Monday, May 7, 2012

Where the heck have we been the last 3 weeks?!

In short: Tumul K'in ----> Big Falls ----> Hopkins ----> San Pedro ----> Houston ----> Salt Lake City ----> Idaho Falls ----> Jackson Hole ----> Las Vegas ----> Princeton Junction ----> New York City ----> Boston ----> Princeton Junction

And why is this?! (The extended version):

It all started with Maya Day. Not the psuedo-apocalyptic end of the Mayan calendar, but rather an equally mystifying week long cultural event scheduled shortly before Easter. The photolog we left off with in our last post concluded with a 15 mile torch relay race and a healing ceremony performed by a Guatemalan Shaman. It was after this, and throughout the next week, that the Maya Day (sic) festivities brought roughly 2,000 people, our families, and a nasty tropical disease to Tumul K'in. Our specific role didn't play out until the final day of celebration, so that will come later.

About half way through the week, Matt's brother Will flew down from Elon to help finish up our hunt for undocumented Maya archaeological sites. We decided to haze him with a first work day consisting of a 10 mile jungle march up and down every mountain in 100 degrees, across every river, and ending with us and the Maya elders (generally spectacular guides) completely lost. The rest of the week passed without drama and with two new sites discovered. It was then that we were joined by Matt's parents who came to visit.

Maya Day football tourny! 

Considering both Matt's mom and dad were generally horrified of our work environment (heat, scorpions, snakes, ants, stinging plants, etc...) we hoped to show them it wasn't all that bad by bringing them into the field for a day. With them we dug our first holes of the season and began excavating a classic era Maya house that was bulldozed sometime in the 1990's. We found some cool pottery including some nice black-glazed pieces eyed by Nancy! After work that day we were invited for lunch by the Chairman of Aguacate whose wife prepared a delicious caldo (spicy and very traditional Mayan chicken soup) for the family.

Family excavating the largest site we have found thus far 

Finally came THE Maya Day! This was the day where a couple thousand Mayas descended upon our tiny school to take part in a cultural festival. Many booths were set up displaying and selling traditional Maya food, products, education, and information. Many people sold stews containing jungle creatures they killed. Once group buried and pit roasted a pig right outside our bedroom window without telling us. Other people sold hot sauce, fresh homemade chocolate, and HIV tests (actually one of the most popular booths). There were also contests, lots of contests. Most notable included the Caldo eating contest (won by the same elderly woman every year), chili pepper eating, corn husking, wood cutting, and to end it all....the slippery pole. That's right, a 75 foot tall, crisco rubbed pole placed upright in the ground with 100 bucks and a handle of rum on top. First person to get to the top without falling and breaking themselves, and then down without breaking the rum, won.

The Deer Dancers arrive at Tumul K'in

Leader of the Deer Dancers 

Our involvement in the festival was the running of a small booth dedicated to showcasing our archaeological work in the area. We had quite a turn out as word had quickly and vastly spread that three gringos were traipsing around the jungle in search of 'gold' and 'jade'. We also had many locals who were very excited about our work and had great information to share.

After Maya Day, it was our spring break! From the village we said goodbye to Will in PG, joined forces with Matt's parents again, and steamed North to the Garifuna village of Hopkins. There it was your typical Belizian holiday of pina coladas, snorkeling, and lots of beach lounging. We ate some absolutely wonderful meals and had a blast exploring the villages and nature preserves near bye. We even had the luck of seeing a black and white tree-anteater and hearing more howler monkeys!

The hard life in Hopkins

Lunch in Hopkins! 
They'll let anybody drive these things

After Hopkins we drove further north to Belize City where we hopped on a flight to San Pedro (the Isla Bonita of Madonna) and joined Rebecca's mom Stephanie. On San Pedro we stayed at Ramon's Village, a famous resort for divers. The first day there we all hit the water and dove, snorkeled, and boated around the barrier reef. This was the beginning of the end for Matt, and a phenomenal trip for
everybody else.

Sunset cruise off of San Pedro

It was around this time that Matt began getting an awful fever once a day and every day for nearly two weeks. While on San Pedro he was diagnosed with Malaria, Dengue, and then Typhoid.  About halfway through that it got more complicated and we decided it best to return to the US for proper treatment and investigation. We flew straight from San Pedro to Salt Lake City where Matt got 25 vials of blood drawn, multiple tests taken, and no diagnosis. He got on some heavy antibiotics and got better but we still don't know exactly what it was. However, the doctors suggested we take a couple week breather so we returned to Jackson, WY for a spell and then headed back East to Rebecca's home. We are getting ready to return to Belize on Wednesday for another week to help finish up and will be sure to post updates!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

In the Field, and Home

Here are some shots of recent Belizan adventures.

You know you're in for a good storm when...

The construction of a Maya house in our front yard

On the way to a healing ceremony/relay race from Lubantuun to Tumul K'in

Guatemalan Maya healer performing a healing and good luck ceremony

Tortilla makin!

Monday, February 20, 2012

First week at Tumul K'in!

So here we are having survived our first week in Belize! Its been an absolute blast and a whirlwind tour. Breaking it up into categories will probably be the best way to power through it:

Living at the school:

Life at Tumul K’in has been an absolute blast. We’re staying in a beat up, but spunky, house right on the edge of the rainforest. At night we can here the howler monkeys in the upper canopies near bye. There have also been a lot of bugs including scorpions in the fridge, tarantulas in the shower, and tons of little geckos on our windows. The geckos are actually one of the loudest creatures around and keep us up at night sometimes. During the days we have been helping teach Claire’s maya archaeology class. Last week we worked on transect surveys and marched the students across campus with pinflags. When the little maya students got to the jungle, instead of walking around as instructed they grabbed their machetes ( as big as they are) and chopped through the bush! For food we’ve mostly been cooking for ourselves. Eggs, beans, rice, a grand amount of habaneros, and the occasional fried chicken. We’ve also been eating with the students who cook their own meal over a traditional clay oven in a thatched hut. Their food is corn-everything, including drinks!

Archaeology work:

So far our archaeology work has consisted of us reinvestigating some sites that Claire recorded during a survey last summer. Every morning we wake up at 5.30, drive to the village of Aguacate, pick up our workers for the day, and head into the jungle. The fainforest near the Guatemalan border where we work is THICK. It is very difficult to see archaeology but we have been to identify structures that basically look like hills. So far we have been to 5 Classic maya sites and discovered a new one. Once identified, the next step is clearing the entire site with machetes, and then mapping it in with a total station to create a digital 3-d image. One of the structures we uncovered last week is much larger than previously thought and may prove to be a very interesting site. We’ll see! This week is more survey, clearing, and mapping. The digging won’t start for another month or so.

The daily commute

Surveying is thick here!

Walking in transects with the students

Welcome to Tumul K'in

The swimming hole


This weekend we decided to get out of dodge and have some beachside fun. We left Tumul K’in and drove an hour to Mango Grove, where we hopped in the Hokey Pokey Water Taxi to Placencia. We stayed at a hotel right on the Caribbean that had a great bar, wonderful food, hammocks practically on the water, and warm water in the showers! Placencia is famous for its expat population, which means lots of fantastic food including gelato, Italian food, and some awesome burgers. After a few days of splurging and enjoying rum drinks at the barefoot bar, its time to start work again in the jungle. Stay tuned! 

Lubantuun near Punta Gorda (not one of ours)

Driving back towards Punta Gorda