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Adventures in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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Hurricane Dean: Have We Dodged the Bullet?

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 20, 2007

Hurricane's Dean 3 day projected path...heading south of Playa del CarmenLet’s get to the good news first. We might not be entertaining Hurricane Dean as our guest after all! We’re not out of the woods yet, as we all know how hurricanes can change direction at a moment’s notice. But for the last 12 hours, the projected path of Hurricane Dean has been inching farther and farther south on the Mexican Caribbean coast. That’s great news for Playa del Carmen. Right now, the projected path of the storm will pass too far south for the damaging hurricane level winds to reach our little town. Of course, this is just a weather prediction, and we all know how uncertain they can be. Still, there’s a lot of relief floating around the air in Playa tonight.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that if the hurricane goes ashore on Mexico’s southern Caribbean coast, it will strike isolated villages where people try to survive in homes made of wooden sticks, palm thatched roofs and dirt floors. People who already have very, very little may be left with absolutely nothing. So you may as well get ready right now: if that happens, this blog site is going to be turned into a fundraiser for the local chapter of the Cruz Roja, the local Red Cross, who will have primary responsibility for helping those people. Stay tuned to this blog, and keep your checkbooks and credit cards handy.

Of course, we didn’t know any of this when we woke up this morning. The projection lines were still inching south, but we were still directly in the path. It was time to get our storm preparations completed.

Most of the guests in the hotel left early this morning for flights that we had helped them arrange the day before. All of the staff showed up for work, even those who were supposed to have the day off. In addition, Julian, who is a regular electrical and plumbing worker for us, showed up with two assistants. Julian and his helpers asked for what they thought was probably an outrageous sum to help us prepare the hotel for the storm: $300 pesos per person for the day, approximately $28.00 US. In fact, by the end of the day, the work had been so much more than anyone had expected, we paid them $500 pesos and still felt we got a deal.

We divided up the work. Tony, Julian and Jose headed for our small house to start boarding up windows. Pepe, Jaime and Genaro stayed with Cheri and the maids, Dora and Yolanda, at the hotel. They began to put garden furniture into storage and pack up bedding and paperwork.

One of the things we needed to accomplish was to literally “tie up” some loose ends. The hotel has a number of hanging decorations, including hardwood swings hanging in the bar area, fiberglass translucent light fixtures hanging in the garden, and carved gourd lamps hanging throughout the hotel. We were worried that the storm would fling these objects about and smash them into the concrete walls, so we asked Pepe to take the gourd lamps and light fixtures down and tie up the swings. We don’t know whether it was a communication gap, whether Pepe thought he knew better than us how to handle the job, or whether his enthusiasm just got the better of him. Regardless, we made the age old mistake of not checking back once a project was started. We once had a wall built in the middle of one of our kitchens that way. In this case, we noticed late in the day that Pepe had been systematically removing not just the gourd lamps and not just the fiberglass light fixtures, but had removed every light bulb, every light cover and every socket—indeed all of the wiring for all of the lights throughout the exterior of the hotel! We then had to rush around rewiring lights before it got too dark to see. Did we yell at Pepe? Absolutely not. In Mexico, if someone does his job enthusiastically, even if they do it wrong, it is considered extremely rude to criticize him. You learn to live with that circumstance, or you don’t last very long down here.

Muchas botellas de aguaEventually the windows at the house got boarded up, followed by the windows at the hotel and the odds and ends of a working business that you usually don’t notice were picked up, filed away, boxed away and locked away. We tied up the curtains, stripped the beds in every room and packed away the bedding. Once the room was clean and empty, those windows that were not being covered with plywood were then covered with duct tape, which adds strength to the window and, in cases where the window breaks, keeps the glass from flying. The bodega, our storage area behind the hotel, also had to be cleared out. It has open windows which will allow the rain to pour in during a large storm. Cleaning utensils, extra bedding, even the hotel Christmas tree had to be relocated to drier rooms. Other than stopping mid day for a Domino’s Pizza break with the staff, we worked pretty much nonstop until 6:00. Everyone was pretty tired, but we weren’t done yet. Cheri and the crew loaded our van, the Big Bastard, with the remaining plywood, five large jugs of water and various electrical tools and headed for the houses of our staff. Tony stayed behind to watch the hotel and give Jaime, our night receptionist, a dinner break. Jaime had been there since 11 and had to stay until 10.

Of course, nothing’s easy, particularly in Mexico. After unloading the plywood at the home of Genaro, our daytime receptionist, the van wouldn’t start. We think it might be electrical—the starter, fuses, the battery. The truth is we just don’t know. What we do know is that we were dead in the water. Luckily by that time our work was mostly done, and our staff had been taken care of.

We called our favorite car rental place. Miguel at CP Rentals is one of our best vendors. Not only is he very friendly and his prices fair, but he delivers and picks up the cars wherever you want. He delivered us a rental car so that we could empty the van of the stuff we needed at home, and off we went. The van will sit outside Genaro’s house tonight until we can get a mechanic/electrician to take a look at it tomorrow. No, we don’t have anyone in mind yet. However, here in Mexico everybody knows somebody (usually a relative) who can fix just about anything. We’ll get the Big Bastard running again, don’t worry.

