Argentine Christmas Dinner – 12/25/2013

Argentine Christmas Dinner 12/25/2013 Photo Album

Jane and I certainly enjoyed the scenery and outdoor activities during our visit to Argentina, but one of the more lasting impressions was the food that delighted our palates. Of course we read about the Malbec wine and delicious steaks of this South American country, but we were surprised by the variety of other dishes that left a favorable impression on us besides the meat and wine.

As we spent hours waiting for flights on our return trip, we came up with the idea to have an Argentine Christmas dinner. Amy and her boyfriend Joe would be home for Christmas as well as Dan, and we felt it would be fun to share our new discoveries with our kids. The first step was developing a menu, and in no time we pulled one together.

For appetizers we planned paired figs and bite sized ham similar to the tasty toothpick connected treats that were served at Rio Manso Lodge. In addition we planned on some non-Argentine favorites such as pita bread with hummus and peanuts and crackers.

Since Amy is vegetarian we planned our first course to be empanadas, both vegetable and meat, followed by some stuffed pumpkin. The main dinner would then be a small asado with chicken and chorizo and grilled vegetables, and for dessert we envisioned coffee flan. There would also be chimichurri sauce for the meats since we loved the sauce prepared by the kitchen staff at the Rio Manso Lodge.

Now our plan was formulated, and we needed to execute. Several days before Christmas Jane and I made a trip to Lowe’s Mercado, a Mexican supermarket on Coflax Avenue within five miles of our house. We purchased chili powder, plantains, chorizo, empanada discs, sofrito, and fresh produce. In addition we visited King Soopers and bought some of the standard items that we use in our normal food preparation.

A late addition to our Christmas dinner was an ice globe as Jane spotted a kit while we were shopping at City Floral and couldn’t resist buying it. We had the necessary materials to make six ice globes, so we experimented with one a week before Christmas and discovered that success was not a foregone conclusion. We allowed the orb to freeze too long and ended up with a globe-shaped solid chunk of ice. We learned from this experience, however, and created a second successful globe several days before Christmas. All we had to do was prevent our novel Christmas decoration from melting, and we had a unique centerpiece for our Christmas dinner.

On Christmas Eve Jane worked on the flan and made eight cups and placed them in the refrigerator to chill. It was reassuring to have one of our menu items essentially completed before Christmas day. We also scheduled to make the empanada fillings, but the weather in Denver was so warm and balmy that we couldn’t resist doing fun activities outdoors, so we delayed Christmas dinner preparation until Christmas Day.

On Christmas morning we followed our normal routine and opened gifts and enjoyed breakfast burritos. Amazingly this lasted until 1:30 in the afternoon unlike Christmas when the kids were young when presents were ripped open in a matter of two hours or less. By 3PM there was no room for delay so we pulled out all the required ingredients and began food preparation in earnest.

Amy Begins Making Empanada Dough

Amy Begins Making Empanada Dough

Here is a rundown on our menu for Christmas 2013:

Our second ice globe was more successful than the first as we removed it from the freezer before it froze solid. The outer shell was a nice thick 1/2 inch wall, and we managed to keep it frozen for the day or two between creation and Christmas dinner. The hollow orb with the glowing candle in the center served as an extraordinary centerpiece on our Christmas dining room table.

Ice Globe Now on Dining Room Table

Ice Globe Now on Dining Room Table

Finished Shrimp Empanadas

Finished Shrimp Empanadas

 

Empanadas were a big hit and probably represented the most popular menu items. Amy and Dave began the project; but as the recipe moved along, Amy became the mainstay, and Dave gradually converted to grilling while Joe assumed empanada fill and seal duties. The team made eight black bean and plantain pockets using the frozen Goya dough purchased at the Mexican supermarket, but it quickly became apparent that there was not enough dough to finish the shrimp versions. Amy was the hero, however, as she whipped together a dough recipe that enabled eight shrimp empanadas to appear, and then she used up the remaining dough to create improvised empanadas using leftovers from breakfast. Dave had purchased ingredients for a third type of doughy treat that used tofu, a potato, pepper and onion, but he was unable to find the source recipe. At any rate all versions were consumed, and leftovers fueled the family for several additional breakfasts and lunches.

The stuffed pumpkin or squash was also tasty, but it was different from the menu item that Jane and Dave enjoyed during their last lunch at Rio Manso Lodge. The Christmas version involved scooping out the squash flesh and mixing with fresh onion and cilantro and then reintroducing the filling to the hollowed out squash bowl before baking. The version in Argentina had a mix of various vegetables in a thick relish that was placed in the pumpkin without scooping out the pumpkin flesh. As we ate the filling we combined it with the squash.

Stuffed Pumpkin

Stuffed Pumpkin

Dan fired up the charcoal grill and placed the Himalayan salt block along the edge and then gradually shifted it over the fire until it was sizzling hot. The first things to be placed on the grill were the grilled vegetables. Like our Argentine asado, we had zucchini, sweet potatoes, onions, and peppers, but we added beets and carrots. Unfortunately the beets and carrots were stored in our downstairs refrigerator which cannot be adjusted appropriately and freezes contents in the refrigerator side. We sliced the frozen beets and carrots and placed them on the salt block, and these items immediately thawed and then sizzled and crisped. We sequentially added the other vegetables and grilled them as well. The grilled vegetables were quite tasty although the beets absorbed a huge amount of salt due to their mushy state. Joe and Dan loved them although some of the family members felt they were too salty.

Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables

The next stage of the asado was to grill the steaks, chicken and chorizo. These items turned out to be quite good, but we overestimated our appetites and had to eat our Christmas dinner in two separate stages. By the time we ate two or three empanadas and a stuffed pumpkin on Christmas, we were too bloated to eat the main course so we decided to grill only the chorizo and save the other meats for a later meal. The chorizo turned out to be the least popular item on the menu. The small sausage links were extremely fatty with a thick casing. They flamed up immediately in the hot fire and turned an unappetizing black color. The casing was too thick to eat, so we peeled it off and ate the meat within which proved to be crumbly and quite salty. Between the beets and the chorizo we probably consumed our weekly quota of salt in one meal.

Chorizo Before Cooking

Chorizo Before Cooking

The last item on the menu was the coffee flan, and this was a big hit. Even though we didn’t have room for meat, we had plenty of room for the sweet coffee flavored flan that melted in one’s mouth. Jane’s flan was every bit as good as the dessert I enjoyed at Rio Manso.

Coffee Flan

Coffee Flan

As mentioned earlier we ate empanadas, stuffed pumpkin and flan and snacked on a small portion of grilled vegetables and then saved the rest as leftovers. On Thursday evening we were dinner guests at the home of some friends, so the first opportunity to resume our Argentine feast was Friday night. We fired up the grill again and cooked some additional vegetables and then seared the steaks and chicken. The second asado was very successful as we all enjoyed the second stage of our Argentine feast. For a first attempt at cooking new dishes, I think we fared quite well. Whether this becomes a Christmas tradition is still undetermined, but we now know not to prepare three meals when one will suffice.

Let the Christmas Dinner Begin

Let the Christmas Dinner Begin

 

 

Argentina Day 12 – 12/08/2013

Argentina Day 12 12/08/2013 Photo Album

Sunday was our travel day, and we expected it to be a long multi-day experience. Unfortunately we had no idea how challenging it would be to return the United States.

The original itinerary called for leaving Rio Manso Lodge by 1PM and arriving at the Bariloche airport by 3PM thus allowing two hours before our scheduled 5:15PM Aerolineas flight from Baricloche to Buenos Aires. Upon landing in Buenos Aires we had four hours to cross the city to Ezeiza International Airport, and then we were scheduled to depart at 11PM on an American Airlines flight to Dallas, TX where we switched planes and arrived in Denver, CO at 10AM on Monday morning.

The Girls on Departure Day

The Girls on Departure Day

When we awoke on Sunday morning we descended to the dining room for one final breakfast. After breakfast we gathered with the California guests for final goodbyes and photos as they had early afternoon flights out of Bariloche. Once the other guests departed Jane and I took a hike to the first waterfalls of the Rio Manso. Jane had visited waterfalls 2 and 3, but hadn’t made the short walk to the first falls, and I had been fishing; and therefore, had not seen any of the waterfall attractions. During our stay most of us had seen the huge Argentine rabbits romping about near the lodge, but for some reason Jane had not yet encountered any of these odd looking creatures. As we walked down the dirt road, a large rabbit bounded across the road, and Jane had her first glimpse. Later on our return hike an even bigger bunny galloped down the road ahead of us. The movement of the rabbit resembled a gallop much more than a hop due to the large hind legs.

Jane and Dave Say Goodbye to Patagonia

Jane and Dave Say Goodbye to Patagonia

At the end of the road we encountered a small dirt parking lot and a short trail that led to an overlook of the falls. The water crashed over some rocks and fell roughly 75 feet before creating a huge mass of spray and mist. A side channel of the river diverted to one side and re-entered the main river via a much smaller waterfall, and the angle of the sun on the mist of the large falls created a small rainbow. We snapped some photos and returned to the lodge for a tasty lunch of stuffed pumpkin and a dessert of crepes with vanilla yogurt. It was a fitting final meal to a week of delectable treats.

