Archive for May, 2012

A perfect example of why you should never forget to put permethrin on your clothes was recently brought to my attention. One of my coworkers, a geologist in his late forties, had recently developed a moderately severe allergy to red meats. It had started a couple months after he began work down here, and had never been an issue at all previously in his life.

It started with steaks and hamburgers. He would eat one and 3-6 hours later would come down with hives, intense itching, rashes and at some times shortness of breath and lung constriction. After several episodes, he determined it was the steak and burgers that were inducing the reactions. Now at this point he could still consume pig products and certain other leaner red meats. Yet as the months dragged on, one by one different meats began yielding the same allergic reactions. Ham…bacon….lamb…..venison. They all eventually came off the menu.

During this time, he had noticed that chicken, turkey and fish did not yield the same reaction, and so they slowly became the main source of protein for his diet.

Busty redheads always have the answers

The underlying cause and sudden onset of this rather severe allergy still being unknown, he simply avoided red meat. Every once in a while he would try a piece here or accidentally ingest a piece there, and everytime it would yield stronger effects.

Several weeks ago after a routine workout he made his normal whey protein shake like he had been doing for years. Unfortunately, this too eventually led to the same allergic reaction several hours later. At this point, somewhat serendipitously (but also out of concern for his health), his wife stumbled upon a bizarre article relating southeastern US (Carolinas, Virginia, etc) tick bites to sudden onset meat allergies. After hearing this from him I found some articles online describing this documented condition as something called an Alpha-Gal allergy.

A link from the article’s frequently asked questions page sums it up nicely:

“When certain people are bitten by ticks or chiggers, the bite appears to set off a chain of reactions in the body.  One of these reactions is the production of an allergic class of antibody that binds to a carbohydrate present on meat called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, also known as alpha-gal.

Galactose-Alpha 1,3 Galactose…..the Vin Diesel of the carbohydrate class antibodies.

When a person with the alpha-gal antibody eats mammalian meat, the meat triggers the release of histamine.  Histamine is a compound found in the body that causes allergic symptoms like hives, itching and, in the worst case, anaphylaxis (a reaction that leads to sudden weakness, swelling of the throat, lips and tongue, difficulty breathing and/or unconsciousness).

This allergy is different from other food allergies like peanut allergy in that the response is delayed.  Unlike someone with a peanut allergy who has an immediate reaction when they eat a peanut, people with the alpha-gal allergy do not start having symptoms until several hours after they eat meat.

“Hmmmm….maybe that 72oz steak challenge wasn’t a good idea…”

What exactly is mammalian meat?

Mammalian meat is any meat that comes from a mammal.  This includes beef, pork, lamb, venison, goat and bison.  Chicken, turkey and fish are not mammals and therefore do not have alpha-gal.”


Beef….it’s what’s causing your anaphylaxis.

At this time, the condition is permanent, with only anecdotal evidence suggesting a decreased sensitivity over time (which includes avoidance of meat and more tick bites.) The allergic reaction has also been known to be triggered by certain dairy products, products in contact with mammalian red meat, gelatin based products (gelcap medications, candies etc) and whey protein powders.

My coworker has not been to the southeastern US in years, and has only had one tick bite in the last several years, occurring here in Nicaragua, weeks before initial symptoms began occurring. Like many others, he reported this tick bite to be unusually itchy compared to previous tick bites in his life.

So what’s the bottom line? Well, in some respects it could be a blessing in disguise. Eliminating all red meats from a diet and replacing them with fish and chicken would be in near universal agreement as a healthier dietary lifestyle, yet the physical obligation to abstain from those foods is certainly undesired. Anti-histamines lessen the symptoms, but from what he says they sound pretty horrific even despite the sweet bliss of a serious Benadryl buzz.

So remember kids, unless you want nature to force you to be a steadfast vegetarian, don’t forget your damn permethrin.

Look at it….look at the horror so you never forget your Permethrin…



People in Nicaragua like burning things. Burning your morning trash is as banal to them as drinking your morning coffee. As I go out to the field, I get to drive by all the houses in town and there are always little piles of garbage and leaves being burnt every morning. I’m not entirely sure what the trash service system here is like but I can be absolutely certain that there isn’t one.

