Archive for May, 2009


Lago Gutiérrez (May 29, 2009)

Lago Gutiérrez (May 29, 2009)

Click the image above to enlarge

Courtesy of Living in Patagonia

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Continued from Valle Hermoso, Part 1: Inedito 4×4

Rio Tardillo

Rio Tordillo

My first trip with Inedito 4×4 was as a co-pilot in the Grey Bumblebee as it was lovingly referred to by its owner, Raphael (Rapha). In fact, it was the maiden voyage of the the abejorro gris as we departed from Las Leñas, having come to the end of 222. The moment we’d all been anxiously waiting for started with the shifting of a small lever, that 98% of most SUV owners use 1% of the time, which engages the second differential to the drive train and thus gives traction to all four wheels. [insert your own off-road soundtrack please]

As the co-pilot you have a HUGE responsibility and play an essential role. It can be extremely hard to navigate a large, top-heavy, traction controlled, high-powered and sophisticated piece of equipment through rough mountain terrain. So, for the pilot, having extra sets of eyes can be a big help, but there is also the need to check the maps, configure the GPS, communicate via VHF radio… and it’s also nice to have someone to tune up the Manu Chao, pour the mate [that’s “maah-teh”] and hand you a cookie once in a while. Thus, you can understand why Rapha needed me along… Yes, I have skills.

Yerba Mate

Yerba Mate

We started out on ground that presented some light challenges, but we soon came to our first test upon entering the Valle Hermoso. Our first river crossing would be the Rio Tordillo.

Now, I’ve seen some off-roading shows on television and watched vehicles run through a stream or a small river, but this was nothing like that and these experienced off-roaders were pretty laid back for the time being. The group approached the Tordillo pretty calmly. In fact, three of the six vehicles were on the other side before I really noticed what we were about to do.

Anibal (Animal) was the first to cross. He was always out front like a big Great Dane taking its master out for a run walk, followed by Mariano (Mari-almond), then Pablo A. (A) with his co-pilot Pablo B. (B).

The next to cross was Christian, the Argentine-German-Parrilla Style Pizza Making-Dentist (The Mummy). [That’s a short story and a very funny picture for some other time…]

It was at this moment, during Christian’s crossing that I began to realize the water wasn’t running as shallow as I had originally thought, although what I saw of his crossing was really only the exit on the other side. So I began to think this might be a nice video opportunity as we splashed through the narrow river. I had been digging through my wet-bag [it gets wet, your stuff stays dry] for my Handycam and decided to run it up to Diego (The Gardener) whose co-pilot at the time was Marcelo, who everyone refers to as… well, Marcelo.

We watched Diego cross. “Hey, it’s kind of deep”, I thought. The thing I didn’t know yet was that Diego’s truck has had custom shocks and extensions installed to give it added height. Not like some monster truck, but a few inches anyway. Then Rapha tells me I should have my window down for additional weight. “What the heck does that mean?!!” I know from casting in chest deep water, that having the river enter your chest waders is not a good thing. But apparently, when the water is deep enough and the river strong enough to wash your vehicle down river, having the vehicle flood actually helps gain traction. Forget the fly rod, get the net!

Maiden Voyage

Maiden Voyage - or - A River Runs Through It

A short while later we were on the other side with some of the river pouring out onto the ground once I had opened my door. I slowly recovered from shock and realized the trip was going to be something I’d never forget and might require psychiatric therapy.

I was actually enjoying my initiation to this new outdoor activity very much, but I couldn’t help being preoccupied with the opportunity to test the first promising looking body of water.

As we continued on I kept checking that my fly-gear was easily accessible so as to waste no time in making my first presentation to an unsuspecting lake or river dweller. Marcelo, who had joined Rapha and me, picked up on my nervous excitement and started asking about specifics of fly fishing, and said he’d like to learn more. Earlier, the group had discussed where we would stop for lunch, and Laguna de Las Cargas was chosen as a good spot to enjoy scenery and give me a chance to wet my lines. So, I promised Marcelo I’ll set him up with a rod and we could both test our luck.

