Day 1st - Are We There Yet???
Truth be told, the total distance traveled together with good buddy Eric Lund throughout our stay was just over 10,000 km. – or about 6300 miles - not including the return trip, which would have brought the overall total to something north of 20,000 km.
The first leg of our journey took us from Toronto to Santiago, where we encountered the first of the many peculiarities that one experiences when travelling by air to, and within Chile.
Our flight, while long, went off without a hitch, and notwithstanding having to wait fifteen or twenty minutes for a gate to become available (I guess they forgot we were coming), we cleared what was merely the first hurdle in the Chilean customs process fairly quickly, and then proceeded to the baggage claim area – or to be more precise – walked straight into hell.
Lines, Lines Everywhere a Line
Imagine a room that would comfortably hold about 200 people with at least twice that number trying to push their way through the throng in order to get to their baggage carrousel. They were literally climbing over carrousels, and elbowing they’re way past people without so much as a perdóneme.
To top it off, it was hot, no one who appeared to be acting in an official capacity spoke a word of English – my Spanish was by and large limited to what I had picked up watching several episodes of El Chapo prior to the trip - and the announcements over what was clearly an antiquated public address system, would have been incomprehensible regardless of what language they may have been speaking.
As for finding a baggage cart, although we did manage to acquire one, we had to abandon it en route, as we fought our way through the horde to the carrousel where our baggage was ostensibly to be delivered.
I now have a least some appreciation for what a Salmon has to put up with when making its way up stream.
We had just over three hours to make our connecting flight to Balmaceda, which when we first landed seemed like an eternity, but as events unfolded, barley left us with enough time to make it to the gate – which as you will soon see, was an adventure in and of itself.
After recovering our bags, and commandeering another cart, we finally found someone who spoke some English, and asked them how to go about exiting the baggage claim area, and get to the departures level for our connecting flight on Latam Airlines.
She pointed to a line that literally stretched further than either of us could see, and suggested we find the end of it, because there was yet another customs hurdle awaiting us before we would be allowed to leave.
The line doubled back on itself, and we were keeping an eye on a very tall gentleman that was on our fight from Toronto, in order to gauge just how far it actually extended before doubling back.
After losing sight of him, we concluded some form of drastic action was required on our part. Thankfully, many of the people in line were more interested in talking/texting on their phones rather than keeping pace, thereby leaving some large gaps in the line as it snaked back towards the exit, which after due consideration, Eric and I decided to exploit to our benefit.
As nonchalantly as possible we cut into the line that at least appeared to be heading in the right direction – we did get a few death stares – but figured that if challenged, we could play the Gringo card, and feign ignorance of local custom, language and protocols.
As we shuffled along, we came to something of a crossroads. To the left was a security checkpoint, complete with an x-ray machine together with some serious looking Hombres who were going through people’s luggage. To the right, the line seemed to continue on forever, so what the hell, we threw our bags on the conveyor, ran them through the x-ray, and when they came out the other side no one appeared to be paying any attention to us, so we hoisted them onto our cart, hightailed it through the exit door, and took the elevator up to the departures area.
There are times when being a Gringo can work to one’s advantage!
Once we squeezed out of the elevator, we came face to face with yet another massive line of people waiting to check in at the Latam Air counters.
Trip Note/Vignette – Latham appears to be the “official” Chilean airline, which offers both international and regional flights throughout the country. Rather than book our fight from Santiago to Balmaceda in Canada, Dave booked it locally, saving Eric and me over $200.pp.
Fortunately, as we were trying to figure out how to use the electronic check-in kiosk, a lovely young lady from Latam, who also spoke a bit of English, looked at our tickets, and immediately escorted us to the check in counter - more death stares – and following a brief flurry of activity in Spanish between our angel of mercy and the lady at the check in counter regarding the size and weight of Eric’s duffle, our baggage was checked through, and we headed off in the direction of the departure gates, only to come face to face with – wait for it – another huge line at security.
Needless to say time was running short, but fortunately the folks operating the security check point moved everyone through quickly – which as we were to find out later, was not something we could count on once we were in the Patagonia.
Trip Note/Vignette – There is a local expression that the only thing in a hurry in the Patagonia is the wind, and I can assure you that truer words have rarely been spoken.
After clearing security, I noticed Eric staring at the flight status monitor, wherein he advised me that our flight number and gate was not showing on the display. Having very little time left, and seeing a fight on Latam departing for Balmaceda around the same time ours was supposed to leave, we headed over to that gate, only to be told our flight was leaving from a different one.
Upon arrival at that gate, it became clear this was not our flight, and were then directed to yet another gate on the upper level, only to find that it was actually located on the lower level. So it was back down the escalator where we finally staggered up to the right one, with a good five minutes to spare.
Trip Note/Vignette – Latam Air seems to have a policy that once you check in, they remove any reference whatsoever to the flight you’re supposed to be on, thereby forcing you to play a game of ” departure gate roulette.” The very same thing happened to us on our return flight from Balmaceda to Santiago, although it was far less challenging because there were only two departure gates, unlike the fifty or so to choose from in Santiago.
Once we were finally airborne and could catch our breath, Eric and I enjoyed a cold, German style amber lager, which was one of the better beers I have tasted in some time.
Our guide, interpreter, chauffeur. barista, porter, historian and concierge “Super Dave” Jackson, was waiting for us in Balmaceda, and after gathering our luggage we stuffed it, and ourselves into his compact, diesel powered Mitsubishi truck, and began what was to be an eight-hour trek through the wilds of Patagonia, to our ultimate port of call – Jorge’s farm, that was located just outside the small village of Lago Verde.
