- See Also: Minor Characters in Jess's Story
- Jess McConnell
- Mother, Mom: Of Japanese descent. An archeologist.
- Father, Dad: of Scotch-Irish descent. An archeologist.
- Sarita Bol: Jess’s friend in Belize
- Micheal Bol: Tour guide, father of Sarita Bol
Chapter By Chapter Summary
Chapter One: Good-bye, Home; Hello, Jungle
Jess and her parents are on the plane; they are currently over Belize. Jess is a little nervous at arriving at their destination. She points out the jungle to her mother, who then talks about the various artifacts they may locate while there. Her father chimes in as well, excited about what they may discover. Jess joins in a little--she is interested in Belize, but not in the archeology as she finds it dull. Her mother takes her interest to be about archeology and continues talking about how the artifacts they locate will give information about the past, despite others only using the items as treasures to be sold and a lot of looters.
As her parents talk about archeology, Jess looks at her parents, mentioning their looks--her father is fair with light hair and of Scotch-Irish descent and her mother is Japanese. Jess has gone on smaller digs with them but this is the first time any of them have been outside the States.
Jess asks about looting in the Caracol ruins; this is not so much interest as it is showing that she has been paying attention to their discussions over the past year. Her parents had not planned to take any of their three children on the trip but Jess had convinced them to come. She is glad her brother and sister are not around as they tend to fuss over her and boss her around. Jess's father says that only a small part of the ruins has been uncovered which is protected; however, the rest stretch rather far, and so there is no way to know what looters have taken already.
Her parents continue to talk, and Jess looks out the window. She thinks that she might pay more attention if they were talking about soccer, one of her hobbies. She starts making a list of some of the "firsts" she is experiencing.
- First trip outside the United States
- First passaport
- First time being homeschooled
- First time being in a jungle
- First trip without her siblings
Jess then thinks about her siblings, Jason and Heather, at home being watched by Grandma Emi. When the plane is about to touch ground, Jess takes two notes out of her bag and reads them. The first one is from her sister Heather. Heather’s note is neatly written on a piece of stationary saying that she loves Jess and for her to be careful. The second note is from her brother Jason. His note is sloppily written on a piece of loose-leaf. His note telling Jess to be careful and doesn’t want anything to happen to Jess. Jess thinks about how nice it’s going to be not getting teased by her siblings the next five months.
Jess exits the plane with her parents and checks in with customs. Jess and her parents get into a cab and go to the bus station. On the way to the bus station Jess is looking out the cab window and sees houses in poor condition and starving animals on the side of the road. They arrive at the bus station and it is crowded with all sorts of people, including an older gentleman with two chickens.
While in line a young boy comes up to Jess asking for money, referring to Jess as “lady”. Jess doesn’t know how to handle the situation and looks to her parents for help, but they are preoccupied at the ticket booth. Jess tells the boy she isn’t a lady and he leaves. A group of teenage boys in bump into several people including Jess and woman with a child. She scolds the teenage boys in and turns to Jess and says something in Spanish Jess doesn’t understand. Jess thinks of how fortunate she is that her family can provide for themselves and doesn’t have to beg. She starts feeling uneasy without her siblings their to comfort and protect her. Jess thinks about how she’s going to have to figure things out for herself, whether she’s ready or not.
Chapter Two: Ancient Ruins
While riding the bus to San Iguano, Jess sees an Amish man and learns from her father that there are Amish and Mennonites in Belize, and the diversity of the country. Jess and her family then meet Michael Bol, a very nice man who drives the McConnell's to the site. Arriving at Caracol, Jess meets the staff and Fuzz, a mischievous spider monkey who Jess becomes friends with. She adds to her list of firsts:
- First time meeting a real, live spider monkey
- First Maya ruins
The McConnell's then set out to see the ruins. Jess is surprised to see soccer nets. Jess then discovers where her family will stay - in a small thatched-roof hut with a dirt floor. She immediately claims the top bunk, only to be beaten by Fuzz, and humorous remarks follow, ending the chapter.
Chapter Three: Alone
In chapter three, we meet Jess two weeks later. Here, we learn about Jess's routine and the nightly soccer games and stories shared around the bonfire. Next, Jess has just finished her homework, and wants to go outside and play with Fuzz. Jess is kind of lonely, and wants a human child to play with, though she likes Fuzz a lot. She asks her parents to play with her, but they are both really busy and promise to play with her later. Jess walks to the soccer field, and kicks the ball into the goal, but falls hard on the ground, and discovers a girl named Sarita standing by her, asking if she needs a goalie.
