Hi! My name is Emily, and I am one of the La Paz interns for summer 2017. As an environmental science and engineering student, I have never had an internship at a hotel, let alone one in a remote location in a foreign country. However, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University has prepared me for work in another large aspect of the Chan Chich property: sustainable agriculture. Ultimately, this is where my work will lead me, but until then I am becoming integrated with the lodge as a whole.
My first surprise during my experience so far was the actual lodge itself. On the drive to Chan Chich, we passed a great deal of farmland, with each area becoming less and less populated as we went on. However, as we turned down a road marked Chan Chich, the landscape instantly changed from cleared pastureland to a road densely surrounded by large trees draping over us as we drove. Soon, a sprinkling of lights entered our view, dotting the driveway and welcoming us to Chan Chich. Suffice it to say that my time searching Chan Chich on Google and Instagram did not do it justice. The greens of the grass and trees blended with the variety of flowers abundant across the property. The lodge and cottages were far more magnificent in real life making them feel humble and authentic while also luxurious all at once.
For my first official day as intern, I was tasked with shadowing Gina, a member of the housekeeping staff. The purpose of this was twofold. First, it would allow me to become more acquainted with the operations of Chan Chich. Second, I would be making note of the different practices in order to produce a document outlining housekeeping duties. Because Chan Chich is in the process of hiring new housekeepers and bringing in a new general manager, this document would help all new staff become familiar with the responsibilities in a clear and standardized way.
As someone with an agriculture background who arrived at Chan Chich with the intent on developing sustainable agriculture practices with Gallon Jug farm, this was an interesting twist for me. Yet, the experience had many merits. For starters, I gained an appreciation to the detail housekeepers take to maintaining each cottage: the different products used for different surfaces, the details of assembling a bed, even the pebbles on the outdoor walk received attention. However, as an outsider to the process, I quickly became curious about the various practices whose purposes weren’t immediately obvious to me. Why was this product used? Why were these task done in this order? How do you best approach this situation? The more time I spent following Gina and assisting her, the more useful I found the experience to be. Not only was I learning about the system as a whole, but I was also gaining more and more information to report on, as well as generating my own ideas for improvement.
The thing that stuck with me most however, was Gina’s attitude during our time together. In addition to being hardworking and driven, she consistently had an upbeat attitude and a smile on her face. I quickly learned that this attitude was present in many of the Belizean staff. Whether its Chan Chich, Belize, or the jungle environment, most everyone I have encountered has approached me with a smile and continued to do so as they produced quality work. For instance, Migde, the Chan Chich bartender and waiter, can always be seen happily working whether it’s at 6:00 am for breakfast of 10:00 pm at the bar.
At the end of my first day, I attended a lecture given by one of the archaeologists that is conducting a dig here at Chan Chich. Prior to the talk, I hadn’t quite understood how integrated the lodge is to the Mayan ruins. I learned that the numerous “hills” that I had been seeing weren’t natural hills at all, but rather old ruins. As an environmental science and sustainability major in my undergrad, initially, it was the natural landscape that fascinated me about this place. After speaking with some of the archaeologists and their students, however, I realize that the cultural history is what brings a new dimension to its beauty.
Overall, my experiences so far with the lodge haven’t been what I expected but the learning experience I craved nonetheless. Everyone from the staff to the archaeology students had something to share, and I look forward to seeing where this experience will take me.