Trip Note/Vignette – Dave had given some thought to overnighting and doing some fishing on the Rio Simpson en route, thereby breaking up the trip somewhat, but because he was not happy with the way the river was fishing at that point, decided to make the long haul to Jorge’s. By the time we finally arrived, Eric and I had, for all intents and purposes, been awake for approximately forty-eight hours, so breaking the trip up may have been the better choice – but then again we survived.
Chile, and the Patagonia in particular, is truly the land of a thousand vistas. Snow capped and mist shrouded mountains, together with glaciers, and deep, green valleys that seemed to stretch on into infinity, interspersed with tantalizing glimpses of beautiful, wild rivers welcomed us around each bend in the road.
Our first stop was Coyhaique, a city of approximately 100,000 souls about an hour outside of Balmaceda, where we were supposed to pick up our fishing licenses at a local wine shop. Hey – when in Rome.
Unfortunately the proprietor was nowhere to be found, and when Dave did finally manage to contact him by telephone, said he would return to the store pronto – maybe in a couple of hours. See previous note regarding the wind being the only thing in a hurry.
Plan B was then initialized, and we acquired our licenses at an outdoors store located in the centre of town.
Hitchhikers, Cyclists and Empanada’s – Oh My!
One thing there is no shortage of in the Patagonia are hitchhikers and cyclists, and if we had a couple of bucks for every thumb that was thrust in our direction, Eric and I could have flown home in business class.
As for the cyclists, these folks are one tough bunch of Hombres, because everything, and I mean everything in the Patagonia either goes straight up, or straight down. You want flat, go to Saskatchewan. For the most part their bikes were loaded down with all manner of camping gear and other paraphernalia, and I don’t recall seeing one who didn’t appear to be in pain, with a far away, seemingly hopeless look in their eyes.
To each their own, I suppose.
Our next stop was to grab a bite to eat at a little café called the Confluencia, where they served up cold beer, soft drinks, something called Hornos, Bebidas and baked – not to be confused with fried – Empanadas. Much to our collective bemusement, there was a BB King concert playing on the café television. Go figure.
Trip Note/Vignette –According to Dave, the primary difference between a baked and a fried empanada, which is prepared with dough made of wheat flour and filled mainly with ground beef and onion - a mix that is called pino - hard-boiled egg, olives, and raisins, is that while both versions contain a single olive, the olive in the baked variety has a pit – so beware. The ones we ate in La Tapera later in the week also contained the meat of a castrated Ram – or caponé.
The roads we travelled alternated between paved highways and loose gravel, and while the paved roads were generally in excellent condition; the gravel variety featured more bumps and potholes than actual road.
The sun was beginning to set, and both Eric and I had had about enough bouncing around, stunning vistas notwithstanding, and were anxious to get to the farm, grab a bite and hit the sack.
Once we turned off the paved road, Dave assured us that it was only another fifty or so kilometers of gravel to Lago Verde, and then a short hop from there to Jorge’s.
I will say that Dave’s concept of time and distance was somewhat at odds with our own, so much so that by the middle of the week, we concluded that if we added another twenty-five percent to his estimate, we would be pretty much spot on.
We were moving down the gravel road at a good clip, where – this was to be repeated numerous times between the turn-off and Jorge’s – we encountered cows, horses and sheep that were either standing off to the side, or in the middle of road. Dave appeared completely unconcerned, and would only slow down if an animal was actually on the road, and if the offending critter didn’t move, he would tap on the horn, which seemed to do the trick. Apparently if they were on the side of the road, there was no need to slow down.
Once we cleared Lago Verde, we transitioned from gravel to dirt, and went though a series of gates that had to be opened and closed behind us, crossed the Rio Pico on a pasarela, and finally saw some lights in the distance that we were relieved to hear was Jorge’s farm.
Trip Note/Vignette – A pasarela, which in English means runway, is a narrow, one lane suspension bridge found throughout Chile.
Upon disembarking we were greeted by the resident canines, Colo–Colo, who was named after the local soccer team because he was back and white, as were their uniforms, Jack and Rambo, who was kept tied up because of his attitude towards the other dogs and livestock. Dave then introduced us to our host, Jorge Pozas, who I would refer to throughout our visit as the Patagonian version of Elmer Fudd.
The reason for conferring this particular moniker on him was that during the ride over, Dave explained that he had a real hate on for the local rabbit population, and the first thing he did when we entered his home, was insist that I examine his rifle, and appeared to say – Jorge spoke very little English - that if time permitted, we could go hunting “wabbits”.
Don’t get me wrong, Jorge could not have been a more welcoming or congenial host, but his attitude towards the local wabbit population kept Eric and me in stitches throughout our stay.
Once we stowed our gear away in the very comfortable guest quarters that Jorge had just recently built, it was finally time for dinner and several adult beverages.
Jorge produced a hind- quarter of lamb, cut off a number of pieces and placed them into a shallow roasting pan. He then tossed the lamb in olive oil, sprinkled on some salt, and popped the pan into a very hot oven in his wood fired cook-stove.
While the lamb was roasting, he boiled some potatoes, and sliced up several of the best tasting tomatoes either of us had eaten since last summer. The lamb was delicious, and together with the potatoes, tomatoes, ice cold beer and some very tasty Chilean wine, made for a very memorable meal.
By now it was well after midnight, and after wishing both Dave and Jorge Buenos noches, Eric and I made a bee line to our sleeping quarters, and were likely dead to the world even before our heads hit the pillows.
Trip Note/Vignette – Chile is two hours ahead of Toronto, meaning that only a minimal adjustment was required to our internal clock.
The Legend of the Rooster Known as El Diablo
As we were staying on a working farm, it was not a complete surprise to hear the distant, somewhat haunting sound of a rooster crowing first thing in the morning – but more on that in a moment.
We hadn’t been asleep all that long when around 3am – yes 3am – some damn bird started squawking – hereinafter referred to as the 3am shrike. The dogs, deciding to join in the fun, then began barking, which was followed by who we assumed (and hoped) was Jorge, firing off a couple of shots, at what we never did find out. Wabbits perhaps?
