I was in Belize for nine days. This trip was the field trip component of a CERMES course called Natural Resources Management and I was there in a support capacity. While in Belize I got to see the southern part of the country – the Monkey River area – when we did a water quality and sediment sampling project. I saw the hill area – the Maya Mountains and San Ignacio – where we traveled to two hydroelectric power plants and saw Xunantanich. I saw the agricultural practices of Mennonite farmers in the Orange Walk District in the north near the Mexico border. And I spent a brief yet joyous afternoon snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve (scroll down to Shark Ray Alley - Zone D). With one exception, I had miserable access to the internet. You see, I am a self-proclaimed techie, so this did not set well with me. Some may say that when going to Belize, one should turn off the tech anyway. No. I was working and so were the students and professors. One of the reasons I was present on this trip was for technical support for student blogging. The students were to blog each evening after their day in the field and then use those posts as "field notes" for when they write up their final reports. Well, all plans for blogging each night flew right out the window. It was very discouraging, at least for me, and I found it remarkable that there was this lack of reliable network access. What is this world coming to?
Then at the Miami airport, where I paid a whopping $4.95 for a mere 30 minutes of time on wireless, and on the plane coming home, I read that the U.S. is only 12th in the world with broadband access. Only 69 percent of U.S. households have high-speed access to the net. That seems way too low. But I imagine that Belize would be in single digits for household access, and this is not even broadband as the internet is served up through a telephone line and a modem. That is the way I have access in my apartment in Barbados. While I think that the U.S. and our citizenry should be number one in broadband access and there are plans to make that occur, it is clearly important for the developing world to have greater access to the information found on the web. Those without this information will be left in the dust. And internet cafes are not access.
That one exception I mentioned above, we had web access at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belmopan, where all of us – students, professors and staff – hopped on wireless and caught up on email and such. Did the students also catch up on their blogging at that time? Sadly but not surprisingly, no.
The map of Belize was grabbed from here.
This is getting posted a little late, but we all went for a visit to the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich in Cayo district on March 22. It was quite spectacular to see the looming pyramid structure and to climb to the top of it where there's a wonderful view. Xunantunich is the tallest structure in this set of ruins. There is a center courtyard area with smaller, mound-like structures lining the court. Some of these shorter mounds of artifacts are yet to be uncovered, but after visiting this site, one can spot them all over the country. These are pyramid-shaped yet covered with grass or other, thicker vegetation mounds. Some of the mounds that we've seen since going to Xunantunich are quite high.
For this leg of the journey we stayed in Cahel Pech Resort in San Ignacio. A nice place with a view of the valley.
We got the students together this evening to discuss the video project. The students are in three groups and each group must create a 5-minute video on a topic of their choosing but should be related to an activity that they have seen or worked on during this field trip. Water resources or climate change or both should figure prominently in the project. Each group has been given an HD Flip video camera.
As a start, we told them to treat this project as one would a paper but without all the words. Here are some more guidelines:
1) Formulate an idea, a direction, or theme that you want to go with the video.
2) Just as you would for a research paper, draft an outline. What pieces do you need for your video? Do you need interviews? Do you need imagery of certain sites? Do you need particular sounds recorded? Do you need to do more research?
3) On the trip capture video and images with your project in mind. Talk to the other groups to see if they might have material you can use for your video project.
4) Piece your video together to see what you’re missing. Add still images. If you don’t have a shot of what you wish to highlight, search for an image in Flickr Creative Commons or some other open access, share-alike source.
5) Make a script then do a voice over. Practice it a few times to get the timing down.
6) Add a title clip and also add a clip with your names, dates and places.
Then I walked them through the use of Windows Movie Maker. Though they are using Flip video cameras and could use the Flip software, Movie Maker is a better solution for creating videos. It’s free with the Windows operation system and quite easy to use. And none of the students (or professors) are using Macs which would mean they would use iMovie software.
To get started, open Movie Maker and save your project with a new name. Save often!
Import video by navigating to your video clips. Then load those clips from your Collections to your movie project. Drag your clips into the Video timeline. You can also copy the clips from the Videos folder from you’re My Documents folder directly into Movie Maker’s timeline. You can make your clip shorter and reduce the unwanted parts of a clip by using the slider at the end or beginning of a clip (this will be a red double arrow).
Importing pictures is a way to utilize images of topics that you did not get good video footage of. The default length of time for an imported image is about 5 seconds; you can modify that to be whatever length you wish. Keep in mind that pictures will not have any sound so you will need to have some sort of audio over those images.
