Journals from Galapagos, Ecuador
*Sorry I didn't post this when I should have, but the post date should have been Feb 27, 2010. *
Right, so youre hip, savvy people and you watch the news, so youre aware that there was a massive earthquake in Chile. If you were running low on hip-ness on Friday, then let me explain: There was a massive earthquake in Chile last night. It was an 8.8 on the Richter scale. There is a Chilean city out there that was almost completely wiped off the map. Of course, I was only vaguely aware of this because the news I was watching on Friday night was in Spanish, and all I really got out of it was that something terrible happened to cause a lot of Hispanic-looking people to run through the streets crying and screaming. I learned how all of this applied to me quite early the next morning.
So, Im lying in bed in the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep because it is absurdly hot out, my sheets are trying to fuse to my gross, sweaty body, and the mosquitos I share my room with have decided its snack time. Im attempting to defend myself on two fronts, as one mosquito has landed near my ankle and the other on my bicep, when my carefully-aimed attack is interrupted by the sound of the phone ringing. Remember, its absurdly early in the morning - around 4:30, and no one in their right mind should be thinking it appropriate to call a private residence right now. I hear my host dad come down from upstairs, answer the phone, hang up the phone, and go back upstairs. I dunno what that was all about, but I have killed my mosquitos so Im going to focus on trying to sleep now. I must have succeeded because the next thing I know Im waking up to the sound of:
*Knock knock* Clarita. *Knock knock* Disculpe. Clarita.
The intruder seems to give up, and I want nothing more than to roll back over and resume sleeping - I had an interrupted night, after all, but Im pretty sure no one in my host family would wake me early on a Saturday morning if it werent something important, so I flop out of bed and drag myself out of my bedroom. Im still rubbing sleep out of my eyes when my host sister (the knocker) notices I have emerged.
Clarita, tenemos que salir - hay un tsunami. Una ola grande de Chile. (yes, I think, Im not stupid. I know the word tsunami) Tienes que vestirte - ahorita!
(Claire, my brilliant and smart homestay sister (yeah, okay, she didnt say that), we have to go - theres been a tsunami. A big wave of water is coming from Chile. Get dressed - right now.)
Circuits deep near the fear center of my brain begin to fire. A tsunami? As in, walls of water that can flood cities and destroy infrastructures, leaving people to wander the streets with all of their belongings? Im gonna need a bag. Images from Cormac McCarthys The Road, and other such post-apocalyptic literature are rising, unbidden, to my mind. Bag. bag. Emergency bag. Hmmm...
Rain gear, sunscreen, toilet paper, survival tape, change of clothes, money, passport, headlamp, towel, aspirin, vitamins, insect repellent, food items, water (Id hit the grocery store the night before in preparation for the weekend), cell phone, emergency contact card... que ms? que ms?
I didnt have anything more to stuff in my little day bag even if I could think of it, though, so I grabbed that and my hiking boots and scrambled back into the living room, where, it became apparent, my controlled panic was not shared. At least, not by anyone but my 20-year-old host sister, who was also in the process of packing a bag. My host-mom, on the other hand, was at the blender making Batidos (think fruit-juice + milk) like every other morning. Eggs were frying. Bread had been sliced. A place was set for me at the table. Im told that well go to the highlands as soon as Carlos (my host-dad) gets back. Great. Where the heck has he wandered off to?
A bowl with various cut fruits topped with yogurt is added at my place setting at the table and, having nothing more useful to do, I take the fork being offered to me and start eating. (Who knows when Ill have such a civilized meal again?) About half an hour later, Ive piled into the back of the truck and were driving up into the highlands. The streets are littered with people carting suitcases of belongings (my apocalypse vision is slowly being reinforced) and police are on the roads, directing motorists to the highlands. We pass a line of security tape. It appears to have been erected to prevent people from returning to the lowlands.
The evacuation area, when we reach it, is teeming with people. At 6:30 in the morning it looks like El Progreso was invaded by a convention of sleepwalkers, everyone half-dressed in a mixture of pyjamas and rain-gear, just standing around, stopping newcomers for the news. The tourists are all standing around with cameras, looking excited by their unexpected adventure. Of course, if the tsunami hits us, they wont have to stick around for the aftermath. They'll grab their passports and hop on the next emergency transport outta here. The Galapaguenos all look a little more preoccupied. Nothing like this is supposed to have happened in generations, and several people seem a touch overwhelmed.
After a few run-ins with other GAIAS students, none of whom know any more than I do, I find Jill, who is wandering the streets, looking bored. She did this in New Zealand less than 4 months ago. This is old hat for her. It probably isnt coming anywhere near us. She says.
I am unconvinced, but I know we have reached the highest part of the island accessible by roads, so my panic energy just runs around inside while I am forced to sit idly on the driest patch of wet grass I can find, watching the stragglers trickle in from down the hill. I wonder about the people on the sailboats in the harbor, wondering where they've evacuated to, and when they received the notice to do so. I wonder how I can contact my parents if anything happens.
With nothing else to do and nowhere to go, eventually a group of friends and I end up passing the time playing confused poker games, none of us really focusing on the cards or each other.
Around 10 oclock, a police truck with a loudspeaker come driving by the soccer field that my friends and I have decided to set up as base camp and it informs us (we piece the distorted Spanish message together using five of our combined Spanish vocabularies and Daves incredible hearing) that theyve heard the tsunami alert is being called off, and that theyll begin to allow people to go back down the volcano when they have more information. Right, so, back to my poker hand for the next hour or so, until we notice that some cars are starting to go back down.
I head back over to the hospital where I last saw my host-family but they aren't there when I arrive. (Listen up kids, this is a good lesson to stick with your ride.) I'm standing on the steps pondering my new dilemma, trying to figure out how to get home when every taxi that passes is filled to the brim with people, animals, and possessions, when I spot my host-brother, Marcos. He has scrounged up a blue police windbreaker since we got up here and is helping direct traffic. He informs me between passing cars that when I told my family I was going to check-in with the GAIAS coordinators, they thought I intended to get a ride back down with the school. Funny how being responsible can still cause problems.
Marcos called his dad and explained the confusion, and my family very nicely turned around to come get me. After that, the day was uneventful. The event was big enough that no topic of conversation aside from the evacuation has survived discussion for longer than a few minutes for the past few days, but that trend should go away as soon as something new kicks up. Such is life on an island.
Talk to you all again soon,