Thursday, August 31, 2006

There's always a way through barbed wire

Okay, first of all, part of my post got cut off last night. I meant to include that I had been able to check my email and I had a message from S.L. (recall, he is my thesis advisor). It was good news—I finally have official confirmation that I got the NSF grant! Hooray! Now I’m not going to have to worry about how I’m paying for all this!

Now onto today. The power was out this morning, but the women in the kitchen were still able to slice some fruit for me and make me a sandwich for lunch—by candlelight. I went out to the forest and found monkeys by the rock wall at the back end of what I’m calling C-trail. There was some kind of inter-group encounter shortly after I got to the monkeys. All sorts of howling was going on, and I was standing in the middle of two groups that were apparently trying to negotiate who was going to get to eat some scrumptious (actually, unripe) berries on a tree across the trail. The interesting thing is that there wasn’t any fighting or aggression (other than the howls) going on, and many individuals (juveniles included) kept going back and forth between the groups. My personal feelings on howler monkey group dynamics is that the “group” itself is pretty flexible. Maybe a little like my experience with the social systems at Dunlap High School. You belong to a core social group, but the exact composition of the group varies from day to day. That is, sometimes you hang out with different groups and sometimes people from different groups hang out with you.

I got some good feeding data, and then the monkeys took off into the jungle. I think what happened was that all the monkeys were actually feeding in the same area, and then one group took off into the jungle up the volcano while the other group went back down to the “A-trail.” Unfortunately, I stayed with the jungle group and I ended up trying to hack my way through vines the size of my arms and spiderwebs as tall as me. This proved to be a futile task. Eventually I went back down to the A-trail and discovered that is where the rest of the group went. From then on, it was lovely. The A-trail is at the edge of the forest; it borders an empty field and the view is amazing. I think the monkeys like it there because from that vantage point, you can look down and see the lake and the mountains beyond. There are also many huge boulders along the edge of the forest and field. Seeing these boulders always makes me think of eons ago, when Volcán Maderas was still active and coughing up these gigantic things.

When I left the forest I went a different way today. The monkeys were so far over on the A-trail that I found another little dirt path heading southwest (the direction back to the road). I decided to take that one and see what happened. For one thing, going this direction strengthened my theory that there’s always a way through barbed wire. That became my motto the last time I was in Nicaragua. You’d be going along in the forest, and all of a sudden, you’d come to a semi-clear field and a barbed wire fence. And there’s always a way through. You just have to be patient and scan the fence for an area where there’s enough room to shimmy through or jump over. Today I think I had to creatively find a way to get through 3 barbed wire fences to continue the correct direction on the path. I’m glad I went this way because it gave me more perspective on the size of the forest and the way people use the land. Little patches of forest would be separated by a plantain field, or a rice field, or a corn field, or a field that looked abandoned and was becoming forest again. The path was really steep in places, but I got some really amazing views of the landscape. Looking down, I could patches of forest separated by agricultural fields, and at the very bottom I could see the lake. To my right was a crystal-clear, cloudless view of Volcán Concepción. When I finally got back down to the road, I was really close to home. Since I got a tetanus shot right before coming back to Nic (come to find out, the last time I was here my tetanus shot was not up to date), I may take this path again sometime.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Big day

As many of you have noted, the internet hasn’t been working lately, but as of now, we’ve got a better connection. We even got to talk to our parents through iChat and Skype. Scroll down for numerous updates from the past several days….

As for today, it all worked out and Simeon came out to the forest with me. Alvaro also sent a young guy out with us to film the monkeys. We found the monkeys, and Simeon cut some more trails. We didn’t get much filming done because the foliage was really dense. Also, all the monkeys were doing was sleeping, so it was actually quite boring. Simeon identified some trees for me, so that was a big help.

My Chilean friends, Soledad and Alejandra are leaving Nicaragua tomorrow. They’re staying in Mérida at someone’s house, so I went over there to see them. Some guy handed me a really ugly looking fruit and told me to eat it. The fruit has a thick husk, and it was warm, as though it had been roasted over a fire. It tastes very rich, a little bit like banana but sweeter. He told me it is called “Anona,” and I had Rob take a picture of me eating it. Esta fruta es muy rica!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Not much new today. I spent the day with the monkeys again and came home covered in bug bites. Somehow the bugs are actually biting my legs through my pants, and bug spray doesn’t seem to deter them. I guess I will just have to get used to it.

I think I arranged for Simeon to come back out to the forest with me tomorrow. I stopped by his house on the way home. He wasn’t there but I spoke with who I presume to be his wife. Whoever she was told me that he would meet me in the morning (I think), so we shall see.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Monkey business

As planned, on Sunday, Rob went out with me to the forest. We found about a million monkeys. We spent about half the day with them and Rob was either worn out or bored, so we came back home.

Today, I went out by myself at the crack of dawn and stayed in the forest for something like 11 or 12 hours. I think I need some more trails out there, because I was hacking my way through some really dense jungle for a lot of the time. It was frustrating because for so much of the time they were in a place where the visibility was very poor. When they finally did eat, it was really hard to see what they were eating. Better luck next time, I guess!

Here's are a couple of pictures of Rob swimming in the lake:

And here's a picture of Volcan Concepción (the active volcano) on a cloudless day. Its hardly ever cloudless, but whenever it is, I take a bunch of pictures. So its going to seem like Concepción always looks this clear, when it hardly ever does!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Soymilk, etc

So, I didn’t go to the forest yesterday (Friday) because I was messed up from my encounter with the ants. I spent about 7 hours talking to my new German friend Sven. He’s been in Guatemala for about 2 months and he had some stories about some really amazing places to visit. I am looking through my schedule to see if there is time to fit in a trip to Antigua and the Volcan Pacaya. You can hike up to near the top of Pacaya and see the red lava flowing out; I can’t imagine anything cooler than that.

