The Tsunami

I was awoken at 6:30 yesterday morning by a frantic call from my friend Luis warning me of what was coming. In my half-asleep mind, I didn’t really process the information until about 15 minutes later, when the village church started making announcements on the loud speakers that everyone had to pack up their essential possessions and food and water and literally, make for the hills. Because isolated nature of the coast in Ecuador, I had no idea there had been a quake in Japan and began looking for my friends. I found a group of 6 chatos, half drunk, half hungover on the beach. It turned out Ronnie and some of our friends were at Hostel Kamala the night before and heard about the quake. They had the obvious and quite understandable reaction of staying up the whole night drinking all the booze the bar to eulogize the end of the village.

One of our neighbors had a television and we went there and watched the news for a while. Unfortunately all this did was alarm me even more, since the announcers’ Spanish was too fast for me to really understand and I couldn’t tell which country the devastating clips were from. The alarm was mostly for my family in Tonga, who, unlike me, don’t have higher ground to retreat too. Melissa was kind enough to check things online for me and keep me updated. Then the preparations began.

In true Ecuadorian style, most of this was punctuated with jokes. “Lets make some lunch, and it better be good, because this is the last

meal we’re going to eat.” And of course, because they’re all surfers, “Let’s just ride this one out, it may be our last wave, but it’ll be the best wave of our lives.” Eventually after assuring me that they were joking, I stopped scolding everyone and had fun with it. “No tienen que lavar los platos chicos, la ola va a lavar todo de su casa.” After calling my mom and my friends in Loja, we gathered food, drinking water and some clothes. The guys wrapped things like family photographs and musical instruments and plastic and put them in high up places in their houses. Our group gathered and started hiking up into the hills with a few of the stray tourists that were at Kamala.

Ronnie has a house… or a hut really, in the hills east of the village. The hut is a 15’x15’ one room bamboo building on stilt legs with a tin roof, a rickety bamboo ladder to get up into the room, and hammocks hanging underneath. Considering it was me, four of the Kamala boys, four tourists, a couple neighbors and a toddler, a dog, and 2 cats, it was a tight squeeze. But Ecuadorians always know how to have fun. The boys had gotten one of the neighbors to lend them some space in the back of his truck, so they had brought quite a bit of food, cards, and a couple crates of beer. They managed to rig a lightbulb to God knows what, probably a car battery. They built a fire and made a pretty amazing dinner considering we were on the side of a hill and they were using open flame to cook. Rice, and ensalada with tuna, vegetables and guacamole. I found 3 bags of brownie mix and had a good time ribbing Ronnie about where he thought he was going to bake brownies in the mountains. Apparently he can cook a pot rice of an open fire at a 35 degree angle, but he doesn’t know how brownies work. The entire village was up in the various hills, so there was a fun energy with everyone sharing food and stories, laughing about the end of the world, and taking turns looking at the ocean in a telescope.

I managed to procure the edge of one of the sleeping pads, which was better then the floor, but not as good as a hammock. Unfortunately I didn’t think to bring a mosquito net and I had given up the tents to the tourists, so the sleep was pretty bad, and I was relieved when one of the neighbors woke me up and said that the danger had passed and that he had found someone with a truck that would give us a ride back down to town if we wanted. A lot of my group was asleep and the Kamala boys needed to stay and keep an eye on the tourists who were happily passed out in the comfy mosquito free tents, but I wasn’t enjoying to the itchy swarm, and decided to hop on the truck. About nine of us from the various nearby campsites decided to go back down for the night, and we hopped in the bed of the truck with all of our stuff, a baby, and two dogs. That in itself was a whole other adventure. There really wasn’t enough room for everyone and all their things, so I ended up sitting on the bumper of the truck with my legs dangling off, but between two people doing the same, which meant I didn’t have anything to hold onto while we were flying down the “road”, which was really more like a trail. After nearly falling off several times when we’d hit a pothole or a rock, the two dogs decided that it was a good moment to air their differences. A crazy dog fight broke out in the dark crowded space, and after a lot of confusion, yelling, throwing things at the dogs, and more often hitting each-other, we managed to get down in one piece. No houses were destroyed, no one died, and we all have a good story to tell.

Original published March 12, 2011, on tumblr as “El Tsunami”

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