Hurricane one of many new experiences

By Helena Rodriguez: Local Columnist

To say this has been an eventful week here in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico would be a serious understatement.

Since last Friday alone, I’ve experienced a lot of firsts in my life: My first trip to the Caribbean, my first time on an island, Cozumel to be exact, and my first near-hurricane experience.

I nearly got smashed, by Hurricane Emily that is.

But wait. That’s not all. We celebrated my daughter Laura’s quince años, or 15th birthday, last Friday. And as I head back home from Mexico today, my class, the Portales High School Class of 1985, will be celebrating our 20th reunion this weekend.

Before I take you back to my high school days, I’ve got to tell you about this hurricane scare we had.

I’ll start with a sign we saw posted in La Playa del Carmen on our way back from Cozumel the day before Emily struck. Someone wrote this on a wooden board in front of a store: “Emily, Mi casa es su casa, no lo alborotes!”

In translation: Emily, my house is your house, please don’t tear it apart!

We had a three-day weekend from our studies, so a group of us students sailed off to the nearby island of Cozumel. As we headed to La Playa del Carmen to board a ferry, the warnings of Hurricane Emily were being issued everywhere.

Emily was scheduled to strike Cozumel on Sunday, so we had plans to leave early Saturday and return to Merida, where we stayed on the southern tip of Mexico. As we arrived on the crystal clear waters of the island paradise, I was excited but still very uneasy because of the impending hurricane. I never thought I would be as relieved as I was on Saturday to leave this tropical paradise.

As we got off the ferry at La Playa del Carmen, a place that was hit hard by Hurricane Emily on Sunday, people were boarding up businesses to prepare for the storm. I was even more relieved when we got into our van and headed back to Merida, but only to find out the storm was headed straight for Merida.

When we returned to the home of our host family, the Ayalas, everyone was in hurricane mode. We rose early Sunday and went to mass as others stocked up on food, water and candles. The guys helped chop down a tree in the back yard and windows and valuables were covered. The vigil for Emily then began.

What an uneasy night it was. She was supposed to strike Merida that evening. Then they changed it to 2 a.m., then 6 a.m., and 10 a.m.

Emily never came, and for that I’m very thankful.

As many of you know, I’ve been in Merida since early July, taking part in a Spanish immersion program with Eastern New Mexico University. I’m heading home earlier than planned today — my body has had a particularly hard time adjusting to the heat and way of life here in Mexico — but I feel I have benefited immensely from my three weeks here.

In addition to the hurricane experience, I’ve been absorbing the rich language and culture of the Mayans and Mexicans and expanding my Spanish-speaking skill, which is what I came here for.

I’m also learning to think in Spanish, as one of my classmates has encouraged.

I’ve come and gone from Portales several times over the past 20 years. It’s still the place I call home. As I embark on new adventures, though, it can be hard at times to not forget where you came from.

By the same token, it can also be hard at times to not let that hold you back. What I’m trying to say is that coming home doesn’t mean you’re coming back within the same frame of mind. That’s something that took me years to figure out. It’s still home, but I’m not the same person.

I’m not sure I’d want to relive my high school days again, but I can say that my high school days were not a waste of time. I benefited from the countless hours spent in the school library reading and writing. That helped steer me into journalism.

Maybe I’ll go to my big 20 reunion when I get back home this weekend. I’ll see. Although I didn’t enjoy high school, for me this won’t be about going back into time — more like seeing where I’ve been and come since then.

Now that might be a good finale for what has already been a tumultuous week. After a near brush with the ferocious Emily, how much scarier can it be to go to my 20th high school reunion?

Helena Rodriguez writes for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. Her e-mail address: