Back to the Desk

©2020 Levite

"We could get locked up in an old military barracks for old time's sake."
    "Or we could just have them lock you up."

Extreme Real World Travel: Belize

sequel to: "A Special Episode of Extreme Real World Travel"

"Welcome to a two hour special of Extreme Real World Travel. I am Bertrand Collins, vice president of production for Travel Television Incorporated, and executive producer of the show. Now. I am here to tell you, in all seriousness, that this is the most important episode in the history of this series, and perhaps in the entire genre of what is called 'reality television'. Stay tuned, and you may well agree with me...."

"... learn the Punta."
      The opening video shot was of an idyllic tropical coastal scene with quaint and slightly old fashioned buildings in the background of a lively party scene along the idyllic tropical beach walkway with a bouncy Latin techno beat music playing with several idyllic tropical young people dancing to it.

      "Welcome to an Extreme Real World Travel Special Followup Episode, I'm your host Cheryl Wise, and we're here in Monkey River Town in Belize with some old friends, who are trying to learn to Punta-dance," a couple of years had not dimmed her smile at all. "You may remember Sean and Lana, and the others, from our episode in Kyrgyzstan that had a very unexpected ending."
      The explorers waved to the camera as it panned over the party.
      Then Cheryl continued, "Since then we have heard from a number of fans that we never declared a winner to that competition, and there were questions as to whether or not we awarded any of the prizes. And, to be honest, we hadn't. By the end of that adventure we were all glad when our plane landed in Seattle, and we heard that Mister Andrew was back in London, and it was like never happened. So now we've gotten that group together again in late April, on the shores of the Caribbean, with most of the same crew, and we're out on another adventure. And, as you can see, Andrew has taken time off from the auto parts business and has picked up a camera and is back with us, perhaps this time without ending up in a military prison. And now, we go to our arrival party in Belize."
      There was a wide shot of a tropical beach scene that zoomed in. Then the scenes cut between individual couples enjoying the festivities. The cameras also recorded the fact that the couple with the most country line dancing experience, Jimmy and Anne, were the best at Punta and were doing reasonably well at it.
      "And here's our first returning explorer couple Bobbi and Jack, we'll check in with them after these messages and find our where we are and what we're doing."

      Mister Hagal nodded as the camera light went off. "Very good. We'll do the introductions over there, bit quieter and less busy."
      Andrew nodded and began to move the main camera on its tripod, "He hasn't changed."
      "You expected him to?" Cheryl said as she checked her perfect makeup yet again.

      "So, Jimmy, why did you and Anne agree to get back together to do this?"
      He tipped his cowboy hat back a touch, then he looked at Anne and shrugged, "it seemed like the thing to do. We are still friends."
      She agreed, "It was the best time we'd ever had together. All except for the part when the Chinese soldiers were holding machine guns on us. But even that worked out OK. And this time we were only on the plane for a little while."
      "Six hours in the air, an hour on the ground in Houston, but we didn't have to change planes," Jimmy added.
      Anne nodded, "It wasn't bad at all."

      "I'd always wondered about who actually won the show. But, like Miss Cheryl said, we were just so glad to be home we didn't think about it then," Bobbi said.
      Jack was still watching the dancers and eating another tamale, "He said we'd be on Central Time... we are, just not daylight savings time."
      "Did Mr. Hagal tell you that?"
      "Yeah. I said I'd go as long as I didn't get jet lag again. We're like due south of Chicago. Just a long way south."
      "We are about one thousand seven hundred miles south of Chicago," Cheryl smiled through her bit of trivia.

      "This is a great party, but what's the challenge?" Sean asked holding both a local beer and a tall glass of rum punch.
      "Learning the Punta," Lana answered mimicking the dance, "what else do we need to do?"
      Cheryl had an answer for that as well as she spoke to the camera, "we'll learn that first thing in the morning. Our explorer's first night in country will get them reacquainted with roughing it. Then tomorrow, we cross the river and take a bus to ...well, you'll find out when our explorers do, after these messages."

      Nick saw Jimmy and Jack wander off to one side, so, naturally, he followed with his camera, without telling Mr. Hagal of course.
      The microphone on the camera picked up their conversation with a local who was bringing supplies to the party out of a fishing boat.
      "Yes, I can get you some rum. Why do you need it?" The old fisherman said, "There's the party we have plenty there."
      "Whatever we're doing for the show, when it's done, I know I'll need a drink." Jack gestured to Nick and his camera, "Probably several."
      "Ahh, yes, the challenges, like turning a motorcycle into a boat, yes."
      Jimmy laughed, "That was a different show, but, yeah, like that."
      "Wait here, I have just the thing, and when you taste it, you will bless my grandchildren for me." The old man walked back down to the boat with a lively step, then returned carrying two cardboard boxes that said Barrel Rum on them in a slightly off center print. "This, this is what I drink after fishing all day and not catching anything. I get it at the petrol dock up the coast."
      "That'll do fine. Thank you." Jack said and reached for his wallet.
      Jimmy nodded, "Now that you mention it," he looked at the boxes, "Do you have anything else?"

Monkey River Town to Bladen
      The group from St Louis and the crew had similar accommodations, right next door to each other. Two small houses a short walk down from where the welcoming party was filmed.
      The music and rum flowed for quite a while after the TV cameras were turned off. But Mr. Hagal had arranged for the band and dancers from the resorts around Independence to wrap it up and head home just after dark, and they did. After that, the locals finished off the remaining beer and food and wandered out to their homes not unlike the ones rented for the show.
      Although one communal tank fed a pump that supplied sinks in both houses with running water, it wasn't heated. The electric supply consisted of a couple of lights that would dim to an odd yellow tint once in awhile.
      Cheryl frowned her way through all three rooms, "No separate rooms? Well, OK for one night."
      Andrew looked around the house, then went back out and got his pack. "I'm good, you guys have fun." A few minutes later they saw he'd set up a small tent and was laying inside listening to music.

      "Well?" Jimmy said to Jack as they passed out bedrolls for the mattresses that were on wooden frames.
      "We've seen worse."
      "The prison had a toilet."
      "Well, yeah," he gestured to the door, "But that's not locked from the outside."
      "I'd rather have a toilet."

      Anne and Bobbi were looking through Anne's over-sized carry on.
      "You're not kidding, you brought enough for anything."
      Lana peeked over their shoulders, "And I thought I brought more than enough of them."
      "I'm not going to get caught like we did on the last one having to use a dry paper towel."
      Bobbi picked up a package of the pre-moistened cleansing wipes, "You planning on having to remove a lot of makeup?"
      "I bought everything they had, baby scented and all. And I will share... ... some."
      "How did you get it through customs?"
      "When I told them it was all for personal use, they just laughed at me and passed me through."

      It was a long dark night, with a late rain that was just heavy enough to make a late trip out to the little house between the two larger houses damp and unpleasant.

      As the sun began to peek over the Caribbean a small group of residents showed up in front of the two houses, built a fire, and began fixing a traditional breakfast of local dishes.
      The smell of frying bread soon got even the most rum soaked of the visitors up and moving before Mr. Hagal's phone began its alarm chirping.
      As the crew and the explorers walked out into the morning light they were met with friendly faces and steaming pans of eggs and cheese and hot bread and, perhaps most importantly, a local coffee that was perking away in pots sitting over the fire.

      After everybody was there, and the cameras were rolling, Mr. Hagal announced that they needed to finish up their breakfast and get packed so they could get the boats to take them across the river to catch the bus that would take them to Bladen to meet the rest of their adventure's participants.
      "Why couldn't we have just gone there from the airport yesterday?" Jack asked.
      "Then you would have missed the party on the beach."

      Once on the bus everybody had an hour or so to catch up and visit without the cameras running. Well, Andrew and Nick tried to get some video on the bus, but the combination of the aging coach bus and Monkey River Road had other ideas.
      After the bus turned onto the highway Mr. Hagal got on his phone and spoke to somebody, then he became rather quiet and just watched the others interact, now with at least one camera on.
      A bit later the explorers saw that they had arrived in the town he had mentioned, then they crossed the river and slowed down.

      "I've got a bad feeling about this," Jack said, then he repeated it to Andrew's camera.
      The bus was pulling off the main highway and into a parking area around a block building. But the cars and vans around the building didn't belong in the village as several of them had official looking decals on the side and one had small flags on the hood and a couple of armed guards standing next to it.
      Mr. Hagal smiled and stood to face the others and the cameras. "As you can see, this is an official reception. Shall we?" He stepped out followed by Nick. He walked up to a classy looking woman who introduced him to an older equally classy gentleman and a somewhat younger man in work clothes.
      Then Mr. Hagal turned to the explorers and the others as they gathered around the front of the bus.
      The first thing they noticed was that even just a few miles in from the coast, the heat and humidity were noticeably higher even though it was still a couple of hours before noon.
      "Explorers, this is your official welcome to Belize. I am pleased to introduce you to my friend from back when I did some other projects in this region, Marie Perez, who is now the Minister for Tourism and Aviation for the Commonwealth of Belize." He nodded to the lady, "And she will introduce you to her friend."
      "Gud maanin," the Minister smiled broadly and turned toward the next gentleman in line. "This is indeed my friend, Mister Castillo, our Deputy Prime Minister. He is here to see you off on your expedition."

      "I told you I had a bad feeling," Jack whispered.
      Jimmy nodded, "yeah."

      Mister Castillo bowed slightly then spoke with a bit of a Caribbean accent, "A very good morning to you all. As you may know, Belize was the eastern home of the mighty Mayan civilization for over a thousand years. While we have made remarkable discoveries, there is still much we do not know. Your mission is to assist this gentleman, and his group, in an effort to add to our knowledge of our ancient ancestors. He is Doctor Bernard Sanchez, of our University's History and Anthropology Center, they are following up some very interesting clues in what may lead to the discovery of the equivalent of a Mayan Valley of the Kings."
      Doctor Sanchez nodded to them and repeated the local greeting, "Thank you. It is good to see the arrival of such experienced and enthusiastic volunteers," he looked the group over. "It is true, we have found some very interesting relics and a few sites that indicate that at some point in the Mayan period they may have buried some of their leaders in tombs in the valleys just north and west of here along the tributaries of the Bladen river in what we now call the Mayan highlands. For the next week or so, we'll live up in the valley and pursue those leads and hopefully excavate something interesting." He paused and smiled, then he nodded to Mr. Hagal.
      "And there you have it, explorers. And as you can see from Mister Castillo's presence, there is little chance of your ending up under arrest due to a misunderstanding again."
      The Deputy Prime Minister smiled broadly as he had heard the story. "Yes, as long as you do not attempt to leave the country with any historical relics, you will be fine."
      The camera cut to Mr. Hagal as he spoke to the explorers, "Any questions?"
      Sean raised his hand, "Are we going to be Doctor Sanchez's only assistants?"
      The Anthropologist shook his head. "No," he gestured to a group standing just off to the other side, "this is some of my party, others are already at our base camp at the upper branch of the Bladen river. Ms Akholay is our staff Archaeologist and a direct descendant of those original peoples," she nodded and smiled. "As is Mr. Xaman, who is our expert on the geology of the central plateau and the way it was used by the people." The man nodded and waved.
      After a couple of other questions there was a chance to mingle and chat, and drink coffee and eat some Mayan treats made with raw sugar and cocoa.
      Then they had to bid farewell to the dignitaries and, probably, all trace of civilization for the duration.
      Finally the Explorers gathered their supplies, and loaded up into several trucks.
      "We can take these for some distance, then we must transfer to different vehicles. But in just a month or so the camp may only accessible by canoe," Doctor Sanchez said as they loaded the trucks.

