Jan 052017
 

bachelors-pano-4-3-3

How much would you be willing to pay for a full year of access to:

  • The best shore diving in the Americas, as voted by the readers of Scuba Diving magazine for 24 consecutive years.
  • Over 350 recorded species of fish and 57 species of coral.
  • Prime windsurfing locations, home to five “Top 10” world champion windsurfers
  • Beautiful white and pink sand beaches, which are home to more than 100 nesting areas for 3 endangered species of sea turtles.
  • Swim in tranquil turquoise water that stays between 78 and 84 degrees F (25-29C) year-round.

Plus, access to nearly 14,000 acres (6,500 hectares) of national park, rich in biodiversity, and home to many endemic species including:

  • More than 200 of the island’s 210 known bird species, including large flocks of Caribbean flamingos and Yellow-shouldered amazon parrots.
  • Over 9 miles (15 km) of shoreline, with sandy beaches plus salt flats, mangroves, cactus scrub, caves, and dry forest
  • A network of nature trails that you can hike to the highest point on the island
  • Opportunities to kayak, mountain bike, picnic and more

How is this possible? With a one-year nature tag, which provides access to both the Bonaire National Marine Park and Washington-Slaagbai National Park. It is available from non-profit STINAPA, who manages and protects the parks, as well as from local dive shops and the Tourism Office in Kralendijk.

The price? Only $25 USD, for a whole year. $10 day passes are also available.

stinapa-tag

This is among the greatest bargain in the Caribbean and the world.

We just bought our tags for 2017, and look forward to new adventures in the parks. What are you waiting for?

Dec 042016
 

The holidays are rapidly approaching (yikes), and, if you’re like most of us, you may be struggling with gift ideas for those on your list.  We’re here to help.

We’ve put together a list of some of favorite products and services for Travelers, Photographers, Scuba Divers and Bonaire Lovers.

 

For Travelers & Global Nomads

Swatch Watches– I rarely travel without a Swatch watch.  The affordable price point means that you don’t have to fret about loss or theft.  And the fact that all Swatch watches are waterproof makes them indispensable for ocean lovers. Another plus, many larger airports have a Swatch store, and Swatch offers free battery changes for the life of your watch.  This white one is my new fave.

Amazon Kindle Voyage – This is the new device in my arsenal, and I’m in love.  Where do I begin?  The battery life is incredible.  It lasts for weeks.  The screen is easy to read, easy on the eyes and user-friendly.  And who doesn’t want access to new books at their fingertip?

Elta MD UV Clear Sunscreen, SPF 46 – Whether you are trekking in the Himalayas, Skiing in Taos or sailing the South Pacific, sunscreen is critically important.  I go through bottles of this product.  It has a high level of protection, yet it feels light and will never cause breakouts.

Dakine Split Roller Duffle Bag – My Dakine bag has not had an easy life.  It’s been thrown onto luggage belts in Fiji, rolled through rocks and dirt in the Serengeti and hauled in and out of multiple boats in The Maldives.  Yet it has held up like the workhorse it is.  And type-A neat freaks those who like multiple organizational options will love its many sections and pockets.

Ray-Ban Folding Wayfarers – These classic shades are now made in a cool folding design that fits easily into your pocket or travel bag.

 

For Photographers

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6 – This is hands-down the most critical element of my photography arsenal.

Gitzo 3532LS Tripod – This sturdy carbon-fiber tripod is also flexible and adaptable.  We love it for outdoor and wildlife photography.

Think Tank Perception Pro Camera Backpack – This backpack went with me to Tanzania, and it was perfect for my safari needs.  Inside it I hauled one SLR body, two point and shoot bodies, two lenses, an underwater housing for my Olympus TG-4, my MacBook Pro and multiple other accessories.

The Underwater Photographer, by Martin Edge – If you want to learn underwater photography or want to perfect your underwater photography, this is without a doubt the book for you.

 

For Scuba Divers

Henderson Lycra Dive Skin – Whether you wear it alone for snorkeling or under a warmer wetsuit for diving, this dive skin is comfortable and well-made.

Reef Fish Identification Book – These fish identification books by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach have been a crucial part of our library for as long as I can remember.  They are a must-have for every scuba diver.  They are available for the Pacific and Indian oceans as well as the Caribbean and Atlantic.

Scubapro Spectra Mini Mask – My mask of choice.  The low-profile design and smaller size is a great choice for female or smaller divers.

Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) Membership – We faithfully renew our DAN memberships each year.  The benefits are numerous and include dive accident insurance, a subscription to Alert Diver magazine and dive safety education.  Membership is $35 for an individual and $55 for a family.

