Breaking News: Bonaire Invaded by IVS!

What else can you call a blog when 61 IVS’ers come to a quiet island for a week of fun, laughter and great diving?  This is IVS’s biggest trip to date, and what a great one it has turned out to be!  So lets begin…

Team IVS Invades Bonaire

For starters let’s just say I had a feeling that this would be a very different start to one of our trips…I begin my day with an on time departure from Harleysville to allow me to arrive in Bonaire a full two days ahead of the group.  Plenty of time to set up appointments, make dinner reservations, get the dive center squared away, and be ready to greet our arriving IVS’ers when they start coming in at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday.  The only possible hiccup in my plans is the fact that Delta only flies directly to Bonaire on Saturdays, so I’m traveling to Miami today on my favorite airline, then for a third world sort of travel experience, I am switching over to Insel Air to complete my journey, flying first to Curacao, then on to Bonaire.  Sounds simple enough, eh?

To help ensure that all these connections happen, I’ve decided to start off with a 6:45 flight this morning out of Philadelphia.  So, after a busy night of organizing, locating missing gear, shuffling paperwork, washing clothes, and finally packing, I find myself heading down to the airport in what should be plenty of time to park, shuttle to the airport, and make my flight in a leisurely fashion.  Is this to be? Let’s see how the morning unfolds…

Bad sign #1 – traffic is completely stopped on I-476 on my way south.  Should be OK, how long can this last?   Tick, tick, tick…..after a half hour of sitting, finally we start crawling south.  At this point, my safety margin has evaporated, and it is a more customary mad rush to the airport.  In fact, I don’t have time to park now or I will miss the FAA-mandated 45 minute baggage cut-off time before my flight!  Geeez…how did this happen already??

So I throw caution to the winds, and race directly to the curbside check-in to get my bags in.  But oh no, the line outside is too long, and I need to run my bags inside.  Of course there is no parking and certainly no abandoned vehicles without drivers allowed to stop in front of the terminal, but does this deter this man on his mission?  Noooooo!  So I park the truck, turn on the flashers, and drag my bags out and into the terminal.  I leave the tailgate down for that “still unloading” look, just in case I need to fool the parking police.

Well it seems there was quite a bit of bad weather along the east coast last night, causing flight cancellations all over the place, and certainly fouling this mornings travel up a bit.  So my first flight is delayed, but a second flight is available, so the helpful Delta gate agent gets right on the task of moving my reservation around.  Meanwhile, I need to keep running back outside to ensure my truck is still there and not being towed away or blown up like an abandoned bag!

OK, new flight confirmed finally, now time to check the bags.  I have six bags in total, two big Pelican cases that weigh in at 74 and 78 pounds each, plus a big roller duffle, pushing 68 pounds.  Add to that my small Pelican case full of cameras, my backpack, and another bag full of paperwork that somehow keeps following me around on my trips.  The “master plan” is to check them through all the way to Bonaire via Delta as there is no doubt that Insel Air will be bringing out the big cash register for my excess baggage fees.   If Delta tags them all the way to my final destination, then I am home free and Insel Air gets nothing!  I like that!  In between the agent working the computer and asking questions, I keep running back to the front door to check on the truck – it’s still there, flashers going, and no tow truck in front!

But alas, we have a problem here Houston.  It seems that Delta and Insel Air don’t have a ‘cooperative baggage agreement” so the folks at Delta cannot check my bags past Miami.  Man, this sucks, I am thinking, I am going to take a hurting in Miami when I have to check these bags onto the Insel Air flight.

So…now the wheels are turning.  I need a new plan here, and I only have a few hours to hatch a good one.  OK, so I agree to have my bags accompany me to Miami, and head out to park the truck.  Amazing, it has been sitting here for 45 minutes now, and I didn’t even get a ticket, let alone have to fight off a nasty Philadelphia Parking Authority tow truck operator.  Fate is funny today, giving me good signs, bad signs, mixed signs…..the jury is still out on how today will turn out!

So back down the road I go, and just in case I catch some grief about my three carry-ons, I am thinking a roll of duct tape would be a good idea to be able to tape my paperwork bag onto my camera case, which, according to airline standards, converts the two of them into “one” carry-on.  So gosh, at 6:45 in the morning, you would think that it would be no problem to pick up a roll somewhere near the airport.  But, do you think there’s a hardware store near the airport?  No…not at all.  I drive all the way to Glenolden, stop for a soda at a local Wawa, and there’s a local cop so I ask him for help.  Sure enough, there’s 24-hour Wal-Mart a couple of blocks away, so I head in that direction.  Wait, there’s a 24-hour Walhgreen’s there, so I pull in.  Sure enough, they have duct tape, so my mission is accomplished.  Back in the truck, I head back to park and get to the airport.

My shuttle drops me off at the airport and boy, things have picked up here in terms of human traffic.  Seems that there was quite a bit of bad weather in the region and that caused a lot of flight cancellations, and now the excess strain is showing.  Not cool, I am thinking, as I tip the shuttle driver and jog on up to security.  Holy smokes Batman, the security lines are extending completely out of the enclosed area, even the frequent flyer line.  Not cool, I think, now time is starting to get a wee bit tight here.  I wait patiently, slowly moving forward, watching my watch.  I am thinking, how can a day that started out so relaxed be causing me to have such anxiety now??

Finally I get to the front of the line, and have my ID checked.  Cool, I am thinking, it’s tight, but still very do-able with regards to boarding, which has, by my watch, just started.  It’s not too far to the gate, so I just need to get past this one last hurdle here with the baggage screeners and I am golden.  So, the way the baggage screening machines are laid out, you need to walk almost up to the machine to push your bags in, and then you have to turn and walk about 10 feet over to pass through the metal detector.  Could have been a more efficient layout, I think every time I pass through, but who would listen?  So I have my shoes off, laptop and phone in one bin, backpack, other briefcase, and my camera case on the table.  I push them forward, but the guy in front of me gets real testy when my stuff touches his, and he literally pushes my first bin back towards me.  OK, I am thinking, what is his issue?  Single child?  Mother refused to nurse him?  Never picked for the team in grade school?  Who knows, but there is something for sure, and I don’t need to work on a cure for him today. So, I leave some extra space in front of me, so his items are untouched by mine.

As his bags start onto the belt, I slide mine forward, almost to the belt, not touching his, but clearly onto the roller conveyor. There’s a guy behind me with that ‘frequent traveler’ air about him, and he and I were kibitzing and sharing comments on the state of affairs in TSA Central this morning.  So I glance at him, he acknowledges that he’ll push his things along to ensure mine get through, and I head over to pass through the metal detector.  As I pass through, the belt starts on the conveyor, and suddenly there is a curly-haired female TSA agent standing next to it, and asks, loudly, “Who’s bags are these?”  Well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, and I look over, and she says “Sir, you have to push your own bags through the machine”.  “Cut me a friggin’ break”, I am thinking, I am already through the metal detector, so I wave to my friend who was behind me and say out loud, “can you give them a little shove?”

Well that little bit of insolence didn’t sit well with Ms. TSA and she storms along the back of the machine, watching over the monitor screen as my bags pass through.  I am quietly shaking my head, thinking what can she have up her little blue sleeve?  “Sir, is this your bag?” she asks, knowing full well the answer.  I nod, and she says “I have to examine this bag sir”.  “Whatever floats your boat”, I think I said, and with that she picks up my camera case and says “follow me please” as she heads over to the screening table.  I gather my other bags, put my shoes back on, and begin to head over, as I catch her glaring at my, her look expressing her inner rage that I didn’t just race right over there as directed by Her Little Blue Highness.

So I stroll over, and stand alongside the table where she has my bag.  She asks for another agent to help her lift my bag onto the table, and I am wondering, what sort of lackadaisical fitness requirements do they have in place that she couldn’t flip that bag up there?  She’d really be great if called upon to wrestle down a gun-wielding terrorist, that’s for sure.  I suppose she would ask for help with that too.

“Stand over here in front of me sir”, she says, and I respond “I am fine here, thanks.”  “No sir, I need you over here”, she says, more emphatically this time.  “Is this a TSA rule?”, I ask, and she says “Yes it is, you have to stand here”.  I ask what the definition of “here” is, since there are no feet painted on the floor or box to define the area known as “here”.  I move and ask her  “how’s this” and she says that it’s fine.  So I am looking around, watching the other activities going on, and she says “Sir, you need to watch me while I check your bag”.  “ I NEED to watch you?”, I asked incredulously.  “Why?  You can pilfer whatever you want, it’s OK”, I say to her.  Hmmmm, definitely not what she was seeking this morning, and she says in a stern voice, “We don’t pilfer sir”.  I say “Oh yes, I’m sorry, you’re right, although they did just convict those three Philadelphia TSA agents for stealing things out of passengers bags, eh?  I think that pretty much puts the TSA and pilfering on the same page”. “ She rebutts with “that happens at every job”, and I am shocked at that cavalier response to which I say “maybe that happens at every one of the jobs you’ve worked at, but it certainly does not happen at every job”.

Well you can imagine this discourse is not helping expedite the checking of my bag, and after she has wiped it many, many times, she slides the sample pad into the machine and announces “Sir, we have a positive reading on your bag.”  Man, what a surprise that was, I am thinking.  So now my other bags need to be re-scanned, and I need to be thoroughly patted down.   The “patter” then samples his gloves, and lo and behold, another positive reading, or so he claims.  This is getting less pretty all the time here!  Off with the shoes, off with the belt, more wipe downs, more bag searching (and just possibly pilfering?) and finally they have had enough of me, and I am free to go.  So I skidaddle down to the gate, and as I approach I can see out the window the jetway to my plane being pulled away.  Those bastards, I am thinking, they have won this round, but the fight is far from over!!

So now we’re back on the phone with Delta, and they move me to an afternoon flight out of Philadelphia which will cause me to miss my Insel connection in Miami. Might be a bad thing, might be a good thing…we’ll see. The helpful Delta agent then books me on an American Airlines flight from Miami Curacao, and all I need to do is grab a short island hopper to Bonaire tonight.  I grab lunch, get a little work done, and finally board my first flight of the day!

But wait, there’s more!  The bad weather has come back in, and we are delayed getting out, and delayed further in Atlanta.  At this point we’ll miss the American flight, so Delta puts me up overnight in Miami and rebooks me for the next day.  I still need to think about those overweight bags though, and checking with American, they plan to hit me with excess bag fees and they will not check them to Bonaire, meaning I will have Dutch Antilles Airlines fees too.  Man, back to square one here!

So now the wheels are really turning here…I abandon my bags in Miami, leaving them under the watchful eyes of Delta’s baggage office there.  When they call me Friday morning to say they have my bags, I inform them that I’ve been placed on another flight and I need my bags to be sent to my original final destination.  And guess what?  The answer is YES!  So much for that ‘bags have to travel with the passenger’ nonsense!

But here I am, thinking man this 3-plus-hour flight in coach is going to be painful, so let’s see about an upgrade.  I’m a member of the  American Airlines frequent flyer program with quite a few miles in my account, so I call the airline and go about getting my upgrade to first class in place.  “No problem”, the agent assures me, that will only require the redemption of 15,000 miles from my account for the upgrade.  “No sweat”,  I am thinking, let’s do it.  “OK sir, that will be 15,000 miles plus a $50 fee for the redemption”, he says.  “Hmmm”, I am thinking, “Delta never charges me”.  OK, so I give him the credit card info, and then he says “Alrighty sir, that is done, but because we are redeeming these miles less than seven days before your flight, there is a $100 expediting fee for the redemption”.  “Clearly, we are not flying on Delta here”,  I share with him, as I give him the nod to go ahead and bang this customer one more time.  So, 15,000 miles, plus $50, plus $100 and I am sitting in a big comfortable seat, which my butt needs now from the screwing I just received from America Airlines.  Yep, only 15,000 miles for that upgrade……

Mission accomplished (assuming bags actually make it) and I jet off to Curacao with only my carry-on’s.  Small world story here…as I am boarding the plane in Curacao I notice a guy looking at my IVS polo shirt.  The one I have chosen for today’s adventure is a fitting one, as it says IVS-St. Louis, a poignant reminder that not all decisions that look good on paper end up as good ones!  He catches my eye and says “Wowe, we’ve got an Indian Valley Scuba in Pennsylvania too!  I chuckle, realize he had been reading the shirt, and find out he is none other than Jeff Linowski,  an IVS customer and fellow PADI instructor, from Chester.  He’s here with one student for the week too, and plans on doing some diving with our gang while he’s here.  Cool.  Amazing small world it always proves to be!

So finally I am making my way to the lovely island of Bonaire at 8:45 Friday evening.  Still ahead of schedule, sort of, but at least I am here!  Tom Brennan has flown in this evening too, as has Mark & Natasha Souder, so we commiserate with dinner and drinks at the resort, re-uniting with our favorite waiter Andrew who remembers us all from last year.  Andrew informs us we are the biggest group that Plaza Resort has hosted this year, and I smile and tell him “wait til next year!”  We finally call it a night, getting a few hours of sleep before greeting the gang in the morning.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the gang on the Continental flight from Newark has chartered a bus to haul them up from the shop to the airport.  Great plan, or so it seems, until the bus is loaded, and the rear bumper is literally dragging the ground with the pile of dive gear that was all loaded in the back few rows of seats.  Too little time to get another bus, so a few of the group get off, fill two vans with luggage, and the merry caravan gets on it’s way to north Jersey. Nothing like a little supplemental drama to help add character to an already great trip!

Well four-thirty comes way too early, and we get up to meet the first wave, including Mike & Cathy Parzynski, Donna Raleigh, Roy & Laurie Scherrer, Ray Graff with his daughter Caitlin and her boyfriend Nick Tingly, Lynn & James Swartley along with their recent high school graduate daughter Jess, Jody Bryan & John Alcott, Rob & Jen O’Donnell, Drew & Vanessa Myers, Mike & Teresa Swartley, Brad Creveling,  Brian LaSpino & Deanna Kuik, Diane DeFeo & Albert Cugno, Misty Pileggi, Catherine Stevenson, Scott Bruce, Herb & Sheldon DuBois, Amir Stark, Morris Kligger and his daughter Rachel, Tom Rebbie & Penny Kospiah, Keith and Craig Beaver, and the Bennett’s – Phil, Becky, Steve & Mike.

On the 5:30 a.m. flight we get to greet some of our longer distance travelers, Jesica & Sheril Tyre, and Berry Smith from California, along with Stephanie Skelton and Meredith Bernardo from Ohio.  Steph and Mere are traveling light like me, although not by plan, as their baggage has been lost, so their clothes and bags will hopefully be delivered tomorrow!  Mere is not a happy girl at all!!

Orientations at Toucan Diving begin in shifts since our group is significantly larger than the briefing room.  First group at 8, second at 9, another at 11, then 2, and finally the last one will be at 4 for those arriving on this afternoon’s Delta flight.  Dive shop manager Alexander, along with staffers George, Sherman & Erika, do their typical great job with getting everyone signed up and set up for the weeks diving.  It is truly a pleasure to work with such professionals as these folks and the rest of the staff at Toucan Diving.

The first briefing is barely over and the ‘clank, clank’ of tanks being loaded in our rentals SUV’s can be heard as our divers get ready to log their first dives.  First car in line is Jim, Lynn, Jody & John, piling in two tanks each for a ride to the southern sites.  Amir & Brad are waiting patiently in their car for the first one to move so they can start loading tanks too.  Man, these guys love to dive!!

I head down to the airport to hopefully pick up my bags, along with the last of our arrivals on the Delta flight.  But first, small world story #2…I am early to the airport (go figure) so I head into the lounge to grab a brew and wait for the plane to arrive.  As I order my beer, I hear “Hey, Dave Valaika” from across the room and I turn to see James, the DM from Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, standing there with his dad.  The two of them were here on vacation last week, and as fate would have it, they were flying home on the Delta plane that was about to land.  We’ll be diving with James at Amoray in less than four weeks from now.  Small, small, world. OK, back to picking up the rest of the crew, which includes our official group leader Sue Douglass, Rachel McGril (another long distance traveler, coming in from Cuba), Joe Cox, Michele Highley and her sons Palmer & Ranier, photo-pro Bob Hahn, Tony Smith, Neil Spaulding from Colorado, Kevin Carre, and Morris, Niki and Rachel Kligger.  Amazingly my bags have survived their ordeal and were the first ones off the plane, so we are, in the words of 70’s sensations Peaches and Herb, re-united and it feels so good!

Back to the resort and we get through our fifth and final orientation of the day, and I can just about narrate that video by heart!  Everyone is excited, and in fact some of our earliest arrivals already have 3 and 4 dives under their belts!  Busy boy that I have been, I finally get my first dive of the dive of the day in, a night dive off the beach at the resort, and nail my first lionfish of the week here.  By nighttime of day one the dive count is up to five already for our most intrepid divers, including Steve, Amir, Joe, and Brad. Wow!

Sunday begins another beautiful sunny day in the land known as ‘Diver’s Paradise’ and some of our guys are in the water at 6:00 a.m. already!  It won’t be surprising to see some with over 40 logged dives on this trip – we’ll update that count later this week!  Breakfast at the Banana Tree Restaurant is delicious and more than ample, so we get a good filling there before we start our day.  Our open water checkout dives begin this morning and we’ve got Morris, Palmer, Berry & Cathy P ready for their briefing and first dives.  Rachel is joining us also for some DSD dives with Steve H.  Sue administers the pre-dive briefing, and we gear up and head into the water.  Weighting is checked, some adjustments made, and our group gets under and enjoys two good initial skills dives on the house reef, known as 18 Palm.  Lots of life here, and beautiful healthy corals and sponges of all sorts too.  I find myself thinking about the home team who are at Dutch Springs this weekend with another big group of check out dives scheduled, and hoping they are experiencing equally great conditions, albeit with slightly less coral, and water temps a little lower than the 85 degrees we are enjoying here.

Bob Hahn is starting his two-day underwater digital photography program today also, so his group is in the classroom and getting their cameras ready. They will end up getting in three dives and shooting a few hundred photos today before returning to the class and learning how to optimize those images using Adobe Photoshop. Bob’s class is truly the way to go to really improve your skills in capturing some fantastic images of what we see and enjoy so much under the sea.

The first of our boat dives begin this afternoon, and with the size of our group, Toucan Diving has dedicated four boats to handle us.  We head over to Klein Bonaire, and the first thing on our list is Seahorses, so we drop in at Rockpile and do a nice, long one-way dive towards westward along the island.  Sure enough, there is a huge seahorse there, and Sherman our guide points it out to us.  It must be 7 or 8 inches long, a really nice one, and he’s not shy at all about us taking pictures – very cool.  And Ranier gets a treat as Erika snorkels with him while we are diving, so everyone gets wet on this trip!

Toucan Diving is great to work with, and we have arranged for all our boat dives to be done in “drift fashion”, rather than the typical local way of the boat anchoring and you dive away from the boat then turn and cover the same reef as you swim back to the boat.  In our case, we don’t moor, and we don’t turn around, as the boat follows our bubbles and meets us further along the reef for our pickup.  Much more fun and we get to see so much more of the reef this way too.

Today we have a couple of folks who are not feeling so well on the boat, so rather than staying out for our second dive and having them feeling any worse, we opt to head back to the main island and enjoy a “hot drop” north of the resort, and we dive our way along the reef, ending up surfacing in front of the resort itself.  Meanwhile the boat heads in to get the ‘greener’ ones unloaded and feeling better with a non-moving surface under their feet.

Sunday night and most of us enjoy yet another night dive, with a bunch of us heading down to the Salt Pier to sneak in (without required guide or permit) and we have a great dive, with Eagle Rays swooping around us, lots of turtles, octopus, squid, plenty of fish life and more.  Another lionfish meets his maker tonight too.  Great night dive and just the perfect way to work up a good thirst for a visit to the Coconut Crash Beach Bar for a little late night round of snacks, hydrating beverages, and laughter.

Monday and our divers again are off and running all over the island, starting at the crack of dawn.  The earliest enjoyed a sunrise dive on the Hilma Hooker wreck, followed by a second dive before breakfast – you have to love this passion that so many of us have for diving!  Our open water students are back at it, and we complete all our skills off the beach with a couple of great dives there.  Diane DeFeo, our IAHD-Americas certified diver on this trip, also enjoys her longest and deepest dive to date, and it’s wonderful to work with her and share our love of diving.

Afternoon and it’s boat time again, and we’re ready to head out to see some more turtles over at Klein Bonaire.  We first drop in at ‘Just a Nice Dive’ and sure enough, there are turtles all around.  We do another nice drift dive, and see about 8 turtles during the course of the journey, along with squid, big puffers, and plenty of other great critters.  We surface, swap tanks, motor along for about a 30 minute surface interval, and we’re back under water, repeating the fun.  From there we head back towards the main island, and the boat drops us off in front of Richard’s Restaurant for our third boat dive, where again we swim along the reef and end up at the resort.  I manage to nail 4 more lionfish on this jaunt, doing my part to keep the population in check!  And the spotted eels well fed, as they love to take the lionfish off my spear.  Very cool.

Tonight we have a boat night dive, and a lot of first time night-divers aboard, so that is always cool to see folks enjoying their first black-water experience.  It’s a good dive, lots to see, another lionfish goes to the great big reef in the sky, and everyone comes back just gushing with all the cool things they saw.  Great dive!

Tuesday and it’s more great diving all over the island. Some of the group made the drive up to the northwest coast and experienced some of the more challenging entries & exits there. The reef right in front of the resort, called 18 Palms, is always popular and is visited daily. We’ve got two really nice seahorses hanging out there, one black and one orange, and they are a delight to photograph and observe. The boats run out and we get three more dives in on them today, checking out some frogfish at one site, and finally doing our signature drift dive back to the resort with our third tank off the boat. We love the way Toucan Diving treats us and allows us to get three dives in on every boat trip – thank you Alexander! For tonight’s entertainment we have a beach BBQ complete with the Silver Bullet band, a local troop with lots of drums, steel drums, and rhythm to entertain us non-stop while we enjoy a sumptious feast right on the beach under a most beautiful night sky. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Mike Parzynski also chimed in on the Hilma Hooker:

It seems I cannot stay away from the Hilma Hooker when on Bonaire. The first dive was with Herb and Sheldon. It was prefaced with Jody and John just getting out of the water. Jody proudly announces “Alcott got 99 feet, but I got 100.” So, to honor the Valaika tradition of taking a challenge, I dug a hole under the bow and hit 101. Take that!

The second trip to the Hilma Hooker was a double dip with Donna. It was her first time, so I was gentle with her. We swam out towards the in-shore buoy and then dropped down and slid down the reef. Take a route around the bow we were greeted by nice bit tarpon hanging out in the holds. Into hold one, through one of the doors into hold two and come out by the rear of the ship. A quick look at gauges, turned on our lights and into the engine room we go. Of course, with camera in one hand, light in the other, I felt like a bull in a china shop. We did bounce around a little, but had a great dive. Easy penetration and not too tight. Back up the beautiful reef and surface right at the entry point.

So I ask Donna if she wants to hit a different spot and with a gleam in her eye, she says, “I want to do that one again!” So, off gas a bit, change out the tanks and back in the water to the Hilma Hooker. This time we head straight to the stern, do a nice swim through a passageway and then into the rear cargo hold. There is a door….. let’s take a look. Okay, it is the engine room, there is a set of stairs, there is ambient light…. No problem, into the ship once again. Of course, it gets a little tight for me considering I have a slung 40, but a little wiggling and we have a great trip though with some awesome pictures on the way. Then it is up to the superstructure where Donna drops in and looks into a few of the rooms, doing recon for her second week on this lovely island with the DiveNY crowd.

Wednesday and we have no boat dives scheduled, so the SUV’s are busy running up and down the coast, loaded with IVS divers and tanks, ready to splash at a moment’s notice. There are so many wonderful sites here to choose from that it is difficult trying to decide which ones to go to next! We have some Advanced Open Water training to do today, so Sue takes her group over to the Hilma Hooker, a wreck sunk in 100 ft of water off the edge of the reef. Here they complete a Deep Adventure Dive, followed by a Wreck Adventure Dive, and everyone does great. The huge tarpon that hang under this 300 ft long wreck are amazing and not in the least intimidated by the presence of divers, so you can really observe these big fish just chillin’ and watching you as you swim along. Pretty cool!

Wednesday afternoon and while some are diving, it’s ‘back to school’ time for Jesica, Berry & Sheril, as they take their Enriched Air Nitrox exams and pass with flying colors – way to go team! Now they are officially qualified to breath the gas they’ve been breathing since Sunday – whew!  And great news from the airport on Stephanie & Meredith’s bags, which have still not shown up.  Turns out they have arrived today!  The girls are smiling big time at the thought of at least having everything they packed for the second half of the week.  They head over to the airport but can’t get their bags because no one is on duty at the Continental Airlines office until 11 this evening.  Geeesh!!  So back they go at 11, and lo and behold, there are some bags there for Ms Skelton!  That would be Ms Rosemary Skelton, from San Antonio, Texas…..not Stephanie Skelton from Cleveland, Ohio.  How can they screw up something as simple as this?  And is Rosemary wondering why her bags are on vacation in Bonaire and not home with her?  And more so, where are Steph and Mere’s bags??

Well the disappointment was short-lived, cause there was another call from the airline in the morning – the bags have arrived in Bonaire!!  Woo-hoo!  So back to the airport go Stephanie & Meredith, and guess what?  They are looking at the same wrong bags they saw last night!!  Seems no one talks to anyone else at the airport here, and the morning crew was not aware these were the wrong bags, so essentially another day is lost in the baggage search.  And people wonder why I fly Delta…

More Thursday stories here…including the second Salt Pier night dive…18 lionfish..

