Swimming in Bonnaire 

click to flip through (4) PHOTO BY LISA TE SONNE
  • Photo by Lisa TE Sonne

Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!" sings Dory to her fishy friend in the movie Finding Nemo. Sometimes, when I'm travelling, I also sing that refrain in my head. It can be either a jazzy rendition to continue the joys I am feeling, or a rallying call to push through a patch of fatigue or fear.

The literal swimming was fun on my travels to Bonaire, the B of the Caribbean's "ABC" islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) off Venezuela. The water is 27C° degrees year round, with stellar visibility for wildlife and world-famous scuba diving and snorkelling (but no Nemos — clownfish are Pacific Ocean swimmers).

When you drive around the island, beaches are marked by rocks painted with colourful names and numbers. Pick your colour of sand and swim out to see tropical delights. Or you can go the other way, swimming inland and downward on Bonaire. With my guide Leo, from Flow Synergy, I hiked then clambered down a shaft into a cave where we snorkelled over glorious stalagmites in the water and under stalactites hanging from the cave's roof.

There was even a little swimming when I fell off the board after a glorious taste of windsurfing — zipping over turquoise waters and flying with the wind as a newbie during a lesson at the world famous, windsurfing magnet — Soroban at Lac.

I even put swimming to good use to help with coral restoration. With a number of other travel writers, I hung cuts of coral on underwater metal "trees" — like Christmas ornaments, except that these ornaments will grow! They will then be "replanted" to create reefs.

We were staying at the Buddy Dive Resort, which is a founding partner of the Bonaire Coral Restoration project. It's a welcoming centre to learn about coral destruction, then you suit up, swim to the coral "nursery," and constructively help.

With all this actual and varied swimming, I didn't need the sing-song mantra "Just Keep Swimming" to get me through my sea-bathing days in beautiful Bonaire.

Ironically, it was the horseback riding that triggered the need for the song and almost undid me. I hadn't been on a horse for years — not since I injured my leg when someone else's mount, startled in a Puerto Rican thunderstorm, bolted into me when lightning flashed across the sky. It had been a glorious beach and jungle ride until then. My lower leg scored some long-lasting nerve damage. It wasn't enough to stop me from other adventures, but it did leave me nervous about horses.

Now, I was with a bunch of other adventure writers and didn't want to miss the kind of "experience" we collect instead of sea shells or coins. I had to rein-in my fears, as well as my horse. But I decided to mount up and to get back on the proverbial horse, literally.

The Dutch couple that ran the Rancho Washikemb stables (complete with a friendly dalmation) was so congenial. They assigned a gentle creature for me to ride through desert terrain. Incongruously, I heard "just keep swimming!" in my head as we passed statuesque cactus with frozen arms in the surrender position. Was it a five-metre high message to "surrender" my fears?

When we hoofed near a "haunted house," neither my horse nor I spooked. I sat tall in the saddle while passing by that source of tall tales, and I began to feel comfortable ambling on the sand dunes, with no storms in sight.

A half hour later, we arrived on a shore where we could shed shoes and saddles to ride the horses into the lake, floating on them as they swam. Would I...?

Some of our group opted in and others sat it out. I was having my own debate — between curiosity and caution, alternately hearing, "You have nothing to prove; sit and watch" and "Are you kidding; miss a new experience in the water?

I watched the face of the first woman who tried. Her blissful expression trumped my anxious repression. I hummed "keep on swimming" a little more emphatically, as I prepared for a kind of Bonaire baptism.

Soon my horse and I were waterborne together. His hoofs were off the ground, and we were levitating in liquid. The power of the horse's legs, the propulsion through fluids, the peace of the setting — together, the horse and I just "kept on swimming," as I hummed joyfully.

www.LisaSonne.com has links to my HAPPINESS HANDBOOK and MY ADVENTURES: A TRAVELER's JOURNAL, both currently in bookstores and available online. oneminutetrip.com/Caribbean.html

VIDEO LINK : http://oneminutetrip.com/Caribbean.html



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