As I was chatting with Sven, I saw a truck pull up and out came my friend Lilia. Lilia was actually a student in the field course that I TA’ed the first time I was in Nicaragua. She’s gone back to grad school and her dissertation project involves making a model of the effects of continued agriculture on Ometepe. She’s here right now doing a really brief survey of the island, and she is going to come back and stay here at the Hacienda for about 6 weeks in January. That should be great fun!

This morning my hand and ankles were better, so I went out to the forest. There had been a really bad storm in the night and there was no electricity (no Internet either, that’s why this post is late and I’ve been incommunicado for a while), so I think that caused breakfast to be delayed. I didn’t end up getting out of here until pretty late, so I was worried about finding the monkeys once they were done with their morning howls. Call it blind luck or call it skill, but I managed to find them. Stayed with a juvenile and its mother for several hours. That juvie was eating like crazy the whole time. I got some pretty good data on its feeding behaviors, but I was unable to identify 2 of the plant species it ate. The monkeys were moving around quite a bit too, and I marveled at the brilliancy of the trails Simeon cut. The trails followed the monkeys’ route precisely, so I had no problem staying with them, and I didn’t have to hack my way through any more Acacia.

I came home from the forest early and then Rob and I kayaked out to Monkey Island. It’s a tiny little scrap of land where a couple of spider monkeys live. Spider monkeys are not native to Ometepe; these monkeys had been someone’s (illegal) pets. There’s no suitable food on the little island (spider monkeys eat like 80% fruit), so someone boats out there every day and provisions them. The monkeys are quite aggressive and mean, so Rob and I stayed our distance. The lake was pretty rough too, so we were quite tired by the time we got back home. But we’d had a lot of fun, and had some really amazing views of both Volcan Maderas and Volcan Concepción.

After the kayak trip, we went over the little Marfil Tienda. I am amazed at the random assortment of items they have. We even discovered that they have some backpacks, which is good, since mine is falling apart. We found some little chocolate cookies—a whole big package for only about 50 cents—a real deal. Amazingly, they also had a selection of SOYMILK. I couldn’t believe it. For those who know me well, you are aware of my propensity to be eating cereal with soymilk at any time of the day, sometimes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I never thought I would have a soymilk source on Ometepe. The selection they have at Marfil is powdered and comes in chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry. Since we have no cereal, I bought a tiny little package of the chocolate (for 3 cordobas, something like 15 cents) to try it out. When we got home I mixed it up—it wasn’t too great, but not horrible either. I put my concoction in the fridge to chill and have after dinner.

Tomorrow, Rob said he wanted to come into the forest with me for a little while. Hooray. Hopefully my Monkey Sense is working and I find the group again right away!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Attack of the killer ants

Yesterday during my trail-making, I had to go through zillions of Acacia trees. For those who’ve never been to a Central American jungle, Acacia trees are covered with sharp thorns and tiny red “fire” ants. I am usually pretty good about avoiding the Acacia ants, but at some point yesterday, I made contact and felt several of them stinging my left hand. By today, my whole hand is swole up and looking pretty gross. I worked this morning in the forest and then came home to put some ice on my hand and take a Benedryl. I’m hoping that does the trick. At any rate, I got some pretty good feeding data on a young juvenile in the forest this morning, so I am excited about that. Will sign off now—typing one-handed takes forever!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More monkeys

Today I spent the day with the monkeys and made some trails. On my way home from the forest, some little boys were playing baseball in the dirt road. They were using some tightly-rolled socks as a ball, a wooden stick as a bat, and coconut husks as bases. Pretty ingenious. My plans for tomorrow include more of the same: watching the monkeys and making trails.

Here are some photos from the past couple of days. The first is a female monkey, who came close enough for me to get a fairly decent snapshot of her. Then there’s a picture of some local guys out on the lake and some cool pinkish clouds at sunset. Finally, there’s a picture of Rob and me from a couple of days ago—we wanted a photo to commemorate our survival of the Vortex!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bastante monos

So apparently there was a post from last week (August 17) that didn’t make it online. Sometimes this shaky internet connection kicks me off before everything is finished loading. Anyhooo, I’ve posted it down below for any who are interested in having this blog make sense. Even if you don’t want to read it, you might want to take a look because I included a few pictures.

Yesterday I wrote what might be the Longest Post Ever. I figure my mom might be the only person who reads it, so I included a tagline for everybody else.

And today, I’ve just got a brief update. I’m feeling back to normal and went out into the forest early this morning. Found the monkeys right away—they were in the same tree where I left them on August 14! I spent most of the day watching them and then came home to rest and regroup. At the moment, I’d better head out to the dock and check on Rob—he’s out for a swim in the lake.

Monday, August 21, 2006

When "good" water is bad for you

The story of how a desperate prayer, a German doctor, a mystery injection, some mystery powder, Coca-Cola, and lemon water quite possibly saved my life. Oh, and happy birthday, David, if you read this.

I was all set to go back out into the forest on Sunday morning. Still wasn’t quite back to normal but thought I could handle it as long as I took it easy. At some point in the night, I woke up with stomach cramps and the Vortex began anew. Up until about 5:30am, I kept holding out that this was fleeting and I would be good to go monkey watching. I kept drinking water and some very weak Gatorade, positive that this was going to prevent me from getting dehydrated.

No such luck. As the sun came up, I was feeling worse and worse. The Vortex was occurring just minutes apart and I was dizzy, woozy, and light-headed. After each wretched bout, I would drink some weak Gatorade and water and then fall into a narcoleptic sleep until the next bout. I could tell that I was severely dehydrated, and I knew I needed to stop losing so much fluid and electrolytes. My mind began to wander in the style of “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” (a stream-of-consciousness story of a woman on her death bed). I recall realizing that it was a bad sign when I began to wonder if I had really told Amy how to get to my old journals, and what she was to do with them if something happened to me.

Rob was upstairs on the balcony working on his computer, but he might as well have been a million miles away. I knew I was getting worse and worse, and above all, I wanted to avoid going to the hospital. I started praying so hard and I tried to breathe calmly and concentrate on something other than the sickening nausea that felt like it would be the end of me.

