

"So you have a car?" she asked.


"You're going to get a car? Or a scooter?"

"No. I'm walking around the whole island."

This piqued Leo's interest. "I think this is the first time we've had someone walk around the whole island!"

"Today I came from Rincón."

"You walked from Rincón!" he said.

"The slaves had to do it every day," Anna commented.

"How did you go?"

"Along the coast to the lagoon, and then through the little roads down from there." I showed him on a map.

"And you didn't have trouble with dogs?" Anna asked.

"No. I heard about the attacks in Lagoen Hill" -- she nodded in agreement -- "but I didn't see any dogs today, except at the very end, and the owner kept them away."

"Because there was an attack today," she replied. "In those dirt roads that we use, behind here," she said to Leo.

"There was an attack today?" I was shocked.


"In that area where I was just walking? By Maiky Snack?"

"Yes. That's the kunuku" -- farmhouses. "The problem isn't the dogs. The problem is the owners, who don't take care of them. The dogs are just protecting."

And so, while the more direct version of yesterday's walk would have been to weave my way through that neighborhood once more, zigzagging to the northeast, I thought it safer to head directly toward the coast along Kaminda Lac, the main road, and follow the coast north. Then I'd retrace my steps, continue to the land's end at Lac Cai Beach, and make my way back to the Mangrove Center.

"I don't think there is a road along the beach!" Leo had said. I didn't see one on the map; it could well be a day of making my own trail. It was difficult to estimate the timing, and I set off at 8:20, figuring I'd get as far as I could by 11 and then turn back so as to get to the Mangrove Center 15 minutes early for the 2:30 tour, as requested.

Kaminda Lac was a dirt road bounded on the south by a flamingo sanctuary. "And look, I'm not going near these flamingos, either," I said into the wind, hoping it would carry my words to the tour guide who had stopped me up by Gotomeer.

A turnoff, barely distinguishable as one but for the familiar blue blazes, led me toward the coast. Groups of donkeys stared me down, uncomfortable with my intrusion. One member of each group would usually exhale audibly, standing its ground.

"I'm just going over there," I'd say, gesturing. "I'm not going to hurt you." Sometimes they waited until long after I'd passed them to resume their activities.

The path faded into a giant field of sharp coral rock. It reminded me of the tsingy of Madagascar, the pointed limestone columns whose name means something like "you must tiptoe." I picked my way along, stepping on the pieces where I estimated I'd have the best balance and least discomfort. Still I felt every protrusion.

Google Maps mentioned a few curiosities in this area: the Sterke Yerke monument, a blowhole, and, most unusual, "Chinese subway station - Bonaire." In the middle of a vast, arid field. What could that possibly be?

The blowhole was the farthest north of these, just below the lagoon. It looked to be about six kilometers from where I started heading north, or, at tiptoeing-over-rocks speed, probably about an hour and a half. That should leave enough time to get back to Lac Cai and then to the Mangrove Center by 2:15, I calculated.

A line of rocks fronted the ocean, so I walked a short distance inland, parallel to the shore. From time to time I passed donkeys or goats; they did not seem bothered by the sharp terrain.

After about a half-hour I noticed that I was approaching a stone wall topped by a fence. It seemed to impede any northward progress. What was the reason for the barricade? I looked at Google Maps: Bonaire Golf.

Well, that might be it, I thought. If this is the farthest north I get, I guess it'll have to do.

The fence extended from the shore into some vegetation that acted as a natural barrier. I walked west, to the other end of the vegetation. There was an opening in the fence. Not only that, but a rock at that point was painted blue. It was the trail!

I stepped over a few rocks and now I was in the grounds of the golf course. There were occasional splotches of blue to indicate the way, but there wasn't really a trail. Still, as long as I kept the ocean to my right, I was going in the correct direction. And here the going was much easier: packed dirt instead of rock.

I passed a group of golfers. "You have a long walk," one of them said, smiling.

The ability to increase my speed had cheered me up, even without Katie to encourage me. "Yes. It's lovely!"

I came to another fence at the northern boundary, and I followed it inland to where people enter to play. There was a small building and an unlocked gate with a phone number to call for tee times. Just outside were parked cars -- a good point of reference for the return trip.

I followed the dirt roads, and the walking remained easy. I passed the Sterke Yerke monument, a concrete "Y" with an arrow painted orange. This pointed to the location where a raft, bound for Curaçao from the Netherlands, became stranded in 1979. The four friends who operated the raft had intended to raise awareness about ocean pollution. In 1986, the sunken raft was raised and brought to Curaçao at last.

Two large boulders bore signs. One marked a boulder that had been deposited there by a tsunami, a reminder that it's not just water that drowns the coast during a fierce event. The other said, "Warning -- Dangerous! Target practice -- Do not enter these grounds when red flags are posted." Below was a picture of a backwards Bonaire-shaped pistol.

There were no red flags to be seen, and I continued to the blowhole, next to an inlet where a man was fishing. It wasn't a true hole, just the ocean crashing against a cave and splashing water and mist over the side every few seconds. The force of nature was worth the walk.

Now to find the Chinese subway station. No signs pointed toward it, so I zeroed in on it by glancing back and forth between the land and my location on Google Maps. And there it was, completely incongruous in this vast field: a concrete frame surrounding a staircase of ten descending steps that led...nowhere. At the bottom was dirt, mud, and the bones of what I assume were goats.

What was it doing there? I wondered whether it was constructed during World War II. Bonaire had been a protectorate of Britain and the United States, and the location of the current Divi Flamingo Beach Resort had been an internment camp. Could these ten steps to nowhere have been a shelter? It wouldn't have hidden very many people. And why here?

