Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Day 67 - The Day the Earth Stood Still

Date: 9/5/12
Location: Costa de Oro, Costa Rica

Word of the day: Terremoto - Earthquake
Turtle Fact: Turtles don't give a **** about earthquakes. (verified from unconfirmed source). Turtles still nested this night.

8am wake up. Since going on the late late night patrol (3am) solo, I decided to sleep in just a little. I walk into the kitchen where Matt and Courtney sit at the little island table chatting over some coffee. Matt is in the middle of making pancakes, which fills the air with cinnamon. I pour myself a little bit of coffee, spike it with sugar and powdered milk and enjoy someone else making breakfast. Matt serves up multiple servings of silver dollar sized pancakes and is enjoying stacking them 6 patties tall on each of our plates...

EARTHQUAKE: 8:40ish am.

Immediately the feeling of intoxication runs through my physical body and I instantly realize what is happening.

SIDE-NOTE: The only other time I had every "really" felt an earthquake was in San Francisco, while I working inside of a movie theatre vestibule surrounded from floor to ceiling with large pane windows. Granted nothing happened, I still thought to myself next time this happens... @westcoastissues.

I look around and come to the realization that most of our walls are also made of windows. I instantly start heading for the back door, shouting "get out". Matt and Courtney start running to the side door (the closest to them). Now standing in the middle of the backyard (not under a coconut tree) I see Matt running from the side of the house. With the earth still shaking, we look at each other with nervously laughing about what is going on. I realize Courtney is not behind Matt, I start calling for her. Not even a couple seconds later, she runs out of the side of the house as well... Apparently she stayed in the door jam and thought that was a better idea, until she started hearing the door jam creek. The sound of a low rolling thunder finally is noticed by my auditory senses.

As I stand in the backyard, many things are rushing through my mind. Noticeably I see the house, followed by the landscape of palm trees sway for side to side. I find it semi hard to stand straight up as if I was urban surfing on the back of a pickup truck (and later relive that feeling). I turn to look and make sure the coconut trees are not about to fall on us, nor coconut being ejected out of any trees. As I look around I notice the vast blue sea... DING DING DING. The feeling of panic almost started to sink in as I recall every Hollywood movie I have seen with earthquakes and the tidal waves that proceed it. But then I remember the seeing the video Japan (I think) tsunami and remember it just being a slow rise of the sea level, not necessarily one large wave. I keep a keen eye on the current position on the tide. Every time it retracked into the sea, I keep waiting for it to continue further and further. Knowing that low tide will not happen until 11am a little receding tide is ok. But to my surprise it was acting very normal.

The earth still shaking/rolling from side to side, I know think of what is happening elsewhere. Are housing falling? Bridges collapsing? Waves hitting other parts of land? Will a huge hole about to suck us into the ground? I have no idea - but better not worry about things you can't control or can do nothing about at the moment. Gazing back at Courtney, her eyes filled with tears and fear, she is holding her own and also taking everything in. Matt still grinning with a smile, enjoying the land surfing session. Always thinking about the next step, I know we need to get to higher ground. The quake ends after 1minute and 32 secs. I swear it lasted so much longer.

I begin to run inside to collect some things. As I do this, I bark at Courtney and Matt to grab their shoes - not sandlas, Passport, water and fill up a backpack with whatever necessary and lets get the **** outta here. As I pack with one eye on the ocean, I observe the inside of the house. Glasses, dishes, and everything on the counter is now on the floor. About 2mins later we are all out of the house. We go over the things we each had and felt confident on the things we got. We grabbed the bike and started heading for the road.

The worst part for me is the unknown. I have no idea how tidal waves work with earthquakes, how fast they come, what elevation is considered safe, what the surrounding topography is like (shelves in the water mainly). Mainly - how much time do we have?

Knowing that some laborers were working next door, we quickly converse with them to see if they know anything. They are as clueless as us, so we give them our (Courtney's) phone number and have them update us if they should hear anything. Next on the agenda is to get to higher ground. Over the course of the last week or so, the Pretoma Costa de Oro House had been getting pretty close to local expat named Wendy. She is currently house sitting for a family just down the road. Knowing that she was alone (and had a vehicle) we immediately head to here place. We find her on the road walking to us by the time we are 3/4 to her house. Dressed in a t-shirt, sleepy pants and rain boots, she was shocked as all of us. Looking past her down the road, you can see other people with vehicles, driving out of the area as others fill the street to converse and starting to walk to higher ground (or so I could only imagine). In my head I figured, if locals are on the move, so should we.

We decide it's best to jump in her pickup truck and head to Hotel Laguna Mar. The place in Javilla which was several meters above sea level and seemed to be a viable place to have communication with the outside world.

As we drive down the road (really only one way out of Costa de Oro) we see a Tico family with very young kids and feel sympathetic they are on foot. (Horrible survival decision was about to be made had the circumstances been a little different). Wendy yells out to them to see if they are all right. They seem pretty chill about what happened. Perhaps ignorant of tidal waves and possible aftershocks and whatever that may bring, they are reply back very calmly. Clearly in rush, Wendy explains that there is a possibility of a tidal wave and that we should get to higher ground. At that point the mother/ young grandmother start freaking out. She asks Windy to drive down the road to pick up her daughter (pregant). Of Coarse. We double back towards our house and continue past it. Honking the horn, for the people inside the house, they come outside. After much shouting by the mother, people start piling into the bed of the truck. Now being outside this house for a good 3mins, nerves are being agitated as these locals are taking their time, getting their things. This family clearly not getting the urgency, we start to pull away (granted it was 3ft) to show we mean business and are not waiting any longer. Before you know it Grandma was limping out of the house, climbing into the bed of the pick up and away we go. There must have been about 14 people in/on her truck (including the 5 babies ranging from 1 to 4 years old).

We end up making it about 2km away from the ocean to where the bus stop is located. Here many of the other locals have gathered. Many of them believe that at this distance they were clear from danger. The family hops out and we (Courtney, Wendy, Matt and I) continue to Hotel Laguna Mar. I ride in back of the bed of the pick up, very high on adrenaline, urban surf and enjoy feeling of comfort as I know we are high above sea level and seem to be out of harms way. Every chance I get, I look towards the ocean expecting to see a large wave hovering above the tree line. Nada. By now it's about 20mins after the initial shock. To my knowledge there was not any aftershocks, but the day is clearly not over.

We arrive to Hotel Laguna Mar and are greeted by Andres. He owns the Pizza Tree Restaurant kiddy-corner of the hotel and good friend of the the owner Drew. We all exchange stories and talk about "what's next". Some locals walk in and provide us with some updates via their cell phones, but nothing is too certain other than the fact that this had been a 7.6 earthquake and the epicenter was some 20km away in Samara.

Knowing that we were safe, stressed and relieved that all of our close friends and family were safe - we decide to break the tension with a couple adult beverages that survived the quake. I feel compelled to help clean some of the mess (mainly around the bar) in order to "pay" for our gratis drinks. Sounded like a win win situation to me! The Pretoma San Miguel group finally arrives and most nerves are calmed by now. We stay here for an hour or so and head back to beach after we hear the tsunami warnings had been called off. At this point everyone's thoughts were about looting. Seeing as most people here are from California, this thought came pretty natural to them - not wanting to loot, rather their houses being looted.

Feeling relieved we just survived an EPIC event in history (at least for us) we discuss about what we should do next. Will there be an after shock? How safe are the houses? When will we have power? What does our food and water rations look like? We decided on first things first. Where are we going to stay tonight? We all decided that Wendy's house would probably be the safest seeing as that has more supplies than ours, plus they have gas (where as our house had electric). Plus you can't go when it comes to safety in numbers.

We arrive to the house and take notice of the damage to the property. Overall everything was intact. There was no structural damage (as far as we can see). Just books, dishes, glasses and frames knocked over. We are in luck! I mean for a 7.6 earthquack lasting over a minute and a half... you would think it would have caused more damage. Perhaps it was the type of earthquake (up and down, vs the rolling - I don't know too much on that), or maybe even where it originated (land vs sea) or maybe even due to the fact that houses in the region were build on sand. I have no clue.

Matt, Courtney and I head back to the Pretoma House to check up on it and grab a couple items for the night. Much like Wendy's house, lots of dishes and glass on the floor. We grab some games, food and clothing head back to Wendy's house via the beach. This is when I noticed the fissures in the beach. WOW. The earth really did move! Seeing is believing. Granted these cracks where much smaller than I had imagined, just the thought of the power it took to make these 2-3 inch drop...

After we get to a certain point, we relax and grab some lunch. Looking back, I am sooo glad I had those little pancakes in my stomach. It certainly helped to be quick on my feet, with a little something in my belly. We enjoy leftovers from both houses. Finally relaxed, looking past the infinity pool to pacific ocean we sit for a while just taking everything in. Looking at all of us, you would have never thought anything happened this morning.

Lotti and Sandra stop by the house to check in on us and to share the news of what she knows. She brings some Peanut butter, cookies and some candles. To be honest, it was just what we needed. 

Throughout the rest of the day we check in with neighbors, make phone calls (when service is available) and pass along the hearsay information we gather. The night quickly approaches and Wendy shows us to the guest house where we end up retiring for the night. I wake up at 10pm and again at midnight, thinking it was very early the next day. Nope, just nerves kicking in I suppose.

I wake up once more just after 3am. This time it was to a small tremmor that lasted maybe 10 secs. Matt and I immediately jump up and run outside. The shaking quickly stops, and nothing was altered. The next day we find out it was only a 4 something earthquake. No big deal. Once we get back in the house, I notice a strange noise... the refrigerator was on. WE HAVE ELECTRICITY! I turn on the fan (as it was very hot sleeping) and drag out the laptop and Mifi. No Connectivity. Ohhh well I'll check in the morning. Sleep.

THANKS to everyone that had thought about us and kept us in your prayers during this time period. It great to know we are loved by a much greater community then you might actually realize. We are fortunate to have survived and to have worked together as a community to make sure everything/everyone was safe.

  • You can never be too prepared
  • Community can play a big role is your success failure of times of chaos
  • A good mix of people brings different thoughts to the table

Food: Peanut Butter and Cookies
Animals: Dogs, Humans

Something I am thankful for: People with Vehicles. Your feet can only get you so far away, so high above the sea level in such a given time.

Something I don't want to admit:You know it's 2012 when one of the first things you grab is your computer, external hard drive and camera. (Granted this was after I grabbed my passport, pocket knife and filled water bottle). Also, sorry for the *'s. I'm just excited.

We obviously did not patrol... however people did see turtle come up on the beach last night.

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