(On September 11th, my girlfriend Erin and I left for Cabo for a week long vacation. Little did we know that a few short days later, we would be in the middle of the worst Hurricane to ever hit the shores of Cabo. What follows is my girlfriend's retelling of the events of those four days in Cabo at the Barcelo Grand Faro, the day of the Hurricane and the three days after where we were stranded in Cabo. My commentary is included in Blue.)
“Life Isn’t About Waiting for the Storm. It’s About Learning How to Dance in the Rain.” F#&k that!
Everyone seemed to be eerily calm the day before (Saturday September 13th) the Hurricane, and even the day of (Sunday September 14th). I couldn’t understand it. We were all like sheep being led into a slaughter house, with calm Enya music and a nice supper to ease the worries away. I remember talking to a local on the beach, who lived along the shore, and made a living asking tourists if they wanted horse rides along the beach. He said ‘Oh, this is nothing. It’ll be fine, we always have storms like this.’ And like a good little lamb, I believed him.
After dinner on Sunday night, aka the last supper, we realized that people were being ‘evacuated’. And by ‘evacuated’, I mean, if and only if you specifically went to the front desk and asked to be evacuated, they would tell you to get your most important items like a passport, clothes for the night, and any medications, and take them to the boarded up restaurant across the hallway. Apparently, Bob and I had asked the wrong question: we went to the front desk and said ‘we heard people were being evacuated. Does this mean everyone or just a choice few that are ocean facing?’ A simple ‘No, we are not evacuating’ was their answer. So, we went about our way, back to our hotel room, and realized that everyone was evacuating.
(You could just tell they didn't know what was coming. They hadn't even started to board up the hotel until the day of the Hurricane. On Sunday there was a group of men working feverishly to put up hurricane shutters on many ocean facing windows....they would never even get them all up, and at the end of the day those shutters were ripped off in the first hour and may have done more damage than good)
We compared stories with other hotel members and decided to pack our things and find another place to stay, that wasn’t our hotel room. We put our suitcases up high in the closet, in hopes that our things wouldn’t float away. In the event that they did, we both made the decision we can live without the items we left in the room. I grabbed my Gucci bag, my passport, some Pringles, a small bag of pretzels, a can of Mexican Squirt (which was pretty comparable to the American version…) and a few bottles of water in case I came across people that drink the stuff.
(and all of our cash.....not that there would be anything to buy in another few hours)
We started making our way to the lobby area via a short bridge we needed to walk across, in order to get to the other building. It was about 9:15pm, and the storm was starting to hum already. The maintenance men were nice enough to escort people across the walkway/bridge, and they had ropes attached to the pillars that we could grab onto, in case we started flying away. Seems a bit excessive for some rain and wind, right?
(an old couple went across before we did. They almost got knocked off their feet trying to cross the bridge. The wind was howling already!)
The glass fish-bowl style lobby was completely covered by some metal storm shudders, that had been bolted in earlier that day. Finally, some sense of relief. We were going to listen for the rain and wind outside, from the safety of our lobby. There were some comfy chairs, Bob and our friend Bjorne had gotten us some blankets and pillows, so we could rest easy……
Some time between 9:30 and 10:00pm, we realized the lobby ceiling was leaking with water, so we grabbed some towels to sop it up. As I walk over to the other side of the lobby to get the towels, I notice the news is all set up in the ‘come buy some activities from Cabo at an outrageous, not-so-worth-it price’ desk area (they still owe us a $140 refund for our scuba trip that never happened!). I asked them where they are from, and a bearded man says ‘Telemundo’. Sounds legit. I keep moving as I have water to sop up. When I get back to our safe little compound, Bob informs me that Telemundo is a national news outlet in Mexico and those guys were storm chasers who go out and film these kind of storms to get cool news footage. Well, that was a relief….if the news thinks the lobby is safe, we’re safer in here than in a boarded room with screaming children, no AC, one way in and one way out, a fire hazard situation that all the rest of the sheep were in, right?
There were 14 of us in the lobby, not counting the Telemundo folks. The maintenance men left one of the glass doors open, so that it would relieve some of the pressure during the storm, and around 10:15 pm, the water is rushing in at this point, flooding the lobby area. We decided to move our safe haven to the furthest corner in the lobby, where we would be safe. I’m not going to lie, we all started worrying a little bit, but one of the hotel’s directors or managers was still reading his book, and his gator skin shoes were still in the flooded water. If his 65 year old butt wasn’t worried, we shouldn’t be either, right?
