Our first of three days fishing at El Saltamontes started off at this beautiful lake. The brown trout would hide in amongst the weeds and cruise the shoreline underneath summerged trees.
After our week at PBC lodge, Ryan and I said our goodbyes to Marcel and Carolina and hopped a plane north to Balmaceda towards our next destination, El Saltamontes Lodge. We met by Jose, the lodge owner at the airport, piled into his Dodge Ram (which was weird to see after such a long time down here in the Patagonia with the smaller more efficient trucks) and chatted with him over the two hour car ride in to his lodge. Upon arriving, the sun was setting and I noticed large alpaca herds that were grazing on his land. It turns out that the lodge is the largest working alpaca ranch in the region and that exports to the States and Asia a couple times a year. Jose´s daughter Natalia took Ryan and I over for a closer look at them.
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.
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.