Monday, October 27, 2008

Back in the USA; Pics from Bonaire

I've arrived at Biscayne National Park in Florida. Now that I'm in the USA, I seem to have less connectivity. I don't have an internet connection and cell phones don't work where I live in the park. Strange when I had these things while living on small islands in the Caribbean.
I'm spending the week taking a course on motor boat operation with other folks from the park, USGS employees and University of Miami students. I don't have time to do much of a post, but I have a bunch that are partially done. Instead, I'm going to throw up a few pictures from some of my last dives in Bonaire.

Below is a picture of a PhD student from Spain, Maria, who offered to be my dive buddy on my last dives in Bonaire. Those were some of the only dives that I had a buddy. We went in at one dive site (Angel City) and floated over to a wrecked ship named the Hilma Hooker. It was a nice dive. On our previous dive we saw the largest barracuda that either of us had ever seen our lives (this is not it, but it is a good-sized barracuda). The big barracuda was absurdly large. It must have been 6 feet long or longer bigger round than me. Ah, another branching anemone. I love these things!When I was reseting coral turned over by Omar, I often woke up the night owls, the brittle stars. These stars were actually out during the day hanging on a sponge.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fishes in the Sea Part 3: A Game of Hide and Go Eat

In previous posts (Fishes in the Sea Parts 1 and 2), I highlighted daytime invertebrate hunting and herbivorous strategies in reef fish. Let's consider more predatory (e.g., piscivorous) strategies. Being a predator can be tough work. Fish that you want to eat don't want to be eaten. Plus, sometimes damselfish beat you up just like they do to everything else (see *, **, or ***). One strategy is to be really fast and chase down prey (e.g., Bar Jacks) and another is to be cryptic and strike before you are seen.
A fish that takes on the "hide and go eat" strategy, is a trumpetfish. They're often seen floating upside-down or aligning with something straight (e.g., the trumpetfish on the left in soft coral or on the right with a pier pillar).
In a previous post on eels dying in Bonaire (Dead Eels), my video showed a Graysby closely following a sharptailed eel, perhaps using the eel to somehow increase its own foraging success. Below is a narrated (that wasn't fun) video of similar, and common, behavior, a trumpetfish following a parrotfish.

Sometimes trumpetfish will hide behind other fish, like these tang.


I've even had one use me as cover.

Grouper use a combination of burst swimming and camouflage in their hunting strategy. Like many fish, they can change their color, blending in better with their background. They don't have the skills of an octopus, but when sitting still they can be hard to see.

I've posted pictures and videos of other cryptic fish in the past, including barracuda, bat fish and scorpionfish, but I haven't posted a 3-D picture in a long time, so here's a 2D scorpionfish looking cryptic and a 3D scorpionfish blending in with the newly exposed rubble in the shallows after Omar.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Invisibles: A Variety of Disappearing Acts

I've posted on magic tricks before, but this is different. Sometimes I spend much of my dive off of the reef and in the sand. May dive sites on Bonaire have large sandy stretches between the beach and the reef. Others have sand at the base of the reef (deep) or between the two reefs in the double-reef areas of the island (also deep). One site with vast areas of shallow sand is called "The Invisibles." I don't know how it got its name but perhaps it is because so many things living there tend to disappear. Initially all you see at this site is hovering trunkfish quietly blowing into the sand and hovering about. Every direction looks the same -- sand, blue, algae, trunkfish -- I often stare at my compass to figure out where I am. Upon close inspection of the sand, it's clear that it is teaming with life near it, in it or on it. What types of disappearing acts do you find here? Find out for yourself; find the fish in the picture below. Do you see it? It takes up about a third of the width of the picture.

Here, watch it move.

Now you can see the peacock flounder in the sand better. Given its location this one is staying sandy colored, but they can change color quickly. They have beautiful blues on them at times. (I saw several of these moving in the distance and I kept my eyes fixed on that point as I swam up to see them. Almost without fail, I failed to find them when I got to where I thought they were.)

If you've been looking for flounder, then you've found that your head is pretty much in the sand at this point, which is a good place to look for sand divers like the little one below. They actually get pretty big and they don't always hide very well, but this one is trying to disappear.
Pulling your head out of the sand and scanning across the surface, you may see many small, curved fish sitting just above the bottom. These are probably razorfish (shaped like a folded straight razor). I love what they do when you get close (see in the video).

That's are real disappearing act.

