Dutch island of Bonaire serves up spectacular diving, plus a whole lot more

Dutch island of Bonaire serves up spectacular diving, plus a whole lot more

I dove with Dive Friends, which operates a shop out of the Marriott Bonaire Dive Resort near the airport. Chris LeBlanc photo

I made six dives during this week’s trip to Bonaire, spotting everything from a 6-foot nurse shark that darted out from a hidey hole in the coral to a trio of big, torpedo-shaped tarpon that used the beam of my light to hunt during a night dive.

But the best find of trip award? That went to the 6-inch longsnout seahorse that clung to a branch of soft coral off the tiny island of Klein Bonaire.

This long snout seahorse was clinging to coral on the ocean floor. Pam LeBlanc photo

We were lucky to see the 6-inch fish (yes, seahorses are fish). They’re hard to spot, and blend into their environment like magicians.

The longsnout is one of 47 species of seahorse, which range in size from a pine nut to a banana. Most mate for life, and although we tried to find our seahorse’s mate on the coral reef, we couldn’t. It was probably watching us search from a few feet away.

This trumpet fish was hiding in sea grass. Pam LeBlanc photo

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Other cool finds? A foot-long scorpion fish in shades of red and brown, that blended perfectly into the background. Three kinds of eels – a green moray, a sharptail eel with handsome yellow spots, and a black and white spotted moray. Several drumstick-shaped puffers, an ocean trigger, queen angels, parrot fish and spotted drums. We found a large lobster during a night dive, lots of lettuce sea slugs, which look like little bunches of ruffles, trunkfish, filefish and blue tangs, too.

This spotted moray was peeking out from a crevice in the coral. Chris LeBlanc photo

The reef, to me, looked healthy, with no signs of coral bleaching or die-offs. Every dive master we met asked us not to use sunscreen, which can damage the reef, and reminded us not to touch any of the coral or marine life. The island’s entire perimeter is a protected marine park, and we each paid $45 for a permit to dive there. Dive shops also organize underwater cleanups several times a year, and restaurants and businesses recycle paper, plastic and glass.

We saw lots of healthy coral and fish during this week’s dives in Bonaire. Pam LeBlanc photo

I stayed at the Marriot Bonaire Dive Resort, just next to the airport, which operates an on-site dive shop through Dive Friends. We did two day-time shore dives, and two different two-tank dives off a boat that took us to the small island of Klein Bonaire.

We snorkeled in the mangroves the last day. Pam LeBlanc photo

Besides diving, we spent some time touring the island with a guide, checking out the salt production facility on the island’s south side, looking at the old slave cabins (a reminder of a dark side of the island’s past). watching windsurfers and kiteboarders, visiting the Cadushy cactus liquor distillery in the center of the island, and admiring the native populations of donkeys (which were brought here to do heavy labor) and flamingos (native.) The last morning, before catching a flight back to Miami, we kayaked through the mangroves and snorkeled with thousands of “upside down jellyfish” with a guide from the Mangrove Information Center.

Pink flamingos are native to Bonaire. Pam LeBlanc photo

Look for my upcoming story in the Austin American-Statesman.

I stayed at the Marriott Bonaire Dive Resort. Pam LeBlanc photo

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Registration opened for Maudie’s Moonlight Margarita Run

Registration opened for Maudie’s Moonlight Margarita Run

Runners take off at the start of the Maudie’s Moonlight Margarita Run. Photo courtesy The Trail Foundation

Registration is open for the 17th annual Maudie’s Moonlight Margarita Run, and if you’re one of the first 100 to register, you’ll get $10 off your entry fee.

The best part about this 5K race? A margarita and tiny tacos at the finish line party. Plus, you don’t have to get up early. The run takes place in the evening, and finishes with a party under the stars in front of the Seaholm Power Plant.

The run is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday, June 4. It begins and ends at the Seaholm Power Plant, 800 West Cesar Chavez Street, and the course takes runners alongside Lady Bird Lake. This year, everyone is encouraged to wear neon attire. Register at  thetrailfoundation.org.

Proceeds from the run benefit The Trail Foundation, which works to maintain and enhance the Butler Trail around Lady Bird Lake. 

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Ever stick your tongue on a frozen metal pole? I have …

Ever stick your tongue on a frozen metal pole? I have …

 

Pam LeBlanc enjoying time at her stepmom’s ranch near Roscoe, Texas, in December 2017. Chris LeBlanc photo

It’s cold outside (sort of), and time to tell that story I never tell because, well, it’s kind of embarrassing. I’ll tell it anyway, just this once.

