We left Belize City after a short drive around, and a stop at the local "Save U" for some groceries/snacks for the day. We drove along the Northern Hwy towards Orange Walk, with our destination being Crooked Tree. Crooked Tree is the village where the Biltons spent most of their time when in Belize, so we were all looking forward to getting there. But first, we took a detour to check out our first set of Mayan ruins - Altun Ha. We took the old Northern Hwy to get there. After being only mildly harrassed by some random guy to pay $5US each for a tour, we set off on our own.
The main part of Altun Ha is the ceremonial section, which has been excavated, and extensively cleaned. The lawns were well manicured (apparently by one guy with a push mower?!) which is considered a bit too much by some people...Anyway, Joe and Ben pretty much sprinted to the top of the first ruin, while Sarah and I took some photos, then made our way up to the top. The first ruin made for some pretty nice views and pictures! We slowly made our way around,
admiring the large temples. The main temple at Altun Ha is pictured on some of the belizian currency, as well as the local (and delicious) Belikin beer. In between temple climbing, we decided to truck out to the ancient reservoir that would have supported up to 10, 000 Mayans at its peak. The reservoir wasn't that exciting, but I'm still glad we went to see it.
Once we were finished our self tour we used the facilities, and were lucky enough to find an ice cream truck in the pretty much empty parking lot! Perfect because we were all roasting from our first day in the sun! Too bad we didn't think to take any ice cream truck pictures - it even played that annoying song over and over again....
When we were finished at Altun Ha, we headed back to the main highway. About half way back, we were surprised to see a fair sized forest fire had began in the heat. We watched it flare up, and could feel the heat from inside the car, so we urged Ben to get going! No locals seemed to concered, and later that night when we mentioned it
to someone, he didn't seem too worried, and said that it happened all the time. Often, by main roads, people will burn the brush by the road side to keep the snakes off the road I think. We did see a few more brush fires burning throughout our trip, but none were that close.
Home Sweet Home
As soon as we turned on to the causeway towards Crooked Tree, the boys seemed to get excited. They were buzzing about trying to remember when they came down, but mostly re-telling the stories about the road from their dad - apparently the first time, the road was covered in about 2 ft of water, and someone came out and walked in front of the car to lead them along the road. I believe it was the second return to Crooked Tree when the axel actually fell off the camping trailor because it got so stuck in the mud. We made it safely with no water or mud.
Joe started snapping pictures, and to be honest, at the time I wasn't that impressed that he was taking so many pictures that pretty much looked the same, of a boring, bumpy road.
But now that we've been home, and have shown the pictures to his family, the pictures of the causeway leading to Crooked Tree seem to bring back alot of memories. Most often, his siblings are surprised that there are hydro poles following the causeway to the village.
We drove slowly through the village getting feel for it, Sarah and I bouncing in the back seat, while the boys pointed out things they remembered, and wondered about. We passed their old school, and a few other vaguely familiar buildings before arriving at the Bird's Eye View Lodge. Before we left Canada, Ben had emailed the Lodge and had mentionned that his family had lived in Crooked Tree 20 years ago. He told them the week we would be in Belize, but had not set an official arrival date. Apparently, people did not soon forget the Bilton family, and word had already spread that the Biltons were coming! We learned once we checked in, that people had been calling to see if we had arrived. Vera (the owner) was excited to see old pictures we had brought, and called in Stephanie to meet us (Stephanie lived next door to the Biltons).
It was amazing to hear their memories people had of all the children running around!
Re-living the lagoon
We settled into our rooms, and the boys decided to go for a swim in the lagoon to re-live some old memories. I was tempted to go because it was so warm, and a cool dip would have been refreshing, but quite honestly, I was pretty disgusted by all the gross weeds and murky water. I hope the water was cleaner 20 years ago, because that's where the kids used to bathe! When the boys were finished their little dip, we enjoyed our "welcome juice" on the sun deck, and took some time to relax for a bit.
We decided to go for a short walk around the village before dinner, to see if we could find the house the boys had lived in. Joe and I were waiting in the parking lot for Ben and Sarah when two older women approched us. One of them asked Joe his name. She knew him right away, and showed us her copy of the Bilton family picture taken 4 years ago at Christmas! It was Sonia, the Jex's helper, who
Causeway to Crooked Tree
Most of Joe's older siblings and his dad, were really amazed to see this road, and especially the hydro poles!
had taken care of Joe when he was 4! By then, Ben and Sarah came out, and Ben went back to get the old pictures. Sonia, Marilyn and Eric were able to help name people in the pictures, and to say what a lot of them were doing now. We told them a bit about what the Biltons were up to, they were all very disapointed to hear it was just 2 Biltons who had made the trip, and that Jim wasn't there.
We were invited by Sonia and Eric to go and see the church the Biltons had gone to. Inside, Joe and Ben ended up picking up the guitars and playing with Eric for a while. After, Sonia took us over to the Jex's. We were lucky enough to catch Dale and Gerry for a quick photo. Mr. & Mrs. Jex have both passed away since the Biltons were there.
We went back to the Birds Eye View for a delicious home-cooked dinner of BBQ Chicken, pork, shrimp, beans, coconut shrimp, tortillas and mac n' cheese. While Vera was welcoming the guests, she made special mention of people who had returned to
Ben and Joe in the lagoon
I couldn't beleive how gross this water looked...
Crooked Tree after 20 years. All the other guests were looking around, trying to figure out who it was she was talking about, so when Vera finally said it was our table, I think most of the guests were shocked because we were by far the youngest people there!
Weslyan Church Welcome
We had been invited back to the church for the evening service. We arrived late after dinner, and of course all eyes turned to the 4 strange white people walking in to the small church. Between songs, the minister, Clarence, welcomed us. Eric (who was playing guitar on stage) must of explained to Clarence who we were during the next song because after that, it seemed that between every song, or scripture, Clarence had another memory to share. He seemed shocked to have Ben and Joe there. After the service, we met Verla, who was Sam's teacher. We also had a chance to speak more with Eric, and with Clarence and his family. The more we chatted, the more everyone seemed to remember.
As an outsider, this whole afternoon was an amazing experience. To see how welcoming the Belizian people are, and even more to learn
so much about Joe and his family. It was so awesome to see the look on people's faces when they heard who Ben and Joe were, and that they had come back, grown up so much! Really a day I will never forget!
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