Plastic, paper, styrofoam, leaves, dead animals, wood, cans, other assorted trash items….they all go in the fire.

But April/May is a special time in Nicaragua, where people go beyond their normal burning rituals and torch all of their fields and trees.

Now, before I go any further, I should disclose that I am not entirely unhappy when they decide to burn everything. Because the jungle that existed here centuries ago is gone; horrible weeds, cat’s claw bushes, spiky trees, and all kinds of other demonic plant spawn dominate the landscape. So when they burn all these terrible plants, it at least makes the hiking easier.

Espina (different type)

Furthermore, because the natural ecosystem doesn’t exist here anymore, the burning of all the plants every year does actually help prevent a complete takeover of the weeds and other plants.

Seriously, I think this is the kind of tree Bowser has around his castles

So the burning season gets underway, and everyday you get hazy skies and just fires…..everywhere. If you are from a state that has wildfire issues all the burning takes a while to get used to.

Just another day in the field


This goes on for several weeks before the first rainfalls of the wet season hit, and then the burning stops for the most part. But there is one place I have seen that burns stuff year round….

“Gah! I have all this trash. What can I possibly do with it?”
“Have you tried burning it?”
“Burning it! Genius!”

These two guys literally just spend the whole day lighting this giant landfill on fire. But don’t worry….they put bandanas over their mouth….cuz you know….like chemicals are bad dude.

Despite the fact that Nicaragua has been mostly destroyed from cattle grazing, littering, lack of proper waste disposal infrastructure, slash and burn clearcutting, poaching of animals, poor agricultural practices and general ignorance……… Nature still finds ways to shine through.

No matter where you are, and no matter what people have done to the area, it’s extremely important to always take time to enjoy the scenery.

Hazy sunset over San Lorenzo during the burning season

Hurraca Bird, Island of Ometepe

Volcan Concepcion at sunset on the Island of Ometepe

Outside a hotel on Ometepe

Sunset over the harbor in San Juan del Sur

One of the beaches in San Juan del Sur

Spider Monkey on one of the Isletas off of Granada

Laguna de Apoyo

Ridge Overlooking Sante Ines

Cerro Corral

Late field day at the top of Cerro Corral

Ridge looking west off of Cerro Corral

Expectations are tricky.

Sometimes, high expectations can be just what you need to push yourself that extra mile. Whether it be a musical performance in front of thousands of people, or wowing a boss with a great presentation. However, high expectations tend to only leave room to either meet the expectations or fall short of them. Considering that exceeding expectations is one of the most enjoyable experiences that people can have, only having the bottom 2 of the 3 options available is highly undesirable.
How many times have you gone to see a movie you thought was going to be awful only to leave the theatre elated when it far surpassed your expectations? I honestly find this type of movie going experience far superior to a heavily hyped movie simply leaving me moderately satisfied. Anyone who lived anywhere on Earth when Avatar was in theatres is duly familiar with this concept.

High expectations have such a consistent detrimental effect on experiences that we even have an entire word dedicated to it: letdown. People love surprises, but more than they like being surprised they hate being letdown. This is part of the reasoning behind the psychological concept of loss aversion. Time and again, people for the most part will choose a safe choice (food, entertainment, etc) over a risky new one because they would rather be satisfied than possibly disappointed.

This is seriously all they eat here...ever


No matter what job you have, everything is centered around balancing expectations. The key is not to set low expectations, but rather to understand all of the existing expectations around you and your job and correctly manage them to a productive but reasonable level.

For instance, say you get a job and immediately bust yourself to the bone, every minute of every day, taking freetime to do extra work so that you can impress your bosses. It will probably work, and they will be happy and impressed. However if that level of intensity, time commitment and sacrifice was not expected of you, your attempt to impress has set and unreasonable and unsustainable precedent that now has created an artificially high expectation for future performance.

dang....I shouldn't have volunteered to climb this everyday


When you naturally settle into a more reasonable work mode, you look lazy by comparison. Your once impressed bosses now say: “What happened to the intensity and hard working attitude we saw before?” Had you instead taken the time to understand their expectations beforehand, you could’ve gauged those expectations and exceeded them by an amount that is both productive and sustainable. This insures that your bosses are consistently pleased by your work, you are a valuable employee, yet you don’t set yourself up for a burnout.

