Bonaire Mission Trip Summary

It has been two months since I returned from the mission field, and I’m sure many of you are wondering how it turned out. I wanted to wait until the final outcome of my website project was known before I sent out a final communiqué. I have just returned last week from the TWR Canada office in London,Ontario, where I was debriefed by Canadian President Ray Alary. TWR Canada was my sending agency, while I actually worked for TWR Bonaire, which is under the direction of TWR International in the U.S.

The primary reason for my mission trip was to launch a new website for TWR Bonaire. That goal has now been achieved with the September 12th launch of I was also able to catalogue the majority of photographs in the Bonaire archives. Further, we launched an investigation into the possibility of a Listen Live feature on the new website that would allow listeners to hear TWR’s transmissions via streaming audio over the Internet. Lastly, I was able to train some of the staff on Bonaire in the use of the web-authoring software that runs the new website, as well as various other Google productivity software.

That said, my trip was not without some frustration. The software package, Global Web Platform, used to create this new website, came with some challenges and limitations.  Unfortunately, since this is a new software package, less than a year old, I quickly realized it was not as robust as I had anticipated.  Thankfully we were able to fix a few minor bugs, and though I was not able to develop it as I had hoped, in the end, the fact remains that TWR Bonaire now has its own website. I am grateful for the opportunity to have served on Bonaire with the staff there, and excited to have had the opportunity to be a part of this new website launch.

From a personal point of view, after a 28-year absence, this mission trip allowed me to spend the final two weeks with my sister back on the mission field where we both grew up. We spent several evenings under the Caribbean stars talking about her need of a Saviour. While she did not immediately respond, who knows where this may lead? Beyond that, the joy of being able to rediscover Bonaire and scuba dive almost every day is something I’ll never forget.

Diving with my sister, Joanna, was one of the highlights of my trip.

And so I would like to sincerely thank all of my supporters and prayer partners for making this trip possible.

This will be the final post of my Bonaire blog. I hope you have enjoyed being able to travel with me vicariously. From this point on, I will convert this website from a missions-trip blog to a more personal blog.

Yours in Christ,

John A. McDonald

Exploring Curaçao – Sept. 15, 2012

Tonight I’m sitting on my parents’ sofa back in Kitchener after a delicious homemade meal. I’ll be completing my Bonaire blog with Saturday’s and Sunday’s blogs.

Photos here

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Saturday morning began with me waking up at 6:30, but Joanna wanted to sleep longer. We were at the Clarion Hotel in Curaçao after we had been forced to travel to Curaçao a day early due to the cancellation of the Saturday morning flight from Bonaire.

I decided to go downstairs to do the Friday blog,  and ended up sitting beside Clarion’s attractive pool. By the time I got back upstairs, Joanna was up, and we went down to the poolside restaurant. The breakfast was included in our bill, and was actually very good.

We discussed how we would spend our day, as we didn’t have to fly out of Curaçao until 3:40 in the afternoon. We decided to rent a car and explore the island, after which we would park the rental at the hotel. When we inquired about this at the front desk, she said she knew just the company that could do this, and made a call. The rental car man said he would be there in 25 minutes, so we decided to pack up and leave right away. After we had tidied up and brought our suitcases downstairs, we eventually met a young Curaçaoian man who said he was with the rental company. Joanna had stepped around the corner for a few moments, and he said he needed me to bring the car back from an adjacent parking lot. I jumped in what looked like his personal car, and drove about four blocks away, where I got in a small Hyundai vehicle. The clutch took a bit of getting used to, but in a few minutes, we were back at the hotel.

This is where it got a bit strange. From what I could tell, he ran his own rental company, with probably only a couple of cars in the fleet. It looked like this was his personal vehicle that we were renting. He wanted us to pay in cash, which we agreed to. It was $55 for the day, plus gas. The tank was on empty, so we had to fill up right away.

After we sat down in the car, I said to Joanna that the situation looked a bit odd, as we hadn’t checked for possible damage or insurance. I asked if she wanted to continue, and we both agreed that while it was a bit unusual, we would go ahead. He agreed to meet us at the airport around 2:00 p.m., and told us to just park it in the parking lot, and he would find us, which seemed a different way of doing things.

Soon we were flying down the road, admiring the sights! The first thing we noticed was the the World Trade Centre, situated beside the Clarion Hotel.

As we drove along the coastal road, we came across what looked like gigantic desalination plants. Just like Bonaire, all the water used on the island is desalinated sea water.

We then passed a huge oil rig ship docked nearby. It towered over the landscape, and was quite impressive.

Before we knew it, we arrived at the Otra Banda tourist section of Curaçao. We parked the car and decided to walk across the pontoon bridge.

The Renaissance Hotel was on the far side of the channel, with the old fort beside that. The pontoon bridge itself is actually a floating bridge, supported by a bunch of pontoons that look like little boats. It creaked and swayed as we walked onto it. The camera was put to good use, taking lots of photos of the picturesque old Dutch-style buildings that make up this area.

The main traffic bridge is about a kilometre further up the channel, with this area being strictly for pedestrians.

When we got to the other side, we decided to walk around a few blocks. Joanna was able to pick up an SD card in order to transfer some of my pictures to for her to take home. We came across some beautifully decorated alleyways, with sculptures of sunflowers, etc. There was a bell clarion on the side of one of the buildings. This downtown section is very attractive, with some beautiful old gingerbread architecture and ornate roof peaks.

After we had walked through a few alleyways, we came out to the fruit market area which is still along a canal. These vendors are most likely from Venezuela, and their produce looked very good. We also passed a group of Boy Scouts. Apparently the Boy Scout movement is very big in Curaçao. There were also a few boats selling fish.

We rounded the corner and came back to the water’s edge, intending to walk back across to our car. I asked Joanna what she thought the motor noise was across the water, and she pointed to the pontoon bridge, which was now folded up against the far side of the channel! We weren’t going to be crossing on the pontoon bridge any time soon. We browsed in a few more shops, and then discovered that there was a ferry that could take us to the far side. It only took five minutes for it to arrive back on our side, and another five minutes for it to cross the channel. It is quite a handy system they have, and the tourists seem to love it.

We figured that a large ship must be approaching the harbour from beyond, and, sure enough, a container ship soon appeared around the corner of the bay. It had two large tugs and a pilot boat accompanying it.

We also noticed that the entire pontoon bridge was made almost completely out of wood. Years ago, Curaçao was the favourite vacation spot for the TWR staff working on Bonaire. It now seems that both sides of the channel have been cleaned up, and are very attractive, with various statues and concert venues on the plaza.

Soon it was time to carry on. We hopped in the car, and crossed the large bridge to the other side, heading eastward on the island. The trick was that we had no GPS, and only a fold-out map to go by. Joanna assumed the job of navigator, and found it very challenging. Here the street signs indicate the destination of a particular road, and not the name of the road itself. Nonetheless, we only had to turn around once.

As we drove along, we could see the large oil refinery ahead. Previously it had been owned by Shell, but was now leased to Venezuela to process their oil. I heard that the environmental upgrades had not yet been started. There was a considerable haze on the horizon as a result of what appeared to be a very busy refinery.

As we drove further east, we noticed that Curaçao seems to have a lot more medium-size mountains than Bonaire. We saw a few mango trees, and figured that in general, Curaçao gets more rainfall than Bonaire.

Another observation was that there was a great deal of industrial activity on Curaçao as compared to Bonaire. Curaçao has 150,000 people, and apparently very lax environmental laws.

Later on in the afternoon, we had some time to kill after we arrived at the airport, so we drove past it, and tried to find a dive site on the coast, as I wanted to see the ocean again. No sooner had we turned off the highway then we realized we were driving through what looked like a dump, with garbage strewn on either side of the road. My guess is this was an abandoned landfill area where people continued to throw out things at random.

When we arrived at the edge of the sea, there was already what looked like a septic-tank truck parked right near the edge of the ocean. To our horror, the driver got out and opened up a big spigot at the back of the truck, which spewed raw sewage into the ocean! It was really quite disconcerting to watch. Curaçao could certainly use an organization like STINAPA to protect the environment. It seems one of the basic differences between Curaçao and Bonaire is Curaçao’s lack of environmental concern.

But back to our travels.

