Friday, February 24, 2012

Nicaragua (Part 5)

Continued from Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4


Rob told me that he'd hit a rough patch while climbing the volcano and navigating the passage through the crater.  He got his second wind during the descent, which is pretty amazing, because the thing about rough patches is that you very rarely recover from them.

On his way back down the volcano, Rob saw two Nicaraguan kids up near the top.  They clapped for him and called him by name, and they told him that Simeón was climbing up the Mérida side to look for him.  Sure enough, Rob encountered Simeón on the path a little while later.  "¡Rob! ¿Como estas?" Simeón said.

Knowing that Simeón was up there on the volcano looking for Rob-- that means more than just about anything in the world to me.

William and I rode in the van back to Moyogalpa with the runners.  We sat up in front with the driver, while the runners sat in the back and shared their war stories.  Eventually William turned 3 circles in my lap like a puppy dog and fell into an exhausted sleep.  I looked out the window at Maderas fading into the distance and bawled the entire way.


This was the volcano Rob climbed at the end of the race

We stayed at Hospedaje Central again in Moyogalpa, and we randomly met up with Joël and Carla again for dinner.  I had a bottle of much needed Victoria.


Rob was exhausted, as you might imagine, and after we finished eating we went back to the hotel where he immediately went to bed.  The hotel was right across the street from a discoteca, and by 7pm, brain-jarring regaetton was blaring into our room.  The music was so loud that I swear the walls were shaking.  I put in earplugs, but it didn't help at all.  Rob and Will were both able to sleep through it, but the only thing I could do was intensely meditate so that I didn't lose my mind.  Finally, at 1am, the music stopped.  I think I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep that night.

We decided that instead of trying to go someplace like Granada or Masaya, we would stay another day in Moyogalpa. There was a 5K for the children of the island in the morning (Calzado Ometepe Kids Run), and we went to see it.  Hundreds of kids were streaming across the finish line when we got there.  I swear, every kid on the island must have done the race.  And I don't blame them.  Each participant received his/her own pair of running shoes, a finisher's t-shirt, and a sandwich and drink at the end.  I became stupidly emotional and started bawling.



Rob and I rode a bus back to Charco Verde for a post-race luncheon and talked with some more of the Fuego y Agua participants.  Will would not eat, but the scenery was beautiful.


Will found a small piece of playground equipment.


We stayed at a place called Hotelito Aly that night (Sunday 2/19), and Rob remarked that I wouldn't shut up about how great it was.  Really, I was just glad that there wasn't a discoteca next door.  Plus, we had a nice view.


The next day (Monday 2/20) was our last day in Nicaragua.  My primary goal was to locate and purchase a bottle of rum for my boss (in hopes that it would persuade him to let me do this again next year) before we took the ferry back to the mainland.  Luckily, it is farily easy to come by Flor de Caña pretty much anywhere in Nicaragua, even at 8 in the morning.

We also found a mini supermercado that had gelatina fresa (strawberry jello) for Will.  Reyna had made some while we were in Merida and Will had actually eaten about 2 bites of it, which I think was the most he ate during our entire trip.



And then it was time to get on the 9am ferry.



As you might imagine, I bawled all the way.

When we got to the mainland, we paid roughly 3/4 of a million dollars to take a taxi to Managua.  I just didn't feel like waiting for a bus, riding 3 hours, and then getting off at the utter chaos of Huembes with our 4 pieces of luggage and a child.


Don't tell the baby police that this is how my child road in a Nicaraguan taxi

We checked in at the hotel in Managua, and 2 of us ate lunch (Rob and me).  I actually did get Will to eat a small piece of platano frito. At least that was something.

We went swimming in the hotel pool, and Will had the time of his life.


We all went to sleep in a big king size bed that night, except somehow, Will took up so much space that there was barely any room for Rob and me.  Then we woke up early the next morning and it was time to go home.

It still doesn't feel right to call St. Louis home.

Have you ever gotten on a plane and felt like you were headed somewhere that you really weren't supposed to be going?  That's how I felt.

In a strange way, though, there are certain things about St. Louis that remind me of Nicaragua.  It has something to do with serendipity.  In Nicaragua, things just happen, without planning for them.  Like when I was trying to figure out how to find Eduardo and he just showed up at the field station right before my eyes.  Or when Simeón climbed up the volcano to watch over Rob during the race.  Or how Reyna was there to look after Will while I ran out to El Porvenir.  This kind of thing happens in St. Louis sometimes too.

