Bonaire 2017 Part II

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Bonaire 2017 Part II

Continued from Part I

Day 5 Dive 16 Hilma Hooker max. 89ft, 61min

Ann finally succumbed to her morning habits and slept this one out. The rest of us dived the Hilma Hooker, a boat best known for being an abandoned drug mule that eventually sank under her own weight. The southern mooring is a pretty long surface swim out and marks the deeper end of the ship. Mind your depth/bottom time as the Hilma Hooker sits in about 100ft of water. There's a good number of tarpons and barracudas at the site.

Dive 17 The Lake max. 86ft, 49min

This was our BEST. DIVE. EVER. The site itself was beautiful: a white sandy "lake" separating the double reef system, connected by coral bridges, and resplendent with life. We saw tarpons, a Southern stingray, a big tiger grouper, but the highlight, at the top of the outer reef, was this black cloud that materialized out of nowhere. As it caught up with each of us, we each in turn realized that we were about to be subsumed by an incoming, house-sized bait ball of bogas being chased by horse-eye jacks.

And this is the one dive where CHEWIE FORGOT HIS CAMERA.

BOGA BALL! BOGA BALL! BOGA BALL!

Dive 18 Weber's Joy max. 61ft, 60min

We headed up north for the afternoon dives. The "Witches' Hut" across the road from the dive hut is long defunct. Entry was easy down the steps from the parking lot, though exit slightly rougher with the waves crashing about. There were plenty of invertebrates here that we didn't get good pictures of. The coral-scape itself was quite magnificent with pillars and tall stands, kind of reminiscent of Karpata, maybe not quite as nice.

Dive 19 Bari's Reef max. 54ft, 47min

Despite what we've read on every shore diving guide to Bonaire exalting this site as one of the best for diversity and macro, we didn't have much luck finding things here (highly possible because we aren't very good at spotting critters yet). The visibility was terrible at times (<5ft) but cleared up a bit farther offshore. This would've been somewhat of an unremarkable dive save a spectacle of frenzied dance of the creole wrasses, or as Jenn puts it, "fishes dating."

Day 6 Dive 20 Invisibles max. 86ft, 57min

The rain overnight had made this site "invisible" indeed. In an attempt to find the outer reef we swam what seemed like an endless five minutes into the deep blue with no frame of reference. Heading back, we finally encountered the "islands" connecting the reefs at the southern end of the site, and spotted a big grouper, plenty of chromis, and goatfish. This would've been a beautiful dive had it not been so silted out...

Dive 21 The Lake, again max. 71ft, 53min

Having profoundly regretted not bring his camera, Chewie campaigned (it wasn't very hard to convince us) for another chance at The Lake. We spent a good portion of the dive cruising the outer reef in search of the boga ball, but alas, it wasn't meant to be ...

Still, a beautiful site. On the way out a few of us got smacked hard by the incoming tides, and Ann ended up with >17 urchin spines of various sizes embedded in her fingers. Ouch.

Dive 22 Karpata max. 72ft, 64min

We've done Karpata a few times, but this was the first from shore. The entry, despite somewhat intimidating looking, is actually not at all bad (the concrete block helps a tremendous amount in stabilizing entry and exit). It's such a beautiful site with rolling coral hills and the afternoon sun rays filtering through the depths. A number of anchors mark the return so it's not that hard to navigate if you know what you're looking for. 

Dive 23 Oil Slick Leap, night-ish dive max. 49ft, 42min

From the giant leap we dropped in on a trio of tiny squids and tied one of our lights to the mooring. We circled close to the light and found lots of drums and soapfish on the prow, along with various kinds of shrimps. Another 4-dive day, and we were pretty exhausted and cold after this one.

Dive 24 The Rock max. 78ft, 47min

Two trips ago a kind couple from Oregon showed us this site– a cone-shaped coral mound in the midst of deep blue. It was fantastically clear and in our memory home to a legendarily large eel. Unfortunately, we weren't quite as good at navigating and ended up swimming in the blue, kind of lost, for a long time without stumbling upon the Rock. Will have to try again next time!

