Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wilma 08

We passed slowly by Puerto Moreles, taking in all of the damage and negotiating our way around fallen obstacles still on the road. Just past there we started to pick up some speed as the road had been cleared already of debris. We were amazed by the clean up crews already out working. This was only Monday and Wilma had just spent Thursday, Friday, Saturday and part of Sunday hovering over them. Suddenly, B and L heard me exclaim "Shit!" as I came over a small hill and looked down and ahead of us. It was a repeat of what we had seen on the freeway. Cars lining the road everywhere. The hill was not high enough that we could see what was blocking the road and causing the stoppage, but we could guess. Water. And we were right.

We parked the car by the edge of the road and made our way to the front to have a look. It was water alright. Covering all four lanes and extending well into the ditches and jungle all around us. Where the water started, there was a fire truck parked. It had a large generator going and was pumping water off the road. Good going guys! But maybe you could spare another truck or two and really get this pumped off the road? Our side of the road, northbound to Cancun, was just a little bit lower than the south side. As a result, as they pumped water off the road, the south side flowed over and kept filling in our side, making the pumping process slow at best. The south bound side was getting lower and cars and trucks and especially buses were trying their luck at crossing. Most made it, some did not. People would get to the middle where it was deepest and stall out. They then had to open their doors, which flooded the interior even more, and try to push their cars the rest of the way. It was sad to watch. We watched this drama for two hours. The same thing was being repeated on our side of the road as people screwed up their courage and tried to cross. Buses and bigger trucks all made it. Smaller cars did not. One enterprising guy had a truck with a trailer for large machinery. He could lower it so that cars could drive onto it and he ferried them across. I have no idea how much he charged people but I would have paid almost anything to get a turn!

There was no where else to go. Even if we wanted to spend the night here and try to get through in the morning, there were no hotels to stay in. They had all been damaged to the point of not being able to take in guests. And we did not relish the thought of sleeping in the little Pointer. By this time, they had also brought in a front end grader and were making the ditch on our side of the road wider and deeper. Nice plan except for one thing. Our side of the road was lower than the southbound side. This meant that since water seeks its' own level, the water from the southbound side kept filling in any space that they dug. This was actually making our side deeper! The fire truck also kept pumping but we could see the level on the wheels was slowly getting higher, not lower as we needed.

As the sun was starting to go down we realized we had to make a choice. Either go back the way we came and try to find someplace to stay for the night or to chance the crossing. It was a terrible decision to have to make. Neither one was appealing and we didn't think we would be successful with either one either. Finally, we decided to go for it. We had seen cars similar to ours chance it and some of them actually made it.

We had to lighten our load. We didn't have much anyway, just our backpacks. We decided that I would be the one to tackle the water since I do most of the driving and know what to expect from the car. We took everything out of the trunk in case it filled with water and put it inside the car. I really thought that some water would come in through the doors but that it would not reach the top of the back seat. B and L were not going to cross with me. They were going to stay behind and try to catch a ride across with the next big truck that tried to make it.

Having carefully observed both the failed and successful crossings of others, I knew that I could not follow closely behind anybody. If they stalled, I was trapped and would stall out also. I could not cross at the same time as a southbound vehicle was trying to make the crossing either. The wash generated by these vehicles was literally washing smaller cars on our side away. The resulting wave caused by a car on the south side would just lift the car up and push it aside. Scary stuff. Not like driving through a blazing fire, but scary all the same. And knowing that if I stalled, we would have to try to push the car to the other side through deep water. And then try to dry it out and get it started. A daunting task to say the least.

Finally, with my heart racing faster than the engine, and the well wishes of B and L, I started to inch my way into the water. I few feet in and the water was already getting deeper. I had to remind myself to breathe. The car sputtered a few times but I kept playing the clutch and gas and kept it slowly moving forward. I was just over one third across when a truck from the southbound side decided to cross. As I approached the middle, point of no return part, the wave generated by this truck hit me. It washed up the side of the car and onto my window. From the front it hit the grill and up and over my windshield. I felt the force of it jerk me backwards. I felt like I was going to throw up, my nerves were just shattered. It was probably just plain luck and not my superb driving skills that saved me from stalling out. I kept going and reached the middle. At this point, if I had draped my arm out the window, my hand would have been underwater. It was deeper than the bottom of the door, almost to the door handle. Thankfully it only stayed this deep for about five feet and then started to drastically get shallower. The worst was over and I only had a few yards left to go. The car was sputtering terribly at this point but I somehow managed to keep it running. I arrived onto dry pavement amid cheers of the people who had also made it across, whether they had driven, been ferried or pushed after stalling. It was a great feeling. I pulled over to the side of the road in the first spot I could find. I had to wait for B and L to find a ride across. I kept the car running and occasionally had to gun the motor to keep it going.

I did not have long to wait. The next vehicle across was a pick up and it pulled over and out hopped B and L from the back! What luck that they had gotten a ride across so soon. I yelled for them to get in. We could arrange luggage later. I needed to get moving to try to dry the engine out. As we pulled away and back onto the road, all of us were chattering at once and laughing like school kids. The relief of having made it across was just so tremendous. B said that he had almost not made it. They had had to step on the back bumper of the truck and over the tailgate. B had one foot on the bumper, one foot on the ground and one hand on the tailgate when the driver took off, almost spilling him backwards onto the road. He yelled and L grabbed him and pulled him up. All in all, an incredible experience.

So, feeling quite smug and secure, we headed north for Cancun, hoping that we would be able to get to the island yet tonight. We had no idea of what was ahead.

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