Crooked Tree on map of Belize -- we live on Ambergris Caye
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.
We made reservations at the Crooked Tree Lodge
, a charming family-run place right on the Crooked Tree Lagoon. Mick and Angie run the lodge and live there with their two young sons and a menagerie of dogs. There are a handful of simple casitas of various sizes (starting at $60 US per night) with lovely water views; and delicious, colorful, healthy meals are cooked and served in the timberframe lodge. There is also an honor bar, where guests can grab a Belikin, a soda, or mix a drink on their own, listing their purchases in a notebook.
Getting there - always an adventure...
We planned to start our journey to Crooked Tree on the Wednesday 7:40 am water taxi to San Pedro town with our backpacks and Paisley. However, when the southbound boat arrived at the Grand Caribe dock, it was packed to the gills with people, mostly children, as this particular taxi serves as the "school bus" for the island. There was no room for us or another Grand Caribe owner-couple waiting with us, but the driver assured us that an additional boat would be along in a couple of minutes. Since normally the taxi runs only hourly (if that), we all thought that he was just telling us what we wanted to hear, a frequent occurrence in Belize. Barry and I were worried that our entire day could be messed up since we had multiple connections to make, and were already thinking of what our Plan B would be if another boat did not show up, and fast. Much to our surprise, within five minutes, another boat did pull up to the dock after all! And this time it was just Barry, Paisley, the other couple, and me in the boat. It was much more comfortable than the first one would have been!
Paisley and me waiting for the water taxi
It was already a warm morning
Once we got to San Pedro, we had adequate time to drop Paisley off at Pampered Paws for boarding and catch the 8:30 ferry to Belize City without having to run, as is sometimes the case. The 75-minute boat ride was uneventful, and we arrived in Belize City with time to spare before catching the Jex Bus to Crooked Tree at 10:50 am.
Finding the bus was another matter. From our research, we knew that the bus "terminal" should be on the other side of the famous swing bridge, but once we walked across, we saw no sign of it. We did see some other buses there, and upon asking some men standing around, learned that we had to walk a bit farther to find the Jex Bus. So it wasn't "just" on the other side of the bridge after all. We continued walking down the road, but all we saw was an old broken down bus a ways down, and it didn't even look like it was in running order. So we backtracked to a small hotel we'd just walked by and asked a nice lady inside the lobby if she knew where the Jex Bus terminal was. Turns out the "broken down" bus we'd seen down the road was indeed the Jex Bus! Yep, sometimes it's hard to "belize" things here!
The bus looked a bit sketchy, as did the building next door, and we had a bit of a wait, but it was all fine. Since there was nowhere else to sit, we went ahead and boarded the bus and waited the 45 minutes or so until departure, watching people come and go from the building next door. At some point they opened up the door, and it looked like some sort of a Lion's Club building or something similar, nothing as illicit as what my active imagination had conjured up!
Does this look like a bus terminal to you? It didn't to us!
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!
This cute little boy kept peeking at me -- he had such soulful eyes
Kids riding bus home from school
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.
On the road to Crooked Tree Lodge
The road to the lodge was well-marked with directional signs. Trees behind sign are cashew ("crooked") trees....
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?
The cashew seed in its shell hangs below the fruits on the cashew tree
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...
Entering the lodge grounds with Crooked Tree Lagoon in the background
This place is gorgeous -- but note the dark clouds overhead!
We checked in, and Angie showed us to our cabana. It was quite small and simply built but charming and perfectly fine for a short stay, with a nice tiled bath. There was no TV or air-conditioning (though there was a fan), so this is not the place for someone who requires those amenities. There is wi-fi, but we took a "laptop break" and didn't bring a computer since we were only staying for two nights.
Simple and rustic decor
Plenty of windows caught the breezes
Our little cabana
"Home Sweet Home" for two nights
Four pillows on the queen bed was a nice touch
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.
We were told that the lagoon waters come up to the level of the tree behind me during rainy season!
Local paddling canoe down lagoon
Although we hadn't made reservations since we didn't realize we should have, we asked Angie if we could have some lunch. She kindly obliged, serving up some yummy cold pasta salad, tossed salad, and fresh pineapple slices in the lodge. It looked beautiful and tasted delicious after our busy morning of travel.
Not too long after lunch, the wind kicked up, and we realized those dark clouds meant business.
Rain's a comin'
We sat on the porch of our cabana as a nice rain came down for quite some time. Once it stopped, the birds wasted little time coming out from their hiding places again, and we continued to watch them until almost dinnertime. We also took a walk back down the road to look for more birds. (Yes, we are rather obsessive, can't you tell?) In addition to birds, we saw several locals out and about on their bikes, especially kids riding after school. Everyone was super friendly, one of the things we love about Belize.
Birding before the rain came
Cute local boy riding his bike after the rainstorm
Had to put on my windbreaker during the rain!
We grabbed a Belikin from the honor bar and sat outside with some of the other lodge guests until 7pm, when dinner was served in the lodge.
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.
To be continued...