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  • In 2004, I had been living in Nicaragua with my daughter for about a year. We had traveled around both Nicaragua and Costa Rica and seen many of the sites that tourists come to see. Many young people who came to visit our little fishing village of San Juan del Sur, were coming from Thailand, where they had been backpacking around and enjoying the beauty of the country. We heard many stories about how generous and beautiful Thailand was. Both my daughter and I longed to go there and we started to think about maybe visiting during the Christmas holidays.
    We continued to visit places in Nicaragua that we hadn’t yet seen. We planned to go to the Island of Ometepe and climb one of it’s two extinct volcanos, Maderas and Concepcion. We talked to people who had been there and most of them had opted for Maderas which is 1394 meters and can be climbed in one day. Concepcion being 1610 meters, and a bit more challenging, could take longer. Although I was in pretty good shape at the time, I was quickly approaching my 50th birthday and I wasn’t sure if I could even make it up to the smaller volcano rim.
    On November 19th, we got the news that two young men, Nicholas Roth, a 28 year old British lawyer form North London, and Jordan Ressler, a 23 year old man from San Diego, had set off to climb the Maderas volcano two days earlier, and were now missing. Everyone was out looking for them. The massive search included the police, the army, and hundreds of volunteers. Roth’s father and brother had flown in to join the search and so had Ressler’s parents. A $10,000 reward was being offered. That was a lot of money in Nicaragua at the time. I awoke every morning with the thought of these young men, lost on that volcano. I couldn’t get them out of my mind. I wanted to go to the Island and join the search. When the local authorities gave up the search, a private U.S. Rescue Team was flown in to join the volunteers who were still searching.
    Meanwhile, we heard from friends that they were coming in December for the holidays, and although we were happy for their visit, our plans to go to Thailand for Christmas had been dashed.
    By the end of November, the rescue mission to find the two missing young men had now turned into a recovery mission. The locals had taken to following the movements of the vultures on the Maderas volcano in an effort to recover the bodies. These young men were still one of the first things I thought of every morning, and even though the police and military had given up the rescue mission, I still had the unrealistic hope that they would be found alive.
    Finally, on December 5th, we heard that the bodies of the two young men had been spotted at the bottom of a ravine. Later, the speculation was that somehow the two men had gone off the path, gotten lost, and maybe tried to find their way back down in the dark. It looked like they had just walked right off the mountain, falling down into the ravine. When I heard the news, I cried, and it was as if I had lost my own loved ones.
    Life went on, and a week later, my friends arrived. We celebrated a happy Christmas.
    On December 26th, the Indian Ocean erupted into an undersea mega-thrust earthquake with a shock magnitude of 9.1-9.3. The third largest earthquake ever recorded on a Seismograph. The epicenter was off the coast of Sumatra Indonesia. It caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as one centimeter and triggered earthquakes as far away as Alaska. The Tsunamis that followed, hit the coast of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean, with waves of up to 100 feet. Every day, the news poured in of how many people were killed or missing. First it was 24 thousand people. My visiting friend became obsessed with the earthquake news. Maybe it was because he was so far away from home himself, but every morning he would run into my room and report the number of dead and missing. 60 thousand people! 95 thousand people! Over 100 thousand people! Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and I had to tell him to stop. I told him I was still grieving the deaths of the two young men who had been lost on Maderas, and how my daughter and I had come so very close to being on the shores of Thailand for Christmas, where so many people had died. Of course, in the end, there was no way for me to avoid the news of this terrible tragedy. 230,000 people in 14 countries were killed. In that last month of 2004 alone, the worldwide community came together to donate $14 Billion dollars.
    I have been wanting to write this story down for many years. I will never forget those two young men and the days I spent thinking about them and praying that they would be found alive. Later, when my daughter and I, and a group of friends climbed Maderas, the Island Tourist Authority now required tourists to hire a guide. It was a tough hike, that took all day, and it was starting to get dark as we climbed down. It was easy to see how someone could stray from the main path and get lost if they didn’t know the mountain.
    I will also never forget the hundreds of people who lost their lives in Indonesia and the miracle that caused us to change our plans that Christmas.
    I didn’t really realize the reason I am writing this story now until I started to write it and am finally finished. This morning, my daughter is flying off to Thailand, and because of an injury, I can’t go with her. Be safe my dear. I will be thinking of you, and praying that you enjoy those beautiful islands, and find the joy of traveling and meeting new people. I love you!
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