A pair of storm chasers waited anxiously in Hurricane Irma’s path, and as the storm hit they realized that they had made a grave mistake. They never expected to stumble upon something in the sand that day while they were running for their lives. Whether it was fate, a higher power, or both, what they had found set off a chain of extraordinary events that would leave two strangers’ lives forever changed.
A Glint of Green
She saw something green, glinting in the sand. She quickly scooped it up, looking at it briefly as she ran. It was a glass bottle, with something rattling around inside. But she didn’t have time to read the message.
The angry sky darkened and the wind started to howl, bending the palm trees over until they almost touched the ground. It had arrived.
It was September 2017, and the state of Florida was on full-alert. All eyes were on the North as people frantically moved to higher ground and a state of emergency was declared. Something was coming, and it would sweep in from the sea. Communication lines were taken down one by one.
There was a growing sense of fear in the air as people scrabbled away from the coastline, but one woman decided to run toward it.
Riders on the Storm
Nikki Snow, a business student at Eastern Florida College, doesn’t fear the impending storm – she feels enlivened by it. She runs to her car and drives East with her boyfriend Allen Gibson in tow. The air crackles with electricity as they barrel down the highway, toward Indialantic Beach.
Her pulse quickens as they arrive, and she pulls out her camera.
Reaching the Beach
It is around 3:00 p.m. when Nikki and Allen arrive at the empty beach. It is eerily quiet — the calm before the storm. They snap pictures of the abandoned coastline and start to walk, and they know that soon, the hurricane will be upon them.
The couple chatters nervously as they wait for Irma’s arrival.
The coastline darkens from the North, iron-grey seeping into the clouds from the horizon. The ocean grows choppier as the wind picks up, churning it into foamy white horses on the waves. The storm chasers wait and watch, and the danger grows with each second.
Their anticipation grows, too, and their hearts start to race as they stand motionless — entranced by the hurricane’s terrible beauty.
A Grave Mistake
The sky starts to roll and teem and the wind crashes onto the beach, kicking up flurries of sand that sting their bare legs. The palm trees start to sway, and they know Irma is coming. Debris on the beach start to blow and the tide starts to swell, and suddenly fear overcomes Nikki.
She realizes that they have walked too far along the shore, too late.
The Arrival of Irma
“Run!” Nikki screams, but the word is whipped from her mouth by the growing wind. Adrenaline kicks in and the couple starts to move, holding onto each other for support against the wind that buffets them from side to side like paper straws. The storm grows all around them until it is a howling gale, as they make their way back up the shore to safety.
Just then, something green catches Nikki’s eye.
Something in the Sand
Running towards the strange object, she bends over and pulls it up from the sand, never breaking stride. It is smooth and rounded and fits neatly in her hand. She lifts it to her face as she runs. It is a bottle, and there’s something inside it.
But there’s no time to inspect it now, there are far more pressing matters at hand.
Outrunning a Hurricane
Nikki and Allen manage to stumble back to the car in the nick of time. Nikki looks over her shoulder and sees the beach being ravaged by the wind and waves, just where they were standing minutes earlier. They had outrun the storm, but for how long?
She drove as fast as she dared, back to her home in Melbourne, on the other side of the island.
Message in a Bottle
Once safely indoors, Nikki inspected the green glass bottle again. She doesn’t know why she felt compelled to pick it up, but here it is. She pulls out the crumbling cork and slides a rolled piece of paper out. It’s a note.
The couple can’t contain their excitement at having found a genuine message in a bottle! But what was written inside?
Nikki unrolls the piece of paper carefully onto the table but is disappointed to see that it is indecipherable. She recognizes the characters as Spanish – but she can’t read them.
She immediately posted the letter on Facebook in hopes that someone can translate it for her, but Allen has a better idea.
In a serendipitous turn of events, Allen happens to work at a Cuban restaurant in Melbourne called El Ambia Cubano. He takes the letter and shows it to the restaurant’s kitchen manager, Alfredo Hernandez Froment, who is excited to see what Nikki and Allen have found. Luckily, the letter was in good condition, with no water damage.
He begins to read, and his eyes widen in disbelief.
