This is my latest installment on an extended fishing trip to Argentina and Chile. For the final phase of my trip I had to get from the Argentinian Patagonia to the Chilean Patagonia. From a mileage perspective this is not too bad of a trip, but the reality is there is no easy way to cross the Andes. Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures arranged to have someone from the Chilean lodge come and pick me up, and my itinerary said it would be a “six hour scenic drive”. In reality, it turned out to be a very long twelve hour drive, largely on a dirt road, across a very barren desert. But, it was an interesting adventure.
On the day of my departure my guide Oliver showed up in Argentina to chauffeur me to Rio Cincos Lodge. We climbed into a dirty old four wheel drive and headed out across the desert. Unfortunately Oliver’s English was very, very limited (though much better than my Spanish), so within the first few minutes we had exhausted every possible conversation. There is a funny point – the “I give up trying to talk to you point” as I like to call it – when you realize you cannot communicate with someone else. Every now and then I would ask Oliver a question, and instead of even attempting to answer, he would look at me and then look away into the distance and ignore my question, knowing there was no hope of understanding what I said. Soon I was doing the same with him. Luckily I had a great book to listen to on my iPhone, which made the trip quite manageable. Oliver also liked some American rock and roll, which he played off a jump drive stuck into his stereo. I discovered he had quite a few Credence Clearwater Revival hits, and we managed to communicate our joint appreciation for 1970’s rock and roll.
About 4 pm we drove into a tiny little town; literally just a few buildings at a dusty bend in the road. It looked like a town that should host a gun fight. Oliver pointed at a house, and with a kind of sign language asked if I was hungry. We entered what appeared to be someone’s kitchen. There were hand-drawn signs on the wall with the menu. A few other people sat in the kitchen eating empanadas, and watching an old Sly Stallone movie that had been dubbed into Spanish. It was from the “really silly” period in Stallone’s career (which I guess encompasses 1980 to present day). In this film he wears mirrored sunglasses – even at night – has a toothpick in his mouth at all times, mumbles a lot, frequently has sex with a tall co-star I believe he ended up marrying for a while, and drives around in a 1940’s-circa car that has been converted into some kind of evil-looking low rider. Though I can’t understand what he is saying, I do recognize when he mutters the tagline of the film, which is something like “you’re the disease and I’m the cure”. This is from the time period when Dirty Harry films are topping the box office with Clint saying things like “do you feel lucky, punk?”, but Sly’s tough slogans never had quite the same punch. There is a commercial break in the movie, and I can’t help but notice they show a direct response commercial for an American product, some kind of Ab machine.
I see on the sign they have what I assume is a hamburger, which seems like a safe bet to order. I had a choice of the “Hamburguesa”, or the “Hamburguesa Deluxe”, and since the fanciest version is only $1.00 more I decide to go all out, and also order a very tasty Argentinian beer. I assumed the “deluxe” would include lettuce, tomato, pickle, and an order of fries, but I was wrong. Here is the recipe for Hamburguesa Deluxe in case you would like to make it at home:
Start with a really big hamburger, but by hamburger I don’t necessarily mean beef. Despite the fact that I was in some of the world’s best cattle country, this meat had the aroma of something more exotic than cow – I’m thinking Shetland. Then top it with the following:
- One inch of mayonnaise.
- A big slice of white cheese – or at least it looked like cheese.
- Two fried eggs with extra grease.
- A thick slab of Canadian bacon.
- ½ inch of yellow stuff. No, not mustard, that’s what I thought too, but it has no discernible taste. Not sure what it is, but I assume it is some kind of substance designed to slow your blood pressure and metabolism, or perhaps lubricate your throat for the other ingredients. You might try to find it at your local Sherwin Williams store.
Fearing an instant coronary if I were to ingest the toppings, I scraped my deluxe back to the basic burger. Oliver looks at me as if I am crazy, and I indicate he should feel free to eat the heap of “deluxe” that lays on a greasy wrapper, but he passes.
As we near the Chilean border we enter another small town, and at the local gas station we stop and Oliver fills up five 8 gallon gas cans that sit in the back of the vehicle. I’m not sure why we would need an additional 40 gallons of fuel (hopefully the twelve hour drive is really not a twelve day journey), and now the Mitsubishi feels a little like driving in a bomb. I’m hoping we are not on some kind of suicide mission, and I mentally commit to jumping out of the truck if I see us heading towards the gates of an American embassy. I cannot understand what Oliver is saying, but he indicates there is some problem getting fuel in Chile.
Hitchhiking is quite popular in Chile, and doesn’t carry the stigma and perceived danger it does in the United States. so along the way we stop serveral times to pick up travellers. In the afternoon we give a ride to a dentally-challenged Gaucho (South American cowboy). He is an older man, obviously headed to the next little town for a date; with his “Gaucho-go-to-meeting” clothes on. He smiles happily and chatters away with Oliver; obviously quite excited about his upcoming evening. And this leads me to an observation I made about Chilean men. They smell good. I don’t say this is a creepy or inappropriate way. I’m not changing teams just because a guy slaps on some Aramis. But many of the men I meet in Chile are wearing cologne, and just the right amount of cologne, not like American men who tend to drench themselves. Instead. the Chilean gents have a clean and woodsy-kinda smell. Anyway…
We cross the border into the Aysen region (the Chilean version of a state), heading for the town of Coyeque. The lodge is just on the other side of the town, and I am looking forward to the conclusion of this very long, bumpy drive. But as we approach the town there is a road block, with angry-looking men burning tires. Over the next few days I come to learn that there is a bit of a revolt going on in Aysen. The local population has decided that their taxes are too high, and prices have gotten unreasonable. The government has apparently not been responsive, so the local population has essentially barricaded the region, and will not allow food or fuel into the towns. They also stop all traffic, opening up only a few times a day to allow cars through.
When we get to the first barricade our timing is good, as we just happened to reach it when they were opening up traffic for an hour. But ten minutes later we hit another one, and via broken English I am told we will need to sit here a couple hours until they open again. I manage to ask “where is the lodge”, and Oliver indicates it is only another mile past the barricade. “I will walk”, I tell him. I gather my gear and walk past the protestors, a little unnerved as I am not sure how they will react. Oliver calls the lodge, and they have a truck pick me up on the other side of the barricade.
Over the next few days the protests grow more severe. I have difficulty understanding the protestor’s rationale. They essentially cut off all food and fuel deliveries to their own town; starving themselves and their own people in an attempt to get the government to respond to their demands.
“Wouldn’t it be better to cause some kind of inconvenience to the government as opposed to torturing your own people”, I ask a few locals, but they don’t seem to understand the concept, and I think back to the LA and other American riots where the locals ended up looting and burning down their own neighborhoods.
And the protests had other negative economic impacts on the locals. When I reach the lodge all the guests are very concerned about the protests turning violent, and perhaps shutting down the only airport. I awake on the second day to discover all the guests in the lodge are leaving five days early. They try to convince me to leave with them. “You don’t want to get caught down here in a riot”, an American from New York tells me ominously. I can’t envision why a fishing lodge would receive the wrath of tax protestors, so I say goodbye to the twelve guests, leaving only me in a huge lodge.
(Next – I escape the riots and catch some really big fish.)