Cancel trip after disaster? Mexico
Your vacation is planned and you can’t wait to start the adventure. Then…disaster strikes: hurricane, flooding, earthquake. What do you do? Cancel? Delay? Switch to an unaffected destination?
Two weeks after we returned home from our trip to Oaxaca there was a huge earthquake, 8.2 on the Richter scale. It hit the city of Juchitan hard and shook all of the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. More than 90 people died in the quake.
All of our Oaxaqueño friends are safe but upset and there is a lot of work to be done to clean up and rebuild. As I worried about the place and people we came to love it got me wondering what we would have done if the earthquake had happened two weeks before our trip there. Maybe some of you have planned trips to the Carribean or the gulf coast. Read on to weigh your options…
Cancel Trip After Disaster? Nepal
In April 2015 we were beginning to plan a trip to Nepal. Then the news started coming out. Nearly 2000 people killed and tens of thousands injured and without shelter. It would be understating things to say that it was a disaster. In regard to our trip though, it gave us pause. We weren’t prepared to be first responders (Jay isn’t great with blood) and our daughter was 10 at the time. Whether to cancel a trip after a disaster is a very real consideration.
What usually happens when there is a disaster is that tourists stop visiting. This is like the second of a one-two punch for the impacted region. People are suffering and a huge component of the economy shuts down, making it even harder to recover.
After some thought we decided to continue with our plans. The trip was far enough out that the immediate response would be wrapped up and the long process of recovery would be underway. Since we wanted to focus our trip on helping people in Nepal we connected with our favorite nonprofit, Crooked Trails, for help setting up some volunteer and support connections.
Chris, Crooked Trails’ executive director, asked the community she was working in what kind of project would help everyone in the village since we couldn’t rebuild every family’s house from the ground up. They decided on a milk station. Families would bring the milk from their cows and goats to this building where it would be chilled while waiting for a truck to take it to the city for sale. This building would provide economic opportunities for everyone and support rebuilding of their homes. The milk station would also have an earthquake-safe community room on the lower floor that could serve as a shelter if it was needed.
Even though we arrived more than six months after the earthquake, Chandeni, the rural town we went to work in was still finding its footing. People built temporary shelters from donated corrugated tin and tarps. But these shelters were clearly not built for the long term and the community was beginning work to build more permanent structures to live in.
We spent several days shoveling, sweating, and heaving bowls of concrete side-by-side with local men and children (not the women – they were doing other work). It was a wonderful way to connect to people without a shared language.
The hard-packed dirt and grass mats were our dining room overlooking the open fire where Sita cooked our bottomless piles of rice and spicy lentils and cabbage. After every meal Beija said, “I never want to eat dal bat again.” But then the next afternoon she couldn’t wait for her dal bat after breaking rocks all morning. We stuffed ourselves and collapsed exhausted on borrowed beds under the tarps. We even forgot about the large spiders that made themselves at home over our heads.
Don’t Cancel, Dig In
So don’t change your plans. Revise them. If you were planning on a beach vacation maybe half of it could be on a towel with sand in your toes and the other half could be with a pair of sturdy gloves and a shovel. See our post on travel with integrity. If physical labor isn’t your thing then no one would turn down some financial support. Our family and friends gave very generously to the project in Nepal and we contributed funds both during our trip and after we returned home. We are finding ways to send recovery funds to Oaxaca. And when we’re there next summer I hope we can help.