San Ignacio, Belize 2010

Volunteering at the El Aguacate excavation

UCLA Maya Archaeology Project (UMAP)

Monday, Jul 12, 2010 - We are home with our luggage.

Sunday, Jul 11, 2010 - The rainy season in Belize has definately set in. The cloudy skys means it is cooler and the rain feels like a warm shower. We are not talking about Southern California sprinkles here -- a five minute tropical downpour can leave you drenched to the skin. The downside to the rain is that clothes no longer dry overnight due to the 100% humidity and the bugs also want to get out of the rain.
     After an early lunch at Hode's Place, we will start our trip back to the US.

Saturday, July 10, 2010 - George and I visited the market in San Ignacio. It is a huge event every Saturday, and is much smaller the other days of the week. The farmers came here to sell their produce; there were vendors of clothes and household wares; Plus there were comedores with grills and picnic tables and cooking food for sale. George had the best taco he had ever eaten as this morning's breakfast.
     We met back at Hode's Place at 7 am to share a cab with Gustavo and other students to the border. Crossing into Guatemala was easy. We found a cab that would take us to Tikal, wait for us to explore the national park, then bring us back to the border for $70. US. The journey across eastern Guatemala took 2 hours and went through swamp land, green pastures, and finally, jungle.
     Tikal was absolutely magnificent. The stone monuments were incredibly huge. I marvel at the manpower it took to create them. We first visited the grand plaza with Temples 1 and II. Then we followed our map around to the other complexes, seeing very few people along the way (It was still early morning). By the time we returned to the Grand Plaza around noon, it was filled with people. George climbed up to the top of Temple II using a wooden staircase on the side of the monument.
     After lunch at a small restaurant frequented by Guatemalans, we headed back to the border. The sky opened up and it rained hard. The dirt road turned to mud with standing water in the pot holes. Fortunately, we were outside hiking (7 miles, according to our pedometers) when the weather was excellent and dozing on the ride back while it stormed. It was an incredible day!

Friday, July 9, 2010 - After George cut up and sewed our entire mosquito net into 19 head nets and I finished scanning the 2009 UMAP reports, we said goodbye to the lab. On our way home, we stopped by the bus station to inquire about bus schedules to the Guatemala border and Belize City. On the spur of the moment, we asked a taxi driver to take us to the archaeological site of Cahel Pech (that translates to "The Place of Ticks"). We toured the Mayan temple, the plazas, and residential units before walking several miles back to our cabana. My impression is that Belize is one big archaeological site. Everyplace you go, there are either ruins or mounds that have not been excavated.

Thursday, July 8, 2010 - I'm settling in to life in the Belize countryside (George is still bothered by the humidity, and nobody ever gets accustomed to the bugs). When I walk home from the lab, I stop and talk with the children and their mothers. I am beginning to make friends among the locals.
     Meals are a real treat. Based on what we have been served at Hode's Place, Belizian food is primarily rice, beans, and chicken with Marie Sharpe's hot sauce on top of everything. One interesting food is breakfast pizza -- a pancake with scrambled eggs, marinara sauce and melted cheese on top. Another is fryjacks -- something like a thin, fried pancake that can be eaten like bread. Hamburgers seem to have a filler in it (probably mashed corn) with condiments of Marie Sharpe's instead of mustard or ketchup. If you like Mexican food, you will love Belizian food.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - George's head nets went over well. Mo placed an order for 10 more. George spent the day making 5 nets while I did lab stuff. We took a break midday and walked across the bridge to the town of Santa Elena to stock up on fresh baked goods.
     It's like Christmas every afternoon around 4:30 pm when the UCLA students arrive back from the field, drop off their tools, and deposit their bags of artifacts in the lab. The diggers are finding lots of pottery sherds (including pot smashes that might yield a complete pot once reconstructed), obsidian blades, and chert tools. Lab rats get to see all the artifacts as they are cleaned and catalogued.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - Today George and I both worked in the lab, a house that the project rented four blocks away from the Midas Resort. I did GIS stuff while George helped wash pottery sherds. Then he took our sleeping net and Mc Guyvered several bee-keeper head masks for the diggers at El Aguacate. Mo's group will try them out tomorrow.

Monday, July 5, 2010 - I got to see one of the archaeological sites today -- El Aguacate. The trip there required crossing the Belize River on a wooden hand-cranked ferry. We also passed through Mennonite farmlands, where the landscape was so clean and well maintained it looked like we were in the U.S. Midwest. Some Mennonite groups drive horse and buggies while others drive pickup trucks and tractors. It depends on the sect.
     The hike to the site was about half a kilometer from the road along a well cleared and marked trail through the rain forest. The mosquitos swarmed around us, making Ponderosa Campground tame by comparison. The site was marked by tree covered mounds up to 12 meters high. Howler monkeys hung from the trees, just watching the archaeologists (Oh yes, we figured out how they got their name). Small fires were lit around each of the excavation units, fueled by dead branches and termite nests. When you stood in the smoke, fewer mosquitos landed on your clothes. You could not sit on the ground or you would be bitten by bullet ants (so called because they are huge and their bite feels like you have been hit by a bullet). 99.8% DEET keeps the bugs from biting, but they still swarm so close to your face. The second you sweat the DEET off, the bugs demonstrate how hungry they are.
     This is an adventure! The days are a challenge but the evenings are comfortable since we have showers and air conditioning in our cabana. Still, we are both glad that I am doing my thesis work in the Andes and not in the tropics.

Sunday, July 4, 2010 - This is the project's day off. We didn't have the energy for another long bus ride to Tikal, Guatemala, so we walked around town and took it easy.

Saturday, July 3, 2010 - The group went on a field trip to Caracol, the largest (both in area and temple height) Mayan ruins in Belize. The bus ride was almost 4 hours each way on roads that ranged from pothole-plagued paved to single lane dirt. Caracol was certainly worth the effort -- the ruins are impressive. Besides climbing the temples, we explored some underground burial tombs, built using the corbelled arch. Some of the buildings were decorated with carved glyphs with dates and descriptions of the events here.

Friday, July 2, 2010 - I attended the 8th annual symposium on Belize Archaeology, while George moved us to the Midas Resort. Now we are staying at the same place as the UCLA students. All our meals are served at Hode's Place, the same large, open air restaurant where we ate lunch on the ship's tour to Xunantunich with Grandpa in January 2009.

Thursday, July 1, 2010 - Our trip to Belize started at 1:25 AM on TACA airlines. We had a brief layover in San Salvador, then flew into blazing hot, muggy Belize City. Then we had a three hour long, bumpy ride on the public bus to San Ignacio. This evening, we met up with the UMAP archaeologists, which included a handful of people that we worked with at Pambamarca, Ecuador last summer.
     We are spending the night at the Maya Mountain Lodge, a delightful place on a hill outside of Santa Elena (which is across the Macal River from San Ignacio). It's in the middle of a rain forest, with lush gardents, butterflies dancing and constant bird calls. It's an incredible place!