Goodbye Crooked Tree

On Saturday 15 November, we decided to catch the 11a.m post-market bus to Crooked Tree. (The bus leaves the village at 7a.m .and returns from BC at 11a.m., giving folk time to purchase their wares from the market, or dusty old Albert St., etc.) Knowing by now exactly where the bus leaves at any time of day, we found it parked next to the canal, and full of both familiar and new faces. We started chatting to a woman sitting on the seat in front of us, only to find that she was married to someone from the Grenadier Guards, had lived in London and been posted to various other places in the world, and had returned to Crooked Tree for the last eight years. She said that her husband – from Peckham, south London – loved Belize, except that he still couldn’t really speak Creole! I do understand. She told us that her husband was Chair of the Crooked Tree Committee, and that if the coastguards were not running a return ferry service in the afternoon, she would make sure that we could catch a boat back to the mainland.

The bus started the journey along the northern highway, and once passed Ladyville, we could immediately see the lingering effects of the flooding. Many houses were still under water, and the brackish marshes were covering much larger areas than usual. The bus trundled on up the highway, and turned into the left-handed side road towards the causeway. We knew from colleagues in the Women’s Dept. that at its height, the floods had extended to one mile in from the highway (it is 3 miles to the causeway) and so we watched to see how far we would manage in the bus. Soon a row of cars parked on the left-hand side came into view. About half a mile from the eastern end of the causeway, we saw the channel with two flat bottomed boats with Belize Coastguard emblazoned clearly along each side. The bus load disembarked: men, women and children, young and very old, a bit helpless like refuges. We climbed the wooden jetty, and jumped up into the coastguards’ boat. It was pretty basic: a well near the wheel tower, some life jackets lined up along the length each side, and the bows. We were asked to sit in the body of the boat, rather than on the sides, and once started it was evident why: just as Kate had been entangled in the shrubs when we all went canoeing together, so too anyone sitting on the side of the vessel would be attacked by the thorny mimosa which propels itself upwards and over wherever it may.

The view was staggering. (There are some photos.) The whole of the causeway was under water except for the bushes on either side. We passed at least two other boats ferrying folk back to the mainland. The lagoon was one vast expanse of water, and as we approached Crooked Tree – not the normal bit at the causeway but further to the north beside the Baptist Church and the house that the young woman with the very premature baby lives in – we could see many houses were still deep in lagoon water. On the other hand, as we approached the new docking area, there was great excitement. Four or five different types of boats were moored to a temporary jetty of planks of wood placed strategically next to one another – another coastguard vessel, a rubber dinghy and some other boats with outboard motors; people waiting for a lift out were patiently sitting together with their various belongings. Throngs, no packs, or posses even, of children were entranced by the comings and goings, quite the most exciting thing forever! The bigger ones were trying to help here, carry there, and tinies were waddling after them, precariously making their way across uneven planks.

Having disembarked, we began to make our way round to Stephanie and Birds Eye View Lodge. People explained to us how at first even the mooring area had been much further out, but the waters were beginning to recede. We made our way past our little cottage, passed Corletta’s house and the tree with the pair of iguanas, and on round passed the pool with the pigs, the bare-throated green heron and roseate spoonbill – none of which were to be seen. Suddenly we could go no further. In the distance over an expanse of water down the lane (I am hopeless at judging distances, but between 100-150 yards I would think) we could see both the Lodge and to the right, the owners’ house. The water is currently about one and a half feet above the ground, but we could clearly see a grey water line just above the bottom of the windows – at least 3 feet up the wall. Poor things, no doubt at its height the water had penetrated the entire bottom floor. With so much water still lying around the buildings the clean-up process will not be able to be started. A few weeks ago Stephanie was telling us that November was the start of the ‘proper’ tourist season and was already well booked up. What a set back.

Aware that if we were to get back to BC that night we needed to catch a boat between 2-3p.m. so started our return journey. We were delighted to see that Corletta was abroad as we passed, and said our goodbyes and appreciation of her help and support during our stay in the Isle. She assured us that unlike some folk nearer the water, her well water was OK. Those with contaminated water needed to have their wells drained and treated with fluoride – quite something for people with no access to taps and mains. I noticed that her accent seemed far less ‘foreign’ to me now than it did in the month of August, ten weeks ago. As we approached the makeshift jetty, the woman we had spoken to on the bus walked out of a nearby house. Thinking that she was going to reassure us that despite the coastguards going to have their lunch for at least an hour she would make sure that a boat was going to get us back over the lagoon, we were most surprised when she said that her sister – long afflicted with diabetes which is pretty endemic in this culture – had died seconds after she had entered the house off the bus. She had been very ill for a long time, so her death was greeted with a mixture of sadness and relief. A boat needed to go over and back because she was a tall woman with a large frame, and a coffin needed to be brought in. As we had approached the Isle, a helicopter had been overhead, and we began to put two and two together: the doctor who had been called in, and who had eventually signed the death certificate. So our new acquaintance from the bus that morning, discussing experiences of travel around parts of the globe and across flooded lagoons, continued to discuss another sort of travel by members of her family…

Eventually we had a ride in a speedy outboard motorised boat together with another passenger and 5 empty gas cylinders used for cooking in these parts. Our fellow passenger gave us a lift in his car to the highway, where we caught a bus back to BC. It was good to have witnessed the Isle after all their difficulties, and very good to have said our goodbyes to that place which gave us much solace through the month of August.

And guess what! As we were pulling away from the landing stage in the car, a small turtle trundled across the road. And we still haven’t see a croc there!

A footnote. The waters in a village near Orange Walk have still not receded. The whole village has been evacuated for some weeks, and is considered to be a contaminated zone, with a danger of typhoid and other water-born diseases from stagnant waters. The government is considering dredging the mouth of the Belize River to help the drainage process. With the possible onset of climate change and a raising of sea levels, countries like Belize with a vast salt marsh just below sea level through the length of its eastern sea board would be very vulnerable. Furthermore, vast areas of agricultural land have been flattened by these floods. Produce grows during the rainy season; folk live off their produce, and the excess is sold in local markets. The effects of the extraordinary volume of rain here in October are going to be felt for some months to come. Equally in Scotland, the volume of rain this summer has been phenomenal. We do need to take climate change seriously.