In the midst of all this, I heard some tourists outside talking in English. They were making small talk—introducing themselves, discussing their travel itineraries, etc. One of the tourists must have asked another what she did for a living. Her reply, in a pleasant German accent, was, “I’m a doctor.”

For a moment, I did not react. Then I realized, these people were out there talking and I had heard them for a reason. I stumbled out of bed and opened the door. “Did someone out here just say that they are a doctor?” A German woman came towards me as I began to stammer that I was sick—I could not stop throwing up and was very dehydrated. I remember telling her that I didn’t want to go to the hospital. More than the stuffy heat and lack of cleanliness, I was afraid of having an IV. Rob’s had gotten inflamed and he was given antibiotics, I assumed to get rid of the infection that was causing this. Because I am allergic to virtually every antibiotic I’ve ever been given, I was desperate to avoid getting some kind of infection that would necessitate antibiotics. She told me that at the hospital, the only thing they would do for me would be give me an IV (which was likely to become inflamed in a tropical environment) and it would be better to do this on my own. I threw up again while she fixed me a glass of water filled with some sort of mystery powder (electrolyte replacement, like a suero, I assume). She said that the filtered, purified water here was so pure that it had pretty much flushed out all my electrolytes, leaving me a mess.

I puked again and then tried to tell her about the medicine they’d given me for Rob at the clinic in Mérida—the injection was supposed to stop vomiting, but we hadn’t used it because we hadn’t found anyone who could administer it. I grabbed the vial from our room and showed it to her. She studied the tiny vial and said that the medication would stop my nausea and stomach cramping for a couple of hours at least, but that just might buy me enough time to replenish my electrolytes and get through this thing.

I sat outside at the picnic table while her husband (boyfriend?) tied a rag around my arm and Rob propped me up. She disinfected my arm with one of the BD Alcohol Swabs I’d bought for cleaning off the pieces of the toughness tester and then stuck the needle in my cubital vein. “Just breathe normally,” she instructed as I began to feel the medication go in. As soon as the medicine was in, I puked up all of the electrolyte drink she’d given me. She told me not to drink the plain, purified water. She said I should have the gross tasting electrolyte packets and—of all things—Coca Cola. Apparently Coke, with its high content of sugar and salt, is great for replacing electrolytes.

When the medicine kicked in, I began to feel better. I slurped down about another 500 mL of “suero” and drank 2 cokes. Normally I won’t touch that stuff, but at the moment, it tasted great. I vaguely remembered reading that back in the day before Gatorade, marathon runners would drink de-fizzed coke to replenish electrolytes, so it started to make sense to me.

Everything was going great until the medicine wore off and I began to puke and otherwise again—losing all those precious electrolytes I’d worked so hard to recover. To make matters worse, my injection arm was becoming swollen and painful. I asked Rob to send an email to Dr. Y (our friend who is in med school) about my arm. The night wore on and we received advice and reassurance from Dr. Y—he said it was probably just a hematoma (spelling?) and would heal on its own without requiring antibiotics.

Although I was reassured about the pain in my arm, I was running to the bathroom quite frequently and by 7:30pm, I had a fever. Rob asked if there was a local doctor he could take me to, but the nearest doctor was in Altagracia and the earliest they could get me there was the next morning. I resolved that come hell or high water, I was NOT going to the hospital. I gulped down more wretched “suero.” I drank several glasses of water with lemon and sugar in it, as the German doctor had suggested. I took an ibuprofin and the fever went down.

Somehow it worked. By the morning, I was no longer dehydrated and actually felt better than I have in at least a week. I didn’t have to go to the hospital, and I am overjoyed about that. I’ve actually felt like eating today—have had brown rice with salt on it and some chopped tomatoes. I feel like I am definitely over this thing. All that remains is to go back out there and find the monkeys again.

So thanks to all who were thinking of me and sending out good vibes yesterday. Its a bit weird, but I felt the presence of so many friends and family while I was sick. And thanks especially to Dr. Y, who provided online medical assistance—I hope there’s a way for you to put that on your CV!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Nearly Recovered

I haven’t puked in something like 14 hours, but moving around still doesn’t feel great, so I guess I need to get my electrolytes back in order before traipsing off to the jungle. Yesterday when I wasn’t puking, I was having such a craving for saltine crackers and Ginger-Ale. Miraculously, Rob went to the little “Marfil” tienda right beside the hacienda and he found some Ritz crackers and some little graham-cracker type cookies. I’ve had a couple of the Ritz crackers and have kept them down; they really hit the spot. I’m really bored of lying down and just thinking, so hopefully today I can at least read a little and maybe even get caught up on Amy’s blog. I’m just hoping, hoping that whenever I get over this thing, I will be able to find the monkeys again.

I've posted several entries from the past several days, so if you scroll down, you can read everything that's been going on. Sorry Martin and Greg, it is probably to long for you.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Thursday August 17 2006

I puked all night but for some reason I was still holding out that I would recover and be able to go out to the forest in the morning. By 5am I gave up on that and just tried to hang on. Rob made me some very weak Gatorade, which I tried to sip but mainly just puked back up. Finally in the afternoon, I’d had several hours of calm and was beginning to feel hungry. Ate a few bites of watermelon and kept that down. A few hours later I had some more watermelon, but that time it came right back up. It was beginning to look like I might miss the forest again tomorrow and I began to freak out that I would never find the monkeys again and my whole dissertation project would fall apart.

Even when I wasn’t puking, lying down was about all I could do. I was thinking maybe I needed that injection to get me to stop puking, and then a suero to get me reyhdrated. But mainly, I just wanted to avoid anyone getting concerned enough about me to send me to the hospital.