Garden eels perform a slower disappearing act which is frustrating if you want to get a picture of the cute little eels. While in a deeps sandy patch (the video below is at 90ft), I wandered into a bed of these eels. As I approached, hundreds of heads and thin, curved bodies poked out of holes in the sand. Then, as always with these eels, as I got closer they got shorter and shorter and finally disappeared.

Those are a few disappearing acts that take place under the sea. What a magical place!

Next Stop

I'm leaving Bonaire and I head to Biscayne National Park tomorrow. I have posts scheduled since I don't know when I will have connectivity again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Worth Reading

No. Probably not this blog, but here are some suggestions from other authors out there.

Read David Quammen's "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution" Or at least something from David Quammen. Soon. Quammen's style is captivating and his use of language hilarious. It boggles my mind, how people can write like that. If you haven't read his stuff, I suggest reading excerpts from his years of writing for Outside Magazine that can be found in "Animal Antics" or "The Boilerplate Rhino." Or just start with "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin." If you like to hear or read about peoples' lives and their story, then you'lll love it. Darwin has become an idea or an icon or a "controversial figure" or something that makes people argue. He was a man. A man with a wife and kids and problems and loss and pain and struggles just like everybody else. He happened to be good at thinking carefully about patterns and asking good questions and he happened to vomit a lot from stress, especially from social interactions. It is Quammen's dealings with Darwin's life, struggles and thoughts that make the read suitable for everyone. For example, we know that he spent 8 years working on barnacle taxonomy, but it's his life in those years which is so interesting (not that barnacle penises, among other barnacle parts, are not interesting -- they are--think about it......if your bottom is glued to the side of a ship how you gonna mate or even find a mate? It's a stretch, but think about it.). Darwin didn't think he would spend 8 years on barnacles, but he was driven to be thorough, so much so that when Darwin's young son visited another child's home, the boy asks where his friend's father "did his barnacles." Indeed, Darwin worked on the ideas for The Origin of Species for over 20 years before being "forced" to write it all down quickly as a "rough" abstract (250 pages or so) that became one of the most influential books in science. Outside of barnacles and the origins of species, Darwin did have a life to lead and Quammen's treatment of Darwin's personal life is what is captivating. The loss of his 10 year old daughter Annie, the child that he was closest to and who's company he loved (they would go on his daily walks together and he would let her brush his hair and make him up), had a profound impact on him. He wrote, "We have lost the joy of the household, and the solace of our old age: she must have known how we loved her... how tenderly we do still." Outside of the loss of two young children, their son Charles also died young, Darwin and his wife Emma's greatest struggle was a fundamental difference of belief: Darwin lost his religious faith, becoming agnostic (a word created by a friend of his), while Emma remained a devoted Christian. It pained Darwin greatly knowing that his beliefs were very hard on Emma. Despite this seemingly huge difference, their letters and personal journals attest to the intense love and devotion that they had for each other throughout their marriage; she did not faulter in her love and devotion to him and he did not faulter in his for her. The extensive scientific and personal writings from Darwin truly allow some understanding of the man not just the ideas that he developed. Toward the end of his life, Darwin wrote about carnivorous plants and earthworms and when he finally had a grandchild, and he thoroughly enjoyed playing with him, he began writing an autobiography. In this case, he did not refer back to his extensive of notes from his life, but, instead, wrote a personal essay based on his perspective at the twilight of his life. He intended it to be read only by his family. Do people write for their family anymore? I don't think that most of us probably write enough. Too much work, I guess. We blog and email, call and text, instead. I guess down the road we may have records like "WHT U UP2" and other fascinating texts that we can use to explore your inner depths, but it would be good to have more. If you have people that care, write something for them. Maybe they'll want to know. Maybe they won't. They'll at least have the option.

I travel with a bookmark that I received from my friend, Balthazar, long ago. It's relevant to my travels and it reads:

Un Amigo
Es Una Cosa
Del Lado
del pecho
Asi el teimpo
Y la distancia Italic digan no

Milton Nascimento

Figure out what it says (hint: it's Spanish). Cosa = thing; izquierdo= left; pecho = chest; digan = speak

You can try something like babelfish to help you translate it. By the way, the babelfish is a creation from Douglas Adams' book "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Douglas Adams is one of my favorite authors. If you are into conservation biology and you love people that can write well and make you laugh, even on serious topics, then read Douglas Adams' "Last Chance to See." Of his books, it was his favorite. I think it's brilliant. I laughed outloud (LOL) many times from his clever manipulation of our language.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I have evidence that Damselfish are trying to kill me (or scare me away from their little algae gardens). Here's one ticked-off damselfish. They seem especially feisty since Omar. Notice how it swims away and acts all innocent (head-fake) and then comes charging back. You can't trust 'em. This is what it's like doing surveys on the reef. Under constant attack.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Getting Bit by a Gardener

A threespot damselfish, like this one, bit me today when I was trying to upright a coral head capsized by Omar. Look at his little smug grin. You can't trust these guys for anything. Read more about damselfish in one of my earlier posts.

