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Erin and I both understood our host mother when she said “I smell the river.” It was 8:30am, we had just finished breakfast, and the deluge that began yesterday afternoon was showing no signs of stopping. Neither one of us had experienced sustained rain like this, and we were both thinking the worst: sewage in the river, bridges washing out, cholera parading down the street. We were mostly right.
We put on our rain jackets, grabbed cameras, and our best new purchase, una sombrilla (an umbrella), and headed to the river that Ana smelled from four blocks away. As we got closer I noticed others funneling toward the bridge. We were all walking toward the sound–a subterranean thunder from the large gulley of Rio Turrialba.
About one block before we reached the bank, the smell hit me. Dirt. The freshest, greenest dirt you have ever smelled. Then we saw the sludge-torrent where the river used to be and the smell made sense. It wasn’t sewage run-off, it was the earth being moved from the mountains to the ocean. And we weren’t the only gawkers.
The span of the city’s main bridge seemed solid. Although when I walked to the middle to shoot a video, Erin wouldn’t join me and a woman shouted something to me as she ran (something I think is probably unusual for her) to the safety of the bank. The smaller bridge downriver was not as sure.
We learned later that the pillars that you see getting hammered in the photo were replacements after the flood in 2012 knocked out the original 1912 supports. The thunderous sound we heard before? It was mostly the oven-sized rocks tumbling down river and when I put my hand on the handrail of this old bridge, I could feel the rocks pummeling the supports.
In the evening all of the news was about the rain and flooding. It was the equivalent of the Snowpocolypse coverage we get in Portland when it snows an inch…but well-deserved this time. One of the most impressive videos showed a bridge whose supports were completely undercut by the river. Turns out that was also in our town but we didn’t know it until we went for a walk upriver today.
It is week two of our 11-month trip and our province is the recipient of the country’s highest level disaster alert: rojo. That is red for you English speakers. The good news? No one has been hurt and it has given everyone I meet a reason to say the same simple thing: mucha lluvia, or “lots of rain.” Which is good because right now the only thing scarier than the flooding, is learning Spanish.