Here are some pictures Rob took whilst I was Vortexing. The first is our view of Volcan Concepión. The next is our building; our room is on the far left (you can't actually see it too well). The last photo is of the little patio outside our room. That's Rob's laptop on the picnic table.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Five hours on a bus

Wednesday August 16 2006

We had our first experience on the bus this morning when we rode to Altagracia. The whole bus system was surprisingly easy to figure out. Once we got there, it turned out that the woman who does the blood sugar test was in Moyogalpa and they told us we should go there. I had a brief bout of freaking out. I knew this would mean about 5 or 6 hours round trip on a bus, and I was already beginning to feel crummy.

We made it to Moyogalpa to have Rob’s sugar tested and it was 105. The doctor told us that was normal, especially since Rob had eaten a few bites for breakfast. He said that that the high blood sugar level of the other night does not necessarily mean that Rob is diabetic, but we need to be careful because he has a family history of diabetes. He said that Rob would avoid diabetes as long as he does not eat a lot of sweets or fat and instead eats mainly vegetables, fruits and grains. Right, right. Rob is a skinny-as-a-rail, super active, 100% vegetarian. I think we’ve got that covered. The doctor said that just to make sure, we should come back to Moyogalpa to get Rob’s blood sugar retested every 15 days. We will do that of course, but ugggggh, I wish Moyogalpa was closer.

We took the bus home and by the end of the ride I was doubled over, just praying to make it back without puking. I hadn’t felt like eating all day, and my stomach had the strange rumblings of pre-Vortex (Vortex, as in, you’re so sick the toilet never stops flushing).

By dinnertime, I was feeling hungry and hoping that my previous ishy-ness was due to the bumpy busride. I had little bit of pasta, a few bites of yucca, and a small piece of bread with honey. Everything seemed fine until about 9pm—then the puking began!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ronny Express

Tuesday August 15 2006

After a sleepless night, I was dimly aware that I had not eaten anything but a Clif Bar since lunch the day before. Rob was getting hungry too. I went and found a nurse and told her that Rob was hungry; she said I should go to a restaurant and buy him some food (there’s no toilet paper in this hospital—of course there’s not going to be a cafeteria). A really nice nutritionist named Lilieth (spelling?) sat down with me and explained everything slowly so that I could understand. She said that Rob was not really diabetic; high blood sugar can be caused by extreme stress, such as dehydration. She said he should avoid eating sugary, fatty things, especially while we were still trying to get his blood sugar normalized. Then she went with me to a restaurant where we got a salad for Rob (he’d told me he was hungry for raw vegetables). She told me that I needed to eat something and keep my strength up, both Rob and me couldn’t be sick at the same time. While we were walking back to the hospital, I told her that yesterday was my birthday. She stopped in the middle of the road to hug and kiss me and wish me feliz cumpliaños.

By 3pm, Rob’s blood sugar was staying around 101 and he did not have a fever anymore. They released us, giving us a prescription for an antibiotic (I wasn’t really sure why, other than his IV arm had become inflamed) and telling us that we needed to go to Altagracia to have his blood sugar retested tomorrow.

I wasn’t really sure how to get home. The bus would cost a couple of dollars and would take about 3 hours, or we could hire a taxi for about $25 and be home in an hour and a half. We ended up walking down to the dock and found a taxi driver with a van labeled “Ronny Express.” Our decision was made. We took the Ronny Express back to Mérida. Ronny was a nice guy; a kid probably younger than us, and we listed to an 80’s mix tape all the way back.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A birthday to remember

Monday 14 August 2006

I got up and was in a rush to meet Simeon and go the forest; we were going to cut trails and follow the monkeys. We found the same troop again, near to where they had been yesterday. At about 1pm, we left to go down the mountain. When I got to our room, Rob was lying down. He was extremely pale, and he mumbled that he had thrown up in the morning. The girls in the kitchen were very worried about him. They fixed him a “suero” (rehydration drink), and I tried to fix him a coconut (yes Amy, it is very difficult to hack through a coconut, especially with an inferior machete). Rob refused to drink either. He said he was nauseated and did not want to throw up again. He wanted Gatorade and ice, so I fixed him that, but he threw up after just a few sips.

That’s when I became really really worried. I went and found my two new Chilean friends Soledad and Alejandra. They do not speak English, but they are very nice and talk to me slowly so that I understand them. They told me that there is a clinic in Mérida, and we could go over there and bring a doctor back for Rob. They walked with me to the clinic (note, Soledad is about 6 months pregnant) and found that the doctor was out. A nurse gave us some kind of injection to bring home that was supposed to stop him from vomiting. Rob seemed even worse when we got back, and we realized he had a fever. Soledad said she would find a driver for me if I wanted to go to the hospital in Altagracia. I decided that was the best thing.

By then it was almost 5pm and Altagracia is an hour away. I quickly threw some things together in an overnight bag, while Soledad and Alejandra went and found Jorge (the hacienda driver). An hour later over bumpy roads, we arrived at the clinic in Altagracia. The conditions seemed quite grim. No air conditioning or fans, no toilet paper, no pillows, and mosquitoes everywhere. They started him on an IV, gave him medicine to stop the vomiting, and then tested his blood sugar. 246. I think normal is somewhere around 100. They told me that he was diabetic and we needed to go by “ambulance” to the bigger hospital in Moyogalpa. I think they gave him insulin and kept him on IV’s. He looked awful and felt even worse. I spent a long, hot, uncomfortable night on a pillow-less, sheet-less cot next to him. The nurses and doctors were really nice, but I kept wondering how anyone could really get better in a place like this.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Simeon’s Forest

Sunday 13 August 2006

Simeon led me to some monkeys higher up on the volcano than where I had been looking. We encountered a huge group. At least 20 monkeys, including 4 or 5 males and 4 or 5 juveniles. It was perfect. Simeon left to go home (after making very certain that I would not get lost), and I stayed with the monkeys for several hours. Was just about to leave when I decided to find another group that I had heard howling all day. I got to them no problem. As soon as I got there, I saw a male and female mating, and then I saw a female with an infant so new it still had its umbilical cord attached. There was another male in the group who appeared curious about me. He climbed over to a tree right above me and came down very low to look at me. He began to break some tree branches with his hands and throw them at me!! I couldn’t believe it. He did not have very good aim, but still, I had no idea that howler monkeys would do such a thing. Obviously, this group is not habituated to humans very well.

