Archive for January, 2012

Seriously… almost made me vomit.


So by now I’m sure all of you want to be geologists (c’mon…who wouldn’t right?) and the next thing you need to know is to always bring your rockhammer.

Rockhammers are great. They look like icepicks, are great for breaking stuff, and are really cheap. Like your machete, your rockhammer is a quintessential piece of your field equipment as it can perform tasks that would otherwise be impossible.

There is nothing worse than getting to the outcrop and having delicious, juicy looking rock and being completely unable to break it open and find out what the sweet nougat-ey center is.

For example, take this rock pictured. The smiley face represents your interest in knowing what is inside

You need to know what it is, but you have already tried everything.

Your trusty machete.

An old stick.

Other rocks.

All failed.

But wait, you remembered to bring your rockhammer!


Rockhammers are great for other stuff too. You can fend off bears, snakes or other wildlife. You can climb steep hills and reenact your favorite scene from Cliffhanger and/or Batman (happened to me once.) You will find that your rockhammer is effective against many everyday objects such as:



Your fingers.

Other rockhammers.

It is also very handy for killing scorpions that you find in your room. Alas, I didn’t think to take a picture of that one.

Now that you want to go and buy one, you need to remember a couple very important things:

If you try to fly with your rockhammer as a carry-on because you forgot it was in your backpack….TSA will confiscate it and give you a stern talking to.

Always wear safety glasses…

and remember if you are using it as a seat, make sure you don’t have it upside down.


(Sidenote: You can now follow my blog by e-mail by clicking on the follow button on the left dashboard)

We’ve all seen the Discovery Channel. The deep voiced announcer says: “Texas. 1993. Jill Grimthorpe is walking her dog along a footpath and it goes near some bushes. Little does she know that buzzing terror lies in wait…” With the grainy gray footage and the moderately low production value we are left to assume that in reality these bees can’t be all that bad if they are forced to resort to such cliché tactics.


Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Africanized bees are by far the worst thing I have encountered in Nicaragua, or anywhere. Yes that includes impaling my foot and getting salmonella.

Africanized bees are as bad as you can possible imagine something that only weighs half an Advil pill. If you are unfamiliar to how they work, one stings you and then releases an alarm pheromone that allows the rest of the swarm to follow you.




Can you imagine what in my arsenal of equipment is best suited to pissing off bees?

So of course I found a really interesting area of rock that happened to be right next to a beehive. Now, I didn’t know the hive was there, if I had known I would’ve sent one of my ayudantes to break the rock and bring it back to me.


But alas, I didn’t, and so for the next kilometer (2 and 1/3rd laps around a track) I was being relentlessly chased by stinging bees and even my ayudantes were being punished for my geological hubris. Did I mention I was on the side of a mountain that looks like this?

A funny thing happens when you are being chased by bees on the side of a cliff. Your brain doesn’t really know which survival mode to listen to. Do I make cautious, calm movements to prevent myself from falling? Or do I run my ass off from these hellacious insects?

Basically it can’t decide on one or the other and you trip a lot and get stung a bunch. Game over.

The real lesson is that I would have been in better shape had I paid better attention to Rule #2.

Never go first.

This rule, like Never Go First, is one that I will periodically violate only to take a moment and realize that I should’ve known better.

It is difficult to explain how deeply this affects everything I do down here. When I plan to build something, set up a crew, try to buy something, or really even just leave the office I always keep in my head at least 3 contingency plans.

A lot of times I like to think about each task I need done and think of the most annoying Monopoly Chance card that could be written about it and go from there.

You need some wood for shelves but there is a regional wood shortage. Wait 5 weeks.

You need to get to the capital city but there is a worker strike in San Benito, wait 5 hours.

You walk 90 minutes to the base of the mountain where you work and someone puts a sign that says: “No Gringos or Canadians.” Lose a turn and go back to the office.

You try and take a stream sample and a drunk campesino with a bow and arrow aims it…turn around and go back.

