Monday, October 16, 2017

Land of cactus and coral

Anytime I land in a new place, I spend my first day looking around and noticing unique aspects of the country I'm in. Below are some of the things I've noticed about Bonaire.

A cactus fence 
1) The vegetation is all very dry, even though the air is humid. There are cacti everywhere and salamanders running around on the sidewalks. 

2) There are a lot of donkeys on the island. There are "donkey crossing" signs everywhere, and we actually saw a few beside the road our first night. Our hotel has a grate with widely-spaced metal rods in the driveway at the entrance, much like you would see at a ranch out west. But instead of keeping cows in, the grate is meant to keep the donkeys out.

3) Cactus plants grow really tall here, in some cases taller than trees. Many of the fences on the island are actually just cactus stalks woven together with mesh or wire.

4) Papiamentu is the most common language spoken on Bonaire, and it's a Creole language based on Portuguese. It's really interesting to see signs and hear conversations in Papiamentu. I first thought it was heavily-accented Spanish, but it didn't sound quite right. What's crazy is that every once in a while, a Dutch word will get thrown in (Bonaire is a Netherlands protectorate).

An example of Papiamentu in the grocery store
5) As far as tropical islands go, Bonaire seems to be actually pretty well-off. The population is mostly of West African descent, and they live in quiet neighborhoods of adobe homes surrounded by cactus fences. 

6) The #1 reason people come to Bonaire is for SCUBA diving. The coral reefs are well-preserved, thanks to strict regulations (gloves are outlawed to prevent people from touching the reefs) and a large national park on the north end of the island. Bonaire was mercifully spared by the hurricanes that destroyed much of the Caribbean this year.

7) The island has a combination of cultural influences. Many of the place names are in Spanish, and the radio has primarily Spanish-language salsa music. However, the food is imported from the U.S. or Europe. Prime example: the grocery store sells both large wheels of cheese like in the Netherlands and Cheeze Whiz. 

Bonaire is a very unique place, and I'm glad for the chance to explore this Caribbean island! 

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