This letter was in a local gringo newspaper last week. What a vacation!

Dear Editor,

My wife and I had just checked in at the La Paz Peace Lodge after our flight to Costa Rica and were taking a nap when the Jan. 8 quake hit. I write in response to some letters and articles, and to give our thanks and perspective.

Our first thanks go to the architects and builders of the Peace Lodge. Had it not been so solidly and well constructed, I likely would not be writing this letter. The lodge is perched along a hillside with many walkways, balconies, and parts of rooms suspended. Basically, being at the epicenter, we were fortunate there were no collapses or more damage and injuries.

Next, although there was much confusion and uncertainty on the first day, we witnessed Peace Lodge staff doing their best to provide information, despite the fact it came in from conflicting and varied sources. Keep in mind many lived in nearby towns and were more directly affected by this quake than any of the tourists at La Paz.

Trying to sleep through the aftershocks in our rental car the first night, we were surprised to see a small group arrive about 11pm. In the morning we learned it was the lodge owner, Lee Banks, and staff who had hiked cross-country in the dark. We were very impressed with the way Mr. Banks and staff took charge that morning. They compiled a list of people and worked with helicopters to get the injured, sick, children, and elderly out first.

Mr. Banks also arranged guides to escort able-bodied groups on hikes out of the area. We went with a group of 50 or so in the early afternoon. Our thanks also go out to the ambulances, as well as those locals with ATVs and trucks who gave rides along the way. And yes, the emergency response may not have been "timely" or "adequate" by some standards, but by the next morning, there were hundreds of Red Cross, fire and police officials and volunteers working very hard and with a strong presence.

Lastly, we would like to thank all the great people (locals and tourists alike) whom we met and spent time with during this ordeal. Sadly, there were definitely some bad apples – there were reports of people stealing wine and souvenirs from the La Paz gift shop, others who remained self-centered and complained about everything, and the helicopter company that was charging to take people out. But for the most part, there was a great sense of camaraderie and support – building shelters and fires, sharing cell phones, information, pillows, blankets, food and drink.

In hindsight, the earthquake was just a scary inconvenience at the beginning of what turned out to be a wonderful vacation for us.

Our hearts go out to all those really affected and who lost homes and loved ones.

Fred and Annie Hornbeck
Los Angeles, California
Reprinted with permission.

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