Following a 10-hour flight 20 students and 2 members of staff arrived exhausted and crumpled at Cancun Airport, Mexico. We recovered in a hotel and had a traditional Mexican meal before the true expedition began the following morning. A day-long coach journey brought us to a small rural village where we were met by local women who made it their personal duty to keep us well-fed! After a bumpy ride in the back of a pick-up truck (ten crammed in at a time made for interesting bruises) we finally arrived at our destination for the first week: Camp Hormiguero. We were welcomed by Camp Manager Lily who showed us around the site and got us an acquainted with the toilets and showers – rustic, to say the least -and assigned us our tents. The facilities included two wooden sheds and an outside area of decking; little did we know the shoddy wooden benches that constituted our dining tables would soon become the norm and the hammock in the medical hut an outright luxury.
The daily routine went as follows; allocated into small groups we took part in transects, sometimes awaking at 4.30 for the 5.30 birds survey; then a breakfast of cornflakes and sugar set us up for yet more transects, surveying herps (reptiles, in layman’s terms), mammals and habitat followed by a lecture at 11.30. The roaring of the truck and smell of exhaust fumes signalled the arrival of the local women and with them our lunch which was basic but always plentiful and very stereotypically Mexican (i.e. A LOT of refried beans). There were more transects to take part in in the afternoon proving both educational and always enjoyable due to the enthusiasm of the scientists who we worked with. Mist net surveys of Bats at night became many people’s favourite transect, perhaps due to the excitement felt as we ventured out into the dark, anonymous forest or to the inexhaustible exhilaration that Veronica (bat expert) felt each and every time she caught a new bat, which proved infectious.
In our lectures we learnt about the importance of the work being undertaken in Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The need to accumulate data on the numbers and species present in order to receive funding for their preservation meant that we really felt the help we provided to the dedicated scientists was truly valuable. ‘Habitat Transects’ was the jazzed up name for ‘measuring trees’ and while being perhaps the least thrilling survey we took part in, knowledge of its purpose in acquiring REDD funding from the United Nations meant that we gradually became more enthusiastic to calculate their carbon biomass.
Reluctantly after 1 week in the biosphere, plus a trip to the Ancient Mayan Temples which many of us agreed may have been the most inspiring place we have ever been to, we left Lily, the jungle, and our bucket showers behind. The sweat, dirt, mosquito bites, ant infestations, mud-caked boots, sweat, tears, toil and more sweat was over. We were off to the beach! The second week felt like heaven compared to the first and while we continued to attend lectures and take sea grass surveys we thoroughly felt we deserved to rack up the hours of sunbathing after one of the hardest weeks in all our lives. The main purpose of being at the beach in Akumal, on the Yucatan peninsula, was scuba diving. We learnt about the different fish present on the Caribbean reef and the dive symbols for turtles, rays, barracudas and other common deep-sea creatures. The sea was so warm we were able to dive without wetsuits and once again the friendly dive centre staff made us all absolutely love our dives.
Sadly it had to come to an end and we celebrated our time and commiserated our having to depart on the last night with a goodbye quiz and a well-deserved meal. Altogether I feel that Mexico 2013 was unforgettable for all of us for a multitude of reasons, many that we hadn’t even considered before getting out there. It is fabulous that UVHS sixth form provides the opportunity for students to take part in the Operation Wallacea project.
By Eloise (year 13)
For further information about this and future expeditions contact the Biology Expedition Leader Mr Ford.
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Mr Fay c/o Mrs A Herman (Headteacher's PA)
Ulverston Victoria High School
Springfield Road, Ulverston, Cumbria, LA12 0EB
Tel: 01229 483900