THE transcontinental interview started with a glitch. There in
steamy Quirgua, Guatemala, Dan Buettner parked his battered,
mud-covered bicycle. He positioned his portable satellite dish and
turned on his laptop to answer a reporter's questions asked the day
before by satellite from a computer in Boston.
"Using cutting-edge technology and expecting it to work on the
back of a bicycle has been frustrating," Mr. Buettner said later
over the Internet. He is the leader of MayaQuest, an interactive
archaeological bicycle expedition now completing an arduous,
bug-filled expedition through Central America to study the demise
of Mayan civilization. From AD 250 the Maya flourished, but
disappeared for unknown reasons in the ninth century.
Unlike conventional expeditions, MayaQuest used a portable
satellite dish and laptop computer to connect "live" from the
jungle with thousands of schools.
The expedition's main goal was to engage students in Mayan
research by being "live" on the Internet and Prodigy. Connecting an
ongoing, gritty adventure to cyberspace meant students in
classrooms could ask questions, receive expedition updates, and
sometimes vote on expedition issues such as the team's destination
from day to day. A 16-page MayaQuest curriculum guide was available
Twice a week for the last three months, the team of four
provided descriptions of their muddy journey through Mayan country.
Stories of snakes, ticks, tomb discoveries, hieroglyphic readings,
and more than 100 flat tires were sent by satellite.
A dispatch of humor and reality came from Buettner near Rio
Dulce: "It's 10:06 p.m., and I'm sitting cross-legged in my tent
typing the date. Outside we are surrounded by banana trees; the
buzz of a thousand insects fills the hot, heavy night air.... We
bicycled on lumber trails. They were full of ruts, weeds, fallen
logs and every blood-sucking vermin imaginable, but at least they
had character.... One night a jaguar came into camp."
Buettner is one of the world's premier long-distance cyclists
and previously wheeled his way through AfricaTrek, a nine-month
African journey. His brother, Steve, rode on MayaQuest along with
Julie Acuff, an archaeologist and epigrapher -- translator of Mayan
hieroglyphics. Some two-dozen sponsors supplied equipment and
expertise to the team.
To date, more than a million "hits" (connections) have been made
on MayaQuest on the Internet. And through CNN, the team also
provided five-minute, weekly reports on video for many schools. …