You arrive at the Nicaragua airport and attempt to pay the entrance fee in Cordobas, the national currency, and are told that they are not accepted and that you need dollars. Argue with the attendant until he acquiesces. (Rules are very flexible here.)

You don’t speak spanish, and your campesino driver activates the alarm lock on the truck and you can’t get home because he is illiterate and can’t read the driver’s manual. Dictate the section on “llaves” until he figures it out.

You are on top of a mountain and a storm comes out of nowhere and floods all the rivers around you 10 feet. Wait 6 hours.

The whole country doesn’t have addresses. I don’t feel the need to be clever with this one, it’s so goddamn insane.

You try and get across Managua and it takes 3.5 hours due to tremendous gridlock and construction detours to find that all the workers are sleeping in the shade next to the machines and no one is working. *cue head explosion*

and……..the number one example…..

You are on a plane flying to Nicaragua explaining Rule #3 to an anxious businessman ready to start work in Nicaragua and hear the captain say: “Uhhh folks….I don’t know what to tell you, but the Nicaraguan airport is closed. We are turning around to go back to Houston. In my 30 years of flying I have never experienced something like this.”

The reason? Construction.

You think they were working?





Yeah, neither did I.

*(Photo Credit:  Alicia Hurst)

This one is important.

Have you ever been in a remote city, and really needed a grocery store, a hardware store, or an electronics store, only to find the only thing around or open is a gas station? Well you can imagine that all of Nicaragua is kind of like a gas station. It has sort of want you want, everything is differently priced, the floor is sticky and you would be insane to use the bathroom.

So instead of huffing and puffing, you make the best of what is available.

Can’t find the right wire?

Tie two of them together.

Can’t find any concrete to place your GPS mount?

Drill some holes in your roof and wire it down.

Did your driver lock himself out of the car?

Talk to a guy nearby (literally the first) and see if he knows how to break into cars.

Don’t have a camera for your driver’s license picture?

Use a baby photo

Don’t have a door for your outhouse?

Use an American Flag.

Macgyver would have been a lot more believable had they filmed it in Nicaragua.

The real advice however is just don’t ever expect that you can buy something in Nicaragua. Just bring it down with you and save yourself a headache.

This one seems kind of obvious for anyone who has ever even heard of a third world country, but it goes much deeper than that. In the last year I have gotten dysentary twice, salmonella once, and a whole host of smaller stuff in between. After a lengthy series of explanations about bacterial growth, insects, rotten fruit, and basic kitchen hygiene; the people who cook for us still do everything almost the same. This attitude towards implementing things new and not understood is pretty typical here. From leaving honey, sugar, cereal, milk, cookies and other snacks open to be swarmed with ants, to wiping chicken grease up with a rag and then using it to “dry” our dishes. Everything is said….nothing is heard.

After we all kept getting sick, we thought it was a good idea to get the cooks to start refrigerating the eggs. Basically you have to understand that to literally everyone in my town besides us, eggs are made by your chickens and promptly eaten within a day or two. So the idea that we need to put them in the refrigerator is really just wasting valuable gatorade space. So as time went on,  I would see more and more of the eggs in the refrigerator and rarely on the refrigerator side table. Until one day I saw the two cartons of eggs back on the table. I queried one of our cooks as to why they were there and I was met with: “Look, there isn’t very much space in the refrigerator, and when we cook them they get hot. I don’t know why you guys like your eggs chilled in the morning anyways, it makes no sense.”


It turns out that the eggs were indeed sitting on the table in the sweltering hot kitchen for days at a time, only to enjoy a nice chill the night before being served up for breakfast the next morning.
At least they were comfortable.

For those of you who have never had salmonella…….don’t.

Nicaragua does a lot of things wrong, but rum is definitely something they do right. Flor de Cana is seriously top shelf stuff and in Nicaragua it costs less than McCormicks Vodka in the US. A 1 liter bottle of export quality Flor de Cana Black Label is $10…….at the airport duty free shop. Other places it’s even cheaper than that. Never leave Nicaragua without some.

(Pictured: Flor de Cana and Israeli Coca-Cola)