Saturday, September 30, 2006

Waterfall Hike

Its been a while since I’ve had time to blog—scroll down for an update of the highlights of this week.

As for today. After a lovely breakfast, I asked Rob what he wanted to do today and he said, “Let’s hike the waterfall.” The waterfall is in San Ramon, where I lived both previous times I was in Nicaragua. Now that we’re in Mérida, hiking the waterfall involves considerable more effort because we’ve first got to go the 5 km to San Ramon. Alvaro found me a perfect little mountain bike to use, and Rob and I took off. I’ve got some pretty substantial bike anxiety about these roads, but I knew I just needed power through. Its only really bad for about a kilometer around Mérida—so many jagged rocks and steep, slippery hills. When we got to San Ramon, I actually wanted to keep going for a while and ride past all the places I used to visit when I was here before. So we rode past Chico’s pulperia, Rodolfo’s house, the entrance to the Volcano Forest (where I did my pilot study), etc. Then we went back to the Biological Field Station to begin the waterfall hike. Both previous times that I’ve been to Nicaragua, this is where I’ve stayed. It was so strange and familiar to see my old room, the Rancho where Pablo taught classes, the kitchen where we had dinner. One of the cooks working today was Isabel, and she recognized me and came out to say Hola.

Rob and I began the hike to the waterfall. The trail has changed a bit since the last time I was here because apparently there was some kind of earthquake or landslide within the last 2 years that destroyed sections of the previous path. I was actually pleased to see that it was more rugged. There were more rocks to climb over and more scrambling through the stream. This is the fourth time I’ve done the waterfall hike, and each time the path has always been made of a bit more concrete, and there’s always been more tourists’ candy wrappers littering the trail. So this time I was glad that it was as rugged as ever. When we got to the waterfall it was no less magnificent than the previous 3 times I’ve seen it. In fact, I think it was more magnificent. I can’t come up with words to describe it, so I’ll just include some of the pictures we took.

When we descended back to the field station, the head cook, Don Alberto, was waiting at the doorway of the kitchen. He called my name and came running out to hug me and kiss my cheek. It was good to be remembered. I certainly haven’t forgotten the little treats he gave me when I was lonely during my pilot study: fresh squeezed grapefruit juice (my favorite), a precious rare scoop of rum raisin ice-cream, and the occasional hummus for my sandwich (though it was green, so I’m not sure what they made it out of). He beckoned us to come into the kitchen and made us the sweetest lemonade I have ever tasted. We chatted a bit; everyone wants to know how Pablo and his daughters are doing and if Pablo really got married again.

When we finished our lemonade and chatting, we biked back home to Mérida. My legs are pretty tired after all of that, so hopefully they will get enough rest on Sunday and be ready to head out to the forest again on Monday. Until later then.

Friday, September 29, 2006

New Friends

We met a traveler staying at the Hacienda who is doing a bike trip from the Arctic Circle down to Tierra del Fuego. He’s been on the road since May and has made it thus far, to Ometepe. This is about the coolest thing I can imagine. If I was brave and adventurous, I would do that too. In fact, I’m a little afraid Rob is going to hop on a bike and join him for the rest of the trip down south. Read Quinn’s story, and why he has embarked on this cycling trip of epoch proportions, at his website:

Here's a picture of Quinn right before he left the Hacienda:

The Adventures of Uno and Wrinkle Belly (aka El Calvo)

This week I spent a lot more time with the monkeys, and I’m getting to know Uno, Wrinkle Belly (his Spanish name is El Calvo), and the others a bit better. Even though Simeon had previously assured me that there’s only one group in this patch of forest, we confirmed that there are in fact two groups. The North group is often found along the edge of an abandoned field and occasionally makes forays up Spondias Lane. Wrinkle Belly (or El Calvo, his Spanish name) is part of this group. The South group lives in the former coffee plantation and doesn’t appear to have as much access to Spondias fruit. Uno, his lady Pink, and Pink’s two kids are part of this group. I’m going to continue to follow both groups and hope that I can get adequate data on adult females/males and juveniles every month from each group. Plus, I am far to intrigued by the lives of Uno and Wrinkle Belly to choose one or the other’s group.