Joanna had spotted some land houses along the map, a fair distance to the east. These are the old plantation houses from the colonial days. When we tried to reach them, we ended up on a private road and had to turn around. She then spotted some land houses past the airport, and so we decided to check them out instead. We stopped for lunch at a Subway, and brought the sandwiches with us to eat later. The land house we found was called Papaya Land house. Apparently hundreds of years ago, this used to be a papaya plantation. The building was a magnificent 150-year old stone structure that was now used by evangelical Christians as a drug rehabilitation centre. The manager was a very enthusiastic older man who was eager to show us around the facility.

They can house forty men here who are recovering drug addicts. They have various chores around the property, with about a quarter of them working in the community. There were chickens running throughout. In addition to the old servant quarters, they had built two more bunk houses at the rear of the property. They also had an old cistern which was unused. This is another paradox of these islands in that cisterns are outlawed. Apparently the excuse was that mosquitoes would breed in them. My sister, who owns a farm, found it incredible that they could not use rain water for irrigation.

The manager explained that they had a 70% success rate with the residents who stayed from between nine to eleven months. Of the thirty per cent, some would have to return up to five different times before they could kick their drug habits. Joanna wasn’t entirely convinced that the statistics were accurate.

We then headed up the road, and came across what we thought was a resort. It had a very large Las Vegas-style sign at the front bearing the words Campo Allegra. As we drove closer to it, we noticed that it was completely surrounded by a cement wall. It was then that we realized that the sign was a fig leaf, and this was a nudist colony. We headed back down the highway.

It was time to return to the airport, and wait to meet the owner of the vehicle. As we were a bit early, we decided to get our bags checked in, and then sat down in a restaurant to wait. I took the opportunity to dictate my blog from the previous day.

It took us half an hour to finally locate the owner, but it all turned out well in the end. Joanna commented later that some people wouldn’t have been willing to take this kind of risk in order to explore the island. The rental man was probably just an ambitious businessman who will likely do well in the future.

We went through security, and discovered that we were not allowed to take any liquids with us into the airport. This was a new rule from the previous year, and so we ended up a little thirsty throughout the rest of the day. They even refused water purchased in the airport lounge.

The flight left on schedule at 3:40, bound for Miami. We were able to get aisle seats beside each other, and spent most of the time reading our e-books.

When we arrived in Miami, they required us to pick up our baggage and go through security, and then take it to another baggage counter to put it on the next plane. Even with the extra security precautions, we still made our flight on time.

The flight from Miami to Toronto was uneventful, but a bit tiring. Joanna and I took turns playing Angry Birds on my iPad. Like myself, Joanna never has time for video games, and so rather enjoyed this distraction.

By the time we were off the plane in Toronto, it was ten minutes after midnight.

Joanna’s partner was there on schedule to meet her, and we exchanged hugs all the way around. I told Joanna that this had been one of the best birthdays I had ever had. In fact, I felt pretty good for being a half century old!

Soon I was aboard an Airways Transit van, heading back to Kitchener. When I entered my condo, my cat was there to greet me, which was wonderful. By the time I finally got to sleep, it was almost 2:30 on Sunday morning. I must admit, it sure feels good to be home!

Curaçao by Accident – Sept. 14, 2012

It is Saturday morning, and I’m writing Friday’s blog from the Curaçao airport. Sweat is rolling down my back, which is a part of the south I won’t miss. How we spent this morning will be the subject of the next blog, but for now, we are enjoying the last few hours of the tropical environment.

Photos here

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Friday morning started as it always does with diving plans—-today I plan to go diving at 9:00 a.m. It was to be my last Sea Monitor sensor dive. Joanna wanted to do some shopping while I was diving, and left the house about a minute ahead of me. Not two blocks down the road, she was standing at the side of the road, waving me down. Apparently she had run out of gas. I pulled around the corner, and she tried unsuccessfully to restart it. We looked in the tank, and there seemed to be at least some gas, but repeated attempts failed to get it going. Upon further investigation, we found the reserve switch, but it still failed to start. We called the scooter company, and they sent a fellow by on another scooter. He ended up replacing the spark plug, and we got it going. Joanna had me follow her to the gas station. We filled both her scooter and my car, and Joanna zoomed off again. After I left, apparently she broke down again, but this time realized that the reserve switch was turned the wrong way.

I then decided that I should double-check on Jon Hilgers as he had mentioned in an email that he might show up at ten o’clock at the City Café. I never got a response when I told him that would be too early for me. I dropped by anyway, and happened to meet Jon sitting with Joanna at a table! She had accidentally met him on the street while doing some shopping, and he assumed that we were there to meet him. We exchanged CDs about our respective religions, and had a nice conversation. He also introduced us to another one of his Bonairian friends. It was nice to see Mr. Hilgers again, but we were somewhat surprised by his new religious fervour for Raja Yoga.

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I then realized that we were close to the time to meet with the bookstore man, so I gave up my plans of diving, and we headed over there a bit early. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the store, so instead, we went shopping, and we both picked up some souvenirs. Then it was back to the store to wait for Addo, and I managed to pick up a few more souvenirs!

When he did walk in, both Joanna and myself sat down with him and discussed the colouring books. He proposed he give Mom royalties for her artwork, and print the books himself on Bonaire. (Joanna is sitting beside me playing Angry Birds for the first time, and just achieved three stars. We have a budding videogame-aholic here, I’m afraid.)

We called Mom on Skype, and she was able to take part in the negotiations directly. We ended up making a deal for the royalties, and Addo’s assistance in editing the captions. He also suggested adding the Spanish language as well. Needless to say, Mom was overjoyed!

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We then went home. I grabbed the scuba gear, and headed out for my last dive.

On the way to the dive site, I dropped off the fish/reef books Donna had loaned me, and said good bye to everyone at TWR.

I picked up the free scuba tank at Hamlet Dive Shop. Then it was back to Eden Beach for the 45th dive of my holidays. Forty-five dives in 46 days is a pretty good average, I figure!

Dive: Front Porch

As I geared up and got in the water, it didn’t seem of any consequence that I was diving alone. My comfort level has reached the point where I can just relax and enjoy the scenery.

Once again, I was able to find the sensors suspended above the wreck with no difficulty. I spent a little extra time cleaning the flotation bottles, and methodically taking all the readings from the seven different sensors. I get a kick out of working in the middle of the ocean!

After about 20 minutes, I proceeded with the rest of my dive, and was able to take some good pictures of some very friendly queen angel fish. I also spent a fair bit of time cutting up strands of fishing line that were littering the reef. Rather than trying to stuff the fishing line in my pocket, I chopped it into six-inch pieces and left them on the bottom. I did take with me some lines that had lead weights attached. And so I spent my last dive giving back to the reef. In fact, as I started my ascent to the surface, I actually turned around and waved good bye to the reef . . . strange as that may sound. Altogether my dive lasted 72 blissful minutes!

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I had closed my account with Bruce Bowker earlier in the morning, and then went to Wannadive and closed my account there as well. They would do it for you automatically if you don’t drop by, but I wanted to get the transaction completed that day.

I then dropped the sensor off at Yellow Submarine, and gave Albert from Sea Monitor a call on the cell phone to say good bye.

I also met a diver there who had a re-breather tank. It looks like a yellow astronaut backpack and costs $10,000. It is fully computerized, and actively blends a tri-mix of gases maintaining an oxygen partial pressure of 1.3. The result is a huge increase in safety, and vastly more bottom time. He had just returned from a 40-metre dive. Several divers had gathered around to admire it, all a bit jealous, I’m sure.

Then I dropped by the Divi Dive Shop, and returned my weights, and settled my bill there.

It was home for a quick bowl of soup. I checked my email. This is where the story gets a little weird.

Lo and behold, I had an email from Insel Air telling me that my flight Saturday morning had been cancelled, and I would be flying out at 4:00 p.m. instead. I quickly responded, saying that my American Airlines flight to Miami left at 3:40, so this would not work. I copied my travel agent back in Canada.

I then called Brandon on the phone and asked if I had to fly out Sunday, if the house was still available, and it was.

I got on the phone with Insel Air, but they were absolutely no help. They claimed that it was due to a mechanical failure, but I find that hard to believe. The end result was that they could do nothing for me, and would not compensate me in any way.

