SCRAP 2022 Week 3: Dirt, Rocks, and Ticks

This week‘s blog comes from one of our new SCRAP team members, Saralyn Smith, who is an MSc student at Western University.

Two weeks ago, I landed in Belize City around noon on a Saturday. It was my first time leaving Canada, my first time leaving home, and my first time flying. My ears hurt, and my legs were cramped, but I was beyond excited as soon as the Caribbean air hit me. It marked the beginning of a five-week learning experience.

Block C2 access road with foothills in the background

After completing my Bachelor’s of Science not one month earlier, I began a Master’s of Geology. This new journey would start with this trip to collect soil samples from the ancient Maya townsite of Alabama. The goal is to better understand the agricultural patterns during the peak occupation period at Alabama–approx. 700-900 AD. I will begin geochemical carbon analyses when I return to Canada and receive the shipped samples I have collected here (pending export permit from the Institute of Archaeology).

Some colour…

While it has only been two weeks, many interesting things have happened. I have discovered that I am a beacon for every biting, stinging, and pinching insect Stann Creek District offers. I should have brought equally as much hydrocortisone as I did sunscreen. On that note, I have further realized that it is possible to sunburn through a hundred layers of SPF 50—my swollen, bumpy, and crispy arms can attest. At least I can say that this is the best watch-tan I have ever had.

When the itching kept me up at night, I sought out Ms. Aurora for help. After glimpsing my arms, she said my bites were watering, which was a kind way of saying that each of my 80-something fly bites was leaking off-yellow puss. She offered me an herbal afterbite from her shop that contained Red Pollywood and Jackass Bitters. This soothed my bites enough that I slept four hours without waking, which was a significant improvement. As I have said from the beginning, it is all part of the adventure!

While I have been forced into a knowledge of insects, I have also gladly learned much from my team members. As the newest team member with SCRAP and a geologist-in-progress, I was welcomed with open arms. With varying backgrounds and experiences, everyone brings something wholly unique to the table. They taught me about the granite-rich geological history of the area, which is intriguing and crucial to my research. The countless archaeological finds troweled from the units on site each day serve as pieces to an ever-growing puzzle, which has been forming for years now and will continue to take shape in the years to come.

The wildlife might just be one of the most fascinating parts of this trip. The howler monkeys call for the rain, the jaguars roam close and yet far, and the leaf-cutter ants slowly dismantle entire trees before my eyes. A green-and-yellow snake slithered across my boot and up the nearest banana tree just the other day. While some might have quaked at the sight, I would take ten thousand snakes over a singular tick any day.

I really, really hate ticks.

One thing that cannot be overstated is how immersive the experience has already been. Not only have I been thrust into another cultural world, but I have had the privilege to converse with and learn from locals living here. I have whined about the heat countless times and revealed how much I miss snow and ice, only to laugh at the alarmed reactions I receive. I vow to never complain about the cold ever again.

Collecting and sampling soil cores

I would not be able to participate in this field experience if it were not for the funding offered by both my home school and SCRAP/SSHRC. I am so grateful for this opportunity. Big thanks to Dave for the two pictures above that impressively capture my amateur soil sampling skills and make-shift handle protector. That rag is in actual tatters now.

I and my house gecko (ceremoniously dubbed ‘Greg’ by my family via video chat) encourage anyone reading this to go out into the world and experience something—anything—new. Go and learn, reach out, open up, and uncover the countless differences worldwide.

It’s one thing to learn in a classroom. It’s entirely different to live it.