Sunday, January 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Lori

Before setting off for Bonaire we celebrated Lori's birthday.  You'll notice that the cake in the picture looks surprisingly like a store-bought cake.  That's because it is.  However, the reason that we didn't have a delicious home made cake was because we didn't want to have a bunch of cake left over when we went on vacation.  It had nothing to do with the fact that since it was Lori's birthday, I was in charge of baking (or acquiring) the cake.  I can bake cakes.  Really.

As a 100% full blooded Dutch person, Lori has always loved birthdays.   However, one downside of being born on December 21 is that it is the winter solstice, the day where the northern hemisphere has the shortest daylight.   In some locations that is not such a big deal, but in Northern Europe, shortest daylight is really short.  According to the US  Navy website, the sun rose over Wassenaar at 8:50 am, stayed around for a paltry 7 hours and 40 minutes before setting at 4:30 pm.   Had she been born on the summer solstice, she would have enjoyed 16 hours and 45 minutes of daylight.  Quite a difference between the low and high tide if you will.

Sometimes people forget how far north we are in Europe.  Had Lori visited her parents in Des Moines on her birthday she would have enjoyed a balmy 9 hours and 10 minutes of daylight.  To find a days length in North America that would have been equivalent to Wassenaar she would have had to travel to Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, which is about half way between Calgary and Edmonton.   Needless to say, Red Deer was not on our potential vacation list.

So what did we give her for her birthday --- more daylight!  We flew to Bonaire that day, leaving in the early afternoon.   We flew with the sun, so she enjoyed 12+ hours of daylight.  Unfortunately, we spent most of them jammed into an airplane seat.  Luckily the Bonaire sunshine made up for it.   

Saturday, January 14, 2012


When we were deciding where to spend Christmas, there were several criteria that had to be met.  First, Kate only had 10 days off (medical school is much more stingy than Vanderbilt with time off) so she wasn't anxious for a big time zone change and the associated jet lag both ways.  That ruled out Europe.  Second, those of us in Europe were anxious to see the sun.  That also ruled out Europe....and a lot of other  places.  

So we settled for the Caribbean island of Bonaire, about 25 miles off the coast of Venezuela.  Only one hour difference for Kate, lots of sun for us and best of all -- we didn't even have to leave The Netherlands.  It turns out that Bonaire is a special municipality of The Netherlands.  It used to be part of the Netherlands Antilles but when that was dissolved (perhaps you missed that huge political shake up in 2010) Bonaire voted to fall in directly with the Dutch.   Actually, the best thing was that due to the Dutch heritage, KLM had direct flights from Amsterdam.  

Santa arrived by boat on Christmas morning
The main attraction of Bonaire is its world-renowned diving.  And it was great.  There were tons of fish, good coral and some special features as well -- octopus, turtles, a shipwreck, eels, lobsters and -- thanks to Kate's keen eye -- a blue marlin.  The diving was easy, little to no current and most sites were less than 20 meters.  It was the first time the entire family got to dive together; we each did about 15 dives and it worked out great.   Grant and I got to do our first night dive (Lori and Kate came along as well).  It was neat to see the tarpon swimming around -- they're about 2-3 ft long -- and they swim quite close to you.  Luckily they were looking for fish, not humans.  

No matter how warm the water is, when you stay down for an hour your body gets cold.  That's why not everyone is smiling in this picture. 

Grant coming out after a dive
Kate and Lori were always the most efficient with their air.  They stayed down longest and came to the surface last on every dive.  
Note the rainbow over Mark's right shoulder.  

We did have some weather scares.  The guide book stated that "Bonaire offers dependably dry weather" and "with only 22 inches of rain each year....Bonaire offers underwater visibility of 100 ft or more".    Despite that cheery build-up, we awoke our first morning to a driving rainstorm.  We wondered what kind of week were we in for.  But it cleared off, the sun came out and temperatures got into the 80's.  That happened several more times during the week but the rains never lasted too long.  

Bonaire is also known for its flamingos and donkeys.  The flamingos are attracted to the brackish lakes on the island that are full of shrimp, which give them their pinkish color.  We saw three flamingos flying along the beach; I don't think I've ever seen them fly before.  The donkey's are leftovers from the plantation days. The island has a donkey sanctuary that you can visit, but somehow that didn't get to the top of our activity list.  

Soaking up the sun

Dinner along the beach

In between dives we played cribbage on a board that was given to us by Mark's Aunts Mary & Helen when they were in Florida.  Believe it or not Grant was the family champion.  He also won the family card tournament.   

This was our rental "car" for the week.  These are popular because people use them to haul scuba gear around and go diving from the beach.  We ended up doing all of our diving from the boat.  

If you look real hard you can see the donkey in this picture.  They wander free around the island; this guy was next to our truck at dinner one night.  

Kate pulling her "cracker" for Christmas.  

Despite the limited cooking facilities Lori came through with two batches of cinnamon rolls and one coffee cake.  

We decorated this plant to serve as our Christmas tree.  

With Bonaire's Dutch connection, they had Dutch grocery stores like Albert Heijn.  However, we had never seen "Natural Cats" in the stores in Holland.  
None of these underwater photos are from our trip.  But they give you an idea of what we saw.  Our octopus wasn't this big, but he swam through the water, landed on a rock then changed colors to match the rock.  

We saw several turtles, including one who was nestled under some sea fans.  

The tarpon were large and scary at night.  

A juvenile drumfish. 

We saw several different types of eels.  

Box fish are one of my favorites.