By that time, Joanna arrived home, and I asked her to check her email to see if her flight was cancelled as well, but she had nothing. We decided to go straight to Flamingo Airport and talk to the agent she had spoken to just a couple hours previously. At the time, he had confirmed that her 10:30 flight was on schedule, while my email had been sent at eleven o’clock!

When we arrived there, we managed to talk to the same agent and asked if the 10:30 flight was still on time. They looked at the computer and said, “Oh yes, everything is still on schedule. No problems.”

And then I interrupted and said, “I have this email here, indicating the flight was cancelled.” The clerk said, “Oh, well, let me check the other computer.” Apparently there are two different data systems, and Insel Air doesn’t tell their own people what’s happening. Sure enough, Joanna’s flight had also been cancelled, so we asked them what they expected us to do. They told us there was an 8:50 flight leaving that evening for Curaçao, but that they would not compensate us for a hotel in Curaçao.

We ended up deciding that since it was only four o’clock, we still had time to go home and pack and make the 8:50 flight. So the race was on!

After we got our boarding passes, we high-tailed it back home to pick up Joanna’s scooter so she could drop it off before five o’clock.

Then it was back home to clean up the house and pack as fast as possible. I was very lucky that Joanna had done some cleaning the previous day while I was on my east coast dive, as well as earlier in the day, so most of that was already done. I must say, I have an ambitious sister.

At about six o’clock, I called Brandon over and gave him the house keys, and we left for my birthday party at the Pedersens’. The Swansons were there, and Brad gave me a very nice birthday card. We then sat around and watched the first part of Star Wars Episode Six, and ended with a gingerbread cake with a candle on it. I was to turn 50 the next day. Once again, they made me feel very welcome, and Joanna being there with us added to my happiness.

At quarter to eight, we loaded into Dave’s van, and he drove us to the airport. After a rather lengthy check-in process, we made it through security, and managed to send out a few emails before we left.

The flight to Curaçao was 20 minutes late in leaving, but we were glad to be out of this backwater of the aviation industry. Both Joanna and I marvel that the air connections to Bonaire can be so messed up when the entire economy relies on them.

We met a very friendly Dutch tax lawyer on the plane, who offered to drive us to the hotel that Insel Air recommended. The line-up was rather long at Immigration, so we told the lady to go ahead, and we would grab a taxi. Apparently the hotel was nearby. The cab ride, in fact, turned out to be $25, and the hotel was not nearby at all. When we got to the hotel, they said Insel Air should have given us a voucher, and without that, we would have to pay full price. However, it was a nice hotel, and they had good air conditioning. The first room had a water leak, so we had to move next-door, where we found that the telephone system didn’t work.

After a shower, it was time to go to the land of nod. I must say, I rather enjoyed this new adventure, and the opportunity ahead of us to explore yet one more island!

East Coast Diving – Sept. 13, 2012

This morning (Saturday) I’m blogging a couple days late from the island of Curacao, which is nextdoor to Bonaire. I’ll tell you more about how I arrived earlier than expected on Curaçao on my next blog.

Photos here

Right now, I’m sitting at the Clarion Hotel which is beside the Curaçao World Trade Centre. I forgot to turn my alarm off, so got woke up at 6:30, and decided just to get up. Behind me I hear a large ship’s horn. In front of me is a beautiful swimming pool, surrounded by palm trees. To my right is a hill with several radio towers on top. There is a nice breeze blowing, and the temperature is just perfect.

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Thursday we were wakened by a wild thunderstorm at 4:00 a.m.—-thunder, lightning, and pouring rain! Joanna heard the dogs scratching at the back door, frantically trying to get in. She suggested that we let them in. I said it was a great idea, but first we would have to shut all the doors to the bedrooms, and cover the sofa with a sheet.

We then let the soaking wet, very frightened dogs into the house, and quickly dried them off with towels. Sure enough, they jumped right on the sofa, so we had to shoo them off. It took us nearly half an hour to get them quieted down and dried off before we were able to go back to bed. Bell seemed to be the most frightened, and actually ended up howling like a wolf at one point, out of sheer fear. In so many ways, dogs are like children that just need to be comforted once in a while.

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It wasn’t long before my alarm went off at six o’clock, as I had to be at Lac Bay by 7:45. I had signed up to dive the wild side with

When I arrived, one of the owners, a tall Dutchman named Hans, said we would have to wait until eight o’clock when the Coastguard opened to get an update on the weather conditions. I found it a bit strange that the Coastguard weren’t open 24 hours a day.

We could see storms moving off to the west. Fred, the other owner, had the radar pattern up on his I-phone, which showed the storms moving away from us. By 8:15, the decision was made to proceed with the dive.

The boat was a 25-foot steel-hulled military Zodiac made in Vancouver. They backed the trailer into the water, and then brought it alongside the dock. We then loaded all our gear onto the boat, and put anything remaining in dry lockers at the front of the boat under the wheelhouse.

We then slowly worked our way towards the mouth of Lac Bay at about three knots in order not to disturb the sea grass. Meanwhile, Fred explained the diving procedure. We would be completely geared up, including fins and mask, while still in the sheltered area of Lac Bay. Only then would we proceed out to the five-foot high wave area of the open ocean. We would be doing a backward somersault off the side of the Zodiac, but only on the skipper’s signal. This was to be a live exit, with the props still running in reverse so that we would drift toward the front of the boat upon entry.

The dive would then be what is known as a drift dive, with the boat following us, so we would not have to swim against the current to return. Throughout the dive, the dive master would tow a surface beacon, which was a type of elongated orange balloon, so the ship could follow us. With the rough waves, there was no way to detect our bubbles on the surface. At the end of the dive, we would proceed into deeper water, and wait to be picked up.

I was very impressed with the almost military-like precision of this dive operation. I personally like a certain amount of calculated risk if done with a great deal of preparation and organization. I knew even before I hit the water that this would be some of the best diving I’ve done!

Sure enough, the open sea was very rough, and we had to hold onto the grips on our seats in order not to fall off. Luckily, I don’t suffer from seasickness.

The order was given to prepare to exit. We sat backwards on the inflatable tubes. I was third out, and was soon bobbing up and down between the waves while I cleaned off my mask one more time. As soon as we blew off our BCs and descended, we saw two spotted eagle rays in about 60 feet of water. They came toward us as a pair, but then split, with the one going not 20 feet away from me. Unfortunately, I found the water a little murky, so the video is not crystal clear.

Fred was an amazing spotter, and pointed out about a dozen turtles on this dive. He had to carry a wind-up reel to which the surface marker was attached the whole time.

We moved at a fairly slow pace with the other five divers plus the divemaster, and had ample opportunity to explore the reef at our leisure. We were told that this was not a close-into-the-reef dive, but rather one in which you try to take in the entire seascape.

I was able to get several photos of free-swimming turtles, as well as other turtles sleeping on the bottom. Apparently the water inside Lac Bay is too hot for them to live there permanently. They come in to feed on the sea grass, and then exit to cool off and sleep.

I felt a tug on my flipper, and turned around to see one of the lady divers behind me pointing vigorously to a crevice in the rock. Sure enough, a good-sized lobster was poking out from underneath, waving his tentacles at us. The lobsters here in the Caribbean do not have any claws, but have spikes on their shells. I was able to get a picture taken of me beside the lobster.

I saw the tail of a large green moray, and later on I was able to see the tail of another moray, and this guy ended up poking his head out to sleepily give me the once over.

What I found fascinating was how air-breathing turtles can sleep on the bottom. Many of them tuck in under a soft fern, and use it much like a pillow. You would see them gently swaying in the current, sleepily looking at you as you fired pictures and video. Most of them stayed put, as we had been instructed to never approach a turtle perpendicular, but to use a circular pattern to come up alongside them. Most of the turtles simply stayed in place, and were good subjects for the camera.

After about 50 minutes, Fred gave us the crossed-arm signal that the dive was over. We proceeded into open water at 5 metres deep. Each dive these days ends with at least a 3-minute safety stop at five metres just to make sure no one ever gets the bends.

It is a strange feeling to swim out into the blue ocean and slowly lose sight of the bottom, but I do, in fact, have my own compass now, if I was ever to do this alone.

As soon as we surfaced, the boat approached us, and the dive master boarded first. This particular Zodiac has a removable side tube, which is first partially deflated and then lashed to the back of the Zodiac. Metal stairs are then lowered into the water, and one by one we approached the boat, removed our fins, and climbed up the ladder. This was the most sturdy boat I have dove from on Bonaire.

