Friday, July 29, 2016

Climbing the Cosigüina Volcano with guide Marvin Meléndez

A couple of weeks ago, we took Sunday off and climbed Cosigüina, the westernmost volcano of the Maribio chain. Forming the end of long peninsula that juts out into the Pacific, it creates a looming headland that guards the entrance to the grand Bay of Chorotega. It's a large, complex shield volcano capped with a  low stratocone.

In 1835, Cosigüina exploded. According to Briffa et al. (1998), the volcanic explosivity index of the eruption was 5, making it one of the most powerful in recorded history. The violence of the eruption demolished part of the cone and changed the contour of the mountain forever. Today the cone is lower, about 900 m, and it encircles a deep crater over a kilometer across which harbors a beautiful lake.

Some friends introduced us to a great guide, Marvin Meléndez. He is director of rescue operations for the municipality. He said that when people get lost on the mountain, they call him, so why not cut out the middleman? He was a very genial companion as well as a very professional guide who put safety first. He knows every inch of the mountain and is very experienced. I recommend him highly. His number is 8775-5594. Don't climb Cosigüina without a guide. Every year, people get lost on the mountain, and sometimes they die, usually from dehydration. If you go, bring much more water than you think you'll  need, and then throw some Gatorade in your backpack.

It's a lovely climb, steep towards the end. The young and sprightly will enjoy it. Those who, like me, are older and more sluggish, will struggle, but the end is worth the effort. The view is spectacular. Even from the eastern rim of the crater, you can see west across the mouth of the Bay to El Salvador, where the volcano Conchagua  stands watch upon the other headland.  You can see the Honduras across the Bay to the north.

Looking back toward Nicaragua, you can see the whole length of the Peninsula of Cosigüina lying as a road leading back to El Viejo and Chinandega. You can see from the Bay and the magestic Estero Real to the Pacific on the other side.

It's very beautiful.

Cosigüina crater lake

The Estero Real from the rim of Cosigüina

The Estero Real to the left and the Pacific to the right.

The Gulf of Chorotega

Marvin Meléndez

Reference cited

Briffa, K. R., P. D. Jones, F. H. Schweingruber, and T. J. Osborn (1998). Influence of volcanic eruptions on Northern Hemisphere summer temperature over the past 600 years. Nature 393:450-455.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Two more fieldwork rules

1. If you run out of drinking water, don't brush your teeth with Gatorade.
2. You can dehydrate while cooking, so keep drinking or you could pass out.

Never ask me how I know these things.

Do you have rules on your project? Send them in!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

What Happened to the Ice Cream Sandwiches

So, I had to go to Managua for about 55 hours and by the time I got back my students were on the verge of resorting to cannibalism. I left them with a kitchen full of food and enough cash to feed a Nicaraguan family for a year, but when I walked through the door yesterday, they'd polished off all the Snickers, including the backup Snickers, and the emergency backup Snickers, and we were totally out of ice cream. I took them out to dinner that night, which was yesterday, but that would obviously be only a temporary solution.

Now, for you to understand the rest of the story you have to know that I spent a couple of days last week showing a colleague around who wants to core near the inland margin of coastal estuaries to find evidence for the origins of agriculture. Hence, I took him to some sites in the swamps here in Chinandega so he could decide if any of the spots looked propitious. Now, I think that Chinandega has the best swamps (a dubious distinction), but I'm biased. We were standing around on a mound in the Estero Real looking an a piece of obsidian and talking to the landowner who, by now, qualifies as an old friend, and he said, "My neighbor found a vein of that stuff down at the bottom of a well he dug down the road here."

That sounded highly improbable, though not impossible, but we had to go see. We drove over to the neighbor's house, and he comes out with a small, narrow, stemmed dart point made of obsidian, and he confirmed that it came from deep in a well he excavated, which he offered to show us. Now, a point is not a vein, but a deeply buried site would be pretty interesting too.

