Last days in Bahia

Wed 15 Jun 2016 15:25

Last days in Bahia


Our coach bounced along the rice road in a westerly direction from Guayaquil, people sitting at the side of the road beside piles of various sizes of sacked rice tagged with prices written on cards. There was little evidence of the earthquakes here. A film was showing loudly on the TV at the front of the coach, but most people were snoozing or thumbing their phones.

The scenery changed from rice paddy fields to gentle sandstone hills, brown maize crops and broccoli trees (ceibo trees I learned from Torie) and at the junction where we turned right for Bahia, we saw the first broken buildings, a modern hospital still open but in need of medical care itself with cracked walls and broken glass.

Brittle, unforgiving concrete and single skin brick walls seemed to have fared the worst. Metal or concrete fence posts still stood but the section of red brick between them would have a big horseshoe space of missing bricks between the posts and the side walls of houses showed the same pattern.

Suddenly the coach yanked to a very slow pace as the driver found the most comfortable way over the newly packed soil that filled a gaping chasm of missing road. This happened a few times along the route, so they must have had a few days of the road being impassable.

Finally after five hours of confinement we stretched ourselves on the concrete of the coach station. The flat land behind the fence was now filled with blue Chinese tents in neat rows full with displaced families going about their usual daily activities, washing clothes and cooking outside, children chasing a ball and men lounging in hammocks.

A quick taxi ride to Puerto Amistad and the damage and disruption was all too evident. Many of the small businesses opposite the club were still open but in buildings that had no roofs, whose walls were cracked and had the terminal red notice on them, destined for demolition of what little is left.

It seems so long ago now, just over a week, and so much has happened between that I can barely remember that evening although I do recall we sat in the bar, our cases tucked behind us and as the light faded I very much wanted to see a fishermen, working the shoreline around the club with his net, just to see that such a basic means of survival had not been ripped from them.

The delicious meal of salmon ceviche with chips and truffle oil mayonnaise and lashings of white wine we had at Heathrow the night before seemed to belong to another age but the tasty cooked supper at Puerto Amistad was very welcome.

The next morning we awoke to the sounds of the JCB bucket clanging against concrete rubble as its relentless job of breaking down and clearing went on. I put the kettle on and went for my usual 360 degree look around through the saloon windows “Yeah” two fishermen were flying their nets either side of the club, life goes on. A couple of ‘new’ yachts had arrived and the cruising cats had left, so the estuary was open for small boat traffic then.

We took a walk through town to see if there was a market. A fine 70 year old building was under demolition, the lady owner who’d been born inside it almost the same number of years ago, sat in a plastic chair opposite, being comforted by kind locals.

Another modern building, the upper floors mainly coloured glass, had suffered only the loss of its ground floor, single skin brick walls. The substantial concrete pillars were intact and between them and the floors above were thick pads, designed to take shockwaves, just like the bridge across the Chone, built in the same way and neither suffered terminal damage.

The modern market building needs a lot of repair work so the stall holders have moved into the street, under blue tarpaulins. So we stocked up with some fresh produce and a big white slab of young cheese that can be eaten as it matures, depending on how long it lasts.

Back at the club for a beer before returning to Zoonie, new owner Gene explained the repairs he had carried out. The old fishing quay on which the club is built appears to have slipped a few centimetres towards the river and some roof repairs had to be carried out, but business was normal again in a short space of time.

The seismic activity, as it is now being referred to, was complex. First there was the big earthquake but then, as Henry from H Bar explained to me, there was a loud roar as a seismic wave raced along the malecon, lifting everything in its wake a full metre upwards, like a hall carpet being shaken from one end sending a rippling effect along its length, and dumping it down again.

“I have been in an earthquake in California,” Henry continued, “but it was nothing like this. It was so exciting, I was sitting here and felt everything lifted high and then dropped, incredible.”

 It turned from the malecon before the Hypermarket and headed towards the sandstone hills, thudding into them with unbelievable force and reverberating back into the town. “You can clearly see its path from a helicopter.” He went on.

“And what I don’t understand is I can find nothing about it on the internet, no explanation from the experts, or anything.”

“Maybe they are still trying to work it out before they write about it.”

I surmised.