Friday, March 30, 2012

Settled in?

I have now been in the Lamanai area for 2 weeks! I can't believe that! I love the Indian Church Village. Time has gone by so fast, it feels like it's been only a week. Each day has been something new, meeting new landowners, setting up new camera trap stations, new words in Spanish to remember, a new schedule. I love the variety! At the same time, so much new makes me crave something familiar. Humans are such creatures of habit. I've realized how much I appreciate having people near me that know me well, and know exactly what I'm saying, even when I'm not speaking. I find that I often remind myself that I am in Belize! Then I'm back in a state of awe, and consciously absorbing every minute (some would say second, but Belize time is much slower and doesn't work that way!).

I'm beginning to get settled in, in different ways. For the last few nights I've had my room to myself, which allowed me to spread out, and doing so made me feel more like my stay here is more than temporary. Matt and I are waiting to move into the cabana that will be our permanent room while we're here. The lodge has been remodeling and updating this room for us. It has a big common room with a big table, for work, two bedrooms, a storage room that we can lock our equipment in, and a big bathroom. This will be great, we can finally organize all our stuff, and I can stop living out of my suitcase!

Understanding Spanish is getting easier each day, and the more I pick up, the more I use. I really need to force myself to use it! I tend to keep quiet when I'm not sure of what I'm saying (imagine that, me... quiet). I'm getting used to the new faces and names. I'm getting to know all the roads in the different towns, and who lives where, and who's related to who.

Our director, Dr. Venetia Briggs, has gone back to the states, leaving the project in the hands of Matt and I. We're definitely not alone, the lodge owner, and many landowners are exceedingly willing to help. So far things have gone smoothly, and we've made more progress than we had expected in the last few days!

Here are two small anecdotes that I really enjoy:
One evening while helping one of the guides here at the lodge with his GPS, he saw my facebook profile picture (of me standing on top of the High Temple, smiling). He said, "who's that gringa?" (the female form of the word gringo, aka white folk), my response, "me, of course, don't I look like a gringa?" He replied, "No, you look like una chica de bosque!" This made me pretty happy actually, that he would say that I look like a jungle girl. I guess I am settling in!

Just this evening, Matt and I were walking around the town of Indian Church, finding the local landowners we need to check cameras with next week, when we were approached by someone asking to talk. He is the son of one of the landowners that we work with, and associated us with the wildcat project. There is a problem in a town that's pretty for away (half a day drive, which in a small country, is far), where a large jaguar is killing livestock, pets, and even children for food, and this is not the first time we've heard about this cat. This man was asking for help, hoping that we could tranquilize the jaguar and move him somewhere else! Sadly we haven't gotten to the trapping portion of our project, and only have permits to work in our current study area. We did however, promise to make contacts with people who could possibly help, but it was great to be associated with this, as if we are the local jaguar biologists.

So for now, things are going quite well, and the project is moving along! I'm kept quite busy, and luckily haven't had too much time to think about how much I miss home, family, friends, and especially pets.

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Adventure Begins


As most of you know, I am now in Belize, working as a Field Assistant for a wildcat project. To give you a little better idea of what this really means, here's some background.

I am stationed in an area called Lamanai (Mayan for submerged crocodile, the name for the Mayan temple very close by). This is located on the east side of the New River Lagoon, which is 28 miles long, freshwater and home to many exciting creatures like the Morelet Crocodile (Crocodylus moreleti) . Working for the Lamanai Field Research Center (LFRC), myself and one other intern Matt, have been given the charge of maintaining a camera trapping grid and creating methods for organizing the subsequent data. This will involve a lot of data entry, looking at photos and sorting them, identifying individual jaguars by their spots, and most of all working with the landowners to continue building relationships and set up more cameras.

Now, be prepared to enter a scene straight out of a movie. I arrived at the airport in Belize City, excited but also pretty tired from my travels. I was greeted by someone holding a sign that said my name on it, along with the name of the other intern. At this time I met Matt, who is 25 and from New York. Next our adventure began, we rode in van for 45 minutes to a boat launch, from here we traveled by boat on the New River for over an our to reach the Lamanai Outpost Lodge. It felt great to be flying across the water, cool air blowing, getting increasingly deeper into the jungle. At the lodge we were greeted by one of the directors of the LFRC whisked up to the dinning hall for lunch. The food here is amazing, it's a gourmet combination of Mayan and Yucatan dishes. The lodge is surrounded by a landscaped garden filled with native vegetation, providing homes to Howler monkeys, Fer De Lance snakes, many many birds, lizards, insects, and more. The cabanas are picturesque with dark wooden walls, and thatched palm leaf roofs. These kinds of accommodations are far from common for Field Assistants, and I am very grateful to have a mattress to sleep on, hot water for showering and delicious food made for me three times a day. This lodge has got it going on, the guests usually stay for 4 day stints, participating in a number of great activities (from crocodile encounters and hiking Mayan ruins, to sunset cocktail cruises).

I am astounded at the beauty, and diversity of this place. There is something to see everywhere you look. Many beautiful plants, flowers, birds, butterflies, and snakes. It's an ecologists paradise, making this a great experience for the beginning of my young career! So far I've learned in much much more detail what my goals will be with this project, visited a couple camera sites, swam in the lagoon, released a baby crocodile, taken the tour through the Mayan ruins of Lamanai, made tortillas from scratch, and had a trip into Belmopan, the capital of Belize. I'm doing my best to absorb all the knowledge about the plants and animals I can, and try and refresh on as much of the Spanish language as I can too.

It feels amazing to be doing exactly what I want to do, especially in such an amazing place!

Sorry for the lack of picture, they'll be coming soon, I hope! I have plenty, and will probably do another post just on the Mayan ruins, but the species of greater internet signal I require is elusive in the jungle :)

Hope all is well to those reading this post!