Mike Parzynski also added:

The last dive of the trip I got to spend with newly certified diver Cathy Parzynski. I couldn’t be happier. We go to “The Rock”, an awesome unmarked sight just south of The Invisibles. After we get to depth, and turn north, Cathy takes my hand. At first I think to myself “Is this a Bev and Butch dive?” but she explains after that through the week of getting certified she’s been so focused on her instructor she hasn’t really seen the amazing underwater beauty. It was such a great feeling watching the wonder in her eyes as she pointed out things that were new and exciting It is also amazing when I point to a large French Angel, she gives back the eel sign and points to a small Chain Moray swimming through the coral She’s already spotting things I’m missing. That is the greatest memory I could possibly take home from this awesome trip!

It was a great experience diving with my wife for the first time. Already I’m trying to find a quick trip opportunity to get her back in the water.

More to come here….

Friday and a few of us are scrambling to get a few last dives in before the obligatory off-gassing before flying time begins.  Seems Amir is leading the pack with 29 this morning, and he gets two more in for an even 31.  Will there be a MDTD Award tonight, for completing “More Dives Than Dave”?  I am thinking not, as I get two more in the morning on the ‘wild side’ with Bonaire East Coast Diving, and head back to the resort for three final dives off the beach to get my count up to 31 also!  Whew!! And Stephanie, our Cadiallac-winning veteran of “The Price Is Right” fame, hears that call again…”Stephanie Skelton, come on down”…to the airport that is.  Seems their bags have again arrived…we’ll see!  So the girls drive over, and again, there is no one from Continental to open the baggage office for them to get their bags, but they manage to convince the airport security guard to go into the back room and take photographs of the bags with Meredith’s phone, and they are able to verify that they are indeed their bags.  They make plans to come back at 11 that night, just in time to be in physical possession of their missing bags for about 5 hours before they leave again on the 6 a.m. flight!  While the mystery of how can bags be lost for an entire week will never be solved, at least they have them.  And care to know the most insulting part of this circus?  Stephanie is a Continental employee, and Meredith’s father is a Continental pilot.  This airline really knows how to take care of their own people….NOT!

More to come…Maiky’s Snack, last morning, departures…!

Scouting Report from Bonaire – Amy & Brian’s visit

Note: This blog entry is brought to you by Amy & Brian Dunn, members of the Indian Valley Scuba diving family!

Well after Brian spent the last 18 months recovering from Achilles Reattachment and Knee Surgeries – we were both itching for a vacation and had the urge to submerge!  We spent the last few months of 2010 trying to decide where to go….We have done a bunch of Caribbean diving to date in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Bermuda, Cozumel, St.Lucia, Caymans, Tulum and of course with IVS/Amoray in Key Largo……

But once we heard all the great comments and feedback from Dave, Bev, Brian, Roy and Butch regarding last summer’s IVS Trip to Bonaire – we had narrowed the list of destinations fairly quickly to between Belize and Bonaire….then the direct flight from Newark and more great feedback from Brian at the Shop convinced us to book a week in Bonaire staying at the Harbour Village Beach Club (  The holidays brought the Dunn family some much needed new dive gear and it was clear that Santa had stopped at the IVS Shop to gather regs, computers and other goodies to fill the stockings!

So now we had the reservations and new gear but since it had been a while since we had been in the water we took Bev and Dave’s invitation to share some pool time with them at the Harleysville YMCA one Thursday evening.  There we took the opportunity to practice some skills and familiarize ourselves with our new equipment (especially the Epic Dive Computers.)  Satisfied and wet we stepped out into the 11 degree weather confident we were prepared for our trip now just 3 weeks away to Bonaire.

Fast forward to our departure night of Friday February 25th……..we took a red-eye direct flight from Newark Airport to Bonaire.  With the one hour time difference we arrived in Bonaire at 5:30am Saturday morning.   Upon arrival we quickly got our checked baggage and headed out to be greeted by the agents booked for the airport transfers by the concierge at the Hotel.  15 minutes later we were pulling into the gates of the resort and being escorted to a temporary room they had set up for us to relax in until we could check into our Beachfront Suite at 11:30am.  Amy and I relaxed from the overnight flight for a few hours and then headed to breakfast.  By 11:30am we had checked into our suite and taken delivery of the pickup we had rented for the week.  Now we figured we should head to the on-site dive shop – Adventure Diving and introduce ourselves.  After getting all the paperwork out of the way, and a tour of the shop, we were given a mandatory educational overview of the Bonaire National Marine Park.  That completed, we were issued our Park Passes (Good for One Year and at a cost of $25).  We scheduled our mandatory check out dive with the shop for the next morning (Sunday).  We spent the rest of the afternoon playing on the famous private beach at Harbour Village before relaxing in the room and having wonderful Duck Dinners at La Balandra which is the main restaurant at the resort.  Below are 2 shots of the room and view from balcony.

Interior of Harbour Resort Hotel Room

Interior of Harbour Resort Hotel Room

Balcony View from our Harbour Village Room

Balcony View from our Harbour Village Room

Sunday breakfast was filled with good food and anticipation of the excitement the days’ activities would bring.  First, we headed to the Dive Shop and were shown both our “day” and “night” locker spaces  – then we were issued our weights and headed for our check out dive to the house reef which contains a small wreck “ Our Confidence”  shown below in just 50 feet of water…..

The Our Confidence Wreck off Harbour Village House Reef

The Our Confidence Wreck off Harbour Village House Reef

After that we headed out in our rented pickup to get the lay of the land and familiarize ourselves with the maps and some of the dive sites that had been recommended both by IVS crew and in a great book “Bonaire Shore Diving Made Easy”  (  Our first stop was at the dive site called 1,000 Steps (having just dove the house reef – we decided to head down to the site and snorkel.  Tons to see whether diving or snorkeling!  Reef is beautiful, current minimal and many turtles, barracuda, eels call this spot home!   From there we motored along doing a loop of the Northern Half of the Island.  That evening we ate a great Argentinean steakhouse called Patagonia.  The steaks were paired with a fine Malbec – delicious!

Our Rent A Pick Up Truck/Dive Tender

Our Rent A Pick Up Truck/Dive Tender

The next day (Monday) we headed to breakfast then the minimart to stock up on lunch fixings (Raisin Rolls, Peanut Butter & Jelly etc.)  Then we threw some tanks and our gear in the truck and headed to the dive site called Andrea One which we had scoped out on the previous day’s drive.  This dive was nice to be able to drive right up to the shore (see pix below) and has a pretty easy entry but we missed the sandy slot and had a more challenging exit.  This dive has a short swim to the buoy and great reef….we saw many blue faced trumpet fish, green moray as highlights.  After this dive we decided to drive around the entire South end of Bonaire and take note of more of the many Marked/Unmarked Dive Sites.  We dined that night at a wonderful little French place called Bistro de Paris.  Reservations are recommended as it is a quaint small place but the food was awesome..for example the Belgian Waffle Appetizer complete with shredded Duck Breast and Whip Crème topped with a Black Cherry dressing was so unusual  – had to be tried and was truly enjoyed! 

Gold Spotted Moray Eel

Gold Spotted Moray Eel

Tuesday morning found us headed to the South side of the island and to dive site called Margate…..lots to see there as far as reef and fish life!   Easy entry and exit and just a short drive to Windsock where we sat on the benches on the shore and enjoyed a picnic lunch….afterwards we headed for some snorkeling back at the Hotel’s House reef and prepped for the night dive we scheduled for that evening.  The night dive was great with us entering via the sandy beach at Harbour Village heading out to the Wreck and then off to the reef to see eels, tarpon, barracuda, parrot fish, lobsters, angel fish, nurse shark and unfortunately a large lionfish (which we reported to the Dive Shop the next morning). 

Orange-striped Triggerfish

Orange-striped Triggerfish

Wednesday we decided to take a sea kayak over to Klein Bonaire.  The trip took just a few minutes and once we beached the kayak we did some snorkeling the choral there is beautiful and we saw a green sea turtle just as we were leaving.  Once back at the resort we had lunch and Amy joined the afternoon boat dive from Adventure Diving.  There were 12 divers in the group and the dive site was a quick seven minute  boat ride to the far tip of Klein Bonaire.  The drift dive was beautiful, relaxing and included the highlights of seahorse, spotted eel and puffer fish.  Amy also got to witness first-hand the removal of a Lionfish that was spotted by one of the Dive Guides.  That evening we dined at a great seafood restaurant at the Marina called “It Rains Fishes” – al fresco, great food and pretty location at the Marina for sunsets!

Sunset from Harbour Village Marina

Sunset from Harbour Village Marina

Thursday brought us back to the South Shore of the island to the dive site “Invisibles” .  This is an easy entrance/exit with a brief swim to the buoy.  Then it is down to the reef….tons of fish including large schools, many Trunk Fish – saw a friendly green sea turtle there as well! 

