So, you know how I was so excited that my trip to Puerto Vallarta would cost me around $400 when all was said and done. Factor in some bad math (from pesos to dollars) and an actual hurricane and my actual cost for a week long trip, airfare and meals included was closer to $881. $588 for the airfare and hotel, $113 for the extra hurricane hotel, $60 for tips (especially when the waiters are nice and the drinks keep coming), $40 for taxis, $40 for an unanticipated lunch by a river, and $40 for a rental car split with another couple during the evacuation.
Yes. It cost me about $400 to get out there, but a lot more when all the things you don’t plan for are put to play… like when a hurricane hits, or you Googled the wrong starting point for a tour and have to rush a taxi across town. You know, total novice moves that luckily, are padded with some cushion in your travel fund. Because, stuff happens and I suck at math.
This, friends, is why it’s always good to put a bit of extra padding in your budget. Or, in my case, a lot of padding. You can “estimate” even a frugal trip, but sometimes, things go awry. In my case, $400 awry. It’s not much in the scheme of things, but when you’re priding yourself on a super frugal international week long trip, it can really take the wind out of your sails that you hoped things would cost a lot less than they actually did.
So, as you might have heard- a class 5 hurricane was headed towards Puerto Vallarta, a few days into our trip. It honestly, as most hurricanes do, came out of nowhere. The morning we woke up, it was drizzly and the staffers at Velas Vallarta, our resort, were working as normal. We ordered room service.
Then, the texts came in from family and friends. The Embassy warned us to get inland or leave the country entirely if possible.
Oddly enough, when you’re on vacation, you’re sleeping in and you’re not watching the news. Most of the guests we talked to had no idea a hurricane was coming for the same reason. We purposefully unplugged, but luckily, this once, it came in handy that my wifi addiction enabled us to be aware of the storm before it was clear it was even coming….if we hadn’t received the texts, we wouldn’t have known, I kid you not.
Apparently, everyone but us was aware that a hurricane was coming our way, but in typical American CNN style, our folks back home were at a level 5 panic due to a really insane hyping up from the news, and from what we could tell- we were two shakes away from death.
I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to be sure what to do when a hurricane may be headed directly at you- you don’t speak the language, know the topography or have a car.
The resort was functioning as normal- with staffers cleaning the pool and tourists having breakfast at the restaurants on site. We headed downstairs in a hurry to get information about the storm, and everyone seemed rather nonplussed about it, except for the Canadian and American tourists who were all planning on leaving in a hurry. We inquired about an evacuation plan, to which, we found out we’d be held in a ground level “bunker” (a conference room) with food and water. (No booze, ha!)
Considering that we could see the ocean from our room, and the makeshift bunker was both in close proximity to, and on level with, the soon-to-swell ocean itself, we made a quick call to get to the airport, which were told may not be open, or have any cars if it was, and get a rental car.
Yup, we decided to get out.
What you see on the news is a vastly different experience from what we were experiencing on the ground. People were really calm and not worried about the “most devastating hurricane ever measured to hit Mexico” (aside from the fellow tourists). When we rolled our suitcases out to the lobby, workers were still skimming bugs from the pool and scrubbing pool tiles. No windows were boarded up, but the plastic pool furniture was being organized and stacked off to the side.
They were calm, this has happened a few other times, but it never directly hit. Most of the fellow tourists we spoked to were pretty freaked, many were leaving.
We took a cab to the airport. In a panic, I handed the taxi driver $20 US dollars. Yup, $20 guys, I hope that made his day, maybe his week. (Oh, you silly Americans!) I didn’t have pesos, and we didn’t know how we were getting out.
The airport was already shutting down at 10am, and the cars were all sold out. We scooted to the next rental area outside of the terminal, and found some other tourists also renting cars at AVIS just to get away from the shore. After a very stomach churning hour, and some language barriers, we were able to rent a car, and I approached another couple to see if they’d care to join us. We had no GPS, couldn’t speak the language and had no idea if we’d make it to Guadalajara (the place everyone seemed to be heading) in time. We knew it would be a rough day, there is power in numbers.
