As I watched the footage of towns reduced to piles of rubble and people searching for their families after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador, I wasn’t sure if the trip I had booked a month later would happen.
The earthquake hit about a month before I was scheduled to depart on a 5-day mountain bike tour on the Cotopaxi volcano. It was a bit surreal to think about how close my trip came to when the earthquake hit, but my first thought was about my family and how worried they would be had I been there. (And an important reminder of why you should always leave loved ones with a detailed travel itinerary.)
It’s a reality check for any traveler. The world is fragile and disaster can strike at any moment.
I felt a range of emotions about my trip to Ecuador. I felt overwhelmingly connected and sad for the people who had lost everything. That feeling compounded with my own personal struggles and how much I had relied on this trip to get me through a rough patch in my own life. I also felt guilty for even thinking of my own problems when it was nothing compared to the Ecuadorians who had lost everything.
I e-mailed Ana Lucia Noboa, manager of the Quito-based mountain bike tour group I signed up for, Biking Dutchman. Quito had experienced very little damage, she said. The tours had not been impacted at all but the coast was nearly destroyed. She was sending tents, food, clothes and supplies to the people there and planning a trip to deliver the supplies to the worst areas.
“I have never lived such a tragedy,” Ana said “Even though we had had many earthquakes before and volcano eruptions and floods, this is by far the worst tragedy I have ever witnessed. The only thing that gives me comfort is when I am helping.”
I sent Ana a small donation via Paypal to assist with her efforts and I’ve decided to go ahead with my trip because so many Ecuadorians depend on the tourism industry for their livelihoods. It’s the one small thing I can do in the midst of a tragedy. The news often shows us the worst damage and gives the impression the entire country is in ruins, when that it not the case. This is what happened in Nepal, where tourism dropped 30 percent in 2015 after two earthquakes killed 9,000 people.
I considered volunteering and due to limited time, I’m not sure if I can make it to the coast after my bike tour. But I am leaving a few days open after the tour if a volunteer opportunity presents itself.
My trip to Ecuador has taken on a new purpose and meaning. Since the earthquake, I’ve met several Ecuadorian students at the university I work at who are raising money to help their families and friends who have been impacted by the earthquake. Several of them have offered to help me learn Spanish as I prepare for my trip.
It’s taught me that even though events in the world can feel so far away and that they have little impact on our daily lives, the world is a lot smaller and connected than we think.
How you can help:
Donate to Biking Dutchman’s relief efforts by sending any amount via Paypal to email@example.com
World Vision has teams on the ground delivering water and temporary shelters to victims.
The Ecuadorian Red Cross also has teams on the ground providing first aid and rescuing victims.