When the familiar faces of the WMUR anchors appeared on my television two weekends ago, it seemed like it was going to be just another day of news, nothing too exciting, which in the media is usually a good thing. If it's a quiet day, that means it is a good day. I turned back to the magazine that was lying on my lap, and then suddenly I heard something that caught my attention.
"UNH students visiting Acapulco are stranded after a hotel fire," the voice said.
My dad turned and yelled from the other room, "Ash, did you hear that? Are those your friends?" At the same time I was jumping up and running to the computer, looking for more information.
Thankfully, my best friend Jenny had just come back from the Western Playa Suites after her spring break earlier that morning, so I knew she was alright. However, her break had been scheduled a week before both UNH and Keene State's vacation. One of the best hotels in Acapulco, the Playa is popular, so it wasn't unbelievable that many UNH students were staying there.
The initial report from the media said that the smoke damage was so bad, and students were so scared, they were climbing out of the hotel using bed sheets, and that they were all outside the hotel, unable to get to their passports, money, clothing, and any luggage at all. Were they hurt? The reports said no, but the smoke damage was heavy and without any way to get their necessary identification items, what were they supposed to do? It's a parent's, family's, and friend's worst nightmare.
Come to find out, that hotel, and those people that were stranded, included students from three different UNH Greek houses — many of them friends, classmates, and acquaintances. As Lacey, Jesse and I got ready for our own trip inside the States, we waited anxiously for the girls to contact us from Mexico, just a simple text or call so that we would know they were fine. That phone call came hours later, when they were finally allowed to get their items.
As we all came back to school this week, everyone who traveled on the trip to Acapulco — a vacation that was both costly and a definite adventure — had a story to tell. Many of them had money and credit cards stolen before they were allowed to get their luggage, and the girls told us that they were stranded outside for hours in just their pajamas, without even shoes in the extreme heat. They had all woken up to smoke smothered rooms, and because they were only in Mexico for one day, they had little information about what to do, where to go, or their options and legal rights after the fire occurred.
A friend who came back told me that many students, who were stranded with nowhere to go, tried to find space in rooms that were not smoke damaged in a particular part of the Playa, or in a different close hotel where other UNH students were staying. At first, before being taken to a nice five star hotel, Becky, along with friends, were shipped to a different hotel, one that had no locks on the doors and no bathrooms in the rooms. After getting upset, returning back to the bus, and refusing to get off, she said that they were taken to a better hotel, the one they should have been put in the first time. They were lucky, she said, because they really had no idea what to do or who to listen to, and anything could have happened to them.
It's always better to hear a story firsthand, but it's also scary. So many young students were trapped in a foreign country, without their passports, money, or any way to get those items, and it's a scary and dangerous time in many parts of the world, including our own nation. When traveling, all of us need to take extra precautions, so that when situations like the hotel fire occur, we can hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. Throughout all of the fear, anger, and hassle, however, everyone who came back did agree on one thing — it was a trip they all learned from, one that made them realize how easily paths and futures can change, and a vacation that they would definitely never, ever forget.
Ashley Chamberlain, a 2005 Pinkerton Academy graduate, is a junior at UNH. She is in her fourth year as a Derry News columnist and intern.