Memories of a Hurricane Past

Fun Facts:

  • October 15th, 2005 – Jenn and I were married.
  • October 16th, 2005 – We landed in Riviera Maya, Mexico ready to soak up the sun for 5 days at an all-inclusive resort.
  • October 17th, 2005 – I turn 29 years old. There was much tequila involved. I don’t remember much.
  • October 20th, 2005 – Hurricane Wilma makes landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula, and extends my stay in Mexico.

The following is the journal that I kept on my PDA while Jenn and I (and about 1500 other people) were hunkered down in a storm shelter waiting for Hurricane Wilma to pass us by. For years I thought this information had been lost. Only recently did I discover an old backup file from my PDA that I had created before it’s demise.

Delirious With Boredom:
a love story based on actual events
By: Dave Isom

Friday October 21st 11:45am

Lady luck was not on my side. It had been many hours of struggling, and I still couldn’t manage to win one fucking game of solitaire. Of course, I did find comfort in the fact that my biggest concern was my poor luck with the cards.
This story is a relatively boring one. That’s why I’m writing it. Trust me- had there been something more exciting to do, I wouldn’t be wearing out the letter entry box on my PDA.
The mass boredom began yesterday morning when a note was slipped under the door to my hotel room. Apparently, every guest in the hotel was being instructed to prepare for the arrival of an unexpected guest. Her name was Wilma, and she’s a big, nasty bitch. She’s the one responsible for the immense boredom of some 1500 hotel guests + staff members.

Friday October 21st 12:50pm

The air conditioning in the convention center / storm shelter has been out for a few hours now. It doesn’t take long for 1500 organic space heaters to cook a room. Judging by the sounds coming from the roof, I’d venture a guess that its not looking too healthy at this point either. The official word is that we’ll be cooped up in here for another 24hrs at the very least.
10:30am yesterday this grand non-adventure began. From there on out, the theme of the day was patience. Hours in line to check out of the hotel. (they wanted their money before the real confusion began) Hours of waiting for updates on the weather. All that fun + excitement followed by hours and hours of waiting.

Things I have learned while sitting in a storm shelter in Mexico as a hurricane rages outside:
• Just because a hotel was hit by a hurricane recently, and it is already the end of hurricane season does not guarantee you a hurricane free vacation
• On the coast of the Yucatan peninsula, you are more likely to get hit by a hurricane than to get hit by a bus
• After taking just one bus ride, you realize that the chances of being hit by a bus are not in your favor
• People who bitch about the air conditioning being too cold also bitch about the air conditioning being broke
• Hurricanes are noisy and wet
• Hotel staff in Mexico can still smile while picking up trash after 24hrs of being confined in a leaky convention center
• If you don’t activate international service on your cell phone, you can still receive phone calls- however, when you try to initiate a call, you hear some woman jabber on in Spanish and the only word you can understand is “gracias!”
• When stranded in Mexico, you can have someone call Sprint customer service and ask them to call you back (since you can receive but not send calls) to activate international service
• Shortly after your international cellular service is activated, all cellular towers in your area will be obliterated by a category 4 hurricane, thus turning your cell phone into a paperweight
• When you’re in the middle of a natural disaster and your mother-in-law calls your cell phone and you answer it in Spanish, she will become very confused
• Some people tend to sleep a lot when they’re bored and trapped by a natural disaster in a foreign country
• When you’re patiently waiting for a hurricane to pass by you, and the forecast says it will miss you, it won’t
• Hurricanes travel in a path that will inconvenience the greatest number of tourists
• When you’re told that you’ll be in a shelter for 24hrs, expect to be there for more than 48hrs
• Composing a book on a PDA really is a pain in the ass

Friday October 21st 2:00pm

The 1st 24hr period has come and passed. The hotel housekeeping staff is trying to entertain us by showing us how they make those nifty origami animals with the hotel towels. Water is leaking in around the exterior walls now. At this moment, I am supposed to be on a plane bound for O’Hare. Instead, I am sitting on a beach cot in a muggy room with 140 other displaced hotel patrons. It’s been a while since we’ve had an official update on the weather, but I think that’s mainly due to all our communications being cut off. Oh how I wish I had a ham radio and my general class license right about now. A Morse code contact with a US operator would be a very welcome thing.
My only weather forecast at the moment is what I can see and hear. The pools of water on the floor and the loud flapping sound emanating from the roof tell me that we’re going to be here a while.

