Journey to Belize: Dehydration

Okay, maybe this picture is a tad overdramatic. But it sure gets the point across. Desert by Marion Wunder. CC0 1.0 Public Domain.

Following our tour of Dos Hombres, it was time for the Humboldt crew and I to head to our field site. We had to walk another 1.5 miles (2.4 km) deeper into the jungle, and the weather was abnormally hot for northwestern Belize. But I was in high spirits: excited to perform archaeological field work for the first time.

The hike proved more strenuous than I had anticipated. The trail took on a wilder character after Dos Hombres: narrowing considerably and becoming cluttered with an abundance of woody material to trip on. It was exactly the kind of path I would have loved to walk on in more recreational settings, but we were here to work. That meant that we had to move swiftly. Fortunately, our guide allowed me to pause for a few minutes to photograph what may have been jaguar claw marks on a large root.

The student who was leading us said these marks were left by a jaguar, but I have not been able to confirm this.

My experience on this hike was worsened by the fact that I was carrying a bucket full of archeological gear in one of my hands. Since we were encouraged to have one hand free while walking, I had to stop and retrieve my water from my pack when I wanted a drink. Rather than slowing our progress, I usually chose to keep hiking. That was not the right decision.

As we journeyed towards our field site, I grew increasingly hot and dizzy. I wet my bandana and placed it around my neck, since this is an effective way to cool the blood. But my temperature continued to climb. I knew that these were potentially dangerous symptoms, so I reported them to Dr. Cortes-Rincon (Humboldt’s project director) when we reached her. We took a break for lunch, during which time I drank a great deal of water. This helped a little, but as soon as I stood up again the dizziness returned. I knew I had to get someplace cooler.

Dr. Cortes-Rincon, myself, and two other students began the long hike to the road. We had three miles to walk through the jungle, and my condition steadily declined. My muscles grew weak, and every time we stopped I felt like I was going to fall. So I insisted that we keep going, without taking any breaks. I slowly trudged on, one foot in front of the next, for what felt like hours (I walked considerably faster when talking about jaguars, however). Eventually we came to the escarpment.

I was helped immensely by two streams (not the one pictured above) that provided a chance to dunk my clothes in cool water. Jungle Stream, Kinabalu National Park, Borneo, Malaysia by Paul Mannix. CC BY 2.0

In the last post, I mentioned that our hike began with a long descent down a limestone escarpment. Now, struggling to walk, I had to go up it. At this point the hike became a test of willpower. I would take a few steps, pause to catch my breath, and then keep going. I repeated this cycle again and again, until finally the ground leveled out and the road became visible in front of us. We had made it.

Once there, we piled into our truck. A few participants from Elon University joined us, and they proved to be most helpful. We dropped them off at camp, and then sped to the Mennonite nurse’s office in the nearby town of Blue Creek. She had me drink several beverages called “Pedialytes,” checked my vitals, and conducted a urine test. Apparently there was a lot of blood in my urine, which indicated that my kidneys were straining. As a result, the nurse said I had to spend 2-3 days resting before returning to the field.

I was most unhappy about this. I had started the day excited to get my first taste of archaeological field work, and because of my own arrogance I was now effectively useless. A brief run-in with Dr. Gunderjan at the local store picked up my spirits, but eventually we returned to camp. I would become well acquainted with this place over the next 2-3 days. 

33 Thoughts

  1. Ufff, fue peor de lo que pensé! Pudiste recuperarte bien?
    Tranquilo Josh, uno siempre termina aprendiendo de estas cosas, mejor al principio de todo así ya no se repite :)
    Un beso!
    Pd: La foto del desierto me dio gracia jajajaja

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry to hear you had such a hard time your very first day on the field!
    I was expecting you drank your water and your partner´s, or something like that, funnier and less dangerous, you know?
    Glad you recovered well :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luckily I have an app on my phone that converts Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures ;) I used to know the mathematical formula for switching between the two systems, but I’ve forgotten it!

      Anyway, it was usually between 30-35º C where I was. It went over 37º a few times, but not often. However, keep in mind that it was also between 80-90% humidity outside of the forest. Inside the forest humidity levels reached 100%, because the trees pumped moisture into the air. So your sweat isn’t as effective at cooling your body, because it doesn’t evaporate fast enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. so its like an sauna with a broken thermostat? … not good. I have seen that movie before lol
        Currently we in winter season one forgets how hot it gets but it does reach the mid 30s when it wants but without the humidity

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The weather there was uncomfortable at first, but once my body adjusted it felt pretty good. And yea, I knew you were currently in winter south of the Equator. I sometimes watch a live safari program out of South Africa, and the guides always talk about how cold it is. Funny thing is, it’s usually around 15º Celsius where they are: which isn’t cold at all compared to many other places.

          Liked by 1 person

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