On Wednesday I followed Wrinkle Belly himself and found the whole experience to be quite hilarious. This old guy just doesn’t move around too well. The other monkeys will leap across a gap between trees while they are traveling, but poor old Wrinkle Belly sits there looking for a safer route. Oftentimes, he comes pretty close to the ground. Once while attempting to jump across a gap, he didn’t quite clear it and nearly landed on my head. Despite these apparent infirmities, he appears to be an active social member of the group. Much to my surprise, I saw him copulate with a female and then continue to (slowly) follow her around for most of the day. At another point, he was sitting next to male; all of a sudden, the two turned to each other, embraced, and then went back to resting.

On Thursday, Simeon came out with me to collect leaf samples. The whole process went quite well actually. We ended up with the South group this time while they were enjoying what I call “The Buffet.” This spot must be monkey heaven. Right here they have a giant Madero Negro tree (whose leaves they eat), and the tree is covered a Pica Mano vine (whose leaves and berries they eat). Next to the Madero Negro are Caimito and Coloradito trees—these leaves also make a fine meal. They ate all of these things on Thursday, and Simeon got me samples of each. The guy is amazing. He didn’t even use the special chain saw thing I bought for this purpose. He grinned and told me he would climb up the trees like a monkey—and he did. After we got the samples and said Hola to Wrinkle Belly on our way out of the forest, I came home and used the toughness tester for hours.

The toughness tester itself causes me a great amount of anxiety. Coming up with the idea that toughness may be a limiting factor in juvenile diet and therefore may have an impact on the howler life history strategy was no problem. Actually coming up with a machine to measure toughness was a whole nother story. I endured an endless amount of sleepless nights, anxiety attacks, throwing up, etc, in the whole process of coming up with a machine. Now that I have one, I barely know how to use it and I am paranoid that it is going to stop working again. While I was using it on Thursday and Friday, I had this sinking suspicion that something was very wrong. The values I was getting were completely crazy. I tested Madero Negro leaves and compared my numbers with some that had already been published. Not only were my own values wildly variable—they were also totally different from those in the article. I was freaking out. I emailed Barth—the colleague who briefly trained me to use this machine over one year ago—and his reply calmed me down a little bit. I continued toughness testing all day Friday. I still don’t know if there is a problem with the machine or my ability to use it, but I am going to keep trying and hope that with enough samples, my values begin to make sense. In the meantime, I am trying to come up with a different dissertation topic—just in case. If you have any ideas, please send them my way.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Expedition

Bernardo found himself looking for a kayaking partner to go out to Monkey Island, and Rob volunteered. It was decided that the two of them were going to take out fruit for the monkeys’ evening meal. Bernardo began to refer to this outing at The Expedition.

I took some photos of them as they paddled out (see below). When they got back, they had stories to tell. In his quest to get some quality photos of the capuchins, Bernardo exited the kayak and got onto the dock of the island. As he did so, a capuchin clambored down to a tree directly above him, bared its canines, and made a swipe at him. According to Rob, the capuchin missed Bernardo’s head by only about 5 inches. In order to escape the fearsome monkeys, Bernardo jumped into the lake, glasses and all. Despite this experience, The Expedition was a success. Bernardo and Rob delivered the monkeys their evening fruit, and Bernardo got some good pictures of the capuchins. Bernardo and I had a rum and coke after dinner to commemorate The Expedition.

Until later then.

(The small island in the distance is where they are going)

This _is_ science

I woke up feeling care-free because I knew I was going out with Simeon this morning. Also, I was leaving a little bit later than usual, so there was time for a lovely breakfast of fruit and granola (which as I’ve mentioned, a lovely breakfast makes my day).

When I showed up at Simeon’s house, he wasn’t there. A daughter or maybe niece told me that he was working in the fields and would be back in the afternoon. I was upset, mainly because I was afraid I probably just had not understood something, but I was also upset that maybe something better had come along and he had gone to do that without telling me. And of course I was upset that this probably meant I would get no samples for the toughness tester today.

I put this behind me and went to the forest anyway. Finding the monkeys was no trouble; they were by the rock wall, which was very close to where I’d left them the night before. Uno and Pink Lady were still hanging out together. The two juveniles who are constantly playing with each other were still playing. They were eating leaves from the same tree they always feed on when they are in that part of the forest. I studied the tree, thinking that maybe if I tried really hard, I could throw the saw up there and get a sample down. In fact, I was determined to do it. After the monkeys had finished their leafy breakfast, I got to work. I threw and I threw, but I could not get the saw over a branch. I studied the tree. I decided that I could climb it, so I climbed. About this time, apparently the monkeys decided that they would return to the tree for elevensies. Were they ever surprised to see me ascending the trunk. All of a sudden I had about 10 monkeys in the tree with me, giving me a look like, “Well, she has finally lost it.” They didn’t know whether to eat or to come down towards me to get a better look. Most of them came down towards me to get a better look. It was interesting to be that close to the monkeys, but I realized that I had my foot in a termite mound, and I would now have to displace the monkeys from their feeding site in order to get a sample. I descended the tree and watched them from below.

