This post continues the retelling of my time in Belize: participating in an archaeological field school and learning about jaguar conservation. Reading the previous entries in this series will help this one to make more sense.
As a result of the events detailed in the last post, I now had to spend 2-3 days resting. Therefore, this a good time to describe my accommodations.
The site where I stayed is officially called the R.E.W. Research Facility, but it is more commonly referred to as Texas Camp. This is because Drs. Valdez and Adams – who started the Program for Belize Archaeological Project (PfBAP) – were both from Texas. Even today, most of the students who participate in the field school are from the University of Texas at Austin.
Despite being located in the middle of a subtropical rainforest, Texas Camp proved to be incredibly comfortable. The grounds were open enough to allow the breeze to flow through, but there was still decent tree cover. The walkways were also lined with gravel, which provided protection from chiggers. These mites were plentiful in the area, and they would infest the feet of anyone who walked in the grass without shoes – causing severe itching for days. But Texas Camp had more to offer than gravel paths.
It was remarkable how many amenities we had, considering our location. There were cold water showers, a screened-in dining hall, latrines (outhouses), a hand-washing station, and three different sleeping arrangements.
One option was to choose a cabaña, which was essentially a small wooden cabin. They had beds and privacy, but they seemed to be reserved for faculty members and experienced participants. Many first-year students slept in the dorms. These facilities were located on the second floor of the building that housed the field lab (see the featured image), and they had the advantage of being indoors. But I wanted to be outside, so I opted for a tent.
Staying in a tent in the jungle might not seem ideal, but it was. At Texas Camp, most of the tents were grouped together in an area known as “Tent City.” It was covered by a corrugated metal roof, and the floor consisted of a raised bed of sand. This meant that we had protection from the rain, as well as soft ground. The tents’ large, screened windows allowed for good air circulation, and everyone was given a mattress to sleep on. I found this arrangement to be quite agreeable.
The tents had another advantage. Sleeping outside meant that I had a front-row seat to the nightly chorus. I loved to listen to the nighttime calls of the various creatures, except for the howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra). They sounded exactly like dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, and would howl as loud as possible for most of the night. However, I eventually got used to them. In fact, I actually missed the howlers when they stopped calling later in the season.
As if nightly music was not enough, we also had meals prepared for us at Texas Camp. The PfBAP employed several Belizean cooks, and they graciously made breakfast and dinner for us. Breakfast always consisted of scrambled eggs, fruit, some type of carb (tortillas, fry jacks, or rolls), oatmeal, cheese, and beans. Our dinners varied, but they were always fantastic. We had fajitas, fried chicken, several varieties of rice and beans, and many more delicious meals.
As far as lunch was concerned, the people working in the field usually brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with them. We would hurriedly prepare them after breakfast, scrambling to finish before the next group arrived (our breakfasts and dinners operated on a shift system). I must admit, by the end of my time at Texas Camp I could not stand peanut butter and jelly. Fortunately, the cooks made lunch for the participants who remained in camp. This is what I would be doing for the next few days.