Remember that playground scene in “Christmas Story,” the 1983 film about Ralphie and his need for a Red Ryder BB gun, where one kid “triple dog dares” another to touch a frozen flagpole with his tongue?

The kid does it, of course, pressing his fat red tongue to the pole, where it predictably sticks. Then the school bell rings, the crowd watching scatters faster than ice cream melts on a hot skillet, and the boy is left out there, still stuck to the pole until a teacher notices and sends the fire department in to make the rescue.

That happened to me. Only I was 54 years old, not 8.

My family had gathered at my stepmom’s ranch near Roscoe, an hour’s drive west of Abilene, to spend a few days hiking, reading and sitting in front of the chiminea drinking wine and telling stories. We love it up there in the winter, and spend our days rambling around kicking cactus and looking for fossils.

One night Mother Nature gifted us with a storm that coated the ranch and everything around it with a glittery white layer of snow and ice crystals. We headed out in the morning to explore. I brought along my camera to take pictures of my husband posing in front of giant bales of cotton and my sister hoisting frozen tumbleweeds over her head.

Chris LeBlanc poses in front of a bale of cotton near Roscoe, Texas, last winter.

As we drove down a two-lane dirt road, past a series of metal poles, I got the brilliant idea to find out if that scene from “Christmas Story” was realistic.

We pulled the car off the road. I jumped out. I ran to the frozen metal pole.

The kicker here is nobody – not my husband, not my sister, not even my brother-in-law, who’s usually pretty nice to me – bothered to stop me. Or maybe they figured I knew better (I did not) and wasn’t really going to stick my tongue on the pole.

But I did. I poked it out and carefully licked that pole, like I was taste testing popsicles.

And it stuck.

That’s not chewing gum, folks. That’s what was left behind when I stuck my tongue on a frozen metal pole near Roscoe, Texas. Do not try this at home. Pam LeBlanc photo

I knew I was in trouble almost instantaneously, as I tried to reel my tongue back in. It was like a layer of Velcro held me to it, though. I tried to pull back gently, but the taste buds that connected me to that cold metal just stretched painfully. I pulled harder. The taste buds didn’t hold up so well.

In the end, nobody called in the fire department, because I panicked and yanked my tongue off the pole, ripping a piece of it off in the process. My family members watched, flabbergasted. To this day I’m not sure if they were more shocked that I’d stuck my tongue on a frozen metal pole, or that my tongue actually stuck there.

My tongue bled from the BB-sized hole I’d left in it. Back at the ranch house, it stung so badly I couldn’t eat or drink wine for at least 12 hours. (Now there’s a real tragedy.)

That scene from the movie? Completely accurate. Tongues really do stick to frozen metal poles. And, it also turns out, if you rip a piece of your tongue off, that piece remains on the pole, like a side of beef in the freezer. I went back the next day and found it, just so I could take the above photograph.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What do you do when a deer darts into your truck’s path?

What do you do when a deer darts into your truck’s path?

Chris LeBlanc uses duct tape to secure a headlight after he hit a deer while driving on a two-lane Texas highway before dawn. Pam LeBlanc photo

Everyone in Texas knows you’re supposed to look for deer when you’re driving on country roads, especially at dawn or dusk.

What no one ever explains, though, is what you’re supposed do if you see one, it spooks, and then heads directly into the path of your oncoming vehicle.

But I’ll tell you: Nothing. There’s nothing you can do when that happens, but hold on and wait for impact. And it’s horrible.

That happened to me early Sunday, as my husband and I rolled down Texas Highway 608, on our way from my stepmom’s ranch near Roscoe – Wind Farm Capitol of Texas – to Austin, where he had an early morning flight to catch and I had to pack for a research trip.

It was 5:30 a.m., and the darkness felt like a blanket outside. We both said out loud to each other, as all Texans do, “Watch out for deer.” All around us, red lights attached to the slowly spinning blades of skyscraper-sized wind turbines blinked on and off, like the glowing eyes of giants. Other than that, nothingness.

Again, we mentioned the deer. You never knew when one might spring out. I’ve slammed on the brakes and narrowly missed hitting one at least a dozen times. I stayed vigilant, looking for critters, as Chris drove.

He saw it first. The headlights of our silver F150 pickup truck just caught the outline of a large white-tail buck, standing near the side of the unspooling, two-lane road.

He cussed (Chris, that is.) I folded myself in half in the shotgun seat. I couldn’t watch. The deer was just standing there, but I had a bad feeling, and sure enough it charged right into the road in front of us.