Smooth Trunkfish

Smooth Trunkfish

Green Turtle at The Invisibles

Green Turtle at The Invisibles

That wrapped up our diving on this trip to Bonaire…..we spent the last day relaxing on the beach,  taking in the Spa and having a celebratory Chef’s dinner on the balcony of our suite!  We really want to thank Dave and everyone at IVS as we appreciate everyone’s comments, feedback, tips and recommendations that helped us pick this overdue vacation!   We really enjoyed it and will be back to Bonaire hopefully with the IVS crew in 2012!

 Thanks for letting us share our adventure!  Hope to see you all soon!

Brian & Amy Dunn

Becky DunnBrian Dunn

Off to Bonaire!

And so it begins, our biggest trip of the year (so far) with 44 divers heading to the enchanted isle of Bonaire for a week of fun, great diving and good times.  To help ensure the island and the diving will meet the standards and expectations of the IVS’ers Ray Graff, Amir Stark and I made the sacrifice and headed down a week early, sort of a scouting party if you will.  We gathered at the shop this morning at 3:30 a.m. to begin our journey.  As might be expected I was not fully packed at that moment, ok, to be honest, I had just started!  But heck, set a couple of big Pelican cases  on the floor, and toss in dive gear and a few changes of underwear, and we’re ready!  Oh yeah, don’t forget sweeping every paper and unfinished project off my desk too.  Thank goodness for that five bag, 70 pounds per bag limit that Delta imposes on me, or I’d take even more!

Amir drives us down to Philadelphia International, we park, and shuttle to the terminal.  Beautiful start, no traffic, no rush, and none of that trademark adrenalin rush that I like to kick most trips off with! Bags are checked before you know it we’re on board and winging our way towards Atlanta, our interim stop on the way to Bonaire.  To be honest, the reason we’re going down a week before the rest of the gang is to spend a week on an IAHD-Americas mission, working with our friends from Eels on Wheels and the Gridiron Heroes organization, taking a group of young men, who suffered debilitating spinal injuries while playing high school football, and introducing them to the sport of scuba diving.  You can read about our work with this group on the IAHD-Americas blog by clicking here! [link to be added soon!]

So our flight out of Philadelphia is uneventful and we landed in Atlanta.  With some time to kill between flights, we opted to visit the Delta Crown Room and enjoy some complimentary libations and breakfast treats.  As we sat down, we noticed the fellow sitting across from us was wearing a TDI polo shirt.  Well of course we can’t let that pass, so we engage in conversation, only to discover we are talking to Fleming Elleboe, the chairman of International Training, parent company of SDI, TDI, and ERDI.  Amazingly small world indeed.  So we spend the next hour enjoying some great discussion regarding diver training, the advantages and disadvantages of E-Learning and other techniques.  It was great to compare PADI’s methods to SDI’s and hear some insight from the top!  Finally it was time to board, so we bid adieu and headed to our Bonaire flight.

The views as we pass over the islands is beautiful with azur-hued waters and dark reefs calling our names.  We land and pass quickly through immigration, then the wait for the bags begin.  Here’s the vision:  big airplane, tiny baggage wagon!  So many trips later we are reunited with our bags, and then pass through the doors into Bonaire (yes, there is no inspection at all.  Bring what you want!).  We stroll outside and there are a bunch of stake body trucks being piled high with luggage, and we’re thinking ugh!  But no, our private driver holds up a sign, and the three of us pile into our own nicely appointed air-conditioned van and head over to the Divi Flamingo, our base of operations for week #1 of our adventure.

Timing is key, because as we are completing our check in process (three clerks, three of us, perfect) those stake bodies pull in and the circus begins.  Whew!  Beating that crowd by 5 minutes made all the difference in the world!  We are out of there, and on our way to our rooms.  We put our stuff away and head down to the dive shop to meet with the operations manager Serge, and to get our Park Pass and the official lecture, which qualifies as our check-out dives.  “This is reef, this is sand – know the difference!”.  Got it, we pass the test, pay our $25 and get our annual pass.  Off the list!

And while we are there the afternoon boats are coming in so we meet Chad Dietrich who is the head of the Eels on Wheels organization, our focus for the next seven days.  They have a large group, including us there are 50 people, mostly medical folks from a number of hospitals in the Austin area, but also about nine handicapped divers.  They represent a wide array of adaptive scuba challenges, including Spina Bifida, Down’s Syndrome, Spinal Injuries, Polio, and Fragile X Syndrome.   Right from the get-go we sense this will be a great group to work with, and they have a long history of group trips and visits to Bonaire to draw upon.

Our stays here are all-inclusive, so our first meal is a Saturday night BBQ, Bonaire-style.  Good chance to mingle a bit and get to know some of the folks.  Not quite as outgoing as an IVS crowd, but we’ll work on breaking down barriers and getting to know them all.  After dinner it’s time to get the gear wet, so Amir, Ray & I head down to the dive dock for our first dive.  What’s that PADI rule about diving in a new place?  Oh yeah, lead it off with a night dive!  So dive we must!

We splash, and it is black already.  There is a huge hatching of small krill-like critters in the top 3 ft of the water column, and I watch as Amir and Ray giant stride into their midst and are chewed up like an old cow crossing the Amazon River to attract the piranhas.   Now that the critters were busy I splashed, negative, and dropped right to the bottom, escaping the hungry hordes at the onset of the dive.  We had a really nice dive, viz is probably 200 plus feet, came upon a sleeping turtle, eels, sleeping parrotfish, the usual suspects, and tarpon.  Not little tarpon, huge tarpon.  You know how sometimes you come down to the kitchen at night, stumble through the dark, and open the refrigerator door, to be awarded with that light showing all the good stuff to eat?  Well that is exactly what we were to the tarpon, their little refrigerator lights, shining on the reef fish and showing the tarpon what was on the menu for tonight.  Overall a great dive, max depth 80 ft, 55 minutes of bottom time, and as we headed back in we hoped against hope that the krill-like critters had retired for the night.  Well, nice thought, but no!  As we approached the stairs leading up from the water, we made sure we had our fins off, and were ready to move quickly, cause the little carnivores were all over us as we passed through the top of the water column.   Good news is they just bite a little, no scar, no itch, so it is OK.

Sunday morning came with an early thunderstorm as we awoke, then a bright sky following.  It promised to be passing, though, as the dark clouds from the east were coming across the island towards us. We boarded the boat for a 2-tank trip over to Klein Bonaire, a small uninhabited island about a half mile off the resort.   We did a couple of great dives there, working with the group and assisting where asked as we got to know the folks on the trip.  Conditions were spectacular, cannot say any more, no current, great viz, super-healthy reefs, just that conspicuous lack of fish in the 6 to 12 inch range….think the locals are fishing in the park?

Back for a nice lunch, and out for a 1-tank afternoon dive, again to a site off Klein Bonaire.  This time Ray and I are on a different boat, and we work with three disabled divers, Joe, Kirin and Eric.  Joe suffered a spinal injury after a massive fall while climbing a frozen peak in Northern California, losing his grip and sliding several hundred feet before a tree broke his fall, and his back.  Kirin moved to the U.S. 12 years ago, and suffers from polio.  Finally we have Eric, here with his family, and born with Spina Bifida.  Three very inspirational divers really having a great time with our group.  We enjoy a great afternoon dive, with some frogfish on this one – man, are they tough to spot! Back at the dock, we plan a night dive for the group before dinner.  We splash again around 7’ish, and enjoy a nice night dive on Calabas Reef, the house dive site.  Just a great dive, but a big gaggle of folks to manage, making it at times a bit crowded on the reef.  Dinner was at the Chibi Chibi Restaurant, and we enjoyed some fine food and a few Polar beers as we relished in the days activities.

Monday came and it was indeed a nice day, again an early morning rainstorm as we awoke, but once that was out of the way, it was clear and bright all day.  We did a 2-tank morning dive, first off Klein Bonaire, then they attempted to bring us off the main island, but the viz sucked so we headed back to the smaller island.  More frogfish, and great conditions.  At the very end of the dive I am at around 400 psi and what do I come up upon?  A full-grown Lionfish!   So, lionfish whisperer that I am, I coax him into coming a little closer, and we move under a coral head that allows for ample room for me to work while minimizing his escape options.  Bad news, around 250 psi now, but he mission must be accomplished!  So I work him, and he is bigger than the plastic bag I have brought, so I go to Plan B – the lift bag!  I unfurl the bag, and am this close to working him into the opening, but now the breathing is getting a tad difficult.  Can I back off?  No, must get it done, so I abandon a bit of caution, draw one last good breath, and reach out with bare hand to strongly encourage him to enter the bag.  He has other thoughts, hesitates, turns and nails me twice on my left hand – DANG!   Does that hurt!  Good news is the blood is flowing, hopefully washing away as much of the toxins as possible!  For me, wounded, out of air, frustrated, it is time to surface –  but like the governor says, “I’ll be back”.

