Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Weekend in Paradise [justme Guest Blogger]

Just wanted to share two amazing experiences I had this weekend.

As you can tell from the title, I was off to the sunny seas of the Caribbean. Our second stop was in Cozumel, Mexico where Hurricane Wilma, a Category 5, sat and spun for a few hours. I cannot convey the extent of the damage in words. An entire tropical island paradise turned to a brown wasteland appearing to be more of a war zone than a resort. The "locals" had trucked in sand and palm trees for our little beach. Otherwise, there was no beach. No palm trees. Very few signs of vegetation. Our little catamaran snorkel and booze cruise was the second the boat had done since the hurricane. I cannot convey how welcome they made us feel, for obvious reasons. They were a great group of guys and gals who I am certain made out well on the day, and deservedly so. We all felt more than a little guilty at our extravagant trip after seeing what had gone and were going through. The “five star resorts” on the beach looked more like buildings under construction than the resorts they once had been. They were nothing more than concrete block and rebar.

Worse yet, on our way home, in what I will estimate 6-7 foot seas (very tolerable for our cruise ship), we heard an announcement that there was a "vessel" in distress off the port side that we would be stopping to assist. After a huge turn (who knew it took that much time to turn a cruise vessel around?) we picked up 7 men, two women and what appeared to be about a seven year old girl - all Cuban. Their "vessel" was a maybe twelve feet by five feet flat bottomed boat powered by two oars. I didn't see the pickup itself until after it was over and their “vessel” was floating away, but my wife said two men were paddling and the others were bailing. I seriously doubt they would have made it through the night. A few hours later we met a Coast Guard cutter and offloaded the group into a Coast Guard life raft, in the dark, in a thirty knot wind, same six to seven foot seas. The Coast Guard made two separate trips as their raft would only hold themselves and five Cubans. I cannot convey the fear I had for those folks as they scrambled the 15 feet or so down the rope ladder to the bouncing raft (adorned in Celebrity Cruise attire, I might add). We knew if they went the sea they'd be ok (wearing life jackets and having the Coast Guard guys right there), but can one imagine the fear of the young girl in that situation? All were safely scuttled to the cutter, probably for a return trip to their homeland. See this link for a wire story on the event.

I could type for another hour, but it gave me a really good idea what life there must be like. If anyone wants to wonder what we – and I mean all of us - have to be thankful of over the Holidays, think about how bad one’s lot in life must be to risk the life of a seven year old – presumably one’s own child - to escape Cuba.

I am, yet again, humbled.