I think when someone goes traveling to a different country, part of the fun is observing the little differences of say, the infastructure. Maybe it´s just me. Take for instance road signs. We have them in the states just like they have them here in Chile. No surprise there. But what did strike me as humorous was the way that they portray the signs. You might see a sign in the states indicating a narrow mountain pass or drive with caution written in words, yet here in Chile you get a picture of your car driving off the side of a cliff. Or when you would be driving in the states and see a sign for Falling Rock. As a kid, my grandfather would say that Falling Rock was an old Native American chief who walked throughout the mountains and forest. Years later the joke finally was corrected. But as gullible as I may have been as a child thank god I wasn´t driving in Chile with him to see the sign that indicates that your vehicle will be pummeled by meteors. I think that they are just a lot more blunt down here. Once you get past the humor, they are actually a nice change.

For fishing lodges throughout the world, you can never control what the fishing will be like. You do your research on the fisheries around your base, hire experienced guides, and can only hope for the best. The things you can control are the foods that you serve and the atmosphere that you create for your guests. The idea is to get clients to return year after year regardless of what the fishing was like during their last experience. Every lodge does this in their own way.

Marcel and Carolina follow the basics that any other lodge would but in effort to set themselves apart, they both like to experiment with how they run their lodge. They are big supporters of buying goods locally and if it can´t be bought, it is grown organically in one of their green houses or raised in the lush grass fields on their property. Carolina having no formal training in culinary arts, cooks for the love of cooking often experimenting with new recipes and ingredients she has grown in her garden with great success. If her friends are in town visiting, they offer clients professional massages or yoga classes. Marcel likes to sit each client down with a good bottle of wine and ask how their fishing days went. It constant striving to satisfy their guests, the genuine effort of caring and the feeling of home and community that they create. It all adds to the chance of success to get a client to return for another trip.

Towards the end of our week at the Patagonian Base Camp, Ryan Peterson of the Fly Shop, PBC guide Kris Kennedy and I did a recon float of the “Rio Diablo.“ For the past week the weather had been crystal clear but as our morning drive lengthened to an hour and a half driving on mud splattered roads decorated with stray cattle, the dark grey clouds refused to leave and the heavens opened up.

Rain is a paradox for a fisherman. This year has been unusually hot and the large drought has insued causing low water levels and ever increasing pressure on the fisheries. The more water the better the fishing. So with this morning´s promise of heavy showers, you would think we would be pleased. After all they needed it badly. But such was not the case.

As we pulled the raft off the trailor, the rainfall dewindled and then stopped. Nobody commented on it so as not to jinx our day. We lucked out. We made out way through the narrow canyon catching what seemed like hundreds of near blue backed colored rainbow trout. Epic day.

They say all good things must come to an end and as the clocked struck 5 pm the rains remembered us and we were soaked within minutes.

The battle has been intense and many a stray dog and child have been mesmerized and dumbfounded by watching the two gringo brothers recommence the fury of their ongoing rummy game. Although there were times of worry, I have been able to hold on to my edge and remain on top of the mountain.

While I was at the PBC, we went on an over night float trip on the Rio Palana. We decided to have some fun with the boats and do some light painting.

When I told you that my current location of Puerto Montt was the second time I had found myself here, it was because the city was the starting point of the past three week adventure. After saying goodbye to Mark Kniprath in Chile TDF, I managed to make my way up to this city where I would be meeting a good buddy of mine named Ryan Peterson of The Fly Shop in Redding, CA and some fishing clients he was escorting to the Patagonia Base Camp, our first fishing destination. I had arrived a day earlier. Actually it was more like the night before around 9 p.m. Disorientated and tired, I arrived to a nearly empty airport just outside Puerto Montt. That was a surprise. Turns out the airport is 17 km from the city. Okay no problem. I opted to stay the night in the airport and wait for Ryan´s arrival. I quickly learned that the current airport I was at was infact the wrong airport and that he would be meeting me at a smaller regional airport on the other side of town. Ah the second surprise. Chile is full of these.

After a taxi cab ride and a successful translation take-me-to-this-place-please and stop-for-a-meal-on-the-way to my driver, we rolled up along a gravel back street road to the correct airport. It was closed ofcourse and when I thought it would have a terminal, it instead turned out to be a little private airport surrounded by ghetto neighborhoods and garbage-littered, undeveloped fields. With a determination not to miss my rondevue, I assured the driver that I would be okay, paid the man, prayed for no rain and bedded down amongst the tall grass in a ditch ajacent to the airport entrance.

