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February 2004 Vol. 19, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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S.E. Aruba Fly n Dive, the Dutch Caribbean

dive in Bonaire, sleep in Aruba

from the February, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver:

Serious divers often find themselves in Aruba on a compromise vacation, to appease that nondiving spouse. Aruba is known for its casinos, beaches, hotels, restaurants, and even golf. And nondivers often insist on that kind of vacation. Sometimes even divers do.

Most Aruba operations cater to novice divers. But then there is S.E. Aruba Fly 'n Dive, operated by John Oster (aka "The Flying Dutchman") who caters to the Dutch, who take the sport seriously. During my August trip, they conducted the onboard briefings in Dutch, but nearly all Dutch are fluent in English, so I got a first rate translation. You need to be an independent diver here -- the crew on the 34-foot boat didn't have to do much to prepare us, as these well-trained Dutch divers all set up and broke down their own equipment. When we arrived back in the harbor, they cheerfully joined the crew in unpacking all the dive gear, tanks, and boat items and washing and stowing them on the van heading back to the shop.

Oster takes his charges to other than just the basic sites. A more challenging wreck dive was on the Jane C, a 250-foot cement freighter in 90 feet of water. S.E. Aruba Fly n' Dive, the Dutch CaribbeanThe coral was spawning, and I swam through a massive school of silversides that swirled around the uppermost part of the wreck. Rock beauties and queen and French angelfish, as well as schools of sergeant majors, made the wreck home. The Blue Reef off Malmok, an area of Aruba known for its exclusive housing, is chock full of orange, red, black, and brown sponges, as well as purple azure sponge. Inside vase and barrel sponges, I found brittle stars and other critters waiting for macro photographers.

In my quest to get to more challenging sites, I joined a SEAruba shore dive off Baby Beach on the southeastern tip. Following the morning truck ride, divemaster Steve Vanderauwera guided us through the opening in the reef, then down a sandy dropoff into a coral channel. In a healthy current at 50 feet, I spotted a southern stingray and then a 4-foot blacktip shark cruised by. Huge 6-foot brain corals and large stands of pillar, staghorn, and elkhorn corals dotted the landscape. Hefty sea fans and sea rods waved in the current. Small schooling reef fish abounded, including French grunts and blue and brown chromis. A green turtle greeted us, and I also saw king mackerel and a school of Atlantic spadefish. Half swimming and half drifting with the current brought us to our exit point. I grabbed a large underwater cable that runs from Aruba to Venezuela and inched my way toward shore while being pounded by the incoming surf. After a surface interval with refreshments, we repeated the dive, and I spotted a trio of barracuda and an orange frogfish. Visibility ran 60 feet.

The Fly 'n Dive part of the operation flies you to Bonaire at 2,000 feet for $250/person including two dives. We departed after 7 a.m. aboard a four-seater Piper Aero for 70 minutes (return with the trade winds, about 50 minutes), returning about 7 p.m. In Bonaire, John rented a small truck, and we drove to the Plaza Resort (www.plazaresortbonaire.com) in Kralendijk for a shore dive. A trio of silver tarpons buzzed us as we dove along the reef wall in 70-foot visibility. Our next dive was at the Oil Slick with its unique entry (a jump off of a 10-foot cliff into the water) and exit (through a stationary ladder on the rock wall). This dive site also had a good representation of sponges, especially purple tube sponges, and plenty of tropical fish and a green sea turtle that finned by us near the conclusion of our dive.

We ate lunch and loafed at the Eden Beach Resort, and then John conducted an impromptu tour of the downtown Kralendijk restaurants and bars, giving his recommendations. He led us to the Dive Inn Bonaire and introduced my fellow divers to "Big Boss Babs," the owner of the Dive Inn, where the other passengers on the flight were staying for a few days. We departed Bonaire about four hours after my last dive, taking in the spectacular views along the way.

Aruba is great for the classic tropical party vacations. The "Kukoo Kunuku" party bus carries noisy revelers throughout downtown Oranjestad to dinner and bar hopping each night. S.E. Aruba Fly n' Dive, the Dutch CaribbeanMany party boats specialize in sunset "booze cruises." Virtually every large hotel has its own casino, and the Alhambra and the Crystal casinos also feature live nightclub acts. There is no lack of great restaurants on the island, and the chefs compete among each other for the most acclaimed cuisine (www.restaurantsaruba.com).

Should the fate of an Aruba vacation befall you, you can assure yourself that there is at least one dive operation that isn't party central -- and perhaps you can get a couple of dives in Bonaire as well.

S.E. Aruba Fly n' Dive, the Dutch CaribbeanDiver's Compass: A two-tank boat dive is $55, while a one-tank boat dive is $35. The two-tank dives at Baby Beach are $75 ... Contact: (tel: (297)878759 (store) or (297)932822/940155 (cell)) or www.searuba.com. ... A 10% to 15% discount on dives is available with VisitArubaPlus cards, which can be obtained before arriving in Aruba for $10 (www.visitaruba.com/plus). This card is good for discounts throughout the island. While dive operations will pick you up and deliver you to your hotel, Budget and National car rentals usually have the best deals, but they also have local competition (Don't leave valuables in open view. I saw too many piles of shattered glass in parking lots where someone had broken a car window.) ... Great lodging is available, from swank high-rise hotels (Hyatt, Radisson, Marriott) to single-story inns (Aruba Beach Club, Divi Hotels), all-apartment complexes (La Cabana Hotel), and small private hotels and apartments ... Private apartments can be found at Montana Park Apartments for $72 per night (www.mpa.nl), or at the Blue Village for $93 per night during the low season (www.arubabluevillage.com).

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