With our gear still on, we took our seats, and headed for the bay. The waves splashed so much that I put my mask back on so that I could see. We docked, and an American couple exited, as they had not opted for the second dive.

We were out of the water for roughly an hour before our second dive, which is standard practice on repetitive diving.

Soon enough, we were again heading back to the open ocean with a pre-dive briefing by Hans this time. Apparently Hans and Fred purchased this company from another operator in January. Hans had a terrific sense of humour, which seems to be a common trait of many of the Dutch people here. He had been the owner of a tea shop for 30 years in Holland, so this was his retirement job.

Fred was from Belgium, and had been on Bonaire for seven years.

The dive site we were heading to had just been discovered two months earlier by Fred, and consisted of a shallower dive, followed by an even shallower exploration of a canyon-like configuration closer to the shore, towards the south of the barrier reef that protects Lac Bay.

As we were nearing our destination, the skipper, Fred, started pointing vigorously to something in the water. He thought it was some large fish near the surface. He said we were going to quickly exit and investigate. Within a minute and a half, we were all in the water, but by then, the fish had disappeared. While we had all been given our surface beacons, it was again only the dive master that inflated his and towed it along with us.

The first thing we discovered was another spotted eagle ray slowly floating by. I was able to get even closer to this one for a fairly decent video.

The reef had a fair bit of soft coral and fan corals, but not as much living coral as on the west coast. Within minutes, we spotted a full-size adult turtle resting on the bottom. This one was gently rocking back and forth as he stared back at the curious tourists.

I also noticed some abandoned lobster traps on the bottom.

The dive consisted of going from one turtle to the next. We spotted over a dozen sea turtles on this dive. I find turtles to be some of the most graceful creatures in the ocean. With their large eyes, they seem to be very relaxed, and they are just a marvel to be able to watch.

We then entered the shallower water, and discovered a small cave with three lobsters inside.

Then we made the most unique discovery of the trip! Not far from the lobster den was a stingray eel, sleeping on the bottom. It was smaller than the spotted eagle ray, with a much smaller tail, but a highly visible barb. It only fluttered its back fins ever so slightly. I was able to use my zoom lens to get a lot of good shots, but decided to keep my distance. The basic policy of most divers here is not to disturb the sea creatures by getting too close.

All too soon, Hans crossed his arms to signal the end of the dive, and we proceeded into open water. I always hold my depth gauge in my hand as it can be a bit of a trick to stay at exactly the right depth.

The sea was rough, and both Hans and me stumbled as I entered the boat, but no harm done.

The ride back was even rougher, and I had to wear my mask until we entered Lac Bay.

One of the other couples on the boat was Joel and Lori who were on Joanna’s Curaçao-to-Bonaire flight two weeks prior. They were retired school teachers, and the most friendly tourists I have met here. I had them sign my log book and give me their email so we can stay in touch.

While Fred removed the boat, Hans took our credit card statements. I found them so relaxed about the business end of the deal that it was rather refreshing.

Unfortunately, I discovered the surface marker in my BC pocket when I got home, and contacted them so they could drop by and pick it up later.

I would highly recommend this dive to anyone visiting Bonaire. You simply do not see such numbers of turtles and large sea life on the west coast.

After they left, I decided to check out the fisherman’s dock, and was able to get some close-up photos of the pelicans. The one pelican actually hopped onto the back of the boat, with the owner still standing there. He shooed it away, but it appears the pelicans know where they can get a free handout. There was also a Catholic shrine to Mary beside the dock, which I am guessing was erected by the fishermen.

Then it was time to head home and get a quick lunch before Joanna headed back to Lac Bay to do some windsurfing. While Joanna had elected not to do the east coast diving, it was the windsurfing that I couldn’t do. It simply requires too much co-ordination. We each have our own areas of interest.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The windsurfing place was called Jive City, and put me in mind of a California operation. When we first arrived, there was no attendant in the office, so Joanna had to talk to a fellow giving a lesson at the water’s edge. Soon enough, Joanna had her sail and board put together, and was walking out through the small channel between the sea grass to the sailing area beyond. I was able to use my zoom lens to get multiple shots of Joanna in action.

After about 20 minutes, she returned to get a smaller board to see if she could get some more speed. Joanna seems to be pretty good at this, as other than a few false starts, she never fell off her windsurfer. I wish I was that co-ordinated.

Then my phone rang, and it was Jay asking where he could meet me to give me the data recorder for the Sea Monitor sensors. We agreed to meet at Port Bonaire where he was dropping off his tank. Just then, Joanna came ashore, and I told her I would be leaving, and headed down one of the few straight roads on Bonaire from Sorobon to the west coast. Just before leaving for furlough, my parents used to drive on this road as fast as they could, trying to get used to the faster speeds that are the norm back in Canada.

Jay was very proud to show me his container full of what he said were 12 lion fish. I thanked Jay for making my dive experience on Bonaire one of the most memorable in my life. Without him as a dive partner, my opportunities would have been extremely limited.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Just as we were about to leave, I noticed a gigantic car-carrier ship pulling into the harbour. It was about ten stories high, with solid sides. It was so massive, it towered above the surrounding landscape.

We got home and quickly showered, and then jumped into the car, and decided to have lunch at the Rumba Café in order to get a closer look at this huge ship. We walked down to the harbour, and took photos as they started to open up the side ramp to offload the vehicles. Apparently this is not a common occurrence on Bonaire. Supper was very good, and I would have to say that the Rumba Café is probably the best restaurant on Bonaire, with good food and reasonable prices.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After supper, we picked up some bed sheets from the house, and headed to the most southerly point on Bonaire to do some star gazing. We ended up going far past the last of the slave huts to the kite-surfing beach, which is the last remaining bit of sand on the south part of the island. The beach is only about 300 yards long, but served our purposes perfectly. I brought my dive light with me, and we settled down on the sand to gaze upwards at the stars.

We had decided earlier not to camp overnight, as we wanted to make sure we got a good night’s rest each evening. Once again, I was awestruck at the amazing number of stars visible, and the clear view of the Milky Wave. Joanna observed that Bonaire has much more light pollution than it used to. Places like Arizona are now trying to combat the needless waste of light and electricity that destroys star gazing.

But here on the southern tip of Bonaire, God’s handiwork was clearly visible. We spotted at least one satellite, and half-a-dozen shooting stars. We lay there for almost an hour-and-a-half, chatting about life in general. It was a very memorable time, and I’m so glad we did it.

And so ends another perfect day on Bonaire!

One Thousand Steps – Sept. 12, 2012

This morning we decided to run some errands and do some shopping. My first order of business was to buy another 50-pound bag of dog food for the dogs, as well as some more flea powder.

Photos here

Then I drove over to Sue and Amado’s business, and asked her if she would be interested in marketing Mom’s colouring book about Bonaire. Just before my mother left Bonaire in 1984, she did pen and ink drawings, depicting life on Bonaire, targeted for young children who like to colour. Each page has captions in Papiamentu, Dutch, and English.

When I got there, Sue was very nice, but said that she knew nothing about that business, but could direct me to some good book stores who would know much better what to do. So after I left them with a bit of genuine Canadian maple syrup, I carried on to the studio to settle the bill for the dog food.

I drove up to Captain Don’s Habitat to see if they had any good shirts, but they were sold out. Interestingly enough, my sister happened to be there on her scooter at the same time, and practically drove past me without seeing me. I jumped in the Jeep, caught up with her, and we made plans for lunch. She wanted to try out a nice little restaurant around the corner from the Top Supermarket that Jay’s girlfriend, Sherna, had recommended. It was kind of a hole-in-the-wall place at the bottom of a large staircase to the second-floor business area, and it was called Lourdes. We agreed to meet half an hour later.

I parked the car and walked over to the first book store Sue had mentioned. It was called Addo’s Bookstore, and was run by a Dutch individual.

He had just returned from some errand, so I introduced myself when he walked in the front door, and handed him my mother’s colouring book. I said, “My mother is interested in selling these colouring books in your store, and I’m wondering if you would be interested.” And then I opened the book, and went from page to page, and showed him a bit about it. He handed his copy to the girl sitting behind the counter, and together we went through the remaining copy.

