By Professor Bill Bishop, Department of History, Geography, Politics and Law (Dept. Chair)
The photograph was taken “a few years ago” of me in Tikal, Guatemala. I was traveling on my third trip to Central America with my former professor and thesis director at Louisiana State University. His original plan was to fly a number of graduate students from LSU during the Christmas vacation down to and through Guatemala, Belize, north along the East coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and finally to Merida, Mexico for the flight back to New Orleans. But first he wanted to determine if it was logistically feasible to conduct the trip with 10 to 15 American students. That is the reason why he asked me if I was interested in going on this two person test trip. I had never been to this part of Central America because my previous trips had been taken on my own to other parts of the region. I decided that I could travel to more places with him because of his expertise in this specific part of the region and at a cheaper cost than if I went by myself. Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, we arrived by air in Guatemala City and travelled by land in second class buses (in various states of repair) and on some very fundamental roads through the highlands of the Petén Region of Guatemala. After a few days journey we arrived late in the afternoon at the famous Mayan site of Tikal. Unfortunately we arrived so late that the one and only local hotel was booked for the evening. Our only option was to rent denim hammocks for five dollars a night and hang them from the thatched roof that I am standing under in the photograph! That night was uneventful. I discovered that my personal mosquito net, while lying in the hammock, continually drooped down and rested on my face. Numerous insects would then alight on that portion of the net for a meal. Finally, out sheer disgust I placed my arms on the net to prop it away from my face. The “meals” continued but I had saved face!
Additional factors entered the picture to make the night complete. The first of a number of the cotton strings on my hammock began to break because the cotton was so worn from years of use. My professor stated “Bill, stop moving in your hammock because when one string breaks the others will break and you will be sleeping on the ground!” The edge of the tropical rainforest was only about 10 feet away and there were not enough walls to keep the wild animals away from me if I was lying on the ground so I tried to heed his warning! By the time that I had settled in my hammock there was a German sleeping in his hammock to my left, and the professor was in his hammock to my right. At about 1:00 AM four Frenchmen (two men and two women) arrived and hung their hammocks on this thatched contraption. When the last person climbed into his hammock the whole structure began to list towards the forest. Fortunately all seven of us remained hanging from this structure in our hammocks for the balance of the night. When I woke later in the morning and I was happy, not because of the multiple chicken track insect bite marks on my arms, but because my head and feet were still in the air! I started to get out of the hammock and suddenly realized that my derriere was on the ground—it was numb so I was shocked to know that I had been sleeping partially on the ground. Enough of the strings had broken during the night which slowly lowered me to the earthen floor. I checked for fang marks and finding none, came to the conclusion that I was going to live. The photograph was taken shortly after I realized that I was not going to die from a poisonous snake bite.
Copyright © 2013 by William K. Bishop
P.S. The professor decided, at the end of our trip, against taking his graduate students to this region for the Christmas break. He never explained to me why he made that decision.