One Year Ago Today

Since we have returned home from our round-the-world trip, on quiet evenings we like to play a game where we try to remember what we were doing on the same day one year ago. For example, on March 25, we remembered that one year ago we had left Ko Lanta in Thailand and flown to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. On October 25, we remembered that one year ago we had been exploring ancient Olympia in Greece.

One year ago today is a milestone that we are not soon to forget.


 

One year ago today, we were in Nepal.

One year ago today, we left the town of Syabru Bensi and started hiking up the Langtang River valley on the first day of our Langtang trek, which we had been looking forward to the entire trip. We chose to take the “low road” path that stayed down in the valley with a more gradual ascent.

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One year ago today, on the trail we leapfrogged a few different groups and individuals, making small talk about the scenic canyon and the arduous nature of the elevation gain.

One year ago today, we debated continuing to hike for another hour to our intended first night’s stop of Rimche, but then decided to take a break for tea and chapati in the village of Bamboo.

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The view from our table at the teahouse

One year ago today, at 11:56 Nepal time, at 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal about 100 km west of the Langtang valley.


 

One year ago today, as we were drinking our tea, we felt the ground shaking beneath our chairs. We turned to each other and asked, almost incredulously, “Is this an earthquake?”

One year ago today, we weren’t quite sure what to do in an earthquake. We thought about running into the teahouse, but changed our mind when the workers ran out of it.

One year ago today, we followed everyone up onto the raised terrace that belonged to the teahouse, and sheltered ourselves under wooden tables while boulders as big as cars crashed down from either side of the canyon.

One year ago today, we saw the teahouse we had considered running into flattened by a falling boulder.

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Looking south at the teahouses immediately after the quake. Compare to the above picture

One year ago today, we followed the other tourists, guides and villagers up just above the village to an area with two huge boulders that had not moved, with a small depression in between.

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This photo was taken by fellow trekker Corey: http://www.gofundme.com/tjssd5h9

One year ago today, we huddled against these boulders as further aftershocks and landslides occurred, praying for moments of calm and pleading with the Earth to stay still.

One year ago today, we stretched out for a night of fitful sleep under an orange tarp thoughtfully put up by others in the group.

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One year ago today, our families and friends back in the USA heard the news of an earthquake in Nepal, but did not know exactly where we were or how badly our area had been hit.

One year ago today, we began to make connections with this group that would help us survive until we were rescued five days later.


 

One year ago today, the village of Langtang, two days walk further up the trek (and where we were planning on spending our second or third night), was wiped off the map when a glacier broke off on the mountain above, triggering a massive landslide.

One year ago today, in Kathmandu, the royal palace and many of the historic temples surrounding Durbar Square (which we had visited three days prior) were destroyed.

One year ago today, the building adjoining the hotel that we had stayed in while in Kathmandu collapsed, killing multiple people inside.

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The same view after the quake, with the hotel just beyond in rubble

One year ago today, a villager on the trail just below where we sat was struck in the head and killed by a falling rock.

One year ago today, Or Assaraf, an Israeli trekker who had ridden on the same bus to Syabru Bensi that we did but had started his trek in the direction of the Gosakind Lakes, was killed in a landslide triggered by the earthquakes.

One year ago today, over 8000 people in Nepal lost their lives.


 

One year ago today, we were truly fortunate.

For more information about our experience, you can read our series on the Nepal earthquake. Many of the organizations that we highlighted in our how to help post have continued to do great work in Nepal as the country continues to rebuild, so please consider donating.

We’re Home After the Earthquake: How Do We Feel?

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

We’ve just passed the one month anniversary of the original Nepal Earthquake. We’ve been home for about 3 weeks now. One of the questions that people keep asking us is how we feel. It has taken us a bit of time to come up with an answer to that question. We feel a lot of things and some of them are a bit hard to explain. But, we’ll try to describe them the best we can.

The order that we write them does not really signify the extent to which we feel them because as time has gone on, the emotions change. They grow and shrink, but they’re still there. The order is mostly a reflection of the order in which things occurred…

For our own ease of writing, we’ve each written in the first person. Della writes in italics while Eric writes in normal type.

We feel…

Disappointment

I’m a bit disappointed in my own abilities to cope with a disaster. I remember being more confused than anything when the earthquake first happened. I don’t think I had logical thought quickly enough to save my life. If I hadn’t been in a place where I was somewhat safe, then I’m not sure I would have survived. For example, a few minutes before the earthquake happened, I had decided I needed to go to the bathroom. I remember seeing a sign that was near where the donkey was in this picture.

The view from our table at the teahouse

For some reason, I told Eric that I needed to go but I was going to wait until our tea arrived. If I had followed my usual pattern and gone right away, I don’t think I would have thought fast enough to get out of the area when the ground started shaking. I would have been under the rocks in this picture.

Another look at the destroyed teahouses after some of the dust has settled

As camp life continued, I don’t feel like I was drain on the group, but I wasn’t a leader either. Of course, not everyone can be leaders, but I’m still disappointed in myself. I’m not sure if I would have been as effective in surviving without the help of the rest of the trekkers who were there. The best way I can think of to explain it: If it had been a film… I wouldn’t have been the hero. Far from it, I would have been the equivalent of an extra, maybe “Trekker #28,” and might have been cut from the movie during editing. 

I think I’m generally OK with how I acted during the earthquake. I am disappointed in my lack of contributions in the survival situation afterwards. Watching TV shows like “Survivor,” I always imagined that I would be one of the ones that would step up and help organize the activities around camp. But as it turned out, I was too reluctant to suggest much of anything and relied on others to lead the way. I’m very glad that they had the knowledge and foresight to do things like string up a tarp, because I don’t know if I would have had that idea. I’m not sure that any of my contributions around camp were essential.

