Journey to Belize: Dangerous Dreams

This post continues the retelling of my 2017 trip to Belize: participating in an archaeology field school and learning about jaguar conservation. The previous post in this series is located here.

There were some fantastic rainstorms in Belmopan on July 1 and 2, 2017.

Apart from brief forays to Everest Indian Restaurant and a café called Moon ClustersJuly 1 and 2 were largely spent at Raj’s house. By then I had amassed a considerable amount of information about jaguar conservation in Belize, and I needed to turn it into a master’s thesis.

The most pressing need I had learned about was deforestation within the Central Belize Corridor (CBC). As a recap, this is a strip of natural habitat that allows jaguars and other wildlife to move between protected areas in the north and south of Belize.

The CBC is crucial for maintaining the genetic fitness of jaguars in Belize and neighboring countries. Unfortunately, it is slowly being cleared for agriculture. Within 40-50 years it may no longer function as a viable jaguar corridor.

Much of the land within the Central Belize Corridor is being cleared to make room for cattle. 28.5.17 2 Cattle at Westwood Pasture Beverley 06 by Donald Judge. CC BY 2.0

Dr. Elma Kay of the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute had indicated that it would help if I could determine why landowners were clearing land within the CBC. Were their motivations purely economic, or were there other factors involved?

To help focus my thoughts, I read through a host of papers on conservation psychology and social marketing. I was particularly curious about the latter field, since I knew that groups such as RARE had been able to successfully apply it to wildlife conservation.

However, my thoughts soon turned inwards. I began to reflect on my experiences since leaving the archaeology school, and I came to a dangerous conclusion: I was enjoying what I was doing. Traveling, speaking to experts about important topics, and then imaging how I would share the story with all of you – this was exhilarating.

I was truly in my element in Belize, but it was not enough. I needed more.

By more, I mean more traveling in different locations. Thanks to living with Raj for so long, Nepal was high on my list. Sunset on the Roof of the World by Peter Coughlan. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What if I could make a career out of this? Could I make a living by traveling, learning about ongoing conservation projects, and then telling their story? 

It was clear to me that I would never be able to answer the above questions from the confines of my master’s program. As long as all my time and money was spent complaining about neoliberalism and writing soulless papers, I would get nowhere. I needed to get out.

But I could not just quit. I was halfway done with my master’s degree, and dropping out would not have helped anything. The only option was to finish, and fast.

This presented a problem. In the GoFundMe campaign I launched to help finance this trip, I had said that my intention was to return to Belize in 2018 and conduct my master’s research. This would mean that I would be at Humboldt State for another two years. While I was fine with this at the time, my new priority was to finish as quickly as possible.

Still, I had accepted strangers’ money to carry out research in Belize. To me this initiated a near sacred obligation, and I did not wish to break it. This conflict – between what I wanted to do and what I felt bound to do – lasted for several months.

Luckily, I would spend less time inside my head on July 3. This was also when I received my strongest dose of inspiration in Belize.

3 Thoughts

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