We came back to our little home, now shuttered with giant squares of plywood. It was then we checked the internet and saw how dramatically the projected path of Dean has changed. We headed down to La Quinta Pasion restaurant and our friends Alex and Karent. We celebrated our potential good luck with a quiet dinner. However, we had to toast the event with water, since “dry laws” are now in effect. What, you may ask, is a dry law? A dry law prohibits the sale of alcohol of any type in any place. No beer from the corner store, no tequila shots at the disco, not even a margarita with dinner. This happens sometimes in Mexico, usually on Election Day and for most of the day on Sundays. However, this time it was a surprise announcement by the government as they elevated the local threat level to “Orange.” Orange you sad you can’t have a margarita tonight? (Sometimes we are so funny we crack ourselves up!) We don’t know if the thought is that people might get too drunk to prepare for the hurricane, or drink too much because the hurricane is coming, or try to drive somewhere, forgetting there are no stoplights hanging anymore. It doesn’t matter, the effect is the same: you ain’t getting no drink tonight.

Now we’re home from dinner, sore and achy from the day’s labor. We’re hopeful that the good news about the storm missing Playa del Carmen will hold through the night. If we wake up tomorrow morning and we’re still outside the projected path, we’ll begin to relax a little.

For us, tomorrow morning will be a little like Christmas. We’ll rush downstairs in our bare feet, the dog barking and the cats scrambling after us. However, instead of sitting beneath the tree, we’ll pull chairs up to the computer table, fire up the laptop, and wait for the first satellite images of Hurricane Dean to appear. And if the storm is passing us by, that will be the best present of all.

Of course, even if the hurricane misses Playa del Carmen, we’re in for a pretty good storm. The eye of the hurricane stretches about 40 miles. Around the eye is where the real wind damage can be found. However, the rain and wind can often stretch for hundreds of miles out from the eye. It’s not as severe, but it’s still going to be a nasty storm. Right now, the eye of the storm is supposed to make landfall on the coast of Mexico between 3:00 am and 6:00 am on Tuesday morning. Even if Hurricane Dean misses Playa, we should start to have wind and rain sometime tomorrow afternoon or early evening. When that happens, we’ll head for home and wait out whatever part of the storm still manages to reach us. The hotel will remain closed throughout Tuesday, and if all goes well, the entire staff will gather Wednesday morning to do the whole process in reverse, as well as any cleanup.

We’re sleeping with our fingers crossed tonight.

And, whether the hurricane hits Playa del Carmen, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, or Ambergris Caye, Belize, some child will end up sleeping in the rain and the dark. Please remember that when we ask you to help out in the next day or two.

As always, thanks to all of you for staying with us through this time. We received emails and phone calls from past guests today just to express their concern. It really made us feel like we were part of a larger world community, and that’s pretty special.

Goodnight from paradise.

3 Responses to “Hurricane Dean: Have We Dodged the Bullet?”

  1. Sukhi said

    I came across your blog when i Googled Hurricane Dean. I’m happy to say that me and my wife have finally arrived home from Playa De Carman.

    We had a great time and all that stuff but that is not important. I am hoping and praying for everyone that we met during our week long stay that were unable to leave. We spent a wonderful week in Playa shacking up at the Grand Porto Real.

    We met so many wonderful people there and in around town. I feel sad for those whose vacations were cut short. I feel terrible for those people that arrived Montreal on Friday night and were forcedto leave on Saturday.

    I did not feel any panic in regards to Hurricane Dean from any staff or locals. But it was scary watching the whole to town going into lock down mode. Most of the panic was from other guests at our hotel. It really hit home during our bus ride to the Airport when we seen all the bulidings being boarded up. All the businesses emptying their stores and empty car dealerships.

    My thoughts and prayers are for you and your family and the wonderful people of Playa de Carmen.


    Vancouver, B.C.

  2. lyn and jeff knowlen said

    Tony and Cheri, just read all your postings when we heard the latest. You (and all your precious staff and friends) are in our prayers. Tony, keep healing! We’ll be praying for a total recovery for you. These are anxious days of waiting, so we pray that you will have peace while you wait to see what Dean’s outcome will be. We appreciate your taking the time to keep all of us who have stayed with you, informed, but take care of yourselves.
    Lyn and Jeff Knowlen

  3. nancy herrington said

    Hi Tony and Cheri,
    I appreciate your updates on the hurricane status. My brother and his wife, Tom and Debbie Worthington, live in Mahahual on the beach. They just finished the house they had been working on for a couple years and then the hurricane hit. I am loaning them money to help out but they need to have access to a working internet connection, printer and fax machine. Can you suggest the nearest place this could be located? They seem in shell shock right now and this may help them out. Thank you, once again.
    Peace and blessings to you both for all you are doing to help out the victims,
    Nancy Herrington

    Hi, Nancy.
    We’re so sorry to hear about your brother and his wife. The destruction in Mahahual is very sad. Probably the nearest place to find a fax machine and printer would be Chetumal. As for internet, it seems that many people do have internet down there. We have heard that it is coming from a hotel in Xcalak that has satellite internet. Their best bet would be to check with some of their neighbors who are down there and ask how they are getting internet. Hope this information is helpful to them.
    Tony & Cheri

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