• Weekend in San Antonio

  • Weekend at Hopkins

  • Journey begins…

Today was the first full day at Lower Dover Field Station. We started the morning with a short hike which featured bird watching. After seeing multiple different species of birds we ate breakfast and went on another hike seeing the Mayan ruins located on the field station. This hike was guided by Maddie, the owner of the property. We then all loaded up into a van and took a ride to Benny’s Restaurant. One interesting meal some students ate was cow hoof soup. After lunch we went across the river in a hand cranked ferry and headed up to Xuanantunich for more Mayan ruins. These ruins were more intact than the ones at the field station. To end the day we headed up on a hill were a local Mayan lives and enjoyed the sunset from his workshop.

Abdon Tzib with a toy made from a Spanish Cedar seed at the top of the palace ruin at Lower Dover
Students in front of the ruins at Xunantunich
Jorge Castellanos signing his slate carving for one of the student, Kat Wilson

The Belize River

May 18, 2022

The Lower Dover Field Station (LDFS) is a large property in Unitedville, and the edge of the property runs alongside the Belize River. This river runs 180 miles through the center of Belize and it drains more than one-quarter of the country. The LDFS lies in the mid-upper portion of the Belize River and provides for Belizeans in Unitedville. 

The Belize River from the LDFS bank.

The Belize River provides sustenance through fishing and drinking water, pleasure from swimming holes, and aesthetic and spiritual values from its history with the community. While we spend time at the field station, we get to spend time enjoying the river in various ways.

To cool down after hot days, we will go swimming there to cool off. We also had the opportunity to snorkel and see the fish, snails, and rocks under the surface. Luckily, the water is clear enough that we don’t need to worry about the river’s more dangerous residents like crocodiles. 

Students walking across the river.

While at the river, we also looked under river stones to find aquatic insects like hellgrammite larvae and mayfly larvae. We saw cichlids, tetras, and swordtail fish. We also found live Apple Snails, Juti Snails, and remains of a freshwater crab.

Into the Darkness (ATM Cave)

May 19, 2022

Welcome sign to ATM Reserve

If I had to describe today in one word, it would be: emotional. We went to Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave this morning. When we arrived at around 9:30 I was originally skeptical at the importance and even the authenticity of these caves. I’ve read about these caves in the past and I must admit, some of it sounded “too good to be true”, and even a little fictitious at times. However, I was so pleasantly surprised at the truth, history, and cold-hard facts surrounding this ancient Maya site. The importance of this cave to a people who turned from praising their gods to pleading for their mercy was so fascinating.

Entrance to the ATM Cave

            As you can see, the entrance to this cave may seem beautiful, but when you leave the light-zone and enter the dark-zone, the aura becomes almost nefarious. The ancient Maya felt this same way. When their irrigations were functional and the rivers were full, they never ventured more than just the entrance of the cave to give homage to Chaac, the rain god, as well as other deities. Once their civilization grew and they cut down more of the rainforest, their once bountiful rains were no more, and the people thought that their offerings had to become more enticing in order for their gods to bless their lands with rain. So, even though they were terrified, they ventured further into this never-ending cave that they believed was the entrance to the underworld. With just torches, incense, and their crops, they ventured into the cave in the hopes of finding a perfect ritual site to plead to the gods to provide rain. After about half a mile in, they climbed sharp rocks that were carved by water. They ventured upwards and outwards until they were in the largest chasm of the cave, where they placed offerings in locations that water had once flowed over the floors. They initially prayed to Chaac’s wife, who was the goddess of the rain, but after their prayers were not answered, they turned to Chaac himself. After offering food and burning incense without having their prayers answered, they turned to the only other logical option: human sacrifice.

A preserved skeleton of a human sacrifice in ATM

By sacrificing the young royals, they tried to influence rain to bless their lands and grow their crops. Despite the numerous sacrifices and bodies scattered throughout the cave system, no rain came. Thus, the fall of the Maya was officially set in stone and the people were forced to migrate to survive.

            Despite this incredible history lesson that was taught to us by our tour guide, Hue, our month-long Maya guide, Abdon, shared his personal thoughts. He so eloquently spoke about the sentimental value ATM cave had for him. He said that this experience was the closest that he would get to his ancestors and seeing the results of rituals that he was only told about. To me, this resonated deeply, as I realized that Abdon’s ancestors faced their deepest fears and entered the “Underworld”, potentially facing their god of death, to save their families and the other people of the Maya kingdom. By going into this cave system, they faced their biggest fears for the betterment of their people. The entered the dark in the hope that their prayers would be answered, and they would be able to experience a fruitful harvest of their crops. The Maya may have inadvertently created the drought, but they were willing to risk their lives for their neighbors; something that is not often seen today. Upon reflection, I wonder if I would be willing to lay down my life if I was in a situation like the ancient Maya. Would you?

Scorpions, hiking, and Mennonites oh my!

A sign of a very eventful week is that there hasn’t been much time for blog posts! 

Highlights from this week include searching for scorpions, hiking in Guanacaste National park, and meeting Mennonites from the area. 

Searching for scorpions is best done at night because molecules in their exoskeleton allow them to absorb ultraviolet wavelengths and emit a different wavelength that is visible as a glow in the dark blue/green. 

Scorpion found during the search

On May 24, 2022, we all headed to Guanacaste national park for some hiking/Birding. We hiked the living cycle trail, stopping to notice creatures such as leaf-cutter ants, howler monkeys, white fronted parrots, and rufous-tailed humming birds. After hiking the living cycle trail, we hiked a smaller trail that lead to the Roaring River where we swam/snorkeled.

 

Students hiking in Guanacaste National Park
Roaring River

On May 25, 2022, the group headed to Spanish Lookout where we talked to a couple of Mennonites about their way of life. There was some thought provoking conversation, and we heard a first hand account of the Mennonite immigration from Canada to Chihuahua, Mexico to Spanish lookout, Belize.  This included an account of the hardships the Mennonites faced and overcame when they got to Belize such as buying land and cultivating it to become farmland. 

The group with the Mennonites we had a meeting with