      "Where did you get the sea bag?" Bobbi asked her husband as they transferred luggage from the bus to a couple of trucks.
      "Bought it from a fisherman."
      "What's in it?"
      "Something I bought from another fisherman."
      "You bought booze didn't you? Yes, you did. That's your booze-buying face."
      Jimmy laughed and shook his head and followed Jack who was carrying a couple of boxes to another truck.
      Nick shut off his camera and grabbed the box he had 'bought from a fisherman'.

      Their drivers followed the highway south a mile or so, then they turned up a narrow road that wound along the river toward the hills. Finally, the road ended, but the trucks followed a path along the river into a valley. But the hills soon closed in around the water course and they could go no further, then they stopped in a clearing.
      Dr. Sanchez pointed out an overgrown track that led up the nearest hill, "There's a youth camp up there that is used once in awhile. From the looks of it, I'd say the Maya themselves used it as a youth camp as well."
      On the other side of where they stopped was an unusual selection of transportation options.
      "I wasn't expecting that," Andrew said as he began filming the transfer from trucks to everything from a six wheeled ATV to donkey carts pulled by actual donkeys. Kevin, the sound guy for this expedition passed out wireless mics and showed the scientists how to put them on and hook them up.
      "They didn't have enough of the ATVs, so we improvised. These belong to... him." Mr. Hagal answered. A handful of young men stood around a much older man who was smiling and nodded enthusiastically any time anybody looked his way. "Cameras and sound equipment in the motor vehicles, other things in the carts. You can either ride in a cart or walk."
      "What are you doing?" Lana asked him.
      "I was going to walk and enjoy the day."
      "How far is it?"
      Mr. Hagal didn't know, so he deferred to Doctor Sanchez, "About three kilometers, the walking is not difficult and the path is well marked."
      Lana didn't speak kilometers so Mr. Hagal translated for her, "Two miles."
      "OK," she said looking at the others, "We'll walk."

      As they followed the sometimes narrow path that ran along between the steep hillside and the river the experts described the local Mayan realm and how there were several different Mayan cultures and that the civilization in the mountains had little similarity to the coastal and lowland settlements.
      Mr. Xaman continued, "Which is why we're doing this work. We've discovered several smaller towns and villages up on the plateau that apparently were farming communes that supplied things like corn, beans, and cocoa to the larger cities."
      "Just small towns?" somebody asked.
      "Yes, around here we haven't found anything the size of Tikal or Xunantunich. But Caracol was quite large, and in this area we have found several villages, quite regularly spaced, along the old roads all through this area, connected with roads leading from the coast to the west toward El Zotz and other cities in the central Mayan region, and even river landings, and all from the mid to late classic period. Give or take, from about two hundred or so AD to, some say, one thousand AD, or about five hundred years before contact. But it appears none of these settlements were important enough to have a great pyramid constructed, but we know there were local kings whom we'd call a prince or governor. Al lot of them had a temple, and some had small pyramids, and some didn't."
      "Of course, some of them were occupied and the farms worked for a very long time, possibly before and after the great cities. In fact, some of the Mayan era farms are still being used by our people," Ms Akholay continued the story, "but in the larger sense, the majority of the big settlements were declining or abandoned before the Spanish arrived."
      Dr. Sanchez was ready with that answer, "That's one of the things we're hoping this expedition will help answer."
      There was another question, "Why would they bury a king or priest here?"
      This was Dr. Sanchez's home turf, "For one, it is away from major settlements, and so it is away from potential grave robbers who were a problem even then. Also. And maybe moreso, water was very important to the Maya. It was life itself. And things like springs and pools had special significance. So up here, where springs appeared and flowed to the river, that then flowed into the Sea where the Sun rose every day would give a path to the dead to move on and become a sun god themselves. Something the Mayan adopted from the older cultures from elsewhere in Central America."

      The conversation was broken up by a narrow place where they had to walk single file and step up where a bend in the river brought it too close to the hill to allow a path, then on the other side they descended back to the path and they could talk again.
      "You've really found things in this valley that make you think there are royal burials here?" Bobbi asked.
      "Yes. We've even found several trash pits with discarded pottery and other debris that was all from the same time frame. And then several years later, there would be another layer. And then another. With silt from seasonal floods in between. So they only came here once every ten to twenty years, and only stayed for a matter of months. Which raises the question, what were they doing?" He gestured to the hills around them with the occasional narrow valley cutting back into them. "We've also discovered where walkways were cut into some of those ravines, and then abandoned. And there's a couple of other pieces that are conclusive proof, we can show you one of them in camp."
      "Sounds good to me," Jimmy said, "Where do we start and what do we do?"
      "I'll explain it all when we get to camp as well."

      A little further on they met the donkey carts coming back.
      "Wait a minute," Bobbi said, "how did they get over that one part?"
      "They go the other way," Ms Akholay answered.
      "What other way?"
      "Down into the river and then back up."
      "What about what was in the carts, did it all get wet?"
      "The river isn't that deep right there this time of year. Later on, you'll need a boat."

The Camp at the Bladen Y.
      The path ended at a river ford just upstream of where a smaller flow of water branched off the larger river to the southwest while the larger valley with its stream went further south to its source.
      They had to use a randomly placed collection of stepping stones to cross the river but most of them made it with nothing more than some damp footwear.
      As they were crossing the stream they heard excited shouting from the camp, then somebody answered from further up the hill.
      By the time the group was across the water there was a small crowd gathered under a trio of red and blue topped popup picnic shelters.
      "You've got to see this," an intense young woman who wearing a pistol in a holster on a belt shouted as Dr. Sanchez and the others got close to the shelters, "it was intentionally broken and buried in pit three."
      "And this is Senorita Garcia, she's one of our readers of Mayan script," the Anthropologist introduced her, "she's here compliments of our friends in Mexico. These are the volunteers from the American TV show."
      The woman smiled and nodded to them, "But you've got to see this. The script is almost identical to early Tikal"
      He shrugged, "OK, let's see it."
      "It's in the lieutenant's tent." She said and turned to lead them up the hill to a large canvas military surplus tent.

      The Senorita went into the tent and came out carefully carrying two cardboard trays, the top one lined with an old towel. She laid them on the worktable in front of the tent almost reverently. "It's amazing," she said gesturing to the top tray.
      Andrew held the camera so it could see over the others, then he stared at its view screen. To him, it looked like a box full of broken hand painted pottery. Which is exactly what it was.
      Dr. Sanchez and his team looked at it carefully, "it's a chocolate cup," he said in a moment.
      "Yes, but the inscription is the key." They all just looked at her until she explained it. "It says it was a tribute cup from the Little King to the Sun God. but there was what amounts to a typo in it. So they broke it and probably did another one back in town and brought it out and buried it with him. Wherever he is."
      "What's the typo?"
      "Instead of the glyph for little that meant 'lower ranking', one step down from a Sajal which is a regional lord, it is almost the one for 'dwarf', you can see where they repainted it later, but it didn't work. So it was never used." She pointed to the obvious correction on one piece of the pottery then carefully fitted it to another.
      "And it was in pit three."
      "Si. Just below the two meter level, with the other artifacts." She picked up the top tray to reveal the bottom tray with tools and animal bones that showed signs of butchering and cooking.
      "What's that?" One of the explorers asked pointing to several small dark cylinders in a plastic bag.
      "Coprolites," Dr. Sanchez answered without further explanation.
      There was some blank stares from the Explorers.
      "Although in this context I prefer the term Paleo-feces."

      There was a few minutes of academic discussion, then Dr. Sanchez whispered to Mr. Hagal. Then the two turned to face the explorers and the cameras.
      "And so you see, there are discoveries to be made," Mr. Hagal said. "And Dr. Sanchez will now explain your role in all this."
      The man stared into the box for a moment, then he turned to them, "This is even more proof that there are royal burials in these valleys. Remember back on the trail I told you we had found some good evidence that way, the other is a stone marker up at the divide between what we call the North and South Valley of Fungus, and the Valley of Rocks. It says, in short, that 'the elder priest rests in sight of the rising sun.'"
      He turned back to the Explorers. "We're not going to do a regular challenge. This is too important. Instead, you will be divided into two groups, men and women, with a camera team, and each group will take a valley, myself and a small camera crew, will take the other one. If we find a significant site, as judged by Dr. Sanchez and his team, we win, if one of you finds it first, you win, and the three couples will split the prize, and receive the honor of making a major discovery of Belizian history."
      "You're going to go dig in the Valley of Fungus?" Jimmy chuckled.
      "If that one is not chosen by another team, yes."
      Cheryl looked at him, "Who's on your team?"
      "You, and whatever of the camera crew isn't working with the explorers."
      "I've got the women's team," Andrew said immediately.
      "I'll do the men's team," Nick pointed his camera at them.
      "Very good. We'll let the ladies pick their valley first."
      "Do we get to see them first?" Bobbi asked.
      "No, but I think perhaps Dr. Sanchez could describe them before you decide."
      He thought about it for a moment, "We named the Valleys of Fungus for the large growths of a couple of types of tree fungus that are everywhere. And a good number of what you'd call toadstools. The Valley of Rocks is just that, it narrows quickly and then becomes rather steep."
      Bobbi turned to the other women, "I guess having a Valley of Pretty Flowers would be too much to ask." They laughed. "Fungus or rocks?"
      "We'll take the rocks."
      "Very good. After lunch, we'll walk up there and you can see where you'll be working."

      They got to put their packs and supplies in their tents which were in a semicircle of a half dozen medium size wall tents.
      "Well, at least we get cots," Lana said as they looked around their tent.
      Sean wasn't happy, "Two cots."
      "You'll just have to be creative," she grinned.
      "Maybe it'll be cooler in here later and we'll try that," he kissed her cheek and stepped out of the unmoving humidity inside the tent into the slowly moving humidity of the valley.

      Jimmy and Anne were standing outside the tent that had been assigned to them.
      "It's got two cots," Anne said.
      "Yeah. I'm game if you are," Jimmy replied.
      "Might be fun to try to ignore each other."

