On the way to Crooked Tree

Our need to renew our batteries outside of the city was keen, and we made a plan to catch the bus the following morning, going up the Northern Highway this time and travel about 50 miles to the turning to Crooked Tree. We didn’t want to make the mistake of the previous weekend and do too much walking or sitting in buses and aggravate Conor’s prostate, so we had decided to just go there, and either bus back again  that night or find a cheap B&B. The bus we caught eventually terminated at Chetumal, on the Mexican Border, and travelled through Orange Walk – the second biggest town in Belize – and Corozal. So there were lots of people coming and going on the bus, more stops than on the Western Highway.

Just before we got to our alighting point, we saw what I thought maybe pink flamingos in a swamp, but I later learned that they were roseate spoonbills. Of course – they had wide ends to their beaks. And loads of white egrets stand throughout the swamp lands. Then the skies opened and torrential rain fell in bucket loads. I noticed that not only was the visibility almost zilch, but also the driver’s wiper didn’t work across the inevitably cracked windscreen. I also noticed that there was no appreciable change in his speed! Time not to look too hard…

There’s etiquette in the buses. As soon as any rain comes, all windows get firmly shut because even the tiniest opening causes showers of water over people as the speed and pressure of the falling rain is so great. It eased, and then the conductor told us we were there. As it was still raining slightly, we joined the others who had got off the bus and entered the shelter. We were quite a crowd: 3 women of predominantly Mestizos origin, who had about 7 children of various ages between them, and a young Creole woman who had two tinies and an infant wrapped in blankets. The rain descended again so we all huddled together in the far corner of the shelter avoiding the slanting cascade outside. I asked if they knew when the next bus up to Crooked Tree was due, about 3 miles along an unpaved road. The bus which left BC an hour after us would go there, but they said they got the earlier one because sometimes folk going up in their cars are willing to take passengers. So we knew we had up to an hour to wait, till about 12 noon. The rain eased again, and the party spread out. The children and adults were all sitting around the walls of the shelter and looked a treat. I asked them if I could take a photo – have a look! And the children loved looking at themselves in the viewer once it was taken, too.

The younger of the new mum’s two little girls was the type that enjoyed riling her older sister, and her mother was not very patient. In fact, people here are generally pretty impatient with children, a bit like the 1960s in the UK, when a harsh word or clip round the ear would accompany a child slow to put her flip-flops back onto her feet. I started a conversation with the young mother, and discovered that her baby had only come out of hospital on the Thursday. He was a month old, and had been born by a C-section as his mother had had high blood pressure. He had weighed one and a half pounds. That explained why the babe was bundled up with a hat and a blanket in the sticky heat. She tenderly opened the bundle, and there was the tiniest baby I have ever seen. His face was about the size of my fist, with barely any flesh on it at all. She said that she wanted to get the baby in out of the rain, and was returning to her home in Crooked Tree to collect her things. Her next words were all too familiar. She explained that the children’s father was not behaving as well as he should, and when she gave him money on Thursday to buy especially rich babies’ milk, he took it for liquor, and pushed her while she was holding the baby. She had left for her mother’s in BC, but now needed to collect some things.

Time moved slowly, and acutely aware of our privileges in the face of the people’s lives that we were sharing so intimately, we checked our guidebook for a B&B, took out our mobile phone, arranged for a bed for the night and a pick up. We asked the driver if we could give the woman and her little ones a lift up too, to which he gave no objection. I got in the back first, and she handed the tiny thing to me before lifting up the girls. As I held him I could feel his wheezy breathing vibrating against my palm. I hope that that little family is OK.