When our plane pulled into Lambert and we were coasting along the runway, I was thinking about how we had very little food in the house and I was wondering when on earth I would find time to go to the grocery store during the week.  There were mountains of laundry from our trip, I needed to submit the howler book chapter, I would have to resume my marathon training.  Oh yes, and I work full time.

And then I got a text message from NeighborGood Foods-- the produce delivery service I signed up for several months back.  Are you guys back in town, J asked.  He ended up with a surplus of produce from last week's delivery and wanted to know if he could bring a box by for us.  Yes! I replied,Our plane just landed!

Within 10 minutes of arriving at our house, J came over with a box full of wonderful things-- lettuce, tatsoi, potatoes, onions, local organic peanut butter, fresh baked bread, carrots, apples, and oranges.

I can't quite find the words to explain it, but an unexpected box of produce made me feel like Nicaragua was a little less far away.


Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nicaragua (Part 4)

Continued from Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.


The 50K race that Rob was running involved approximately 20 miles on the road from Moyogalpa to El Porvenir and then hiking up and down Volcan Maderas (4000 ft elevation).  My plan for race morning was to leave the Hacienda by 5:30am and run out to El Porvenir, which was only about 7 or 8 km from Mérida.  That way I could see Rob right before he began to climb the volcano.



Course map from Fuego y Agua

William was not pleased when I roused him from bed shortly after 5am and took him up to the kitchen.  I kissed him and handed him over to Al himself, hoping that Will would go back to sleep until the nannies arrived.

I took off down the road.  It was light enough to see, but the sun had not yet risen.  Rob would have been running now for an hour and a half already, using a headlamp to light his way.  It was harder than I remembered, to run along the volcanic road.  Rocks are everywhere-- you have to watch each and every step.  I got into a rhythm after a while and it felt good.  I was carrying a Clif bar and banana in case Rob needed these things, a bottle of water, my phone, and a camera.

I had plenty of time to make it to Porvenir, so I stopped to take a few photos once it was light enough.


Sandanista support is strong throughout the region


If Concepción starts erupting, head towards Maderas


The bus coming from Tichina, heading to Altagracia



I arrived at Porvenir just before 6:30, and a few minutes later the first runner came through.  It was a Nicaraguan guy named Johnson.  He won the race last year.  He didn't even slow down as he turned to head up the volcano.



A few other runners came through, and at about 6:50, I caught site of Rob approaching.  He was the 6th person to arrive.


Rob is on the left. Is he with Benjamin here?  (The winner of the 100k?)

He looked strong and seemed to be in good spirits.  I had been expecting him to just give me a wave as he kept right on running up the volcano, but instead, he halted to a walk and asked me if I wanted to come with him for a while.  I did.

I asked him if he wanted the banana or the Clif bar I had brought with me, also expecting him to decline both of these things (I always bring food for him during races, but he never needs it).  He eyed the banana for a second and said he thought he would try it.  I handed it over, very glad that I had bought these bananas from Clara yesterday and that I had brought one of them with me.  He started eating the banana and said it tasted very good (it is true, Clara's bananas were delicious).


"Oh, so that's what I look like eating a banana," Rob said afterwards, when he saw this photo.

As we walked up the path, he told me that there was a section on the course where the markers had gotten blown away and he and another runner had gone down the wrong path for a while.  He didn't seem too upset about it though, he just seemed very calm and tranquilo.  Happy, even.

We got up to the Porvenir aid station and he sat down in a chair.  He was having a sock issue that had started causing a blister to form.  At least 3 volunteers hovered around him, putting ointment and bandaids over the area.  I was uneasy about the ground he still had left to cover with a raw toe (that was only likely to get worse), but he said he thought it was going to be okay.



He got some food, water, and energy drink and then retreived his drop bag, which had his trekking poles in it.  He moved quickly but did not seem to be in a hurry.  I had thought maybe he would just grab a drink and then take off barreling up the mountain, so I was really proud of him for making sure he had what he needed and that he was running a smart race.  An extra few minutes of rest at the aid station might save him an hour up on the mountain.  You never want to push it too early in a race like this because the time you bank always ends up being time you lose.


When he was ready to leave, he gave me a hug and kiss and then turned to head up the mountain.  He looked strong, and I felt very confident for him.  It was right at 7am, and I thought, he'll be done by 11am or noon unless he runs into difficulty on the volcano.


I stayed at the aid station for a couple minutes, talking with a really nice runner named Matt, from Utah.  He had a little video camera with him and he was so excited to be here that he was filming everything.  I wished Matt well and then headed back down to the road.  I met several runners coming up, and I cheered for them.  I actually wished I could stay up there for a while and keep cheering on runners, but I knew that I needed to get back to Will.

