August 22, 2007

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I was sure Hurricane Dean wiped out these places here. All in the Playa Del Carmen area. But apparently not.

[Later...]

Turns out I was right in the first place and this setting (and everything around it) in the coastal town of is gone:

The three pictures behind the three links in the first sentence above were all shot by my sister Jan and myself while on a shore excursion from the last Linux Lunacy Geek Cruise, in October 2005. In the first comment to this post (and in comments to the picture above), she reminded me that we were in Costa Maya, not Playa Del Carmen. And that Costa Maya got clobbered by Dean, with Majahual right in the storm’s bull’s eye. Here’s a Cruise Ship Report:

Carved from the jungle along the Yucatan coast only six years ago, Costa Maya in that short time has become of the most visited ports in the Western Caribbean, with cruise ships carrying a half million passengers calling there last year…

But Cesar Lizarraga, director of sales and marketing for Costa Maya, said about half the port’s infrastructure — including the cruise ship pier, which was able to accommodate three ships — was damaged by the mammoth storm.

“An early estimate indicates the port will remain closed for six to eight months,” Lizarraga said. Others suggested a mid-2008 timeline might be more realistic.

While the faux Mayan shopping and entertainment complex at the foot of the cruise ship pier suffered heavy damage, the adjacent town of Majahual — where dive and souvenir shops and open-air restaurants lined the picturesque beach — has largely been destroyed.

All our pictures there were of Majahual, not the faux shopping center. The cruise ships avoid telling you about Majahual, but we found out anyway and went there, where we had some of the best fresh cooked fish, ever, at the El Faro restaurant, right on the beach. I can’t imagine it, or anything in that town, which has an elevation of about 3 feet above high tide, and couldn’t be closer to the water.

Here’s the El Faro:

Gone now, for sure.

Says here,

The hurricane hit land near Majahual on the Quintana Roo coast of the Yucatán Peninsula at 08:30 UTC (03:30 EDT) on August 21, 2007. Wind gusts of 200 mph (320 km/h) were reported. The state’s tourist cities of Cancún and Cozumel were spared the worst of the storm, but it wreaked havoc in state capital Chetumal, some 65 km south of landfall.[106][105] However, communication with the Mayan communities near the landfall location has been difficult, and little details are available from there.

Dan Askin of CruiseCritic reports:

What we do know is this: The latest from Costa Maya is that more than 50 percent of the pier has been destroyed by Dean. Rebuilding will required a multi-million dollar investment, and it will be a minimum of six months before cruise ships will return to the port. We’ll know more about the fate of the area as residents, business owners and government crews return today to assess the damage.

And now, courtesy of Julie Minter, we have more details — this time on the nearby fishing village of Majahual. Just a five minutes cab ride from the pier at Costa Maya, the little town has become a popular destination for lunching, beach bumming and souvenir shopping. In her first-hand account of Hurricane Dean’s impact on the areas outside of the actual Costa Maya resort, Minter tells Cruise Critic that the overall scene is quite grim.

“From the new light house all down the town of Mahahual, it is no longer Mahahual, everything is gone!” Many of the local businesses, she tells us, including restaurants, souvenir shops and dive shops are gone, with only a few buildings spared. Minter notes that “busted glass, water and wind damage is seen all over … houses are left in pretty bad shape. It is a shame that not everyone knew or got to visit this beautiful well kept secret that we knew as ‘our private paradise,’ our little island.”

Cruise lines have not yet released information on itinerary changes, but it’s clear that Costa Maya will have to be replaced for the near future.

In the meantime, Minter’s Blue Ocean Safari Dive Center plans to issue refunds to folks who pre-booked shore outings. “Blue Ocean Safari will be closed until further notice – but we will issue refunds once we know that the damage is.”

On Cruise Critic’s Costa Maya forum, some members are trying to contribute to relief efforts; some have even suggested that one way to show support would be to not apply for refunds from cancelled excursions. (Please note Cruise Critic’s rules regarding donations: According to community manager Laura Sterling, “Only links to legitmate relief efforts are allowed.”) Visit the Costa Maya board for more information.

USA Today reports,

Although Dean swept over Yucatan as a rare Category 5 hurricane, which is capable of causing catastrophic damage, the storm’s top winds were relatively narrow and appeared to hit just one town: the cruise ship port of Majahual.

The few people who had not evacuated Majahual fled ahead of the storm. Dean demolished hundreds of houses, crumpled steel girders, splintered wooden structures and washed away parts of concrete dock that transformed what once was a sleepy fishing village into a top cruise ship destination.

There’s a photo here.

And there are many more photos here. Found via this CruiseCritic thread.

Here are photos and a thread recalling Majahual as it was.

One of my biggest rarely-fulfilled fantasies is visiting amazing places I’ve seen from the sky. Starting this Saturday we may do some of that. Or maybe not. Depends on how much we hurry on our road trip from Santa Barbara, California to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where we plan on living for the next year.

(No, we’re not moving there. We are committed Santa Barbarians, and we just moved into our new house here a few months ago. But in order to make the most of my Berkman fellowship, and to step on the gas for ProjectVRM, I need to be there. It should also help my Linux Journal work to be in the company of many talented geeks as well.)

Anyway, as it happened my last flight back from Boston vectored south, across Tulsa, and followed Interstate 40 through the Texas panhandle, across Albequerque, the Painted Desert of Arizona and the volcano-dotted deserts of Southern California on the way into Los Angeles.

I shot a lot of that from the air, as you can see in the photosets behind the pictures in this post. If we take I-40 it’ll be interesting to see how some of the same places look from the ground.

Anyway, in the meantime I’m spending most of my time packing and trying not to drop too many balls on the floor. So expect continued light blogging.