Exploring Mexico’s wonders

It’s been said that travel is the greatest cure of ignorance.

I have found this to be true.

My wife and I were married in 2004. Mexico was our dream honeymoon destination. At the time of our wedding, we were in the process of buying a house. My loving and generous grandparents made us an offer. Either they would send us to Mexico, or they would give us the equivalent cost of the trip in cash to use toward the down payment of our first home.

We took the money.

Having decided to wait five years before trying to add to our family, we thought we’d just go to Mexico the following winter. Three months later we were expecting. Bailee was born in June. Annabel followed 13 months later. We never made it to Mexico.

When Bill Cooper, one of Missouri’s most accomplished outdoor writers, asked if I’d be interested in joining him on a trip to the Yucatán Peninsula to chase ocellated turkeys, I had only one question, “May my wife come?”

On March 5, after nearly 11 years of waiting, Melissa and I were finally on our way to Mexico. We landed in Cancún late in the afternoon and immediately hopped in a passenger van headed to Mérida. This is when my Mexican ignorance began to rapidly deteriorate.

Based on the media I and most Americans are exposed to, I held preconceived, negative notions about Mexico. It was my misconception that Mexico, outside the Las Vegas-style resort areas, was a dangerous place.

To the contrary, Mexico is a wonderful, beautiful and diverse land. There are areas of dirt-poor poverty and areas of exquisite extravagance. As we traveled the peninsula, passing through small villages and walking city streets at night, I never once felt unsure of my wife’s safety or my own.

Mérida is the largest city in the Yucatán Peninsula. It is the capital of the state of Yucatán. Mexico has states. I didn’t know that. We stayed in an old, elegant, colonial hotel with a beautiful open courtyard from which you could stare at two towers of the Mérida Cathedral, which was built in the 16th century.

In Mérida, we met up with Maya Amazing Adventures. Rueben Encalada, the public relations director, sure knows how to plan a trip to expose outdoor enthusiasts to the natural and man-made treasures of the Yucatán.

Our tour guides were Pancho, 38, a local who teaches recreation and tourism classes at a college, and Lisa, 19, an intern from Austria. Lisa was promptly nicknamed “Lefty,” so our tour guides were Pancho and Lefty.

We spent the next two days touring Mayan archaeological sites, swimming in cenotes, exploring coastal wildlife refuges, eating incredible food and enjoying outstanding company.

Mayapan was my favorite site. It has more than 4,000 structures around the Temple of Kukulcan. Cenotes are water-filled sinkholes. You’re basically swimming in a cave full of crystal clear water.

We took a boat from the fishing village of Dzilam de Bravo to Parque Natural San Felipe. Pink flamingos were everywhere, providing an incredible bird watching and photography opportunities. Fresh, line-caught fried grouper, a chilled octopus cocktail and a couple of cervezas beers served seaside was just one of the meals I won’t soon forget.

From Mérida, we traveled to Campeche, where we met up with Roberto Sansores of Snook Inn Hunting and Fishing. Roberto’s father, Jorge Sansores, is a legend of ocellated turkey hunting. He’s been outfitting on the Yucatán Peninsula for more than 50 years. He prides himself on helping hunters achieve the World Slam, which is accomplished by shooting all six subspecies of wild turkey.

Jorge’s camp is located in the small village of Carlos Cano Cruz, about an hour outside of Campeche. The accommodations are perfectly adequate for an authentic Mexican hunting adventure.

The food at Snook Inn is better than anything I’ve ever experienced in a hunting or fishing camp. One night, we had all the stone crab claws we could eat. Then for dessert we enjoyed pineapple drizzled with honey and rum.

The turkey hunting takes place in agricultural fields surrounded by dense jungle. Jaguars roam these fields. Ocellated turkeys often come through in flocks. The first morning five gobblers came in front of me, and I ended my hunt before sunrise with a single shot. The beauty of the ocellated turkey is in its colors. A shimmering aqua and bronze body is highlighted by a tail fan with each feather hosting an eye of blue.

I spent the second morning behind the lens of my camera. More than 100 turkeys in a single flock flew down in front of my blind. The next hour was mesmerizing.

Everything I ever dreamed about Mexico came true. It’s not a scary place. Mexico is an amazing country I will return to again and again.

For more information on hunting ocellated turkeys, visit snookinnhunting.com.mx. For more information about adventure tours in the Yucatán, visit mayamazing.com.

See you down the trail.