Crooked Tree

15 06 2010

Only 2 weeks in and already falling behind on my blog. Poor form, Winterbottom. Not that I have much of a readership anyway…thanks for reading, Mom.

So this past weekend I ventured inland, to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, about 80 clicks northwest of Belize City. It’s actually a two-in-one prize, because in addition to the mosaic of lagoons and swamps comprising the protected area, there is also a sleepy Creole village with about 700 inhabitants. It was originally settled in the mid-1700s as part of the trade in indigo dyes, and is considered the oldest inland European settlement in Belize.

I stayed at a family run lodge, hosted by three generations of the wonderful Tillett family. Their existence truly is a cross between serenity and chaos: with mangy dogs and kittens sunning themselves in the front yard, chickens wandering aimlessly pecking at will, horses lazily munching on mangos and grandkids running circles around each other squealing in delight. I instantly bonded with Ms. Gloria, or Granny, a real firecracker with sparkly eyes and an incredibly kind smile that instantly reminded me of my own Baba. Lived in Crooked Tree 52 years, where she and her husband raised a family of 11, ELEVEN, kids. A combination of wow and ouch.

The village happens to be situated on a goldmine, not literally, just in my opinion. Its dusty clay roads are lined with cashew and mango trees. Two of my most favourite things…SCORE!Cashew harvesting is the major source of income and holy what a work intensive process. I thought there were only nuts, but oh no, there are cashew APPLES as well, from which the nut dangles. So in addition to the nuts you get stewed cashews (very sweet, definitely a dessert option), cashew wines, cashew jam…I am never going to look at a cashew the same again.

Vermillion Flycatcher @ Crooked Tree

Besides cashew and mangoes, the major draw to Crooked Tree is the bird life. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, I missed the prime birding season, which held promises of Jabiru storks – the largest flying bird in the Western Hemisphere. D’oh. I was still treated to a birding extravaganza: olivaceous comorants, Muscovy ducks, limpkins, jacanas, black & turkey vultures, ringed kingfishers, rufous hummingbirds, grey hawks, acorn woodpeckers, vermillion & social flycatchers, seedeaters, white fronted parrots, tropical kingbirds, kiskadees, bat falcons, and blue-grey tanagers to name but a few. Was pleased to see familiar faces from home in the form of red-winged blackbirds and Northern cardinals. The continuous symphony of bird songs provided a nice lullaby ambience, with the exception of the obnoxious squawking of the parrots.

I hired a guide, Ruben, to acquaint me with all things natural. This guy, when in his element, is literally a human encyclopedia. His knowledge of birds was mind blowing – he could see a shadow of a bird like 50 m away and ID it without hesitation. His knowledge extends well beyond all things avian and I got the rundown of local botanical features, especially those used in “bush medicine”, a historical overview of the area and some keen insight into Belize’s current day socio-political issues. A real gem that fella.

As it is rainy season, I experienced some pretty epic thunderstorms while out there. Was lucky enough to even get caught in one. My makeshift raincoat made of leaves did not serve me well, but did get me covered in ants. You win this round, rain. I was thankful for the opportunity the rain provided to finally relax, catch up on reading and write in my journal. I feel like everything’s been so hectic and GO-GO-GO lately. It’s a good way to start the week: rested, relaxed and rejuvenated.

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