Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Home sweet Nicaragua

Mon 30 Oct 2006

We’ve made it back home to Nicaragua. Scroll waaaay down for updates and photos of our Costa Rica trip!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Costa Rican Excursion Part 4: Return to Ometepe

(Monday 30 October 2006)
We left Liberia on a 7am bus and we were at the border by 8:30. Much to my surprise, we walked right back through with no problem. Apparently being in Costa Rica without an entry stamp isn’t a big deal. Maybe its because the Costa Rican immigration office at the border is not labeled as such and lots of people walk right by without knowing they are supposed to go to in there. But at least now Rob and I know where it is, so the next time I need to head out of the country, we will at least do it right. After getting our “Salida de Costa Rica” stamps, we crossed right through and got “Entrada” to Nicaragua stamps. I’ve checked my passport about a million times, to verify that I’ve been granted another 90 days in Nicaragua (this was the sole purpose of the trip to Costa Rica). Everything looks good, and I’m legal in this country for another 3 months.

The whole trip from Liberia to Ometepe took about 8 hours, involving 6 buses, 1 taxi, the ferry, and a half a Dramamine for me. But we made it back in one piece and I am happy to be home again in Ometepe. I saw Simeon at dinner and he told me that the whole time I was gone, he could hear the monkeys howling, “Melissa, donde estas?” Hopefully they will wait for me and be right where I can find them on Wednesday when I head back out into the forest again!

Thanks for reading this ultra-long story of our Costa Rica excursion!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Costa Rica Excursion Part 3: Playa Hermosa

(Saturday 28 October 2006-Sunday 29 October 2006)
We took an hour-long bus ride from Liberia to a beach called Playa Hermosa. We found a hospedaje right on the beach and then headed out to enjoy the ocean and the sand. I don’t think Rob quite understands my obsession with the ocean—how I could have spent days or weeks there just trying to soak it up. I know I live on a volcanic island in the middle of a lake that looks like an ocean, but still—nothing can compare to the green, gray, blue, and gold of the real thing. Despite being sunburned and waterlogged, I wasn’t ready to leave on Sunday afternoon. I consoled myself by planning other beach trips to take in the future.

We headed back to Liberia on Sunday night and got ready for our departure from Costa Rica the next morning. The hospedaje we stayed at had a TV, and Rob was pleasantly surprised that a 3-hour “Maratón de los Simpson” (Simpons Marathon) was on that night. By this point, I had almost gotten used to the Northamerican-ness of Costa Rica, and I wondered if heading back home to Nicaragua would require a period of readjustment all over again. More than that, I was dreading the trip back for fear that we would be detained or thrown in jail or have a huge fine to pay for our passport anomaly. Luckily, I was so tired from our action-packed trip that I could not lay awake all night worrying.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Costa Rica Excursion Part 2: Rincón de la Vieja

(Friday 27 October 2006)
We were at the park by 8am, ready for a full day of hiking around the forests on the Rincón de la Vieja volcano. The first hike we did was supposed to be a 5km, 4-hour round trip hike to a waterfall. The forest here seemed so different from the forests on Ometepe—the trees were much taller and I didn’t see any of the scrappy vines and shrubs characteristic of the secondary growth on Ometepe. The highlight of this hike was all the wildlife. Much to my amazement, we saw wild spider monkeys right on the trail. Just a bit farther away we encountered a whole troop of wild capuchin monkeys foraging.

I wasn’t as excited about the boa curled up on the rocks we were trying to use to cross a stream, but it was still pretty cool. Not too long after our boa-sighting, I saw a large, furry, black-spotted shape dart across the path in front of us and disappear into the foliage beyond. Could it have been… a jaguar??!! I know they have these in Costa Rica, but sighting one would be quite rare. The body of this animal had been pale—almost white—not the yellowish-orange that I would associate with jaguars. Later at the ranger station, I tried to describe this animal and they told me that it probably was a jaguar. I’m still a little doubtful of that though; after looking through a bunch of pictures, I wonder if it might have be an ocelot instead. If anyone out there is an expert on big cats of Costa Rica, let me know what you think! Here's a photo of the path near where we saw the mystery cat:

At any rate, we eventually made it to the waterfall. It was pale blue amidst the green forest, and there was a crystal clear pool to swim in. We climbed over the rocks to get in for a swim, and after cooling off in the pool, we headed back on the trail.