We tramped over to his watermelon patch, and he showed us a large irrigation well, several meters on a side, which went down close to 10 m. We could see beautiful stratigraphy in it, including what looked like a 1.5 m thick ash fall lying on top of a very sharp contact with an underlying stratum. The ash layer started over 1 m down from the modern surface, so the contact was probably close to 3 m below the modern surface. If the spear point came from "deep" in the well, it would be far below that. Fascinating!

I decided that I would need to get down the well one way or another, and thought probably a ladder would be the best way. My local friends offered to build one, but I'm familiar with those kind of ladders, having almost died using one in a cave in Yucatan, and I declined. I asked around in Chinandega after ladders, and it seemed like I would probably have to buy it at the SINSA hardware store, which is expensive. The 10 m ladder was close to US$300. I thought it best to measure the depth of the well before spending that much money. Some friends of mine were scheduled to bring their students over this morning, and I decided to take them out there to look at some sites, and they were kind enough to bring a long tape measure for me to use to measure the depth of the well.

We got out there, and it turned out to be only 4 m down to the bottom of the first ledge where there was a concrete shelf they used to support the irrigation pump. From there it is 3 or 4 more meters down to the next stage, after which a small round well takes you down the final reach to water table.

Knowing that, I could now buy my ladder, which really only needed to be about 5 meters long. So I took my students to lunch with our friends, successfully staving off the cannibalism for a few more hours, and then we went to the supermarket where we replenished our supply of Snickers and ice cream. It is always better to shop after you've eaten so you don't buy a lot of junk on impulse. I asked for, and received. some old cardboard boxes at the supermarket to use to protect the roof of the car when we tied the ladder on, and we popped the cardboard in the back of the SUV with the groceries. 

Then we popped by the SINSA hardware store to pick up a ladder. They had a 6 m ladder at a good price, so I bought it, some rope, and a hard-hat. We put some, but not all, of the cardboard on the roof, laid the ladder on it, tied the ladder to the roof rack with the rope, bought more rope, tied the ladder some more, and set off for home, very slowly, with my red hanky dangling from the back of the ladder.

We got home, carried the groceries into the house, untied the ladder, laid it on the porch, and I drove the car back to the parking lot on the other side of the plaza, about 2.5 blocks away.

About an hour later, I heard my students asking each other where this was and where that was, and they realized that some bags must have been left in the car. They asked me for the car keys, headed off to the parking lot, and eventually trooped back with several bags that had been hidden behind a large piece of cardboard.

About 8:30 pm, I got a hankering for an ice cream sandwich, but I couldn't find them in the freezer. I asked my students where they were, and one said, "They suffered a mishap in the car. We took extraordinary measures to save them, but they didn't make it."

So, I guess if we make it through the night we'll have to go back to the store tomorrow. So that's what happened to the ice cream sandwiches: they melted because they were inadvertently hidden behind the cardboard we got to cushion the ladder we bought to find the deeply buried site in the well on the edge of the huge estuary.

I'm going to lock my door tonight. I'll let you know what we find when we finally get to the bottom of the well.

We really need to draft a roommate agreement that covers cannibalism. And zombies. Definitely need to address any potential zombie-related issues.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Will the nightmare never end?

Now they are selling "Archaeology Soap" for kids with dinosaurs in it. Please, think of the children!

On Being a Full Professor

I believe that I officially became a Full Professor yesterday. It may seem like a strange date, but it was the start of the University's new fiscal year, which means that our new contract starts.

It doesn't feel any different. Wait....oh, nope.


Subscribing to the blog--again

Dear Fan(s):

In the Blogger settings, I found a way in which I could e-mail posts to a set of specified e-mail addresses. I'm testing it out now (with this post) on an unfortunate student (and on myself), but I think it will work.

So, if you want to receive posts from this blog by e-mail, feel free to send me an e-mail to my office e-mail, which is on the right-hand side of the blog's front page under "About me."




It worked! It's a heck of an awkward work-around, but it worked.