We’ve had a tremendous couple of days and have stayed busy with both work and team building activities.  Belize are two blogs from graduate students: Nick Altizer and Alexis Yohros.

Students and Dr. Hawthorne kayaking on the north end of Caye Caulker before sunset.

Students and Dr. Hawthorne kayaking on the north end of Caye Caulker before sunset.

Reflecting on their beginning of the weekend….by Nick Altizer, UCF graduate student.

Student bonding at Barefoot Caribe

Students listening to Joni Miller of the Ocean Academy while in class at Barefoot Caribe

Yesterday it happened. Time moved as swiftly as the coastal winds and before I knew it we were swept away from paradise. I am of course speaking of our departure from the tropical island Caye Caulker. As our water taxi raced across the Caribbean I watched the place I called home for the last few days fade into the distance.

Memories of our activities and experiences filled my mind and I found myself reflecting on how our stay had changed me. Though we were only on the island for a short amount of time I feel that we all made a strong connection with both the environment and the locals. Our work with the Ocean Academy taught me that the students, though young, understand the seriousness of waste management on Caye Caulker and wish to see it change. It was clear that these students all have bright futures and I am looking forward to seeing where they go in life and what changes they make in the world.

It’s been an interesting journey so far. We have all come a long way in just a single week of our time abroad. Though we have all bonded through various activities, we have also challenged ourselves by taking to learning an important disciplinary skill and applying it through fieldwork. Caye Caulker will be missed but many more adventures are to come. We are currently heading to San Ignacio where we will have the opportunity to collaborate with University of Belize students. I cannot wait to see what awaits us deeper in the heart of Belize and how our experiences will continue to shape us. I will end with a quote, an act that will remind any reader of Dr. Hawthorne’s typical meeting conclusion, and by saying that the nature of community research is much more rewarding than I expected.

“Nothing of significance is ever accomplished in the world without passion.” – Carlos, tour guide

Reflecting on Sunday, our day of GIS rest, by Alexia Yohros, UCF graduate student.

Students working intently on a Saturday night on their GIS assignments.

Students working intently on a Saturday night on their GIS assignments.

Throughout the trip, we have constantly reflected on what word would describe our emotions on a given day. I think today, the word would have to be awe. The day began early on a journey to Actun Tunichil Muknal, also known as ATM. Our guide, Philip, took us on a scenic route of the back roads that took us to the site. He explained that ATM is a unique cave and a sacred site for the Mayans. Here, they performed rituals to their gods which included human sacrifices. After a short hike, we arrived at the cave and that is when our adventure began. I would be lying if I said the climbing and swimming was not physically challenging. We were constantly climbing rocks, swimming through enclosed spaces, and trekking up ladders. At one point, we were traveling in complete darkness and using each other to find our way around the cave. What we saw in the cave made it well worth it. It was covered in stalagmites, limestone, and uniquely shaped boulders. Once at the top, we were asked to take our shoes off in order to enter the sacred Mayan sites where the rituals took place and which to the Mayans still represent the underworld. Our guides led us and allowed us to see the different pottery, remains, and ritualistic materials that the Mayans used during that time. He explained to us how every time their rituals went unanswered, the Mayans went deeper and deeper into the cave and became more desperate with their attempts to please their gods. This led to our final stop where we saw actual human remains from Mayans who were used in sacrifice. The entire trip was incredible in many ways. We dove into a historical and sacred site and challenged our boundaries physically and mentally. Overall, it was an unforgettable experience.


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