We knew that we would have to stay in Cancun for the night. It was a four hour drive to Merida and it was already 7:30pm when we docked at Punta Sam. Better to spend the night and high tail it in the morning. Wilma was not due to come ashore until late Thursday night so we figured we had plenty of time yet. Not wanting to get too deeply into Cancun proper, we decided to stay the night at the downtown Radisson. As an aside, I would not recommend this overpriced hotel. The hotel itself is fine, but the rooms and the service are greatly overrated and priced. We found a nice little restaurant close by, ate dinner and retired to the room. We were all exhausted. Not so much physically as mentally. This day had been very stressful, to say the least. And there was to be more stress to come.
Thursday morning and we were up early. We wanted to get a good start just in case we ran into trouble. We didn’t really realize how things had changed until we went outside to get the car. The wind had picked up considerably overnight and was blowing strongly. Trees were already bending and snapping in the wind and the streets were full of stuff blowing around. And it was raining. Not too much, just enough to have to use the windshield wipers. It looked like full staff and maybe some extra helpers were out and about the hotel. They were trying to board up entrances and take down awnings. They were having a tough time of it in the wind.
We proceeded to take our normal route out of Cancun but it was slower than usual. Two things were slowing us down. The first was the water. It must have rained quite hard during the night because the streets were already flooded in a lot of places and cars were carefully picking their way through areas where the road could not be seen at all. The second was all the crews out removing the light bulbs from the street lights. I guess they figured they were going to loose the fixtures anyway, might just as well save all the bulbs! Something I would never have thought to do and I am still not sure it was the most valuable use of manpower.
Our drive, once out of Cancun and on the freeway, was uneventful. Just long and boring as the route usually is to Merida. We made it to Merida about midday, parked the car in the secure hotel lot and checked in. We were staying at the Dolores Alba on 63rd and 54th. This is the hotel L always stayed at with the tour groups he led in Mexico. It is an excellent, medium priced hotel and I highly recommend it. It even has an elevator for those of us who no longer enjoy traipsing up three flights of stairs all the time!
Our time spent in Merida was horrible. We usually enjoy this great colonial city but we were all too fraught with worry to really relax. A lot of time was spent in the room, channel hopping on cable TV, trying to find some news about Wilma. And there was precious little of it. We could get local news stations and CNN Mexico but the coverage was lousy. They didn’t seem to care too much about it coming except to keep showing a display of what to do before, during and after a hurricane strike. And the local channels went off the air for the weekend so we lost even that venue.
We checked the internet often. It was scary to say the least. I am sure most of you reading this either were tuned to satellite TV images or the Weather Channel so you know what I am talking about. The worst, absolutely the worst moment, was when we pulled up the satellite image and statistics on Friday night. Wilma was not moving at all and was stalled out right over Cancun and Isla Mujeres.
I almost started to cry right in the internet. I felt so helpless, knowing that we had friends there and there was nothing we could do. I prayed that they were all staying safe. I really, at that moment, did not think we would have a home, or indeed an island, to return to. How could little Isla Mujeres withstand a constant pounding of 155 MPH winds? Would our house withstand it? Would the sea rise the 30 feet it needed to gain entrance to our house? Would any of the “cardboard houses” still remain? What about downtown where it is the lowest and closest to the sea? I really could not begin to imagine what must be happening and what the people who stayed were going through as we all just silently stared at the screen and that big white glob of destruction. It was horrible, the not knowing. As it turns out, Wilma sat on top of the island for a total of 65 hours and dumped 23” of rain on us. But the damage report comes later.
After three days in Merida, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Wilma had moved on and we decided it was time for us to do the same. We had tried calling everybody we know, both on the island and in Cancun, trying to get some news. But it was useless. All phone lines were dead. There were no satellites working for cell phones. We called the local Red Cross in Merida, but they had little information and had heard absolutely nothing about the island. We did not know if we would make it home, but we knew we had to try. Our nerves could not stand the sitting around any longer. So early Sunday morning, car packed, we headed back to the freeway to start the journey home.