I am what you could call an avid scuba diver. I started diving five years ago, taking my open water in a cold quarry near Wakefield, Quebec. Most of my diving, until January 2014, took place in that quarry, in the St. Lawrence River and in Lake Ontario. Cool water, lots of wrecks and big ugly fish. Ontario has some of the best freshwater diving in the world and the province’s underwater history is actually very well preserved.
Bonaire is well known in the scuba community as a “must go” dive vacation site. One of the world’s oldest protected reef system, lots of (supposedly) easy shore diving and a relaxed island lifestyle are all considered reasons to visit the island. This isn’t a comprehensive review of my trip, just a chance to share a few photos and thoughts.
I’ve never done the warm water vacation dive thing. I was told by friends that I would never want to dive again in Ontario and that I would completely convert to the vacation diver lifestyle.
Despite fun species like the stoplight parrotfish (above), a strangely coloured and patterned fish that appears to be wearing lipstick, I’m not a warm water convert. In fact, I didn’t even find the water that warm. It was around 80 F for most of our dives – in Ontario, our water gets as warm as 76 F in the August heat. I actually found myself cold in Bonaire (as I do in Ontario) wearing the same wetsuit that I dive in during our season. I even had to pull out a neoprene hooded vest for a few dives in order to gain a bit of warmth.
Also, to be completely honest… I found the diving a bit boring. We were there for 2 weeks and I did 31 dives, however I found there to be little variety between the dive sites. Members of our group raved about the sites in the Washington Slagbaai National Park, however I found it to be a painful drive in on bumpy roads (I get carsick), the entries were pretty awful… and the diving itself was nothing special.
Some of the entries were challenging with slippery rocks, heavy surf or sharp coral. I’m surprised our group didn’t have more injuries than we did. People raved about 1000 steps – which really only had 70 or so, but it felt like 1000 steps after you got out of the water and were laden down with gear – but I found dives where I gear up, wade into a sandy beach and swim out to be far better than ones where I had to climb up and down 70-odd stairs like a mountain goat.
My favourite dive sites, and the ones that had the best critters for us to find, were the easiest. It seemed to go against common thinking as our ringleader loved to drag us to rough entries, promising the dives would be worthwhile. Easy sites like Bari’s Reef, Windsock (the beach, not the resort) and the Salt Pier were teeming with life and neat underwater structures to explore.
I also found it difficult to adjust to life with less than perfect gear. I am meticulous with respect to maintenance of my equipment and this was my first experience using rented tanks beyond my three open water dives. I also have my regulators set up DIN style, which means that they screw right into the tank valves. They are difficult to dislodge, there are no blown o-rings and things won’t leak. Yoke tanks, meanwhile, seem to be preferred for dive shops due to their lower cost… but it means that divers have to deal with annoyances like busted o-rings, unusable tanks (we started carrying spares) and slow leaks.
There was a gentleman named Jack staying across the road from our hotel who has been to Bonaire 48 times. He came alone, usually dove alone and puttered around in the shallows taking beautiful underwater photos. Over drinks he shared with me the location of a seahorse, which can be hard to find, and a frogfish. Jack basically gave me the underwater address of these creatures and we embarked on two separate dives (as the seahorse was in one area, the frogfish on another) to find these elusive animals.
I was amazed with his accuracy. Jack was able to tell me, with pinpoint accuracy, where the seahorse was. We swam out, looked for the boat anchorage, swam back a few feet… and there it was. With the frogfish he told me to look for “the big gear”, then to swim down to 33 feet and look for a red sponge. Sure enough, the frogfish was exactly where he said it would be.
We did one night dive as a group and, to be honest, one was more than enough. I hate night dives because I am scared of fish (although I am getting better) and terrified of eels. During a night dives you really don’t see much beyond the beam of your flashlight. The Kraken could be lurking just past that beam, ready to strike at any moment.
A few divers in our group got up at some ungodly hour and did a dawn dive. I preferred my sleep – it was vacation, after all – but they were lucky enough to dive with a pod of dolphins dancing overhead. We saw some dolphins from shore but didn’t get a chance to dive with them. I think this was the only dive story of the trip which made me jealous!
We tried to do some diving on the “wild side” – the east coast of Bonaire, but there were high waves inside the breakwater and they had overbooked the boat. They told us that there was a chance the waves would subside slightly the next day, which was our last on the island. I bowed out (the waves were really high – I wasn’t really interested in pushing the boundaries on my last day) but a few members of the group were interested in doing the dive and agreed to come back. Despite their best efforts and wishes, the second attempt was called off at the last minute.
I don’t see myself heading back to Bonaire any time soon. The “ringleader” for our group has already said he will be back in a year or two as he considers Bonaire to be his ideal dive destination. While I had fun on many of the dives, I actually contemplated giving up diving and hanging up my fins for good on a few as I found it to be much more of a chore than an enjoyable past time. Shore diving is fun, yes, but it holds no novelty for me as that’s how I dive at home. The pretty fish were nice to see, but I saw more than enough.
I like the challenge of diving in Ontario, I like not knowing exactly what the conditions are going to be as the current could change between the morning and the afternoon. I enjoy the history and the wrecks that we are able to dive on in Canada.
Realistically, I think my next Caribbean dive destination will either be a liveaboard (something like Blackbeard’s Cruises, which is basically camping at sea) or Cozumel. A trip that combines diving and Mexican food? Count me in!