May 29, 2009

Espejo Chico

As mentioned before, a good ride for me here in 'The Big Paradise' consumes a good portion of the day, not on the bike, but off it; exploring, photographing, and meditationg on the pure beauty of God's grandeur. Less than 100km of road mapped out for the day, and planning the better part of 6 hrs. for the cruise.... Winding up and down the gravely road, on and off the banks of the mighty Lago Traful stopping on occasion to quench not only a physical thirst with the crystal clear waters of Traful, but a spiritual one with the elaborate views, smells, and sounds in this part of Patagonia...

I pass by the last playa of the lake and down into what appears to be an arctic rainforest, (if there is such a thing), and lining the dirt road is a mix of pines (large and small), fern looking giants, and nameless color changing deciduous trees glowing with golden glamour in spots where the sun has burst through the canopy above. This type of forest always seems to give a feeling of enchantedness, thus provoking frequent stops to search for fairytale foxes or just to sit & listen to the sound of fantasy for a while....

Paradise re-encountered....Corrected, I should say a mini-Paradise, within a much greater Paradise, whilst waiting for the ultimate Paradise, encounterd .. Se llama Espejo Chico.... "Espejo" means "mirror" in spanish, and a very fitting name for the glass-faced body of water cleverly tucked back in amongst the bright yellow poplars the middle of this Eden. To my dismay (hah!), the place was vacant except for the owner and the land manager casually raking up leaves in the back yard of a cozy little cabin behind the country store.. After sharing a suitably seasonal relaxed conversation about (what else?) the beauty of such a place, I set off searching for a campsite through the maze of golden leaf covered trails, I could have putted around this part of the trail all day! Finally after much internal debate of which one was 'more perfecter' than the last, I landed on one, and so as to keep par for course, popped a bottle of tinto, strapped on the vest and waded out into the crystal clear freshness dawning a face siezed in jubilation...

...Within the first few casts in the sparkling stream flowing out of Espejo, I had a hit on my fly that I can only describe as being "the big one." After fighting the monster for what I'm sure was only a few moments but at the time had seemed like forever, my rod quickly recoiled nearly puching myself in the face, and I new I had lost him... So, as most tall (fish)tales end, "the big one" got away, leaving me with a hightened sense of determination to land a record trout someday. Frustrated, but not defeated I continued to wisp the weightless line through the crisp mountain air, occasionally presenting a perfect meal for anything hungry enough to munch on flies...I remained under the golden yellows and oranges of the trees lining the banks of the small river mesmorized by the aqua blue/green water, until the sun had found its resting place on the horizon accrossed the lake. Shortly after the suns light had faded, a silver sliver of moon appeared and quickly followed its opposite behind the horizon, the three Marias and southern cross shone like pin holes in a backlit canvas, and all was quiet. I set the rod aside for the morning to come, and nestled up in the tent for another night of splendid slumber here Paradise...... Abba, Padre, estar contigo es una dulce bendicion, gracias por Tu tierra impresionante y este pura vida para disfrutarla. Eres majestruoso, y poderoso, dar la cuenta a Ti, Senor por todo. En el nombre de el grande Jesus, Amen.

May 20, 2009

Filo Hua Hum

Leaving the enfermeria at SM was tricky for a couple of reasons. First I was barley mobile, and second,  I had found a comfortable companionship with the residents as well as a striking similarity to the Black Hills (home sweet home) in the cerros around the pueblito.. Yep, settling into San Martin would've been easy, too easy, meaning I had to scoot before getting lost in the Argentinian culture for good.

After only a week of recuperation I could hardly walk (more like hobble) and my knee could barely make a 20 degree bend on its own, thus making it very hard to shift gears, let alone sit with it painfully forced into a 70 degree bend for the three hour ride to Filo 
Hua Hum, but the move had to be made. Difficult, yeah, but once on the road, the persistant pain was quickly remedied by by smiles of simple solace as 
God revealed himself once again in the splendid scenery approaching the lake... 

