Our New Family: Crooked Tree, Belize

Our New Family: Crooked Tree, Belize

Travelling makes me realise how little I know about countries. I had no idea how big, varied and wonderful Mexico is, and I did not know anything at all about Belize.

Belize (formerly British Honduras) is a very small, English speaking country, with an even smaller population (just over 300,000 people in the whole country). When we spoke to other travellers about Belize, we would get varied reports. Mostly people told us it was expensive, and not that great, except for the cayes (pronounced “keys”), the islands off the coast, dotted in the Caribbean sea.

I am so glad that we did not listen to those people who recommended we skip Belize, for I found it to be a country full of wonderful people, beautiful scenery, and amazing adventures.

After the crossing the border from Mexico into Belize, we rode for a couple of hours to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Reserve. When researching Belize in the days before we left Mexico I had read a recommendation one of our favourite forums, advrider.com. It was from a fellow motorcyclist and suggested the Crooked Tree Lodge was a good place to stop for the night, the right distance from the border crossing. That’s all I knew about it, but it seemed a good destination to aim for.

Crooked Tree Lodge, Belize

We struggled right away to adjust to the fact that the people in Belize speak English. It is required that you buy insurance in Belize and so that was one of our first tasks. After first addressing the insurance man in Spanish, we fairly quickly relaxed into the luxury of doing business when both parties understand each other without the use of charades or dictionaries.

Buying a week’s worth of Belizean Insurance for the bikes – in English and with a credit card!

We still often replied “si” instead of “yes” the whole time we spent in Belize.

The place to buy insurance (it costs the same no matter where you go)

The insurance bought, we headed off down the highway, noticing the differences immediately. The roads are much narrower, the houses a different style, often on stilts.

We rode through Orange Walk, one of the bigger “cities” in Belize. It was a mix of English, Caribbean, Mexican and Menonite. A little ramshackle, and quite charming. We stopped to check our maps at one point and immeadiately a van pulled up to ask if we needed help, and proceeded to tell us all about the choice of two roads we had. One through town (the recommended choice) and the other that was built to let the ubiquitous cane trucks avoid driving through town.

The turn off to Crooked Tree lead to a gravel road, which crossed a shallow lagoon full of birds. We reached the town, and were stopped by a friendly man telling us we needed to check in at the visitor’s centre. It was in the visitor’s centre that I first realised we were in a wildlife sanctuary, one that seemed to be very focused on birdwatching. We were informed that if we were going to hike around the sanctuary we needed to pay eight Belizean dollars each (one Belizean dollar is the same as 50 cents US).

Registering at the Crooked Tree Visitor’s Centre

We politely explained that we were just staying the night at the Crooked Tree Lodge, with no plans to hike, even though seeing the parrots in the Cashew trees did sound very interesting.

He showed us where to go on a very old photocopy of a map, which confusingly called Crooked Tree Lodge “Paradise Inn”. We later found out that the owners of Crooked Tree Lodge have been petitioning for the maps to be updated for years, to no avail.

Riding in Crooked Tree

After taking one wrong turn, (we should have turned right at the small green shed they called the barbershop instead of left), we found ourselves at the lodge. It consisted of a large, beautiful main building facing a dock stretching out towards the lagoon (whilst not actually touching the water), with six or seven cabanas dotted along the lagoon.

The view from the lodge out to the lagoon

The Lodge as seen from our tent

There was also a smaller pond, which we later learnt was occasionally home to a fresh water crocodile.

Watch out for crocs!

We were greeted by a beautiful Belizean lady called Angie, who gently told us we could camp anywhere we liked on the grounds for US$10 a night.

Our idyllic campsite

My immediate impression was of how peaceful and happy the place was. There were birds everywhere, two very sweet boys chasing each other and the chicken around, and a few respectable looking people wandering around with binoculars.

Zach and Cory – these little boys captured our hearts!

When I found out they had good wifi, and hot water showers, I was in heaven. Little did I know that this paradise was going to get even better.

We set up camp and then hung around the dock, chatting to the other guests, who were mostly avid twitchers. (I love that word, “twitchers”, so much more fun than “birdwatchers”.) I love the passion with which these people can talk about the different birds they have seen, and hope to see.

We were lucky enough to be able to join everyone for dinner even though we had arrived unannounced. Dinners are served to everyone at once, at communal tables in the lodge. We were served a delicious three course meal which satisfied even Phil’s large appetite, all for only US$15! It was the best meal I had eaten in a very long time.

After dinner I Skyped with Christian while Phil settled in at the outdoor bar with Mick and Angie, the owners of the lodge. When I came to join them, the conversation was flowing, as was the Belikin, the very popular local beer.

The beautiful Angie, wielding her snake butchering tools.