Luckily, howlers are messy feeders. They dropped a lot of leaves, and one of them jumped on a very thin branch that snapped and fell to the ground. Jackpot. Now I had my sample.

When I left to go home, I decided to stop by Simeon’s. He had returned from the fields, and greeted me kindly, asking if I needed his help tomorrow. I tried to explain that I’d thought we’d arranged to go out together today; I’m not sure I understood his explanation, so I’m going to just let that one go. At any rate. I showed him the plant sample I got and asked him what was the name of the tree it was from. “Ah, es Madera Negro,” he said quickly. Then to my horror, he took the leaves and crumpled them in his hand—sniffing them and having me do the same so that I could recognize the scent. Of course, he didn’t really know about the toughness tester nor that I would not be able to use crumpled leaves for this, so its not his fault. At any rate, there were still plenty of un-crumpled leaves that I could test.

After I got home and had lunch with Bernardo, I set up the TT. Here’s a picture of me at work. (Rob’s “office” is in the background). Amidst the ants, mosquitoes, and setting tropical sun, all I could think of was the post-it note in outside S.L.’s office, on which he had scrawled “This is science.”

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Today was great. I followed an adult male all day and got some pretty good data. This particular male was rather distinctive. For those of you who have never observed howler monkeys: males have very large, very obvious testicles. The male I was following was missing one of his; I couldn’t help but name him Uno. All day long Uno was cavorting with an adult female who had pink spots on the soles of her feet. I called her Pink Lady. She had a young juvenile, and there was an older juvenile hanging around—presumably hers as well. They stayed in areas where Simeon had cut trails and the visibility was good, so I had no trouble staying with them all day.

When I got back from the forest, Rob was giving the little girl Ligia another English lesson. He was teaching her the numbers 1-20. She told us that she was practicing the words she learned yesterday with her friend Sonia. I’ll be she’s fluent by the time we leave.

Until later then.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

El Oso llega

Well, I did not go out into the forest today. All night long, I woke up every hour on the hour, alternately thinking either: “Yes, my eye is better; I can do this” or “No, my eye is no better; I have to stay in.” At 6:00 I finally got up, determined to go out in the forest. I started getting ready but quickly realized that my eye still did not feel good and finally made the executive decision that I was not going to the forest today. Immediately after I made this decision, it began thundering and pouring down rain. It continued pouring all morning—Rob and I got soaked when we ran up to the kitchen for breakfast.

I’d intended to spent the day doing something useful—entering data. But instead, I started reading a book that a tourist had left behind (The History of Love by Nicole Krauss—so far, one of the best books I’ve ever read) and before I knew it, it was 2pm. At that point I hurried up and tried to get some of my data entered.

Late this afternoon a little girl showed up for English lessons. She is the grand-daughter of one of the cooks who works here, and Rob not quite sure how this happened, but he thinks he may have somehow agreed to teach her to speak English. Rob was just getting ready to go on a bike ride, but he stopped everything and we both began to teach her some words in English. She's really sweet and really bright. After Rob left for his bike ride, she and I kept talking a while, and she was picking up the English words really fast. I really don't know the first thing about teaching someone to speak English, but I thought we'd just start with the basics, "Hello, What is your name, How are you, Please, Thank you" etc...

About that same time, Bernardo showed up. Yes, Bernardo, El Oso. My sometimes friend, sometimes “almost” friend—Bernardo. He’s doing his dissertation research on capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica, and he popped up here for a surprise visit. We celebrated his arrival with good Nicaraguan beer—the first drink I’ve had since leaving the US. I’ve included a photo below—Bernardo’s getting skinny!

