A coatimundi is biting my leg.
"Hombre, bueno," he congratulated as he exited the thick and handed me the coatimundi by the tail. The weasel-like animal was heavier than I thought it would be, and I immediately dropped it. At the impact with the ground, the coatimundi suddenly sprang to life, thrashing violently and lunging toward my leg. I screamed and jumped backward. The angry rat lunged forward once again, its teeth bared and ready to bite. Rather than help me, Mencho laughed, saying something about his dinner attacking me.
I hadn't come to the Yucatan Jungle to hunt coatimundis (or be attacked by them). I had come to hunt oscillated turkey and other jungle fowl. But as Mencho wanted a jungle raccoon for supper, I felt I should oblige. Who knew his dinner choice would try to bite me?
Things that bite are just one of the many dangers in the Yucatan Jungle near Campeche, Mexico. In addition to biting coatimundis, there are poisonous and biting insects, thorn-and briar-laced vegetation, and intolerable heat and humidity. There are also feces-throwing primates, snakes and quicksand-like mud. I experienced all this and then some for more than a week with a guide who understood almost nothing I said or did.
LEARNING THE JUNGLE
Located along the Yucatan Peninsula, the Campeche Biosphere Zone is one of the largest jungle areas on Earth. The area's rich mixture of low to high tropical jungle covers parts of five Mexican states and three countries. Despite being home to a number of game species and several species of bird, Campeche is relatively unknown to most hunters outside of Mexico, which is a shame considering the stark beauty and adventurous hunting the area can provide.
The area I was hunting was leased by Alfredo Lamadrid and operated by his company, Balam, which translates to "jaguar" in the language of the area's first inhabitants, the Mayan. While not Mayan-like in grandeur or architecture, Balam's jungle camp was clean, dry and extremely comfortable--all that matters when in the jungle, far from civilization. My guide, Mencho, who spoke almost no English, was accommodating and eager to do whatever he could to provide me with a terrific experience and a great hunt from day one.
It took slightly less than two hours by open-topped four-wheel-drive Jeep to reach the hunting area our first day. During the trip, I was completely lost in the sights, sounds and smells of the jungle. Monkeys thrashed branches and flew limb over limb from one side of the narrowly cut road to the other. Birds sang, howled and cried hundreds of different songs, and the air smelled of rot and faded floral perfume.
Once at the hunting area, I did all that I could to keep up with Mencho as he led me through the jungle. I stepped where he stepped, paused when he paused, ducked when he ducked and stood baffled and unaware of what he was pointing at when he pointed at anything. The first time he pointed at something I almost missed seeing a tapir crash through the brush. The second time he pointed at something it was the brown snake I was stepping on. Not knowing the word for "poisonous," I asked if the snake was "bad."
"Si, no bueno."
As I would later repeat in the hunt with the ravaging coatimundi, I screamed and jumped backward.
OF TURKEYS AND TOILETS
I was still contemplating the snake when Mencho dropped to the jungle floor and again pointed at something. Try as I might, I couldn't see anything other than green foliage. I gestured my lack of findings with a shrug of my shoulders. Mencho pointed again, trained my head in the right direction and whispered, "Turd-kee" (While I appreciated Mencho's attempt at English, the visual he inadvertently presented was pretty gross). Finally, through the deep green tapestry, I could just make out a pale blue head covered with mango-colored caruncles bobbing up and down in stride. After I counted aloud three birds, Mencho pressed me to shoot the one toward the rear. I paused to make certain of the target, then fired my 12 gauge. At the fall of the turkey, Mencho licked his lips and said, "Caldo" (soup). That night success smiled again when I was able to take a second turkey, a real monster, pavo grande, with an emerald and aqua-colored fan and almost two inches of spur.
After a great day of success, the next day turned out to be somewhat of a let-down, if not humiliating and dangerous as well. Following a poor morning of hunting in which the only activity we saw was a black howler monkey throwing caca at us, Mencho and I hurried back to camp for a fast lunch. The plan was to eat quickly before heading back into the jungle for an afternoon hunt. I was apparently in too much of a hurry, as I forgot about how weathered the outdoor latrine was and fell down on it like I was in my bathroom back home. The rotted wood gave way, and I fell backward and through the latrine all the way to the bottom. After climbing out, I decided to spend the rest of the day drinking beer in the river that ran near camp rather than hunting. Perhaps catching a whiff of me, Mencho didn't argue with my plan.
