Twenty-five classmates and I traveled to Belize last month for a two-week immersion in Maya culture. Courtesy of the AFAR (American Foreign Academic Research) program, Davidson Day has annually been given the opportunity to take students to Cahal Pech (an ancient Maya site in Belize) to excavate ruins.

Upon touchdown in Belize City, I was pretty psyched. It is a thrilling but overwhelming experience to go from a First World country to a developing one. The streets are like that of an impoverished suburb of Charlotte. Yet the air is fresh rather than manufactured.

I got pretty lucky, the inflation in Belize left me with double the amount of money I thought I had to blow. Nachos on the house!

The AFAR crew pertaining of archeologists, professors, teachers, college students and us stayed at the Cahal Pech Resort. There were five jet-black glyphs nailed to the archway leading inside. My friends and I coined the saying “We’re at a five-glyph hotel,” which is about the equivalent to a three-star in America.

The hotel had a chain of pools crowned with a pterodactyl fountain. The nozzle protruding from his mouth made him look like a smoker.

Eventually, I actually had to work. My office was pretty nice. It was a fair-sized area bursting with rich architecture. Armed with trowels and picks, my unit managed to uncover a ceramic deposit. We mapped it, and shipped the ceramics to the lab to be sorted, washed and logged.

By far the hardest task was sifting. This consisted of carrying buckets filled to the brim with dirt and rocks and dumping them into screens. It required arm strength, which was a problem.

About two days from the end of the trip, our teacher, Matt Saunders, offered to take students up to the top of an eerie building in Cahal Pech for ghost stories. Only five of us went. Everyone else was scared or too busy using the Wi-Fi to notice.

I’m a pretty scaredy person. Once I went to Scarowinds and screamed for four hours straight. 

So, the second we stepped into the forest it didn’t seem like such a good decision to skip out on the nightlife for this. Ghosthunters International had come there for a reason.

Saunders started out with a mild story of a ghost boy who prances around Cahal Pech playing the flute. We would all swear we heard the flute let out a long note.

As he transitioned into the next story, we caught a glimpse of light from far below us. It was definitely the illumination of a flashlight. It quickly faded to darkness.

Saunders walked to the very edge of the roof and shined his flashlight towards the area. Nothing. We knew someone was there.

He continued his story, this one far more intense then prancing ghost boy. Right as the tale came to its climax, we heard a crack from beneath the structure. Saunders was getting freaked out. Let me tell you, when the authority starts freaking out, everyone starts freaking out.

Us five students huddled on the back of the roof. Saunders edged his way to the stairs. As he shined his flashlight through the jungle brush, frantically trying to make out figures, we heard another crack. Not a second later, a silhouette jumped up and let out a bellowing scream. All of us lost it.

By the time we could clear our vision, we saw that it was two college students coming from the hotel to scare the crap out of us. It worked.

After that, I was ready to retire for the day. We got some soy ice cream from Cayo Twist, a local non-dairy shop.

In exchange for our hard work during the week, we got the weekends to go on excursions. The best of which was ATM, an enormous cave that we swam, walked, and climbed in. It was fascinating to see the natural preservation of the cave allow for artifacts to remain pristine.

There were many sacrificed bodies lying around. The cave was thought to have been the underworld, so when things got tough the Maya went down there to host sacrifices to please the gods.

By the flight home, I was pumped to see America. Meeting new people, naming the bugs in my shower, and lounging in the pool with Larry the chain-smoking pterodactyl made for a very memorable experience.


Bailey Huebner attends Davidson Day School. He is interning with The Herald Weekly this summer.