Sunday, August 20, 2006

California Dreaming

My Nicaraguan sojourn is over, and I'm now back in the U-S-of-A. Due to incompetence on the part of a travel agent, I ended up with a 12 hour layover in El Salvador on Friday. My flight from Managua to El Salvador arrived at 7:30am, and my connecting flight left for San Francisco at 7pm. Too much time to spend sitting around the airport.

So I passed through the border control, paid $10 for a tourist visa, and hopped in a cab towards Playa Sunzal. The sand was black and the waves fierce, but all in all it was a pleasant place to spend the day. I lounged in a hammock, read my book, swam in the sea, walked along the beach. And I had an excellent lunch of grilled fish with garlic.

It was the best layover I've ever had.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Montelimar was once the seaside retreat of former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. He built his house on a bluff high above the Pacific ocean with a commanding view of the wide sandy beach below. After the revolution the Sandinistas took over the property, and they invited party loyalists to enjoy the pleasures of Somoza's beachfront home.

Today Montelimar is an all inclusive resort owned and operated by a Spanish hotel franchise. They've got hundreds of hotel rooms, a wraparound pool (with poolside bar in the middle), a disco, and everything else one would expect to find at a nice resort.

Montelimar also happens to be the location of the annual Sustainable Sciences Institute retreat. Every year, 15-20 people who are working on the Dengue projects of Berkeley professor Eva Harris spend two days discussing dengue at one of the nicest resorts in all of Nicaragua. The meetings last much of the day and give the laboratory and clinical personnel a chance to interact with one another in a collaborative fashion.

On the second day of the retreat I was asked to give a presentation of the results of my Ultrasound project. So I presented some PowerPoint slides with the my statistical findings, and I stumbled my way through a report (in Spanish) of what I had been working on all summer. It turns out that thickening of the gallbladder wall is very strongly correlated with having dengue hemorrhagic fever. In fact, a thickening of the wall of 5mm corresponds to DHF with an odds ratio of more than 9. The main flaw in my analysis is that we only have 11 patients from last year with DHF, but Eva and the other doctors at the meeting were impressed with the findings and agree that it would be worth writing something up for publication.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Little Corn Island

As the elastic fingers of globalization continue to reach further and further away from the United States, and each day we come closer to the day when McDonald's and Starbucks will be commonplace in Bangladeshi villages and on Ecuadorian hillsides, it's refreshing to discover a place that's still undeveloped.

This is the charm of Little Corn Island. It's located in the Caribbean Sea, 45 miles off the eastern coast of Nicaragua. Getting there involves first taking a boat or small plane to Big Corn Island and then transfering to a small panga (motorboat) for a 20 mile ride. The island is inhabited by fewer than 1000 people, mostly of African descent who speak a Creole language that's a mixture of English, Spanish, and Miskito (a Native Indian language). There are no cars. Just boats. Most islanders make their living catching fish and lobster.

Little Corn Island has beautiful beaches. White sand. Turquose water. Lots of palm trees. But there's no fancy beach resort here. No Club Med. Just simple beachside cabins.

I spent my days swimming in the 80 degree water, reading books, exploring the island on foot, learning to SCUBA dive, and eating delicious seafood.

The food was delicious. Of course there was seafood....On my first night I had garlic lobster which was fantastic. Miss Martha runs a little restaurant with excellent fried fish and beef tacos. But there was good food besides seafood, too. There's a Cuban couple who serve some of the tastiest grilled beef and chicken. One of the biggest surprises was the incredible Italian dinner I had at the home of an Italian woman named Paola who moved to the island from Rome over 10 years ago. To start off she cooked up penne pasta with brocolli and parmesian, then she brought out a freshly baked calzone made of imported mozerella. And dessert consisted of cream custard with cherry sauce. We accompanied the meal with a bottle of Italian wine. She buys all of her supplies from an Italian food importer in Managua (so to stock up on wine and cheese she has to take a 45 minute panga boat ride to Big Corn Island and then an hour-and-a-half flight to Managua).

The SCUBA diving was great fun. I was a bit nervious about it, but the four day course that I took was very comprehensive, and my instructor Audrey was an excellent teacher. After learning how to assemble SCUBA equipment, I practiced using the tank in the shallow water of the bay in front of the dive shop (most people do these skills in a swimming pool, but there are no swimming pools on little corn island). Then after mastering the necessary skills, I did four open water dives on the coral reef surrounding the island. The highlights included seeing many nurse sharks, sting rays, eagle rays, and even a hawkback sea turtle. Now that I'm certified, I can go SCUBA diving anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Mountain Retreat

This past weekend I took a 3 hour busride to the town of Esteli in the northwest of Nicaragua. And guess what? For the first time in 6 weeks I actually felt cold! That's right. The posada where I stayed is located in a nature reserve high up in the mountains. To get there from the town I paid a taxi the hefty sum of 200 Cordobas (about $12) - the most expensive taxi ride I've taken in this country. But it was quite a drive! The road was not paved, and we drove uphill the whole way, snaking up through the mountains for what seemed quite a long time.

It was a simple guesthouse made of wood with flowers and coffee trees all around as well as fields of cabbage, lettuce, and other vegetables. I paid 110 Cordobas for dinner, lodging, and breakfast the next day. I woke in the morning all excited to hike up to the top of the mountain behind the lodge. But as I started walking, I realized that I was walking right into a cloud. So when I arrived at the summit, where there is supposed to be an incredible view all the way down to the Pacific coastal plain and the many volcanoes, I couldn't see more than 10 feet in front of my face. Oh well.

As I hiked downhill, I eventually emerged underneath the clouds and was treated to a fantastic view. Further down the trail was a series of sculptures carved into the mountain by a 70+ year old farmer. He was quite a character. He's been chiseling rocks into the shape of animals for more than 30 years and was quite proud to share his work with me. Furthern down the mountain was a beautiful 50 foot waterfall that made for an excellent swimming break. If you've never swam underneath a waterfall, I must say I highly recommend it. Very exhilirating.

It´s been busy at work for the past two days, as I´m going to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua tomorrow and am trying to finish up my project before leaving. I may not be able to update my blog for a week, but I'll try to post some good stories upon returning.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Boys Will Be Boys

The photograph of a man riding a bike with a pig is admittedly hard to top, but I realize I have a couple other photographic gems that warrent sharing. For example, here is a picture I took of the family I hung out with at the Central Plaza in Managua at the Revolution Day celebration.
Notice anything funny in this picture?

Here's a close-up......
This boy isn't drinking Coca-Cola.
He's sipping a can of Victoria, the most popular domestic beer in Nicaragua.

And here's another pic of the same boy....