Monday, July 23, 2012

Last Field Day

The day began with a gorgeous, vivid sunrise. As I walked down to the main lodge building to get a cup of tea, I started to mentally prepare myself for the day. This would be my last full day in the field working on the Community Wildcat Conservation project. Unfortunately, the night before I had felt nauseous, feverish, and sore. By what could only be a work of God, I woke this morning feeling fine, even free of the back pain I had been experiencing for days. This was particularly miraculous due to the workload for the day. Our goal: to check all of our camera stations in Indian Creek and Eagle Produce. This is the most spread out part of our study area and involves the most hiking (through acres of Mennonite fields). Today, the work would not be possible without a vehicle. Lucky for Matt and I, our director Venetia returned the day before with the Jeep! Donning new rubber boots, we got an early start on what would be a long day in the field.

Our adventure commenced while visiting our first camera site. To set precedence for the rest of the day, a portion of our route had us knee deep in water. My new rubber boots afforded little protection against the ponds of standing water that now dominate the trails reaching the camera sites. Once each boot is filled with water, only then is it possible to walk with true abandon through each obstacle.

Progressing smoothly throughout the day, each camera site was checked and photos retrieved. Then suddenly we were stuck. Quite literally, stuck… in mud. The trusty Jeep Wrangler was up to its axles in a very deceiving substance. The path ahead appeared dry, when in reality it was akin to quicksand awaiting its next victim. My partner and I were now stranded in the far reaches of pasture land owned by one of our project participants, a Mennonite. After fruitlessly trying to free the Jeep, we used our Nokia phone to call for assistance. This was little help, as the one person that answered their phone was unable to come to our aid. There was little choice, we had to walk to find help. In the meantime, there was also a camera station that needed to be checked about 1000 km away. It was time to split up. I headed back toward the jungle's edge to retrieve the photos from the camera site and Matt headed toward Indian Creek to find help. I returned to a still stuck Jeep with newly socked socks, and waited. Perched atop the muddied vehicle I listened to my surroundings. A low rumble became audible in the distance, and I instantly knew it was a rescue. Flying toward the Jeep, at speeds I didn't know tractors could even reach, appeared my partner and our landowner Ben! It was comical how the tractor pulled our Jeep out of the mud, as if it were a toy car.

With a new sense of freedom, we continued on to finish the last two camera stations in Indian Creek. All that remained were two camera stations at the papaya plantation, Eagle Produce. It's about 4:30 in the afternoon when we reach the plantation, this allowed us just enough daylight to finish our work. We saved the best for last! The second camera station at Eagle Produce was flooded two weeks ago. Although it's only been somewhat rainy the last few days standing water drains very slowly from this clay filled landscape. The drive to the camera station was cut short by large ponds of water in the “road.” Continuing on foot was the only option. Carrying my trusty rake, I stepped into the water. As I walked, the water rose. With the rake held steadily above my head and the water level at my ribs I forged on. By this time, the sun is setting, and it's the most beautiful sunset I've seen in Belize. Sadly, without a camera, this moment was not documented, but will live on forever in my memories. We hurriedly completed our checklists at the camera site, which was partially flooded and almost completely dark. The return hike to the Jeep was the same as before, with one exception. Now lacking a sunset, our path was only visible by flashes of lightening. Just as the rain began we made it back to our vehicle to return for a late dinner at the lodge.

One epic day, and all I have to show for it is one picture of the sunrise. I had three blisters on my feet, countless mosquito bites, and wet clothes. I cannot imagine a better way to end my fieldwork in Belize.

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