I was having lunch at a friend’s house. She was excited as she was headed to the Cayos (Paradise on the northern coast of Cuba! Hotels set on pristine beaches, the ultimate r&r experience in Cuba). Her husband yelled from the living room that there was a category 5 hurricane on the way. Two wines in, we rolled our eyes and said it will pass, just as all the previous ones had – I’m Irish I think I can handle a bit of rain and wind. 48 hrs. later, the hotel was cancelled, doors and windows were bolted, the electricity was gone, the winds were wild and we were throwing buckets of water out of the house.
News reports of Hurricane Irma’s devastation in St. Maarten/St. Martin, Puerto Rico, Antigua & Barbuda filled the news. In Cuba, a state of emergency was declared. Houses and all the hotels in the Cayos were evacuated and everyone was warned to stay indoors. The hurricane would be the easy part, it’s the recovery that’s the problem, they said.
We spent the previous day prepping. The storeroom was filled with supplies, but most importantly water and fuel for the small generator that would save the stock in our fridges and freezers. The queues in the supermarkets were a nightmare, people stocking up before they were under house arrest for a week – a little like the alcohol run before Good Friday, no amount of preparation is enough! I thought this is a bit extreme but of course the Cubans are no strangers to cyclones and Hurricanes. I was informed that during the last big hurricane, the electricity was gone for 15 days. That’s 15 days without leaving the house, with no refrigerator to keep food fresh and nowhere to go to get more food as everything is closed. It’s a hungry time!
And now we wait….
The first day the rain was biblical, incessant and torrential. The winds were the strongest I have ever experience. My mother in law suffered a hole in her roof, as the neighbours hadn’t tied down equipment they had left out. There were buckets collecting water in ever corner of the house not to mention the water coming in underneath the doors. I spent my days fighting with it and throwing it back. The guys took turns filling the generator on the roof. The house is from the1840s and has survived pirate attacks and all previous hurricanes. Surely, I thought, I’m not that unfortunate that this is the one to take it down.
It came and it went; 300kph winds, electricity out for 5 days, houses flooded if not blown to the ground, small towns annihilated, no food getting in, houses without running water – already a problem without a hurricane thank you very much. The restaurant was closed for 2 days and by then the worst of it had passed. People crept out of their houses – was it safe? Shops opened for an hour or two selling essentials, bread, drinks and produce that was going off at discounted prices. The queues were long. People were consuming what they bought daily, as they had nowhere to store it. There were tourists at taxi ranks rubbing their bellies; they wanted to go to another town to see if things were better there and if the restaurants were open.
As we were the only ones with a generator on the street, friends, neighbours and strangers off the street were all charging their phones, torches, batteries and any other chargeable items off the generator. At one stage I counted 30 devices. There are 3 places to get Wi-Fi in Trinidad, that’s right folks 3! Only the Iberostar Hotel was working after the Hurricane. The hotel was boarded up and nobody was getting in or out. This meant that every tourist in Trinidad was glued to the windows trying to pick up a signal and communicate with loved ones that they were alive.
The following day, we opened along with a couple of other restaurants. There was a general festive air that we had survived. As the electricity was still out and there was still a state of alarm, there was a curfew and all restaurants needed to close by 9pm. An effort to get people off the streets, as it was too dark and the weather was still quite stormy. Try explaining this to tourists that have been house bound for 3 days and just want to get out. Most likely the Casa Particular (B&B) they are staying in has no electricity, maybe no water (one of the main water pipes was flattened by a tree) and little to no food. They just want to go out and have a decent meal with a rum fuelled beverage. When they are finally out they are told that they have to be indoors by 9pm? Not the “Salsa, mojitos & cigars” holiday they were dreaming of. Luckily, the next day everything was pretty much back to normal.
Now there’s a new problem, now there’s no tourism as the news reports have scared everyone away. Most agencies have cancelled flights and trips for the rest of September and October. I have emails and calls daily asking how we are coping and how long will the recovery take?
To be clear, WE ARE OVER IT! Cuba is community driven with one of the best civil defence forces in the world. Everyone worked together and fast to get the country back up and running as quickly as possible. Cuba escaped relatively unharmed except for the northern coast where it will take some time to recover. The rest of the country including Trinidad is perfect and open for business. There are beaches on the southern coast too.
Don’t be put off by the news reports – they are paid to sensationalise. If you were/are planning a trip to Cuba then have no fear, the country is still the gem it has always been. If in doubt, contact a local and find out what is happening on the ground before taking drastic measures.
Peace y’all, over and out.