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

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Arriving in Belize

Yesterday we arrived in Belize. The journey here was simple enough. In fact, flying from Salt Lake City to Atlanta was twice as long as our international flight. Once we landed in Belize City, our Central American adventure took off. We were whisked off our flight, thrown in line, bags carried away, handed tickets (our name was never asked), and told to board the next flight at 1.30. Problem was, our flight wasn’t until 2.45…this raised some suspicions. Upon inquiring we were told that we looked like ‘The Stewarts” who were traveling to Placencia and not like “Matt & Rebecca” who needed to get to Punta Gorda. Because of this assumption and no airport security, they ran with it, tagged our bags, and were just about to hurl us to the wrong town when we raised our eyebrows. When the finally checked our names they grabbed our bags from the taxing plane, retagged them, and sent us on our way.

The common room!

Not many people go to Punta Gorda. This fact was made evident when the only people prepared to get on our flight were Rebecca and I. A two person flight isn’t very economical so Maya Island Air threw us onto a plane that was already scheduled to drop eight British tourists at a nearby beach town. Just like a bus we made one stop near Placencia, took off again, and finally made it to the most southern town in Belize, Punta Gorda.

Testing equipment

Our front door

 Our first evening in the country was spent lounging around chatting and drinking Belkin lager & stout. Another member of our team was arriving later so we had plenty of time to kill. Once all assembled, we grabbed fishburgers at a seaside bar, piled in the truck, and headed into the jungle.

Behind our house, our rain tank, and bedroom window

The driveway!

The Mayan radio station looking from our house towards campus

            Tumul K’in, where we are living, is located at the Southern tip of the Maya Mountains about ten miles from the Guatemalan border. It is located right next to the Blue Creek Village and provides education to around 35 students. It is also located very much in the jungle. When we arrived we could hear howler monkeys in the distance, many jungle birds, geckos, and some strange, small-unidentified mammal outside our window. Our first day here was typical we were told; scorching hot followed by heavy, heavy rains. Thus, much of it was spent hanging out inside the house listening the students taking marimba lessons in the open-air classroom across the yard. We won’t start work until Monday as some tribal tensions are slowing the processes. Some members of the community seem very excited about archaeology while others are quite skeptical. Hopefully after a town meeting in the next few days all the bumps will be smoothed over and we can begin looking for Maya sites! Until then, hiking, lounging, and a rumored spelunking-by-swimming trip! 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

From Galatsi to Tumul K'in: Or, how we ended up leaving Greece for Belize

For those who did not know, about a month ago we said goodbye to our apartment and the great folks at the British School, packed up our things, and headed home. It turns out that getting a Greek visa extension nowadays is just about as easy as fixing Greece's economy overnight. After many trials and tribulations it came down to the Greek Ministry of Alien Affairs wanting me to put 6,000 euros into a Greek bank to prove my ability to survive and not become homeless. Considering it is basically impossible for local Greeks to withdraw money from their accounts, I decided I would likely never see the money again and it was just not worth it. Thus, when we realized we would be leaving earlier than anticipated we sent out a massive 'help! need work!' email to our contacts in the archaeology world. And it was in this fashion we formed new spring plans, and came home for a few weeks to exchange cold marble apartment clothing for tropical hammocking swag.

Almost immediately after sending our 'help' email, we were put in touch with and welcomed to join UNC-Chapel Hill Phd student Claire Novotny. Claire has been working as an archaeologist in Southern Belize for several years and for her dissertation is initiating a community archaeology program at the Tumul K'in Center of Learning. Though their website explains much better, Tumul K'in is a school located in the rural area of Toledo amongst many Maya villages. Their programs focus on entrepreneurial skills with an emphasis on the preservation of Maya culture.

This Friday I will leave sub-zero Wyoming and Rebecca will wave goodbye to blistery New Jersey and we will both travel to Tumul K'in. Once there we will work on a variety of archaeologically themed projects. Southern Belize has been a host to the Maya since their beginning. Numerous large Classic Maya sites dot the country, including many in the jungles of Southern Belize. Whereas many archaeologists have previously focused on the grand pyramidal structures of the area, Claire and coincidentally Rebecca and I, will be investigating residential areas in hopes to better understand how resources were controlled and distributed during the Classic Maya era.

We will be living and working near the villages of Aguacate and Blue Creek (look
at the 3 purple stars in the center left)

Once there we will help survey for new sites, excavate some already recorded house structures, and teach archaeology to Maya students in the classroom and out in the field. And then, of course, snorkel, dive, spelunk, beach lounge, monkey watch, and hammock our faces off. Stay tuned!