In researching various destinations in Belize, we knew we'd have to pay a visit to the village of Crooked Tree, because it is known as a birding hot spot, particularly in April, during spring migration. We love watching, identifying (or attempting to identify), and photographing birds, so we didn't want to let this month go by without a visit. We were particularly excited about the possibility of seeing the Jabiru Stork, the tallest bird in the Americas. Jabirus arrive in the late fall to nest in Crooked Tree, and we were excited by the possibility of viewing some before they migrated to their summer grounds in June.
Crooked Tree is said to be named for its many cashew trees (which do have a rather crooked, multi-branched habit) by early logwood cutters boating on the Belize River and Black Creek to what is now the Crooked Tree Lagoon (source: Lonely Planet). It's a small, sleepy village with a sparse full-time population, but fortunately, one of the "chicken bus" lines in Belize, Jex, runs a daily bus to the village. Since we are traveling on a budget in order to see as much of Belize as possible, this sounded perfect to us. We'd take the ferry to Belize City, then grab the bus to Crooked Tree and avoid car rental and taxi charges.
Barry, Jex Bus to Crooked Tree, and mystery building beside it
The bus ride to Crooked Tree took about an hour and fifteen minutes and was interesting, as locals got onto and off of the bus frequently all along the way, though it was never very crowded. For once, we each had a seat to ourselves, helpful since we had to share our seats with our backpacks. At one point a large number of adorable little children got on, going home from school. Naturally they had incredible amounts of energy, running, laughing, and shrieking, but finally the bus attendant got them settled down and into separate seats to calm them. The bus made frequent stops after that to let them off. The bus ride from Belize City to Crooked Tree set us back a whopping $3.50 BZD ($1.75 US) each!
The road to the lodge was well-marked with directional signs. Trees behind sign are cashew ("crooked") trees....
Crooked Tree Village
Finally, we were let off in the village of Crooked Tree, and hiked down the unpaved road to the Crooked Tree Lodge. As soon as we stepped off the bus, we began seeing (and hearing) numerous birds, so it took a lot longer to get there than we expected, as we kept stopping to view birds with our binoculars. It would have been about a twelve minute walk had we just walked without stopping to bird watch.
The cashew seed in its shell hangs below the fruits on the cashew tree
Cashews, a very interesting "nut"
We were fascinated by the many cashew trees we saw along the way to the lodge. The scent of the fruit was in the air, and it was easy to see the cashew shell itself hanging below the fruits. Inside the shell is the seed, which is what we think of as the actual cashew "nut" that we eat. In order to extract these "nuts", the shells have to be roasted first. I now realize why cashews are so expensive. Can you imagine how many of these fruits with shells have to be picked to make a can of shelled cashews?
Crooked Tree Lodge
Finally, we arrived at the lodge, and it was an absolutely stunning setting. I knew I had picked the right place the minute I laid eyes on it. It was the perfect place to get away from it all, with birds everywhere, a shady canopy of beautiful trees; lush, green lawn, flowers, and shrubs. See for yourself...
After getting settled in our cabana, we walked around the grounds and did more birding. We were amazed at the number and variety of both shore and field/woodland birds we saw and were already adding to our life lists. I looked them up in the Birds of Belize book and jotted down the species we identified, and Barry snapped photos. We'll have a separate blog entry with bird photos as there are too many to include here.
Dinner is served family-style, and there were two tables of guests eating. We sat with an interesting family from Seattle with two boys and enjoyed chatting with them about Seattle and Belize while we dined on vegetable soup, two pastas, and salad. Dessert was a piping hot bread pudding right from the oven. (Sadly, we neglected to take photos; I guess we were really starving!) Everything was homemade and delicious. After showers and some reading, we hit the hay early in order to be ready for an early morning and full day of birding the next day.
Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos on the BeBelize Blog