      The camp cooks were an older couple who seemed to spend more time talking than they did cooking, but what they cooked was a complete buffet of regional foods that focused on various things with, in, or on tortillas, and at least two types of fried bread. But it was all very good, hearty fare that was perfect before a hike up to the Valley of Fungus.
      As they ate the real Archaeological Team brought out a selection of other artifacts and photos of some that couldn't be moved, like the standing stone with the message about the priest, and described some of the other burial sites throughout Central America that weren't under massive pyramids. Then they answered any questions the explorers, or in one case, the camera crew, had.

      As they were eating the Explorers noticed that now Dr. Sanchez and several of the others were also wearing sidearms. Some were in shoulder holsters, others, like the Senorita, had them on their hip, and one young man had a shotgun slung over his shoulder.
      Finally Jimmy asked Ms Akholay why all the guns.
      "You're from the States. This isn't the States. There are bandits that cross the border and will cause trouble. With these," she patted the small caliber semi-auto hanging in a decorated pouch on her own belt, "they leave us alone. There's also Jaguars and Tapirs that sometimes want to get too close. Even some of the monkeys will get aggressive. They leave us alone as well."
      "What do the bandits want that they'd cross the border? Do they steal the relics you find?" Sean asked.
      "Sometimes they'll try to steal artifacts, especially things like jadeite jewelry or small items like that. But there's even other things," she paused, "well, to be honest. Her, for one." Ms Akholay nodded toward Cheryl who was chatting with Dr. Sanchez, "There are markets where she'd bring a high price over the border. Like I said, this isn't The States."
      After that, there was a long silence.

      Finally they were on their way further up the branch of the valley that ran to the south and west into the high plateau.
      After about a mile they came to a spot where the now small stream branched again. Dr. Sanchez explained that this is where the Valley of Rocks began.
      Just south of that gap in the hillside Dr. Sanchez showed them the small stela, not much larger than an old style vertical headstone, covered on every surface with Mayan glyphs.
      "This side, facing due east, is an image of the priest, holding a stalk of maize, corn, and a cup that is pouring out, something, it could be blood, water, chocolate, the glyphs that identify the liquid are illegible. These symbols near his head identify him as Tadea or maybe Tadeaz, something like that. Priest, and, here, it says he greeted the spirits. We don't know what his headdress is, or what it is supposed to be. From my experience, it is unique, it may have been designed just for him. His belt is covered with symbols and items that relate to different gods. Below him is a dog, which will be his guide to the underworld, which you see by the number sign nine next to his head."
      "But the really neat stuff is on the back," Senorita Garcia said expressively and walked around so she could read the back of the stone to them. "These are city glyphs, you have Takal, Caracol, I believe this one is Nim Li Punit although I can't prove it. Yet. And these two are totally unknown to us, which means there are two other cities yet to be discovered. These are saying that he did two things in all those cities, he took training, and he trained other priests. But there is something missing. Dates. They're not on the front or back. They're on the sides. And although it may just be due to weathering, it doesn't appear to have ever been painted." She gestured to the inscriptions on either side.
      Dr. Sanchez picked up the explanation when she paused to trace the dates with her finger. "Which is really odd. In the vast majority of Mayan stelae, the dates are part of the inscription, which means one or both dates should be on the back as part of his life story. And most of them were brightly colored to highlight the figures and glyphs."
      "Maybe they needed a bigger rock," Jimmy guessed as Nick got a good shot of the ancient monument.
      "That might be exactly the answer, but we'll never know."

      Then they walked on upstream to where the two Valleys of the Fungus split off to the west.
      Even from where they were in the larger main valley they could see the forest in the gullies becoming thicker and denser not too far from the water course. And there was plenty of evidence of the valley's namesake.
      Mr. Hagal looked at the overgrowth and then turned to the male explorer team, "Pick your valley."
      Jack and Jimmy looked at Sean and all three shrugged, then Jack spoke, "You're taking Miss Cheryl with you, right?" Hagal nodded, "OK, she picks," he turned toward the blonde, "which fungus do you want to walk through?"
      Cheryl looked like she would rather walk back to the airport than go into either valley. But instead she glanced at Mr. Hagal, then stared at the opening to the Northern Valley. "I suppose doing 'eenie, meenie' is out. Can I ask you one question."
      "Yes, ma'am."
      "Which one have you spent the most time in?"
      "We've only done a preliminary survey on each of these three. Most of our work has been concentrated in the main valley, until now. But I have been some distance up both of these. So if I may suggest, the going is a little easier if you stay in the stream bed in the Southern Valley."
      "Then we'll take the North," Cheryl said, "Just so he enjoys it as much as I will," she said glancing at the Producer.
      Mr. Hagal frowned, but didn't say anything.

      On the way back to the camp the women's team wanted to walk up into their valley and just look around to see what they would need to bring tomorrow as far as shoes and gear.
      As it was still early, and the cameras still had some recording time left, they went.
      They followed the water course which was now barely a trickle between the rocks some distance up into the valley, then paused near a one of the large boulders that gave the valley its name. While the others talked about measurements and what sorts of signs of Mayan work they should look for Bobbi went up the bank a ways and sat on a large rock and looked around. In a few minutes, Jack went up and joined her. He was surprised when the large rock shifted slightly when he sat down next to her, but it didn't move any more so he didn't think any more about it.
      "If there is a burial, it may be in a natural cleft or cave, or in something they purposely dug into the substrate." Dr. Sanchez explained as he gestured to the sides of the valley.

      "Hey, there's cold air coming out of here," Bobbi said when there was a break in the discussion. "It's making my feet cold."
      Jack reached down under the rock, "she's not kidding, that's a good breeze. And it is cool."
      It only took a minute for Dr. Sanchez and Mr. Xaman to be on the ground digging under Bobbi's stone and peering into the gap with a flashlight.
      "I see red," Mr. Xaman said.
      Dr. Sanchez sat up and looked around, "It's facing east." Then he looked at the explorers, "In the Mayan world, the directions had colors. Red for East. White for North, and so on. Red to the east for the rising sun.... we... we'll be back tomorrow and you can all help us investigate this. It will take all of us to move that stone. For now, we measure and photograph and all that." He pulled a tape measure off his belt and handed the tip to Jack.

      Cheryl was facing the camera, "And with that, Bobbi's taking a breather changed the entire plan for our challenge for the following day."

      On the walk back to the camp the Archaeologists discussed why they hadn't found the opening during their survey.
      "I remember sitting our equipment on that rock."
      "Yes. But we never sat on the rock. That's what did it."

Red and Black
      When the camp got going early the next morning it wasn't nearly as hot and humid in the valley as it had been. In fact, some of the Explorers commented that it was actually rather chilly. However, they all knew that in a matter of a few hours the sun would be over the hills and the valley would once again be sweltering.
      The older couple put out a breakfast fit for a Mayan king, and told them all about it, in about half Kriol and half English with some Spanish mixed in to keep it interesting, if not totally understandable.
      But before eight O'clock, they were packing the heavy gear on the six wheeled ATV and then following it up the valley.

      Cheryl was smiling a lot more now than she was when they started rolling out of the tents two hours earlier, "Discoveries await our Explorers, and indeed, all of us, as we head back to what we've been calling Bobbi's Rock. According to the experts, it may just be a cap on another garbage pit, or it may be the burial of the priest they call Tadeaz, or something else entirely. You'll find out when we do."

      Several of them took turns working under Bobbi's Rock, but now, they could feel air moving under it.
      "There's a considerable space under it, but it may be a lot of very small fissures in the rock, not a huge cave. But we'll find out," Dr. Sanchez said. "First we photographed and measured it in situ, where it's at, now, today we'll see about moving it."
      The Explorers had expected to get to the valley and then to move the rock. Except real archaeology doesn't work that way: Everything is documented, and Everything is documented in every way possible. Finally, after the two vacuum bottles of coffee were empty, they started clearing the small stones and debris around the large rock and asked for the men to come help them move it.

      You would never know that the rock had moved yesterday when Anne and Jack sat on it. It seemed to like where it was and didn't want go anywhere, but after much straining and some bad words in several languages, including Mayan, it did begin to budge, then it moved sideways a bit.
      "There is an opening under it, and it's not just a small crevice." Mr. Xaman said as they cleared more small stones and dirt out of the way. "Let's do that again and I think I'll be able to get in it." He glanced over at Nick and his camera, "Us two, if it's safe, then the others can come."
      "Sure. You lead."
      Mr. Xaman nodded and flexed his shoulders.
      They gave it another push, this time they had a bit more help as the excitement of the discovery got several of the women to help.
      "The four colors," was the first thing Dr. Sanchez said. "Red to the East. Black to the West. White north. Yellow South. All around the opening." The colors had been eroded by the occasional flood and the passage of untold years, but there was still enough vivid color there to marvel at.
      The others only had eyes for the dark hole that went almost straight down.
      The opening appeared to have started out as a natural fissure in the stone of the hillside, but it had been enlarged by human labor ages ago. The downward passage turned back into the hillside at a slope not far below the opening. Mr. Xaman went first with a couple of lights, and Nick followed with a camera and its light.

      "What do you see?" Somebody shouted down the hole after they'd moved in beyond the view from the opening.
      "It's not too big, but it stinks. There's plenty of room for a few at a time."
      Dr. Sanchez was the first one in.

      "As Dr. Sanchez and the others explained, this is a ceremonial chamber, you can see that every one of these pots and cups have been destroyed in some way, that way they were ritually killed after the offering to the gods was made." The TV Hostess showed a bowl that had had a large piece broken out of one side.
      "That's right Cheryl," he pointed to a flat space on the back wall covered with carvings next to a narrow opening that appeared to be a continuation of the original natural fissure, just big enough for a skinny person to squeeze into, and several already had. "These are glyphs of the water god Chaac, and this is a relief carving of him. You can see that it used to be painted with the same colors that we saw around the entrance."
      Andrew shut the camera off but left the light on and looked at the walls and ceiling, "Look up here," he said and turned the camera back on.
      "This is unusual. Because of the use of stucco, most Mayan ceilings didn't survive, this was painted directly on the carved stone. This is the Sun's journey through the sky as a radiant disk, with the major constellations and, of course, over there is the god Chaac, with his rain clouds."
      There were other symbols carved into the walls that the intense light of the camera made stand out, but then there was news from those that had gone further into the cave.
      "There's some animal bones back here, and a lot of mud, but we can't go any further right now," Sean reported as he shimmied back out of the crack. "There's a sealed off passage of rocks, but we'll need tools and gloves to break through."
      "I got some good video of some more wall decorations, and a couple of burned up torches," Nick added.

