Hurricane Dean: On the Edge of the Storm
Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 21, 2007
It was a dark and stormy night….sorry, we couldn’t resist! The rain started about an hour ago, just as it was turning dark. After days of work and worry, we were finally finished and went for a hand holding, romantic walk in the rain. It finally cooled down. By the time we got home soaking wet, we were able to sit down, open a couple of cold beers and reflect on how really blessed our life is.
After posting our blog entry this morning, we set about today’s tasks, primary get the last guests out of the hotel, get the Big Bastard Chevy Express van operating again and run down to Paamul to secure our palapa/trailer on the beach. Two were easy, one was not. Take a guess which was which.
Eliezer Velasquez, who runs the transportation company we use to pick up guests, answered his phone early, and when we explained the situation, said he would take care of it. He came by the house and picked up a key. He went off with a helper to get our car started again. Gotta love Mexico. He got it started and returned it to us, but we couldn’t keep it running. At his suggestion we took it to his auto service shop in the Ejido (the local neighborhood across the highway). A couple of hours, a new battery, some filters and a thorough engine cleaning later, the Big Bastard was purring like our new kitten, Marley Buddha. Nothing was seriously wrong. It was so dirty the electrical contacts weren’t making good connections, and the battery was draining off. Or something like that. Car repair, or for that matter maintenance, has never been one of our strong suits. Later in the afternoon, Eliezer delivered the car to our home. Unfortunately, he also delivered a lecture to us about how things like changing the oil and maintaining the engine might serve us better in the future. Who knew. 🙂 That was one of the easy tasks of the day.
Then we went down to Paamul. The little beachfront trailer community was pretty empty, as most people had fled the area based on the prior day’s storm predictions. Unfortunately some of them headed south to Chetumal, only to reverse course when they heard that was the latest site for landfall of Hurricane Dean. Our palapa is in pretty good shape, so it was simply a matter of checking the breakers, making sure the doors were locked and putting our sea kayaks in a safe place. We said hi to a couple of neighbors and then headed back to Playa. Easy task #2 accomplished.
Our most difficult task of the day involved the couple still remaining as guests in the hotel. Although we had been talking to them over the last two days about the dangers of the upcoming hurricane, they seemed pretty unresponsive. Yesterday we reminded them that they were checking out at noon today and expressed our concern about where they would go, how they would get to the airport, etc. Sometimes we worry more about our guests than they do themselves. And of course, we were not only worried about them, but we wanted them to vacate the hotel so that Genaro (the only staff member working today) could go home to his family and we could secure their room and lock up the hotel. They came back to the hotel after a morning on the beach, substantially past checkout time. When Genaro went to ask them to leave, he found one of the guests au natural trying to gain access to another empty room! Genaro informed them that they needed to leave immediately and called us. By the time we arrived on the scene and had to deliver another lecture, they finally left about an hour late. We were glad to see them go. Some people are just thoughtless and irresponsible, regardless of the situation.
We were finally done. Genaro got to go home to his wife and four kids (cuter kids you won’t find anywhere). We finished preparing the rooms for the two people that were staying the night at the hotel (our friend Dave and our employee Mario). We caught Blue, the hotel cat, and put him in a room with food, litter and a comfortable place to sleep. We turned off the gas, the breakers, checked all the security and were finally, finally, finally done.
We took a stroll around town. Fifth Avenue was empty. Totally empty. At 3:00 am on a midweek day in the middle of low season we’ve never seen it empty like this. Almost all of the businesses were closed and shuttered. We did find a great ice cream store open on 10th Avenue, near the corner of Calle 8. Try their chocolate coconut. It was incredible. We saw some fellow Playense (people who live in Playa) and congratulated each other on the incredible luck that the eye of the storm would pass so far away from us.
We walked down to the beach and looked at the darkening horizon. By 4:00 pm, wind had already pushed the water up out of the ocean, across the beach, and up to the steps of Mamitas, our favorite beach club. The red warning flags were up, but a few foolish people were in the water anyway, some with surfboards. We’re always amazed how invincible people feel when they are on vacation.
As we started home, two young guys in uniform approached us and asked if we were Americans. Tony’s San Francisco Giants t-shirt may have been a giveway (Barry Bonds – yeah!!!). We said that we were Americans living here in Mexico. They were from the US Embassy in Hermosillo. They and other embassy workers had been flown in on an emergency basis to scour the Yucatan offering help to American citizens. How cool is that?! They gave us phone numbers for the US Embassy in Mexico City and email addresses for a US/Mexican government task force aimed at people stranded by Hurricane Dean. They were simply moving through the streets and beaches handing out these flyers to any American they thought might need help. The American government and the Mexican government working in cooperation to help people in the face of a crisis. It doesn’t get much better than that.
On the way home, we stopped at the hotel to unplug the computer and, as the dry laws are still in effect, to pick up a bottle of rum from the back room. Around 7 pm it started to rain—a nice easy drizzle that began to cool things off. We went walking in the dusk. It was really a beautiful moment after a couple of hectic days.
However, by the time we got home, it was really pouring, and the lightning and thunder began to crash. Huggybear, our English bulldog, barks protectively with every thunderclap. The cats are hiding under the beds, except Marley Buddha. The “Bood” is climbing all over all the stuff piled in the living room from the backyard–bicycles, BBQ grill, lawn chairs, etc. He thinks it’s great fun.
It is now 8:15, and a citywide curfew is in effect. Hurricane Dean is supposed to make landfall at Chetumal now, around midnight. Chetumal is a couple hundred miles south of Playa del Carmen, on the border with Belize, and is the capital of our state, Quintana Roo. Our weather guru, Jeff Masters, has said that Chetumal is probably the best place for this giant of a storm to come ashore. It is a large, secure city not prone to flooding or damage. However, we are concerned for the people there, as they had very little notice. Chetumal was not designated as the landfall target until about 8 hours ago. That’s not a lot of time to prepare for a major hurricane. They get the thoughts and prayers tonight.
Our thoughts are also with the tiny islands known as the cayes (pronounced keys) in Belize, particularly Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye. These small islands are actually nearer to Chetumal than to the mainland of Belize. They really are beautiful and sweet, and the people living there are some of the nicest we’ve ever met. This will not be easy on them. These are poor areas sustained mostly by human spirit rather than money. We will be thinking a lot about them tonight.
Even though it’s far away, Hurricane Dean is going to have its effect on us tonight. This is a monstrous storm. While the eye of the storm is only about 40 miles across, the outlying wind and rain bands extend over the entire Yucatan peninsula. It makes for a very frightening picture. Playa del Carmen will be subject to tropical storm level winds and rain (between 40 and 80 mph sustained winds) throughout the night. At the height of the storm, or maybe even before, we will lose our power. Traditionally, CFE (Mexico’s electrical power company), turns off the power voluntarily before it is blown out by the storm. Then it’s just a question of how quickly the power can be restored after the storm passes through. Earlier today we saw 15 or more CFE trucks lined up on the highway just outside of Playa, which reassured us that they were on top of the situation.
We’re going to sign off now. If we have power in the morning, we’ll post another blog entry. Right now we’re going to make some dinner, and as long as we have some power, probably watch a DVD. But NOT the Perfect Storm. 🙂 We are reflective and thankful tonight. This type of situation always brings neighbors together and shows the best sides of people. We also appreciate whatever cosmic forces—be they spiritual or sheer luck—directed this monstrous storm away from us tonight.
Thanks again for your concerns and wishes. We hope everybody has a great night.
Tony & Cheri