On the return, we scooted along the reef and saw the usual creole wrasses and schools of palometas over sandy bottoms. We also happened upon a group of divers (including Ron Wilsey, a part-time scuba-diving resident of Bonaire), who showed us something that we had spent most of the week searching for: a seahorse!

Dive 25 Salt Pier, Reprise max. 42ft, 59min

We had finally gotten to the last dive of the trip. Originally, we had wanted to be more adventurous and visit some of the southernmost sites. However, after driving all the way down, and seeing the pounding surge, we decided that next time we should come to Bonaire in August/September when the ocean is supposed to be calm like glass. As we drove back north, we saw that the salt boat, which had been docked since our dive there at the beginning of the week, had disappeared between in our surface interval and long drive south! Like vultures at the ready, trucks were just starting to pile-up as all divers homed in on the freshly vacated site. A nice, shallow, and beautiful dive to end the week. 

Unfortunately that marked the end of our repetitive dives as we had to fly in ~24 hours. On the last day, we paid a visit to the very polarizing donkey sanctuary ... Imagine the Walking Dead, but with donkeys. I guess it's worth a visit if you've never been. Not sure what else to say about it.

All in all, a typical fantastic trip to Bonaire. We did get a bit cold at times (water temp was down to 79F), and came home more tired than at the beginning of the vacation. And now we have a few more friends fall in love with Bonaire. Until next time. Let op, drempels!

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Bonaire 2017 Part I

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Bonaire 2017 Part I

Here's a very belated report from our Bonaire trip in March. This was our fourth trip and we managed to convince five friends to join us at our happy place. Our usual hangout at Blachi Koko was booked up, so we ended up staying at L'Ambiance Villa, a beautiful and well-furnished house with outdoor BBQ grill, swimming pool, and more than enough beds for the whole gang x 2. With two double-cabin trucks, provisions from our favorite Dutch grocery, Van den Tweels, and unlimited air/nitrox fills from WannaDive, we were ready for a week of SCUBA adventure: 25 dives, 22h+ underwater, one aborted attempt, and, sigh, one visit to the donkey sanctuary.

Day 1 Dive 1: Front Porch max. 95ft, 40min

Bernd, being the newest certified diver (yay!) in our group, seemed a bit unsure about this week of diving he'd just committed to. We descend as a group into our first checkout dive. About ~90ft down there's a small barge with a monstrous green moray eel lurking beneath, and in his excitement Bernd totally forgot about this thing called "depth" (worry not, Grace took good care of him). The reef isn't terribly long or impressive, but just past its Northern end there's a huge patch of garden eels that Ann spent a good 5 minutes trying to creep upon.

Dive 2: Windsock max. 68ft, 53min

Easy entry and navigation for our second dive. This place is like Salt Pier-Lite: there's lots of rubble to explore along the pylons, where we found an abundance of grunts and snappers and a very cute juvenile smooth trunkfish. The other thing to know about this site is that it's the home for the Kite City food truck, which has some of the best lunch choices in Bonaire. Check their Facebook page to see if they'll be around! Also good for a pre-flight meal as Windsock as right across the street from the airport. 

In the afternoon Michelle, the last of our group, arrived, so back we went to Front Porch for her checkout dive. To everyone's surprise we found ourselves struggling against a heavy current. Damn tides. After a fruitless 2-minute swim, we called it.

Dive 3: Oil Slick max. 69ft, 41min

This is one of our favorite sites from the previous trips. The reef starts almost immediately from the rocky, critter-filled cliff that lines the iron shore and entry is via a GIANT leap straight into the ocean. Chewie may have given everyone a heart attack with a near-stumble on the cliffs while putting on his fins. For the less adventurous, there is a metal ladder that can used for both entry and exit. It's a very short swim to the drop-off and mooring buoy. Sightings here: creole wrasses, parrotfish, eels, shrimps, drums, and so many sweepers under the ledges. 

Since it's our first full day in Bonaire, we're taking it easy and paying a visit to Van den Tweel's to stock up for the week. 

This is Chewie's dive #100! 