Interesting post-trauma study.  Within five minutes the finger is in intense pain, and blackness is evident at the site of the punctures.  I continue to milk the wound to keep the flushing going on, but some of it is inside for sure. Within 10 minutes it is to the main knuckle, and five minutes later to the wrist.  Dang this hurts, and that is an understatement!  But it’s time to dive, and dive we must!  For the second dive the boat is moored in about 250 ft of water, so we make sure our stuff is clipped on, cause no one is going down to get anything that is dropped!  We splash, and as I head down the extra pressure from depth starts to drive me bonkers!  I move my wrist watch from left to right wrist, that’s better.  Now the dive computer…now the slate……the pain is all consuming on this dive so I head shallow for some relief…..still manage to get my 60 minutes in, and by the time it is over, I am deadened to the pain.  My middle finger, where I was hit (is that a sign?) is twice the thickness of that on my right hand, and stiff as a board (great excuse!).  Back of hand is pretty dang sensitive, but nothing has radiated up any further.  I believe our DAN Medical Experiment du jour has peaked.   It is downhill from here, but the score for the year now stands at Dave 7, Lionfish 1.  We’ll keep that at a one if at all possible!  But the important thing is the conclusion, that another deadly sea creature myth has been debunked.  Meanwhile, Ray & Amir are great working with our divers, readily pitching in to help carry them on and off the boat, and providing great assistance getting into and out of the water.  While Eric is not overly mobile on his dives, Kirin and Joe more than make up for him, swimming circles around us, with nary a fin between them.  An utterly amazing day indeed, for all sorts of reasons.

Back for lunch, and we head out for an afternoon dive south of the resort on the main island, actually passing right by Plaza Resort Bonaire, our digs for next week.  Looks pretty good from the water, and our divemaster Nolli used to work there, speaking pretty good of the resort.  We head down almost to the Salt Pier, and make another nice reef dive, coming upon a young turtle that is very actively eating away and is not bother by us watching at all.  I find a very cooperative basket star and show some of the divers how it is really  one single animal  that is very animated – news to them.  We come back in, and after dinner jump back in the water for a night dive.  We spot morays in three flavors, spotted, sharptail, and finally a chain moray – very cool dive!  Also some diver/reef life interaction, playing with some coral shrimp, urchins and the ever-present hungry tarpon.

Post-dive, we gather at the bar and Ray & Amir enjoy some fine cigars as we have a couple of brews to celebrate the days events.  The conversation runs far and wide, and before you know it, Amir educates Ray and I in Scoville Units, the universal measurement of how hot a hot sauce really is.  Who’d of thunk there was an official scientific scale of “hot” but here you have it!  Amazing indeed!

Tuesday is as pretty a day as Monday, and we get out for a morning drop north of the resort at a site called Small Wall, aptly named for an abrupt drop-off right there at the site.  Nice dive, typical sea life surrounds us.  Second site is south of the resort, and another pleasant dive.  This is like living in southern California, the conditions never change!  No current, great viz, lots of life, and a really nice bunch to dive with.  Joe Murphy and I find a great octo at the end of the dive to cap a really nice undersea visit.  Lunch, then back out for an afternoon drop at Monk’s Haven off Klein Bonaire.  Seahorses, turtles, all good stuff, another great dive.  Back in for some dinner, and we drop in for our customary night dive, spending another hour exploring the reef right in front of the resort.

Another glorious dawn greets our eyes as we awake Wednesday morning, and we check our planners for what we have on the books today…..oh yeah…diving!  So dive we must, and we load our gear on board, help our adaptive divers onto the boat, and head out to a morning 2-tank adventure.  The sites visited are Invisibles and Corporal Mice, and we’re greeted by a small school of curious squid as we drop in.  Two more good dives, we get some good depth on these dives, 100 plus feet, and 2 more hours of bottom time….sweet.  Lunch and a run back to Klein Bonaire, to Leonoros Reef, and more turtles playing, another octopus, and a huge seahorse!  Easily 8 inches overall, really nice and photogenic.  Tonight we have our group photo scheduled, so we gussy up upon our return and head down to the appointed photo location, but alas, no one is there.  What’s that noisy crowd over by the pool, we wonder?  well it’s our group, and looks like they’ve been enjoying some frosty libations and other treats for quite some time now.  Hmmmm… group photo happening here tonight!   So we hang for a bit, but avoid the festivities cause we have a night dive to make!   So we’re sitting there, laughing and sharing stories and jokes, when I notice someone waving from the promenade along the shore.  Hmmmm…I look around….yes they are waving to me!   I look closer, and holy smokes, it’s Tony & Brenda, IVS-Puerto Rico, right here with us!   How cool is that?  We’re 1,951 miles from home, and we’re running into friends.  They have a group of 18 down for the week and are staying next door!  Small, small world indeed!  So hugs and handshakes all around, and they decide to join us on our night dive.  They go for their gear and we suit up and dive.  Amir and I are on the search for a reported sunken sailboat at 140 feet so we head way down the wall, but after 10 minutes of fruitless searching in the dark, we head back up to re-join Ray and the group at 70 feet.   We end up with another 75 minute dive, finding a playful octopus, chain moray, and hunting eels out and about – good dive!

Ho hun…another perfect morning sky starts Thursday off perfectly!   Two more nice morning dives, another good lunch, and our last afternoon boat dive with the Eels to Wheels gang, as they are flying out early Saturday morning, and heaven forbid, they don’t want to dive the day before flying!  In all seriousness, good caution on their part so we make the afternoon dive a good one, at a site called Cliffs right in front of Buddy Dive Resort.  Very nice dive, more of the same great stuff we’ve enjoyed all week long.  We head in and the talk starts about one last night dive, but the group can’t make up their mind on the time, some want 7 and some want 8.  So Ray, Amir and I agree, we can do a 2-tank night dive tonight and dive with them all!  So, we’re hanging around the Divi dive center a bit, and I walk into the shop, and who is standing there?  Frank Fennell, our Epoque camera rep!  Again, what an amazingly small world!  1,951 miles from home, and here’s another friend!  Well of course we get right into a good banter, and before you know it, we are invited to a birthday party tomorrow night, celebrating Captain Don Stewart, the founder of Captain Don’s Habitat, as he celebrates his 85th birthday!   This is going to be a very special treat for Ray, who rarely gets to go to a party for someone older than him!  And to make it even better, Frank brought a couple of demo systems, so he is coming over to Plaza Resort Bonaire Saturday afternoon to conduct an underwater photography / videography workshop for our group!  Does it get any better than that?

So we head to the water for our 7:00 and 8:00 night dive, planning a 2-tank, 120 minute bottom time dive-a-thon.  The sun is setting nicely and we’ve got a great crowd on the dock with us.  We splash and are joined by Paul, one of our Eels wheelchair divers.  Nice dive, lots of action and things to see, and a great last night dive for Paul for the week.  Once we get him back up on the dock, it’s time for our 8:00 dive, so back in we drop!   This one has a smaller crowd, and we really enjoy a great dive.

Friday morning it’s a little less hectic on the dock as most of the Eels crowd has quit diving for the week, but we still have Kiran, Paul & Howard with us, so Ray, Amir & I stay plenty busy all morning.  Back for lunch, and the obligatory afternoon dive.  That’ll be our last dive with Divi, as we have to gussie up for our birthday party tonight at Habitat.  We grab a taxi down, and head down the road to the resort.  We get there, and the driver doesn’t have change for our bill in US currency, but we tell him we’ll need a ride back, so what does he say?  “Pay me when I take you back”  When is the last time you ever saw that with an American taxi driver?  We confirm our pick up time, walk inside and boy what a great party!   There’s the birthday boy himself, Captain Don Stewart, looking fine with his wooden peg leg (when do you see one of those anymore?) and surrounded by a flock of pretty girls all evening long.  We run into a bunch of other IVS friends, including Dee Scarr, Wildside Larry and his wonderful wife Janice, and of course Frank Fennell and his daughter Christine, who turns out to be enrolled in law school so she and Amir strike it off immediately with law-talk.  The food is great, and served in a non-stop parade by the staff walking through the crowd with silver platters, each one better than the one before.   The bar is serving up some top shelf drinks, and the steel calypso band is the finishing touch for a truly tropical birthday party.  We end up shutting the place down, and sure enough there is our driver spot on time, and we head back to the Divi.  Bill is settled up and we arrange for him to be back at 5:30 a.m. to pick me up for Part II of our island adventure!  The resort is quiet, so we end up being on the receiving end of some excess beer purchases by our friends, and we gladly accommodate them, knowing full well we’ll find a home for them this coming week.