Mick was a helicopter pilot in the British Military, and was posted to Belize for several years. During this time he met Angie, and they fell in love and got married. You could not meet a nicer couple. Mick and Angie regaled us with stories, and Mick even made me a gin and tonic. All of the other guests had long gone to bed, and Angie was falling asleep on the bar, when we decided to call it a night too.

This is Mick, more about the snake later…

The next day Phil and I decided that we couldn’t possibly leave paradise just yet, and so we asked Mick if there was anything that needed fixing up around the place. It so happened that the outdoor toilet and shower block was due for a coat of paint, and so soon Phil was out equipped with a bucket of paint and a brush.

Look at all that beautiful edging!

A couple hours later after some intense blogging and shoeing the chicken out of the lodge, I came out to relieve painter Phil. He’d finished all the edges so all I needed was the roller.

This chicken thought she was an indoor chicken. Angie disagreed and insisted she be thrown out, over and over again.

I get some rolling action in

It was actually really fun, if hot, to do something productive that didn’t involve fixing the bikes.

Phil must have looked like he had nothing to do, because he was quickly commandeered by the boys to help with their fishing lines. They then took him on a tour of the grounds:

Down the drain

Another Crooked Tree Lodge resident

Phil discovers a new role as fishing line repairman

The boys decided they needed to wear our helmets during their tent investigation.

Pretending to sleep…

Once I’d finished painting, I went for a much needed shower and made a startling discovery:

What’s that???

Finally, a tick! They like me too!

After all the ticks liking Phil more than me, finally one had decided to attach himself to my hip. I felt relieved that there isn’t anything wrong with my blood… They like me too!

Dinner that evening was equally as delicious as the night before, and Mick insisted that we eat for free in exchange for our painting duties. This was much appreciated and a lovely surprise, as we hadn’t expected any form of payment for our painting – we’d been only too happy to help!

Another fun evening with Mick and Angie putting the world to rights followed. Angie had decided to put braids in her hair, which we learnt was a major undertaking!

Angie braiding her hair.

Whilst Angie showed us the amount of patience, and fake hair, required to have a head full of braids, Mick told us the process for roasting cashews. I was shocked. It’s very long and complicated, they are poisonous to start with, it involves a lot of fire and peeling, and made me have a new found respect for one of my favourite nuts!

By this time we’d pretty much become part of the family, so of course, our overnight stay turned into staying for a third night.

The next day Mick went to buy provisions (and more hair) in Belize City, so Uncle Phil became a school run taxi service. The boys finished school at different times, so Phil became a regular at the local school.

The best way to get home from school!

Angie suffered from a terrible headache that afternoon as well. Nurse Phil got out his medical kit and prescribed his usual “drink lots of water” with the pills he gave her.

We found Crooked Tree to not only be full of beautiful birds,  but also other fascinating nature.

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Nature Minute with Phil Davidson:

Our stay at Crooked tree was full of the wonders of nature: Lakes, Trees, Pigs, Birds, Snakes, Frogs, snakes eating frogs, Tarantulas, Wasps carrying away said tarantulas… wait what?!!

The “Tarantula Hawk” is an absolutely enormous solitary wasp that flies around terrorizing tarantulas.

Run away! Run awaaaaay! So bravely run awaaay!

The wasp finds a tarantula, stings it with “the second most painful sting in the insect world”, lays it’s eggs in it and drags it away to somewhere secluded. There, the eggs eventually hatch, and the larvae feat on the tarantula corpse until they are big and strong enough to fly off and repeat the process. The boys brought this action to my attention one morning, and I was absolutley captivated by it… except when the wasp would take a break from dragging the tarantula corpse and buzz around a little. At those times I ran away screaming like a little girl.

[youtube http://youtu.be/yraSS-njB7E]

Nature was not yet finished, for later on this day I heard Angie screaming like a fully grown girl from the deck.

Angie’s snake defense weapons/bbq utensils.

Upon my arrival, she pointed to this, the snake/frog combo that had fallen from the rafters while she was doing her hair.:

“Uh, little help?!!”

The little frog that could…n’t. He sure tried though, jumping around even when all that was left outside the snake’s mouth was his hind legs. Here’s a video I took while Jayne was trying to show the events to our dad via skype.

[youtube http://youtu.be/XEKD1co17DM]

For reference, the stork I was referring to when unable to speak properly was this picture you may have seen on the world wide web.

Poster from the frog’s bedroom wall.

You can see the frog tries this exact maneuver mid video. It doesn’t work so well on snakes.

Being a nature sanctuary frequented by bird watchers, there were also lots of birds.

B-b-b-bird bird bird…

…bird is the word.

Relax with nature at Crooked Tree Lodge. I look forward to stopping in on the way back up.

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We loved living at Crooked Tree, and when Angie suggested we stay and work there, we both felt that that would be very easy to do! However the trip carries on, and so reluctantly, we had to pack up and leave our new family in paradise.

Us with our new Belizean family