Military with Machine Guns – helping clear the flooding areas.
While the looting was getting scary, we still felt like everything was going to be okay. I mean really, how bad could it get – right? So we continued to laugh, make some meals with the food we got at Walmart, and we made plans to make the best of it and just lounge by the pool or on our balcony until everything was cleaned up and we were able to go home. On Tuesday morning we were making pico de gallo in our kitchen area with the door to our room open (it wouldn’t close anymore anyway after the hurricane) and four girls came running by our room. They were completely panicked – they told us that things were not as we thought – that it was about to get really bad in Cabo – and that they advised us to get out of there. They had just gone to a tourist information meeting at the nearby Wyndham hotel and they recommended that we go to the next one at 2pm that afternoon to hear what was really happening. They were quickly loading up their luggage and getting a taxi to LaPaz – a city 2 hours away, to try to get a plane out of that smaller, intact airport.
With much skepticism, half of our group went to the Wyndham meeting and found out that the Cabo airport had been demolished and was no longer flying commercial flights. Basically, we no longer had tickets to get home! A plan for an evacuation by the Mexican Government was being developed, but would not begin for several days. At the recommendation of the Wyndham management, we decided it was a good idea to get out of Cabo and head to LaPaz –2 hours away. We were informed that there were flights going out of that location and it was a way to get home. We headed back to our hotel, quickly drug our luggage down 6 flights of stairs (no electricity-no elevator) and loaded into a taxi with our newest best friend and taxi driver, Daniel. He took great care of us. During the ride we learned he and his family lived on the outskirts of Cabo and had no electricity or water and were dealing with looters in the evenings (he was carrying a huge machete knife in the taxi). He was moving his family to his mother in law’s home north of LaPaz the next day. It was during this ride that we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic by the Coca Cola plant and saw hundreds of trucks/people loading up everything from the plant and looting. It would have been so easy for the people walking by our taxi to open the door and rob us, or worse – we were very lucky.
The drive to LaPaz was beautiful – but we were very nervous, not sure of what we would find along the way and not sure if Daniel was truly a compadre. The city of LaPaz was remarkably better than Cabo – no looting, no mile long lines at the gas stations and not as demolished as Cabo – though there was still no phone/internet and there were some electrical outages. However, the general desperation that was felt in Cabo was not present in LaPaz. At the LaPaz airport, all flights had ceased and the airport was packed with tourists (yes, the information we had been given at the Wyndham was no longer valid – herein lies the difficulty in a disaster situation – information is constantly changing and is unreliable to say the least). No one was getting out or coming in and there were no hotel rooms available. The four panicked girls who had left that morning were still at the airport too. After much thinking/talking, we opted to return to Cabo where we had a guaranteed hotel room for the evening (we didn’t want to spend the night at the airport with the hundreds of other tourists waiting on the hope that we might be able to get a flight out the next day).
We went shopping at a local market that was absolute heaven – no looting, no desperation and it had electricity and AC! We helped Daniel buy groceries for his family and loaded up gallons of gasoline and headed back to our hotel in Cabo. Two hours later, we drug our luggage back up 6 flights of stairs and spent the night in our hotel with no AC/electric/water and no door that would close/lock and we began our 3 day fast on Peanut Butter sandwiches and water that we had purchased at the market in LaPaz.
On Wednesday we decided to check into the Wyndham as they were taking better care of hotel guests than our hotel, and they were certainly providing more information about the evacuation plan. Things were getting scarier each day – more military with machine guns walking around in town, and the Wyndham staff always escorted us back and forth in the hotel. We were told to meet in a ballroom at the Wyndham at 10pm that night to go through our luggage and condense our things down to a small carry on bag. A few ladies in our group had no small bags and were asked to put their items in a trash bag. The evacuation plan would not allow larger suitcases and “traveling light” was required. We were asked to tape a paper with our name, email address and home address on our luggage and the hotel would work to get these items shipped back to us, eventually. We spent another night without electricity and with an open hotel door.
