Thursday, July 30, 2009

The End of the Line

I just looked up Jaime Awe on Wikipedia. He's not there, and I'm tempted to write an entry about him and encourage people to embellish it. He's had what I'm pretty positive is one of the most interesting lives I've ever encountered. I'd love to just sit and talk to him for a while.

Today was not only one of the best days I've had this month, but maybe one of the best days of my life. I wormed my way into the lab and cleaned bones with Christopher all day, and he taught me a lot of cool stuff, and we had good conversations with Hope and Pete and Martin, and after work he and I went and washed clothes in the swollen muddy river. I may have wrecked my field boots, which I need for tomorrow, but that's okay. When I realized it, I took them off and went barefoot, in the river and even on the walk home. (Up until now, I was afraid to walk barefoot on Belizean roads, even though I go without shoes pretty much all the time at home.) Now I'm at Hode's waiting for dinner, after which we have our final exam (fingers crossed for easiness), and I'm hoping people will want to go out afterwards so Hope and I can try to meet up with the guy we met in San Pedro last weekend who's now stopping in San Ignacio for a couple of days. (Don't worry, he's not sketchy at all, and even if he was we would have been much better targets alone in the Cayes than here surrounded by people who know us.)

I look around and find it hard to believe that these are my last days in Cayo. Tomorrow I will leave Central Farm for the last time, eat my last meal at Hode's, and drink my last 1 Barrel. On Saturday I will troll the market for cheap goodies for the last time before getting on a bus and speeding across the Western Highway for the last time. It feels like I've been here forever.

I suppose Belize will keep calling me back, in the same way London and Arizona have for years.

I will miss some people here. Sam and David and Martin and Suzan and Flex and especially Hope and Christopher. I will miss the dogs at Midas. I'll miss being on the farm. I'll miss pickup trucks. I'll miss seeing horses on the streets. I'll miss rum. I'll miss Coke in glass bottles. I'll miss the rain a lot. I'll especially miss my hammock and the sounds of the jungle at night. I'm afraid I won't be able to sleep in false silence and fake light listening to the sounds of machinery and passing cars. I suspect returning to an air conditioned world will be a much harder adjustment than leaving it. I wonder if I'll have a hard time being inside all the time after a month of being outside up to eighteen hours a day.

But I won't miss being dirty all the time. I won't miss Hode's. I won't miss the smell of the pig farm we pass every day. I won't miss the roads or the men I encounter on them. I look forward to milk and juice and dessert and good bread, and to having my own room and clean clothes and hot water. I love Belize, but I don't want to stay here forever.

To Xibalba!

I wrote this last night, but after I'd gone back to my room, so I couldn't post it.

I worked my ass off today. I guess I subconsciously figured if I was going to be screwed out of a day in the lab, I might as well make my time in the field count. I also think I should have been working alongside cute Belizean field workers and the English archaeology princess* all along. They’re both excellent to talk to, and not wanting to look like a tool is easily the best motivation I’ve found so far.

Things I wanted to do before leaving include washing my clothes in the river, buying more gifts from a particular shop in town, and getting a henna tattoo. It appears that most, if not all, of these things are not going to happen, mainly because someone took it upon themselves to decide we were going to work until 5 instead of 4 all week, which they were supposed to ask all the students about before deciding it and didn’t. Martin calls it Fun Week (sarcastically, of course—he doesn’t like the way things are run, either).

But anyway, I owe you the epic tale of Actun Tunichil Muknal, or at least my trip to it.

Well, I went last Wednesday with Flex, Tori, Alette, and Kathryn. It was about an hour’s drive, mostly on very, very bad roads, roughly southeast into the Maya Mountains. Then it was a hike of another 45 minutes through beautiful jungle before we reached the cave itself. We forded the river in the van twice and on foot three times, and stopped once along the trail so our guide could poke a stick into a termite nest and offer each of us some. I think I mentioned before that I declined.

The cave has an hourglass-shaped opening, into the side of a mountain. The big chamber at the entrance contains a deep, clear pool of water, so you have to swim into the cave and climb up on some rocks. It was COLD. Fortunately it felt good deeper in, whether because it was actually warmer or because I got used to it I’m still not sure.

So, onto the rocks, and then over the rocks, and then back in the water. There was water in most of the cave, usually between knee and waist high, sometimes up to my chest. At one point I had to swim, but that was just because it was easier than continuously falling off the ledge I could have been walking on. Sometimes we climbed up over more rocks, and sometimes there was a stretch of dry sand. Our guide, who was quite entertaining, pointed out interesting rock formations (including one whose shadow looks like the head of a jaguar) and talked about Maya beliefs and rituals along the way. Finally, we came to a ridiculously tall rock, with a gap and then a shelf of rock, and then some kind of sandy-rocky formation that sloped steeply upward even higher. The guide announced that we would be climbing.

I had been worried about going to ATM. I even considered not going at all. I was afraid of the water. I was worried about small spaces (which turned out not to be much of a problem). But I had talked to others who had already gone, and they reassured me about those things and talked me through a lot of detail about the cave before I got there, so I was about as comfortable as I was going to get. All of the people I talked to failed to mention there was climbing involved, (other than something about a ladder that I’d forgotten but did recall when I saw it). Not just climbing over rocks, but scaling a cliff, essentially.

So I stared up at the wall of rock in front of us and wished I’d never come, I considered sitting right there and waiting until the rest of the group came back.

I asked the guide, “Do we have to climb back down?” hoping that this was only the way in, and we would take another path out.

The answer was yes.

I cried.**

We went up. We took off our shoes. And we entered “the cathedral”, the huge main cavern that’s littered with offerings. It’s like a vast field of pottery. And bones.

Then there was some more crawling through passageways before we reached the ladder, which also scared me but not nearly as much, which we climbed up to reach the ledge where the two most interesting skeletons are, one of a teenager who was killed while kneeling with their face to the wall, and the famous Crystal Maiden, sprawled out and amazingly complete. She was about twenty years old when she died and was 5 foot 2. Creepy.

Going down the ladder was considerably more difficult than going up, and going down the cliff would almost have been better avoided by leaping into the water and hoping not to break anything, except that my anti-leaping instinct is rather strong. Everything afterwards was fine, and seemed considerably shorter than it had on the way in. I was almost disappointed by how quickly we reached the entrance pool.

Altogether, we spent about three hours in the cave, though I had no idea at the time how much time was passing.

Back outside the cave, we retrieved the lunches we’d left behind and attacked them like fire ants on an earthworm. (Or your foot.) This was partially because we were hungry and partially because it was the best lunch we’d had in days. (Lunch in the field is chicken and rice almost every day and chicken burritos on the rare exceptions.) Ham sandwiches with actual vegetables on them, and FRUIT, and CHOCOLATE.

The hike back out to the van took forever because I was tired and wet and didn’t want to do anything anymore. It was a shame, because it’s a fairly easy hike and very pretty. But anyway, when we finally got back, we changed into dry clothes and came back. The end. I’m glad I went. It was a good experience, and parts of it were a lot of fun. But other parts of it were not, and I don’t really feel the need to ever do it again.

* That would be Flex, who has been doing archaeology for five years, which I would NEVER have guessed upon meeting her. In fact, I had trouble picturing her as an archaeologist at all. A movie star, perhaps. She could be Keira Knightley’s little sister. She’s Archaeology Barbie.
** I’m not kidding.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thoughts for Today

Survey was less fun than I’d hoped/half expected, but still pretty good. We set a new record for the number of mounds found and measured in one day (21), but I think that was mainly attributable to the fact that the fields we were in haven’t been plowed recently, if ever, so we weren’t losing time picking up artifacts that had been disturbed. The worst part of the day was easily the multiple treks across a fallow cornfield, which for some odd reason was one of the worst hikes of my life. The two best parts of the day were finding two plaza groups, one of which had a mound over six meters tall, and being handed a machete for the first time.

There was apparently a fantastic storm one night over the long weekend that most of us missed. It lasted for hours and was more intense than the one two weeks ago that not only woke me up but kept me awake for a full hour before the thunder subsided enough that I wasn't just listening to it and thinking about the metal roof over my head. Anyway, this storm took out a tree that was literally right outside the window I sleep under, so I'm satisfied with having missed that. It's also flooded the river dramatically. I walked down the street this afternoon to see the bridge that's underwater (which is doubly interesting because normally that's the way from Santa Elena to San Ignacio while the suspension bridge a little bit upstream is the way from San Ignacio to Santa Elena, so now the one-lane suspension bridge has to be both). I also realized halfway there that because the bridge is underwater, I could not actually walk across it to the bakery on the other side of the river. Actually, I could have, because I saw an old man doing exactly that, just wading right across, but I wasn't dressed for it. I considered taking the long way, but the operative word there is long, so I settled for a sad-looking cinnamon bun from the "French" bakery on this side of the river, which was a poor substitute for what I'd envisioned.

Something else I neglected to mention before is that there’s dengue in Cayo (well, all over Belize, but mostly in Cayo). There was an announcement to that effect at dinner along about the second week—pretty much just “There have been a few cases, use bug spray, these are the symptoms, make sure one of the staff knows if you’re not feeling well even if it’s not dengue, blah blah blah.” Well, towards the end of last week I had dinner with Josue, one of the students who’s local, who informed me that there have actually been over a hundred cases, some of which are the hemorrhagic strain, and at least one person has died.