Once everything quieted down, the aforementioned rooster began tuning up, which under most circumstances would have been fine, but for the fact it was only 5am!
Not content to keep his distance, El Diablo kept getting closer and closer to our room, crowing his fool head off all the while, until he was right outside the door. He would only stop when one of us appeared at the door, thereby clearly demonstrating we were up and about, and after giving us a good glaring, strutted off to attend to HIS flock of chickens.
El Diablo – which was the name I accorded him - wasn’t the only critter awake first thing in the morning. When I woke up following his initial salvo, there was a horse staring in at us through the side window, and when walking over to the main house for breakfast, I had to detour around a cow that had parked itself in front of our door. Needless to say when navigating around the farm, it was a good idea to watch where you stepped.
Upon entering the main house, we were introduced to Paula, a friend of the family Jorge had picked up in town earlier that morning, whom had been recruited to fill in for Jorge’s wife, who was in town about to deliver their first child. Paula would be preparing breakfast and lunch on most days, as well as keeping our room in order.
For breakfast Paula scrambled some eggs that Jorge had just picked up off the lawn, which she served with fresh baked rolls, and local jam – cherry I think – that was very, very good.
Trip Note/Vignette – Jam must be something of a “thing” in Chile, because together with local cheeses which are also very tasty, most of the shops in the airports offered a wide variety of jams, no doubt aimed at the Gringos who were looking to take a little something back home.
Once breakfast had been dealt with, it was then off for a “walk and wade” on the Rio Pico, a section of which ran right through Jorge’s property.
The weather was perfect, with temperatures in the mid teens, light winds, and sun with a smattering of cloud. Fish were rising all over the place, and we had a great fish, with Eric having over twenty “takes,” and landing a small Brown and small Rainbow, both on a large orange/black Chernobyl Ant. I fared somewhat better in terms of size, and together with a number of “takes,” managed to catch two 14” Rainbows on a natural Hopper pattern, with a white tuft on the top.
Trip Note/Vignette – Hatches were constantly taking place throughout our stay, comprised mainly of Caddis and Mayflies. Grasshoppers were also in abundance on some of the rivers. There is a Chilean beetle called a Cantauria that the fish love to slurp up when they tumble into the water, and while they would normally appear in numbers at this time of the year, there were none to be seen.
This was my first experience fishing exclusively with dry flies, and I must say that I truly enjoyed it. What made it all the more enjoyable was that Eric and Dave, who are both top-notch fly fishermen, were kind enough to work with me throughout the entire trip, in order to improve my casting and presentation skills.
We headed back to the ranch for lunch around 2pm, where Paula treated us to what was arguably the best meal we were to have during our entire stay, (Dona Virma’s fried Empanadas being a very close second) consisting of fresh, hot Chilean style bread, and fall off the bone lamb shank, in a dark, rich flavourful broth with turnip and pasta.
Second helpings were both encouraged and taken advantage of.
Trip Note/Vignette – The bread we were served throughout our trip are called Hallullas, and are a very popular style of Chilean bread. They are simple, round, rather plain-looking breads, but are quite tasty and rich, thanks to the addition of a little bit of lard, or in some cases vegetable shortening.
The main course was preceded by a salad comprised of lettuce, smoked fish, avocado and hard-boiled egg, tossed with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt. Dessert - in our limited experience Chilean’s did not appear to go in much for desserts – featured preserved strawberries, and a thick, sweet cream that came from a small can.
Trip Note/Vignette – Lunch is the main meal of the day, and it’s not uncommon for businesses to close for several hours during the afternoon so that people can enjoy a leisurely lunch, which is often times followed by a siesta. This also likely explains, at least in part, why Chilean’s don’t go to bed very early, as it was not uncommon to have dinner at 9pm or even later.
As we were both still a little bagged, having been awakened rather early by the dogs, the 3am shrike, rifle blasts and El Diablo, we decided to adopt local custom and have a short siesta, but no sooner did we get settled then that damn rooster started up again.
Fact is, that very morning, with Dave acting as my interpreter, I suggested to Jorge that perhaps his rifle could be used to quiet down our old buddy El Diablo, but he just laughed, and explained that if there was no rooster, we wouldn’t have any eggs for breakfast. I didn’t really understand the connection, but made it known that both Eric and I would be quite willing to breakfast on bread, butter and jam if it meant getting more sleep.
Following our somewhat abbreviated siesta, we headed further upstream on the Rio Pico, and en route, climbed a couple of hills in Dave’s truck that a mountain goat would have found challenging.
Trip Note/Vignette – You know you’re waaay down south when the local weather network gives you the five day forecast for Antarctica.
Fishing was very good in the afternoon – I think Eric said he had over thirty takes – and he landed two very nice Rainbows. I had my share of takes, as well landing a 14” Rainbow and my first Brown, which was just over 8”.
Because we were very close to the border with Argentina, Dave and Eric actually walked upstream a short distance and fished a pool on the Argentinian side, and while there were some active fish around, none could be coaxed into taking a fly.
Perhaps this was because neither Dave nor Eric had an Argentinian fishing license…
The top pattern for the day was the natural Hopper with the white tuft. Fortunately I had several of them, and gave one to Eric, who put it to very good use.
Dinner was braised, shredded pork served with the rolls Paula had baked earlier that day, which we washed down with some excellent Chilean red wine.
Trip Note/Vignette – Earlier today, I noticed a pig hanging around the main house, that I began referring to as Arnold Ziffel, after the little porker in the sitcom Greenacres. Odd thing was, that while virtually all of the animals would come to Jorge when he called, once Arnold got a look at him he hightailed it back to his pen and attempted to blend in with all of the other pigs. I wonder if Arnold knew something we didn’t know about what was supposed to be on the menu for dinner that evening…
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
In El Diablo’s opinion Eric and I were not quick enough off the mark in the morning, so he decided to enlist some help from the small flock of turkey’s that we had seen wandering about the farm.