My eye feels better, so tomorrow I plan to be back out into the forest. Simeon is going to come with me on Friday instead—he got a gig leading tourists up the volcano tomorrow, and the pay for that is pretty good. Since I didn’t get to collect data today, this new plan actually works out better for me. That's all for now; thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Walking into spiderwebs

We got 11.9 cm of rain last night. It stormed all night long, the power went out, and I did not sleep well. I kept wondering, if it doesn’t not stop storming, am I still supposed to go out to the forest? What would Pablo do? What would Martin do? Luckily I didn’t have to answer that question because the rain settled to a drizzle about 6am and then stopped entirely by the time I left the Hacienda.

It took me a long time to find the monkeys; the sky was gray and heavy with clouds and there was no howling. I followed a hunch and made my way over to the trail I have decided to call “Spondias Lane.” (Why give them boring names, like A-trail, B-trail?!) Sure enough, they were there, having a lovely breakfast of Spondias mombin fruit. I got some really great juvenile data. So far, I’d only had data on adult feeding behavior of Spondias fruit, but today I’ve finally got some juvenile data to compare. I also saw some interesting behaviors. For example, a juvenile picked itself a fruit and was getting ready to eat it, when all of a sudden its mom came by, grabbed the fruit, and ate it. Hmm, I guess she’s not going to win any mother of the year awards.

At some point during the monkeys’ breakfast, I walked into a spiderweb. Now, I walk through numerous spiderwebs everyday in the forest, but this one was about eye-level and it got all over my face and left eye. I was busy watching the monkeys, so I didn’t think much of it until my left eye started burning—suspiciously like my eye episode last week. It occurred to me that maybe my eye troubles weren’t from a plant or from wearing my contacts too long—maybe it was from walking into a spiderweb. At any rate, this episode did not seem nearly as severe as last week’s. Moreover, the whole thing actually made me laugh because I started thinking of the "No Doubt" song called “Walking into a spiderweb” or something like that, and remembering how that song used to be on the radio every day Junior year when Derek gave me a ride home from school. Fond memories of the Dunlap years.

When I came home from the forest this evening, I put in some of the eye drops the doctor had given me for my last episode. The thing is, each time I get stung or bitten or whatever by something out there—the next time it happens its not nearly as bad. So this eye thing is not great, but it isn’t nearly as bad as last time. I’m going to sleep on it see how it feels in the morning. If its not cleared up, I may not go out to the forest. Afterall, I’ve got to make sure I’m good to go on Thursday—my big day out with Simeon to collect leaves. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted. Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Monkey photos

I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling wretched, and thought I might not be able to make it out in the forest today. But I took some ibuprofin and powered through. The muchachas in the kitchen gave me tons and tons of fruit for breakfast and to take out into the forest. That made me happy even though I still didn’t feel too swell.

The monkeys were super spread out today. I found a female with an older juvenile, a female with a younger juvenile, and two males down pretty low on the camino where there is a Matapalo tree (ficus, or figs). I heard howling across the open field on the A trail, so I ended up going there, and that’s where all the action was. I followed a female with an Infant-2 all day and got some fairly decent feeding data. In the early afternoon, she took off—her baby riding on her back—and ate a ton of Chilamate figs (its another ficus species). I guess that was what she was hungry for. Then she slept for 3 long hours while I swatted mosquitoes and tried to find a good rock to sit on. Towards the end of the day she started moving again, and other monkeys materialized from their hidden sleeping places. I even saw good old Wrinkle Belly, so that made me happy.

I know several of you have requested photos of the monkeys, so I’ve included some here. Its actually pretty hard to get decent photos of howler monkeys—usually you are aiming the camera into the light, and the monkey turns out looking like a formless black blob. I did my best to get a few shots. The first is a female who is foraging and the second two are of a male foraging.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Around the other volcano

On Saturday I got some much-needed relaxation and a lovely breakfast of fruit, pancakes with honey, and good Nicaraguan coffee. After spending much of the morning washing clothes, I set up the toughness tester and examined some leaves. I’m not sure that I really got any useful data from this, but I did get practice using the machine and I also established a protocol for conducting the tests. I reviewed the Teaford et al (2006) paper, where they very clearly described their methods and provided a drawing of a leaf, labeling 6 different points where they made cuts. At first this had seemed infinitely complicated, but when I actually sat down with the machine and my leaves, I thought “Aha, I can do this!” So if I can figure out a way to actually get the samples, I am going to follow their protocol. In a geeky way, I am very excited about this.