Anyway, to continue catching up, there isn’t much to say about last week’s work. I was with Jill, my favorite staff member, who unfortunately has the most boring excavation in progress, on Monday and Tuesday, and worked with Alette (who’s a historical geographer from the Netherlands) to clear a pretty much empty trench and then to do some pre-excavation measurements on another mound, which I was vaguely disappointed not to work on, since I hadn’t (and still haven’t) actually started an excavation unit. Wednesday was ATM, which I’ll get to shortly, and then Thursday I worked in the lab and cleaned artifacts. The best parts of the week were the things I can’t publicize right now, which I had far less exposure to than I wanted, although I used part of my lunch break on Thursday to steal some time and wound up running across the cow field in the pouring rain to get back to the lab late, which was totally worth it because it was so much fun. Not much happened in the evenings last week other than me and Hope trying to plan our weekend, and a long venting session at and after dinner last night among the handful of us who hadn’t already left.

I’m concerned that I’ve been making this month sound like a blast when it really hasn’t been. I have done a lot of cool things and made some good friends, but there is a giant rant building up about BVAR itself. Was this a worthwhile experience? Yes. Was it what I (and others) expected (and rightfully so)? No. At first we were just annoyed with some things we felt we'd been misled about, and about the quality of instruction and the methodology, but then there started to be real problems with the way things are run that have only gotten more frustrating as time gets shorter. But I don't want to go into all that right now.

But anyway, here's the quote of the day:
Suzan (jokingly, context now forgotten): What is wrong with you Dutch people?
Alette: So many things...

Reminds me of the great conversation that she and Christopher and I had about the ways the Dutch and the Belgians stereotype each other, which was hilarious.

Second Weekend

So, last week Tabitha and I had planned to go to the Belize Zoo on Saturday. Later, some other people started planning a tour of Caracol. Grr. I chose the zoo.

Saturday was also the day the first batch of two-week students was leaving, so that morning I got up early and went to the market for breakfast so I could hang out with Kathryn and Leslie and Brita one last time. They woke up Christopher, who had partied rather hard the night before, and dragged him along, as far as I can tell mostly for entertainment value. He was supposed to go to Caracol but wasn’t keen on leaving at 7 a.m., and at five til seven when I reminded him he needed to be going, he announced he was coming to the zoo instead.

We all walked back to Midas so that the two-weekers could say good-bye to the people going to Caracol before the bus left, and then we sat around in the common room for a bit before I had to go back to the market to meet Tabitha so we could catch our bus. Christopher whined, so I left him and said he should find us by 7:45 if he still wanted to go. I thought it unlikely that he would show, and he didn’t.

Tabitha informed me that she was feeling sick and hadn’t gotten enough sleep, but she still wanted to try to go. We walked to the bus station and confirmed that the bus to Belize City would indeed take us past the zoo. We had a while to wait before the next one came, and while we were sitting Tabitha continued to look miserable. I reiterated that I wouldn’t be upset if she didn’t want to go. She was indecisive for a few minutes, because she thought if she slept on the bus she might feel better, but she didn’t want to wind up feeling like crap at the zoo and not enjoying it. Eventually she decided she wanted to back to Midas and sleep for a few hours and go later. I agreed.

The problem was that we were supposed to be back from the zoo in time for her to go canoeing with Alex, on a trip they’d already booked. If Tabitha was going to have to choose, she wanted to go to the zoo, but she didn’t want Alex not to be able to go canoeing because of her. So we went to find Chris, who was asleep on the couch in the common room where I’d left him. Tabitha informed him that he was going canoeing, which was a much longer conversation than seemed necessary, since Christopher was half asleep and probably hungover. They talked in circles for some time while David and I looked on and laughed hysterically.

Tabitha went to bed and I lay in my hammock with a book. After the agreed-upon two hours Tabitha came to my cabana and asked if I would hate her if she said she didn’t want to go at all. Obviously, the answer was no, though I was extremely disappointed that I missed out on Caracol only to miss out on the zoo, too. I considered going alone, but decided if that was going to happen I’d prefer to wait until morning and go before the heat. Or at least, before the worst heat.

So I had a very lazy Saturday. I walked across the bridge to Santa Elena and back, but mostly I lay in the hammock and read and sat in the common room and did computer-y things. Late in the afternoon I started thinking about not wanting to miss dinner plans, so I went to the patio and joined Brenna and Simone and Tabitha, who were also having long lazy Saturdays (Brenna and Simone were also not feeling well, and had attributed it to the birthday cake we all ate the night before, though that doesn’t make sense considering that only one person who went to Caracol reported being sick, and nearly everyone ate the cake.), and Maite, who was supposed to have left that morning but whose mother still hadn’t arrived.* Tabitha, who was a two-weeker but was staying an extra night before heading off to travel on her own, had decided she was sick enough that she needed to go home, so Simone and Brenna and I set about helping her to cancel her reservations for the mini-vacation in the Cayes that she’d planned and changing her flight. She was very upset.

When the Carcol group returned, most of us went out to Mr. Greedy’s for drinks and dinner. I hung out with Sam and Flex and Kathryn (a different Kathryn than the one I’d cleaned bones with) and Hope, all of whom expressed an interest in going to the zoo, but most of whom preferred the though of sleeping in to the thought of getting on a bus as early in the morning as I wanted to. In the end, only Hope went with me.

I should mention here that Hope and I are both pale and freckled and have dark hair to accentuate our whiteness. Plus, I was looking pretty touristy in the same battered shorts and t-shirt I’d worn the day before, and Hope was drawing attention to herself with a pretty skirt and tank top and her hair done nicely. In short, we were going to stick out like sore thumbs even if we weren’t the only gringas on the bus. Which we usually were.

Nonetheless, I though the bus ride was a lot of fun. We stood up for part of the way, until seats opened up. There was music playing, and with the windows open it was nice and cool, though sometimes (when the bus was speeding, which is most of the time it wasn’t stopping) the wind was too bad to see out the window very easily. As we were coming up on an hour of travelling, I told Hope to keep an eye out for signs for the zoo, since I’d been told by Suzan that it took about an hour to reach it on the bus. I was a little nervous because I wasn’t entirely sure whether the bus stopped AT the zoo, or just near it, and if the latter I wasn’t entirely sure where we were supposed to get off or how we would know when we reached it, since most bus stops seemed not to be marked as bus stops, much less as specific bus stops. After an hour and twenty minutes had gone by, I was starting to get worried. A little while later and Hope pointed out that we weren’t that far outside of Belize City. Finally, after an hour and forty-five minutes, the bus stopped in front of a sign for the Belize Zoo over a long gravel driveway. (I later mock-yelled at Suzan for lying to me, and teased her about her sense of time.)

The zoo is in the middle of freaking nowhere. But it’s pretty cool, despite being quite small. It’s all local wildlife (so the enclosures are really natural), and all animals that were rescued or captive-bred and given by other zoos. And of course there are exotic birds and lizards just hanging out along the trails that don’t technically belong to the zoo. It’s full of really cheesy signs about the various animals, but at least we had some good laughs about them.

Animal-wise, I was pretty fascinated. I don’t remember ever having seen tapirs (which I LOVE) or coatimundis or jaguarundis before, and some of the big water birds are completely amazing. There were even a few animals I’d never heard of, something that’s usually hard to come by. And then there were the jaguars. I had quite a moment with one. He was in a cage that part of which was sort of an overpass above the trail, and I climbed up on a nearby stump to look in and see if I could spot him. Lo and behold, he was curled up right in front of me, looking out with beautiful golden eyes, and we locked eyes with barely a foot between us. We just stared at each for a long moment before a large group with many noisy children began approaching. The jaguar gave me a look that clearly said, “Oh, good grief,” and got up and walked a few steps away so he was partially hidden by a tree. I swear he would have rolled his eyes if he could.

Leaving the zoo proved to be even more of an adventure than getting there. After about three hours there, we walked back out to the road to await a bus. After about half an hour of watching, one came by marked “Benque”. Expecting one for “Cayo” or even “San Ignacio”, we let it pass by, even though Benque is the last stop in the right direction. We soon realized our mistake and thought we would have to wait another hour for the next one. Fortunately, one came on the half hour, and we made it, but that just made me realize that if the buses ran every half hour, we had probably missed another bus that would have come by about five minutes before we reached the stop. Sigh.

* Maite is in her thirties, married with kids, and lives in NYC, but her parents still live in Mexico and she was apparently going to spend some time with them before going home.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Speed Updating

Hello all. I'm back from my epic long-weekend road/boat trip across Belize. I survived, and did some pretty cool things, some of which I never expected to do. There will be details to come, along with the other stories I've promised. This is going to be a crazy week, but I'll do what I can.

For now, I would like to mention that I have set a new record for the worst sunburn I've ever had. I think I'm probably lucky not to have blisters. So, a word to the wise: When snorkeling, one is not, in fact, far enough under the water to not need sunscreen on one's legs.

Also, I no longer have my annual watch tan, which is somewhat sad. A break with tradition. It's an unfortunate side effect of my wristwatch becoming a pocketwatch. Which is itself apparently a side effect of trying to retrieve a pool ball from the goal of a fooseball table. (Trust me, that sentence is more interesting if I don't explain it.)

Also, I found out this evening that over the weekend some guy got stabbed to death in the bar where said fooseball table is located. I wonder if that will deter any of this week's evenings out.

I think I'm going to devote an entry to food at some point, but I need to vent for a moment: Mayonnaise is for some reason ubiquitous down here. I have yet to be served a sandwich anywhere that wasn't soggy with mayo. Often on both pieces of bread. I hate mayonnaise. And it never, ever, ever, belongs on a hot dog.

Oh. Did I mention that last weekend Sam was bitten by a baby howler monkey and had to spend most of last week trying to convince someone to give her the rest of her rabies shots? (She was, both fortunately and ironically, the only person in the group to start rabies shots before she got here.) Well, that taken care of, she then proceeded to have a table collapse on her foot this weekend. It's not broken, but it's pretty much destroyed in every other possible way. I don't understand how this girl keeps smiling. I've never seen such ridiculously awful luck.

