Scuba Buddy – Aug. 12, 2012

On the way to church today, I actually had to wear my raincoat.  This is the semi-desert island of Bonaire, but it was pouring cats and dogs!  In fact, it was raining a bit on the inside of my Jeep as well, as the roof has been patched and is not 100% leak-proof.  I actually took a picture of the rain, so people would believe it.  I do think that the island gets more rainfall than when we used to live here.  Apparently, the rainy season has officially begun!

 Photos here

I was again at the International Bible Church (bonaireibc.org).  Sandra Swanson was at church, having just returned from the States where she was caring for her aging mother.  It was good to finally see her back with Brad.

The local pastor, Toto Baran, had also returned from vacation, but it was another lay minister who actually delivered the sermon.  Apparently this was his first sermon in English in five years.  I find the services very warm and genuine, and they seem to share together as one big family.  While the services are in English, half of the congregation are Bonairians, with the other half being the English-speaking residents and TWR staff.

Berni Lusse was also present in the service.  She was visiting from Germany where she and her husband, Udo, have recently retired.  Berni and Udo served with TWR during the time that I lived on Bonaire.  I think Udo was the fellow who interacted with me most from the staff.  He held craft-making classes at the local community centre where we learned to make jewelry out of ordinary materials from around the island.  My mother still wears a cross-section of a cow bone that was polished to look like ivory.

One of the wonderful things that happens when you join a local Christian fellowship is that you are able to network with the local people.  The way I’ve been accepted and introduced to others make me feel like I’ve been on the island for years.  Bob Lassiter contacted a local diver by the name of Jay Silverstein.  We had communicated by email, and I was to phone him using my local cell phone immediately after the service.  We ended up arranging to meet at his house, which is almost directly across the road at the Sand Dollar condos.

Jay does not belong to the church, but is a retired Jewish doctor from New York.  He is a very enthusiastic diver who was in need of a dive buddy, as his girlfriend is not interested in diving any more.  She apparently lived on a sailboat with her ex-husband for 17 years, and could go diving anywhere, at any time.

Jay suggested we go to the exact site I have been hoping to dive called La Dania’s Leap.  This is on the northern Tourist Road, one dive spot before Karpata, the last dive spot before Bopec.  I had interviewed Bruce Bowker the day before and also his dive master, and they both indicated that their personal favourite dive site was La Dania’s Leap!

Most of the local divers here drive pickup trucks with a wooden rack in the back for the tanks, and this is exactly what Jay drives.  Jay had told me not to bother bringing a tank, as he had one for me.  Unfortunately when we got there, he had a problem with the valve, so we drove down to the Yellow Submarine Dive Shop, about a four-minute drive, to get it fixed.  Jay is a casual dive master for this shop, and so has the free run of the place, as well as free air fills.  He was able to repair his valve in a matter of minutes, and we also picked up an additional tank.  We were on our way in five minutes.  That is one of the features of most of the dive shops here – easily accessible tanks.

The drive up the north end took about 20 minutes.  It is a two-way road until just before Radio Nederlands, after which it becomes a one-way road.  The plan was to drop the gear at La Dania’s Leap, and drive the truck up to the end point at Karpata, and walk back.

As we walked back to our entry point, which was about an 8-minute walk away, it began to rain.  By the time we hit the water, it was pouring, but this would make the islanders happy, as apparently they have been in great need of rain for a while now.

The entry on this dive was an actual leap from about three feet above the water from a stone ledge.  With my new fins, I wear a rubber booty, which, in this case, was essential for walking to the dive site.  They are kind of like rubber shoes, but they are needed to be able to fit the fin onto your foot.

As soon as we hit the water, Jay started pointing to a large staghorn coral.  The reason he was so excited by this perfect specimen, about 15 feet wide, is that staghorn and elkhorn coral were almost all destroyed five years ago during a near  miss by a hurricane.  The entire west coast, which is normally the sheltered side, suffered punishing waves for a day-and-a-half, which destroyed the entire fringe reef up to a depth of 30 feet.  Most of the staghorn and elkhorn coral are no more than one or two feet in size at this point.  This specimen was the lone survivor.

Another interesting habit of Jay’s is that he likes to touch the creatures (not coral) on the reef.  Conventional wisdom is that you are not to touch anything for fear of harming it.  However, Jay subscribes to an ideology promoted by author Dee Scarr, who wrote the book called “Touch the Sea.”  She still leaves here on Bonaire.  Jay actually gave me an autographed copy of her book when we got home that evening.  I am about to start reading it now, but the idea is that you can pet the fish, and get up close and personal with the sea life.

The first thing Jay did was point under a coral head at what looked like a patch of white lace.  To my surprise, he reached in and grabbed it, and it turned out to be a sea slug.  I had previously thought it was an interesting form of coral.  After we rolled it around in our hands and took a photo, Jay carefully placed it back in the exact spot that he had taken it from.

Of all the dives I have done to date, I would say that La Dania’s Leap is in the most pristine shape of any of the dive sites around Bonaire.  The landscape features gorgeous, rolling hills and valleys, and it almost feels like you are swimming in an aquarium, as there is so much fish life around you.  Also, when you look down the sea slope, there is no bottom.  Typically you see a sand bottom at about 120 feet, but here it just goes down, I believe, for close to a mile deep.

About five minutes into the dive, Jay started pointing furiously at something about 20 feet away in the water.  There were two squids slowly swimming along.  They were about 18 inches long, with their legs trailing out behind them.  Just above the legs were two saucer-shaped eyes staring back at us, with the rest of the body being a kind of torpedo-shaped thing.  I tried getting closer, but they kept their distance, and I don’t think the shot I took turned out very well.  I’ve been waiting to see a squid since I got here.  My next goal is to spot the tiny little sea horses that are here.

I also got a nice video of a sea turtle swimming nearby.  I find the way they swim through the water to be just majestic!  Their flippers make a wide arc, almost like a bird’s wings.  It is fascinating how unconcerned they are with the need to eventually surface to get more air.

We also saw a massive, midnight-blue parrot fish which probably weighed about 40 pounds.  It was jet black with indigo-blue markings on the front.

This time the exit at Karpata was much easier, as there was not the wave action that I had the previous Saturday.  My knuckles are almost healed from that incident.

When we got back to the truck, Jay handed me a bottle of water so that I could rinse my hair, as we were nowhere near town.  Being a veteran diver, he has all these little details worked out.

Next, the tourist guide in Jay came out.  He veered off the road through Rincon up to the mountain top to a lookout over the City of Rincon.  In all the time that I lived on Bonaire, I never knew this little lookout existed.  The road to get there is actually extremely rough, and you almost need a Jeep or a pickup truck to make it.  They actually have stone ‘sofas’ built into the hillside.  I took my dive camera out of its case, and got some good shots of the city.  There was almost no wind, and we could hear all the sounds coming from the city below.

We then drove back to his home, and he asked me if I had plans for supper. I said, “None at all,” so they invited me to come back, after I changed, for a spaghetti dinner.  The meal they provided could have been right from one of the posh restaurants.  They served appetizers, and then copious amounts of meat sauce and spaghetti, as well as salad, and a wonderful dessert.

I brought out my iPad and imported the shots we had just taken, and showed his girlfriend the one of the turtle.  She loved it.  I do find the iPad ideal for reviewing photos.  She started suggesting that they needed to buy an iPad next!  We gabbed for over an hour, and I found them very interesting company.  We then made arrangements for the next day to go diving immediately after work, and then I hit the road.

I believe I have finally the dive buddy that I’ve been looking for since I arrived here — yet another blessing from my Lord!

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