Our next hike was much shorter and easier—a sort of self-guided tour through various regions of volcanic activity on the mountain. We saw bubbling hot springs, boiling mud, “volcancitos”—or “baby volcanoes,” and more troops of capuchin monkeys.

It was a long day of 6 or 7 hours of hiking; we were both thoroughly tired by the time we made it back to Liberia. We ate dinner and then tried to recoup for our next Costa Rican adventure.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Costa Rica Excursion Part 1: Back in the USA?

(Thurs Oct 26)
We took the bus from Mérida to Moyogalpa on Thursday morning and then hopped the ferry on over to Rivas. Instead of buying tickets for Friday’s TicaBus, Rob reasoned that it would quicker and about the same price to just take a taxi to the border and go across today. I was a little apprehensive because all the guidebooks say that the border is chaotic and disorganized, so it is best to go over on a TicaBus (rather than on your own) because they take care of everything for you. Nonetheless, we decided to chance it. The border was in fact chaotic and disorganized—the biggest problem was that there was no one to tell you where to go or what to do besides small children who clung to you, asking for money. Amidst this, we managed to get ourselves to the right building and get our exit stamps for Nicaragua. As we were wondering where to go next, an ambiguously gendered border-child swooped in to show us the way. She (he?) led us across the border, all the while offering tidbits of advice on where to stay and what to do while in Costa Rica. The child pointed us in the direction of buses that would take us to Liberia (the first major town across the border) and bid us safe and happy travels. Bewildered, Rob and I kept walking for what seemed like kilometers—through mud and past about a million semi-trucks headed into Nicaragua. Eventually we came to a confusing conglomoration of people who were standing in the middle of nowhere and appeared to be waiting for buses. We stood there for a minute trying to get our bearings, and before we knew it, we found ourselves hurtled onto an air-conditioned charter bus bound for San José that would let us off at Liberia.

By this point, I had reached a state of panic because after going through all of the posts at the border, no one had ever stamped our passports with entry stamps to Costa Rica. All we had were the exit stamps from Nicaragua—nothing showing that we’d legally entered Costa Rica. I kept thinking that we must have missed a post somewhere during that long walk through the mud and semi-trucks. Rob was unconcerned—reasoning that if we had needed another stamp, we would have been stopped, plus our ambiguously-gendered border child had assured us that after leaving her/him, all we needed to do was get on a bus. I was unconvinced. The guidebooks seemed to indicate that the border is so confusing, and without going through on a TicaBus, you’re liable to leave out a step. Plus, the books said that crossing the border could be quite time consuming—taking up to 6 hours, with something like 1-3 being the norm. We’d walked through in about 15 minutes, most of that time being spent with us standing there wondering what to do.

In about an hour, we reached Liberia and got off the bus. It was so different from Nicaragua that it seemed I had stepped into an entirely different planet. In fact, it looked just like the US. There were actual paved streets (not dirt roads covered in cow manure), cars, gas stations, restaurants, buildings, houses. The bus let us off at a corner that had a Burger King and Papa John’s. Rob voted that since it was about 3pm and we hadn’t really eaten since breakfast, we should get some lunch. As I sat there waiting for food that I didn’t even want and feeling certain that we would both end up in federal prison for our passport infringements, I looked out at the traffic and felt vaguely like I was in Texas or something. I hated it. It was too overwhelming; all I wanted was to be back in green, green Ometepe, with the volcanoes and lake and monkeys.

We made our way to a hospedaje and got a room for the night. The place we chose offered daytrips to the nearby Rincón de la Vieja National Park—a place I really wanted to see. We booked our tickets to the park the next day and then headed out to a nearby supermarket to get provisions for the trip. Though still worried about the passport issue, I decided I might as well live it up in Costa Rica—especially if I was going to end up in prison afterwards.

El Cumple de Beto

They did indeed make a cake last night-- chocolate even! Here's a picture of Rob with his birthday cake. And now we're off to Costa Rica!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Home sweet home

Rob and I have arrived back to Mérida safely. When we got here, the girls had cleaned up our room and put fresh flowers on the bed! How sweet of them!

Word is there is going to be a birthday cake for Rob tonight, and then we’re planning on heading to Costa Rica either tomorrow or Friday—for the purposes of my visa. We will be sure to take lots of pictures if we do any site-seeing.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Monkey Island photos

Today I ended up kayaking out to the monkey islands today with Tax’a (ie, Anastasia), her husband, and my new friend Pablo. These islands are little tiny snippets of land where some monkeys that were formerly pets have been released. There is no real food for them on the islands, so they have to be provisioned every day. So, much like The Expedition that Rob and Bernardo undertook some time ago, we all went out today with food for the monkeys.