I took off towards the field station in Mérida and arrived by 8am.  Siméon was there and I gave him a full report of how Rob was doing.  When I told him that I had run a little bit up the volcano with Rob, he threw his head back and laughed.

I had been worried about Will, but he was completely oblivious to me.  He was too busy rifling through Itzel's toy box to even give me a second glance. "He never stopped running," Reyna told me in Spanish, looking a little bit tired.  She'd been taking care of Itzel and William since she arrived around 6am.  "He did not eat anything," she added, which was not much of a surprise to me.  Reyna seemed very concerned about Will's refusal to eat breakfast.  I don't think most Nicaraguan children turn down food when it is offered to them; they have to eat when they can.

I quickly showered and then came back out to order some gallo pinto, hoping that I could entice Will to eat some of that. I realized how hungry I was too-- I'd been up since before 5am and run 14-15km without even thinking about eating anything.  When my breakfast arrived, I guess the women in the kitchen had decided to spruce it up a little bit.  Instead of being just a plate of rice and beans, they also included a heaping mound of scrambled eggs cooked with onions and peppers, and some fresh baked bread.

I've been más o menos vegan since 2008, and I generally find eggs to be repugnant, but I thought, you know what?  I am going to eat these eggs.  They probably came from the hens freely ranging about the yard, or maybe Al bought them from the Mennonite man (with the Nicaraguan wife) who used to ride his bike along the road-- selling eggs out of the crate strapped to the back of the bike.  So I ate those eggs, and they were delicious.  Not like the sad eggs you can buy in the supermarket here.

Unfortunately, Will would not share the eggs or the gallo pinto with me.  I couldn't get him to eat even one bite of food.  People are always telling me, "Oh, kids won't let themselves starve to death. They'll eat when they're hungry."  But I don't think these people have ever met any kids who were hyperemesis babies.  How Will survives on what little he eats is a mystery to me.

After I gave up trying to get Will to eat something, Eduardo showed up at the field station on his bike.  I hadn't been expecting him and I was so glad to see him.  We talked some more, and he gave me a necklace that he said he had bought for me in Santo Domingo.  "Es torquesa," he said proudly.  I gave him a hug as my eyes filled with tears.

He said that he was happy here but he reiterated again how much he wants to come to the US.  I told him that I would do whatever I could to help him (and I really mean that).  I told him that he must stay in school and keep studying English, and he nodded, giving me a sad little smile like he knew that.  But I also knew that staying in school wasn't necessarily his choice--when he was 13 and sent to go work in the plantain fields, I doubt that was really what he wanted to do.

He was interested in the race (and even said he wished he could run it next year!) and asked me when I expected Rob to finish.  I said by 11 or 12 if he stayed strong.  Eduardo told me that he had to go but he would return at that time to wait with me for Rob.  I hugged him, and he rode away on his bike.  He didn't come back-- maybe because he hadn't understood what time I told him, or maybe because there was something else he ended up having to do-- but I did not seem him again.

William was frantic and tired by this point (having been up since 5am), but he refused to nap.  I tried to swing him in a hammock beside the finish line, but he didn't fall asleep.  Finally I had this boy Darwin (who works at the field station and is the same age as Eduardo) help me get Will strapped into the Ergo on my back.  Will struggled a little bit, but eventually he at least rested his eyes for a half an hour or so.


In the hammock with non-sleeping William.  You can see the turquoise necklace Eduardo gave me.



The winner of the 50K had finished before 9:30am-- it was the Nicaraguan guy (Johnson) who I had seen way out in the lead at El Porvenir.  Johnson stayed around for a little bit and then took off to go running again-- just for fun.  I was glad that a Nicaraguan won the race.  He's from the island, but I'm not sure where.


By about 11am, I knew I needed to stay by the finish line and be alert for Rob to appear at any moment.  I started talking to a woman named Amy (or Aimee?) whose husband was doing the 100K.

11 o'clock came and went.  By this time at least 9 runners had come in (though some where heading back out to finish the 100K), so I knew that Rob must have fallen behind a little.  I wasn't terribly concerned yet, but still, talking to Amy helped keep me calm.

I lost count of the number of runners who came in.  Things were starting to look bad.  It was fast approaching noon, which I realized was my cut-off point for when to begin real, actual worrying.

At 11:55, he finished.


He was on his two feet; I saw no blood or visibly broken bones.  But he seemed a little bit disoriented and honestly, looked about as beat up as I've ever seen him in any race he's done.


I was a little bit overwhelmed: I was texting my mom, my aunt, Rob's parents, while also trying to take pictures, Tweet, and Facebook.  Not to mention keeping track of Will, who had since wriggled out of the Ergo and was running around the field station.  When Will saw Rob come across the finish line, he shouted, YOU DID IT, ROB!


