Journey to Belize: Dr. Brokaw

This post concerns events that took place while I was in Belize; participating in an archaeology field school and learning about jaguar conservation. It describes experiences I had on May 25, 2017, and is a continuation of this piece.

A much better photo of a black howler monkey than the one posted below. Spartacus the Rescued Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta pigra) Ready for Release by Ian Morton. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Finishing our lab work early meant that I had time to kill in the afternoon. I spent much of this on the porch of the Texas Camp field lab, talking with Ms. Sharon about various topics.

There was a bit of excitement later in the afternoon, after the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) students returned from the field. I noticed that a group of them were standing around the showers, looking up at something. One student enthusiastically told me that some black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra) had made their way into camp. I hurriedly joined the crowd and snapped a few pictures, but my cell phone camera struggled to focus on them.

A poor shot of the black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra) who came into camp on May 25. My phone camera struggled to cope with the jungle humidity, and frequently proved unusable.

The camp photographer, Bruce, soon joined us. At this point I was talking with one of Texas Camp’s caretakers, Luís. When Bruce came out with his expensive camera equipment, Luís commented on how the rest of us put away our small cell phone and point-and-shoot cameras. Luís said that there was no reason for us to be ashamed of our cheap equipment, because not everyone can afford the type of technology Bruce has. He was right. I would later come to realize that Luís was one of the most gifted people in camp, and an astute observer.

As the afternoon progressed into evening, the only task I had left to perform was my chore for the week: sweeping the lab. Haunted by feelings of uselessness, I decided to do the best job sweeping I could. I began cleaning in every corner and under every table, as if doing so would erase my guilt.

During this time, Dr. Brokaw entered the lab. Dr. Brokaw is an ecologist who knows the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area better than most people. Twenty years ago he catalogued all of the tree species in this vast area, recording which ones were most abundant in which eco-zones. Now his goal was to see how the forest had changed in the two decades since his initial study.

A distinctive tree I encountered in the Rio Bravo Conservation area. After consulting the tree guide on, I believe it is likely a breadnut (Brosimum alicastrum) tree.

When I told Dr. Brokaw that I was interested in learning more about the trees in the Rio Bravo area, he seemed quite pleased. He told me that he would try to get me a study he authored, and that he recently launched a website called It is an excellent site: filled with rich information about the natural history of the Rio Bravo area. If you are at all interested in learning about the forest I recently called home, then you must check it out!

Following our conversation, and after spending far too long making war upon the dirt, I pronounced the lab clean. My obligations for the day were fulfilled.

As I went to bed that night, I was still feeling frustrated about my decisions on the previous day. But today had been better. I had good conversations with Ms. Sharon and Dr. Brokaw, learned a great deal about archaeology, and was able to contribute to the field school without overtaxing my body. In addition, I genuinely enjoyed working in the lab. Tomorrow, however, would prove to be an even better day.

Further Reading:

Brokaw, N., & Mallory. E. P. (1993) Vegetation of the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, Belize. Manoment, MA: Manomet Bird Observatory.


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