Almost all of Bonaire's bicycling trails run along the coastline at some point and some of them lie only inches from it (after all, this is an island). Maybe you'll pass by the old slave huts on the south end of the island, or perhaps you'll peddle out to the old fishing village at Playa Frans. One trail takes you on a historical tour of the northern village of Rincon, with its old church, Devil's Hill, kunukus (farms), a seemingly out-of-place duck pond, the first freeman's settlement following the abolition of slavery, and "the warehouse of the king."
Another route puts riders hot on the trail of the elusive flamingoes, and another winds up and down some of the most rugged loose rock and dirt hills imaginable. Maybe you'll see the old aloe plantation today or maybe you'll peddle out to the ancient and still undeciphered Indian inscriptions, or to the lighthouse, or the lagoon. Different routes, different distances, different thrills for every day for as long as you care to stay.
Shorter runs will have you back before noon. Stop by the market for fresh fruit and fish or have a nice lunch at your hotel and then take a siesta (everyone else does, from 12 noon to 2 p.m.). Upon waking, go for a swim or gear up for a dive. Some bike tours include lunch and plans for an afternoon of diving the wreck of the Hilma Hooker, snorkeling at Pink Beach, or kayaking the lagoon. Either way, at day's end, you'll have plenty of cycling related tales to swap over dinner.
Trail 1 - Karpata (5.5k)
Just down the hill from the Bonaire Caribbean Club, you will notice a narrow asphalt single bike track running along the shore. This is the first of several, most of which are about 100 m long and always lead you back to the main road. Feel free to take these small detours if you wish but take care, as these paths often lie very close to the edge of the cliff that runs along the shoreline.
Along this road you get a sampling of Bonaire's flora and fauna. In the morning you'll see the blousanas (blue-tailed lizards) and iguanas sunning on rocks or right in the middle of the road. Don't worry about hitting them -- they are faster than the most gonzo biker.
Soon you come upon Witches Hut, the small ruin of an old house where the locals say a curandero (witch doctor) once lived. Legend has it that many ghosts haunt this road. Stories abound of motorists who stop and pick up hitchhikers only to look in the rearview mirror and find that the hiker has vanished.
Up and down a few mildly challenging hills and you come upon the site of 1,000 Steps, a popular dive site. Whether or not there are exactly 1,000 steps leading down to the coral rubble beach and then back up to the road is not certain, but you will definitely feel as though there are, since you must carry your bike the entire distance should you choose to explore.
Take the Ol'Blue Nature Trail, a track along the foot of the cliffs that is also used as a walking path for birdwatchers. Most active during the early morning hours, the birds have claimed this area for their own. Darting in and out from the pock-marked cliffs set back from the road are a variety of Bonairean birds, the loudest of which are the parrots.
As you leave the nature trail, a large arch-shaped rock formation created by wind and water erosion is visible just in front of the cliffs. Known as the Eye of the Devil, this is the place where, according to oral tradition, slaves who worked too slowly were brought in order to scare them into working harder.
A coral rock wall marks the beginning of Karpata, an old aloe plantation. Stop and pick a piece to rub on your sunburn. It grows wild all over the island. Land Huis Karpata is situated on your right. This old house was the office and residence for the plantation overseers. Used in more recent history as a marine biology research center, the centuries-old buildings have been restored very closely to their original state. In the yard near the house gates, the large yellow pot-shaped structure with steps leading up to it was used to cook down the aloe and prepare it for shipping.
Across the street, take the steps down to the Karpata dive site. All along this stretch of reef are scattered huge, coral-encrusted anchors lost by ships that put in here to pick up aloe in centuries past. This is also a great place to stop for a picnic and a breather.
At this point, backtrack or choose one of three alternative routes:
Trail 2 -- Peel off to your immediate right on Kaminda Karpata, the road going inland which has the longest and almost the steepest descent on the island. Ride through the village of Rincon and then up and down some exciting dirt and gravel back roads; or
Trail 3 -- Continue to pedal straight ahead on the shore road for another 2.5k where you take another road to Rincon. This route passes by Goto Meer lake and your first glimpse of Bonaire's pink flamingoes, with some steep, curving paved roads and breathtaking overlooks; or
Trail 4 -- Keep wheeling along the shore road and past the oil storage terminal, taking a challenging dirt road to the secluded and picturesque Nukove Beach and the small fishing village and out-of-the-way dive and kayaking site on Playa Frans.
Trail 2 (Alta Mira Unjo) -- 11.5 k
This trail begins and ends at the Bonaire Caribbean Club. The first leg is described as Trail 1-Karpata. As you wheel out of the Karpata plantation, you head inland on a paved road. The Alta Mira Unjo Trail provides the longest uphill torque as well as the steepest downhill run on the island. Between the two is the small Alta Mira Unjo park, where you can stop and enjoy vistas of the island and distant oceans from a hilltop. Then wind through the historic little village of Rincon and over some rough terrain and killer hills.
Trail 3 (Goto Meer) -- 15.5 k
On this side of the coral rock wall just before the entrance to the oil storage facility, take a right where you begin a gentle uphill climb. Follow the road running along the edge of Goto Meer, Bonaire's inland salt lake, which is home to thousands of flamingoes.
Twisting, turning trees that line stretches of the road are native divi-divi trees, whose seed pods in days gone by were harvested for use in curing leather in the tanneries of Curacao and Europe. Nestled in holes and crags of the volcanic rock cliffs are Turks Caps, small, squat, turban-shaped cactus with reddish knobs on top. If they seem to grow right out of the rock, it is because they do. Several types of Bonairean cacti line the road. Among them are kadushi cactus, a "hairy" type of cactus which begins as a single vertically fluted column but grows 10-20 "arms" reaching over 40 feet into the air.
