I just got back from Buddy Dive's 25th anniversary celebration. In a testament to the kind of haven Buddy Dive has always been for divers, this milestone brought in both staff and guests from around the world. The resort, including the recently acquired Lions Dive side of the property, was chock-full. Many had been coming to the resort for almost the entire time it's been in operation and some were more recent acolytes, but all of them reveled in the unique dive life that this corner of the world has become famous for: 24/7 diving and 24/7 storytelling about diving. After all, this entire island has been built on the dive flag and boasts "Diver's Paradise" on its license plates. Even though much has changed in the 25 years Buddy Dive has been in operation, the one constant has been easy access to some incredible diving.
Each day during the week we got reacquainted with our favorite sites. Many divers were content to just slip into the water at the Buddy Dive dock and explore the house reef. On our checkout dives, we found a stark-white stonefish along the line that leads to the reef, and the house reef itself is always full of surprises. On this trip juvenile spotted drum seemed scattered around their hidey holes all along the reef. While I was stopped to check out a congregation of flamingo tongue cowries on a gorgonian, a whitemouth moray slithered by and nabbed a meal of a barber shrimp right before my eyes.
On the dive boats, the divemaster would ask if we had any special requests, and a litany of the guests' favorite sites would come at the divemaster like a verbal onslaught: Alice in Wonderland, the Hilma Hooker, Angel City, Karpata, the Lake. That so many divers knew these reefs so well spoke volumes about the diving in Bonaire. The divemaster intervened, deciding that one of our first dives would be at Alice in Wonderland, which held the promise of seahorses. We found two large black longsnout seahorses right away.
I received a phone call one morning from a guest who had to go home early but didn't want to miss the Hilma Hooker and didn't have a buddy. We nabbed some tanks from the drive-through air-fill station (another Buddy Dive innovation and the world's first such service), drove the yellow marker and ended up having the entire wreck to ourselves. The Hilma Hooker was rippling with marine life. Barracuda met us at the down line, and a legion of tarpon followed us around the wreck as we explored the structure. Large purple stovepipe sponges cover the underside of the wreck, but a favorite spot is always the large screw that's carpeted with sponges and cup corals. The nice thing about the Hooker is that once you're out of bottom time on this deep-ish (100 feet) wreck, the adjacent wall makes your ascent a nice bit of reef exploration. It's full of the macro critters Bonaire's famous for, and there's a busy cleaning station seemingly every few fin kicks.
I even got the chance to dive the east side -- the windy side -- for the first time. Appropriately named Larry's Wildside Bonaire has begun to open up the wild side of the island to divers. Larry's an old Navy diver and the perfect person to conquer the east end. He zipped us out to the reef in a specially made Zodiac and we got to see the little-dived blue hole, which was full of tarpon, turtles and a few massive southern stingrays. The seascape outside the hole was covered in purple sea fans, and we even got a peek at a school of spotted eagle rays, which frequent this area. In the end, if you're at all used to diving in California or New England, the diving conditions on Bonaire's east side aren't that bad.
Between all the underwater action, Buddy Dive had a nice lineup of nightly parties and celebrations in their newly designed bar. Karaoke night proved one of the most memorable both for the dismal efforts and for the wonderfully surprising voices that would've otherwise remained hidden among these divers. The competition came down to two women, one Dutch and the other an American who was living in South Africa and came all the way to Bonaire to be a part of the celebrations. Since they were both so good, Willem, the manager of Buddy Dive, decided to award each of them the grand prize, a free wetsuit.
Bonaire itself is starting to refine its image and offerings. Kralendijk is undergoing a bit of a culinary explosion, so there are lots of places to enjoy a great variety of fine cuisine. Buddy Dive offers cave, mangrove and hiking tours of the island, too. Both Buddy Dive and Bonaire are clearly getting ready for the next 25 years of delivering the dive life.