Indiana Jones and the Adventure in Aventura

Jen Reese is a rising Senior from DuBois, PA majoring in Anthropology, focusing in Archaeology. She is also pursuing certificates in Leadership, Integrated Marketing, and Civic Engagement. On campus she is involved in Wildcat Welcome, Greek Life, Homecoming, and Student Alumni Alliance. She is excited to be going on her first dig and looks forward to the warm weather and field work. Melissa Jones grew up in Barrington, IL and is a rising senior majoring in Anthropology, concentrating in Archaeology. She is also minoring in Global Health. On campus, she is a counselor for the pre-orientation program Project Wildcat and a facilitator for Peer Inclusion Educators. She is very excited for her first experience in the field and to experience the exciting culture of Belize.

The Ocean is a Scary Place…

Ahh reunited yet again.  Since my last correspondence I have had the pleasure of traveling to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye and back, and what a trip it was.  We boarded our 2 hour water taxi ride at 7 am to provide optimal fun-in-the-sun time.  We crowded onto the vessel and managed to get seats together.  It was a tight squeeze having 4 people to a three person bench but some how we managed.  The waters were choppy so our bums were a wee bit sore upon arrival but our excitement acted as a natural pain reliever.  We bumbled around momentarily as we got our barrings and be for we knew it we had reached our destination, the Ocean Tides Hotel.  This cozy little bungalow had everything we could hope for: cozy beds, a pool, comfy lounge area, complimentary coffee plus a welcome drink, and AC! The gods were good to us as it was the iciest AC I’ve experienced in Belize and I didn’t even have to loiter in a bank to enjoy it! We made a beeline to the pool to soak up some much needed rays, in hopes of evening out our fieldwork tan lines, 3 weeks in the making…it didn’t really work but a girl can dream.

Once we were sufficiently sun-soaked we decided to find a bite to eat before our snorkeling trip.  We meandered through the streets of San Pedro, dodging gringos on golf carts (which is arguably the strangest thing I’ve witnessed here for reasons I can’t even explain) finally locating the perfect street food vendor: Belizean street BBQ.  Let me just say Belizean BBQ is an experience.  You get a massive piece of BBQ chicken (that is the perfect combination of smokey, tangy, and sweet), baked beans, coleslaw, and tortillas.  I thought I had known the glory of Belizean food but nothing quite compared to that.  We plopped down on a nearby bench and gorged ourselves.  BBQ sauce coated our fingers and faces as tongues tried to lap up every last drop.  I can only imagine what we must have looked like, ravenous hyenas delighting in the carnage perhaps.

After the feast we headed to our dock to wait for our snorkeling boat to arrive.  Our captain did not instill a lot of confidence in me as he let the boat bang about the dock as he pulled in and out and his deep island drawl made understanding him a challenge.  Never the less we made it out to  Hol Chan and jumped into the water.  We were greeted by all manner of aquatic life: crabs, eels, barracudas, fish of every variety, beautiful corral, and sea turtles! Discovery: Finding Nemo is a LIE!…the sea turtles never came up for water! Blasphemy!  Anywho, after Hol Chan we traveled farther down the reef to Shark Ray Alley where guess what? We saw sharks and stingrays! I know it’s shocking.  But on the real, I was not entirely enthused about jumping into shark infested waters, be them nurse sharks or not. However, I did jump and the sharks were actually the least frightening thing.  We pet one nurse shark and it was much scalier and rough than I had imagined.  The stingrays and the weird fish with teeth were far more frightening. The fish were darty and the rays were HUGE! Like the size of the hood of a car.  (is that a weird comparison? I’m terrible at judging size or making comparisons) But they look pretty as they swim so I accepted it.

