Continued from Part 1.
Simeon came out again with me again on Sunday (I think he skipped church for this), and I had high hopes of collecting data on two groups. As I walked to his house in the dark, I could hear monkeys howling loudly from every direction. Typically this means it's going to rain. Although I didn’t look forward to a rainy day in the forest, rain would be a very good thing for the island because they were going through a pretty severe drought. The sendero up to the monkeys should have been a river at this time of year, but it was parched. I’d only seen one of the red/yellow spiders that are usually everywhere from June to October (Simeon told me these spiders are so poisonous that one bite will kill you, then he laughed and said, “Mentira!”). There weren’t even a lot of mosquitoes.
It turned out we only got a light shower early in the morning. During the rain, Simeon found the group we were looking for, and we stayed with them for a few hours until I got enough samples.
Then we went down the volcano a little bit to try to find the North Group, which was (let’s be honest) my favorite study group during the year I did my dissertation research. Simeon and I reminisced about Wrinkle Belly (who hasn’t been seen since 2007), and we found the group right along the camino just as we knew we would. They were having an intergroup encounter with some other group (who I suspect swept in from a distant grove of mango trees), and they were pooping like crazy. Score. The forest began to make sense to me again, and we got our samples. By 10am (after 5 hours of work), we had collected data on two groups. Because it was a Sunday and we were exhausted and finally making some good progress, I decided we should call it a day.
When I got back to the hacienda, they told me that Rob and Will had just left for Ojo de Agua with some of our friends.
It would probably be late in the day when they returned by bus. For a split second, I thought, great: I will eat lunch, wash some clothes, and sleep. But then I had a better idea: I will run over to Ojo de Agua (it was what… 12, 15 km away?) and meet them there. This might be my only chance to run while in Nicaragua.
I put about 50 ounces of water and some Clif Bars in my pack and took off, in the heat of the day. It didn’t bother me much, because the views were amazing.
View of Concepción
Playa Santo Domingo
When I finally arrived at Ojo de Agua, Rob said, “Oh my god, what happened to your legs?” I looked down and saw I had dozens and dozens of bug bites covering my calves from knee to ankle. I realized this must have happened while I was washing clothes on Saturday. I often get one or two of these bites (chiggers maybe?) while doing laundry, but I’d never had anything like this before. All of a sudden I didn’t feel so great. I jumped into pool and the water helped a lot.
I’d put myself into the red zone quite a bit during the last few kilometers to Ojo de Agua, and although I’d drank about 100 ounces of water throughout the day, I’d only eaten less than 200 calories. We went over to the restaurant and ordered the only meatless thing on the menu: french fries. Rob also found me some real, actual coconut water, which was both weird and great.
The 4:00pm bus came at 3:42, but luckily we caught it.
I was so hungry I was about to cry, but dinner options were limited.
My legs got really inflamed during the night, and they itched so bad I felt like I was going to lose my mind. I honestly wasn’t sure if I could make it to the forest in the morning, but I’d already arranged it with Simeon, and I needed the data.
We went to the Beach Forest—a little patch along the road where we’d heard monkeys the day before. It is pretty dense in there, and we had trouble finding the monkeys, but eventually Simeon did.
As we watched the monkeys and waited for them to do their business, Simeon’s phone rang. He got the news that his cousin had fallen from a tree and was gravely injured. The family needed money to get him to a hospital, fast. Simeon didn’t want to leave me alone in the forest and seemed torn about what to do. But seriously. He was the only family member with money, and he needed to go. I handed him the rest of what I owed him and assured him I would be fine on my own. He said he would come back as soon as they got a car for his cousin.
After Simeon left, I passed the time by counting the chigger bites on my legs and torso. I lost count at 100 and didn’t really feel like starting over again.
At last the monkeys pooped, and I managed to get the samples I needed.
I took one last parting glance at the monkeys, packed up my stuff, and began to tunnel out of the forest. I hadn’t really expected Simeon to return but he did. We met just as the forest gave way to road.
By this point, Simeon and I had collected data on 7 groups (5 had been our target), and I had close to the maximum amount of samples I could ship back to the US under the current permit situation. As far as I was concerned, this project was over. I probably could have done a better job with it, but I was in desperate need of food and sleep and in searing discomfort from the 100+ chigger bites covering my legs. This was it.
There would be thunder and lightening, but only a few drops of rain.
And then, sunset.
I went back to the hacienda and slept. And slept and slept. Waking up only to scratch my legs into burning, blistered, and horrifically swollen little infernos.