The impact was terrible, a sound I’ve often imagined I’d hear; the animal slammed the truck so hard it ricocheted backward, somewhere into an inky field of grass.

We limped to a halt half a mile down the road. Something in the truck was grinding or brushing or rubbing. And the sun hadn’t started to rise, so we couldn’t see where the deer had gone. Even if we found it, we had no way to put it out of its misery.

And now, the same truck I’d trashed three weeks earlier, when another truck kicked up a baseball-sized rock and launched it into the roof of our truck, slicing it open like a cheap tin of green beans, was trashed again.

We squatted on the side of the road as Chris pried off pieces of plastic and metal to clear the wheel well so we could drive again. It took 20 minutes, and I felt terrible for the deer.

It was dead, I was sure. I’m not a hunter, but at least when a hunter shoots a white-tail the animal gets used for food.

We made it to the next town, duct-taped the headlight securely into place, noted the damage – smashed door, bumper, hood and headlamp, and headed again toward home.

I said a few words for the deer in my mind, and reminded myself to keep an eye out for its brethren.

But I’m still not sure what to do if another one aims for us.

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I don’t want my hotel towels washed every night, but they do it anyway

I don’t want my hotel towels washed every night, but they do it anyway

I travel a lot for work, and spend a lot of nights in hotels. I also spend a lot of time outdoors, getting dirty.

Just two weeks ago I spent a few hours wading through ankle-deep guano in a West Texas cave. Before that, I spent a day hiking into rock shelters near the Devils River looking for rock art.

Even so, I feel pretty clean after I shower. That’s why I always, per instructions that I find printed on cards or posted on the bathroom wall in most hotel rooms, hang up my towels after using them, instead of leaving them in the tub or on the floor. I don’t want them laundered after every use, and it drives me crazy to think of the resources spent doing that for millions of travelers around the planet.

Even when I put my towels on the rack, though – which is supposed to be code for “do not launder” – I often find my linens replaced with fresh ones. I’d estimate the compliance rate at a pathetic 50 percent.

I’m trying to make a better environmental choice. But as often as not, the hotel doesn’t keep up its end of the bargain.

According to a 2014 article on NationalGeographic.com, the American Hotel and Lodging Association estimates that people who ask staff not to launder their towels daily cuts the amount of laundry by 17 percent. That’s a lot, especially when you consider that the Environmental Protection Agency says that hotels and lodges are responsible for about 15 percent of the water used by commercial and institutional facilities in America.

But it could be way higher – if hotels did what they promise to do.

I try to remember to mention it at the front desk when I check out. Please do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

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Turkeys, prepare to trot!

Turkeys, prepare to trot!

Turkeys sprint away from the start line of the 2018 ThunderCloud Turkey Trot. Chris LeBlanc photo

I always kick off Thanksgiving by trotting through downtown Austin with 20,000 or so other people, many of them dressed as turkeys or pilgrims.

The 5-mile run keeps me feeling perky later in the day, while I’m passing plates around the dinner table. (Or, as will be the case this year, petting horses at a friend’s house in Blanco.)

The biggest Turkey Trot in Austin – the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot – starts and finishes at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. I prefer the 5-mile timed version, but an untimed 5-miler, a 1-mile walk/run and a Kids K are also offered. Look for me there.

This is a good thing to do. Not only does running benefit your cardiovascular system, proceeds from the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot benefits Caritas of Austin, a non-profit that works to end homelessness in the Austin area. If you’ve opened your eyes lately, you know that’s a critical issue here in Central Texas, where hundreds of people are living on streets, under overpasses and in greenbelts.

Pam LeBlanc greets runners wearing costumes at the 2018 ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot. Chris LeBlanc photo

The Kids K starts at 8:45 a.m. and the main run follows. A finish line party will include live music, children’s activities, awards and a raffle.

Registration, which includes a T-shirt and a run guide, is $27 for the untimed 5-mile run; $32 for the timed 5-mile run; $22 for the one-mile walk; and $12 for the Stepping Stone School Kids K. Prices increase on Nov. 14.

Packet pick-up begins on Saturday, Nov. 23 at First Texas Honda, 3400 Steck Ave., and the YETI Flagship store, 220 S. Congress. Participants can also pick up packets on Thanksgiving morning between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. at The Long Center.
To register now, visit thundercloud.com/register.

Don’t want to make the trek to downtown Austin? Communities all over Central Texas are hosting their own turkey trots…

Participants wait for the start of the 2018 ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

 

About Pam

I’m Pam LeBlanc. Follow my blog to keep up with the best in outdoor travel and adventure. Thanks for visiting my site.

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