Salt and Slaves

Prior to refrigeration, salt was a hot commodity and often hard to come by. Bonaire was an important supplier of salt for centuries while its neighbor, Curacao, was a major slave trade center. Salt from Bonaire had a lot of ties to slavery. Slave labor was used to produce huge salt ponds for solar-salt production and to harvest the salt. It's also quite likely that many slaves from Africa that ended up on the island were purchased using salt (African tribes were often involved in capturing other Africans to sell into slavery, sometimes they were sold for salt. Apparently, the word salary comes from payment in salt.). Slave huts from this time still exist on Bonaire and two dive sites, White Slave (pictured here as I entered the water) and Red Slave, are named for the obelisks on the shore that signaled where boats could pick up their salt load.
With the abolishment of slavery in 1863, the salt mining here ended for about a century. When solar salt production returned to the island, heavy machinery, conveyer belts and large piers were employed to produce the salt.

The salt pier that was constructed provides an eerie dive site; its pillars provide vertical substrate for encrusting organisms, like these sponges (do you see the fish hiding in this picture?).

Many fish, like these schoolmaster snappers, also hang out under the pier and near the pillars (these guys are waiting for evening to hunt). Just the other side of the road from the pier are huge mountains of salt. Just looking at these mountains makes my blood pressure skyrocket. The salt is loaded on a conveyor belt near these mountains and it is carried above the road, down the peir and dumped onto cargo ships. Much of the salt is never consumed, but it ends up in water softeners and on our roads in the winter.
The salt ponds used to produce these huge mountains typically have a pink or brown color. In the picture below from and my picture above, you can see the color of the ponds. Why are the ponds pink? Sea water isn't pink. Think about your microbiology. Not many things can live in such hypersaline environments.....ya know, they'd have to be really halophilic (latin: halo=salt or "the sea" and philic = love). Really, they'd have to be extreme halophiles. Yeah. They are. Prokaryotes in the group archaea (organisms formerly known as types of bacteria) live in these ponds and their pigments used in photosynthesis color the water. You can go archaea watching closer to home. They're often seen in hotsprings (extreme thermophiles) and salt lakes. Other species live in your intestines.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Omar wet my bed, shocked me, flooded my carburetor, and made me change jobs

I'm bumming power and internet off of some folks at CIEE research station. I may have had posts go out (I have them scheduled to go in case I don't have internet or can't get to a computer), but I've been without much power or internet because of tropical storm Omar. I don't have much power at "home" and the STINAPA office is completely flooded. Yesterday I decided to head to the office (note: it had been raining and blowing for a couple of days and the day before I had watched huge waves breaking near the office) and I took the scenic road with my roomate, Patrick. The scenic road is the shortest, but it's dirt. My truck made it, but barely. We had to drive through eight or nine rivers and I had to floor it so that we wouldn't get washed away. It was a rush. After making to the office, to find it abandoned, we found several inches of water inside and outlets that were shocking us. Omar was an odd storm. It came from the SW and moved NE! That's very odd for this part of the world (review your ocean currents) and so the side of the island that usually doesn't get hit and the side of building that usually don't see rain or wind got nailed. It was raining in the office and my mattress is soaked back at the park too. After a couple of hours of trying to get water out of the office, we decided to leave, but we couldn't. My trusty truck wouldn't start. It cranked and cranked. I got a jump, but it didn't work. I tightened things, but it still wouldn't go. Taking off the air filter and getting a look at the carburetor showed me the problem. Water, water everywhere. I dried the filter and sprayed the carburetor down with WD40 and then got another jump from somebody coming by to visit the office. It still didn't start. Finally, after a third person gave me a jump it started and now it's running like a dream.
What does this all mean? My job here has changed in my final week. I was monitoring the reef health and now I'll be giving all of that up to document reef damage. It looks like it is as bad as the last hurricane that hit Bonaire. In general, marine park managers try to manage for resilience. That is, keep the reef as healthy as possible and minimize damaging effects, so that if something big happens, like Omar, then it can recover. Keeping reefs and mangroves healthy is a moral obligation and an economic benefit. As reefs die and mangroves are removed, more people die from storms and tsunamis, and more damage is done to the homes and businesses on land. Too often people try ot argue that protecting the environment is bad for jobs and the economy, but that's if you leave out all of the incredible benefits that we gain from healthy environments that save us money (e.g., clean water, protected shorelines) and save lives (e.g., protection from storms, 50% of chemicals studied for potential use in cancer treatment come from coral reef creatures).
The waves are subsiding and this afternoon I will enter the water and see the effects of this storm. Perhaps, I will have pictures to share. Hopefully, they'll show a reef with very little damage. Bonaire probably has one of the best managed reefs in the world and is a model for areas all around the world, hopefully that management has built in enough resilience that this storm will not have lasting impacts on the reef or the economy of this little island.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fishes in the Sea Part 2: Surgeons, Territorial Gardeners, and the Sand Between Your Toes