      Then, "I'm looking at the floor," Jack said.
      Jimmy nodded, "So was I, this isn't the natural floor of the cave. It's too smooth under the mud."
      That drew the Doctor's attention down from the ceiling. "You're right, we need to check this out."
      "Here's one stone," Jack drew a line in the fine silt from the river along what amounted to a large paving stone, "there's the next." He looked at Dr. Sanchez, "what do you want to bet something is under it?"
      "Measure it and mark it on the graph of the chamber. We'll get some photographs of it, then we'll see how many stones are here."
      The cameras recorded everything before and then during the removal of several centimeters of fine mud that got thicker on the far side away from the fissure in the back wall.
      Then as she was moving a big double handful of dried mud from where she was working, Anne noticed something near the entrance.
      "Hey guys, there's a flat rock herein the wall, and its got the hieroglyphs on it."

      "And so a second major discovery was made by a woman from the Explorers from Saint Louis," Cheryl smiled into the camera two hours later as the archaeologists photographed the bones of what appeared to be three different individuals. The remains were badly decomposed, but there was evidence that at least one of them hadn't died of natural causes.
      Ms Akholay was working on a series of glyphs on the cover stone, "That's Baktun ten." She looked carefully at the next slightly worn symbol, "Katun two. and sixteen for Tun." She glanced at her associate. "What do you think?"
      "I think you're right." Senorita Garcia spoke to the camera and the Explorers around them, "This glyph is from an later period in Mayan history," she said. "It is from a couple of hundred years after the ones in the main chamber. Not long before the cities to the West of here were in full decline."
      "When was that?"
      "From just before One Thousand to Eleven Hundred by our calendar. Some places were, of course, used and lived in ever since, and still are, but the big cities were deserted and long distance trade all but vanished. The Southern regions first, although some divide the South differently and call part of it the West, then the Central and Eastern. The Northern Maya were still a regional power when the Spanish arrived."
      There was some excitement in the main chamber so the reverie around the old stonework was interrupted and they all went to see what the fuss was about.
      "We've got two sealed tombs in the floor," Jimmy said to them indicating the edges of the cover stones.
      "At least two," somebody else added as they cleared away even more mud while cameras flashed around them.

      "And so we had our first discovery by the men from Saint Louis," Cheryl said to the camera with the work going on behind her. "Unfortunately, the first tomb had been badly corrupted by floodwater over the years, but some of the articles were of stone and some gems and a lot of volcanic glass beads, and, of course, some jade and a bit of gold jewelry which were unaffected." She moved over to where Senorita Garcia was examining the badly eroded symbols on the cover stone. "Have you been able to read any of it?"
      "Yes, the TV camera lights at an angle to give very good contrast. I've been able to read most of it."
      "I'm glad we were able to help. What does it say?"
      "It says this isn't the priest we were looking for." She gestured to the second set of symbols, and ran her finger around two meshed glyphs, "This was, Abha, a woman from a noble house, the mother of.... " she pointed to a badly eroded set of symbols, "I'm going to have to look it up, but I think this means she was the mother of the wife of one of the 'little kings'."
      "Like the cup you found in the trash pit?"
      "Exactly!" Senorita Garcia looked up with a big smile, "You guys are good, you're going to have to come back and help us again." She stood up, "And now I've got a theory as to what this place was." She looked at Doctor Sanchez who was leaning into the second grave, "I'm going to propose that this was a family shrine for one of the local minor kings."
      He looked up and pursed his lips, "Yes, that would fit for this one as well." He gestured to the other sealing stone, "This was a child who died young from a massive infection." He pointed to the side of the skull that showed damage to the jaw and the side of the face that had to have occurred over a long period of time while the child alive.
      Senorita Garcia looked at the grave's cover stone, "Are there two bodies in there?" She highlighted two sets of glyphs, one more elaborate and extensive than the second.
      Jimmy reached down into the grave and felt around in the dried mud at the bottom, "Yeah, there is something else down there."
      An hour later they had identified the bones of another person, but they were even more deteriorated than the bones of the child. There was also a second collection of grave goods under the remains of the child.
      "I've got a possible name for the child and the other person in Grave Two."
      "Good, because we just found Grave Three. We'll investigate it after lunch."
      "One at a time. The child is the grandchild of one of the kings, and the other person is what we'd call a cousin. Their names are a version of Fabio for the cousin. The child appears to have been called Haichi, and the other glyph is a version of the name of the god that brings illnesses, who was different than their death god. Some call him 'Poxlam' or 'Xix', it's hard to read here, I'll have to look at the photos later and figure it out."
      "Is there a date for them?"
      "No. They were probably buried here when it was new. Maybe as part of the dedication."

      Lunch was delivered by two of the local assistants who brought it up on the smaller of the ATVs.
      While they were eating, using the original outer cover stone as a table, Mr. Hagal decided to remind them that this wasn't part of the challenge.
      "One of us discovered it in our valley."
      "But the discovery was made the day before the challenges were initiated, and since then, members of the other team have made discoveries of their own.'
      The Explorers just sat there chewing their tamales and looked at him in a long uncomfortable silence.
      Sean looked at Lana, then at the others. Jimmy nodded. Bobbi shrugged. Sean said "Jack, I know what you're thinking."
      "Same thing you are."
      "So are you going to say it or am I?"
      "I can so he can blame me."
      "I'll do it, you'll end up getting bleeped on the show." There was another silence, then Sean went ahead with it, "What if we all forfeited the challenges and the prizes and just helped them with the excavation here, and we all went through the other two valleys, and for that matter, the rest of this one, just to see what we can find for them, do whatever they need done, then when the time comes, we go back home?"
      "That was just about what I was thinking," Jack said slowly, he looked at Mr. Hagal, "And you guys can film it and make whatever sort of show from it you want to." He said it and didn't get 'bleeped'.
      Sean nodded, "Yeah, that too."
      Jimmy and Anne looked at each other, "We just talked about that."
      Andrew was filming, but he spoke anyway, and Nick got him doing it with his camera, "I agree with them, what Sanchez and them are doing is a lot more important than a TV show."
      Even Cheryl was nodding, Mr. Hagal looked at her, "I know I'm supposed to be neutral, but I agree with them. This is history here. We've found things that will rewrite the textbooks of Mayan culture."
      Mr. Hagal smiled at her, "You sound like Senorita Garcia."
      "She's said it first, and she's right."
      "I know. And I agree with both of you. From here on, we're making a documentary about Mayan Archaeology. Or rather, we have been since we got up here." He sighed, "The network will just have to make the best of it. We've got a minimum of five more days on the ground in country. From what I've seen of this group, you can do a lot in five days. And we might have a chance to do a challenge yet."
      "Yes, Sir." Several of them answered.

      After lunch, Mr. Hagal was seen out of audio range of the cameras whispering with Dr. Sanchez.
      But then things took another unexpected turn.
      Just before they went back into the underground shrine and tombs the young man who delivered their lunch roared back up on the smaller ATV. "Senor Doktor! Senor Doktor..." he kept shouting until he saw Dr. Sanchez. Then he talked excitedly in a mixture of Kriol, English, and Spanish for a minute. Then Doctor Sanchez spoke with Mr. Hagal for a minute.
      "It would seem there has been another wrinkle in our plans that none of us could have foreseen," he paused, "Mr. and Mrs. Avila and their oldest daughter, who were our camp cooks, have been called away because their other daughter, or is it daughter in law, anyway, is having difficulty with her pregnancy and has been taken to the hospital in Belize City. Right now we do not know if another camp staff will be available...." He paused and looked at Bobbi, "Yes, ma'am?"
      "Who covered you on the last one when you would have starved to death?"
      Anne nodded and put her arm around Lana, "We got you. Tell them to go take care of the girl."
      Lana was all for it, "All the food is here right? And we're cooking for your people and the show people, right?"
      Doctor Sanchez nodded, "Yes, and there is a scheduled delivery tomorrow and then two days after that."
      "We got it. If you find anything really neat, come get us."
      Dr. Sanchez and Mr. Hagal exchanged long looks, finally the TV producer shrugged, "I really don't know what else to do."
      The Archaeologist nodded, "neither do I, we had to book them months ahead of time, until other arrangements can be made, thank you." He turned to the young man, "go, see to your family."
      He thanked them in several languages and roared off on the vehicle.
      The ladies looked at each other, and discussed when they needed to head back to camp to start supper. In a few minutes they decided to go back down into the shrine and see what, or who, was in Grave Three, then go back to camp.

      It took over an hour to open the grave, which was marked as belonging to "mother of warrior husband of royal woman", but the other glyphs were unreadable. "The ruling king had a lot of wives, and a lot of kids, so it didn't take long to end up with an extended royal family that then married into other royal families all over the area."
      They worked to clear the stone and then remove it, once ages of silt were out of the seam they got the stone up and propped it up against the wall, then they could get a good look at the carvings on it.
      "They're in the same style as the crypt at the opening," the Senorita said as she evaluated them, "but I don't think they finished them. There's scratches here where it looks like they started scribing the rest, and stopped. And never finished."
      "The pit isn't as deep either," Jimmy added as he measured the inside of the grave while lying flat on the floor.
      Dr. Sanchez agreed, "The body was wrapped, in the fetal position like the others, but it was probably a tight fit."
      "I got something," Jimmy said as he was measuring the bottom of the pit, "get a picture and I'll pull it out." He had learned not to touch anything before it was documented in place. Then he gently picked it up, "It's jade, and I think its one of the gods."
      "A-Choy-Kaat," Ms Akholay said with dramatic pronunciation as she looked at the ornament with obvious appreciation. "One of the war gods."
      "And get a shot of this."
      "A ceremonial dagger," the two scientists said as his flashlight illuminated the still gleaming edge of the volcanic glass implement with a bone or horn handle. "Perhaps for bloodletting, but it may have been just for show." He took it gently and held it so they could get good photos of it. Then they put it back where they found it next to the amulet.
      The remains in the grave weren't as deteriorated as the others, but they had been under water during their time in the pit. The wrapping around the body were fragile fragments that they had to work hard to get a couple of intact samples so they could find out what kind of cloth it had been.

      Some of the others began searching the main chamber for another grave cover stone while a smaller group pushed through the crack to see if there was anything else back in the crevice.
      "This is neat," Mr. Xaman explained to Dr. Sanchez as they reviewed the video on Nick's camera. "Out here there's the big sections of the broken bowls and pots," he pointed to the pile of pottery that had been carefully moved so nobody would accidentally step on them.
      "Did you wonder where the broken pieces went? There's no little sections of any of it out here." He forwarded the video on the camera, "It's all back there. In a nice little pile."

      Before the women left Dr. Sanchez had the men lift the other large floor stones slightly so they could peer under them and see if there were any other burials that perhaps hadn't been marked. In doing so they found two other shallow pits, but they'd never been used for a burial. In one they found a few carved items, but nothing spectacular. The other was just a hollowed out spot full of silt.
      "So we've got burials under three of the stones, empty holes under two of them, and..." Jack counted, "nine other large stones with a bunch of little ones in between them?"
      "Why wouldn't they have buried more of the family in here?" Sean asked.
      Dr. Sanchez shook his head, "Probably a lot of reasons, maybe they realized it flooded too often. Or maybe whoever was the sponsor of the shrine died, maybe without telling their heir where it was."
      Jimmy looked into the grave they were getting ready to cover back up with its stone, "Or maybe whoever ran the estate died and the family just didn't come out here any more."
      "That is a possibility as well. We'll probably never know."
      "How long do you think it was in use?" Sean asked him.
      "It looks like a at least two or three generations as a family shrine, and then later by somebody else for offerings at least once in awhile. If we can get a good date on when it was covered up, we'll know."
      "How will you do that?"
      "We'll see what sort of date we get back on the river sediment in the vessels used for the offerings and compare that to the samples from the graves, and the torch remains from back there." He looked back in the crevice.
      Jimmy laughed, "You mean you're going to do all that testing and then make a guess."
      "Doctor Sanchez's guesses are very educated and informed ones," Jack said with a very straight face.
      The Archeologist nodded, "Yes, they're guesses, but they're based on the best information we can get."

... meanwhile, back in the camp...
      Back in camp the women checked out the camp kitchen and figured out a menu to feed the others.
      While they worked Andrew asked them about what they thought about the work in the shrine.
      Bobbie thought about it while she was cutting up vegetables. "When she read the name off the gravestone, Abha I think it was, I had to go outside. I mean, the Maya were an ancient empire, that's how we think of them, like Rome or something. The woman in that grave had been a real person, who was buried by their family. They had lives and friends and all like we do. Well, maybe she wasn't worried about her cell phone contract expiring while she's down here, but I bet she had something she had to worry about stuff... like this, when she was alive." She gestured with the squash she was cutting up that they were told were similar to the ones they grew in farms in this area.
      "Yes, that's exactly it," Lana agreed, "When we were in Asia, we found those statues, but they really weren't the people. I know people made them and all, but we didn't find the actual people. Here, we did."
      Andrew pointed the camera at Anne, but she ignored him and kept cutting up chicken.

      Dr. Sanchez was talking about how much progress they had made while still holding true to the scientific basis for the investigation of the shrine and its graves.
      "But we still want to check out the rest of that valley, and the other two." Jack said.
      Mr. Xaman laughed, "He's got the bug."
      Jack didn't understand.
      "The archaeological bug. Wanting to keep finding new things. I just want to keep pushing the leads off the back part what we found. I suspect that one section was intentionally blocked off and may contain more burials or even an alter. We didn't find one in the front area."
      "OK, you do that, we'll check out the rest of the valley of Rocks."
      Sean shook his head, "I want to go back in the cave. I just have the feeling that there is something really good back there and I want to help find it."
      Jimmy thought about it, "I'll just help out wherever I'm needed."
      Mr. Hagal wasn't sure what he'd do, other than run one of the extra cameras and try to salvage the show they'd come to make.
      Dr. Sanchez considered it all, "Let's see what the ladies have made for supper, and then in the morning, we'll work it out. I would like to finish the work in the family shrine, but there may be other discoveries in the valley as well."
      Mr. Hagal liked that, "That's an excellent idea. And I would like the ladies to come back up and help with some of it. We've already sent a message to the University to see if there is somebody that can come out."

      "Where did the Maya come from? Originally?" Mr. Hagal asked as they finished up a supper that was a Saint Louis version of the traditional Belize meal of Chimole stew which was descended from a Mayan farmer's dinner.
      Anne nodded and added to the question, "Yeah, like, where and when was the first city that you would walk into and say it was them?"
      Dr. Sanchez pursed his lips for a moment, then answered, "That's a long story."
      "I've got a lot of rum." Jack volunteered, and held up a bottle.
      "For me while I tell it, or you guys while you listen to it?"
      "Yes." He said and poured the Archaeologist a good medicinal dose.
      He tasted it, then began speaking, "Well, to be totally honest, we really don't know all of the details. But the story begins about 4500 years ago, plus or minus, and it probably began just north of here at Lam An Ain, or at Dzibil Chaltun where you can really see Olmec influence, but the site is Maya. It's the oldest city we have a good feel for, but the way it's going, there may be something older out there, both of those are at least a seventeen to fifteen hundred BC, and probably more. We do know a lot more than we did, and that there were older civilizations here in Belize, over in central Mexico at Teotihuacan , and along the Gulf Coast, such as the Olmecs. And there were civilizations to the south in Guatemala and down into El Salvador, and they all fed bits and pieces of the culture to the original Mayan people who had been here all along, maybe since the last ice age, who then took it, added their own ideas and flavor, and eventually, after about five hundred years or so, major settlements like Tikal were booming, by some estimates, half a million people lived in the area around Tikal, we've only excavated a small fraction of the place. And their total population was probably well over ten million at the height of their civilization between about seven fifty and nine hundred AD. In fact, the population of Belize was greater during the Mayan period than it is now." He paused for a sip from his cup. "Remember, the Mayan world lasted for over two thousand years all told, longer than the Roman Empire. But, really, it wouldn't surprise me if when we get done here and go back to our civilization for me to get a phone call that somebody has found something a couple of hundred years older someplace else."
      "Seventeen hundred BC," Mr. Hagal said slowly, "That's when Joseph was in Egypt and Hammurabi was king in Babylon." He paused and looked around. "We did a special about the timeline of history in the Middle East a few years ago."
      "Oh, OK. I was afraid you just knew that off the top of your head," Jack said to him.
      Anne ignored him, "So where did they go?"
      "Some seventy five percent of the people were common maize and squash farmers, they're still here. The top fifteen to twenty five percent, the king, nobles, warriors, priests, artisans, they're the ones that ran the great cities. The farmers stayed." Dr. Sanchez had a sip of the rum. "The civilization, as an American might say, was fizzling out when the Spanish arrived, having been supplanted by the Aztecs, but what we think of as the Late Mayan Culture didn't totally collapse until after that. You can see in some of the buildings from the sixteenth century, like those at Tulum, that their golden age had long passed by then. But the people, the people are still here, maybe ten million of them spread across Central America. And some of them still speak the old languages, or versions of them, and some still practice parts of the old religion. But forget some of the stuff you see around the tourists sites and special dances and ceremonies done for people from cruise ships, some of that is more Hollywood than it is Caracol." He tasted the rum again, "And then you come to people like the Kaqchikel at Iximich, who were nominally Maya, but who cooperated with the Spanish against the other Maya that were left, like the Aztecs did after they were subdued by the Conquistadors. And then the collaborator Maya were betrayed and destroyed by the Spaniards as well."
      They were quiet for a minute, then one of them asked. "Why didn't I learn this stuff in school?"
      "When you were in school, we didn't know a lot of this. Some of this is brand new. And you may quote me on this. Mayan history is a work in progress. While some of it is, quite literally carved in stone, some of the meanings of those stones is still up in the air and may change the next time there is a major paper released."
      "How about we just put it on TV?"
      "That's fine too."
      Sean was shaking his head, "Let me see if I understand all that." He took a deep breath, "The people that we call the Maya have always been here, they're still here. But the civilization that built those big cities and the pyramids and all that appeared a thousand years before Christ from whatever sources they drew from, then they did their own thing for a couple of thousand years, and by the time the Europeans found them, the big city Maya were on their way out. But the farmers were still here. And, most of them, population wise, are still here."

      They sat and listened to the forest around them for a few minutes, then Ms Akholay asked Dr. Sanchez if he believed in Xunantunich's woman.
      "You mean the spirit that is said to appear in the main temple at the site?" He asked her.
      He looked around at the Explorers, "It's a very old ruin almost due north of here, we would call it pre-classic period, it may be one of the earliest sites where they first defined their own civilization.. As Sean said, a thousand years BC." He looked back over at Ms Akholay and paused, "To a point, yes. But I believe there is a more mundane explanation than a woman that is still upset that she was sacrificed on the alter there, or dumped by a prince who promised to marry her. I think part of the mystery is why so much rebuilding of the site was done by the Maya during the city's lifetime. There are temples built over and around pre-existing temples. And a confusion of architecture that isn't seen in too many other places. But the end result was a Mayan city and no mistake. There is a theory I like that involves residual energy in the limestone. But we may never know."
      "A residual haunt, like on TV," one of the explorers offered.
      "Yes, but a very, very old one. She's been reliably reported for well over a hundred years. And the legend goes back further than that, back to colonial letters."

      There was another silence as the night began to deepen around them.
      Mr. Hagal finally put his camera down and signaled the others to do the same. "OK. Back to the show. What are we doing tomorrow?"

Back to the Fungus
      "It is a wonderful morning in Belize. We've gotten word that a volunteer will bring supper to the camp, so our lady explorers only have had to fix us all a lunch to go, and then they can come out and join the now modified expedition to find more ancient burials and perhaps other antiquities in the valleys. However, things have changed. Some will assist the Archaeology team in finishing the work in the family shrine and the cave beyond it, while others will scour the rest of the Valley of Rocks." Cheryl smiled broadly, "Another update is that Dr. Sanchez had a friend send him a preliminary LIDAR survey of this area. I'll let him explain."
      "Yes, the initial data isn't as good as I would like because two of our valleys are very steep, and the one is strewn with rocks. However, as you can see from these high definition prints, there are some anomalies that are worth checking out." He looked at the image, "This one is just up the ravine from the shrine we've been working on. And this, I'm not sure what that is, but it looks man made."
      "So our team of explorers for the Valley of Rocks have their assignment. We'll catch up with them after these messages."
      "And that's good," Andrew said to Cheryl and Dr. Sanchez. "Give me a good shot of the map and point to the two features you were talking about."

      While they were doing TV stuff the others were either assembling gear or wrapping fry bread and grilled meat in wax paper for lunch.
      Finally everything heavy or fragile was loaded onto the larger of the ATVs for the run up to their worksite.

      As they walked, various ones asked questions and the experts asked them, but for a lot of the journey the only sound was the jungle around them and water splashing over rocks.
      Then they reached the point where the valley began to branch, first was the Valley of Rocks, then just a bit further up were the two Valley of Fungus branches.

      They took a break then the entire party turned up the first valley and Dr. Sanchez began explaining why he thought there were more things worth finding in the area.
      "This was a house," he said as he pointed to an oval area they had excavated, "small, but definitely lived in. With a fire pit and a storage area." He indicated where the floor area had been dug out and surrounded by a stone wall. "And there's another smaller building over there. Perhaps this was temporary housing, or maybe a small family farm. I don't think it was used for a long period of time at once, but for short times over a longer period."
      "Like maybe a hunting camp?" Jimmy asked.
      "Something like that, yes."

      Later, further up the Valley of Rocks Jack and Nick were proving why the Archaeological team had named this what they did. But all they were finding were more rocks. But Nick did great some great video of Jack scrambling over boulders the size of cars and under ones the size of houses.
      Then he stopped scrambling and waved and shouted for Nick, "Hey, come get a shot of this."
      "What? Another rock?"
      "No, some of those, what did she call them? Hieroglyphs. There's some of them right here. And there."
      Nick could see him pointing, so he steadied himself against a boulder and focused the camera up along a smoother part of the cliff.
      "We were looking in the wrong place," Jack shouted, "There's symbols all along here."
      "I got it. Maybe we should go get Ms Akholay."

      An hour later the researcher was as close as she could get to the cliff while she read some of the inscriptions to them. "This is that same city glyph that was in the shrine. And this is a family name, I think it is the same with the male attribute, I'll have to look, can I print a still off your tape when we get back to camp?"
      Jack was still looking for more, "There's a broken one here where the wall has cracked."
      "OK, I'll come over there next."
      Nick scanned the cliff with the camera, "Look up there, that was on the one tomb."
      "It's the Sun God. If I'm right, that is facing due east, and you can see where it was painted." She paused and looked around. "This is all here for a reason. I'd almost bet there's a tomb around here someplace."
      "If it's under there, you'll need explosives to get to it," Jack looked under the massive boulder he had walked around earlier.
      Nick had an idea, "Maybe you could probe it with ground penetrating radar."
      She laughed, "That'd be nice to have."
      He shrugged, "I'll make a call when we get back to camp. I know somebody that has one."

      They were promised that the next morning there would be a full set of camp cooks preparing breakfast and a trail lunch for the Explorers and the Archaeological team. So Mr. Hagal immediately began to make plans for the women to explore one valley with the men in the other one.
      That started a discussion about their finding of the glyphs along the cliffs and on various boulders in the first canyon.
      Finally Mr. Hagal convinced the explorers who were less than thrilled with tromping around anything named 'Valley of Fungus', no matter how important the mission, to do it.
      "One day. We'll do everything we can do to find any Mayan stuff. Then we never have to go back in there. OK?"
      Mr. Hagal held up a finger, "you don't have to go back in unless you find something we need to show to Dr. Sanchez."
      While they were considering it Senorita Garcia said she'd go with them to document and authenticate anything they found.
      Anne and Bobbi looked at each other, then Lana said, "In that case, yes."

      It was just getting light enough to tell where the surrounding mountains ended and the sky began when they heard several all terrain vehicles coming up the valley and splashing through the creek.
      While the convoy of aging Jeeps and Rovers did bring a new cook and a couple of assistants, of more immediate interest was the breakfast they brought with them.
      "And it is still warm!" A young man wearing a bright red BLZ football jersey with a big white number 20 on it said. "And we brought coffee too!" He appeared to be perpetually hyper excited.
      There were three large pans, all containing the same still warm breakfast ensemble of fry jacks, scrambled eggs, sausage balls, and some now somewhat small pieces of crispy bacon.
      The young man was the son of an older woman who got busy setting everything out while talking to everybody in Kreol while her son, who apparently had at least three names, talked in English, but none of what he said seemed to have any bearing on what his mother was telling them.
      But the coffee in the huge plastic dispenser was still boiling hot, and that was what was most important to most of the TV crew and the explorers.

      As they got ready to head up the valley to the work area the older woman explained to those that spoke her language that she would have her son bring lunch up the valley to them, then she would have their supper ready later when they got back to camp.
      Anne looked at Bobbi, "I guess that means we have to spend the day in the Valley of the Fungus. North. Why not?"
      "You make it sound so delightful.
      "How bad can it be?" Lana asked innocently.
      "Don't Say That!"

      They loaded their equipment and tested their two way radios, then, followed by the camera crews the two groups of explorers, each accompanied by one of the regular Archaeological Team members, headed up the valley toward their objective for the day.
      Mr. Hagal had decided that Cheryl would accompany the male explorers and he'd go with the women to do anything for the camera that needed done, "In the interest of fair competition" as he put it.
      Cheryl wanted even less to do with any Valley of Fungus than the women from St. Louis, but she agreed to be a good sport about it, as long she could be first in the camp shower when they got done for the day.

      It wasn't long before the two way radios started chattering with excitement as the women found 'stuff' that indicated that somebody had been there long ago. But it turned out that the first discovery were relics of Colonial era prospecting and not Mayan. However, the Archaeologists still pronounced the find as notable and began the process to document the site and collect samples for later identification as to whether it was Spanish or British origin, while Dr. Sanchez went on about how Belize was always more valuable to the Colonial powers as a source of logwood for dyes than for mineralogical resources.
      "And there are those that claim it was that trade that named the country," he finished, "however, I'm reasonably certain it is from the Mayan name for the river up north."
      Jack and Sean looked at each other, shrugged, and continued searching along a low cliff for ruins and artifacts.

      About an hour later the radios began calling for a TV camera to come to the Colonial Site in the North Valley to record something interesting.
      Andrew walked carefully back down the valley from where the women were checking a sheer face for glyphs and found Dr. Sanchez bent over a rock staring at a few small coins spread out across it in the sun.
      "These two are British Half Pennies. The date looks like it is in the 1780s. That depicts King George the Third. This would have been toward the end of the logwood boom, when the Brits were trying to find something else to exploit. I'm still trying to determine what the others are. But this is a significant find, even if they don't discover anything else."
      Andrew focused the camera on another artifact next to the coins. "What's that?" he finally asked.
      "I believe that is a belt buckle off of a military uniform, it may be off of the strap that held the ammunition pouch, or off the uniform itself, that will have to be verified later."
      "Neat." Andrew said as he pulled back to take in the whole scene.

      The men in the South Valley heard the discussion about the coins as Andrew told Mr. Hagal about it, "Senorita Garcia said it wasn't Mayan, but she called for Dr. Sanchez to come look anyway, and he's thrilled with it."
      "Now we really have to find something," Sean said, "I don't want to lose again."
      Jimmy nodded to Jack, "Neither do I. Let's split up. I'll go over there."
      "OK, I'll work this side," Sean said and nodded up at the rock face above them.
      "That leaves me down by the creek," Jack said as he looked down at the trickle of water winding through the lichen covered trees. "OK."
      Cheryl turned to Nick and Kenda, "We'll stay with Sean. If you guys find something call us and we'll come down."
      "Sure thing," Jimmy said as he started down the slope.
      "It's not that bad down there," Nick said as he turned and pointed the camera down the hill.
      "Then you go, I'm staying up here."

      In the North Valley of Fungus the women were sticking together, followed closely by Mr. Hagal and the camera crew.
      They had been following a vague path along the base of a more or less vertical cliff. But since their early discovery of the old campsite on a gravel deposit not far inside the valley they hadn't come across anything worthwhile.
      The women had discussed it and decided they'd follow one side up the valley as far as they could, then they'd switch and follow the other side back down. There had been a couple of small ravines that appeared at random with a wash of gravel, sand, and sometimes water that cascaded down into their valley that was treacherous to cross.
      The sun was just starting to peak down into their valley making it a lot lighter, and a lot hotter, when they stopped and took a break.
      "It's like we're just not seeing it. It's here, I know they were here, but we can't see it," Lana said with her head down.
      "Sometimes that's the way it is," Senorita Garcia said sadly.
      Bobbi thought about it, "If you were a Mayan priest, and you wanted to bury somebody, and came up this valley to find a spot, where would you put their tomb?" She stood up and climbed up on a downed tree to look up and down the valley. "Where's a natural spot to do it?"
      Andrew got a good shot of her, then he panned along the far side of the valley. Something caught his eye in the viewfinder. In a moment he got Lana's attention and subtly gestured to the cleft on the other side when Mr. Hagal was looking elsewhere.
      "Yeah, something like that," she said to the camera, "Let's go check it out."
      "Sure, we can always come back here if it doesn't work out," Bobbi agreed.

      "Jack! Sean! Everybody! I think I found something," Jimmy was shouting in the South Valley.
      Ten minutes later they all agreed that he had found 'something', but nobody, including Mr. Xaman was sure what.
      It took Dr. Sanchez some time to get up to the spot, by which time Jack was back to searching for more.
      "This is definitely man made," he said as he inspected the sides of the angled shaft full of rubble and sediment. "But I have no idea if it is Mayan."
      "Could it be a mine shaft from back when the Brits were here like you were talking about?" Jimmy asked him.
      "Possibly. We won't know for sure until we excavate it." He had a GPS unit and was logging the exact coordinates so they could find it again. "Perhaps we can do some of that before you have to go home."
      Then they heard Jack shouting at them, "Hey, guys. I found one of those hieroglyphs," he was waving at them from further up the hill where Jimmy had found the shaft. Then he added, "There's two of them."
      "Now it gets interesting," Dr. Sanchez said to the camera.

      Back to the North the cleft in the rock was just that. An area where the rock had fractured and weathered to create a niche that looked like it should be more, but wasn't.
      "There's nothing here," Anne finally admitted. "I don't think there was ever anything here."
      Lana nodded, "But it was worth checking out." She looked further up the valley, "And there's another one right there," she pointed up a hundred yards or so, "coming?"
      "Yeah. OK."
      They hiked along the base of the cliff as it came into the sun until they got to the next niche in the wall.
      They all saw the carved face at once.
      "That's Mayan and no mistake," Senorita Garcia said with no hesitation whatsoever as she examined the carving. "It is a very stylized likeness of the female jaguar god, Ix Chei. See the ears and fangs?" She gently ran a finger along the features of the carving that was over a meter square and had a body below it that appeared to continue into the rubble below.
      Anne looked thoughtful, "So the shrine and this are all female, or for women and a children?"
      "So far, yes. Except for the man who was married to a royal woman. And it was odd that that was how he was identified," Senorita Garcia answered.
      "So instead of a Valley of Mayan Kings, maybe we're looking for a Valley of Mayan Queens."
      "Or Princesses," Lana added.
      "That is possible. There have been burials of royal women found elsewhere. Some have been found who were evidently ruling queens."
      "And you said this is a goddess," Bobbi gestured to the face.
      "I like our chances," Anne whispered. She looked out at the valley, "Hey, look over there." She pointed across the ravine to the opposite cliff.
      "There's something there."

      "I'm not the expert on the glyphs that I should be, but I believe that three part glyph is referring to some type of bird. And this one, which you can see is two parts, is a name."
      Sean looked at them, then as the camera recorded it he asked the crucial question, "OK, why would somebody put a name and a bird symbol up here?"
      The Doctor pursed his lips and thought about it, then he looked down the hill at the partially buried shaft. "Perhaps that will tell us."
      They scoured the rest of the area around the shaft. Jack was all up and down the cliff, and had even resorted to actually turning over rocks. But they didn't find anything else.
      "It's almost lunch time, let's head down and then come back and push up further later," Jimmy said as Jack pulled a tangle of vines off some partially exposed rock looking for more evidence of Mayan use.
      He stared at the slimy rock under where the vines had been, then he sagged, "OK. Let's go."