Cool off at Dos Pos, a large windmill-powered spring of good drinking water. Water is precious on this little desert island. People come here to fill containers for use on their kunukus. You may need a refill yourself by now. Across the road is one of the rare well-watered fruit and vegetable plantations. These are coconut palms, mango and papaya trees.
The road provides some slow out-of-the-saddle uphill climbs, which twist and turn along the edge of the lake before taking you straight into the village of Rincon. Once in town, the thing to do is stop at Prisca's Ice Cream for a cup of coconut, rum raisin, pineapple, or peanut ice cream, which is made in the kitchen of a couple of sweet Bonairean ladies.
The road back to the Bonaire Caribbean Club is a roller coaster of deeply eroded dirt and loose rock with a thrill a minute. You may have to dismount for a few meters here and there.
Trail 4 (Playa Frans) -- 30.6 K
On the far side of the coral rock wall just before the entrance to the oil storage facility is a small jetty where fishermen still launch a few small fishing boats. Go straight and just before you reach the gates to the oil storage terminal, take a right.
Begin a subtle but steady climb and then gear down for a paved road, screaming mee-mee descent.
At Salina di Tern, osprey, several species of wading birds, and egrets are usually seen. As you amble along this stretch of road you will see remnants of some small salt pans which were used hundreds of years ago to collect salt for shipping to Holland.
A small wind-powered lighthouse tells sailors that there's land here. A few goats prance across the path into the dense trees and cactus. The plants that look like cotton are in fact uplands cotton, grown here and on Klein Bonaire hundreds of years ago when the entire island was a plantation run by the Dutch West India Company.
Just ahead a small sign on your left marks a short dirt road that leads to Nukove Beach. Park your wheels and hop down the cliff on your right to one of Bonaire's most secluded and small beaches. Protected from the wind by the rock cliff, this little patch of sand is perfect for sunbathing and picnicking. And the waters off NuKove provide some of the best diving on the island.
Roll into the small fishing village of Playa Frans where the wooden fishing boats, many of which were made a century ago here in Bonaire, go out daily to bring in the catch of the day. Dive, kayak, or just walk around and have a snack here.
Trail 5 (Lagoon) -- 11 K
This trail provides the most diverse terrain in a single trail and is the personal choice of the hard-core off-the-road set. It takes you down dirt roads, by maize fields and old slave-style native houses, and up a rocky path to the top of one of Bonaire's highest points for an incredibly beautiful 360-degree view of the island, winding up at a secluded lagoon where you can kayak.
Halfway into the ride, you've got to get out of the saddle and pump uphill in your lowest gears. The road is deeply eroded and rugged, with lots of tuna cactus (the ones that look like Mickey Mouse ears) sprouting up in the middle of the trail. Very suddenly, you're at the summit, with a panorama stretching from Kralendijk to Lagoon and all the way round to the lighthouse at Spelunk. It's breathtaking.
Back down the hill, you're soon peddling steadily along the flat surface to Lagoon, the site of the oldest known settlement on Bonaire. It was here that the Arawak Indians first landed when they came in canoes from Venezuela. Artifacts unearthed by archaeologists in this area are the oldest on the island.
Pick up your kayak here and after some serious paddling in the lagoon, get ready for some easy peddling as the wind pushes you along the 3.2 k of paved winding road back.
Trail 6 (Seroe Largu) -- 10 K
Keep your eyes open for old daub-and-wattle houses built centuries ago by slaves. Many of these houses sit amid groups of century plants. Although commonly mistaken for a gigantic aloe plant, the juice from its leaves is anything but soothing to the skin. Also called agave, the century plant derives its name from the fact that it takes decades (although not quite a century) to flower.
Reaching the high point on the now rocky road, the highlight of our tour, Seroe Largu looms ahead. Prepare to use both brakes down this rocky hill. Watch for those tuna cacti in the middle of the road.
Just past an old concrete well is an obvious arroyo leading to a freshwater pond that almost always has ducks cruising its placid surface. Goats and donkeys drink here and the surrounding trees and brush are home to many species of Bonaire birds. Beautiful red dragonflies dart about and on your left in the holes of that big dark boulder live lots of iguanas. It's sort of like an iguana condo. The very young ones are vivid solid green and aren't smart enough to be afraid of humans yet. The older ones are striped with muted browns and dark greens and grow to over three feet long if they aren't caught by young boys, trussed up and sold for stew meat.
Taking the next paved road, you'll see a soccer field and baci ball court (bolas criollas in Papiamentu) which is the site of the first airfield in Bonaire, built by Americans in WWII. Old-timers say towers were manned by soldiers who scanned the island's windward side for signs of German submarines. This was the scene of great excitement when the American bombers took off in hot pursuit of Nazi U-boats.
Get ready for torquing at a snail's pace up the long, steep road to the top of Seroe Largu (Long Hill). When you reach the top you'll know it was worth the sweat. You can see to infinity from here, or Curacao at least. You'll rest under the tourist trees (so-called because they always turn red and peel), watching the resident goat herd and fending off brazen lizards looking for a handout.
The descent is treacherous for tired cyclers. It's long, it's steep, and what's more, the magnificent view is distracting. Keep your eyes firmly on the road.
These trails are only a sample of what Bonaire has to offer. Come visit us for the ride of your life.
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