Field Biology of Mexican Vertebrates
The Students from Emporia State University

Spring 2005

photo of Michelle GilkersonMichelle Gilkerson

My trip to Mexico was more than I expected. After riding in the car for what seemed like forever with a stiff neck, I was ready to get out. The first night in Bustamante was cold and windy but in the morning, as Moore kept telling me, it was worth it, the view was beautiful. Then the fact that Mooreís tent was sprayed by a skunk then rolled into a creek made the stay even better. The nights spent on the beach near San Blas were awesome. Yes, sand gets everywhere, but just let it dry and brush it off. I learned that the best time to shower is at three in the afternoon when the sun has been out for hours to warm the water tanks. Most who know me know that I am a reptile person, so naturally I expected my favorite part would be the herping, even though my group didnít find much it was pretty awesome just hiking through the hills of banana trees and all over. But, I never thought I would get to nurse a hummingbird back from a coma type state (itís kind of like shock), now that is something pretty cool. I also never imagined I would get to pull a bat from a net, hold it, and look at its ugly little face so close. Culturally speaking I met several Mexican female biologists; luckily some of them spoke excellent English. When we visited San Blas and Real de Catorce I found out that all of the little shops where they sell the same thing really do exist. Real de Catorce was possible my favorite part of the tourist side of the trip. This could be because I got to stay in a hotel that had hot water and electricity. I definitely recommend the yogurt and fruit for breakfast.

photo of Victor TuttleVictor Tuttle

Mexico a land of poverty, deserts and no water! That is exactly what I thought Mexico would be like, boy was I wrong. I had a great time sitting in the van on the ride from Kansas to San Blas, besides the pleather seat and my butt being stuck to it for over two days; I would go back in a heart beat. I will be honest I am not a biology major and I had never had any interaction with Dr. Moore, aka ďUncle D,Ē after the first couple classes I stated wondering if signing up for this was the right thing to do, but it was.
The only time I was ever scared was when we crossed the boarder and entered Laredo Nuevo. We got stuck in a parade, when we got out of it and started driving south and we came to our first boarder check. Our van was pulled over and I knew they were going to take my money and my camera. They did not but we had to hop out of the van so that the officer with a machine gun could check the van. He opened the back and Nathanís soccer ball fell on the officerís head, he smiled and told us to get back in.
The rest of the trip was great. The food was fine, note: I did not lose any weight. I was able to catch my first Spiny Tailed Iguana in the wild. I found out that they will drop their tails all 9 inches of it. I enjoyed walking in the banana groves birding. I am glad that being a goat herder is still a job in Mexico. I thought it was awesome to see a herd of goats being moved by one man. And I will never forget Bruce Stewart eating a goat head.

photo of Suzanne WeegeSuzanne Weege

The Mexico trip of 2005 was a blast. It was my senior year spring break and what could have been better than leaving the states and actually receiving credits for it? The trip was informative, both scientifically and culturally. If I had another spring semester left I would definitely take this class again. It was the first time for me to ever see and swim in the ocean.
The first few days consisted of traveling in the van. The trip consisted of sleeping, waking up and eating, and then getting back into the van for another nap. We had 10 people squeezed into the van. I just laid back and enjoyed the trip because I didnít take on the responsibility of driving the van.
After the trip, I realized how much I appreciate toilet seats, putting toilet paper in the toilet, hot showers, my bed, and being able to drink water from the faucet. Donít get me wrong though, I did enjoy falling asleep to the soothing sounds of the ocean tides, walking on the beach, all of the activities that I participated in, and all of the friendships gained along the way.
I went seining in the ocean, caught rodents, made some imprints of a raccoon, caught and held a hummingbird, iguana, and a bat. I also filled up my photo book with amazing pictures. The scenery was incredible. The views of how the Mexican population lives, what they value, the mountains, the ocean front, and also all of the exciting opportunities I had made the trip exciting.
As I stated above, the Field biology of Mexican vertebrates is one class that I would take again. Any student that wants hands on field work and amazing stories to tell shouldnít even think twice about the class and just enroll. There are so many opportunities that arose in Mexico that kept me excited to see what activities would take place the following day.

photo of Dannel BowenDannel Bowen

I really enjoyed the trip. I enjoyed learning about all the animals and their habitats. There is so much that you learn in the field that cannot be taught in the classroom. I, personally am a hands on learner, thought this class was the best class I have taken in my college career. The culture is much different there than what the stereotype illustrates. All the Mexican students and professors were really nice and helpful as well. Driving in Mexico was an experience in itself. I being the one, who maintains the campus pool fleet, including the vans, probably had the most experience driving the vans of all the students. Yet nothing prepared me for driving a two lane highway at night with lanes as wide as the van. That was interesting to say the least. Not to mention the two near miss head on collisions in front of me within a matter of minutes. But, all in all the trip was an enormous success, and I am truly happy for having gone on the trip and had this experience. If given the chance to take this class again I would without doubt do it, only next time I would be sure to pack extra socks, and more than one pair of shoes.

photo of Lynett BontragerLynett Bontrager

The Mexican vertebrate course was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. I met people, mostly biologists, from two other states (Oklahoma and Mississippi), and representatives from several Mexican states, all biology majors. It was truly awesome to sleep on the beach, yards away from the waves crashing upon the shoreline, deep within Mexico and nowhere near a bustling city. Everything around was new and exciting. In the beginning, I was discouraged by the language barrier but was lucky to have two people in my group capable of translating for me, Katie from Oklahoma and Jimena from Mexico. By day four, I managed to find a Spanish to English dictionary and could finally attempt to have one-on-one conversations with whomever I wanted. My discouragement soon turned to encouragement to learn to a foreign language. The dedication the Mexican students showed for learning was inspiring and it was nice to see people working together for a common goal. Our first night, spent in Bustamante Canyon, convinced me that the extremely long, harrowing drive down had been worth it. Having witnessed more than one near death experience on the way there and back, made me appreciate driving in the United States. It was definitely a different driving style than what I was used to or had experienced thus far. The interactions I had led to friendships with several people, some of which have already communicated via e-mail. This trip was a reaffirmation that I have chosen the best career field and I look forward to being able to travel and see more of the world.