With both video clips and pictures, you can fade from one into another by slightly overlapping two clips or photos. This makes a smooth transition.
Remember to save.
There is a narration tool built into Movie Maker. A small microphone shows up in your tool bar. Click that and you’re ready to record. Once your recording is done, stop, save and your recording is found in your audio line of your project. You can also bring in other sounds that you’ve captured by importing or dragging clips into the audio timeline.
Create a descriptive title using the title wizard. Create a second title with the names of your group, date(s), and location. You can add text over your video clip or photograph clip by adding text over the selected clip. For text, you should use a sans serf font like Arial or Trebuchet and not a serif font like Times Roman or Georgia.
Once you feel your five-minute video is as exactly how you want it, go to Save to My Computer. Use the defaults and your video will be rendered in a few minutes. You will then have a .wmv file to send to your professors.
We started the morning out nice and early and headed to one of the reaches that feeds into the Monkey River, the Swasey River. Some groups did sand grabs to look at the sediment content of the material coming down to feed the beach of the Monkey River. We all did field observations to look for vegetation types and human activities along the banks of the river and each location we got GPS location. I downloaded those sites tonight and everything is looking good and working so far. Whew!
At the base of the Maya Mountains there is a huge area of banana plantations. It seems the workers working the plantations are Guatemalan immigrants or ingenious Mayan. Though there was a school in the village there were small children running around in the middle of the day, asking us questions. Other kids were helping to dig a ditch that will help irrigate the bananas. There was also a moderately-sized and newly constructed water tower paid for by the Belize government and European Commission.
In the afternoon our group surveyed the local health clinic to ask questions about any correlations with health and climate change. After that we visited the Banana Growers Association to talk about climate change effects on growing, harvesting, and selling bananas to a global market. Bananas are the poor man’s fruit so if costs go up to grow a banana, as a result of hurricane’s damaging the plants or rot of the plant because of too much rain at one time, will consumers pay? What will YOU pay for a banana.
After dinner we had another terrific group discussion about each others field experience It rounded out the two days of field work quite nicely. We are in the Monkey River area for just two days and had to make sense of a place quickly. I think this approach, with three group each doing something very different yet related field activities and techniques. These discussions were illuminating for all of us and helped to weave all of it together.
Tomorrow is a travel day. I hope we finally have internet access.
Latitude: 16.365363° N; Longitude: -88.484445° W
We broke into three groups today. One did beach profiles. One conducted community surveys in the village. And my group went by water taxi up the Monkey River. The river was running low so we couldn’t get quite as far as we had liked, but where we reached, we put in a couple of sediment samplers to check for sediment flow volume overnight. We dropped a couple of samplers at the mouth of the river, as well.
On our way back downstream, we took observations and collected water quality samples at measured intervals. When I say ‘we’ I really mean the students did all the work and I was along for the ride. I used a tablet PC and GIS data I got from a contact at Galen University to figure out where we were but the students did their own data collection and taking of GPS waypoints.
The Monkey River is beautiful. There were nearly no signs of human visitors along this stretch but plenty of wild life. Alligators, iguanas, black howler monkeys (hence the river’s name), and lots of bird life – herons, ibis’, oropendola, kingfishers, a small hawk – it was Wild Kingdom, man!
I am in Belize with CERMES professors Dr. Adrian Cashman and Dr. Leonard Nurse (see photo below) to assist them with their Water Resources Management field course. We took a very early flight out of Bridgetown, flew to Miami and then went on to Belize City where I am now two hours ahead of Barbados time. I am exhausted. But the weather is surprisingly and pleasantly cool and we may be in for perfect weather.
Here we are visiting our hosts Dr. and Mrs. Leslie of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center, at their home in Lake Gardens, Belize.
The plan is: we will be on a nine-day field trip, measuring river flow, making beach profiles, looking at hydro-electric power plants, and visiting agricultural areas. I will be helping the students use the tablet PCs for field mapping, setting them up with blogging and assisting them in making videos. This first evening, the internet is a little weak for all of us, but the idea is that the students will post to an individual blog and then those blogs will feed into a course blog called Belize Field Trip. Please feel free to check it out. I will also try to be useful as a reasonably knowledgeable field hack, as well.
Tomorrow we're up early again to head to Independence and Monkey River. I'll have the GPS working and get a more accurate reading of where we are.