Monday morning in Valledolid. We were up as early as we dared in order to get some breakfast and finally be on our way back home. There was an air of excitement in the room as we all gathered up our stuff and piled the repacked backpacks onto the bed. Everything ready to grab after we had first grabbed some breakfast and a few snacks and water to take with us.
We loaded into the car and made our way out of downtown Valledolid and back onto the freeway system that leads to Cancun. Shortly after getting back on the freeway, we had to again pass through the checkpoint which is the state line between the Yucatan and Quintana Roo. We stopped long enough at the customs office to ask about the road ahead. The customs/immigration official assured us that the road to Cancun was now open. We were jubilant!
On we drove under the still gray and one dimensional sky. The only difference from yesterday was that the sun was now poking through the sky here and there. And we did pass the occasional road crew out in trucks trying to clean up the debris. This did not last long. It wasn’t long before we left the little bit of sunshine behind and ran into the rain and wind again. And it was at times furious. Our little VW Pointer was buffeted so strongly at times that I thought I was going to loose control of it. It did not help that the roads were still mostly green with a carpet of wet, slippery leaves from all the trees and bushes that had been denuded. At one point I had to pull over and we just sat. The rain was coming down stronger than I had ever seen in my life and the bursts of wind felt like they were picking the car up and shaking it. Scary stuff. This stuff came in waves. We made slow progress, trying to reach the same point that we had reached yesterday and got turned back.
After what seemed like an eternity of driving, we reached the same point. We knew it immediately because there were even more vehicles than yesterday parked everywhere. And they were further back this time. This did not look good. Again, we parked the car and started talking to people. What we heard gave me a cold feeling in my stomach. Unbelievably, the water was even higher today! Some were saying that it was now over ten feet deep! Since we had driven this far anyway, we decided to have a look. It was easy to see that they were right. Even the tops of the bushes that we had seen the day before were now gone, totally covered with water. It was one of the most depressing sights I have ever seen. So much for the border officials knowing what the hell they were talking about.
We made our way through the crowds and maze of vehicles back to our car to reconnoiter. None of us wanted to spend another night in Valledolid. There just had to be another way home. Not only were we worried half to death over the condition of our friends and our home, but this was Monday and L had to catch a flight on Friday for Quito, Ecuador to start his new job. For now, there was nothing left to do but turn around and head back. Unfortunately, we had left home with no maps, so we had no way of looking to see what other routes there may be.
The rain started again as we turned and made our way back to the state border check point. Not as bad this time, more like a heavy, irritating sprinkle most of the time. But this was encouraging. Maybe Wilma was really out of our lives now. We stopped at the check point to use the bathroom and mostly because we did not know what to do. Our logical choice was to return to Valledolid and wait. None of us wanted to do that. (sidebar: good thing we did not. It was six weeks before this road was even somewhat passable again!) I just can’t explain the feelings of frustration, despair and worry that we were experiencing adequately enough. It was such a hopeless situation. As we stood in the doorway of the bathrooms, watching the rain now pour down again, a car with American plates pulled up. They ran from their car and joined us in the alcove area.
They told us that they lived in Puerto Moreles, a town just a little north of Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean coast. They, too, were trying to get home and were as worried and frustrated as we were. They had also heard the same stories as we had. That the eye had passed over these two cities and that there was nothing left. Even as I write this, I get the same goose bumps as I did then. How could this be? Could it be possible that the wonderful area where we now live had been totally destroyed and no longer existed? It seemed more and more likely that it may be true. This couple did not know of any way back either. They had tried the free road. They did not get very far on it.
This road from Valledolid to almost Cancun is very hilly. They said that at the point they had to turn around, they could look down the hill and the road disappeared into a giant lake of water. Only the tops of a few houses showed through the water. We shuddered to think what may have happened to these poor people. Where could they have gone for shelter and how did they get there during the worst of the storm. What an awful feeling it must have been, watching the water rise all around you and no place to go but high into the jungle. I had to put it out of mind because the terror they must have felt was too overwhelming to consider. At any rate, they decided to go back to Valledolid and just wait.
At this point, two Mexicans pulled up in a pick up. These two guys told us that every road between here and Cancun was closed, covered with impassable water. However, they said that they had heard that Highway 295 that ran inland from Valledolid to Felipe Carrillo Puerto was open. From there we could get on the coastal highway and maybe make our way north along the coast. We had our doubts about this since this road runs through Tulum, Playa del Carmen and Puerto Moreles, the hardest hit areas. But, again, this was just word of mouth rumors. We really had no way of knowing since there was no news coming from anywhere. They said that they had heard that there was some water on the road north of Puerto Moreles but people were getting through. It did not take much discussion for us to decide to try this route. If we could not get through, at least we would be that much closer to home if we had to spend another night on the road. And, we reasoned, this stretch of road was much more populated and there was bound to be crews out working on getting it passable. So, with little more discussion, we piled back into the car and headed in that direction.