Lucy Ferriss

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I've called this blog "Travelin' Thoughts" in the past, because I kept it mostly as a journal to record impressions of new places and cultures. But in a way, it's still a place for traveling thoughts--ideas that move through and past me, and out into the world. Some of these are literary, some just about life. It's a good place to open up the conversation, and I welcome your thoughts and comments.

A Quake in Ponce

January 14, 2020

An excerpt from my diary, January 7, 2020:

This morning, at 4:24 a.m., we were awakened by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The rumbling seemed to pull us right out of the bed. The sensation was like being in a MixMaster; like skiing or surfing over hills or waves too big to control; like the room was a live beast surging around us. There was an inkling of Here I am, the thing you’ve always been expecting. I lunged for the doorway. Don sprang from the bed shouting “Omigod, Omigod.” I kept repeating “Doorway. Doorway” – which made no sense to him, as he hadn’t heard the received wisdom about standing within the frame while the building crumbles around you. We were both naked. The hotel shook as if it would tear its 150-year-old frame apart. Plaster chunks flew from the walls. In a short quiet interval we threw on whatever clothes we could grab, and I got my purse, iPad, and phone. Then the quake surged again. I made my way down the dark marble stairs barefoot rather than risk another minute. Don lingered, gathering his computer and bag – and another tremor hit. I called “Doorway!” to him. When he made it to the lobby he was disoriented, didn’t have his glasses, had to follow my voice to the front door and out. Bits of walls and railings were flying into the street. Rubble everywhere, including chunks that had smashed the hood of our rental car. We stepped over to the plaza, away from buildings. Still much shaking of the ground; one man advised me not to stand with my feet on separate blocks of pavement that could suddenly yaw apart. When emergency personnel arrived, I asked in my nonexistent Spanish if we should drive out of town, and they said yes. We got in the damaged car and joined the line snaking to higher ground in case of tsunami. We spent 3+ hours a few miles upland, in a large parking lot by a Burger King, with hundreds of others. No power anywhere, no food or coffee, as the sky gradually lightened. We relieved ourselves on a strip of grass behind the shops. Finally a police officer said Ponce was “tranquillo,” so we headed back. There had been another quake, 6.0, at 7:30. No one stopped us, so we went quickly into the dark hotel and up to our room to retrieve our things before looting or collapse. Then we headed northeast, with no real destination. As we wove our way up to the highway, we passed three Paso Fino horses, loose on the road. These are small, delicate-featured horses almost unique to Puerto Rico. They trotted along the side of the road like bewildered runaway children.

The lion fountain in Ponce, sketched the day
before the quake.

Finally found a generator-fueled Sheraton with coffee, buffet breakfast, internet, a miracle. I have never been so happy to see the Sheraton in my life. Guanica, our next destination, was hit even harder than Ponce, so we canceled – and after much deliberation and looking at a map of seismic activity over all of western Puerto Rico, we headed east to the ferry and Vieques, where we are now. Aftershocks have continued in Ponce and Guanica all day. This sensation – the waking up amid collapse, the complete lack of control over events, Nature’s indifferent power – I will never forget. The closest I’ve come was forty years ago, when my car flew over a cliff in California and I thought I would die. It will be a while before the ground feels stable to me. And maybe that voice – Here I am -- is the voice we’re all expecting to hear, on a planet we have ravaged beyond repair.

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