Lucky

Somehow, despite the bad luck of being in Nepal during the time of the quake, we had the best luck we could have had. We were seated outdoors, as close to the middle of the canyon as we could be. Even among the terraces, ours was the best because very few rocks flew that way which prevented injury. We came out of the earthquake and the landslides literally unscathed. We were in the low part of the valley which meant that survival was relatively easy – we weren’t cold or worried about altitude sickness. We experienced the earthquake while in a village which meant we could stay there and use resources from the village to meet our basic needs (food, water, shelter). There was an amazing group of people who, by accident, were stranded with us and through their support and camaraderie we survived. 

I keep thinking about how many different little things led up to the luck of us being where we were when the earthquake hit. As Della said, we were very lucky that we ended up where we were. What if we hadn’t made the last-minute decision to stop at Bamboo for tea? What if we hadn’t spent an extra day in Kathmandu before setting out on the trek? What if we had gone straight to Nepal from Vietnam instead of going to Hong Kong first? We were very lucky to end up in the situation that we did.

Guilt

I know that survivor’s guilt is a thing. It’s hard to explain exactly because there is nothing that I did or didn’t do that allowed me to survive while so many others didn’t. But, I feel a huge weight of guilt all the same and maybe that is exactly why I do feel it. I think we as people look for explanations or reasons for things. It’s in our nature to understand why something happened. But, that’s just it. There is no reason why. I was lucky, but I feel such guilt. There were a lot of wonderful people, people who probably deserve to be alive a lot more than me who aren’t. I know a lot of people didn’t even have a chance… Those who were in Langtang village had no time to do anything. Moments after the initial quake, essentially a glacier coming at huge speeds just bowled over them. But, why was I lucky enough to be where I was? What twist of fate allowed that to be? What have I done to be more deserving? I know the answers of course. Nothing. The tension under the earth became too much and the great plates that have been forming the Himalayas for generations moved. The earthquake happened and some places were hit worse than others. It is a random occurrence and I was one of the lucky ones. But, that doesn’t really stop how I feel. 

I also have a hard time coming to terms with our survival when so many others didn’t make it. I also feel guilty about the resources that were expended to rescue us when so many other people in Nepal were in situations which were just as bad as ours or maybe even worse. We had plenty of food and a decent shelter, and we could have definitely stayed out there longer if need be. Or, we could have tried to walk out, like some others did (although I think it would have been a gamble given that there was at least one landslide on the trail every day). Should I feel bad that my status as a tourist meant that maybe our rescue was given higher priority than sending supplies to a local village? A few people have asked a version of that question since we’ve returned and we don’t really know how to answer it.

In addition, I wonder if there is something more that I could be doing to help. I got to come home which is safe and comfortable and far away from the tremors of the earth. But, should I have stayed in Nepal to try to help? (More likely I would have just been in the way.) Should I be doing more here to raise money? (Not sure what else I should be doing…) Should I be giving more of my own money? (Already given probably more than I can afford easily…) Overall, I think we made the right choices, but it doesn’t stop the uncertainty and guilt. 

I also feel guilty that we maybe we haven’t done as much as we could to help. We made the conscious decision to come home for what we believe were the right reasons, but other people who stayed seem to be doing great things. The same can be said about our decision to go back to our old jobs as opposed to dedicating our lives to help. We will try to keep raising awareness, but is that doing enough?

Frustration

I have been looking forward to my visit to Nepal for soooo long. My parents have these fantastic memories and pictures from their Langtang trek 35 years ago. I so wanted to have my own memories. The top of that valley just looked like the most glorious place. I am so frustrated that we didn’t get to finish our trek and continue what we had planned for Nepal. I’m also frustrated that our fantastic RTW journey had to end on such a sour note. Now all of the wonderful memories are overshadowed by how the trip ended. On top of that, we ended our trip early, cutting out a month of this journey of a lifetime. Again, I think we made the right choice to come home, but it is still so frustrating to have it all end like this.

I didn’t have the same personal connection to Langtang as Della did, but I still was quite frustrated to not be able to complete our trek. I had expected it to be an activity like our self-drive safari, a huge adventure that would test us in ways that we didn’t expect but would be something we would look back on as one of the highlights of the whole year. We kind of got that, but not in the way that we wanted or expected. And losing a month of our year-long trip hurts. Once the trip of a lifetime is over, what do you do with the rest of your life?

Sadness

A beautiful trek is damaged – perhaps beyond repair. More than 8000 people are dead. A country that was struggling with poverty before is now wrecked with terror and destruction. So many people, beautiful people, have lost their homes and all their possessions. They will struggle to just survive in the years ahead. Hundreds of children from the Langtang Valley are now orphans, their parents buried under rock-slides. They will have to grow up without so many of their family members and removed from their homes. I tear up randomly throughout the days just thinking about it. Terror and heartbreak are now familiar to the people of Nepal. 

And then, while fearing and mourning for all the people in Nepal who lost their livelihoods due to an act of nature, I hear news stories of people in other areas of the world who are facing some of the same pain… And even more terribly, it is due to war; People creating the terror and pain and inflicting it upon others. And that, in a lot of ways, is even worse. There is so much darkness, cruelty, and pain in the world, and it is hard to see beyond it at times.

It hit me at some point while we were in Bamboo that we had just watched the life’s work of many people be destroyed right in front of us. And after we were back in Kathmandu, the stories that the cab drivers and business owners would tell would just break my heart. Every day now I hear about aftershocks that just have to be terrorizing the people living there.

Helplessness

I mentioned above about the pain and loss of the Nepali people (and so many others around the world); it’s hard to know how to help. I live in a beautiful place that is solid, orderly, and mostly safe. I want to help, but sometimes it seems hopeless. 