Rob didn't want anything to eat, and he didn't seem to be able to say much.  Finally what he managed to tell me was, "I survived.  It was intense."

I was a little bit concerned that a trip to the Moyogalpa hospital for an IV was on our horizon, but eventually, Rob was able to eat some platanos with salt, and he seemed to start feeling a little better.  Then, just like that, the shuttle was ready to take us back to Moyogalpa, and I had to gather up William and rush to catch it.  There was no time to say goodbye to anybody.  But maybe it was better that way, to just disappear without any of the crying that surely would have resulted if we'd been able to drag this out.  I've never been good at saying goodbye anyway.


Continue to Part 5


Nicaragua (Part 3)

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2


William enjoyed his first experience of seeing wild howler monkeys during our trip to Nicaragua, but I am not sure he actually saw much because they were so far up in the trees.



He got bored with them much more quickly than I did and had Rob take him back to play with Itzel.



William refused to take a bath the entire time we were in Nicaragua.  Actually, taking a bath was not really an option for him, as there was only a cold-water shower.  We tried to get him into the shower, but he would not have it.  There was a lot of screaming.  He was so dirty.  He invented a game with his new BFF Itzel (Al and Esther's daughter) which involved picking up rocks off the ground and throwing them.  When Itzel tired of that and left to do something else, Will contented himself by literally playing in the dirt.


Will's general level of dirtiness did not seem to hamper him from making new friends.  One of the best parts about this trip was the way I saw Will interacting with other kids.  He wasn't shy at all.  He would just go up to any kid he saw and start playing with them.  The language barrier did not deter him.  He also made friends with adults, teenagers, and really anyone of any age.  He took a special liking to Ruth, one of the nannies to Al and Esther's kids.



I had a touch of the Vortex overnight on Thursday (Feb 16) and early Friday (Feb 17) morning, which I maintain is not because I drank tap water in either Moyogalpa or Mérida.  Luckily no one else got it, and I made a full recovery by about 8:00am.

Rob left on the 8:30am bus to head back to Moyogalpa on Friday (the 17th).  The race was to start on Saturday morning at 4am in Moyogalpa, and it finished in Mérida, so Will and I were going to stay and wait for him there.

I was a bit desperate to get Will cleaned up, so I convinced him (actually, this didn't take much convincing) to go for a swim in Lake Nicaragua.  Not quite a bath, but perhaps the next best thing.  The water was frigid, but Will loved it, and I figured that at this time of day there was very little risk of a shark attack.


Forget about the sharks and swim

After Rob left to go back to Moyogalpa, Will and I walked into "town."  He had some trouble stumbling over the many rocks along the road, and he fell a couple of times.  We stopped to take some pictures.


The road into town


Nicaraguan house


Primary school


Waiting for a jugo de toronja at Soda Keren


Nicaraguan house

On the way back we stopped at Clara and Jehu's  house to say hello.  They have a fruit stand and I bought some bananas from them.  Will had finally gone long enough without eating that he actually sat there and took a few bites of banana.  I took some pictures, and the best part of this is that Clara was not actually cooking at the time, she just grabbed the spoon to have in her hand as a prop right before I snapped the photo.





One of their children had a "Sully" stuffed animal-- a character from the movie Monsters Inc.  This is a movie that Will is really into right now.  He wanted that toy.  The kids were very happy to let him play with it. Will even relinquished his grip on the Lightening McQueen car (that he carries everywhere with him) and let them play with it while he admired Sully.


Unfortunately, when I felt it was time to leave, Will was not ready to let go of Sully.  He threw a monster fit, right there in the dirt.  He wanted Sully so bad.  The kids actually offered to let him have the toy. I said, no no no no.  William has many things, he does not need to take this toy.  They offered to trade Sully for McQueen, or to let Will take the toy and return it later in the afternoon.  I knew that Will would never give Sully up once the toy was in his possession, and that he would likely come to miss Lightening once he noticed it was missing.  So I declined these offers and said goodbye, forcibly dragging Will back to the Hacienda as he hollared and wailed for Sully.

I unsuccesfully tried to get Will to eat some more food and take a nap.  Then later in the afternoon I rode with Al and Esther and their children and nannies to Charco Verde, where there was a pre-race dinner for the ultramarathon runners.  I got to see Rob again and I also saw Joel (the French-Canadian English teacher back when we lived here), who was going to be running the 25K.  We met Carla, his girlfriend.


