Saturday, March 31, 2007


In certain primates, females other than an infant’s mother sometimes interact with the infant—doing things like carrying it, grooming it, etc. They call this “aunting behavior,” and I have been doing quite a bit of this myself lately. After arriving in the US, I spent several days with my sister and 10-week old nephew, being Auntie M. It was the best job ever. And little Logan is one of the cutest babies I’ve ever seen—even when he is crying (note the photo below). Auntie M did a fair share of crying herself when it was time to leave. By the next time I am home, I’m afraid he will be too old to want to be held and cuddled, so I tried to just do plenty of that now.

Just a few more days in the US, then its back to the monkeys. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Of Prodigal Dogs and Monkeys

Here are some photos I took last week of Wrinkle Belly, that prodigal monkey who I thought had left me but has since returned.

Love the belly!

Sleeping WB

For contrast, here is a different male with all of his fur intact.

Tonight, my little dog Sally showed up at dinner for the first time since January. Usually when the stray dogs aren’t around for a while, that’s the end of the story. I hadn’t expected to see Sally again; then lo and behold, she showed up. I gave her some bread crust and petted her soft little head. Then I went and got my camera and she posed for a few shots. Sweet Sally.

Well, I’m going to assume that SL doesn’t read the blog and go ahead and say that I’m taking another little break from fieldwork. Tomorrow Rob and I are going to Managua and on Saturday we’re flying back to the US for a bit. I am extremely eager to meet my new nephew who was born in January and in general to have some respite from the jungle. So just in case SL is reading: no worries, I made sure I got all my March data (well, more or less) already, and I will be back in time to get all my April data and then some. Besides, Pablo always says do whatever it is you need to do both mentally and physically to get the project done. Seeing my family and friends every 4 months isn’t too much to ask, is it??

I’ll sign off with this photo of Volcan Maderas, my beloved Nicaraguan home. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fifth Time's a Charm

Rob and I decided to climb up to the waterfall in San Ramon again today. For me, it was the fifth time I’ve done it, and for Rob it was the third. Of course, we had to get to San Ramon first, which involved 3.8 km of biking roads like these: (actually only the first kilometer is this bad).

The hike up was not as hard as the volcano climb and quite lovely. Maybe about 2/3 of the way up, Rob and I encountered a group of capuchin monkeys. This pretty much made my day. I’ve never seen capuchins on my way to the waterfall before, so I guess the fifth time’s a charm.

Nothing will ever compare to the first time I saw the waterfall, but it is still beautiful each time I climb it:

After we finished the hike, Don Alberto (the cook at the Estación Biológica) made us super sweet lemonade (I think Alberto shows his love by the amount of sugar he adds to beverages).

It was a nice day, but I am thoroughly exhausted, so I will sign off for now. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ides of March

Thank you all so much for your comments on the last post! Basking in so much love and support really helped me get through this unfortunate bout with sea-sickness. However, the lingering effects of vertigo did take a few days to subside. We took the terrible boat trip on Saturday, and on Monday when I was out in the forest all day, I still felt horrible. I was not much better on Tuesday, and to make matters worse, I got a bee-sting on my bottom lip and was all swollen up. So I was in pretty rough shape. I don't know if I was still sea-sick or what, but I ended up throwing up all night long on Tuesday night. Dehydrated and groggy, I probably should have stayed in on Wednesday, but for some reason, I’d convinced myself that I needed to power through. The good news is that I think I’m finally over that. Strangely, it appears now that I have a cold. I have been sneezing and with a sore throat these past few days, and I am wondering how it is humanly possible to get a cold when it is nearly 100 degrees and bone dry every day. I took a few Airborne tablets that I brought from home and am trying to stay hydrated.

In other news, I have confirmed that Wrinkle Belly is indeed alive and well. Today he even had a girlfriend briefly. Its still been pretty hard to get a picture of him, but here’s the best I could do. WB is on the left, and his “girlfriend” is on the right.

I also got a really great close up of this juvenile, who was my focal animal of the day. His mom was Wrinkle Belly’s girlfriend, although yesterday she had been really interested in another male, so go figure.