He started his usual nonsense around 5:30am, but on this particular morning, when he finished crowing, it was immediately followed by a cacophony of gobbles courtesy of the turkeys. When we finally appeared at the door, there he stood not five feet from us (just out of kicking distance), whereupon he gave us a dirty look, walked over to a nearby chicken, had his way with her, then strutted off leaving no doubt who was “cock of the walk” in these parts.
I have to admit that while I hated that damn rooster with a passion, he had style, and I was beginning to develop a grudging respect for him. Jorge, who was picking eggs off of the ground at the time, was watching how El Diablo handled us two Gringos with what appeared to be a certain amount of pride.
Trip Note/Vignette – Each morning Paula and Jorge shared something out of a small cup, which they sipped through a metal straw called a bombilla. The cup contained a type of tea called Mate or cimarrón, a traditional caffeine rich, infused drink, and is prepared by steeping dried leaves of yerba mate. According to Jorge it was good for the digestion, and kept you regular.
Tonight Jorge was planning to prepare a traditional Chilean lamb asado, or barbeque. The lamb would be butterflied, and then roasted over a wood fire.
Jorge kindly offered to introduce Eric and me to our dinner before dispatching it, but both of us declined with thanks. While I’m a confirmed carnivore, I’d have a hard time eating it, especially after I gave him a name and a pat on the head.
Today we were to float the Rio Pico, and what a voyage it was!
While the weather was somewhat cooler than we had become used to, the scenery along the river was truly spectacular, and although the area where we started was rather arid in nature, the further along we travelled, the terrain became more mountainous, and vegetation considerably lusher.
We had some rain showers when we were tight to the mountains, and although they didn’t last very long, seemed to turn on the fish.
The fishing was good overall, but both Eric and I were of the opinion that if we had more time to really work some of the pools, especially those closest to the mountains, our overall numbers may have increased substantially.
The top flies were the natural Hopper, black, bead head Woolly Buggers and Leech Zonkers. Eric and I both caught a nice Brown in the 12” to 14” range, several Rainbows about the same size, together with a number of smaller Rainbows. Eric also lost a couple of bigger fish further down river.
Water levels were relatively low, and Dave worked like a dog dragging our raft through the shallows – of which there were many.
He had arranged with Jorge to pick us up around 8pm, but as is usually the case with most float trips, pick up times tend to be nothing more than estimates. We likely would have made the time, but for the fact that Dave literally had to drag the raft for the last couple of kilometers.
While Jorge was worried that the lamb would be overdone, it was perfectly cooked, tender and flavourful, and was served with fried bread, a bowl of Pebre that Paula had whipped up earlier in the day, and of course some killer red wine.
Trip Note/Vignette - Pebre is a Chilean condiment prepared with cilantro, chopped onion, olive oil, garlic and spicy aji pepper paste. It also often contains chopped tomatoes, as well as diced green chile peppers.
The “Eyes” Have It!
Jorge was being left to his own devices this morning, as Paula was helping out at the school in Lago Verde, so not surprisingly, together with fried eggs, he served up a plate of roast lamb, and as a special added attraction, decorated our breakfast table with the head of the lamb he had dispatched the previous day – eyes and all.
I don’t think he was trying to make a point of any kind, and because Paula was apparently going to use it to make our lunch, it was probably as good a place as any to put it in the interim.
Dave brewed up some coffee using his French Press – he travels with a small coffee grinder, French Press and peppermill – much to Jorge’s amusement, who through a series of hand signals, sounds effects and Spanish, conveyed the notion that only a Gringo would go to such trouble to make coffee, especially since all you had to do was put a spoonful of instant coffee into a cup, add hot water and voilà, coffee – no theatre required.
Trip Note/Vignette – Prior to the trip, Dave asked if I would mind bringing down a couple of items that were either hard/impossible to get, or otherwise very expensive in country. I thought that perhaps he may have wanted some patent medicines, or something along those lines, but much to my partial surprise he requested maple syrup and coffee beans. Maple syrup I got, but coffee beans? Apparently fresh coffee is very expensive which likely explains why Chilean’s drink a great deal of Mate and/or instant coffee – Nescafe in particular.
Apropos of nothing at all, while we were eating breakfast, the television was broadcasting a soap opera that apparently originated in Turkey.
This morning the plan was to fish Lago Verde, in hopes of tying into some bigger fish, but before heading out on the lake, we stopped in the town square to catch up on our emails, because this was the only place in the area that had Wi-Fi.
Trip Note/Vignette – In the areas we travelled throughout the Patagonia, Wi-Fi coverage was by and large confined to the town square in many of the smaller villages.
The lake itself was striking. Sparkling, aquamarine water, surrounded on all sides by snow capped mountains, with several horses grazing peacefully along the shore where we launched our raft.
Fortunately the winds were light – at least for the first part of the morning – and we were able to fish the shallows and reed patches along the shore. Eric caught a very nice Rainbow on a black/brown Sculpin pattern, while in addition to another decent Rainbow; I caught two Perca Trancha, which is one of the few freshwater fish species that are indigenous to Chile.
The first was on a black, bead head Woolly Bugger and, having decided to take a short break from the fly rod and try something a bit different, I caught the second, which was also the biggest, on a spinning rod using a silver, #3 Mepps spinner. The Perca looked like a cross between a Perch and Walleye, and because Dave said they made very fine table fare, we kept the larger of the two.
Trip Note/Vignette – Like many things in Chile, Jorge’s wabbits being one of many, Rainbow and Brown Trout are not indigenous species, but are North American and European transplants.