Day 2 Dive 4: Leonora's Reef, Klein Bonaire max. 73ft, 58min

From the docks of WannaDive, it's a ~10 minute ride to the north side of Klein Bonaire. Despite the surface surf (white caps and a steady wind across the channel), the currents are mild and visibility phenomenal here. As with many other sites on Klein Bonaire, the hard corals here are in relatively good condition and homes to shoals of smaller fishes. It's a pretty nice site.

Dive 5: Carl's Hill, Klein Bonaire max. 68ft, 60min

At the NW corner of Klein Bonaire lies Carl's Hill. Apparently it'd been damaged by Hurricane Omar (?) years back but against all odds the coral have been growing back along this GORGEOUS, sea whip and gorgonian-covered wall. In the shallows we encounter soft corals and tons of baby fish darting amongst the fire coral blades.

This is Ann's dive #100! 

Dive 6: Salt Pier max. 48ft, 77min

This is one of everybody's favorite sites in Bonaire. Home to huge amounts of sea life, it's where we're almost guaranteed to see squid, octopus, tarpons, and turtles on every dive. However, it's only open to divers when the salt ship is not docked, which can take up the better half of a week. Not wanting to take any chances we headed out to it in the first afternoon we could (and not a moment too soon). The viz wasn't actually that great this time, but as expected, the pier was just brimming with life: midnight parrotfish, barracudas (much more than previous years), octopus, cleaner shrimps and arrowhead crabs, and schools upon schools of grunts and jacks and chromis... and turtles!

Dive 7: Bachelor's Beach max. 54ft, 53min

Bernd's been a trouper so far, and (literally) jumped into his first night dive with alacrity. We headed out at dusk, and got in the water ~10 minutes before sunset. Not much was happening until about half an hour after dark, when the tarpons appeared out of the deep and began to hunt by the light of our torches. In a flash an 8-inch long goatfish disappeared into a shower of shiny scales, accompanied by a sickening (or if you're Bernd, exhilarating) crunch...

Day 3 Dive 8: Funchi's Reef (East Coast) max. 82ft, 57min

Right after Ann got her OW in 2012, we did a drift dive from Cai to White Hole. It still counts as one of the most amazing dives we've done in Bonaire (and in retrospect, a bit scary given how green we were). So here we are on a zodiac boat back on the wild coast, braving seasickness and cresting over 8-10 foot waves like it's nothing.

If it weren't for the terrible visibility this would've been a great dive. We passed more than a few groups of eagle rays, a large Southern stingray, a giant black grouper, and god knows what else in the silty waters.

Dive 9: Turtle City max. 55ft, 59min

Well well, didn't this site live up to its name... This place, apparently, is one of the few places in the world where turtles are known to sleep during the day. Bottom topography was really interesting with multiple cleaning stations, free-swimming green moray eels, and just heaps of sleepy turtles.

If we never see a turtle again, we'll be okay. Before jumping into the water we were told to keep a tally of the turtles we saw, and somewhere around 50 everyone just gave up...

Dive 10: 1000 Steps max. 70ft, 65min

This place is another of our favorite sites (really which one isn't??), if not in part because when we came with Matt and Lizzy in 2013 we had a (likely) false shark alarm. By now we're hiking down the 78 or something steps in full gear like pros, and are rewarded with sightings of palometas, way too many parrotfishes to count, Pederson shrimps, crevalle jacks (!), and ah well, a few lion fish :-\

Day 4 Dive 12: Kalli's Reef max. 68ft, 59min

Kalli's is kind of like 1000 steps, minus the steps and by boat entry only. The drop off is fairly steep and descends below 100ft. Along the wall we encountered a school of tarpons and a yea.... the viz sucked. But in the shallows a pair of squids swam over to check us out, so it was all worth it...

Dive 13: Knife, Klein Bonaire max. 64ft, 54min

A bit of current here and there, nice migration of the creole wrasse, large schools of tangs, and Ann's favorite fish, Chubby McChubface.

