Breaking: The Story of Life Released

Hey Y'all, 

   Some of you might have heard I was working on a book. The Story of Life is a bilingual, evolutionary creation story, written in an oral storytelling style. A fuller introduction is available on the website:

   The book is currently self published on Lulu (click here to see it) . You can check out a free pdf of the full text or get the paperback for $15. Either way, be sure to let me know what you think of it!

   As part of the release of The Story of Life, I'm also announcing a sort of art contest. If you're inspired to paint, draw, doodle or even photograph something after reading, send it to me and we'll start compiling a collection that will eventually become an illustrated series. There's more info on that on the website as well.

   Read it slowly - the world didn't create itself in a week.

   Andon Olea Zebal


Hola gentes,

    Acabo de terminar un proyecto que nos ha tomado 4 billones de años. El Cuento de la Vida es una obra sobre nuestros orígenes evolucionarios escrita como historia oral. Hay mas información sobre el cuento en el sitio de web:

    El libro esta auto-publicado en Lulu (picale aqui para verlo). Puedes ver la historia completa gratis en un formato digital o obtener el libro por $15 (no estoy seguro si el systema funcione en Mexico).

    Con el estreno del libro tambien annuncio un concursito de arte. Si El Cuento te anima a dibujar, pintar, o hacer una obra en cualquier medio visual, mandamela y empezaremos una collecion que terminara en una serie ilustrada de El Cuento de la Vida. Hay mas informacion sobre ello en el sitio de web.

    Leelo lentamente - el mundo no se creo en una semana.

    Andon Miguel Zebal Olea

Why haven't we risen up?

As we kept searching for a signal after the pyramids, I had a really interesting conversation with Ezequiel. It started off innocently enough, when Ezequiel asked me if I had any land in the US. I couldn't help but laugh and say, "No, its not like here... only the rich have land in the US."

He gave me a strange little "Hmm" that begged me to explain further.

As we walked on, I added "We never had Agrarian Reform in the US." Agrarian Reform is the term used in Mexico to describe the way land was taken from the rich and given to the (mostly indigenous) poor in the form of the Ejido system. About 70% of the land in Mexico is in ejidos. 20 de Noviembre, Ezequiel's ejido, is 25,000 hectares (61,770 acres) and is named for the date of the revolution.

A few minutes later, as we climbed a steep ravine, Ezequiel asked "But didn't the people get mad that they had no land?"

I tried my best, but there's no legitimate way to answer that question. I explained that we were capitalists, tried (delicately) to explain what we did, and still do, to the Native Americans, and mentioned the fact that Mexico's ejido system is very rare in the world.

"Well, we did have to fight a war for it."

"Yeah, I guess sometimes you have to fight a war."

I soon learned that Ezequiel was well versed in socio-economic literature, especially communism. Among the books he mentioned were in his library were Capital, several works by Marx and Lenin, biographies of Fidel Castro and Che Guevarra and others I can't remember.

We spent the rest of the day discussing the ideas in these books, and the way they had been smeared by dictators like Stalin and Mao.

We never did get more than a ghost signal from the King Vulture transmitter, though.


Rio Bec: My first real Mayan Ruins

All day we've been searching for the signal that will tell us where our Mayan Condor (King Vulture) is, enjoying the breathtaking landscapes, lush vegetation, and the epicness that comes from an ancient civilization hiding beneath the roots.

Absolutely nothing, however, could have prepared me for our next stop. I've managed to miss all the touristy ruins from Cancun to here, so I'd never seen an excavated, "real" Mayan ruin. Or climbed on top of one for that matter. The site has been dubbed "Rio Bec A" by archaeologists. The generic name does no justice, but its true name is unknown and probably will remain so forever.

Again we got no signal but by this point I had regressed from Eco-VolunTourist to VolunTourist to just Tourist. I was entranced. Ezequiel had helped excavate the site, which was formerly just a tree covered mound like any other, and told us a bit about the dig as we ate lunch.

We headed to the other major site, Rio Bec B, which is larger than Rio Bec and was discovered earlier, but somehow still managed to get "B" as its designation. It consists of two sites, one with two towers that looked suspiciously like a Christian Church, another smaller, less preserved site that was a mound the last time Mauro was in town.

Ezequiel told me about the false steps adornign the front face of both towers (you can kind of see them on the right one). "No one can climb steps that steep," he said reverently, motioning to the almost vertical pattern of steps coming off the wall.

As the Sun came out, Ezequiel spotted a little raptor nesting atop one of the towers (can you find it?). Pointing to the pixelated plus sign carvings below the bird, he explained their significance.

"Each of the indentations was a different color, representing a different direction. East was red, West was black, North was White, and South was Yellow. East was the direction of the rising sun, while West was where night and death began, the direction of the Underworld. The center was painted green to represent life. For the Mayans, the most important number was not four but five, the four directions and the center."

Mauro had read a little bit about the significance of his study animal in ancient Mayan mythology. The King Vulture was the bird of death, while the Wild Turkey was the bird of life.
"They've found depictions of the two birds fighting, their necks turning around each other."


Searching for a Signal

Ezequiel's been trying to track the King Vulture while Mauro and I were at Nuevo Becal, but hasn't been able to get a signal for days. Last time Mauro and I saw the bird, we watched it reach back and bite at the backpack-like straps keeping the radio transmitter on. No signal could mean a few things - the bird bit off the strap and dropped the transmitter in the water, the bird chewed on the transmitter and disabled it, or the King Vulture simply flew far outside the one to three kilometer range.

Mauro's hoping its the last one, so today we decided to visit all of the highest points we could reach. This gives us greater range on the radio reciever, and also makes for a great excuse to see some pretty epic landscapes.

I've been wanting to climb the ridge along the entrance road since I saw it on our first day in Ejido 20 de Noviembre, so I was pretty excited to do so today. The view from atop it is incredible (click on the picture to see it full size).

We heard nothing but static and a faint, possibly imaginary, pause in static once in a while. "Ghosts in the Machine" as Asimov would say.

We moved on, hopping on top of whatever hills we could find. Turns out except for the ridge, all other hills in this area are ancient Mayan Ruins. These piles of rock covered in trees show almost no sign of being Man Made. That is, until you notice many of the rocks are shaped like large bricks. But that's another story...


House Geckos!

I'm taking a little break to catch up on writing my journal (I've been a month behind), but its impossible to resist taking videos like this one:

I lived in India when I was nine, and one of my favorite things about the country was having house geckos that eat all your bugs, look awesome, and regenerate limbs!


Camp Condor

We left Ezequiel to monitor the King Vultures (Mayan Condors) in Veinte de Noviembre and headed out to Nuevo Becal, an Ejido with some of the highest jungle in the area. Mauro says that even though the Calakmul region gets the most rainfall of any other place in the Yucatan Peninsula, it is also the driest because the water just runs downhill and away from the highest part of the state.

We picked up Nico, a local guide who has begun to specialize in guiding biologists through his ejido. He worked with Rafael on white-lipped peccaries, and has worked with Mauro on several past projects. We decided to pre-rot our cow guts* this time, so we drove through town emanating terrible smells from the bucket strapped to the back of our Suburban.

We spent the afternoon and the next morning making a new trap with an even bigger net from scratch, so we got pretty good at tying tiny nooses. Nico hated this nit picky work whereas Mauro and I only greatly disliked it. He told us that he would rather be macheteing any day.

The common vultures and Mayan Condors began circling even before we were finished and had an opportunity to finish the trap and set the bait, so we hurriedly finished the last few knots and began the waiting and the checking.