Anxiety

While sheltering at Bamboo, our senses were always on alert, feeling for aftershocks, listening for landslide, and looking to spot helicopters coming towards us. Even after we got back to the US, I’ve found it hard to turn that sense of awareness off. I have to remind myself that a thunderclap is not an earthquake. And every time I hear a helicopter I reflexively look up to the sky to see where it’s heading.

Hope

Even with all of the negative emotions discussed here, I do have some positive feelings associated with the event. The spirit of the group that stayed at Bamboo inspires me and reminds me of all of the good people in the world. Seeing all of the messages on social media that helped to get us rescued shows me just how great of a network of people there is out there that care for us. Finally, looking at all of the great work that is being done for relief in Nepal gives me a hope that the country will be able to persevere and rebuild.

Denver Area: Dancing Fundraiser to Support Bamboo! Friday, June 12 6 pm

Eric and I have been looking for ways that we can support Nepal. One of the ideas I came up with was to use Zumba as an avenue to raise some money to help support the villagers of Bamboo. Click here to read our Earthquake story and learn how this village saved our life.

Margie Krest of Dancing the Soul has graciously agreed to host and support this event. I taught Zumba at Dancing the Soul for several years before I headed out on our RTW journey. It is a wonderful studio in Denver that offers many modalities of movement and stillness. I’m so pleased that this wonderful community has agreed to help support Nepal!

On Friday, June 12 from 6-8 pm, we will have an event called Move for Nepal. It will feature several types of movement including Qigong, Belly Dancing, and Zumba. Two other instructors will be joining me to lead this class. We will Move for approximately 1 to 1.5 hours and then enjoy some wine and chocolate and ask any questions people may have about Nepal.

We’re asking for $15 donation with all proceeds going directly to the people of Nepal.

You may sign up in advance by going to http://dancingthesoul.com/ and clicking on “Workshop Schedule” on the top right hand side or clicking this link. You can also chose to donate directly online at that time.

Dancing the Soul is located in the Mayfair Neighborhood of Denver at 950-C Jersey Street | Denver, CO 80220. Click here for more info on location.

Please come to help support Nepal. (It will also be my Zumba debut after my RTW trip and I would love the support of familiar faces!)

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Connections: Team Bamboo

Traveling is a wonderful way to meet people! Unfortunately, often those connections are strong but only fleeting. Connections is our tag to recognize and remember some of the wonderful people we meet.

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

We’ve described our experiences during the Earthquake in Nepal and now we’d like to write something a little bit more hopeful. We’ve written about a lot of Connections that we’ve made with amazing people on our travels. As great as those relationships were, it’s probably safe to say that they aren’t nearly as intense an the connections that we made with the people who sheltered with us in Bamboo after the earthquake in Nepal.

A lot of people ask us about what the group dynamic was in this large collection of people in a survival situation. It could easily have been pretty bad, with people taking an “every person for themselves” approach, but from the start it was exactly the opposite. Everyone was making sure that everyone else was ok, and sharing food and water.

As the days went on, this team spirit continued. Projects that were done were for the good of the group, and never just for an individual or small group. In many ways it was hard to find something to do to make yourself useful, because so many other people were volunteering to do the same thing!

Beyond the practical matters though, it was a great experience just interacting with this group of people. Even though the group was from all around the world, they all spoke English (which we are always amazed by). It was easy to pass the time by just striking up a conversation with whomever happened to be sitting on the rock next to you. Everyone kept a positive attitude, and when some would start to get weighed down by disappointing events, others were right there to pick them back up.

We have also been inspired by the different efforts that members of the group have started to help Nepal in the aftermath of the earthquake. You can find links to support their causes on our earthquake relief resources page.

Even though we were thrown together by a random twist of fate, the diverse group at Bamboo quickly became a team, surviving and working together. We forged a bond that we hope will last a lifetime!

Team Bamboo plus the staff of the Chabad House

Team Bamboo plus the staff of the Chabad House

After the Earthquake Part 5: Returns and Reunions

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

We woke in the US Embassy one week after we had set out on our bus ride to begin our trek of the Langtang valley. It had been the most comfortable secure night we had since then. The US Embassy was extremely solid and we didn’t even feel any aftershocks while we were in the building.

The Embassy was still serving hot food to all those still sheltering there, so we had a nice warm breakfast with our companions, Corey and Kathleen. After some discussion, we all decided that we wanted to head back into Thamel, the backpacker center of Kathmandu. Kathleen wanted to continue to support the businesses there by buying some more souvenirs and we (and Corey) wanted to see if it was possible to pick up our things that we left when we went on the trek.

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We had spent our previous nights in Kathmandu at the Hotel Bright Star, which we really enjoyed. The owner was an unbelievably kind man who had gone out of his way to help us. We still had his business card and were able to reach him on his cellphone. We were thankful to hear that his family were all safe and that he would meet us down the street from the hotel that morning.

We wrote a bit more about the hotel before and after the quake in our post Kathmandu: Before the Quake. But, it still breaks our hearts. Hotel Bright Star was still standing after the quake, but the hotel right next door was completely destroyed. Unfortunately, there was also quite a bit of damage to Hotel Bright Star and we do not know when/if it will operate again. The owner had sent his family to Pokhara, but was waiting near his hotel for us (and several other trekkers) who had left stuff with  him. His kind spirit in the face of his own personal tragedy is something we will never forget.

We also visited Corey’s hotel and he was able to pick up his things as well. On our way back, Eric spotted someone he recognized on a scooter zipping past. It was Valerie (the French girl who had just celebrated her birthday with chocolate pancakes in Bamboo with us the day before) and her guide Srijan!! We called her name and they stopped to share their stories. We were so glad that they had both safely made it back to Kathmandu. We weren’t overly surprised though, as we knew the French had been waiting on helicopters when we left Dhunche the day before. We had a brief but welcome reunion with them before we had to head on our way.