I am on survey crew tomorrow (FINALLY) for the first and probably last time. I'm looking forward to it, but I'd still rather be in the lab, for reasons some of you know and others will have to find out via not-a-public-blog.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Quick Update about Random Stuff

I was going to be caught up on the last few days by tonight, but I got distracted by trying to plan for the upcoming long weekend. Hope and I have successfully waited until the last minute to try to organize an excessively complicated adventure. We want to visit the ruins of Lamanai, AND go canoeing and horseback riding, AND spend enough time on Ambergris Caye to visit more ruins and do nature-y stuff in the national park there. Not to mention hang out at the beach. All in less than four days. And we have to have some idea what we're doing and how we're going to do it by dinnertime tomorrow, even though we can't contact anyone until after 4-4:30 p.m. tomorrow. Woohoo!

I have an extraordinarily painful blister on the bottom of my right pinky toe. It is causing me to limp, which I find extremely irksome, as not even the twisted ankle hurt enough for that. The ankle, by the way, for those who have asked, was totally fine by Sunday of that weekend. Initially I was pretty sure I'd sprained it, but after I walked around on it all day Saturday without it swelling up too much, that seemed unlikely. Now it only hurts a little when I turn my foot a certain way (specifically, the way it turned when I fell).

My computer MAY have fallen on the tile floor of the common room the other day. Now the CD player makes interesting growling noises at me every time the computer wakes up. I am without CDs and therefore unable to determine whether it still functions. The battery, meanwhile seems to function even less than before, which is not related to the fall. Now in addition to running down super fast, it doesn't always feel like charging while it's plugged in.

I went to Actun Tunichil Muknal today (see one of my earliest posts). There will be a post to come devoted to that, I hope.

There is exciting stuff going down at Baking Pot this week. Let's just say that Christopher and I probably couldn't be more thrilled, and maybe you can piece together what that means. I almost wish we had work on Friday.

Sam's latest encounter with American cuisine: Peanut butter and jelly. Apparently, it's the most disgusting thing on earth. I can't remember when I've seen such a hilarious reaction to food.

I had the opportunity to eat termites today, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I wanted to.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Catching Up: Last Week

Monday night it rained. Monday morning I woke up to darkness and the sound of more rain. At breakfast the staff declared a rain day, and we stayed at Hode’s watching documentaries in the morning and doing lab work (aka washing ceramics) in the afternoon. It poured for three solid hours before slacking off, though by lunchtime it was starting to be clear and we began to worry they would send us out to the field after all in the afternoon. But they didn’t, and even let us go early. I think it was pretty much the best work day of the month: no excavation, fun stuff and relatively enjoyable work, early dismissal, and beautiful weather in the afternoon and evening when we’re free. Several of us went to town and did some shopping and browsed the “henna” tattoo options at the “mall”, which is about five shops in a little building next to Cayo’s only movie theater.

Several of us had already planned to go out to dinner that night, and happy hour is conveniently at the same bar/restaurant, so we went early. I like banana daiquiris. The restaurant, which is called Mr. Greedy’s, is very Americanized and has very good pizza and allegedly the best burgers in town, although if that is true I think I will just abstain from burgers until I get back to the States.

After dinner, we went to Mana Kai Camping Cabins, which is the other place where BVAR students (mostly the boys) are being housed and which is a really good place to hang out because they have a giant yard, with several hammocks under a pavilion, and a fire pit with a picnic table next to it. It’s down the street from Midas, on the other side of Hode’s. Christopher* had promised us a fire and s’mores, and even though the closest thing he could find to graham crackers wasn’t very good and the chocolate ran out quickly, it was still a great idea. I had to explain s’mores to Sam and Flex (Felicia), who are Australian and English respectively, and later watched Sam excitedly teach Alex, another Aussie, how to make them. It’s interesting that they’re getting kind of a double cultural experience, since they’re in Belize with a group of mostly American students. Several people now live in the U.S. but are originally from somewhere else, but I think the two Brits, the two Aussies, and Chris are the only students who actually live somewhere else.

Anyway, Monday was probably the most fun evening I’ve had, too.

Tuesday it was back to the field, and I was assigned once again to the vertical test pits. Fortunately, it was only a half day, and also fortunately, I was not made to get into the pit, which was more than three meters deep. That afternoon we had a tour of Cahal Pech [“Place of Ticks”], which is the site that’s literally in San Ignacio, up on top of the hill. It’s basically Jaime’s baby, where he’s worked on something almost every excavation season for the last twenty years. I really liked it, because it was very different from the other sites we’ve seen—everything is very compact, and there are lots of tunnels and passageways and small enclosed courtyards. Someone later compared it to a medieval castle, which I thought was pretty apt.

There were two bad things about the trip to Cahal Pech:
1) I had decided that morning that I was getting sick, and by midafternoon I really just wanted to be done and go back to Midas.
2) Tabitha fell down the stairs on our way up to the site, and Alex caught her before she broke her ankle, but she still sprained it pretty badly.

On Wednesday I felt like crap, mostly just because when I get sick I get ridiculously tired. Unfortunately, I was on excavation again. I screened for a while, and then I couldn’t do it anymore and mostly just sat next to the trench until lunch. After lunch I did some trowel work, but still wasn’t terribly useful. It was a very long, very unpleasant day, culminating in the post-dinner lecture that I could barely sit through because all I wanted to do was go to sleep, which was a shame because it was about osteology and I would have liked to at least appear interested even though most of it was a review for me.

Thursday I was still sick but I was working in the lab, which wasn’t so bad. Ditto for Friday, which was a shortened day anyway because after work was the annual staff vs. students soccer game at the field across from Hode’s. Staff won**, but by a less painful margin than I’d expected. That night after dinner there was a big party at Hode’s, since it was the two-week students last official night. I did not drink and left early since I was still sick, but there was entertainment aplenty.

Up next: The ridiculous weekend.

* A handsome history-geek osteology student who dresses like Indiana Jones and is living proof that some people really do live in the Yukon. He’s the only guy here I’ve actually forged a friendship with.
** Obviously, since they had Jaime and several Belizean workers on their side.
Here’s a conversation from before the game:
Jill (one of the field supervisors): Our team is stacked with Belizeans. I think we might have the advantage.
Joe, a student, to David, another student: Do you play soccer?
David: In, like, middle school.
Joe: Well, we have Gabe… And I’m not terrible…

Monday, July 20, 2009

Guatemala II: Flores

Dinner in Flores was complicated, but the short version is that after walking in circles for probably close to an hour, a group of ten of us finally wound up at a small, only a little bit touristy restaurant called something like La Plaza de los Mayas, where I proceeded to order baked armadillo. The only other adventurous one in the group was Hope, who ordered jabali (wild boar), so I clearly won the prize for the most exotic meal. Armadillo meat was an interesting experience, but one I probably will not repeat intentionally. I can’t describe the taste, because it wasn’t really like anything I’ve ever tried before, but two other people who tasted it agreed that it was similar to quail. That seems odd to me, but never having eaten quail I can’t really offer an opinion.

Wild boar, if you’re curious, just tastes like very strongly flavored pork.

But the highlight of the meal was the variety plate of meats that Maite* ordered for the table to share. There was more armadillo, [I think] more wild boar, gibnut (a large rodent, the local name for which I couldn’t spell if I tried), venison, and something I can’t recall. Of the five, only the venison could be told apart by sight. I tasted two or three of the ones that were left, one of which I recognized as armadillo. I never did figure out what else I ate. The venison, however, might have been the best piece of meat I’ve ever eaten. At the end of dinner when we noticed the meat platter was still largely intact, Tabitha and I set it between us and ate the entire piece of venison, while repeatedly wondering aloud why we hadn’t been smart enough to order that for ourselves instead of what we did have.

I also ordered a glass of white wine, which I thought was surprisingly good, but then again, I seem to have pretty poor taste in wine. I also proceeded to drink Hope’s wine because she didn’t like it (which was sad because it was her first alcoholic drink ever), and a third glass that the waitress (God bless her soul for waiting on ten decidedly not bilingual tourists) brought by mistake. All of said glasses had a little bit of ice in them (remember, this is Guatemala, where we have been warned not even to brush our teeth with tap water), to which I basically said “Meh” and trusted the alcohol to kill anything unpleasant. And I was fine, so either that worked, or the ice was made with purified water, which is fairly likely in a tourist town (although it is generally a good idea to ask first).

After dinner it was already relatively late (considering we’re accustomed to getting up at dawn) so Tabitha and I went to an internet café next door to our hotel for a few minutes and then went up to shower and go to bed. We set alarms for 5 a.m., planning to go out and try to hire a boat to take us out to watch the sunrise, or, failing that, to watch it from the lakeshore. That idea came about because we’d been told that a sunset tour around the island was popular, but it was still overcast from the rainy afternoon, so we didn’t bother. Well, we woke up at 5 to a still-pretty-dark sky and decided we could sleep a little bit longer. I reset my alarm for 5:30, at which time Tabitha went to the window and said “The sun’s up.” I said, “No way,” and looked out. It was definitely getting light out, but there was pink in the east, so we got dressed and went out, but we had indeed missed the most interesting part of the sunrise. But the early-morning sun over the water was still pretty.

Unfortunately, as it was Sunday, there was absolutely nothing open that early in the morning. We followed the sound of church bells and glimpses of white bell towers through the winding streets up to the old Spanish mission on the hill, which is pretty much the only interesting thing to see in Flores. When that was accomplished, there was still nothing open that might serve breakfast, so we bought snacks at a tiny convenience store and went back to the hotel. The third floor, where our room was, is open to the street, kind of like a built-in balcony, with a small sitting area next to the rail. We sat there and ate cookies and drank juice and waited for sounds or smells that might indicate breakfast to come up from below. After an hour or so we smelled toast and headed out.