I got some fairly good shots of the spider monkeys.

Here's a blurry picture of a capuchin mother carrying and infant on her back:

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Odds and Ends

I’ve added some updates from the past few days, so scroll down if you want to read them. Today I had big plans to sleep in, but it wasn’t even 4:45 when I woke up and felt wide awake. Why is it on days when I’m going out to the forest I want nothing more but to continue sleeping at that time? At any rate, I finally realized that I wasn’t going back to sleep, so I picked up my book The Bean Trees (I was about halfway through) and didn’t put it down until I finished. I think it was just about the best book I’ve ever read. Seriously, everyone, read it. Jodi had suggested Barbara Kingsolver, and I found this book of hers in a used bookstore before I left. I am now wanting to read anything and everything else she has written. The Bean Trees was seriously one of those books where at times you laugh out loud and at times you cry your eyes out. It was so real and so exquisitely well-written. I think I may read it again.

My other big plan for the day was to get caught up on laundry. A couple of days ago I realized that the first ingredient in my bar of laundry soap was “grasa animale.” I don’t see how washing my clothes with animal fat can get them clean; in fact it would seem that that would make them more dirty. So I’ve been dreading doing my laundry ever since I realized that’s what they make soap out of here. Knowing this now, even the smell of the soap makes me feel kind of sick. I’m not sure that I have a vegetarian option for laundry soap in Nicaragua, but I will see what I can find.

The highlight of the today was when I used Skype to call Nana and Grampy’s this afternoon. They were having a family get-together for Rob’s birthday (its next week). We had some connection problems at first—I could hear them talking, but they couldn’t hear me. This strengthens one of my Nicaraguan mottos: “First thing, always say I love you.” Last time when I was in Nicaragua, I got to use a phone once to talk to Rob, but we got cut off before I told him I loved him, and I felt edgy for the rest of the trip. Anyway, I eventually got the call through today and talked to everyone. I can just picture them at Nana and Grampy’s house—all the trees outside in their marvelous autumn colors and all the delicious food around the table. I’ve got a list of things I miss about home, and get-togethers at Nana and Grampy’s is definitely on it.

In other news, I am pleased because it looks like I may have company for my trip to Managua on Monday. I’m a little sketchy of the details, but Esther, one of the girls who works at the Hacienda, is also going to Managua and I’m pretty sure she said that we could go together. It will be great to have company for the trip, and also having her there will ensure that I get on the right bus and everything.

That’s all for now, until later.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Mystery of Piper

It turns out that there is a Nicaraguan plant biology student named Pablo who is staying here, and he wanted to come out to the forest with me today. So for the second day in a row, I had company. While we were walking to the forest, Pablo was telling me that he studies at a university in France, because there are no PhD programs in Nicaragua. Or something like that. So he learned how to speak French and went to Montpellier. I guess he really wanted to get his PhD. At any rate, we tried speaking French to each other, but I discovered that I do not really speak French anymore. Whenever I tried to begin a sentence in French, I would end it in Spanish. So we spoke in mainly Spanish for the day, with a few French words thrown in here and there.

I felt quite empowered, to be leading the way through the forest—machete in hand—for a Nicaraguan guy. Although later in the day—I don’t’ know if it was machismo or chivalry or just plain getting tired of my inferior machete skills—Pablo said something to the effect of “allow me,” and he took the machete and went on ahead. At any rate, I found South group monkeys with no problem, and the day proved to be quite interesting. Pablo identified a lot of plants and trees for me, and I learned a lot about the forest. At one point, Pablo pulled some leaves off a sapling and ate them, then offered them to me. He told me this was a young Spondias tree, and if I ate the leaves, I would understand why the monkeys like this tree. He was right. The Spondias leaves were great. I tucked some into my sandwich for later.

(Here is a photo of Spondias leaves and fruits. Its not too interesting, but its the only thing I've taken a picture of recently)

He also explained the mystery of Piper to me. This is a kind of plant that grows often in secondary forests and it has a strong scent sort of like licorice (I hate licorice, so I don’t know why I like this scent). At any rate, I’ve heard reports that capuchin monkeys will break off Piper leaves and rub it all over their bodies. People have thus speculated that it has some medicinal quality, perhaps as an insect repellent. I’ve tried this myself, but I haven’t really been able to determine. So I asked Pablo, and he said that Piper is not a repellant, but that it is used to soothe insect bites. I tried it and who’s to say if it really works, but at least I smelled nice.

