How One U.S. Carpenter Secured a Slice of Paradise

It was while sailing up the Moho River in Belize that Chris Crowell spotted his future. His 40-foot skipjack schooner, Juanita, was cutting through the calm waters as he rounded a point…and saw an abandoned jungle farm for sale.

“Looming high above this beautiful property was a huge cotton tree. My breath was taken away and I knew this was where I should be,” says Chris.

This wasn’t his first trip to Belize. Chris had discovered the region in 1979 while traveling from Guatemala to Mexico.

“At that time it was simply a means of getting from point A to point B. But the wondrous natural resources and the mystique of the predominantly Mayan district resonated with me,” he says.

Chris hadn’t planned to live in Belize. In fact, he really didn’t start out with any plan…just a dream to do something different. “In 1988 I started a small, sailing charter company called ‘Timeless Tours’ and set sail for Belize from Florida,” says Chris. “At the time, my sailboat had no motor—everything depended on the wind—so the tours really were timeless!”

After his initial sailing trip to Belize, Chris returned each year to take tourists on trips into the Bay of Honduras and up the Moho River. “Sailing in the tropics instead of working in winter as a carpenter in New England was a no-brainer,” says Chris. “And I loved the simplicity of Belize.”

It was on one of his chartered sailing trips that Chris found his new home. “But for 10 years I did little more than maintain the fruit trees, dreaming of what could be,” says Chris.

Then in 2000 he moved to Belize permanently. He was going to turn the abandoned farm into the Cotton Tree Lodge—an eco-lodge surrounded by lush rainforest.

It wasn’t without its challenges.

“I had to adjust to the cultural differences and learn to live with fewer conveniences than I was accustomed to. The rewards, however, make it worthwhile.

“Living here gives me the opportunity to have more control over the outcome of my day, and the commute to work is great. Each day is different. There is always an adventure waiting to happen,” says Chris. His “commute” is a short walk along a wooden boardwalk through a lush rainforest, accompanied by the sounds of howler monkeys in the distance.

Chris has been able to create a comfortable lifestyle without spending a lot of money. “We have a garden that supplies fruit and vegetables for our meals,” says Chris. “The climate is tropical, which is perfect for the plants. We have goats that supply milk for fresh goat’s cheese and the chickens keep us supplied with eggs.”

Chris has just bought another 22 acres of riverfront property for under $8,000 and is building a tree house there: “I am building a simple structure…a place to escape to now and then. I may eventually rent it out, but right now it is just for me…”

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