Sea view from a slave hut in Bonaire

Bonaire: the island of good air

Me at windsurf beach
At windsurf beach

I brought one special thing from Bonaire, the kind of thing that, no matter what it costs, you just have to have. This item is made out of three medium bowls attached in the middle, topped by a flamingo head. It is bright pink on the inside and bright apple-green on the outside, it came with a large dish decorated with, you guessed it, flamingoes.

Every time I have guests over for dinner, and I take the flamingo dish out, it just puts a smile on my face, for it will ever remind me of Bonaire, that paradise island whose mere name speaks of the goodness of its air. (Bon-air means “good air” in French).

I remember the first time I set foot in Bonaire. There was just something indescribable in the air; the light breeze blowing from the Caribbean sea. We walked for a bit around the town, just letting that air in our lungs, quietly. Then we decided to go see the flamingoes.

Anybody in Bonaire will point to lots of places to spot flamingoes en masse. But, in my experience, it is not that easy to see more than a few of them in one place. Graceful, colorful, and elusive as any gorgeous bird, flamingoes do, alas, migrate. Even before I saw the beautiful creatures, I heard a story about a lady from Texas, who paid good money for a flamingo excursion, and when she gave one look at the couple of underfed flamingos in the shallow pond, her driver just shrugged his shoulders and said, in the voice of a wise nature-savvy native, “The flamingoes? They are all gone to Venezuela”.

Flamingoes in Bonaire, Caribbean

Anecdote aside, I have seen the flamingoes, on more than one occasion, and I do recommend you to try it; they are gorgeous, and they just fit the quality of the air in Bonaire. This is a place fit for all bright-colored things, where even water can be pink, but I will go back to that later.

It is common knowledge that windsurfing is one of the island´s main attractions. So, after taking in the relaxed atmosphere, and the sweet air of the town, we took a cab to Sorobon Beach. The fair can be as low as seven dollars, depending on the number of passengers. On the way to Sorobon, there are plenty of opportunities to spot the famous birds. If you spend a couple of extra bucks, you can ask your driver to take a slight detour to show you the amazing salt ponds, and also the strangest buildings, as slave huts go in the world.

Sea view from a slave hut in Bonaire
Sea view from a slave hut in Bonaire

There is always a preceding pseudo-mythology that accompanies us the first time we visit a tourist spot. In the case of the salt ponds, I had heard all kinds of fascinating stories about water that was parted like the red seas, running pink on one side and green on the other, due to the removal of the salt. This is the kind of thing that, when you travel, you have to see with your own eyes to believe. In this case, the reality did not betray the widespread mythology: The giant salt cones rose to the skies like Quixote´s windmills, white as the whitest thing on Earth, while, below, two alternating pink and green streams spread as far as the eye could see.

As it´s seldom the case with such seemingly untrodden paradise islands, by the side of extreme beauty, there was the memory of extreme pain and horror to be found: next to the pink surge of the salt ponds, stood the beautiful yet horrifying slave huts. The gable roofs, the white walls glaring in the sun, and, by the side, the bliss of the Caribbean, created a contrast of present beauty and tales of horror, as I had never seen before. One of my friends, Luca, the intrepid Hungarian photographer, actually crawled into one of the tiny huts. Meanwhile, we could hear our driver saying “Four or five people used to share one of this huts. They used to walk barefoot, for several miles beneath the Caribbean sun, to work on the salt ponds.” All I could think of, all that while, was that I had just read somewhere that the Dutch invented slavery.

Now, after that intense, blissful, and disquieting moment, our driver made us hop on the van again, and we headed towards Sorobon, where the water was shallow and transparent, margaritas were excellent, and my friend Luca learnt to windsurf like a pro, for only forty bucks.

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