What we did on our Summer Vacation….

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Click here to read about The Stephens in The Palm Beach Post.

 

by Eddie Stephens & Jacquie Stephens

Eddie:  My family & I were vacationing on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize, from July 30 to August 6, 2016.  We first learned of Invest 97L while booking a snorkeling trip.  San Pedro, Belize, is a diving / fishing resort on an Island on the West Coast of Central America which has the second largest barrier reef in the world.   We got there Saturday afternoon, had a restful day on Sunday and on Monday heard about Earl.  Being a third generation Floridian, I have some experience with Tropical weather and have been through a half dozen hurricanes and the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1991.  However, I have never been through one in a foreign, developing country, residing in a structure on the beach with my family including my wife Jacquie, our teenaged boys who are 16 and 14, our adult daughter Kathleen, her husband and our 18 month old grandson.  All of the sudden I felt the urgency to head back to our residence and check the weather for myself.  I did not like what I learned.  Due to the warm water of the Caribbean and the particular weather pattern, the weather folks determined there was an 80% chance Belize would be hit by a category 1 hurricane within the next 2 days.  The storm was to be named “Earl”.

Jacquie:  We know what to do. We’ve gone through the aggravation of power outages, owning property, making sure there’s enough supplies and water. Kathleen’s wedding took place in a hurricane in Pennsylvania several years ago.  We seem to attract hurricanes.  The reassuring news was that it didn’t seem as though Earl would be any more than a Tropical Storm or Cat 1.  As Eddie says though …. What would that be like on an island?

Eddie:  Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 hurricane, devastated South Florida in 1991.  While I did not experience the storm directly, I did arrive the following day and lived through the aftermath.  It took over 2 months for our house to have electricity.  People were without air conditioning, food, medicine and even clean water or ice.  The armed forces, equipped with assault rifles, patrolled the streets of Miami/Homestead to keep order.  Looting was an issue.  It was hot.  I was a junior at the University of Miami, and the impact was so significant, they cancelled final exams due to the extended period of missed school.  From this I learned the consequences to an event like this extends well beyond the actual storm itself.

Jacquie: The adults had a “wish list” of what we wanted to do in Belize.  Snorkeling Monday, Tuesday we went to Mayan Ruins and did cave-tubing.  (oh, and by the way, go to Belize and do these things!  We had a fabulous time!)  Deep down I was still hoping that Earl would hit far enough south of us that we wouldn’t get those ugly upper quadrant winds.  After a wonderfully long, exhausting Tuesday we were getting ready to take the boys out for burgers when our landlord for the week made contact.  She offered to get us off the island and make arrangements for us to stay in Belize City.

The adults conferred and decided to stay.  Then reality set in for me.  Our pet/house sitter was leaving on her own vacation the day after we were due to return.  I have some health issues that could be problematic.  I had a panic attack and wanted to get the heck off San Pedro!  Luckily United Airlines was spectacularly unhelpful and it was clear there was no leaving San Pedro.  I sucked it up, made plans and pulled it together.

Eddie:  Having settled on the decision to remain on the island for the storm, we went about stocking up on supplies.  This turned out to be easier than it sounds.  2 large containers of bottled water, canned and dry food for 2 days, flashlights and batteries, a bucket to flush toilets (toilets don’t flush without electricity) and rum.  Lots of rum.  Our son-in-law made us a great chicken dinner that night with the thought we might not have a warm meal for a day or two.

Come Wednesday afternoon there was not much to do but wait.  I walked down the beach and was able to take some pretty fantastic pictures with my iPhone of the first band rolling in.  The pictures came out good, and Jacquie encouraged me to send them to the Weather Channel.

Jacquie:  Eddie does better when he has a project and is busy.  Plus he takes really really, really good pictures.  Nature was so outstanding that day, even I couldn’t muck up those photos.