Lago Filo Hua Hum was vacant (no longer that surprising, but still striking me as amazing) leaving me once more with pick of the crop to set up the house for a duration of my choosing... 
Four days and three nights of mate sippin', fly castin', and mountain meditatin' had me feeling better physically and mentally than I had experienced in quite some time...It hit me that my time in this paradise was somewhat limited, 
thus amplifying the amount of awe-inspiring moments experienced per diem. It is time to thank the Maker.
 Prayers of praise before pez on the parilla: Te agredezco Senor por todo, Eres lo mejor, y Tu creacion es magnifico. Gracias por el regalo de vida, en el nombre de Jesus.... Oraciones of ovation before bed:  Doy las gracias a ti, Senor, por otra mas dia que fue increible. Bendeces mis amigos y mi familia con corazones grandes para amar, y buen salud para compartir Tu mesaje de amor. En el nombre de Jesus. Amen.

May 15, 2009

San Martin

The cruise down from Lago Huechulafquen into San Martin de Los Andes was just as marvelous as the ride up from San Junin de Los Andes. 90km in any other place would be about an hour drive, but given the exquisiteness of the area, it's a sufficient and spectacular days' ride in Patagonia.

Upon arrival in San Martin I searched out a recommended place (Playa Catitre) to set up camp for a few days. Recommended for a reason, Catitre turned out to be one of the most picture perfect sites yet. On the bank of Lago Lacar just outside of the pueblo San Martin lay this splendid little area, and once again, I was awestruck. A daily routine of fishing till sunset, feasting on asado, and falling asleep to the sound of a nearby arroyo kept me bright eyed for the first three days, I felt a wondrous welcome to the spot I would call home for the next couple of weeks.

I hadn't planned on staying that long, but some reckless riding on the third day led to a hospital visit and a self diagnosis of a torn MCL in my left knee. Bummer indeed, but no worries, some amigos I had met the day before offered up their house as a casa de enfermedad when they saw me hobbling down the cobbled street away from the hospital. Prescribing a diet of delicoius food (chefs by trade), and couch sitting, they tended to me like MD's of supreme stature during the week plus I spent with them in SM. I offered up my service of artistic creativity in lue of payment for such hospitality.. Whilst maintaining a strict diet of ibuprofen, ice, and good wine, I decorated the walls of the small house with the aesthetically pleasing, yet simple lines of Nazca, Peru. They were delighted to have a new decor, and we were all mutually pleased to have made new friendships.Daily accompaniments to the fantastic meals and five star friends, were conversations in pure Argentian slang (of which I was able to understand snippets) and busted up english (which made me laugh) while we poked fun of whatever object had most recently provoked such slander. It seems I had found a complementary companionship here amongst Hernan, Nico, El Capitan, Celeste, Sergio, and Alejandro. As they say here in Argentina 'que buena onda'- what good things, man.

May 7, 2009

Corazon del Pescadores

The heart of flyfishing here in Patagonia is said to be located in San Junin de los Andes. The rivers and lakes in the surrounding area are remarkable, and even now seem to buzzing with fisherman waiting to hook the one that got away from everyone else this year. I was happy to join them in their hunt.

Malleo and Chimihuen proved some of the best rivers I have fished yet.. Still no monsters, but the trout are getting bigger, and I am getting better. I have faced a few struggles, but none too big to overcome with a little perseverance and determination. There have been times it is too cold for me to wade in up to my waist without those nifty waiters everyone seems to be sporting (keeping me on the sidelines), but it doesn't deter me from getting in at least up to the knees. There also have been times when the wind has picked up (dictating what way my line is cast) and after a few tangles, I have been forced to learn to cast (somewhat roughly) lefthanded (no bites yet, but they´ll come.) By far the biggest struggle I face is trying to choose where to pull over and rig the rod for a few casts... These rivers and lakes are loaded with beautiful sections one can only presume are stuffed with trout, and if not, the experience and scenery alone are well worth the stop.

My three day tour of the area had left me at the end of the road and at the base of Volcano Lanin searching out campsites on Lago Huechulafquen. The gravel road twisting its way up and down and around the shores of the lake is lined with gigantic pines and laden with covert little hideaways to camp or fire up the parilla. A gorgeous lake, with the impressionable Volcan Lanin keeping watch from just a few kilometers away. A breathtaking ride, and once again, the quiet prevails on the north end of the lake where I decide to take refuge on the shores for a few days and let the solitude of this splendor speak its wispers into open ears ....

May 5, 2009

Bait Beta

One of the questions I had when I embarked on this new experience was how to find the right fly for the job at any specific fishing hole along the route. I was given tips and recommendations by both Vince and Pablo, but the concern somewhat remained. It turns out, it was´t as big of a problem as I had thought. Upon arrival in lake and river district the answer to this dilema hit me right in the face...literally. The following hypothesis, tests and conclusions I consider somewhat scientific, but mostly just haphazard-we´ll call it `willy-nilly science´ (I get it from pa).

Most roads closely follow the path the river has chosen through the landscape in Patagonia, and they are full of life, big and small.. I tried catching bugs hovering the water with my karate kid set of chopsticks to study the make and model but failed. Sorry Miagi. I then saddled up, hit the road, and a more direct route `haphazardly´ splattered onto the goggles covering my eyes, I hypothesized... The frustration passed from the many quick but sharp `pings´ of pain from the unfortunate airborn insects in my path approaching a fishing hole, and I was able to test my hypothesis . ¿Could I simply peel off the carcas of whatever bug was last plastered to my forehead and match it up as closely as possible with one in my aresenal of bait flies? Sure enough! The results were a success, 8 times out of 10 producing a bite within the first few casts!
I came up with a couple of biased conclusions:
First, I prefer to use the very small, very light `dryflies´, partially because I find them easier to cast-thus easeir to present nicely for the fishies, but mostly because their real-life matches do not sting as bad (coming to this conclusion was rather painful at times--ie: bees, dragonflies).
Second, needless to say, the fish that were hitting the small flies were rather small "fries" themselves (litterally the ¨handful¨ of fish I caught in the first week could have all fit into one hand!) 
Regardless of the take, the fishing has been awesome, and  I have to thank my dad for such stimulated spontaneous science solving the bait problem. Sorry no keepers this time, but we shall return.... Lookout Patagonia!

May 4, 2009

A Day In The Life

I am re-packing the dry gear after a damp evening when a slight breeze kicks up just enough to boost a couple of small golden leaves from their summer homes, and sends them sailing down to find their place amongst the sparingly strewn Quilmes bottlecaps of previous campers. Not a soul within miles...An autumn Patagonian paradise all to myself. The campgrounds are vacant, the fishing holes deserted, and the road empty..The smile is nearly permanent now, it has not left my face for quite some time..I am re-convinced daily that there is such thing as "Heaven on Earth", and it´s called Patagonia.

A quick lunch on the parilla, and it´s down to the crystal clear creek sporting a rigged rod, fishing vest, and a pair of sandals... nothing else neccesary. I slowly stroll up the calm little stream, tanning my snow white buns, exalting in the solitude of this area, thanking God with every step for the flawless beauty that surrounds me.... and for the weee little fish I am able to land. : )

As evening approaches, I saddle up and hit the gravel. Meandering my way through groves of poplars ablaze with yellow brilliance in the last minutes of southern sunlight, around river banks reflecting the luminous landscape in vivid mimicry, doubling the magnificence so abundantly arranged all around me. I am nature drunk and loving it.

I land at a campground and effortlessly build my temporary house/semi-permanent home for about the hundredth time this year, gather some timber for the fire, and sip on the sweet stream water re-living the days memories . The asado is cooking,and it smells of campfire and Argentinian beef. I am watching the full moon rise over the illuminated golden leaves lining the river bank, the traquil sound of Rio Alumine fills whatever void there is inside me and I am happy. Tonight I cant wait to fall asleep, as tomorrow will be another day to enjoy it all over again! : )

May 2, 2009

First Glimpse

A few 500km days driving through the middle of this grand country left me just on the outskirts of the famed and highly anticipated Patagonian lakes and rivers district. Finally!! Nothing but giddy grins and out-of -tune singing flowed from my mouth as the moto and I cruised up into the forested area of Primeros Pinos (1st pines). The sweet familiar scent of pine trees coated my nostrils and immediatly I knew this was going to be an amazing next few months.

