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Blown off Course

Sometimes life throws you a curveball.  And sometimes that curveball goes around and around in a big circle at 175 mph.  We actually got a couple of them, named Irma and María, and as bad as Irma was for many places (including our new home state of Florida), María was the one that forced us to change our plans.  She carved her way along the southern coast of Vieques and then plowed straight through the mainland of Puerto Rico.

Hurricane satellite photo
Maria's approach from the SE. PR is in upper left, Vieques is the long skinny unlabeled island near it

Both of those landfalls by María were problematic for us. The first one obviously for the direct damage it caused to power, internet, water, and the buildings on Vieques (esp. wooden structures).  Our rental house is concrete, but we still have not seen pictures or a damage report. But if a big enough tree falls on your house and opens up the roof to 2 feet of rain, then lots of bad things can happen no matter what the wall structure is.  But really at this point we're expecting the house to be OK, with some cleanup and repair work. We would love to be there, to help with the hard work ahead around the island, but we have been told repeatedly "don't come".  We just can't help at this point - maybe later.  Some better news though: to date, we know of no lives lost on Vieques, gracias a Dios!

Large pile of rubble blocking the street to the waterfront
Vieques - can't get to the beach this way!

The damage done on the mainland (yes, the small-islanders call it the mainland) was much worse, with intense structure damage, power outages, communications wiped out, and massive flooding. It was the most powerful storm to hit PR since the 1930's.  Accurate numbers are hard to get, but the death toll is over 20 people so far, and it will climb. Now there's even a risk of a huge dam failure which could make things much worse for our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. Thousands of people may be displaced because of that, or gamble their own lives. Desperation is setting in for many, and it may get much worse before it gets better.  And without the mainland to help, little Vieques will have to fend for itself for a while.

Man wading down a street in waist-deep water
In mainland PR, flooding made things much worse

So with that backdrop, our inconveniences pale in comparison and I'll try to respect that. But after years of planning, research, emails, learning Spanish, befriending people, donating to worthy causes, etc. on Vieques, we're going somewhere else for a while.  If we were to go to Vieques now, we would instantly be adding to the victim count, with no water, food, electricity, etc.  We know they will recover, we know Vieques will be better than ever, but we have to let them do their work before we show up and make things worse.  Just restoring water and power would be a nice start for all.

For us, this is no problem - we have all sorts of options, right?  We sold all our stuff, all we have to do is pick another destination in the Caribbean (we got Caribbean souls we can barely control) and go there, right?  OK, so let's try:

  • St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John - they are the U.S. Virgin Islands, so they have the same advantages for us that PR has. But wait - those three are close neighbors, and all have all been pummeled!
  • All right then, the BVIs (Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke). They've been blasted!
  • OK, how about Guadeloupe, Dominica, Barbuda, St. Maarten. Some of these are in even worse shape!
  • Let's look "up north", how about the Dominican Republic, Turks & Caicos, Bahamas? Nope, nope, and nope!
  • I give up, let's go all the way up to the Florida Keys, or back to SW Florida where we were for the month of August.  Ummm, big fat nope on that one too.
Satellite photo of the Caribbean Sea and its islands
Where next?

This has been a tough year for the northern Caribbean, and hurricane season isn't over, not by a long shot. Until we see the word December on the calendar, we can't stop ourselves from checking the latest forecast.  There are other places to the south BTW, that are doing fine, but we haven't researched every island down there and we don't want to just hop a plane to somewhere, only to find all sorts of things we didn't know about.  If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!

So the options were looking pretty thin, what to do, what to do?  We went back to some of our original discussions in the hot tub and began circling back to Grenada, Panama, and Roatan & Utila in Honduras. They are mostly out of the main hurricane zone.  Grenada continues to be a bit problematic with the dogs - we can get them there but there is also some confusion about the whole process. We still want to go there, but maybe a bit later. We're saving Panama also, and Roatan might be too popular for us (too many people?!).

So we have settled on Utila, Honduras (at the far left of the map above), an island even smaller than our own little friend Vieques.  I think it's about 8 miles by 2 miles, depending on the tide tables. They are very modern though, with actual food, water, electricity, and wifi, plus I heard there are around 20 cars on the island, so that's pretty sweet. And I'm pretty sure they have rum.

