It was a hunt I'd wanted to make since seing an Ocellated turkey the first time. The cerulean spots for which the bird is named, the bronzed tip and gold saddle, make the bird among the most beautiful. I expected Mexico. But the adventure was unlike anything I expected; it was like being immersed in the pages of a National Geographic. A week spent ocellated turkey hunting
in Edzna's shadow is one I'll long remember.
It started in Merida, Ciudad Blanco
, the White City. We had in the historic district downtown, near Catedral de la Plaza Mayor
, the oldest in North America. The Spaniards built the structure, by my estimate, about the time the pilgrims were making do in squat, 4-feet log cabins. Across the square filled with locals enjoying the cool night air, vendors from further inland and performers was a building that was originally a bank built in 1540. Through the interpreter our host explained that the hand-carved stone facade explained Mexico's history perfectly: it depicted conquistadors standing on the severed heads of Mayans.
Yucatecan food is its own unique style and is very different from what most people would consider "Mexican" food. It includes influences from the local Mayan culture. Pavo en Relleno Negro
is turkey meat stew cooked with a black paste made from roasted chiles, a local version of the mole de guajalote
found throughout Mexico, and the pavo ocellato the old man, father and grandfather to our guides, made with my second was by far my favorite meal and a fitting tribute to an ocellated turkey hunt. Panuchos
feature fried tortillas filled with black beans and topped with beef, pork or chicken. Flank and onions, pork and sauteed serrano peppers, chicken with mole sauce. Habanero chile sauce accompanied most dishes, a little goes a long ways, along with fresh limes and hand-made corn tortillas. Fresh fruit is a staple, because they can just walk to a tree or vine and pick it year-round, and was served each lunch and dinner. In addition to papaya, watermelon, pineapple, and sour orange, we had mamom
, a couple Mayan fruits I'd never heard of previously, and a juice from a local red flower they called jamecain
The region is extremely flat with little or no topographic variation. Forests consist of evergreen, semi-deciduous and drough-deciduous species. While there are several interpretations of Campeche
, the most fitting was "logwood", a chief export. The woodlands we hunted in had been harvested at some point in the past, we relatively low and interspersed with agricultural crops of grains, seeds, sisal, sugar cane, or pastures. Woody plants bearing spines or thorns were prevalent and Acacias, Cassias and Mimosas seemed to be the principle trees; but I recognized only mesquite and wisache by name. There were very large trees that were generally half-again taller than the surrounding forest canopy. The ancient Maya believed that a great Ceiba
tree stood at the center of the earth, connecting the terrestrial world to the spirit-world above. These magnificent trees are regularly spared when forests are cut -- it is a common event to see lone, isolated Ceiba trees spreading their massive canopy high above a pasture or agricultural field, relicts of the primeval forests that once covered the entire region.
Throughout the week, the Edzna ruins peeked over the trees. It put the entire experience into its full and proper context.
Guides were of direct Mayan descent, the best woodsmen I've ever seen. In the absence of industrial noise poluution, their eyesight and hearing were keen. I witnessed two whispering to each other at a distance of no less than 100 yards, trying I guess to pinpoint the exact location of cantor
, the singer, and had I not witnessed it I'd have never believed it. I could barely hear the one standing next to me, let alone the one at the distance. While walking through a pasture overgrown with thorny wisache enroute to a water hole, the guide pointed to the cattle trail packed hard as pavement and whispered pavo
. I was impressed he could read the turkey tracks. I could barely discern them on close inspection, and was convinced that it was probably just my imagination. I later realized he was telling me that there was one ahead of us when the turkey flushed and flew wide of us about 60 yards.
Prior to daybreak we had walked a mile into the low forest on a winding cattle trail to listen for pavo to sing. I heard more doves at sunrise than I've heard anywhere outside of Cordoba, Argentina (headed back there in October to see if it's really as good as it sounded, more on that later). There was a loud, unfamiliar sound behind us. Que?
I had asked, pointing curiously towards the sound. Tigre
, he replied with a dismissive wave. Jaguar.
When pavo finally sang, we began towards him. Ducking and bobbing through thorn-covered limbs, we'd stop and I'd notice Gasper's lips pursed in a whistle that I couldn't quite hear. Soon enough, pavo's songs grew louder and I realized he'd turned the ocellated with his whistling. The little bird was on fire, and each time he sang he had closed the distance by half. We jumped into a thicket. Gasper laid flat on his stomach, pulled his camo shirt over his head, covering all but his beard and eyebrows. And then I heard the ancient Maya-like drumming that precedes the musical lyrics one can hear much farther away and knew, even though I could scarcely see 5 yards, that pavo was near. Very near. My heart was pounding and when Gasper placed his hand on my back, I was certain he could hear the turkey's footsteps, probably even see him, or sense him in some indian way, and I fought back the urge to wipe the sweat that was stinging my eyes. Pat's shot from a mile away roared across the flat topography and pavo quit singing. It was a few minutes later yet that my racing pulse abated.
The plan, as was explained before sunrise in a flurried staccato of hand motions and espanol, was simple: we'd wait until 7 for the bird to sing and if that didnt work, we'd hide in the wisache near the livestock tank and wait on pavo to come to water. It worked. Pavo sang his heart out and when we'd approached closely enough that I could hear that ancient drum beating, I knew this was finally it. We slithered the last few yards on our bellies and when I took a knee and peaked around the termite nest that blocked pavo view, I waited only long enough to watch him sing one final song before pulling the trigger. After 4 days I realized that Ocellateds can sometimes be called in, that they are not Easterns, Merriams, Rios, Gould's or Oceloas, that you kill them when you see them, and that there is strange sense of accomplishment in stalking them as they've been hunted since ancient times. Especially in the shadow of Edzna.More Photos: GetDucks.com Ocellated Turkey Hunting Gallery More Information: Ocellated Turkey Hunts