I´ve never been much of a early riser, but I was up with the sun the next morning to be greeted by a passing pack of stray dogs walking home from their night time wanderings and the sounds of the airport employees coming in to work. Still in one piece I met up with Ryan and we boarded a Twin engine turbo prop Beechcraft to fly out to our first lodge destination.

For the few who regulary check in with my traveling adventures, (Hi Aca and Grandma) an absence of my daily blog updates has been accuring. The reason being that for the last three and a half weeks I have been without email, phones or any type of communication devises save for wind chimes and the daily hoot and hollar of a fisherman signaling a fish on mid stream. It has been an incredible month for me and as you can imagine, extremely busy. I will be sure to bring you all up to speed with the stories and pictures to boot. I have reached the end of my lodge hopping journey and have resurfaced for the second time in the small city of Puerto Montt. Tommarrow I will re connect with my brother Eric and slam back into the life of a poor, but happy backpacker. So sit back and let me bring you up to speed.

Meet Nico.

Nico is the four year old son of a lodge worker at Mark´s place in Chile TDF. Like any boy his age, he spends his days running around, exploring and constantly keeping his parents on their toes. His only play mate is a chocolate labrador named Kodiak who is owned by Mark. So when tackling the dog becomes old, he resorts to chewing on permanant markers (with unfortunate results), kicking around a soccer ball and in some way or another, strives to find new ways to entertain himself. For as crazy as he was at times, he would always find a way to give you a laugh.

Let me tell you about one of his favorite past times.

In both Argentina and Chile Tierra del Fuego, you are bound to bump into the local wildlife sooner or later. It´s an island that has very few predators around, the largest being a fox. As a result, much of the wildlife you encounter don´t have the natural reaction to flee at the sight of people. Probably the most dominant species found besides birds, are herds of local guanacos munching on the barrien vegetation. Guanacos are apart of the camel family. I had only seen them from a distance during my time in Argentina, but once I crossed into Chile, getting close to them wasn´t a problem. They are incredibly curious animals and few will pass up the chance to check out anglers fishing on the rivers.

I found out that getting close to them can turn into a game of sorts. I learned of the game from Nico. He would slowly approach the herds just long enough until each one would see him. Once he had their attention, he would sprint towards them with his little battle cry. This ofcourse would spook the guanacos and as any smart herd animal would do, they quickly sprinted (while keeping one eye on him) to a safe viewing distance. Just as the spook was played out, Nico would then drop to the ground, disapear into the tall grass and wait. Watching this happen before my eyes and controling my laughter, you could just imagine what was going through their heads.

¨Ahhh run away! Wait! Huh? Where did he go? He was just there a second ago. That´s peculiar…We should check on him.¨

Sure enough, curiousity would get the best of them and the herd would slowly start creeping back towards the spot they last saw Nico. This process was repeated numerous times by Nico and gradually he was able to get within ten feet of them. I thought it was pretty clever of him and a good afternoon chuckle.

He´s a great kid that could really use a brother.

For as glamorous and wonderful as the EMB was for me, it was an environment that I really felt out of place in. Mark’s lodge was more in my comfort zone. Based on a log cabin design, I quickly was reminded of the warm, cozy feeling of my family’s cabin in northern Wisconsin. Over the last twenty so years, Mark has been guiding up in Alaska and when he built his Tierra del Fuego fishing gem, he brought along the comforts and rustic looks of a lodge straight out of the northern hemisphere. It’s a place where you can still find all the creature comforts but the emphasis and bulk of the experience is based on the fish. Fishable waters here are plentiful. So much that Mark has only been able to explore just a handful of them.

My journey over to the Chilean side of TDF went over smoothly just at the last minute. With the lousy communication connections, I wasn’t able to connect with my transfer guy to my next lodge. A week had gone by since last hearing from the lodge owner and I had never set up a exact time and date when I would meet him. After a worrisome day of wondering if I would be stranded at the border, things fell into place and I was able to make my way over to meet him. It was a hard lesson in preplanning.

I spent the next ten days staying at Mark Kniprath’s new fishing operation just west of the Radman border crossing. The differences in the flora and fauna were imediately apparent. Where the Argentina side was wind swept and barrien, the Chilean side offered shelter from the wind. Trees. Huge beech trees packed in thick within the mountain scape surrounding the lodge. It is pretty incredible how an hour drive westward and a cross over through the Andes can change the landscape. It was a welcoming sight and a familiar return to the mountain fishing that I grew up on.