Chapter Four: A Friend
Jess and Saria continue to play soccer for the rest of the afternoon. It is learned that Saria is Michael Boi’s daughter. Saria is the same age as Jess (ten years old). Saria in Standard Fourth Grade at School of the Sacred Heart, but currently the school is on winter break. Saria has three younger brothers, several chickens, and had a dog a while ago.
The girls take turns scoring goals, one kicking the other being goalie. They talk about soccer games in the Mayan times. Back then players would use their whole bodies (except for their hands), had heavier balls and would try to score goals through hoops instead of nets. They were talking about how to losing team would be salves to the winner’s kingdom. Jess hears high-pitched howls in the jungle and grabs Sarita’s arm asking what made the noise. Jess had heard howler monkeys before, but they didn’t sound as shrill. Sarita wasn’t concerned and explained that it was howler monkeys sound different the closer they get and that they would make a lot of noise before a storm.
Jess and Sarita go inside the hut and tried to continue a conversation but the storm was too loud. Jess looks outside and sees that a tree baby parrots were nesting in fell down. She runs outside to check on the tree. She finds a baby parrot and brings it back to the hut. They make a nest out of a small purse Jess bought as a souvenir for Heather.
After the storm Sarita and Jess go to the ranger station with the baby parrot. Sarita explains to Barbara how Jess rescued the baby parrot from the fallen tree. Barbara explains that every year or two that the rangers will find a baby parrot. The Belize Zoo would come and take the parrot at some point but until then the girls could take care of the bird. Barbara explains that the baby parrot is a wild animal, but it would tolerate being fed by a human. She gives Jess unsweetened cereal, dried fruit and vegetables, and bird pellets.
Jess and Sarita find the adults. Jess introduces Sarita to her parents and explains to her parents and Michael Bol how they found the baby parrot. Jess then says that her and Sarita are going to take turns caring for it. The adults are hesitant as it’s a big responsibility but Jess and Sarita are up to the challenge.
Chapter Five: Fire Ants
The next day Sarita comes over. Jess thinks about how lonely she was before she met Sarita. When she’s gone on other digs with her parents, she’s had Heather and Jason’s company. Sarita enters the hut and makes a comment about how it’s cooler in there than outside. Jess replies that it feels warm everywhere for her. Sarita asks how the baby parrot is. Barbara couldn't determine the gender of the bird and Jess didn't want to keep calling the baby parrot “it”. Jess decided that the baby parrot is a “she”. Jess and Sarita come up with names such as Crackers, Polly, and Pepper. Sarita suggests the name Pippi, after Pippi Longstocking.
Michael Bol waves Jess and Sarita overs. Jess and Sarita reluctantly make their way to the grownups thinking that Sarita would have to go home. Jess’s parents introduce Jess to Mr. and Mrs. Cutwell, a retired couple from Texas. The Cutwell’s invited both Jess and Sarita to go with them on their eco-adventure. They would be gone for five days, camping outside at night. Nights they weren't camping they would be going to Sarita’s house. Jess is excited but declines the invitation due to taking care of Pippi. Micheal Bol suggest they bring Pippi along, as Pippi does live in the jungle. When the girls couldn't care for the parrot Sarita’s brother could take care of Pippi. Sarita is unsure but her father reassures her it’ll be alright. Jess’s parents would take care of the bird, but they were busy with their work. Jess’s father was on board if Michael thought it was ok.
Jess starts to run back to the hut to prepare and is bitten by fire ants. She runs back to her parents who console her. Jess’s dad makes a comment about the fire ant highway that rungs through the field. Jess reassures her dad she’s fine, while on the verge of tears. At the hut, Jess’s mothers put on an ointment and reminds Jess to be careful. Jess’s mother also reminds her that Sarita’s home is going to be different than the ones in Jess’s hometown of Houghton. Jess tells her mother she’ll be more careful and asks for her mom’s help to pack.
Jess added getting bit by fire ants to her list.
Chapter Six: Sarita's Home
Jess packs for the trip. She is reminded by her father to take pictures for the family and her class. Before leaving Jess takes a picture of her parents with Fuzz in the background. During the drive to Paradise Jungle Lodge Jess sees many creatures including crocodiles and iguanas, she adds seeing these creatures in the wild to her list of firsts. Jess notices that the landscape can differ greatly from dark jungle to burnt fields. She also notes there is a faint scent of smoke in the air.
