Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Our first hurricane in Belize

It was time to go on vacation. A lot of people felt it was a weird statement considering we live "in paradise" but a true one none the less. Where do you go when you live at the beach where it is sunny every day with high temps? The beach of course.

The plan was to meet friends from North Carolina in St Martin and the planning began. Planning skills were definitely put to the test and the Belize International airport should have a new slogan; "You Can't Get There From Here". To get to the States or Canada, no problem. To get to any other location you better plan on a high ticket cost as well as a absurdly long layover in one or two different locations. After a 3 hour car ride up to Belize City we parked our truck at a hotel around the corner from the airport. Its a gated lot with security making it a better option than the airport itself. Hassle free check in and got to have a beer with Jet before taking off. Grabbed some mini bottles from duty free and we were off. Starting at 7am and traveling thru Miami to arrive in St Martin at 9:30pm makes for a long day.

Our first and last nights stay on St Martin

Seeing old friends was great and the week went off with only one hitch that put a real spin on the vacation. One night while we slept our house was broken into and a purse containing both of our friends wallets was stolen from their bedside table. Its a scary thought to think that someone was so close while sleeping. A feeling we have luckily never experienced in Belize.

The gang
View from our house

Don't mind if we do have another cocktail!
Who left the boat in our control?

What a captain!

After a week on St Martin and exploring both sides of the island we said "see you later" to our friends and headed off to Saba for a couple days. Figuring that we have more time than money and it being a cheap boat ride between the two islands we headed off. Did I mention the boat has free beer for the 1.5 hour ride?
The shortest commercial airstrip is on Saba. We took the boat.
Saba is a mecca of sorts for diving and we were excited to get in a couple days while there. Unfortunately the weather had other plans. The winds picked up and the rains came in. Something the locals said was very uncharacteristic of the island. The first day of diving was cancelled we set off to explore the tiny island of 300 people. It couldn't be more contrasting from St Martin as there were clean streets, friendly faces and the pace was much closer to that in Belize that we were used to. A welcome change for us after the fast pace of St Martin.

When exploring Saba and walking, you are either walking UP or walking DOWN. There is not a flat spot on the whole island I suspect. We had stayed Our Hotel at the top of Windwardside, one of the two towns on the island, the other being The Bottom. Pretty original right? The view from the top was fantastic as was the breeze but it made for a very steep walk and our calves became rock hard and "I'm dying" was muttered more than once on the trek up the hill.

On the second day the weather calmed down a bit and diving was on. Just the two of us and the dive master in the water. Great diving although we were told that the visibility is usually much better. Plenty of sharks, turtles, beautiful corals and even our first seahorse!

The storm completely passed during the night and the boat ride back to St Martin for our last night before our flight was an easy one. Relaxing on the beach outside of our cabana we enjoyed our last day of vacation. Or so we thought. We received word that our flight Tuesday morning was cancelled and after a couple hours on the phone we were re-ticketed. We would still fly to Miami and after a 23 hour layover would finally be back in Belize. Or so we thought. Again. You know that storm that we had in Saba? It had passed graciously across the Caribbean Sea and was headed straight to Belize. As a hurricane.

We had not prepped anything for a possible hurricane before we had left. Our chairs were still on the rooftop palapa, our trees still had coconuts in them which turn into projectiles in a hurricane, we had limited food and drink and worst of all, our dog was at friends and the cat was alone on our house. Nevermind that the truck was sitting in a parking lot that by all accounts may see some extreme flooding. In true fashion, our friends and neighbors came to our rescue. Securing our house, getting us supplies and preparing to evacuate with our cat and dog. As they say, "it takes a village" and this was one of those times.

We were prepared to land in front of the hurricane, drive 3 hours through possible driving rain, hopefully making it back home in time to survive our first Belizean hurricane. After checking into our hotel we were informed that our Wednesday flight was again cancelled since the airport in Belize City where we were to land had closed. Knowing that we would not be back in Belize before the storm did relieve some stress but our worry grew.

Back to the phone to change our flights. We were told that the next available flight was not until Saturday. What? Its Wednesday right? Yep. As we booked the last 2 remaining seats on our flight it was over. Fully resigned to a Saturday flight and not being a fan of being stuck in a hotel in Miami for 2 additional nights we rented a car and headed up to Daytona to visit my mom. A fantastic layover if ever we had experienced.

Saturday finally came. It had now been 17 days since we were in Belize and we could not wait to get home. As we were landing a survey was done from the air and the damage assessed. It looked as though the roads were passable. Our truck luckily had survived without much incident. A lot of dirt but no flooding and we were relieved. The drive home was uneventful but seeing the damage along the way made us nervous for our tiny village. Luckily our area sustained very minor damage compared to other areas including Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker where there is barely a dock standing.

Our local dive shop has been relocated a bit

Couldn't get down this road...

As we drove down our peninsula everything looked different. Its not that the buildings and scenery had changed but I felt that we had. It was as though we were returning to our hometown. We were coming HOME. Arriving home we were pleasantly surprised everything looked good. A quick shower and off to a business meeting with a client that had been waiting for us for 4 days. You have to be flexible in the tropics.