A Secondary Falls with a Rainbow in the Foreground

A Secondary Falls with a Rainbow in the Foreground

After lunch Jane and I said our goodbyes to the staff and jumped in the truck for the 1-2 hour trip to Bariloche. Roberto’s mother joined us, as she was receiving a ride to the home of her other son who lives in Bariloche. When we entered the town of Bariloche, we climbed the side of a hill until we found the brother’s house and dropped off Mom. From there Santiago, the driver, took us to the airport. We arrived in plenty of time and after checking our luggage settled back to wait for our flight. As soon as the entrance to the boarding area opened, we went through security and found the gate for our flight.

At our scheduled departure time a gate agent made an announcement over the public address system in Spanish, and Jane and I didn’t comprehend the content, but we noticed concerned expressions on the faces of the other waiting passengers. Some more time passed by until it was after our departure time, and finally another announcement blasted out of the overhead speakers. This time most of the passengers stood and returned to the lobby, so we finally decided to follow suit. Eventually we found some passengers who spoke English, and they told us that the flight was cancelled, and of course there was now a long massive line waiting at the end of the check in counter to get rebooked on flights to Buenos Aires by one Aerolineas agent.

The scene was rather chaotic and several tour guides pushed to the front and attempted to get their clients priority. Other Spanish speaking Argentinians crowded the counter and spoke with the agent in Spanish apparently attempting to use tactics to influence their priority. Eventually the agent used a megaphone to announce that travelers should relax as they would be called when it was their turn to obtain a new boarding pass for a later flight. Meanwhile Jane and I learned that we had to return to baggage claim to reclaim our luggage, and then we dragged it back up the stairs as there was a huge line waiting for the elevator. Waiting in line apparently is a national past-time in Argentina.

Through this process we met several folks from the U.S. who appeared to be equally bewildered with the flight cancellation process. More importantly there was a young lady from Argentina who spoke some English, and I was able to befriend her and gain some useful information. Apparently the passengers were getting rebooked in order of their original check in. In addition she informed me that the agent announced that we could get free beverages at the adjoining restaurant, and after another hour of waiting she actually sought me out to pass along an announcement that we could have food free of charge.

Finally after waiting for several hours, our name was called, and I went to the counter and obtained two boarding passes for an Aerolineas flight scheduled to depart at 10:30PM. We checked our bags again and went through the same gate entry and security process that we’d completed at 4:30. There was another LAN flight scheduled for 11PM, and many of the passengers from our original flight got on the LAN flight which boarded and departed before our 10:30 flight. As we waited we spotted a young boy wearing a Long Beach Island T-shirt so I struck up a conversation. As it turned out the young man had never been there, but their traveling companions were a father and son from Argentina who currently lived in Connecticut. As we waited, the father took us under his wing and helped us understand the announcements.

Finally at 11PM we boarded the plane and made the two hour flight to Buenos Aires and landed at approximately 1:30 AM. Somehow we found the Aerolineas information desk and asked about lodging for the night, and they directed us to the airport information service. A young man there who spoke English recommended a nearby hotel called Aeroparke and called ahead and reserved a room for us. We found a taxi and made the short trip to the hotel where we checked in, found our room and crashed knowing that we had missed our American Airlines flight and had another travel snafu to deal with in the morning.

Jane woke up before I did, and being in a distressed state, headed for the lobby with her iPad to determine how we could get home. She was unsuccessful in using Wi-Fi and Expedia, so she asked if the woman at the front desk could help, and the nice young lady complied. The female front desk employee used the hotel land line and dialed American Airlines for Jane, but when Jane spoke with the agent, she was told that we missed our flight and needed to purchase brand new tickets. American Airlines told Jane that we needed to contact Aerolineas for compensation.

Jane returned to the room and woke me up with this pleasant news, so I quickly got ready and joined her in the lobby. Once again I contacted Taylor and Diana for help while I had Wi-Fi access, and then because I was concerned about moving to the airport and giving up the ability to communicate, we contacted Verizon and purchased international voice, text and data for the December billing period. As it turned out there were restaurants and cafes at the airport with free Wi-Fi, but we weren’t taking any chances. We ate a light breakfast and paid our bill, and the hotel contacted a taxi to transport us to the international airport.

Once we arrived at Ezeiza we immediately headed to Aerolineas to obtain the “re-protection” that the American Airlines agent mentioned in the phone conversation with Jane. Of course the Aerolineas terminal was separate and distant from the other two terminals, so we had to push our heavy luggage along a long sidewalk, but finally we arrived at an information desk where we described our predicament. After a bit of waiting the front desk agent ushered us into a back room, and the woman there told us she was not authorized to provide compensation beyond paying for lodging or taxi costs resulting from our flight cancellation. Jane and I both reacted in frustration to this so she offered that we needed to go to Aerolineas headquarters in downtown Buenos Aires, the very location we had just left! She also provided us with a phone number to call.

We left the Aerolineas terminal 3 and trudged back to terminal 1 where American Airlines was located and walked to the end of the large terminal building where a single agent stood behind the ticket purchase counter. We remained calm and polite as we explained our situation and asked when we could depart from Buenos Aires on a rescheduled flight. The young lady began banging away at the keyboard and finally announced that the earliest we could leave was midnight on Monday, and there were no available seats from Dallas to Denver, so we would need to fly to Miami and then on to Denver. She then apologized as she told us that this would require a ten hour layover in Miami!

I then asked her what it would cost for this roundabout trip, and she once again typed some information and responded that it would be an additional $450 per person totaling $900. The breakdown was $200 per person penalty and $250 per person for the change in fare between when we originally purchased and now. By now we were frustrated with the entire travel experience and just wanted to return home, so we asked her to book us, but then asked if we could speak to her supervisor to appeal the penalty since it wasn’t our fault that Aerolineas cancelled our flight. The nice young agent replied that certainly we could speak to the supervisor, but she would not arrive at work until 4PM, and that was another 1.5 hours. Jane and I thanked her profusely for her assistance and found a small cafe where we ate lunch and killed time as we waited for 4PM to arrive. After lunch I attempted to dial the Aerolineas numbers provided, and after finally unscrambling the access code, country code and region code; I could not get anyone to answer the phone. We decided we’d try to deal with a refund when we returned to the U.S.

At 4PM we pushed our luggage back to the end of the terminal, and our new friend the agent was still there. We waited while she took care of some customers, and then she called her supervisor who apparently approved waiving the penalties without meeting us in person. We now paid the additional $500 for the fare change and received our tickets and then waited another 30 minutes until the check in agents arrived. A line began to form now so we positioned ourselves eighth and moved through the maze. While moving along a young Asian woman was behind us, and she had a Korean olympic logo on her luggage, so I began to converse with her. As it turns out she was a field hockey referee and coach who used to play for the Korean olympic team. Her English was fairly minimal but I did understand that she’d been to Boston in the U.S. and London, and it seemed she really loved London.

Finally it was our turn to move to the counter, and we checked our three heavy bags and received our boarding passes. Could we finally be getting close to returning to our home? We still had quite a bit of time to kill, so we strolled around the perimeter of the terminal and did some window shopping. Jane’s cell phone battery was getting low, and it was the device that we had used to purchase international service, so we searched for an outlet. Ezeiza offered far fewer outlets than most U.S. airports, but we managed to find an open socket where a vending machine was plugged into the wall near the entrance. Jane and I sat down on the floor to allow the phone to charge for 20 minutes or so, and as we were waiting, we looked up and discovered Marcos and Tomas. Marcos and Tomas were the father and son team that lived in Connecticut that helped us in Bariloche, and we were amazed to chance upon these new friends again.

We told them of our hardships, and then I asked Marcos what he did in the U.S. and discovered that he worked for Bank of America. We also chatted with Tomas for a bit while Marcos was on his mobile phone, and the young fellow was quite impressive with his English and his poise with strangers such as ourselves. Once Marcos got off the phone, we talked some more, and I mentioned that I was from southeastern Pennsylvania near Philadelphia, and Marcos replied that he and his family lived near Philly for three years while he obtained his PHD in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. I then informed him that I graduated from Wharton with an MBA, and then I asked him what his role was at Bank of America, and he replied that he was their corporate economist for Latin America. Marcos and Tomas needed to move on to catch their flight, and we planned to eat dinner, so I gave Marcos my Saddleback Design business card and asked him to send me an email with his address upon their return.

Once Jane’s phone was charged we went upstairs to check out the dining options and found a quiet spot in the corner where we rested and had a peaceful dinner. We still had some remaining pesos after paying for dinner, so we wandered over to a coffee shop and bought some alfajores to use up the local currency. Finally it was getting closer to the time of our flight, so we decided to go through security and find our gate. On our way to the gate we passed a large duty free shop so we found the gate location and then wandered through the shops for a half hour or so. The flight remained on time so we boarded the plane at 11:30PM and found our seats, but unlike the flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires, this flight to Miami was full, so there was no spreading out to sleep.

Once again we slept intermittently on the long ten hour flight to Miami and arrived there travel weary on Tuesday morning. It took an hour or two to pass through passport control and then customs, but eventually we found ourselves wandering through the Miami airport in search of our gate that would take us to Denver. There were so many Spanish speaking people in the Miami airport that I felt like I was still in Argentina. We had a small breakfast on the plane before landing, but both of us were in need of tea and coffee so we searched and found a coffee shop. After breakfast we returned to an empty gate waiting area and found an outlet on a cylindrical post and charged all our electronic equipment.