Dive 14: Alice in Wonderland max. 72ft, 56min

As a part of the southern double reef system this site supposedly has some nice features...? but viz and afternoon nap time for fishes were not in our favor on this dive. The second (outer) reef looks better than the first, but it also goes down much too deep (100ft) for the third dive of our day. On the plus side, there wasn't much current.

Dive 15: Angel City max. 67ft, 54min

Great. Dive. As soon as we descended by the mooring we encountered 3 squids. We swam to outer reef via a coral bridge, and for the first time really appreciated the incredible landscape that's the double reef system. Unfortunately we also saw five too many lionfish.

Three legged turtle... didn't we see him before? We had a terrible time exiting, being tossed about by pounding waves. Still, a great site, and a good sunset.

continuing onto Bonaire Part II

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Chasing Lights

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Chasing Lights

Without a doubt, one of our most magical memories together was watching the night sky light up with the swirling and snaking green tendrils of the aurora borealis. It was a sight that cemented our love for Iceland and ensured that we'd return time and again. We've often joked to each other that if ever a favorable aurora forecast (more on that later) coincided with cheap airfare, we'd hop back over for a quick weekend jaunt. It's been over 5 years since, with a single summer visit to Iceland in between (although Ann will gladly remind me of her layover without me). And then it happened. Kp 4-5. $270 roundtrip. It was time to return to the land of Ice and Fire. 

At the outset, the mission was simple: a trek into the Vatnajökull ice caves and a night of basking under the northern lights. But as word got around about our upcoming venture, our intimate weekend getaway quickly snowballed into a bit of an unruly party: Matt, our ever faithful third-wheel, and Ravi from the 2011 trip that started it all, plus their respective significant others Jenn and Elizabeth. And then there were Julia and Yin, not to be left out of the action, who joined in less than two days before departure (but only after Yin realized that he could make it back in time to still see the Superbowl). Heading into the weekend we closely monitored the Kp index and weather. All looked well and the excitement was palpable.

We should have known better.

The first inkling of trouble came with an email from Pink Iceland, who was (again) helping us with our travel arrangements: our tour to the crystal ice cave was canceled due to flooding from recent rains, but we could visit a different "black ice" cave nearby. Not ideal, but we'll take it.

The flight to Reykjavik itself was rather nondescript and we actually arrived ahead of schedule. Ravi reported, to our collective envy, that he'd seen the aurora from the plane. After loading up on caffeine and picking up the car, we headed due east towards Jökulsárlón. It was around 5:30am and we had plenty of time before our afternoon tour. Unlike our first winter visit, the road was mostly free of snow and ice and the landscape surprisingly green. We made good speed past Reykjavik, and it seemed like smooth sailing. Then it hit us. Hard, driving, pelting snow–a perfect storm of wintry mix came down sideways at our small convoy. Through the furiously working windshield wipers we could barely see ahead; it was somewhat terrifying, but beautiful at the same time. It went away as quickly as it came, and before long we saw Seljalandsfoss in the distance, lit from beneath with enormous lights that must have been a new addition since we were last here. This called for our first pit-stop on the trip. We fumbled through our carryon bags for warm clothing, and in the pre-dawn light took some photos by the waterfall. 

We continued onwards, hoping to make it to Vik in time to see the sunrise. About half an hour out of Seljalandsfoss, I had the sudden, heart-stopping realization that my wedding ring wasn't on my finger! We pulled over, and after a panicked deliberation decided to return straightaway to Seljalandsfoss to search the grounds of the parking lot. We found nothing. About to return to the car disheartened, I heard someone call out "found it!" Ann proved to be my savior as she doggedly searched through our bags and found the errant ring at the bottom of our backpack: it must have slipped off my finger in the cold while I was grabbing our gear out. Disaster averted but having taken a one-hour detour (sorry guys!), we raced on towards the black sand beach at Reynisfjara. We made it barely in time to catch some of the first morning rays touch the familiar basalt pillars of Reynisdrangar.

Sunrise over Reynisfjara, at 9:49AM.