The next morning, I did not go out to the forest. I ate breakfast (gallo pinto and fruit) and took Will to kindergarden.
Then I went back to sleep. I think Rob woke me up to eat something for lunch. And then I went back to sleep again.
Before I knew it, the sun was setting, and I was still lying in the hammock.
After a non-nutritive dinner of over-boiled white pasta drenched in oil, I decided I was done with Mérida. I think my collaborators would have liked it if I went back out to get more data, but I just couldn’t face it. My legs felt terrible, I was jagged-skinny from lack of eating, and above all, I was exhausted. I decided that we were going to go back to Moyogalpa the next morning on the 8:30am bus (the only reliable bus of the day). The eating situation was unlikely to improve there (I’ve never had much luck with food in Moyogalpa), but if I was too messed up to go back out to the forest, I just felt like I’d rather be in the “city” than on this side of the island.
We packed up our stuff and got ready to leave the next morning. There was some confusion as to where and when the 8:30 bus would be coming (it arrived closer to 9), so this was a welcome sight when it finally appeared down the road.
At last, Moyogalpa.
We got a room at Hotelito Aly, a place where I’ve had many uncomfortable nights (the power often goes out in Moyogalpa, so you’re in a 90 degree room without a fan), but is somehow still my favorite place to stay. Then we did the gringo thing and got a hummus sandwich at the gringo place, Cornerhouse. It came with a salad that included some dark leafy greens. That was nice.
Rob tried to work for the rest of the afternoon, while Will and I went to a museum (it was kind of in somebody’s backyard; seriously, we had to walk past a bunch of women doing laundry at a wash basin). The museum mainly had a lot of pre-Columbian funerary urns and things like that. Then I bought Will a clay bird (that is also a little flute) at a shop in town.
View of Moyogalpa from Hotelito Aly, Volcan Concepción obscured by clouds
I had a Victoria at dinner that night, but I didn’t feel too victorious. Also: how did I used to like this stuff? I guess once you’ve had Rocky Mountain IPA, nothing else can quite compare.
We took the ferry back to the mainland the next morning and then a taxi to Managua. I still had to do two big things for the project, which were: 1) ship the samples back to the US -and- 2) fill out some paperwork at the ministry of the environment. I was really nervous about both of these things, so I made Rob and Will come with me. It ended up fine, I think.
Running errands in Managua. This is the Pan-American highway.
There was a Subway restaurant at the airport across from the hotel (my how times have changed since I first started going to Nicaragua), and even though I hate Subway, it was the closest thing we could get to fresh vegetables. We ate it for 4 meals in a row out of desperation.
Running across the Pan-American highway with Subway sandwiches for dinner.
I also got a text from Eduardo, who told me he was sorry that he hadn’t come back to go to the Cascada with me. He was sick. I didn’t know what that meant— like a cold? Or like something really serious? I hoped the former. I was glad I got to see him for a little while, though sad that was all it ended up being.
The next day, I managed to connect with Leda, who lives in Managua with her husband now. It took them 2 hours and numerous bus changes all within the city, but they came for a visit.
After Leda and her husband left (it would be another 2 hour bus ride for them to get back to where they lived), Will and Rob and I went to the hotel pool.
Nica Libre = rum + coke + lime
More french fries. And by this point, I could totally see how ketchup qualifies as a “vegetable."
We woke up before 5am the next morning to catch our plane. On the second leg of our journey (Houston to Denver), there was some bad weather. The Denver airport ended up closing down due to severe thunderstorms, and we were diverted to Colorado Springs, where we sat on the tarmac for over 2 hours and then had to refuel. We finally arrived in Denver about 4.5 hours late, then had to take a shuttle bus to our car, and then drive about an hour home. It was after 11pm when we arrived. What a day.
I’ve been out of the jungle for about a week now, and the jagged-skinny has gone away (yay, food!), but the exhaustion has not. My legs are getting better too; the swelling has gone down and the itching is much more bearable. At this point, I’m pretty sure I’ll survive. This trip took a lot out of me, but I am so, so glad that I had the chance to do it, and I am so thankful that Rob and Will could come along. I am also grateful to Simeon for coming out to the forest with me everyday; none of the data collection would have been possible without him.
I’d like to go back to Nicaragua again soon, whenever we have the chance. But maybe next time we could go to one of those fancy resorts on the beach in Santo Domingo. I hear they’ve got a vegetarian restaurant there.
Thanks for reading.