We carried our bags back to where we had been planning to meet Kathleen. While we were waiting for her, Eric spotted a group of our Bamboo friends in the back of a taxi flying past us! (Yes, Eric is really observant and has good eyes!) We tried to follow them, but couldn’t catch up. Corey and Della grilled Eric to see if he could tell exactly who was in the taxi. He was pretty sure that it had been the South African couple and the Australian sisters. We were disappointed not to have spoken with them, but so thrilled that they had also arrived in Kathmandu from Dhunche. It had been quite hard for us to leave our Bamboo family there the day before.

Corey had an idea for a place for us to eat lunch, so after we met back up with Kathleen, we headed that way. We had sat down (happy to see that the place was relatively undamaged and was serving food) and began to order. Suddenly, as we were looking out the glass doors of the restaurant we saw more people we knew: Aviv, Yonaton, and another Israeli friend from Bamboo! We ran out the doors (probably to the confusion of the wait staff) and called them back. After several hugs and brief summaries of rescue, they invited us to a reunion at the Chabad House in Kathmandu where the Israelis had already been planning to meet. We agreed we would see them there.

We returned to our lunch but had to jump up again a few minutes later. We saw the Australian sisters walking by! Again, we ran to the street and experienced more hugs and short tales of helicopters before also inviting them to the Chabad house for the reunion. It turned out that the rest of our Bamboo team had all been taken from Dhunche to Kathmandu only that day via large Nepali military helicopters (aside from a few individuals who had made it on transports the day before). They told us that there was no one from the Bamboo team left in Dhunche when they left!

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At 1 pm on May 1, 6 days after the earthquake that stranded us all together, we met with our Bamboo team at the Chabad house. Unfortunately, not everyone was there, but through discussion, we now knew that everyone we had been with on the mountain had made it safely away. We had even been in touch with the Lithuanian brothers (who had walked out of Bamboo) via Facebook and knew they were on their way home. It was extremely emotional and we were all feeling thrilled to see each other in a safe place!

We left each other that afternoon, only after agreeing to meet again for dinner to share each other’s company once more before people started leaving Nepal.

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By this point, the support operations at the embassy were clearly winding down. There were only a few others still sheltering there, and the staff were starting to take some deserved days of rest, so it felt quite empty at times. The Marines who guarded the embassy seemed to be ready to not have to worry about our security as well. We decided we should either leave the embassy or head home, and opted for the latter, booking a ticket back to the States for Sunday.

We spent one more day in Kathmandu and went into Thamel once more. We made an effort to spend all of the cash we had brought with us on the trek buying souvenirs and donating to people who were working for relief. We said goodbye to Kathleen tearfully as she left for home. We shared a lovely meal at another one of Corey’s favorite restaurants before we too had to say goodbye to this beautiful but devastated country.

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On our way to the airport on Monday, May 3, we had a sobering discussion with our taxi driver. “Nepal is finished,” he said, “finished! Homes are destroyed, all tourists are leaving. There is no work. Nepal is finished!” We hope with all our being that he is far from correct. While we know there is a lot of effort needed to rebuild, we also know that there are a lot of dedicated people our there working very hard to do so. See this link for just some of the stories of people working to support Nepal. We hope that you’ll join them. In addition, Nepal is a beautiful country and will continue to be beautiful. Don’t take it out of your travel plans – they need tourism now more than ever. Let’s all help prove that taxi driver wrong!

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here.

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story:

After the Earthquake Part 4: Rescue

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

On April 30, we were quick to rise from bed at dawn (5 AM). We had slept well, since there were extra blankets now that there were just 22 people left. The night’s chill was still in the air, but we didn’t dawdle getting going for the day because the Dutch man who was keeping control of the satellite messaging device announced to everyone that rescue was coming “soon.” It was a beautiful morning in the valley, so we figured weather concerns would not stop the helicopters.

In addition to making sure our personal bags were packed and ready to go, we also all worked on getting the camp cleaned up and things put away as if we weren’t spending another night. We folded all of the blankets and stuffed them into the small cave, put all the remaining bottled water in one big box near the rock, did all of the dishes, and got all the food in one location under the tarp.

We did have time for a special breakfast that morning. It was the woman from France’s birthday, and one of the Australian sisters figured out a way to make pancakes as a special treat. They even made a special pancake cake with chocolate sauce on it, and we all sang “Happy Birthday.” It was another of those moments where it felt for a little while like a fun camping trip with friends as opposed to a survival situation.

Two of the Dutch people decided that it would be a good idea to post people constantly at the beach helipad to wave down any helicopters, especially if it was a large helicopter that couldn’t land at the small helipads that the other helicopters had used. They volunteered for the first shift out there.

The big worry for the morning (besides whether the helicopter would come) was the battery for the satellite message device. It originally had been draining slowly, and we had plenty of personal power banks to charge it, but with the increased message traffic as we all contacted loved ones, the battery had gotten critically low. Luckily, one of the side projects people had worked on over the past few days was getting the solar power systems from the teahouses set back up. Some of the inverter technology was broken, but they finally found a device that would charge the phone. One of the Dutch sat by the charging phone and made sure no one bumped it and broke our connection to the outside world.

As the morning went on, we got more and more antsy. No one wanted to do too much work since we thought rescue was coming soon. The skies were crystal clear, but not a single helicopter had come down the valley. (As it turned out, the delay was due to bad weather in Kathmandu). We all just sat, staring at the skies and straining our ears for the sound of rotors.

