Archive for February, 2012

Relaxation is an important part of life, but it becomes even more important when you are really busy.

When you work all the time, it’s hard to know when to take a break. By the way, when I saw all the time, I mean all the time. When I am down in Nicaragua I get up at 6am, prep for the field, eat breakfast, go out to the field by 7:30, get back at 5pm, do office work til dinner, and hopefully be done shortly after. On average I am done at about 7-8pm each night (unless I have an office day which ends at about 5.) On my 21-24 day rotations, these can get pretty exhausting after a while. If you work a rotational schedule, you know exactly what I am talking about.

This is why it is so important to find little ways to relax throughout the rotation. Whether it be after work beer, rum, vodka, bloody mary’s or margaritas (my bosses like their booze), a hookah at sunset, billiards at the one sheisty bar in town, or even just movies in your room. It’s more important than you might think to find these little oases of relaxation.

Hmmm….something is missing….

Ahhhh….much better.


There is a lot of cool stuff in Nicaragua. Volcanoes, snakes, several different types of edible beans, etc. So you always need to be looking out for little pieces of treasure. As a geologist I have an advantage, because unlike most of the population I actually find rocks interesting, and my definition of treasure is a little bit wider for the environment I work in.

Look hard enough and you might find…


An AK-47 ammunition clip

Rattlesnake’s Rattle

Petrified Wood

Botryoidal Quartz

Or a funny looking picture of yourself with proof that you climbed a big ass mountain. Made a great gift btw.

Always be on the lookout for treasure.

This is a rule that most people learned in college/early 20’s, yet I doubt that most people really knew how important this skill was going to be.

I sure didn’t.

As a quick refresher, the concept of not spilling one’s beer extends to not only exerting constant vigilance over one’s container (against ill-willed miscreants at the local pub) and protecting it from the bumps of careless strangers (I paid $12 for this beer I’m not going to let some drunken Cubs fan spill it all over the floor), but to a much more important skill. This skill is something I like to call the Statue of Liberty.


The Statue of Liberty is when you are holding your beverage and slip/fall on something (ice, rocks, stairs, sleeping drunks) and your entire body spins around and flails yet your beer (and it’s beer holding arm) remains firmly thrust into the sky like the torch of sweet Lady Liberty. You may be cut, bruised, and ashamed; yet among the rubble of your fantastic fall rises an exemplification of balance and agility that far surpasses any judgment you might receive for falling in the first place. If you have developed this skill once, it stays with you. It’s better than riding a bike, because this is something so innate that your body does before you even know it.

and… to bring it back to the jungle

Besides the obvious benefit of not spilling your beer, there are a lot of other things that you want to have complete motor control over when you trip on logs, wet rocks, loose rocks, animals, jungle-y weeds that you can make rope out of (they are real btw), big rocks, gravel, or your own feet because you were looking at all the aforementioned rocks and not watching where you were going.

If you have read any of my previous entries you can probably guess one thing that you don’t want flailing around……


Your trusty machete.

If properly cared for, even a slight slip up can cause some serious slicing. Your amazing ability to not spill your beer translates to you not cutting your arm off (or the arm of the guy behind you.)


Your rockhammer.

It takes more than one hand to count the amount of times I have injured myself with this thing. While most of the injuries were finger or foot based, had I not had such excellent beer saving skills I may have injured more critical body parts in the many times I have fallen while holding this.

In addition to endangering yourself and others, a lot of times you are holding stuff that is more valuable than dangerous.


Your expensive geology compass.
Your $300 geology compass can take some serious hits, but if you just pretend it is a beer in your hand you can avoid field testing its durability.

Your $375 dollar handheld GPS.

This has about the same width as a beer bottle, so your hand won’t get confused.

However, the most important piece of equipment you will need to do the Statue of Liberty with is….

The differential GPS that costs twice as much as my car.

This thing is a badass. It doesn’t lose signal under trees, around cliffs, and takes crazy accurate GPS measurements. The trick is that you have to walk around with this oriented as vertically as you can, held steady out in front of you as you walk outdoors. This is the same outdoors with all the snakes, holes, crazy plants and animals as the rest of my job. It’s not terribly heavy, but because of its shape its like walking around with an extended steel ladder at arms length for 8 hours…..except that you can’t afford to replace the ladder if you should break it.

Hence the Statue of Liberty move. This is the creme de la creme of situations. Your body and mind are on a team and know how important the thing you are holding is. As such, they will allow any and all bodily harm to occur to the rest of you as your hand holds this awesome piece of equipment in the air. When I was forced to pull the move today as a large silicified boulder cut loose from beneath me in thorn ridden, dried out brush, I got the look from one of my ayudantes that any person who has ever had a magnificent beer save has gotten. That unspoken look, communicable in all languages, crossing borders, religions, ages and ethnicities.

The look that says…

“Nice save bro.”


* (Photo Credit:

**(Photo Credit: Alicia Hurst)

Permethrin is my absolute favorite pyrethroid, and it is absolutely essential if you are going to be working or living in the tropics.

The chemical prolongs sodium channel activation which is a fancy way of saying it kicks the ass out of bugs. Here there are mosquitoes galore, but because the part of Nicaragua I live in is really dry, we have a crap ton of ticks. The ticks (garapatas) range in two varieties, big and small. The big ones are nasty looking, and physically hurt when they bite you, however their size makes them easy to spot, low in numbers and easy to remove. Not to mention they don’t carry lime disease. The small red ones however are very difficult to spot (about the size of a grain of salt), carry lime disease, and don’t alert you when they are biting you.