I explained that we needed to determine a selling price, and that was one of the things I was looking for assistance on. He mentioned that there was another colouring book, but then couldn’t put his hands on it, but he immediately said that my mother’s colouring book was far superior to that one.

He said he would definitely be interested in helping to sell these books, and so I gave him my business card. He then invited me back to his office, where we went into the books in detail. I mentioned that the address at the back was incorrect, as it was Mom’s former business address, and so there would be a reprint if for nothing else than that.

As we went through it, he noticed that some of the Dutch translations may not be entirely correct. We noted a few other things, and he remained very enthusiastic. He seemed very intent on assisting in any way possible, and volunteered to help with the Dutch translations and any other bit of editing that may be needed. I wrote my mother’s email down for him, and agreed to call him the next day. So it seems we may have a market for Mom’s unique colouring book!

By then, it was time to meet Joanna at the restaurant, so I walked back, but Dr. Jo was nowhere in sight. Nearby, I was able to purchase a card for my phone before returning again to the restaurant. Still too early. At another store, I found they offered haircuts at $18, so I said I would come back.

Then Joanna arrived, and we sat down to a delightful dinner. While the service was a bit slow, the food was extremely delicious, topped off with a drink of tamarind juice. (Years ago, my brother and sister and I built a tree house in a large tamarind tree in the mondi near our home.)

I went next door for the hair cut, and a second lady came out and seemed to fuss around the back room, and finally motioned me behind the counter, which I thought a bit strange. Apparently, there was a secondary barber shop in behind. The interesting thing was, as with the first lady, she spoke not a word of Dutch, English or Papiamentu, but only Spanish. Nonetheless, I managed to get a fairly decent haircut there.

Then I came home and emailed Mom the good news, and got ready for our afternoon dive.

As usual, Joanna was reading a book on her Kobo Reader, and I asked her where she wanted to go. She ended up deciding on the Thousand Steps.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dive: One Thousand Steps

We drove up the winding Tourist Road. I noticed that Jay had parked at Weber’s Joy. Apparently this was his day to service that sensor.

We walked down the 72 steps (not 1000, as named) to the beach. Joanna recommended that we take two trips to carry our gear down, which did make it easier.

As we got in, there was an Antillean couple swimming with their young children. Joanna noted how many more Bonairians are out enjoying the ocean compared to when we used to live here.

I still seemed to have trouble with my mask fogging up. I think this may be a combination of a sweaty face and a colder mask. I swam out on my back, getting my face wet, and rinsing off the mask a few times, and that seemed to work. Unfortunately Joanna’s mask was fogged for about half the dive, which she found rather annoying.

On this dive, I was determined to try to keep pace with my sister’s sipping of her scuba tank air, and we did, in fact, end up staying under for 81 minutes. We witnessed some cleaning stations where purple fish stood still, their mouths open wide, for the tiny fish to come in and groom them. It’s nearly impossible to get a good picture, as the whole transaction takes only a few seconds for these particular fish.

After the turn-around point, we had the good fortune of seeing a midnight parrotfish. This is a 30-pound parrotfish with navy blue and sapphire blue colours throughout. The sheer size was just massive. This is only the second time I have seen this impressive fish. When it chomps on the dead coral, you can really hear it chewing.

Overall, though, we found there was less fish life on this reef as compared to the one at Windsock, which seems a bit counter-intuitive. It was a very nice dive, but the workout of hauling things back up the multitude of steps did have me winded by the time we got to the top.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

By the side of the road, I grabbed an old milk bottle full of tap water and poured it over my head for a shower. This is a trick that I picked up from Jay Silverstein.

We drove back the opposite way on the Tourist Road, having to pull over a few times for oncoming traffic, as it is usually one lane wide most of the way.

At Wannadive, we dropped off our tanks, but this time, I didn’t pick up a new set of tanks, as tomorrow the dive boat supplies them.

After a shower, we drove downtown and had supper at Karl’s Restaurant, which is on a pier over the water in front of Zee Zicht’s Restaurant. It is owned by Zee Zicht’s, and they share the same kitchen. The waitresses have to walk across the road with your order, so hopefully there isn’t too much traffic.

As usual, we did a lot of chatting during supper, but this time, I tried to let Joanna do most of the talking, as I tend to talk too much.

I asked Joanna what her favourite hobby was, and, believe it or not, she said Blacksmithing!  I still get a kick out of my tiny little sister being a blacksmith, but in this day and age of modern tools, it is possible. (When we got home, she showed me some photos on her phone of some of the intricate work she has done in making hinges. She is actually an artist in metal.)

After the restaurant, we took a walk down the coastline northbound, and ended up sitting on one of the handy benches alongside the shore. We saw some needle fish jump clear out of the water, apparently being pursued by some predator.

And so ends another fine day on Bonaire. Only three more sleeps in divers’ paradise!

Wrapping Up – Sept. 11, 2012

This morning I decided to go into work early in order to have devotions with the staff one more time. I find our time around the coffee table, at about 8:15 every morning, a very precious time as we share our prayer and praise reports. As usual, it was led by Brad Swanson. The devotions are very international, with Lionel reading from the Papiamentu Bible, and then each of us praying in our own language: Dutch, Papiamentu, and English.

Photos here

After devotions, I had a brief discussion with Dave Pedersen about encouraging his son’s interest in website development.

Then I went up to my office and did some personal computer work. First, I got the blogs out from the previous two days, and then retrieved a Gospel MP3 message from my computer back home. I used Team Viewer to remotely control my desktop back in Canada. Hopefully tomorrow I will meet with Jon Hilgers, and we will exchange some audio presentations about our respective faiths. The series I will share is called “The Uniqueness of Christianity” by J.B. Nicholson.

I then had a look at my work schedule next week in Kitchener, Ontario, and plugged that into Google Calendar.

The informal meetings with Brad and Brandon were quite pleasant, and my last day in the office ended on a positive note.

While there, I was able to designate any remaining money in my equipment fund toward the support/equipment fund of Kevin and Lynn Baker. They are a Canadian couple who are planning to come to Bonaire sometime in the next couple/few months. They are from the Calgary area, and plan to serve on the maintenance staff. I had made the decision not to leave anything in my equipment fund against the possibility of returning here next year. At this point, I am uncertain about the Lord’s will for next year, and so decided to wrap up the financial issue with this donation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I went over to Wannadive to pick up some new scuba tanks. On the way down the coastal road, I stopped into the Yellow Submarine and booked a dive on the wild side, as they call it. This is an east coast dive run out of Lac Bay. I have it scheduled for 7:45 in the morning on Thursday. It will be a two-tank dive out on the rough side of Bonaire. During the very few times I have done this in the past, I was able to see some very large fish life out there, so, hopefully, that will be the case this time. Joanna will be windsurfing in the same area that morning.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dive: Windsock (at end of airport runway)

This afternoon, we went for a dive at Windsock. This was actually one of the most memorable dives to date. The fish life seemed to be almost tame, as this site is extremely popular with divers.

A fairly large saucer-eyed porgy fish followed us for about half an hour. It almost seemed like it was a pet, although it never came quite close enough to touch. Another interesting thing was that we passed by a dive boat, with several divers out on the reef around us. It is amazing how many divers you meet under water here.

Then a very astonishing thing happened! We were stampeded by a huge school of eight-inch long fish moving very rapidly past–above, beside and below us! I couldn’t see any predator chasing them, but they streamed by like a flood! We tried to take a picture, but it was blurred due to the speed of the fish. I have never been enveloped so completely in such a large cloud of fish. I watched them as they approached, heading straight for me, and at the last second, they would veer off to the side and miss me. Then a hundred more were charging directly for me, and would also swerve around me. Next thing you know, the huge cloud of fish passed me, and vanished into the distance toward the north. It was truly a breathtaking experience.

We saw a large cres fish, which looks a bit like a tuna. It swam so close to Joanna that she couldn’t fit all of it into her view finder. She also spotted a tarpon up in shallower water.

On the way back, I was able to recognize some of the underwater landmarks, and surfaced at the correct spot on shore. Underwater navigation is extremely difficult, as much of the coral looks the same wherever you go. From sixty feet down, it is difficult to remember where your exit point is. When we did get to shore, I still had about 50 bar left, and so I said to Joanna, Why not breathe it off here in the shallow end? So we spent about another 15 minutes looking at some of the shallow reef life, while I breathed my tank down to 30 bar.