Around 8:30, there was a fairly significant tremor that caused a small landslide down the trail. By this point we were much less tense about the sound of falling rocks (once we knew it was in the distance), but it still didn’t help with the anxiety.

Finally, around 9, we heard the sound of a helicopter (one we had all become very familiar with, along with landslides). It took a moment to spot it – and then we saw it was coming in low! Not as low as the others though and it passed by Bamboo. But then it circled in the air near the beach helipad where those waiting had been waving flags, and then landed.

There was then a huge flurry of activity. The group that was drawn to go first grabbed their things, and so did the two of us, in case it was a helicopter for just the Americans.

Under normal conditions, to get to the beach from our camp took about a 5 minute walk over rocky ground. We guessed that the helicopter wouldn’t wait that long for its load, so we all ran as fast as we could praying that we wouldn’t trip. The more fit members of the group did an excellent job of pushing us all to go faster.

When we got to the beach we could see that it was another small, private Nepali helicopter, so we scanned the landing area to see if there had been a coordinator on board who could explain what the situation was.

We spotted two tall men, both wearing baseball caps (one for the University of Alaska), so we figured it was a helicopter sent by the Americans! They quickly found us and their accents confirmed it. They were two members of the Special Forces who were helping with the rescue operations. They confirmed that we were the Americans on our list and told us to get in.

The mix of emotions at this point was very powerful. On one hand, we were extremely excited to be rescued, and were not going to pass up the helicopter that had been sent for us. On the other hand, the thought of being whisked away while the rest of what now felt like a family to us sat back on the beach was heartbreaking.

But then as we headed to the helicopter, one of the Special Forces guys assured us, “Don’t worry, everyone is getting out!” With huge relief in our hearts we got on board. It was a very small helicopter, with three seats up front (one for the pilot – a Nepali) and only a small cargo area behind. We crammed into the small cargo area (with our bags). Soon after, three members of the first group crammed in the back with us, and one up front along with one of the guides. The Special Forces guys stayed back at camp to coordinate the rest of the rescue (and to take pictures of the camp and surrounding area as documentation to the higher-ups as to why our rescue was worth paying for).

The mood on the helicopter was jubilant. We all couldn’t believe we were getting rescued. The helicopter took us down the Valley we had hiked up five days before, and we tried to look out and see its current conditions.

We were taken to the army base at Dunche, the same town that we had passed through on our bus ride to get to the start of the trek. When we landed there was a flurry of activity as we had to be registered on the lists of a bunch of different uniformed men (probably from the same groups that were the checkpoints on the bus ride).

One stood out though – Tom, a US consular officer. He was the one coordinating the efforts of the Special Forces guys for the embassy. Della somehow heard him say he was the ambassador, which was later proved incorrect but made us feel pretty special at the time! He explained that the US had rented the Nepali helicopter for a block of time, which they would use to get all of the people from Bamboo out plus anyone else they could find in the valley.

The rest of his news wasn’t as great. They really only had authorization to get us out of the dangerous situation in the valley and to this town of Dhunche, which had been affected by the quake but was not still threatened by landslides since it was on top of a mountain. He said there was shelter in town, plus restaurants were open. Getting to Kathmandu was up in the air though; the road was (not surprisingly) broken, so we could try to walk for six hours down the road to Kalikasthan where there were buses. Or, there was a rumor that the Nepali Army would use big helicopters at some point to get the tourists out, so we could wait around in Dhunche for that. He did tell us to stay close though – the helicopter did have to go back to Kathmandu, and there might be some extra spots that we could squeeze into.

We left the army area to go see what the situation was. Up a small hill was a collection of big blue tents with bricks as the floor. There were some other trekkers there who we bombarded with questions to try and figure out what was going on. What we heard wasn’t great – it was pretty cold at night, and there wasn’t a clear way to get blankets. You basically just had to grab a tent and hope for the best. It was safer on paper than Bamboo, but actually seemed like it would be less comfortable.

As we evaluated the situation, we could see the other Bamboo people landing on their rescue helicopters. As they emerged from the army area and we saw that everyone was there, there were big hugs all around.

We had cell phone service, so we texted and eventually called our families. (A special thanks to T-Mobile, our cell provider, who after the earthquake established free calls and text to and from Nepal, so we and others in our group could get in touch). At first they didn’t even believe it was us, because their latest message had been that no rescue was possible due to the bad weather.

Someone suggested going into town for some food. We were torn, because we wanted to stick with our “family,” but Tom from the embassy had told us to stick close. We thought we might have time, so we headed towards the village with the rest of the group.

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On the way though, the group started talking to two other people who had been in Dhunche the previous night. Their accents sounded familiar – they were other Americans (from Alaska). Della told them that the US ambassador was on the helipad (again, not actually true but what we thought at the time) and they were very interested to hear what he had to say, since they had been having trouble getting in touch with the embassy.

We reluctantly split from the Bamboo group and headed back up to the gate of the army area with the other Americans. We tried to peer inside and see Tom, and we also asked the guard at the gate, but he wasn’t there. We couldn’t figure out where he had gone but stayed waiting outside the gate. Finally we saw him inside and called him over. Unfortunately, his news hadn’t changed, and our best bet was to wait until the next day or walk.

Some of the other Bamboo people were also waiting near the gate. There was a large group of French people who had been told by their embassy that they would be helicoptered out, and the Dutch (who still had the satellite device) had heard the same thing. It was interesting how quickly we shifted from “Team Bamboo” to allying ourselves by country. It was a little sad, but seemed to be the reality of how the next steps were being handled.

