Hurricane Sandy, You Big Tease
When the seven of us started planning our trip to Southeast Asia, we had decided to fly into Phuket, Thailand pretty much for the sole purpose of getting out to the island of Koh Phi Phi Don and camping for a night in Maya Bay (where Leo went crazy in The Beach). Other than that, I really didn’t have much desire to go to Phuket or Phi Phi – It was supposedly beautiful, but just massive tourist traps along the beach backpacker route. We knew that going in, but Maya Bay was still one of my must-dos on this trip.
On the morning of Sunday, October 28, 2012, I paced anxiously in a hotel room in Nanuet, NY checking my flight status on Cathay Pacific out of JFK every five minutes or so. Sometimes less. For the past two days, all I had been hearing about from the New York media was the apocalyptic hurricane bearing down on the city. New York and New Jersey were about to be swallowed by the sea, pundits were already predicting that it would be “Obama’s Katrina” costing him the election (spot-on guys!), and Chris Christie was rocking his hurricane fleece to convey the desperation of the situation. I knew my friends and family would be fine so I honestly didn’t care about any of the hype. Not to be insensitive, but all I cared about was my flight to Thailand that night scheduled to leave 30 minutes before Sandy was predicted to start blasting the area. If I didn’t get out that night, it was looking like flights wouldn’t be leaving NYC until Tuesday (JFK actually didn’t reopen until Wednesday) and even if the stars aligned to get me out Tuesday, I was going to miss Maya Bay anyway due to the sheer travel time. On top of that, my group was moving on to somewhere near Krabi on the 1st and I’d probably spend my entire first day on a ferries catching up and finding them.
By late morning, I was sitting on hold with Cathay Pacific’s call-center because I neurotically thought the representative with broken English in Hong Kong would know better than the website. As I’m in the lobby pacing, an email popped up on my phone from “Phil,” who runs the Maya Bay Camping tours: “Unfortunately our permission to camp on Maya Bay has just been withdrawn. I have fully refunded your booking. You will have no trouble finding alternative accommodation as the island is quiet right now.” (*)
Well that blows.
But it was a small relief – Worse came to worse now, I’d hang out in Brooklyn for a few days longer and see more friends and family that I hadn’t gotten a chance to see on this trip back East. Plus, I had already gotten some invites to some hurricane parties.
The calm before the storm (literally) was kind of surreal when I got into Brooklyn. I’d been watching and hearing so much hype over the past days, I expected more of a chaotic scene. I saw a couple grocery stores that seemed pretty packed, but overall, everyone seemed to be going about their business. I met up with my Aunt for some beers and football in Bay Ridge and in meeting her friends, the only thing that seemed different was everyone had the next few days off since most mass transit had already shut down. Other than that, it was just kind of another gloomy Sunday in the northeast.
My constant website updates on Cathay were still completely reassuring that the flight was on time, but I still opted for a ride to JFK four hours before my departure. For some reason, I thought my anxiety would ease a bit while continuing my current buzz at an airport bar – the shampoo effect was very useful that day. However, I didn’t realize that everything at the airport was already shutting down and with the exception of one MacDonalds (disgusting), all other restaurant/bar workers had fled. And the international terminal was a mess – Emerites Airlines had cancelled all their flights displacing hundreds of people around the terminal. I found a corner, threw on some headphones, and half-ass concentrated on Dark Star Safari to pass the time on the floor.
From the rumors flying around JFK at the time, I heard we were one of the last 8 flights to get out of JFK that night. We took off towards the East and circled around NYC to the North – the clouds taking shape over the city just looked like a solid wall coming in; It kind of reminded me of the alien invasion of Independence Day when the ships appeared over the cities. (Nerd alert, but you pictured it.) I popped my ambien and about 30(ish) hours later, I stepped off the Phi Phi Ferry in an excited daze only to find my buddy Rob standing right there with a beer in hand and directions on how to get to our bungalows on the other side of the island to meet up with the rest of our group.
Despite the pre-trip hurricane-induced angst, I could not have asked for an overall smoother trip. Sitting on Tokho Beach with a big Singha watching the sun go down and the harvest moon rise over the Andaman Sea 33 hours after leaving New York was one of the more relaxing moments of my life.
*We were later told that apparently, once a year the Thai government picks a week to revoke all permits to Maya Bay to camp (day-trips are still fine) in order to clean and restore the bay. I have no facts to back that up.
(In no way is this meant to be insensitive regarding that hurricane. I completely acknowledged the devastation and headaches this storm ended up causing. This was just my experience and selfish thought process.)