(No idea where the rest of the people in the lobby ended up. Maybe back in the offices in the back with the staff? This was the beginning of every man, or group, for him(them)self in many ways)
At 10:30, we heard one of the metal storm shudders come loose, and we all probably thought the same thing—effin domino effect. The book closed and the 65 year old man got up and went into the back office area. His son (Pedro Enriquez) came over to us and said ‘You better get in the bathroom. You’ll be safer in there’. This is really happening….
Sometimes, You Just Have to Bow Your Head, Say a Prayer, and Weather the Storm. Literally.
Bjorne, Jeff, Bobby and I get into the bathroom as fast as we can, and we shut the door. I was so thankful it wasn’t a swinging door, but one that latches. All of a sudden, we hear each one of those metal shutters ripped off one by one, shooting through the glass windows to our fish-bowl lobby. And the guessing game began….every sound we heard, we all made a guess as to which piece of the lobby that was, and where it may have landed. With each thud and thwack we here, our hearts jump a little, our stomach in our throats, and we all wonder when something will come collapsing into our bathroom shelter.
(Not even sure you can describe the sounds. This hurricane was completely destroying the room immediately next to us. And I mean DESTROYING!! I've never heard sounds of destruction like this in my life. And the pressure is downright crazy. Our ears spent hours popping from the pressure changes.)
Each of us took a moment to pray. I prayed to my Nana, who is stronger than this bitch named Odile, on any day. I made peace with my life in case she couldn’t answer that prayer. We didn’t talk about death that night, because it was literally knocking on our door, but we all knew it was a possibility and there wasn’t anything we could do about it. All of us got years taken off of our life that night.
From 10:30pm-3:30am, the four of us shared stories, trying to take our minds off of the relentless and ferocious storm just outside our door. Needless to say, we became friends for life in the men’s bathroom of the Barcelo hotel lobby. We all made our predictions of when the storm would pass and what would happen once we were out of the ‘eye’ of the category 4 hurricane of Odile. Around 2:00am, we started opening the door, and peeking outside, to see what was happening.
(And the only reason we were brave enough to start peaking out was because literally out of nowhere, just before this, the bathroom door opened and a guy stuck his head in. Not just any guy, freaking superman! Remember the bearded Telemundo guy Erin mentioned earlier? This dude was soaking wetwith all kinds of debris stuck in his beard and covering his GI Joe jacket. He looked like a crazy mountain man. And he had been out walking around getting footage of the hurricane once the really heavy stuff had passed. He told us the heavy stuff was past (in very broken English) and that we had about another hour before it would mostly be safe to come out. I can't even explain to you how insane this whole exchange was.......it was almost surreal)
We had to make this quick, because the pressure outside of the walls was making our ceiling collapse. The first time we all saw into the lobby, our hearts dropped. All we could see was darkness, salt water hitting our skin and burning our eyes, light sockets hanging from the ceiling, debris and shingles from the roof of our hotel (possibly others), all of the drywall in the lobby torn from its metal crossbars, all of the medal shudders (that were supposed to protect us) in the lobby strewn around and some even went through the doors to the back office area.
(The storm shutters had literally pierced the walls in the back of the lobby! The first picture is what we saw that night. The next picture is from the next morning since we couldn't really get any good pics that night since the wind was still whipping and there was water in the air and it was pitch black. Both of these were from directly outside our bunker)
The whistle of the wind was deafening and we all felt like we were looking into a warzone. There was a high pitch alarm going off non-stop (from Sunday to Wednesday), that made us all nuts. I’m assuming it was a ‘storm warning’ alarm and all I thought was hardy effin har. We had been ambushed, and we wanted to know how many survivors were in the lobby area. I went to knock on the back door, in the stairwell, leading into the back office area, and yelled ‘HELLO’. They opened the door, all still alive and well. One of the guys was in good spirits, even though his newborn baby and wife were in the boarded up restaurant, and he didn’t know if they were ok. He offered me Tequila, and I told him no, but that I’m sure my group would appreciate it. He came out with me, and we traded cigarettes for Tequila, we offered them some extra soda cans that we had, and some pretzels. We sat for a moment, in the storm, discussing what happened and what our next steps were.