Friday October 21st 3:23pm

Not in the eye yet. There was a long, loud, sustained gust followed by about 5 minutes of silence. I was beginning to suspect that the eye of the hurricane was directly over us at that point. It couldn’t possibly be, though. The last report we got before loosing communications was that the eye was 60 miles in diameter. When your storm is only moving at 5mph, it will take a bit longer than 5 minutes to pass you.
Let me let you in on a little secret I learned during my stay in Mexico. When you are eating at a buffet and you just can’t seem to find the salad bar, take a good look around. Look for a door with a sign that says SALIDA. Do not go through this door. You’ll have to pay for your buffet again, and you still won’t know where the salad bar is.
This whole “dual language” thing is a real hoot. Most everyone here speaks fluent English. Every sign is in both English and Spanish. One thing I wonder is, how do you know that the signs actually translate into the same meaning? For instance, the sign that I’ve been staring at for 27 hours says something in Spanish, then beneath that in English it says, “BREAK IN CASE OF FIRE.” Now for all I know, the Spanish portion may mean, “If you see an American break this, run like hell. Something is burning!” Sometimes I wonder.
The last report about that bitch Wilma was from 1:00am. At that time, it was wandering back and forth across it’s predicted path at the break-neck pace of 5mph. I sure wish that bitch would just hurry up and get to where she’s going.
Much more water is coming in near the exterior walls now. We had to shift many of the cots around so that people can stay dry. If we all can’t have a shower, no one can. I had made a suggestion earlier, but I don’t think they took me seriously. I suggested that we gather everyone by the doors and open them up for a couple of minutes. This would give everyone a much needed shower, and blow in some fresh air. When I suggested this, the little Mexican man shouted something at me in Spanish then walked away. Maybe he was going to find someone to help open the doors?
In the largest of the rooms here (I estimated about 640 cots set up in that room) they are showing DVDs on a projector screen. It would be nice to be in that room for the entertainment value. Of course, when you realize that you would have to endure 640 snoring noses as opposed to the 140 of this room, it suddenly doesn’t seem so attractive.
Outside in the main lobby, there’s much activity to be had. Every now and then you can hear the roar of the bingo crowd, there’s a bunch of poker games, a few playing dominos, etc… The staff is even putting on a show called “Friends of Bill W.” I don’t know anyone named Bill W, so I seriously doubt that I’ll know any of his friends.
Jenn just read what I have written here thus far. Her comment: It doesn’t have anything to do with love! Well I see it this way: Stone Temple Pilots wrote a song called “Interstate Love Song” and it wasn’t a love song either. So there!

Friday October 21st 8:00pm

Dinner was bologna. I don’t know what you can glean from that, but it tells me that they’re about out of food! The word is that things are starting to let up a bit outside. Still no phone lines, cell phones, commercial power (generator only), no air conditioning, and its getting really fucking stuffy. I’m sitting out in the hall by an outlet so I can charge my PDA back up. Jenn and I are hoping to finish watching Episode III tonight.
At this point, I’m predicting that it’ll be safe enough to open the doors late tonight. I sure as hell hope so, cause its getting awfully stuffy in here. So far, there are leaks on every exterior wall, and they’re starting to move inwards. The roof to this place must be pretty tore up by now. The room I’m in is too loud to hear if the wind is still roaring.

Friday October 21st 11:19pm

We just received our final announcement for the evening. The worst of Bitch Wilma has passed us. However, the winds are still pretty damn bad out there. We’re still trapped in here until tomorrow morning. The A/C is still out until the Mexican gov decides to turn the main power back on. I have the distinct feeling I’m going to have a hard time sleeping tonight. It has become quite uncomfortable.
Throughout this ordeal I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a lot of different people from a lot of different places. Matt and Kelly (the also newlyweds to our immediate right) have been great company. There’s the gorgeous woman from Trinidad next to the gorgeous woman from Schererville on my left. I’ve met couples from Ohio, Indiana, California, New Jersey, South Carolina, Hawaii, Florida… And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Many different people from many walks of life with one thing in common: We all lived through a natural disaster together.
Its late now, and the symphony of snores has already begun. Seriously, some of these people sound like they’re breathing through their assholes! Holy fuck! I’m about to go punch this one guy in the lungs! Some people shouldn’t be allowed out in public past 8:00pm!

Saturday October 22nd 8:23am

Can’t open the doors yet. The dude at the info desk looked like he was a little tired of telling smelly people that they can’t have fresh air yet. The wind is still a little bit gusty.