On Sunday I also had a lovely breakfast (note: having a lovely breakfast is often all it takes to make my day), and after doing some work on the computer, I went out for a run. Its hard to believe, but the last time I went running was more than a month ago. I need to get myself back in the distance-running mode—my mind and body are definitely happiest when I am marathon-training. So I went running and it was great. I loved every second of it. I probably went too far, but no major damage was done... I don't think. I took it pretty easy—walking a lot when it felt like I needed to, or stopping to enjoy the views of the volcanoes and lake when it got especially pretty. At one point a guy on a motorcycle zipped past me and then stopped, looking back at me curiously like “What in the heck is this crazy gringa doing?” He asked me if I wanted a ride to wherever it was that I was going. I laughed and tried to explain that I did not need a ride. He still looked a little worried but wished me well and then was on his way.

Meanwhile, Rob was out for a bike ride that, in typical Rob fashion, turned out to be a really loooong bike ride. I had anticipated as much. He told me he was headed in the “direction of Altagracia” but wasn’t sure how far he was going to go—he said he’d just play it by ear. Just before he left, he told me not to wait for him to eat lunch because he would probably stop to eat something while he was out. Hmm, I thought. After I got back from running, I checked my email and he had sent me a message from an internet café in Moyogalpa—telling me that he’d eaten lunch and was going to go ahead and ride all the way around Volcán Concepción. Hmm, I thought again. He got home around 3:30, long before I was expecting him. He was fine and had had a good ride, but really the only thing he elaborated on was that he’d had a really good lunch in Moyogalpa—it involved cheese/vegetable sandwiches, pineapple juice, and a Snickers bar. Soooo, with his trip around Maderas last weekend and today’s ride around Concepción, he has now been around the whole island on bicycle.

And I’ve got some good news concerning my research. Simeon stopped by the Hacienda this evening and I talked with him about collecting leaves. He’s working in the fields most of the week, but he is free on Thursday and said he would come out and help me. That is great news. We can get some samples on Thursday and then I can use the toughness tester on Friday. Forgive me if I don’t post too much during the week—on days when I’m out in the forest I don’t have too much time to blog. But if anything interesting happens, I will do my best to update! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Finally, an update!

Scroll down for updates and a few photos! I’m resting this morning after a tough week and have finally had time to update the blog. Now that this is done, I’m going to use the toughness tester, do some laundry, and maybe even go running today. Or maybe I will just sleep :) Thanks for checking the blog, everyone.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Job Offer: Someone Who Can Throw

This morning the monkeys were right back in their usual place, and I had no problem finding them. I guess they were tired of Spondias fruit and had returned to eat their normal foods. Collecting the leaves proved to be more difficult than I’d imagined. I’ve got this little “chain-saw” thing that you’re supposed to be able to throw over a branch and then cut down some leaves. Sounds simple enough, but my throwing abilities are clearly lacking. Plus, you’ve got to swing the rope around quite a bit in order build up enough momentum to throw the thing up over a branch. This was simple enough when I was practicing on trees in the yard at the Hacienda, but in the forest, there is no place free of branches, brambles, thorns, etc to swing the rope. In the end, all I got was a bad blister on my hand and a sense of frustration. I cut down some Madroño leaves—by jumping up and breaking some off of a low branch—but testing these leaves is not going to tell me a whole lot. First of all, the monkeys did not eat these leaves today, and secondly, when they did eat these leaves, it was from much higher up on the tree crown. But I figure it will be good practice for using the tester and can maybe provide me with some baseline data. I guess I will really have to have someone come out with me every time I want to collect samples of what they’re eating. This is frustrating but not the end of the world. I ask myself, in this situation: What would Pablo do? Well, he’s good at throwing things, so he wouldn’t be having this trouble in the first place. But ignoring that, I’m sure that Pablo would hire someone to help with this. I guess I will have to see if Simeon or some of his friends are good at throwing things and want this type of job.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Jocote fruit

This morning my eye felt completely better. I am amazed at my quick recovery. I headed over to Simeon’s house; the plan was that he was going to cut a whole bunch of trails for me today. When I got there, I chatted with his family a bit and then we headed out. On the way, he told me that he had gone back and cut the trails yesterday afternoon. He’d gotten a few other guys to go out, and they’d worked until 6pm. So, either I didn’t understand our plan, or he knew that my puny arms weren’t going to be of much assistance in making the trails and he went ahead and got the job done without me.