There are many niches on the reef for fish to fill and various forms of feeding occur in these niches. Some fish eat other fish (see Dead Eels for example) some specialize in invertebrates (see Fishes in the Sea Part 1) and some are herbivores. Within the herbivores various strategies have evolved.
Let's start with parrotfish. You probably love to play in parrotfish poop. I bet you like the feel of it between your toes. You may even roll around in it and enjoy laying on it. It's what gives rise to most of the tropical beaches around the world. Much of the world's sand is broken down coral skeletons (and coralline algae) that has passed through the intestines of parrotfish. With jaws modified to crush coral, parrotfish are usually seen chomping into dead coral for the algae that are on the coral. When diving or snorkeling you'll hear the crunch, crunch sounds of parrotfish feeding around you.

There are other herbivorous strategies in reef fish. Surgeonfish, for example, typically graze on algae on top of the coral. Sometimes you'll see large schools of sugeonfish moving along in an algae-feeding frenzy (often a mixture of blue tang, ocean surgeonfish and doctorfish -- they all have a sharp spine on the base of their tail----like a scalpel). Unlike the trunkfish and many daytime invert eaters, these fish are often found in schools. Why go to school? A number of functions of schooling (or flock behavior) have been proposedl. For one, there are more eyes to look out for predators (more total vigilance). Plus, when individuals move together it is harder for a predator to keep track of any one individual to strike (confusion). Then there's the increased chance that your schoolmate will get chomped instead of you (bonus!). But schooling in surgeonfish seems to be about overcoming the feisty gardeners that inhabit the reefs. The fearsome damselfish. Perhaps you've heard of them? They're vicious. No, they don't have a damselfish week on the Discovery Channel, but they're more prone to attack than any shark you're likely to run into. And if an individual surgeonfish wanders into a damselfish gardent, it gets its butt (figuratively) kicked. By joinging a gang, surgeonfish can overwhelm and bully the little damselfish. Not that the damselfish stop trying. Watch these two videos and keep an eye out of for small black fish dashing around attacking the schooling fish in vain.

That's a damselfish for you. Feisty "gardeners" of the sea. Really, really feisty gardeners. Damselfish have a different herbivorous strategy, they tend small algae gardens, defending them against everything. Watch yourself, they'll attack fish, fins, and just about anything else that passes by. They regularly feign attacks on me and when I'm not looking they'll bite my fins. I even had one try to kill the lead-core line that I use when doing surveys. It was trying to pick the line up and get it away from its garden. Overall, being a grumpy gardener must be a successful strategy, the reef is covered with little damselfish. These little fish effectively keep most fish away from their scrumptious little patch of algae. Thus, surgeonfish have to stick together to take on the runts a quarter of their size.
That's it for this lesson on reef fish.
(If you're having trouble with the videos try a couple of things 1) use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer; 2) Send me an email and let me know. I may be able to change the HTML code to make it work. Plus, I'll know if anybody I know is reading!)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Where's Waldo?

This just in -- I made the front page of "The Bonaire Reporter." It's the pre-swim warm-up for the Jong Bonaire benefit swim to Klein Bonaire. (The story also mentioned that the swim was 1.2 km each way, so a bit further than I thought)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Keeping Your Kids in the Yard

Are your kids running wild? Are they getting out into the street? Do you need a better way to keep them safe from harm? How about a brand new Cactus Fence?!? Keep your goats and kids off of the roads and on your property. This type of fence is the traditional fence of goat farmers (herders? raisers?) in Bonaire. I have a feeling that it can be quite effective.
But of course, since it's a quirky local thing, the hotels want to get in on it and build massive cactus fenced areas. There are a lot of cacti around here, but not that many. Fortunately, those plans have been stopped. So if you want to see a cactus fence, leave your hotel and travel around Bonaire. The fences can be seen all over the place. Stop in at Washington/Slagbaai Park and you'll see plenty!