On with the show:

I’ve been here two days now, so I guess its time to make this a story as opposed to a Captain’s Log.

Once upon a time, there was a Mexican named San Pepe. He owned a donkey named Pueblo. (Incidentally, the donkey has his own song, but this story is about San Pepe.)
One morning, San Pepe went outside to check on his donkey. When he walked out back to the donkey hut, Pueblo wasn’t there! Strangely enough, the donkey hut wasn’t there either! Where could Pueblo have gone, and why would he take his whole hut with him?
Then, San Pepe’s eyes met hers. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She gave him a coy smile as the two walked toward each other. As their two bodies collided, their lips met in a passionate entanglement. This was the moment they had both been waiting for. There they stood alone in a field as if the rest of the world didn’t exist. This moment was theirs forever. Then they were both hit by Pueblo and his hut. They were all killed instantly. The moral of the story is: Don’t fall in love while looking for your donkey hut in a hurricane.

Sunday October 23rd 2:52am

I didn’t feel like writing much today. I was quite pissed off to learn that we were stuck in the Helter Shelter for another day. We opened the doors this morning, but couldn’t go outside. It’s still raining here and the wind gusts are still reaching an estimated 50mph.
Lunch was actually cooked today. The hotel staff was finally able to get more supplies from the other buildings. Some of us (myself included) were able to shower today. They opened up a few rooms in one of the buildings and started sending couples over to clean up. Mind you, this is now our third day here with no fresh clothes and no shower facilities and most importantly, no air conditioning! The air quality was rapidly declining! Many of the staff have been awake for 2 days straight now. They’ve been working their asses off, and they are much appreciated. Jenn and I spoke at length with a man named Omar this afternoon. His English was pretty good, and I was surprised to find out that 2 1/2 years ago he didn’t know a word in English. It was neat talking to him, and I think he enjoyed the chance to practice conversing. Apparently, this area had been hurricane free for 17 years… until this year when they get two! Emily was much worse than this one. We just caught the edge of this one. When Emily hit, it passed directly over top of them.
I just found out that the entire Yucatan peninsula has no power or communications. All our news is now coming from a Cuban radio station. They’re about to get hit next.
We’re now waiting for power and phone restoration. We also have to wait for some government official to inspect the hotel rooms before we can move into them. That could take a while, considering how many hotels are waiting for the same thing. It looks like I may not get back home until someday next week.

Sunday October 23rd 3:29am

The symphony of snores is worse than usual tonight. There’s no hurricane to drown them out tonight. Jenn will never fall asleep with this racket. I might if I can ever stop laughing!

Sunday October 23rd 11:10pm

Today was probably the best day in captivity so far. We were actually allowed out into an area about 200 feet from Helter Shelter. The rain finally quit, and we got to catch a glimpse of the sky! What a vacation! Jenn isn’t feeling well, though.
Still no federal power. Still no phones. Still no rooms. Our Apple Vacation rep stopped by today with little new news to offer. The soonest the airport will be ready is Tuesday evening. That means we’ll be in Helter Shelter for at least 2 more nights. By tomorrow morning we’ll have spent as many nights in the convention center as we did in a proper hotel room.
With everyone lounging around outside today, it almost felt like a big party… that you can’t leave. As a matter of fact, it looks like they’re setting up a buffet table outside as I write this. The party would be a whole lot better if they’d serve proper drinks! Everyone here paid for an all inclusive resort, so if you can’t give us any fucking privacy you can at least give us the booze we came here for. Time passes so much faster with tequila!
Well the battery is about shot on this thing again. Too many games of solitaire today. Time to charge it back up again. Show me the way to go home… I’m tired and I want to go to bed…