Turns out, the couple was super nice- he had GPS and she spoke Spanish. Guys, I had only prepared to go from airport-to-resort and back. I didn’t have pesos, I didn’t buy an international phone plan. I didn’t brush up on my Spanish or review a map. I wasn’t prepared at all for a hurricane, but by the grace of God, we found a couple who was just as flummoxed as we were with driving to another city, but thankfully, they were far better equipped for the journey.
The drive to Guadalajara took nearly 10 hours. Through winding countryside, we silently mourned and worried about what a storm of this magnitude could do to the people who lived near the shore in cinder block homes near river beds and on hillsides. It was a scary few hours on winding roads in the rain, and then, in complete gridlock on the larger highways. Four hotels were full, we finally found one at a Holiday Inn Express, where fortunately, they spoke English and had a room.
Again, I know I’m a fumbling American tourist. I only have two stamps in my passport, and 4 years of Spanish that are absolutely gone from my brain. Throw in a hurricane and you really feel like an idiot abroad.
That night, soaked and tired, we fell asleep. I will say though- that the American Holiday Inn Express locations could take a cue from their Mexican counterparts, their continental breakfasts were free and on point. We gulped down shredded chicken in verde sauce, refried beans and eggs. It was glorious.
The rest of our team (meaning, the other couple) was anxious to head back to Puerto Vallarta, after receiving the all clear that the hotels were up and operational just 12 hours after the storm had passed. Apparently, we were silly. We were met with “but of course we’re open!” responses upon emailing our resorts, and kind of were shocked that everything was surprisingly fine.
Getting back though, would be another story.
We took a different route, through the mountains this time, from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta. While the tank barely needed any fuel to get up there, we nearly ran out on the way back.
Three hours into driving, we stopped at several stations that were out of gas. Finally, a station that did have gas on this winding mountain road, was out of electricity.
We waited for 20 minutes, hopeful to get our tank filled and go- had our hopes dashed once again by another traveler who informed us that they were turning around because the roads were closed.
It was less than 24 hours since the storm hit, the sun was shining and the skies were clear- but suddenly, it was like a dark cloud had formed over our heads. After spending nearly 10 hours in the car the day before, and 3 hours on the road that day, we were about to fall over and give up, but we decided to press on and try our luck hoping the roads would be open.
Even with one working GPS and a passenger who spoke Spanish, it was still difficult to navigate through the mountains. At times, the road would simply stop and turn into a dirt road, or once the highway ended completely into a town. Yup, a town, then back to highway again. We just kept searching for signs, and by the grace of God, we found out where to go. It was another long day.
With a GPS unit that didn’t always get service and a Xerox copy of a map, we navigated through the town to (luckily) find the road again, but it was a funny experience…so was seeing dogs perched on top of logs in the back of trucks, and paying 4 pesos to use the bathroom…but you know, it’s an experience.
A random dog, just hangin out on a log while we wove through the countryside back to Puerto Vallarta.
It was a stressful situation to be sure, but if you look you can find blessings (like the huge one that Puerto Vallarta was spared) and you can even stop to find something beautiful…
So, some takeaways from my first trip (and hurricane) to Mexico:
– Mexico is gorgeous and people are kind.
– If you really want to see a place, leave the resort. It’s good to be uncomfortable, especially if you’re bad at math and don’t have pesos.
– When disaster hits, you will waffle on a decision on what to do with limited and conflicting information. You may make the wrong decision, but you have to take action to stay safe.
– We are spoiled in America. People with a lot less than we have still are happy, kind and make it work. I won’t be complaining about first world problems for a long time.
– If you’re moaning about 2 lost vacation days due to a hurricane, you may need to recheck your priorities. Are you alive? Do you have access to food, water, toilets and yes…sunsets and alcohol? Things will be fine.
– Human beings need each other. We work better when we work together.
– Travel. Sometimes it isn’t always piña coladas and sunshine, but it’s worth it, even when it sucks.
We are so, so lucky that the hurricane didn’t hit land where it was anticipated to, it would have impacted so many lives in a city as big as Puerto Vallarta. It was surreal that we returned and everything was just as we left it, and we were super lucky that we could return and resume our vacation after the storm passed- we feel so very blessed because it could have been devastating.
I searched for any relief funds or efforts being organized, and didn’t find any that were still functioning due to direct impact of Hurricane Patricia. If you’d like to donate to Save the Children, they help support children all over the world who are impacted by environmental disasters and always need support.