Journey to Belize: The Last Day of Field Work

This post continues the retelling of my recent trip to Belize: participating in an archaeology field school and learning about jaguar conservation. The rest of this series is located in the Travel category of this blog.

I returned to the site known as Pretty Group for my final day of field work in 2017.

As June 12 rolled around, the first session of the 2017 field season with the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project was nearly over. I therefore returned to Pretty Group to finish closing it up for the year.

On the hike to Humboldt State University’s field sites that day, I made a decision I still regret. Early on in our trek we had to cross a narrow river called the Rio Bravo. We would follow the winding path down the escarpment, take a sharp left, and hug the bank of the river for about 15 metres (49 ft). At this point we had to cross a makeshift bridge.

This bridge consisted of a piece of plywood that had been placed on top of two logs, with a wooden railing on one side. We always crossed the bridge one at a time, presumably to avoid breaking it.

Our Belizean workers sometimes crossed the Rio Bravo in an even more treacherous fashion. They had found the remains of an old bridge, with consisted of a single wooden plank that could not have been more than 25 cm (10 inches) wide. On June 12, the workers invited me to use “their” bridge. I took one look at it and refused.

This bridge is similar to the one the workers sometimes used, except that it has a railing. The water in this picture also probably contains fewer pathogens than the subtropical Rio Bravo. Walbran Creek, Old Growth forest, Vancouver Island by Nick Kenrick. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Later that day, Fernando asked me why I did not cross the little “bridge.” I realized then how much of an error I had made. By asking me to cross the river with them, the workers had shown that they trusted me enough to let their guards down around me. When I declined, I reinforced my otherness from them. It was a hard lesson to learn.

But I was primarily in Belize to work. When we arrived at Pretty Group, we profiled the remaining units. This took most of the day. Then, with the workers’ help, we quickly backfilled them. I have described the profiling and backfilling processes here.

Around 2:30 pm, we began the long hike out. It was my last time doing so.

When we arrived back at Texas Camp, the lab was in a panic. They had a tremendous amount of artifacts to clean today, and not nearly enough assistants. After some prompting from a friend, I decided to help out.

It is quite a privilege to be one of the first people to handle artifacts that have been buried for hundreds of years. Potsherd from Fossil Beach by Lotta Danielsson. CC BY-SA 2.0

I only sorted and processed one bad of artifacts, but it contained 155 pieces of ceramic. At the time I found it to be a drag, because I desperately wanted to take a shower. But in hindsight this attitude was entirely unjustified: I was one of the first people to touch those ceramics since the ancient Maya had last held them centuries ago. This was an unspeakable privilege.

I took ill after dinner that night. My legs became weak, and my temperature oscillated between hot and bone-chillingly cold. I went to rest in my tent, and while there I was struck by waves of homesickness.

I have spent most of my life near Cleveland, Ohio. This is not a perfect place: beset by economic depression, social inequality, and occasionally fierce winters. But on June 12, 2017 I missed it terribly. This prompted me to think of what I wanted to do in the future.

When I started this blog two years ago, I wanted to be a field conservationist. My goal was to use my social-science background to help solve conservation-related challenges on the front lines. However, as alternating pulses of hot and cold swept through my body, I realized that I enjoy talking about science more than actually doing it. I should therefore focus on becoming more of a science communicator than a “true” scientist.

I thought up one possible future for myself that night. I could reside in the Cleveland area, where the cost of living is low, and take occasional science-related trips. I could then share what I learn through some sort of communicative medium – probably writing. Somewhere during that process I might be able to make a dollar or two.

Life in Cleveland is not all bad. The Cleveland Museum of Art, for example, is quite a nice institution.

Of course, this is an idealized future that I thought of while lying in bed with a fever in the middle of the jungle; I have no idea how my future will actually unfold. What I do know is that the next day, June 13, contained a remarkable surprise.

16 Thoughts

  1. Walking the plank would have been a tough choice. I think how we decline can make a big difference I suppose, LOL. I guess you are currently experiencing bone chilling cold I hear. Or, is that weather impacting you any? I understand how you feel about the love of science. I think I might have been one who would love to talk about it, but then I like investigating as well, so it’s hard to know in what direction, a hands on experience might take me. Funny how that works. Well, you have a lot to consider. I’ve enjoyed your blogs, so I’m sure whatever you decide, will reap it’s own reward.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jolie! ‘Walking the plank’ definitely wouldn’t have been safe, but in hindsight I think it would’ve been the right choice.

      The winter storms aren’t affecting us too much in Northeast Ohio right now. In fact, it’s a whole 6º Fahrenheit above 0! That’s a lot warmer than many places in the US right now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ahhh yes, to all of the above. Isn’t it something how we have reactionary responses that override calculated ones that only appear in retrospection?
        My hubby were in Wisconsin once and it was below zero and if I recall correctly, I remember the radio advising people not to stay out for more than like 15 minutes. I was worried to get out of the car to go into the restaurant! LOL I lived in Colorado at the time, but I don’t recall such low temps there.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It must’ve been WAY below zero if the radio was giving out those sorts of warnings. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors in below zero temperatures, and they’re manageable (though certainly uncomfortable) as long as you’re dressed well and are moving around a lot. But some parts of Wisconsin get much colder than Northeastern Ohio: there’s a big difference between 10 below and 20 below.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, in a few days. I hope that I’m not exaggerating too much about the significance of the surprise, because I’m not sure that people who aren’t me will find it as meaningful as I did. And I’m the only one of me, or so they keep saying.

      Yea, I didn’t realize how important it was for the guys that I walked the plank with them. Oh well, live and learn I guess.


      1. Haha, you might surprise yourself and find us pleasantly intrigued! Feel free to drop a link here, in case I miss it.

        Live and learn, indeed. Decisions like that are made in a split second. It’s a little unfair to go back and beat yourself up over it. I hope they weren’t offended though!

        —- Alex

        Liked by 1 person

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