With little trouble we found the turn off to Hwy 295, leading us southwest away from the flooded freeway system and towards the coastal road. We had little trouble traversing this road. It is a typical Mexican two-way road but in excellent repair. There was a lot of traffic on it though. Probably more that day than it sees in a month. It seemed everybody had heard of this one open route and was taking advantage of it.
We reached Felipe Carrillo Puerto and stopped for gas. We did not know if there would be any gas stations open closer to the hurricane zone but we doubted it. Especially judging from the amount of cars waiting in line for gas at this station. While waiting we talked to anybody and everybody waiting in line. One guy told us that he had come from Puerto Moreles. There was water on the road just north of there but it was passable. We were jubilant! After four days away from home it looked like we might be able to get back. We finally had our turn at the pump, filled up the car and took the turn off for Highway 307 which would follow the Caribbean coast all the way back to Cancun. We traveled about 64 miles on this road before we really started to see any hurricane damage. We were surprised by how little. As we approached Tulum, things started to change.
We were really pleased to see that Tulum, at least the part that borders the road, had very little damage. Some downed power lines, the now very typical shrubbery with no foliage and trees with no tops or limbs and some standing water here and there. Some of the buildings that had straw roofs were damaged and some buildings made out of aluminum were all twisted. But it was not much. It appeared that they may have only gotten a sideways glancing blow. It was a totally different story as we drove very carefully past Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen, at least the part that borders the road, looked like a bomb had gone off. Downed power lines, road signs twisted like they were made out of rubber, buildings in piles and piles of debris everywhere. We could only imagine what the city itself, sitting almost on the water, looked like. It was shocking and sad at the same time. We made my way past this devastation and continued north towards Cancun.
We were awestruck by the damage we saw. Trees with their limbs torn off leaving raw, jagged white edges. Palm trees lying everywhere. Piles of bricks where once were buildings. The worst was the power lines. It appeared that one power line would have been knocked down and it took the whole row of poles with it. And we are talking about poles made out of cement with reinforcing rods in them. Some of them were just snapped off, like giant broken cement twigs. Signage on this route was non-existent. The poles that once held mileage markers and advertisements for the expensive resorts along this route were there, twisted into grotesque shapes. However, there was no sign of any sign. They were probably somewhere deep in the Yucatan jungle by now. Water was everywhere. The rain and wind here must have been almost unbearable for those having had to live through it. This road is a four lane divided highway and in excellent condition. It is also high so that any water we encountered was on the sides, in the ditches, and not across the road. We were making excellent time, given the circumstances.
We passed Puerto Moreles, where we found out later the edge of the eye had passed. This is a sleepy little town right on the coast. It has some development but most of the bigger resorts are south of here. The world’s second largest barrier reef, which runs from Belize and then the Mexican coastline, is only about 200 yards off shore here. I think that may have been what saved this town. The waves would hit the reef and crash, bringing only the surge into town and not the terrible effects of a towering, wind driven wave crashing upon them. Even so, the entire town, which is two miles from the road, was still under water and totally flooded. The road to there is very low and surrounded by Yucatan mangrove swamps. There was no way for anybody to get in or out at this time. We felt for the people stuck here but it only served to increase our apprehension about what we were going to find when we got home. There is no reef close to our shore to break up the waves. Since we are only yards away from the ocean, we shuddered to think what may have happened to our house. Remember, Wilma stalled out over Isla Mujeres and Cancun for 65 hours with no forward movement. And she was packing 155 MPH winds at that time.
We feared for our island and our fear was great. We had to get home and find out what had happened. Were our friends alright? P had moved a bit to the center of the island and was staying in a large house with friends. T we were not sure about. She told us she would vacate and go across the street to neighbors if it got bad. She lives right on top of the water downtown and it would have been horrible for her. Her house undoubtedly took the full brunt of the ocean. But T loves her house and is stubborn. It was entirely possible that she stayed put. And what about all of our Mexican friends and their families? Were they ok? It was horrible and my mind, at least, raced with horrible visions of the possibilities. None of us really voiced our fears out loud. We just kept saying to each other, “We have to get home!”