The boat was really the best part.  I wish we could have stayed out on the water just enjoying the view.  When we got back to the hotel we showered and combed the ocean tiddlybits out of our tangled manes.  Then we decided to grab some dinner at a local restaurant.  Kacey ordered ceviche and accidentally ate a little too much of the habanero pepper.  Her mouth was on fire and nothing seemed to help.  For the rest of the night she feared the residue from the pepper was still on her face and hands and was afraid she would rub her eye and enrage the beast.  A thorough hand washing took place but it still came back with a vengeance.  Let that be a lesson to you, never trust a habanero.

Then we had some time to kill before trying to have a big night on the town so we had a pillow fight, people watched ex-pats and gabbed.  At 9pm we thought it was finally an acceptable time to go out…we were wrong.  Not much was open but we managed to find a small bar and grab a couple drinks. The problem with fieldwork days starting at 5:30am is that it makes it nearly impossible to stay up past 8pm so we called it quits pretty early and headed for bed.  We were finally able to sleep in until 8:30 though so that alone made it an incredible weekend.

Note: So far the only things I really miss from home are french fries and my family.

Also: Locals asked us if we get offended when they call us gringos.  Should I be?  I always figured there were far worse things they could call me. But also this is where being racially ambiguous comes in handy because most people think I am either Belizean or Cuban here or so I’ve been told.  AHH race and ethnicity what a funny thing.

Pics or it Didn’t Happen.



View from on top of main temple at Xunantunich


Jen at the Bay


Jen with an iguana friend



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Cerro Maya


Santa Rita


A Coconut Snack!


Melissa’s Cane Soaked Legs


The Bay <3


We Suck. But Belize is Fabulous!

Wow. Apologies.  We had no intentions of leaving you with a riveting cliffhanger about fictional characters but alas life happens!! Rest assured, we did in fact make it Belize that day and what a time it has been since! Our first week was spent at a beautiful hotel in San Ignacio (in south western Belize) for the BAAS, which is a conference for all the archaeologists in Belize. We attended several paper topics, felt vastly inadequate about our own research aspirations and all in all had a hoot and a half! It was fascinating to be amongst some of the leading archaeologists in the field and hear what they have been working on.  It certainly wasn’t all  work and no play however.  We spent plenty of time poolside and even went to an iguana sanctuary.  Note: Iguanas have sharp claws and like to crawl all over you… Melissa was less than enthused.  Plus they are freaky dinosaur lookin things that just should not still exist, but I digress.

We have also gotten the chance to see several other archaeological sites during our stay.  Xunantunich was first up and I had to step back and just think about the amazing architectural feats the Maya were able to accomplish.  We climbed to the top and that view will forever be in my memory.  Then we got the chance to see the site Professor Cynthia Robin had worked on called Chan, which was a smaller farming village on the outskirts of Xunantunich.  After years of reading about her work it was cool to see the words and pictures jump off the page.

But the best part of this adventure so far has been the food! Rice and Beans is LIFE!!! Rice and beans are mixed together and typically served with stewed chicken and my lips have never tasted something so delicious! They also have garnachas which are basically tostadas, mole, escaveche which is like an onion soup, and tostones which are fried, seasoned plantains with some sort of dip.  I could eat tostones all day errr day.  Yum.  I salivate at the thought.

Once the conference was over, we were off to Corozal (northern Belize about 2 hours away) to begin the actual research.  We made a pit stop at the Belize Zoo and oh hawt dayyum it was cool! Melissa is a bit of a zoo freak so she was hard core geeking out.  All of the animals are in their natural habitat but are easily visible and they have fun witty/punny signs telling you more about the animal.  Seriously all zoos should take note!!  But yeah its da  If we had more time we could have fed tapirs or pet a jaguar.  Yeah you read that right.  Also apparently Tapirs are like the country mascot or something which I just find amusing.