FINALLY! Anibal radioed back and said he’d found a beautiful spot on the edge of Las Cargas. Even he knew what I was thinking and told me to get my fly rod ready. I explained to Marcelo that I’d set him up with my new STH reel which had 200 grain sinking-shooting line. I thought it would be a little heavier and help him learn a roll cast and allow him to fish a little, but without requiring a lot of instruction for the time being. 

Find this location

Find this location

It was a gorgeous day, as were all of the days we spent in the “cordillera” of Mendoza. There were hardly any clouds against a light blue, high-altitude sky, and the soft wrinkled mountains surrounded Las Cargas like a hound dog napping in the sun.

Once we unloaded, Marcelo was buzzing around me as I quickly set up his line. He was grateful and kept bringing me slices of cheese and chorizo that the others were putting out for lunch. I could tell there were eyes on me and I felt like the center of attention. I began to think I’d better produce something, anything. I was on the spot. After all, this was my passion, and a chance to share what keeps me awake some nights in anticipation. It was time to do my thing.

Laguna de Las Cargas

Laguna de Las Cargas

Poor Marcelo. Looking back I realize I neglected an important rule among fishermen. He was so patient in waiting for me to get his line ready, show him a roll cast technique and thus introduce him to the sport. I really should have put my desire aside and dedicated the 40 minutes or so that we were there to his first attempts at fly fishing. Instead he got only a 5 minute lesson – hardly enough I’m sure.

...just a taste. I'll be back.

...just a taste. I'll be back.

In the end I came off looking great, catching three different species in 20 minutes. I even pulled out a Landlocked Salmon! This happened during the 5 minute lesson… While I was showing Marcelo how to cast, I turned to hand him the rod, and the rod… pulled back.

I give Marcelo credit for fishing the whole time we were at Las Cargas and throughout the trip. Unfortunately, Marcelo didn’t catch anything, while I felt a bit guilty and netted Rainbow and Brook trout  in addition to the earlier surprise catch.

Seriously, every time I think back now about the Laguna de Las Cargas I get a sense of “things unfinished”. A mouth watering lake only briefly tasted, flies untested on fish with lesser inhibitions, and the mentor that I wasn’t. [I owe you a real introduction Marcelo. I’ll make it up to you.]

Each day of our trip started at first light, after a night under a canopy of stars and below zero temperatures, with strong coffee and the emergence from sleeping bags, like the life cycle stage of a Mayfly entomology as it molts from aquatic form into winged adulthood.

Above Rio del Cobre

Above Rio del Cobre

The best adventures lay ahead of that first day. What the rest of the trip held in store for us was very similar to what keeps a fisherman returning to the water, regardless of the absence of luck from a previous experience. It’s the possibility of what could be waiting and what you might encounter. It’s also about enjoying the moment, the process, the experience that comes when you commit yourself to a challenge and to exploring new territory; not to mention the fantastic food and drink, indescribable scenery, complete disconnection from the outside world, and the hilarious antics of grown men with no limits and no supervision.

We continued on from Laguna de Las Cargas and over the next several days pushed our way up valleys and pulled each other out of rivers and marshes. At night the temperatures dropped blow freezing, and more than once confounded my plans to rise early from our campsite and fish for an hour or so before departing and continue our quest to reach Laguna Negra. The “Black Lagoon” was the quest of this trip and the reason we were out here in the first place.

Rio del Cobre

Rio del Cobre

The group had approached the lagoon from the south a year earlier without success. This year’s approach was from the north and would be through a narrow pass we suspected my be the gateway. This would be the challenge we’d face in the final two days. In the meantime, I kept on hoping for more opportunities to fish or at the very least, identify the spots I planned to return to at  a later date.

One day of our trip was dedicated to hiking the Peteroa crater on foot.

This volcano erupted about 9 years or so ago, and you can still see ash that covered the area everywhere for several miles and the residents of the region were very nearly evacuated. The ash is in the rivers, its on the roads… and almost like a fine sand. You can see it in the picture below [Cierro Castillo]. The areas that look as if they may be covered with snow on the lower slopes, of Castillo, are actually covered with ash.

The total hiking time, up and down Peteroa, was over 6 hours and a total of 24 kilometers. To give you an idea of how tough the hike was, Pablo A. literally hiked the soles of his shoes. That night we were camped near hot springs and I can tell you we were grateful for those nature thermal baths. They warmed our bones and soothed our aching feet.