(By this point, we were venturing a little further out into the lobby to take in the wreckage, or at least what we could see with our iphone flashlights. We even got this little group selfie......Love these guys!!
One thing that really drove home the power of the hurricane was this huge marble table, you can see it in the picture above of the lobby before it was destroyed. When we were moving to our corner shelter earlier in the night, me and Jeff, who was a rather large dude, had tried to move this thing and it hadn't budged! The hurricane pushed that thing all the way across the room until it came to rest against a concrete pillar!)
I wanted to get back to my room, and get out of the flooded bathroom, I knew that much. I knew there was a good chance we would all be electrocuted if we stayed there, in 4 inches of water, with the electrical lines dangling by a thread. Bob and Bjorne went to the room, while Jeff and I stayed back in the lobby. A stiff wind would take me away, so I figured it was better for everyone that I waited until it dropped to a category 1, and not put anyone in danger of trying to save me like a child trying to grab a balloon as the wind takes it away.
(That walk back was pretty brutal. We had to cross that same bridge we'd crossed to get to the lobby except this time it was filled with ceramic shingles from the roof and tons of other random debris.....and the wind was still howling pretty fiercely. Looks pretty tame in the light......but with 90mph winds still whipping, water everywhere and no light and not to mention debris was still in the air.....it was kind of scary)
They return safely about 10 minutes later, and Bob reports that our room hasn’t been flooded, since it wasn’t completely ocean facing. Turns out it’s a good thing we didn’t read the fine print to our vacation, not even realizing we could upgrade to an ocean-facing room for no extra charge. Thankful for the cheap seats is what we were celebrating at that moment! Bjorne and Jeff weren’t so lucky, and they had upgraded (Bougie Canadians ;)). We all walked carefully back to the rooms, looking at the destruction in awe.
We helped Jeff and Bjorn mop their room up and get things livable again.
The only thing I could think of was the Walking Dead. The hallway lights were out, it was like a ghost town. We used our phone flashlights (thanks Apple for being so thoughtful!) and found the maids quarters to stock up on water, towels, sheets, blankets (Ok, no one else but me wanted blankets in the tropical weather, but I was in survival mode!!), cans of pop, pillows, etc. We knew it wasn’t going to be pretty the next day when everyone realizes there would be no running water, no way to take a shower, possibly no food, and everyone would be wanting the water if the sun came out the next day.
The bed was damp from the moisture in the air and the lack of air conditioning to cool the place off. Our entire bodies were sticky from the salt water and our feet were like prunes. (We'd been standing in water for the previous 5 hours) I knew there had to be reserve water in the pipes, so the first thing I did was turn the cold shower on to rinse off because I knew there wouldn’t be another shower for a while. I told Bob to do the same thing, and while under the piercing cold water, just remind himself what we had already been through, and take the effin shower. We fell asleep in that damp bed until dawn…..
If Britney Can Get Through 2007, We Can Get Through Today.
When we woke, we remember everyone walking around like zombies, looking at the wreckage and disintegration of the hotel, everywhere. It was a mess. It was indescribable. I remember eating a rice krispie treat, not knowing when I would eat again. Thankfully, Bob and I packed snacks on this trip, since we remembered how much we spent on snackies the last vacation.
|shot from before the hurricane of the pool area||shot from the same area after. And yes, the water was that dirty and sandy|
Everyone was in shock the first day after the storm. We were all trying to figure out what was next. How do we fill our toilets with water so we can go to the bathroom, is there enough food or any food at all for us, is anyone dead or hurt, can we help people get water out of some of the rooms that were flooded so that they had a place to live until we got out of here…..lots of things to consider. As the day passed, we found answers to some of these small provincial things we never thought we’d question while we were tanning ourselves just two days before. We got our trashcans and got water from the pool (since there was plenty, thanks to Odile), so that we could fill the toilet tanks. One of the eating halls hadn’t been completely destroyed, and the staff was busy making us food, bless their hearts. We hadn’t heard of any fatalities yet, so no news was good news.