It was a good thing he was with me; trails or no trails, I would never have found the monkeys on my own. The monkeys (including Wrinkle Belly) were way interior on the “north” forest patch, more than 500 meters away from where they had been the day before (this is a huge distance for a howler monkey). When we got there, we discovered why they had traveled so far. This part of the forest was thick with fruiting Jocote (Spondias mombin) trees, and the monkeys love it. Strangely, they eat pretty much only the unripe, or green, fruits…so I guess they’ve got to hit the tree at just the right time before all the fruits ripen.

After making sure that I would not get lost in this interior forest patch, Simeon left to go home and I spent the rest of the day watching the monkeys. It was great to get more data today. I had thought I’d either be laid up because of my eye or cutting trails with Simeon, so collecting more data today helped me feel a little less like the Worst Primatologist Ever. Tomorrow I’m hoping to collect some leaves so that I can use the Toughness Tester this weekend.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Four trips to the hospital in one month

My eye was no better this morning, but I thought I could make it. I met Simeon at his house, and much to my surprise, we encountered the monkeys when we’d barely even entered the forest. I’d never seen the monkeys come that low. When we found them, we were still walking through fields—just a sparse row of trees on either side of the path. I was incredulous that this was my group, but Simeon assured me that it was. His assertion was confirmed when, through my bleary eye, I squinted up into the trees and saw Wrinkle Belly. Wrinkle Belly is a fabulous specimen of a monkey. He must be ancient. He has no fur on his belly, so he’s just got pale, wrinkled skin—hence the name. He’s missing some of his teeth, and at least one of his canines is broken off. Wrinkle Belly is in the group that I usually study, so when I saw him, I knew this was the same group. I pointed him out to Simeon and we had a good laugh at poor old Wrinkle Belly.

Despite my joy at finding Wrinkle Belly and the numerous infants and juveniles of this group, I was having difficulty observing them. My eye was swollen up and hurt really bad, plus, looking up at the monkeys was making it water all the worse. Simeon said he had been surprised I showed up this morning; he said he had told his wife that he did not expect to see me because he thought I would be having too much trouble with my eye. He said that I should really go to the doctor because there were some kinds of plants in the forest that could be dangerous, and if I had brushed up against one of those, this would not get better on its own. His concern sufficiently freaked me out. He sagely advised me that although studying the monkeys was important, what was the most important was my vision, so we left the forest.

Much to my luck, Jorge—the Hacienda driver—was making a trip to Moyogalpa in the afternoon. I was scared to go through this by myself, so I asked Rob to come with me. I figured with him along, my Spanish comprehension would double. So after an hour and a half truck ride, Jorge dropped us of at the hospital while he went to go do his errands. I had to wait in a big room for a while, and then finally a nurse called me back to see the doctor. It was the same guy who had treated Rob when he was in for his dehydration/blood sugar episode. He briefly glanced at my eye as I described my symptoms, and he told me that it was an infection. He wrote me a prescription for antibiotic eyedrops, and before we left, he asked how Rob’s blood sugar was. I was glad he had brought this up, because it is a topic that has been foremost on my mind. We told him what it had been the last time we were in Moyogalpa, and he assured us that was normal. I am skeptical, but will hold off freaking out until Rob sees his real doctor at home next month.

Anywho, we went to a pharmacy and bought the eye drops. We ended up having about an hour and a half to wait around in Moyogalpa—we were picking up some people from the ferry, which had been delayed. We did a bit of shopping, and somehow, Jorge managed to pick up the package that our friend Dr. Y had sent for Rob. Amazingly, Dr. Y was able to send us a test kit so that Rob can monitor his blood sugar daily and we can get to the bottom of this issue. A million thanks to AK and BY for this.

I put in some of my eyedrops and hoped that this would be the one antibiotic I am not allergic to. Watching the sky darken as we headed home, I realized that we’ve been here for slightly over a month, and this is the fourth time we’ve been to the hospital in Moyogalpa. Hopefully during the next 11 months we are here, our rate of visiting the hospital drops significantly!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Worst Primatologist Ever?