This is where your permethrin comes in. After soaking your clothes with the bottled solution, it will kill any insects small enough to get full body contact with the treated clothing. This takes care of the small garapatas and mosquitoes easily, some ants, and a few other bugs. It does not kill the large garapatas nor does it kill the really nasty Olusicas (I’ll get to those later.)

Permethrin is amazing, but you always need to remember that it is a neurotoxin. I made the mistake of underestimating the efficacy of the spray once and I definitely won’t make the same mistake again. I had decided to spray down the curtains in my room as that’s where the mosquitoes liked to congregate. Normally you only ever use this stuff outdoors, but with a whole field day and a powerful fan in my room I figured I would be ok. I did not however count on being turned around at the head of the trail by a landowner, and being forced into an office day. The machine that I  use to analyze rocks is a pain in the ass to set up and move. For this reason its permanent resting place is on my desk, in my room…..10 feet from the poison soaked curtains I sprayed 60 minutes prior.

Now, I had thought about the consequences, but as I could barely smell it anymore, had a fan going, and (most importantly) was too lazy to move the machine, I decided I would risk it.

Later that night I had some tightness in my chest and a little trouble sleeping, but nothing major. The next morning was a different story. It felt like bronchitis but with really intense muscle tightness in my chest. Now by this time I had figured out what was causing it, and was prepared to easily work around it with another office day.

Un…….fortunately that was the same day we all ate the eggs that gave me salmonella…..

When it rains it pours down here.


I think it is part of human nature to want to dominate obstacles. However this rule really boils down to the idea: “Well…we already came this far.”

My job takes place mostly outside, mostly on mountains and mostly way up high. (Above ^^^)

Some of the places take almost 2 hours to get to, and therefore you need to make good use of the time you have up there. Work efficiently, don’t screw around, and most importantly don’t leave loose ends. If you forget to do one important thing, you will have to make the 4 hour round trip again, squandering an entire day.

Expanding on this idea, if you find yourself 90% of the way to the top and feel tired, remember that for the future to get to the top will be 3800% more work to get there. If it is somewhere you will be visiting frequently, there is no worry. However if it is somewhere that you don’t see yourself returning to….think about the 3800%.
At this point you may be thinking: “Ugh, Sam…nobody cares. None of us climb mountains for a living and geology is boring.”
This may be true (partially, geology rocks b(^_-)d ) but this idea applies to all aspects of life.

For instance, you travel to a distant and foreign land (e.g. Milwaukee) and you are running around hanging with relatives and mingling with the locals all week. You planned to go see something awesome (shipwreck of the Appomattox), but you had too much Old Milwaukee with the locals and wake up really hungover. You are 90% of the way to seeing one of the biggest wooden steamships ever, and you can’t get yourself up. When is the next time you will be in Milwaukee? Rally and go see that boat sucka.

A more believable and less idiotic example is from recently when I was in Hawaii. We were staying in Oahu and had a day exploring the Big Island with a rented car. During the day, we literally drove around the entire island, and as such time was always on our minds. We drove to the farthest drivable point and parked our car near the ocean. To get to where some of the more recent lava flows crossed the highway was a bit down the road and we would have to walk to get there. Despite us worrying about the time it would take to go out there and back….we we’re 90% of the way there, and it was absolutely worth that last 10%. So whether it’s a mountain, lava flow, or sunken ship, just suck it up and go the distance.

I decided that in addition to making posts for each separate rule, I would make specific posts highlighting the importance of that rule. This particular event occurred on January 27th 2012 as I was starting my most recent vacation. As a fervent observer of Rule #3, I always make sure I go to the capital city the night before a flight to avoid any possible snafus that would cause me to miss a flight. The following are a set of drawings that will illustrate a perfect example of why I do this….

This first picture is to give you an outline. If you are unfamiliar at how a 2 lane highway works, one side drives within the confines of their half of the highway and the other side drives within the same confines in the opposite direction. The only times to cross into the oncoming lane are when it will be a brief and safe departure from your own lane to pass someone. I only say this because Nicaraguans really tend to ignore the whole highway paradigm.

Alright, so apparently there was some sort of protest in one of the cities causing a stoppage of both lanes. Now I can’t stress the importance of this next fact……the protest only blocked actual car traffic for 30 minutes. Ok just hang on to that because we will address it later.
Due to the lack of oncoming traffic, a certain group (read: almost all) of the Nicaraguan drivers started driving in the eastbound lane to better their position in the traffic jam. What are the chances that this was a unique westbound phenomenon?

As you expected, the inevitable disaster occurred, as two lanes of westbound faced off against two lanes of eastbound traffic. (Pictured below.) There was some saving grace however, on either side of the 2 lane highway there were rough but driveable dirt roads. Now, of course this was not realized as a solution because drivers from both directions continued to flood any available space in a desperate attempt to get any forward progress regardless of how much delay it would inevitably cause.

At this point, cars are absolutely everywhere. Intermixing into small crevices within the two main lanes. Going forward, reversing, trying to go sideways all around the highway. In a wondrous act of luck, the jam reached FUBAR status as we had gotten to the entrance of a small town. I hesitated on following the Siren Song of the young children funneling people into the town for a small fee ($2.40) as I had my computer, camera, kindle, and several hundred dollars in cash on my person. However after watching at least 25 cars enter the town I decided to pay the kids. After a rickety journey through a one way passage we emerged on the other end of the clustered mess feeling like Frodo and the gang. As illustrated I aptly named the entrance Salvation’s Gate and this time…..we did indeed pass.

Sidenote: Eastbound traffic was stuck for 12 hours…….

Remember that 30 minutes I was talking about earlier?