A Cry for Help
The letter was not something set idly adrift in the ocean; in fact, it was far from it. It was a cry for help. But Allen could never have imagined just who had sent the message in a bottle for them to find. But he was determined to find out.
The first clue was the name signed at the bottom.
Meanwhile, Nikki had also had the letter translated by a Spanish instructor from the Florida Institute of Technology. He relayed the message’s heartbreaking contents to her as Allen’s colleague had for him. It was addressed to someone specific and spoke about losses and obstacles the writer was struggling to overcome.
Alfredo was able to discern that it was written by a young girl who lived on a tropical island far, far away.
Far, Far Away
The young Spanish woman had poured out her heart and soul in the letter and had addressed it to ‘mother’. She desperately hoped that her prayers would be heard as she signed it off before carefully placing it into a glass bottle and casting it out into the ocean.
But she could never have anticipated the events that were about to unfold.
The bottle’s long journey from the young woman’s hands to the Florida coastline had culminated in this: two unlikely strangers were about to embark upon an incredible journey of their own. They had no idea that the woman who had written the letter was none other than Chilla Lynn of R&B fame.
“I’ve had many obstacles, my heart has been broken a ton of times,” the letter read.
An Artist’s Prayer
“I lost the roof over my head and almost my way, but I’m trying to get back my house, my direction and my progress. I’m an artist, you know, since I opened my eyes, music lives in me,” she wrote. Then, Chilla took her heartfelt letter to Our Lady of Regla to pray.
When she was done, she took her prayer, addressed to Yemayá – he mother of all creation – and threw it out to sea from a beach in Havana, Cuba.
25-year-old Chilla Lynn, an R&B singer and pianist, had been successful from a tender age, but when she was writing her prayer she had felt trapped. She felt like her career was stagnating. She longed to be recognized internationally for her work. Alfredo related with Chilla’s struggles as he was a refugee from Cuba himself. He had come to Florida in 1994 in search of a better life.
And, surprisingly, the pair also shared a similar background.
You see, Alfredo’s passion was music. It was how he filled every second of his spare time when he was away from his chef’s job at El Ambia Cubano. Subsequently, he knew the ins and outs of the trade and hoped to share some of his insights with Chilla.
But first, he had to track her down.
Alfredo managed to get hold of Chilla’s personal e-mail address and he reached out to her, explaining that he had read the letter that she had sent out into the world that had never been intended for a human’s eyes.
He imagined that she would be happy to hear from a fellow Cuban, but her reaction was not exactly what he expected.
A Practical Joke?
Chilla was, naturally, suspicious when a random stranger reached out to her. Her first thought was that it was someone from Cuba pranking her. It took her a while to warm to Alfredo, but when she realized that he was sincere, she was overjoyed.
She rushed to tell her grandmother that her prayer had been finally been answered.
Alfredo maintained his relationship with Chilla from Florida and was sure to listen to her music, which he thought was inspired. Chilla released her new album that same year, entitled ‘Love and Honey’.
But Alfredo knew that Chilla needed help getting her voice heard, so he contacted his music-industry contacts.
Alfredo felt compelled to help Chilla on her path to recognition and managed to set up a tour for her in the United States. He felt like The Virgin Mary had set everything in motion for the pair to make contact, and he was bound by his faith. Although he could have benefited from managing Chilla’s tour, he did it for no monetary gain.
The message in a bottle meant so much more than that.
Setting it in Motion
Although there are no official dates for Chilla’s US tour yet, Alfredo has set the wheel in motion. But what do Nikki and Allen, the storm chasers who found the message in a bottle on that fateful day, think? Well, like everyone else involved, they were left speechless by the unlikely events.
“I think it’s pretty incredible, you know? You find something like this, and nine times out of 10 you’re never going to know who it is,” Nikki said. “And you’re just going to either read it, throw it back, or show some friends. But we found the person. We were able to contact her.”
Place of Honor
And what about the heartfelt prayer that was sent out into the world by Chilla? It has a cherished place inside Alfredo’s restaurant, El Ambia Cubano. He lovingly framed it and set it up next to a shrine in honor of The Virgin Mary.
Alfredo believes that it was a higher power that lead him to find the letter, and keeps it where he can always see it.