The wind started to kick up later in the morning, and as it was becoming difficult to control the raft, we decided to call it a morning, and returned to the farm for lunch, where Paula had in fact transformed the sheep’s head into a soup.
The broth was very tasty, particularly when you stirred in a bit of Pebre, but the pieces of the head were more bone than meat, so rather than continue to pick away at it, I decided to combine the Pebre with fresh tomato slices, cheese and bread, thereby creating my own version of Chilean bruschetta. Yum!
During lunch, and with Eric’s encouragement, Jorge almost managed to put what appeared to be the sheep’s testicles onto my plate. I declined with thanks and watched as he cut into, and consumed what were in reality the sheep’s kidneys. Dave explained later that the kidneys, once roasted and seasoned with a bit of salt were considered a delicacy, and would most definitely enhance one’s virility.
Afterwards we kicked back with a cold beer, following which we headed over to the Rio Pico.
The fishing was somewhat slow, but both Eric and Dave managed to pick up a couple of Rainbows.
Dusk had just fallen when Dave recommended trying the long run just downstream from the pasarela. We had given it some attention during the previous days drift, but I don’t recall catching anything – but then again, that was yesterday.
The run was alive with fish, all of them Brown’s, and there were so many rising after what had clearly been a significant Mayfly hatch, it resembled raindrops dimpling the surface on the water.
Our challenge was that we were not using anything resembling a Mayfly, and because it was getting dark, were not inclined to start tying on size #16’s. No worries though, because while the fish were definitely targeting Mayfly’s, my Hopper, Eric’s Elk Hair Caddis, and Dave’s Coachman, also did the trick.
Eric landed several fish, including one about 15”, and Dave and I both landed one about 14”. It was a fantastic finish to what had been a very, very good day overall.
Back at the farm, and after stowing away our waders and packing up some of our gear in anticipation of a relatively early morning departure, Jorge fried up the Perca, which was both delicious, and a welcome break from all of the lamb we had been eating, but because it was a relatively small fish, Dave and Jorge were stuck with lamb, although neither of them seemed to mind.
Trip Note/Vignette – Eric and I got in some fine star gazing, given the lack of any background light around Jorge’s farm, but to a couple of northern Gringos like ourselves, the seasonal constellations are all upside-down in the south, while a slew of unfamiliar bright stars are all on show. For example, while Polaris is not visible in the southern sky Sirius, the brightest star in the sky is, and the Big Dipper is apparently rarely, if ever seen.
Time to “Swan” Off
We were leaving Jorge and the critters this morning, and after breakfasting on fresh eggs, bread, butter and jam, we said our goodbyes – El Diablo was nowhere to be seen – and parted as mejores amigos.
Eric and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay, and Jorge’s and Paula’s hospitality was first rate, as were the accommodation and food – especially if you were partial to lamb – lol…
On our way through Lago Verde, we made another stop in the well-kept town square to make a few phone calls and check emails.
Trip Note/Vignette – Please note that electricity in Chile runs at 220 Volts and 50 Hz., so you will need both a voltage converter and a plug adapter.
Our journey today would take us to La Tapera, where we would be fishing the Rio Cisnes or Swan River.
I have to say that the 50km. of gravel road from Lago Verde to the main highway looked much different during the day – although it hadn’t smoothed out any - and we crossed a couple of rivers I didn’t notice on the way in, one of which was being fished by three Hombres in a raft.
First stop en route was in La Junta where Dave attempted to have a tire that had been losing air repaired. The guy who looked at it couldn’t find a leak, but still charged Dave forty pesos, which he was not happy about, especially since the tire continued to bleed air the rest of the week.
Trip Note/Vignette – At the time of our visit, one Canadian dollar was equal to approximately five Chilean pesos.
It was then off to Puyuhuapi for a bite of lunch that thankfully didn’t include lamb.
After lunch, and once we started tracking the Cisnes, we stopped to make a few casts, but no cigar.
The drive on the relatively narrow gravel road into La Tapera, while beautiful, was without doubt a true “white knuckler.” The road twisted and turned through the mountains, and together with the wonderful scenery, featured blind corners and shear drops of several hundred, if not several thousand feet in places.
Guardrails were by and large optional.
Dave, who likes to haul ass, seemed completely oblivious to the potential dangers lurking around each hairpin turn, and I had to remind him to keep both eyes on the road, as we had drifted across what would have otherwise been the centre line several times, while he was craning his neck to get a better look at the river deep in the valley below.
Once our truck bounced its way into the river valley, I was finally able to exhale, and we fished another stretch of the Cisnes, where Eric caught a 12” Brown on what had become our go to Hopper pattern. While I did a little fishing, managing to miss one in the process, I was content to watch a condor soar silently above us on the wind thermals, as the sun set behind the mountains.
It was getting late, not to mention dark, so we packed up our gear and headed into town, where we would be staying at Dona Virma’s Hospedaje Residencial y Turismo, which was not only the best, but apparently the only place in town worth staying.
Trip Note/Vignette – Many of the small villages/towns along our route had a statue honouring the Gaucho, who is depicted riding his horse wearing the traditional black beret, followed along by his packhorse and dog.
Dona Virma was a wonderful hostess, with an ever-present smile, despite putting in, during our stay at least, fourteen to fifteen hour days.
We arrived around 10pm., and she had a hot meal waiting for us, consisting of grilled beef, rice, avocado salad and hot, fresh rolls, which we put away with dispatch, having not eaten anything but a few squares of chocolate since 2pm.
Tomorrow we were going to float the Cisnes – well sort of…
Tote That Raft and Lift That… Well – Raft
It would appear as though El Diablo had friends in other places, and while this particular rooster was on a somewhat later schedule, he nevertheless let his presence be known around 6am. Dave warned us that while staying in a village, roosters would be the least of our worries, because come nightfall, every dog for miles around would have something to say, with the Hounds of La Tapera being no exception.