Eddie:  Within 15 minutes I was contacted by a producer for TWC/Wunderground Weather trying to set up a Skype interview at landfall.  In the spirit of maintaining the optimistic “adventurous” spirit, I agreed. 30 minutes later, I was broadcast on international television for a 2+ minute segment that went down as follows:

Jacquie:  Cheetos.  That was literally all that the kids wanted, from the 33 year old to the 18 month old.  The guys came and put up hurricane shutters.  The wind was picking up.  I did a load of towels and clothes knowing we were going to lose power.  We busied ourselves with what we could do to prepare the condo.  We walked on the beach, took pictures & movies, we took the baby in the pool a few more times and after dinner, settled in for the evening.  I caught some couch time and re-read Game of Thrones; everyone else played a rollicking game of Uno.  It was the kind of evening that contained a lot of laughter and family time.  Rum punch made the adults a little looser and laugh a little harder.

As we were watching The Weather Channel, they started reporting from Belize City.  The report that evening was that there were a number of tourists who were wandering the streets. They had come to Belize City hoping to get out of Belize before Earl and couldn’t, the airport was shut down.  There were not enough hotel rooms for all of the tourists in Belize City and they were putting these tourists into shelters!  Holy moley, that could have been us!  Now, I can rough it in a beach condo.  Rough it in a hurricane shelter on Belize?  Um, probably not for me.  I was really glad that United’s customer service wasn’t very helpful and we stayed on San Pedro.  Definitely one of those “everything happens for a reason” moments.

I slept through the hurricane that night, in a big comfortable bed with my husband next to me for reassurance.  It took awhile for me to fall asleep, but I slept like a log.

Eddie: The power went out at 9 p.m.  We gathered our flashlights and headed to our rooms for the night.  As Hurricanes go, this was not necessarily bad.  We were on the third and fourth floor condominiums in a concrete building, so we were safe from the storm surge.  Because winds did not exceed 80 mph hour, I was somewhat confident we would not be blown into the ocean.  We had decent hurricane shutters.  Overall, I felt relatively safe.  The worry was over how long would we be without electric and whether we would be able to get back home to all of our responsibilities.

The Hurricane itself felt and sounded like you were in a heavy, long freight train for about eight hours.  By sunrise, the storm had passed.  This is what it looked like:

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Jacquie:  The next morning we were up and walking around.  The damage was not so bad.  You could see the markers where the water had come way up on the beach: sponges & conch shells & debris, oh my!

Our little area of San Pedro did really well, even the beach bar next door didn’t take much damage.  The dock & palapa (little hut) where we had caught the water taxi on Tuesday was in bad shape.  The hut was missing and the dock was, well, crooked.

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Before

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After

 

While my daughter and I were pretty sure we wouldn’t see power again before we left on Saturday morning, it was actually only out for 26 hours.  We’ve had thunderstorms in Palm Beach County that left the power out that long!  And while it was only out for a day, that first post-hurricane shower is the very best shower.

Wednesday & Thursday was family time and while the teenagers were starting to miss WiFi and air conditioning they were still well-behaved, in large part because we were able to find an open restaurant on Thursday evening and the boys had steak.  That kept them happy.

Friday there was a lot that was back to normal.  We went to the “Secret Beach” where you could walk for many yards and the water was no more than chest deep.  It was beautiful.  When I took a walk with the baby that evening, so his parents could take a walk themselves, we found a hermit crab under our golf cart.  Big, fat, colorful & with a gorgeous shell, that baby just brings out the best in everyone, including Mother Nature.

This was one of the best vacations of my life.  It was weird because the highs, the happy moments, were really some of the happiest I’ve had with my family.  The small things:  grand-baby sitting so Kathleen & her husband could snorkel the reef, and my grandson conjured up a pod of dolphins next to the boat; cave tubing in a place where dinosaurs had walked; walking on the beach with my family, both pre-and-post hurricane; and so many other memories.  The lows, well, there was stress and I probably was a wee bit more on edge than during most vacations.  The good far outweighed the bad and I’m ready to plan our next vacation to Belize (maybe between November & June as opposed to between June & November).

Eddie:  There is nothing like a hurricane to bring a family together.  Being forced to keep each other entertained without devices or other wi-fi dependent technology was a nice change of pace.  Instead of Minecraft, there was Uno.  It was also an opportunity to practice patience.  Patience with ourselves, each other, and patience with our situation.

Although the hurricane excursion was unplanned, it certainly added an element of adventure and made for one hell of a story!  There were times where we all tested each other’s resolve, overcoming these obstacles taught us something about each other in ways a normal vacation could not have done.Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 12.48.25 PM

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