Our flight to Denver was at 6PM so we killed time for most of the afternoon by reading at the empty gate and having lunch at a Latin restaurant. After lunch we stopped and purchased some goodies to eat on the return flight. Fortunately everything went according to plan once we arrived in Miami, and we boarded our plane and made the four hour flight before eventually arriving in Denver by 8PM.

It was quite a trip. Originally we were scheduled to leave Bariloche at 5:15PM on Sunday and arrive home in Denver by 10AM on Monday morning. Instead we left Bariloche at 11PM on Sunday and arrived home in Denver by 10PM on Tuesday. A trip that was supposed to take 3/4 of a day morphed into a two day sojourn. We were extremely happy to arrive at our home in Denver, and we almost immediately jumped into our beds. We had a great time in Argentina, but our traveling travails departing and coming home will not be forgotten soon.

 

Lago Roca – 12/07/2013

Time: 9:30AM – 5:00PM

Location: Lago Roca

Fish Landed: 7

Lago Roca 12/07/2013 Photo Album

Fog Over Lago Hess on Saturday Morning

Fog Over Lago Hess on Saturday Morning

Saturday would be my last day of fishing in Argentina, at least in 2013. At dinner on Friday night Diego asked me if I’d be happy to return to Lago Roca with Todd, and I replied in the affirmative. Monte and Nikki planned to do the horseback fishing venture that Todd and Mary enjoyed on Thursday. I didn’t want to hold up Todd, so I woke up a bit earlier than normal, ate breakfast and emerged from the wader room ready to fish by 9AM. Todd was also ready to go, so we threw our rods and dry bags in the truck, and Santiago drove us the short distance of less than a mile to the beach along Roca where the small boat was moored.

Unusually Smooth Surface on Lago Roca on Saturday Morning

Unusually Smooth Surface on Lago Roca on Saturday Morning

Saturday was shaping up to be the warmest fishing day of the week, and it didn’t take long for me to remove my layers and get down to just my fishing shirt. The temperature probably peaked in the 70’s in the afternoon. Todd began in the front of the boat, and I took my place on the rear platform in front of the motor, and we agreed to swap places after lunch. Diego spotted a mayfly on the water before we began, so he took one of my parachute hoppers and clipped off the legs and suggested I cast it as a mayfly imitation. This is how we began along the grass bed right next to the boat ramp, but after ten minutes or so, my fly wasn’t producing so Diego switched it for a deer hair dragon fly.

Dave's First Fish on Saturday on a Deer Hair Dragonfly

Dave’s First Fish on Saturday on a Deer Hair Dragonfly

The three of us moved away from the boat area and drifted to the lower shallow end of Roca where there were numerous areas with tall clumps of grass rising above the water. I connected with the first fish, a nice 22 inch rainbow and then followed up with a 20 inch brook trout, but then I didn’t see any action for an hour or so. There was a period where quite a few fish were rising, but Todd and I were getting refusals so Diego experimented with a few different versions of the dragon fly imitations to no avail. Finally we left the shallow grassy area and moved to some new shoreline, and Diego converted us both to sinking lines with a small olive streamer, and using this approach I landed another fine brook trout and rainbow trout. These fish were the typical 20 inch strong and colorful fish that I was used to catching in the Rio Manso drainage.

Another Huge Brook Trout Later in the Morning

Another Huge Brook Trout Later in the Morning

I’d experienced a fine morning when we stopped for lunch at a spot where a small creek entered the lake; and while Diego set up, Todd and I fished the inlet area. I continued casting the beadhead olive streamer in the drop off on the left side of the current and landed a 20 inch brook trout and a 15 incher as I lifted the streamer just beyond the drop off. This fishing was similar to what I experienced on Friday, but after landing two fish, I was unable to entice further action. I was curious if I could repeat the success of the previous day with my articulated damsel fly, so I tied it on for a short while, and discovered it was not the hot fly on Saturday that it had been on Friday. I did see numerous dainty damsel flies and in fact more than I’d observed on Lago Fonck.

Olive Matuka Fly Yielded the Brook Trout

Olive Matuka Fly Yielded the Brook Trout

A Fat Brook Trout Landed Near Inlet to Lago Roca

A Fat Brook Trout Landed Near Inlet to Lago Roca

 

After lunch with the sun bright in a blue sky and the wind beginning to kick up, Diego decided that we would drift the weed beds. I remembered doing this briefly on Tuesday at the very end of the day when Jane and I were with Matias. Roca contained numerous weed beds, but we approached the largest one that stretched across the lake roughly 1/4 of the distance up from the launch area. From a distance the weed beds looked like wide brown ribbons in the clear aqua colored water. A dense cluster of long aquatic plants with wide leaves grew from the bottom of the lake to within six inches of the surface, and the fish seemed to congregate along the edges.

Todd was having some success with a Fat Albert foam fly with rubber legs, but Diego rigged up my four weight Orvis Access rod with a different foam attractor. Todd and I had switched our positions as planned after lunch so I was now in the bow of the small boat, and we began drifting over the weed beds. Diego positioned the boat upwind and beyond the part of the weed bed that extended furthest away from the shore and then allowed the boat to drift on a diagonal over the widest section. There were open spaces and troughs throughout the widest part of the vegetation. As the boat approached the weeds, Todd and I would throw 30-40 foot casts in front of the boat, and we were aided by a significant tail wind.

It didn’t take long before Todd began to experience some hot action on his Fat Albert, and he was having a great time fighting the hot fish with his five weight and pressuring them to keep free of the weed stalks. I meanwhile wasn’t seeing as many rises to my fly, but I did have my opportunities. Over the course of the afternoon we probably drifted over the weed bed area ten times; and each time that we’d finish, Diego would man the oars and row against the wind until we were once again above the weeds. As mentioned, I had my opportunities as I hooked but did not land five fish. One got off after being hooked for five seconds, so I didn’t feel too bad about that, but the others dove into the thick aquatic vegetation and wrapped the line around the subsurface vines.

The four weight just did not have the backbone to pressure these large fish and prevent them from entering the weeds, nor was it strong enough to horse them out once they made the dive. Toward the end of the weed fishing period, I decided to exchange the spool on my six weight from the sinking line to a floating line, and I began to cast a deer hair dragonfly on the heavier rod. I hooked a hard fighting fish on the bigger rod, but the increased leverage didn’t matter as another nice fish worked its way free of the fly in the weeds.

Finally in the late afternoon in the last 30 minutes before quitting I hooked and landed a 20 inch rainbow above the weeds. It was a fairly frustrating afternoon due to the lost fish, but I finally managed to overcome the vegetation and land a decent fish. It was now approaching 5PM, and Diego radioed the lodge so a pickup truck appeared, and we climbed on to shore, gathered our gear, and returned to the lodge.

Argentine Asado

Argentine Asado

The owner of the lodge, Roberto Pandolfi, had returned from a business trip, and all the guests joined him on Saturday night for an Argentine asado. There was malbec wine and way too much food as we ate salad and grilled vegetables and four types of meat. There were steaks, chicken, and huge fat Argentine sausages. Todd had landed a large brook trout that swallowed the fly to the point that the fish was surely going to die; so we took it back to the lodge, and it became a tasty part of the asado.

Gathered for Saturday Dinner

Gathered for Saturday Dinner

My inability to land some large fish in Roca was a bit frustrating, but it was still a fine ending to a great week at Rio Manso Lodge. I landed seven fish, with six being 20 inches or greater, and the weather was the nicest of the week. The asado and meeting Roberto were a nice way to cap off an excellent week of fishing.

Lago Fonck – 12/06/2013

Time: 10:00AM – 6:00PM

Location: Lago Fonck large and small, but mostly large

Fish Landed: 11

Lago Fonck 12/16/2013 Photo Album

On Friday morning I was excited to learn that I was returning to Lago Fonck with Matias on a beautiful sunny day with a high temperature in the upper 60’s and less wind than experienced on Monday on the same lakes. We got off to a later start than normal, but after the short rough drive, I was on the water and fishing by 10AM. I began fishing near the boat mooring area as Matias was convinced there were large brown trout in that area, but once again my casts proved futile so he fired up the motor, and we moved on to the southern shore of large Lago Fonck. The small lake is at the southern end of the two linked bodies of water, and we moved through a narrow connecting channel to the very bottom of large Lago Fonck.

The wind typically blows from north and west so that the waves crash in the reeds along the shoreline and deposit whatever food might be on the water in this area, and it was here that I landed my first trout on Monday. Unlike Monday, however, it was much warmer with less wind, and these conditions may explain why I observed many more dragonflies flitting about and occasionally touching the surface of the water. In fact as the air temperature warmed I noticed pairs of male and female dragonflies fluttering on the surface and creating the image of a huge spinning ball as their wings rapidly beat the air and water. This phenomenon continued for roughly a half hour, and during this time I experienced the most enjoyable action of the week.

Black Foam Fly That Matia Modified

Black Foam Fly That Matias Modified

Matias pulled one of the black foam flies that I purchased from Royal Gorge Anglers from my fly box and modified it by pulling off two of the four foam collars so that it floated very low in the water. I began casting this fly toward the weed bed and after allowing the fly to rest, I began to twitch it so that I was imitating the mating dragonflies. It didn’t take long before a fish bulged on my slowly moving fly, and I set the hook and fought and landed a 20″ brook trout. After growing up in Pennsylvania and catching tiny brook trout and then hooking similar stunted brookies in Colorado, I was amazed at the size and beauty of this fish. Also I was convinced that brook trout were poor fighters, but now I discovered that pound for pound this species of char didn’t need to take a back seat to rainbows or browns. A large brook trout fights every bit as hard if not harder than the other trout species.