And here is an infant, standing up on its mother’s back:

At some point while I was out in the forest today, I realized that it was the Ides of March, which made me remember reading Julius Caesar in sophomore English class, and those funny little dog cartoons Mrs. S (who we loved so much that we later called Mama S) drew to illustrate Shakespeare for us. (I have a lot of time for thinking and remembering things while I am out in the forest). Luckily, nothing dramatic happened today, it was just hot, hot, hot, hot. It is so unbelievably hot. It has always been hot in the forest, but now that we’re at the height of the dry season, the heat is out of this world. Between the hours of 8:30am and 4pm, I feel like I am literally boiling from the inside out. The monkeys remain motionless for a good 4-6 hours during the worst of it, and I just try to keep myself from going crazy. It is too hot to eat anything, it is too hot (and too thorny) to sit anywhere, it is even too hot to read. When I come home at the end of the day, it actually feels good to take a cold shower.

Tomorrow I am going to collect some ecological data on food availability (I do this every month); it should only take me about half the day. I am blissfully looking forward to sleeping in at least until sunrise and having a real breakfast. And I’m hoping that maybe a little extra sleep and some decent food will help me get over this “cold” or whatever it is. I will leave you with some pictures I took as I left the forest today. The monkeys had changed locations, so I went home a different way than usual. This route is a lot steeper than the normal path, but there are some really amazing views. Especially now with all the leaves off the trees, you can see for miles.

Here is Volcan Concepción:

And just a reminder, this is the volcano we climbed!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

We do it for the stories

First of all: Happy birthday, Frida!! Its today, isn't it??

Rob and I decided we needed to go get some money yesterday, so that we can settle our bill at the Hacienda. There have never been any banks on the island (most people wouldn’t use them anyway, since they barely have enough at a time for bus fare or to buy one cigarette), so we needed to go to the ATM in Rivas—the nearest town on the mainland. We left on the 8:30am bus to Moyogalpa, and from there took the 11:30am ferry over to the mainland. As we boarded the ferry, I realized I had not brought any Dramamine with me (a last minute parting gift from my mother-in-law, which has proven to be indispensable). I thought I would probably be okay. The worst of the windy season had passed, and I convinced myself that the lake looked fairly calm. Plus, the vast majority of times I have crossed Lake Nicaragua, I have done it without Dramamine. It hasn’t always been pretty, but I’ve made it.

The ferry ride over to the mainland wasn’t great, but I white-knuckled it and made it to the mainland in one piece. We then had to take a short taxi ride into town, where we made a mad dash to the ATM, and then headed back to dock. We needed to be sure to catch the 1:30 ferry back to Moyogalpa in order to catch the 2:30 bus to Mérida. Otherwise, the next bus did not leave until 4:30 and we wouldn’t get home until 7:00. So the whole trip was dash, dash, dash. We had even packed sandwiches to take with us, so that we wouldn’t have to stop for lunch.

After bus, ferry, and taxi, I was not feeling so great, and I was not looking forward to the final ferry ride back to the island. I’d eaten about half of my sandwich at some point during the trip and by that point I was really wishing that I had not. The time frame of our trip prevented us from taking the “big boat”—which provides a much smoother ride, but would not allow us to make the appropriate bus connections back home. We ended up taking the “Karen Maria” both ways—tiny, crowded, ridiculously rocking. This photo is not from today, it is from last January as we thanked our lucky stars that we were on the “big boat” instead of this one. But it’s the same general idea.

As soon as the Karen Maria launched, my stomach flipped upside down and turned inside out. I had to hang on to the seat with both hands to keep from flying off, and the waves were so high that they were coming in over the sides of the vessel and drenching me. Less than 5 minutes into the trip, I thought, I am never going to make it. I tried to steady myself. Oxygen is half the battle—I forced myself to take slow, steady breaths and avoid hyperventilating or crying hysterically. State of mind is the other half of the battle. Meditate constantly on positive thoughts and do not let the crazies set in. So I tried to think of happy things. Wrinkle Belly is alive! Beyond that, I couldn’t think of anything happy because of the gut-wrenching nausea. Instead, I could only think of my sister’s 9 wretched months of morning sickness (actually morning, noon, and night sickness) and the mind-numbing sea-sickness Cara endured on that fishing trip she went on a while back. I thought of my very first trip to Ometepe, when Professor Pablo threw up 3 times over the side of the boat. Ten minutes into the ride, I stopped trying to convince myself not the throw up: puking actually seemed like it would be welcome relief compared to this nausea that seemed like it would be the end of me. Besides, someday 10 years from now, it would make a funny story, and as Pablo has told me, we do this for the stories. We would be like, “Remember that time I threw up on the ferry? Ha ha, weren’t those the days, when we were young and carefree!” I thought, it won’t be that bad; I will just lift my head up and puke off the side of the boat, no one will be the wiser. But the boat was rocking so violently, I had visions of myself being tossed overboard. I thought, I need to tell Rob to hang onto me when I puke. But at that point, speaking was impossible. In my mind, I tried to sing the words of Amy Ray—the only thing that gotten me through the last 6 miles of so many marathons. But it didn’t work.

Suddenly I was up on my knees with my head over the side. Oh, the insanity. It was like looking into the eyes of my tormentor. The maddeningly violent waves slamming the boat from side to side, and up and down. Puking off the side was not going to be possible. Luckily, Rob anticipated this. He grabbed a filthy bucket full of trash and shoved it toward me just in the nick of time. Up came everything, but none of that blessed relief I had craved. For the remaining half hour of the boat ride, I hunched over the bucket, gripping it so tightly I am surprised my knuckles didn’t crack and bleed. Finally, mercifully, we reached land. Somehow I climbed up the ladder-like stairsteps to get myself off the boat. It was 2:45 but the 2:30 bus was still waiting for the ferry to arrive before departing. I told Rob, “I cannot get on this bus,” and he said, “Okay.” But I headed towards the bus anyway and climbed on, somehow just filled with the desire to get home and end this relentless travel.

The bumpy roads seemed almost smooth after the terror of the ferry. At some point during the trip, I heard Rob say “Uh oh,” and was able to raise my head enough to see the driver stop the bus and get off. Apparently a delivery truck full of glass bottles of beer and coca-cola had overturned up ahead and the driver had decided to get off and help clean up. Keep in mind, this is the same driver who stopped the bus one time for more than 20 minutes when we passed a town carnival—he had gotten off and had himself a drink and snack before returning to the bus and continuing with the route. Anyway, we’re still not really sure what the driver was doing at the scene of the over-turn. He appeared to load up one of those green crates with beer bottles, then he took the crate and brought it onto the bus without a word. Hmm. In the photo, the driver is the guy wearing the black cap, white shirt, and khaki pants.

At some point on the trip home, Rob told me, “I don’t know if this will make it better or worse, but as the bus was pulling out of Moyogalpa I saw a new sign, advertising that there is now an ATM machine in Moyogalpa.” An ATM on the island. Ohhh, the irony. All we could do was look at each other and laugh. If only we had known. There would have been no vomitous ferry ride back to the mainland. In fact, Rob would have probably just done the whole thing on a leisurely Saturday morning bike ride to Moyogalpa and back. “Well, at least we know for next time,” I said weakly. At any rate, it makes for a good story.

Thanks for reading. I’ve got to sign off and lay down because my head still hasn’t figured out that I’m off the boat. Until later then.

Friday, March 09, 2007


Or so I think.

On my way into the forest this morning, I came across the North Group. Even though I was scheduled to follow the South Group today, I wanted to at least check them out before proceeding southward. So I peered through my binoculars, and there he was: Wrinkle Belly.

I couldn’t believe it. He was just sitting calmly in a big tree—pale, hairless, wrinkled—like he hadn’t been missing for over a week. I rubbed my eyes and wiped off my binoculars on my shirt and looked up at him again. Could it really be him or were my eyes playing tricks on me?

The belly was definitely wrinkled, but I wanted to get a good look at his face to make sure. He started moving and it was really hard to see him clearly. I called out to him, but of course, he doesn’t know that his name is “Wrinkle Belly,” so he didn’t respond. It was him alright; it had to be him, I saw the belly. Its just that he seemed darker and not quite as scrawny as the last time I’d seen him. So maybe wherever he went, he found something good to eat.

I took a picture of him, but he is on the move so it didn’t turn out very well. I am still kind of in shock. He was missing for so many days! Where could he have gone? I searched the North Group thoroughly and he was nowhere; I was so sure that he was the monkey who had died. It was tough, but I forced myself to come to terms with that.

To say that I am overjoyed that he is alive would be an understatement! Its like a miracle. Part of me wonders if this morning when I saw him I was still sort of half-asleep and it was all a weird dream. Maybe I just really wanted to see him. I hope I’m not jumping the gun on this and next week end up writing something like, “I don’t know what I was talking about in that last post, Wrinkle Belly is nowhere to be seen.” But for the moment, let’s assume that he really is alive. It is fantastic news, but leaves me back to square one with the mystery of who died in the mango tree. As any new developments emerge, I will be sure to post updates.

After my WB sighting early in the morning, I went on to spend the rest of the day with the South group. I got a really good photo of Uno in the late afternoon. Well, he’s not smiling or anything, but it is a close up and its clear.

Thanks for reading, until later then.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Life goes on

Today it was time to move on to the South Group even though I really wanted to spend the day scouring the forest in search of my beloved Wrinkle Belly. I know in my heart that I will probably not find him again, but there is a small part of me that keeps hoping. At any rate, I stuck with the plan and collected data on the South Group. It was actually a really great day with them. I followed a juvenile who just ate and ate and ate and ate, so I got a lot of good feeding data. Plus, they dropped a lot of the things they were eating, so now I’m going to stay in tomorrow and use the toughness tester on some of their interesting foods. For some reason I had thought to bring my camera out with me and I got a couple of good shots. The first one is of a young juvenile (not my focal animal, but a cute guy nonetheless) and the second one is his/her mom. They were both eating some vines on a big Guanacaste tree.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Near as I can figure…

Thanks everyone for your posts. It was a loooong day and I am exhausted so will make this brief. When I got to the forest this morning, I discovered that the remains had been scavenged, so my quandary over whether to have a proper burial or preserve the skeleton for educational purposes turned out to be a moot point. After searching high and low all through the day, I did not encounter Wrinkle Belly. At this point, it really does seem to me that he is the monkey who died. Most of the North Group stayed in the vicinity of the mango tree—the scene of the crime. The group did split up a bit after their breakfast, and I searched each of the sub-groups thoroughly. I really think that if Wrinkle Belly were alive, I would have found him. What is interesting and also eerie is that the North Group is remaining in the area where he died. Everybody says that howler monkeys are dumb, but I really think they know.

It was a wretchedly hot day in the forest; I ran out of water and am sunburnt to a crisp. When I was on my way home, I saw Simeon for the first time in months. He was walking along the road, using a stick for a cane. He had been sick and had to have surgery in the hospital on the mainland, but he is doing better now. It will be about another month before he can go up into the forest again though. He laughed because he told me he’d heard that Rob and I climbed the volcano and how much trouble we’d had, and how we were so sore afterwards that we didn’t leave the Hacienda for a week. Well, I guess news travels fast in a small town. He asked me how Wrinkle Belly was, and fighting back tears, I told him. He said, maybe Wrinkle Belly would show up yet. And if not, we both agreed that Wrinkle Belly was an old monkey, who’d lived many years and had a good life. Well, I don’t know if he had a good life, but I certainly hope so. Of course, what I really hope is that he turns up yet. It just occurred to me how much Wrinkle Belly loved unripe mangos, so if the mango tree is where he met his end, then at least he’d had a good last meal.

Tomorrow I’ve got to stay in to use the TT, but if I find anything else out when I am back in the forest, I will be sure to post. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Colonel Mustard, in the mango tree, with the candlestick...

**WARNING: Although I have tried to keep this post toned down, it may still be unsuitable for some readers!**

It didn't seem worth mentioning (not like anything else in the last post was either) but when I left the forest on Thursday night, I smelled something awful. There were a lot of crows and vultures in the area, plus a thick line of ants all swarming in the same direction. Though it was dusk already, I followed my nose and the ants. Something was dead in the forest, I was just hoping that it wasn't a howler. Even more, I was hoping it wasn't Wrinkle Belly, who had been strangely absent from the North group all day.

I didn't find anything and headed home, not thinking much of it. On Friday I had to make a phone call to the Nicaraguan ministry of the environment (long story, maybe another time) so I did not go out to the forest. Saturday morning I was back out and found monkeys on the camino (its what I call the main path up into the forest). Both the north and south group were together-- although quite spread out-- near where I'd smelled the stench (about which I had since forgotten) on Thursday. I followed my focal animal into the mango tree at C6 and watched her forage. All of a sudden I looked down and saw tufts of howler fur on the forest floor. Most was the short black fur that covers the majority of their bodies, but some was the long reddish-amber fur that they have on their sides. I noticed the stench again, and within a few moments I found the body. I won't go into the gory details: let it suffice to say that there was enough of it there for me to know it was a howler, but not enough for me to identify the individual or even its sex.

I felt sick and I still do. My big fear, of course, is that its Wrinkle Belly. The individual was adult-sized, though its possible that it may have been a sub-adult: this age is supposedly when they face the greatest risk of mortality, either from aggression or starvation, as they strike out on their own and try to enter a new group. A few weeks ago, I actually saw a sub-adult male get violently chased out of the North group, and I've been wondering what happened to him. But still. It could be any monkey. The location is a place where both groups go, so I don't even know which group he/she is from. I don't know the cause of death either. It could have been a violent ending (Colonel Mustard! In the mango tree! With the candle stick!), but it may not have been. Lately I've been thinking that the monkeys seem awfully scrawny; maybe they just aren't getting enough to eat and for this one at least, it couldn't go on any longer.

The shrewd part of me is thinking that I need to preserve the skeleton and find some way to bring it back so we can use it as a teaching specimen at the University. But even if I could do that (I can't even imagine how many governmental ministries I'd need to deal with), I'm not sure if I should. Somehow, having a proper burial and singing "Danny Boy" might be more appropriate (Cara, remember when you sang at the funeral for my tadpoles?).

All things considered, I am mainly just concerned that it was poor old Wrinkle Belly. I am writing while out in the forest with the North group and have not seen him all day. Granted, the group has sub-divided (there are only 7 monkeys here-- less than half the group). I don't know where the others are, so I keep hoping that he's with them and will eventually turn up. I will post any new developments as they occur.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Back in the Forest Again...

Thanks to all for your posts, emails, etc., in the wake of the volcano climb. Recovery has not been as rapid as I'd hoped. For 4 solid days, both Rob and I were barely able to move! My legs felt like they were made out of wood and lacked joints. Putting any amount of weight on them was excruciating. The single stair-step into the dining area became an impossible task. Lying down was uncomfortable because my shoulders, arms, and back hurt so much from hoisting myself up the mountain. Sitting wasn't so great either, on account of the bruise on the back of my leg from one of the times I fell. Even after a couple of days, Rob and I didn't really seem to be getting better. I couldn't figure out what was the matter with us! We're not that out of shape, are we? Rob said he didn't think we were out of shape, that the problem is merely that we're old. If that is the case, then I'm glad we didn't wait any longer to do this climb.

At any rate, I was determined not to let this residual pain from the volcano hike impact my March data collection schedule. So I gingerly made my way out to the forest this morning and found the monkeys. I am with them now, writing this in a desperate attempt to stave off boredom during what is going on a 7 hour rest bout. Seriously, I know howlers are boring, but this is beyond boring. My focal animal has moved all of 10m since daybreak, and he/she (its a Juv, so can't be sure of the sex) has only eaten a few bites of food. I had hoped they wouldn't be too rambunctious today, since my legs aren't up to par, but this...this is a little over the top. Martin warned me that the howlers do this excessive resting in the "summer" when its so hot and dry. That they eat in the morning while its still dark out and then they rest until the sun starts to set again. Ugh... its going to be a long summer.

Earlier in the day, I found a semi-shaded rock to sit on while I watched my focal animal rest. Unfortunately, when a nearby female decided to relieve herself, her stream ricocheted off a branch of leaves and it rained down on me. Luckily I scampered out of the line of fire before too much damage was done. Monkey pee is just another occupational hazard, I guess.

Hopefully the monkeys will start to do something interesting soon. I would think they would be getting hungry. In the meantime, I'm just trying to remind myself of one of Prof. Pablo's nuggets of wisdom: "The monkeys are just doing what the monkeys are supposed to be doing."

Thanks for reading, until later then.