So I had some trouble in the forest today. Mainly being, that I could not find the monkeys. There was a group very low on the camino, but I went passed it thinking, my monkeys never come this low… this can’t be them. But my monkeys were nowhere to be found in any of their usual places. More than once, it crossed my mind that I might just be the Worst Primatologist Ever. I tried to stop stressing about this and decided to explore the forest so I can get a better idea of the world the monkeys live in. I’d always meant to do a bit of exploration, so I guess today was the day for that. I climbed up the volcano for a while, seeing what I could see. Eventually I turned back around and decided to check all the usual places again, to see if the monkeys had shown up. Around this time, I began noticing that my right eye felt kind of funny. It was burning a bit; I thought maybe my contact was just a little dried out or something. I ignored it and went on, searching for my monkeys. Still they were nowhere. It was so hot and sunny—no wind or clouds—and there were no monkey noises anywhere. My eye was feeling worse, and it was beginning to water. Finally I decided that being in the forest was no good, since I couldn’t find the monkeys anyway. I collected some leaves and thought I’d go home and fiddle with the toughness tester in the afternoon so that the day wasn’t a complete waste.

On my way home, I stopped at Simeon’s to see if he could come out with me tomorrow. He used a machete to draw a map in the dirt, and I pointed to all the places where I had looked for monkeys. He pointed to a few other places where they might be, and he said he would go with me in the morning to find them. He also looked at my eye and asked me what was the matter. I brushed it off, assuring him that I was fine, but as I left his house and walked along the hot, sunlit road, I knew it was worse. By the time I got back to the Hacienda, my eye was almost swollen shut and tears were streaming down my cheek. Ileyan (one of the guys who works here, but I don’t know how to spell his name) and some of the muchachas from the kitchen saw me walk in and they came rushing over to see if I was alright. Ileyan took a look at my eye and said he thought it would be better in the morning. I agreed. “It will be better in the morning” is another Nicaraguan motto. Whether its the vortex, spider bites, bee stings, or pica-pica rash—its always better in the morning. I took my contacts out and popped a benedryl, hoping to sleep this off and have a better day tomorrow.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Around the Volcano

Rob announced that despite the pouring rain, he was planning on biking around the volcano today. (Amy: note, I am using the voice we reserve for reminiscing about the time we went around the cathedral to find our way back to our hostel in Rome). The Nicaragua guidebook said this bike ride would take approximately 6 hours. Alvaro (the field station manager) estimated more like 4 hours I think, and he cautioned Rob to walk the bike on the steep, slippery, rocky downhills. Rob was back home in less than 3 hours, having traversed the whole thing. And of course, he did not walk the bike on the downhills. I think the ride was something like 33 km, but the more impressive aspect of it was the elevation changes. He’s got the whole thing mapped out on the GPS, complete with elevation charts. Just ask him, if any are interested in seeing this. I’m including a picture of our volcano (Volcán Maderas), just to give you an idea of what it was he rode around. And also a picture of muddy Rob, as he finished the ride.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Excursion to Rivas, etc

Its been a while since I’ve had time to post. Monday was technically “Labor Day,” and Rob didn’t have to work, so we did some errands in Moyogalpa (on the island) and Rivas (on the mainland). Our first stop was Moyogalpa, to go back to the hospital and have Rob’s blood sugar retested. This test is supposed to be done in the morning, on an empty stomach, so our plan was to take the 4:00am (I believe that is called O’Dark Early) bus over to Moyogalpa, as the next bus wouldn’t put us in Moyogalpa until 11:30. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a plan. The plan fell through when the 4:00am bus rolled through at 3:38.

A new plan was created when I talked with Jairo (spelling?), who I think was on duty as the night guard. Jairo told us to take a 5:30am bus to the isthmus (a town called El Quino), and we could wait there for about a half an hour and then another bus would come by that we could take to Moyogalpa. We did this and it worked out great.

We got to Moyogalpa around 8am, and Rob had his blood sugar retested. At the moment, I can't get into this issue on the blog—I think it would push me over the edge of Freaking Out. Maybe some other day.

At any rate, we caught the 9am ferry—along with a bunch of other people and also a load of cattle being shipped to the mainland. That made for some interesting smells on the ferry. When we arrived in San Jorge, we had to take a taxi over to Rivas, which is pretty sizable town. We went to a bank and got some cordobas out of an ATM. Then we went into a few stores and got some things, we had lunch, and we wandered around town. I was feeling most pew and still a bit motion sick from the bus, ferry, and taxi, but I did my best to power through. After another foul-smelling ferry ride, we caught a bus from Moyogalpa to Mérida and called it a day.

