12/26/2016

Merry Christmas (a day late) to those of you who celebrate the day!  We wanted to make sure we got the vacation video online so we could send one last thank you to all of you for the tremendous year we’ve had on YouTube.

Our trip was especially fun this year because we got to share it with all of you.  I love telling stories of our crazy antics and the things that happen to us when we travel.  The hurricane story could have gone on forever, but telling you about the pine tree was enough to give you an idea of the severity of the storm.

The bakery car accident story was actually a lot more involved than “the man pulled in as we were backing out.”   It was Rich’s fault and we had insurance on the rental car (through our credit card), but the other driver wasn’t interested in waiting for his money and wanted it immediately.  He had a friend come to the site of the accident who was a mechanic and he gave the $200 estimate for fixing the car.  The cars on St. Maarten are pretty banged up in general, so it’s really difficult to determine what dent was from the current encounter or from a previous one.  The other part of the story that I omitted was that the man was about 6’4″ and broad, and although Rich is 6′ tall, he was dwarfed by the other man.  Let’s just say he was very intimidating and when he wants money from you for an accident, you give it to him.  Rich gave him the money (as the police wouldn’t help one way or the other), and shook hands with the man to confirm the transaction was complete.  The man wouldn’t let go of Rich’s hand and asked for more money for his “time.”  Rich held firm and said that they had agreed to $200 and eventually, he let go of Rich’s hand.  It was a very scary incident and one of those times you are keenly aware that you are not in the United States and there is no one to step in to protect you.

The same was true in the hurricane.  There was one radio station on the island that was operational and they kept repeating that Americans should contact the U.S. Consulate to let them know we were alive in case our families contacted the state department.  This was before the age of good international cellphones and no telephones on the island were operational so there was no way to contact the consulate.  I knew our families would be terrified (as my mother was a Weather Channel junkie), and we had to get word to someone that we were ok.  The staircases in the hotel were basically outside thus making them unusable during the storm.  Once the storm was over, we had to climb over sand bags and debris to make our way downstairs to the lobby that was boarded shut.  There was absolutely no way to leave the hotel until they decided to take the boards off of the doorways. In the meantime, we were frantically searching for anyone with a working cellphone.  As we were walking back to our room, I saw a man in his room holding a phone.  I went into his room and asked if his phone worked and if there was any way we could call home.  He said he worked for Norcom (a telecommunications company) and that his phone wasn’t currently working, but if I gave him my room number, he’d be in touch as soon as it was.  I thanked him profusely and went back to our room thinking I’d never hear from him.  He contacted me a couple of hours later and I called home, got my mother’s answering machine, and left a message that we were ok but not sure when we would be able to get home as we had heard that the airport had lost it’s radar in the storm.  It was the week before Thanksgiving when the storm hit, so we weren’t sure if we would be home in time for the holiday and people were really panicky about it.  The first day that the boards were removed from the doors, we ventured outside to check on the island’s damage.  We got a lot of really terrifying photographs of yachts on the road, overturned airplanes, and crushed homes.  We went to a local market and bought some food to tide us over for the short term and went back to our hotel.  On the wall behind the front desk was an 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper that said US Air flight #blahblahblah, was leaving that day at 5:30PM and if you had a ticket for that flight, go to the airport.  Unbelievably, that was our flight and it was so lucky we looked at the sign, otherwise we would not have made our flight.  Oh, and that’s also how we found out about the hurricane.  There was a similar piece of paper in the elevator the day before the storm hit, telling us we should get food and water to prepare for it.  No announcements, nothing on the radio, just one piece of paper in the elevator.

When we got to the airport, there were armed guards at the gates and the only way to get past was to show our plane tickets.  We had several people screaming at us that they would pay us thousands of dollars for our tickets.. No thanks, we just wanted to go home.  Nothing can really prepare you for a hurricane in a hotel when you are in the room at the end of the hall.  The water came in through the outside wall and we had three inches of water on the floor (keeping in mind we were on the fourth floor of the hotel.)  They told us to put water in the tub and sink to use later.  Water came in through the ceiling and walls and filled the tub and sink for us, no need for us to do anything.  We had glasses of water to drink from, and the water in the glass would shake from the wind.  And we were the fortunate ones, because our hotel had a generator so we had electricity through the forty-eight hours of the hurricane.  It was definitely a birthday to remember and a trip that was unforgettable.  I downplay it in the video, but wanted to share a little more of it with you in the blog.  Oh, I sent a huge Hickory Farms basket to the man whose cellphone I borrowed, as it was the least I could do since he saved my mother’s and my sanity that day.

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