photo of Mary GortonMary Gorton

It is very difficult to describe what I learned and experienced in Mexico simply because it was unlike any experience I have had previously. I enjoyed, of course, the things that I was looking forward to ahead of time, the new bird species, camping on the beach with the sound of the waves to put me to sleep, the taste of tequila and mescal, and the field experience I gained. What I did not expect was the magnitude of knowledge that comes in such a short period of time. I learned without a doubt more in six days of practice and exposure than I have learned about field biology in my three years of university. I also was exposed to and earned more of an appreciation for vertebrate taxa that I had no interest in before leaving for Mexico, such as fish and reptiles. I also learned that Ichthyologists have it easy and are pretty laid back, where as ornithologists are very excited at six in the morning to go looking for birds. Large amounts of chili peppers will come back to haunt you, especially after a few hours in the car, and sand really does get into everything you own and isnít quite as comfortable as you might think. On this trip I saw both my first bot fly larvae and macaws, two of my lifetime interests, an amazing experience to have read and been interested in something for so long and to finally witness it first hand. The professors and students from the universities in Mexico were wonderful to work with, especially the ornithologists. I plan to return to Mexico as soon as I possibly can to continue to study in and experience this beautiful country.

photo of Matt BuliczMatt Bulicz

The Mexico trip, from the standpoint of a psychology major, challenged me to look even further at interpersonal and intercultural relationships. It was a learning experience which brough me to better understand the difference in culture, as well as the common things which we, as Americans, take for granted. The biology component of the trip was just as educational; this was the first field work I had ever done. Learning how to properly collect, document, prepare and identify specimens as well as the environment in which we found them was very rewarding. Like the cultural observations, it forced me to look into even greater detail at the world around me. While the time I spent in class and interacting with my fellow students was so valuable, the time I spent immersed in the Mexican culture and towns were absolutely amazing. This was my first venture out of the country, and I am determined now more than ever to travel to even more cultures and places. I can only imagine what other discoveries, awarenesses and experienecs await me.

photo of Nina RohlfNina Rohlf

Mexico was a wonderful experience that I wouldn't want to give up for anything. I learned a lot about, not only biology, but about cultural differences between the United States and Mexico. Working with people for different schools in the states of Mexico was a learning experience in itself. Being able to communicate past the language barrier was something I worried about before we left Kansas, but after arriving in San Blas and meeting all the people I realized it was going to be a challenging, fun and exciting trip. Aside from working with a lot a really fun people, camping on the beach or in the canyon was an experience to remember! The only bad part about camping is the persistant sand that follows you everywhere, but that is easily ignored when you are too busy learning and having a great time.

photo of Nathan LeClearNathan LeClear

So now we've all made it back and have had some time to look back and think about what this trip has meant to everyone. In short I would say that this class will have a far more lasting effect on me than any other class during my undergraduate years. I have been inspired beyond a doubt that I shall be returning sooner than later to Mexico to build upon the things that I have learned. Not only the biological and ecological concepts and facts that are so important to me as a biology student, but the cultural experience of going to another country and experiencing another life which is so important as a human being. The faculty that I was privilaged to work with blew me away with what they expected of us as students, more so as they helped me discover that I was able to live up to those expectations to any extent. I was told before I went that the most common conclussion of the returning students is that every expectation they held before going on the trip was nothing compared to the reality of Mexico. I was honored greatly to have worked with the students of Mexico whom I met, some of the best students in the region. The experience must have been quite different for both of us, them being selected for performance and us simply having the money and desire. The work that we did was unlike anything possible in KS (mostly due to a lack of mountains, jungle, and ocean) and it is always a good experience to go through the process of leaving a familiar country, even though it may seem like a hassle at the time. The landscape down there is naturally beyond anything that I could related in 1000 pictures let alone 1000 words. The beach is always a pleasure for someone like me who lives days from the ocean, but I still had a much better time in the mountains as I feel much more of an affinity for them. Seeing as I want to study anthropology as much as biology Real de Catorce was a veritable gold mine (or silver would be more applicable I suppose) of the blending of native culture with modernization. The most important thing that I would relate to any person interested in taking this trip is that it is essential for you to have an open mind. There are so many things that we take for granted in America which you don't realize until you go through this. Some people who are campers understand to an extant what leaving the modern amenities behind means, but this isn't exactly camping, but rather everyday life in this country that consists of the sacrifice of comfort. This is why there are so many stories to tell upon returning because there is so much difference. So going back to the original point which is leave behind as many expectations as possible and if you have problems getting along with strangers then you have a big mark against you. There is so much comprimise and cooperation required that some people can't handle it. Also I would say that this trip is as much or as little as you choose to make out of it. There are so many times that I missed opportunities because I was "tired", which is sort of valid as there are some days that you are in the field by 6 or 7 in the morning. In actuality I had the energy I just didn't know what all that I was missing, even though I went through everything to get down there I still regret missing some of the opportunities. Hopefully some of the these things along with the other returning students words do more to encourage than discourage those who are thinking about this class as a possibility. I would tell anyone considering that it was worth every penny and minute, and in the words of Calvin's father for those familiar with Calvin and Hobbes, "it's a good way to build character".

Last updated on 21 February 2005.
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