We began the evacuation in the hotel lobby on Thursday morning at 4:30am after showering by candle light. We took a one hour bus ride to the demolished Cabo airport, unsure of what we would find there. We got out to line up with thousands of other tourists at the Cabo airport which was bringing in 10-12 small passenger airplanes each day to transport 30 thousand tourists home. The line was miles long filled with families, groups, children, elderly, all with bags, and belongings. It was like looking at a lineup in a Holocaust movie. Due to health concerns for a few of our older ladies, we opted not to stand in line all day in the 100 degree, shadeless weather waiting for an evacuation ride home. We later found out that several people had died of heat exhaustion in the evacuation line.
The assistant manager at the Wyndham gave us the name of her sister in law who worked at a shelter in LaPaz and she recommended we look her up if we were unable to find a hotel room. Feeling like we had a good option with the shelter if we struck out with a hotel room, we headed out of Cabo. Luckily, between the 6 of us, we still had cash and were able to pay our next new best friend and taxi driver Eduardo to take us back to LaPaz to sleep on the airport floor and wait for commercial flights to begin flying again. Our guardian angel taxi driver, Eduardo, took very good care of us, letting us check out 7 hotels (all with no vacancies), grocery shopping with us, and helping us to locate after four attempts, a working ATM machine (in disaster situations, cash is king). He took us to the shelter – which resembled the Presbyterian night shelter full of homeless people on Lancaster in Fort Worth. We quickly decided that would not be a place for us to spend the night and Eduardo happily agreed.
In LaPaz, we prepared to sleep on the airport floor – along with about 20 other tourists. What had seemed like a crazy plan on Tuesday to stay in LaPaz, now seemed like a good option since Cabo was getting so dangerous. We took spit baths in the airport bathroom, and made friends with the American Consulate workers. We were told police would be staying throughout the night – but at 9pm they all left – and we began to see trucks full of men driving by the airport. Two of our 73 year old ladies were lying on the sidewalk in front of the airport because it was so hot inside. After a very tearful and fearful time, the American consulate was able to find a room for us to share for the evening – at the Hyatt hotel – which had water, electricity, food, and AC. It was absolutely heaven! By midnight that evening, my brother was able to secure 6 tickets home on Aero Mexico – they had just begun releasing commercial flights again – and we loaded up to the airport on Friday at 7am – got on a plane to Mexico City, and then to DFW from there. We totally felt like battered women running away from an abusive spouse. Afraid to get our hopes up that we were actually leaving – but feeling desperate to leave.
I got home, sat on my sofa and didn’t leave my house for two days – having nightmares about not being able to get out of Cabo. What an experience – probably have some PTSD – but having a safe home, with electricity, water, sewer system, clean food and drink – along with being with people I love and trust – I’m recovering quickly.
The life lessons that I learned from surviving the Hurricane:
It’s always about the people you meet – no matter where you are, or what’s going on.
Treat people how you want to be treated
There’s good and bad people – disasters show people for who they really are – look for the good ones and be good back.
Be grateful, appreciative, kind and make sure to smile.
Nothing ever gets better by thinking negatively – hope is always the key to getting problems solved.
Don’t give up – and focus on what’s really important ( for us it was – are you safe, are you healthy)
Network, Network, Network – it might just save your life.
When traveling, keep enough cash to buy a plane ticket, a taxi ride, water bottles, and peanut butter
(It’s funny that so many of these “ahas” I regularly apply to my career in real estate.)
Here’s a quote that I thought was applicable from a placemat at a restaurant we ate at in Mexico City between flights:
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
And finally, thank you to my 5 wonderful hurricane friends – I personally think we were quite amazing in that we got along, worked together to figure things out, encouraged each other’s strengths, and looked for the positive in all this adventure. And thank you to our guys – the husbands who were solid rocks for us and who kept helping us click our heels to get home. I agree with Dorothy – “There’s no place like home”.