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!

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