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August 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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An Insiderís Tips on Bonaire

from the August, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Bonaire is a favorite Caribbean destination of our readers, especially those who like to rent houses or apartments and cook on their own. Mel McCombie, one of our longtime correspondents, has returned to Bonaire for an extended vacation, and sends this update. If you want to contact her directly, e-mail her at

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Bonaire's water visibility has deteriorated over the years, so at last the government is installing an environmentally- friendly sewage system that, if all goes as planned, will keep runoff away from the reefs. It's a noble goal, but the roads are torn up everywhere, which, for an island with routinely bumpy roads, has turned the wise driver into a super-cautious one. If you're renting a car, be sure to arrive with a tire gauge, because virtually all rental vehicles have comically-inflated tires (this trip, I had 15 psi in the front and 45 psi in the rear).

Prices are higher than a year ago, due to Bonaire's political transition in 2010 to become part of Holland itself (even though it's in the southern Caribbean), which changed the tax structure. There's an 8 percent sales tax on everything, and another 8 percent added to items trans-shipped from Curacao. Some things are just plain costly, like sunblock -- a whopping $16.90 on a tube at the drugstore. The airport departure tax for international flights is $35 per person, and they take credit cards.

A new supermarket has opened on Kaya Industria, called Van Den Tweel, part of a big Dutch chain. It's large, air-conditioned, sparkling clean and has pretty much everything, from a cheese bar to flowers, and a bakery to office supplies. Produce also includes fresh washed bags of greens from Holland for salads, and fresh herbs. It also offers a huge selection of wines and beers, including several brands of extra-strong beers (sterk) with an alcohol content between 8 and 12 percent. Not cheap, either; around $3.50 per can. Most islanders buy their staples at the rival Warehouse across the street from Van Den Tweel, particularly meats. I can attest that its Angus ground chuck results in tasty burgers. Warehouse charges less than Van den Tweel, but the shopping experience is very different -- bustling and warm rather than spotless and air-conditioned. The Zhung Kong market on Kaya Debrot, just north of Habitat and adjacent resorts, is an excellent source for spirits, with a selection of rare cognacs. Two container ships arrive weekly, one on Wednesdays (with goods largely going to Van Den Tweel) and another on Thursdays. The next mornings usually offer the best selection of perishables.

The popular restaurant, Capriccio, has moved just south of downtown on the waterfront road, with a gourmet shop inside, offering espresso, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, biscotti and savories. You can also buy bottles of wine, often surprisingly cheap. A new joint run by two Belgians is on Kaya Corona, just south of the intersection with Kaya Amsterdam and the Curiol station, specializing in Belgian-style fries and fresh burgers. The potatoes are imported from Holland, and the frites are worth the calories. You'll recognize the place by the vivid yellow, red, and black paint job of the Belgian flag.

Sundays are great for island tours, particularly in the south. The local kiteboarders show off their fearless skills just south of Salt Pier. Their aerial tricks make great photographs; just don't shore dive there unless you relish the possibility of a kiteboard running you over.

The turtles are thriving, thanks to aggressive conservation. Bon Photo, the freediving and photo company, offers informative turtle presentations on certain Wednesdays. Their tees and other turtle conservation items make great gifts that leave you with a good conscience. ( ). Dengue remains present on the island, so the wise visitor will bring DEET -- and use it. Just remember you can't bring aerosol cans on the plane, so opt for pump bottles instead.

Short and long-term rentals, ranging from opulent to modest, are available from many companies. American Bob Bartikowski runs Re-Max ( ), and Dutch-owned Sunbelt Realty has staff who speak English ( ). Though I have not worked with Sun Rentals, I've heard nothing negative (

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