Monday October 24th 2:45pm

Our rep from Apple Vacations stopped in this morning. It sounds like Jenn and I will be on one of the 1st flights out of here, since we were supposed to fly out on Friday. As it sounds, the airport might be open tomorrow. We’re supposed to meet with him again tonight @ 5:00pm.
Some people are taking taxis into town to buy cigarettes and beer. (some fucking all inclusive resort…) The rumor is that some phones are working in Playa de Carmen and Tulum. Quite frankly, I don’t give a damn anymore. I’ll be on a plane tomorrow and that’s all that fuckin’ matters right now. I think everyone is a bit exasperated at this point. Even perpetually upbeat Matt had lost his good humor this morning. (mostly due to lack of sleep caused by the woman who sounds as if she’s breathing through her asshole.)
Earlier suspicions that I am indeed in hell were confirmed today when they set up a sound system and began playing Shania Twain songs over and over again. I’ve taken an attitude of utter apathy. I don’t give a flying fuck about anything until I’m back in a country that’s worth a damn.
I am going to make some T shirts when I get back. “I slept with 700 women on my honeymoon!” Europeans bitch that Americans don’t know anything about the world outside our own borders. There’s good reason for that. I can see everything I need to without leaving the country. I certainly don’t need to go anywhere to stay indoors and stare at the walls during a storm. Of course if you’re looking for the full effect of sleeping in very close quarters with thousands of snoring people with no ventilation, come to Mexico! The only positive thing about this so far is that most the hot chicks aren’t wearing bras anymore, and right now I’m sitting by the stairs.

Tuesday October 25th 1:57am

Apple Vacations Rule!! When we met at 5:00pm, the outlook wasn’t very good. The airport was still going to be closed. We all accepted that we were going to be here a while. Actually, morale was higher than it’s been all week. We were able to get to our luggage and get some clean clean clothes and another shower. I even shaved today! Festivities even resembled that of a block party later in the evening. If you were to take a snapshot of the people partying outside tonight and known nothing of the rest of the ordeal, you would have thought it was just the largest group of friends on one hell of a vacation. I think we had come to terms with being there.
I was up late bullshiting with Matt, Kelly, Crystal (I think) and Vinnie. I was charging my electronic toys so I could take a trip to Tulum tomorrow and use the cell phone. Then out of nowhere, the Apple dude shows up and starts telling the people who flew their charter that they’re flying out in the morning. I think our flight is one of the first flights out. We get picked up from Helter Shelter at 5:00am! I’m waiting for my bus. My bags are packed. Take me home!
Matt and Kelly, sorry we didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t have the heart to wake you! I hope you kept that e-mail address. Otherwise, I might end up having to call Intuit for some sales advice!

That was where my journal ended… but it’s far from where the story ended.

The bus was supposed to be there at 5:00am, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss it. Since we are lacking an alarm clock, Jenn and I made the decision to stay up all night and wait for it. Well, we should have gotten some sleep. If memory serves, the bus didn’t arrive until around 9 or 10 am. The bus ride to Cancun International Airport was interesting. We got to see the extent of the damage to the outlying areas. There were utility poles down all along the highway. One might expect to see lots of heavy machinery putting up new utility poles and re-stringing cables and such… but no, not in Mexico. In Mexico, you get a beat up pickup truck, 10 guys, 1 ladder and some rope. No wonder they hadn’t restored communications!

Onward to Cancun… so an interesting note about Mexico: the government owns and operates the airports. What this means is that they have Mexican army personnel carrying US made Colt M16 machine guns guarding the terminals. More on this later.

We were made aware that the Mexican government is only operating the airport during daylight hours because the airport has no electricity. They are also not open to the public. They’re only allowing the travel agencies to get their clients out of the country and back home. I’ll never fly to another country without the aid of a travel agency! It was so worth it! So the airport is running at a bare minimum. No electricity. No computers. No runway lights. No generators apparently either. I guess when you have a government monopoly on air travel, you have no reason to step up your efforts in an attempt to accommodate your customers. It’s so bad that they’re hand-writing boarding passes for the planes. So we step up to the counter and check our luggage. We are told that our plane is boarding now! What timing!

As they finish writing up our boarding pass and wheeling our luggage away to be loaded on to the plane, a handheld radio squawks to life. Great news! Some jack-fuck-tards from Detroit have gotten on our plane, and are refusing to get off. Their plane leaves next, but they don’t want to wait. They’re apparently really interested in seeing Chicago. I’ve been to Detroit. It’s not much better guys. So since our plane is full, and the jack-fuck-tards won’t get off, we’re shit out of luck. I told them to let me on the plane and I’ll get them off– but no dice.

Okay, so now what? We were assured that there is another plane leaving for Chicago at 5:00pm. Our luggage is already on the plane that’s leaving now. We’ll just have to get there after and hunt for our bags. Not a big deal, right? Oh wait… remember the part about no electricity? Well the unfortunate truth is that an airport with no electricity runs very inefficiently. So what do you think the odds are of a 5:00pm flight departing on time? Now is the point where I remind you that the Mexican gov’t is shutting down the airport at dark. See where I’m going with this? Yeah… bad times ahead.