To our surprise, a throng of Asian tourists had already assembled on the beach by the time we got to it. Between the  dangerous 'sneaker' waves and people jostling for spots to take the best photos, the beach was anything but tranquil.

Unfortunately, we were a bit too early to eat at the fantastic Black Beach Restaurant and because of the ring affair running short on time. So, as is par for the course for an Icelandic road trip, we found ourselves at the N1, picking up a few hotdogs for sustenance, and refueling on gas as well as more caffeine to keep the drivers going.

A mad race later we arrived at Jökulsárlón. The tour, lead by Siggi of South East Iceland, was a lot of fun. It was our first time walking on a glacier, which was essentially a giant sheet of slippery, glassy ice in varying shades of blue and gray. With the crampons providing firm footing, we clambered along Breiðamerkurjökull for a good two hours, stopping by various ice formations, peeking into the flooded entrance of the crystal cave (Sad!), and ending with a visit to the Black Diamond ice cave. 

The tour ended just as the sun was setting. Despite growing hunger and fatigue, we swung by the nearby Diamond Beach to admire some of the beached 'bergs before heading off to the aptly-named Skyrhusid in search of hot food and shower. After dinner, the weather worsened. We drove back out anyway in an attempt to find a hole in the cloud cover. Alas, it was not meant to be. 

We woke early the next morning after not-enough sleep. The first car had a long drive back to Reykjavik to catch return flights; we wanted to go back to the Diamond Beach for some more pictures. Ann had had the bright (hah...) idea of bringing along our 1200 lumen SCUBA light, which, in addition to being conveniently waterproof, lit the icebergs in dramatic fashion. I, on the other hand, almost sacrificed myself to the Drowned God.

We were back on the road, rushing yet again to catch our second tour. Julia gave us periodic updates from the other car: heavy snow ahead; traffic slowed to a crawl. They wanted to see Winter Iceland, now they got it.

We made it to Sólheimajökull (Sun-home-glacier) just as our group was gearing up. Overnight a thick blanket of snow had fallen and painted it white. We dutifully trudged behind our guide, taking care to avoid the hidden crevasses and moulins.

As luck would have it, a tiny hole had opened up inside Sólheimajökull. So we got a tour of a blue ice cave after all.

Everybody took a bite (or a lick) of glacial ice and snow:

By mid-afternoon the weather had improved (after a few hiccups). For the first time on this trip, we were also not rushing to get somewhere. So after the tour we backtracked to Vik, and finally got to satisfy my cravings for lamb soup and Skyr cake at Black Beach Restaurant, which was now open.

Back at the Skogar Guesthouse, we discovered to our delight that it had an outdoor hot tub. After two days of being cold, wet, and tired, soaking our weary souls in its warmth–as fluffy snow came down–was exactly what we needed. It was amaaaazing. We were rejuvenated, and ready to go out aurora hunting once again.

This time we were armed with a bit more info, and the weather was better, though sadly the solar storm had largely subsided by the evening (and we were running out of gas with no gas station open nearby). So we did the best we could by driving down the nearest inland-bound, not-F road near Seljalandsfoss. Julia will never believe any of our photos ever again. This was after some long exposure, but we did manage to see or hallucinate some green...

Photos from the road. Icelandic winter days are short and dramatic. We experienced sunshine, snow, hail, and rain in the span of hours. On the way out the lava fields were black and hraun green, and on the return everything had turned into a sheet of white. The light changed constantly. In exchange for the brief window of daylight, it was always golden hour...

So ends another trip. Some general observations:

  • This was supposedly the warmest winter in 160+ years of weather records. We stood no chance with the Jokulsarlon ice caves.
  • Solheimajokull is still receding, even since our last visit there, at the pace of ~300m a year. Go watch Chasing Ice.
  • There were WAY more tourists (probably because of Chinese New Years around this time of the year). We were surprised to learn that hotels and guesthouses are now booked full year-round.
  • Food remains expensive. Icelandic lamb is still incredibly delicious. As is Mountain House.
  • Weather and space weather forecasts are not to be trusted. More on that later.
  • They find our president situation incredibly funny...
  • GLOBAL WARMING!

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