This third post just about wraps up my time here on Bonaire. I finished my final exams last Thursday and now my classmates and I are finishing our publication of the 17th edition of Physis: Journal of Marine Science. This is a scientific journal that the students of CIEE research station on Bonaire coordinates. Other than this journal, our schoolwork is completed, so I have had the chance to explore a lot more of the island this past week.
For the final week, two of my friends and I decided to rent scooters. This allowed us to travel to many parts on the island that would have taken too long to reach or had otherwise been inaccessible without bikes. On Saturday we ventured North to 1,000 Steps Beach and enjoyed the day in the water below the towering 100 foot cliffs. Wherever I am on the island, I am always astounded by the water color. It begins as a turquoise blue until about twenty yards out over the reef, when it transcends into a deep blue. The water is always clear, with the visibility averaging nearly 100 feet.
We had to leave the beach quickly to find wifi so I could Skype my coach and the Vassar field hockey team before practice, as a surprise. We stopped at the first resort we came across and went into the restaurant to ask if they had free wifi. The bartender welcomed us in the usual Bonairean fashion, as if we were a guest at the hotel, and let us use their pool and their wifi.
Once the sun began to set, we headed into the second largest, and the most historical town on the island known as Rincón. Upon arriving, we realized that we could not drive through the town due to one of the large parades that frequently block off all of the streets to traffic. Instead of trying to figure out a detour, we stayed and enjoyed the Caribbean music and local food. Other exciting things that I have done since I last wrote include our night dive to watch ostracod spawning and our geological field trip.
Part of the reason why I enjoy this program so much is that most of the learning is done outside of the classroom, creating an awesome hands on experience. For my coral reef ecology class, we learned about life cycles and reproduction processes of underwater creatures during lecture. This information was transferred from the classroom to an outdoor activity in an underwater night dive to observe how ostracods mate. Ostracods are tiny organisms that belong to the class Crustacea, and employ bioluminescent mating techniques. For our dive, we entered the water just after sunset and descended to about 45 feet. Exactly 45 minutes after the sun had set, tiny ostracods began to glow an electric blue on the reef, and then rose up into the water column in mysterious, ladder-like columns. The little glowing dots ascended about ten feet, and then slowly disappeared into little glowing specs and vanished completely. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.
The island of Bonaire is surrounded by fringing reefs, coral reefs that that lie close to the shore in finger-like and sloping patterns. As the island has risen farther out of the water due to receding water levels, the reef has become more exposed over time. Once the corals have ascended out of the water, they die and calcify, forming calcareous sedimentary deposits all over the island’s coast. Over time, rainwater and wind dissolved these limestone formations. This created over 400 caves on Bonaire that are open to exploration. We visited 12 of those caves on our geological field trip. Many of the caves were caverns with stalagmite and stalactite formations where bats made their homes. In one of the deeper caves, we were able to crawl all the way to the back into a three-foot tall area with freshwater springs. The springs brought us back to a time when ancient locals foraged for freshwater in the desert-like conditions. Standing in the same place where so many had stood before in past lives was an eerie and unsettling experience. It made me realize the true power fresh water has over us.
As I said before, some of the caves show signs of life from many years ago. The first inhabitants of Bonaire were the Caiquetios, a branch of the Arawak Indians. Though they are no longer inhabitants of Bonaire today, they came to the island by boat from Venezuala around 1000 AD, and many of their writings and carvings have been preserved in the caves. Some of the paintings and petroglyphs were used to record important events, while others were used to keep track of the date. Some were used for sacred celebrations and coming of age ceremonies. Now they stand alone, deserted, and left to the elements. Amazingly, these petroglyphs have remained in tact for thousands of years.
My time on this island has proven to be life changing for me. Not only has this study abroad experience expanded my world view, but it has also increased my appreciation of a different culture.