Our second stop was the island of Bonaire. The island was first thought to be inhabited by Caquetio Indians around 1000AD. The first Europeans to arrive were the Spanish in 1499 and in 1515 they decided this island and the others nearby had no economic value. So they rounded up the natives and transported them to Hispaniola as slaves to work the copper mines. In 1526 the Spanish decided to return some of the natives to the island along with European domestic animals to raise cattle.
The Spanish built their first settlement in the hills in the center of the island to hide their presence from any roaming Dutch ships. Finally, the Dutch began what was known as the Eighty years war in 1568 to take control of the islands. European continued fighting over the islands for the next several hundred years.
During WWII ,after Germany invaded the Netherlands, Bonaire became the protectorate of Britain and the USA. The first airstrip was built by the USA during that period.
After the war until 2010 the island was part of the Dutch Antilles group. In 2010, the islands could vote to become part of the Netherlands or become independent. Only three of the smallest islands voted to become part of the Netherlands, with Bonaire being one of them.
So today, Bonaire is part of the Netherlands with special rules. Dutch nationals are free to come and reside as if it was mainland Netherlands. It has a population of around 17, 000. There are only two large commercial facilities on the island. A salt mine and an oil transfer facility. The rest of the economy relies largely on tourism.
Since we are not really big on shopping, we signed up for a backcountry tour in a old Swiss Army Mercedes transport truck. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we were able to see not only the country side but also some of the history traces left behind. Anneke really enjoyed speaking her native language with the Dutch tour guide.
First we had a quick tour of the capital, Kralendijk, as we headed out of town.
We soon headed off road climbing into the hills, where you quickly saw that the climate here is very much like the southwest desert with lots of cactus and what they locally call skeleton trees. There is a short rainy season, which unfortunately started with our trip today.
We next stopped at the oldest of the Caquetio Indian caves which were inhabited over 1000 years ago. We could only view the caves from the outside, as it was a very rough and fragile entrance. Even though these people were thought to inhabit the island for over 500 years, there is no evidence that they ever moved out of these caves. The caves extended several hundred yards in from the entrance and were thought to accommodate around 1500 plus natives.
We climbed into some of the small towns and arrived at a viewpoint where we could overlook the original Spanish settlement started in the 1500's, Rincon. From our vantage point you can see that the town would be completely invisible to the Dutch ships sailing off the coast.
From here we started back down towards the sea through more villages to first visit the site of a group of caves that were occupied by a second group called Marca Indians that came from a nearby island shortly after the first group arrived from Venezuela. Interestingly, those who study these two groups believe that these two groups never interacted with each other. The Marca were star gazers and understood the movement of the stars and used them to track important events in their lives. We spent some time here wandering the desert and enjoying some of the local wildlife.
Just a mile or so from these caves we stopped to enjoy the view of the ocean and the only source of electrical power on the island-the row of windmills along the coast. These windmills provide power to every resident. During a few months a year when the wind does not blow steadily, they will be rolling brownouts on the island to ensure everyone has some power until the winds return.
Along the way we spotted a number of the wild goats and donkeys that inhabit the island. These are the descendants of those animals that were brought here in the 1500's from Spain. The donkeys have become quite a pest to the locals, as they are constantly raiding crops and gardens. So, as we stopped to admire some of the donkeys, our guide pointed out the yellow tags on the young males. This indicates that they have been neutered in an effort to reduce their numbers.
Before our tour ended we traveled to a high point to get a panoramic view of the entire island and the capital laid out below us. In the far distance, past the cruise ships, you can see the salt mines at the very end of the island.
Finally after returning to the cruise ship, we ventured ashore again to visit a very popular water front bar to visit with some new friends before ending our stay on Bonaire. The views from this vantage point make it hard to leave, what is so far our favorite Caribbean Island.