I thought my day had been exciting, but Rob’s day trumped all. He had ridden his bike to Altagracia in 62 minutes—the same amount of time it takes to go there by car. On the way back he had 2 flats, and he had to rely on the help of passers-by to fix them. Once, he had to back track about 600 meters to some guy’s house who supposedly fixes bikes. The guy wasn’t at home, so Rob went swimming until he returned.

By the time Rob got back to Mérida, he was in bad shape. He could not eat lunch and was really dehydrated. I found someone to go get him a coconut so that he could drink the coco water (good for rehydration). He asked for ice, so I got some for him in the kitchen. He slept until dinner, then did not eat very much, and went back to bed.

I wasn’t thinking that it was that serious. He’s always riding his bike too far and getting dehydrated. He drinks a lot, sleeps a lot, and then is fine. I was sure this time would be the same

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Lost the Monkeys

Saturday 12 August 2006

Rodolfo never showed up; I don’t know what must have happened. Rob and I talked to a yucca farmer (the same one who gave Bernardo a yucca one time a few years ago). He told us that the monkeys go far, far up the volcano everyday, at least 2 km, but they come back down in the afternoon. He also told us that howler brains cure cancer (I’m not sure how exactly) and he gave us 2 mangoes. Rob and I traipsed around in the forest, not finding any monkeys. We did find a little boy who traipsed around with us for a while, but he could not find any monkeys either.

Rob and I went back to Mérida, but late in the day I returned by myself to see if the monkeys were there as the yucca farmer had said. I wandered around in the forest but after a while, I just went to sit by the beach, hoping to hear them howl as the sun began to set. Still nothing. Feeling very discouraged and wondering what life would be like at Rodolfo’s house, I began to walk back to Mérida. On the way, I saw some kids throwing rocks at a tree—there was a lone howler in their yard. I stopped and watched it with them, asking them many questions about where the monkeys are. They talked a lot to me and wanted to show me their pet “mico” (capuchin). I followed them with horrified fascination. They showed me a tiny little monkey they had chained to their fence. It was obvious that they loved and cared for it very much (they told me its name was Ricky), but it made me so sad. I don’t know much about capuchins, but I’m pretty sure it was a baby. My guess is that their parents must have gone up the volcano and killed the mother and brought back the baby for a pet, but I don’t really know. Its illegal to keep monkeys as pets here (that’s what Alvaro—the owner of the hacienda—tells me), but it is pretty common nonetheless.

Back on the road, a guy whistled at me and I ignored him at first. Then he called my name and asked if I was the girl who studies monkeys. That stopped me in my tracks. It turns out he is Simeon, the guy Alvaro had told me could help me out in the forest. Simeon and I talked for a long time. He said he knew where the monkeys were and we arranged to go into the forest in the morning to find them. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Posts out of order!

Hi guys-- sorry some of these posts got out of order. I'm not sure why that happened or how to fix it, but I think you guys will figure it out!

Rodolfo saves the day (almost)....

I went back to the same forest today and walked around but found no monkeys. I kept hearing monkey sounds but it was so far away, a long way up the volcano. I went back out to the road and just as I got there, Rodolfo (yes the Rudolfo) happened to be riding past on his bike. He remembered me and asked how Pablito and his daughters were. I told him that Pablo had recently gotten married and he was very surprised! He talked to me for a very long time about many things, and I told him about my difficulty finding monkeys and the lack of trails in that forest patch. He said he had to be in Tichana (a few towns over) at 1pm, but he could help me for a couple of hours. We went in and he hacked away the underbrush with my machete. Even with just a little time, it is already a lot more manageable. We talked of many things. I am still amazed at how “survival mode” makes my Spanish speaking skills improve so drastically. For the life of me, I cannot utter a Spanish sentence to Frida or Martin, but here I am just chatting away with Rodolfo. He knows a lot about the forest. He said this little patch goes up the volcano about 2km and he thinks there are about 2 groups of monkeys in there. But neither of us saw or heard anything. We saw a local farmer pass through and I asked him if there were monkeys here. He said, yes, he had seen the monkeys earlier in the morning. I asked him if there are always monkeys here and he said yes. But still we did not find them.

What we did see was a lot of spiders. I pointed to the amazing red, black, and yellow ones with the huge webs and asked him if they were dangerous. He assured me they were harmless. I asked him about the infamous “pico caballo”—Nicaraguan tarantulas fabled to be able to kill a horse with their bite. He did in fact affirm that there are such tarantulas on the island, but he said they are quite rare. He said more frequently you will see the smaller brown tarantulas (like the one that lived in my bathroom last time I was here). I am pretty sure he also said that a person would not die of a pico caballo bite. Just as we were talking about this, I looked down and saw a palm sized, extraordinarily hairy spider. I shrieked. “Es un pico caballo??” Rodolfo looked at the spider and laughed, telling me it was harmless. It was spinning an egg sac or something, and he picked it up and dangled it like a yo-yo. I shrieked all the more. He set the spider down and finished it off with the machete. Guess I won’t have to worry about that one anymore.