Throughout all the traveling that I have been doing these last weeks visiting all of these gorgeous fishing lodges, I am amazed at the continuity that the guest create between eachother. I would compare it to something along the lines of summer camp. A summer camp for adults. I think it is in places like the Maria Behety where people come to blossom into to their true selves again. Oh sure many of them live happy lives with well to do jobs, but it is here where they get to be a kid again. Playing with their new found friends, laughing at eachothers stories and sharing in the enjoyment of fishing. It’s as if the fishing part is a catalyst for freeing their minds of the stress of daily life.

As a kid, my parents were quick to socialize me with adults. Throughout my life I have been very comfortable doing it. More importantly, I thought I had seen it all. Only it was from a certain perspective. It was during time here that I observed baby boomers reconnect with their youth, flirting and acting as if they were sixteen again. I had to laugh at it all. Call me ignorant.

It got me thinking about the concept of aging. At the ripe age of twenty-five I realized that as time goes by the kid in you really never leaves you. Perhaps it just gets buried under the weigh of the work, kids, jobs, bills and the rest of daily life. That getting old is more a mindset and not a number. How nice that there are those that can unearth it with perfect strangers at the bottom of the world with a fly rod in hand.

To say the the Maria Behety Estancia is sitting pretty successwise is a huge understatement. The Menendez family was one of the first families to stake a claim in the barrien land of fire back in the mid 1850’s. At one point Alejandro’s family owned almost all of the Tierra del Fuego. Over the years plots of land were sold off and now they sit comfortably with more than 100,000 acres of prestine grazing land and an entire side of the best sea run brown trout fishery The Rio Grande. The goods don’t stop there. Upon this vast stretch of real estate, they boast the largest sheep sheering operation in the world with over 40,000 sheep and a couple thousand head of Argentina cattle.

We have our food covered.

Being in such a remote place as TDF the MB Estancia, which by the way is broken up into two fishing lodges, ranch offices, gaucho houses, barns, worker housing, a church, and numerous other buildings- must run off diesel generators. Convieniently, the estancia sits on a huge gas reserve underground where they drill for their own fuel.

No gas costs.

So what you’re left with is an almost totally off the grid five star ranching/fishing operation that caters to the upper class of North America and European society.

All profit.

Luckly, the guest reap the benefits of an amazing fishing experience. -M

For the few lucky individuals that can get a spot in {and afford} a week stay at the Maria Behety, the experience is nothing more than spectacular. Being at the end of the earth doesnt hinder the comforts of finding yourself in a 4 star lodge complete with gourmet meals, fancy rooms and “The best sea run brown trout fishing” worldwide. Our days began early beginning with a light breakfast and multiple cups of coffee. It was needed because would gather our things head to the wader room, boot up and be driving out to the fishing holes by about 8.30 am.

The guides would help clients gear up their rods, show them the runs and let them know the best routes to hook into some fish. Over the years, many fisherman especially those who have been before have opted for the casting power of spey rods over their typical single handed rods. Almost 99% of the clients coming here to the EMB have been fishing for years having this outing to Tierra del Fuego be the pinacle of their lifetime of fishing. They come for the huge trout. What they don’t realize it that is will be some of the most windy conditions most of them have ever seen. Their is no such thing as a good caster here. Half of the time you are juggling having to brace your footing in the water so that you don’t get blown down stream while at the same time you are trying to cast across the pool in hurricane-like conditions. The use of the spey rods, which can range from 10-15 ft in length, enable the caster to throw alot more line with less effort. It is tricky fishing but the results are worth while.

The more north you stray from the fishing port of Ushuaia, the geography of the land dramatically changes. The mountain peaks smooth out to rolling tundra, the lush evergreen canopy turns to grasslands and for someone that wasn´t looking more carefully they might get the impression of it being a wasteland of no importance. It is only when you get in close for another look that the Land of Fire truely grabs you opens your eyes to its wonder. Llama like creatures (actually related to the camel family) called Guanacos roam the plains and can often be spotted like a lookout sentinels at their post on a distant hillside. Curious gray foxes come in closer for a view while Ibus, Flamingos, and condors spy from above. It is a land unique all to itself.