On our way out of the forest we passed some type of fruiting tree (I think it was called Guayabo), and after I expressed some interest, Pablo cut down some fruits and we ate some. The fruit was very good—sort of like a lime but sweet. I think I have some juice that they make out of this at the Hacienda.

It seems like it has been a long week—a long month even—out in the forest. My whole body feels tired and while walking I have the sensation that I am underwater; I’ve had this feeling before, after running marathons, so I guess this means I’m definitely ready for a break. I’ll be resting for a couple of days and then heading to the airport to meet Rob. Not before another fiesta in Mérida this weekend though! Until later then.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Anastasia, bless her heart, was up bright and early to go with me to the forest. Although I’d had dreams all night long that I couldn’t find the monkeys, we found the North group without too much trouble. Everything seemed to be going well: we were up on Spondias Lane, Wrinkle Belly was there, and I felt like I was getting fairly good data on a non-lactating female. I felt a little bit sketchy about this particular female; at first she appeared to be a little bit apart from the group, but she had a “novio”—that is, a boyfriend. The two of them had mated a couple of times and were kind of hanging out by themselves. The female looked young, and I began to wonder if she wasn’t actually part of the group—if she was a young adult who had dispersed from her natal group and was shadowing this group, trying to join it. I was much relieved when she and her novio joined the others to eat Spondias fruit, and afterwards, they rested in a tree with several other monkeys.

Then all of a sudden, this female began moving, and before I knew it I was at the barbed wire fence where I had once encountered the mysterious North-West group. She crossed the fence. She continued traveling along a very thin corridor of trees (surrounded on both sides by fields), and there I was, with the North-West group. It turns out this group is pretty small—only 6 individuals total. But still, the mystery remains. Were Wrinkle Belly’s group and the North-West group together all day and then they suddenly separated at some moment? Or had this female left her own group to seek out her novio (actually, several novios) in the Wrinkle Belly group? There were two males in the North-West group, and they both seemed interested in her as well. I guess for this particular female, there was no shortage of novios today.

I’m not sure how useful the days’ data were, if I wasn’t even observing a female from the right group. But it was interesting nonetheless. Maybe Martin and I can write a paper together now. Tomorrow I’m planning on spending the day with the South Group, so we’ll see how that goes.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Yesterday, a Guatemalan woman named Anastasia who is staying here told me that she had dreamed of corn tortillas like she used to eat at home. I guess she told the cooks about it, because they made some tortillas for her, and she was so happy. She told me (at least I think she told me) that if you have a dream about a certain kind of food, that means you will soon be eating it. I considered asking her what it means when you dream that your teeth are falling out, because that is the dream I always have.

Last night I had a dream that I was at home—at home long ago, at my parents’ house in Dunlap. My mom had bought blueberries and strawberries and vanilla soymilk and cereal—all the things I love to eat. But the fruit was not so good at this time of year, and the soymilk wasn’t my favorite kind. So I kept busying myself in the kitchen, finding other things to do besides eat breakfast, because I guess I wanted my favorite familiar cereal and soymilk so badly that I couldn’t bring myself to eat something that wasn’t quite the same. In real life, I had pineapple for breakfast in the forest while I watched the monkeys rest.

Anastasia is coming out with me to watch the monkeys tomorrow. She told me that she loves monkeys and being in nature, and she is very excited to spend a day in the forest. She is definitely more excited than I am to be getting up at 5am and trudging up the volcano, but maybe that’s because I’ve been doing it for 2 months already. Hopefully the monkeys do not disappoint her! Until later then.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fiesta Patronales de Mérida

I wrapped up what seemed to be a really good week with the North Group on Saturday and prepared to relax a little bit yesterday and today. This weekend was the town festival of Mérida. Apparently, Francisco is the patron saint of Mérida, and the festival corresponds with his recent birthday. There was a rodeo and a big dance party on Sunday night. I went over to the rodeo to check it out. It was amazing how this little town transformed itself for the festival. There were many tents set up with people selling food and drinks, and there was a makeshift area for the staging of the rodeo. They had constructed a viewing area—a rickety wooden platform with no back, that was shaded with palm fronds. It cost 10 cordobas (a little more than 50 cents) to view the rodeo, so I paid my entry fee and went up. The platform was hot and crowded, and it was difficult to see much. I stood up there for about an hour and a half, thinking that I was watching them “practice” for the real thing. There appeared to be a bunch of wiry men milling about on horses, and every once and a while, a bull would briefly enter the pen. A couple of times, someone would attempt to ride one of the bulls for a few seconds. The whole thing seemed to be quite disorganized. There were 2 speakers, each blaring different music, and there was also a “band” playing (2 trombones, a trumpet, a snare drum and cymbals), so the musical cacophony added to the confusion. Finally, I looked at my watch and saw it was 5pm—that meant it would be dark in about 20 minutes and this had been the real thing. Having had enough, I edged my way off the platform and walked back home.