I am very happy to have some trails in the forest, but more than slightly disconcerted that we saw no monkeys. Rodolfo discussed with me my options. He said first of all, we might not be finding the monkeys simply because we aren’t used to their ranging patterns and it was the middle of the day (the time when the sleep, so it is difficult to find them). He pointed out that he knows there to be only 2 groups of monkeys in this patch, whereas there many more groups in the forests by San Ramon. He told me that if I wanted, Rob and I could come live with him and his family (for free) in San Ramon and be only 10 minutes away from the monkeys I have studied before. He asked us what kinds of things we like to eat, so they would know what to fix us. I have to admit, that is beginning to sound appealing. Its what Pablo would do in this situation. I’m going to meet with Rodolfo tomorrow morning and look for the monkeys in Machete Forest again. I am hoping we find them, but if not I guess we have options. I feel bad for his wife though—he didn’t run this living arrangement by her before suggesting it to me!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Found the monkeys

Thurs 10 August 2006
Rob and I had breakfast with and Alvaro, then got ready to go in search of monkeys. Al said that the Beach Forest was the closest place he knew of where monkeys are (a little over a mile away). I kept hoping to find monkeys before then, but we did not. I heard them a few times, but they seemed really far away, up the volcano. We got to the Beach Forest and had to hop over some barbed wire to get in. It was pretty tangled and difficult to maneuver. After walking around a bit, we heard monkeys. We darted off in that direction, through impossibly difficult thorns and underbrush, up and over big lava rocks. We saw nothing. I thought that maybe what we had heard had actually been across the road. We tunneled through the forest and got back out to the road. A guy was coming by on his horse, so I asked him if he knew where there were monkeys. He gave a very long answer that I did not quite understand but I think it ended with him asking me if I wanted to buy or rent a horse from him to go up the San Ramon waterfall. I declined. Just then, the monkeys howled again. The were very close, on the volcano side of the road. I took off running through a field to get to them. There was immensely thick underbrush at the edge of the forest. I somehow disregarded these obstacles and got to the howlers. They were amazing. Right away I saw a male, a female, and a juvenile. I could tell there was at least one more male howling nearby, and I could hear some howls very far off into the distance up the volcano. I knew there were other howlers around, it was just impossible to navigate through the brush and thorns and rocks and then to see then through the canopy. Rob wandered around, hacking away at things until he got something in his eye that did not feel good. He flushed it out with water and I asked him if he wanted to go back to the hacienda. He said he was going to go back, but that I should stay in the forest with the monkeys.

So I stayed. I wandered around and found a total of 13 monkeys; they were kind of split up into 2 separate subgroups. I saw at least 2 adult males, 4 juveniles, and the rest were adult females. One male and one female had collars with silver tags on them, so this is definitely the group that was studied several years back. That means they are used to people and that I can identify at least a couple of them individually. That also means that they have stayed in the same area since that last study was conducted, at least 6 or 7 years ago. It is probably the same group that tends to go back and forth across the road between the beach and volcano. That might be an interesting dynamic to figure out: Why do the monkeys cross the road? I was here 2 years ago during one of the times when they decided to cross from the beach, but I found it too difficult to follow them once there were on the volcano side. All that underbrush just made walking around quite impossible.

I realized just how difficult it was to maneuver when I tried to leave the forest. There was absolutely no clear path; it was like walking through a wall of dense vegetation. Even the machete didn’t help all that much. To make matters worse, there were giant spiders everywhere, but at least they were pretty (red and yellow and black). At one point, one of them was climbing up my leg, which I suppose ruins my theory that “they’re more afraid of me than I am of them.” But, I’m still alive so I guess there’s no harm. My journey out of the forest became almost laughable. I was not lost; I knew exactly how to get back to the road and it wasn’t even very far. There was just absolutely no way to get there. This is the true essence of the jungle. The vines I could break okay, but some of the branches were as thick as my arm and crisscrossing from the ground to high above my head. It took me almost an hour to tunnel out of there and I was covered with scratches when I arrived to the road. I wondered how on earth I had made it in there and why I couldn’t have taken the same route on my way out.

The road back to Mérida is a lot of uphill. 10% grade in some sections. It took me about 25 minutes to walk back the 2km (1.2 miles). When I got here, I was relieved to find that Rob had recovered from his eye thing and was calmly working on his computer. He ordered us lunch and I took and ice cold shower, which under the circumstances, wasn’t that bad. He also told me that he had a lot of trouble getting out of the forest and it had taken him a really long time. He thinks it will be totally fine and manageable if we just hire a couple guys to go out there with their machetes and make trails through it. There are remnants of 7-year old trails in some places, its just been so long since anyone worked there that they have become overgrown.

At any rate, I am assuaged that I have found monkeys and need to get some rest. Here's a picture I took in the forest today.

The Journey, Part One

Will try to update on the past few days. Here’s a disclaimer for Martin: its going to be long, so deal with it or just have Frida summarize.

(Tues 8 August 2006)
Dan drove Rob and me up to Chicago in Barb and Bruce’s minivan. We met the other cousins, Scott and Kevin, for dinner at a place called The Blind Faith Café—a 100% vegetarian restaurant. It was so good; I’ve never been to a place where I can eat (and want to eat!) everything on the menu.

(Weds 9 August 2006)
The next morning we had to get to the airport 2 hours ahead of our 5:30am flight. It seemed a bit ridiculous to be there that early, but when we showed up around 3:30am, there was already a line. The Delta representatives didn’t even show up until 4am, but by that time, there was a really long line behind us. Check in was no problem; the guy at the ticket counter was quite chatty. He said he goes to Nicaragua twice a year, for about the last 15 years. He’s spent some time on Ometepe and even knows some of the same places (San Ramon waterfall, petroglyphs, etc).

By the time we got all checked in and screened, we went straight to the gate and started boarding. Flew to Atlanta and then transferred to another plane. Had a super lunch on the plane—a vegetarian meal that included fresh salad, yum! Got to Nicaragua about 12:20pm local time (same as it is back home). After we got through customs and immigration, all our luggage was ready at the baggage claim. I breathed a big sigh of relief when I saw the TT safely on the turn-style. I didn’t even have time to worry whether or not our drive would be there. Amid the hundreds of people crowded up against the glass, I saw a guy right up front holding a sign with our names on it. He pulled up the car, loaded the luggage, and we were off to Granada by 1pm.

So, this is the third time I’ve been to Nicaragua. The first time, it was all new and exciting; the second time, when I went by myself, Pablo told me: “Melissa, when you get to Nicaragua, it will be like coming home.” That second time there were tons of problems and it didn’t feel welcoming at all. But this time, it really did feel like I was coming home. I looked out the window the whole ride, drinking in the sights: green, green landscape, horses and cows walking along the road, guys riding bikes and carrying giant bags of rice or propane tanks or 3 of their children.

