Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thank you!

Thank you all so much for your patience with our completion of this blog. We thank you all so much for following us on this beautiful trip to Belize Central America. And we all hope that one day you too will have the chance to travel to this beautiful country.

"Traveling, it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller"
-IBN Battuta

It seems like yesterday we arrived in Belize City, Belize, yet here we are ready to depart. Though it seems like such a short time, ten days was all it took to expose us all to a country so very different from our own, Everything from culture to climate was a brand new experience, Though we had some hiccups along the way in our initial adjustments, I think it is safe to say that everyone has walked away from this amazing opportunity with a new-found appreciation for the world around us. Though we set out to learn about tropical insect ecology, we are coming back with more than specimens. We have learned about hospitality from our hosts, humbleness in the simplicity of the meals we ate, appreciation of the abundance we have at home, and friendships as we grew closer to one another.

The Toucan Education Center where we spent our first night was a perfect place to let the culture shock wash over us. Being in the jungle it was hot, muggy, and humid; quite different from our New Mexico home which is hot, dry, and arid. Day 2 took us trekking through the jungle. Luckily we had guides to identify harmful plants and to explain the historical significance of the caves we visited. Day 3 we found ourselves spoiled at Clarissa Falls. Our host was the sweetest, most generous woman I have ever met. For anyone missing their family, her talent for making you feel like you were at home was unmatched the entire trip. We were fortunate enough to spend four nights next to the soothing sounds of cascading river falls. During our stay at Clarissa Falls, we visited the A.T.M. Cave, short for Actun Tunichil Muknal which translates to ancient stone sepulcher. Our guide was amazing and so knowledgeable! He created an air of mystery and suspense, yet was able to make us all feel safe at the same time. We saw ancient pottery as well as a full skeleton of a sacrifice victim. We were also able to take a day to tour the Mayan ruins in Xunantunich. We literally climbed the steps of history, and what a beautiful view it was when we reached the top! Day 6 we left for the Cockscomb. Upon arriving we were treated to a tour of a cocao farm (the trees that grow the fruit that chocolate is made of) and even try some of the beans! We spent two days at Cockscomb and never had a dull moment. Both days were jam packed with hiking, collecting, and tubing down the river. After Cockscomb, we headed to Dangriga. From there we boated to an island in Tobacco Caye (pronounced key) called Joe Jo's by the Reef. We were all so sad to leave it behind today! Snorkeling, great food, beach volleyball, fresh coconuts...what more could you ask for in an island get away?

Although ten days seemed more like ten hours, Belize was amazing I am beyond grateful to everyone who made us feel so welcome. Everyone had a great time, entomology major or otherwise. Thanks for letting us sample your culture and for giving us a great spring break!

Day 6-Cockscomb Wildlife Sancturary

Dr.Bundy showing off a Whip-tail Scorpion

Day 4 - Clarissa Falls Field Trails

Today we got to do what we came here for, learn the various methods of collecting insects! On the trails of Clarissa falls we were able to use aerial nets to collect butterflies:
We learned how to collect using aquatic nets in this river:

Sinea and Jeanette learned how to wash clothing from this sweet woman by the name of Melba Vasquez 

Mayan Chocolate Oh My!

Did you know that chocolate grows on trees? It sounds crazy...crazy good! Our first stop after lunch at the Cockscomb was to the Mayan Cocoa Farm. There we trekked through what was once a citrus grove which, due to the incurable devastation of citrus greening, is slowly transitioning to incorporate more cocoa trees. We learned that chocolate is actually made from the seeds, or beans inside the huge pods. Cocoa trees have been around for centuries, back to the time of the Mayans. In those days, the pods were much smaller. Much unlike the way we eat chocolate now, in the Mesoamerican period the beans were dried, ground, and mixed with hot water and spices to create a frothy (and quite bitter) beverage). A popular belief is that the Mayan people used chocolate as a form of currency, but in all actuality it was used as a trade commodity to barter for useful items such as shells or beads from their neighbors.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Day 5 - Xunantunich

Happy #NationalAgDay ! Did you know that the Mayans were farmers? About 90% of Maya were involved in farming.  They can be credited with domesticating a specialized, sting-less bee alongside their brilliant architectural accomplishments. God's played an important role in Mayan society. Among these were Yum Caax (one name for the maize, or corn, God) and Chac the rain God.

