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We sat with our backs pressed up against a house-sized boulder, shivering, trying to process what had just happened…
After we survived the big earthquake and the initial landslides, we followed the villagers and other tourists through the remains of Bamboo village and up the trail a bit. They were heading to two large boulders, both the size of buildings. They came together in the shape of a V, with a small cave between them. The rocks seemed solid, buried deep in the ground. The area directly behind them was relatively flat, as far as canyons go. They were not directly next to a steep slope. They created at least the illusion of safety from any further falling rocks.
We sat there, mostly quiet, shivering. Shivering, not so much from cold, but from shock…
Our thought process had been slow. We realized gradually that our long-planned trek was probably not going to continue. Going up after such devastation seemed silly. But, we realized, going down wasn’t much of an option either. Our only option, then, seemed to be to stay. So, we stayed, sitting against that boulder, shivering.
One of the other trekkers, or guides, we’re not really sure, went down to the village and began to collect supplies from one of the ruined teahouses. He brought blankets and water. While his intentions were great, the act of entering the villagers’ homes without permission would cause problems later.
The ground continued to shift and sway. We constantly felt betrayed by this: the ground isn’t supposed to move. It felt a bit like being on an airplane… a steady sense of movement, slight, but always there. This was punctuated by bigger shakes. These bigger shakes would send all of us racing to press our bodies against our solid house rock. This was the only way we felt even remotely safe. And truly, it wasn’t that safe. While we were semi-protected from further falling rocks, we were a bit panicked. We’re amazed that no one got further hurt by the pressing of bodies against that rock.
Eric’s expression: Can you believe this happened?!? WTF
As the afternoon went on, we had to take stock of what had happened. We refocused, realizing that yes, we were not going to be moving on with the trek. We evaluated our position and decided that, yes, it was one of the safest places we could be at the moment. More tourists and guides began to join us at our rock. We were thrilled to see a group from our bus ride the day before (2 Aussies, 2 South Africans, 1 Brit, and 1 Italian) come down the trail from above. Their story of sheltering on the trail as rocks fell around them terrified us. They had to cross a semi broken bridge and climb over recent landslides for an hour before they reached Bamboo. They had left almost all of their supplies behind. People came up from below the village as well. One man had a broken arm and had somehow climbed over the landslides to reach us.
As the afternoon dragged on, a nervous chatter began to develop. People began to talk, to let out their anxiety. They shared their stories of the quake, where they had been, what they had felt and seen, and also their fears for the future. What should we do?
But people did begin to organize. Several guides figured out how to get supplies from the village to make coffee for the entire group. Trekkers began to share their water and food (and cigarettes) to help calm others. Two medical students checked the man’s broken arm the best they could. As a group, we were able to come up with a large enough collection of pain medication to keep him somewhat comfortable. We were glad we had some oxycodone left over from when Della’s back went out. A group of guys organized to go down to the worst hit part of the village to see if there was any way to help the man who we all knew had been hit by rocks. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do – he was already cold.
Sharing hot coffee
Smoke of fire behind scared tree
Beginning to organize
An Israeli girl who had been with us on the bus the prior night and whom we had leapfrogged with all day, had a satellite messaging device. She had rented it for the trek and we were all so grateful, it’s hard to put into words. She spent the afternoon figuring out how to make it work and sending messages to an emergency contact in Kathmandu. By that evening, we knew that the earthquake was a nationwide disaster. We heard that Kathmandu was in shambles. So, we knew that help would not be quick in coming. She also was able to get a message out to her mom in Israel. We were able to send email addresses to her mother so that she could contact all of our families to let them know that we were alright.
The sat messaging device in the hands of our fearless leader Aviv. Standing nearby, Shani, the one person who thought to bring a satellite device on our trek. Thank goodness.
One of the Israeli men (who had been on our bus and who we had leapfrogged with all day) stepped naturally into the role of leader of our ragtag group. He was calm and prepared and had a presence that lent itself to leadership. He suggested that we figure out how to make ourselves comfortable for the night. Several others went with him to collect a tarp that had covered the outdoor seating area below and then strung it up above our rock for shelter. The villagers also (reluctantly) allowed us to use some of the carpets from their lodges to cover the rocky ground.