Finally on the next to last day we reached the pass which would hopefully lead us southward to Laguna Negra. At this section of the journey we were close to the Chilean border. When we arrived at our mountain pass, there was a construction crew at work in the very entrance we had hoped to use. The Argentines are constructing a new road that will eventually connect to Chile and form a new border crossing point. We talked with the laborers and they were happy to let us pass through, but after a quick check on foot of the passageway we decided that is was in fact nearly impossible to manage.

La Cordillera de Mendoza

Cierro Castillo

If we proceeded on this course we would have to try and run straight up the bed of the stream at the base of the pass. However, the large rocks and uneven ground seemed too much to overcome so we decided to take a drive around the far right side of one of these large hills to see if we could find another pass.

Slowly we pushed up onto a rise with mountains to our backs and ahead of us. Off to the right we could see into Chile and the beautiful Laguna del Maule. Across a small valley was another even larger sierra. However, we thought we could see some tracks that must have been made by a vehicle of some kind, probably a 4×4 similar to ours. We started to think we might be in luck.

Anibal was immediately off testing different means of ascending the steep slopes. The trucks divided up and each tried different tracks, while a couple of us stayed back on the opposite slope and communicated, via radio, where we thought we could see an easier path to the top. We were at it for a couple of hours before we started to run out of daylight. We’d have to camp soon or we wouldn’t be able to see our way back down the mountain and nobody wanted to camp unprotected up in the wind and cold.

Anibal leads...

Anibal leads...

As it turned out that night was the coldest of the trip. I had decided to sleep without a tent after the first night in order to enjoy the canopy of stars that are indescribable at that altitude. During the night the temperature had bottomed out at -13o C. When I awoke, not only was my sleeping bag covered with frost, but the stream we’d camped next to, was covered with ice and stymied my hopes for fishing again.

We quickly had breakfast and packed up our gear. We’d spent our last night of camping. It was the last day of the trip and we all were hoping to reach Laguna Negra before heading to San Rafael where we would sleep in real beds before the long drive back to Buenos Aires.

We used the same strategy to find a good path up the mountain we had faced the night before. Two trucks stayed back and used binoculars and VHF to guide the trailblazers on the other side trying to find a gentle enough slope and firm ground. The ash and arid soil combine into a lightly packed sandy base which makes it really hard to climb. The team finally had to lower the tire pressure to about 10 lbs. which is what you’d do if you were driving on a beach, for example. This seemed to be a key ingredient among the many factors that contributed to our eventual success.

I was now riding shotgun to Christian in his Toyota Helux. After watching Anibal, Rapha and Mariano nearly make it to the top, only to be confounded in the last few meters, Chris and I took a path further off to the left were the first to finally break through and over, while appropriately accompanied by “The Great Gig in the Sky”.

The Ascent

The Ascent

The rest of the group eventually made it up as well. You can see the path in the picture here, and the last section which which is basically straight up was nothing but pure maxed-out horse power.

We still had very large and sharp rocks to navigate through at the top, and it was no small challenge. The results, however, were well worth it. Upon reaching the top we found two lakes down within separate canyons off each side of this three-sided mountain top. Although the side we had climbed up was rather steep, the other three sides of this mountain almost sheer vertical drops of between 300 and 500 meters.

The first lake we encountered was Laguna Guanaco in the bottom of a Grand Canyon-like expanse. The colors and contours of the canyon were amazing and the lake at the bottom contrasted sharply due to the minerals that washed down the canyon walls and gave it an opaque, emerald green-blue color. This lake was feeding the stream bed that we had originally considered using as a pass to Laguna Negra, but it was obvious from this vantage point that our choice to try a different approach had been a wise one.

Laguna Guanaco

Laguna Guanaco

Then we came upon a hidden lake which appeared to only be approachable on foot or by horseback from any side. In fact, one side of the lake had no coastline, but rather a mountain wall of what looked like sand rising hundreds of meters straight up. But unlike Laguna Guanaco, Cari Launa, was a gorgeous tropical blue and even from our height above the lake we could see straight to the bottom. Rapha and I both agreed that this lake would be logged into the GPS for a return visit to fish and scuba-dive.

