Field Biology of Mexican Vertebrates
The Students from Emporia State University

Spring 2004

photo of Amy ShawAmy Shaw
with Harley

My adventures in Mexico… first of all, the wildlife was very nice. Among my favorites were the roadrunner, boat-billed heron, crocodile, vampire bats, blind snakes, and the flounder. The mesquite, palm trees, and cacti were very nice too. Real de Catorce was probably my favorite town. I don't know why. Maybe because there was a warm shower and a bed, who knows. The people in Mexico were great too. All of the professors were cool, and most of the townspeople were very nice and helpful. It was definitely a great cultural experience for me. Bustamante Canyon was very beautiful. I think I liked the scenery there more than I liked the scenery on the beach. In Mexico I also had what was quite possibly the best burrito I have ever eaten. It was so large that I couldn't even finish it. Things that I didn't like about the Mexico trip include: getting hit by a semi, having the Mississippi State people get a bunch of stuff stolen by a big fat looser, the heat in the tropics, the sunburn, and the sand fleas. At first I didn't care for the cold shower either, but it grew on me. After weighing the good and the bad from this trip, I would definitely say that the good outweighed the bad. I would definitely go on the trip again, and it was great to meet so many new friends.

photo of Ariel TatumAriel Tatum

Mexican Vertebrates offers many learning opportunities that cannot be found in an ordinary classroom. Although the focus of the class is mainly on that of field biology, it also offers an introduction to Hispanic culture that cannot be taught as effectively in a conventional classroom. Mexican Vertebrates enabled us to actually practice field biology, setting the traps, stuffing mammals, catching fish, and listening to birds in their natural habitats, instead of merely reading about them and the techniques used in textbooks.
The largest lesson is that of cultural fusion. While in Mexico, we not only learned the importance of cultural tolerance and compatibility, but also that of the dependence each culture and or country has on the other. We were allowed (or forced) to work with students who did not speak English, who were raised in different cultures, and who had different traditions, thus broadening our horizons. We had to learn to work with and overcome the challenges of miscommunication and as a result learned more about others as well as about ourselves. Mexican Vertebrates offers an invaluable insight into both field biology and different cultures.

photo of Clifford DavisClifford Davis

photo of Daphne JonesDaphne Jones

I don't think that words can express the experiences I had on my trip to Mexico. Everything from the land, culture, people, students, teachers, van rides (ha ha), and field experiences…taught me more than I could have ever learned in a semester. Although initially, I was kind of dreading the long van ride there…half of the trips excitement and friendships came from the ride. Also, driving through so many different kinds of land and vegetative variations through Mexico was in itself a rewarding experience. From the crazy rock formations to the endless fields of agave plants, the scenery was anything but predictable.
I like to think that every thing that happens does so for a reason. We ended up spending a lot of time in a little town call Villaldama. Although at the time it was frustrating…looking back I realized that I saw and learned a lot about the townspeople there. I noticed that time didn't seem to be of much importance to them. People would do their tasks at their own pace, which seemed a lot different than the hustle and bustle lifestyle we have here. Before the trip, I had imagined a very poor and struggling type of people. All we hear about is the high crime rates and poverty of the country. Actually being there and witnessing people and families working, socializing, and having fun was a lesson in itself. It really makes me wonder how the other cultures we 'learn' about really are. I definitely plan to return to Mexico once I can speak the language…and learn a lot more.
My experience in the field was another huge lesson. Getting the chance to seine the ocean, learn how to set up bird/bat nets, catching iguanas in the banana groves, and setting up mammal traps gave me so much knowledge. The class was sort of a "combination appetizer tray" of sampling and learning field techniques. It was incredibly valuable to have had this opportunity.
I couldn't end this without mentioning something about the fantastic group I had the pleasure to travel and work with. It was so nice to be around so many open-minded individuals who were just as curious and excited about being in Mexico as I was. Hearing their perspectives on different issues, and learning about their interests and goals not only impressed me…but also taught me a lot. Thanks to my fellow group members and Dwight…the whole experience with you all was one I'll never forget!

photo of Lesley HaywardLesley Hayward

For me Mexico made my world bigger; more fun, more friends, more places to visit. I now have memories like ghost stories in the van at 4 in the morning when Dwight‘s not driving, what great guides Bruce, Dwight, Chris and the rest of the faculty from Mexico are, spilling your guts to people who had never heard the stories, how fast boys from Kansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma can change a tire, and about 6 hours of Cat Stevens. The cultural experience I gained from the trip is very important to me. The experience both of Mexico the country and being with my peers from all over the world. I think this class is an awesome and available opportunity to learn more about Biology and the world. I realize I should say something about the academics, because they were cool too. I had a good time during my classes. The field can be hard and is different for everyone. Styles and techniques of experiments are endless and under the performance of so many different types of people. I really enjoyed some classes and others I hated, but I was always enjoying myself. The food was good too. I had a great time. Thank you everybody.