We arrived in Granada about an hour later. They driver didn’t actually know where Hotel Kekoldi was; he didn’t work for the hotel, he was an airport taxi driver that the hotel had hired for me. We drove around for quite a while, asking people for directions, until finally I found my confirmation email from the hotel that had the address (mind you, there were no street numbers or anything) and directions (3.5 blocks west of the park).

The hotel was really really nice. My first impression was that it smelled really good—I don’t know if that was something they used for cleaning or if it was some of the many flowers all over the place. The staff all spoke English too, and they were so helpful with everything. As soon as we arrived, Rob and I were so exhausted that we fell into a deep comatose sleep for about 2 hours. When I woke up, I was more dehydrated than that time I ran a half marathon in the summertime without drinking any water. I went to the front desk to buy some bottles of water (its probably safe to drink from the tap, but then again, I didn’t want to find out). I was trying to figure out how to pay for the water (whether they wanted cordobas or dollars), and the girl at the desk said they would just put it on my tab and I would pay at check out. She handed me 2 bottles of water without writing anything down and went back to her work. I said, “Okay, I’m in room number 6.” She smiled sweetly at me and said, “Melissa, its okay, don’t worry.” So even the Nicaraguans are telling me to stop freaking out.

Semi-rehydrated, Rob and I left to walk around Granada. I had a vague rememberance of where the ATM was, and somehow we got to it and got some cordobas. Then we went into a place called Ciber Café and emailed our parents to let them know we arrived. It was so cheap—only 5 cordobas, which is like 20 cents.

We walked through the Parque Central and then on to the dock to look out at Lake Nicaragua. We passed some ladies selling fruit and I bought a coconut for 8 cordobas (less than 50 cents). Coconut water is supposed to be the best thing for rehydrating, so even though I really don’t like its taste, I drank as much as I could handle. When I just couldn’t take coconut water anymore, I began to wonder what to do with the gigantic, heavy coconut I was holding. I hadn’t seen any trash cans anywhere. Just then, a little girl ran up to me, arms outstreatched, saying something I didn’t understand. “Quieres eso coco?” I asked and she said, “Si, si,” nodding emphatically. So I handed her the coconut and she drank right out of my straw as she ran away. Problem solved.

We stopped at a hostel/restaurant called The Bearded Monkey for a dinner of vegetarian chili, then went back to our hotel to arrange for a driver to come pick us up in the morning and take us to San Jorge. I took my last hot shower for the foreseeable future. It was a rich, full day.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Journey, Part Two

(Wed 9 August 2006)
We had breakfast at the hotel and left for San Jorge when our driver arrived around 8:30. We got there around 10am and the next ferry was at 10:30. While waiting, I made friends with a nice Nicaraguan lady and talked in Spanish. She asked if Rob spoke any Spanish, because he was not saying anything. I told her that he spoke a little Spanish, he was just shy. A little boy named Alexi (12 years or thereabouts) also befriended me. He told me he would help with our luggage (obviously, he wanted cordovas) and he discussed with me the pro’s and con’s of either buying our ticket ahead of time or waiting to buy it on the boat. When we decided to buy it ahead of time, he went with Rob to the ticket counter to make sure that everything went okay.

The boat ride was pretty smooth. It took about an hour and a half, and then all chaos broke loose. I forgot how crazy it is getting off the boat in Moyogalpa. Kids rush onto the boat, grabbing your luggage so you give them cordovas for their help. It was all we could do to keep track of everything. It was pouring down rain, which didn’t help matters any. There was a guy who would not leave my side and got us a ride to Mérida, shared with 3 other people. The bumpy car ride began. I was constantly scanning the trees, looking for monkeys. I was surprised at how degraded everything looked and kept hoping that once we got to the Maderas side there would be more forest. No such luck. All too soon (1-1/2 hour) we got to Mérida and I hadn’t seen anything that looked like monkey habitat. When we got to the hostel, there was a bit of confusion, but I found Alvaro and eventually a girl named Gisele showed us our room. Small but cozy. The best part is that we have our own bathroom. Am so excited words can’t even explain. They fixed us food and we ate lunch with Alvaro, looking out at the water. Merida is so beautiful. Its on a little peninsula jutting out into the lake. Our room is looking right out onto the water. There are mango, coconut and banana trees all around. There is some kind of flower blooming and everything has a beautiful smell. I feel very happy here, like this is going to be a really good place to stay. The internet connection isn’t quite in place yet, but Rob rigged up something so we could do email and even online chat with our parents for a bit. As long as I can find monkeys and the TT holds out, this is going to work out just fine.

Here are some pictures that I took during the ride from Moyogalpa to Mérida

At home on Ometepe

Hola friends and family. We arrived at the Hacienda Mérida (our new home) around 2pm today (Nicaragua time is the same as the central time zone right now). I will try to write a longer update later, but for the moment, I just wanted to let you all know that everything has gone so smoothly and we made it here with no problems. The Hacienda is actually quite beautiful; it is on a little peninisula jutting out into the lake, and as I type, I am sitting amidst coconut trees looking at the water. They had a room ready for us when we got here; we even have our own bathroom!! I am going to be so spoiled. No out-house for me this time. I thinkt he shower is probably cold water only, though. Will investigate that later. We've been eating so well this whole trip too. As soon as we got here, they gave us fresh mango juice and home-made vegetable soup with rice and really good bread. Will have to remember that I'm not really on vacation, and I need to go out and look for the monkeys soon...

