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Trip 30 -- Bonaire Walk

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

It was almost a given that, as part of the alphabet-based collection of islands that will make up my Abecedarian Walks, I would complete the group known as the ABC islands.

Bonaire is probably the least-known of the ABCs. Aruba gets mentioned as a not-quite-rhyme for Bermuda in that Beach Boys song. Curaçao, land of the cedilla, is known for that liquor and its historic synagogue. I wasn't even pronouncing "Bonaire" properly until someone corrected me three months ago.

But just a few hours ago it was a prize on "Wheel of Fortune." The secret must be out, I thought, and I purchased my ticket to depart a few hours later.

No, of course it didn't work that way. I've had this planned, tentatively, since before CuraƧao. And I've kept everything as tentative as I could, even canceling my hotel reservation on Monday (just before the penalty-free deadline) and rebooking after yesterday's antigen test came back negative. I've been playing a world-map version of "Press Your Luck," it seems, and perhaps it's only a matter of time before I hit the Covid equivalent of a Whammy and my travels are abruptly halted. I was certain I was going to get it from Claire back in Costa Adeje.

CityMD said I was good to go, but Delta Air Lines' arbitrary test-verification partner said otherwise. They also didn't explain their reasoning. So, without the certainty provided by an advance boarding pass, I'm left to make the overnight journey to Newark Airport in order to arrive at least an hour and a half before my 6:00 a.m. flight.

The overpriced Coach USA bus doesn't run early enough. Neither does the overpriced train. And neither does my usual mode, the much more reasonably priced 107 bus to the remote parking lot and then the shuttle to the terminals.

So I'm left with the only method that's available overnight: the PATH train to Newark Penn Station and then the 62 bus. Clearly planners at both agencies sat down over a few stiff cocktails one night and, after some laughs, scribbled out a schedule that results in the least convenient connections. I have my choice of missing the 3:30 bus by two minutes or a three-minute sprint to the 4:15 bus.

I have had good experiences with the PATH recently, but I don't trust it to adhere that closely to the schedule, and, more crucially, I can never find the bus lanes at Newark Penn Station. I have run all over the building at various times and usually end up outside a locked door on Market Street, somehow completely out of sight of all people and the giant station I have just exited, and I've hustled halfway to Elizabeth before finding anything that looks like a bus stop.

Then I noticed that -- and given my quarter-century experience with New Jersey Transit I'm not entirely surprised -- the schedule for the 62 bus lists middle-of-the-night buses both at the top of the schedule and at the bottom. At the top there are what I assumed were the first two buses of the day, at 3:30 and 4:15. But at the bottom, the last two buses of the "day" are at 3:00 and 4:00. And once I found those, I crafted a route leaving me a very reasonable eight-minute transfer instead of the 38 minutes I initially thought I'd be waiting out in America's scuzziest terminal building.

I considered walking it, of course. Newark Airport must be the ultimate in pedestrian-unfriendly access -- a map of the area looks as though someone has tied the shoelaces of about ten pairs together -- and I'd love to prove that it can be done. It looks just about doable with a stroll down Frelinghuysen Avenue. However, 3:00 a.m. in winter is not the time for that, especially since the last time -- the only time -- I've walked along that stretch of Frelinghuysen I was about ten minutes late to a drive-by shooting. I'd be happy not to return there, at any time.

There aren't many books about Bonaire. Of the few that came up during my search, one was a romance novel bearing almost-naked, almost-kissing characters on the front and a teaser that said, "She's in deep -- in love and in trouble." This was not going to introduce me to the equivalent of Tenerife's banana plantations or the murder of Malta's most controversial journalist. According to the book's accompanying blurb, the woman in the purple bra -- at least I assume it's she -- was a scuba instructor.

Nearly every book about Bonaire involves scuba. The island's reef system is among the world's best, and the relatively calm water and closeness of the reef to the shore make it particularly accessible. The book I did choose, "Back on Bonaire," was written by a longtime Bonaire visitor and scuba instructor, Andrew Jalbert, who rediscovered the island through the eyes of his young son a few years ago.

I've never been a confident swimmer, and Jalbert's book was the first impetus I've ever had to look up what would be involved in obtaining scuba certification. There won't be time on this trip, but there will be time for snorkeling -- something I've done only once.

But before I navigate the blue water, I have to navigate Newark Penn Station.

Go on to day 1