By Bill Cooper
The hot, humid air of Mexico struck me square in the face, as I cleared the door of the 747 jet in Merida, in the Yucatan. The sweltering heat became the focal point of our crew’s lives over the course of a weeklong adventure in the jungles of the Yucatan with TanKab Outfitters.
Jordi Gene, owner of TanKab, and Sergio Munoz, operations manager, greeted us at the airport with wide open arms and big grins. The time approached midnight.
Our gracious hosts whisked us away to the comforts of the Hampton Inn. Air conditioning, hot showers and gloriously comfortable beds never felt better. I had advised all crew members to begin drinking lots of electrolytes a week before we departed for Mexico. They quickly realized the importance of doing so.
Our Yucatan crew consisted of myself and my wife, Dian Cooper, and her best friend Sheila Shockley of St. James. They served as camp photographers. Kody Lucas, host of Living the Dream Outdoors TV came along to capture jungle hunts on film, while Wes and Jess Campbell, from Houston, Missouri were guests of Living the Dream Outdoor Properties. Bill Bryan, former director of Missouri State Parks, rounded out our crew.
Bill Bryan arrived in Merida well ahead of the rest of the crew and experienced the grand hospitality of our host Jordi Gene. “Yucatan cuisine is an experience in itself,” Bryan said. “Jordi Gene and Sergio treated me to snook, camarones, burro grande y bebidas con mucho gusto!” The early bird does get the worm.
The next morning we headed out to enjoy shopping in downtown Merida, a beautiful world class city. Trinkets, jewelry, hat bands and a menagerie of other items made it into our shopping bags. Street hawkers appeared at every corner and our negotiation skills went to work. The morning passed quickly as we laughed and strolled through spectacular city parks that buzzed with people from all over the world.
After a stop at a local eatery, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and depart again to the nearby Cenote San Ignacio. A splendid operation, we relaxed in the shade with cool drinks and a fine regional lunch. Afterwards we relaxed in hammocks, chilled in the pool and photographed local flora.
As a grandiose wrap up for the day’s activities, we followed an elaborate stone stairway into the bowels of the earth to an incredible cenote. Many of us took a refreshing swim in the cool, clear waters far below the earth’s surface.
We gathered that evening for dinner in the grandeur of the La Parilla Montejo in Merida. There Jordi Gene ordered a wide variety area favorites for us to enjoy. The staff provided a fun-filled birthday celebration for Kody Lucas. Bill Bryan and I presented Jordi Gene a gorgeous elk and buffalo hide possibles bag with ocellated turkey and brocket deer designs on it for his tremendous hospitality to our group. Darren Haverstick of Shannon County, Missouri designed the beautiful bag.
The next morning we began our caravan south towards the TanKab turkey camp set in the deep jungles of southern Campeche State. Along the way we stopped to see the Kabah Archaeological Site and ruins. The compound itself closed months ago because of COVID. We could only view what we could see from outside the gates.
Sergio turned the truck south once again. We still had two hours to travel to reach a portion of the best 160,000 acres free-range jungle hunting that Southeast Mexico has to offer. TanKab Outfitters specializes in ocellated turkey and brocket deer. They are known for high success rates and outstanding service.
After driving many miles of rough dirt roads, the grandeur of the TanKab Outfitters turkey tent camp broke into view. Everyone oooohed and aaaahed at the site of stately wall tents on permanent foundations. Air conditioners, comfortable beds and hots showers made for an idyllic jungle camp.
After everyone settled into camp, everyone who wanted to hunt that afternoon were assigned a guide and each party headed off in a different direction. Everyone bade one another good luck and the hunt began.
The ladies in the group elected to stay in camp for the afternoon to relax after a hard day on the road. Although the heat soared to 101 degrees, the jungle breezes made their afternoon in camp quite pleasant.
Shortly after dark, hunters began to roll into camp. Wes Campbell scored his first time out. He took a gorgeous ocellated gobbler within incredible 3-inch spurs. His voice crackled with excitement as he told the tale of his incredible hunt.
Bill Bryan and Kody Lucas returned shortly with tales of their own, but no birds. Camp cooks served an exquisite dinner under the dining canopy. Chatter echoed through the night as incredible jungle stars hung in the night sky like millions of sparkling diamonds.
Everyone rose early the next morning to head to the jungle. Exchanges of well wishes faded away as vehicles sped away from camp in several directions.
Anticipation ran high as one hunter after another returned and awaited fellow hunters to hear their stories and see what they brought back to camp. Jess Campbell had missed a bird. Others failed to score.
Jess redeemed herself the next morning and took a grand ocellated turkey. Bill Bryan took his bird that afternoon.
Our week in jungle turkey camp sped by quickly. Great adventures, great meals and great memories came from the experience. Feelings of melancholy drifted over our camp like a morning mist as we packed our bags. NO one wanted to leave this magical place deep in the jungles of the Yucatan. Jordi Gene and staff had provided us a week far away from the cares of the world, which we will never forget.
Bill Bryan and I would stay an extra week to meet with Yucatan State Conservation officials as well as TanKab Outfitters staff for discussions about three proposed projects for conservation, outdoor education, and natural resource, cultural, geologic and historical interpretation programs. Eric Schlegel, a professional photographer from Texas, rounded out our crew.
You can learn about TanKab Outfitters on Facebook, or at www.tankab. com/.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award-winning outdoor writer and member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and lives in rural St. James. He is host of “Outside Again Adventures TV-Online” and “Wild at Heart” on ESPN 107.3FM in Rolla. You can follow Cooper at www.facebook.com/OutsideAlways, www.aoutdoorstv.com and www.espn1073.com.