A Second Photo of the 20" Brook Trout

A Second Photo of the 20″ Brook Trout

We quickly released the prize brookie, and I resumed casting and twitching the black foam creation. Shortly another nice fish swirled, and a jaw came down around the fly and another battle ensued that eventually led to a 20 inch rainbow landing in Matias’ net. The dragonfly hatch is what I came to experience, and I was getting a nice introduction to it on Friday morning. I was on fire now, and Matias and I both spotted an aggressive rise deeper in the reeds. Matias allowed the boat to drift a bit closer, and I began to cast deeper into the tall grass. The rise we heard had that deep hollow sound that resonates across the water and usually indicates a big fish with a big mouth.

After a half dozen casts or so, a large bulge appeared under my fly and I paused and then made a strong hook set. Unfortunately in my zeal to land the fish that could have been the best of the week, I repeated the error I made on the first day on small Fonck. After setting the hook I immediately began to strip line, and at that very moment the heavy fish turned in the opposite direction and it was game over. For a split second I felt the ponderous drag of a large fish, but then the line went llimp, and I reeled up a line devoid of a fly. Matias was certain that the fish was a huge brown trout, but we’ll never know for certain.

As quickly as the dragonfly mating began, it now ended as the wind picked up a bit and put a riffle on the surface. Mati fired up the motor, and we moved on to another stretch of shoreline with long grass blades rimming the shoreline, and I began spraying casts of a new modified black foam fly within inches of the grass. In this area I hooked up with another fine hard fighting fish and eventually guided a 22 inch rainbow into the net. Friday morning gave me a taste of how spectacular Patagonia lake fishing can be when the weather conditions and timing are right.

As lunch approached Mati once again turned on the engine and we quickly bucked the waves and fought the wind and pulled the boat on the beach at the main inlet at the north end of the lake. Just south of the boat and our lunch spot I could spot large fish cruising the shoreline looking for food. I assumed these fish were looking for dragonflies, but Mati pointed to a school of small bait fish and explained that they were the main quarry of these fish. He handed me the six weight rod with the sinking tip line and an olive streamer and told me to work it in the cove area while he set up lunch.

I began stripping the streamer with numerous pauses, lifts, and variable speed and succeeded in creating two follows, but the fish turned away and didn’t strike. After fifteen minutes of this, Mati motioned that lunch was ready, so I placed the rod in the boat and joined my guide for lunch. After lunch Matias suggested I return to the four weight, and he tied on a tan foam stonefly imitation with long barred rubber legs. I returned to the cove area where I spotted fish cruising the shoreline and flicked a few casts ahead of a sighted fish. I watched as the fish moved slowly toward my fly, but before it could get there another fish appeared and viciously attacked the stonefly. Another battle was on and I landed another 20 inch brook trout. I handed my camera to Matias and he recorded the last stages of the fight and then the release.

A Closeup of the Head and Fly

A Closeup of the Head and Fly

I returned to action and within a few more casts a 19 inch rainbow slashed at the fly, and I battled another hard fighting trout. Everything seemed to be falling in place on Lago Fonck, and I was now starting to understand Taylor’s enthusiasm for Rio Manso. The inlet on large Fonck was strange in that three or four channels entered the lake, but they were split apart by a fair amount of sand and gravel beach. It was almost like a small river delta, and I now traced the shoreline to a point and spotted two more trout lying in the shallows apparently waiting to ambush a meal. I made numerous casts in front of these sighted fish, but they didn’t appear to be looking up so I moved on around the point to the upper inlet.

Here a smaller flow of water flowed north, and there was a significant drop off where the current merged with the lake. I placed some casts on both sides of the main current and observed a couple refusals before pausing to analyze the situation. Clearly these fish were interested in eating, but my large foam attractor on the surface was not what they were looking for. Perhaps Matias’ orginal theory that they were chasing baitfish was more accurate. In addition I had seen quite a few damsel flies gliding above the lake in the warmth of the midday sun, so could they be chasing damsel fly nymphs? I didn’t have the large Royal Gorge Angler fly box with me, but I did have my fleece pocket in my front pack, so I opened it and grabbed one of the two damsel fly nymphs that I’d tied from the Charlie Craven book. These flies were light olive marabou in color with tiny dumbbell eyes, and they had an articulated body that made an enticing wiggle when being retrieved. I had never used these flies since tying a batch two winters ago, so I decided to give them a try.

Articulated Damsel Tied by Dave Was Very Productive on Lago Fonck

Articulated Damsel Tied by Dave Was Very Productive on Lago Fonck

I was using my Orvis Access four weight and a floating line, but decided to try the damsel nymph anyway since the fly was weighted. I cast the fly to the left of the main channel and began doing a slow hand twist retrieve, and as the fly approached the drop off a large shape darted from the depths and hammered the nymph. The fight was on and I battled a gorgeous 20″ brook trout with my four weight and called out to Matias who arrived and netted the beauty. This was probably the nicest brook trout I’d ever caught and Mati held it while I snapped a quick photo.

20" Brook Trout Hammered a Damsel Nymph Tied by Dave

20″ Brook Trout Hammered a Damsel Nymph Tied by Dave

I was now quite anxious to get the damsel back in the water to see if my fly was a fluke or whether it could produce more fish. I didn’t have to wait long as a shiny 20 inch rainbow with pink flanks charged the wiggling nymph, and once again I successfully battled a fine fish to the net. Matias released the rainbow and told me to keep working my fly, and sure enough another twenty inch brook trout hammered the articulated nymph as I began to lift at the drop off. The four weight bowed as the brookie made a deep dive, but I held tight and landed a third hefty fish on the marabou creation. Was this really happening? I wasn’t about to quit now so I tossed the weighted nymph to the right side of the current and once again a fish hammered the fly on the lift and began streaking away from shore. The line was blazing through my rod guides and my fingers as the fish continued its run, but unbeknownst to me there was a small kink in my fly line from lying coiled on the ground. When the kink hit my fingers, the brief disruption in the progress was enough to allow a break off, and the hot fish was free along with my highly valued damsel nymph.

I had one more damsel that I’d brought along to Argentina, so I knotted that to my tippet and resumed casting. Unfortunately I must have exhausted the pool of fish at the inlet, or the disruption of the water caused the fish to stop feeding. I couldn’t generate any more hits on my subsurface offering so I moved along the shoreline and back toward the point where I’d earlier spotted a fish. I made a prospecting cast in the tiny cove below the point, and as I twisted the fly back toward me, it was crushed by another chunky brook trout in the 20 inch range. I carefully removed the fly myself as Mati returned to prepare the boat for our departure after lunch.

Lago Fonck as Wind Kicks Up

Lago Fonck as Wind Kicks Up

Could this fly produce along the other inlet next to our lunch spot? I moved to that area and began prospecting the water where I’d observed numerous fish before lunch, but apparently the damsel fly had run its course, and now I was only beating the water with repeated unproductive casts. Matias returned and signaled that it was time to move on, so we climbed in the boat and fired up the engine and explored some new attractive shoreline areas. Matias removed the damsel nymph and split shot, and tied on a foam attractor for this work, but it was fruitless. The afternoon was beginning to fade so we now made our way to the south shoreline of the large lake where I’d landed two nice fish at the start of the day. Matias was convinced that there was a big brown in the reeds in this area, and he was determined to get it.

Once again Matias worked hard to maintain the position of the boat so that I could utilize the wind and throw long casts toward the grass. He kept the boat far enough away so that it would not spook fish, but close enough for me to make relatively accurate casts. I began covering the water at the point where the lake entered the channel that connected small Fonck to large Fonck, and after a few casts I experienced a refusal. I lifted my line off the water and allowed it to extend behind me, and then instantly rolled a cast back to the same spot where the refusal occurred. Wham! A fish smashed the fly, perhaps the same fish that just refused my previous cast, and I battled another fine brook trout to the net.

Matias now informed me of a Rio Manso tradition that I was not aware of. Apparently catching a brook trout, rainbow trout and brown trout in the same day is referred to as a grand slam. Typically in the U.S. a grand slam translates to four of something, but I was a guest in a new country so I didn’t debate the terminology. Mati went on to explain that a fisherman who accomplishes this feat needs to drink a beer afterward, or he or she will never enjoy another grand slam. Since I’d already landed ten beautiful fish on the day and suffered through two break offs, I began to cast with renewed focus with the grand slam goal foremost in my thoughts.

The boat slid to the left or east a bit, and I began to toss long casts to an indentation in the grass. A layer of grass ran from the point where I’d caught the brook trout toward the east for fifteen yards, and then there was a nice wide piece of water until another stretch of grass appeared in front of the land. It was this open space between the grasses that I now targeted, and after a few misfires and empty casts, a huge bulge appeared and engulfed my fly. Matias cheered me as I set the hook and embarked on a ferocious battle with a large fish. The fish made several deep dives while doing some head shaking and attempted to roll the line repeatedly. I was certain that this fish was a large brook trout or brown trout as it chose to fight its battle in the depths of the lake. The fish was testing the four weight Orvis to the maximum as it raced past the front of the boat and then charged in the opposite direction and made one final deep run under the boat.

