Flipping through any travel blog, the owner will usually have listed in their “best hits” page articles about events such as “the time I almost got kidnapped” or “when I had my passport stolen at the border” or “getting shipwrecked in Panama.” These make for clickable reads. How the hell did that happen? Crazy. But sometimes these seemingly clickbait worthy stories are actually somewhat banal once retold, even if the experience itself was not. Yes Machu Picchu is incredible but if you made a perfectly nice day of it and no one fell of any cliffs you probably don’t have much to actually say about it other than “we hiked it and it was gorgeous, you should try and make it out there, you really have to see it.”
While I was in San Cristobal de las Casas I was in an earthquake. The first earthquake of the three in total that would happen that month in Mexico. Not only was I in it, but I was extremely close to the center, with it being just off the coast of Chiapas. It was certainly an experience I will remember for a lifetime, and my mother is quite convinced it has affected me in deeper ways than I realize, but it isn’t the most interesting story in the world. I was lying alone in my bed in my private room at the hostel at midnight watching someone die on Grey’s Anatomy and suffering from period pain (as most of my stories seem to have this common thread). Soon I felt the air shifting around me and I wondered if I had somehow perhaps taken some kind of drug? Which I hadn’t of course, other than a handful of Advil. I sat up and suddenly the walls were wiggling like jelly and I felt like I had entered an alternate state of being. I heard voices outside my room and got up and went out, where people were gathering in the courtyard. We waited out the tremors, which couldn’t have lasted more than 15 minutes despite seeming like eternity, and eventually it all quieted down and I went back to bed. The power was off for a bit but came on within half an hour and so I called my boyfriend and my sister, with only the latter of the two being awake.
“So crazy! Grace, I was just in an earthquake, what the hell! The walls shook like jelly. Pretty wild.”
“What???” she responded, showing the noticeable concern I lacked. She checked the news, “They’re saying there is going to be a tsunami from the shock! Can you evacuate?”
“I don’t know… I am sure it’s fine, I’m not that close to the ocean and anyways I’m in the mountains, I doubt the waves could make it up here.”
After a couple of hours of fretting on the phone and picking apart the extremely limited information online, inspecting maps to guess how far a tsunami might travel, and a call to my parents waking them up at 4am their time to make sure there was nothing to worry about, Grace eventually was reassured enough to let me hang up and go to sleep. The next day a walk around town showed that several large building had parts of the stone roof knocked off, but nothing particularly noteworthy. The truly horrible stories had mostly taken place in the next state over, Oaxaca, and would soon take place in the coming days as the next two earthquakes hit Mexico City. So this is the story of how I was in the biggest earthquake to hit Mexico in 30 years, but frankly, you really had to be there.