Puerto Vallarta, October 23, 2015.
That's what the tee shirt is going to say. Not that I will need a reminder, but because I want people to ask about it, so I can share the story of the miracle that happened on that day.
I don't keep up on the news when I'm on vacation, especially in a place like Mexico, where the news is in a language I don't understand. So, the first we heard about a hurricane approaching was at dinner on Thursday night, when a waiter tried to tell us that we were in the path of Patricia. The facts really didn't register, it was warm and calm, the sky was clear, the waves and swells in Banderas Bay were small. We were on vacation, it was perfect.
Perfection came to an abrupt halt the next morning when a phone call from the resort management told us to pack essentials and be prepared to evacuate. The TV was tuned to a Spanish speaking weather station, and there was no mistaking the severity of the storm. This was to be the worst hurricane in history, with 200 mile/hour winds and 20 inches of rain. It was also very slow moving, so it had potential to totally destroy this beautiful place and its people. Our anxiety grew as we were then told to pack everything and be ready for transport to a safe location, then there were conflicting notifications, and language difficulties that made things more confusing .
Taxis queued up in front of the main lobby of the resort to take us to the Convention Center, then that was changed because it was full or damaged or something.... We then took a roundabout ride through the cobblestone streets that were rapidly filling with water and with busses and cars and cabs trying to evacuate the town of Puerto Vallarta. The water made its way to the sea, and the traffic all converged on a football field sized building already overflowing with families and tourists. There were some plastic chairs and tables, all already taken; bathrooms already overflowing, and a continual influx of people lining up to sign in to this so called shelter. This building would not have held up in the storm. It was here that the anxiety started to morph into outright fear that we were really, truly in danger.
A bus arrived, and an announcement was made that the people from Los Tules, our resort, were to be taken somewhere else. So, again, we loaded up and were driven to a school compound that looked a bit more sturdy. We lined up to repeat the sign in process and then we were directed to various classrooms where we would be locked in when the storm hit. Women here, men there... Couples and families separated and tearful. The announcements that came around were in Spanish, translations were poor; so we probably looked as dazed and confused as we felt.
With a quaver in my voice and fighting tears, I called home to tell my family I loved them and optimistically said I would call when it was over. I texted other friends and family members to ask for prayers and to say "I love you "..... Just in case...... Others were doing the same. We were all frightened, but putting brave faces forward.
News and weather reports were sporadic, but the English speaking tourists kept each other informed as we waited.
There was no food or water, we apparently missed the announcement to bring your own....and there were policemen at the gate of the compound preventing anyone from leaving. I wondered how I could get a pizza delivered. We spent time trying to determine how to prevent injuries from flying glass in these classrooms, and hung sheets over some of the Windows. Would it help? I don't know, but it was better than doing nothing. A few cots we're brought into each of the rooms, and then a little tuna sandwich was given to each one of us..... A last meal or a communion of sorts. We were hungry; we ate them.
The announcement came that at two PM, the power would be turned off for the entire city and we were to be locked into our rooms at the school..... Hurricane Patricia was on her way, with wind and rain and flooding and flying glass and trees..... She was just off the coast, south of Banderas Bay, ready to hit the small towns and then cross into the bay and destroy Puerto Vallarta.
We waited, the power stayed on and the doors remained unlocked. The police continued to guard the gate, however. The storm was slow; they were postponing the lockdown until five or six PM...... We were still hungry and thirsty, but no more tuna was forthcoming. It began to rain, soft and warm, no wind, no thunder. The calm before the storm we decided. We continued to wait. It was hot and humid, people wandered from room to room, catching weather reports or other news, then sharing it throughout the compound. We passed time getting to know our fellow refugees. There were sounds of laughter and comfortable conversations... Fear and anxiety were disappearing.
By seven PM, it was clear that the storm had turned south and east of its projected course and the rain we were experiencing was all we would get. Oh, it was enough.... The streets ran like rivers, everything was wet, flooding remained a concern. Ready to be freed and return to our homes, hotels, and condos we waited for the powers that be to open the gates. And, we waited, and waited, and waited. The authorities finally gave the go ahead about eleven PM, and we went through the process in reverse.......line up, Sign out, Line up again to wait for a cab, or a van, or even a stranger with a car that will bring you to your hotel for one hundred pesos.
It was over. We were safe. Warm, dry clothes and food made all the difference, and by midnight we were about ready for bed. It wasn't until the next morning that I realized that we ran off like spoiled children on Christmas morning..... We received the gift we asked for and never stopped to thank the Giver. Our prayers and the prayers of our friends and families and the prayers of strangers were answered. We watched the worst hurricane of all time make a right hand turn and abruptly lose its strength just before it would have destroyed the area and possibly taken our lives. At the very least, our vacation would have been ruined.
The morning dawned bright and clear. There was no trace of the storm. It was if the previous day never happened. The only notable difference is that the resorts are fairly empty, reservations were cancelled for this week with the news reports of the damage Patricia caused south of us. Those of us that remained felt a bond with each other. Friendships were forged during those hours we spent together as refugees in a foreign country, facing the unknown. This never would have happened if we sat around the resort, and swam in the pools, the and walked on the beach, never facing the storm.
The tourists will return, the resort will fill up again as the sun continues to shine. The newcomers won't know what happened here, that we experienced a miracle last Friday when the hand of God turned the storm. They won't share the friendships with each other that we have experienced in the days that followed.
I survived a category five.... The sky is bluer, the grass greener..... love, and joy, and gratitude fill my soul . I can't wait to share the stories of answered prayers and Gods love for us as he calmed the storm.