What Happens in Mexico...
What happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico. Now re-read that first sentence, pronouncing Mexico like the locals do, you know... MeHEco. There you go.
Mexico can get pretty wild. There's a whole lot of grey area in that country, in regard to Just. About. Everything. This rings especially true when you're way off the tourist-beaten path.
My first trip south of the border happened to be a duck hunt. And so we learned (myself and three other gringos), that Central and South American waterfowl hunts aren't infrequently used as a guise for - or at least paired with - a foray into a very different sort a gentlemen's entertainment. Who knew?
More on that later.
The whole thing started at a Sportsman's banquet where a friend and I won the hunt. The months afterward passed quickly, and before we knew it, we were rattling down a dirt road somewhere in costal Mexico. It was sunny and 75°, and you could look out over the salt marshes to the east and see tens of thousands of birds, mostly diver ducks, rafted up on the water. They'd completed their migration south, and had six or so weeks of vacation left before starting their return trip to the Prairie Pothole Region or Canada's Boreal Forest, from whence they came.
We passed men, women, children, dogs, donkeys, goats, kids on goats, men on donkeys, women carrying dogs, and a lot of vibrantly colored shacks. Then there were the black trucks; the ones full of angry looking little men, topped with belt-fed weapons. Our chauffeur and outfitter, Manuel, told us not to make eye contact with the guys in the black trucks. To this day I don't know if he meant it, or did it simply to get a rise out of us. But we didn't intend to find out.
On that initial drive, Manuel also mumbled something about having his Cialis with him. We figured that was just some humorous miscommunication by someone exercising his second language. Here, too, we didn't intend to find out.
We hadn't been off the plane and in the old pickup truck for an hour when the extended cab Chevy rumbled to a stop next to a pretty girl walking down the road in flip flops. The dusty passenger side window squealed down laboriously, and Manuel had a brief exchange with the young lady in Spanish. She jumped into the bed of the truck, and we continued toward our destination, wherever that was.
Despite the fact that Manuel had already told us he was an American citizen living north of the border, I assumed the girl, Sofia, was Manuel's daughter. We didn’t have time to ponder it though, because Manuel quickly told us that we had enough time to sneak in an evening pond hunt before heading to our hotel. He dropped us off at little blinds in groups of two. Each hunter got a haggard looking Beretta, two boxes of lead #6s, and a duck boy.
The duck boys were about 14. They'd seemed to quite enjoy the bouncy ride in the bed of the truck, at least once Sophia joined them. They were, as we came to find out, Mexican Labradors. Apparently Chihuahuas leave a lot to be desired in the water.
Our friendly, hardworking duck boy showed us to our blind as the Chevy disappeared in a cloud of lingering dust. The blind stood in the center of a clear pond with a depth of only 18 inches. I knew I liked waterfowl hunting in Mexico long before we pulled our first duck from the sapphire sky. It was the only time I've taken off my waders in favor of rolling up my pants and hunting barefoot.
Over the next hour and a half we managed to shoot a nice little handful of ducks; some greenwing teal, a bluewing, a pintail and a pair of spoonbills.
Some sort of bizarre looking crane landed in the water and walked around. Not long after, Manuel picked us up and took us back to the hotel, where our hunting buddies were already waiting for us to get changed and go eat, Sofia included.
Dinner was spectacular. After two margaritas, Maria walked away from the table, and one of the guys asked the question we'd all been wondering, "Who’s Sofia?"
"Man, I told you I brought my Cialis," said Manuel in his impeccable, yet heavily accented English. "She a good looking chica, Si?"
"Yeah, but how the-"
"Hey Amigo, I just got a head start on you Gringos. She's gonna stay with me all week. She said she has a sister who can come over tonight though!"
"We're not - or at least I'm not picking up any chicks!" objected Mike, looking around the table at each of us. "I'm married!" We were all very much on the same page, married or not.
Manuel laughed. "Man, you know the saying, what happens in MeHeco stays in MeHeco. Here's something you need to know... Every girl you see over the next week has her price. You want her, you can have her."
At this point we were all a bit put off. Luckily, the hunting, immersion into Mexican culture, unique landscape and stellar local food handily made up for it.
The first morning’s hunt wasn't spectacular. But the salty air was full of unique bird songs, and we watched the mist rise from the warm water of the pond.
Mike and I watched a flock of specklebelly geese float by several hundred feet above us, seemingly propelled more by their incessant cackling than by their wings. Much like snow geese, specklebellies have a problem with conformity. Their flocks are erratic and unkempt, with broken lines that seem to bounce and tumble across the horizon.
At lunch we walked to the bank and met our duck boy, where he'd hidden behind a bush, appearing only to collect birds as we dumped them on the water. After joining the other half of our crew, we ate a quick meal of goat fajitas and headed toward the ocean.
It was low tide. Our blind was about 300 yards offshore, and we walked out barefoot in the ankle-deep water. Manuel assured us that this was one of his best spots for Redhead ducks, and that we should hunt until the tide comes in enough to make us uncomfortable. My excitement level was high, as I'd never previously seen one of these big, gorgeous diver ducks that so strikingly fulfill their name. I'd been told they are some of the fastest ducks in the world.