Joanna discovered a scorpion fish, which I completely missed due to its camouflage. We also saw a dead sand dollar just beneath the surface of the sand.

The abundance of fish life on this dive made it one of the best dives to date.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Then it was off home to shower, and get ready for Jay to pick us up at 5:30. He arrived with his girlfriend, Sherna. They took us out to the Sorobon area to a beautiful restaurant called Kontiki. The service was excellent, and the food delicious. Both Joanna and I had a very delightful evening, discussing what brought them to the island in the first place. Apparently Sherna had spent 17 years with her former husband, cruising the Caribbean on his yacht. After visiting virtually every island in the Caribbean, she chose Bonaire to live on when they broke up. She met Jay over the Internet, and convinced him to move down here to Bonaire to be with her.

Bonaire’s main attraction for Sherna was the cosmopolitan population here, as well as the relative peace and security that exists on the island. While there are a fair amount of break-ins, it is basically fairly petty crime, with no violent crime or significant drug trade to worry about. While this may not last forever, at present, it is still better than the vast majority of the other islands in the Caribbean.

Jay, who is a former doctor, had lots to discuss with my sister.

We left the restaurant around eight o’clock, and they drove us home. I sincerely thanked Jay for having made my stay on Bonaire very rewarding. Other than my friendship with the Pedersens, Jay is probably the person I have been involved with the most down here. Hopefully, we will be able to stay in touch.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As I’m sitting here on the beach, listening to the waves and looking at the stars, I know I’m going to miss the seaside terribly. But at the same time, after seven weeks here, I now feel that I’m ready to go home. While I could easily stay here, I’ll have to wait another ten years until retirement. But, until then, I’ll put the memories of the sea, and all that it brings with it, into my memory bank . . . until the next time I’m in the south!

Mangroves – Sept. 10, 2012

Tonight I’m sitting at the water’s edge at Eden Beach, with the surf lapping almost to my feet.

 Photos here

While I stayed at home the last few nights, I decided that I needed to get back to the seashore and enjoy this amazing scene of waves and stars a few more times before returning home to Canada on Saturday. Eden Beach will also be the spot for my last dive before the 24-hour ban on diving prior to flying.

Monday morning we got up and ready in good time, and drove to Lac Bay to the Mangrove Information Centre. It was interesting to visit a completely new area, that while it existed, had never been explored when we used to live on Bonaire. Mangrove kayaking is yet another example of an ecotourism business doing well on Bonaire.

Arriving at 8:30, we were met by Luuk, a Dutchman who looked a bit like a rough and ready backpacker. When he asked us what language we preferred, we said, “You pick. We speak Dutch and English.” However, another couple was from Norway, so the tour was done in English. Nonetheless, they appreciated being able to revert to Dutch periodically.

While the price was $46 each for a two-hour kayak and snorkel, we both felt it was well worth it. The tour started inside the building, with an extensive lecture on the role the mangroves play in the eco system. Behind Luuk was a 3-D painting of the underwater inhabitants of the mangroves. Basically, the black mangrove tree roots have the ability to filter out salt, and only allow fresh water inside the root. The red mangrove takes the salt water up the root, and then excretes the salt under the leaves of the tree. This allows the mangrove trees to flourish in salt water.

One of the main benefits of the mangrove swamp areas is that they are a nursery for much of the reef life that lives in the ocean beyond Lac Bay.

After the introduction, we walked out to the edge of the mangroves where he showed us how to paddle the kayaks. What I hadn’t realized is that while you are pulling with one arm, the other arm is pushing outwards in kind of a lever effect, which increases your efficiency.

He also made the point of telling us that Queen Beatrix from Holland had visited the Mangrove Centre, and went for a tour in the electric boat. Everyone that I spoke to who was involved with the queen seemed very proud of that fact.

The first thing Luuk did was to bend down in the water and pick up what looked like a dead leaf. These “leaves” seemed to be scattered all over the bottom. In fact, it was an upside-down jellyfish! They are so named because the stingers are on the top, with the part of the fish that does the swimming underneath. They looked like frilly pancakes. We had to take great care where we were walking.

He showed us how to get into the kayak, and told us not to bring our flippers. Flippers are illegal in the mangroves, as you tend to kick the plants and sponges, and damage them.

We proceeded out through a little tunnel underneath the mangroves into the open water. Stopping again, he gave us a lecture on the flowers and nuts of the mangrove. His sense of humour was really enjoyable.

We went around a corner and through another tunnel that had been chopped through the mangroves, and had to do a kind of limbo dance by leaning back in the kayak and pulling ourselves forward with our arms on the branches. Crossing a small lake, we entered another area where we were to get out and snorkel. He was careful to instruct us that once we entered the mangrove area, we were not touch bottom in order not to disturb the wildlife. He also said not to touch the mangrove roots as there was some type of stinging coral similar to fire coral. I had brought my dive camera with me, and Joanna was able to take several photos.

The first thing we discovered was that most of the roots only went down about two feet under the water in water that was four feet deep. The result was an overhanging roof of branches on either side of the channel we were swimming in. Underneath these branches, we could see a multitude of fish swimming, some fairly large. There were porcupine fish, grunts, and all manner of very small juvenile fish.

The most surprising thing was the amount of sponges that grew on the roots. There were bright red, purple, and grey sponges growing everywhere, much like a coral reef. Near the surface of the roots, there were lots of mollusks attached. Of course, there were jellyfish in many spots on the bottom.

We continued swimming through the channel of the mangrove roots for about ten minutes, until we came to the opening of another lake. Apparently this lake is only accessible through the channel and not from the ocean. We then stood up in a sandy area, and he gave us some more information about our environment.

It appears that the mangroves serve a vital role in filtering out sediments from the rainwater. In certain areas of the world, they have also saved people when a typhoon hits, as they absorb the energy of the incoming waves.

Then it was time to swim back through the channel to our waiting kayaks. On the way, I was able to get an underwater video of the jellyfish. It was curious how their bottom was continually pulsating, even though they didn’t seem to be moving very much. Jellyfish live in a symbiotic relationship with the algae in their tentacles from which they extract the by-products of photosynthesis from the algae. It seems much of the reef lives in some kind of a symbiotic relationship with the various algae.

Once we had managed the somewhat difficult task of getting into our kayaks, we headed back to the Mangrove Centre. There were several areas that were fairly shallow, and you could see the beginnings of a new mangrove forest. He told us that these locations were not suitable, and that they were actively transplanting any mangroves that grew in this area in order to preserve the surrounding sea grass. The sea grass is very important for the hundreds of juvenile sea turtles that live here.

By now, we were getting used to paddling, and it was actually a lot of fun. I was in the front, with Joanna in the back. Joanna actually has a certificate from the University of Calgary in Sea Kayaking that she earned in Belize several years ago.

When we got back to the Information Centre, I took a few photos of the signs that were in Dutch on the wall. A new tour group arrived, and we had to leave.

All in all, it was an extremely enjoyable experience, which I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the island. I was very impressed with how they work with other conservation organizations on the island, all trying to protect Bonaire’s eco systems. Apparently Bonaire is one of the foremost conservation areas in the Caribbean.

~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the afternoon, we decided to go diving at Aquarius, which is just before the transmitter site.

Dive: Aquarius

The entry here was quite easy, and the drop-off was not terribly far out.

I was still having trouble with my new mask. New masks come with a very fine silicon coating over the glass to avoid scratching during shipment. However, this leads to the fogging of the mask, and must be removed. I had vigorously scrubbed it with toothpaste, but will have to do it again, as the right lens gave me a bit of trouble.

One of the highlights of the dive was when we spotted a large eagle ray swimming quite a distance below us on the sand plateau about 120 feet down. Visibility was quite good, and Joanna was awestruck at the sheer size of this graceful creature. It seemed to be looking for conch in the sand, as it flew back and forth, and eventually out of sight.

We also saw a five-foot barracuda, which impressed Joanna.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After a shower and supper, I checked the email, and discovered a response from Brandon and Joe. I had asked them why my website change request had been denied. Joe said that they had decided to simply go with the package as it stood. The Bonaire director, who was in Cary at the time, was able to have several discussions with some of the top-level Directors of the Americas area. His advice was to simply launch the website the way it stood now.

