When we people who live in cold climates entertain fantasies of the Caribbean getaway, there are few visions that are more alluring than lounging with a cold beverage on invitingly warm and soft furniture while watching the sun descend below the horizon.
This fantasy is so alluring, in fact, that there is an actual name for the cold beverages involved in the fantasy (“sundowners”) and that these Caribbean sunsets feature heavily in promotional literature meant to sway those of us on the fence about whether we want to fork over boatloads of cash to watch the sun (that large, warming, ever-present sun) take its daily sojourn across the sky toward its final, breathtaking drop into the Caribbean at dusk.
I am here to assure you that, yes, it is worth it.
It is so worth it at Villa Salentein that pretty much all normal activity — whether work or play or meal preparation or reading or swimming — ceases for the time between 6 and 7 p.m. (18:00 to 19:00 for our European friends). Electronic devices are set aside. Sundowners and snacks are prepared. Laughter and conversation abound. Then, as the sun gets close to the horizon, devices are hastily retrieved. Selfies might be attempted, as well as inexpert group photos with the sunset as backdrop that result in mostly silhouettes. In our family, I would hazard a guess that a large portion of phone memory is taken up with attempts to do the Salenteinian sunsets photographic justice -- a notoriously difficult feat!
Sunset time is jealously guarded no matter the day or the sunset condition (save for the rare day of full-on rain). Though it seems counterintuitive, some of the most lovely sunsets are the ones in which there is an aggravating-looking bank of clouds at the horizon making it difficult to even see the sun as it closes in on its destination. And yet the sky afterward becomes streaked with oranges and yellows and reds that gradually fade to purples in a glorious technicolor show that goes on long after the sun is down.
The Villa Salentein sunsets represent our family’s daily tradition on Bonaire of slowing down, disconnecting from machines and connecting with each other and nature. Sunset is the best part of the day, every day.
The loras love our house on Bonaire. They love our house so much that some visitors complain about the morning noise of the birds as they fly around our Santa Barbara neighborhood foraging for food. We, on the other hand, appreciate the morning cacophony of this beloved bird of Bonaire: the Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot.
In March, we were treated to some truly delightful daily breakfasts on the porch of Villa Salentein as large flocks of the parrots traveled back and forth along the shore to eat the fruits of the betel nut palm. (Here is a picture of a parrot-less fruiting tree, since the birds are shy and fly away long before I get within iPhone range for pictures.)
When we first began visiting Bonaire in 2011 we wanted to experience ALL of Bonaire’s nature. We became a family of divers when our youngest got certified at Buddy Dive at age 10. We toured the National Park at each visit. We drove south and north to see flamingoes and other Bonairean birds and creatures. We hiked, we biked, we dived, we windsurfed, some of us who are suckers for punishment kite surfed.
And, of course, we looked high and low for Bonaire’s native parrot, known as the “lora” by the local Antillean people. The lora lives only on Bonaire and in small pockets of Venezuela; it is considered vulnerable to extinction. For three or four years, we saw exactly 0 parrots, though we regularly saw the small parakeets that are native to the island while we tried to visit places where we thought a sighting of the mysterious lora was possible.
We began to suspect maybe the “lora” was a Bonairean myth. We scheduled a visit to the Echo facility near Rincon to confirm/deny once and for all the existence of said bird. Echo is the organization on Bonaire that has been working for a number of years to count, study and protect the island’s most famous feathered native.
A lovely young woman named Lauren Schmaltz, who had been leading Echo's conservation efforts on the island for a number of years, met us upon our arrival there at 0-dark thirty -- when the birds are allegedly most active -- and toured us around the facility. (We were very happy to see, right off the bat in their newer, more appropriate habitat, the two scarlet macaws that used to greet visitors at Rum Runners.)
We had a great tour of the Echo facility and got to see the plant nursery where Echo’s hardworking staff and volunteers grow the native plants that provide food and shelter for the loras. Then we took a walk around the grounds where many of these plantings are being studied and tended. Then we got to see several parrots in cages that were being rehabilitated.
But there was nary a wild bird to be seen. We gave Lauren the stink eye and left Echo convinced there was really no such parrot on Bonaire. As we turned onto the road that led back toward our house that day, however, there…in a scrubby patch of mesquite…was a group of five to seven of these gorgeous and vocal birds!
As the years have passed since then, we see (and hear: the lora has loud, distinctive vocalizations) the parrot all the time. Even at breakfast at home! This is due to factors both environmental and practical, we know, but the efforts of Echo — to educate people about the island’s favorite feathered friends, create new habitats for them, and ultimately to protect them so that the long-term survival of the species is possible — is what has made seeing a lora when you are on Bonaire more of a reality and less of a myth!
Check out the beautiful Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot (photo courtesy of Echo):