I have been on island a week now and I cannot begin to tell you how amazing this semester is going to be.
As I said my goodbyes at the Philly airport at 5:00AM last Saturday, I was beaming with excitement. Time seemed to drag on as I sat in the airport waiting for my flight, but once we were in the air it wasn’t long before I was blissfully greeted by the teal blue waters of Bonaire just outside the plane window.
Upon arriving at Flamingo Airport at about 2:00PM, two of the CIEE interns, Sasha and Noah, holding a stereotypical clipboard sign, welcomed me and another student, Jack. We then packed our luggage into the research station’s open-backed truck, hopped in, and drove off to our new home. We arrived at the residence hall to find that it was more like a large house; it has a communal full-service kitchen, living area, and study area, with seven 2-4 person rooms. We also were happy to learn that we were the first two students to arrive. There are normally 3 flights to Bonaire on any given day, and we arrived on the first. The remaining 9 students were arriving on later flights that would both get in after dinner. This basically meant, Jack and I had plenty of time to hang out before everyone else arrived. In fact, after unpacking most of our stuff, the interns took us to go swim in the ocean.
Directions: Walk one block north, make a left, and splash. Time: 30 seconds. After making the hike to the ocean, we all donned our snorkel gear and jumped into the brilliantly blue water. Just off the edge of the pier, the water is 8 feet deep. Here there are many bright colored fish, whose images I vaguely recalled from the flashcards I had made prior to coming to the program and whose computer images barely do them justice. However, if you swim just a hundred yards further, you reach the reef crest where the bottom rapidly slopes into the dark blue. This area is teeming with life! I won’t go in to too much detail here, as I will have plenty of opportunities to explore this amazing habitat that’s practically in my back yard. I mean, think about it; this is my classroom for the next 90 days!
The next day, after everyone had made it here safely the night before, we had a fun day of orientation complete with a trip to the grocery store, a formal tour of Kralendijk, stereotypical icebreakers, another dip in the ocean, and of course talks about the various logistical aspects of the program. And this wonderful day would not have been complete without a CIEE staff and student sunset BBQ overlooking the water.
As the program is only 13 weeks, Monday, even though we had been here less than 48 hours, meant the start of classes. Luckily, our first day of classes consisted of a snorkeling field trip to the other side of the island to a protected shallow bay, which is one of the few seagrass habitats on the island. Not only is Lac Bay known for its seagrass and mangrove habitats, but it is also a perfect place for windsurfing, as it’s protected by the reef from heavy wave action, yet catches the wind all the same. While here, we took advantage of the opportunity to talk to the owner of the windsurfing club, Elvis Martinus. He was the first local to view windsurfing as more than just recreation and instead as a way to get the kids of the island involved in a sport and produce world-class level windsurfing champions. It was amazing to hear the about the culture of windsurfing in Bonaire, straight from the guy who started it all.
Later in the week, after some classes on how to identify various fish, corals, and coral diseases, it was time for our first scuba dives! Coming into the program, I had only acquired a PADI referral. This basically means that I had no prior open water diving experience. So these dives would count towards my four Open Water certification dives. Spread out over two days, we completed four open water dives exploring the reef just off shore and with that I am now a certified Open Water diver!
As you can probably tell, I’m having a blast and cannot wait to further explore the island, the culture, and the reef of Bonaire!