Bumping onto the 5km causeway that leads to Crooked Tree, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I got grumpier as I negotiated the rocks, sand and mud on the road that crosses the lagoon and joins the wildlife sanctuary and village to the main highway.
Slowing up I began to realise we had left the traffic noise behind and the air was filled with the sound of the wind, bird song and insects.
When the lagoon came into sight we saw turkey vultures, cormorants, herons and egrets. This is a special place.
The visitor centre sits on tall stilts at the entrance to the village. The sanctuary rangers told us that normally at this time of year the lagoon should be lapping way up under their building. Instead the shore was around 50 metres away. They were concerned about high points in the middle of the lagoon starting to show. It’s bad for all the animals if the lagoon dries out too much.
We cycled along the white chalky road past some old American school buses and reached the mini main road. Welcome to Crooked Tree, population 925, established in the 1700s, home of the cashew.
This place feels like an island. It has a different vibe and was almost like going back in time. Simple houses in yards with little landscaping and no gardens. Horses grazing and a few pigs in pens. A shack on a corner serves as the barbershop offering ‘top class cuts’.
Around 40% of the people here travel to Belize City to work, the rest live off the land by subsistence farming or what they call ‘catch and kill’, fishing and hunting to eat.
It is a tricky balance. The purpose of the wildlife sanctuary is to protect this special environment and educate residents and visitors. However, people have to eat. They won’t always feel able to respect fishing bans at spawning times for example.
We arrived at Crooked Tree Lodge and felt like we shouldn’t be there. The lodge and grounds are beautifully maintained and we immediately knew it was out of our price range. Mick kindly offered us a cabana that hadn’t yet been cleaned for half price and we snapped it up.
Mick told us that he and his wife had built the main lodge and the cabanas over the past 12 years and they are now at capacity for most of the high season. Their guests are predominantly people with an interest in wildlife. Bird watchers, photographers, zoologists, naturalists and professors all gather at their table to talk about what they’ve seen at Crooked Tree.
We sat on the porch of our cabana with cold beers and just felt so lucky to be looking at this view. The huge trees around us framed the lagoon and we watched egrets wading while some fishermen floated along the shore. The sunshine picked out the white of the feathers and the mens’ shirts. The warm wind moved around us carrying the sounds of birds we had never heard before and would never see.