Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I was supposed to write this week's entry from the balcony of a restored colonial hotel in Granada, Nicaragua. Instead, I am sitting at a little blue table in the back of the library in Nosara. It is sunny and hot outside and the library is full of kids – reading, using the computers, studying. Ian is sitting on a nearby couch helping a local woman study for the English portion of an upcoming exam. He has just spent an hour with a group of 2nd graders, leading them in a discussion about books they were required to read (he has found that teaching 7 year olds requires an entirely different Spanish vocabulary than he has currently been using).

Life in Nosara seems to have returned to normal, or close to it, after Tropical Storm Tomas decided to pay us a visit last week.

Just days ago we were deluged with nonstop torrential rain. The rivers rose, roads flooded, mud slid. Close to San Jose, a massive mudslide killed 23 people. Here in Nosara, fallen trees cut off all land line, cell phone and internet connections, rains washed away roads and bridges, storms made takeoffs and landings by plane impossible. For a moment in time we were completely cut off. No way to get in or out of the town and no way to communicate with each other, let alone the rest of the country or world. People made trips to the grocery store to stock up on rice and beans and lined up their cars as close as they could get to the flooded gas station, walking the rest of the way through thigh-deep water to fill up 5 gallon jugs of gas. Dozens of people were evacuated from flooded homes to temporary shelters.

Initially I was selfishly focused on the frustration of not being able to leave the country for our planned weekend trip to Nicaragua. Surely we weren’t really physically unable to leave Nosara, right? Once we fully grasped the situation and abandoned the idea of a Nicaraguan weekend, I focused more on the strange and novel experience of being isolated. Something I’ve never felt before. I’ve experienced natural disasters, most notably the earthquake of 1989, but even then we weren’t trapped. Supplies could get to us, help could come.

Yes, I know we live in a rural jungle area. Yes, I know that Costa Rica is not the United States and I know that in Costa Rica, Nosara is not San Jose. And yes, I know the state of the roads that lead from here to there. But, still. Was it really truly impossible for deliveries of food to make it to town? When the grocery stores ran out of rice, when the gas station ran out of gas, would there really be no more? Did that woman in labor stuck in the mud at the top of the mountain pass really have to have her baby there? Yes, she did. And a half dozen men gallantly hoisted her and her newborn on a stretcher on their shoulders and walked through knee deep mud as far as they had to go to meet an ambulance who could take them the rest of the way to the hospital.

It wasn’t that I was scared or worried per say (unless I focused hard on the possibility of Sadie suffering some major health issue). Mostly I was struck by the foreignness of the isolation for me. I’ve lived my whole life in big cities. I’ve never felt what so many others have felt when nature stands takes over. Catastrophes of that scale had never seemed quite real to me. For the first time, I had the slightest inkling of how unbelievably strange and frightening it must have felt for the residents of New Orleans and other places so dramatically affected by Katrina. The disbelief that it wasn’t possible to simply just evacuate people. It probably didn’t help that one of the books I recently read here was Dave Eggers' Zeitoun (the true story of the unthinkable behavior of our government towards its own people - the massive failure of the U.S. to successfully manage a crisis). The fragility of both infrastructure and governments was on my mind.

But back to Nosara. Life in a small town. Information was passed through the town person by person, quite effectively, until we got internet and phone service back. At that point, information was distributed most effectively through facebook postings. Our local online newspaper, Voz de Nosara, diligently posted updates on what roads were open and closed and when we could expect short term and long term fixes. Though the country promised a replacement bridge in 22 days, within one day, the river had receded enough for people to hand carry crates of food from a truck on one side to a waiting truck on the other. Within two days, enough material was placed in the river to allow 4 x 4 vehicle access across. Soon trucks will be able to make it as well.

Nearby small towns are still isolated by muddy roads and destroyed bridges. Residents can’t get to their jobs in bigger towns and now have no money to buy the groceries that may come to the stores on the shoulders of men. The damage for many from Tomas will be long lived (here and in other countries). But for us in Nosara, it already seems like the distant past. The sky is sunny, the roads are dry and dusty, tourists are arriving by the dozens, and the library is full. We leave for Nicaragua on Thursday.


  1. A scary but thought-provoking time and the kind of insight one can get from traveling/living in a different place.

    It brought back memories of being in Santa Cruz in the big rains, river floods of 1981 and the earthquake of 1989 when no one could get over the mountain.

    Have fun in Nicaragua. Love, Mom

  2. Outside of Katrina, we in the states don't have to experience that kind of isolation. It's got to me very altering. But it does highlight the power of the people, the heart of few. Have fun on your trip. Love you much.