Trip Note/Vignette – When in Chile, if you are a light sleeper, bring earplugs!
While Dave made coffee – Dona Virma got just as big a kick out of his coffee grinder and French Press as did Jorge – we were served eggs fresh from her chicken coop – she made a point of telling us that no “factory” eggs would ever be served in her establishment so long as the chickens continued to cooperate – a selection of cheeses, cured meats, fresh bread, and more of that delicious Chilean jam.
Dave knew a guy in town by the name of Bruno, who while originally from Provence, in France, spends several months of the year in Chile, running a fishing guide service. In fact we were going to be joined at Dona Virma’s by four gentlemen who hailed from France and Belgium that Bruno would be guiding over the upcoming three weeks.
Fortunately, Dave not only spoke fluent Spanish, but French as well, and therefore we were able to communicate to a certain degree.
After breakfast he managed to track Bruno down, and got some local intel on water conditions and the fishing. Apparently with the water levels being the way they were, it was unlikely we could float the entire section of the river we had hoped to cover.
That said, the only way to know for certain was head down to the river, which while not too bad in terms of depth, was definitely not going to be deep enough to handle all three of us in the raft.
In addition, the sun was bright, and the water crystal clear, meaning that even though there were numerous fish rising, including one really good one that Dave and Eric spotted from the bridge, the fishing was going to be very technical, because if we could see them – they could see us - therefore stealth, long leaders and a delicate presentation would be required.
Trip Note/Vignette – While fishing on most of the rivers we were harassed by a rather noisy type of bird Dave referred to as a Bandurria. It looked something like a goose with a long beak, and in fact may have been a White Faced Ibis. Other birds we encountered included the Kingfisher, Condor, Cormorant, Chilean Hawk and Black-Headed Duck.
Dave wanted to check out another part of the river, so once he got us settled, took off leaving Eric and me to our own devices. I moved downstream from the bridge, and managed to coax a nice Brown to take my #12 Coachman, as it drifted under some overhanging willows.
Eric moved upstream in hopes of finding the large Brown we had seen from the bridge (there are only Brown Trout in the Cisnes), but was unable to track him down. Not to worry though, he was now finding his groove, and had me about six to one, before Dave returned with the raft, and while I may have slightly out fished him on the Rio Pico, he showed me how it was supposed to be done for the balance of the trip – starting today!
Dave dragged/floated the raft some distance upstream, and once Eric and I caught up with him, enjoyed a leisurely float back to the bridge – except for those sections of the river we had to walk around and through, that is.
I got a second fish, that went about 12” on an Elk Hair Caddis, while Eric continued his hot hand using a Hopper.
Once back at the bridge, Dave literally had to haul the raft up onto the bridge using a rope, because all of the land around us was private and fenced, which would have made it very difficult, if not impossible to get the raft back to where the truck was parked. Fortunately, a guy driving a bus stopped to help him out.
Once everything was loaded into the truck, we put in just outside of town, and drifted down to where we had fished the previous evening. Eric caught several more, bringing his total for the day to twelve, but I continued to be stuck on two, even though I did have a couple of takes.
Because Dave’s phone died part way though the drift, he couldn’t call Dona Virma’s husband and arrange for a ride back to the truck, so he simply humped it back several kilometers, got the truck and picked us up at the pull out spot.
Once back at Dona Virma’s, we hooked up with Bruno and our fellow international anglers for dinner, which included a green salad, roast chicken and French fries, which Chilean’s appear to consume in copious quantities.
Unfortunately, our new friends had not fared very well, and were clearly impressed once we told them how many fish we – well, mostly Eric – had caught.
We slept the sleep of the smug that night, howling perros and roosters notwithstanding.
Lets “Hop” To It!
Deciding to float the same section of the Cisnes we fished the previous afternoon turned out to be the right choice, and before the am gave way to the pm, Eric had landed five, including one about 16”.
I caught what was fast becoming my usual limit of two fish, including a 15 incher, which was my biggest so far, all on a natural Hopper pattern.
The Hopper worked very well in the fast water, but while there were all sorts of fish rising in the slack sections, they were very spooky, and not at all interested in our offerings.
Dave beached the raft at the head of what we knew to be a productive run, and while Eric and I continued to work our way downstream, walked back to get the truck. Once he arrived at our prearranged pull out spot, he had lunch ready by the time we caught up with him.
Shore lunches in these parts were a bit different than what Eric, me and Dave were used to back home, because rather than cooking up some fish – I’m really not sure if we would have been allowed to keep any trout – lunch consisted of “ginormous” sandwiches pilled high with cured meats, cheese, tomatoes and avocado, with a choice of either garlic sauce or Dijon mustard to top things off.
Once lunch had been polished off, we loaded the raft into the truck, with the intention of fishing some water upstream from a pasarela that was about eight to ten kilometers downstream from our current location.
Trip Note/Vignette – With the exception of the pasarelas, all of the bridges we encountered throughout the Patagonia had been named, with one notable outlier that is - which was called the “Puente sin nombre” – or the Bridge With No Name.
I had decided to give that stretch of river a miss, because my ankle, which I had sprained back home, was acting up, and attempting to navigate basketball size boulders to reach the river was not very appealing.
In retrospect perhaps I should have given it a shot, because Eric landed three, including the biggest fish of the trip so far, a 17” Brown, and lost an even bigger one. Dave also chipped in with three more, bringing our days total to thirteen.
The weather had been fairly decent throughout the day, but it did rain later in the afternoon, and got downright chilly. We gave one more section of the river a play before heading in, but didn’t land any, and because we would be leaving for Mañihuales to fish the Rio Simpson first thing in the morning, decided to call it an early night.