|a concrete wall that collapsed at our hotel||the lobby of our hotel immediately outside where we hunkered down|
|another shot of the lobby. This was our view once we were brave enough to come out of the bathroom bunker. Except no light, a shit ton of wind and water and all sorts of wind sound still!||Here is one of the 10-12 palm trees on our property that were snapped. The other tops were nowhere near their base.|
(All of Monday and Tuesday are a blur. It would be hard to remember exactly what happened each day. But the bottom line was, no one knew anything and everyone was just hanging on every small bit of information you could get your hands on)
If any of you have seen the series Lost, you will understand what happened next. Everyone started building alliances (that’s what I called them), learning each other’s names and deciding if they would bring any benefit to the upcoming days ahead. Who was good at getting information from the staff? Who knew the staff members families or tipped the waitresses really well before this shit strom happened? Or who had cigarettes we could trade for information from the yapping wives of the hotel managers and directors? Unfortunately, there was no room for dead weight. Dead weight got left behind with no information, and they were the ones that had a confused look on their face the whole time. Not Bobby and me. We are survivors godamnit, and we are getting the eff out of here one way or another.
The minutes went by slowly each day we were there. We had phone service the first few hours of Monday, so we called our loved ones, and let them know we were alive, but that we didn’t know much about how we were getting out of there.
Then the cell service went down. During this time, we all played a game called ‘Telephone’. This is where everyone panics, hears a bit of news, and passes it on the way they heard it. And, in true ‘Telephone’ fashion, stories get mixed up, words don’t translate and people make a minced meat shit show of the information. Here are some of the rumors that swirled during this time:
- I talked to my mom, and she said the airlines are sending planes for us now (This was the first day, probably 8 hours after the hurricane had hit. They actually tried to go to the airport in a taxi van and were turned around without even getting close. I still chuckle that this guy said his mommy had just talked to his airline and his flight had not been canceled and all he had to do was get to the airport. Later in the story we will leave him in the dust as we make our way onto a plane).
- Our fairy god mother (aka Travel Agent) is going to send a plane for us.
- The water in the pool is safe to go in.
- The water in the pool is contaminated and not safe to go in (after some folks were in it, hair deep. Sick).
- We have enough food at this hotel for 4 days.
- We have enough food at this hotel for 2 days.
- We would have running water soon.
- (The Generator has enough power for x number of days....where x is a variable every time you hear this rumor)
- Everyone will get out of here tomorrow (More than once).
- They are sending planes out to neighboring cities, and you will have to find your own way out of there.
- Our cell phone service got cut because of looters in the city, and they are trying to suppress their communication.
- There are 15,000 tourists that are trying to get out of here.
- There are 25,000 tourists trying to get out of here.
- Other hotels were completely destroyed and people are trapped in the basement
- Some of the hotels were being looted the day after the hurricane hit.
- People were being taken places by taxis and the taxi drivers drove off with their stuff.
- (And about 100 other half cocked and ridiculous, or not ridiculous, rumors about other guests, looting, another storm coming, the airport being destroyed, and just about anything else you could imagine)
Some of these rumors were true, some of them were not. But everything everyone heard was taken seriously, and everyone was hopeful to get out on Tuesday….I would have agreed with them, but then we’d all have been wrong.
At Least The Bags Under My Eyes Were Gucci.
Tuesday morning came, and the sun came as well. Holy eff. We all prayed that this day wouldn’t come, since we were all sweltering when it was overcast. What would we do if the sun came out? Would we have enough water? Would we die of heat exhaustion in our rooms? How would we cool off if this moment was upon us? Bob went up to the lobby area, where everyone liked to congregate and get information. No one was getting out that day, it was apparent. With no cell reception, we had to rely on the rumors once again. The airport had been shut down and no one was getting out. There were no emergency flights getting in or out today.
We walked the beach to see the other hotels and the destruction. Funny enough, there were some lean-to’s that were the only survivors. I wasn’t joking when I said they should hire the guy who made these bad boys, to rebuild the hotels. As we walked, we saw dead fish, dead birds, dead birds with dead fish in their mouths (I'll bet that bird must have thought he was so lucky before he got whacked by a piece of debris), a big turtle that looked old and was obviously the weak one in the bunch, blow fish, signage, garbage, hotels that had been destroyed worse than ours, people washing themselves in the ocean as the waves came up because they had no water or electricity…all the things you would expect to see after a storm like that.
(Some of the other hotels looked like bombs had been dropped on them. Others weren't in that bad of shape. It's funny how a hurricane doesn't seem to have a discernable path. Things were still standing that you couldn't fathom would be standing and other things immediately next to them would be destroyed even though it seemed impossible that wind could do this to an object of that size and strength. The randomness of it all leaves you in pure wonderment.)
Aside from helping clean the sand and debris from the walkways earlier that day, this is the most exercise Bob and I had gotten in a while, and we needed it….so that we could sleep….in our damp beds….for who knows how long.
(Seriously, you can't imagine how much sand was brought up into the resort area of the hotel. We moved so much sand that my arms and back were sore for two days. Our tools? A few busted off doors from somewhere.....I have no idea where those doors came from, but they made great plows)
The four of us musketeers went to dinner that night together, and talked about how thankful we were to have been friends with them, not knowing how we would have faired without each other. We knew we would never lose contact with them (our beloved Jeff and Bjorne), and we probably knew more about them than some of our friends back home. We kept each other smiling and laughing about inappropriate things for many hours of the day. #SoulMates.
(It's funny what being stranded will do to you. You quickly realize that nothing is off limits and you are willing to discuss every and any aspect of your life with people that just days before had been completely unknown to you. This is our best four amigos pose while walking the beach one of the days after the Hurricane)
That night, after dinner, we went upstairs, to the infamous congregation that was forming again, with everyone getting more information from the hotel sales manager. He said we would all get out tomorrow and no one will be left behind. I was thinking two things when I heard the news: If he’s right about that, I want to sleep in the lobby. If he’s wrong about it, I’m going to shank him. This was happening at about 7pm Tuesday night, and he said he would be back at 10pm to give us another update. So, we waited.
There were a group of us that had become friends in one way or another. There was the mother daughter duo that had been in a room way up on the 5th floor. We helped to un-flood their place that night, while Bob went down stairs and brought them water to flush their toilet. They were the most annoying, with their British accents, and their petty arguments, and their calling for dry cleaning, and their helplessness when we found them sitting in water in their hotel room, as if it hadn’t even dawned on them to try and clear some of it…clearly many years of bitterness between them, to where they were airing their dirty laundry to everyone, separately, of course.
(These ladies.......my goodness! They had been sitting in their room and it was still completely swamped almost 48 hours after the hurricane. And they had 'used' the bathroom.....and it wasn't a pretty scene. I took three pails of water up 5 flights of stairs in sweltering heat to help them flush the toilet once, give them a full tank for another 'use' and then an extra pail of water for a second 'use' of the toilet. How the heck they were sitting in this room with that smell is beyond me. Part of me felt bad for them and part of me thought 'WTF is wrong with you? If you need help, ask someone!!')
Then there was the couple who would be getting married at this hotel in January. We had met them before the storm and exchanged laughs about stupid things while enjoying the sun. Now, she was annoying me with her ‘it could be worse! Let’s have a drink’ bullshit. I was tired of people saying it could be worse. For christssake, I know it could be worse. We could be a baby. In Africa. Dying of AIDS. With No hope for survival. I get it. But I’m here right now, and fraternizing with petty people wasn’t going to get me anywhere close to a plane. I remember pulling Bob aside at this time, and saying ‘You and I are getting out of here, and the longer we are sitting next to some of these lazy people that think this is fun, we will never get out. Let’s keep our eye on the prize.’
(Erin and I made a great team in this regard. I'm a little bit aloof. She is the complete opposite. She kept us focused on getting out of there the whole time. I worry that if I had been by myself I might still be there)
Ten O’clock came and no update. We decide to go back to our rooms at 11:30pm and get away from some of the loopy people that were saying ‘well, maybe I’ll just stay here forever and help clean up this place.’ Clearly, they had been in the sun too long. I’m getting out of here.
(It's funny when you look back and wonder 'why do we have no pictures of any of this. No pictures of any of the people from those days in the hotel. They are burned on my brain, and I'm sure I'll never forget their faces.......but pictures don't seem very important when you are trying to figure out how you are going to get home......and I think years from now, when we look back, some of those people would just leave you shaking your head. We'll take Bjorn and Jeff and be happy we made two new friends for life)
Common Sense is Like Deodorant. The People Who Need It Most Never Use It.
Bob assures me he will wake up the next morning (Wednesday) and see what is happening up at the congregation area. He goes up there around 9am, and comes back to the room, saying that everyone is lining up to get out. Is he serious? Could this be happening? We were nervously packing our things, making sure we didn’t leave anything behind, because we could be going home today. And never come back to this wreckage.