 

For Bonaire Lovers – Our favorite local Bonairean products & services

Cadushy Rom Rincon – This spiced and artisan-crafted rum is made for sipping.  Get it while you are in Bonaire. It’s not available anywhere else.

Phish Phaktory Bags – These tote bags are made from recycled sails and materials found in underwater cleanup dives on Bonaire.  The bags are cute, sturdy, well-crafted and will last forever.  The owners/artists are super cool and truly care about our environment.

Carrying my Phish Phaktory tote at Bonaire's Carnival

Carrying my Phish Phaktory tote at Bonaire’s Carnival

Flaming Flamingo hot sauces, salt and jams – We love these made-in-Bonaire products.  Our fave is the mango hot sauce (Steve practically drinks it).

A tank card from Dive Friends Bonaire – Give the gift of air!  Dive Friends Bonaire offers a handy tank card for local divers.

Elements Jewelry – Elements dichroic glass pieces made great colorful gifts and souvenirs.

Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire hats and shirts – Help Bonaire’s sea turtles and wear cool gear at the same time.

Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire Diver Certification Course – We are both PADI certified Coral Restoration Divers.  It’s both fun and important work.  Courses are available at Buddy Dive, Harbour Village and Wannadive.

Cleaning the algae from a tree in the coral nursery

Meredith cleaning the algae from a tree in the coral nursery at Klein Bonaire

Italy in the World, Bonaire – Give a beautiful bottle of Italian wine or a great Prosecco from this boutique and restaurant in Bonaire.  We love the Santero 9-5-8 prosecco for a sunset toast.

An extensive wine selection at Italy in The World, Bonaire

An extensive wine selection at Italy in The World, Bonaire

Latitude 12° Designs Bonaire Necklace – OK, this is my jewelry design company.  I design and create custom jewelry in sterling silver (or the metal of your choice).  My Bonaire Necklace is a great choice for showing your Bonaire love.  But the choice is yours – all pieces are custom made, and the sky is the limit.

The Bonaire necklace in sterling silver

The Bonaire necklace in sterling silver

Custom mermaid necklace in sterling silver

Custom mermaid necklace in sterling silver

Custom, hand made necklace for the ocean lover, by Latitude 12° Designs

Custom, hand made necklace for the ocean lover, by Latitude 12° Designs

custom bracelet set by Latitude 12° Designs

custom bracelet set by Latitude 12° Designs

All of the products mentioned above are products we use and love.  We have purchased each of these products (some over and over), and they were not gifted to us or given to us for promotional purposes.

Sep 262016
 

We recently returned from a three week journey through northern Tanzania and Pemba Island in the Zanzibar Archipelago.  This is our travel diary.  We have many photos from our trip, and we will continue to post them in the following weeks.  

A Journey to Tanzania

Our Tanzanian journey began as we touched down at Kilimanjaro airport after a nine hour flight from Amsterdam. We were met by our amazing and tireless guide David Mark Makia (from Access2Tanzania) and taken to Arusha for a short stay.

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We visited three of Tanzania’s sixteen national parks during our safari – Arusha National Park, Tarangire National Park and Serengeti National Park. At 14,763 square kilometers (5,700 square miles), Serengeti is the second largest National Park in Tanzania (second only to Ruaha which is 20,300 square kilometers or 7,838 square miles). We also visited the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find the vast Ngorongoro Crater – a volcanic caldera which is unique due to its dense population of wildlife living amongst human settlements (chiefly the Maasai tribe).

Tarangire Park Sign

Welcome to Serengeti

Steve and me at the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater

Steve and me at the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater

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During our scenic drives through northern Tanzania, we passed the Olduvai Gorge– the cradle of civilization and the site of Mary and Louis Leakey’s renowned archeological work. It is here that the earliest human footprints were found. Olduvai Gorge is located in the area called the Great Rift Valley, which crosses an expanse of East Africa. We were struck by an intense sense of awe and wonder as we traversed this area, as we realized that we are all African at our core.

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The Serengeti is truly the garden of Eden. Serengeti means “endless plain” in the Maasai language of Maa, and it’s easy to see why it was given this name. At first, a simple glimpse at the vast expanse of grassland reveals only flora of green and amber, a few hills and rock formations called kopjes. But once your eyes focus, the wildlife starts to reveal itself. You may spot a lion or pride of lions lying in the grass. If you are lucky, you may spot a leopard draped over a tree branch. Birds abound in every size and hue of the rainbow, with several reaching 1.5m (5 feet) tall . Overseeing the circle of life, eagles and vultures perch in the trees awaiting their turn to feast on a kill (there is a definitive pecking order as it pertains to a carcass). Zebras, antelopes and wildebeest appear all around – at times in great numbers. Elephants, giraffes and buffalo abound. Only a lucky few will catch a glimpse of a cheetah or rhino. We saw both.

