Sunday, January 16, 2011

Changing Of The Guard

Saturdays on Bonaire are eventful days. They used to be much more hectic, until the airlines started spacing out their flights.

See, Saturday is the day that the weekly flights from the US and Europe carrying vacationers come to Bonaire. Not exclusively, of course, but most people come on Saturday.

One group makes a ruckus as it sadly packs its things, hoping that still-wet dive gear won't trigger some overweight charge on their flight. In fact, as I typed yesterday's piece at five AM, I was interrupted more than once by people shouting about packing this or forgetting that. The walls are paper thin here.

A few hours of absolute peace and quiet is followed by the clanging noise of people on civilization-time, still carrying the momentum of mechanized living, crashing into the front desk like a tsunami of anxiety: Where's my room? Will my bags be delivered? Can I get a drink at the bar? What time is the dive orientation? Why can't you have it now so I can go diving?

I guess I should explain that last bit a little: each year, by island law, everyone who dives must undergo a "mandatory" (get to that in a minute) orientation with respect to the rules of the road. No gloves on the reef, no touching the reef, no playing with the fish, the protocol for reporting lionfish encounters, and so on. Of course, the resorts all take this as an opportunity to show you around the grounds, especially to places you might spend money.

It's mandatory for everyone except dive professionals who work here. You go thru the orientation because at the end you'll be allowed to purchase a pass that you attach to your BCD (buoyancy control device) that says you're allowed to dive off Bonaire. Believe it or not, I've actually seen this enforced. The STIINAPA (can't be arsed) is pretty vigilant.

And for some reason, me. I was heading down to the orientation when I was told I could give it a miss, just go pay the $25 dollars and they'd give me a tag.

Something to be said, I suppose, for the efficiency of Dutch bureaucracy and the fact that I've been diving this island now 6 of the last seven years. In fact, if I can ever string ten straight years on the island, I can get an ambassadorship.

No! Really! OK, it's not an official ambassadorship with full diplomatic immunity, just a medal from the department of tourism and a free meal. But hey!

Diving yesterday...I made my final dives with my video rig. I've scouted much of the western shore of the island and have found a few unmarked dive sites, sort of nestled in between two other sites. Clearly, they've been dived before, and clearly, the locals prefer I shut up about them.

I did dive one of these sites yesterday and was amazed at how much fun the reef was. Not that diving is never fun. Apart from some crisis, diving usually is. On this reef, however, the fish clearly hadn't seen too many humans and so were swimming right up to our masks. The morays were free swimming, even the groupers were not barking as we passed overhead.

Groupers really do bark and the bigger the grouper, the louder the bark. Google it.

I dived the house reef too, more because with the transition in dive groups on the island, the reef was quiet. Not too many people kicking up crap or harassing the fish. So naturally, I saw things I'd never seen before, like a triggerfish just quietly swimming along, minding its own business. That was an honor, and I got it on tape. The sea does give us gifts, us divers, and this was one.

I'm not sure what today holds in store. It's Sunday, and while I will attend church, it will be the First Church of Our Undersea World. I have to set up my still photography rig (no small task, believe me) and try not to get too annoyed at the newbies doing their orientation dives. I think last week's groups, very large and very young, stressed the resort and the reef out enormously. This week, I'm hoping for a little quiet.