It wasn't 10 minutes before Mike and I heard distant fighter jets. Wondering how close we could possibly be to a military base, we looked straight up to find the source of the sound. SPLASH... Splash, splash, splash. We looked back down to see that our dozen redhead decoys had been joined by half a dozen very live, very animated ducks. All but one were fully plumed out drakes, with shimmering, iridescent ruby heads and piercing yellow eyes. The shooting began and remained steady.
The activity continued in this manner for several hours as the seawater crept up our calves. No matter how many times you've heard the telltale rush of their wings, decoying redheads are still impressive. Having never fired anything but steel shot at ducks before, we learned quickly just how lethal lead shot really is. We only had to run down one cripple. And if you've hunted diver ducks, you know that's saying something. We sloshed back to shore laden with ducks, empty cartridges and an appetite.
Morning two started late, with breakfast burritos on the way out to a vast expanse of irrigated farmland. It was a blustery day with dust devils playing across the red fields.
A large, concrete irrigation canal ran through the flatland. From what we could see, it was miles long and 40 feet wide with sloped sides. For 10 yards on either side of the trench, mesquite and other brush had grown thick. Beyond that, freshly-tilled fields extended for miles. While the trench was about 10 feet deep in all, it only held about three feet of water, which was choked with shrubs and aquatic vegetation.
When we jumped out of the truck, the scent of burning mesquite was evident, and there was a plume of smoke nearly a mile away. We learned that every few years, the farmers set fire to the brush on either side of the irrigation ditch to maintain access.
Manuel's plan was to space the four of us out about 200 yards apart and have the duck boys walk alongside the trench above and below us, effectively creating a pass-shooting smorgasbord. Primarily, he said, of teal. The plan worked swimmingly. We stood in the center of the trench doing our best to hide in the shrubs, shooting all the drakes that flew over. There was just one problem.
So... Mexico has snakes. Big snakes, small snakes, poisonous snakes, friendly snakes, pretty snakes and ugly snakes, and I was about to encounter all of them. At once. I can only attempt to explain what happened and why.
Shooting ducks and pitching them on the concrete side of the trench distracted me from the fact that the wind had picked up considerably and the smoke had grown stronger. I turned around to see that the brush fire had rapidly travelled down either side of the irrigation canal, and was now just 100 yards away. I made the foolish decision to stay in the water and continue shooting ducks - who didn't seem to mind the small fire either - and just let the little blaze pass right on by.
Now, about 10,000 acres of irrigated farmland had just been tilled. If I was a snake living in the lush green fields and tractors were plowing everything up, I'd have made my way to the brush alongside the canal. And no doubt, thousands of snakes did. But then someone set fire to the brush, so if I was a snake, I'd head to water.
Around the time that the brushfire was parallel to me, I began getting the sense that the plants in the water were moving, and tightening around my waist. For the first time since stepping in the water, I looked down.
There was hardly a square inch of water surface in the canal that wasn't occupied by writhing serpents. Snakes, thousands of snakes, had poured out of the brush and into the water. I was standing in a squirming, scaly spaghetti bowl. Looking down the canal I could see them, by the hundreds, slithering down the concrete ramp on either side just ahead of the fire.
Luckily, we'd all worn waders that day. But there was nothing to be done until the fire had completely passed. At that point I walked out as slowly as I could, collected my ducks and walked out to the field where everyone else was already standing. Turns out I was the only one that had a snake problem. Everyone else got out of the water long before the fire reached them. It was worth the snakes though, because my very last bird of the day was a beautiful sprig.
A few more days of good hunting and great food passed. Sofia had even come afield with Manuel once, so the fact that our guide had a prostitute along wasn't all that awkward anymore.
On our last full day we got an early start and piled into a little waterman's boat. The trip out to pintail cove could have been cut from an episode of the Discovery Channel. Flamingos, cormorants, pelicans and an assortment of shore birds intersected our line of trajectory across the inlet. Most flew mere feet off the water and some flew alongside us.
When we reached our destination, we were told that we didn't need to find cover. We'd be hunting from shore, so just find a spot behind the decoys and sit down. The wind was perfect, hard at our backs. The duck boys didn't even have the whole decoy spread out in the surf before the ducks started piling in.
We waited to shoot, which brought a heated scolding in Spanish, accompanied by waiving arms. The boys expected us to just blaze away, shooting ducks that hung in the wind right over their heads. No amount of coaxing convinced us to do so.
We did kill a few pintails in pintail cove, but the majority of birds were spoonbills and green wing teal. Wave after wave of ducks crashed against our shotguns. They came in hot, cupping hard into the wind right in front of the decoys. Mike shot one teal that must have been going 50 MPH as it folded. Stone dead, it continued on its flight path and drilled him in the chest.
When we got back to the pickup truck and heaped our entire harvest into the bed, we all wondered what we'd do with so many birds. Manuel had a plan though. We drove 15 minutes to a little shanty town where he stopped and laid on the horn. A dozen or more barefooted kids came running out of the houses and picked the truck clean.
One older gentlemen came out of small house and invited us in for dinner. He made fajitas, grinding guacamole and picante salsa by hand with a stone mortar and pestle. That was and most likely will always be the best Mexican food I've ever had.
We had a bit of trouble with border security while bringing frozen ducks home for the taxidermist, but by and large we didn't have any major issues.
That's all that's fit to print. Anything else that happened in MeHico, will stay in MeHico.
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