On the way back, we stopped off at one of the many small variety stores you will find throughout the Patagonia, and picked up a bottle wine for dinner.
Trip Note/Vignette – Supermarkets are not found outside of larger urban centres, and therefore Chileans in rural areas do much of their shopping at small grocery/variety stores. These stores apparently charge prices that are very competitive with those charged by the big supermarkets. Many have fresh produce, a butcher shop, together with paper products, dairy, snacks, wine, beer, juice, soft drinks and the like.
Dona Virma pulled out all the stops this evening, and served us some absolutely amazing fried Empanadas, so amazing that along with some salad, I scarfed down three of them. Eric, who was clearly not content with just out-fishing me, decided to out-eat me as well and consumed four! They were that good.
For dessert, we got a break from the usual canned fruit and sweet cream, and instead enjoyed slices of fresh local melon, that was as sweet as honey.
Dave, Eric and I kicked back around the wood stove after dinner, and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine while discussing tomorrow’s itinerary. We caught a break that night as well, because it seemed as though the rain and cooler temperatures had convinced the Hounds of La Tapera to take the night off.
Would You Like Fries With That?
As mentioned, we were planning to float the Rio Simpson today, and if that was going to happen had a fair amount of ground to cover, so after an early breakfast, adios’s and hugs all around with Dona Virma, we hit the road.
There had been some discussion about fishing the Rio Mañihuales, but Dave’s instincts were to keep moving and spend our time on the Simpson. We actually drove through the small town of Mañihuales, which is located within the Región De Aysèn, where we would be spending the night at the Hostel Mañihuales.
Trip Note/Vignette – The Región De Aysèn is one of six distinct regions spread across the country, each of them containing countless lakes and rivers, many of which hold fish.
Our put-in spot was at the base of yet another pasarela, but we had to wait until a couple of other rafts put in before we could launch.
Dave went looking for someone willing to follow him to our take our spot, so he could drop off the truck and then give him a lift back. Fortunately he got lucky, and ran into an American couple near the pasarela that were kind enough to help out.
Fish were rising in significant numbers, and we saw several fairly big ones while standing on some large boulders just upstream from where we put the raft in. I only managed a single take, but Eric landed a small Rainbow.
The scenery along the river, while not as rugged as the Pico or Cisnes, was beautiful in its own right, and could best be described as pastoral. In addition to numerous condors, we also had plenty of curious livestock to keep us company along the way.
Rather than continuing with dry flies, Dave recommend switching over to streamers if we wanted to target some bigger fish. It was frustrating at first, and I only managed to land one small Brown during the first couple of hours.
Eric was having his challenges as well, until drawing on his extensive experience fishing other rivers, he had what I would describe as an angling “epiphany,” and it all came together for him.
The fish were clearly not active in the slack water, so he switched over to an Olive Skull Head Sculpin, and fished it slowly through the fast water from the tail of a run, back up to the top end.
The theory was, that by fishing a run adjacent to some deep water, where the fish could hold while not feeding, if we timed it right, when they came out into the run to feed, we would be there waiting for them – and we were!
He caught six very nice Rainbows, including the biggest of the trip, that would have easily gone over five pounds using that technique. He also lost another good one that after a great fight, went airborne and spit the fly.
It was now his turn to lend me a fly, and I caught one relatively small Rainbow on the Sculpin, bringing my day’s total to two fish, which seemed to be my absolute limit for the last couple of days.
We continued to drift the Simpson until it joined the Mañihuales, where it then became the Rio Aysén, which is where Dave had left the truck. After pulling out and getting everything stowed away, we headed back to Mañihuales.
Finding something to eat proved to be a bit of a challenge, but we managed to find a café that was still open, where Dave ordered up some type of beef dish, fries and a local dish consisting of sautéed vegetables, beef and sausage, poured over a mess of fries. The “kitchen sink” concoction was not too bad, but the beef was so tough that I couldn’t chew it. Eric and Dave did manage to choke some down, so perhaps I need to have my teeth sharpened once I get home!
The Hostel Mañihuales was a well-maintained guesthouse, with several bedrooms, a big, comfortable living/dining room, full kitchen, bathroom/shower and Wi-Fi.
It had been a long day, so we packed it in just after midnight, and were serenaded by the Mañihuales Canine Tabernacle Choir until we drifted off to sleep.
Well Folks – That’s About All She Wrote
We had a quick, early breakfast, because while we had to be back in Balmaceda by early afternoon to catch our flight to Santiago, there were still a couple of sections of the Rio Simpson Dave recommend we fish on the way back to the airport.
Eric was definitely up for it, but I’d had my fill, and was content to watch them fish, and take a few pictures. We started off near the pasarela where we had put the raft in the previous day, but other than one small Rainbow that Dave caught, there was not much doing.
While they fished, I watched a farmer feed his chickens, and we managed to carry on something of a conversation, although it was comprised mainly of smiles, grunts and hand signals. The farmer also had a patch of the biggest, most beautiful and sweetest smelling lilies that I have ever seen.
We had one more run to fish, and while I have no idea how he managed to locate it, Dave pulled off the road seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where he had somehow spotted a small gap in the fence, that opened to a path leading down to the river.
Eric finished with a flourish, landing a three and one-half to four pound Rainbow on the Olive Skull Head Sculpin. It was a fantastic finish to what had been, in virtually every respect, a fantastic week.
We were keeping an eye on the clock, so rather than stop for lunch, decided to grab some take-out while passing through Coyhaique. After finally finding a parking space - they were at a premium in the downtown area - we checked out the hand written menu in front of the place Dave had recommended, and took a stab at ordering lunch.
