Thursday, February 28, 2013

You're a Vegan? What Do You Eat (Comfort Food Edition)

This is the winter that will not end.  Granted, St. Louis winters are mild compared to Urbana (it is always 5 degrees warmer here even though it is only 200 miles away) but unbearable nonetheless.  The older I get, the more intolerant I get of cold, of wind and snow and ice.  I still manage to get up and run in the mornings, but it takes so much out of me.  I haven't felt warm since sometime last September.

This year I made a deal with myself: I would survive winter until we went to Nicaragua (Feb 12-19), and by the time we got back, surely it would be spring.  Spring begins early in St. Louis.  Daffodils in March.  Irises in April.


We returned from Nicaragua and were greeted with 6 inches of snow and ice, bits of which still remain on the ground now a week later. The "highs" this week have been hovering near 31 degrees, with a "real feel" in the 20's when I get up and run at 6am.

Wrapped up in many layers and walking to work this morning amid snow flurries and slush, I started to bawl.  People weren't meant to live this way.

My mood, the cold, and extra hours I've had to work in order to make up for my trip to Nicaragua definitely called for a Comfort Food dinner tonight.  I decided to make pasta in a broccoli cheese sauce, vegan style.

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Like most of the things I make, there's no recipe for this.  You just make some pasta (any kind will do), and while that is cooking, chop up some broccoli and any other type of vegetable you have on hand.  You can even use frozen peas, no need to thaw.  When the pasta is done cooking, drain it and return it to the pot.  Add your chopped veggies.

Then it is time to make the "cheesy" sauce.  A highly technical process.  Add a whole bunch of nutritional yeast.  I don't know how much exactly, but probably a cup or two.  It depends on how much pasta you've got.  Then add some vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance, for better or for worse) and some liquid (I used unsweetened almond milk).  You'll also need to add some additional flavoring, or else it will be pretty bland.  I put in onion powder and garlic powder.  Maybe a teaspoon of each.

Stir that all up.  Turn the heat back on really low to get it heated all the way through.

Then, dish it up and enjoy.

A word of caution, though.  The thing about nutritional yeast is that it is a good source of vitamin B12 and protein but apparently it can make your pee turn neon yellow.  At least, that is something this household has noticed after we've consumed it.  I've tried doing various Google searches to find out more information on the nutritional yeast / neon pee link, but haven't come up with anything definitive.  Just people blogging about it or posting questions in chat rooms and forums.  So I cannot really say why this is happening (something to do with excreting all those B vitamins?), but on the plus side, it does not appear to be life threatening.  Perhaps just surprising or slightly alarming if you aren't aware that neon pee could result from such a meal.

I've never made this dish to serve to others, but if I someday do, I guess I ought to let them know about the possible aftermath.  Warning:  Melissa's vegan comfort food might turn your pee neon yellow.


Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nicaragua 2013 (Part 5)

(Continued from Parts 123 and 4)

Rob didn't say much after he finished, it was like he couldn't-- like he was in shock and needed more time to process the whole experience before he could tell me whether it had been good, bad, or neither.

We waited around in the finish area so that we could see the other Buffalo runners come in.  Rob told me that Cousin Don had switched to the 25K race, on account of a hip injury he was dealing with (you know you're an ultra runner when you consider 25km up and down an active volcano to be "taking it easy"), so he was safely back on the Concepción side-- probably enjoying a few Toñas while he waited for the rest of us to return.  Jen and Judy were both doing the 50K, and Brian was doing the 100K (the halfway point for him was the 50K finish line).

A little more than an hour and a half after Rob finished, Jen burst onto the scene like a euphoric lavender cloud of pure bliss.  I have probably never seen anyone so happy.  I wished I would have had time to snap a picture of her as she crossed the finish line (the joy on her face is something I hope I never forget), but alas, she was going too fast.  She was the third female finisher, and she had loved every minute of this race.  She is my new hero.


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Brian reached the 50K mark just a few minutes after Jen.  Calm and collected as always, unfazed by the thought that he was only halfway through and would be heading back out for another 9 hours of shadeless heat on the run back to Moyogalpa, then ascending and descending a very steep volcano (Concepción) in the dark.  I wish I could have just an ounce of his composure.

There were supposed to be hourly (or hour and a half-ly) shuttles to take runners from the finish line in Mérida back over to Moyogalpa, and Rob had bought me a wrist band that would give me permission to ride back with them.  The shuttles, however, seemed to be operating on a schedule that was much fewer and farther in between.  We didn't end up able to get on one until around 4:30pm, which was 5.5 hours after Rob had finished the race.  The last 2 hours or so of waiting for the shuttle involved sitting on the side of the dirt road (no shade) and being assured that a shuttle would arrive soon.  Will managed to hang in there like a trooper, even though he was hot, dirty, exhausted, and hungry (he steadfastly refused to eat the peanut butter sandwich I'd made him, which was the only food I could offer him at the time).  On the plus side, while we were waiting, we got to see Judy finish her race.  She had a smile on her face even after 50km on grueling terrain, and true to her word, she had taken John up the volcano with her in spirit.

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We finally got back to Moyogalpa around 6:30pm (after a diesel-reeking, nearly vomitous car trip for me), then the runners showered and we headed out to find something to eat.  Everybody was beyond hunger by this point (keep in mind, it was now almost 8 hours since Rob had finished his race and he still had not eaten an actual meal), and we made the unfortunate decision to try to go to Hospedaje Central and have Indio Viejo Vegetariano.

The place was packed with dirty, boozing, chain smoking tourists, and I spent 15 minutes just trying to get the bartender/waiter to acknowledge me after I'd elbowed my way up to the counter.  I asked if they had any Indio Viejo Vegetariano that night (they don't always have it), and he said he didn't know and then walked away, spending another 10 minutes serving drinks to already drunk tourists. I was hyperventilating at the thought that it was now after 8pm and my red-eyed, exhausted 3 year old had yet to eat dinner.  But Rob really seemed to want Indio Viejo Vegetariano, and since he had just run (well, it was now going on 9 hours ago that he had "just" run) 50km, I needed to find a way to make this happen.

When at last the bartender/waiter came back to me (where I continued to hold my ground at the counter), he looked at me blankly, as though he had never seen me before.  I asked again about the Indio Viejo Vegetariano, and he said that they had it.  He wrote down "1 - Indio v.v." on a piece of paper.  I quickly told him that I wanted 2 orders of it (1 for me and 1 for Rob), and before I could also order some pasta for Will, he walked away again-- folding the piece of paper and putting it on a shelf underneath the counter, where it seemed unlikely that it would ever make its way back to the cooks or result in the production of food for my family.

This was the moment that I totally fucking lost my shit.

I should probably apologize to the other Buffalo runners for the Tourette-like stream of profanities I let loose in their presence, but after spending an entire day waiting on people who can't plan worth shit and being unable to feed my son either lunch or dinner because of it, I was fucking beyond reason.  I drug everybody out of Central and onto the street, where we happened upon "Los Ranchitos Restaurante y Hotel" and finally got some dinner.  

The next day (Sunday 17 February), we stayed around in Moyogalpa, ate Clif bars for breakfast, and went to watch the Calzado Kids Run, which for some reason started an half hour earlier than it had been scheduled.

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Afterwards, we walked around town a little bit with the other Buffalo, and then headed for brunch/early lunch back at Los Ranchitos.  We caught up with Brian, who had finished the 100K in an amazing 19 hours, and everybody swapped stories of their adventures during the race.


While we waited around for the awards ceremony and banquet later in the afternoon, Rob and I found a little playground for Will at the Parque Central.

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 Then we headed to the awards ceremony, where we cheered for Jen when she got her prize for her 3rd place finish:  a caballo mask.

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For dinner that night, everybody wanted to try for Indio Viejo Vegetariano at Hospedaje Central again, and I grimaced.  At least Will had had a decent nap in the afternoon and had eaten a respectable lunch of rice and beans at Los Ranchitos earlier in the day, so I hoped he would have the stamina to endure it.

IMG 1543Honestly, Hospedaje Central would probably be a lot more appealing to me if I were in my early 20's and not traveling with a small child.  

We arrived early enough this time to actually get a table and have a waiter pay attention to us, but it still took almost 2 hours to get our food, and they used clear rum in the drinks (even though they charged the dark rum prices). More than that, by the time my Indio Viejo arrived, it wasn't even that good, and I found a hair in it.  May it be a cold day in hell before I ever go back to Hospedaje Central.


Monday (18 February)

Will and I both woke up on Monday with the Vortex, and we took several turns racing each other to the bathroom.  I was worried Will was getting dehydrated, so I opened a pack of powdered Pedia Lyte and mixed it up in his sippy cup.  He drank it but promptly threw it up.  I began to worry how we were going to take an hour and a half ferry ride and another hour and a half to two hour taxi ride once we arrived on the mainland.

I put Will in a Pull Up, and we checked out of the hotel.  We walked down to the dock with the other Buffalo. When we got there, we were told that the 9am ferry wasn't going because the water was too rough (being the windy season, it was quite windy).  We settled in to wait for the next boat.  Will colored and made forts by stacking up everybody's luggage.  The others found a casino that would let them use the restroom, but when I tried to do it, the lady at the counter shook her finger at me and said I would have to pay 5 cordobas.  Luckily, the vortex seemed to have passed for both Will and me, and I eventually found another hotel that let us use their bathroom for free (no toilet paper or running water though).

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 Cousin Don!


We waited and waited.  Most of the Nicaraguans who had been waiting for the boat left.  Tourists (mainly Fuego and Agua runners) began leaving too. By 1pm, things were looking doubtful.  By 2pm, things were looking dire.  At 4pm (after almost 8 hours of waiting by the dock), we found out from a man in a blue camouflage military uniform that there would be no boats going out today.  The next boat would go out at 5 in the morning.

This was bad news.  Our flight left Managua at 8:30am, and if we did not get off the island today, we would miss it.  Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do.  We were stranded on the island.  We made our way back to Hotelito Aly (where we had been staying in Moyogalpa) and reserved a hot, uncomfortable room (with no private bath) for another night.  

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It turned out that Delta (which I had been really impressed with up until this point) was able to change our flight from Tuesday to Wednesday for a price that almost approximated buying entirely new tickets.  That sure as hell took the wind out of our sails.  I didn't sleep all night for the fear that the ferries wouldn't be going on Tuesday either and we'd miss our Wednesday flight as well.  And that I would end up getting fired for missing so much work.

We got up around 4 the next morning, hearing a steady progression of Fuego y Agua runners rolling their luggage down the cobblestone streets of pre-dawn Moyogalpa.  As soon as we threw together our things, we joined them and headed to the dock.  There were hundreds of people trying to get on boats, and in all the chaos, we lost the other Buffalo.  They got on the Karen Maria (recall: the ferry I once threw up on), and we got on the Che Guevara.  

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Farewell to Ometepe in the dark


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We found out later that they sent out 3 boats at 5am, and those were the only boats that left all day.  The water got too rough afterwards.  It was a good thing we made it out when we did.

We arrived on the mainland by 7 or 7:30 and tried to consolidate taxis but ended up paying the Gringo Price anyway.  

I had wanted to go souvenir shopping in Masaya or sightseeing in Managua, but we were all too depressed about the exorbitant fees we'd had to pay to change our plane tickets and didn't want to spend any more money.  Plus, I was seasick/carsick from our early morning voyage, and Will was completely beside himself from a week of very little sleep and junk food in the place of regular meals.

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We let him watch Spanish language cartoons in the hotel room and then we lounged by the pool for a while in the afternoon.  That cheered him up.

The next morning came early, and at last we were leaving Nicaragua.  As always, I sobbed when the plane took off.

The one good thing about flying home was that the only available seats for us were in business class (I asked Rob if that's why changing our plane tickets was so expensive, but he said it wasn't).  Business class is like a whole different world.  Every five minutes they were coming by, giving us another thing.  They brought me so much water, juice, and coffee that I had to pee 3 times on a 3.5 hour flight.  But at least I was hydrated.  And William enjoyed the extra leg room.

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We were back at home by 6pm that night.  And at 6:11, I was out the door for a run in the 30 degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures.  It had been unexpectedly difficult to be surrounded by the hardest of hard core ultra marathon runners for a week, yet not really do any running myself (Other than the 15km out and back to El Porvenir).

St. Louis welcomed us home by dumping 6 inches of snow and ice on the ground the next day.  The governor declared a state of emergency.

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While I was at work, I closed my office door, put my head down on my desk, and cried for a while.

I thought about Eduardo, pictured him putting his fingers on different strings of the guitar and figuring out how to play chords.  

Sometimes I get the feeling that my life is continuing on Ometepe, except without me.  And I realize, with some irony, that when I had thought we were stranded on the island because the boats weren't going, we weren't really stranded at all.  St. Louis is where we're stranded.  I wish I could like it here, but we're 2-1/2 years into this thing, and I don't' think I'm ever going to feel like I can call this place home.

I hope Joël was serious about that organic cacao/coffee farm he was talking about starting, because it's looking better and better by the minute.

Thanks for reading. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Nicaragua 2013 (Part 4)

(Continued from Parts 1, 2, and 3)

Saturday 16 February

I had really high hopes for Rob in Fuego y Agua this year.  Maybe even higher hopes than he had for himself.  I knew how good of shape he was in, and I knew that he had the potential to set the course on fire as long as he didn't burn up during the ascent.  

He sent me a message on Friday afternoon from Moyogalpa, letting me know that he'd arrived safely.  I replied with the one thing I meant to tell him before he left but had forgotten:  Descend like Kilian.

On Saturday morning, Reina came over around 4:45 to take care of Will while I ran to El Porvenir.  Just like last year, I would meet Rob at the 30 km mark and see him on his way as he began to ascend the volcano.

I'd explained everything to Will in great detail the night before.  Mama has to run in the morning.  Mama has to go run and see Daddy.  You are going to stay here and play with Reina!  You are going to have so much fun!  Will had seemed intrigued.  "Reina?" he'd asked, and I'd nodded.  "I can play with Reina?" I assured him again how much fun he would have, and I hoped that I was right. 

Now that the moment had arrived, though, my stomach felt like I was stuck on the ferry during the windy season.  Last year it had been so much easier.  Will was adventurous and not afraid of anything.  This year he was shy and reserved.  The whole time we'd been in Nicaragua, all he'd wanted was for me to hold him.  My arms and back ached.  He was suddenly afraid of everything-- dogs, flies, ants, dirt.  How scared would he be when he woke up to find I had left him alone with a strange Nicaraguan woman?  This was sure to land him in therapy someday.

Reina was reassuring.  She told me not to worry.  She had 3 children of her own afterall-- she knew what she was doing.  I just hoped that Will would remember the Spanish words we had taught him and that he didn't cry the whole time.  I resolved to run home as quickly as possible just as soon as I had seen Rob.  I could be back by 8.  Will would barely notice that I'd been gone.

But first, there was the small matter of getting over to El Porvenir (around 7.5km away) in the dark. Last year the darkness hadn't been so much of a problem for me because I hadn't left until 5:30, near the time when the sun rose.  This year, Rob and I both expected him to arrive in El Porvenir much earlier, which meant I had to run in the dark so I could get there in time.  I had brought a flimsy flashlight with me, but once I was out there, it wasn't so great at illuminating the road.  The best I could do was take it slowly and enjoy the millions of stars overhead.  After about 45 minutes, it started to get light enough that I could see the hazards on the road (such as rocks and cows) and avoid them.

Even at my slow pace, the kilometers ticked by quickly, and before I knew it, I had reached El Porvenir.  It was almost daylight-- just before 6am.  A couple of Costa Rican spectators were already there-- they'd driven over in a 4x4 from Moyogalpa that morning-- and we chatted a bit in Spanish.  It was still quite a while before the front runners arrived.  Longer than what I'd expected.  While I was waiting, a motorcycle whizzed by, and a guy who was riding on the back of it called out, "Hola, Melissa!"

I jumped up and down and waved.  "Simeón!!"  I cried.  It was the only time I would end up seeing him during this trip to Nicaragua.


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The guys who got to Porvenir first (probably around 6:30am) were in a pack of 3, and they seemed intense.  "Where do we turn?" one of them asked.  "Right here!" I pointed to the path up the volcano.  


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The next several runners who arrived were equally as intense and all of them asked me where they were supposed to turn or how long ago the guy in front of them had come past.  Rob told me later that they probably thought I was a race volunteer and I should have been giving them instructions instead of just clapping and cheering like some kind of lunatic.  

Soon, I saw Rob in the distance.  He was the 12th person to arrive at El Porvenir.

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His expression was severe.  

"Do you want me to go up to the aid station with you?" I called out, wondering if he was going too fast for me to keep up.

"Sure," he replied, but his tone sounded grim.  

I ran up the road beside him.  He had already gone 30km, but my legs were fresh and I could easily keep his pace.

Last year he'd been cheerful, almost giddy at this point.  Now, he did not seem happy at all.  "The course wasn't marked," he told me.  He had gone out with the 100K elites, and they all got lost twice during the first leg of the race.  They'd gone probably 5km out of their way in total.  The second time they got lost, a local man riding a horse had eventually helped them backtrack to the unmarked path they were supposed to turn on in order to head up to Ojo de Agua.  The elite runners took off at that point, ratcheting up the pace so much that Rob could no longer keep up with them.  

Physically, he was fine, but mentally, I had never seen him so down during a race.  "Getting lost really fucked with my head," he said.  Once he'd finally gotten back on course and the 100K elites dropped him, he was running with people who were going a full minute per mile slower than his pace.  He had lost so much time.  It was hard to recover from that.

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"Everything is going to be fine," I told Rob.  "You're doing great."  I said every encouraging word I could think of.  As he got his camelback out of his drop bag and filled it with water, I described a scenario to him in which he would charge up the volcano into the elfin cloud forests, into the cool mists.  He would be lighter than air.  He would float up through the technical jungle gym section at the top by the caldera, and then he would descend down the other side-- at a pace so fast that it would make Kilian seem sluggish.

I didn't know if I was helping or if he wanted me to shut up.  

He asked me if I could take his head lamp for him, and so I did-- winding the sweaty band around my wrist and not wanting to upset him by suggesting that he leave it in his drop bag instead.  Then he looked around a bit forlornly and asked me if I'd brought a towel.  I shook my head.  He said he wanted to wipe the sweat off his face.  Not knowing what else to do, I offered the only thing I had at my disposal-- my shirt.  I didn't think he'd really take me up on the offer, but he did.  This.  This is true love, people.

Mechanically, he ate some fruit, and I asked him if he wanted me to start up the volcano with him.  He said no and cast a dismal glance towards the slopes of Maderas.  With one last bark of encouragement from me, he headed up the mountain.  I watched him go until I couldn't see him anymore, and then I traced my way back down to the road.

I didn't feel good about this, but I knew Rob well enough to know that he would make it.  It just wouldn't be pretty.  In fact, it might be the ugliest thing he'd ever done.

The 7 or 8 km run back to Mérida was a breeze, even with the hills.  The weather was a lot cooler than it had been last year, and the sky was covered in clouds.  I hoped these things would work to Rob's advantage and help him from overheating during the last 20K of the race.  Maybe he really would get a second wind and charge up that volcano-- dominating it like I knew he wanted to.

As soon as I entered the path to the Hacienda, I saw Reina standing there with Will in her arms.  He wasn't crying, he just looked solemn.  When he saw me, he reached for me and wrapped his arms around my neck with a grip like a vice.  

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I asked Reina how he had been and she said he was good.  He got up at 7:30, went to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, then she helped him get dressed and he ate a banana for breakfast.  After that, he just wanted her to hold him.  He didn't want to play with the other kids.  

He buried his face in my neck and I kissed him about a million times.  I asked him if he was okay, and he said, "Mama, I was scared."

There it is, officially.  I am the worst mother in the history of the world.

I asked Reina to come back to our room with us, and I gave her the gift I had brought her (a bracelet) and some money for babysitting.  "No, no, no, no, no,"  she said emphatically and insisted that she had done this out of her heart, because she loves us so.  Eventually I persuaded Reina to take a few dollars for her trouble, to accept this as my gratitude for her taking care of Will while I ran out to see Rob.  She and I both cried a little bit and hugged each other.  I could still hear the way her voice faltered some 6 years ago when we left the island and she repeated over and over again, "No te vayas, Meli."

Will made a full recovery from his perceived abandonment and became positively goofy.  He insisted on helping me get ready-- he brought me soap so that I could shower, and when I was done, he brought me a towel and said, "I dry you, Mama," as he blotted my feet.

Even though I had just run some 15km and hadn't eaten anything yet, I still wasn't very hungry.  Will and I went up to the kitchen, and I ordered a coffee.  Finally, I ate a Clif Bar and one of Clara's bananas; Will had some pretzels dipped in peanut butter.

The finish line of the 50K race was not at Hacienda Mérida this year.  It was at Monkeys Island Hotel, slightly less than 1km down the road towards San Ramon.  My biggest dilemma at this point was deciding what time to head over there.  I really had no idea when Rob was going to finish, but I reasoned that it would be somewhere in between 10:00am and noon.

Will and I began the trek shortly before 10.  It was along the same rocky, hilly stretch of road that I used to take to the forest every day.  I'd walked it literally hundreds of times.  But was a lot harder when I was carrying a 33 pound child and a backpack full of his stuff.  Plus, the cloud cover that had shrouded the island during the early hours of the morning had burned away-- now, there was nothing to block the intensity of the equatorial sun.  This didn't bode well for Rob; the last several kilometers of the course were out in the open heat, along the same road we were walking.

When we got to Monkeys Island Hotel, we found out that the winner had already finished. Just under 6 hours.  I think it was a Costa Rican guy, one of the runners I had seen arrive at El Porvenir before Rob.

The finish line was at the beach-- all the way down a long hill after you entered the Monkeys Island property.  Once Will saw the water (and the other kids playing in it it), there was no way to keep him out of the lake.  Unfortunately, I hadn't known that the finish line was at the beach (I'd thought it was up at the road), and I had not brought his swimming trunks.  I continued with my mother-of-the-year decision making ability and let him swim in his underpants.  

It was ungodly hot and there was no shade at all in the finish line area.  I coated us both with sunscreen.  The beach wasn't made of sand but instead of pebbles that hurt your feet and was too hot to walk on.  With Will in the water, I had to keep an eye on him, and therefore my back was to the finish line.  I was afraid I would miss Rob when he came in.

Runners continued to trickle across the finish line.  Some were done for the day, some grabbed cold cervezas and headed back out to finish the 100K.  Finally I heard the race volunteers call out Rob's race number and name as they saw him appear at the top of the hill.  I couldn't get Will out of the water in time to meet Rob at the finish line (and take a picture), but at least I saw him come in.

He was 9th place overall.  It was about 11:20, meaning he'd finished around 40 minutes faster than last year.  He looked wiped out, and he didn't say much.  I knew I'd get the story eventually from him, but for now, Rob's Fuego y Agua 2013 was done.

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Stay tuned for Part 5.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nicaragua 2013 (Part 3)

(Continued from Part 1 and Part 2)

Friday 15 February

After Rob left on the bus for Moyogalpa, I walked back up to the Hacienda with Will and tried to persuade him to join the Nicaraguan pre-school class that was meeting there, but he would have no part of it.  I was disappointed-- last year, he hadn't been a bit shy and would go up and play with whatever kid he encountered.  This year, he wouldn't even look at the other children.  He just wanted me to hold him, and he refused to speak any of the Spanish words we have been working so hard to teach him.  When I encouraged him to go and join the children so he could make some new friends, he cried and said, "I don't want new friends, I want Sam!"  What a difference a year makes.

Because Will would not join the other pre-schoolers, I resigned myself to taking him with me when I went into town to look for Eduardo.  It would have been easier if William would have at least consented to walking on his own, but as it was, he cried, "Carry me, Mama," and so I did.  Up all those big, rocky hills.  I must have been a sight: a pale and dusty gringa carrying both a child and a guitar as I plodded along the dirt road into Mérida.

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The road I used to take into the forest.

A couple of French backpackers hiking to Santa Cruz met up with me and insisted on carrying the guitar up the last hill (even though I assured them I was fine).  Once we reached the elementary school, they went on, and I began to look for Eduardo's house.  He'd moved from the place where he used to live, but I had a general idea of where he was living now.  Some women were standing by the fence surrounding the school, selling drinks and chips to the children when they were out at recess, so I went over to them and asked if they knew which house was Eduardo's. They pointed to a house where a line of white t-shirts hung drying on barbed wire, and I headed down a path towards it.

Standing outside the house, I didn't know what else do to except call out, "Hola!"  I heard some scuffling inside the open doorway, and in a second Eduardo's mother stepped out.  She recognized me and smiled.  I said hello to her and we spoke for a minute or two.  Then I asked her if Eduardo was home-- I had a gift for him.  She told me that he was at school, not the elementary school by the house, but the colegio (or high school) farther down the road.  She said I could take the guitar to him there if I wanted.  She said she would go with me.  I asked her, was it okay to bother him at school?  She smiled and said, yes it would be fine.  They were at recess now.

She went inside and changed into something more fancy and did her hair.  Then we left to continue walking along the road.  She asked if she could help by holding William, but he wouldn't go to her.  She held the guitar instead.

She told me that Eduardo always speaks of me, that he calls me his Mama Meli.  She didn't seem particularly concerned about that.

I told her, "Eduardo is lucky, that he has so many people in his life who love him," and she agreed. 

We reached the high school, and dozens of teenagers dressed in white and blue uniforms were milling about outside.  Eduardo's mom put her fingers to her mouth and whistled shrilly.  She called out something, but it wasn't his name.  In an instant, he rose from where he had been sitting with his friends and came over to us-- smiling from ear to ear.

He was 17, almost all grown up.  A head taller than me now.  I couldn't get over how curly his hair was.  It was beautiful.  He seemed surprised to see me; he hadn't gotten my messages about what dates I would be in Merida.  I just ended up lucky-- he'd only come back to town and started up school again 2 days earlier.  Before that, he'd been living near Altagracia, working in some plantain fields.  Saving up for a guitar.

As William squirmed in my arms, I tried to explain to Eduardo that the guitar was a gift for him.  I tried to explain that it was Rob's guitar-- a very sentimental guitar because he was playing it at the moment we first met.  I'm not sure if I could convey that so well.  Eduardo said thank you and took the guitar from me but did not open the case. He handed it to his mother again and asked her matter of factly if she would take it back home for him.

We talked a few minutes more, and he said he would come to the Hacienda that night to see me.  Then his mother and I turned and walked away, back towards the house.  She seemed worried that I would be upset he'd sent the guitar back with her, but I said I understood.  It's not like he could carry it around with him at school all day.  

Once we got back to the house, I took a picture of Eduardo's mom and me together.  We hugged and said adiós and I continued on to the Hacienda.  It was a lot easier to walk now that I was just carrying Will and not the guitar as well.  

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Will and I were thirsty, so we stopped at a little kiosk in front of somebody's house and ordered a juice.  I thought it would be served to us in a glass, but instead we were given a traditional Nicaraguan juice baggie, with a straw.  

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When we finished the juice baggie, we continued on to Clara and Jehu's.  I bought some tiny bananas from them for 1 córdoba a piece, and they gave me some mandarinas just because they like me, I guess.  Then Will and I headed back to the Hacienda to go swimming in the lake.


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For lunch, I made us peanut butter sandwiches, and we ate the bananas we'd bought from Clara and Jehu.  Will was exhausted and fussy after such a long morning, so I got him cleaned up a little bit, and we took a nap together in our room.


That evening, Will and I went out to the dock to watch the sunset.

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Just before it got dark, Eduardo showed up-- guitar in hand.  "Mama Meli," he said as he walked out onto the dock.

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We hugged, and I told him I needed some pictures of us because I hadn't managed to get any good ones the year before.  We found a spot where the lighting was still okay.

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I was so happy to talk to Eduardo, but it went by so fast.  William was becoming a bit cross, and I couldn't really focus my full attention on Eduardo when I was trying to make sure that Will didn't run headlong off the dock and into the lake.  It was hard to make a really good connection with Eduardo this time, I guess because I knew we only had a few minutes to talk and then it would be a year or more before we saw each other again.  Maybe I also felt less worried about him now that he's practically all grown up.  So mature.  And my walk with his mother in the morning reminded me that he does have her in his life and that she loves him very much.

Eduardo gave me some perfume and lotion that he had probably bought at the tienda right beside the Hacienda, and I almost started to cry.  I don't want him to spend his money on me.  But he insisted that he wanted to give me something because Papa Rob and I had given him the guitar.

I showed him the book I had bought and tucked into the guitar case.  It had photos of where you put your fingers to play the different chords.  I said I hoped it would help him figure out how play, but he still would need someone to teach him.  He said he had a cousin who played guitar and who could help him out.  We talked a little about how he still wants to go to university to study music, how he still wants to come to St. Louis sometime and stay with Rob and me.

Before too long, William tripped and scraped his knee, which made him holler at the top of his lungs.  I needed to get him cleaned up and bandaged, and that meant my time with Eduardo was about over.  I asked him what he was doing the following day, if he would be able to wait with me for Rob and the other runners at the finish line, but he said that he job lined up for the morning-- working construction for one of his neighbors.  

So I hugged him one last time.  I said we should Skype again as we had done once before in January while he was living near Altagracia, and he nodded but said he didn't have much access to the internet in Mérida.  It was difficult to use the computers at the Hacienda anymore, and that was really the only way he could get online.  He asked me when I would be coming back to Nicaragua again, and I said I didn't know.  It wasn't the most hopeful way to leave things, but still, I know I'll see him again.  Eduardo and I are always going to be part of each other's lives.


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Stay tuned for Part 4.

Nicaragua 2013 (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Thursday 14 February

I woke up in the middle of the night, realizing that I had forgotten to give Leda the gift I'd brought for her-- an embroidered hand bag and a bracelet.  There was nothing I could do about it now except kick myself.  After breakfast in our hotel that morning, we all arranged to go to San Jorge so that we could take a ferry across to Ometepe. The boat was very crowded, so I didn't get to sit outside and experience the usual awe and splendor that I associate with watching the island come into view, but I did stick my head out the window once just to snap this picture.

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When we arrived in Moyogalpa, it looked like the town was getting ready for Fuego y Agua.  We ate lunch at this place called Cornerhouse-- a trendy hot-spot for gringos, tourists, and ex-pats, with nice English-speaking owners and amazing food.  While I tried to persuade Will to eat peanut butter and marmalade on toast, it began to feel like a Fuego y Agua reunion.  We saw several runners we had met last year, and Rob got to rub elbows with some of the elites doing the 100K.

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The rest of the Buffalo were staying in Moyogalpa for the race, but Rob and I planned on heading to Mérida to see our friends and visit the place where we had lived for a year.  We took the 2:30pm bus and were pleasantly surprised to meet up with Joël-- one of my favorite people in the world-- who was running the 25K again this year.

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Joël and I passed the time on the bus ride by planning a hypothetical organic cacao/coffee farm that we want to start somewhere on the slopes of Concepción.  He may have been half kidding about such a farm, but I wasn't.  Joël, if you ever read this, I will be happy to do all of the manual labor as long as you can take care of the stuff that requires speaking really good Spanish.

Helen got on the bus in Altagracia.  She was 9 when I first met her, now she is 16.  It has been amazing to watch these kids grow up over the past 6 or 7 years.

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Helen filled me in on all of the gossip of the island-- some of it was sweet or funny, some of it was the kind of news chilled you to the bone.  

She told me that Leda had anemia, not pneumonia.  I guess the words sound alike to me, especially when said in Spanish, which is why I'd gotten them confused.  Helen was surprised and intrigued that Leda had met me in Granada.  From what I gathered, Leda has been through a lot this year, and she has been off the island for some time.  

At last we arrived at Mérida.  Home.  It was great to see Don Alvaro again, the owner of the Hacienda where we stayed for a year.  The women who work in the kitchen came out to hug me, and everyone wanted some news of Leda.

Rob and Will and I watched the sunset outside of our old room that night.

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Rob and I had curried veggie burgers for dinner (delicious), and Will ate some rice and beans.  While Rob tried to get Will settled down for bed, I talked with Esther about having someone watch Will on the morning of the race so that I could run out to El Porvenir and meet Rob at the base of the volcano, as I had last year.  Helen came back to pick up Leda's gift for me-- she said she could take it to Leda's mother.  

The next morning (Friday, February 15th), Rob needed to head back to Moyogalpa.  After breakfast, Will and I waited with him at Clara and Jehu's for the 8:30 bus.  I wished him good luck.  The next time I'd see him would be when he was getting ready to climb Volcan Maderas.

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Where is Concepción?  Somewhere behind those clouds.



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Jehu explained that the ayudante on the bus Rob took back to Moyogalpa was his son.
IMG 1467View of Volcan Maderas

Nicaragua 2013 (Part 1)

On Christmas Eve, Rob and several friends from our former running club (the Second Wind Buffalo Runners) took the plunge and registered for Fuego y Agua 2013. The event was going to be bigger this year-- elites were coming to do the 100K and 70K Survival Course-- and it seemed like the race was getting a lot of press.  

Rob trained hard.  He won a couple of races along the way (here and here), and he went to the Smoky Mountains to run some ascents (and descents) that were similar to Maderas.

Everything looked good.

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"I had some trouble on the slopes of Maderas," I said to Rob, in explanation for the lopsidedness of my frosting spirals on his good luck cake."That sounds about right," he answered.

Meanwhile, I did what I could to get some time off work for the race, and I talked with Eduardo and Leda. One of my major motives for going back for Fuego y Agua (besides to cheer Rob on) was to bring Eduardo a guitar. He still wants to study music, and several times over the past year, he has mentioned how much he wants to learn to play the guitar-- maybe even start his own mariachi band. As our plans to go back to Nicargua solidified, Rob ended up offering one of his guitars for me to take to Eduardo.

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Rob had bought this guitar at a pawn shop when he was 17 or 18, and he was actually playing it the very first time we ever met. Now that he was ready to let go of the guitar, I could think of no better person to pass it on to than Eduardo. I choked up a little bit every time I thought about it.

On the morning of our departure, we walked about a half mile through the February cold to the metro station-- I had luggage in one hand and the guitar in my other, and Rob was carrying Will. I was slightly paranoid that we would not be allowed to bring the guitar on the plane (Delta's carry-on policy states that you can carry on a guitar as long as it fits in the overhead compartment), but this was one time when having a child really worked to our advantage. We got to board early because of Will, so when we got on the plane, all the overhead bins were completely empty. Smooth sailing. The guitar easily fit into the compartment, and we made it to Managua with no problems.

We met up with Jen, Judy, Brian and Cousin Don at the airport in Managua. Buffalo! Imagine that, Cousin Don in Nicaragua! Sadly, though, one of the Buffalo runners had to cancel his trip at the last minute. John's son and his son's wife were tragically killed in a car accident just days before the race, and now John would not be able travel to Nicaragua and run in the wake of everything that took place after. All the Buffalo vowed to take John up the volcano in their hearts on the day of the race.

Our group spent the night at the Las Mercedes hotel across from the airport, a place that now seems like a second home to me, considering all the nights I've spent there. The next morning we had breakfast (for me: toast with jam, fruit, and coffee [sugar, no cream]), and while the others were packing up and trying to figure out what our next plan of action was, I took Will to the front desk with me and used a phone to call Leda. Yes, call her. She had sent me a message telling me that she was sick and in Managua for treatment, and she'd asked me to call her cell phone when I got to Nicaragua. I am always really nervous about talking to people on the phone and speaking Spanish, but I felt like I had to figure this out because I was really worried about what was wrong with her.

It was a bit difficult to hear her and understand out what was going on, but what I could gather was that she wanted to see me if possible. Good, I wanted to see her too, but I was with a group of people who were heading to Granada, and I had a very whiny but lovable 3-year old in my care. So that kind of limited my ability to jet around Managua trying to find her.

She asked where we were staying in Granada, and I told her. She said that she would take the bus down to Granada and meet me there in the afternoon. At least that is what I thought she said. So I gave her better directions and hoped that I would see her later. It was somewhat encouraging, I guess, that whatever she was sick with, she was well enough to travel to Granada (a 1 hour bus ride). I still felt kind of bad though, that I should have made more of an effort on my part to get to her rather than make her come to me.

There wasn't a whole lot of time to brood about it because we all headed out to Granada soon after. In all honestly I have never been thrilled with Granada, but this is probably because I am always motion sick by the time I get there and then somebody makes me eat greasy food, which tends to worsen the situation. Plus, it is generally 900 degrees in Granada. But this time with the Buffalo, it was really quite nice. We got some minimally greasy, though still somewhat typical Nicaraguan food for lunch, and then the others continued to explore the town while I took Will back to the hotel so he could swim in the pool. It was a very posh place (Hotel Kekoldi), at least by my standards.

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I was getting nervous about what was going on with Leda and if I had really understood correctly that she was coming to find me in Granada. To take the edge off, I had a Victoria with some of the Buffalo when they returned from exploring Granada. IMG 1429

Then we all sat around in the hotel's open-air lobby, looking out at the street and trying to decide what to do for dinner. Just as I was getting nervous about Leda again, there she appeared-- right outside the hotel door, saying, "Hola Meli."
She was with her husband, who is a relatively new addition to her life, and I was glad that she had not been traveling alone. I guess they had been looking all over for me. She smiled and said that after walking around and not finding the hotel, she and her husband had sat in the nearby Parque Central for a while. It is a big attraction for tourists, and they figured eventually I would come by.
She seemed in good spirits, but tired, and she was terribly thin. I felt awful that she had been wandering around Granada all afternoon, looking for the hotel. I asked Leda and her husband if they would join us for dinner and they said okay. Their bus back to Managua wasn't until 8pm.
We headed back out and wandered around a bunch of restaurants near the Parque Central, eventually choosing one that seemed to have something everybody would eat. Rob took a picture of Leda and me while we were waiting for our order to come. I didn't completely understand what was wrong with her. She described it as being weak and tired, with a lot of nausea and vomiting, and I thought she called it pneumonia. She said she needed to be in Managua for treatments, and she was staying with one of her sisters who lived there.

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While we were eating dinner, a group of street boys entered the plaza with some boom boxes and entertained the crowed of diners with some very elaborate break dancing. It was amazing the way they'd choreographed it and the kind of difficult (and dangerous!) gymnastic-like moves they did. I couldn't get a picture that did it justice.

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Soon it was time for Leda to go. We spoke for a bit and she asked if I could help out with some money to pay for her treatments. Of course I was happy to do so. I gave her some money, but as I watched her and her husband walk away towards the bus, I worried that I'd heard her wrong and given her an amount that was far too short of what she needed. But she hadn't let on when I'd handed her the cash. She'd just hugged me and said thank you and that we should talk again soon.


We left to go back to the hotel, and I hoped that Leda would be okay.

(Stay tuned for Part 2)