I’ve spent the rest of the week out in the forest with the monkeys. Maybe I’m just entering Phase II of this whole dissertation fieldwork thing, but I’ve been feeling rather crummy about the kind of data I’m actually able to collect. I know Pablo says that primatology isn’t rocket science, but seriously—its harder than it looks. Its physically draining to be out in the heat, walking uphill over rocks, and powerless to stop the mosquitoes from sucking all my blood. And its frustrating when I’ve waited for hours for the monkeys to start feeding (the kind of data I need), and just when they do so, they disappear into thick canopy while I am scrambling after them through vines and thorns and spiders and who knows what else.

But I suppose it will all work out in the end. I just need to be patient and hang on and know that in the long run, I will end up with enough feeding data to make a dissertation out of this.

Thanks for reading. I’ll leave you with a picture we took of Ometepe Island while we were on the mainland waiting for the ferry, and another picture of Rob playing in some fountain in Moyogalpa—it’s a replica of the island.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The sea was rough that day, my friends

This afternoon Rob and I kayaked to the Río Istian, a river at the isthmus of the two volcanoes. It was a little bit over 4 km out there, and quite a challenge to someone with arms as scrawny as mine (see photo below). The river is supposed to be a good place to watch birds, and we’ve been told that monkeys can be found on the shores. I think the afternoon is not as good of a time to see wildlife. Certainly no monkeys and only a few different kinds of birds—none of them colorful tropical birds like I’d been hoping for.

After cruising down the river for a bit we turned around and headed for home. Despite my tired arms, I powered through and we were making pretty good time. Then the clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, and it began to storm. The waves got really rough and we were quickly being swept farther and farther from the shore. We hauled ass and drug the kayak up on the shore. At that point, we were so close to home that we could see the dock. Rob thought we should try to pull the kayak through the shallow, rocky shore during the rough section. It was easier said than done. The waves were so strong that once I actually got knocked over! When we finally got through the rough patch, we got back in and paddled for home. As soon as we got out of the kayak, the driving rain subsided and the sun began to come out again! Go figure. On the plus side, I was so chilled from the rain that the cold water from our shower actually felt kind of warm. All in all, it was another exciting Nicaraguan adventure!

Here are some photos. First a nice view of Volcan Maderas during an instant when the clouds were magically swept away.

Here is Volcán Concepción, with its typical cloud cover at the top.

Pasty gringa who needs to build up her biceps:

Paddling into the Río Istian:

Friday, September 01, 2006

Rob on the bike

Today when the monkeys disappeared into the jungle, I had a sense of where they were going. Instead of following them through the mass of tangled vines and thorns, I headed off to the A trail and met them there. Way down the A trail almost at the end of the forest patch, there are gobs of fruiting Spondias trees that the monkeys love right now. When the monkeys began going further into the forest patch, I gritted my teeth and wielded my machete, but to my surprise I found a dirt path inside the forest around this area. It was great—I had a place to walk and a rock to sit on while I watched the monkeys go about their business. I was a bit started when all of a sudden two dogs came running up the path. I think the dogs were even more startled to see me. A man and woman were close behind, and each of them was loaded down with piles of chopped wood strapped to their backs. Ah, deforestation. But I don’t really think that local people going into the forest to take enough wood for cooking is too much of a problem. The big logging companies that clear-cut vast tracts of land so that Americans can use the wood to build themselves houses in the ever-expanding urban sprawl of the suburbs is what I’m up against. But I digress. The people also seemed a bit startled to see a pasty gringa sitting on a rock in the middle of their path, but I smiled and said “Hola,” and—despite their heavy burdens—they both smiled and said Hola back.

This evening, Rob took a bike ride up towards Balgue, and I went for a walk into “town.” Rob met me on his way back, and I snapped a couple photos of him—included below. He was trying to convince me to let him give me a ride back to the Hacienda. It’s the Nicaraguan way. I’ve seen as many as four people precariously perched on one bike. Now, I love Rob and all, but I am not willing to balance myself on the frame of a cruddy mountain bike while he pedals up and down hills laced with jagged rocks. I walked back home, and he rode beside me, pedaling very slowing. When we arrived at the Hacienda, we realized that we had locked ourselves out of our room. Rob gave me a boost and I climbed in via a small open space at our bathroom ceiling. Blech. A lot of gecko poop and spiderwebs up there.

For the moment, I am fighting a losing battle against trying to not scratch my chigger bites. Maybe a Bendryl is in order. Tomorrow is Saturday, and I’m not going to the forest. I’m looking forward to sleeping until 7am and having real breakfast. Also, I hope this gives a chance for some of my bug bites to heal!