Alejandro Escovedo’s Hurricane Honeymoon

Rocker’s Category 4 account: “I thought, We might not make this"

Alejandro Escovedo married Nancy Rankin in a private ceremony in Austin on September 6. The following morning, they flew to Mexico’s Northern Baja California region to honeymoon with a friend in Pescadero, just outside La Paz. A week later, Hurricane Odile hit.

Newlyweds Alejandro Escovedo and Nancy Rankin (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

Austin Chronicle: You got married to Nancy Rankin what day?

Alejandro Escovedo: September 6, 2014. We left the next day at 7:45am. We flew into Los Cabos Airport, which is Cabo San Lucas, Cabo San Jose. Then we rented a car and got ripped off by the car agency immediately [laughs]. Welcome to Mexico! I felt right at home – just bent over without any foreplay whatsoever [laughs].

AC: You were staying with friends?

AE: Well, here’s the deal: We flew in to Los Cabos. We got there at 9 or 10pm. We went to the car rental, got a car, and drove through Los Cabos. We got some supplies and made our way north along the coast highway there, to a little town called Pescadero.

A friend of mine, Robert Quirk, had a beautiful villa there. He calls it the Pescadero Palace. He hand built it himself. He’s a surfer ex-pat out of Long Beach, California. So, we went there.

Immediately, we had the honeymoon suite which overlooks the beach – over looks the Point. The sunset’s directly in front of you, gorgeous. And we had a beautiful week. They were commending us on how we brought all the good weather with us, because they had had two hurricanes – smaller ones that passed through just weeks before.

They said, “Yeah, the weather’s gonna be good now that you guys are here.” We had a beautiful week. We went to the beach every day. It was sunny, it was hot. The food was great. People were great. The waves were gorgeous. The water felt amazing. That blue and those sunsets and walks on the beach were what we were looking for.

We’d go into town, because Todos Santos is just up the road, 10 to 15 miles I believe. Our plan was to stay at another friend’s house in town, a musician friend. We were gonna stay there on Monday.

So, come Saturday, we hear there’s a tropical storm. We heard that maybe starting on Friday. On Saturday night, it hung over very warm water and gathered momentum and speed. Suddenly, it’s a Category 4 hurricane – full-on hurricane with red alert. Red Alert. It’s going to make landfall Sunday night.

We’re finding this out Sunday morning.

Sooo... what do we do? Do we try to outrun the hurricane? In Mexico, you don’t drive at night. What are the roads like? Is there enough gas? Can we outrun it? And where do we go, because you not only have to think about winds and surf, you have to think about torrential rain, floods, landslides, mudslides. We got to the point where there was no return. We were there. We were gonna have to face it.

Robert, being our captain in a way, said, “You guys need to get out of the honeymoon suite.“ We moved out of the honeymoon suite into the Tommy Lee Suite, which I had named because Tommy Lee stayed there once [laughs]. We hunkered down in the Tommy Lee Suite, which sounds worse than the hurricane, maybe....

We go and we buy water. Everyone’s buying water. We buy all the dry goods we can get – peanut butter, rice cakes, bread – but mostly water, batteries for the flashlight, that kinda deal.

Now we go back, and there’s that calm before the storm. My wife was raised in Galveston. She’s been through hurricanes, and I could tell that she was becoming a little more tense. Like I said, we are directly in the path. All we can hope for, by some miracle, is that when it hits landfall it dissipates. Or at least loses momentum, maybe even just veers off west away from landfall.

The sunset was beautiful that night. There was still the waves. The winds were blowing offshore. The sea foam green into the blue was just gorgeous. The waves were magical looking.

It was funny because the surf had never come up before the hurricane. Usually, the surf comes up before the hurricane. We were listening as Robert was talking to his friends down in Cabo, and they were saying, “There’s no surf! It’s weird!” There were waves that were starting to form, but not until the storm was actually there.

So, now we’re all hunkered down, and all we can do is just go to sleep and hope for the best. Somewhere around 11, 12 that night, it started to come. And it came like a freight train – like if you were face-to-face with a freight train. That’s what it was like. The doors were starting to buckle, so Nancy and I had to take this big couch and ram it against them.