Saturday morning my 4:30 a.m. alarm jars me out of my slumber, and I finish packing to head down to the Plaza Resort Bonaire and greet our first crowd of arriving guests who are landing on the 5:00 a.m. Continental flight.  This wave includes, Dave West, John & Jody Alcott, Tricia & Jeff Mento, Joseph Cox, Jerry Barrick, Jesica Tyre, and Grace Crawford along with her sons Dylan and Austin, plus her multi-talented mom Georgeanne who decided a week in the islands was too good to pass up! I feel a bit like Ricardo Montelban, welcoming our guests to my island; all I am missing is my little friend Tatoo!  We sort the gear in the lobby, get the bathing suits and dive equipment out, and throw the rest of the bags into storage until the rooms become available.  From there it’s breakfast at the Banana Tree restaurant, and over to Toucan Diving for the orientation briefing on Bonaire diving and the marine park rules.  Paperwork completed, marine park passes in hand, we head to the beach and do our first dive right there in front of the pool, at a site called 18th Palm, which is also the house reef.  Great dive to start it off, everyone looks good, and most of us jump right back in for a second dive!

By the time we’re coming back up the second wave is arriving, so here comes Bev & Butch Loggins, Mike & Lin Gusenko, Lynn & Jim Swartley, Tom Brennan, Jeremy Lindsey, Bryan, Mary, Will & Dan Young, Kim Luisi, Mike & Cathy Parzynski, Tricia Arrington, Jack Sandler, Sue Douglass, Joyce & Charles Kichman, Mike & Teresa Swartley, Tracy Meyers, Roy Scherrer,  Brian Laspino, ……………. Same drill, get checked in, orientation at the dive shop, then let’s get wet!  Most of us are diving with our own gear, but for a few it’s a chance to try out some cool resort-quality rental stuff – Mike P, Tricia A, Mike & Teresa S all had some bags missing to kick off the trip.  Good news is they showed up the next day so no horror stories there.

It’s 10:30 now, and we’re sitting at the bar eating a late dinner, and who finally strolls in?  Katie & David Manninen, who enjoyed a four hour delay in the Curacao airport on their way to Bonaire!  But the spirits are good and the excitement is high, so everyone is ready for the morning!  And the staff at the Banana Tree Restaurant – Patricia, Manuela, & Andrew – are top shelf and make us feel very much at home, not only tonight but all week long!

Sunday morning and our last IVS’er arrives, Mark Sperry from Toledo Ohio – all 44 souls accounted for! And it’s time to get serious with the diving! With such a big group and the convenience of shore diving and setting your own schedule, everyone just heads out in small groups to dive the sites which are located up and down the coast of this beautiful island.  Each condo came with an SUV, so transportation was never an issue.  Some of the favorite dive sites during the week were Margate Bay, Oil Slick, Red Beryl, Vista Blue, and Alice in Wonderland, just to name a few.  The routine is simple – toss some tanks in the back of your SUV, grab the map, and head north, or south, along the coast.  Each dive site is marked by a painted yellow rock along the side of the road, so just pull off the road, gear up, and stroll into the usually calm sea (there were a few exceptions at some of the dive sites to that!).  Entries varied from sandy to rocky, so those hard-soled dive booties paid off in spades!

Every road on the island eventually leads to a dive site, but as some of us know, that eventually can be pretty long sometimes!  Lots of winding roads, minimal correlation between the actual roads and what is printed on the map, and not a single compass in any of the cars made each trip a potential touring adventure!   The good news is that the island is beautiful so no matter where we ended up driving in circles, we enjoyed it.

Sunday also saw Teresa Swartley and Dillon Crawford getting the first of their checkout dives in, and what a way to complete your certification!  Both did great and we want to congratulate them on joining the Indian Valley Scuba family of divers!

There is a another gem of an island here, Klein Bonaire, an uninhabited islet about a half mile offshore of the resort. It too is ringed with fantastic dive sites, so how could we not go there to dive?  So we set up a few boat trips with the on site dive operator, Toucan Diving, and they took good care of us.  OK, first we had to work out the details – here’s how they normally do it:  the afternoon trip is a one tank dive, and they moor the boat at a site.  A divemaster jumps in and leads the group along the reef, 20 to 25 minutes in one direction, then they turn back, and you end up under the boat exploring until you surface.  Alright, while that sounds nice, here’s the way we’re gonna do it, IVS-style:  First, we’ll make it a 2 or 3 tank trip.  Second, we won’t moor the boat except to get everyone in the water and organized to begin our descent.  Third, the DM can follow along as our group leads itself, and finally, we aren’t turning around!  And finally we’ll just dive in one direction, through several dive sites, until we eventually surface and the boat can pick us up there!   Gosh, similar to what they do the other 51 weeks of the year, but with a hint of that signature IVS “deliberatley different” flair!

So we ended up doing a bunch of afternoon boat dives, and on our last, we threw enough tanks onto the boat to have the crew drop us off on the way back to the harbor, and we ended up diving our way home back to the resort for our 3rd tank.  Cool!

One of the highlight dives on the island is the Salt Pier, a commercial pier where they load salt onto bulk carriers headed to ports around the world.  It is owned by Cargill and officially closed to the public, but available for diving if you hire a “guide”.  Let’s think about this…’s in the ocean, and there’s no fence around it – sounds like “we don’t need no stinking guide!”   And so a bunch of us head on down on Wednesday night, figuring what’s the worst that can happen?  And guess what?   We had a fantastic dive, no one was arrested (or thrown out of the country), and Sue & Joyce even nailed a lionfish, smashing the little omnivore with a rock on the reef – way to go girls!  Great dive, octopus, colorful sponges on the legs of the pier, eagle rays in the shallows, just another great one in the logbook for the week!

And speaking of highlights, you can’t just have a week of perfectly calm seas and gentle entries!  So we headed over to the east coast of the island, which is the windward side, and hooked up with East Coast Bonaire Diving, who recently took over the operation from our friend Wildside Larry.  They run a 30 ft Zodiac inflatable boat with a couple of huge Yamaha outboards on the back and visit some of the dive sites outside the harbor.  We gear up at the dock, including getting on board with our BCD’s on and fins in hand, and as we head out through the rollers, masks are on cause the water is coming over the boat!  It’s a wet and wild ride out to the site, and once we arrive, it’s a military style backroll entry, as they captain throws the boat in reverse and we start dropping off the sides of the boat two by two.  Once we’ve gathered on the surface, we descend and have a great dive on the reef.  Unlike the west side of the island, the fish life here is fantastic, and turtles abound.  On one dive we had no less than 11 turtle in our midst – fantastic!  Add some eagle rays, big tarpon, octopus, and a whole bunch of big green moray eels, and you have the recipe for some phenomenal diving.  We do one dive, head back to the harbor for a little surface interval and to change tanks, then back out to do it again!  Great addition to an already great trip.

The week is drawing to a close, and as Friday unfolds some of the gang are starting to, heaven forbid, rinse and dry their gear for the trip home.  But a few of us still need more….so off we head!  I end up wrapping the week up diving Vista Blue and Red Beryl with Amir, Brian and Joyce, getting dive #59 and #60 in for the trip!  Two last visits to 100 ft for an hour each….perfect!

Friday night is our last dinner on the island so where better to go than to Maiky’s Shack?  It’s a very local eatery located way out in the sticks, down several dirt roads and way off the beaten path.  Let’s just say they don’t see a lot of gringo faces there!  The dinner is superb, home-style servings of goat, grouper and chicken with plenty of sides and some local treats.  And the best part?  The bill is $15 each – amazing!

Since the group did so many individual trips this week, it made writing this blog a bit challenging.  So I passed around a pad and a pen, and asked everyone to share their comments and highlights for the week, and here’s a summary of what was written:

Joyce Kichman –Wild Side diving was all that and more!  First class!  Plus taking a lionfish off the reef with Sue left me feeling pretty darn good!  Joyce & Sue One, Lionfish Zero!  Plus diving with my son Charles!

Jeremy Lindsey – I came for some great diving and was not disappointed at all!  23 great dives on great reefs and a whole bunch of new friends!

Ray Graff – Two weeks is not enough for this island to see it all!  In the words of General McArthur, “ I shall return!”

Amir Stark – 40+ dives with friends is great but busting Brian’s chops for backrolling into the water with no mask is priceless!  Plus, in spite of Brian’s non-stop housewife-ness, I managed to drop my weights to zero!  Very cool!

Brian LaSpino – Having to hump Amir’s tanks because “his back hurts” was only second to having to wash Amir’s gear cause it smelled so bad!  Basically I played housewife all week!

Mary Young – Learning to really become comfortable navigating was huge!  And multiple visits to the Hilma Hooker wreck made me feel like I owned it!  And completing my Advanced Open Water certification.  Finally, discovering fire coral with my bum was a bit more than I had looked forward to!

