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Bon Bini to Bonaire by Carren Holden

This year, those lucky people, Carren and Mark Holden, went to Bonaire in the South Caribbean for two weeks of their annual holiday.

Some pink stuff So why Bonaire? Bonaire is rumoured to be the finest snorkelling and scuba diving destination in the Caribbean. A major reason for this is that all of the waters off Bonaire's coast have been legally protected since 1979. The reef starts about 15m from your hotel, so night dives from your hotel pier are superb and the shore diving is second to none. The hotels leave cylinders out for you to use after the dive shops have closed to facilitate night dives.

Bonaire is 24 square miles in size and is situated in the South Caribbean, in the Dutch Antilles, about 50 miles north of Venezuela. The yearly average temperature is 28�C and the water temperature is 27�C (skins are perfect!) the average rainfall is 22 inches (56 cm) and humidity is 76%. Bonaire is sunny, all year round. When in Bonaire, A red dude! U.S. dollars or the local currency, the Netherlands Antilles Guilder, are used. Bonaire caters mainly to divers from the U.S.A., we saw only one other British couple while we were there. Bonaire's sea water is distilled and purified to provide very nice tap water. Bonaire also has its own recompression chamber.

We went with Explorer tours, but many U.K. travel agents, specialising in diving, offer packages. To get there, we flew from Bristol to Amsterdam, then to Aruba, then to Curacao (all with KLM) and finally, to Bonaire with ALM. There is a six hour time difference between the U.K. and Bonaire. For us, the trip out was a complete nightmare, we woke up in Bristol at 3:30a.m. and walked into our hotel in Bonaire at 11:30pm (don�t forget the time difference). We had a four hour delay in Aruba while they fixed our pathetic Boeing 747.

Carren Holden Luckily our flight from Curacao to Bonaire was also delayed, so we just caught it! The following week a family from London hadn�t been so lucky. On the way home, just before we left Bonaire, we were telephoned in our room by ALM who told us that our flight was delayed 5 hours. This was great except that it meant we would have missed all our connections. We went to the airport to change our flights and found that we had just been thrown off an otherwise full flight. Luckily, there were one or two spaces though, so seeing as we were there, they let us on! ALM are notoriously unreliable, as are many local Caribbean airlines, so if possible we would recommend that you fly direct to Bonaire.

A travel brochure? or Mark and Carren's latest trip? We stayed at the premium Lions Dive Hotel which was very nice. It was between two other hotels: the famous Captain Don's Habitat and the Buddy Dive Resort. It was also near to the exclusive Harbour Village Beach Resort where we went twice for lunch and saw flamingos in the lake on the way. It was nice going between the hotels for meals. Although the facilities at our hotel were not as good as at Captain Don�s, which had a photo shop and restaurant, this was more than made up for by the fact that there were far fewer people on our dive boat. This meant that we saw more life on the dives and had a more personal service from the dive guides. We chose a good time to go, because from the end of August to the beginning of September is the low season in the Caribbean (Americans aren�t keen on hurricanes).

Conger On one of our rest days from diving, we visited Washington Slagbaai national park. This is a 13,500 acre natural park covering almost a fifth of the island offers vast saline plains, larval rock formations, orange pink flamingos, meditative iguanas and massive cacti in a pristine, semi-desert landscape.

Visibility under water in Bonaire is often over 30m and is great for underwater photography. In fact we took up photography on this holiday with our new Motor Marine MX10 camera. We plan to bore everyone very soon with a slide show!

That's handy The Marine Park extends all the way around Bonaire, from the high water mark to the 60m depth contour. Bonaire's narrow, fringing coral reefs encircle both Bonaire and the little adjacent island of Klein Bonaire. The reefs support an array of reef fish, including two new fish for us: the seahorse and frog fish. Typically, the reefs start right at the water's edge and shelve off gently to a depth of about 10m. Tangs and parrot fish graze on the algae alongside damsel fish, butterfly and angel fish, grunts, goat fish and hog fish. On the bottom, there are plenty of morays (snowflake, chain and golden tailed) peacock flounders, lizard fish, and scorpion fish. The coral formations and pillars are large and particularly appealing on the small island of Klein Bonaire. Bothersome yellowtail snappers follow you around to grab unsuspecting illuminated fish on night dives. Specials include tarpon, particularly on the house reef night dives, where there is a massive one called Charlie who swims so close you can almost touch him! Unfortunately we saw no turtles or sharks, and only one ray but we did have a nice encounter with dolphins when we were coming back from a dive on the South reef.

Bonaire's reefs also include a double reef in the south and several small wall dives. Bonaire also has several large and small wrecks � the most famous is the Hilma Hooker, a freighter which lies on its side at a depth of 30m.

Scorpion Fish When we dived the Town Pier, which is probably the most famous dive site on the island. We were on the boat with an American who looked more and more miserable as we approached. He just did not fancy diving a working pier. However, when we got down there, all the pilings were coral encrusted, everything was a rich red and there was life everywhere, including a beautiful octopus! The dive was at about 6m, and we had to drag ourselves away after 70 minutes! Our American friend hadn�t bothered to put a new film in his camera and came up after 20 minutes to reload and go back in.

So, if you�re thinking of going, come and have a chat and we�ll give you the low-down.

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