By Larry Blum
For The HERALD
On April 10, 1991, I embarked on my first visit to Central America. At the time, I was still living in Minneapolis.
My intention was to spend a couple weeks getting away from the slush, mud and gray skies of Minnesota spring, and chilling out on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast and do lots of surfing on some of Costa Rica’s best waves.
An American traveler was in San Jose, ending his vacation, and was departing the country the following morning. The traveler was telling me about how much he loved his vacation on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.
I had not previously heard anything about the east coast. He had me convinced that I should check out the remote Caribbean, so I decided to completely change my plans.
My first night on the Caribbean coast, I decided to stay in Puerto Limon. The next morning, I left Limon (as its commonly known) for Puerto Viejo, not realizing that in about a week, Limon would pretty much be destroyed.
In the next few days, I did lots of surfing, exploring, fishing, and got to now many of the very friendly local Caribbean people, as well as some adventurous ex-pats.
One afternoon after coming to shore after fishing, all hell broke loose. A catastrophic magnitude 7.4 earthquake rocked the Caribbean coast, causing devastating destruction.
Moreover, the ocean level dropped several feet below the normal low tide mark. Then the water rose rapidly, flooding the street closest to the sea, before the water went back out, then came back in two more times before going back out and staying out.
It was not until years later that found out that what I had endured was a series of small tsunamis.
During the next ensuing days, I helped the locals deal with the disaster.
That event made me suddenly realize that there are things in this world bigger than myself. When you endure such a catastrophic natural disaster, and spend time helping people who are dealing with the tumult, drama, chaos of a horrendous aftermath, you are dealing with human beings that are in crisis, it becomes very real, and it becomes very personal.
After my return to Minnesota, I spent a lot of time in the ensuing months thinking about the people in Puerto Viejo. How were they coping? How was the recovery progressing? Was the decimated infrastructure being fixed?
So six months after the quake, I went back down to Costa Rica and made a beeline to Puerto Viejo. The locals were amazed to see a traveler that was in Puerto Viejo for the earthquake come back so soon.
I am now embarking on my 15th journey to Central America. It has been four years since my last visit, so I will be anxious to see how everyone is doing.