So it’s getting late, and I ask the guy at the counter about that Chicago flight. Yep… it’s not looking good. So what the hell am I going to do now? My options are: 1) sleep on the street in Cancun and wait for tomorrow morning or 2) fly somewhere else. I wasn’t too keen on fending for myself and my wife in Cancun in the aftermath of a natural disaster. So I ask the guy at the counter, “What other flights are available. Just get me in the United States!”. His response was less than encouraging. “Baltimore, Maryland” he said. Seriously? Fucking New England? After giving him a lesson in geography, I ask him if there is anything closer to Chicago. Finally he came up with “Columbus, Ohio?”. YES! GET ME ON A PLANE TO COLUMBUS, OHIO! That’s only 1 state away. I can deal with that.

Remember those armed guards I mentioned? Now we get to meet them.

So Jenn and I get our hand-written boarding passes for Columbus, and we head past the guards into the terminal. We show the passes and walk on through with no problem. The obnoxious group from New York behind us get stopped and told that their plane isn’t ready yet. They have to wait. So what does the obnoxious fuck from New York do? She says, “Well their plane isn’t ready yet and you let them through!” Some people really should think about what they say before they say it. Did she think the guard was going to speak up in an Antonio Banderas accent and say, “You’re right, madam. I am so so sorry. You go right ahead.” NO! The fucking guards start calling after Jenn and I now. Now we all have to wait. Thanks you jack-fuck-tards from New York. You’re right up there with the jack-fuck-tards from Detroit.

About an hour or so later, they finally let us go into the terminal. It’s a mad house. They’re calling out stuff over a crackling megaphone in English so broken that it might as well have been Japanese. We have no idea what they’re calling out, and the room is full of people all crazy to get on a plane and go anywhere but Mexico. We hopped from seat to seat, trying to figure out exactly which gate we needed to be closest to. I’ll be damned if I was going to get bumped from this next flight. It became a game of cat and mouse. Everyone vying for just the right position so that they could get on the plane quickly before it filled up and they were shit out of luck too.

Finally they call our flight. Jenn and I jump up and rush toward the guy with the megaphone. We were ushered onto a tram that drove us to our plane. At the plane is one of those trucks with a ladder on the back. Seriously, this is how stone-age this damned airport is. I’ve never seen an airport where you don’t walk right from the terminal onto the plane. Again… government run monopoly has no incentive to modernize either.

Now we’re on the plane. And we’re sitting… and waiting… and waiting… It’s getting darker… and darker… and darker… We’re starting to wonder if we’re going to get called off the plane and told that the airport is shut down now. It’s going to be damned close, I can tell you that much. Now it’s about 6:30pm, and the sun is setting behind the trees. It’s now or never, so lets get this aluminum tube airborne! Finally, the captain announces that we’re cleared to take off, and we go! Later we find out that our plane was the last one that was allowed to leave. That was cutting it close! And to top off our shitty day, was an equally shitty in-flight movie, “The Fantastic Four.” You’d think that someone starved for real entertainment would be happy just to see something other than walls… but no. That movie sucked donkey balls.

Several hours later, we touch down in Ohio. You know how O’Hare never closes… well the airport in Columbus does. Not only were we the last plane to leave Cancun, we were the last plane to arrive in Columbus. They already turned most of the lights off in the airport! Jenn and I found an Apple Vacation rep and asked if there was any reimbursement for being displaced and fucked out of our rightful place on the Chicago plane. The answer was no. Okay, so fuck you lady now it’s time to find a rental car. We try the car rental place that was attached to the airport. They wouldn’t rent us a car one way to Chicago. Okay, so fuck you car rental person. (I’m pretty sure I actually said something to that effect. My patience was about 2 days gone by this point.) So we went across the street to another car rental place, signed the paperwork, and we were off. After all this crazy shit, I still had to drive four hours to get home. Well… I guess it beats the drive from Maryland!

Four hours later, and I have never been so happy to be home in my entire life! But the fun doesn’t end there… My luggage is still in Chicago! We go up to O’Hare the next day, and low and behold they’ve lost one of my bags! Does the fun ever stop! It took them a week, but they finally found the bag. Like I really wanted another reason to drive back into Chicago, but so be it.

And that… is the epic tale of a foray into a foreign country fought with fiasco, ill fortune, and folly.

Leave a Reply