I asked Brandon to go ahead and launch the site the next morning. Brandon also asked me to demonstrate the website to the staff, but I declined. While this was not the outcome I had hoped for, I feel I have done my due diligence with the tools that I was given.

I must say it was a real godsend to have my sister here to help me compose my response to Joe and Brandon. I find that Joanna is an extremely wise and objective sounding board for these delicate situations. I had also got the advice from our Canadian webmaster to proceed with the website launch despite my preferences not being added. So, effectively, this ends my work here with TWR on Bonaire, and I wish them well in the future.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And so my time continues with my sister for the rest of this week. All too soon, we will have to board the plane for home . . . back to reality. – Sept. 9, 2012

Sunday morning, my sister made me very happy when she came to the International Bible Church with me.  Joanna has been very gracious, even though she doesn’t normally attend church.  When certain things are important to me, she tries to participate.  She soon discovered that it was a very friendly congregation. We did the rounds, with me proudly introducing my sister to everyone in sight.

 Photos here (Sept. 8 & 9)

The service began as usual with a time of testimony. I stood up and just praised the Lord for my sister being with me, and how proud I was of her.  I got a bit choked up, and couldn’t continue.

During the song service, Tom, the Bonairian music director, was accompanied by his three sons on the piano, drums and guitar.  His wife was doing the vocals, along with another lady.  She gave a testimony that she nearly died giving birth to her son, now 16 years old, who was playing the keyboard.  Then Tom mentioned how he stood to lose both his wife and his son on that fateful night those many years ago, and he ended up choking up and not being able to continue for almost two minutes.

It was a touching service, with a very good message by Pastor Toto on the life of David when he met Goliath.  It was also fun to be able share a hymnal with my sister, and have her sing right along with me.  It brought back many fond memories of our time together on Bonaire.  After the service, everyone enjoyed cookies and refreshments, and Joanna was able to visit with several people.  Sandra Swanson talked with her at length, and then Joanna came outside to talk with several other people.

Joanna got to know the sister of Alvin, as well as the daughter of a high school teacher.  I was also able to talk with Dick about his scuba diving, and discovered that Dick has a small sailboat which they enjoy as a family.

Joanna decided not to stay for Sunday School, and that was fine with me.  We went home and changed our clothes, and then came back to Captain Don’s Habitat for lunch where we were scheduled to meet Amado and Sue Felix there at 12:30.  As we got there a bit early, we took a walk around the grounds, and were most impressed by the beautiful bungalows and tropical landscaping.  Someone has certainly been taking care of things, and everything looked beautiful.  We also spotted several iguanas, which we seem to do every day now.

Sue and Amado arrived, and we sat by the ocean, overlooking the cliff, with the tarpons circling below in the water.  Once again, we had an absolutely wonderful visit with Sue and Amado, and were able to discover a bit of their history.

Sue came to Bonaire as a short-term TWR worker for two months during the summer of 1969.  Amado himself had begun working at the transmitter site as a Bonairian worker at the age of 15.  He helped install the original twin-diesel generators, and worked there several years.  It was through this connection that he finally met Sue.  After they had dated for a while on Bonaire, they corresponded for 2-1/2 years before Sue finally returned and they got married.

We also talked about Sue’s tourist-guiding business, which was most fascinating.

Amado then wanted to know what I thought about the Bonairian proposal to launch a transit service between Rincon and Kralendijk.  Apparently the Dutch government has given them a grant available until the end of this year to run a pilot project for a local transit system.  My assessment was that a transit system never ever makes money, and would need to be supported at least by 50% from the local government.  Without that, it wouldn’t be worth Amado’s bother.  Amado was to have a meeting with the government about this the next day.

As we drove home, Joanna commented how gratifying it had been to visit with this lovely couple.  Sue has a straightforward manner of speaking, without any political undertones.  We had also been able to discuss a whole broad range of subjects with Amado, and received some valuable input from him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the afternoon, Joanna said she was tired out, and wanted to have a down day with swimming and reading her book.  Of course I agreed, as that is what a holiday is for when you live as hectic a life as Joanna does as a family physician.

I called Dave Pedersen, and told him I would take him up on his request to set him up with his own website.  I got there a little after three o’clock, and by seven o’clock, they had a brand new website!  Dave uses as his server, which made the installation somewhat difficult.  But since I also run the same server, and had just done it for my own blog here, it wasn’t too hard to guide him through it.  Before long, the children were sending their Dad messages over the Contact page.  Naturally they only have a couple of pages set up, and now begins the fun of filling in the content.  The address is:  I noticed that their son was keenly interested in website design, and I may speak to Dave about encouraging that.

We then had a light supper, and I went home just after eight o’clock.

When I got home, I, too, felt exhausted, so went to bed early.  This blog is being recorded on Monday night.  Sorry for the delay, folks.

So, another day – another website!

Sailing – Sept. 8, 2012

Saturday morning, Joanna and I decided to go sailing together on a little Sunfish sailboat.  After dropping off the Sea Monitor reader at the Yellow Submarine Dive Shop, we went a couple blocks further down the coastal road to the Bonaire Sailing School.  The place was full of activity, with the examination of the last crop of students.

(Photos included with Sept. 9 photos)

This club is run by some Dutch people in co-operation with a sailing association in Holland.  They offer certificates and various training in sailing.  The owner was actually a very friendly, easygoing fellow, who used to be a nuclear weapons expert in Holland.  Talk about a change of pace.

The cost was $25 for one hour, which was not bad.  Our boat was about 15 feet long.  Joanna was a bit anxious as she only knew how to sail a windsurfer, but I correctly assumed that between the two of us, we would figure it out.  Just in case we got stranded down wind, though, I brought my cell phone along with me in a waterproof case.

We rolled the Sunfish across the road and into the ocean, where we erected the sails, and inserted the keel.  The owner’s advice was to sail upwind to begin with, towards the airport, as there would be no problem coming back with the wind.

We got along quite well, and were able to tack back and forth into the wind, and made reasonable progress.  The cockpit was a little bit cramped with the two of us, but Joanna concentrated on the tiller, while I concentrated on hauling on the ropes to keep the sails taut.

I found it a bit like swimming, as you got soaking wet, with the waves splashing only inches away from you.  When the wind picked up, the sailboat would tip, and we would have to lean out the opposite side, which was a lot of fun.  We actually got going quite fast, which added to the excitement.

After about 45 minutes, we decided to head back to port, and at first had difficulty recognizing where exactly on the coastline the sailing school was located.  We then discovered that the class was completing their drills right in front of where we planned to dock, so we delayed somewhat.

Then as we started to tack back and forth again, suddenly the boat leaned the wrong way, and I rolled over backwards into the water.  But since I love to swim anyway, I just simply swam back to the boat where Joanna had let the wind out of the sails, and was waiting for me.  I clambered back aboard, and we carried on as if nothing had happened.

By the end of our hour, Joanna was tired from having to steer from behind her back.  We were both very happy with the untested ability we had managed to discover.  We will definitely be going sailing again before we leave.  It was an awesome experience!

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In the afternoon, I asked Joanna where she wanted to go scuba diving, and she said she wanted to go fairly far south.

Dive:  White Beach (formerly known as Far Beach)

The entry wasn’t too bad, but the drop-off was quite a distance from the shore.

We saw two hawksbill sea turtles, which were the first ones Joanna has ever seen.  The first turtle had a tag on its right fin, which would have been put there by the Sea Turtle Conservation Society.  We also saw the second turtle, slightly smaller, a bit later in the dive.  Joanna said that was the highlight of her day.  When we used to lived on Bonaire, you were lucky to ever spot a turtle.

We also discovered that some of the porcupine fish were not shy at all.  In fact, when we returned, going the other direction toward our exit, the same porcupine fish was hovering above the coral head in exactly the same spot as he had been almost an hour ago.  We also noticed there were quite a lot of soft corals in this location.

The only problem was that my camera batteries gave out halfway through the dive.

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Joanna wanted to go out for supper, and asked if I had ever been to the Plaza Resort down the end of our road.  I said yes, but we would have to try the other restaurant as the first one had extremely slow service.  We walked about five minutes down the road and then out to the far end of the resort to an absolutely beautiful restaurant right on the seashore.  Joanna commented how unusual it was to actually have the waves lapping at the base of the wall not two feet from where we were sitting.  Apparently this restaurant had been constructed before any of the building restrictions were in place.  The food was delicious!

