This week I stumbled across a gold mine in my search for conversational topics with Costa Ricans: earthquakes!
I realized this when a very animated conversation broke out around my host family's dinner table last night. We'd been talking about my day trip to the Poas Volcano and a nearby Waterfall Garden.
"Did they tell you about the earthquake that destroyed the waterfall garden a few years ago?"
I didn't remember hearing that, so they told me how the earth opened up and swallowed entire families, how the waterfalls overflowed their typical boundaries and the buildings of the park had to be rebuilt, how the US government sent rescue helicopters and one of them found a man buried alive except for an arm.
Then they told me about all the earthquakes they had experienced. Costa Rica is full of volcanoes and fault lines, and so they have small earthquakes (temblores, they call them) every day. Costa Ricans are so accustomed to temblores that they worry only when they DON'T happen, a sign that a big earthquake may be coming soon.
Maru (my host mom) talked about being in the street with her daughter and baby grandson when a big earthquake happened, and fearing the overhead electric lines would snap and electrocute them. They ran to the patio at the side of their house and stood there hugging each other until the shaking stopped.
Ari (the boyfriend of my host sister) told about the earthquake that happened while he was working in Amazon's call center here. When he felt the shaking, he stood up to look over all the cubicles and saw all his coworkers fleeing the building. But he sat down to take the time to politely say to the customer..."I'm sorry sir, but we are having an emergency here so I'm going to need to call you back later" and then he calmly made his way to safety. In earlier earthquakes, he'd seen windows shatter and people covered with blood from cuts with broken glass, so he was always careful to avoid the windows.
Several years ago, they told me, Costa Rica passed strict seismic building codes and created a system of inspections, so the normal earthquakes here don't cause problems...only the super huge ones do. My classmates mentioned that they've noticed the temblors since they've been here, but I haven't noticed one yet, possibly because I live in a very well constructed home.
But, I suspect I'll have the pleasure of experiencing an earthquake during the 29 months I'll be living here, so eventually I'll have my own earthquake story to tell. In the meantime, I'll enjoy hearing other's stories, and having this great topic up my sleeve when the conversation lulls.