We never did catch anything that weekend. We spent Saturday and Sunday checking the trap every hour or so, usually scaring the birds away upon our arrival. While we waited, we had plenty of time to build a sweet campsite, dismantle a rotting chiclero field house for firewood, and enjoy Nico's amazing jungle cooking.

Oooo, and photograph spiders!


*Wow, how often do you hear someone say that??? Condors will only come to rotting food, so in our last run we spent the first two days essentially just waiting for the cow guts we're using as bait to rot. FUN!

Ancient Mayan Secret

Now that Emil's gone back to the US, I'm the only native English speaker around for Brett to talk to, so all of his stories come through me first. One of these proved particularly helpful today. A few weeks ago, Emil started itching all over from chechen, a local tree with much the same properties as poison oak or ivy. Somewhere, he had heard that chaka, another local tree, had a bark and leaves that absorbed toxins on contact with the skin.

It worked, and Brett later used the same trick on an "especially painful sting" from an unidentified insect. As we were heading out to the field to track the King Vulture in ejido Veinte de Noviembre today, I told Mauro about chaka as I collected some of its peely, translucent red bark just in case. It was a wet, rainy day, which made getting and following a radio signal just that much harder. King Vultures preferentially hang out on big, branching trees next to water, so the signal we were following was a straight line along an undulating stream. After two and a half hours of crossing streams and jungle, we found the radio-collared condor perched in its favorite habitat.

We figured we were closer to the bridge we crossed on the way in than we were to base camp, but it turns out we were very, very wrong. We never did find the bridge, but I did try my hand at Macheteing for the first time.

After some coaching from Mauro I was doing pretty good. That is, until I hacked a wasp's nest hiding under a palm leaf. I gor stung on the eyebrow and it hurt like hell, but luckily I still had chaka in my pocket.

The thin wet bark stuck to my brow for a while and provided almost instant relief-relief that instantly ended when it dried and fell off. I think chaka works by absorbing water (and everything else) from your skin. As we found our way out and I replaced my chaka patch over and over, I could feel my eyebrow skin getting drier and drier. Its strange learning an ancient Mayan secret from a fellow Gringo, but thanks Brett!



We've gotten to know the two leopard researchers, Emil and Brett, a little better over the last few days. Emil runs a U.S. based group called the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, which I'm guessing is a project to detect jaguars along the U.S.-Mexico border. He brought along Brett, a junior in wildlife management at the University of Arizona, as a volunteer in charge of tracking the recently released jaguar, Carmen.

After Brett had stayed with us a couple of days, Mauro said something along the lines of "Brett's an American, but he seems like a good person."

The look of surprise on Mauro's face was the best part.


The Forests aren't like This

Mauro and I went tracking again today, and we brought friends! Rafael, on the left, has a lot of experience with radio telemetry from his studies of white lipped pecarie movements in this area. Ezequiel, center, is a guide from Veinte de Noviembre who is begining to specialize in ecotourism, especially with birdwatchers. He's a bit of a birdwatcher himself, and would spot birds and explain them to me throughout the day. We're hoping Ezequiel will track the vulture while Mauro is gone, so we're teaching him radio telemetry today.

    As we hacked through a particularly thick part of what I thought was called a forest, Ezequiel turned to me and said:

"The forests aren't like this, huh?"*
"But, this is a forest." I replied.
"No, no no, this is a jungle."
"How do you understand the word 'forest'?"
"Forests are all pine trees."
 You see, in Mexico, all of the forestry literature uses Pine forests, common in central and northern Mexico,  when it means to say forests. Its totally understandable that the word would take on a different meaning here, but I think it has an inferioritizing effect. Just like in English the word "Jungle" has bad connotations (which is why we use Rainforest) in Spanish "Selva" has similar problems. It sounds like semantics, but semantics matter!


* Obviously, this conversation took place in Spanish, but the words in question correspond quite nicely in English. "Bosque" is used much like forest in most of America, and "Selva" is used like jungle.

Tracking the King Vulture

After a prolonged release, the first radio collared King Vulture in Mexico is on its dandy way. In order to make sure the bird was doing alright and to test out the radio tracking, we followed the metronomic beep, beep, BEEP, beep until the louder beeps led us towards the "Mayan Condor".

My little bit of radio tracking experience with horned lizards in Oklahoma served me well, because we are using the exact same equipment!

Mauro tracked for a bit, then gave me the receiver and headed down the trail to check on the trap. I wandered around for a bit, following the signal around. By the time Mauro came back, I had all but given up. "I think maybe its in the air?" I said, not believing it myself.

He looked up and immediately spotted it. I was standing right under the bird! Turns out, I do know how to radio track, but I'm a terrible wildlife spotter! I think its because I love looking at plants and get distracted.

Here's the image that Mauro and I saw. Mauro was able to figure out that the dark blob in the center is the King Vulture. It was raining on and off, so the bird looked rather cold, but Mauro says it was looking around and seemed very active. 

We headed over to the Calakmul preserve office in Xpujil afterwards to try and use the Internet. I only took this picture because of the sponsors depicted on the door, which include the Nature Conservancy and the US Department of the Interior. More like Department of the Exterior!


Breaking: King Vulture Captured

I'm breaking chronosequence today* to bring you this important report from the jungles of Campeche. I've been working with Mauro Sanvicente, a veterinarian turned burocrat turned wildlife vet, to capture and place a radio transmitter on a King Vulture in the area around the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. Mauro's been at this for three months, but he hasn't captured any of these elusive beasts. In fact, no one has ever captured a healthy adult specimen in Mexico. Until today.

We've been at the Ejido "Veinte de Noviembre," just north of the Reserve, for three days with no luck. Mauro says it takes a couple of days for the roadkill & cowguts to get stinky, so the third day is usually when they take interest in the bait.

Our trap consisted of a net laced with tiny nooses meant to snag a foot or a claw, placed on the ground and with the meat in the middle. We had almost given up and were talking about what to do tomorrow when I mentioned, in passing, a sound I had heard last time I went over to check the trap. It was kind of a low roar, a sound I thought was associated with a wild boar or a howler monkey.

Mauro asked me to describe the sound, and as I did he got excited and headed to the little tent from where we check the trap. He came back with images of a juvenile checking out our bait, but decided to give them some time (they're extremely cautious) to explore the trap and get their
talons caught in it.

After lunch, we headed back with Mauro in the lead, practically tiptoeing through the forest. Mauro went to the tent, looked out the screen, and immediately signaled me to stop. An adult King Vulture was snared in the trap. Mauro has reached this point twice (one of those times was yesterday) but both times the vulture broke the fishing line noose and got away. We ran over, quickly putting our gloves on to avoid being slashed by a beak designed to cut flesh.

Mauro grabbed the bird, which immediately became completely limp as it began to play dead. I put a tiny hood over its head and Mauro picked it up. The rain began an instant later. We ran to the little space Mauro had set up to work with the bird, and he sent me to get the boxes of stuff we would need out of the car. When I came back, Mauro told me to grab the bird's head and talons so that he could place the radio backpack on it. Feeling the limp bird in my hands, I alternated between worrying that it was actually dying and worrying that it would suddenly come to life and bite my hand off.

It was still raining on us, so Mauro quickly threw a tarp over the stick frame he had built beforehand and made us a tent. He came inside, and we suddenly realized we had done it! For the first time in Mexico, Mauro and I had captured and were about to place a radio collar on a specimen of the King Vulture. We were at the cutting edge of science, and it felt good.

A minute later, I felt the bird begin to heave its chest. It had been holding its breath the whole time! We had not been expecting the bird to play dead like this. In fact, we had been expecting it to fight us viciously and without remorse.