There was all this pressure. Suddenly, your head was just crazy. The barometric pressure was taking everything out of the atmosphere. Your ears were popping like crazy, headache: “Oh, shit! What’s this?!”

The wind is blowing, howling. I heard this one poor duck loose, and he was howling. So, the combination of things falling, things banging up against the building, windows creaking, popping in and out. The sound of water – we thought it was the ocean about to take us away! What it actually was, was the arroyo [a sudden flow of water]. The arroyo ran in front of the house, down to the beach.

There was a place right above the closet, and I said, “Baby, we’ve got to get up there.” And I put pillows up in there, and blankets and candles. I said, “We’re going up in there, if this is it.” I remember when it started, we were outside, and that was the point where we knew it was extremely serious.

The last phone call I made was to my daughter, Maya. I told her, “If I don’t see you again, baby, I love you.” We made a call to [manager] Jan [Stabile], but I don’t think anyone quite understood. My daughter just said, “Dad, don’t go there. You’ll make it.”

Then, suddenly, there’s no phones. There’s nothing. The electricity went out right away. No Wi-Fi, nothing like that. Water, we had to go outside to the pool to grab water in buckets to use for the toilet.

At 4am, we suddenly hear this yelling, “Robert! Robert! Get out of your house! It’s being fucking washed away! Robert! We look outside, and there’s a guy with a flashlight, running across a 24-inch wall – the top of the wall. The crown of the wall. He’s tightrope running on it with a flashlight, barefoot.

He climbs down. We think he’s telling Robert that we’re intruders in his house. So, we yell out, “No, we’re friends of Robert’s!” He goes, “No, Robert’s in the fucking house! We’ve gotta get him fucking out of there!”

We get out. I get out. Nancy stays inside. I go with this guy Bobby. Luckily, Robert had already gotten out. As we’re watching this, he goes, “Look, the arroyo is taking away the wall!”

The whole front of the house gets washed away: the garage, the trailer, the truck, the car, the hangar for his plane, which he told me that day he’d dug 25 feet into the ground to add these anchors that were just insane! He lifted the sides so the water could rush underneath. Gone – just like a piece of paper in a waterfall or something.

We watched all that wash away. Suddenly, this big surge of water comes rushing up the driveway. So, we run, and that’s when I thought, “We might not make this.” It’s dark still, 4am.

Robert’s got a 6-year-old girl, Daphne, and his wife Alondra. Bobby’s got four kids and his wife. They were sleeping. Chelsea, his daughter, saw that all the water was taking the bottom of their house away. They had to get out. There was a trailer that they had, from when they were building this other place, so, they were all cramped in there with another family from down the road. These poor people.

All we could do was sit out this hellacious night. It was like being at sea. There was so much water around us.

And now, we’re trapped. All the palms had fallen on the gate behind us. The rental car was still safe, but we couldn’t get it out. We couldn’t go forward, because what was once a dry arroyo was now the Colorado River. A raging river: trees coming by, cars, trucks!

We couldn’t step one step inside that water. It’s all brown, like deep, deep, mocha brown, just being churned up. Behind us, there’s fallen palm trees. How high were those palm trees? A hundred feet, 150 feet? The tops were being picked off like you would pick a flower off a stem. Trees snapped. There were telephone poles everywhere, wires. Thank god the wires were out and nobody got hurt.

Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

So, here comes the next day. We’re trapped. We’re still in danger. The winds are now 50 miles per hour, sometimes 75-mile-per-hour gusts. It’s raining.

That’s Monday. That was the day we were supposed to go to our friend Peter’s house in town. We obviously can’t go anywhere. We don’t know if they’re okay. We figure Todos Santos is probably the worst place to be, because of all the buildings and all the trees and all the wires and everything. And there’s a lot of flooding there.

So, we stayed there. We had no choice. The only way we can bathe is with Topo Chico bottles. Robert dived in the pool to take out the vegetation. Luckily, the trash didn’t go in there, just the vegetation. He got it out right away and started treating it so we had water we could use to flush toilets. It wasn’t stagnant. It wasn’t breeding all the bugs and stuff.