In the evening, I had been planning on going over to the fiesta with Alejandra (an Argentinean girl who is working here for a while—not to be confused with the other Alejandra from Chile who was left Ometepe about a month ago) and the girls who work in the kitchen. We got all prepared to go around 9pm, and then it started raining and the power went out. Daraysi announced that if there was no electricity, there would be no fiesta, so we all sat around waiting. Eventually, the power came back on and rain let up enough so that we could go. Walking on the dirt road into town, we were up to our ankles in water at times. This made the jagged rocks all the more slippery—a factor which proved to be quite difficult for Daraysi, who had chosen to wear high heels to the fiesta.

We finally arrived and entered the makeshift discotech (which was the same place where the rodeo was held earlier in the day). It was a strange mix of the rural and urban. We were dancing in the mud under a roof made partially of tin, partially of palm fronds. But there were several disco balls, a strobe light and a sound system blasting music that could probably be heard all the way up the volcano. At the party, we met up with some of the other girls from the kitchen, and we all danced around in a little circle. It was a lot of fun; Nicaraguans sure like to dance.

There was also a sort of beauty pageant during the night. The contestants were vying for the role of the Queen of Mérida. They came out onto the “stage,” wearing rodeo-type clothing, and sort of pranced around. Then they each gave a little introduction about themselves, and I was surprised to learn at how young they were. The one girl who seemed to be the most glamorous said she was only 13!

A little while later, Alejandra tired of dancing, so she and I decided to walk home while the others stayed. I don’t have photos of any of these festivities because I didn’t want to stick out like a picture-taking tourist, so hopefully these descriptions will suffice. Tomorrow I’m going back out to try to find the South group and get a few more days of data with Uno and his pals this month. Until later then.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Better Days

For those who are wondering how I’ve been faring, my various mystery ailments have healed and the past couple of days have been much better. I’ve watched the North Group for 2 days. There’s a whole nother batch of fruiting Spondias trees up on Spondias Lane, so that’s where they’ve been spending their time. I think there is another group up there (perhaps the North-North Group I may have run into a while back); today I am pretty sure I witnessed an intergroup encounter. For a moment, this situation caused me great confusion and made me wonder whether every time I’ve been up on Spondias Lane if I’ve actually been with the mysterious North-North group, which I did not intend to be part of my study. I started looking around for familiar monkey-faces and saw good old Wrinkle Belly, so all was well. Wrinkle Belly’s presence assured me that not only does the North Group go up there, but that I stayed with them during the intergroup encounter. Plus, seeing Wrinkle Belly always gives me a laugh.

I also collected some Madero negro leaves that they dropped while feeding this morning. I changed my plans and came home early to use the Toughness Tester. Much to my extreme relief, my values for these leaves were consistent and totally in line with the published data. So, it does seem that we have found a fix for the problem. It is still possible that there is something else wrong with the electronics box (long story, I can test for that later), but at this point I am going to stop worrying about it and just proceed.

Its been a long day, but I feel like I’m actually doing what I came here to do—which is a good feeling. I still miss Rob and am a bit envious that he is hanging out with our friends and probably watching The Office right now, but I’ll see him again in 11 days and I’m sure I’ll get caught up on The Office at some point. Its almost dinnertime, so I’ll sign off for now. Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Occupational Hazards

A while back, Simeon and I were discussing machetes as we were walking out of the forest together. He asked me where I got mine, and I said that I got it in the US before we left. I made some comment about how it was actually a bit difficult to find a machete in the US, since not many people have them. He seemed perplexed. “People in the US do not have machetes?” he wondered. “Well, then, what do they use?” Obviously, life in the US is difficult for Nicaraguans to imagine!

