Thursday, June 28, 2012

Welcome to the Jungle

Hey guys, my dig is over but the memories live on. How about a site tour of Nojol Nah, the site that I've been working away at for the last two weeks?

Here is the jungle road, back of pickup truck view. We go through a pasture each day on a dirt road in the back of a 4 wheel drive pickup (yes, Top Gear fans, it's a toyota hilux). We have to make two trips on the last leg of the trip because only one of the trucks can make the journey without getting mired in the mud.

Then, it's a twenty minute trek through the jungle, with howler monkeys screaming at us and mosquitos taking their blood sacrifice. If you have never heard a howler monkey scream, it's terrifying, like a T Rex. They actually used recordings of howlers for sound effects in Jurassic Park.

Here is the large hole in the ground that I helped excavate for part of my first week. There is a lot of work to be done on this building, which will mostly be done next summer. It didn't help that we discovered a wall that keeps on going into the uncleared jungle...yikes. We think this building is residential, most likely the residence of someone with status as it is so large.

But man, look how beautiful that curved wall is.
Rain protection!
Here is the big find of my session, a termination deposit with broken pottery (clustered together so it looked like entire pots had been broken), obsidian blades, and beautiful intact bifaces (flintknapped knives that have been worked on both sides, or faces).

Here is some Nojol Nah pottery, all cleaned up. The crew chief feels it is unlikely that these sherds piece together to form whole pots, based on finds elsewhere.
Here is pottery cleaning in action. We also got to clean bones, but personal photos would have been disrespectful.

Here is a very unsexy photo of me helping to map the termination deposit.
And here is a very sexy photo of my roommate using a machete.

We affectionately started calling Nojol Nah by a new name when a couple of crew members quit the program (through no fault of our crew chief) and others started getting sick. My chief suggested "Nojol? Nah." But we ended up going with "No. Hell no."

And, although I will never be one of those kool-aid drinkers who claims that this dig was the best thing that ever happened to her, I will say that it was a great experience, and that I learned a lot about the operations of a real archaeological dig and how to shovel dirt and love it. For reals.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Guest Post! What I Brought: A Packing List by Jeff

Another awesome guest post from my brother! He put all the tips from last week's post into a great comprehensive sample list of what to pack.  He has inspired me to do a similar list for a tropical trip upon my return! Most of these items can be worked for both sexes. For example, the wicking t-shirts, underwear, and light-weight hiking apparel are definitely available for the ladies as well. I recommend checking out Under Armour, REI, and Athleta for good options.

Pack less, experience more! (Great Wall, China)
With increasing baggage fees for air travel, more and more people are looking to pack more efficiently. I recently took a 10 week trip to East Asia (India, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, and Japan) and it taught me a lot about what to pack and how to pack it.

What I Did:

The best tip I can give for traveling light is to make sure you research the climate and seasonal weather conditions for the place you are traveling to. For my trip I had to pack for a wide range of weather and climate conditions from Malaysia’s hot tropics to Harbin’s frozen tundra. This forced me to pack clothes that could be layered easily. I couldn’t realistically drag a heavy, down parka across India, Vietnam and Malaysia just so I could use it in China and Japan.

You also have to take into account that laundry facilities are most likely scarce and you will be wearing your clothes multiple days and washing them in the sink. In this respect, synthetic clothing is your friend. They are generally lighter, dry faster and are more wrinkle resistant than their natural counterparts.

One of the things I looked for when I was doing research on packing light was packing lists people had actually used on similar trips. It gives you a basic idea of what you'll need and you can alter it to fit your needs. Here is my list with some commentary!
*I've owned some of the items on this list for a long time so I linked the closest equivalent I could find online.
**Jen's note - you can also buy woolite in tiny packs, but they have to go in your 3-1-1 bag if you carry on. 

What I Would Do Differently:

When I do another trip like this one I will definitely go all synthetic fibers in my clothing. I would ditch the cotton shirts and khakis and go with wicking t-shirts and another pair of the polyester travel pants.