Friday, October 10, 2008

To find me, follow the geckos

If you want to find your way around Washington park, or to Washington park (um, that's where I live -- read the blog more often if you didn't know this), then follow the geckos because they'll show you the way.

Once you manage to find the road to Washington/Slagbaai park, which doesn't have any major turn-offs, the way is finally clearly marked with little gecko pictures. All of the trails are also marked with geckos.....just not frequently.

And if you get lost on the way, there is a phone booth conveniently placed in the middle of nowhere.
I actually live below the small mountain in the picture below.....right about where the little gecko is pointing.

Once you get to the park, you'll see reptiles and dinosaur descendants (birds) everywhere. If you look closely, you'll find geckos everywhere. I was getting into the shower the other day and this gecko was standing in my way. It was not very responsive. It crawled onto my hand and I put it up on the ledge. It crawled onto the wall and then I heard a small "slap." Apparently, it dove off of the wall back onto the floor. Fortunately, given scaling laws and the relationships between surface area, momentum and terminal velocity, gravity is not something that such a small animal has much to fear. Regarding gravity and animals falling, J. B. S. Haldane said it best,

To the mouse and any smaller animal it presents practically no dangers. You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object. Divide an animal’s length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only to a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force.
I picked it up again, took a few photos and monitored it for increased responsiveness. Over the next day it lived in my shower and then the following morning it was gone. Now it only visits on occasion.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Swimming and Drowning....the conclusion

Looking up at the water's surface, it is pitted by the raindrops falling above. Flashes of lightning temporarily brighten the sky despite 20 feet of blue water between me and a breath of fresh air. I slowly swim to the surface. One hand holds my spare regulator in mouth of my fellow diver and the other hand holds onto the diver's vest, desperately trying to keep him from careening to the surface, a potentially deadly action that could lead to severe decompression sickness (DCS), an air embolism or subcutaneous or mediastinal emphysema (air trapped in under the skin or in the cavity between the lungs). At the surface, the diver loses consciousness and requires rescue breaths as I tow him to shore. He's a good 50 pounds heavier than myself, but I have to get him out of the water and check for a pulse, doing so in the water is almost impossible and not very useful (you can't do CPR while floating in the water). At the shore, I send another diver for emergency oxygen tell him to call EMS at the dive shop nearby. I begin chest compressions.

Fortunately, it's all a drill. One of the many scenarios that I had to respond to while going on a "fun dive" with two other divers. Divers were bleeding, panicking, cramping, missing, and rejecting their life-sustaining SCUBA gear. It was great fun. I highly recommend the rescue diver course, if you're a diver. It was clear that some skills need regular practice and I don't always practice those skill. When sitting in 25' of water (that's a really shallow example too) and a diver is out of air and rejecting their regulator, you don't have much time to get to them, get your spare reg out and get it in their mouth, then purge the reg so that they can breath air instead of water, and then, while doing all of that, keep them from taking off for the surface. I'm now done with the rescue course. I was pretty much in the water all of Saturday and Monday in the course. On Sunday, however, I joined about 280 of my closest Bonairean friends to swim to Klein Bonaire, the neighboring island, and back. It was quite a sight. There were people everywhere and boats and kayaks on either side in case anybody got too tired. I don't know exactly how far it was but probably between 1.5 and 2 kilometers round trip. It was well worth doing. Unfortunately, my right ear, which has been fairly deaf for over a week, didn't benefit from 3 days of extensive diving and swimming, so I'm taking the day off.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fishes in the Sea Part 1: Odd-shaped, invert eaters

This post is part one in a series on design and behavior of reef fishes. Non-planktonic (i.e., not floating around) invertebrates on the reef are often active at night and hide during the day. While diving or snorkeling you may see one of two groups of invertebrate eaters on the reef. If you see a bunch of fish sitting in the shade or in schools or in soft corals doing not much of anything all day, then they're probably waiting to go invert hunting at night. Examples of fish that do this are soldierfish, grunts and many snapper. If a fish is going to be sticking its head into holes and rummaging in the sand all day, then it is also going to be very vulnerable to attack. Thus, the fish that specialize in invert hunting during the day usually have defenses that protect them from predation (e.g., spines or armor) and they are almost always alone (outside of mating) -- a school provides a lot of eyes that can look for predators, but too many fish will mean that the invertebrates are going to be more likely to run away and hide. Examples of daytime, invert-eaters are trunkfish, cowfish, puffers, porcupinefish, triggerfish and filefish (I've included pictures of some of these). There are daytime invert specialists and nighttime invert specialists. One fish that I see on nearly every dive in Bonaire is the Smooth Trunkfish (this one is feeding on a huge pillar from the pier at the salt company). The trunkfish are fun to watch. They look very awkward when swimming and they're often blowing water into the sand to uncover little invertebrates. You can watch this behavior in this video.

