Côte Bonneville winemaker Kerry Shiels left Nepal shaken yet full of appreciation after experiencing the deadly April 25 earthquake, and now she’s assisting trekking guides and porters who helped her during a 12-day adventure tour.
Even before she left Kathmandu, Shiels, 35, launched a fundraising campaign for one of her Himalayan guides.
“It’s heartbreaking to think about,” Shiels said. “Here is this 26-year-old guy who is amazingly positive, well-educated and forward-thinking who lost homes both in his village and in Kathmandu. And he said, ‘We will not be able to recover in our lifetime.’ ”
Shiels realized almost immediately how fortunate she was when the quake struck at 12:30 p.m.
“I had just come back from a five-day trek that finished on Friday in the Annapurna region, so Saturday we were back in Pokhara,” Shiels said. “Two of the people on the trip were going to get married Saturday afternoon, so we were all in the lobby of the hotel getting ready to go to this wedding when the ground started shaking.
“The locals and everybody bolted outside across the street to where there was an open lot,” she continued. “I could not have been in a better place when this happened. The epicenter was halfway between Kathmandu and Pokhara. That’s only about 45 miles.”
Had it not been for the wedding, Shiels likely would have been in Kathmandu. She witnessed the devastation there the next day.
“It was a real adventure, and these guys were great,” she said of her guides. “They were fantastic before the earthquake, and the fact that they continued to take care of us after the earthquake was above and beyond. I never had to go to the (U.S.) embassy. I never went to the Red Cross.”
Her trek via Earthbound Expeditions began April 17 with sightseeing in the Kathmandu Valley, followed by rafting the Trishuli River.
On April 25, Shiels used Twitter to let her parents know about the earthquake and her condition. The message arrived during the wee hours of the morning in Sunnyside.
“Doing OK after the big earthquake in Nepal! Pokhara isn’t as badly hit as Kathmandu, so we’re safe,” she posted.
In 2010, Shiels experienced a large earthquake as a harvest intern in Argentina. She described that quake, centered in Chile, as if someone were shaking the bed.
In Nepal, “the ground was rolling, like being on a ship in heavy seas — but faster,” she said. “It’s a surreal experience for someone from a geologically stable area.”
“About every hour there was an aftershock, and it took a full 24 hours after the big aftershocks got less than 5.5 (on the Richter scale). We had two aftershocks that were 6.7, but in Pokhara they still had electricity and still had television. They showed what was happening in Kathmandu, but they had no idea what was happening in the villages.”
Aftershocks prevented her from getting any sleep Saturday night. A six-hour, 100-mile bus ride to Kathmandu and the chaos of trying to get a flight home out of Tribhuvan International Airport didn’t afford her more than an hour of sleep that day. On April 27, a lifetime and 10 days after she arrived in Nepal, she got a flight connection.
Remarkably, her departure from Kathmandu was a mere three hours later than the original itinerary.
“I could not have gotten any luckier,” she said. “There were so many places where if it had been a day earlier or a day later, it would have been completely different.”
Before Shiels even made it home, she began to help two of the local guides who led her through Nepal and looked after her. Within hours of the earthquake, she created a crowdfunding effort to raise money for guide Namaraj Sapkota and his village of Dhading.
In less than a month, more than 70 donors helped Shiels get more than halfway to the $10,000 goal for Sapkota.
“All the houses were destroyed,” Shiels said. The May 12 quake toppled more buildings and gutted the Dhading school.
Shiels began to raise awareness by communicating with Côte Bonneville’s mailing list, and she also spreads her message through speeches she delivers to service organizations such as the Sunnyside Daybreak Rotary Club.
Funds donated to individuals will be put to work more quickly and avoid the risk of having the Nepalese government intercept relief dollars.
To donate, go to gofundme.com/swjh9rk.