Monday night, we spent there. And we’re wondering what we’re gonna do. There’s no communication anywhere. No one knows where we’re at. It turns out nobody here knew what was going on.

Come Tuesday, now the sun has come out. Monday evening, though, there’s looters already. Once the water went down, there were guys out there picking up Robert’s safe! They were picking up surfboards, trying to take the jet ski. They stripped the truck. It brings out the best and the worst in people. You see the worst in humanity, and you see the best in humanity.

We were lucky, because we were in a safe place, solid place. Robert built it. We really don’t know how close we came, because it was at night. But by the looks of it, we came extremely close.

It turns out that Bobby, the neighbor, was an ex-Navy Seal, Special Forces guy. So, we were in good hands. Robert’s been in the water all his life. He knows the ocean, and he knows his place. He built it by hand, and he built it to withstand this kind of thing. In fact, he built it so that the front part would just break away and not take the rest of the house. It was an amazing piece of engineering, and it saved us.

We finally made it to town on Tuesday. We get in the car with Bobby. We had to climb over all this debris. His car was safe, too, but it didn’t have any gas. We had to siphon gas from the motorcycle.

We made it to town. The drive to town was so sad, to see what had happened. This was our first glimpse. There were these huge puddles of water everywhere. There’s palm trees just thrown around like tooth picks. They’re everywhere. The survivors are driving around, doing their thing, but nobody’s got water. Nobody’s got food. Nobody’s got electricity or refrigeration. No one’s got communication with the outside world.

We finally make it to the road, and it’s crazy. We’ve given away all our stuff. Nancy and I were a bit naive. We were thinking, “Okay, we’re gonna get out of here today. We’re hitching a ride to Tijuana, gonna get on a plane, and we’re outta here.” So we gave away all our food to our friends and all our water. We thought we were just gonna get on a bus.

We get to the road, and people are driving like Mad Max – bands of guys in trucks with baseball bats and stuff like that. And they’re driving like crazy. People aren’t stopping. You can’t even catch their eye. They’re just intent on getting the fuck out of there!

We met this couple across the street. We realized suddenly there’s no petrol. There’s no bus. There was a bunch of guys leaving for La Paz, but it was like eight guys in a little Ford Escort or something. They couldn’t take us. She still had propane, so she made us some tacos in what used to be the bus station. She made us bean and cheese tacos, and we bought a couple to take home, because we knew that we could at least eat those.

So, we had to go back to the compound, climb back through all the rubbish. Imagine Cabo at this point. There’s no way anything would’ve survived that hurricane. We saw pictures of the airport completely devastated. Huge passenger planes upside down, flipped over like a balsa wood glider! The place was devastated. I’m talking third world country devastation.

AC: Something like 30,000 tourists were stranded.

AE: I heard 50,000. Now, not only that, the only people who are helping anyone are the Canadians and Alaska Airlines. It’s chaos. This is the first two days after.

We couldn’t move the palm trees off the gate. These were huge palm trees full of water. We tried, but they weren’t budging!

This vaquero comes by, riding a horse. Robert says, “Hey! I'll give you $80 [to clear the trees].” He says, “I’ll be back with a crew!" He came back with an axe, one huge guy, his son, and him. They went with machetes and axes, and within three hours, they got the whole fucking job done [laughs].

Unbelievable!

So, we told Robert to drive us to La Paz, get groceries, get gas. Bobby was going to come, too – after another event. Robert hired these Mexicans to get a tractor and pull his truck in. It’s stripped, but he wants his truck! Surfers are crazy, man [laughs].

So, he gets these Mexican guys. They have a blowout on the tractor. But they bring the tractor, then they bring the truck in. So, we had to wait for that. By the time we get to La Paz, it was Tuesday afternoon. As we’re getting closer to La Paz, not only are the roads really fucked up, but there’s water everywhere. And Todos Santos, when we drove through, was gone.

We see the electrical guy, and he knows everybody. I asked how long before the electricity comes back. He said, “Two months.” I think it’s gonna be shorter, but at that point, they said two months. This was the head of electricity in Todos Santos. Todos Santos is nothing. It’s a village.

