May 19, 2011
Today was a fabulous day. Growing up in a family that loved to hike and camp, I looked forward to my first significant hike in the Belizean jungle: it did not disappoint. There were beautiful palms that covered the hillsides and vines that dripped from the tops of the canopy over the trail like delicate fingers that would wisp your shoulder. Our Mayan guides were affable (like almost everyone I’ve met in this country) and demonstrated an intrinsic respect for the land on which they subsided. Our guide’s village had survived in this area sustainably for the better part of a century. As environmental studies students, we passed by slash-and-burn agricultural sites with skepticism on the trail. However, as was explained by Dr. Keith Prufer later in the evening during a lecture, this village particularly observed an appropriate fallow period for the soils to recover following a few years of crops. It was so interesting to see this foreign form of farming as I grew up surrounded by large monocrop cornfields in rows tended by huge machines. The best part of the day however was once we hiked for a few miles we came upon Yok Balum cave.
Only discovered in the last decade, our group had the unbelievable fortune to traverse through the cave using helmet-mounted lights, our tired bodies and sometimes our hands and knees. Never before have I seen such beautiful formations. Limestone and sandstone are common where I grew up. However, any cave that I entered in the US had a concrete filled floor, ropes, lights, and it was very limited in terms of where one could go. At Yok Balum we traveled through the cave to another opening on the opposite face of the mountain that the cave penetrated. Beautiful curtains, stalagmites and stalactites met every glance along with perpetual “oohs” and “aahhhs” by the group. What’s more is that Dr. Prufer was currently doing paleoclimatological research in the cave. By studying the composition of stalagmites (up from the ground) a talented researcher is able to decipher past precipitation, temperature and other climate parameters. From this reconstructed record, Dr. Prufer is hoping to provide more explanation behind collapses of Mayan societies in the first millennium AD due to localized climate change.
Therefore as a group we were able to see current climate research, gorgeous ancient geological structures, and an ancient Mayan bowl artifact that has not been removed from the cave. As the cave is limited access, the bowl is safe in the cave, and we were very lucky to have been allowed to travel through.
The group was champions on the hiking trail with very little whining in the heat. Myself, I soaked through two shirts completely with the immensity of my sweat. However, as I stated today was a fabulous day. After the hike we stopped for cool sodas. I have never had a Fanta taste so good in my life.