While the menu had several things to choose from, the guy behind the counter said we could either have salmon - or salmon. It was either that, or wait at least thirty minutes until something else was ready – including a hot dog. Eric and Dave went with the salmon, but I was not in the mood for fish, and because there was apparently a pretty good restaurant at the airport, decided to wait.
Trip Note/Vignette – In our experience there was no such thing in the Patagonia as “fast food,” at least not in terms of how we understand the concept. Other than the Empanadas we had at the Confluencia, which while already made up still had to be heated, food was ready when it was ready, because it was all pretty much cooked to order.
Other than a stop for fuel, we made very good time to the airport, where we would reluctantly have to part with Dave and the Patagonia. Following handshakes, together with promises to keep in touch and exchange pictures, we checked our bags through – or so we thought – and Dave headed back to his home and family in Chile Chico.
Having some time to kill, we found a table in the restaurant, where I had a very tasty roast beef and cheese sandwich that I could actually chew.
According to the flight status monitor in the restaurant, our flight was on time, and once we cleared security, were then herded into a relatively small departure lounge – and I use the term lounge loosely – where we got to play departure gate roulette yet again, because our flight had completely disappeared from the monitor.
The monitor was only showing a much later flight, and neither of the only two gates in the departures area had any information posted on them whatsoever. No one in an official capacity that we could find spoke any English, and the “lounge” area was now pretty much at capacity, with all of the seats, and most of the floor space spoken for.
There was some sort of an announcement over the public address system, which could have been in Urdu for all we knew, that may or may not have had something to do with our flight. In any event, about ten minutes later people starting moving towards one of the gates, so we followed suit, and were relieved to find that we were in the right place after all, and our flight was in fact going to leave as scheduled.
After an uneventful flight back to Santiago, during which we partook of the cold beer/Lays Stax potato chip special the airline had on offer, we made our way to the baggage claim area - fortunately not the same one we were crammed into last week - where we, or to be more precise, I, picked up my bag.
To make a long story short, while I saw them tag and place Eric’s bag beside the conveyor in Balmaceda, for reasons we will never know, it didn’t make it onto our flight.
Fortunately the guy at the baggage counter was very helpful, and we were assured it would be on the next incoming flight, which thankfully it was.
The delay cost us an extra couple of hours, but we finally managed to check in to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Airport Terminal, which was located right across from the terminal building, just a short walk from the baggage claim area.
It was a well-appointed, modern hotel with good rooms, decent food, and a very nice bar/lounge area. We dropped our bags off in our rooms and headed down to the bar, where after a cold drink or two and a bite to eat, called it a night, because we wanted to be at the airport no later 6am to ensure there would be plenty of time to clear security and customs, and make our homeward bound flight.
Trip Note/Vignette – As noted, this particular Holiday Inn was both well-appointed and convenient. We could have stayed somewhere a bit less expensive – rooms were about $200 Canadian per night – but we likely would have had to pay for a taxi or some other form of conveyance to take us off site, and then bring us back, so all in all it was a pretty good deal. Not only that, when you order a double Manhattan at this place – oh baby! Tell them you want it straight up, and then add your own ice later.
Day 10th (it was actually day 11th if you count the day we left Canada)
The Fat Lady Finally Warbled a Tune
Fortunately Air Canada was not a departure gate roulette participant, so we had no real difficulty checking in, especially since Eric had priority boarding privileges, and we were able to jump the queue.
Our flight home was fine, the crew was both friendly and attentive, and even the grub was not too shabby.
As luck would have it, we were not quite finished queuing up as yet, because it just so happened that our packed 787 landed at the same time as a jumbo coming in from Beijing, so you can probably imagine the chaos that ensued when east met west – well south really – at customs.
It took a while to get through, but they moved us along pretty well all things considered. By the way, I’ve just completed filling out my application for a Nexus card – enough with the lines already.
Eric headed off to catch his connecting flight to London, ON, while I couldn’t wait to get home, and sink my teeth into a pizza, and perhaps one more glass of red wine…
So How Was It - Really?
In a word – exceptional – and we owe it all to the organizational, linguistic and guiding skills of “Super” Dave Jackson.
He was nothing short of amazing, and worked his tail off to ensure that we had the best possible experience. We really didn’t have to worry about a single thing once we got there, as Dave had everything lined up, right down to the smallest detail, all at an incredible price, and since he had arranged for us to stay at both a working farm and guesthouse in tiny, relatively isolated villages, we also got a glimpse into how people actually lived, and otherwise regarded the outside world - including us two Gringos - which made this more than just a straight up fishing trip.
If you’re at all interested in doing some fishing in Chile, Dave is the guy you want to talk to, so feel free to drop Eric or myself a note, and we will be happy to put you in touch with him.
Eric was an outstanding travelling companion – other than when he suggested to Jorge that I had been waiting all my life to eat a sheep’s kidney – and not only helped me to become a more accomplished fly fisherman, he always held back a little on our “walk and wades” so I could keep up, given my somewhat gimpy ankle.
Bud, I’d be happy to fish with you anytime and anywhere.
In terms of things I would change, if given a “do over”? Truth be told there aren’t many.
• Because the flight is over ten hours in duration, I would definitely upgrade to Premium Economy. If you don’t have anyone in the middle seat – as was the case on our return flight – it’s not too bad, but on the way down, with the middle seat filled, Eric and I felt much like a couple of sardines stuffed into a can.
• We would fish the rivers a little differently, particularly if the water conditions were the same, and focus more on the fast runs, rather than slack water.
• I would eat no lamb for at least three months prior to leaving Canada, and
• Bring along a LARGE can of rooster repellent.
Finally, and I say “finally,” because after putting over 10,000 words into play in an effort to accurately describe our adventure - 10,204 if you’re actually counting - that’s probably more than enough for now.
Hey, that works out to about two words for each kilometer we travelled! Ok – I’ll shut up now – really…