After supper, we walked further out on the remnants of the old coastal highway to the dead end where Port Bonaire is now cut into the island.  Joanna found it strange that this entire point of land was abandoned, with leftover building materials scattered about.  Apparently it must not belong to the resort, or they would have cleaned it up, and put out deck chairs.

And so ends another day of fun in the sun!

Lagun – Sept. 7, 2012

Friday morning started as usual, with Joanna and me having coffee and breakfast on the porch, and reviewing our emails.

 Photos here

Once again, I am dictating in the back yard. Carter, the second oldest dog, gave me the biggest welcome, and has remained at my feet throughout this dictation.

We heard back from the IT Department in Cary.  They said the website is ready to launch “as is.” I would prefer to have some of my proposed changes made, but the proposal was not accepted.  Please pray for me as I work through this disappointment.  However, we can still roll the site out while I’m here, so all is not lost.

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This morning, we decided to head out to explore Lagun, which is roughly east of Kralendijk on the eastern coast of Bonaire.

First, we dropped by what Joanna thinks is the former home of Tim and Diane Eaton (Canadians). Diane taught Joanna piano, and Tim taught Daniel trumpet when we lived on the island. The house looks to be abandoned now.

On the road out to Lagun, we drove past the landfill site, which I don’t recall having seen before. It wasn’t long until we arrived at Lagun, this remote inlet on the rough side of Bonaire.

As the road does not go past the beginning of the inlet, we decided to hike along the north side of the inlet. We had to clamber over rocks, and ended up about 20 feet above the water on the solid limestone landscape. As you approach the sea, you get to the area that is splashed by the waves, and it is really like walking on the moonscape! You need tough shoes to be able to handle the jagged limestone ridges everywhere you step. You hear the crunch of the sharp edges under your feet as you near the shore. We took several minutes to shoot photos of the waves. I am often fascinated by the raw power that is displayed in crashing waves on a rock seashore.

I believe it was Dad who, decades ago, used to talk about harnessing the power of the ocean. Now with the price of electricity so high, this makes even more sense. There is much more power in wave action than wind action, or, for that matter, solar energy. If someone could work out the science, this could solve all the energy problems for most of the world.

About two miles up the coast, we could see a lighthouse. Apparently there is an abandoned plantation house there called Spelonk. Perhaps we will visit that a bit later on. I  found a bleeding tooth shell, and took a picture just for Mom. Mom used to collect these and extract the operculum, its little trap door, and make wreath-shaped brooches out of them for our supporters.  Udo Lusse showed her how to do this.

We also found a small indent in the coast where the water was circulating, and we noticed it had collected all kinds of plastic bottles. It was a good advertisement why people should not pollute!

On the way back, we walked up to the top of the hill where we saw a stone wall. There was a cement marker, but not much else. We had to be mindful of the loose barrel cacti prickers, which can be two inches long, that were scattered around the landscape from dead barrel cacti. I recall the time one of these prickers punctured the leather sole of Daniel’s shoe and pinned his toe inside.

There was a little house right at the point, with what looked like a failed restaurant attached to it.

We headed back to town, and were able to get some photographs of flamingos in the tide-pool areas at the furthest reaches of the Lagun. Joanna and I have both noticed the abundance of flamingos everywhere on Bonaire. It used to be that you would only see them in the salt pans at the south end, but we have seen them in any body of water around the island.

We were able to get a close-up photo of the orange and black troepial (oriole). In general, our impression is that wildlife as well as fishlife is absolutely thriving on Bonaire. Not only does one see an over abundance of donkeys, but the birds are plentiful, and even the iguanas seem to be around every corner. While the live coral seems to have declined, everything else is thriving.

We came across what looked like a castle. Apparently some home owner decided to go all out in designing his house.

On the way back to the guest house, we noticed the container ship taking off again for Curaçao.

Joanna prepared us a light lunch of sandwiches with ham and guava. I appreciate her culinary skills.

After lunch, we loaded up our scuba gear and went down to Jay’s home to pick up the Sea Monitor recording device. He was very glad to finally meet Joanna, and they talked for a little while. They seemed to get along very well.

We went up to the Hamlet Dive Shop to pick up the free tanks of air. The Sea Monitor agreement states that a diver is allowed to take a buddy along for free as well. Then it was time to drive to Eden Beach, gear up, and enter the water. Just as I stepped into the water, I noticed something was wrong with my mask. It appears the frame holding the glass had broken. Joanna had a look, and agreed that it was broken. Wannadive was only about 300 yards down the coast, so I told Joanna just to go snorkelling while I put my tank on the sand, walked down, and rented a new mask.

Dive: Eden Beach

We then proceeded with our dive, which began with taking the readings from the Sea Monitor sensors. This was the third week of doing it on my own, and I had no trouble at all finding the sensor line. We started at the 5-metre level where there are three two-litre Coke bottles, giving tension to the rope which is attached to the wreck below. I had asked Albert to give Joanna her own green Scotchguard scrub pad, and she was a great help in assisting me with doing the cleaning.

I went down to the first sensor, cleaned it off, and had Joanna take a few pictures of me inserting the sensor and cleaning the lines.

Then it was down to the 12-metre level. After I did the first two sensors, I decided to give Joanna the reader, and took a picture of her taking the last reading. It was good to finally be able to record this event. Then we did the three sensors at the 20-metre level.

After 16 minutes, we were done, and headed to the shoreline. We did most of the rest of the dive at around 15 metres.

The first thing we spotted was a blue cow fish. I motioned to Joanna that he was in a defensive posture, since he was blue, which would indicate the presence of a second male cow fish nearby. Sure enough, not 10 metres away, there he was, also blue.

Joanna does most of the photography under water now, and seems to greatly enjoy that. She was able to capture pictures of a trunk fish, a juvenile file fish, a yellow trumpet fish, and a large school of surgeon fish, feeding in a large group.

Joanna and I both commented that this was one of our most relaxed dives to date. We had added two pounds of weights to Joanna’s weight belt, and now seem to have her buoyancy figured out. We were also past worrying about the technical aspects, and able to simply relax and take in the beautiful underwater scenery.

I’ve also found that the photography focuses Joanna’s attention on identifying the various fish. She later takes the photos and labels them on my online photo gallery.

We spotted a moray eel, a yellow and black rock beauty, as well as some queen angel fish, and a peacock flounder. What was most remarkable about the peacock flounder was that it changed colour right in front of Joanna’s eyes as it moved to different spots on the sand! Joanna was able to get two photos of the exact same fish in the exact same location after it had changed colour!

The current took us back to the starting point a bit quicker than we expected, so we decided to stay in the shallows and breathe off the last of our air. As usual, Joanna had more air left than I did, but altogether the dive took 71 minutes, which I considered to be a great dive. We were able to spot a juvenile trunk fish, which was so small, we couldn’t even see its tail. We also saw a scorpion fish.

After exiting, we dropped off our tanks at Yellow Submarine, as that is the satellite dive shop, and it doesn’t matter where you leave your tanks. We took the time to rinse our gear in their rinse bins.

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After I showered and stowed my gear, I went to the Pedersens’ for the regular movie and pizza night. Joanna wanted some time to herself, so stayed at home. I was able to deliver two colouring books to the girls my mother created about Bonaire, and which Joanna had carried down. They seemed very excited about them! I will be getting some kind of iPad application for their son, so left the money with Dave.

They had a young boy about twelve years old visiting them from a yacht anchored for the week on Bonaire called Chaotic Harmony. The family is from Australia, and have been at sea for two years. The children are home schooled on the boat. He seemed to be a very pleasant boy. Saturday they are going to Klein Curaçao, which is a small island two-thirds of the way from Bonaire to Curaçao. It is uninhabited, although there may be a resort there. This is what fascinates me in that living onboard a yacht allows you to visit uninhabited islands at your leisure. I asked them if they had a compressor onboard, but apparently they did not, which seemed to me a terrible shame. I’m sure uninhibited islands would be spectacular dive sites.

When I got home, Joanna had already gone to sleep, so I posted the blog from the day before, and then hit the sack myself.

It seems we have solved the problem with the condensation in my camera by closing it up inside my air-conditioned bedroom as soon as I get up in the morning.

Tomorrow we hope to go Sunfish sailing. It is so great to have my fellow adventurer, in the person of my sister, with me once again!