We were sitting in the gate area but with not much hope of anything happening. Then, Tom appeared again! He said they would have three spots on the helicopter taking them back to Kathmandu. At this point there were five Americans: us two, Corey from Bamboo, and the other American couple. The couples weren’t going to split, so it would be Corey and one of the couples. We offered to let the other couple go first, since they had been in Dhunche a night already, but they said they didn’t think that was necessary. They proposed a coin toss, with an American quarter. Eric called it in the air – “heads.” It was heads.

We gave hugs to the others, and headed back inside the army area with Corey, Tom and the Special Forces guys to wait for the helicopter, which was out doing something else. We ended up waiting for quite a while and having a nice conversation. Tom and the Special Forces guys were just the nicest people and so calm – it really helped in the situation.

We got word that the helicopter was delayed, so Eric and Corey went down to use the restroom behind an army truck. Just as they were finishing, one of the Special Forces guys came to find them – the helicopter was landing! They raced back up to the helipad and jumped on board with the rest.

We think they must have had to do some special convincing, because they crammed a huge number of people on board the aircraft. The two of us lucked out and got to sit up front with the pilot. In the back, they fit Corey, the two Special Forces guys (not small guys and with big bags), Tom, a Nepali woman with a broken arm, and a ground coordinator.

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The ride back to Kathmandu, which had taken over eight hours by bus, took about 20 minutes. We felt very lucky to be sitting up front and getting great views. (We also remarked on the irony of us getting a helicopter ride – we had only a couple of weeks earlier discussed that taking a helicopter ride would be fun some day). We looked out at the countryside as the ride went along. There were plenty of flattened buildings along the terraced hillsides.

We held our breath a bit as we crested the final hill and got our first look at the Kathmandu valley. At first glance, it seemed like the devastation was less than we had feared, as most buildings were still standing. Upon closer inspection though, we could see many distinctive patches of orange, which were the tarps that the residents were sleeping under, too afraid to move back into their cracked homes.

We landed at the Kathmandu airport, which was abuzz with activity. There were many planes from other countries, including big ones from the Chinese and Thai Air Forces. We rode on a pickup to the parking lot of the airport, where the commander of the Special Forces unit met us in a different pickup (which turned out to be armored) to give us a ride to the embassy.

Our eyes were wide open on the ride to the embassy, taking in the sights of Kathmandu and trying to ascertain its status. There was actually less damage than we expected, but we did still see many people living outside. The embassy itself was quite a sight to see – it looks like your average American office building, which stands out quite a bit among the traditional Kathmandu atmosphere.

After going through a security check and a registration with the front desk, we were taken into the consular area for a debriefing with those who had been working to get us rescued. We were asked for any information we could give about the large number of unaccounted for trekkers, but we had to say that unfortunately we hadn’t seen them, since we were just on our first day and had just trekked a short distance.

Someone went to go find Kathleen, the American woman who had gotten out on the Israeli helicopter. She had been staying in the embassy since her rescue and had been feverishly working to get the rest of us out as well. It was a very emotional reunion for all of us.

But we didn’t have too long to sit and reminisce, because the PR woman at the embassy asked if we would be willing to immediately do an interview with Good Morning America. We were a little shocked that our story would be of that much interest to anybody, but she explained that we were one of the first feel-good stories that the embassy could promote. Before we even had a chance to shower, we were whisked away to a filming location outside of a fancy hotel for our interview, so if you watched it, you saw us as we looked on the mountain. We also discovered how the media can misinterpret things – for example, we were not living in an “ice cave” like the ABC news report said, and we had to correct a few people that we were not caught in an avalanche on Everest.

After the interviews, we returned to the embassy where Kathleen showed us around. The embassy had been doing a remarkable job of sheltering people in Kathmandu, both tourists and those who lived locally who were afraid to move back into their homes when aftershocks were still going on. Kathleen told us that maybe 200 people had been spending the night; this isn’t a normal thing, so people were having to sleep in hallways and share the one shower per gender. By the time we arrived though, many people had either left the country or moved back outside the embassy, so the PR woman found a nice conference room with air mattresses that we could stay in for as long as we needed to.

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One great thing the embassy had was a library with computers that had Internet that we could use. We opened up our email and Facebook for the first time since before the earthquake, and we were just blown away by the amount of activity we saw. One thing to understand is that we were living in a bubble out at Bamboo, with the only contact being Della’s father. We naively assumed that he was making a few phone calls and perhaps had let a few people know on Facebook that we were safe. We had NO IDEA how many people had mobilized to help, or were even just posting messages of support. If you were one of these people, and you are reading this, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We can’t say it enough.

Our glimpse at Facebook was overwhelming, but was interrupted by an in-person visit with a reporter from Time Magazine. He wanted to write an in-depth story, so he let the two of us and Corey tell the story of our time at Bamboo as we wanted to. This was the first time we had really gotten a chance to tell the whole story to an outsider, and we overloaded him with overlapping narratives, diagrams, and so on. We even had to finish the interview over the hot dinner being served by the embassy. The resulting piece was a really good representation of our story. (The dinner itself was also really good, even if it was just served out of cafeteria trays – we skipped the rice and went straight for the mashed potatoes and meat dishes).

While we were finishing up our interviews, one of the Special Forces guys came by and asked to talk with us when we got the chance. We were worried this meant we had done or said something wrong, so we were nervous as the conversation began. But as it turned out, we had nothing to worry about. He just wanted to make sure we were doing ok, since he was worried that he had rushed away after the rescue. He told us that after they got everyone out, they had taken the helicopter further up the valley to Langtang village and seen the devastation there. He seemed to be a bit shaken by this, and reiterated to us how happy he was to have been able to help us. He did ask us for one thing… a big hug.

Then, we finally, blissfully, got to take our first hot shower in days. The amount of dirt that came off was pretty gross. Luckily the two of us had saved an extra clean change of clothes that we could get into.