At any rate, I’ve been keeping busy since Rob is gone. I went out into the forest on Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday I was all proud of myself because I went and found the North Group, which was strangely silent, even though it was tempting to head straight for the South Group, which was making a lot of noise. The day was fairly decent, though towards the end, there was some confusion as I think I got mixed up in an encounter with a different group—the North-North Group or something like that. They appeared to be going off into a thin corridor of trees along an abandoned field. I wanted to see where they went, and as I was trying to squeeze myself through a barbed wire fence, a bug flew into my ear. That wouldn’t have been a huge deal, except that the bug seemed to be stuck. The bug was freaking out, so it started buzzing and flapping around. That was incredibly painful. So I start screaming and trying to get it out, at which point, I impaled my pant leg on the barbed wire. There I am, with a buzzing flapping insect in my ear, impaled on barbed wire, screaming bloody murder, and all I can think of is that this thing is going to burst my eardrum. Its amazing how in a few seconds your mind can process so much. I became intently aware how far up the volcano I was (and hence, how long it would take me to get down) and also how long it would take to get to the hospital if I was even able to drag myself back to the Hacienda. Then, just like that, the bug found its way out. I untangled myself from the barbed wire and stood there panting a moment. That’s when I decided to call it a day. On my way down the volcano, I tripped and fell—landing on my “bad” hip (the same hip that prevented me from running the Chicago Marathon in 2002).

I was all set to go out and find the North Group again today, but when I woke up, my eye was all red, swollen, and watery again. Another eye infection. I do recall walking through several spiderwebs yesterday, but everything had seemed fine. I guess the extended-wear contacts in a tropical climate are not the best idea. I might have tried to go out anyway, despite my compromised vision, but there were several other strikes against me. I have a Mystery Sting on my left hand, which now is a bit swollen, plus my hip hurts more than I want to admit. Hopefully a little bit of rest will get me back to normal in no time. Until later then.

Friday, October 06, 2006

October Fools

October always does this to me. Its full of a thousand joys and sorrows, its the epitome of bittersweet. Everything good or bad always begins in October. In fact, was nine years ago that Rob and I met and decided to give “us” a try on what we now call October Fools Day (October 1st).

I’ve had a really wretched week, there’s no other way to put it. The problems with the toughness tester went from bad to worse, and I went from nervous to catatonic. It became clear that I could no longer pretend my data were kind of okay… there was no consistency to my results and they differed dramatically from what had previously been published on the same tree species. I just didn’t know if it was something I was doing wrong, if there was something wrong with the machine, or how this would ever get resolved. Rob spent many, many hours trying to help me, and at long last, he thought he figured out what the problem was. There seemed to be some kind of error in communication between the electronics box and computer.

Barth and P.L. have been fantastic throughout this whole ordeal. I don’t know either of them all that well, but we exchanged numerous long emails describing the problem and trying to figure out what to do about it. It turns out Rob and I were pretty much correct in our estimation of the problem. At the moment at least, it doesn’t seem like I have to send it back to Hong Kong. There are ways to work around this communication failure; its not ideal, but my data will still be useable. With the quick fix in place, I re-did a bunch of samples from the same tree species and got values much more in line with what had been published. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I did a different species that was published in the same paper, and had some of the same problems as before. So I still don’t really know if there is something more substantially wrong with the machine, if I will have to change my dissertation topic, if I have spent over a year making myself and everyone around me a wreck over this thing only to have it amount to nothing more than a big empty waste.

October thus far seems desperate rather than sweet or even bitter. The rains have begun again, leaving me drenched in the forest. At night, there is barely time for my things to dry for the next day. The time has switched, so the sun comes up around 5:15 instead of 6:15. I don’t think I’ve gotten more than about 5 hours of sleep since this month began.

What tops this all off is that Rob left today to go back to the states. I have been dreading this more than anything. I could not have gotten through this whole ordeal with the TT without him. For starters, I don’t know the first thing about complicated electronic equipment and computer programming, so I never would have figured out what the problem was. Beyond that, I needed to hear him telling me that it was going to be alright—otherwise I couldn’t stop replaying worse and worse scenarios.

This morning after one last hug and kiss, I watched him get in the truck with Jorge and drive away in a cloud of dust. The girls from the kitchen knew I was crying; they looked at me with sad, knowing eyes and encouraging smiles. I came back to the room, alone, and tried to avoid looking at the big black case that contains the toughness tester. I cried for about 5 minutes, and then I felt better. I did laundry; I made friends with an Argentinean girl; I fixed some lunch, and I decided that I am going to scrape myself together and try to go out to the forest tomorrow. I think maybe the dread of Rob leaving was worse than actually being here alone.

Thanks for reading, and until later then.