We still had plenty of daylight, but our journey was now at an end. There was no way to possibly get beyond this mountain top. It was kind of bittersweet because we’d discovered these beautiful locations which we hadn’t known existed. They were the kind of sights that you only see a few times in a lifetime. We’d seen enough during the week to last a few lifetimes.

It was clear now that we wouldn’t reach Laguna Negra. It was obvious I wouldn’t have another chance to fish, and that my best fishing had been the very first afternoon of our voyage. But at this point I could hardly be disappointed. I’d spent a great week with a bunch of really good people and experienced things I’d never expected or imagined.

Cari Launa

Cari Launa

While Chris brought out the cold beer, I dove into his iPod and found some Manfred Mann to blare out over the surrounding peaks. We all had a sense of relief, accomplishment and exhilaration even though we hadn’t reached our intended destination. After all, it gave us an excuse for a future excursion in search of a new passage to Laguna Negra.

These 4×4 enthusiasts had unfinished business to go home, plan and prepare for, while I had a list of future hot spots and my own unfished business. I’ve already plotted the route to get back to all of these inviting waters including Cari Launa, although I may have to arrive on horseback… I may have acquired some of the knowledge and technique for this kind of overland travel, but I’ll have to rely on my friends, when it comes to the equipment, for now.

These trips are always followed by a dinner and exchange of photographs and video. I’m really looking forward to seeing what unique shots some of the other guys must have taken. I couldn’t include all of the highlights or pictures in this post. I’ve thrown a few more pictures into the picture page of this blog. There are really too many things to share from the trip, but I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about a little at least… and maybe someday experience it for yourself.

Inedito 4x4 - 2009

Inedito 4x4 - 2009

What I’ve decided to leave you with is a video prepared by “B” (Pablo B.) which captures just about everything I’ve attempted to relate in this blog, except that he didn’t include any fishing, but I guess that part was up to me even if it was just a small part of this adventure. Anyway, it’s burned in my memory and has left me anxious to return.

The video is outstanding. I think you’ll understand why I am looking forward to the next trip which, by the way, is already in the works. OK, check your adrenaline and play the video…

This afternoon on the Peninsula San Pedro

This afternoon on the San Pedro Peninsula

Picture courtesy of Living in Patagonia

Living in Patagonia

Living in Patagonia

I am very excited to announce that friend and fellow blogger, Jamie, from Living in Patagonia (http://livinginpatagonia.com) will be sharing a weekly picture on Sport Fishing Americas.

For some time now, I’ve been admiring the weekly pictures posted on this blog. Jamie and Shanie are a couple that moved from Lake Tahoe, California to the Patagonia of Argentina.Through their blog, they share their experiences and the beautify of the region.

Sport Fishing Americas is how I share my passion for fishing throughout the Americas, and one of my favorite places is the Lakes Region of Patagonia. The “Picture of the Week” will be a great addition to SFA and another way to share  the beauty of Argentina, with the help of new friends.

If you haven’t already, be sure to click the Entries RSS, be sure to do it now so that you get all the updates, articles and pictures.

This Saturday will be the first post. I can’t wait to see what they’ve got for us.

…no pressure Jamie 😉

The adventure begins...

The adventure begins...

“Inedito” in Spanish translates to “unheard of”. I didn’t know the translation of this word when I first heard it. I didn’t know how much I would later understand the meaning of the word.

The father of my son’s classmate, introduced me to the group. Initially Raphael had explained that he had a couple of friends who took off-road trips a couple of times a year to different locations throughout Argentina. These friends turned out to be a small “club”. A few guys taking autonomous trips over the years had become a group of over 10 enthusiasts and Inedito 4×4 was now getting one more “member”.

Raphael and I have a shared interest, which is not fly-fishing, but rather that we each own a Land Rover. The only similarity in our vehicles is the name and some aesthetic resemblance in the lines. He has owned a few “landies” over the years, and I have owned one for a little over a year.

His is a couple years old…

207 Defender Tdi

2007 Defender Tdi

…and mine just turned 52 years old.

