In Bonaire, that’s how I would say hello to you during the daylight hours. It is literally translated “good day” in Papiamentu, the native language here. People here are extremely friendly, and love explaining their favorite spots on the island and teaching their language and culture. By far, the most frequently used word is dushi, which means an array of things. You could say, pasa dushi wikent, meaning “have a nice weekend.” But dushi can also be used to describe food as being delicious, and people as being good looking. In addition to Papiamentu, people here are usually fluent in Spanish, Dutch and English.
The island of Bonaire is beautiful. It’s a constant 85 degrees and sunny every day — even when it rains the sun is still out. And the academic program is busy; our day is schedule from about 8am to 8pm. We usually have a bit of class in the morning and then a little more after lunch. But, some days we just skip the class part and scuba dive, snorkel, hike, or swim. Other days we go on day trips, and we have had overnights in Curacao and camped on the North part of Bonaire that is conservation land.
My most time consuming class at this point in the semester is my independent research experiment. Each student in my program came up with an individual research question to study throughout our time in Bonaire. I decided to investigate the filter feeding mechanism of marine sponges, which exposes them to water-borne toxins. This forces them to evolve immune systems effective in fighting these pathogens. Therefore, antibacterial properties of the sponge’s defense system are effective tools that can be used in medicinal therapies. By modeling sponges’ response to pathogens, advances can be made in human medicine. My study analyzes how the pumping efficiency of the species Aplysina archeri and Aplysina lacunosa affects the antibacterial properties of the sponge. I measure the pumping efficiency of each sponge by using inhale-exhale water sampling (In-Ex), determined by comparing the turbidity of water before it enters and as it exits the sponge. I test the variation in antibacterial properties by assembling antibiotic assays from sponge extracts. Sponges with high pumping efficiencies may have greater antibacterial properties because the increased filtering rates will expose the sponge to more pathogens. As a result, the sponge must produce effective resistances to the toxins in order to remain healthy. I’m still collecting my preliminary research, but I will be getting results soon.
When I’m not in the lab, my leisure time here on Bonaire has proven to be exciting and adventurous. I’ve done many activities here, such as windsurfing, hiking, and of course, scuba diving. My favorite experiences so far have been my trips up north.
On Saturday afternoon, we slid into the bench seats in the back of the truck. Our voyage north involved a thin, one-way road to Rincón, the oldest village on Bonaire. The town itself is located in a valley, and to get there we followed a winding path along the ocean. We finally cut inland along a road that led through the flamingo sanctuary and brought us into the mountains.
From there, we continued along desolate dirt roads until we stumbled upon what looked like a small ranch. Upon pulling into the driveway, we realized it was a restaurant, Posada Para Mira. There we ate local cuisine, a choice of chicken, fish, goat stew, or iguana stew. My decision was made easily — I mean, where else can you get iguana stew?! This was served with white rice, plantains, some kind of orange squash, and another type of vegetable that was fried.
After we ate dinner, we found the roof. Every cool place on Bonaire has a roof overlooking a nice view.
My next trip to the north of the island was to the Washington Slagbaai National Park. We began our day in the trucks, driving to the park and touring it. We had a very cool experience lounging in the back of the trucks on bean bags as we watched the beautiful desert island scenery pass us by. It was just past midday by the time we reached our camp site. We used the rest of the time to snorkel and explore the area, while enjoying the Bonairean sun. Later that night, a barbeque was cooked as we watched the sunset on the crest of a coral dune. Once the sun went down, we strapped on night vision goggles and went on a hike with blue lights to see scorpions fluoresce bright yellow. That night we fell asleep under the stars. We woke up with the sunrise, then set out to hike Brandaris, one of the highest peaks on Bonaire. Though the hike was extremely hot and strenuous, the views at the top of the peak were unbeatable.
Pictures from the trip to Rincón: