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Mar 30, 2004

Trekforce volunteers uncover ancient temples

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It’s been described as a combination of boot camp, Peace Corps, and tropical vacation. But whatever you call it, for the last six weeks one hundred and twelve Trekforce volunteers and two dozen staff members have been working hard from north to south on a number of projects designed to harden the Trekker’s bodies and minds…and leave Belize a better place than they found it. News 5′s Patrick Jones reports from the Corozal District.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

They’ve traded in make-up, video games, and computers for machetes, mosquitoes, and blisters. It’s far removed from the fast-pace city life that this group of U.K. youths are used to, but after a few uncomfortable days and nights in the bush, they dug in their heels and found that it wasn’t so bad after all.

Mark Oliver, Trekforce Volunteer

“I think it will make every day tasks much easier. Out here it’s obviously much more difficult just to look after yourself and look after the basic things that you take for granted that when we get home everything will be so much more of a dawdle.”

Elswith Campbell, Trekforce Volunteer

“I never really knew what to expect before I came out here and I’ve just really enjoyed it. It’s been tough, but I really enjoyed it and I’ll go home with lots of good memories and I hopefully have made some really good friends and lots of good photos.”

But before the photo-ops, the young men and women had to roll up their sleeves and brave the hostile terrain surrounding Fireburn Village, where Trekforce, working in conjunction with the Institute of Archaeology and Wildtracks, teamed up on a project to open up the Kakantulix archaeological site.

Kaz Stuart, Team Leader

“To begin with, we cut a six kilometre boundary around the archaeological site. Then we moved on to mapping the area which involved walking twenty kilometres and mapping everything that we found along twenty transect lines and when we completed that we moved into the plaza area which was the most important area and cleared that down to ground level just leaving trees and palms to make the place look good. And having completed that, we then moved on to making a tourist trail, which we are standing on today.”

Patrick Jones

“The volunteers of Trekforce 2004 spent the last six weeks clearing and mapping the area. And as the jungle cover was lifted, a central plaza emerged. The team has been able to document over two hundred distinct mounds indicating that at one point this was a bustling city in the heart of the jungles of northern Belize.”

Yashin Dujon, Park Planning and Policy Officer

“It is possibly the second largest city that we have here in Corozal. And with some future archaeological research we’ll be able to determine the importance of Kakantulix to the Maya world and the rest of the sites that we have throughout the district.”

Park Planning and Policy Officer at the Institute of Archaeology, Yashin Dujon, says it’s an important first step in understanding what role this site played in the Maya world centuries ago. But they must move quickly as evidence suggests that looters have, over the years, beaten a path through the jungle to Kakantulix.

Yashin Dujon

“There has been for years and the Institute of Archaeology is working very hard to prevent future looting from taking place and so when we get on a site like this one of the first things that we like to do is go ahead and see if we can preserve the damage that has already been done to these structures so they can be enjoyed by future generations.”

A preliminary map of the site, drawn up by the Trekforce volunteers has been handed over to the Institute of Archaeology. It actually shows two hundred and forty-one structures at Kakantulix. The tallest structure extends over a hundred and twenty-one feet, allowing for a breath-taking view of the canopy. Dujon says his office is working on establishing a permanent presence in the area and working with nearby communities to manage and eventually open up the site to visitors.

Yashin Dujon

“From here we’re going to have teams come out here and start to do some research eventually on the different structures, the mounds, some of the shards that we’ve seen passing through the site. Clearly we can identify the main plaza already; there is a mass temple that exists on site, couple of aguadas. So we need to come through and actually finish identifying the structures, what their use was, preserve them because it’s very important that we preserve them from the elements now that they have been cleared. So that’s the first thing we need to get done.”

The site is accessible by boat across the Shipstern lagoon. But the journey is not for the faint of heart as it involves a whopping fifty-minute hike through the bush. Fortunately, the Trekforce volunteers have made it a little bit easier to go in.

Kaz Stuart

“There was a lot of really dense undergrowth. A hurricane went through here a number of years ago and that took out a lot of the canopy. So the ground was really covered in dense vegetation, so it’s been along and arduous process. but everybody in the team worked hard to cut it all down to ground level which has been terrific.”

And while the achy muscles and blisters will probably serve as temporary trophies of overcoming the challenges, the volunteers were in high spirits on the last day of their expedition. And from the look of things, the ladies outdid their male counterparts.

Kerry Shore, Trekforce Volunteer

“The guys? No we’ve showed them what we can do. There’s no way they could give us a hard time. We’ve kicked ass, yeah.”

Kevin, Trekforce Volunteer

“It’s been a tremendous experience being really unique. We couldn’t really plan for what, we didn’t really know what we were expecting and when we got here it was nothing that we really expected, so it’s been tough at times but we thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Alex, Trekforce Volunteer

“It’s been amazing. It’s just been fantastic coming here and see it change completely from jungle to this. I mean you can actually see the ruins now. And you really feel that you’re a part of something important which is just fantastic.”

Michael Wild, Trekforce Volunteer

“I think it will help me in terms of just being tougher. I’ll be able to take on challenges more willingly, with more mental strength, definitely.”

Kaz Stuart

“It’s a fantastic experience for them to realize how much they are capable of. It gives them an opportunity to realize their full potential to be in a really challenging situation and come out winners. And it gives them a great focus to their lives as well, just leads them unto many, many more great things.”

Patrick Jones, for News 5.

The Trekkers are now undergoing four weeks of Spanish language training in Guatemala after which they will return to Belize to teach in rural areas for two months.

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