William’s Wanderlust: An Introduction to Belize
I’m back in the world of civilization, internet, cold drinks and warm showers and it feels so good. Having spent the last month in the middle of a tropical rainforest, it’s slightly strange to see hundreds of cars again, and to have electronic screens constantly bombarding my senses. This was my second time working on the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project. Under the administration of the Belizean government and run by several American universities and institutes, the program is allowed to operate in an untouched rainforest preserve of a quarter million acres, rich in ruins of the ancient Maya civilization. It’s a joke among the archaeologists that you can’t walk for a kilometer in any direction in that area without tripping over a 2000 year old house or falling down an ancient well. Rather than doing this, however, the team that I helped to staff focused research efforts in a civic ceremonial center, analogous to a modern-day downtown area much like Atlanta. More on that later.
The entrance to the rainforest preserve is about a six hour bus ride (not including the stop or two when the radiator inevitably boils) from the nearest city, bouncing up and down on a metal seat frame with a few scraps of foam clinging to it. From there, our base camp is peacefully nestled a little farther into the jungle, a proliferation of tents and a few wooden buildings with shiny metal roofs, next to a small pond inhabited by a decrepit crocodile named John Wayne. The mess hall, run by local Belizean cooks that come with us, produces spicy and savory food that keeps you happy all day long. Supplies are brought in by the local camp manager in his truck from the closest Mennonite community, a couple hours away. Pure farm-to-table eating never felt this good.
On an average day, I’d wake up at about 5, usually to the sound of howler monkeys outside my tent, (the T. Rex roar in Jurassic Park was based off recordings of this, the loudest mammal on the planet), and make my way to the mess hall for a mug of black coffee. After dressing and lacing up my old combat boots, it’s gear check time, including knife, machete, digging and various other technical equipment, and 6 or 7 liters of water. Breakfast is eggs, beans, tortillas, porridge, and fresh fruit from the jungle. Also more coffee. Lots more coffee. At 6:30, I check my team’s gear and clothing for safety, verify that every person has enough water, and report to the director. An hour-long jarring ride in the back of an old truck ensues, down a “road” cut through the preserve. Then, a difficult four-mile hike through the jungle, over rivers on stick bridges, past the invisible watching jaguars, crazy turkeys, and swarms of killer bees humming angrily in the distance, avoiding the poison trees and hacking at invasive vines. At the site, we are inevitably greeted each day by an angry horde of spider monkeys who contend that we are trespassing, and wage war with sticks and nuts and—less savory projectiles. Sweaty and tired after a long day, we make our way back before dark, eat dinner, drink marginally cold beer and sodas, and fall into bed to the sound of the rain and the jungle. I’ll talk more about the archaeology next time. Hasta luego!