      They were nearing the opening of their valley not far from the stela of the priest when they heard an approaching ATV.
      It was the young man with several names delivering their meal. He almost ran into a misplaced boulder because he took a hand off the handlebars and was waving at them instead of steering and watching where he was going, but he saved it and parked on the patch of gravel they'd used before.
      As they didn't have anything else to do, the Explorers help set up a folding table and get things ready for lunch as Cheryl radioed the other group on camera.

      Senorita Garcia sat and ate her lunch thoughtfully. Then she looked at Dr. Sanchez, "I just realized something," she said. "Come, see if I'm right." She got up and walked down to the priest stela. There she went over the glyphs of the cities. "This, it isn't a city, it's the family name from the women's shrine. The 'bird' is part of their name."
      "And that is the bird glyph we found above the shaft," he answered.
      "Shaft?" She questioned.
      "I was going to tell you about it. We found a backfilled shaft with glyphs on the cliff above it."
      "There was a bird glyph in the shrine with the symbol for a woman and a form of the royal glyph," she nodded. Then they smiled at each other and turned to the camera.
      "We may be in the middle of a huge family cemetery."
      "Of a branch of Mayan nobility."

      The afternoon's efforts found a couple of more sites that would have to be fully investigated later.
      There were more glyphs and carvings here and there, and the ladies discovered what could have been another sealed off entrance. But all they could do was document the location and make the Senorita promise to let them know if there was anything in it.

      Back in camp later they waited while the cook told them all about what was for supper in Kreol and those that spoke the language tried to keep up and translate as best they could.

      The TV crew huddled under a dining fly and compared notes, and videos of the day's efforts.
      Then Mr. Hagal had the cameras follow him and Cheryl over to the Explorers and they did some post action interviews.
      The Lady Explorers described the Northern Valley of Fungus as smelling like the toppings section of a large salad bar.
      "Once you got used to it, it wasn't bad. there was a lot of all sorts of different sorts of toadstools and stuff all over. But it really wasn't that bad." Bobbi said.
      Lana laughed at her, "You complained whenever the camera wasn't on."
      "Like she said, once you got used to it, it wasn't bad, until it got hot, then it really smelled."
      Cheryl smiled, "Ours got pretty aromatic as well. Tell us about the large carved face you found."
      "Senorita Garcia said it was the female jaguar god. And told us about her, but I don't remember all of it."
      "And there was a name with it?"
      Anne nodded dramatically, "Yes, on the opposite side, so the goddess was staring at the family name, oh, I don't remember, royal bird family or like that. The goddess was on one side of the valley, and the name was on the other. And then up from it we found two of those filled in shafts. She said there may be more, but they want to excavate them before they look for more."
      "And for more on that, Mr. Hagal is with the Archaeological Team."
      The explorers got to finish their supper in peace after Cheryl said she wanted to get something to eat then she'd interview the men's team.

      Dr. Sanchez was fascinated by the images of the jaguar goddess and the family name and their position in the valley. "I wish to go up there tomorrow."
      Mr. Hagal nodded, "I thought you were going to start the excavation of the shaft in the other valley."
      "We can do that as well. We have plenty of talented help now. But I have an idea based on the arrangement of the Ix Chell and the name. I would like to verify it."
      "Sounds good. I'll go with you and the others can cover the excavation," Nick said.
      Mr. Hagal nodded and said it was a plan.

      Cheryl was smiling at the camera. Instead of a campsite or a mountain valley in a rain forest, there was a TV studio behind her. "And after these messages, we'll review those discoveries and talk about them with our Explorers and with Doctor Sanchez and his team on a live feed from the University's facility on Hummingbird Lane in Belmopan, Belize. Not far from the site of our adventure."

"It wasn't what we'd planned, but..."
      "Welcome back to the studio," Mr. Hagal said with all seriousness, "I know that everybody is looking forward to seeing what Mayan ruins the expedition discovered in the upper Bladen River Valley in Belize. So we'll begin with Dr. Sanchez's idea about the configuration of the Ix Chel relief on the north side of the valley and the family name glyph on the south."

      The image of a well groomed Mr. Hagal wearing a tasteful suit in a comfortable studio faded into the image of an unshaven Mr. Hagal in a sweaty shirt and abused hat along an overgrown rocky path near a stream in the jungle. "Dr. Sanchez has called to us that he has found what he thought he'd find, it's back in there. We're following his voice, the overgrowth is so thick that while he is only a few meters from us, I can't see him."
      "Right here. I can see Nick," came a voice through the greenery.
      The cameraman led the way and then they found Dr. Sanchez studying a broad stone structure covered with relief carvings almost consumed by lichen, vines, and ferns.
      "This is what I had hoped to find. See, that's the bird family name again. This is a royal glyph. And one, two, three, more, names of gods." He pointed to a familiar set of glyphs, "The underworld."
      The camera panned along to a broken section that appeared to be part of a gateway.

      Then Cheryl was back, "While Mr. Hagal was lost in the jungle, we were heading up to the first shaft the men had discovered in their valley."
      Mr. Xaman was on his knees with Jack and Jimmy helping him hand buckets of backfill up to Sean. Every so often he had them pause while he checked the walls of the shaft that was now angled back into the hillside.
      "Any idea how deep this thing can be?" One of them asked him.
      "No. And it may well be an empty shaft. They'd dig them as a way to misdirect grave robbers. The Egyptians did the same sorts of things."
      Jimmy stood up and looked around, "How about booby traps?"
      The professional chuckled, "only in movies."
      "I got something," Jack said, "get a picture of it."
      "A Mayan hammer," Mr. Xaman said, "that proves this is their work."
      The stone hammer still had what was left of the original leather bindings around the remains of a wooden handle on it. It took them a long time to carefully remove the tool from the pit before they could get back to work. Then the shaft stopped descending and turned horizontal.
      They found some other broken tools, and a whole basket of broken pottery, but nothing else notable while they cleared out the junction and got ready to keep digging.

      Back in the studio Cheryl asked them how they felt while they were digging.
      Jack was speechless, which in itself was camera worthy, but it didn't last long, "I don't know how to describe it. It was really hot down there, and hard work. But it didn't seem like it. And once we found that hammer and we knew we were on the right track, I just wanted to keep going."
      "He even wanted to work through lunch," Sean said.
      "Well. We did. Just in shifts," he responded.

      Back in the North Valley Dr. Sanchez had found the rest of the wall and where the gate for the path had been, then he followed the women up to where they had found a couple of sealed entrances. He stepped down into the dugout area then knelt to examine the single large stone that had been placed in the void and then covered with smaller rocks.
      "I don't know yet, but as I've seen this sort of work before. I would say it is Mayan, and that it is from the early Classic Period," he looked up at the women, "that would make it about one thousand five hundred years old. More or less. We'll know more once we get inside and see what, and who, is in there." He climbed up, "Let's go see the other one that you found."

      The men were still digging in the low passage, but now they were working hard to pull up larger stones, and finally they had to use a rope to drag a boulder back to the turn, where they left it, climbing around the thing to get in and out of the shaft that was so low they had to crawl on their hands and knees down to the end.
      "It's a T," Sean said from the dark, they could see his flashlight point one way and then the other. And then the news they wanted to hear, "I see some carvings..... and bodies."
      They had to help get the camera and lights into the passage, but then they could all clearly see several skeletons, some still wearing what they had been buried in, or rather, the remains of it. They were all on their side in something of a fetal position. One body was off by itself, wrapped in the remains of a blanket, with several pieces of jade jewelry and other goods around it.
      Sean started counting the ones in the chamber to the left, while the camera took in the chamber to the right.
      "Nine," he said, "I counted the skulls. ... ... I never thought I would ever say something like that. But there's nine."
      Nick counted the ones in the other chamber with the camera, "I've got eleven. And I don't see any hieroglyphs."
      Something caught Sean's eye as he turned to crawl back out, he pointed his light up, "They're on the ceiling."
      Nick had to lay flat on his back to get a good shot of the carvings on the ceiling of the passage.
      "Some of them look like what was in the other tomb," he said with just over four days of expertise in the matter.
      "That's what I thought, but I was going to let the pros read them."
      "Yeah, we don't want to show them up. Move and I'll shoot over there."

      Back in the studio Mr. Hagal asked Sean what it was like seeing something that nobody had seen for a millennia or more.
      "I'm glad we had been in the larger shrine a couple of days before that. I knew what to expect and what to do. And I made sure I didn't touch anything until they had come in and done the real work. Then we helped get a few samples for dating and all that."
      "How about you?" He asked Jimmy.
      "It was kind of creepy. The other tomb had just a couple of bodies, this place had a bunch, all packed together."
      Mr. Hagal spoke to the camera, "And we have Ms Akholay, one of the staff Archaeologists, and as we mentioned, a direct descendant of the Maya, who has a theory about the mass burial."

      The woman was outside the shaft, they filmed the spot just after she had scrambled down and crawled through the passage, and then later worked her way back out.
      "It would appear from a first examination that they all died about the same time, and were all related in some way. The glyphs on the roof of the chamber are indeed the family name, but in this case there is a long count date." She glanced down at a small notepad and read what she had written, "Nine Baktun. seven Katun, one Tun." She looked up, "I'll have to check that back at camp, but I'm thinking that is about five fifty or sixty AD. That makes this earlier than the family shrine in the other valley, by several hundred years."
      "Is it the same family?"
      "The two family names appear to be related, although this form of the name is older, and I didn't see the royal glyph, but there were a couple of them that I couldn't get a good look at without disturbing a burial."
      "I got pictures of them," you can hear Nick say.
      "Good, I'd like to see them."
      "No problem."

      Cheryl was back in the studio. "Our explorers, and our crew were in camp in Belize, and working in the valleys, for a total of eight days, not counting the day of our arrival and the party, and then the day before we left that we spent in Belize City. In that time we couldn't wash our clothes, the only shower was a solar heated bag with spring water in it, and there was no cell phone or internet." She ran her fingers through her own hair and frowned, "It wasn't pleasant. But we did it. And I know I feel it was well worth it." She paused, "Obviously, there is a lot more video than we can show during this episode, including some video of the investigation of the other burials in the valleys, and the further investigation of the family shrine and the deeper passage beyond the main room. That video is available on our website and through our streaming partners." She smiled broadly. "And now, back to the second crypt located by our women's exploration team where an attempt is being made to open it two days after the segment we just watched."

      The video opened with a wide shot of a passage that had been cut into an outcrop of rock. There were several comments that the opening faced due east, and there was a line of small sharply cut glyphs in a row on each side of the passage.
      The specialists took some time and explained that these glyphs were of a newer style from the ones in the group tomb and shrine they had already worked on. "This is clearly part of the high classic style of Tikal, although that city isn't mentioned, these are nearly identical to what you see there." Ms Akholay pointed at the symbols. "And these," she indicated some on each side, "are our family name that we saw in the shrine. And this," she indicated another symbol that looked familiar, "Is royalty, but not ruler. So they are of the royal family, but not on the throne."
      It took a lot of manpower to move the stones that plugged the passage. But they had a lot of man, and woman, power at their disposal, so they made pretty good progress.
      "Hold it!" Jimmy called, "There's bones here. I don't think it was human, and it was tied up."
      Everything stopped and the closest scientist scrambled over the rubble and into the passage. "It was a monkey."
      "You said that was one of their gods, why would they bury it here?"
      "They were the gods of writing and sculpture. It may have been an offering by whoever made this, or perhaps it was personal between whoever is in there and either Hun Batz or Hun Chowan. Keep your eyes open, there may be another monkey down here."
      "Yeah. No problem," Jimmy said and spent the next few minutes being very careful about what he grabbed.
      The video cut to when they had the passage clear and they could enter almost standing up straight, although they had to turn sideways to enter the final chamber.
      The audio from the studio was of the Archaeological Team debating about how late in the Mayan period this was. As the video showed the final chamber with several burials both in pits on the floor as well as laying on their sides in the back of the chamber.
      The clue was the way the three bodies were placed in the chamber. It was obvious from their lack of grave goods and even the fact that last one had never been wrapped or bound to keep the body in position that it was done in a hurry and that the passage had been filled in shortly afterward, with the dead monkey to protect the tomb, that whoever had buried them had done so at the last minute. The others in the tomb had been properly buried for the Mayan nobility.
      Finally the camera came to rest on an group of objects held in the bony hands of one of the bodies in one of the pit burials in the north eastern corner of the chamber in total silence.
      After that silence the audio was Cheryl explaining, "While our explorers, and indeed our entire production team, had made notable discoveries, this is the single largest gold item we found. But it is the other object that was most important. We'll have Doctor Cal, the Curator of Mayan Artifacts at the national museum explain the item."

      The view changed to the old prison entrance that was the front door to the Museum of Belize, then the shot cuts to the Curator examining the objects. The next view showed both items on a slowly revolving platform under good light.
      Dr. Cal spoke in broadly Caribbean English, "The gold figurine is of one of the Hero Twins, but it is unclear which one it is. I am of the opinion that it is the Howler Monkey deity, but there are attributes of other possible beings in the Mayan pantheon to suggest that perhaps it wasn't finished when it was buried with its owner. That it was in the process of being reworked into the representation of one of their other gods. While it is interesting, it isn't as important as this...." the camera then moved to the other object. "This is a national treasure."
      The camera focused tightly on the painted cup as the Curator continued.
      "The glyphs around the top describe the relationship of what has been described as the Bird Family to the royal houses of Tikal and Copan and other houses. Below is a scene of the person whom we are assuming is the owner, who is probably the person holding it in their grave, accepting a drink of chocolate from a priest holding a ceremonial jug, apparently into this very cup. The owner of the cup is a woman, of the noble house, and whom is described as the sister of a minor ruler."
      Dr. Cal was back on camera next to the Archaeological team from the dig, he was smiling broadly, "It would seem that you did find something like the Valley of the Mayan Queens," he said to them. "We will have to have a lot more work done there."

      Back in the studio Mr. Hagal was surveying a selection of items from the various sites. "These are all here courtesy of the Museum in Belize City. They will go from here to an academic conference, then be returned to their home country." He turned to the Explorers. "Let me see, Sean, you were one of the first people, if not the first, to see this jar with its reliefs of their water god in many centuries. Tell us, now that you've had time to think about it, how has being part of such an important discovery changed you?"
      He sat for a moment and looked at the artifacts.
      "Well," he began and then looked at them again, "it's really made me aware that there is a lot about, the world, other people, history, that we really don't know about."
      "Anybody else like to add to that? Yes, Bobbi."
      "It was like when she read the name off the grave in the shrine and it hit us that they weren't just 'the Maya', they were real people like us. With lives and families and all. And that the same things mattered to them that matter to us. And that our being down there wasn't just for a TV show, but it was part of, I don't know...."
      "A rediscovery," Jimmy offered from the other end of the group of Explorers.
      "Yes. That's it."

      Dr. Sanchez offered his observations from the video feed from the campus in Belize. "The most important thing that this work has done, with your Explorers assistance, and, of course, the publicity of the show, is to confirm that the Maya were more than just a handful of great cities that were later abandoned and left to decay in the jungle. This proves that there were many outlying settlements that supported those cities. And it also works to add to the theory that part of the reason the cities failed was that some of these areas either could not, or perhaps would not, continue to support them. The search, and research, will continue, and now we have the possiblility that next year, we'll be able to see under the soil, and rocks, without digging. In this work, technology is really leading the way."
      Mr. Hagal nodded gravely, "We were glad to be help."

"And we leave you with...."
      Cheryl was back on camera, but this shot was done next to the priest stela in the valley in Belize, "and now, with our episode credits, some outtakes from our time here in the jungle."

      The first outtake was Cheryl, in the valley in Belize, not far from the priest stela, shouting at several monkeys in the tree behind her because every time she tried to say a piece to camera the monkeys in the tree acted like monkeys in the tree. Including throwing small hard bits of fruit and wads of leaves at her and chattering loudly.
      "I promise you will be on TV, if you'll just let me do my job!" She yelled at them.
      The monkeys responded by throwing green fruit and chattering at her. They moved a good green fruit throw's distance down the valley and were able to do the shot with no further unwelcome commentary from the locals.

      Mr. Hagal was speaking to the explorers, " you can see from Mister Castillo's presence, there is little chance of your ending up under arrest due to a misunderstanding again."
      "Yes, as long as you do not attempt to leave the country with any historical relics, you will be fine."
      The view switched from the Deputy Prime Minister to Jack. After a moment the Explorer noticed something and said in something of a state whisper, "Why is everybody looking at me?"
      Jimmy was grinning broadly, "oh, no reason."

      "Although in this context I prefer the term Paleo-feces."
      The Explorers were standing under the old dining fly staring at the contents of the cardboard trays. Andrew, from behind his camera asked, "Is it really ancient Mayan... poo?"
      Ms Akholay's enthusiasm showed in her smile as she looked at them, then at the 'poo', "Yes. We've found other samples and had them tested. It's a wonderful way to find out what they were eating and, in general, how healthy they were."
      Dr. Sanchez was in full agreement, "They are very important. Using them we have identified more than a dozen individuals who spent a considerable time here some years apart. If you find more of them, they need to be carefully documented, photographed in situ, and then conserved."
      The Explorers were still looking at the stuff in the bags in the trays.
      "Nobody said we'd be digging up poop," Anne said slowly. "Even if it is old poop. It's still poop."
      Bobbi was nodding, "and that one still looks like poop."

      Cheryl and Mr. Hagal were standing next to each other next to the open shaft where the group burials were found, Cheryl spoke first, "Stay with us because coming up we're going down...."
      Mr. Hagal interrupted and started chuckling, "No, you can't say it like that."
      You could here Kenda from off camera, "OK, how do you her want to phrase it, this will be between the network break and the local commercials."
      Cheryl offered a line, "When we come back we'll go down into the newly excavated tomb?"
      "That's better, but..." He glanced down into the shaft. "I don't want her to say 'go down'. Somebody will cut that out and make a sex tape from it like they did the other time."
      There was some laughter in the background, then Kenda offered, "How about Cheryl's line but she says 'descend'."

      The Explorers were sitting around a small folding table eating lunch in the main valley next to the river.
      Jack noticed that Jimmy and Anne were sitting next to each other, "So, you two are doing good together. You thinking about getting back together?"
      Jimmy didn't say anything, so everybody was looking at Anne. She glanced back and forth, but she bit her lip and didn't answer.
      Lana answered for her, "I asked her that while we were down in the, in there, she said it was possible."
      "No, I said the idea wasn't totally off the table," Anne corrected.
      Jack looked at Jimmy.
      Jimmy didn't say anything.
      "I'll take that as a maybe."
      Jimmy shrugged.

      The camera was on one night in camp while the crew for the show outlined their plans for the following day in the valleys. After a bit of silence Mr. Hagal looked over at Andrew, "So, tell me, you going back to selling car parts?"
      Andrew looked around, then looked down at his plastic cup of whatever he was drinking, "I don't know. They've made me the manager for the UK and NBL. And I've got a nice office..."
      "NBL? what's that?" Somebody asked.
      "Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. And I get to go over there a lot. But I don't know. This is really different instead of sitting in a meeting with salesmen or staring at a spreadsheet of back-ordered stuff."
      Bud laughed, "That means his girlfriend in Brussels broke up with him."
      Andrew shook his head for a minute before he answered, "No, Charlotte is a yoga instructor in Ettelbruck and when we get done here she's meeting me on St. Thomas for a week of room service breakfast and no bugs."
      The rest of the crew looked at each other, then Charlie spoke for all of them, "Need a TV production crew? We work cheap."

      They were in the family shrine, the camera was panning around the chamber from the entrance when there was a burst of shouting from the crevice that ran further back into the hill.
      "Hey, our light went out, help!" Sean called.
      "Turn on your backup."
      "I can't find it."
      "Then follow my voice out and I'll give you another one."
      "I can't, it sounds like you're all around us and there's like three passages on that side."
      "It's an echo chamber in here," Mr. Xaman added, "send Nick back, he knows how to get in here."
      "He's outside getting something, hang on, I'll be right there."
      Then it got quiet for a minute while Jimmy dug in a pack for an extra light.
      "Hey! You still out there?"
      "Where else would I be?"
      "Don't leave us stuck in here."
      "Why not? It's an ancient tomb, you'll fit right in in a thousand years or so."
      "that's real (bleep bleep) funny, Jack"

      The view was in an office at the University where some of the relics were on display. Various individuals were gathered nearby and somebody off camera asked Mr. Hagal if his expedition went according to his plan for the show.
      Mr. Hagal, now in clean clothes with a good shave and tamed hair thought about it, "Well, actually, after the first day in camp, I don't think anything went by the outline at all. In fact, none of the challenges were accomplished, I have no idea if we can really declare a winner, and I'm not sure how much usable video we have. So. Actually. Yes. I think that was exactly what I expected it to be."
      "Is the show going to be any good?"
      "You'll just have to tune in and see. I know we're on satellite down here."

      Finally there was a scene from the airport on their way home.
      Jack looked around the airport as they waited for their boarding call, "We could all get locked up in an old military barracks for a few days for old time's sake."
      Sean laughed at him, "Or we could just have them lock you up."
      Jimmy just shook his head and went to see what was in the travel store.

end Travel 2

and the sequel to the sequel: "Extreme Real World Travel: Nova Scotia"

[NOTE: No Mayan Goddesses, or monkeys, were harmed in the writing of this story. While the discovery of the mentioned ancient ruins in the area mentioned is entirely possible: ... All situations and characters are FICTIONAL. Overall this Piece Is A FICTIONAL STORY, enjoy it as such.
Thank You the Author. ]

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