1957 Land Rover Series 1 SW - 107

1957 Series 1 SW - 107

The first time I met the group of friends, was two weeks prior to the trip, at a dinner convened at the home of Christian, a tall, friendly dentist of German decent. I came alone and was afraid that was too early, since I was sure that my only connection to the group, Raphael, hadn’t arrived. I was dreading that awkwardness that goes with making conversation while sharing a friend, but not yet sharing a friendship.

But, the thing about the Argentine people is that they almost always try to make outsiders feel welcome by finding a connection or a common interest. It could be a city you’ve both traveled in, or favorite movie. And once you’re in, you’re in… for better and for worse, just like a really close family. They get under your skin. Fortunately, in my family, playful teasing is one way of showing affection. I guess these guys grew up the same way. Before long we were trading jabs over parrilla style pizza and very cold beer. [some of my favorite things…]

Eventually we got down to business and the purpose of the get-together. Anibal came prepared with topographical maps and had done some research with a guide [Gustavo Bruni] who would be joining us on the trip. He began explaining and sharing details with the group. Several maps, in fact, appeared as everyone gathered around the circular table, more interested in the logistics than the ice cream being served.

At this point I started to notice something familiar about these guys. There was a sudden change in their attitudes. The joking and hazing quickly evaporated and was replaced with the kind of enthusiasm that I often get when reviewing a river’s characteristics and course, checking my line weights, assortment of flies, hooks, weights, etc. before a fishing trip. I began to realize that these guys were more than just motor-heads. They had a passion too.

This is also when I noticed that once we left Highway 222, the area we would be traveling in was nothing but mountains…

(Thank you Google Maps)

A voice in my head, like Chief Brody and the most famous quote from the movie Jaws, said “You’re gonna need a bigger boat warmer sleeping bag.”

As we began to gaze over the topographical map, I quickly focused in on the squiggly lines trying to memorize the names of the rivers and streams as quickly as possible. Having grown up speaking English, it’s sometimes hard to remember Spanish names. Thank goodness I though to take a photograph of the map with my cell phone camera.

[Later I was able to cross reference the names of the rivers and lagoons with my friends and other guides. My friend Claudio had heard of the Rio del Cobre and Eduardo from Mendoza Fly Fishing also gave me some great tips.]

During the two weeks between the dinner at Christian’s and the first day of the trip, we were all rushing around getting prepared. Since there were several of us divided up between 6 vehicles, we decided to meet up in Los Molles, Mendoza at a hotel called Lahuencó [home to hot springs and a shrine to the late Victor Garcia; a auto-sportsman from Mendoza of Juan Fangio caliber] which, at a minimum, was a 10 hour drive for most of the group.

Lahuancó - Los Molles

Lahuancó - Los Molles

We all came in at different times. Most of us hadn’t slept much. I’d just returned from a trip to Central America, and had slept only one hour the night before. We were all so tired that few words were spoken around dinner, and we quickly ate and turned in, flopping into our bunks. The mattresses were thin, “aromatic”, and my pillow had seen more oily heads than Carroll Shelby, but I slept like a baby ’til dawn.

Breakfast was at 8am with delicious, strong coffee that put the wind back into everyone’s sails in addition to the adrenaline associated with a trip, long awaited and finally, about to begin.

At Las Leñas we topped off our reserve fuel-tanks, left 222 and started overland for five days of serious off-road exploration, the intensity of which I had hardly imagined.

“But wait, isn’t this a fishing blog?”

“Of course it is. I was only trying to build the anticipation add some suspense bring the reader, or anyone who might hope to fish this region in the future, to the edge of civilization and the point of departure for reaching the rivers and lagoons we later encountered.”

To be continued in Valle Hermoso, Part 2: Unfinished Business

Usually when you read about a river cleanup program, it is usually accompanied by an image of a streak of brown, flotsam and jetsam, and perhaps even some carcasses of local fish and fauna on the coastline. So I was rather surprised [and then again, not so surprised] to see a cleanup program for one of my favorite Patagonian rivers, the Rio Limay.

Crystal clear waters of the Rio Limay

Crystal clear waters of the Rio Limay

Bariloche “gets it”!