We tied on the little radio tracker backpack, being careful to allow the bird full mobility of its wings. Then began the samples. I held the bird and moved it around for Mauro while he took samples of its parasites, pulled out a few feathers, and measured its wings. Luckly it was very serious about playing dead, because the sampling only got more invasive. As I looked on with a mix of fascination and pity, Mauro took an anal swab, then a mouth swab, and proceeded to extract two vials of vulture blood from the animal's legs. If we were into that, we could cast a really mean spell on someone right about now.

Once the sampling was done, we weighed the bird in a towel and then released it. Well, releasing might be too strong a word, because it continued to play dead even as we walked away:

Once we were far enough away, I filmed this whispered interview... you better turn the volume up, and I hope you speak Spanish!

Over and out



An Insignificant Ruin

There are so many ruins in the area that this one has been slash and burnt for agriculture!

Epic Mayan Lanscapes

Between the Vulture Campsite and the town of Veinte de Noviembre is what Mauro calls a "small" Mayan ruin. I couldn't give up the opportunity to photograph these "insignificant" ruins at sunset today. If a ruin like this one was found in the US, there would be archaeologists, reporters, and tourists before long. Here, its a good place to plant corn and raise cattle. The fact is, there's so many of these ruins around us (hundreds in this ejido alone) that unless they're truly impressive, they're just a landscape feature, like a hill or a dune. In fact, I've met Mayas who weren't even sure they were made by people!

Its a strange, sad fact that many people in the US know more about ancient Maya history than the people descended from the pyramid builders.


Howler Monkeys!

Another day of waiting for a Mayan Condor to smell our bait, but luckily we found some howler monkeys to entertain us while waiting to check the trap.

I'm getting quite a bit better at this binocular photography thing, and have figured out how to line up the camera lens with the binoculars without making it obvious in the picture what I'm doing. Some of these monkeys are practically posing for us!

We also growled at them a little, which brought upon this reaction:

Notice how the main male shuts the other monkeys up whenever they try to growl with him.


* This isn't the first time I've hung out with howler monkeys. Check out this video I took a few years ago in Costa Rica, and turn up the volume so you can hear the good parts:

Condor Watch

Mauro and I headed out to the field today, driving past an epic ridgeline before arriving at out little basecamp. We spent the next 2 hours (or was it three?) tying tons of tiny little nooses to the net that formed the trap. Which was fine at first but got worse and worse as the heat rose. The idea is that the King Vultures will walk around on the net when they go for the bait and get their feet stuck in the nooses. Once we were done, we set the bait, a pile of cow guts that had been cooking in the sun. Then the waiting got started.

While we waited, we (quietly) headed over to the King Vulture Rookery, where Mauro counted about 15 birds and collected feathers (from the ground) while I tried my hand at using binoculars as a zoom lens. After about half an hour and upteen tries, I finally got a decent shot. I woke up out of my photography trance and joined Mauro by the stream. Watching him work, I realized field biology is often very much like a World of Warcraft quest:
"Follow the trail south to the river where the King Vultures sleep. Collect as many of their feathers as you can (drop rate - 15%) and bring them back that we may learn about their kind." EXP 5000 (low level).

We checked the trap on the way back, and ate lunch on a table mauro made while he was bored on another outing. There's a lot of waiting in this job.

But that's alright, because the waiting takes place in a beautiful forest, and gives you time to do things like go down to the river and bathe. Mauro told me the bridge over the stream I bathed in used to connect Veinte de Noviembre (the ejido we're working in, named after the date of the Mexican Revolution of 1910) to a neighboring ejido. The other community had started stealing timber out of Veinte's land so in response Veinte cut them off by blowing the bridge. Nowadays, it is only passable on foot or on a bike, and makes a great place to sit and enjoy a cool breeze.

We didn't catch anything, no surprise since Mauro has yet to catch one of these creatures, even though he's been at it for months! But it was a beautiful day nonetheless.

On the way back, Mauro and I started talking about how unfortunate the King Vulture's name is. Think about the words 'Condor' and 'Vulture' for a second.* If you're like me, 'Condor' brings up images of a majestic bird soaring off of a cliff, of Californian and Andean efforts to bring a natural wonder back from the brink of extinction. 'Vulture,' on the other hand, brings up images of a roadkill and garbage eating scavenger that circles overhead as you die of thirst in the desert.

The difference is pure perception, but hey, so is the stock market. Since the "King Vulture" is a sister species to the California Condor and a distant cousin to the Common Vulture, why not call it a condor? I had been thinking of "Mexican Condor" as a better name, but Mauro suggested something better - the Mayan Condor.

Let the name switching battle begin!


* We had this conversation in Spanish, but the words 'Condor' and 'Zopilote' have similar connotations to their counterparts in English.
** Some more pictures that didn't make it into the text:

Another binocular-zoomed shot of the Mayan Condor.

The bridge no longer supports cars or trucks, but that's the idea.

The creek where I took a bath. 
Sometimes this place looks just like Virginia in the Spring.

The Jaguar Man

The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve was originally set aside as a jaguar reserve. It boasts the largest and healthiest jaguar population north of the Amazon. Which is probably why it was chosen by the Direccion General de Vida Silvestre and SEMARNAT to host a controversial jaguar release project that has already claimed the life of the younger of the two jaguars. The young jaguar had been taken from the wild at less than a year of age, and had never learned to hunt.

Several people, including Mauro, had warned the reserve that this jaguar was not going to make it. Yet, in the same way that planting a tree is a great political move with little follow up, releasing a jaguar can make for a photo op, with few people finding out when it later dies.

During the preparations for the release, there was a large logistical meeting where each organization involved decided what their contribution would be. Attending the meeting was The Jaguar Man, a turrets-afflicted ex-jaguar poacher who I have yet to meet and probably never will, though I've heard so much about him that I feel like I know him.

Unbeknownst to Mauro, The Jaguar Man's contribution at the meeting was a place to stay for the volunteer who would be tracking the jaguar - Mauro's place.

All of which made it kind of awkward when two American jaguar researchers came knocking at our door on our first night in Zolaguna. In really good Spanish, except for the occasional English "Wow," the older one explained that Brett was a volunteer helping with the GPS and radio tracking of a released jaguar and needed a place to stay. We soon realized that they had no idea that about what had happened, and Mauro ended up agreeing to let Brett stay as long as he helped out with the bills.


* The Jaguar Man's real name is withheld because of ethics... stupid ethics :)

Zoh Laguna

After a couple of more adventures in which Mauro (a) beat a young wasp nest out of his shoe and (b) gave his dog, named Whiskey, some valium for the ride over,* we headed west to Zoh Laguna, Campeche.

    Whiskey was quite calm and happy for the ride, as would be anyone who had just had valium injected into his thigh.

     We crossed a couple of military checkpoints on the lookout for drugs and illegal immigrants (!) coming from Belize. Otherwise had an uneventful ride filled with plenty of stories and increasingly rainforest-like landscapes. One of those stories was how Whiskey got his name. Mauro and his Quebequois biologist wife Sophie originally had a lady dog named Tequila, so when a male dog came around to court her they naturally had to name him Whiskey. No word on how Tequila got her name.

   We arrived at Mauro's other house, a "field station" he acquired from a couple of foreign scientists who stopped coming regularly enough to maintain it properly. It now hosts not only his own projects but a venerable parade of researchers attracted there by the nearby Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. and the ejidos surrounding it.

    For the moment, we met Celine, a stunning young French geography student who looks like she just walked out of a 1920s feature film... and into the jungle. Celine is studying a tract of sick-looking chicozapote trees, trying to figure out if there are any spatial patterns to the disease, what its effects might be, and whether it is a disease at all. Her study is a series of circular plots within which she measures every tree and plots its location. The most surprising part of all is that she's not using any GIS! I was just getting a handle on what "Geography" was, but the idea of geography without GIS is throwing me for a loop.

    One of Mauro's good friends, Rafael, just came back to Zoh Laguna from 3 years without fieldwork! He did his PhD work on white-lipped pecaries*, and has come back to continue working on those and maybe become a primatologist. Since he's been in Canada and the US for so long, his 3 year old and one year old have never seen their home country!

     Zoh Laguna is one of those examples of stepwise community building that fascinate me. In the US, when a person from, say, Armenia, moves to a town, they later invite a friend, spouse, or family member to join them in their new home. That person, in turn, invites someone else, and so on, until you've got a little Armenian village in the middle of a US city. It seems the same thing has happened here, only with Science!


* Mauro is most definitely still a vet. He was going to tranquilize the dog, but couldn't find the drugs for it. He also spays and neuters any stray cats unlucky enough to come to him for food.

** Hey, I found one of Rafael's papers on the intertubes! Check out the PDF here.

Mauro's House

We stayed at Mauro's house just north of Chetumal for the night and though that would't ordinarily merit a blog post, the place is so interesting that it does. To start with, all of the trees in Mauro's yard were topped by the strongest portion of Hurricane Dean, a fact you wouldn't guess from just looking at his forest-like yard. Pointing at one of his trees, he showed me how all of the new, post hurricane branches have emerged from the spot where the tree was broken off.

   As we sat on his porch, Mauro also gave me a bit of background on himself. Originally from the center of Mexico, he trained at a vet school there before getting a masters at the Chiapas Branch of ECOSUR, which specializes in graduate level ecology and has branches throughout the South.

   In between and since, his life is a long series of adventures that often begin with "I met a girl that..." He's jumped the border to the US, backpacked throughout Mexico and Belize, and eventually ended up at ECOSUR in Chetumal working on Tepezquintles (a large jungle rodent). After another stint tracking manatees in chetumal's bay, he became a bureaucrat, approving or denying environmental projects with CONAFOR. Not exactly the desk job kind of guy, he left that job to work on his current adventure with King Vultures. Mauro's had a really cool life that's given him both a ton of experience and a ton of stories to tell.

   Random young people are continually popping in and out of Mauro's backyard, a fact which I puzzled about for a bit. I soon learned that behind his house is a little shed that houses SEYBA (Servicios y Beneficios Ambientales) , a technical support center for surrounding Ejidos much like OEPF, but with one important difference: most of SEYBA's on the ground work is done by students from ECOSUR or other Chetumal schools. Student-led fieldwork is a very prominent feature of the "Dream Organization" slowly forming in my mind, so I was excited to hear about how it works here. Most universities in Mexico require 450 hours of "servicio social," sort of like community service in the US but usually more organized. Many of the students that come through here are on that track, others simply volunteer or even (rarely) get paid.

  When I grow up, I want a student-led environmental organization in my backyard!



After arriving in Chetumal for my next mission I wandered around for a bit looking for an internet cafe. Along the way, I noticed that Adolf Hitelr, before shooting himself in a bunker, apparently started his own brand of jeans.

After quite a bit of walking with a heavy pack, I finally found the internet cafe and the email that my contact, Mauro, had sent that included his phone number. I texted him and he directed me to the nearby Museum of Maya Culture, where he would meet me in a couple of hours.

The museum was quite worth the "foreigner" price of $49.50 pesos (that's about $5 of our dollars). Although most of the artifacts were replicas, the ambiance, arrangement, and labeling more than compensated.

The center piece was a totem like, stylized model of a ceiba tree, which I learned was central to the Ancient Maya worldview. With its roots in a cenote like, cavernous underworld, its bulging trunk representing our world, and its branches reaching toward the stars, the Ceiba tree was not only a metaphor but a representation of the three worlds.

Mauro arrived on time, bit it was too soon for me to finish the museum. Either way, it definitely beat waiting in an internet cafe!