Two visitors staying at Wyndham Reef Resort in East End had a surprise encounter on Thursday, their final day in the Cayman Islands before returning to California.
Camille Lindelien said she woke up to the sound of dogs barking around 5am. When she looked outside her balcony, she spotted three guards surrounding a boat.
The wooden vessel carried two gaunt and sun-battered men, who said they had fled Cuba in search of asylum.
“It’s surreal to think about. You’re in this resort and then there are horrible things that happen. The two don’t match,” Lindelien said.
“I just thought, I need to bring them water. I can’t really explain it. I was really drawn to the situation. I didn’t know how [the police] were going to handle them. I thought someone should bear witness.”
She woke her husband, Niels Lindelien, who grew up in Costa Rica and could assist with translation.
While police awaited the arrival of immigration officials, the couple had a chance to check on the men, providing them water, rice and beans, sunburn cream and sunglasses.
“We realised we had a window of time where nobody was telling us what we could or couldn’t do; and we wanted to make sure we could do everything we could for them,” Camille Lindelien said.
She said police were present at the time and had also offered the men water. The couple said they consulted with officers before stepping in.
The men told the couple that they had been out at sea for 21 days and that on the eighth day, their boat capsized, sending their water, food and one man’s documents into the ocean.
Niels Lindelien said the men told him they subsisted on rainwater and raw fish that they were able to catch with a makeshift hook.
“These poor guys are sitting there and they look miserable. … They needed somebody to be there for them and not just treating them like driftwood or something. So I just went and shook [one man’s] hand and said, ‘You’re here and thank God,’” he said.
Camille Lindelien said the man then grabbed her husband and gave him a hug.
Once the men finally rose from the boat and attempted to walk, the couple realised how weak their time at sea had left them.
“They were so weak they could barely stand up. It was like a really old person trying to walk or something. They couldn’t balance right. [One man] kind of turned around and paused and looked at his boat,” Niels Lindelien said.
“It’s hard to imagine everything he went through to build that and to get here with that and to have it capsize and then [have to] save his life again,” he said.
The men were reportedly taken into custody by immigration officials. Customs and Border Control did not respond to a request for comment.