Salty Pier

Went to dive Salt Pier yesterday. We are making our way through the iconic dives of Bonaire. Salt Pier is one of them.

Like the concrete pier at Barbados, this is a working pier. You can’t dive it when a ship is in. This didn’t stop us in Barbados, but I wouldn’t do that again. Then, we started our dive before the ship arrived. There was a huge surge in vibration. To say that every part of my body felt the ship’s engines would be something of an understatement. It was so strangely stressful, I felt I had lost all control of my internal environment. Go, working pier dive.

On Salt Pier yesterday, there was no ship. Only a bunch of snorkelers and divers – more than we’ve seen clustered in one spot in Bonaire. Not the ‘place to ourselves’ routine we’ve been enjoying, but it was cool. The Salt Pier is large and there was more than enough room for everyone.

This is both economically and historically an important part of Bonaire. Much of this island gave way for salt production when it was colonised – and salt is still produced. Large pyramids of crystal salt – known as the White Alps of Bonaire, testify to that. Across the road, pink, neat rectangular salt pans, frequented by similarly-coloured flamingos, stretch down the island’s south.

Empty slave huts jut alongside these coastal pans. You can investigate them. They are tiny and boiling hot inside, during the day. When slaves did live in them, I wonder if they could have foreseen people hopping in and out of the empty shells a couple of hundred years later imagining their experience. Their language very much survives. Papiamientu is strong on the island. A distinctive, regional and official language.

We snorkelled out – to drop down on the outer pier legs. Passed four turtles in the shallows on the way out. No one really slowed down for them. I shook my head. When did seeing sea turtles get so normal?

Still, piers are great for creating shafts of light – and this was no exception. Along the pier legs too were schools of fish. Quite a lot of barracuda. They weren’t as large as some we’ve seen the great baraacuda swell to – but I suppose that’s where the tarpon come in. Barracudas in Bonaire aren’t quite king – they have to share their castle with the tarpon. They’re enthusiastically eaten here too, judging by sea scraps by the fisherman’s wharf and dinghy dock. Barracuda definitely features on local menus. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, their long striped bodies stared warily out from the pier’s protection.

It was a great dive. Like all of Bonaire, a bit of wall, a bit of depth (30m), and up again for a soft coral tour. Of course we also hunted for a glimpse of Bonaire’s famous resident, the frogfish. Did we see one? More precious than salt it seems.

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