New Years Eve and Valentine’s day are 2 days that consistently disappoint most people only because they have arbitrarily high and unrealistic expectations. Americans especially have been conditioned by movies, popular culture and personal experiences to expect grand (often times uncharacteristic) romantic gestures on VD, and a crazy, upscale (also usually uncharacteristic) NYE.

"The One Night anything is possible? Nothing high about those expectations..."


Both these days are infinitely more enjoyable if you remove all expectations from each day and simply enjoy whatever happens. I would go so far as to say limit your expectations for most of your personal choices for entertainment, vacations, etc. An unmanaged expectation can ruin a trip, and the resulting stress of the letdown can make you miss an even better experience.

This beach was supposed to be a white sand beach! Not cream!


An extremely important example of when to manage expectations is with children. Managing expectations is a huge part of parenting. However this pales in comparison to the far more grave responsibility of managing the expectations of the much larger equivalents of children…..adults. Everyone at every age is susceptible to all of these effects, however ignorant, scared or maladjusted people can have these effects magnified. Unfortunately to many Americans, hearing the word ignorant has the automatic connotation of willful ignorance, usually based on prejudice. This differs greatly from many places in the 3rd world where you encounter more generalized ignorance, usually based on poor education and lack of resources. This type of ignorance (like other types) is often accompanied by fear. People are scared of the unknown, and a looming unknown invites any number of elevated expectations in all directions. If it is part of your job (Peace Corps volunteer, community relations ex-pat etc) to deal with ignorant populations, it becomes imperative to preemptively assuage any fear or confusion and ground expectations. Something I have learned from living down here is that the smaller the community, the worse they transmit information. I am obligated to communicate something to either the entire community, or no one. If I only tell a small group of people a plan, wage, or any other type of job specification, by the time it reaches the other members of the community it is distorted and corrupted beyond belief.

This might be the Nicaraguan currency.....not quite sure


A former Peace Corps volunteer I know told me about his experience in Africa. He was expected by the local population to build TV’s and iPods with his bare hands because the local Africans simply thought that all Americans possess this skill. The administrative branch of the Peace Corps clearly did an atrocious job preparing the community’s expectations for the arrival of a volunteer. After he arrived, the fact that he wasn’t a combination of Jesus and Dumbledore actually caused immediate friction and resentment as the locals felt he was simply “holding out.” This of course completely decimated the odds of any semblance of success. They felt it to be pointless to learn how to make a product to sell out of a very useful local root when the American could just build them a TV and give them money from his pocket.

So what can you do to help manage expectations? The easiest way is to simply think before you speak. Before you set yourself up with an artificial expectation, think about all the parameters involved. Don’t volunteer to work Saturday before checking your calendar, thereby needing to back out of something that wasn’t necessarily expected in the first place. Don’t tell someone what you can pay them before knowing what you can actually pay them. Don’t say you can build a deck, make a website, or make any time dependent expectation without properly evaluating all of the important variables. If someone approaches you to build a website that will take you 2 weeks, offering $1000 for the finished product, and you hastily tell them you can do it in a week, you have set up an artificial expectation that you now need to honor. It’s more than likely had you simply said 2 or 3 weeks, they would have had no problem with the time frame and you could have comfortably worked at a manageable pace.

All of these suggestions lead to allowing yourself not to be letdown. Especially if it is you setting the expectations. Goals are important and helpful. Unrealistic goals are harmful and pointless. At every level, your brain (conscious and subconscious) enjoys and celebrates success in any task, no matter what the scale.

Success is like be careful


Conversely, failures of any size can produce a negative effect on self esteem or confidence. Don’t get me wrong, failures are an essential part of personal growth, and serve as realistic reminders of the world we live in. Artificial and self implemented failures are almost always unnecessary and detrimental. A little more critical thinking and expectation management can be the difference between celebrating the 1lb that you lost this week instead of lamenting the failure to lose 10.

By allowing elevated expectations to preempt your experiences, you limit the amount of positive outcomes. If you always manage expectations, you will have more new and exciting experiences, and be pleasantly surprised at how often you are pleasantly surprised.


Actually didn't taste that bad.




P.S. I didn’t eat the lizard….