This is what  really marks a difference between the southern Andean provinces of Argentina versus others. It comes down to culture. Developing a culture of cleanliness and a culture of awareness about how even one individual can effect an environment, and a way of thinking, is key.

There’s no doubt that it’s easier to develop a cleanup campaign when your province, local and private institutions have, and are willing to spend, money for such programs, but the most significant factors are not economic ones.

Even education is effective only after there is a cultural tendency [an openness] to learn and apply certain modes of conduct. It’s really not that hard if you think about it. We are all creatures of habit and nobody wants to be looked down upon. I remember being a kid and simply being called a “litter bug” was a pretty good deterrent and motivator to keep garbage where it belonged. There were many campaigns on television and radio about picking up litter and I think it shows today in most parts of the U.S. that these constant messages and efforts towards awareness have paid off.

But there is more than “shame” working in Bariloche, and the Andean provinces of Rio Negro, Neuquen, Chubut, Mendoza, etc.

The key may be pure and simple self interest. These Andean provinces didn’t start out with a culture of conservation. In fact the motivation for conserving the natural resources in these provinces [particularly those that lend themselves for tourism] is to be able to continue to exploit them and maintain the notable economic growth these provinces have seen over the past 10 or so years.

So how could other provinces such as Corrientes, Entre Rios, Misiones and others approach the need for change?

One of the best sources of hope are actually in the businesses that exploit eco-tourism. It will definitely take collaboration with local game authorities and local governments in the provinces where the natural resources will otherwise continue to dwindle. But if the private sector can engage politicians and local governments in the right way, it may be easier than it might first appear.

Young people, for example, present another great opportunity. A generation is all it takes to effect change, as most of us know. But results could be seen even faster. Take for example the case of the Professional Fishing Guide Association of Bariloche. The Association‘s CleanLimaymembers have a very large number of young fishing guides. They often work as skiing instructors in the winter months, and fishing guides the rest of the year. It’s a health-wealth thing for them. They enjoy and depend on the health of their environment to generate the wealth that they and their community survives on. Young people are easily motivated, have the strength and energy, and the right amount of idealism to quickly make a difference in their communities.

Developing similar initiatives via guide associations in other provinces could quickly have positive environmental and economic effects. Local schools can offer guide training and certification, thus generating additional revenue through this course offering. Additional programs for working in the promotion of tourism could also be offered in a broad range of courses such as advertising, hotel management, and other service/tourism oriented professions.

In fact, some provinces have started to implement some of these programs and course offerings. They are beginning to generate some results, but the emphasis needs to stay on “what’s good for whole, is good for the individual”, versus “what’s good for me…” [and the part about the common good is quickly forgotten]. Thus it comes back to a “cultural thing”.

It doesn’t help when your leaders don’t appear to have any moral standards and grab as much as they can – while they can – because they can. And the perception that most of us get from the news, television, etc. is that everything has pretty much gone to hell already. Give this view of reality, most people don’t want to feel like a schmuck being the only goody-good Samaritan working towards something better, while everyone else seems to be working in the other direction.

Realistically speaking, sometimes you come across [and must deal with] mentalities where “it’s all about me”. I wouldn’t be the first to say that human nature has a large dose of that philosophy. But politicians are always generally motivated by the all mighty $. When conservation is articulated properly, people can begin to understand that local economies and businesses benefit, tax revenues increase, public services find there is more money in the coffers, and provinces realize greater influence on federal budget spending. Again, money isn’t the only or even best answer to the problem of keeping the environment clean. Privatization, for example, only keeps select areas clean while there is an economic interest in doing so, and economics by itself has no moral compass.

The heroes in a happy ending to the story about “how the human race protected the environment and lived to enjoy it”, will be those that learn how to use society’s weaknesses and the good and bad of human nature to make a change in the currently non-existent wanting culture of conservation.

Playing the litter-bug shame game, articulating community and personal economic gains, and even leveraging human vanity may be the tactics needed in a long term strategy to help everyone else to finally “get it”. I certainly plan to continue to do my part so that eventually the term “brownlining” will only be applicable for decribing your shorts after getting a monster hit and landing the biggest trout of your life, on a body of water as clear as your bottled water, and as free as nature [not Evian] intended it.

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