You know La Paz is gonna be taken care of because it’s where the government is. It’s the capital. They want to appear like they’re up and running: “We know how to take care of our people. We’re not going to let this happen.” Cabo they need because of tourism. It’s the only thing there to make money. There’s millions and millions of dollars invested in Cabo.

So, we knew somehow or other, they were going to get to that. But we weren’t in Cabo. We’re in La Paz now. There are downed cement electrical poles as we start to get into town. About 20 miles out of town, we’re seeing them start to collapse. The line outside Dos Santos for gas is like the Seventies gas crunch lines.

Not only that, but people are restless. We’ve got a car. And we’ve got three gringos, and all these propane tanks in the back because we’re gonna get supplies.

They take us to La Paz. We went to this one place that was kinda like a resort, but we figured it might be one of the few places that would have electricity and stuff. They didn’t have electricity and didn’t have any rooms, because most of their rooms had been destroyed. La Paz was in bad shape – no electricity, no water, no gas, no ATM, no Wi-Fi.

On the main street along the bay at the harbor, Malacon, we find a room at the Hotel Perla. We have pesos, but there’s no electricity, no refrigeration. There’s water, though. They give you two little candles – good luck down the hallways. It’s dark, completely black. We went down, and there was only one restaurant that was open, and people were there. They were eating. We ate, and then we walked back. You couldn’t walk at night. You had to be in your rooms at night.

Now it’s Wednesday and we’re walking around La Paz. We tried to go the consulate. We couldn’t find them. Tried to go the airport, but it was like that scene in Good Morning, Vietnam, where they’re leaving Saigon.

And the American Consulate? “Oh, we’ll put you on a list.” “How are you going to get in touch with us?” “You’re on the list!” I go, “Y’know, it really doesn’t make me feel better to know that I’m on the list [laughs]. I know you’re trying to make me feel better by putting my name on this imaginary list, but y’know what? It’s just not working on this old guy!”

There was this guy there Nancy talked to who was supposedly overseeing all the people from one of the resorts in La Paz. She starts talking to him, and finally, she says, “Look, no one’s helping us here. We’re not gonna get a flight. Can you give us a ride?” We were afraid we were going to lose our hotel, so we went back. And this guy – his name was Victor – it turns he’s going back to the coast of Baja, where we ended up later.

So he gives us a ride to our hotel, and we get a room for one more night. Now we’ve barely got any pesos left. This is Wednesday. We start looking around for ATMs. We hear there might be one open, but there was nothing. We walk to this place we saw where we thought we could get pesos with our card, because it was open and she was changing money. Next to it was this little coffee shop.

I’m looking in and they’re making these beautiful sandwiches, making these cappucinos. The door’s closed, but I’m going, “Baby, let’s go in here.” We go in and they’ve got AC, they’ve got Wi-Fi, they’ve got cappucinos, they’ve got Hunger Games on TV [laughs]. It’s hip. They’re playing the Clash and everything! It’s some internet cafe with young kids.

So, we made friends with these people. We stayed. We got this big couch and we got Wi-Fi. That was the first communique. That’s when we finally sent out a photo of the house: “This is what’s happening. We’re in La Paz.” Turns out there’s this kid there, a shredder guitar player into metal. He’s the coolest kid. Him and his family own this place. Turns out that his brother, who owns the coffee shop, is the head of electricity in La Paz. So, of course, he’s hooked-up! It’s the only place, and people don’t know this, really.

Now, people are starting to be bussed from Cabo. Thousands start coming in. What was happening was the resorts started telling these people that, if they went to La Paz, they’d be able to fly out right away. Then they abandoned them at this airport.

We met these people who had seen me play at the World Cafe Live in Philly. Then these other two people recognize me. Of course, the guy thought I was Rodriguez at first [laughs]. Under the circumstances, I forgave that. But when we see you in North Carolina, we’ll take it up again!