Rob has rigged up some sort of temporary internet connection through someone's cell phone. It works but is really slow. I have about a million pictures from the moment of our departure until now, but I will probably wait to post those until we have a faster connection. For now, I've got to go. Will post more when I get a chance.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Farewell to Iris

We met up with Amy, Ben and little Bryn last night to hand over my car Iris. Amy and I have been friends since we were 9 years old. In high school, Amy gave me a ride every day in her car Vrk. I am not ready to really sell Iris, so we are "loaning" it to Amy and Ben while we are gone. The whole process is actually a little more complicated than that (what with insurance, title, and registration issues), but I think we've it worked out. It felt so strange to hand over the keys and walk away from Iris. I took some pictures of Amy et al with Iris.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

We're gonna make it afterall

Its been too overwhelming to blog lately. I do not deal well with saying "goodbye."

On Wednesday, I had my "last" lunch with Cara and Aimee, and on Thursday we all got together for our last dinner-- at least for a while. On Friday I frantically packed and and took loads of stuff over to the recycling center, Goodwill, Negro & Frida's, etc. I spent much of the afternoon hanging out with John and Cara; they have bought our house and are moving in, so they brought some stuff over and we had a good time chatting while I was packing. Selling the house to some of our best friends has really made this whole thing go so smoothly!

Friday night there was a farewell at the Embassy with the Anthro people. Rob and I were both so exhausted that we thought we'd only stay an hour or so, but we ended up staying until after midnight. Chatted at great length with S.L., who again reminded me not to freak out about things beyond my control. Before the night was over, he even gave me a hug-- which brings me to a grand total of 3 S.L hugs in the past 4 years of grad school (the previous 2 hugs occurred at my pre-lim party). It was hard saying goodbye to Negro, Frida, Greg and Bugaboo. Frida's suggestion was instead to say "Hasta pronto," which I could handle much better. I've included an Embassy photo of some of the gang seated around a table.

After a too few hours of sleep, Rob and I got up early this morning to finish loading up our stuff. The whole process caused me huge levels of anxiety-- there was a long period of time when it looked like our house had sort of thrown up its contents, with random items strewn all over the place. We've taken umpteen van-loads of stuff up to Rob's grandparents, and this morning we fit all final remaining objects into the van and Iris. I took pictures to show how loaded we were.

I took a final walk-through of the house, went outside to look at the pond and the garden. Came back in and started bawling. We lived in this house for 5 years, but in some strange way it never really felt like home. Even so, I guess I've grown attached to the place. I didn't think I was gonna be able to leave. I realized that for the first time in a long, long while, I am truly happy and truly feel like I belong. It took me so long to make it here-- to get into grad school and to really be a part of the "circle," as Negro calls it. Now that I've finally got it, I am leaving it all behind to go off into the complete unknown. I feel like its the end of the "salad days"-- bike rides with Aimee, Brett, et al., dinners with the whole gang, hanging out at the Embassy with Anthro folks, chatting in my office in the department. It almost reminds me of the night before Amy left for college-- when she had everybody over to her house one last time, and how when it was time to leave I stood the bottom of the staircase crying, unable to leave because I felt like once I walked out the door nothing was ever going to be certain again.

Rob told me that selling the house, storing or getting rid of all our belongings, and moving to Nicaragua for a year isn't the end of everything. Its just the end of Phase One. I asked him "How many phases are there?" And he said "A zillion."

Somehow, I took a deep breath and walked out of the house. Rob drove the van and I drove Iris. I cried all the way to D-ville.

On the way, I think I got most of the crying out of me. We got to Rob's parents' house and had a party with his extended family. Afterwords, we drove the van to his grandparents' to store the rest of our stuff in their basement. On the way back to his parents' (where we're staying the last few days before we leave for Nic), Rob took my hand and started singing his own rendition of the Mary Tyler Moore theme song: "We're gonna make it afterall...." We stopped for ice cream on the way back to celebrate.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

At the brink of having everything under control

We haven’t even left for Nicaragua yet, and already I am letting the blog slip. Will try to recap. Over the weekend we went to P-town to see my parents. These trips home always go so fast. I did pretty well for most of the time, but towards the end I lost it and had to cry a bit. So much for being tough.

Since then, we’ve gotten some more things taken care of that had been stressing me out. There are only about 4 or 5 things I’m worried about now, which is a vast improvement. Several weeks ago, S.L. (he’s my real dissertation advisor, even though I sometimes claim Pablo) told me, “You know what your problem is, Melissa? You worry about things you cannot control. Just worry about the things you can do something about and don’t freak out about the rest.” Well, S.L. isn’t always right about everything, but that one was an astute observation. I’ve just about done all I can to make sure that the things I can control go smoothly, the rest will just have to fall into place.

Today John came over with the trailer and helped Rob move out the rest of our furniture. I took some photos of them loading up our mattress, box springs, and sofa. It was over 90 degrees out and I heard the heat index was around 110. Not the best conditions to be lifting heavy furniture, but they got it done. The photos below are of Rob and John loading up the trailer and then driving away. Now we’ve got all the big stuff out of our house, so the remainder of the move should go fairly smoothly. We ate dinner sitting on the floor, which was kind of fun, and we have an air mattress to sleep on for the rest of the time we’re here.

The last 2 days I’ve taken a few loads of stuff over to the recycling center. On both occasions, several people have come up to talk to me about Iris, my 2002 hybrid Honda Insight. Now, there have been lots of times when people stop to comment about my car, but it seemed like the other recyclers were ultra interested in my super-ultra-low-emission vehicle. One guy even came up to me and said emotionally, “Thank you for driving an Insight.” Wow. Sometimes I think that Honda should pay me royalties or something because I do tons of free advertising for them. “Yeah, I get about 60 mph and have never had any problems. This is a great car; you should buy one!”

Tonight I went to running club to see everybody one last time. The heat was so intense that only a small crowd of people showed up. Everyone wished me well and promised to keep in touch. I remember when I was in Nicaragua last time, how much I missed running with other people from the club. I’m not good at saying goodbye, so I just said “see you later,” even though some people will be moving on by the time I get back and I might not really see them again. I’ve got plenty of good memories though.

Well, I’m sitting on the floor with my back against the wall, so blogging is beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable. Think I will try some of that meditation Frida suggested and see if I can get some sleep on the air mattress.