This post continues the retelling of my recent trip to Belize: participating in an archaeological field school and learning about jaguar conservation. To read the other entries in this series, click on the “Travel” category to the right.
When I awoke on June 2, 2017, I was in a strange mood. I had had incredibly vivid dreams about mountains the previous night, which left me feeling deeply nostalgic. I found myself missing the mountainous areas I had visited in Washington State, and longed to re-experience those remarkable landscapes. But I had little time to dwell on such thoughts.
Today was our second day off, and as before we were scheduled to tour another archaeological dig in the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area. So after breakfast, the teams from Humboldt State and Elon Universities visited Dr. Dodge’s excavation site. She called it Hun Tun, which is Mayan for “first stone.”
When we arrived at Hun Tun, Dr. Dodge began showing us around the site. I was impressed by how far down her team had managed to dig, considering how meticulous archaeological field work can be. They had unearthed, among other things, a Mayan dirt floor. My untrained eyes did not recognize it at first, but once I saw it I was impressed by how smooth the floor was.
Dr. Dodge then took us to a section of Hun Tun that she had excavated in the past. Not long after we reached it, a group of spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) approached us in the tree tops. They were clearly upset by our presence. The monkeys shook branches violently, and when this failed to deter us they began to throw sticks at us.
We stood there, trying to listen to Dr. Dodge, with sticks raining down around us. At one point I looked up to take a picture of a nearby monkey. The rest of the group backed away from me, and someone yelled, “Look out!” I knew there must have been a stick heading straight for me.
Sure enough, when I put down my phone there was a stick falling directly towards my head. I stepped aside, and the stick landed harmlessly on the ground.
We finished our tour of Hun Tun before noon, so the Humboldt crew and I went to an internet cafe for lunch. From there we had expansive views of the surrounding landscape. There was a stark difference between the protected Rio Bravo area and this agricultural zone, and we could easily see how the forest had been sheared to form cattle pastures.
Eating at the internet cafe also allowed me to send crucial emails to the jaguar conservationists I wanted to meet with. As I wrote previously, I had become worried about my inability to connect with any of these researchers since arriving in Belize. Being able to send messages to them was a welcome relief.
Later that evening, I had an interesting conservation with my Belizean friend Luís. I had been reading Dr. Alan Rabinowitz’s book Jaguar in camp, which is about the two years he spent studying jaguars in what is now the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
This particular night, I read about an encounter he had with what appeared to be a small person. Dr. Rabinowitz recalled feeling extremely uncomfortable when this occurred, and he used the term duende.
I questioned Luís about these “duendes” and he immediately began to regale me with stories. He told me that duendes are little people with backwards-facing feet and no thumbs. They roam the forests at night, and if you meet one you are supposed to hide your thumbs. Otherwise, the duende will come over and cut them off.
Luís then told me about other Belizean legends, such as La Llorona. La Llorona, or the weeping woman, is a banshee-like spirit who stands in rivers and streams. She tempts men to approach her in the water, and when they are in deep enough she kills them.
Luís assured me that both duendes and La Llorona come through Texas Camp, and that I should not be caught outside my tent after midnight. This made using the bathroom at night far more “exciting” during the remainder of my time in camp.
Get to Know Belizean Folklore by Lorenzo Gonzalez