Michael Bol drops the Cutwell’s off at the lodge. He brings Jess and Sarita to his home. Jess looks at the hut and adds visiting a Maya home to her list of firsts. Jess takes a picture before going up the thirty-two steps. Jess enters the hut and two young boys run to Michael and hug his leg. They see Jess and retreat into the hut. Michael introduces the young boys as Marcos and José. A woman holding a child comes out of the hut and Michael Bol introduces her as his wife Yollie. Yollie greets Jess then asks Sarita to hold the baby as she finishes dinner. Sarita explains that the child is Luciano or Luke, a mischievous nine-month-old. She puts the child in a hammock and rocks him to sleep.
The Bol’s and Jess eat a dinner of chicken and onion soup and tortillas. After dinner Sarita and Jess show of Pippi to the family. After dinner Jess shows the Bol’s Pippi Marcos and José lose interest quickly and run off with toy machetes. Jess is startled by this just Sarita explains that little kids get them to practice using them properly. Jess and Sarita feed Pippi and start washing dishes. Marcos and José ran around, Micheal Bol smoking his pipe and Yollie feeding Luke with her shirt open. Jess was startled but realizes that it’s just another difference from where she was from.
After finishing dishes Sarita show’s Jess the cupboard she keeps her schoolwork. Sarita tells Jess when she grows up, she wants to go to the United States to study to be a pediatrician. When Jess is asked, she replies she doesn’t know but she might want to be a professional snowboarder or soccer player. Sarita brings Jess to a newer wooden building. Inside were two sets of bunk beds, like the ones back at Jess’s parent’s campsite. Sarita shows Jess the hammock in the corner she will be sleeping in that night. Sarita points out the partitioned area and explains that is Michael and Yollie Bol’s sleeping area. Jess is very relived to be standing on a real floor.
Jess is woken up to a rooster’s crow the next morning. Jess thinks to herself that she slept so well that she should get a hammock for her and one for heather to back in the United States. Sarita rolled over in her bunk and wishes Jess a good morning. Yollie Bol reminds Sarita to feed the chickens and help with the wash. Jess offers to help Sarita with her chores. Jess adds feeding chickens to her list of firsts.
After breakfast Jess helps the Bol’s do their laundry. They would haul buckets of water up the steps to the cook hut. The water was poured into a metal wash binwhere the girls would wash the clothes with a scrub board. Jess is bringing the laundry to the clothes line when she looks up at Pippi and trips, spilling clean laundry all over the ground. Jess asks if they must redo the wash and Sarita replies yes with a pun about Belize.
Chapter Seven: Caving
Jess and Sarita finish the laundry, eat lunch and pack for the eco-adventure. Yollie Bol tells Sarita they can’t bring Pippi with them. Pippi requires a lot of care and brings up the possibility of getting into an accident with Pippi. Yollie insists the girls stay home, Sarita argues back that she’s never been in a cave. Yollie tells Sarita she’s never been in a cave either. Jess is baffled by the idea that neither Yollie or Sarita had been in a cave, considering how close they live to them. Jess thinks about their daily chores and realizes they don’t have time. Yollie gives in and gives Sarita permission to go out. Marcos and José can take care of Pippi but Sarita would have to help Yollie when they get back.
Mr. Bol parks his Jeep to the base of the hill and the girls get in. Mrs. Cutwell points to the hut and quietly asks Jess if that’s where she slept. Jess tells Mrs. Cutwell yes and that she loved the Bol’s home. Mrs. Cutwell returns to reading a book, Artifacts of Belize. During the car ride Micheal Bol talked about the different ethnic groups in the area. Jess looks at her reflection and thinks about how Belize and the United States were melting pots of different nationalities.
The group drives into a valley and towards a sign reading “Barton Creek Cave”. Michael asks the group if they are ready to explore the caves. Mr. Cutwell tells Michael yes and the only cave he’s ever been to was the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. The group walks to a small pool of water with canoes anchored to the side. Michael Bol and the Cutwell’s get in one canoe and Jess and Sarita take another. They paddled into the dark cave. Before getting too far Michael Bol gives Jess and Sarita helmets with lights.
Jess looks around the cave seeing crystal formations, silk, and mushrooms growing in the cave. Jess hears the constant dripping of water. Michael Bol tells the group to look in the water. Jess looks and see colorless cat and crawl fish. Deeper into the cave there are bats on the ceiling. As Mrs. Cutwell is saying that she’ll be fine if they don’t take flight the bats start to fly off the walls and ceiling and Mrs. Cutwell screams. Jess sits quietly hoping the bats won’t fly into her.
