our beautiful disaster.

I’m not sure how to begin this story, so please be patient while I stumble through the bits and pieces. It’s discombobulated because I thought I’d return home to show beautiful photos from a recent trip to a Mexican beach, Cabo San Lucas, with five favorite girls, but our trip became such a lesson in the spirit of humankind and the ferocity of nature that it became quite a different experience.

I’ll start at the beginning. Oh my goodness, the beginning! You know how we all have that certain place? That place where we feel so small but so fed; where our soul literally calms and feels at peace? That’s what the ocean is to me. You guys. I am like a moth to a flame with it. No joke, two of the last three times I’ve been in the ocean, I’ve scared myself to death on accident because I just don’t believe the tide can be as strong as it truly is. With that, I will publicly apologize to my girlfriends who panicked on this trip as I was caught in a wave and rolled out to sea a little bit. I’ve never had so much sand in my butt. Let’s just leave it with I am completely exfoliated, shall we?

The amount of work done daily at the resort is amazing. We nicknamed these trees, “donut trees,” because when you see them from above they form a circle with a hole in the middle, which explains why this man looks like he’s levitating inside a tree skirt.

The resort was a magical place early in the mornings. The whole place seems a little sleepy, and things don’t start coming awake until around 7:30 or 8am. (I know…that seems early to wake up on vacation, but I can’t help it. The OCEAN, you guys. And BEACH. With no one on it.) On our second morning, I snuck out while the girls were still sleeping and walked along the beach a little, stopping to sit and watch the waves wash away my footprints. It was that morning that I noticed a lot of sandbags being brought in and stored, but I didn’t think too much of it not being from a coastal area. Later in the day, we noticed that lights were being tied up, outdoor ceiling fans removed, umbrellas and canopies being taken down, and the sandbags being placed at the tops of stairs leading to the beach.

After a sweet newlywed couple gave us a talking to for not having a good codeword to save us from two creepy guys in the pool, the girls offered to take photos of them on the beach. Since I’m newly “retired from professional work,” I was happy to watch a storm roll in and grab shots of the girls as they took breaks shooting.

Within about 30 minutes of this shot, it began raining and we settled in at dinner. We went back to our room early since the wind started picking up and watched from the balcony a bit.

The next day didn’t fare any better. We walked the stairs and hallways, played cards, braved the wind and rain to go find food, and then started getting a little concerned as they ran short of bottled water at dinner. A couple of us ran to the small store and grabbed a few snacks and we started boxing extra food to take back to the room. All room service was cancelled and we weren’t allowed to go to certain areas of the resort. Our power went out after dinner and we had no running water. Outside started looking more and more ominous as the night wore on. The winds had picked up a lot and water was everywhere. The staff was doing all they could to keep the water out of the dining area. At this point, we started noticing that we were seeing the same staff that we had seen the day before and that many of them had stayed the night and next day working on very little sleep.

(The photo above was a 15-second exposure – it was pitch black outside. I didn’t get it in the shot, but there were two boats caught in treacherous waves just above the palm trees in top photo left. The place was a ghost town.)

The next morning was incredible. I realize that I’m just reciting some facts about our trip, but I just can’t seem to form the words and put them together in the right ways. 

The first thing I noticed were the maintenance crew shirts. 

When we walked toward the beach, I noticed the smell first. Propane. Waterlogged material. It was confusing, actually. But then we saw why.

The beach was now a cliff that dropped into the remnants of people’s lives. The rain that Tropical Storm Lidia brought had washed homes, cars, propane tanks, refrigerators…everything…down the river beds and into the ocean. We had no idea, and went on autopilot, basically. We walked into breakfast and sat stunned, looking around at the weary staff all wearing genuine smiles on their faces and saying, “Be welcome! Enjoy! Be on vacation!” 

“What we can we do?” we asked.

“Be welcome.” they said again.

We sat in silence, watching in dismay as our fellow tourists demanded freshly squeezed orange juice and hot coffee.

So. Embarrassing.

One by one, the six of us got up and walked outside, searching for someone, anyone, who would talk to us. There was a language barrier of course, so we just started picking up trash until the staff came running with smiles and trash bags and plastic gloves, asking to take our pictures as we worked alongside them.

It made me a little nervous at first, to pick up brooms and shovels and sweepers. I thought they would get in trouble for letting us help. But soon enough, there were calls of “Hey Lady” and gestures and laughing and helping them pick up the lizards and frogs they didn’t want to touch. (That was HILARIOUS, btw.)

I’ve never been so proud of the people around me. There was no question of what we should do, just in how to be respectful in doing it. 

But the beach, you guys. So many people sorting through what they could salvage. These people have stories that we will never know, because there are so many other storms and hurricanes and disasters happening in our country right now. Have you realized that? We don’t often hear about what isn’t in our own backyard or country’s possession. What about them? 

I am not saying for one single minute that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are not exactly what they are: devastating. Heartbreaking. Life destroying. But could we also include such as these? Could we also just include these?

I’ll wrap up in a minute, but I can’t before I explain to you how beautiful this disaster is. When we asked one of the managers, Raul, what would happen to all of the things washing into the ocean and up onto the beach, he told us this. 

The ocean will give it back. It will give back the beach, and give back to us the trash that we make. We are the problem. Nature is not the problem. We will clean it up. 

His face was the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever seen as he explained this to us. His eyes, though very tired, were full of hope and trust and honor and strength. Could it be that we would all know and understand what he does.

Second, Alejandro. He was our protector. There was no morning that he was not present, no afternoon that he was not working, no evening that he was not watching. “Your resort has become your shelter,” he said. And we are so, so grateful.

The next morning, we said our goodbyes. In a small way, we feel like our vacation became our mission – to love and serve others who so diligently had served us the days before. This trip will forever be stamped in my heart, and I hope to God that I do not forget its impact. 

The last part of our trip was every bit as piercing. What had happened outside of the walls of our resort/shelter was…well….I’ll leave you with photos from our phones of our drive into the city. (All photos are right out of the van’s window – not zoomed in. We drove through lots of high standing water and banks of sand washed in from the coast.) As you scroll through, I’ll leave you with our driver, Marcele’s, story. He left his wife and three small children in their home that morning to make sure that six touristas got safely to the airport (!). His home was in ruins and his family was trying to move the water out that had seeped through their walls. They had very little left, yet he made these six visibly shaken – and more than a little scared – foreigners his priority. Who does that? His wife had told him that morning that they they had their lives and their family and they would rebuild. I have no doubt that they will.