There still wasn’t much open, but we settled on a tiny little café/diner type place that seemed (to me) to attract locals as much as tourists, where the most patient waitress in the world brought Tabitha an enormous bowl of corn flakes and me a giant plate of platanos con crema, which I thought meant “bananas with cream” but was in fact fried plantains with butter. Admittedly, I do not know which is the correct translation for “crema,” but “platanos” definitely means bananas. And I am rather perturbed that it can also mean plantains, as it seems those are things one would like to make a distinction between. I know I would, as I find fried plantains to be slimy and mushy and altogether unappealing. My café con leche more than made up for them, though. I later heard some people complaining that it’s hard to find decent coffee in Guatemala because the best is exported, but my coffee that morning was to die for. And I tipped our lovely waitress well, because Tabitha literally doesn’t know a word of Spanish other than gracias, and I obviously lack the vocabulary to speak for one of us, much less both. There was a lot of menu-pointing and repetition of questions involved in ordering breakfast.

After breakfast came shopping, and lots of it, and after some ATM drama on my end, Tabitha and I both spent far more than we’d planned. But things are cheaper in Guatemala than in Belize, so it was probably good in the long run. Most of the shopkeepers spoke at least a little English, so though I tried to use my pathetic Spanish, there were a lot of mixed sentences going on in my interactions with people. We managed. What was great was when someone didn’t speak English, or chose not to, and Tabitha looked at me to translate for her, and I just stared blankly. I had to use “No comprende” a few times, and there was a lot of smiling and nodding and saying “Si” when someone tried to tell me something that didn’t seem immediately important to whether I was going to purchase the item in question.

Once we’d cut ourselves off, we did hire a boat to take us around the island, and even though it wasn’t a special time of day it was still pretty and fun. Our driver didn’t say much because it was clear we didn’t speak Spanish, but he did stop the boat at one point and indicate a forested area of the island and eventually make clear to me via Spanglish and repetition that it was a nature preserve full of wildlife and there was a hiking trail that would take about an hour to walk. He asked if we wanted to stop there, but disappointingly, I was forced to say no because we were running out of time. Back on the mainland, we found another hole-in-the-wall restaurant to get lunch from, where we shared a plate of four beef tacos for something like $2, and had gigantic smoothies for just a little more. The owner of the restaurant, who served us, was very nice and I actually managed to have a coherent, mostly Spanish conversation with him. He asked if I was from France, which I thought was interesting, since I’d accidentally mixed French and Spanish a few times that morning but definitely did not do so when I talked to him. Is my Spanish accented? That would be odd, since my French accent when I speak French is terrible. But whatever. I told him we were American, and ordered our food, which we managed to discuss in Spanish with only minimal confusion. He only completely lost me after our meal, when I think he was trying to say something about a special or a discount or something. What I definitely understood was “tomorrow”, so I said “We’re leaving today.” I didn’t know how to say that in Spanish, so I pointed to the bridge as I said it, which he seemed to get.

So, we went back to the hotel and got our things and got back on the bus and that was the end of our Guatemalan adventure. I suspect the remainder of the evening was unremarkable, as I seem not to have remarked any of it.

* who is Mexican and thus served as our indispensable, unwitting but fortunately completely willing interpreter

Friday, July 17, 2009

Guatemala I: Tikal

We set off on the bus for the Guatemala border around 7:30 in the morning last Saturday. About half of us were armed with snacks from the market, while the other half had just rolled out of bed. Half an hour to the border, where we had our passports stamped to leave Belize, then walked a few hundred yards and had them stamped to get into Guatemala. An AIR CONDITIONED tour bus picked us up on the other side of the border. We were cold. I was sitting with Tabitha, the Virginian, whom I really like and whom I ended up rooming with that night.

Once in Guatemala, the drive to Tikal was something like an hour and a half or two hours, most of which I spent staring out the bus window (that’s what I do most of the time in Belize, too). Guatemala is amazing. It’s officially one of the top three most beautiful places I’ve ever been, the other two being southern France and north-central Arizona. I love Belize, and a lot of it is pretty, too, but Guatemala has the mountains and rolling landscapes and winding white gravel roads. And Lake Peten Itza, which is stunning. And remember how I said everything in Belize is green and brown? In Guatemala, there’s only green. People in traditional clothing. Horses everywhere. Cows, pigs, and chickens most everywhere. All of the above wandering loose along the roads, which as I said are narrow and bright white along a large portion of our route.

When we arrived at Tikal, there was still a drive of several kilometers after we arrived from the national parks gates to the visitor’s center. Along it were “animal crossing” signs for deer and snakes, but also for coatimundi and jaguars. At the site, we had approximately four hours before time to meet back at the bus, which isn’t nearly enough time to see all of Tikal. I suspect that would take at least a full day and a half, possibly more. But we had Martin* as our tour guide and he led us in a circuit that took us to all of the most important groups and ended with the most spectacular, and got us back to the bus only half an hour late.

Tikal is very much in the heart of the jungle. I thought I’d seen the rain forest around San Ignacio. I was wrong. This is dark in the day, twisted fantastical tree roots, tangled vegetation as far as the eye can see (which usually isn’t very), knowing that the jaguars and cougars are watching you from the trees (no, really, they’re there, and they do) kind of jungle. It was intense. And the sounds. I had wished before that I could record the sounds around the Midas, especially at night, but at Tikal I heard things I hadn’t even heard here. Martin said it’s called “The Place of Voices”, that a lot of the Maya won’t even come there, and that “if we want to go to a haunted site, this is it.” I don’t know about all that, but I do know that I’ve never heard (or seen, or smelled [both pleasant and decidedly un-]) anything like that forest before. Martin also told us that when camping out at a site like this (I think he was talking specifically about Tikal, but I’m not positive), he’s had horrible, vivid nightmares unlike any he’s otherwise experienced, about eerily Maya-related things that I now can’t remember. Creepy.

Tikal was amazing. I love the feeling of seeing for real, in person, structures I’ve been looking at pictures of for years. It’s breathtaking. This was like seeing Buckingham Palace and the Eiffel Tower, only better because it really means something to me. Ruins are such a spiritual experience, and these perhaps even more so than Europe’s walls and castles and cathedrals just because I have absolutely no conception of what they should be like or would have been like in their day. It’s extremely frustrating to me not to be able to imagine them properly, but it also makes them that much more powerful. (Not that I don’t still love walls and castles and cathedrals.)


So we saw the North and Central Acropoli, and Temples I and II where a major king and queen were buried, and Temples IV and V far away, and I know none of this means anything to you, and the Lineage House, which is a palace that’s one of the oldest buildings at Tikal and was unmodified throughout history (which is really unusual for the Maya), and a lot of smaller and slightly less majestic things along the way. I didn’t climb to the top of the first acropolis because I wanted to save my ankle, and I didn’t climb Temple V partly for the same reason and partly because I couldn’t have handled it anyway.

[Something way too big to be a gecko just scurried under my porch…]

Temple V is like a zillion feet tall and the way up (built recently, of course) is by one long set of stairs that are really more like a ladder. Like, people literally climb them, and come back down them backwards. I was honestly a little bit surprised that I was the only one in the bunch who didn’t go up. Fortunately, I don’t feel I missed much other than the experience, because there’s nothing much around it to see from the top. Also fortunately, I had my ankle as an excuse for not going, since I really had decided I wasn’t climbing the pyramid before I saw what climbing entailed (I did fess up to being afraid of heights, too, though), plus it gave me a chance to sit for a while and prop my foot up on my purse. And I got pictures of the group sitting at the top that would not have existed otherwise.

From there it was a long walk past a lot of other interesting but less dramatic things (like some small temples and shrines) to Temple IV, which was the last stop for the day. About halfway in between, we starting hearing some low thunder. Then we heard howler monkeys,** and got a photo op, and while we were oohing and aahing over the monkeys there was the loudest thunderclap I’ve ever heard. I think everyone there jumped and/or swore. Then we saw a spider monkey swinging through the trees pretty much right above our heads, and I and a couple other people essentially chased it through the jungle for a few yards trying to get pictures. I don’t know about them, but I failed. Then Martin led about half the group up the steps of a small temple-pyramid. I stayed back because I wasn’t that interested and was still thinking about my ankle. As they were climbing, it finally started to rain. Rain took about two minutes to change to drenching downpour. We fled from the base of the steps to the nearest tree, which filtered the rain back to normal quantities. Those who’d had sense enough to bring ponchos or raincoats into the park (most of us just had purses and water bottles, having left our backpacks on the bus) pulled them out. We all got wet and sad-looking and watched the puddles grow around us and waterfalls form on the stairs. It was dark. We were cold, which I am of the opinion should not happen in the rain forest. When the rain finally let up to a drizzle, the other half of our group emerged from whatever shelter they’d found at the top of the pyramid completely and annoyingly dry and somehow managed to climb down without anyone slipping and falling, which still seems miraculous to me.

The continued hike was very unpleasant because of the mud and standing water and because it was still rather dark. We stopped for a long break at the next soda stand, where we saw more howler monkeys and my first toucan, after which I had to admit that my camera battery was dead, which was especially disappointing because I had not brought the charger to Guatemala and would have no more pictures for the rest of the trip.

Then we climbed Temple IV, which it turned out we had been sitting right next to that whole time without any of us knowing it because you can’t really see it in the jungle unless you know it’s there. I went up this time, because there was an actual wooden staircase, with legitimate steps divided into manageable flights, and I figured I could manage to come back down that. You couldn’t even really see how high you were because of the vegetation. It went up for an eternity before we finally stepped onto the stone platform below the last staircase up to the temple proper.

I have never seen such a view. An ocean of green treetops as far as the eye can see, with pockets of mist rising up and the very tops of that first group of temple-pyramids sticking up from the trees. It’s so beautiful, and so impossible to imagine the whole area cleared and farmed and full of people and buildings, even though you know that’s the way it would have been.