As night fell, the embassy got pretty quiet as most people headed home. It was hard for us to believe, as we sat in nice padded chairs, that just earlier that morning we had been sitting under a rock in Bamboo Village. After such a long day, we figured that we would crash, but we all felt still too full of energy. Eric and Corey worked on catching up the journals that they had been keeping throughout their respective trips, comparing notes and trying to remember the details. The PR lady hosted us in her office for a debriefing session with a secret stash of beer and wine. We did another brief check of email and Facebook, then went to sleep, not on top of rocky dirt under a tarp, but rather on top of an air mattress with the solid roof of the US Embassy overhead.

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here.

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story:

After the Earthquake Part 3: The Politics and Money of Rescue

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

The morning of April 28th dawned clear and sunny. We had had another fairly comfortable night. We were really lucky throughout the whole ordeal with weather at night. It was cold, but not too cold; it never froze. We were able to use the blankets and mats from the village which helped tremendously.

We all got up, wondering what the day would bring. It was really a beautiful morning, and we tried to enjoy the lovely sun through the trees! There were not many other projects we could think of to do. The two of us ended up working on one of what was becoming a daily job: herding cattle. There were several cows who lived at Bamboo village who had started to become a nuisance. They became quite nosy and tried to steal the food from our kitchen area. While the villagers were still there, we had observed that the cows were driven up the trail toward the beach (on which we had built a helicopter pad) during the day and came back near the village in the evening, so to get them out of our space we tried to keep this pattern going.  To get them to move, we picked up the sticks and began  yelling at them and tapping their behinds.

We finally got the cows headed over the bridge toward the beach and headed back toward Bamboo. Suddenly we heard a noise. There had been many helicopters that had flown over camp in the prior days, but they were all high in the sky. We all hoped that if they weren’t stopping for us then at least they were heading up to rescue people who had been stranded higher on the trail where it was higher and colder. But this one sounded different. We came over the rise and were overjoyed at what we saw. A helicopter was flying up the valley towards us. It was low… it was going to land!

The first helicopter landed at about 8 am on April 28th

The first helicopter landed at about 8 am on April 28th

We broke into a run, simultaneously laughing and crying. We were going to be rescued!! The mood at camp was amazing, people laughing, calling out in joy, hugging, even jumping up and down. It was wonderful! We hurriedly helped Willem, the man with the broken arm, to collect his things and head down the hill. The other people we had all assumed would be in the first helicopter, including the Nepali guide with a head injury, a slightly older woman from Maine, and her guide and his 16 year old son, also collected their things. There was hugging and promises of messages to be taken away and a lot of tears.

But, most of that turned out to be unnecessary. Even as the people we assumed were going first had started moving down toward the smaller helipads, we noticed that the trekkers from Japan had quickly collected their already packed baggage, and raced down the hill with their guide. They crammed into the helicopter and it took off, leaving the rest of us completely confused.

“What happened??” was the question on everyone’s lips, followed quickly by “Are they coming back?!”

One of the girls had been close enough to the helicopter to get a few details. Apparently the helicopter had been sent by the Japanese tour office and the pilot had been their guide’s brother, so they were only taking that group. She did say that they had said they would be back!

We all considered this and it seemed to make sense. We all believed that a helicopter would return for the rest of us. We seriously began to think about how we could be packed and ready to go should they arrive again. For us, that meant putting the most important of our possessions on our bodies (IDs, cameras, money, warm clothing, and our Steripen). We packed the next most important things in our small backpack (food, more warm clothing, etc.) and left what we judged to be least important in our large pack. This was all in case we were told that we couldn’t take our bags with us (hopefully we could fit more people if there were fewer bags?)

We waited for what seemed like forever. That first helicopter had come just before 8 am. Our hopes were again raised at about 10 am when another helicopter appeared. They were coming back for the rest of us!!

The second helicopter to arrive

The second helicopter to arrive

This time we were ready. All of the injured and the rest of whom we had deemed to be the first group were close to the helipads with their stuff. But, as we watched from above, they didn’t get in. There was some delay. What was happening?

Why aren't they getting in?

Why aren’t they getting in?

That’s when the message was passed up to those of us waiting above: the helicopter had been sent by an Israeli insurance company, so all the Israelis needed to come down and be ready to leave. Our hearts sank again.

While we were not there to hear it, we saw from afar that our group of Israelis had convinced their helicopter to take our two injured men out with their first group who left right away. There was a man, a coordinator, who worked for the Israeli insurance company who stayed on the ground after that first helicopter left. (At least we knew it would come back!)

He did come up to talk to the rest of us. However, the message was not really what we wanted to hear. He worked for a private insurance company, and his job was to evacuate all Israelis out of the valley. He had been further up the valley and the destruction there was absolute. We were all horrified to hear that there had been terrible avalanches at towns further up the trek at Kyanjin Gompa and Langtang. Tears sprang to our eyes as he explained that the town of Langtang was leveled, destroyed completely. It had been overrun by a massive sheet of mud and ice. There was little left there. He told us that the roads into the mountains were also destroyed. He did tell us that if we could make it to Dhunche (a two days walk), we could be evacuated from there. We all looked at him in disbelief… Walk? Through the constant landslides for two days?? Really?

When the helicopter came back, we were relieved that the coordinator had been convinced to take the woman from Maine and her two guides (a father and son) along with two Israelis. The next time it came back, there was only room for four, and there were six Israelis remaining, so Aviv and his trekking partner Yonatan agreed to wait until the next trip. Aviv had handed over control of the satellite messaging device to a few non-Israelis, but it still seemed like they had chosen to be the last since they felt a responsibility to the rest of us. But then the clouds and rain moved in for the rest of the day, and no more helicopters came… meaning their rescue along with ours was delayed until at least the next day.

