May 17, 2011
The beginning of our trip to Belize was rough, but it was well worth it. We met at USC at 4:30 AM, spent all day flying, and finished with a seemingly never ending bus ride from Belize City to Punta Gorda. We stopped at a restaurant frequented by Belizean government officials for dinner, and it was at this point that I realized our tireless trip was going to be amazing. Our meals were simple but exquisite – put the right spices on rice and beans and it can be the most delicious food you’ve ever tasted. Around 9:00 PM we finally arrived at Sun Creek Lodge. We’re truly staying in the wild. The straw roofs and screen windows of our cabañas are our only barriers to the natural world, and I cannot emphasize how good this feels compared to living in downtown Los Angeles. We fell asleep (quickly) to the sounds of a vibrant seasonal rain forest.
The next morning we awoke to an equally delicious meal and proceeded to investigate Nim Li Punit, a nearby archeological site. We saw ancient Mayan artifacts, tombs, and met some descendants of the civilization that collapsed over a thousand years ago. Some of us even tasted the allspice leaves that the Maya used to numb their teeth before dental procedures. It’s difficult to put into words how incredible it is to experience firsthand something that you’ve only heard about in the classroom. With this feeling of coming full circle in our study of the Maya fresh in our minds, we traveled to Tumil’Kin, in Blue Creek village, about 45 minutes away. After eating lunch by a beautiful river and going swimming to escape the heat and humidity, we stopped by a local Mayan cultural day. We watched a best-dressed contest exhibiting traditional Mayan clothing and got to meet some of the town’s youth. We even bumped into some Peace Corps volunteers on our way back to the lodge.
That night we ate another scrumptious traditional Belizean meal of rice, beans, chicken, and plantains. Once we finished, we discussed the themes of this class and the material from our first readings. It slowly dawned on us that, although it may seem like it at times, this trip isn’t just a vacation – we’re here to learn about a timeless issue that will not only profoundly affect us, but also our children and grandchildren. By gaining a better understanding of how and why the Maya collapsed we should be able to more thoroughly comprehend the overconsumption and need for sustainability that we face today. Furthermore, our daily discussions will allow us to learn to more effectively communicate environmental solutions to people outside of the scientific community. Although we will undoubtedly have a spectacular time in the coming days, I have a feeling that we will leave Belize with far more than good memories.
ENST major, SPAN minor
USC Dornsife ’13
May 15, 2011
After an uneventful flight through Dallas/Ft. Worth to Belize City, we arrived on time and sailed through customs. Bruno Kuppinger, our guide and the owner of Sun Creek Lodge, met us at the airport to escort us south to Punta Gorda, via Belmopan, the capital of Belize.
We arrived less than an hour ago and already everyone is settled into their rooms, and the sounds of the jungle wildlife orchestra are taking over. Oh wait, there are peels of laughter coming from the ladies’ cabanas
Tomorrow we will tour two famous Mayan ruins, Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun. Following that we will head over to the Tumil K’in Center for Learning to join in the cultural festivities of Maya day where over 1500 Maya will be celebrating. It will surely be an incredible cultural immersion experience and I cannot wait to watch the students as they take it all in.
Stayed tuned for pictures and updates!
May 13, 2011
This summer marks the fourth year that the Belize Problems Without Passports course will be run. Last summer we brought 5 undergraduates to Belize for a week and a half of fieldwork in Southern Belize, exploring Mayan ruins, studying the societal collapse of the Classic Maya civilization and how changing climate may have exacerbated their societal problems. How much fun did the students have? Well, this is just one of the many pictures of smiling students from that class. We had such a good time that we decided to offer the class again this year, incorporating new experiences and improving on the best ones from last year. So where are the students from last year now?
Sarah Wescott, one of our Progressive Degree Program students, is graduating with her BA in ENST from USC and will continue her MA in the fall at USC. She had such a great time in Belize last summer she jumped at the chance to come along again this year as the teaching assistant for the course.
The Belize experience spurred Ira Calos to pursue graduate study. She is graduating from USC this spring and spending her summer at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. Ira was selected and awarded an Energy Research Undergraduate Laboratory Fellowship. She will spend her summer working closely with a team of scientists and will present her research as a scientific paper at the end of the internship program.
So what’s new for this year’s course? This year’s course is the largest yet, with 19 students which is why we added an alumni student TA. We’ll be spending a few extra days in Belize and completing a service-learning project, working with Mayan students at the Tumil K’in Center of Learning, a school for Mayan children. We will also work in the Santa Cruz public schools with Belizean children tutoring then in math, science, and English. The course will also examine modern ecology in Belize, visiting the cayes off the coast for a day of snorkeling and taking a day to visit the Jaguar Reserve in Placencia.
Stay tuned to meet our course staff and this year’s students as we set off for adventure and excitement in Southern Belize!
Dr. Lisa Collins
Lecturer & Academic Advisor
Environmental Studies Program