So, it’s Wednesday and we realize, “Well, at least now we have a place to come to. These people are totally cool.” That night we started to feel better, like maybe we’ll get out of here. Mike Thompson and Jan Stabile had been working on getting us out through the consulate. The consulate is telling them, “Oh, they’re going to be flying out tomorrow! No problem! We’ll take care of them!”

The consulate was one guy who stayed until about 9am, then took off. He would only yell, “Tijuana,” and then you had to run to the plane. Do you know that in Cabo, they were doing the same thing – putting people on military planes? And charging them $577 to sit on military junk planes! It’s like they were on the trash truck, or the dump truck. Thank god they got home. But the American government did nothing. The Canadian government actually went to the hotels and picked up their people and made sure they were on airlines to get home.

Alaska Airlines went down there with water and food for people. Then the consulate tells people to go to Cabo. Why would you want to go some place where there’s martial law? Where there’s no water, there’s no refrigeration, there’s no sanitation. Why would you want to go there? Why would I want to take that two-hour trip, not knowing what the roads were like, not knowing what’s going to happen if I get refused there. Where am I going to go?

I wasn’t going to do that to Nancy, so we stayed in La Paz.

Thursday, we were supposed to get out of there for sure. Now that day, we didn’t have enough money to pay for a hotel room. So Jan got them to get online, and we found a resort. They were empty. Now this is an interesting angle of the story also, because suddenly, we go to the resort because they will take a credit card. They have refrigeration, they have electricity, their restaurant’s working.

I thought, “I’m taking her there. I don’t care what it costs.” We go there, and now we see this Eurotrash hanging out. They’re thinking they’re in Cabo or in the sunny Caribbean, and they don’t give a shit about anything! They don’t know anything that’s going on: “Oh, we’re fine. I wanna go golfing. Go get me a golf cart, right now!”

AC: Decadence.

AE: Ignorance. And lack of compassion for humanity.

So, we saw that part of it, and we were a little bit guilty about being there. It was weird. We were happy to be there. We were on our honeymoon, I felt we deserved that. But part of us was constantly thinking about our friends who we left behind.

We stayed there. We went one more day to the airport, because we were supposed to be on this supposed “A-list” to get out. There was no “A-list.” There was no consulate. There was nothing.

Luckily, this compassionate man who was our cab driver came to our aid. He loved baseball! We struck it up on baseball. He was a [San Francisco] Giants fan, too. He took us to a pharmacy, took us to get time on our phone, waited while we did all these things, took us to the airport, waited to see if we got on a plane. If we couldn’t get on a plane, he was going to take us back.

And when you drive through La Paz to get to the airport, you drive through these barrios. It was rough back there: Water standing, sewage water. We had to drive through it. It was awful.

We made our way back to La Paz, and he says, “I know of a travel agent right here.” I go, “Do you think they’re open?” This is Saturday now, and it’s already five or six in the afternoon. But because of siesta, it was open [laughs].

So, we go in there, and this guy – Marco, I think, was his name – I ask him, “Can you get us out of here?” He says, “Let’s see....” And the first one, they were charging 280,000 pesos to get out. I think it was a direct flight from La Paz or something. We figured out a way to get us out. It was like $500 apiece, but we were gonna get out. So, what we did was, we bought a ticket to Mexico City, then from Mexico City to Dallas, from Dallas to Austin.

Our cab driver waited the whole time, had our tickets, took us back to the resort, and he was waiting for us at 4am to leave at 4:30. He drove us all the way to the airport, made sure we got on the plane. I think he charged us $80 for the whole thing.

That was the best, people like that, like Eric at the Downtown Coffee Shop in La Paz. Him and his family were amazing. And this cab driver – and Victor. Then our friends, who were incredible.

AC: And you got back here to Austin last night, 10pm Saturday?

AE: We landed at 9pm. We went by Polvo’s and picked up two orders of enchiladas and went home, ate them furiously. It was like a National Geographic Shark Week special [laughs]. We got so tired. We said, “We’d better take a shower before we pass out.” We made it through the shower and passed out. Today’s another day. We’re glad we’re here. And so grateful to all our friends.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Alejandro Escovedo, Hurricane Odile, Nancy Rankin, Robert Quirk, Tommy Lee

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