Carla, Joel, Rob, Esther

I headed back to Mérida with Al and Esther that night, and Rob returned to Moyogalpa, to get precious little sleep before the race began at 4am the next morning.


Continue to Part 4

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nicaragua (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

On Thursday morning (Feb 16), there were howler monkeys in the big Chilamate tree that overhangs Lake Nicaragua.  From 2007, I remembered that howlers came there for a few weeks in March; it was quite convenient that they arrived a little bit early this year so that I could see them without even having to leave the Hacienda and hike into the forest.  I spent a couple of hours out there watching them.  I didn't recognize any of the monkeys-- they were not from any of the groups that I studied while I lived there.  I counted 7 monkeys total (2 males, 4 females, 1 infant), which is small for an Alouatta palliata group.  I wanted to see where they went at the end of the day-- surely the crossed the road and went back up into the forest-- but I missed it when they left, so I don't know where they went.  I decided not to go up to my study site to look for my groups.  I had not brought binoculars with me, so it would be difficult to find them.  Plus, I was told that the gringos who bought land and built a hotel up there now charge tourists to walk through.  I'm not sure if that is true or not, but I didn't feel like talking to them.  And with a toddler to look after, I really didn't have the time to go all the way up there anyway.


By the late afternoon I was becoming a little frantic about finding Eduardo.  I had told myself not to stress out about it; I would wait to look for him until after Rob left to go back to Moyogalpa and I was on my own.  But I started panicking about what if I wasn't able to find him.  I couldn't even remember for sure which one was his house.  I went to ask one of the Hacienda staff about him, and she told me that he didn't live in Merida anymore.  "No, no," I assured her.  "He told me that he lives here with his mother.  I just can't remember which one is his house.  Is it the one right next to the school?"  This seemed to jog her memory.  She told me that Eduardo's family did not live there anymore, but they lived nearby.  She seemed to sense that this was going to be difficult for me to understand in Spanish, so she got a scrap of paper and began drawing me a little map to his house.  But then she looked up and stopped, saying, "Look, he is here".

And there he was, 16 and all grown up, walking towards me with the setting sun and the lake at his back.  I could barely see him from the glare.  I'd begun to wonder if I would recognize him after so much time had passed, but I would know Eduardo anywhere.  He stayed gold.

I hugged him and kissed his cheek.  He was taller than me now.  His hair was very, very curly.  I thought he looked a lot like his mom.



I couldn't stop myself from crying.  He seemed so mature.  He was reserved but not shy, calm but not apathetic, content but not exhuberant.  I gave him the Swiss Army knife we brought for him and he thanked me.  He gave me a small stone, and he told me to hold it up to the sunlight and it would turn gold.  It did.  He said he was back in school and taking English classes again at the Hacienda in the afternoons.  He said he had been there the day before, looking for me, but I was not there.  I thought, with great irony, no, I wasn't here yesterday because I was walking along the road wondering if I might find you, Eduardo.

We sat at the tables and talked for a while, all in Spanish.  I asked him if he was happy and he said yes, but then he said, Meli, I have a question for you--how can a Nicaraguan come to the US?  I told him that I didn't really know.  You probably needed a passport and visa, but I wasn't sure how you got those things.  He said he wanted to come to the US to study music.  I said I would try to help find out how he could do that.  I don't know what the best thing is for Eduardo.  It is selfish of me to wish that he could come here.  Maybe he would have more opportunities, a better life, but I don't know for sure.  And I worry that his mother would be sad if he left.  I would not like it if William ever went far away from me.

He said when he is on vacation from school, he goes to Ojo de Agua, where his grandfather lives, and he works.  Many tourists go there to swim.  Eduardo climbs up the palm trees to cut down coconuts.  Tourists buy them for 20 cordobas and drink the coconut water.  I hoped that Eduardo was careful with his machete, and I wondered if he would really be happier here.  St. Louis seems so gray and sad and full of angry drivers.  Is it really such a bad life, selling coconuts to tourists?  I don't know, maybe it is.

I talked to Al after Eduardo left for his English class, and I couldn't stop crying.  We discussed some ways that I might be able to help Eduardo, maybe even a way to get him here eventually if that is what he wants.  I told myself not to get my hopes up too much about this (I have so many times before), but as you might imagine, I already did.

Our old dog Scott Fargus showed up at the field station.  I couldn't believe he was still alive.



William enjoyed putting on my sunglasses.  Everyone thought it was cute that Will and I had on matching shirts.  I couldn't help but remember this was the shirt I was wearing the day that dogs attacked Scooby's mom and I ran down the volcano carrying Scooby in my arms after he fell from the tree.



Then we all watched the sunset from the dock.




Continue to Part 3