Did you know that Bonaire has an Eco-lodge located about 15 minutes from Playa???
And did you know that you can jump of a cliff while being secured on a leash? Well I didn’t so I decided to set up an interview with Hans Voerman the owner of Auriga Eco-lodge and Outdoor Bonaire to find out more.
The interview began with me standing on a cliff in Republiek while Hans was explaining to me how to make it down to the ground alive. Given Hans experience as an offshore survival instructor, I must say I felt really safe and I was able to write up this interview. Since 1990 Hans has been living on Bonaire. The tranquility and the stunning underwater world were his main reasons to anchor on this pristine island. In the beginning he worked as a dive master, but turning back from a short but necessary ‘island break’ the pleasure for diving turned into a frustration due to the changes in the local dive scene. During his years working as a dive master, Hans explored the outdoors of Bonaire and often took friends and visitors with him to show the natural beauty of Bonaire. This hobby turned into a small business and Outdoor Bonaire was born.
This was almost 12 years ago, since then Outdoor Bonaire has been taking residents and visitors of the island on kayaking, caves, climbing, bird-watching tours and if you felt the desire for extra adrenaline you can also abseil from a steep cliff. Besides outdoor activities Outdoor Bonaire also organizes teambuilding and fun group events, where colleagues really get to know each other in a different way. As a group Hans will take you “zip lining”, rappelling and climbing, this is a great way to find out how well you can rely on your colleagues, especially when you are standing on the ridge of a cliff.
After five years of outdoor activities and teambuilding events, Hans visited Saba and Ecuador and became inspired with the concept of managing an Eco-lodge. His inspiration was enough for him to actually start building his own Eco-lodge, Auriga. Asking Hans how he built the lodge, I was surprised to hear that he built it mostly by himself with the help of some friends, even though he has zero experience building constructions. Building the lodge took about three years with many challenges.
Auriga ecolodge is located near the route of Washikemba and consists out of 1.3 hectares. One part of the site is maintained, the other site is a fenced ‘wild area’ to give native trees the opportunity to grow back after years of goat gatherings. Hans shows me two photos, which illustrate clearly the impact of having no goats on the property for about 5 years and lots of rain as the fenced area is full with native flora and the presence of the birds in this area has increased.
Though ecotourism has become more popular over the past years, it still does not have a high presence in Bonaire. Hans explains that although ecotourism is the easiest way of tourism because you only need nature, it is also extremely difficult if your nature is in a semi arid region thereby facing challenges growing your own fruits and vegetables. In the past Hans tried to grow vegetables in his green house but rats and iguanas forced him to look for other alternatives, so the green house is now a chicken coop. Besides chickens; pigs and ducks are also residents of the lodge.
Visitors of Auriga are mostly residents from the Netherlands, United States or Canada. Their main goals are to withdrawn from the hectic society and enjoy the natural beauty of Bonaire by joining Hans on his tours.
Given Hans has been living on the island since 1990, I asked him if he thinks Bonaire has become more clean and sustainable over the past years. He highlights the improved work of Selibon and his guests also mention that Bonaire looks cleaner than Curacao, but on the other hand, he does notice more dumping of waste, as for instance the illegal dumping of waste at diabase sites. Which is a direct problem in the vicinity of the Auriga Ecolodge. The lodge is located within the new rural development plan (Plattelandsontwikkelingsplan) near the new Washikemba route.
Though the rural development plan aims to sustainably develop the rural sites around Washikemba, the collection of diabase seems to be a real problem in this area. Diabase is a soil of volcanic origin, which is used for road and housing construction on the island. Although a permit by law is required to collect diabase, there has been an increase of illegal collection of this natural resource.
A problem aligned to the illegal collection of diabase is the illegal dumping of waste at a diabase site to optimally use the trips of the trucks. So in practice natural resources are being replaced by illegal dumped waste, which should be a major concern. “So if Bonaire is cleaner depends on the way you look at it” says Hans. More education on waste management as in reduce, reuse and recycle of waste is very much needed, as is the regulation of diabase collection.
Last question, best thing of running an ecolodge? “Since I was a little boy I always wanted to be surrounded by nature and give something back to nature, which is what I am doing right now”.