AFTER CURASAW AND GUAN CALDO
My next bird in the big three of jungle fowl came about through sheer luck. It was the third day of my jungle safari when Mencho and I were headed to an area known (to him) for holding a large number of crested guan. We had just begun cutting a trail toward a distant water hole when something in the thick caught Mencho's eye. In a flash he pointed his machete at the distant object and gestured for me to vamonos. We had only run a few yards when I finally spotted the source of his excitement--a two-to three-foot-tall, brownish-black, Mohawk-wearing blur darting through the brush. Behind it was a blur of reddish-brown with hints of aquamarine toward the rear. Just as I was thinking there was no way we were going to be able to keep up with the blurs, Mencho ordered in broken English, "Chute! Chute!"
I raised my 12 gauge and fired out of pure instinct, but I somehow still managed to hit the rear curassow hen dead center. Mencho congratulated me over and over again, all the while licking his lips at the sight of the bird.
After securing my bird in Mencho's pack, we continued deep into the jungle to a stagnant water hole enveloped by the charred remains of a fire. Whereas the rest of the jungle was a palette of green, the area surrounding the water hole was a study in black, charcoal and gray. Mencho was pointing out some brocket deer tracks when he suddenly spotted a gaggle of crested guan at the edge, where the green met the char. He immediately grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into a stalk toward the birds.
The going was slow and arduous given the deep mud and tapir wallows along the way. We had no sooner hit the outer edge of burned trees when the birds exploded into flight. I threw the shotgun to my shoulder, trained on the closest male and fired. At the shot, Mencho was off chasing down the bird as it fell through the jungle canopy like a ball in a pachinko machine. He returned with a large male guan with a blood-red throat wattle and feathers so black they almost appeared purple in the splotched sunlight of the jungle. He simply stared at the bird with a smile that said, You'll make a fantastic meal.
SOUP DU JOUR
Two hours later found me sitting in my favorite pool in the river drinking lukewarm cans of Modelo beer. It was a relaxing spot, and the fact that I was no longer washing latrine remnants off me made this dip all the more relaxing. Some 100 yards above the nearest bank, the camp's chef toiled under the shade of his palapa cooking a rich caldo composed of, well, a little bit of everything I'd shot thus far. The soup was heavy with peppers, garlic and cilantro, and every now and again I'd catch the slightest hint of its aroma as it floated down and over the river. Not far from the cooking palapa, Mencho sat on the jungle floor caring for my birds and preparing them for shipment. Despite our language barrier and our reasons for wanting the birds, Mencho had performed his assigned duties wonderfully, allowing me to take the big three in three days.
Perfectly content with my hunt thus far, I popped another Modelo and gave thought to what the next few days would bring. Maybe I'd be lucky enough to take white-lipped peccary or a jungle cougar. Or maybe even get another glimpse at a tapir or spot the ever elusive jaguar. But never in my wildest fantasies had I ever pictured myself yelling, "A coatimundi is biting my leg!"
RELATED ARTICLE: PLANNING THE TRIP
The best times for hunting Campeche is from March to mid-May. This is just after the rainy season and prior to the intolerable summer heat. Hunting for jungle fowl such as ocellated turkey, great curassow, crested guan, chachlaca and scaled pigeon, as well as smaller mammals such as coatimundi, paca and aguti, is good throughout this period. Hunting larger mammals such as jungle puma, white-lipped and collared peccary, red and gray brockett, and whitetail deer is easier toward the end of the season when tracks can be found at the few remaining water holes.
The jungle is a harsh, hot and humid environment. At times it seemed as though everything I encountered either stung, bit, scratched or clawed at me. Clothing should be light enough for the elements, but strong enough to offer protection from thorns and insects. My clothing from J.L. Powell--jlpowellusa.com, gaiters from Texas Hunt Co.--texashuntco.com and Safari PH boots from Russell Moccasin--russellmoccasin.com excelled against the elements and all the things that bite.
While many outfitters operate in Campeche, I went with the highly recommended Balam Outfitters--balammexico.com, owned and operated by Alfredo Lamadrid. I could not have been happier with my choice. Alfredo took care of every detail, including hotel reservations and transportation issues before and after my hunt.
As bringing weapons into Mexico is a headache at best, I strongly recommend borrowing a shotgun from your outfitter. Balam had several models from which I could choose, and all were well cared for, as I would expect.
Trophies are dipped, salted and packaged by the outfitter (the only exception being jungle cougar) for return to the United States. Transportation and import papers are also prepared by the outfitter. I brought all my birds into the States with absolutely no problem, thanks to the papers prepared for me. Alfredo is also a lawyer and handled all paperwork meticulously.
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|Author:||Young, Gayne C.|
|Article Type:||Travel narrative|
|Date:||May 1, 2010|
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