I felt the earthquake whilst sat in our house drinking a cuppa and deep in an email chat with a friend. I looked up at my housemate to check he could feel it too. It got stronger and the triple bunkbed I was leaning on, not the most stable construction anyway, started to creak. When I looked back my housemate was gone, running from the house, leaving the door swinging open. It took me a good few seconds for my brain to register that I should do that too! Once out of the house the shaking was subsiding and felt like waves of movement, just like the sea. Of course I loved it, it felt like I was surfing the land! It was incredible, barefoot and feeling the warm earth beneath you gently lifting and falling like the ocean. The force of mother nature.
Outside the dogs were barking, the electricity had gone and there was an errie void without the music playing. Voices could be heard and pinpricks of light could be seen as people carrying torches made their way up to the hills. Tsunami? My housemate and our neighbour said yes we should get up to the hill. It’s strange how your brain reacts to unexpected situations. I am naturally anxious and worry over the smallest thing but I was completely calm. To the point of going back to the house for a clean t-shirt (important to look your best!), money, torch, oh and my camera – I was already thinking about what I would write in my blog. But really, I shouldn’t have even gone back into the house at all.
I met more of the other volunteers on the road and together we walked up towards the hill. More and more people came and the momentum added a panic that wasn’t there before. Without the ever present music you could hear the ocean. It got louder and louder and without light to see there was a good half a minute where we all thought this was it – the tsunami was coming. Go, go, my friend was shouting and we were all running. But I wasn’t panicking. My main thought was wow, I am really unfit, I should have done more runing to be better prepared for this. As I stopped to get my breath I was completely calm, completely accepting that this was just how it was – my destiny. I turned round and there was nothing! We all took a collective sigh of relief and resumed walking.
Up on the hill the impromptu gathering took on a party atmosphere as people swapped stories of what they had been doing when the earthquake struck and what they had heard. Someone turned on music and spontaneous applause broke out. The song was Radiohead ‘Fake plastic trees’ and it was perfectly suited to the moment. One of the volunteers said she felt like this was a film and the song was the sound track – and that is exactly how it felt! As the music played everyone stopped talking and I took in my surroundings. Sat high up on the hill overlooking the ocean, looking at the stars, the clouds encircling the moon giving it a rainbow halo, I felt in awe of Mother Nature and her power.
We stayed on the hill for another half hour. It was a test of nerves and wills to see who was going to take the step to go down first but as soon as some people made the first move then more and more did. Back in town people were on the street and the same weird party -like atmosphere that had been on the hill could be felt. With the lights back on and one of my friends still at the restaurant I began to feel a little silly for racing up the hill. I went to buy a beer and was surprised for a moment to see the beer bottles all awry in the fridge. It was like my brain had forgotten the last hour as town was looking so relatively normal. I sat in one of the restaurants still open (and doing a roaring trade – like me the extrodinary last hour had made people hungry!) and watched the news as footage of Quito and Guayagil made me realise how serious this was.