Ahhh but yes, Corozal.  A lovely place! The Bay is an absolutely stunning shade of greenish blue and is right across the street from our hotel.  There are not many beaches but the locals don’t seem to mind a bit and just throw their bodies off the edge into the murky abyss. I am not so fearless but we certainly have dipped our extremely bug bitten extremities in to soothe them with the salty therapy.  Once in Corozal, we got the opportunity to go to 2 more archaeological sites of Cerro Maya and Santa Rita.  Santa Rita is less impressive nowadays as one temple sits atop a plaza in the center of a community.  A nearby playground is its only friend, but it is beautiful nonetheless and you can only imagine what it must of looked like before the modern city was plopped on top of it. Cerro Maya is an interesting site.  It sits alone on the peninsula jutting out from the bay so we had to take a boat across which was pretty freaking fun (after they found a working battery for said tiny boat).  The only drawback to Cerro Maya was that it is EXTREMELY BUGGY.  We power walked through most of the ancient city to escape the retched things.  But we got to try some coconuts once we escaped the cloud of mosquitos which weren’t half bad.  I think the water was better than the fleshy part… texture, blick!

Bugs are a problem here.  Never before have I been to a place so… natural.  Because Belize is largely undeveloped, mother nature has claimed her for her own.  Anything from venomous snakes and spiders, to harmless geckos, to spikey trees surround you at any given moment.  Doctor flies sting you, make you itchy and then cause you to swell.  Mosquitos strike you when you least expect it.  Cane fields soak your skin in ash and soot as you simultaneously coat your pelt with sunscreen and deet (causing endless breakouts).  All of this makes you the sexiest human alive but just to guarantee the gold, you get the most beautiful geometric tan lines you could imagine.

Despite mother nature seeking vengeance on my skin, fieldwork is actually incredible.  At times survey can be stressful because you are trying to find evidence of a structure that existed thousands of years ago but it is also kind of like solving a puzzle or doing a really hard scavenger hunt.  Once we find structures we map them, search for ceramics to try and narrow down the time span and, take measurements.  There have been a few setbacks with machinery breaking but overall it has been going smoothly and we have accomplished a lot in 3 short weeks.  We have been taking points with a machine called a TDS which then allows us to put them into GIS and make a geographic map of the ancient city on the modern landscape.  We have also gotten to see several historic sites such as 2 sugar mills and a Caste War Church so there is still a lot of work to be done and I look forward to every minute of it.

P.S.- While working alongside Grad students has been stressful and intimidating, it has also made me realize that gradschool is something totally within reach and archaeology is something I can actually picture myself doing for the rest of my life. And I think that’s pretty freaking cool.


All our love from across the way!

Stuck in Texas: Airport Livin’

Once upon a time, two Northwestern undergrads embarked on a grand adventure that landed them in Texas. That’s the funny thing about airports; one minute things are fine, the next everything goes to hell. Delayed by 3 hours, we’ve taken to sitting in the food court, a 5 year olds sock monkey as our entertainment and companion. Airports need to invest in more activities, like bowling or movie theaters, to help stranded travelers avoid these situations. The sock monkey, Tempelton, is very invested in promoting his career as a flying monkey/gymnast. He is accompanied by his unlikely sister a magenta unicorn/Pegasus hybrid named Twilight Sparkle. Twilight Sparkle is an avid runner, jumper, and pilot; however, her supernatural abilities end there as she cannot do flips or swim. Poor Twilight Sparkle can never know the glorious whoosh of wind through her mane as she flips through the air but she can live vicariously through her monkey brother. This unlikely pair at times comfort us in our time of despair, but mostly just bury us deeper in hopes of flying high in the sky to our Belizean bliss as we watch Twilight Sparkle float above our heads with such ease. Despite our current misfortunes, we keep our heads held high, hopeful that time shall pass swiftly and before we know it we will be amongst the jaguars and deadly snakes, (which will likely lead to our demise) and that our future holds some archaeological adventures.

Note: As we write this post, Twilight Sparkle has gone MIA and Templeton is incapacitated. Things have descended into chaos. Stay tuned for more…

Note 2: A turtle has been added. We repeat, a turtle has been added to the playing field.