I don't have a picture of a juvenile with me, but they are adorable, polka-dotted little cubes (here's a pic of one -- it's about the size of a pee). Similar species include a the spotted trunkfish (a pair of them here) and the Honeycomb Cowfish (note the horns).

Another daytime, invert-eater is a filefish. This orange-spotted filefish has a long dorsal spine sticking up for protection and, at this moment, is being pestered by a damselfish (as we'll see in many posts).

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Swimming and Drowning....

Today I spent the day working on my Rescue Diver certification. It's not for professional rescuers, but is instruction on how to rescue your dive buddies or yourself. It makes me realize that diving by myself sure removes a lot of the stress of dealing with other drowning people. I had to save a freaked-out, drowning victim in all kinds of different scenarios above and below the water. In the final scenario for today, I had to manage two distressed divers and one had decompression sickness. It has been very useful. Tomorrow I'm going to attempt a swim to the neighboring island, Klein Bonaire. I hope to make it there and back with only swim goggles. I'll try to blog a bit about it next week sometime. I have a number of blogs that are still in the works, but electricity has been a bit hard to come by due to stormy and cloudy weather.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Driving in Bonaire: Crazy Kids, Asses and Playing Chicken

Here is my sweet ride. It has character. It's been around the block a few times and it wasn't a very nice neighborhood. With 4 alternating flat tires (I keep a SCUBA tank in the back in case I need to inflate any of them) and strategically-placed, structurally important bumper stickers but the bumper itself is not long for this world. no real bumper, it has some problems. It's not the most efficient ride which is costly (don't complain about gas prices, they're MUCH higher here....even though 100 miles away they're paying 17 cents a gallon in Venezuela -- Hugo...what a card.) But it's been getting me around with only slight groans of complaint and initial morning stubborness.

Besides my vehicle, there are numerous challenges and dangers to commuting in Bonaire (yet everybody is happy to go without helmets on bikes, scooters and motorcycles and without seatbelts--even US tourists--apparently peer-pressure, commercials, signs and fines work.). Fortunately, the people around here drive on their half of the road, unfortunately, it's the middle half. Trust me I'm beginning to understand and even adopt this mode of driving. Indeed, the sides of the road are full of (more) potholes, kids and asses. Starting with the crazy kids..... ...most of the people that live near the park seem to raise goats, but goats are everywhere on the island. Sure the roads are bad, but these kids have figured out that they're not full of cactuses and other thorny plants, so they run down the middle of the highway, straight at my truck. They also enjoy waiting until I'm just about to pass them to run across the road to join their teenage friends. Kids will be kids. Then there are the asses. They are the "big unknown" on the road (I nearly hit one last night). They are slow, stubborn and don't have any eye shine. They don't seem to be bothered by honking and they wander out on the highway all of the time. There are donkey warning signs, but never where I see donkeys. I also see people stopping in the middle of the road to feed the asses. That's what I want, donkeys that come down to the road MORE often. Great. The least dangerous, but slightly disturbing obstacles on the road are the lizards. Every morning I play chicken with hundreds upon hundreds of
ameiva lizards. As happens so often, testosterone poisoning makes males do stupid things. In the case of these lizards, they often decide to face off with my truck and start head-bobbing at me as I approach. I assume that this is all a show for the females and young males watching safely from the side of the road. There is no way to dodge these guys because they never decide which way to go until you can't see them under the front of your car anymore. Miraculously, they almost always get out of the way (fast glycolytic fibers, eh?) with only an occasional stubborn male failing to make it. If one does get hit, then they become dinner for all of the other lizards around. Then the greedy become dinner for yet more lizards. I had to stop trying to miss the lizards so that I don't go careaning into an ass. Truly, it's like trying to swerve to miss a fly coming at your windshield, it's just not possible.

Photo credits for the pictures of the donkeys, goats and lizards goes to my roomate, Patrick. If you read Dutch, then you can check out his blog and if you'd like to see more of his picture (largely from Washington Park) then check out his web album.