In each instance I was able to recover line quickly and apply strong resistance until finally I could leverage the head of the fish toward the surface. Matias and I both gazed anxiously into the water as a huge head surfaced, and we recognized a deeply colored brown trout! I’d done it; a Rio Manso grand slam. It was the fourth brown in excess of 20 inches that I landed during the week, and it was the toughest fighter of the bunch. Matias was as proud of this fish as I was, and he insisted on snapping six or seven shots. The length of the Lago Fonck brown fell short of the 24 inch fish landed on Tuesday in Lago Roca, but the girth was clearly the greatest of any fish caught. The ratio of pounds to linear feet had to be high. In addition it was much more of a thrill to me to catch the large brown on a surface fly, and completing the grand slam certainly added to the satisfaction.

Mati Displays the Girth

Mati Displays the Girth

We released the brown, and I worked across the remaining grass strip, but the 21 incher would end up being the last fish of the day. What a day it was! I landed eleven trout, and the smallest was a 19 inch rainbow. All the other fish were between 20 and 22 inches. I selected one of my own flies without any guidance and locked into a hot pattern that produced four fish in the space of an hour plus one substantial break off. And finally I hooked and landed another beautiful brown trout to complete the Rio Manso grand slam. As I climbed into the back seat of the truck for the return to Rio Manso Lodge, I popped a Wartsteiner lager and soaked in the satisfaction of these accomplishments. I wasn’t about to jeopardize another grand slam.

Another Grin and Fin Shot with Dave

Another Grin and Fin Shot with Dave

 

 

Rio Manso – 12/05/2013

Time: 10:30AM – 5:00PM

Location: Rio Manso beat 9

Fish Landed: 13

Rio Manso 12/05/2013 Photo Album

Finally the weather warmed a bit, and Thursday would yield high temperatures in the upper 60’s allowing me to remove the three layers that I began with in the morning and fish with just my fishing shirt for most of the afternoon. Todd and Mary took a guided horseback ride to a mountain lake for the day, so Monte joined me in an inflatable raft as we drifted beat nine of the Rio Manso. Our guide for the day was Diego, the head guide for the lodge, and the most accomplished speaker of English among the staff. Diego is a fourth generation Argentinian but descended from English immigrants, and each generation has taught the succeeding generation English.

Diego informed Monte and me that we would be fishing beat nine on Thursday, so we threw our gear in the truck, and departed for one of the more distant stretches of Rio Manso. The trip took in excess of an hour and traversed mostly dirt roads. On a map the distance doesn’t look nearly as far, however, the roads form three sides of a rectangle as we traveled east and then south and then west to get to a location almost directly south of the lodge. Diego told me that the river flowed through one more beat before crossing the border into Chile and ending in the Pacific Ocean.

Near our final launch point we turned on a crude dirt road and passed some sparse campgrounds before stopping across from a small cabin. A man was outside the cabin, and Moncho and Diego exchanged some conversation, but the content escaped me due to my lack of understanding of Spanish. Moncho drove beyond the launch point and then expertly backed the trailer and raft around the turn and into the river.

Moncho and Diego Prepare the Raft for Another Day of Fishing

Moncho and Diego Prepare the Raft for Another Day of Fishing

Monte and I rigged two rods and as Diego and Moncho loaded the raft I spotted a loud substantial rise fifteen feet out from the bank and 15 feet below the raft so I decided to make a few casts. I tied on a chubby Chernobyl and made numerous drifts over the location of the rise and on around the tenth pass a fish rose and crushed the large foam attractor. The fight was on and twice the trout made strong downstream runs, so I allowed it to pull out line until finally it tired enough for me to gain line. Diego took a break from loading the raft and came down with his net and landed a gorgeous 21″ brown trout. What an exciting way to start our day of drifting the river, and for the third consecutive day I landed a brown over 20 inches.

A Nice Fat Brown

A Nice Fat Brown

We were now ready to begin our float so Monte and I jumped in the raft and Diego deployed the oars and maneuvered us into the main current. I elected to begin in the rear of the raft with the expectation of moving to the front in the afternoon, but I was experiencing enough success from the rear to maintain my position for the duration of the day.

The method of fishing was pretty much consistent throughout the day as I kept the chubby Chernobyl on my line and launched casts toward the bank attempting to place my fly as close to the vegetation as possible. In the morning I landed a couple more small brown trout below our starting point, but after that the catches became entirely rainbows.

A Gorgeous Side Channel We Wade Fished

A Gorgeous Side Channel We Wade Fished

Unlike the previous day we stopped and pulled the raft up on the rocks more frequently and wade fished attractive side channels and slack water areas. The length of the beat was probably shorter so these stops served the purpose of extending the time of the drift. I normally enjoy wade fishing more than drifting along and popping attractors from a boat, so I was in favor of the wade fishing interludes and truthfully would have liked to spend even more time focusing on the areas where we stopped. A large portion of my enjoyment of fly fishing is spending  time reading water, spotting fish, and observing the insects that allow me to choose flies that mimic what is present in the nearby environment.

During the course of the day we spotted numerous rises, but most appeared to be small rainbows. During one stop as I fished a small side channel, I spotted a refusal to the chubby Chernobyl so I decided to deviate from the guide’s recommendation and try some of my own flies. I first tried a size 14 caddis, then a light gray comparadun, and finally a parachute hopper, but none of my choices of personally tied flies caused the trout to rise again. I enjoyed the process of trying to solve the riddle in spite of my lack of success.

We stopped for another fine lunch shortly after this experience, and afterwards I returned to the chubby Chernobyl, and it was in the hour after lunch that a nice thirteen inch rainbow smashed the attractor dry as we were drifting over a riffle. This would prove to be the nicest fish of the day other than the large brown that I landed before we even began the drift.

Monte and Diego Fish the Bank While Dave Wade Fishes the Riffles

Monte and Diego Fish the Bank While Dave Wade Fishes the Riffles

During another stoppage around mid-afternoon while wading I decided to add a twenty incher as a dropper off the chubby Chernobyl. I kept it on my line as we returned to the boat, and the twenty incher proved its worth as it produced a small rainbow as the flies drifted along a nice run a few feet from the bank. This fish became my thirteenth and last fish of the day as we reached our end point at 5PM where a narrow pedestrian bridge crossed the river. Moncho was waiting, so Monte and I took down our rods, and the two staff members muscled the heavy raft up a very steep bank and then on to the flat trailer.

It was a fun day on Rio Manso as I landed the most fish of any day during the week in Argentina. Unfortunately my best fish came in the first hour and the other fish were mostly in the 8-11 inch range except for the 13 inch fish landed after lunch. I did enjoy casting dry flies most of the day, and that was a pleasant relief to my weary arm, back and shoulder. The warmth of the sun was pleasant and the late spring weather finally equaled my expectations. I also enjoyed the numerous breaks from drifting in the raft, and the opportunities to observe the water and try different flies and approaches.

The weather forecast was favorable for the remainder of the week, so I was anxious and optimistic for Friday and Saturday.

Rio Manso – 12/04/2013

Time: 9:30AM – 6:00PM

Location: Beat 3 ending at lodge after going through Lago Hess

Fish Landed: 6

Rio Manso – 12/04/2013 Photo Album

By now Jane and I had fallen into a nice Rio Manso Lodge routine. We typically woke up between seven and eight in the morning and went downstairs to the dining area where we were pampered with a delicious breakfast. Diana and Noy acted as servers in addition to their other duties. Diana managed all the customer facing aspects of the lodge experience including scheduling the drivers for shuttling fishermen and other guests to their activities for the day. There were only three trucks and ten guests, and trips to take guests to the airport and pick up food and supplies needed to be incorporated into the plan. In addition Diana managed the bar and served meals and acted as a general concierge for the guests including helping with travel plans.

Noy appeared to be Diana’s assistant and was also amazing. Somehow she seemed to be everywhere at once and also knew our preferences within a day of our stay. When Jane and I felt a need for something, Noy was always right there. She knew what drinks we preferred, what we ate for breakfast, and whether we took sugar in our tea or coffee. At the end of the week we both wanted Noy to return to Colorado with us. We were completely spoiled by her constant attention to our needs.

Breakfast consisted of small pastries, several large plates of fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, corn flakes, tea or coffee and, if desired, eggs and bacon. I never left the lodge hungry before my day of fishing.

After breakfast we split off to our various activities. Jane typically undertook numerous hikes with and without guides and in addition went white water rafting one day and also observed the cooks making Argentine specialties in the kitchen. I meanwhile gathered my gear and headed to the fishermen room where I climbed into my waders and wading boots. When I was ready, I exited the lodge, and my guide was always waiting to escort me to our assigned fishing destination for the day.

After our day of activities we returned to the lodge and showered and changed and descended to the great room where a roaring fire was normally in progress. Diana and Noy would serve us drinks if we desired, and the guests shared stories about their daily adventures in front of the fire. By 8PM large trays of appetizers appeared on the coffee table, and then at 10PM we were ushered into the dining room for dinner. After dinner some guests remained to socialize, or when it was a particularly tiring day, we would excuse ourselves and head back to our room for rest.