John imitating Chac the water God

Commoners would have come here to speak with those who were close to the Gods. They would bring offerings and dress according to their requests. 

The royal family would have stayed here.

As the Mayan empire grew, and more people came to live in the plaza, the middle building was added. This was done so that they ruling family may have more privacy. 

Everyone appreciating the beautiful scenery

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Curious Flavor

Nozzle Head Termites
Termite Nest

We saw quite a few termite nests on the way to and from the cave. After Dr. Bundy poked the nest and termites started raining down like candy out of a pinata, we discovered that they were Nozzle Heads. Dr. Bundy caught a few in his hand, and to my sheer horror ate them! He told us that they tasted like pepper. Curiosity got the better of me, and I tried one along with Kirsten, Danielle, Will, Joe, and Dominique. Well what do ya know, they really do taste like pepper that you would put in your scrambled eggs! We collected a few and brought them back to the group that had gone ahead of us. Everyone was a good sport and tried one. Perhaps because Dr. Bundy was jokingly (I think) threatening to fail everybody if they didn't. We fondly refer to the experience as our entomology gang initiation haha. 

So what are Nozzle Head Termites? The soldiers of the colony are able to spray chemicals out of their teardrop shaped head. Though not harmful to us humans, invaders may get a nasty surprise. You may have seen a more animated version of these little guys in the movie Ant when the ant soldiers were sent into battle. 

Day 3 - A.T.M. Cave

Actun Tunichil Muknal means in English, "Cave of the Stone Sepulcher". Though we were unable to take pictures due to former incidents with tourists, I can assure you the views were amazing! Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and kept us all safe and sound.

So why is this Mayan cave so cool anyways? If you keep up with your Mayan history you probably already know, but for those of us who don't, let the dark come to light. The Mayan culture is rich with sacrifices, blood-letting or otherwise. The Maya people believed that the caves were a portal to the underworld where their many God's lived. For us, it was no big deal to take the 30 minute hike to the waterfall, jump in, swim to the rocks, and begin navigating our way to the cool stuff. For the Maya people it was a different mindset entirely. The cave is pitch black, they probably had only torches, they were laden down with heavy pots, food, and the occasional human sacrifice. They would spend DAYS inside the cave and trek several miles to their destinations. Oh, and did I mention that they were [in their minds] traveling to the underworld so that they could reach out to unhappy Gods? I get scared walking around town at night by myself sometimes, so I can only imagine how brave these guys had to be to venture into the caves.

What was inside the cave? As the cave is where sacrifices were conducted, there were remnants of pottery where food was cooked and prepared (the smell of food was thought to attract the God's). Most of the pottery was broken. The Mayas believed that everything had a soul, so the pots were smashed, chipped, or had holes drilled into them to release the soul. There were finger bones strewn throughout. These were probably given by the brave souls who were conducting the sacrifices. Bloodletting was important as the Maya believed blood contained the soul. Sacrificing ones blood was symbolic of giving your soul to the Gods. Further into the cave larger bones started to appear, such as skulls. These human sacrifices were most likely offered to Chaac the Rain God and were thought to be children, mainly young boys. It was believed that Chaac liked children, and the crying of a child would draw him to the cave.

We spent about 3 hours in the cave, but I hardly noticed. Time seems to almost stand still the further back into the cave you venture. It is amazing to literally be able to walk the same paths that people you only read about in historic documents walked over 1,000 years ago. If you are up for an adventure of a lifetime, I would highly recommend you get your passport and head over the A.T.M. cave in San Ignacio, Belize.