- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

BEND, Ore. (AP) - A newly married couple who live in Bend have devoted themselves to relief efforts in Nepal after last Saturday’s earthquake.

Chadd Tullis, 25, and Magdalena Bokowa, 27, were on their honeymoon, trekking through the Annapurna Conservation Area when the catastrophic quake struck.

Abandoning their plans to continue traveling in India, Tullis and Bokowa are now in Pokhara, a city about 134 miles northwest of Kathmandu, with a group of multinational travelers. The couple created a crowd-funding page on a site called IndieGoGo. The money raised will buy tarps, rope and medical supplies for people living in rural villages around Gorkha, the epicenter of Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake.

“Bendites love the outdoor lifestyle, and like Nepal, rely on outdoor tourism,” Bokowa wrote in an email Wednesday morning. “Many of us go to Nepal for its trekking tourism. So we need to help these villages, many of which are cut off from getting urgent food, shelter and medical supplies. If we can’t transport it in, we’re prepared to walk it in with a team.”

Tullis and Bokowa were inside a small market near Annapurna Base Camp when the earthquake hit. At first they thought it was a storm, but they soon realized everything was rattling, Bokowa wrote. The village was relatively unharmed, and it wasn’t until the couple reached a teahouse hours later that they started to hear about the destruction in Kathmandu. The guides and porters, mostly from the Gorkha region, anxiously sought cellphone reception to call their families, and most of them left for home the next morning.

Strong aftershocks continued into the night, causing the couple to run outside from the guesthouse they slept in. “It’s hard to describe what fear you feel, looking up at a pitch dark sky, listening for falling rocks, that may or may not fall onto you,” Bokowa wrote.

The next morning they were in Himalaya, the second-to-last town before the Annapurna Base Camp, when the 6.7-magnitude aftershock hit. The couple fled the guesthouse they were staying in. Tullis watched a boulder the size of a house fall into a river behind them, and they heard landslides in the valley across from them as they left the site on foot, Bokowa wrote.

The next day it took them 10 hours to escape the landslide zone, and they had to stay the night in a guesthouse supported by stilts on the side of a mountain. They watched plumes of snow rise above nearby mountains as an avalanche broke loose from the Annapurna Base Camp area.

Relentless aftershocks and reports of increasing landslides led Tullis and Bokowa to leave the Annapurna region and travel to Pokhara on Tuesday. They traveled by bus along a road Bokowa described as “a narrow hiking trail with a sheer drop off and no guardrails,” stopping to clear a path through rubble from a fresh landslide.

The couple have been traveling throughout Asia for four months. Bokowa said they had the option to leave Nepal and continue with their plans to travel to India. Instead, they are working with a crew of international travelers and Nepalese people to bring whatever relief they can to rural regions near the earthquake’s epicenter. They hope to deliver tarps, ropes and medical supplies to a village called Thebetaar with a rented Jeep by Friday.

“We originally met in the Himalayas (in India) and they hold a special connection for us,” Bokowa wrote. “Well, now more than ever, I suppose.”

Bokowa is a freelance writer from Canada. Tullis grew up ski racing for the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation in Bend. He plans to study engineering at Central Oregon Community College in the fall.

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