On Wednesday morning I stepped out of the fishermen room and discovered that I would be fishing with Niko on beat three of the Rio Manso a few miles up the road from the lodge. We would drift down the river and through Lago Hess and end near the bridge by the lodge. This would be my first outing with a guide other than Matias and also my first day on the river rather than on a lake. I was rather excited to have a flowing water fishing experience in Patagonia so I jumped in the truck, and Moncho served as our shuttle driver and took us to the launch point. We drove the truck and trailer down a short rough dirt lane, but we had to stop twenty yards short of the river because the shrubs and trees had overgrown the road.

Moncho and Niko Load the Inflatable Raft

Moncho and Niko Load the Inflatable Raft

Niko and Moncho pushed the inflatable raft off the trailer and then muscled it over the dirt and grass and then down a steep bank to the river. Niko readied the raft for our day of fishing while Moncho carried the remaining items from the truck to the watercraft. While this was going on I rigged my six weight with a sinking line and my four weight with a floating line.

Wednesday’s weather was unsettled similar to Monday with more cloud cover than Tuesday, and it actually drizzled for brief periods several times during the day. The ever present wind was also an issue, although floating the river seemed to offer more protection compared to the exposure of being on the surface of a wide open lake. Once we had the gear in the raft, and we were settled in our positions for the day, Niko expertly rowed across the main current and then used his strength to go upstream against the current to a nice wide riffle stretch with moderate depth.

From previous experience Niko knew that fish were attracted to small mayflies in this area, so he tied a parachute Adams to my tippet, and I began making nice drag free downstream drifts, and in a short amount of time, I landed a small rainbow trout. Once we drifted downstream from this area, Niko suggested that we switch to a larger attractor pattern, so I tied on a lime green trude for a bit, but that didn’t produce any action. Next Niko clipped off the trude and tied a large foam chubby Chernobyl to my line, and I prospected with this buoyant highly visible fly for most of the remainder of the morning. I landed two more small rainbows during the late morning float with one coming from a long riffle stretch just before lunch. The catch rate wasn’t great, but I was enjoying casting the light four weight rod and challenging myself to deliver the fly to tight spaces along the bank beneath overhanging brush and tree limbs. The river was absolutely crystal clear and when viewed from a distance appeared to be blue or aqua in color.

We pulled the raft up on the shore after the long riffle, and Niko spread out the typically splendid feast. After lunch I decided to experiment with a nymph dropper, so I tied a 20 incher below the large foam attractor, and in one nice section where the main current flowed near the bank bordering the road, I landed two rainbows on the trailing nymph. Both fish grabbed the trailer at the tail of the drift as the flies began to swing or lift.

The Raft Is Empty and Ready to Be Guided Through Rapids

The Raft Is Empty and Ready to Be Guided Through Rapids

Toward the middle of the afternoon we cautiously approached a difficult white water rapid, and Niko pulled the raft up on a rock in some slow moving water just before the drop off. We climbed out of the raft and inspected the downstream cascade, and then returned to the raft and moved all the contents on to the bank. When Niko was ready, he pushed the raft out into the current and then ran along the rocks and guided it through the roaring white water that plunged around a large midstream boulder. The raft bounced off the large exposed rock and slid toward the cliff that Niko was standing on, and then Niko moved forward and tugged the raft free of the cliff rock. This caused the inflated boat to spin back toward the middle and then gently drift out of the fast water, and Niko guided it up on to the beach below the narrow danger point. We portaged the contents of the boat in several trips and arranged everything the way it had been prior to the turbulence and continued on our way.

We Rode Through the Next White Water Section

We Rode Through the Next White Water Section

Just below the narrow chute we had just circumvented was another plunge with fast water and protruding rocks, but Niko navigated this skillfully while we remained in the raft. Roughly halfway between the whitewater stretch and Lago Hess we approached an area where the river created a still lagoon off the main channel. There were two indentations here with virtually no current, and the open areas were bordered by numerous fallen branches and logs that extended to the bottom of the deep pool. The water was so clear that I felt I’d be able to spot any trout and seeing none, I despaired of catching any fish.

Niko by this time had switched out my fly to a foam body Madam X, and he insisted that I cast into the first open area. I followed his instruction and dropped a cast in the first open space and allowed it to rest, but no fish were visible. Next we floated downstream a few feet so I was positioned to hit the second opening, and I made another cast so that the Madam X settled in the the opening but a few feet from the fallen debris on the far side of the river. Niko looked away for some reason, but as he did, I saw a large torpedo shape slowly come into view. My heart raced as the football calmly swam to the surface and sipped in the Madam X! Where did this gift from the fishing gods come from?

I set the hook and the big guy immediately began to thrash and dive. As mentioned earlier there were numerous branches and sticks that entered the river from the bank and extended to the bottom below the surface. The large fighter I was connected to made a beeline for the debris, and succeeded in wrapping my line around one of the branches. I momentarily despaired that I’d lost the fish, but Niko nudged the boat in closer to the hole so I could apply pressure from a different angle more directly above my opponent, and a miracle happened. I raised the line and it was free of the branch and the weighty trout was still attached and battling for freedom. I managed to pressure the fish from the side so that it was extracted from the still pocket containing sticks and branches, and guided it back out to the edge of the main river, and after a couple more brief dives, it was in the net. Now we could see that the fish was a hook jawed old brown, and Niko measured it to be 22″. I’d experienced a second brown trout thrill in Patagonia.

22" Brown from Rio Manso

22″ Brown from Rio Manso

We carefully released the second largest brown I’d caught in my life and continued the float and fairly quickly reached Lago Hess. By now the wind had kicked up in a major way, and Niko worked hard to position me to make some casts along the weeds near the spot where the Rio Manso entered Lago Hess, but unfortunately I was not rewarded. It was now approaching pick up time, and Niko needed to row the wind resistant raft across the lake and into the waves to get back to the exit point, so I reeled up my line and hunched into the wind and held my hat on my head. Niko was up to the challenge, and we turned the corner and entered a narrow slow moving channel. This water looked very attractive, and Niko had me prospect as we slowly moved through the channel to the take out point where the truck and trailer were waiting. In spite of my best efforts to tempt fish to the surface in the channel, it did not produce, and my fishing day was at an end.

Niko told me that toward the end of December the channel is one of the best places to fish dry flies in the evening as fish will rise to caddis and mayflies. Catching large resident lake fish on small dry flies sounds like a future experience to dream about. Overall it was another unseasonably cool day with slow action, but the 22″ brown certainly made up for a lot of fruitless casting. I have to admit that I was disappointed with the river fishing, and I wondered if the large fish remained in the lakes and left the rivers to their smaller relatives. There were still three more days to test the theory.

 

 

 

Lago Roca – 12/03/2013

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Lago Roca

Fish Landed: 4

Lago Roca 12/03/2013 Photo Album

Jane was scheduled to join me for a day of fishing on Tuesday, so we didn’t rush to get up early and instead took our time and enjoyed a relaxing breakfast. After breakfast we went to the wader room and bundled up as the weather was supposed to be similar to Monday. I actually wore my warm green jacket over two other layers to start the day. Once I suited up in my waders, we exited the lodge and discovered that Matias was once again our guide, and we were headed to Lago Roca for the day. As it turns out Lago Roca is less than a kilometer from the lodge so despite our leisurely start, we were on the water by 10AM.

Lago Roca is a lake slightly larger than the two Foncks, and was described as having fewer fish but larger fish. That sounded fine to Jane and I. I took the platform in the front of the boat while Jane sat in the back with Matias as he cranked up the outboard motor, and we sped roughly halfway up the lake and cruised in toward the eastern shore. The hill next to shore in this stretch was quite steep, so it probably meant the depth increased rapidly, and there were quite a few fallen logs providing cover in this area.

Once again as predicted it was quite windy but not as cloudy and consequently the air temperature warmed more quickly. I wore my green jacket for the boat ride, but quickly removed it and stuffed it in my dry bag before fishing. Matias instructed me to grab my six weight Scott with a sink tip line, and he attached a large bunny leach to the heavy tippet. I began covering the water by shooting long casts to shore using the technique I’d learned on Monday, and then I retrieved the fly using various speeds and pauses. This went on for quite awhile as Matias kept rowing the boat back out and into the wind to position me to cover a large amount of shoreline. The water looked great with rocks and numerous sunken deadfalls, and I shot casts into all the likely indentations in structure to attempt to draw interest from hiding fish.

Dave Grips Without Help

Dave Grips Without Help

Finally after a long period of unproductive casting I felt a heavy bump and set the hook and my six weight began to throb. The rod bounces were not quick abrupt jerks, but instead they were heavy deep thumps. I was optimistic that this might be my best fish of the trip so far, so I focused on fighting the fish. The fish immediately went deep, and I applied upward pressure as I didn’t know what type of debris might lie in the depths of the lake. Finally the fish tired a bit and I was able to gain line, but then it made a couple strong runs away from the boat, and in a final effort to reach freedom, it made another deep dive under the boat. I allowed line to shoot back through the guides and followed the fish with my rod tip. Eventually the resistance and drag had an impact, and I was able to bring the fish close to the surface, and we could all see that it was a big bad brown trout. After a few surface rolls Matias slid his long handled net beneath the bruiser and brought it into the boat for viewing.

Matias’s net had inches (not centimeters) calibrated on the bottom of the net, and we determined that the brown trout was 24″ long, thus representing the largest brown I have landed in my life. This prompted high fives all around, and then Matias lowered the big guy into the lake to revive it before the photography commenced. Matias seemed more excited than Jane and I as he snapped off six photos of one fish, but eventually he lowered the brown into the water and spent quite a bit of time reviving it before it wiggled its fins and swam away.