Some people climbed that last set of steps for the highest vantage point possible, but I was content to sit on about the third from the bottom and not move in any direction. We stayed longer than I though necessary, partly because I was ready to get down and partly because it was already three o’clock and we were supposed to meet the bus at 3:30. When we eventually did climb back down, it was a good 45-minute hike back to the entrance, so we were more than late. It was worth it. And I spent part of the walk encouraging Martin to ramble about Palenque, which is one of the sites I want most to visit. He told me that one is no longer allowed to enter Pakal’s tomb in the Temple of Inscriptions, which is a great disappointment to me and probably meaningless to you.

Back on the bus, it was a little over an hour to Flores, our overnight destination, a beautiful island in the middle of the beautiful lake. We stayed at the Hotel Itza, which reminded me of some old hotels in France. Actually, the whole island reminded me very much of Europe—crowded narrow streets lined with narrower alleyways and buildings that were tall by Central American standards, a very nice walkway along part of the shore, and taxis everywhere. It was decidedly Latin American in character though, with the dozens of identical souvenir shops and convenience stores, and the plethora of pay phones in the noticeable absence of ATMs, which is kind of the opposite of Europe or America, and the sketchy, leaky boats offering tours, and the bright colors and faded handpainted signs. Some streets were muddy dirt and most that weren’t had been torn up and didn’t appear to be close to finished yet.

Anyway, Hotel Itza was clean, and our rooms were roughly twice the size of the cabins at Midas (for half as many people, in my case), and we had air conditioning and hot water (even though Tabitha missed out on the hot water because she showered before me and didn’t figure out that the hot and cold knobs were switched).

I've fallen behind in updating because I've been sick and haven't felt like doing anything, literally. But this weekend we'll have Guatemala, Part II, as well as anything noteworthy from the workweek. Plan for tomorrow: Market, zoo, canoeing?

* Martin is the lab director, and was the official staff chaperone for the Guatemala trip (largely, he and I suspect, because no one else wanted to deal with it). He’s been with BVAR for 5 seasons, and he’s crazy about dogs and cats, and he likes to talk a lot. He’s really fun, and I really like him, and it was absolutely wonderful to have him along at Tikal because we all decided to just follow him around and make him the unofficial guide. He’s been to Tikal like a dozen times, starting back before most of it had been excavated, as well as to pretty much every other major Maya site. So he basically knows everything.
** Other people had told me they heard howler monkeys in/around San Ignacio, and I was disappointed that I had not. I was equally disappointed that we had gotten that far in the trip to Tikal and I still hadn’t heard any. I was beginning to think that maybe I’d been hearing them all along and I just didn’t know what howler monkeys sounded like, though I didn’t like that theory because I’d always thought howler monkeys must be very distinctive. Surely you know a howler monkey when you hear it. And then we heard them, and I learned I was right after all. It was like a roar, like a dinosaur sound, and even though I’d never heard anything like it and it was nothing like I imagined the sound of a howler monkey, I still knew exactly what it was even in the split second it took before someone announced it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wednesday-Saturday a.m.

When we last spoke (which is funny because so far I have no evidence that anyone but my father is actually reading this [thanks, I feel loved]), I was looking forward to Bone Day. Bones are not as glamorous as I’d hoped. It turns out that most of what you find in the field doesn’t look like what they show us in anthropology lab. Especially in Central America (fun fact: NO skeletal remains have been found in C.A. that are in good enough condition to collect DNA from them). What a surprise, I know.

But glamorous or not, bones are still pretty fantastic. I and two other girls named Kathryn and Leslie cleaned bones all day. I worked on a tibia, a mandible, a scapula, and some assorted unidentified bone fragments. I also worked on the contents of a bag that was labeled “Left Fibula” that actually contained clearly identifiable pieces of a femur and a humorus, not to mention a complete finger bone. Way to go whoever dug those up. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about anatomy either, but I really don’t understand how you can misidentify a FEMUR. And even if you’re not sure what a phalange is, it definitely doesn’t look like it belongs in your leg. Especially since it was obviously intact and could in no way be misconstrued as a piece of something else. Leslie and Kathryn cleaned another piece of a mandible, a femur, and a humorus, among other things. We were all working on parts of the same skeleton, so we decided to give he/she a name. Since it hadn’t been sexed yet, we had to decide on a unisex name. We chose Pat.

It’s worth noting that the reason I like working with bones is that it’s real and abstract at the same time. As opposed to tissue, which is a little too real for me. (As cool as mummies and bog bodies and Otzi are, I couldn’t handle being in a lab with them.) I like bones because it’s easier to distance myself from thinking about the fact that they used to be a person. But for some reason giving the skeleton a name doesn’t bother me, which I found interesting.

While we cleaned Pat, Jenn (a.k.a. The Bone Lady) worked on analyzing some other parts and showing us when she found something interesting. So we saw a dental hypoplasia, which I’d only seen in textbooks, and a healed fracture, which I’d seen for real, and arthritis damage to pelvis and vertebrae, and she showed us a pelvis and explained how she could tell that the person it belonged to was male and fifty-ish and probably an elite. She also showed us how people in the field sometimes fuck things up for the bone people by attempting to consolidate during excavation. I say attempting because as we have already seen, the people in the field usually have varying levels of knowledge about anatomy. And sometimes they glue things together that shouldn’t be glued together, or they glue them wrong, or they glue them in such a way that we cannot see a vital part of the bone, such as a pelvis Jenn held up that had been wrongly attached to another bone so that one of the best spots for aging is now lost forever.

It was a long day, and it got kind of boring and tedious at some points, but it was well worth it. And I very much enjoyed spending the day with Kathryn and Leslie, although we decided not to go to Happy Hour because it was threatening to storm when we left for the day. So instead I made a quick trip into town by myself to buy graph paper and a package of cookies, I didn’t know what kind they were because the package was in Spanish. I thought the picture looked like cinnamon. They tasted spicy. I also considered the wine selection, hoping for banana or something else exotic and tasty, but the only unusual options were pineapple, blackberry, cashew, and “tropical”, none of which but the last sounded appealing and the last of which I avoided on the basis that it might be made partly from oranges.

That night we had a long boring lecture about settlement archaeology, and specifically about settlement archaeology in the Belize Valley.

On Thursday I had to go back to excavation, but we had changed rotation and I was away from the pit. Thank god. Instead I had two trenches, in one of which a worker had found an allegedly awesome biface the previous day, in a mound where excavations last year turned up four burials. We found some miniscule pottery sherds and a couple of chunks of chert. Holly, digging in the trench I wasn’t in (naturally) found an amazing flaked spear(?) point about which our supervisor was depressingly unenthusiastic. I’d say the best parts of that day were talking to Mario, one of the hired workers, who’s about our age and very flirtatious, and the fact that it was overcast and windy and cool so that it was pleasant to be outside. It was less pleasant that when it rained, the tarp over my trench did not completely cover it and we had a sea of mud at one end.

On Friday I was assigned to work with Jill, whose excavation in June turned up literally nothing.* This time we are finding walls, at least. And part of a floor. And lots of pottery sherds. I found a great big one that still has part of the base of a plate visible on the bottom. Other highlights of work that day included being with Alex(andra) and Esteban, who are Australian and Costa Rican respectively, burritos for lunch (which was fantastic considering that up to that point, all of our lunches and three out of five dinners had been baked or fried chicken), and Jill’s somewhat entertaining fear of horses. Plus the fact that there were several horses in our field at all, which for me is much more distracting than cattle even though they don’t cause us any trouble. Non-highlights were mostly all related to the part of the day where I fell into the trench and twisted my ankle and bruised my butt.

That night we had more not-chicken for dinner (Spaghetti! With ground beef! And garlic bread!), after which most everyone hung around Hode’s drinking beer and wine (the two Brits and I had rum and cokes) and playing a giant game of taboo. I went home early to pack for the weekend trip to Guatemala and deal with my sore ankle.

Holly and I were the only ones who slept in our room that night, since Suzan was traveling on her own over the weekend and had already left and Tori is the kind of person who sometimes does not come home until morning. We both got up at six to join the group of people going to the market for breakfast before leaving for Guatemala. At said market, I bought breakfast, two bananas, a starfruit, three cupcakes (which turned out to be less exciting than I’d originally thought), a bag of granola (from a Mennonite lady with a British accent), and a big glass bottle of Coke, all for the equivalent of $3.25 U.S. I heart Central America.

Later tonight or tomorrow I'll catch up on the weekend and sundry other things.

*Apparently in the last week or so when students get to choose where they work, no one signed up for her mound, and someone actually cried when they were assigned to it anyway.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oh boy, fire ants

Monday: the detailed version. I’m writing this on my front porch on Tuesday night, and there are at least three little brown geckos hanging out with me. They have really big black eyes and are actually kind of creepy looking. Cute, but definitely not as cute as the anoles I’m used to in North Carolina. They also seem to lose their tails frequently, since only one of these has a whole one and the one inside on our wall yesterday (assuming it wasn’t one of the same ones) was also in the process of growing a new tail.

Supposedly there are iguanas hanging out in the trees here, but I have yet to see them. Or any exotic birds. Also have yet to hear howler monkeys, which is extremely disappointing. Did find an avocado tree today.

About yesterday, breakfast at eight was far less impressive than dinner the night before. At least to me. There was a variety of choices. I ate tortillas and toast and an overripe banana.

Our very first field school activity was to practice setting up excavation units (i.e., the little string square that marks off the area you’re going to dig in) in the orange orchard behind Hode’s Place. That’s the restaurant where we eat breakfast and dinner and where our lectures and meetings take place. Basically, anything that doesn’t happen at the site happens at Hode’s. We should all love the people that run it a whole lot.