The group paddles deeper into the cave. The group turns around when Jess and Sarita had to bend down to fit and the dust was very tick and the particles were visible in the light of the headlamps. Halfway back to the entrance, Michael Bol tells everyone to turn off their lights and sit and listen to the sounds of the cave. Jess beings to feel anxious in the dark, her throat tightening and hearing her heart beat in her ears. Sarita starts to sing. Jess was amazed how good Sarita was at singing, describing her voice as angelic.
When Sarita finished preforming Jess told Sarita how pretty she though her voice was. Sarita was embarrassed and told Jess she didn’t know why she had started singing like that. Jess asks where Sarita learned to sing and Sarita answers that she sang in the church choir. The group turned on their headlamps and paddled out of the cave. Jess made a mental note to tell Heather and Jason about staying in the dark for several minutes and not freaking out. Jess isn’t going to tell her siblings about Sarita’s singing as she didn’t want to get teased.
By evening, the group arrives at Rio Frio Cave. The group set up camp and for dinner had a meal of grilled chicken and cocoanut rice. After dinner the group hiked to a small cave. Micheal Bol then told the Cutwells that he got permission for the Cutwells to sleep in it for the night. Mrs. Cutwell refused to sleep inside the cave that Micheal Bol had to get special permission for them to sleep in that night. Micheal comes up with a new plan that the Cutwells will sleep at the already established campsite, Micheal will set up a hammock between two trees near the Cutwells and Jess and Sarita can sleep in the cave.
Sarita whines about her and Jess camping alone, Micheal Bol reassures them that since there is sand it’ll be softer to sleep on and they are safe. He tells them not to worry, kisses Sarita on the head, and tells the girls to get some sleep as tomorrow will be another busy day. After getting over their initial fear of the cave the girls stand in front of candle. The girls entertain themselves by moving infront of the candle making their shadows dance, twirl, and laugh. Sarita suggests they leave the candle lit just in case and Jess agrees. The girls get into the tent, change and get settled for bed. Jess asks Sarita if she thinks people many years ago would make shadows like they did. Sarita grabs Jess’s hand as assures her that they did. The girls aren’t nearly as scared of the cave anymore. As Jess is going to bed, she adds more items to her list of firsts.
- First time canoeing in a cave
- First time not being afraid of the dark
- First time making cave shadows
- First time camping in the belly of a giant
Chapter Eight: Things That Go Bump in the Night
Sarita and Jess wake up the next morning and pack. After breakfast the group takes a ferry across and drive to the Xunantunich ruins. Jess is somewhat disappointed when they arrive at the ruins because she expected them to be different from the other ruins she’s seen. Michael Bol explained the hierarchy of the Maya empire as they explore the ruins. Jess thinks about how warm it is and how the Caracol are different and similar.
On the way down the Cutwells stopped in a small building to observe some artifacts. Jess makes a comment to Sarita about the Cutwells moving slowly today and that Mrs. Cutwell only showed interest in the artifacts. Sarita agrees but is thankful that they asked her and Jess to join them on the eco-adventure.
The group cross back on the ferry. Michael Bol drives the group into the jungle to take the group on a hike. Michael Bol points out different butterflies and Jess start taking pictures, making a mental note to e-mail the pictures to Heather. Michael Bol stops the group when they get to a cluster of animal bones. Jess identifies them as snake bones and Michael Bol warns everyone to look where they step as some snakes will move out of the way but other will not. Michael Bol guides the group to a clearing. The group takes a rest and observe nature.
After lunch, Jess and Sarita fill inflatable kayaks. Michael’s plan was for the Mr. and Mrs. Cutwell, Jess, and Sarita to float down the river. The group floats down the river with no problem. Jess and Sarita pull over and wade in the water to cool down. Mrs. Cutwell asks if they are any crocodiles in the water Sarita replying that they weren’t in this part of the river and she didn’t have to worry about the animals in this part of the water.
The group spots Michael Bol on the side of the river. Sarita makes the turn and Jess follows. Jess loses control and her kayak gets caught in a bunch of branches. Jess falls out of the kayak and her life jacket gets stuck on one of the branches. She manages to free herself and swim back to the shore. Everyone is concerned but Jess reassures everyone she is fine. Jess adds nearly kayaking and nearly drowning to her list of firsts. Michael Bol offers to drop Jess off with her parents but Jess insists that she will be fine and wants to continue on the adventure.