We get up to the congregation area around 10:30am, after knocking on Bjorne and Jeff’s door to make sure they had heard the news. They were up there already, but hadn’t packed their things yet. There was quite a buzz, even a makeshift ‘check-out’ area. We were fluttering around, asking everyone what they knew and where they heard the news. The sales manager and his team were dancing to some music, and I thought maybe this is really happening. We got up there just in time to see the first shuttle pack a group of about 40 people up, and head to the airport.
We were told the shuttle would be back in about an hour to grab the next bunch. We were in the next bunch at most, or at least, the one after that. We sat patiently, talking with the others, news pulsating through the area, letting everyone know they needed to pack their things and get their ass in line.
We waited…..it was 12:30 and I remember thinking ‘why isn’t that shuttle back yet?’ Someone had said they were stopping for gas and the lines were really long. Another rumor circled that they were going to get everyone out of there today and at the latest, 5:30am tomorrow morning (which would be Thursday). This made sense, so we waited even longer. It was now 1:30, and I decided I needed something to eat. I was famished and had forgotten to eat until now, with all that was happening around us. Bob and I walked down, and figured we could leave our luggage in line to fend for itself. I figured at this point, if anyone even tried to steal our stuff, everyone would get a piece of me. I was almost at the end of my patience rope.
It was now 2:00 and that shuttle wasn’t back. There were all of a sudden some military men with AK 47s across their chest that had come to the hotel. There were rumors of looting, and tourists being robbed, so I’m assuming that’s why they were there. How pleasant.
(If you've ever vacationed in Mexico, you've seen the army or federal police out with their AK-47's and, submachine guns and shotguns. Normally that sight makes me slightly uneasy. In this case, it still made you uneasy.....but maybe just a little bit less? Or maybe not........It was slightly comforting to know they were suppose to be there to protect us.....and slightly discomforting that we needed protecting)
How in the hell were they going to get everyone out of this hotel, if the shuttle wasn’t even back from the first trip?! Now I was feeling a fighting instinct. The sales manager and his team were no longer dancing to their stupid annoying music, and everyone was wondering what was going to happen. Except for a small group that was too stupid to function. Someone from the Canadian airlines came to the congregation area, holding a sign, with the Canadian airlines logos, and said they would take all the people from Canada. Bjorne and Jeff were ecstatic. They were getting out. They got on a special shuttle that was for Canadians, and left Bob and me. We were happy for them, and it also made us realize how much we need to find a way out of here. We were no longer listening to rumors, and befriending useless people.
Back to the ‘too-stupid-to-function’ group. The mother daughter pair and this other lady from Canada (that was dressed in her bathing suit and a cover up—where the eff did she think she was going? To lay out at the saltwater pool and catch some rays!?) were sitting there for hours along with us, and I had flagged them to tell them their bus is here and they’re going to get out today. They all said they would just wait for the next one tomorrow or whenever….because they weren’t packed yet. Like I said, stupid people. This made me furious, to say the least. My fingers are pounding the keyboard, as I type this, haha. Apparently, I’m still not over it. I think my exact words were ‘Are you some unique form of stupid?! Why don’t you go ask the driver to wait 5 minutes so you can go pack your shit and save yourselves?’ They responded saying ‘Nah, we’ll just wait’, as they sip their stupid wine and their stupid champagne and sit there soaking in their stupidity. I turned to Bob and said I am no longer talking to them, or sitting next to them. I will end up in a homicidal situation.
So, I dragged our chairs elsewhere. Bob’s too nice to make a scene, but I’m not. We continued to wait in the line, hoping we will get the next shuttle that still isn’t here. Then the sales manager came up to us, as he was doing his round with this new set of news.
(I should add at this point, even though they didn't have a ton of correct information, the staff at the Barcelo Grand Faro was pretty amazing. Erin's frustration was exactly what all of us were feeling during that time. With many days to reflect, and having heard other stories where people were basically abandonded by the staff at their hotels, our hotel staff did the best with what they had. They fed us what they could, and tried their best to make us think there was hope of us leaving at some point......when we would be leaving was a different story and that part was beyond frustrating while we were experiencing it!)