Needless to say, we were all disappointed… terrified and heartbroken might be more apt. As a group, we realized that we needed to be more active on the sat device. If we were only going to be evacuated by country, we were all going to need a lot more help from home. It was at this time that Della sent a message to her dad… one that ended up being spread all across social media, which might have helped in our eventual rescue. It read:

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Della remembers being in tears when she wrote this message. In some ways, we hate to say this, but we still thought that the US would come get us. Not all of the trekkers felt this way about their own governments, and it was frankly hard to believe that a government would send a helicopter for only one of its citizens. We did have several people who were the only person from their country there.

It’s hard to accurately describe the roller coaster of feelings we felt this day. Our emotions were already very heightened by the anxiety and constant fear. Then we were at a miraculous high when the helicopters arrived which swooped to a super low when they left… without us.

We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to comfort each other and keep our spirits up.

Sara, from Italy, made a delicious lunch of pasta that day. One spark of hope arrived at that time. Sara had been trekking with friends and was planning on meeting her boyfriend in the town of Rimche the evening of the earthquake (Rimche had been our planned destination of the night as well). In the days following the earthquake, she had no idea whether her boyfriend was alive or dead, or where he might be. While she was cooking lunch that day, in the midst of a camp of depression, she got news via the sat device that he was alive and well in the town of Syabrubensi! (Check out the NGO that the couple has founded to help Nepal).

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The rain came in that afternoon, causing us all to retreat to the tarp (and causing the Israeli helicopter not to return). We were all quiet, still feeling quite down and hopeless. But, Sara got out her ukulele.

We’ll always be grateful to her for the sing-a-long she led as the clouds came in covering our camp in a gloomy mist. It built our spirits and our group strength quite a bit.

We were grateful to have Aviv and Yonatan there with us one more night. It allowed us all to get used to the idea that we were going to be without their leadership soon. In their decision to stay (and to help convince their helicopter to take our injured, old, and young) they became heroes at home. We found out that evening that the story in Israel was that they had “refused to be rescued.” In fact, the following day, they received a message via sat device to ask if they would be “willing to evacuate” if the chopper returned!

So that night, the group was down to 27 people. We thought it might be nice to get back under the big tarp for sleeping. The area we had been sleeping comfortably the last two nights was under a hole in the less good tarp and after the afternoon rain was quite wet. We attempted to squeeze in to the rows of people sleeping under the big tarp, but it turned out it was really just too tight. We couldn’t stand it. So, we stole one blanket and headed off by ourselves. We found a place where it wasn’t wet. It also wasn’t at all flat… or comfortable. Still we could breathe, so we were able to get a little bit of sleep.

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See that spot on the mat… on the hill between the rocks. Yup, we slept there.

The following morning, April 29, again dawned bright and beautiful. The group all awoke with a new purpose: contact the outside to our loved ones directly using the sat device and get ourselves help. The two of us specifically had one more reason to be optimistic, as we had received a message from Della’s dad. It said something to the effect of: no matter what you hear, be ready to get on a chopper at any moment. It will either be a small one from the US Embassy or a large one from the Nepali Army.

This was both a welcome and dreaded message for us. We were thrilled that the US might be sending some help our way. However, we couldn’t stand the thought of facing another issue of politics or money (only our own citizens or only those who paid would be rescued).

This day was spent with some silly projects as most of the important ones were done. We made a comfortable spot near the water fire that we called the cafe. And yes, signs were made to memorialize our different places. People enjoyed each others’ company under the tarp or chatted together in the sun. Journals were written in and naps were taken. At some point, people began to learn and practice acro-yoga! Della made an attempt to clean herself up a bit… after days of not showering. One of the highlights was a delicious dal baht made by the guides. It was the best we’ve ever had.

There were moments where it felt like we were just on a fun camping trip with friends… except that the ground would still shake occasionally and every now and then you’d hear rocks fall up or down the canyon. And helicopters were flying high over our heads almost constantly.

This made our next task seem clear… though daunting. We knew at this point that the Israeli chopper would be coming back once again sometime that day. We knew that Aviv and Yonatan would go, but that would leave two more spots on the chopper. We all agreed that an elderly French couple should be the ones to go with them. However, after that, there was no reason or order that seemed clear for the rest of us.

So, we decided to draw lots. We split ourselves into groups of four that seemed to make sense (our group comprised of the three Americans who were left, us and Corey, and Corey’s trekking partner Kees). After this was done, we numbered each group. Then we pulled numbers out of a hat (actually it was out of a hand… but still). Della ended up drawing the numbers. It’s hard to know what to feel as this happened, hoping that your group will be first, but also dreading the feeling of potentially leaving everyone else behind. Della managed to pull our group last…

Because of the message we had received from Della’s dad earlier, we knew that if the US sent the helicopter, that there was also a chance we’d be the first… or the only. So, there it was. We’d be first or last to leave. It was a little hard to sit with.

Finally, about 5 pm on the 29th, the Israeli chopper arrived to pick up its last load. It went smoothly; they agreed to take our two remaining Israelis as well as the French couple. Apparently, that meant that the coordinator had to stay. We had a brief moment of hope thinking that they would have to take more people with them when they came back to pick him up. However, the coordinator told us that they actually had to head up the valley to continue the rescue in Langtang and Kyanjin Gompa. We were glad that the people up there were going to continue to get rescued… until we realized he was lying. The helicopter returned, he got in, and they headed down (not up) the valley, with at least two open seats.

We were angry and frustrated yet again. But, we were slightly comforted by some of the beautiful views of the mountains that evening afforded.

Beautiful

Beautiful

Perhaps we will be rescued tomorrow, we thought, as we settled into another night.

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here.

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story: