Monday, July 16, 2012
If you thought the last one was long...
Monday, July 16, 2012
¡Buenos días! Time for an update! I’m currently in the middle of reading The Ender’s Game series, and these books are ridiculously captivating. It’s with a great resistance effort that I take a break and write my weekly report.
I can’t hear a word Kate says as she takes this picture.
The rest of this week we’ve been making steady progress in disassembling and testing the motor. It sounds ridiculous, but one day our progress was removing the motor from the incubator and testing it separately. We attempted to clean it from the outside, and made our first attempts to open the little stubborn little box. The next day we made more progress by taking the fan part off and removing the motor from its mounting, but were brought up short by tiny little recessed nuts that we had no tools to remove. The following day I brought in my eyebrow tweezers and, with a little bit of modification, they were an adequate implement. Don’t laugh at my man eyebrows. They’re a sacrifice for engineering. In any case, we ended up damaging our already damaged motor in the opening process, so it looks like we’ll need to buy another, or else rig up a solution with the damaged one (not looking feasible; it’s just too tiny to work with).
I am happy to say that we’ve been quite a bit more social than we were in the first few weeks. Later in the week after the blog complaining about what shut-ins we were, I made the decision to just go out into the sitting room after dinner, and Lupe and I ended up talking about Facebook, and we were online for about an hour. Then about 15 teenage boys wandered in. Naturally I congratulated her for having obtained so many boyfriends. But it turns out that her older brother has a connection with this group of young aspiring priests, and it was our house’s turn to cook dinner for them all. They took an equal interest in Kate and me as we took in them, and we spent the 20 waiting minutes in mixed English and Spanish conversation. I’m pleased to say that we knew more Spanish than they did English (which makes sense given our four plus years of training, but I’ll be proud of it all the same!)
The wife of one of the uncles is trying to obtain a visa to the U.S., and received a letter (most conveniently in English). Kate and I were useful as translators! The letter instructed her to obtain an agent, or someone to receive her paperwork, someone with a U.S. mailing address. Lucky for her, she has a friend who’s a lawyer in Florida and will know much more about the whole visa process than I could ever learn from a letter and a bunch of forms. Host Dad knows English pretty well, but I think he just liked us to be there to ensure that he understood properly.
We also had a pretty strange encounter with a guy this afternoon. He spoke very, very broken English, and we didn’t really know what he was on about at all. I think it would have been better if he tried to explain himself in Spanish and leave it to Kate and me to try to decipher. In any case, he knew we were with an organization and wanted us to help him out with something, and that it would make his whole family very happy. He wanted the email address of our organization, so we fetched it. Then he stuck us on the phone with a woman with a New Jersey accent who had no more idea of what was going on than we did, and considerably less patience. He’ll be back in the next couple of days to call her again, and we’ll get this straightened out. I’m so confused…
A whirlwind of a weekend.
We left Friday at 2 from work, caught a 3:00 bus from Boaco to Tipitapa, then Tipitapa to Masaya, Masaya to Rivas. The snag occurred at Tipitapa: there was no large obvious Masaya bus waiting on us this time. We asked where to stand and stood there, and then a microbus showed up and piled us in a van to Masaya. At one point that little van held 21 people! I’m glad I had a seat. But we made the mistake of assuming the bus would end at the station, like real buses do, but this one blew past it altogether, and we followed a passenger’s advice on where to get off and stand and wait for a Rivas bus. We stood on a street corner in front of a Palí (a Walmart subsidiary supermarket specific to Nicaragua – there’s one in Boaco) for 30 MINUTES and attempted to wave down 3 different Rivas buses, but they all blew past us, I now figure because we weren’t standing in the right spot. It was getting pretty dark by that time. We eventually got a cab to take us to the right stop, and I just about fainted from relief when a microbus came and picked us up. 10 minutes later it was pitch dark. When we arrived in Rivas we were promptly ripped off by the taxi driver, who charged $5 per person for a 7 minute ride down the road (in Nicaragua worth $2 p/p max). Damn him to hell for taking advantage of two terrified and exhausted white girls. Our pre-booked hotel was adequate if expensive for what we got. Best thing was that it included a good breakfast, and we got to watch BBC world news during our dinner of peanut butter sandwiches at 9:00 PM and listen to British people be excited about hosting the Olympics. Someone had better tape those opening ceremonies for me *hint hint nudge nudge*
Saturday seemed also a primarily travel day. We took the 9:30 AM ferry, though had intended to take an earlier boat. The lake was pretty choppy and smaller boats weren’t running. We had ample time to take our seats on the ferry (a German donation by the looks of it – very nice) and work out meeting up with Luke, Brian, and Cathy, who had continued her journey down south to San Carlos and accompanied them on their 14 hour ferry ride to Altagracia on Ometepe. After a pleasant ferry ride that reminded me how much I miss cruises, the gang met us at the pier and we took a taxi to Playa Santo Domingo.
It was on this journey that my camera disappeared. I can’t say if I just left it in the taxi or whether one of the other taxi occupants had some very VERY light fingers, but later in the day I chanced across the cab driver again and checked to see if it had fallen on the ground, but it was gone, and with it all of the pictures I’ve taken since July 1. Honestly, my first reaction was relief that at least they didn’t get anything that I couldn’t live without, or couldn’t replace. (Had it been my laptop, I would have died right there) But even so, it was like a physical ache whenever I thought about how it’s gone, still is a little bit. I should have been more careful, checked my stuff before I left the taxi, not left the zipper undone on the bag, I don’t know. I had to pull some major distraction techniques to keep myself from dwelling on it, namely Bananagrams at the lunch table!
By the time we settled into a hostel and got food in us, it was too late to do any large activity, so we walked to Ojo de Agua, a water spring for swimming. Entrance was cheap and the water was refreshingly cool after 90 degree weather and intense sunlight. They had a Tarzan swing :3 Afterward we walked the entire length of the beach down from Santo Domingo through San Fernando almost all the way to Santa Cruz, then back. We watched the sun set behind the larger of the two volcanos, Conception. Fun fact about these volcanos that you never glean from pictures: they are covered in clouds 95% of the time. You can almost never see the entire thing all at once. But Maderas, the one with a lake in the crater, had a good period of cloud-free time.
Brian didn’t join us on our walk and instead played fútbol with some locals. When we returned we joined, but soon it was too dark to see. They recommended we eat dinner at their restaurant/house, and it was delicious local food and accordingly priced well. I made friends with a local cat; it settled on my lap of its own accord and kept me immobile for half an hour, plenty of time for the mosquitoes to get in 15 good bites up and down my legs, despite the bug spray. Meanwhile, the dogs of the area were all passed out on the floor of the pulpería next door; the males had been chasing the sole female around the beach all day, Brian told us. They have GOT to start fixing these dogs down here; the number of strays here is just ridiculous. I guess they have bigger problems.
Yesterday was dedicated solely to climbing Volcán Maderas. Whoever tells you it’s a 4 hour hike, don’t believe them. After the third hour we started thinking that maybe it was supposed to be 3 hours up, 1 hour down. Nope. Don’t buy that either. We began at 8:45 and reached the lake at 1:00. Four hours one way. That’s more accurate.
It was truly a challenge for me. It started out at just a slight slope, a well maintained path with stair steps of tree trunks or terraced wood blocks. Then it was just a stair stepper that never ended. Our style was to go at moderate speed for a while, then break for a while.
There were more monkeys! We saw a white-faced capuchin on the way up and what looked like spider monkeys on the way down. Many times we heard what sounded like howler monkeys, but they kept their distance and we never saw them. Appropriately, the first time I heard one I was alone and using a latrine. I was not excited for an encounter with a territorial monkey while I had my pants down, so I was accordingly alarmed.
The path got much more difficult. The slope became greater and we started using our hands. Well, I started using my hands. The forest ninjas among us simply danced up the hill. There were conveniently-placed trees. Every step I took I thought of high school physics and how I was gaining potential energy and thus taxing myself of that energy. I could hear my heart rate the entire time, a function of my blocked up right ear (I think Cathy gave me her cold – my nose is stuffy right now), and it seemed on the order of 150bpm. Before long the path got pretty muddy (we’d passed the cloud line) and our pace slowed a bit, and I started forgetting how tired I was as I played the “how can I best get past this muddy patch without dirtying my cloth shoes” game. It was a noble attempt, I think. My butt never hit the ground, and I think only Luke could say the same. But more than once my foot ended up in some puddle. If only I could have fit rain boots in my bookbag…
Most people had gotten a much earlier start on the volcano than we had. We crossed paths with Americans and Germans, mostly, all of whom had paid a guide (beforehand every local had tried to force one on us, but we were strong) and started at 5 in the morning. At least those on the way down could give us an idea of how much further we had to go. We saw some local boys in jeans; they passed us of course.
Most of the hike we were in the cloud layer, so it was far too foggy to see anything at all. We weren’t even sure we were headed to the crater. Luckily, the path was a bit too obvious to miss. One moment we were descending into the crater, and the next we’d come to the shore of a lake. Visibility couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred feet. We came to a reedy shore of a rippling lake and we had literally no idea how big it was; it could have been enormous. A gust of wind and a bit of sun removed the cloud from the crater for just a moment, long enough to snap a few pictures and ample time to get a sense of our surroundings: the lake was pretty small. It would have taken me less than ten minutes to swim to the other side, and I’m no speedy swimmer. As it was, I didn’t want to get lost in the fog as it rolled back over.
The coolest thing about this lake, besides the fact that it’s in a dormant volcano crater, of course, is that it’s inside another lake. Lake Nicaragua (aka Cocibolca) contains Island Ometepe, on Ometepe is Volcano Maderas, and inside its crater is the tiny lake. So despite the chill (maybe 60F?) of course I went swimming. To say I swam in a lake inside a lake! Or a lake inside a volcano! Whichever sounds cooler. It probably would be more accurate to call it a pond, based on its characteristics: small, reedy, and extremely mucky on the bottom. Once it was deep enough to float in I didn’t touch the bottom at all, but Luke said that a few yards out he was up to his knees in muck, and heaven knows what lives there. The water was frigid. I guess it doesn’t get much sun, as does its containing lake Cocibolca. My skin went numb pretty quickly, so stayed in just long enough for pictures. And I can say I’ve done it, now.
Lunch was granola bars, raisins, and peanuts. It’s funny how when you exercise you don’t need as much food (until dinner time). The descent was much easier, as it wasn’t cardio and I wasn’t fighting gravity, and it’s like acrobatics. I’m actually good at it. We played music and talked instead of panting and complaining.
The return today was simple: early ferry from Ometepe, a bus from Rivas to Managua, where we took a cab and bought the supplies we needed. The store was very nice: large, USD prices on everything. I even bought an HDMI cable, finally. Now we can watch my laptop’s movies on the big screen at home. We couldn’t find optical cleaner or silicon grease (I think the maintenance crew forgot to tell us where to get those), but we can find them this coming weekend, as I believe we’ll be headed through Managua again. Maybe we’ll be able to find a place to buy a replacement stepper motor, too.
So this Thursday is the anniversary of the revolution that put the current governmental system in power back in ‘79. There is no work, and the entire hospital staff is being bused down to Managua to take part in the festivities, namely eating, drinking, and being merry, but also participating in rallies supporting FSLN (Federacion Sandinista Liberacion Nacional). Maria informed us that we have both Thursday and Friday off of work. Having already taken Monday off, we have a two-day work week. I feel we’re cheating, or being cheated, one of the two. I can’t decide. She didn’t seem to expect us to want to accompany the workers to Managua, which I found a bit surprising. I guess it is their holiday, but part of me thinks it’d be a very unique and rare experience. Another part reminds me that being a white US resident amongst their celebrations probably isn’t particularly dangerous, but it just might not be the best idea. We get enough eyeballs just for existing on any given day, let alone their Nicaraguan national holiday. And the tourist in me sees the opportunity to have an extended weekend on the pacific coast…
But this holiday bothers me. I compare it, of course, to US’s July 4th Independence Day, the closest point of reference I have. But it’s a bad comparison, because the occasions are fundamentally different. Their revolution heralded a change in style of government, supposedly from dictatorship to democracy. Power to the people. Ours was the birth of a new country, where the people of the country would be given a say in how their lives were run. Power to the people. So where’s the difference? It’s most easily seen, I think, in how the common person views the holiday. July 4th to an American? God Bless America! God Bless our Troops! Proud to be and American! July 19th down here? FSNL. Daniel Ortega. Red and black flags, pink and blue and yellow leaflets. Sandinista music. I don’t see national pride, I see Party pride. Like if all the Republicans in the country got together and had a party, but Democrats didn’t exist, or were afraid to admit their allegiance. It just doesn’t seem as united, I suppose. It seems kind of forced or strained.
But what do I know? I’m not particularly informed. And who am I to judge? Just a foreigner with the slightest window into the way things work here. I do what I can. These are just my thoughts.
This weekend will involve a trip to León and the Pacific Northwest. Kate is dead-set on going volcano-boarding, which was listed #2 on an important person’s bucketlist of adventurous things to do, right after skydiving. That’s because if you know what you’re doing you can stand up on your board and reach speeds upwards of 80km/h. My untrained butt will remain “safely” on the board! Hope to get you all some stellar photos.
P.S. Putting accents on letters is super-easy, I just learned. Tap Ctrl then ’ and let go, then hit your vowel of choice. You can do the same with an ñ, but remember you have to hit Shift to get a ~. (Ctrl Shift ~ n è ñ) And you can do exclamation points/question marks similarly: Alt Ctrl Shift ! or ?.