Arial view of tropical island Utila
Utila - let's go snorkeling!

Utila (Oo-tee-lah), with a population of 4000 people, is one of those islands you get to from another island (Roatan) or from the mainland, but only in a small plane or boat.  No cruise ships, no international flights, it's pretty quiet except for the bubbles from the snorkelers and divers that come to swim the Mesoamerican Reef, the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world. The island is only a few miles from Belize, and we may even take a boat over there to see Placencia, a well-thought-of beach community there. There are some nice beaches on Utila too - not like Vieques with 40 of them - but we're going to enjoy every bit of what Utila has to offer, I can assure you of that!

We are getting typhoid shots and will probably take anti-malaria drugs; also we're up to date on tetanus, influenza, Hep A, that sort of thing. It's not exactly the good ole U.S. of A., but that's kind of the point isn't it?

The dogs had to get international health certificates to show they aren't walking, barking carriers of disease. The photo is them at the vet's office waiting for their clean bill of health.

But extra prep aside, it will be fun, a new big adventure inside of the other big adventure!

Two little white dogs in a chair in the vet's office
The Vet said we passed the test! We're going to Utila!

A note about crime: yes, we know Honduras has a very high crime rate. But the places we are going do not, and we will avoid those which do (basically the big cities - it's mostly all about the drug trade) in the same way we will avoid the worst parts of Detroit, St. Louis, etc. We will use reasonable caution believe me, but we're not going to live our lives in fear.

TODAY'S SPECIAL:  Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season, by Jimmy Buffett.

So, anybody have any last minute travel changes, esp. international travel, to tell us about? Anybody gone so far as to see the inside of a foreign jail?  (we're not considering anything sketchy but you never know what life will bring!)  Leave your comments below!

No Comments

  1. Kirby on September 25, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Let me just say that you guys…and your 4 legged family members, are ABSOLUTELY welcome in Panama City, Florida anytime you want and for as long as you want!Kirby

    • Norm Pyle on September 25, 2017 at 11:26 pm

      We’ll be back there some day soon, thanks for the invite! Hi to Baxley!

  2. Kevlar on September 25, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    "Caribbean souls we can barely control" Now there’s a fairly oblique reference!

  3. PaulB on September 25, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    So cool Norm! How the hell did you ever find this island, that’s remarkable. Just did some google mapping, looks like a great spot..those long hut tub conversations/planning paid off! 🙂

    • Norm Pyle on September 25, 2017 at 11:28 pm

      I don’t remember the order of events – Deb saw it on "International Househunters" some time ago. But also Oscar also told me about it independently. So we figured what the hell, we’d give it a shot!

  4. Betty Sr on September 25, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    It sounds like it’s all good! Have at it and have a ball.

    • Norm Pyle on September 26, 2017 at 1:24 am

      We will, God willing and the creek don’t rise!

  5. SQ on September 26, 2017 at 3:13 am

    Hey Norm, I thought of you of course when i saw PR getting blasted, just after FLA got blasted by Irma. It is amazing how fast Florida rebuilds itself, though i do wonder how their hurricane insurance fund is doing there? I remember that was a big political scandal a few years ago. Do you know if the FEMA people and the feds are at Vieques? THat is so sad. I’m guessing you still want to go there, but it is probably 9-12 months away? When will you leave for honduras? I am back to CO tomorrow. BTW, have never seen a foreign jail, knock on wood:)

    • Norm Pyle on September 26, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      I don’t know about FEMA but the USCG and Navy are there. I read something yesterday that the people of Vieques are showing good spirit and hope. I’m quite sure the mainland isn’t that well off emotionally. None of them have the basics yet, but the smaller islands are more self-sufficient. When you have millions of people vs. a few thousand, the problem is exponentially larger.

  6. Danna on September 26, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    So the best way to get there is??? I can make the required change of itinerary for snorkeling like that!

    • Norm Pyle on September 27, 2017 at 3:03 am

      American Airlines through Miami (we’re on a red-eye), then a short 2 hours over to Roatan (RTB). Or United Airlines through Houston, then 3 hours to RTB. Once in Roatan, there are options like a ferry, private boat, or a puddle-jumper plane over to Utila. We are chartering a plane (we have the whole plane for $350!) because other options are on vacation the day we get in. 🙁 It’s good though 🙂

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