The tarp was a great idea as that night, it rained and rained. We hadn’t organized how we would sleep for the night so all of us just crowded under the tarp in a haphazard fashion. It was one big jumble of people and bags. Dark fell about 7:30 and there was nothing to do but try to sleep. Our group was close to 80 people that night. The villagers slept in the cave and the tourists and guides crowded under the tarp and a few of the large table umbrellas we had brought up from below.
Della was able to share a sleeping bag with two others, though she mostly slept with legs over or under other bodies, or curled up in a ball, just barely fitting in a crook of a tree trunk. Eric started in the jumble, but found a spot later in the night stretched out on the edge on top of many bags. He was able to stretch out, but lacked the warmth of the shared body heat. He wished for a blanket and then miraculously found one underneath the bag he was on top of… in the morning he discovered it was the large shawl of one of the fellow trekkers. Not much but enough to keep him warm through the night.
The earth continued to tremble and shake all night, effectively keeping everyone awake. It was punctuated by bigger shakes, or by the noise or cracking of falling rocks in other areas of the canyon. When this happened, the entire group would leap up and press against our rock for safety. We were lucky, no more rock slides came down on us. But, needless to say, no one got much sleep. We think we might have gotten 30 min…. maybe.
At one point during the night, we were woken by our leader. A message had come through on the sat device from the American Embassy! It was clearly a generic message, but it asked for names and situations of American citizens of those of us who needed assistance. We wrote a response, but never heard back.
Dawn came at 5. We all awoke with a new purpose. The only messages that had come in overnight from the sat device told us that help would be coming, but it was unlikely to be soon. We had to make our rocky shelter a sustainable home.
Under the tarp sleeping area
It was truly amazing to witness how people worked together. If a job presented itself, there were many people ready to make it work. The two of us helped to construct a helipad in an open beach area next to the river about 5 minutes up the trail from our house rock. Others worked on making fire, and then collecting water and boiling it for purification. Still others worked on building a comfortable latrine away from our sleeping and kitchen areas.
Making the helipad
Making the helipad
Making the helipad
There was friction with the villagers. They had just witnessed their lives falling apart. They had lost their homes and their livelihoods. They had lost a person… Understandably, they were unhappy with the thought of sharing their supplies with a group of tourists who were likely to be gone in a week. It took a lot of people working together and a wonderful middleman guide for us to make an arrangement. We agreed to pay for a certain amount of food/drinks and the use of rugs, carpets, and blankets for a few nights.
The day wore on. Della remembers it as one of the longest days of her life. We had done most of the tasks listed above, gotten to know each other, eaten a meal, washed dishes, started to build a life for ourselves on that mountain… And when we looked at our watch it was all of 9 am.
The day goes on…
Contemplating the ruined village as the day drags on
With not much to do, rumors and theories floated around like crazy. For example, the villagers were convinced that there would be a second big quake 24 hours after the first. Most of us dismissed this as a silly superstitious idea. But then at 1 PM, 25 hours after the first quake, a large aftershock hit. A few people had been collecting supplies in the village and had to race back up. Luckily no one was hurt. We later found out that this aftershock registered 6.8, so quite large. This set off a few rockslides but none near us. The most visible damage was that the nearest teahouse had even more cracks in its walls as a result. It served as a visible reminder not to be lulled into a sense of complacency.
At the end of the day, there were some moments of happiness as the sun poked its way out of the clouds. A beautiful, warming light filled the whole valley. This was a brief period when we could forget the constant fear of the moving earth and falling rocks and enjoy the beauty of our locale.
Rays of sunlight bring optimism and smiles
Gorgeous light… over the devastated mountainside
beautiful trees right next to our house rock
We had continued communication with contacts in Israel via the sat phone. We were assured that rescue would be on its way within the next few days.
The second night, we were much more organized about our sleeping arrangements. More tarps were strung up. The two of us found a nice cozy spot where we could lay ourselves out. We shared our spot with two fun, wonderful people (an American man from Chicago and a woman from Spain) and slept well. The fear was still there and we woke several times in the night ready to sprint to our rock as we heard the rumbling of aftershocks and further landslides. But luck was still with us, and no rocks fell near or on the village. We were renewed with a night of hours of real sleep.
Our version of the picture that made it out early… We’re alive, we’re safe, and the sun is out =)
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: