I am actually writing this post 4 months after the actual earthquake which happened on 16 April 2016 but I remember it so vividly. We were staying at the beautiful Cabanas San Isidro. It was around 7pm and we had just sat down to dinner. We had been joined by the very friendly manager, Alejandro and were talking about birds. The cook had just brought our the first course, the soup and placed it in front of us. Spoons in hand we were about to dig in when we felt the earth move. The soup was sloshing around in the bowl and I was wondering what the hell was going on. Alejandro said, “Earthquake”. He was outwardly calm but I could tell he was nervous. The kitchen staff were also putting on a brave face but they were also very nervous. We all desperately wanted to know what was happening, where the earthquake was centered, how bad it was and if we were in danger but there was no wifi, tv or cell phone signal.
I was extremely nervous as we were on top of a mountain, it had been raining and I was afraid of mudslides. Finally Alejandro got through to someone and told us the earthquake was in a small town (Pedernales) near the coast which I was not familiar with. He no longer seemed nervous so I also relaxed a bit and we continued with dinner. The staff had also relaxed and no longer seemed nervous. We finished or dinner with no further news, the tv still wasn’t working. After dinner, one of the staff walked us back to the cabin and stopped along the way to show us the owl. It took me a while to get to sleep that night as I was afraid of aftershocks.
The next morning, the guide showed up early as agreed to take us birding and everything seemed normal so I kind of “forgot” there had been an earthquake. The rest of the day was exactly as planned – birding, breakfast, ride to bus stop, bus to Guango Lodge, see hummingbirds, bus to Quito Airport and check in for flight. The roads were all normal, no traffic jams and most flights were running on schedule. We used Priority Pass to enter the lounge and get access to wifi. Only then did I learn what a devastating earthquake it had been! I Googled “Ecuador earthquake” and read in stunned disbelief of the horror and devastation it had wreaked upon the small towns near the epicenter. It was a 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale and 661 people were killed and 27,732 people injured. Here are some links to details and news coverage of the earthquake.
This map shows where we were (purple dot), and the epicenter of the earthquake is highlighted. I also showed the closest we had been to the epicenter when we were in Mindo. I am not sure how bad it was there but if the earthquake had been a week earlier, we could have been caught a lot worse than we were.
Sitting there in the Quito airport lounge, I silently said some prayers for the people who had been killed, injured or lost their homes in the earthquake. Guayaquil had felt it very badly and even had a bridge collapse. We didn’t have long before the flight left so it took me awhile to get all the details. I wouldn’t have wifi again until the hotel in Santa Marta, Colombia.
It’s a scary thing to think that we could get caught up in a natural disaster like an earthquake or hurricane while traveling. At least with hurricanes you can avoid the season but earthquakes are completely unpredictable. You are more vulnerable when you are traveling too. You don’t know the area, where to go for help and other people around will have their own families to worry about. Since I got lucky this time, I can’t speak from experience what to do if you are caught in an earthquake while traveling but I did find a couple articles with some good advice. If you will be traveling to a country that has a history of earthquakes, it’s a good idea to print them or save a copy to your hard drive as you may not have internet after an earthquake strikes.
The other thing I noticed is when I finally did get online, Facebook detected that I had logged in from a disaster area and had a button I could click to let friends and family know we were ok.