Anyway, excavation units are simple but tedious, because all your measurements and angles have to be extremely accurate. We fail the first time (which is funny because our supervisor was doing most of the work, to show us how it’s done), get it pretty much right the second, and move on to practicing taking measurements for where an artifact is located. I’ve done this before, so it remains tedious. It also gets really obnoxious when some bitch keeps telling me my measuring tape isn’t perpendicular when it clearly is (I’m the one looking directly down on it, so I ought to know) and telling me how to fix it, and arguing with me when I try to put it where it belongs. Finally the supervisor steps in and tells me to do what I’ve been trying to do the whole time.

After excavation units is Survey 101*, and then we have some time before lunch, so my group heads into town in search of graph paper. We don’t find any graph paper, but we do find a variety of cool shops, and several girls go to the bank to change money. We get back just in time for lunch, which closely resembles dinner from the night before.

Something I don’t think I mentioned yet is the gender ratio. Surprisingly, the vast majority of us are girls. There are only about ten male students (out of ~37). Among the staff, who are mainly if not all grad students, it’s a little more even, but guys are probably still under 50%. Jaime, the archaeologist who’s vaguely in charge of us but doesn’t seem to be around much, is a man, but the doctoral student directing the field school on a day-to-day basis is a woman. (Her name is Julie, in case that comes up later.) I’ve always been told that women are still a minority in this field, but I’m definitely not seeing evidence for that right now. I’m not sure I have at Oberlin, either, with the possible exception of the information session about Professor Kane’s field school in Italy.

Moving on, after lunch we have a field trip to Xunantunich, which if you didn’t look it up already is a big local site where a lot of work has been done and a lot has been preserved for tourism. Said field trip gets postponed an hour because of the heat, so we continue to hang around Hode’s. I’m hanging out with Tabitha, who just graduated from UVA, and Sam and Alex, both of whom are undergrads from Australia. We finally leave for Xunantunich around two (more speeding buses) and are taken about fifteen or twenty minutes downriver to a ferry crossing with a row of souvenir stalls along the riverbank. (“You buy one bracelet for five U.S. dollar, I give you one free!”) The ferry is wooden, holds one vehicle at a time, is attached to a cable, and is operated by turning a crank. The river, of unknown depth, is probably less than three ferry lengths across. We could have swum faster than the ferry moved.

The buses couldn’t go on the ferry, so we all got off and walked on, in two groups, each accompanied by a pickup truck, one driven by a staff member and one by Jaime. On the other side of the river, as many of us as will fit at a time (which is more than you might think) climb into the back of a pickup and speed off into the jungle. The road to Xunantunich is about a mile long, mostly uphill, with some curves that are probably way less interesting when you aren’t balanced on the side of a truck bed. We wait outside the site until the trucks have come and gone twice to bring everyone up from the river, and then Jaime gives a wonderful tour. It included the story of why the site is called Xunantunich (which apparently means “Stone Lady”), which I unfortunately missed because I was distracted by my observation that people were CLIMBING ON THE RUINS. I was thinking about how I couldn’t wait to do that while simultaneously being horrified from a preservationist standpoint, and by the time it occurred to me that Jaime was still talking all I heard was something like “… and they say she’s still there, and that’s why it’s called Xunantunich.” I learned a lot of other cool things that I doubt are of particular interest to you, but feel free to ask.

I got my wish, though. But we didn’t climb the partial temple I’d been watching the other guy on. No, we climbed el castillo. The gigantic, almost intact major pyramid. And if you’ve ever been hiking with me, you know that I’m content to climb up a lot more things than I’m content to climb down. Up the wide steps to the first level isn’t so bad, and the steps up to the next point aren’t so bad either. The steps up to the topmost floor, though,

Holy shit. There is something either on our roof or in the tree hanging over it that chirps. I doubt it’s a gecko.

Anyway, the stairs zigzag up the back of the pyramid, where they’re sort of just tacked on. Very narrow and uneven and lacking in places to hold on other than the wall. I’m a little bit freaked out at this point, but not enough that I can’t handle it, because I can just sort of fling myself upwards without being too worried about it. The view from the top is amazing (we can see into Guatemala, the border of which is fairly close), and Jaime tries to point out other sites in the region, but none of us can really see what he’s talking about, because it’s all a sea of green and we don’t really know what we’re looking at. I stay close to the wall, but some people get down on the stomachs and look over the edge, which scares the crap out of me. I’m scared about going down the whole time we’re up there, but fortunately the second staircase, on the other side, is slightly less frightening than the one we came up. I still creep, and hang on to the wall, and wish I wasn’t wearing a backpack. Lucky for me, Sam is behind me and moving even more slowly, so I don’t have to freak out about holding up the line while I’m trying not to fall to my gruesome death.

Now I have five geckos. I think they’re gathering an army. The one that just came down to the floor must be a scout. Haha, Holly just came outside and I told her about the geckos. She said they’re going to carry us off in the night.

The rest of the site tour is less exciting, then it’s back on the truck, back on the ferry, browsing through the market stalls, and back to San Ignacio. Supposedly there’s an artifact talk before dinner, but it keeps getting pushed back because there’s too much light to use the projector (remember Hode’s is not enclosed). Dinner comes out and we have cheeseburgers and French fries! Granted, it was the worst burger I’ve eaten in a long time, but they tried.

Seriously, geckos don’t chirp, do they?

After dinner and artifact show-and-tell, I came back to get my computer and write all of this down, but some girls were on the patio playing Loteria (sp?), which is pretty much Bingo in Spanish. So I played for a while, and wound up not having time.

This morning we went to Baking Pot for the first time. It’s on a government-run farm, which explains the cows.

I think it IS the geckos chirping. Weird.

First on the agenda was a tour of the site. There wasn’t really much to see, since most of the excavations were filled in and allowed to be reclaimed by the jungle. Baking Pot “isn’t ready for tourism” and there’s not money to maintain it right now anyway. So mostly, we saw mounds, and sometimes not even that through the trees, and it was really hard to picture what Julie was talking about. I’m sad I didn’t get to do this several years ago when they were excavating the main ceremonial groups, though. That would be so much cooler than what we’ve got now. I’ve forgotten what site the UCLA program this year is at, but the main reason I almost chose that is because they ARE excavating temples and plazas. What’s cool about BVAR, though, is that it’s run by Jaime, who’s also the director of the Institute of Archaeology in Belize. We’re essentially working for the Belizean government.

Anyway, not even halfway through the site tour, we began to suspect it was raining, though we couldn’t really tell because we were in the jungle. Rain doesn’t really reach the ground.** Except eventually it does. Because all of a sudden there was a roar and the sky started gushing. Instant downpour, and instant darkness. I will never again say “I’ve never been so wet in my life,” because I doubt it will ever again be true. We stayed where we were for about fifteen minutes, because we had some cover in the trees and the next leg of our hike was in the open, but when the rain didn’t let up we just had to venture out into it. So much mud. And wet cow shit. It did stop raining a little while later, so we finished the tour soaked but in sunshine. My hat did not survive the drenching very well, sadly. It has lost its shape and no longer wishes to fit my head with falling over my eyes. I will be searching for a new one.

After a short break, we finished the tour by looking at the current excavations, which are all house mounds in a complex farther away from the main farmyard than the other groups. In a cow field. Then we waited for lunch, and ate lunch, and had a talk about how we shouldn’t steal artifacts, publish photos, or tell people in town about cool finds. Then we split up into our groups to start our first field rotation.

I was scheduled to work under Eva, who is Slovakian and is a grad student at University College London. We had not seen her mound during the current excavation portion of our tour, so I was suspicious. Turns out, it’s far away. Far enough, in fact, that we are driven there in the back of another pickup truck (I’m really starting to like this part of being an archaeologist.) The truck pulls over at the side of the dirt road, where there is no gate in sight. Eva basically hops through the barbed wire fence and is gone while we’re still trying to crawl under it while avoiding A) the barbs, B) cow shit, and C) fire ants. (I forgot to mention before that one of the first things we were told upon arrival at Baking Pot was that we should always be aware of where we put our feet and how long they stay there. The greatest peril after fire ants is cows. Then killer bees.)

Eva and the guy who drove us chase off the cows that are standing literally in the middle of her excavation with shouting and rock-throwing, and when we finally get ourselves and our stuff through the fence and catch up, we discover that our site is a vertical test pit that is already almost two and a quarter meters deep. Eva explains what’s going on, then she hops in and cleans up the mess the cows have made by knocking stuff in over the last week. She climbs back out like she’s been doing it all her life, and then a girl named Brenna, who has excavated before and has more balls than the other four of us, jumps in to finish off the level. I prefer to sift dirt. In fact, I would be content to sift dirt all day tomorrow if it means I never have to go down in the pit. I am 100% certain that I will not be able to climb back out, even if I manage not to break both ankles on the way down.

We only had about an hour and a half to work since we didn’t start until mid-afternoon, so when Brenna finished the level we took some measurements and some pictures and laid sticks over the hole so the cows won’t fall in and that was it for the day.

Back at the Midas, we took showers*** and discovered that Belizean cable includes a bizarre mix of American channels in English and Central American channels in Spanish. I watched Scrubs and saw commercials for Olive Garden and Arby’s, which was totally and completely weird. Holly and Suzan and I ventured into town in search of graph paper again, but most everything was already closed for the day. We came back and Tori was watching Angels and Demons on TV, which was even more weird than Scrubs because that movie is way too new to be on TV at all, much less here. (Also, I only got to watch about twenty minutes before dinner, but it seems to be a lot more engrossing when there are not people having sex beside you.)

Dinner was quesadillas, and other than chicken I have NO IDEA what was in them. I just know they were hot and tastier than more chicken and rice (that was lunch again today). But afterwards I discovered two exciting things: Hode’s has an arcade, which has seen better days but which has an air hockey table, and Hode’s serves ice cream for the equivalent of $0.75 American.

