Vacationing in the Caribbean During Hurricane Season

Part II

2017 is remembered as a “hyperactive” year for hurricanes. That was the year Rhonda and I decided to get married in the Caribbean. Originally scheduled to depart on a Wednesday, we were stuck on the island for an additional three days. Fortunately, there are worse places to be stuck than an all-inclusive resort on a tropical island. Unfortunately, though, we needed to get back. A very sick parent and a home in the projected path of the hurricane we had just gone through didn’t let us relax and enjoy the surroundings.

Hurricane Irma passed over Antigua on the Wednesday of our scheduled flight. Hurricane Maria was only days behind Irma, and was projected to pass over the area on Sunday or Monday of the following week. If we were to leave, it had to be soon. The island luckily escaped major damage from Irma, but who knew what Maria was going to do? We placed call after call to the airport and the airlines that flew from there, only to be told there were no scheduled outbound flights. We tried the concierge service with our credit card company but their hands were tied also.

Speaking with other guests, we all shared stories on the seeming impossibility of leaving the island. Everyone was getting the exact same results as us. There was no way out.

One extra day turned to two, then to three. Each day we spent a few hours on hold as we placed our now routine calls to the airport and airlines. But finally on Saturday afternoon…a glimmer of hope! We reached an airline who said they had a plane landing in Antigua at 5pm and almost immediately turning around to head for San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was currently a little after 3pm. We suddenly broke into a flurry of activity. Rhonda packing all of our belongings and contacting the front desk to arrange transport to the airport. ASAP! I ran out the door to find a couple we made friends with to let them know too. I found them by the pool. “Bill! Dee! Hurry! There’s a plane leaving the airport in two hours!” I hurried back to our room to help finish packing, and away we went. The resort had a shuttle ready for us and our friends.

Pulling into the airport did not inspire hope. There were almost no cars anywhere. We all hurriedly carried the luggage inside to find the place empty except for one lonely lady sitting at a help desk. We asked her where to go for the plane about to land. Her response was “there aren’t any planes coming in today.” Panic. I called the airline and thankfully got straight through to somebody. I asked about the flight to which the lady on the phone said it was still scheduled to be there shortly. I handed my phone to the lady at the help desk so she could speak to the airline representative and hopefully get something figured out. Upon hanging up, the help desk lady started making phone calls. There was nobody working at the ticket/luggage counter to help! Twenty stressful minutes later a man showed up to get tickets for the few haggard would-be passengers. Tickets in hand and luggage on the conveyor belt we ran upstairs to customs. The customs agent told us she didn’t know about any flights coming in, so she had to verify with somebody else and left. She eventually returned to stamp our passports and let us through to the concourse.

This is no exaggeration – as we were walking away from immigration, we heard an announcement over the PA system for the final boarding call for our flight! But we were the first ones in line! There was no one in front of us. How could they be leaving with no one on board? We sprinted down the terminal and while out of breath, told the agent at the gate not to leave yet because there were several more folks behind us still trying to get through customs.

Safely on the plane, we could finally relax a little. We weren’t home yet but it was a step closer. Plus, the San Juan airport was enormous compared to the one on Antigua which would hopefully give us options. The small prop plane made the short hop to Puerto Rico and we disembarked from the relatively smooth flight to a turbulent time in the San Juan airport. People were everywhere. Hurricane Maria was shaping up to be a monster and people were understandably wanting to get away. Perhaps naively, we began calling hotels to find a place for the night as the next leg of our journey didn’t leave for Atlanta until the following day. This would have been a frustrating experience with good phone reception, but add in spotty coverage and almost nonexistent wi-fi turned it torturous. Eventually it became evident that our lodging for the night was the airport.

Defeated and exhausted with stress, we dragged our suitcases past hundreds of other poor souls in the same situation. Impromptu beds were strewn everywhere not directly in a walkway. We found an empty spot on a wall and set up camp. Hours passed. I’m a restless sleeper in my own bed and sleeping against a wall surrounded by strangers was only good for making my back hurt. We broke camp around midnight and wandered off in search of something better. On a whim, we took an elevator up and found an unattended lounge for some type of special club members. The lights were dimmed and there were numerous couches arranged throughout the room, with many unoccupied. Minutes after plopping down I was snoring contentedly.

A little over twelve hours later we were back home and once again preparing to be hit by Hurricane Irma. We were probably two of the few people to get hit by the same hurricane twice.