He tells us that there will be one more shuttle out of here today, and one at 5:30am tomorrow. That’s it. Everyone will somehow get on planes to Mexico City, Tijuana or Guadalajara and possibly Mazatlan, but didn’t know when that would happen. He made it a point to say that we are better off staying here tonight vs staying the night at the airpot, or in Tijuana, not knowing when we’d get out. Bob and I conversed with each other about this and decided we would wait until 5:30 am, since the sales manager assured us that if we go at 5:30am, we will get out of here. I decided we would sleep up at the congregation area and be the first in line at 5:30am. We were firm on this decision until Bob went to go and tell a couple we had befriended, that was from San Fran…
That couple had heard a different set of information. If we go tonight, we are sure to get out of the airport, because they wouldn’t allow anyone to stay at the airport area. Bob and I, after a lot of back and forth, decided to go with this couple, and take the chance that we would get out that night. So, we boarded the last shuttle of the day around 4:00pm and gave the hotel our ‘out’ tickets, stating that we were gone and no longer accounted for.
(The ride to the airport was like nothing I had ever seen before. This is what it must look like after bombs have been dropped on a city. Almost everything in any direction you could see from the bus was either completely destroyed or completely looted. There wasn't much that hadn't seen one of those two fates. In retelling the story to my friend Kris Neese , we agreed that if our homes had just been destroyed and everything we had was taken from us, we'd have probably been out there looting to. In this case, people looted to survive. I can't really blame them after what I saw on that ride to the airport.)
There is Nothing Weak About a Pisces. Instead, A Pisces Watches From a Distance and Determines the Best Point of Attack
We got to the airport, and I use this term loosely. It wasn’t an airport, it was a shredded hotel that was outside the airport, where everyone was in a line about 5 or 6 people wide, and about 500 total. It was 95 degrees, and there was no shade or shelter. We were at the back of the line. I have to say, I hadn’t started panicking until this moment. Almost as soon as our shuttle left us, someone came up saying she had heard from the front of the line, that no more planes were getting out today. There were no more planes. One of the guys from our 40+ shuttle group had run to try and catch the shuttle, to take us back. No luck. We were stranded, sweating profusely, and all of a sudden I had a tummy ache with no toilet in sight, and no way out. We were in the desert and everyone in line was drawing up their own conclusions and passing it along, so I decided to do the same. I was standing in a fence post of shade, and a lady comes up and says ‘what are we going to do?’ I am sure it was rhetorical, but I shocked her by saying ‘We’re probably going to die. All of us. No flights out, and looters everywhere. We’re going to die.’ She then said ‘Don’t say that. These men around us will protect us at night if looters come.’ I fired back something equally obnoxious as the first comment to her. Obviously the irritation of rumors and people were starting to chafe, and I couldn’t help myself. She was sorry she came to me for sympathy.
The line is moving slowly, people are being plucked by the Canadian airlines and escorted to their planes, while I’m mother effing the US and our lack of planes to this godforsaken place. We were going to have to stand in this line all night if we don’t do something. I stood and surveyed the place, watching everyone carefully, witnessing them all succumbing to the fate of spending the night in line, and somehow someone would save them just like the Canadians got saved. Not me.
It only fueled my hate fire and I knew Bob and I had to do something. I remember whispering in his ear that he needs to not be comfortable with these rumors, and that we have to be smarter than all of these people in this line, and to not lose sight of us getting the eff out of here. It had been about an hour and a half we were in the line, and I walked over toward the front of the line, and was stopped by the Policia, asking me where I was going. I told him I wanted to walk over and get some shade, I was boiling. He asked me in Spanish ‘do you know those men over there’ (they were in the shade, and looked shady). I’m assuming he wouldn’t let me over there because it was dangerous. Defeated, I walked back to the line. I stood outside the line, watching people being plucked from the line and escorted toward planes. If that was the last plane, why were people still headed toward that area? I stood there, trying to figure things out, remembering that my best friend had sent a text, one of the few texts I got on Monday saying ‘I am praying you get out of there soon. I know if anyone is capable of finding a way, it’s you. Hugs and kisses’. I was meant to get that text and remember that I am a fighter.