After dinner, Julie was figuring out some stuff with our work rotations. There’s someone here studying bones that have been collected from Baking Pot who’s going to take about three students at a time out of their regular rotations. I wasn’t even paying attention when I heard Julie say “I need a volunteer to work with human remains tomorrow.” My hand was in the air before she added “I’ll take the first person who raises their hand.”

Two of the girls at my table are also in my group, and one immediately said “You just don’t want to go in the pit,” to which I replied, “True. But I also love bones.” And in fact, I wasn’t even thinking about the pit when I volunteered, although that is definitely a gigantic bonus. Also, two of my favorite people here are the other two bone people for the day, and the three of us sat around talking for ages after the post-dinner lecture and after we’re done working tomorrow we are going to go to happy hour at a bar in town that has rum and cokes for $1. So tomorrow might just be the best day ever.

We had an Intro to Archaeology lecture after dinner. Before Julie got started, she asked how many of us had already taken an Intro to Archaeology class. 98% of us raised our hands, and someone asked if we could leave. Unfortunately the answer was no.

What I’ve learned today: Vertical excavation sucks and geckos chirp.

* a ten-minute demonstration of how to pace off a distance an how to use a sighting compass
** Side note: Someone whose identity can’t remember told me a while back that the cardinal rule of the jungle is Don’t Touch Things. I now suspect that that person has never actually been in the jungle. To a place in the jungle, perhaps, but not IN the jungle proper. It is IMPOSSIBLE not to touch things. And even when it’s not, there are some things you just have to touch. Like leaves that fold themselves up when you touch them.
*** In theory, we have both hot and cold running water. In practice, we mostly just have cold.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Day 1 in Summary

Quotes of the day:
"I love how there are chickens just wandering around over there. Although, I haven't seen them since that pack of dogs came through the orchard earlier..." (don't worry, they reappeared)
"So I bet him a bottle of 1 Barrel.* That's this really good juice they make here in Belize. From sugarcane.... so I won a bottle of rum. I mean juice."**
"Anyone have vertigo? No? Because if you fall and hurt yourself, I will beat you."
"I'll chuck a ball at a round thing."***

Things I saw today I've never seen before:
1. REALLY free range chickens
2. orange trees
3. a ferry operated by a hand crank
4. colorful cemeteries
5. an allspice tree
6. a lone cow grazing in a cemetery
7. a group of children attempting to get coconuts out of a tree, first with a long pole and then by climbing

Things I did today I've never done before:
1. Heard a rooster crow.
2. Eaten buttered tortillas for breakfast.****
3. Bought fruit on the street.
4. Taken a ferry across a river that could easily be spanned by a bridge.
5. Climbed a pyramid.
6. Played Bingo in Spanish.

Fun fact of the day: There were more people living in Belize in prehistory than there are now. Like, three times more.
Fun fact of the day #2: There are "cow problems" at the Baking Pot site. As far as I can tell, cows just wander around the area, and they mess things up and knock things over and sometimes fall into pits. Should be interesting.

Will try to write in more detail tomorrow. Need shower. Site orientation tomorrow, and then I start out on the excavation rotation.

* What we were drinking in the airport
** This quote and the next one are from the archaeologist directing the project. He's awesome.
*** Basketball. What were you thinking?
**** Or at all.

The Rum is NEVER Gone

... but four bottles of it were by the time we all left the airport yesterday. And a fifth after the bus ride. Let's just say archaeologists have a reputation and this crowd seems more than happy to live up to it.

Anyway, here's what I wrote before I went to bed last night:

Arrival day continued...
We landed ahead of schedule at the tiny Belize City airport. And by tiny, I mean I didn’t know they made international airports that small. We got off the plane directly onto the tarmac, and it was hot and sticky and windy, and the guy I was walking with (named Kevan, whom I’d met when we got on the plane) said “It feels just like I thought it would.” I noted palm trees, which I haven’t seen since the Riviera, I suppose.

We go inside under the “Welcome to Belize” sign, and it was right about then that I became acutely aware that we are in a third-world country. Mostly because it was right about then that I noticed the size of the airport. Immigration is literally right inside the door—you walk in and are in line—and it consists of four tall tables with agents sitting behind them, and lines painted on the floor to indicate where the queues should form. Behind them is a single baggage claim carousel, and when you’ve retrieved your bag you turn back and realize that customs is just behind and to the right of immigration. Just behind them is the door to the rest of the airport: about four or five ticket counters, three or four tiny shops, a doorway I assume leads to security and the boarding area, and a staircase up to a second floor that contains a restaurant and a screened “waving area” above the waiting planes. That’s it. I didn’t notice, but Kevan said there were only about six planes outside when ours landed.

Immigration and customs were more pointless than anywhere I’ve been before. The immigration lady looked at my papers, asked if I had an address in San Ignacio (I didn’t know it, so I gave the name of the Midas Resort Hotel), wrote something down, and stamped my passport for thirty days. The end. The customs lady took my form, asked where I was going, wrote something down, and sent me on my way. Apparently they just don’t ask a lot of questions here.

There were already a bunch of BVAR people waiting in the restaurant upstairs drinking beer, so we joined them. Since I don’t drink beer, I instead had the best rum and coke I have ever drunk in my life. And let’s face it, I’ve had many a rum and coke. There was also a bottle (well, multiple bottles, one after the other) of amber-colored Belizean rum making the rounds (watch us all get mono) that I swear tastes like lightly spiced maple syrup. It was delicious.

We waited about four hours after I got there for the last flight with BVAR students on it to come in, because it got delayed by an hour. Then we lugged all our stuff outside for a bus ride somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours west to San Ignacio.

Sometimes the road is nicely paved and painted. Other times it is less paved, unmarked, and narrow enough that God help you if your hand is outside the window when your bus passes another bus. “Bus” in Belize appears not to denote anything other than a colorful school bus with dirty windows. Also, theses buses move faster than I thought it possible for school buses to move. (Kevan: “So, is there a speed limit here, or is it just anything goes?” The question remains unanswered, but I’m thinking the latter.) Rarely does the road (I say that as if there is only one because I am so far unconvinced that that isn’t the case) cross or meet another road that isn’t dirt. The Belizean method of conquering speed bumps, which do exist here in the form of slightly raised pavement indicating a designated crosswalk (yes, those exist too) seems to be to fly up to it, stop and roll gently over it, and then speed away again. Sometimes only to do it again in a few hundred yards.

Fortunately for speeding buses, The Road is very flat for most of the trip between Belize City and San Ignacio. And by that I mean Ohio has nothing on Belize. But it was okay, because here there were mountains in the distance. And not pussy mountains, either. Or maybe they just looked that way in comparison to everything else.

I didn’t quite notice when we reached said mountains. They came up really fast, apparently, because first they were off in the distance and then all of a sudden they were right outside my window. I did not observe them come closer in the interim. I did observe that it was at that point that things started to look jungle-y to me. Before that, after the initial fascination had worn off, I’d been noticing that for the most part what I saw didn’t look that much different from the coastal forests of southeastern North Carolina. It seemed different, but I couldn’t have told you why, other than to point to specific plants and say “I’ve never seen these before.” The overall impression just wasn’t that unfamiliar. Someone else looking out the window said “Dude, it’s [Belize is] like 80% jungle” and I thought, “Huh? I don’t see any jungle.” Here in Cayo I see it, though.

There are horses and dogs everywhere here, including dogs wandering the grounds of the Midas and in and out of the open-air restaurant where we had dinner, and the horses are just as likely as the dogs to be found by the side of the road instead of behind a fence. Except for a bony specimen grazing next to the road, Belizean horses seem to be beautiful. Belizean dogs, not so much. The dogs, with just a few exceptions, also seem to be all roughly the same size and shape, and come in a limited range of colors. I think all of the females have puppies stashed somewhere.

Things I have yet to see include: an mammal other than a dog, horse, cow, or goat (cows, by the way, are not Holsteins or Anguses or Jerseys; I’d forgotten what I learned in France about livestock not, in fact, being the same everywhere); a white Belizean; anything made of brick or stone; a building higher than two stories (stilts not included), or maybe three; and a naturally occurring color other than brown or green.

The Midas is cute. There’s the main building, which has a patio with tables and chairs out back, and a tiny bar that has beer and soda and bottled water. A long (concrete!) path leads from it down across the rest of the property (maybe a hundred yards long) and all along it are little individual cabanas, some square and some round, and one very nice-looking building that I think contains four connect rooms. They are painted pretty colors, and they all have little porches and some of the porches have hammocks. They also all have non-functioning air conditioners. But it cools off enough at night that with a fan and open windows (they’re screened well, precisely so this can be done) it’s bearable. Each cabana has its own bathroom, a little desk, and a TV, which I haven’t yet tried. I and three roommates have the very last room, on the end. There is a population of leaf-cutter ants living in front of it, it is apparently too far from the wireless router for me to have internet inside it or on the porch, and there are wonderful insect sounds surrounding it at night. It also originally contained a double bed and a single bed, and while we all agreed we had no problem sharing beds, we DID have a problem sharing single beds. We explained the situation to the lady who gave us the key and who I think owns the place, and she tried to move us to a different room, which turned out to have the same arrangement. The solution was the move the single bed from that room into the original room and put it between the other two beds (since that was the only realistic place to put it) basically creating one giant bed across an entire side of the building. The guy who moved the bed for us, not allowing us to help, is named Tomas, and he was born across the river in Santa Elena, where he still lives, and he speaks English and Spanish and the local creole (which he gave me the impression is the main mode of communication among Belizeans), and he hung around on our porch talking to me and Suzanne for a while after moving the beds. He seems really nice. He wants to learn French and I told him I want to learn Spanish, and what little bit I know I picked up fairly easily because I already know French. He said Spanish is very easy to learn.