It was now after 11:30; time was getting tight. Instead of following the dirt road around to the golf entrance I headed straight for it. This meant less distance but a more uncomfortable terrain. Still, I think I shaved a few minutes off the walk.

Getting through the golf course was another matter. All the pathways looked alike, and while I found numbered holes I'd seen before, I soon lost my bearings. Donkeys and I surprised each other, and they hissed. I worked my way around cacti and other growth, and via a route quite different from the one I'd taken earlier, I found the opening in the fence.

The blue paint continued around a similarly nebulous trail, and then I lost the blazes and any sense of a path altogether. Google Maps' satellite view showed the general density of vegetation in this area, enabling me to work my way around it and target the road at the proper angle: another reminder that this kind of trip would have been impossible just a few years ago. I was still picking my way along the rough surface, though, and still bothering the donkeys.

I saw in the distance a car, orienting me toward the Lac Cai road. I reached it a few minutes later. It was 1:27. On this road Google Maps was able to calculate my estimated time to Lac Cai Beach and back to the Mangrove Center: 41 minutes. I even had time to spare.

The road curled around and tapered into the tiny fishing village of Lac Cai. It would have been a wonderful place for a calm swim if I'd had the time. Opposite two mounds of queen-conch shells, a tribute to that endangered species, was a kiosk that turns into a full bar and restaurant at weekends. The day hadn't been unbearably hot but I'd gone through most of my water and was grateful for the opportunity. I bought a can of lemon Fanta and a can of iced tea and could have easily guzzled thrice as much.

Of the world's 70 kinds of mangroves, Bonaire has three: red, black, and white. The mangroves filter rain and mud that would otherwise make it into the sea and damage the reef. They support a vast variety of marine life: tropical fish, oysters, sponges, jellyfish, algae, and turtle grass, loved by green sea turtles and fish.

We removed our footwear and prepared to board our kayaks, two to a boat except for our guide and me. I'd been using sunscreen all week, but I'd still acquired a dark tan, and the shedding of my socks revealed the noticeably whiter skin from my ankles down.

"You might want to take your socks off! They might get wet," said another participant, joking at the difference in skin tone.

The guide helped me into my boat. "Sorry, I couldn't help noticing your feet!" she said.

I had to admit, they shone like car beams with my legs so dark, and I laughed along with them.

We rowed through tunnels of red mangroves, the kind with the arched root systems that resemble claws. The tunnels were sometimes too narrow for paddling, and we'd push off the mangroves with our oars or with our hands -- only above the water, so as not to disturb the marine life. We crossed a section of Lac Bay, during which, even rowing as hard as I could, I fell behind the others. But they each had the power of two!

Near Lac Cai we rowed through another tunnel and then prepared to snorkel, hooking our seven boats together. The water was shallow, warm, and calm; we had only to avoid stepping on the green circles: upside-down jellyfish filled with algae. We followed a sandy aisle between plant life, and soon we could see, under the mangroves, thousands of grouper and snapper, all facing the same direction, waiting for the tide to bring them their meal of tiny fish. Underwater, oysters were attached to the mangrove roots. Translucent fish and small black-and-yellow-striped fish swam under us. A much different world from the coral reef, and an intimate look at the dense living conditions.

We rowed back, pausing briefly to admire sea stars. It was almost 5:30; the advertised two-hour tour had lasted almost three. I began walking back to Red Palm Village, and the others passed me; some offered rides.

This last segment of my Bonaire walk was about 45 minutes. Eventually the guide passed me as well, and I was perhaps the last person left on that dirt road for the day. It was a contemplative, slow walk, as if I were heading home with my thoughts following an after-party.

I had a swim and a pre-dinner gin and tonic, followed by chef Cor Jan's surprise four-course menu. I hadn't eaten anything all day. The meal was chicken-heavy, but I appreciated the textures and the combinations of sweet and salty: rice salad with smoked chicken and a chutney of unripened papaya (and wasabi-flavored peas!); a rich, slightly sour spinach soup with smoked mackerel; a combination of steamed chicken and fried chicken in a light gravy with a fried mushroom and spicy potato wedges (that must have been what was sizzling behind me); white-chocolate panna cotta with amaretti cookies.

"How many kilometers total?" Leo asked when I checked out.

"One hundred fifty-two." I checked the total. "One hundred fifty-two point sixty-two."

"Every meter counts!"

The quickest way to the airport might have been to climb the fence into the runway -- perhaps a more likely prospect than entering Washington Slagbaai carless. But I decided to go the legal way, and besides, I wanted lunch. I found a casual Indonesian-Chinese place, oddly called La Cumbre (The Peak) -- a name more fitting for Tenerife than for mostly flat Bonaire. I had the babi panggang, sweet and sour roast pork over rice, and ate at a picnic table outside, near the guys drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.

At the airport, I heard my name called. It was the parents of someone on my snorkeling trip with Seacow. She and her partner were from the Boston area, and I'd run into the four of them when I'd gone for ice cream later that afternoon. The parents were staying in Bonaire; the daughter and the partner were on the same flight to Miami as I. Seated in the row behind me.

Much later, about the time a vibrant and nearly vertical rainbow appeared on the approach to Miami (missed by almost everyone else on the plane -- window shades are a senseless barrier between a curious mind and the beauty of the universe), I realized how the parents might have remembered me so easily. When we parked at the gate, I addressed the couple returning to Boston.

"It seems to happen every time I'm on a trip and meet someone, that when I run into them again, I'm wearing the same clothes," I said. "I have done laundry since I saw you last."

"Look at me. I'm wearing the same shirt as well," he said.

"Back to the snow," she said, inserting a seven-letter word before "snow" that indicated her disapproval.

I'm not fond of it either. But perhaps there's room for at least one cold location for the Abecedarian Walks.