A Leopard rests in a tree in Serengeti

A Leopard rests in a tree in Serengeti

The Great Migration of Wildebeest in Northern Serengeti

The Great Migration of Wildebeest in Northern Serengeti

Our guide for the ten day safari was truly a gifted naturalist and communicator. His knowledge of wildlife behavior and habitats appeared innate, although he went to university to study wildlife biology. He revealed himself to be a comedian, and he kept us entertained on the long and often bumpy drives through the parks. On most days, we were in the Land Cruiser for five hours or more, and several of our longer days we were in the truck for ten or twelve hours. Much of this time is spent driving through the reserves/game parks. For instance, our camp in Tarangire National Park was a two hour drive from the main entrance to the park. The drive to the camp is filled with wildlife, so it is quite thrilling.

Steve with our guide David in Ngorongoro Crater

Steve with our guide David in Ngorongoro Crater

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In the parks, we chose to stay in tented camps rather than lodges. We are happy to have made this choice, as the camps allow you to experience the wildlife as if you were part of its delicate ecosystem.

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The camps consist of a small number of large private tents and a central dining and meeting area. They are furnished with comfortable beds, desks, dressers and nice linens. The bathrooms are large and functional and some even have outdoor showers (we showered with elephants at Tarangire). At night, you can hear the lions roaring just outside of your tent – a reminder that you are truly in the wild. Most of the camps employ Maasai warriors as security guards. The Maasai aren’t guarding against mischievous intruders or thieves, rather, they are guarding against lions and other wildlife. In the camps, it is not permitted to walk alone before 6:00 am or after 6:30 pm. A guard must accompany you if you venture outside the tent during darkness. As soon as you unzip the tent or illuminate a flashlight, the Maasai guard was at your side in seconds.

Our Maasai security guard at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

Our Maasai security guard at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

Tented lounge area at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

Tented lounge area at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

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The Maasai are found only in Kenya and Tanzania. They are an autonomous people with a semi-nomadic nature. There are currently around 1.7 million Maasai people, and they live mainly around the game parks. Their livelihood is based on their livestock, and they consume only meat, milk and blood (although some have started to eat grains). Interestingly, they consume no vegetables. We visited a Maasai village in Ngorongoro, and they explained their culture and showed us the inside of a hut and also the school. Despite being a warrior culture, the people are kind and subdued. They have a proud and regal nature.

Maasai Warriors in Ngorongoro

Maasai Warriors in Ngorongoro

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At the end of the 10-day Safari we flew to Pemba Island, just north of Zanzibar in the Zanzibar Archipelago. These islands have been dubbed the Spice Islands, and the aroma of cloves, lemongrass and cinnamon fill the air. Pemba produces 70% of the world’s cloves. Pemba is a lush, verdant and hilly island where fruits and vegetables fall off the trees and vines. It is also known for its excellent diving, and we were able to experience some beautiful reef dives while there.  Pemba and Zanzibar share a Muslim culture, and the people are some of the kindest I have ever met. We were warmly welcomed to the island and treated with the utmost respect.

View from Manta Resort on Pemba Island

View from Manta Resort on Pemba Island

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We would like to thank Karen Stupic at Access2Tanzania for helping us plan and execute this trip of a lifetime. We also wish to thank our tireless guide David Mark Makia, who we now consider a part of our family.

 

Have you been on an African safari? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience.

Dec 302015
 

We would like to wish our readers a very happy 2016, and we would also like to ask you for a favor.  As we formulate ideas for new blog posts and topics, we would like to know more about what topics you want to see us cover in 2016.  If your answer/s isn’t covered in the poll, please leave a comment on the blog.

Thanks for voting!

Note, if you have received this post via email, please visit the blog to vote.

Which topic/s would you like to see us cover more of in 2016?

  • Marine Conservation (25%, 6 Votes)
  • Underwater Photography Technique, Tips, Tricks & Gear Reviews (25%, 6 Votes)
  • Bird & Wildlife Photography (25%, 6 Votes)
  • Diving (17%, 4 Votes)
  • What to Do in Bonaire (8%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 10

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Sep 222013
 

I’m not a big fan of cooking while I’m on vacation.  There, I said it.  I know that many St. John travelers enjoy cooking breakfast, lunch & dinner in their beautiful hillside villas, but not me.  I’m usually too tired from a day of diving and snorkeling, and the last thing I want to do is cook and then clean up.  Plus, a hot stove in a hot, humid climate is not exactly a recipe for environmental comfort.  Due to my vacation cooking aversion, I’ve become pretty familiar with the many awesome eateries in Cruz Bay.  I’m going to tell you about some of my faves.