Kimberly Luisi

  • Mindset June 26th:  I’m not sure about this, I think the diving people may be crazy!
  • Mindset July 2nd:  When can we go diving again?!?

Dan Young – Having my girlfriend pass the ‘Diver’s Test’ – see Kim L above!

Sue Douglass – 44 great friends, one seahorse, and learning to pay no mind at all to Brian Laspino with his dive site reports!

Lin Gusenko – What a hoot, Girls Rule on the “All Chicks” boat dive!

Jim Swartley – Wild Side diving iced the cake, petting the turtles, eagle rays, eels, and more, plus 44 new friends – fantastic!

Charles Kichman – First dive to 100 ft, turtles, really cool reefs – loved it!

Jerry Barrick – Awesome!  Shore diving, boat diving, all great!  Great place to spend a week (or two or more!)  Lot’s of great restaurants too!

Roy Scherrer – Let’s see, what did we do other than dive, dive, dive?  Oh yes, was fortunate enough to be on the dive when Ray G. tried to re-visit solo diving, and also, thanks to our teams great navigational skills, got to see the interior, exterior, and entire coast of the island of Bonaire!

Jodelle Bryan – This trip was a huge confidence booster for me and my diving.  I dropped a ton of weight, improved my buoyancy skills, and just saw an overall improvement in my diving!   Navigation skills are coming more naturally, and seeing octopus and eagle rays was very cool!  Plus spending my birthday with old and new friends really made this a special week for me!

Will Young – Getting to be back in the water after a year in the Iraqi desert was certainly a treat, and to be able to do it with my friends and family was even better!  Sad there was only one wreck to play on, but I was happy, as long as my brother Dan was in the water there was always a tank valve I could turn off!

Dave West – Getting left alone on a night dive was certainly an adrenalin producer!  Other than that, I experienced some of the best diving ever with some of the best people ever – I am smiling ear to ear!

Jesica Tyre – I am going home with 21 new dives in my logbook, and 56 new bug bites on me too!  This trip was amazing!  Great people, great resort, great food, and fantastic diving!

Joseph Cox – Great diving all week, but the highlight was getting narc’d right out of my mind at 144 ft – what a hoot – thank you Dave!  Thank you more for bringing me home!  And thanks even more for getting my Advanced Open Water done!

Jeff Mento – Met some great people, dove some great reefs, wished I saw more seahorses!  Maybe next year!!

Katie Manninen – Dave & I hit dive # 50 in our logbooks and we are thrilled with that!  Saw baby spotted eagle rays feeding, a monster slipper lobster, and a huge turtle, over 5 ft long!  Plus made some great new friends with Tricia and Jeff Mento!

John Alcott – Some great descents, seems the whole ear issue has passed!  Now to remember to put my regulator in my mouth!  I led a great night dive for instructor Butch L and DM Mike G, including a safe return to the same beach our cars were parked at!

Bryon Young – Just a great week being with everyone, re-uniting with the IVS family, and seeing how comfortable my wife Mary got with the whole diving process.  Fantastic!

Lynn Swartley – Seeing lots of seahorses (one on our first dive!), turtles, lots of cool fish, and celebrating 20 years of being married to the most amazing man, my husband Jim! Wait, he wrote his comments above….where’s anything about being married to me????

Jim Swartley (addendum) – Oh did I mention the part about being married for 20 years to my fantastic wife?

Tom Brennan – Good friends, great location, fantastic diving!  Had a great time with the IVS gang as usual!  And lobsters and turtle sightings – oh my!

Tracy Meyers – Wild Side diving baby!   And spending time with Jesica’s sisters!  The covert night dive on the Salt Pier was a hoot, ranking right up there with losing my entire dive team on the same dive!  And of course, Team IVS – can’t imagine diving without them!

Tricia Arrington – So many firsts, where do I begin?  First time with double aluminum  80’s (and second and third time too!),  first sunrise dive, first time diving with my new baby, the Liquivision!  I think I’m in love with my new backplate system!  Sad that my baggage was late in getting here, but glad it arrived a day later!   My ears got a bit messed up and that cost me a few dives, but I still had the most awesome time!   I absolutely love diving with the IVS family, and apparently the bigger the group, the bigger the fun!

Cathy Parzynski – I came down here as a confirmed non-diver, but that darn Sue Douglass took me diving, twice, and now I am thinking I like the taste of this Kool Aid!

David Manninen – Katie and I experienced our fist shore diving and fell in love with it immediately!   Just another great aspect of this sport we love so much!  Katie and I also dove without each other for the first time ever, and it really showed me what a great dive buddy she is!

Jack Sandler – First sunrise dive, multiple night dives (had only one night dive ever before!) Seeing old IVS dive buddies and making new ones, too many Hooker jokes to remember, and getting some darn good use out of that Nitrox certification!

Teresa Swartley – Getting certified!  And when I was not diving, seeing donkeys, flamingos, iguanas and goats all over the place!  And after seeing all those goats, I didn’t eat any at Maiky’s Shack!  I did 11 dives for the week – woo hoo!

Dylan Crawford – OK, OK, the diving!   Cooler than I thought, and a really great group to hang with!  Got my certification done, thanks Dave!  Mom picks good friends, I guess!

Mark Sperry – I do a lot of dive travel and I can say, there’s not a lot of groups that beat Indian Valley Scuba!  What  blast diving with these guys and they really have their act together!  It made for a really comfortable week of diving adventure!  Great people, great weather, great diving – I’ll be back!

Tricia Mento – My darling spouse dominating the shore diving with his broken ankle – he could have easily sat out but he is a super trooper (and knows how sitting out a dive would be been capitalized on in the blog!).  Great bunch of supportive divers made it a really great week – thanks guys for humping his gear down 1,000 Steps!  And of course meeting even more really cool people like we do on every IVS trip – this time we partnered with the Manninem’s which just really made traveling the island and diving all over an even bigger blast!  Thank you Sue!

Mike Parzynski – Island touring with Dave (under the guise of finding the dive site!) was a blast. “Keep the ocean on your right, er I mean left”.  Diving doubles & stage bottles and deco diving in these great waters!  Going deep, really deep (151 in not only  a rum!).  The 2-tank and 3-tank boat drift diving was great, and getting dropped off at the beach even greater!  Only negative was the delay in getting my bags to start it off, but all ended on some great notes!

Mike Swartley – Seeing my daughter get certified with Dave was the highlight of the trip, then diving with her as my buddy!   Also the good new friends we made here, the IVS gang is great!

Grace Crawford – #1 the people!   #2 my son Dylan’s certification, diving with him, and seeing his excitement!  And #3 – the most wonderful dives!  One of my favorites was when I went to Alice in Wonderland with Jack S – as soon as we went deown he was making all sorts of signs and signals and I couldn’t figure them out at all.  Finally he wrote on his slate “I’m a dumbass” – I couldn’t stop laughing for the rest of the dive

Mike GusenkoFirst, WHAT AN AWESOME TRIP!!  I think what I liked the most, (and there were many, many things to like about this trip), is that while still maintaining the “Group IVS” feeling there were a lot of opportunities to go out and explore individually (with my favorite Buddy Lin) or with whomever was going to your favorite dive site.  A great chance to meet new people and share great  experiences whether a night, shore, boat, or “wild side” boat dive (which by the way was VERY cool!)

Dave, I’m very impressed!  The one moment in the trip that I will not forget is at Maikis. There we were all settling in for our wonderful goat stew and dinner when you looked around and noticed there was someone missing from our group that may have missed out on the ride over or wasn’t sure of the dinner plans.  Instead of saying “oh well, too bad” you got in your car and drove back to the resort (alone) to find him, in the dark, with maybe a vague idea of how to get back on those dirt roads.  I was thinking of you while we were enjoying our dinner, and was hoping you’d make it back in time to have your share. Glad you did. THAT is what IVS is about!  THAT is why we have that “family” feel about the IVS group.  We look out for one another.

And that’s another point.  We were helping each other constantly on this trip.  Many thanks go to Butch and Jim Swartley and John Alcott for helping Lin get in and out of some tricky entry points. And of course Bev (Lin’s bff!).  She is such a trouper, a great person and good friend.  We were helping Jody and Lin with gear up and down a thousand steps (and it really felt like a thousand when you do it four times for one dive!)  Jody even likes shore diving over boat diving now…well duhhhh, I would too if someone carried my stuff (LOL!  Love ya Jody!).

And one last thing.  Lin and I have gone to Jamaica for the last six years in a row to our favorite “spot”, and we even have a trip on the books for next year.  We had such a good time on this trip, we will probably be eating the $100 deposit when we cancel that trip to make room for an extra trip with IVS (in addition to Bonaire).

Bottom line – what a fantastic trip!   We’ll be back next summer!