“Did you ever thought of cancelling your trip”, was Katja’s question during a friend’s dinner the night before hurricane Irma destroyed the island of Sint Maarten. “No, I have had worse experiences”, I answered thinking about surviving the polar winter without any running water. Little did I know. And none of us knew the devastation power of hurricane Irma. Until we met her.
A trip to heaven
My best friend is born on the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire. Located north of Venezuela. Together with Aruba and Curacao part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. She met the love of her life when visiting that area. He is stated at Sint Maarten, also part of the Dutch Caribbean and located east of Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands (you know: Richard Branson’s place). Just an introduction so you know a little where this story takes place.
I was never a big fan of tropical temperatures. I’d rather have a snowy environment. Of course I like the sun but this one is there all the time and even if it’s not shining, the temperature is always 30-31 degrees C. Day and night, every week, every month, year around. But I took the challenge. I had to. My best friend came to visit me when I lived in northern Norway so I had to return the favour. Which wasn’t much of a burden, really.
The cheapest ticket was on August 30. I remember she told me that this is in the middle of hurricane season but the last serious one was 22 years ago. So how bad could it be, we told eachother … Due to some private situations it happened that I came to Sint Maarten when she and her boyfriend were not there. No big deal. I had time to adjust and take care of the dogs. It was a trip to heaven.
When heaven turned into hell
The news about hurricane Irma turned slowly into some serious forecasts. A category 5 hurricane. So we had to work on the house. Get everything secured, get some gas for the car and some groceries because maybe there would be some damage. Some Dutch press approached me asking about our preparations and the vibes on the island. Being there for only a couple of days, I couldn’t really answer that much.
On September 6, 2017 she hit us. She hit us hard. We lost part of the roof which ment that all the furniture was lost and we felt lost too. Luckily we found shelter with dear friends who have a perfectly built hurricane-proof house. We immediately started to do all that was necessary. Without water and electricity. But we managed. If you are creative and positive enough, you can deal with it. At least physically. You just don’t think about the mental part.
It got really bad when the authorities set a curfew because of the robbery and assault that was going on. People do the weirdest things when they lose everything. Shops were looted, people got carjacked and hotels were being robbed. The only news we got was through the radio and this neighbor that was always giving us the latest news directly from the local police and military.
When hell turned into heaven again
So a couple of days after hurricane Irma passed, their was this news on the radio that everybody with a Dutch passport could come to the airport to get off the island. No list, no preferences (well maybe some). Just come, stand in line and hope for the best. Since I temporarily lived with doctors who got this dispensation to go on the road, I was taken to the airport in a heartbeat.
Then the waiting started. First I gave up, which wasn’t a good idea. Later I was sent away because there would not be a plane coming that day but eventually I got on the plane. It took me two days waiting in line. Another example of ‘never give up‘. Two days. In the burning sun. With all the military trying their best to make it as comfortable as possible. But there were too many people, and not enough military.
Finally on September 11 (…) we left the island of Sint Maarten in a military cargo plane (C17) heading to Curacao. We arrived at 9 p.m. and got a very warm welcome from the TUI travel agency who put us in this 5 star all-inclusive resort. “So you can fresh up, eat and drink whatever you want and have a good night sleep”. The longest shower I ever took. Putting on my little black dress – which was ment to wear on Bonaire where my best friend and I would have a party. The next morning at 10 a.m. we were already drinking cocktails and counting our blessings.
Life after hurricane Irma
It felt so unfair. Me being in the safe world and my best friend surviving on an almost completely destroyed island. No water and no electricity for a long time. But then again, that’s life. She has her life on Sint Maarten and is building from scratch together with her love. Me, I am not a Caribbean girl. I don’t belong there.
I decided to stick to the original plan. So I went to Bonaire, as planned. Since I already had my return ticket from Bonaire to Amsterdam there was no need to change that. I got the opportunity to fly directly to Amsterdam with TUI but I passed. My intention was still having a holiday and take the most out of it. That wasn’t much.
Everybody was so sweet. They all helped and tried everything they could to make me feel at home and giving me a great time. On Curacao and on Bonaire. And of course I enjoyed it to some extend. But I guess it takes more time than I wanted. Being such an impatient person, that’s a challenge. And even now, writing this down when sitting in a hostel in Tirana I can’t enjoy everything to the fullest yet.