Why you should always bring a backup camera!
The main thing I missed on this trip was a way to back-up my photos. A netbook would have been nice but I didn't want to add the extra weight and my bag was soft-sided so I would have been nervous about breaking it! An external hard drive with an SD card reader seems like a good alternative for backing up photos but I've never talked to anybody who's actually used one. I would also suggest bringing extra SD cards because I ran out of space. This caused me to buy a couple extra cards in China which turned out to be bad and I lost a week's worth of pictures!

I brought along a ton of cash but I should have brought even more. It's a risk but since my bank (Wells Fargo) charges five dollars every time you use an international ATM, I ended up spending roughly one hundred dollars in ATM fees over course of the trip.

Final Tip:

Remember when making a packing list that you'll be wearing one complete outfit all the time. So you won't be packing everything into your bag at one time***. For some reason this is hard to remember when you are planning and test-packing.

Happy Travels!

***Jen's note - wear your bulkiest clothes on the plane, like jeans. Also, don't bring jeans if you can help it :)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Life at Blue Creek

Note: This was written a few days ago. Things are better now.

This is the best ice cream I have ever had. It's magical Mennonite ice cream and they will never reveal their secret. I am sitting at the wonderful cafe across the street from the camp, which has amazing sweets and American food. I have heard rumors that they have pizza, which would be amazing. So far, I've just had ice cream and fries.

It is hard to talk about life here because 1) I'm right in the middle of it 2) it isn't all puppies and rainbows and 3) any situation with me and a bunch of people and manual labor is bound to be hard, and I'm feeling bleh at the moment.

So, better to show pictures! I'm at the Internet cafe across the street from camp and uploads are slooooow. So, here are all the pics that I can upload and still get sleep tonight.

This is camp. It is gorgeous there. I pictured a place in the middle of the jungle, but it's surrounded by pasture. Much fewer bugs. More cows.

This is the palapa. It is the center of life for chilling out, having a beer, reading, or having our evening lectures.

Here is my tin can cabana. I would show you the inside, but it's sort of gross. Picture 2 beds and super nasty clothing hanging everywhere. Also, mosquito netting. You get the picture.
Here are the cows that moo in the night. All night.
Catch you guys later! I have limited bandwidth (mostly that means very few pictures).


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Guest Blog: Top 5 Tips for Packing Light by Jeff

My brother, Jeff, went on a 2-month trip across Asia this year, visiting China, India, Japan, Malaysia, and Vietnam. While I'm on my trip, he volunteered to share his travel tips. First up, his five tips for packing light. So incredibly useful, people. I'm using the same bag he did to go to Belize for a month and I managed to do pretty well with these tips. I am bringing enough clothing for an archaeological dig, a touring vacation (ruins, nature preserves), and a beach/diving* vacation, all in a carry-on and small camera backpack. I find that when you go on a trip, everyone starts yelling packing advice at you. Here's some stuff that's actually worthwhile. 


While I was trying on backpacks in REI prior to my 10 week, 5 country East Asia trip, the woman assisting me told me her secret for traveling light: “When packing for a trip, lay out all the clothes and money you plan on bringing. Then, remove half the clothes and double the money. That is what you should pack”. With that advice, along with what I learned on my own adventure, here are my top 5 tips for packing light.

1) Be Organized
You can’t pack the same way in a smaller bag that you did when you were using a larger suitcase. If you are like me and end up just throwing things in the bag when moving from one location to the next, you will find out quickly that things don’t always fit that way in a smaller bag. For this reason I recommend buying a set of packing cubes to keep your items neat and easy to find. The help compress your load and allow you to pack what you need without getting overwhelmed every time you need to find something in your bag.

A collapsible bag is worth its weight (or lack thereof) in gold! 
I also recommend bringing a smaller, collapsible bag to put your clothing and non-essentials in so you can use your main backpack while you are out exploring without carrying everything with you. If you are staying in guest houses or hostels ask the front desk if they will keep your stuff in a luggage room or just behind the desk. 99% of the time they will be more than happy to help you out.

2) Pack Flexible Clothing

Flexible in this case has multiple meanings. The first deals with the physical flexibility of your clothing. Pack light, flexible clothing because they are space saving and easier on your back. Stick with synthetic fabrics. They are lighter, dry faster, handle sweat better, and are considerably more wrinkle resistant.

The second deals with flexibility of use. Pick clothes that can be used in many different environments and social scenarios. On my trip I brought some polyester travel pants that were appropriate for both long hikes in the Vietnamese countryside and clubbing in Shanghai. Also, chose clothing that layer well. If your trips include many different climate types, you want versatile clothes that can be worn alone in hot environments and layered with others in colder environments.

3) Pack For Regional Deficiencies

Certain countries and regions will not have certain products you need or are used to using. For example: China doesn’t sell deodorant in their domestic stores because they just don’t really use it there. On the other hand, you can buy toothpaste in any corner store. In this instance you could pack extra deodorant and less toothpaste and just plan on buying more while you travel. This way you have everything you need without sacrificing space. This leads me into my next tip:

Bring extra cash for unforeseen expenses!
4) Create A "Destination Fund"

This one I stole from Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Workweek. In his post he recommends that you pack as little as you possibly can and then buy most of what you need when you get there. I agree with this to a point. I don’t think it’s the most sustainable way to travel because you end up throwing away things you don’t have room for once you are done using them. If you rely on this method too much, you will end up blowing your budget pretty quickly. My advice: pack all the things you know you WILL need and set a little money and space aside for unexpected weather conditions or regional deficiencies.

Travel the world with what you can carry on your back!
5) Avoid Wheeled Luggage

People will definitely disagree with me on this but I consider this a very practical tip. The wheels and the handle add extra weight and a lot of countries aren’t very wheeled luggage friendly**. Sidewalks and roads are often in disrepair (if they exist at all) and it is much easier to steal a bag you are dragging behind you versus one that is strapped to your back.

The psychological aspect comes into play when you are test packing before your trip. When you have to physically carry everything you bring with you, you tend to pack less to make it easier on your body. Pack your bag and put it on. Then, think ahead to your trip and picture how much walking you will do with that bag on your back. I guarantee you will start removing lower priority gear to lighten the load.

Happy travels!

*My dives include equipment, but I am bringing a dive computer, underwater cameras, a skin, and a full set of snorkel gear with mini fins. 

**One of my destinations in Belize requires a trek along the beach from a water taxi stop. I'm going to be glad to be backpacking it at that point, I think. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Catch you on the Flip Side

Note: this post was supposed to go live yesterday! Sorry, Jeff!

Me: Dad, how did you get through security with your toiletries like this? 
Dad: I guess they were too busy confiscating my pocket knife!

By the time you read this, I should be on my way to Belize. I may be hanging at the Charlotte airport during my absurdly long layover, drinking massive amounts of coffee, and just trying to stay awake! My goal is to blog on the road, using the Blogsy app for iPad, which seems to work really well. In addition to this, I've scheduled some great guest blog posts, written by my brother, about traveling smart and light. By the way, it is his birthday today, so make sure to wish him a happy one!! Happy Birthday, Jeff!

I know I told you I wouldn't post this picture on the Internet. I lied.

This past week, I've been warming up my excavating muscles (trust me, you discover muscles not used in everyday life) with a dig sponsored by my school. It has been quite warm (I'm from Arizona, I refuse to say it's been hot) and sunny, but I managed to not get burned at all, except for a tiny strip on my back where my shirt rode up one day. So close! I learned a lot, and my dig partner and I bonded over a shared love of British television, but I just wish we had actually found some artifacts before I had to leave.

This weekend, I've been running around, doing random things like last-minute packing, dyeing a jacket for a SDCC costume (it did not turn out so well, the thick stretchy areas of the fabric took no dye, but it's workable), going to see Prometheus (loved it), washing my excavation clothes, and loading my e-reader up with library books. I read a lot on vacation, no matter how busy it is, and my e-reader has become my favorite minimalist packing accessory. My only complaint (aside from the fact that I miss the feel of a real book in my hands) is that I have to turn it off for takeoff. Lame.

I hope you all have a really great month! Barring any weird problems with the Internet, you should be hearing from me soon.


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