photo of Seth VernonSeth Vernon

Field Biology of Mexican Vertebrates was an outstanding course that I'd recommend to everyone. The scientific portion was very interesting, but the cultural exchange is probably the most valuable portion of the class. Simply being in Mexico forces you to retrospectively consider what most North American's view as "needs" vs. "wants." The trip reminded me that we take so many things for granted here in the United States.
Driving on the freeways allowed us to see the backcountry and how the indigenous people live. At times, the narrow roads made some passengers uneasy, especially when our van was draggin' bottom in the ditch because there wasn't any shoulders. I liked gazing out the windows and seeing the small homesteads and primitive farming methods. Most of the farm equipment was tattered and relatively old compared to what is used in Kansas. It was also startling to see so many animals being grazed in the roadside ditches.
The blue agave fields around Tequila Mexico were magnificent. I had never seen such massive fields of blue agave. Which reminds me…, the mescal factory tour reinforced my support for the FDA here in the United States. What a mess!! The partially butchered cow on the floor and filthy, open fermentation tanks churned my stomach. Later in the trip while chillin' on the beach, that mental picture haunted me while chugging mescal with the Mexican students.
The field study was very fascinating. I enjoyed netting bats, seining the ocean, and catching lizards. It was interesting to see how specimens are prepared for museum display. Keying out all the herps was tedious and keying out the fish was even worse because few of the keys were in English! Yet, at the same time, it was beneficial because it forced me to practice reading Spanish. The birds day was my least favorite. It was extremely hot hiking in the jungle and everyone but myself seemed to be gettin' off to the birds. I probably just don't know enough about tropical birds, and no one in my group spoke English. I just didn't understand it… Although, I did see a couple of rather unique, colorful birds.
Our campsite on the beach near Aticama was perfect. The restaurant served delicious food and the owners were friendly. It was so relaxing sitting by the ocean and socializing with the other students. The facilities left a little to be desired (such as plumbing in the WC), but overall the camp was nicely maintained. The worst part about camping was the need to constantly drench yourself with bug spray to combat the sand fleas and other bugs. I even sprayed myself immediately before going to bed in my sleeping bag!!
There is soooo much I could write about this experience! I met many incredible and fun people from around Mexico and the US. I learned a lot about techniques and methods for conducting a biology field study. I also really liked the cultural exchange and getting to know the Spanish speaking students. If given an opportunity to take a similar course in the future, I won't hesitate to enroll and do it all again!!

photo of Theresa HolderbachTheresa Holderbach

¡Qué divertida fue nuestra clase de biología! Los demás estudiantes y yo tuvimos una gran aventura en San Blas, México durante el curso en marzo. Me gustaron todos los animales — especialmente los peces, las aves, y las ranitas. Aprendí un montón de información sobre los hábitos específicos de los mamíferos en las regiones donde estuvimos. Además de estudiar los animales, lo que más me gustó eran los estudiantes de otros países. Fue muy bonito compartir la clase con tantas personas de diversas culturas. Siempre aprendemos más cuando estudiamos algo que no solo es académico, sino que también es cultural.
No puedo decir nada sobre lo que no me gustó porque me gustó todo . Desde hablar con los maestros y estudiantes (de los Estados Unidos, México, Costa Rica, Panamá, y Belice) hasta acampar debajo de las estrellas y cerca del Océano Pacífico, me divertí muchísimo. Estoy muy agradecida de tener la oportunidad de estudiar biología, nadar en la playa, practicar español, y viajar alrededor de Nayarit.
Este año fue diferente que el año pasado porque este año estuve más preparada a estudiar los animales y hacer el trabajo biológico. También fue un poquito más fácil comunicarme con los otros estudiantes en español. Me encanta la cultura mexicana y le doy gracias a Dios por haberme dado la oportunidad de ir a México, y participar en el curso este año. Siempre me acordaré del tiempo que pasé en la tierra linda que siempre está llenísima de sol y alegría. Espero que muy pronto nos podamos ver de nuevo….

photo of Travis WrightTravis Wright

Going to Mexico created many interesting adventures that I will keep with me the rest of my life. Some of these moments were good, other moments were not so good. Traveling over four thousand miles created plenty of opportunities for me to get to know the people around me. Besides the people, there were chances to see many new and different things that I could not experience in Kansas. Whatever the moment, the fieldtrip to Mexico was worth the effort.
The one best thing of this trip was getting to meet all the people. Everyone from the US was cool, in his or her own way. Some of the students from the Mexican group I couldn't speak with, but we still communicated. Unfortunately, I didn't have the chance to know everyone from the Mexican group, the people I did know were really awesome. All the instructors for the sections of the course were great. I would take ichthyology, herpetology, ornithology, and mammalogy with any of them again. Residents in the places we stopped at were in general pleasant. The towns of Via Doma and Busta Monte I was impressed with.
Of all the things we did, the most enjoyable trip was the tour of the mangrove swamp. Getting to snorkel, swim, and see the sights were really neat. Spending time in the towns of Re al De Catorsa and San Blas were also good times. The more enjoyable sections of the course were ornithology and mammalogy. If there was a real downside to the trip it was the time spent on the road.
I try not to think about the less enjoyable parts of the trip. There is no good sense in dwelling on something bad, unless that moment is funny now. Anyone who ask me if he or she should take this course I could only answer one way, "You would be stupid not to." I look forward to the next time I have a chance to go on a trip like this one.

photo of Ursula DavisUrsula Davis

I want to start by saying this was an awesome trip!! Everybody that went was great to be around, so that made things a lot easier. Especially when riding in a van for eighty hours. I learned so much on this trip about animals, and about culture. I never thought I would be setting up mist nets to catch and identify bats, or going hiking through banana trees looking for lizards and snakes. On this trip though I did those things and a lot more. I also learned how different things are in other places. As soon as we crossed the border it was like we were in another world. This trip really made me appreciate all the things we take for granted everyday in the United States. Things like being able to drink water out of the tap, or even having independence and living on my own. However, Mexico is a beautiful country. It's not like the U.S. where much of it is covered in cities and towns. In Mexico there is a lot of land left untouched, and then when you do get to a town, it's much more laid back than in the U.S. I loved hiking up Bustamante Canyon, waking up on the beach in the mornings, and wandering around Real De Catorce. I think the only thing about the trip I didn't like was riding in the van, but even that wasn't that bad. Unless of course we were being hit by a semi. :) Seriously though this was a great experience and I am so grateful I was able to participate in it all.

Last updated on 24 April 2004.
Provide comments to Dwight Moore at
Return to the Biological Sciences' Home Page at Emporia State University