In a few days I leave for Bonaire, a small island off the coast of Venezuela. For four weeks I’ll be subject to rhythms of sun, moon, and stars, as well as underwater currents and crashing waves.
People who ask “What do you do there?” are never satisfied with the above explanation. “Don’t you get bored?” I’ve heard that a hundred times.
Not long ago I ran into a friend who lit up when I mentioned Bonaire. “I know that island!” she said. “We were on a cruise ship that stopped there. We were supposed to go somewhere else but we woke up in Bonaire. The only sights they had to show us were the salt flats and a national park full of mosquitos. And the town was dead.”
“I will never tire of looking at the water.”
“Yes,” she allowed. “There was plenty of that.”
The island’s world-class coral reef is what attracts most people as it did my dive partner and me 23 consecutive years ago. Yet, while my SCUBA diving days wane, Bonaire’s charms multiply. As soon as I overcome the stress of putting my city life on hold I’ll rise before dawn each morning and walk. Taking the road that hugs the water I’ll watch for birds, donkeys, and friends who may join me. I’ll scrounge the beach for two perfect-size coral rocks to use as arm weights during my stay. Then I’ll walk briskly home before the rising sun gets too hot.
I know enough not to tell most people that one year every evening at dusk my friend and I counted bats as they emerged from the eaves of our lodgings. Serving as volunteer census takers for the island’s Bat Patrol we became attached to our bat population that has since plummeted from a high of 42 to the single digits.
When people ask “What do you do for nightlife?” I don’t tell them about counting bats or that I’m usually asleep by 9 o’clock. I might not even mention Wednesday movie night for fear of ruining it with popularity. Out in the countryside under the stars, as rustling palms provide a supplementary sound track, a first-run movie is shown after a simple meal at the circular bar wrapped around a huge divi-divi tree. All for $10, not including beer. You have to call in the morning to learn the night’s feature. Fingers crossed I won’t have seen most of them.
“How can you stand to be out of touch for so long?” concerned friends want to know.
It’s true you can’t buy The New York Times, but recently TV has expanded to include the Nightly News with Brian Williams. It’s enough for me as my focus shifts. The Bonaire Reporter, the island’s only English newspaper, is circulated free every other Friday. Snippets in the Flotsam and Jetsam column bring me up-to-date on Bonaire’s gossip as if I’d only missed a year’s soap opera. I also learn of the coming celestial events. Close to the equator, it’s possible to follow unpolluted skies of both hemispheres. I’ll see what cruise ships are expected so as to avoid town on those days. There’s certain to be a picture and short biography of a homeless cat or dog up for adoption at the local animal shelter, interviews of a fascinating island resident and review of a new shop or restaurant. Like news fit to print at home, proposed conservation measures or expansion projects will be fiercely debated in editorials and letters to the editor.
Speaking the native language, Papiamentu, is not necessary for survival. But a great number of Bonaire’s citizens have a command of four languages—English, Dutch, Spanish and Papiamentu. Mama Lou is doing her best to teach me. As she arrives for work at the dive shop each morning she looks up to my porch and calls out, “Bon dia,mi dushi. Kon ta bai?” I reply, “Bon, danki.” She says, “Pasa bon dia” and I end the conversation with “Egualmente” or just plain “Egual.”
“How can you keep going back to the same place year after year? Don’t you want to have new experiences?”
In addition to improving my Papiamentu? I want to experience this year’s best snorkeling sites. See what progress has been made regrowing corals on threatened reefs or stemming the lionfish infestation. Check the dock to learn if the tarpons are still making their evening rounds. Watch to see what birds respond to the sugar water I put out. And count bats.
“I could stand it for a week, but four weeks?”
Surely these questioners don’t love to read. The books on my Kindle await like hidden chocolate. Numbed by breaking waves crashing in the background, I take reading as my drug of choice. Once I confessed my addiction to reading on Bonaire to a fellow book lover. “But couldn’t you just stay home and read twenty books?”
Doesn’t anyone understand?