After spending three hurricane seasons in the Caribbean Islands it had to happen! We had our first brush, in fact two brushes with a hurricane this year.
We were in our last few days of a housesit on the tiny island of Bequia (St Vincent and the Grenadines) when tropical storm Matthew passed over. We had been watching it closely and had moved everything possible indoors well before it was due–high winds and outdoor chairs are not good combinations—the golden rule is to batten down as tightly as you can.
The storm hit, although the predicted high winds did not. Matthew dropped 8 inches of rain on us overnight, turning the hillside behind into a mass of waterfalls all pouring into a custom built culvert behind the property. The sheer volume of rushing water on a typically dry island was a sight and sound seldom seen and one we hope not to see again.
Four days later we arrived at Merritt Island, Florida to visit a friend……. just as an evacuation warning was issued. Yep! Our friend Matthew after hitting Haiti on October 4th 2016, with wind speeds of 130 to 156 mph was on its way. Matthew (a category 4 hurricane) left 1000 dead and 17500 homeless and was bearing down on us once again.
The 15 minutes we spent at a large gas station before said friend arrived to collect us was an eye opener. A steady stream of vehicles pulled in gassed up, then the occupants dashed into the store returning clutching cases of water–and in some instances even more cases of beer—before dashing back and charging off. One concerned citizen, no doubt puzzled over the sight of two strangers just standing there with a couple of suitcases, stopped to inquire if we were OK and “did we know there was a hurricane coming”? After reassuring her that everything was fine she reluctantly left us to our own devices.
Our friend Don arrived shortly afterwards and reassured us that it wasn’t as bad as everyone was making out. With the current predicted wind speeds of 50 to 60 mph he was planning on hunkering down and riding it out. Which is why instead of joining the 16 mile long traffic jam leading off the barrier islands we stayed in and enjoyed a deep fried turkey dinner. Wednesday the 5th October 2016 we spent visiting the Kennedy Space Center while (what seemed to be) the rest of the neighbourhood were ‘battening down the hatches’. The sounds of saws and hammers prevailed as windows were boarded up and sandbags stockpiled in efforts to minimize damage and flooding.
It was only when the predicted wind speeds met the 100 mile per hour mark that Don decided that maybe he should go after all. Hurricane Matthew was now predicted to make landfall at our location sometime late on Thursday or early Friday. Our flight out of Orlando was at 1.15pm on Thursday the 6th October and we were worried……… would it make it out in time? Which is why I made an early morning phone call on Wednesday, the airlines were co-operating and were making every effort to get people out before Matthew struck, so I was able to get us on an earlier 7.40 am flight.
As the flight was now within 24 hours I went online to check in, to find that although I was checked in we had no seats allocated……..uh oh! This is where the option to buy a premium seat upgrade was priceless. I coughed up the extra $100 plus and secured actual seat assignments, yay! We hate paying extra fees for upgrades and for checking bags, but in this case it was worth every penny.
Having secured our friends place as much as possible we headed out at 5 am Thursday morning. Us on the way to the airport and he to a friend’s place further inland to sit out Hurricane Matthew.
Upon check-in the attendant predicted that our original flight at 1.15pm would have been cancelled. After all, airlines are not keen to leave an expensive piece of equipment in the path of a hurricane, planes were going out but few were coming in. Our flight had a ‘standby’ list of almost 30 people. Frantic would be passenger’s appealing for a seat were turned away with a ‘good luck’. Had we not upgraded to premium seating guess who else would have been on that standby list? Sometimes it is worth the extra!
The tension in the boarding area was palpable, everyone quiet and subdued, anxiously waiting for boarding. We have never been so happy to squash ourselves in and fasten our seat belts as we were that day. Taxiing down the runway, the joy and relief of having made it thus far caused grins from ear to ear. Once airborne, we gave each other a high five and thanked our lucky stars, we were on our way home, leaving Matthew far behind.
Despite our close brush with Matthew we are going back to the Caribbean in 2017. In fact we already have 4 months booked in early summer and fall.
Having survived Matthew we headed home for Thanksgiving with family and friends. Got our checkups done, re-provisioned and more importantly recharged our batteries.
After 4 ½ years of travel we were beginning to feel a little jaded and yes we confess, even a little bored. Why? Well for the last couple of years we have been doing mostly repeat sits, meaning we were getting way too comfortable, with no new challenges. As every traveller knows the solution to that is to go somewhere new, so we have!
We arrived in Quito, Ecuador on the 2nd November and despite the high altitude, immediately felt revived! New continent, new country, new language, new people, new customs and two new housesits high in the Andes.
We will be bringing you our insights and impressions of this fascinating country in the next few weeks, so stay posted.