Another Nice Shot with Guide and Fisherman

Another Nice Shot with Guide and Fisherman

Needless to say I was re-energized by this catch and resumed casting the streamer with renewed enthusiasm. After we’d covered more of the eastern shoreline, Matias again decided to change things up, so we motored further up the lake to another shoreline near the inlet that was more shallow and contained reeds and tall grass similar to what I’d observed at Lago Fonck. Mati grabbed my fly box and decided to clip off the bunny leach and tie on a muddler minnow style fly with a big deer hair collar and a white wing. I began casting toward the grassy shore and stripping the fly and after a few casts felt a strike and set the hook. This fish fought its battle closer to the surface so I knew it wasn’t another brown, and sure enough I brought a nice 20″ rainbow to the net. The morning fishing was quite slow, but the fish caught were both over 20″, so the experience was matching what we’d been told; fewer fish but larger fish.

Jane Near Weed Bed Along the Lake

It was now approaching lunch time so Matias motored back down along the opposite shoreline from where I’d caught the brown trout, and he pulled the boat up on a nice small peninsula that jutted into the lake. There were some trees and a large fallen log here, and Mati set up the chairs and table right behind the natural windbreak, and we faced the warm sun as we indulged in another delicious lunchtime repast that included wine, bread, small quiches, and a type of chicken loaf.

While we relaxed in our lounge chairs, Matias and I spotted two substantial rises in the reeds along the shoreline beyond the base of the peninsula. While Mati put the food away and packed up the table and chairs, and while Jane soaked up the sun, I wandered around the peninsula and then along the shore for another twenty yards before I waded into the lake until I was even with the grass. I began working casts parallel to the shoreline and just beyond the line of protruding reeds and after covering 10 yards or so, I spotted a swirl on the surface and set the hook. I was connected to a nice fish and battled it for a few minutes until Matias arrived and helped land and release it. We didn’t have the net to measure, but we estimated this fish to also be twenty inches but heavier than the previous catch.

Close Up of the Head

Close Up of the Head

Matias returned to the boat and loaded the remainder of the lunch equipment, and then he and Jane pushed off and drifted over to my position and allowed me to climb in. Since it was now after lunch, I switched positions with Jane and she became the focal point of Mati’s efforts. First we stopped in the middle of the lake where there were no obstructions, and he had Jane strip out line and make casts and false casts. In a fairly short amount of time Jane was pausing on her back cast and getting a bit of rythmn. Next he taught her to grip the line with her left hand and allow line to slide through her fingers on the forward cast and then pinch to stop the line. Jane was struggling, as do many beginning fishermen, with moving her rod tip too far on the back and forward casts, but eventually she shortened the arc and threw out some decent casts. Of course making this more difficult was the constant gusting wind which increased the complexity of all the mechanics of casting.

After the casting lesson we drifted toward a grassy shoreline and Jane attempted to place some casts, but the wind and overpowering the forward cast caused her line to pile up short of the target, so Matias began to cast for her, and then allowed Jane to hold the rod and the line and concentrate on her fly. It was fun to watch Matias manage the boat and in between, shoot extraordinarily long and accurate casts out ahead of the boat and within inches of the shoreline grass. Seeing this type of casting made me realize that I need to practice double hauling in order to raise my game and be a more versatile fisherman.

Unfortunately due to the bright sun and wind, we were never able to coax a fish to rise, although Jane did see one swirl or refuse as she twitched her fly back toward the boat. It was unfortunate that Jane never experienced the thrill of a strong Patagonia fish stripping line off her reel, but I think she gained some sense of the beauty of the environment and the challenge of overcoming the elements to land large fish.

Granite Mountain Near Lago Roca

Granite Mountain Near Lago Roca

I had promised Jane that we would make it a shorter than normal day, and we had already gone beyond her expected 2PM quitting time, so Mati radioed the lodge to send a truck to pick us up. We motored back toward the launch point, but as the truck had not yet arrived, we found a large submerged weed bed and positioned the boat so I could fish the edges. From a distance the weed bed looked like a long narrow brown ribbon that stretched cross the lake. In the short amount of time over the weeds I hooked a heavy fish that escaped and then hooked and landed a rainbow in the 15 inch range. After releasing the rainbow the Rio Manso truck appeared, and we motored to the gently sloping shore and removed our belongings, took down the rods and returned to the lodge.

Four fish in five hours of fishing is not exactly hot action, but I landed the largest brown trout of my life plus two 20″ rainbows, and we had the entire lake to ourselves. I spent the day with my lovely wife, and I enjoyed watching her make large strides in casting a dry fly under extremely adverse conditions. The scenery was breathtaking, and we enjoyed sunshine most of the day. Best of all I still had four days of fishing ahead of me in the remote wilderness of western Patagonia.

Lago Fonck – 12/02/2013

Time: 11:00AM – 6:00PM

Location: Small Lake Fonck and lower end of large Lake Fonck

Fish Landed: 5

Lago Fonck 12/02/2013 Photo Album

Finally after five enjoyable days in Buenos Aires and Bariloche, Jane and I were prepared to reach our ultimate destination, Rio Manso Lodge. We repeated our routine from Sunday morning when we mistakenly thought we were being picked up, including a delicious breakfast at Lirolay Suites. Unlike Sunday, however, when we arrived at the office we met the two couples from California that would be joining us for a week at the lodge. We introduced ourselves to Monte Baker and his friend Nikki Collins and Todd Pershing and friend Mary Docek. At the scheduled time of 9:30 two trucks arrived in front of the office, and Jane and I climbed in the rear of one cab with a driver named Santiago and a passenger named Matias. We would later discover that Matias was one of our guides. The other couples climbed aboard the other truck, and we were on our way to Rio Manso Lodge.

The trip lasted 1.5 – 2 hours, and we had to reach a certain point before 11AM, as the road was open to only northbound traffic between 11AM and 1PM, and we were traveling south. When we reached the stretch of road that was one-way, it was easy to see why, as the dirt road narrowed to barely one lane and climbed high above a large lake with a monster drop off on the outside with no shoulder to serve as a margin of error. We paused at one point where we entered the national park so that our driver could purchase admission tickets for us visitors. Finally after a week of anticipation we crossed the crystal clear Rio Manso River and then made a left turn and entered the parking area of the lodge.

The Lounge Area at Rio Manso Lodge

The Lounge Area at Rio Manso Lodge

The lodge was a beautiful two story building constructed with natural logs and perched on the top of a hill with gorgeous views all around. The staff unloaded our luggage and took it to our assigned rooms while Jane and I entered the lodge and were introduced to more staff members. We went through the fishing area to the great room where a large fireplace was the centerpiece, and we were immediately offered drinks. After a brief amount of time to tour the impressive facility, Diana, our concierge for the week, announced that the fishing members of our group should prepare to fish. The guides would be waiting outside when we were ready. This was music to my ears.

I hurried upstairs and gathered the necessary gear from my luggage and returned to the wader room where I organized my fishing belongings into a dry bag and pulled on my waders and wading boots. The wind and chilly temperatures we experienced in Bariloche extended their reach south to Rio Manso as apparently a cold front had moved through on Sunday, so I wore two layers plus a raincoat to serve as a windbreaker on top. When I was prepared, I stepped outside and was greeted by Matias, the very same person who rode in the truck with us from Bariloche. Matias first asked what types of rods and lines I had, and after hearing I had a 6 weight with a floating line and an interchangeable spool holding a sinking line, he suggested I configure the six weight with the sinking line and also rig my four weight with a floating line.

Our Boat for Fishing Lago Fonck on Monday

Our Boat for Fishing Lago Fonck on Monday

We threw all our gear in the truck and jumped in, and then the driver transported us a short distance on a rough dirt road to the shores of Lago Fonck. It probably took 20 minutes to make this trip, and when we arrived Monte and Todd were already assembling their rods and preparing to fish with their guide Niko. There were two flat bottom boats pulled up on the shore with outboard motors in the rear and oars positioned in the center position. Carpeted casting decks were evident in the front and rear of the boat. While Matias helped launch the other boat with Monte and Todd, I assembled my rods, and when Matias returned his attention to our boat, I was prepared and excited to begin my fishing adventure in Patagonia.

The wind was gusting and the cool temperatures that probably never surpassed the high 50’s cut through my layers. I was wishing I’d brought a fourth layer as ridiculous as that may sound for late spring in the southern hemisphere. The other boat appeared to head immediately to the larger Lake Fonck so Matias motored a short distance, and we began fishing not too far from the boat launch area. Matias instructed me to begin with my four weight, and he tied on one of the chubby Chernobyls that I’d purchased. It had two large cream colored poly wings on top of a tan foam body and a dubbed yellow tan abdomen. This fly didn’t provoke any action so after a brief trial Matias clipped it off, sifted through my three fly boxes, and much to my surprise tied on one of the Chernobyl ants that I tied myself. This was rather flattering, but would it work?