All of a sudden the Policia man came up to the right side of the line, and said ‘We have a few spots to Tijuana!’ Honestly, I can’t promise that’s exactly what he said, but I heard Tijuana, and I raised my hand, with a tear in my eye and desperation in my voice and screamed louder than anyone ‘Pick ME, I will go, pick ME! Please!!’ He pointed at me to come with him, I looked at Bob, and he knew what to do. He grabbed both of our suitcases and ran after me. I pushed through everyone, leading the way. Unbeknownst to me, two other couples had run after Bob and me, and I am thankful they were smart enough.
(When he pointed at Erin like she had just been picked to go to Tijuana, I grabbed both of our 50 lb suitcases, one in each hand, and started bowling through the crowd. I'm sure I knocked over a person or two. In hindsight, I'm a little sorry.....but not really. I created a large enough wake for our other friends in line to jump in behind me and get to the front. I can't tell you how thankful I am that my baby is a fighter. She was getting us out of there one way or another!)
When we got to the front of the line….let me say that again….to the front of the line (thank the lord!!!), the Policia said ‘Sorry, no more’. There were tears in my eyes, but now they were from sadness and panic, I begged him ‘Please, sir, please, let us on. We will sit in laps of other people, Please, I have to get out of here!!’ He looked at me confused, not understanding what I was saying. There were two girls at the front of this line that translated for me and he just shook his head and said sorry. Part of me was thankful we were now at the front of the line, and the other part was defeated and didn’t know what was to come.
The other two couples were nice: The Asian couple from San Fran that talked us into coming that night instead of at 5:30am. Turns out, we owed what was about to happen, to them, in the end. And there was another couple from Seattle. Bob knows that my pet peeve is when people say they’re from Seattle, and when I ask where, they say effin Enumclaw or somewhere else not Seattle. This couple was from the Ballard area. It was a good sign. There were 6 of us now. The other sheep from the hotel were still in the middle of the line wondering when it was their turn to use the umbrella to shield the sun. Survival of the fittest.
We waited in line, I smiled at the police, one guy offered me water and in his other hand was his Mac 10. I said no thank you, but almost wet my pants saying ‘no’ to him. None of them spoke English. I desperately asked one of them if there were any planes left that were going to Tijuana (the girls in line translated once again) and the policia didn’t know. They had no answers. About 20 minutes later, someone came with news. There was a plane going to Mexico City. The girls translated and told us and the 6 of us were in. We would go anywhere at this point, versus staying the night in this line. We would find our way out of wherever we landed. JUST GET US OUT OF HERE.
All 6 of us get counted in the line and told to stay single file (Uno filo). We did as instructed and marched toward the planes. We were about a quarter mile to the plane but this was the easiest walk I had walked in a long time. We get about half way there and then we are told to make two lines, that one plane will take us to Tijuana. OMG, is this happening!?! Eff yes, we’ll go to Tijuana!!! The 6 of us keep marching. We get to the makeshift airport area, and are in line to get on the tarmac.
A lady comes up to the line and says ‘Anyone want to go to LAX?’ WE DO WE DO!!!! The six of us jump for joy, not believing what is happening in this very moment.
(Mind you, not once had we heard anything about any flight to the US. Not while at our hotel, not while standing in line outside the airport. This short lady with the Alaska vest was the first person to suggest such a route was an option. We thought our best option was Tijuana and walk across the border to San Diego then figure it out from there.)
We are elated, relieved, merciful and gracious all at once. We are going to the US. We bounce our way to the tarmac, not believing what we just heard. I see the Alaska Airlines plane, and almost start crying. Before dropping to our knees, we knew we had to keep trucking and be thankful when our butts are in those seats. All I heard in this moment was that Sarah McLaughlin verse that starts out with ‘Heaven bends to take my hand, and lead me through the fire’. I know it’s corny, but that’s what was playing in my head, and I was happy to hear it.
They have a makeshift security area in an abandoned wing, check our bags, and we started walking up the stairs to the plane. We had passed a group of Mexican military men that had been flown in to help protect the area from all of the looters, and we had never been happier to leave any place in all of our lives. This was the only Alaska Airplane to rescue people that day and we were on it. Was it luck? Wasit my Nana? Was it our desperation to survive? Not sure yet, but maybe a combination of all these things. Once we landed at LAX, I called my family to tell them we made it to the US, and Bob did the same.
We got home the following day, and we hugged each other a little tighter that day, kissed each other a bit sweeter, and loved each other a bit more.
Fuck you Odile. (You can't keep us down!)