Vacations are times when memories are made. Well, I now have a memory I wish I didn't have.
It happened Sunday night, around 11:40. I was awoken by a loud voice, but projected from somewhere. At first, I thought it was someones music being played very loud. It stopped, and then played again. I got up, went to the door, and looked out the peep hole. I didn't see anything, but could tell it was coming from within the hotel, echoing off the walls of the atrium where our room is situated. It was some kind of announcement. It again, stopped.
When it started again, I stepped outside to try to figure out what it was saying. Once I stepped outside, I could see people looking just as confused as I was, until... we smelled the smoke. Then it wasn't confusion anymore. It was a sense of urgency and a little bit of panic.
I ran back into the room and woke up Don. He checked outside as I scrambled to get dressed and scoop up any valuables I could think of [my cameras :)]. We left the room and headed for the stairwell, along with other guests and amid a constant siren, the evacuation announcement, and the smell of smoke.
I should mention here that the smoke smell was a different kind of smell. It was definitely smoke but it smelled like it came from an electrical fire or some kind of rubber burning. As we entered the stairwell, the smell of smoke was stronger. In fact, as we descended the stairs (our room is on the 8th floor), the strength of the smell grew even stronger. We even got to the 4th floor and the descent suddenly stopped.
I'm telling you, at this point it got pretty scary. Everyone was trying to remain calm but no one was sure where the fire was and we couldn't be sure that it wasn't somewhere near the very stairwell we were following down. Don and I even left the stairwell thinking we should move to another one, but when we looked back, the flow of people had once again started moving and we decided to continue to follow it.
We made it out of he hotel and joined everyone outside. It was surreal. People everywhere. Some in their pajamas. Some wrapped in blankets or towels. Parents holding and comforting their young children. Elderly people huddled together. Don and I sat there, with everyone else, watching the building. We could smell the smoke, hear the alarms, see the strobe lights flashing from the smoke alarms in many rooms - but no evidence of a fire.
After a few minutes, Don and I decided to walk to the other side of the hotel. We realized that if there were no fire trucks where we were, they had to be on the other side. Sure enough, that's where they were. And the smell of the smoke was even stronger. All the commotion was located directly under our room. As it happens, that's where the kitchen is. We didn't find out until morning that it was a dishwasher that had caught on fire.
An hour after we had first heard the alarms, they gave us the okay to return to our rooms. Don and I waited awhile. We sat on pool lounge chairs for a little bit, and then headed closer to the hotel, waiting for a time when we felt safe to go back up. One of the problems was that the elevators were still not working. After a while, we decided to walk back up through the stair well. There was still the smell of smoke but not as bad, and thankfully, it didn't carry into our room. From our balcony, we watched the fire trucks leave the premises. The crisis was over.
I tried to take pictures but my flash wouldn't travel far enough to catch anything. You'll just have to take my word for it - it was surreal, chaotic, and scary. It took me a long time to get back to sleep and I didn't sleep well the rest of the night. But, it goes without saying, I am very thankful that the situation wasn't more serious. No one was hurt and we didn't lose anything... except for a few hours of sleep.