Rhumblines

This is my favorite dinner spot in Cruz Bay, and it’s the spot I crave most when I set foot on the island.  The eclectic Asian Fusion menu (heavy on the Thai) has a unique Caribbean twist.

Rhumblines menu

Everything I’ve tried here has been delicious, and I’m super picky quite selective when it comes to Asian food. On our server’s recommendation, I recently tried the cracked pepper crusted tuna, which sits on a bed of green seaweed salad.  It was, in a word, phenomenal (and the portion was generous).

Rhumblines Cracked-Pepper Crusted Tuna Appetizer

Rhumblines Cracked-Pepper Crusted Tuna Appetizer

Another favorite is the Pad Thai, which is authentic and awesome.

Vegetarian Pad Thai

Vegetarian Pad Thai

Rhumblines is also known for its inventive drink menu, and I’ve found that the drink specials are so good they make you want to go back for more.

 

Margarita Phil’s

Despite my over decade-long history of visiting St. John, I had never tried this quaint Mexican joint until this month.  This is partially because we like to go during the off season, when many restaurants are closed.  But I can’t deny that it is also due to the less than stellar Tripadvisor reviews.  We recently walked in, without high expectations, on the night before they were set to close for the season.  I needed my Mexican fix, and I was determined to get it.

All Smiles at Margarita Phil's

All Smiles at Margarita Phil’s

Just look at us beaming in the photo above.  Do we look like unhappy diners?  I spontaneously developed an urge to send this shot to my beautiful mother with a caption saying, “Look ma!  We went to Cancun instead”, but alas, she knows me better than that.

Margarita Phil’s turned out to be one of the dining highlights of our trip.  I know what you’re thinking, and no, it wasn’t solely due to the near milk jug sized margaritas that were plunked in front of us.  And on a related note, the margaritas were fresh and tasty.  This was not a case of quantity trumping quality.

Margarita

The menu boasts the full offering of tex-mex favorites, and it also has some impressive house specialties. In keeping with the “Cancun” theme, I had the nachos (build em your own way) with shrimp.  For me, shrimp is one of those menu items that often fails to impress, but they were out of my first choice which was crab.  As it turns out, these were the best nachos I’ve had north of the border.  They were skillfully built, layer by layer, and the shrimp was cooked to perfection (it’s easy to ruin shrimp by overcooking it).  Mr. Reeftraveler was similarly impressed with his dish of steak enchiladas, which I would have sampled if I weren’t a vegetarian (who eats some seafood).

Overall, we were really impressed with Margarita Phil’s.  The food was outstanding, and the service was friendly, engaging and professional (Jill & Ted are servers extraordinaire – we felt like we made new friends).

 

Woody’s

Woody’s is a small, dive-y (not in a bad way) bar and restaurant that really doesn’t look like much from the outside. But step inside and you will find a warm, welcoming atmosphere, great drinks, and excellent seafood (that far exceeds the taste of your average bar food). If you’ve walked around Cruz Bay but haven’t been to Woody’s, you may know it as the bar with the crowd of regulars spilling out onto the street during happy hour.

Woodys Sign

The Shark Bites, which are bite sized squares of blackened mahi, are my personal favorite. I also love the blackened shrimp and the corn crusted scallops.  And dare I write this “review” without mentioning that their version of everyone’s STJ favorite, the Painkiller, is superb.  Check out the menu here.

Woody's Menu Board

Woody’s Menu Board

 

Here are some notes on other spots we love in Cruz Bay.

The Beach Bar – It’s almost always our first meal on the island.  It feels a bit like home.  The food is always great, the service is always friendly, the atmosphere is always laid-back and the view is always stunning.  I love their flying shrimp and their nachos.  And they’ve got super cool merch.

Sunset at The Beach Bar

Sunset at The Beach Bar

Da Livio – For Authentic homemade pasta and brick oven pizza (arguably the best on the island).

Pizza Chef at Da Livio

Pizza Chef at Da Livio

Lime Inn – Amazing owners and hosts and fantastic seafood.  An STJ institution for good reason.

Joe’s Rum Hut – High quality bar food with a killer view and great drinks.

Sun Dog Cafe – Well executed, unique dishes served by a friendly staff.  And their version of everyone’s favorite adult milkshake, the Bushwacker, is like 1000 calories of heaven in a glass.

 

What have I missed?  What are your favorite STJ restaurants?  I’m always up for discovering new favorites.