Chapter Nine: Pippi's First Flight
Jess and Sarita wake up the next morning. Pippi was fed and given watered. Marcos then tells them that he’s been trying to teach Pippi to say, “Marcos is smart”. José showed Jess the picture he drew in school until dinner. After dinner, Jess and Sarita asked if they could camp at the top of the hill. Her parents agreed, they set up camp, watched the sunset and Jess went into a deep sleep.
The next morning Jess wakes up and joins Sarita, Michael Bol, and the Cutwells at the campfire. Michael Bol greets Jess, offers her breakfast. He asks Jess if she would like to join him and the Cutwells today. Jess declines. Jess is looking around and notices that Pippi’s purse nest is empty. Jess and Sarita go into the jungle and look for Pippi. Jess tries to bribe Pippi back with bird pellets but Pippi keeps flying father down the hillside. Jess trips and goes tumbling down the hill.
Jess notices a hole in the ground. Sarita guesses that Jess must have moved the stone covering when she fell. Jess and Sarita take away more stones reveling an opening to a cave. Jess suggest they get Sarita’s dad to investigate and they go back to Sarita’s house to call him.
Chapter Ten: Discovering the Past
Michael Bol and the Cutwells come back to the house and Sarita tells her father to get his climbing gear. Her father is skeptical, but Mr. Cutwell wants to see what the girls found. The Bols, Cutwells, and Jess go back to the hill to look for the hole. Jess points out the hole and Michael Bol climb down. Michael Bol comes back up and confirms the girls did find a small cave and that they would have to go down to see what he found.
Jess and Sarita are the first to go down. The girls see many artifacts; dishes, tools, silverware, and pots. As Michael Bol was looking around with his headlamp, he found two skeletons with precious stones as dental implants. Michael Bol explained that the Mayas use to sacrifice humans to please their god and would bury them in caves with objects to bring to the afterlife. IT was thought that these caves would be a sort of place for the dead to cross.
Jess notices a small pile of stones in a corner. Jess points it out to Sarita and they remove the stones to find another opening. Jess and Sarita enter another cave filled with artifacts. The Cutwells didn’t tour for the rest of the afternoon and stayed at the cave. That night everyone celebrated Jess and Sarita’s discovery. Michael Bol explains how tomorrow he’s going to install a gate on the entrance to keep out looters. Jess and Sarita camp outside for the night. Jess adding archaeological discovery to her lists of firsts.
Chapter Eleven: Digging Deeper
Jess dreams that she was exploring the cave and that she couldn’t find a way out. She then go swept into a river and Mayas came and danced and shouted into front of her. Jess wakes up from her nightmare hearing voices. She asks Sarita if she hears the voices and Sarita says its probably ghosts from the burial site. As Jess wakes up, she listens carefully to the voices. She identifies that they are coming from the cave. Jess and Sarita go to Michael Bol to tell him about the looters.
Michael Bol goes out to investigate. He tells the girls that there were indeed looters at the cave but scared them off. The looters stole small items, but bigger artifacts were still there. Jess and Sarita sleep in the hammock in the Bol’s bedroom. When they woke up in the morning/afternoon they went to the tent to get Pippi and fed her. Jess and Sarita eat breakfast. Michael Bol went to pick up the Cutwells and drive them back to the airport.
At noon Jess’s parents and Barbara arrive at the Bol’s hut. Jess and her parents are excited to see eachother. Jess and Sarita tell the adults about the cave and the looters. Sarita gets the key to the gate from her mother and they guide the grown-ups to the cave. Barbara makes a comment that Jess must have learned how to do this and Jess thinks about how much she has learned from her parents.
The group went back to the Bol’s home where they were greeted by the Cutwells. The Cutwells wanted to say goodbye and Mrs. Cutwell wanted to apologize. Mrs. Cutwell goes on to say that it’s her fault. When they got back to the lodge, she was excited about the find and started telling people over drinks. She let details slip that let looters find it. Michael Bol reassures her that looters would have found the cave regardless if Mrs. Cutwell had said anything or not. Mrs. Cutwell apologizes again, and Jess gives her a hug, Sarita, Marcos and José joining in.
Jess’s mother invites Sarita to come and stay at the camp with them for a day. At first Yollie Bol disagrees but after Jess’s mother whisper something in her ear Yollie Bol agreed. That night there was a party for Jess and Sarita in honor of their discovery of the cave. The group asked Jess and Sarita to tell them the story of the discovery. Jess adds telling her first archeological dig story to her mental list of firsts.