Climbing up and around the foothills of Patagonia, down into valleys surrounded by arroyos, rios, trees, and the universal/unmistakable smell of fall. The first veiw of the Lakes hit me like Christmas morning, this is the place I´ve dreamed about for years...Lago Matetuwe, close to the much larger lake (Lago Alumine), was the chosen spot for my fly fishing career to get rolling. Unable to hide ear to ear smiles from all the onlooking vegetation I found an area to remove the helmet and like Gambits eyes, let it shine. The "pop" of one of Argentinas finest was heard echoing accrossed the eerily still lake marking the moment of a newfound love. A sound was returned by a screeling chorus of bright green and red parrots (patagonian conures) patroling the area for sweet pine nuts while practicing their ariel coriagraphy in groups of no less than thirty. With underpants rolled up and rod rigged, I waded out into the crystal clear lake casting the bright green float line out little by little, loving the feeling of the first casts over water. I must admit, I was a little distracted by the clarity of the water, resulting in a few unavoidable tangles...It was like peering down through a glass coffee table top, under which I could make out perfectly clear beads of rounded stones and shells resting on the lake floor, incredible. Casting continued under the warm southern sun, and I developed a partial thirst for the crystal clearness I was standing in. As I dipped my hands in the form of a cup and casually sipped on the crisp, sweet water I thought of the immense difference in how water recources are treated here compared to those of Argentina´s northern neighbors in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. I won´t elaborate too much, but I would hesitate to wade into most streams, rivers, or lakes sporting a fully sealed BIO suit in those northern countries, and the fact I can sip from the source out of a straw here in Argentina, is quite a grand difference. Argentina gets an A+, they know what natural recources are and strive to protect them. Buena onda. Contributing to the very slim percentage of pollution they do harbour, I put the rod down for a while, shed my clothing and dove in for my weekly bath. (I guess I´m not that toxifying though, as I have continued to drink the water without falling ill). I flopped about doing my best impresssions of the fish I plan on catching in upcoming weeks, and was startled when a few passing hikers rounded the corner to find me doing some Qi Gong breathing excersises stark naked on a boulder half submerged in the water, oops! I figured it proper to clothe up, and practice a more "socially accepted" activity, in this case flyfishing... : ) No bites on the day, but the pure pleasure of being out there set the bar to a new high. The sun had began to set, the rod & flies put away, and it was time to find camp for my first night in Patagonia. A picture perfect sunset to end the fairytale of a day, in what I have started to call "Paradise"...

Finca Altamira

A year or two ago a series of rather fortunate events between my brother and one of the owners of Finca Altamira led to and invitation to stay and lend a hand during the harvest of 2009. (It´s a long story and I am a little short on details to get into it, but it involves being rescued from a tinfoil sleeping bag, missed airplanes, and a roadtrip accrossed the US in a VW bus with a dreadlocked computer programer from Chicago).

Anyway, Altamira is an impressive (to say the least) little vineyard outside of La Consulta, just south of Mendoza, and the owners were congenial enough to let a couple of roughnecks from SD stay for a stint. David (a famous English ex-journalist claiming to be allAmerican at heart (which I can believe,but his sense of humor remains clearly English : )) and his son Nelson (a 3rd grader with the intellect of a young Einstien and energy of a howler monkey) were great hosts for the two of us during the short time we spent together at their finca. Activities whilst staying there invloved golfing (in the backyard) and searching for wormholes that would transport us to Patagonia for that BIG fish (Nelson has quite the imagination as well.) In between eating delicious food and drinky tasty wines, conversations varied from the fictitous (for B and me) world economy crisis, to the very real "who done it" in the famed boardgame Clue (it was Plum in the Ballroom, with the knife.)

We were slightly bummed after finding the first scheduled day of harvest was cancelled due to a drunk truck driver and hung over workers- a festival of some sort took place the day before (who can blame em´?.) So, I resorted to swimming, swatting birdies with Nelson (badmitten), drinking more delicious wine, and playing a round or two of golf (again--in the back yard!) Like I said... bummer, huh.

The next day, as it turned out, our two pairs of hands were´nt exactly needed once again as more than 60 workers showed up to snip & pick the purple fruits dangling from the vines surrounding the palace. Still, a fun experience watching the men and women hustle to fill as many bins as possible in the short time it took to gather the entire crop of Malbec & Cabernet grapes growing from the fertile soils of the Altamira Finca. Unfortunetly, we would not hang around to see the rest of the crop gathered later that week, it was time for us to move on, and, in hindsight, we never got to be that much of a help around the place afterall. On the other hand, hopefully our South Dakotan charm left enough of a good impression to not lock the doors to any bike bearing rednecks in the upcoming future....especially if they conspire to let the father/son team relive their triumph over the midwestern bros on the linx.....Hasta Entonces..