“Was it all a lie?” That’s what someone asked me after Hurricane Patricia didn’t destroy Vallarta. Wow. It’s hard for me to understand how someone can think that the most powerful hurricane of all time was fiction. Is it any less impressive because we didn’t lose billions of dollars in assets or thousands of lives? I find it more impressive actually. It was amazing being in the Vallarta area when the impending threat headed our direction. I was fascinated to see how the authorities efficiently evacuated thousands of people who were not only unfamiliar with the area, but many of whom did not speak the language or have any awareness of local emergency procedures.
Like many residents of Vallarta we have seen hurricanes come our direction before; most often with blue skies and calm breezes. We are blessed to have the magnificent Sierra Madre mountains to the south that function like the Great Wall of China to keep our enemy hurricanes from crossing into our beautiful paradise. Patricia was different. She seemed determined to circumvent our protective mountain range and crash head on into the heavily populated tourist zone. The bay is large. For years, we’ve been told that if a hurricane arrived right on target that it could spin around in the bay for a while causing incredible damage.
So, I’m running errands around town with a few of my neighbors and it starts to rain a bit. We are sitting at Starbucks at the Marina laughing hysterically about, “it’s just a Category 4 drizzle!” We certainly see more powerful rains than this on a regular basis. Flooded streets and broken branches are common during the rainy season. It is the tropics after all. By the time we left Starbucks, it had stopped raining. We decided we should have T-shirts printed that say, “The rainy season in Vallarta is just a category 4 drizzle.”
Patricia was not to be mocked however. When we arrived back at the apartments and settled in with our Costco dogs for a BBQ we each began to get calls and messages from family and friends. Patricia was gaining strength and headed our way. The song began to reverberate in my mind, “Should I stay or should I go?” But the calls kept coming. It’s hard to enjoy a BBQ when the whole world is telling you to get in the car and head to high ground. We talked about it for about 30 seconds before we decided we should pack up and go. There were just too many people we love concerned for our lives. We agreed to meet in one hour. It’s kind of crazy. What do you grab in one hour. You need to tape windows, put important paperwork in dry bags, unplug everything except the refrigerator, grab valuables, move vehicles from under trees, find the cat, and answer the non-stop text messages from friends and family members who are concerned. Oh yes, and some clothes. That’s a good idea. I probably should have grabbed more than one change of clothes. Ever the optimist.
So, we have decided to take our van, and head … hmmmmm, good question. Erik has been on the phone and we are leaving the driving to him. Amy and I throw blankets, pillows, ice chests, etc. in the back of the van. Stephanie packs some snacks and drinks. One hour and 2 minutes later we are in the van headed to the nearest Oxxo to grab a few more bottles of water and drive to Talpa. There are 4 of us in the van. Three of us have never been to Talpa. Three of us have no idea where Talpa is. A question that we would all be asked many times over the next 12 hours. Erik says it’s about a 2 hour drive. As we drive past the Pemex with our full tank of gas I am praying my first thank-you. There are lines at the pumps that remind me of gas shortages long ago. People are flipping U-turns, obviously hoping that the next station won’t have the long lines. I ask Erik, “Do they ever run out of gas?” “Of course.” he replies, and I realize that a full tank of gas could possibly be the difference between survival or not. What a weird realization. Well, we have a full tank and seem to be well ahead of any evacuation traffic. We actually don’t see too many vehicles fleeing quite yet. Patricia isn’t supposed to make land for at least 12 hours. Maybe some rain ahead of that, but we aren’t in too big of a hurry. We stop a couple of times along the way to stretch our legs and get a breath of fresh air. Most of the drive is pretty uneventful, but at one of our stops, I ask Stephanie, “Do you usually just let your cat out?” “What? Do I look like an idiot?” “Okay, but that cat looks a lot like Tim and it’s headed into the corn field!” Thankfully, Tim comes when he’s called and we don’t have to find a way through the barbed wire and explore a field that was never meant to be a corn maze. The roads aren’t great, but aren’t too bad. There are of course random speed bumps, cows, and pot holes to avoid. The true dangers of driving at night in Mexico. Erik is familiar with the road and other than the fact that the brakes smell like a semi truck headed down Snoqualmie Pass, we make the drive in a speedy 4 hours. Yes we did stop a couple of times and there was the bit of a drizzle, but I’m pretty sure we are not setting any records to be proud of with that pace. On the other hand, we listened to a very eclectic mix of music and laughed about Tim getting out of his carrier and other just as insignificant moments in life that are the bricks of friendship.
When we arrived in Talpa, it was late. Erik had arranged a room with 3 beds for us girls and he was headed to sleep on the floor at a family home. Our room was delightful. Three double beds, a beautiful shared space on the balcony and a view that was breathtaking. Over the next 24 hours we learned a lot about Talpa and the pilgrimages that happen around All Saints Day. My catholic upbringing resurfaced as I remembered what the different bells signified from the cathedral. And, we visited the market to buy fresh fruit, rumpope, local candies, local cheese and fresh (pulling it out of the oven while we were there) hot bread. The people of Talpa were so kind and I can honestly say that it is a place worthy of an extended stay. It’s small and I wouldn’t see myself living there, but 3-6 months would be a wonderful life experience.
Internet was intermittent at best. We could get a few updates, but couldn’t really keep up with Patricia’s progress. I asked friends and family to post what they found and tag me so I could read about it the next day. Thanks to those who did just that as I found the reports very interesting.
Vallarta was spared.
It was hard to remember that we weren’t on vacation in that beautiful little town, but responsibility was calling me back to Vallarta. We needed to get a new tire, check fluids, have a bite to eat and head back down the mountain. There were a few things I needed to do for Beach Crossers that evening. We had some products rented to people who had evacuated and we needed to make new arrangements for collecting those wheelchairs. Being back in phone reception was important, but not so pressing that we couldn’t stop and enjoy a few sites along the way.
There was such a positive energy everywhere we stopped. It’s difficult to describe. It’s like watching the man crawl the last half mile to finish a marathon. Everyone feels more alive. That’s how it felt after Patricia didn’t wipe us all off of the planet. “Was it a lie?” Not at all. It was an opportunity to be thankful for what we have, for what we didn’t lose, for the friendships that grew stronger, for the promise of tomorrow, and for the Sierra Madres or “Mother Mountains” that protected her children and their beautiful playground.