Journey to Belize: Granite, Talks, and Doubt

This post continues the retelling of my recent time in Belize: participating in archaeological excavations on Mayan ruins and learning about jaguar conservation. Entering “Belize” in the search bar to the right will reveal the rest of the entries in this series.

Some of the vegetation near Structure 130.

On Wednesday, May 31, I continued excavating at Structure 130. Before the Humboldt State crew and I could begin working, however, we had to complete the three-mile hike to our field sites. It was a very hot day, and before long I was covered in sweat. So, once we reached our destination, I poured water on my head and gave myself a few moments to cool off. After a minute or two I was ready to dig.

Today, as in my previous days at Structure 130, I would be working with Carlos: one of our Belizean workers. He was only 17 years old and seemed shy when I first met him, but he eventually opened up. Like Miguel, Carlos was patient with my poor Spanish; he even taught me the Spanish names for several animals. For example, he referred to parrots as loros. We had many chances to talk about loros, because small groups of them flew over Structure 130 almost daily – squawking loudly as they went. Earthworms, on the other hand, were called lombrices.

While I never got a good look at the parrots flying overhead, I believe they were Yellow-Headed Amazons (Amazona oratrix). This species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Yellow Headed Amazon Portrait by C. P. Ewing. CC BY 2.0

Carlos and I excavated in Unit C throughout the day, which was the unit I helped to set up the day before. Right off the bat, we found a strange rock. It was shaped like a rough triangle – with two of its edges joining at a 90º angle – and one side of the rock was quite smooth. Most significantly, it was made of granite. Since granite did not occur naturally near our study site, this meant the rock must have been carried in from somewhere else. We eventually delivered the rock to Texas Camp’s lab for analysis.

As we continued working, Carlos and I uncovered a series of stone cobbles (piles of medium-sized rocks). These cobbles aligned with those found in an older unit; which, when looked at together, seemed like a possible stairway. We were uncovering more of this ancient structure, and hopefully generating more data about it.

But the day’s most exciting event occurred long after we had returned from the field.

Dr. Fred Valdez, an expert on Mayan archaeology and Texas Camp’s director, was scheduled to give a talk at 7pm. I made sure I was there on time.

Dr. Valdez’s talk mostly concerned the history of the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project (PfBAP), which I was now a part of. He told us that conditions at Texas Camp used to be much more austere. The dining hall, which we were now sitting in, used to be completely unwalled – leaving it open to bugs and the elements. Flooding also used to be more of a problem, before a series of well-placed trenches were constructed.

The Texas Camp dining hall, pictured here, used to be little more than a partial roof and some benches. Texas Camp has become considerably more comfortable over time.

However, I remember Dr. Valdez’s presentation style better than his content. He was hysterical. He had a dry sense of humor that I found to be delightful, especially since he usually had a dour expression on his face.

It felt great to laugh, because earlier in the day I had begun to have doubts. I found myself wondering what I was doing in the middle of a Belizean rain forest, trying to conduct field work in a science I knew nothing about. Throwing myself into a foreign country, simply hoping that something good would come of it, was beginning to seem crazy.

But I had long passed the point of no return, so my only choice was to press forward.

14 Thoughts

  1. Neat, neat, neat… wish I were there. LOL
    Loros. I guess that’s the correct word. I always called them pericos and worms gusanos. When I worked with girls from South America, they were always correcting my California Spanish. (frown)
    BTW, They had on the news here how two baby snow leopards were born. They mentioned they were endangered and were being housed at the San Diego Zoo, where they’ve been working to populate them. Unfortunately, these will never go to the wild. Are there any solutions for that? Glad you are having an awesome experience!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There seem to be lots of different versions of Spanish. Most of the people at my university are from Southern California, and I can’t understand their Spanish at all. But after a little practice I was able to communicate in Spanish fairly well in Belize. I also think there are multiple correct words for parrot and worm, depending on where you are.

      There’s no way snow leopards born in a zoo could ever survive in the wild, so I’m not sure why the San Diego Zoo claimed they were working to repopulate snow leopards. Maybe they were referring to finding conservation initiatives?

      Captive breeding programs for wild card do exist, but they’re very difficult. I have an old article about Iberian Lynxes that discusses this a little bit, so I recommend searching for “Iberian Lynx” in the search bar. Also, some zoos help to store genetic material for endangered animals. Such material might come in handy down the road, so that’s a valuable service.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. They seen to have a good research facility and perhaps repopulate wasn’t the right word. But, they did call attention to them being endangered and why. They did this many years ago with the Panda’s and they seem to have come back, but I remember it being trial and error and many failures over the course of many years. I remember when I participated in Project Wildlife, we rescued wild injured animals, we never domesticated them, with the exception of giving them food, but we made sure they were fine before letting them go. I wouldn’t even talk to them or get them used to me in any way or it would have hurt their survival rate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When releasing animals back into the wild, minimizing human contact is key. We don’t want them to get used to humans, because that might get them killed. So what you did with Project Wildlife was the right thing.

      Some zoos do a lot of good for wild animals, because of the reasons you mentioned. Visiting the Cleveland Zoo is how I first learned about how many animals were endangered because of human activities, and how important their habitats are (especially rainforests). So while many animals raised in zoos can probably never be released into the wild, zoos help out in many other ways.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. It is very cruel, but many of the local people don’t think of it that way. They’ve always kept parrots as pets, so to them there’s nothing wrong with it. Unfortunately what they don’t understand is that the yellow-headed parrots are much more threatened now than they were in the past. Deforestation is having a profoundly negative effect on them, which means there aren’t enough parrots left to supply the demand for pets. And yes, it’s always better to allow intelligent birds like parrots to remain free!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Que linda esa especie de loro! Viste muchas lombrices?
    Y con respecto a las dudas.. Es inevitable que en algún momento u otro aparezcan, y con ello la ansiedad o el miedo o todo junto jajaja, lo importante es que no te paralice y seguir adelante :) Además, que aparezcan también es un buen signo porque estás saliendo de tu zona de confort!
    Un beso Josh :)

    Liked by 1 person

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