Hurricane Odile hit Cabo San Lucas on September 14, 2014. Depending on where you live or where you get your news from, you might not be aware of the devastation it wrought on one of the most beautiful and popular tourist destinations the Pacific coast has to offer.
I, myself, have been going to Cabo for eight years–ever since my family went in on a timeshare at one of the many beachfront resorts. Like most, we immediately fell for the scenery and the people on our very first trip. We’ve gone back every year. Each time it keeps getting better. This year’s vacation, however, was different.
After a record early and fast grape harvest, my girlfriend and I were ready for a break. And we couldn’t think of a better way to get away than to head down to the family timeshare, leave the phones and computers at home, and drink margaritas and sleep on the beach all day.
We landed in paradise on Saturday at midday. First thing was first: we got our bags, found the nearest spot selling ice-cold Coronas, we officially entered vacation mode.
We took a 45-minute shuttle to the resort. There was music playing in the courtyard, kids running and jumping into the pool, and the pristine beach and crystal clear turquoise water stretching as far as the eye could see. It was so beautiful it looked fake–like a mirage or a painting.
If you’ve read the headlines, you know that our relaxing vacation plans didn’t last long. Word quickly spread that Hurricane Odile was shifting direction and heading straight for us. So instead of searching for the perfect margarita, we headed to Wal-Mart to stock up on the essentials: beer, tequila, limes, and oh yeah, something for dinner.
There wasn’t much to complain about after night one. Sure there was a bit of rain, but no matter, when we woke up, it was back to normal vacation.
Hurricane Odile , a Class 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds, was the worst hurricane to ever hit Cabo San Lucas. At about seven in the evening on our second night, the front desk called our room and gave us two options: stay in the back of your room in the bathroom or take shelter in the gym on the other side of the resort.
I know what you’re thinking–obviously, we opted for the shelter. Wrong. We were already in the bathroom and quite frankly, the thought of going outside and running across the resort–also known as ground zero of the impending hurricane–didn’t sound so appealing. Just in case, we had our backpacks packed with our passports, money and some food and water.
The storm got stronger as the night wore on. Around nine o’clock, I peered through the sliding glass door that faced the beach and saw what could be best described as a scene out of a Hollywood disaster movie. Palm trees snapped like toothpicks, debris blew in all directions and the waves crashed all the way over the sea wall to the resort.
Over the next agonizingly slow hour, we heard some of the loudest and scariest noises we had ever heard or hope to hear in our lives. The building was swaying and our ears were popping from the different pressures being created from the suctions throughout the resort’s building. But that was just the beginning. The scariest part of Hurricane Odile was yet to come.
We were sitting on the bed talking–yelling, really–doing our best to distract ourselves from what was going on around us. Then we heard the unmistakable sound of glass shattering. I took a peek out the bedroom and saw the drapes to the sliding glass door blowing like flags on a ridiculously windy day. Not only was sliding glass door ko’d, it had been completely ripped out from the frame. The gym shelter was sounding better and better. We grabbed what we could and went across the hall to the neighbors’ room, which was more protected facing away from the wind towards the next resort.
As we all frantically discussed what was going on, we heard another loud bang from our room. We looked across the hall and the main key-entry door to our room had been ripped off its hinges. It fluttered around like a piece of tissue paper.
In the midst of all this, I remembered one of the most important things still in our room. The wine. A 2012 Small Vines Wines Estate Cuvee and a 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir. Odile was scary enough to put the fear in you, but she wasn’t going to keep me from these babies. Damn the 145 mph winds. I brought those Small Vines Wines to Cabo and I was going to drink them.
I ran back into our room. After each step, I could hear the crunch from the broken glass. It took longer than I’d wanted, but I found them. Wine in hand, I scurried back to the neighbors’ room.
The next morning, we witnessed the aftermath. Rooms and hallways had been flooded. Water dripped from the ceiling. Broken glass and upturned furniture were everywhere, and outside was even worse. The resort lost windows, shingles, palm trees looked as if they’d been thrown around like twigs and we could see different sections of the restaurant littered across the grounds.
No one knew what to do. There was collective shock amongst the guests and the staff. Nobody expected the hurricane to hit that hard and that fast. Luckily, there was a backup generator, but most of the diesel had spilled into the ocean. That translucent turquoise water? It was now a splotchy mess of black and brown.
The days immediately following Hurricane Odile were some of the most stressful and scariest parts of the entire disaster. All of the nearby stores had been looted. Local police were nowhere to be found. The federal police came through, but they seemed to have no intentions to stop the looting. People started burning bonfires in the streets to keep the looters at bay. Thick smoke wafted above the city. From the right angle, Cabo looked like a war zone.
On September 17, four days after we arrived, we were told an evacuation plan had been hatched to transport tourists to either Tijuana, Mazatlán, Guadalajara, or Mexico City. Nobody had a choice or a clue where they’d be heading, which isn’t exactly the kind of thing you want to hear when you’re in Mexico.
With the immediate future anything but clear, we decided it was time for something we could depend on. It was time for the wine.
On Thursday morning, we took a shuttle to the airport. The ride provided us our first chance to get a glimpse of the real extent of the damage. Complete neighborhoods were gone. Streets were destroyed, cars and boats were tipped over onto their sides. There’s nothing quite like seeing a place right after a hurricane has struck.
The new and old airport terminals were destroyed. The air traffic control tower was demolished and there were close to 20,000 people standing in line, waiting, suffering under the hot sun. We stood like that for six hours.
Around two o’clock, we started to move. We took the first ticket they handed us. Dallas. We grabbed a connecting flight to San Francisco and finally, finally! We were home.
It’s a feeling of relief to be back on solid ground. To return home after a vacation is always nice. It was especially nice after the experience we’d just gone through. But there are thousands of families in Cabo who have no relief. No homes to go back to.
Project Smiles has created a donation fund to help the Cabo community by delivering food, clothes and medical supplies. I hope you’ll consider donating and returning the favor to a community that has been so gracious to millions of families.
Other donation sites can be found here: