This morning I did dishes in 1A at Koolbaai Villas in Sint Maarten with rainwater from the overnight bucket. It was a thrill, ironically enough, in the brief space of days between Irma and Jose on SXM, to have enough rain to flush toilets and still do dishes. The dirty dishes had been piling up and getting a bit disgusting. After finishing the dishes, at about 6:30, I decided it was time to go for it.
I’d spent half the night thinking that with Jose coming I’d just bet that they’d be trying really hard to evacuate tourists from the island. I figured, “What the heck, I have a US passport. I count.” I grabbed my passport, April’s engagement ring from Tuesday’s ditch bag, the 12-inch length of rebar I’d picked up in Marigot on Wednesday, left our computers and papers with Tanya and Julian, my hosts since Tuesday, and headed out.
I’d had zero official communication on evacuations, but before the last cell carrier had gone down around midday Friday, April had told me that she’d heard online, through all the folks that had been helping get me out, that there was some kind of shelter at a church across from Pineapple Pete’s. I’d decided to find that and see if I could get news on evacs. I told Tanya where I was headed and I’d probably be back in about an hour.
I walked down past what was left of Budget Marine and where Gas King should’ve been. I came to Pineapple Pete’s and started looking around. There’s a cinderblock hulk half way up the hill which looks vaguely like like a half-built or half-demolished mega church. Maybe it was both. I asked a lady going by if she knew anything about a shelter in a church and she confirmed that this was in fact it. It was so completely post-apocalyptic it would be hard to design a campier zombie attack movie set. Cars and trucks half-repaired and half-destroyed both inside and outside the building. A collection of cots in one corner. A woman complaining that someone had been through her stuff. Three Dutch marines. I walked up to one and asked about evacuations. He said I’d just missed the busses to the airport for the Americans. I should try walking or thumbing. So I headed back down to the road and threw out a thumb. I was immediately picked up by 3 locals in a lifted flatbed with “GOD BLESS” lettered across the windshield. I rode in the back on a stack of scavenged lumber. They took me all the way to the front gate.
I jumped off and went to the back of a line of about 1000 tourists of all nationalities. Three hours and several rain bands later, we were informed that all except for Dutch and Americans should return to busses for what was left of the hotels where they’d been staying, as Americans and Dutch had planes on the runway but Jose was moving in too fast for the others. Our passports checked, we were herded up the aft ramps of four Puerto Rico Air National Guard 1C-130s. Two hours later we made our way way though San Juan airport, were presented bags of chips and bottles of water by Red Cross volunteers, handed lists of local hotels, and informed that flights to the mainland can be had as soon as Wednesday or Thursday. Certainly no later than next Saturday. We should enjoy a hot shower and settle in. Which is awesome. But bittersweet.
Tanya and Julian: Thank you so much for everything. You may well have saved my life with the skeptical response to my Shrimpy’s plan. You obviously saved my life by discouraging my naive plan to just dinghy over if things got too rough at Geminga. I could not have spent this time with two more supremely sensible individuals.
I am torn as I sit here in the comfort of the hotel bar in San Juan. Yes, I have longed for power and hot water and to be back with my family, but I cannot stop thinking of you both and the kids, and the daily struggle of life in SXM post-Irma, complicated by Jose.
I wish I could help. I hope my help helped. I hope I earned my keep. I hope things are ok there now. I hope the water and vodka and cigarettes hold out.
What a terrifying yet bonding time we had together. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you will come through safe and sound. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt, and I hope to God that I’m right. I am thinking of you all the time, and thankful for you for all time.
I wish I could wire you water…
And thanks so much, Jim and Dan and all the others who helped April with getting me extracted. I never would have known where or when to head out without the info you dug up.