Right…back to the blog…where were we? Ah yes…a random hotel in Playa del Carmen. Foregoing the luxury of an air-conditioned hotel for the cheaper delights of a hostel, we moved our kit five blocks west to the edgily-named “Urban Hostel”. Concrete floors, straw roof and stifling heat greeted us, although we did have a tiny room to ourselves in which to store our kit mountain. Dark from lack of windows, muggy from the heat (and probably the poorly-located tumble dryer) – the joys of a hostel…! However, at $10 a night it’s cheap, which is a major benefit – since we’ve entered the Tourist Zone, meal prices have doubled…bring back $5 dinners! After a couple of hours in a net cafe, we headed for the beach…having learnt our lesson in Veracruz, we reserved judgement on the place for…well…about ten minutes…Playa Del Carmen is stunning. White sand, blue seas, just enough breeze to convince you (incorrectly!) that you’re not burning…ideal! We like this town (in case you hadn’t already guessed that one…) – the temperature’s great, not too scorchingly hot or humid, it’s got a good choice of restaurants, it’s clean and we don’t stick out like sore thumbs…there’s more europeans around! We also feel like we’re cheating, ‘cos we don’t have mangle our way through a dinner order in broken Spanish…although it’s nice to be able to chat in English, there’s no feeling of accomplishment when dinner arrives…ah well…I guess we’ll be able to live with it! After buying some oil for the bikes – oil change day tomorrow – we grabbed some food and headed for bed. People still talking about the hurricane…apparently it’s due to hit tomorrow (sunday), and people are leaving the hostel ‘cos it’s likely to flood and the roof isn’t particularly well attached…! Should we stay or should we go? We’ll decide tomorrow (before they raise the parking rates). First night in the hostel was HOT – thank god for the fan we got with the private room! Next morning we peeled ourselves out of bed and headed for some waste ground we’d spotted the previous day to subtly change the bike oil. The weather was clouding, and people were leaving Playa del Carmen in droves. Even the receptionist guy at the hostel was packing up…gulp… Locals are nailing plywood sheets over their windows to protect them from winds and debris during the hurricane, and we saw a couple of truckloads of Marines heading into town to help out with crowd control and the inevitable clear-up if the hurricane hits. We’ve decided to leave the hostel and head for a nearby hotel, which has the twin advantages of being above sea level and not having a roof made out of straw. Two of the guys from the hostel haven’t got anywhere to stay so we’ve (charitably) rented them floor space for the evening. After laying in stocks of water and junk food, we headed for the beach to watch the storm kick off 🙂 The waves were building minute by minute, the normally placid sea chweing angrily at the beach, and the gentle breeze we’d felt the day before had definitely graduated to Wind status, with honours. Police arrived and cleared the beach, sending people back to hotels. Back on the main street, all but one shop had closed, so we picked up bread and more water and headed up to the hotel to meet Joel and Steve who were sharing the room. Annoyed at the didactic manner of the police, the four of us attempted to get back onto the beach to watch the hurricane. Officals in yellow raincoats thwarted our best efforts so we headed south onto the private beaches where we secured an ideal spot on a sea wall in a disused poolside bar in a “condo” complex and watched (from a safe height) the waves hurling themselves against the concrete front with increasing fury as the sky bruised and darkened out to sea. After a disappointing start, at about 8pm (after numerous requests from security guards to go home!) the storm really got going. The wind actually howled round us, driving the rain horizontally and bullet-like into our faces. When the gusting wind could support us leaning into it, we decided enough was enough and headed back to the hotel to sit out the worst of the storm. Apparently the eye of the hurricane was due to hit about 30km south of us…hopefully the damage wouldn’t be too bad! We awoke to a Hollywood-like aftermath. Shin-deep pools of floodwater filled the streets, SUV’s swishing through the puddles. Piles of dark-green palm tree debris lay haphazardly scattered across streets, buildings and cars, the parent trunks torn from their rootings and tossed like cabers across cars and houses. Glass from windows, punched through by the howling winds, lay in glittering shards across the pavements and streets, leaving gaping holes into rooms. Canvas signs and roofs hung randomly draped over trees and roofs, shredded and torn from their mountings by the gales, and through this scene of almost biblical carnage stepped the residents, examining the damage with a resigned and philosophical air, whilst troops hacked at the littered trees with machetes as the clearup operations began. We felt bizarre walking around, almost voyeristic…there’s something disturbing about watching people picking over the ruins of a house, garage or business after something like this. Realising that there was NO way this mess would get cleared up any time soon (electricity and water both still being out) we packed up and headed out. Paradise City would take a long time to get back to normal. A light aircraft planted vertically into a hangar testified to the ferocity of the storm as we headed out, the XTs making light work of the debris that lay everywhere. We were headed for Chetumal, 200 miles south. Telegraph and power poles, either snapped in two or at the very least bent over to drunken angles, lined the roads as we rode along. Roadside trees had been uprooted and the jungle bore raw scars where the winds has proved too strong for the vegetation. Worst of all, the calmed breeze occasionally carried the stench of sewage, reminding us that people were still trapped in the various resorts and villas along the coast with no water or power, without the easy means that we had of escaping the disaster zone. The canopy of a petrol station, torn from the mountings and hurled to the ground, made for a graphic photo as we headed for Chetumal on an otherwise uneventful ride to a hotel and bed.