My roommates are Holly, Suzanne, and Tori. Tori is from Nevada, but I don’t remember where the others are from. I played cards with Tori in the airport, and drank rum with Holly in the airport, and didn’t meet Suzanne until we got to San Ignacio because she’s already been in Belize for a week hanging out. She seems older than most of the rest of us, and I can’t decide whether it’s because she is or if she’s just mature and prematurely aged. There doesn’t seem to be a non-awkward way to ask. I like her, though. I think I like Holly, but she might annoy me. I really liked Tori at first and was glad we were going to be roommates, but now I’m not sure anymore. She may be another Sara, for those of you who know how that went. There is likely to be some shifting around of rooms during the month, and I think that regardless of how we get along it would be nice to have some shifting of roommates, too. I don’t know if they’ll want to do that, though, since keeping track of all of us is probably an organizational nightmare.

I think they are going to feed us well. We eat breakfast and dinner at a restaurant right down the road, which has a shelter over it, very high up, but is lacking in walls other than where the eating area meets the owner’s house on one side and the kitchen area on the other. We wandered in for dinner and sat down at long tables and a fat Indian-looking lady brought us plates of enormous amounts of food—barbecue chicken and rice and plantains and something I wasn’t sure of and didn’t touch, not that I needed to, since I couldn’t eat everything else.

Now it is morning, still cool out, but sticky. It's very quiet except for more bird and insect sounds than I've ever heard in one place before. Tori said she saw a monkey this morning. We all woke up at six even though this was our one morning to sleep in--they scheduled breakfast for 8 instead of 6:45 to let us get over traveling. Stupid time difference. I'm sitting on the patio of the main building at the Midas, where the wireless internet seems to work beautifully. There's a lot of activity this early in the morning. Workers and guests talking in both English and Spanish, a flurry of breakfasting, lots of coming and going.

Something I forgot to note last night: Seeing the sun ready to set at 6:30 pm was kind of a shocker. I'd forgotten how much closer to the equator I am now.

Today after breakfast we have some orientation activities and then after lunch, a field trip to Xunantunich.

This is what I wrote on the plane:

Things started off not badly. I met two other BVAR students, both from California, as soon as I got on the plane. We started out sitting together, but then split up when we realized the huge plane was going to be less than half full and we could all have window seats.

I then filled out my Belize entry forms, which was scary. I’ve now left the US four times, which means I’ve gone through customs/immigration seven times in five different countries, and I don’t think it’s ever going to not freak me out.

For ten bucks I could have had WiFi in-flight. It was almost worth it just for the sake of saying I updated Facebook from the air.

Flying over the place where land meets water, and looking down on endless blue and occasional islands, is really neat. I’ve never flown overseas except at night before. I saw the shores of Ireland and England and France in the early morning, but I’ve never seen North America fall away behind me. I almost missed it, and then I realized we were flying over water and I looked back and saw the coast. I tried without success to figure out what part of the coast I was seeing. I would assume based on geography and time in the air that it was some part of northern Florida and we were over the Gulf of Mexico, but I couldn’t really tell what direction we were headed, so I can’t say entirely for sure.*

Time zones are so neat. In two hours, I’m going to land in Belize at the time it is right now.

* Shortly after I typed that, the pilot came on the intercom and confirmed that yes, we were over the Gulf. I love that unlike so many Americans, I know where things are.

There are many updates to be had...

This is what I wrote in the airport yesterday:

I write this in the Atlanta airport, Wi-Fi-less (how little we realize our dependence on internet until it is denied us), awaiting my flight to Belize City. I am trying to finish reading the articles I was supposed to have read before my arrival, which seems unlikely to happen at this point. The optional article on osteology that was intended to be my reward after pages upon pages of site descriptions and records of pottery whose classifications remain mysterious (read: meaningless) to me may have to be scrapped. This is sad. It is all the more sad because one of the few things I have so far gleaned from my readings on Baking Pot, the site where I’ll be studying, is that there are lots of burials. Which means there are likely more to be found. Which means there is an excellent chance that I will excavate/help excavate/at least see one.

Why Baking Pot, you ask? Beats the hell out of me. I can’t think of a stranger site name, with the possible exception of Naranjo (“Orange”), though admittedly most of them are in either Spanish or a Mayan dialect and I usually don’t actually know what they mean.*

But Erica, you ask, weren’t you trying to learn Spanish?

To which I reply, Haha.**

Anyway, other things I have learned about Baking Pot today include:
1. It is seven kilometers from San Ignacio, which makes me really hope that my daily commute will involve something with a motor. I love hiking, but I doubt I will love it THAT much while also working in the sun all day.
2. It is, contrary to my earlier perception, a ceremonial center. Not just a small agrarian community. There’s a ball court. If you don’t know much about the Maya I will translate: that’s a big deal. There’s also a small pyramid temple, apparently.*** I’ll still be digging up house mounds, I think, but the site as a whole is cooler/more important than I thought.
3. They have found some cool shit in the temple burials at Baking Pot. It saddens me that anything I get to see while working on the periphery of the site will likely be way less impressive. But still.

From an article co-authored by the guy I’m studying under: “One of the primary indicators of wealth considered by archaeologists is the presence or absence of exotic or high status objects in burials (Ricketson 1925). At Baking Pot we have noted that, despite the medium size of the settlement, the absence of massive monumental architecture, and the relative absence of inscribed monuments, the graves that have been excavated to date are comparable in material wealth to many of the larger polities such as Tikal, Copan, and Palenque.” That may not mean anything to you, but it sure does to me. In a nutshell, it means there is way cool shit here. Tikal and Copan and Palenque have been part of my vocabulary for years, and I could look at a picture of a building and tell you with reasonable accuracy which city it’s from. All three are gi-normous and beautiful and amazing and full of wonderful things and fantastic stories.

I should stop typing and go back to reading. But I would like to add that it seems increasingly likely that my computer is going to crap out on me during this trip. It’s now doing not just weird annoying things, but weird annoying things it’s never done before. And it has a long history of doing weird annoying things. Sigh. I suppose if I have to buy a new computer before school starts, I’ll get a used something to run Windows XP, because I don’t feel like spending the money for a new MacBook anytime soon. And then when I do, I will have the best (worst?) of both worlds. When one annoys me, I can switch to the other until it annoys me, too.

Or maybe I’ll find out if I can run OS X on a non-Intel Mac (I’m not sure, but I don’t think that works) and buy an old iMac. That would be cool. But then I wouldn’t have a laptop, I guess.

Maybe it’s time to just learn Linux. The consensus among computer geeks seems to be that Linux > Mac OS > Windows. (I feel like I may have just stolen that from xkcd, though I’ve definitely heard similar sentiments from real-life computer geeks.)

Ahh! Boarding now!

* Fun fact: I do know some [extremely random and limited] ancient Mayan. And I can read number glyphs, though it seems that will not be an important skill in the Belize Valley, where there seems to be little text of any kind.
** I was, actually, and would like to continue. But right now my vocabulary is limited to a handful of random nouns, adjectives, and present-tense verbs. My grammar is deplorable. I know few generally useful phrases and lack the useful vocabulary to construct more. And it takes me unfortunate amounts of time to call up what I do know. In short, Rosetta Stone is lovely and fun and useful but I have concluded that it must be supplemented by a dictionary and a grammar text. I need real instruction.
*** Correction: In fact, now that I am reading a recent article and not one from the sixties, it has multiple ball courts and multiple temples. Awesome.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Parting Thoughts

Tomorrow I leave for vacation and will likely not have internet access until I'm at least en route to Belize, if not until I reach my final destination. That's July 5, in case you missed the memo.

Rumor on the interwebs is there will be a field trip to here: (check out the first of the external links for a better description), which seems likely given that the director of the project has worked on this site. I'm torn, because I've heard of this site before and it's way beyond cool, but I'm also a little freaked out about actually going there. I'm not a huge fan of small spaces, and I'm really not a huge fan of swimming, particularly in deep water. I also need to rethink my packing of shoes. I'm tempted to hope that the rumor is false and/or the excursion will be optional... but if the latter is the case I know I'll wind up going anyway, because I'll hate myself if I don't.

I'm super excited about taking a side trip to Tikal, though. I can't think of anything that would deter me from that.

So far, everything looks good. I've forgotten a couple of things I can pick up next week before I go. I've packed a very full suitcase that I'll probably remove some things from next week before I go. My paperwork is all filled out and in order. I think I'm ready.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Next Chapter in Blogging

You knew I had to do it. It's been years since I made a new blog, and I've never had a themed one before. Plus I'm far too conceited to just email people about my travels. I was going to go back to LiveJournal, because I miss it sometimes, but all the cool kids have Blogger these days. And this blog is all about trying new things, so here I am.

So here we have it: my first travel blog, which will follow my upcoming trip to Belize, my semester abroad next spring, and hopefully many other adventures to come. A summer in Quebec? Working with elephants in Thailand? Teaching in France? We'll see. Stay tuned.

For now, though, countdown to San Ignacio, Belize: 13 days and some-odd hours. I will then spend four weeks scratching mosquito bites and digging in tropical mud. I've loved archaeology since I can remember (I distinctly remember reading National Geographic and Discover while still in the single-digit age range) and the Maya since at least middle school. Archaeology as a potential career option first occurred to me about five years ago. I'm more skeptical now than I was then about my ability to stay passionate about it while dirty and sweaty and tired and bored, but all the same, I've been waiting for this for a long, long time.

I've had my shots, I've got my tools, there's a plane ticket with my name on it, and me and my boots are ready to get this show on the road.

So bookmark this page, subscribe to it, or memorize my URL. It's time for an International Adventure.