It didn’t take long before I hooked a small rainbow, but halfway between the point of take and the net it escaped. I lost my first South American hook up, although I wasn’t really disappointed because the rainbow was probably an eight inch fish. I continued casting the Chernobyl with the pink foam indicator on top and eventually spotted a rise, set the hook, and felt significant weight. Unfortunately this fish after leaping from the water made a sharp move away from me and snapped off the fly as if the hook was a minor annoyance. I was quite disappointed with this turn of events because this fish carried some significant weight, and I was now 0-2. Matias consoled me, but also admonished me for trying to pressure the fish immediately upon hook set. He suggested that I set the hook and then lower the rod and allow the fish to take some line before stripping or reeling in line. This sounded reasonable, but I was in an extreme adrenalin fueled state trying to land my first Patagonia fish, so I took some deep breaths and tried to relax. It was very difficult.

Lunch Almost Ready

Lunch Almost Ready

Just before lunch we drifted into a small cove on the east side of the lake, and as I cast I spotted a dark image slowly cruising a couple feet out from the bank. I semi-calmly picked up my fly and cast it five feet ahead of the direction of the cruiser. I held my breath as the fish swerved slightly to the right and elevated a bit, but it was a refusal as the fish dropped back a few inches and passed my offering. Matias moved the boat a bit further so I could cast under some overhanging branches, but then we retreated to a nice grassy beach area so he could test the firmness of the ground and grass as a lunch location. It wasn’t long before Niko, Todd and Monte arrived, and the guides set up the tables for lunch. Niko fired up a grill and cooked steaks, and Matias got out the appetizers and poured glasses of wine. I continued to cast from shore to the area where I’d seen the cruiser, and Monte walked further along the shore to the place with the overhanging limbs. He was stripping a white streamer and hooked and landed a nice brook trout while the rest of us looked on.

I clipped off my Chernobyl ant and tried a size 14 caddis while we waited for the guides to set up lunch, and then I spotted a solitary mayfly, so I tried one of my size 16 gray comparaduns as a callibaetis imitation. Nothing worked, so I put my rod in the boat and joined the others for lunch. The lunches were amazing with wine, beer and water; appetizers, salad, a main course and dessert. I don’t typically eat dessert at lunch and dinner, but at Rio Manso I was consuming sweets at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After lunch Niko and crew returned to the large upper lake while Matias and I continued to prospect the edges of the small lake. The wind really kicked up in the afternoon, and Matias felt we were better off in the more intimate and protected small lake, and I could see merit in his logic. In addition because of the significant wave activity, he decided to go to streamers and subsurface techniques. He looked at my fleece wallet and much to my surprise selected a gray ghost, so I tied that on my six weight sinking line and fished it along the edges of the lake. It would have been a thrill to catch a fish on this streamer that I tied 20 years ago, but unfortunately it didn’t produce.

Matias changed tactics once again and fired up the outboard, and we bucked the waves and wind and went through a small channel that connects the lakes and stopped at the very southern end of the large lake. He pulled out the fly box containing flies purchased at Royal Gorge Angler and extracted a large olive streamer that had a tan rabbit strip and dumbbell eyes and attached this to my line. I began chucking this weighted hunk of fur toward the reeds that lined the south shore. I was having difficulty getting the fly to the surface because of the sinking line, so Matias demonstrated how to make a roll cast to bring the fly up and then quickly backcast twice and then shoot line on the final forward cast. This greatly improved my efficiency, and I finally felt something hammer my fly so I set the hook and played a 15 inch brook trout to the net. I was pretty excited with this first catch, but would later realize this was small compared to the average Rio Manso lake fish.

A 15" Brook Trout

A 15″ Brook Trout

After this success I worked the streamer for a couple hours with no success other than refinement of the roll cast and backcast routine. By 4PM my arm, back and shoulder were beginning to ache so we returned to the smaller more sheltered lake, and I switched back to the four weight with the Chernobyl ant. Matias rowed us into position upwind of a shallow cove with several long clumps of reeds and tall grass protruding from the water. I began to shoot long casts into the reeds or right in front of them using the strong tailwind and finally began to see success. Between 4PM and 5:30PM I landed four nice rainbow trout in the 16-20 inch range on the Chernobyl ant. After covering the inner edge of the weeds, Matias allowed the wind to blow the boat over top of some fairly dense grass and reeds so that I could place some long casts in a small but deep lagoon bordered on all sides by vegetation. I had a refusal from a nice fish in this area and then landed a rainbow.

A Nice Rainbow in 17-19 Inch Range

A Nice Rainbow in 17-19 Inch Range

By 5:30PM I was quite weary and chilled so Matias radioed the lodge and a truck arrived to transport us back to a roaring fire. Jane was there to greet me after getting acquainted with the other non-fishing guests. The weather provided very difficult conditions on Monday with cold temperatures and strong wind, but I’d managed to land five decent fish and acclimated to my guide and the fishing methods of Rio Manso. The fishing wasn’t what I expected, but it was only day one and surely the weather and temperatures would improve. Would they?

Argentina Day 5 – 12/01/2013

Argentina Day 5 12/01/2013 Photo Album

A Hawk Perched Outside the Window in Our Suite on Sunday Morning

A Hawk Perched Outside the Window in Our Suite on Sunday Morning

On Sunday morning we awoke to blue skies and sunshine and a hawk perched on a tree limb outside our grand window. Could this have been staged? Jane and I wandered over to the dining area in the separate building near the road and enjoyed a fine continental breakfast will all sorts of pastries, fruit, yogurt and cereal. After breakfast we returned to our main lodge and roamed about the grounds. It was quite windy but we found several places with wind barriers, and the warmth of the sun was quite pleasant. We descended the steps and path and reached the edge of the huge lake which was now churning with whitecaps due to the high winds. There were flowers everywhere, but the most prevalent were a yellow bush of moderate height that we later learned was called retama. They reminded me of forsythia but strangely had small green pods on the branches.

View of Lirolay Suites from the Road

View of Lirolay Suites from the Road

Retama Flowering Shrub Was Everywhere

Retama Flowering Shrub Was Everywhere

 

At this point we thought we were being picked up by Rio Monso on Sunday morning so we packed our suitcases and wandered over to the office. Much to our surprise the other couples that were supposed to join us for the trip to Rio Monso Lodge were no where to be found, so we began to suspect that something was amiss. We asked if the person at the front counter could contact Rio Manso, and he began to call and email his contacts. Meanwhile I used the Wi-Fi connection to send emails to Diana and Taylor. Apparently we created quite a storm and eventually Santiago, the driver who was in town to drop off departing guests at the airport, appeared and offered to take us to the lodge.

Hot Tub Overlooking Lake Adjoining Sunday Night Suite (Very Sweet)

Hot Tub Overlooking Lake Adjoining Sunday Night Suite (Very Sweet)

By now I’d heard back from Taylor and learned that we weren’t scheduled for pickup until Monday morning, so we checked with the front desk person whether we could stay at Lirolay for a second night. Fortunately there was a room available, the Lirolay suite, the nicest and most expensive room situated closest to the lake. We decided to remain in Bariloche for another night and moved to our upgraded room that contained a hot tub on a deck just outside our bed. It was unfortunate that we were forced to stay another night in this luxury.

With an extra day in Bariloche ahead of us we checked back with Matis, the nice front desk person, and he suggested things to do. For starters we decided to hire a taxi and head to a small restaurant along the lake near Cerro Campanario. Afterward we were within walking distance of the chairlift that would transport us to Cerro Campanario where we would have scenic views of the mountains and lakes around Bariloche. Matise called a taxi for us and after a 15 minute winding ride along the lake, dropped us off at Chado, the restaurant by the lake. Jane and I enjoyed light lunches and then walked a short distance back along the road to the base of the chairlift and purchased two lift tickets. A brief pleasant ride on the chair took us to the top where we circled around the path and snapped panoramic photos of the landscape.

View from the Top, Perhaps Best of the Trip

View from the Top, Perhaps Best of the Trip

For our return trip we decided to follow a dusty path that was visible from the chair, and as we descended we encountered numerous brave or perhaps foolish visitors making the uphill climb. At one point a young man approached in a Denver Nuggets jersey, and I stopped and told him that I was from Denver, Colorado and asked if he were a Nuggets fan? He replied in minimal English, “No Los Angeles Clippers”. Our language barrier prevented me from finding out why he was wearing a Nuggets jersey.

After reaching the base we were at a loss about how to obtain a cab for the return trip, so we returned to the restaurant and asked our waiter to call one. We decided to order a dessert to validate our return, but the cab arrived much sooner than expected and we had to gulp our tea and inhale our dessert cake in order to not make the cab driver wait.

After checking into our new room and being awestruck by our new setup, we decided to make a trip to downtown Bariloche to see what an Argentine ski town is like. Again the front desk ordered a taxi, and the driver dropped us off on Mitre street, the main artery through the business district. We spent an hour or two browsing the shops and exchanging money before enlisting the services of another cab and returning to Lirolay. Bariloche is known as the chocolate capital of Argentina and we entered a chocolate outlet store and bought a box of candy to carry back to the United States.

Jane in Chocolate Outlet in Bariloche Known for Chocolate

Jane in Chocolate Outlet in Bariloche Known for Chocolate

A restaurtant across from Lirolay Suites was recommended as one of the best in town, so we decided to make it our dining spot for Sunday night. Matise called and made reservations for us, and at the appropriate time we crossed the street and entered El Patacon parilla. There were plenty of tables and we enjoyed a fine meal before returning to our luxury suite for a fine night’s rest.

Argentina Day 4 – 11/30/2013

Argentina Day 4 11/30/2013 Photo Album

Our itinerary showed Saturday November 30 as a travel day, and Jane and I would go to the domestic airport in downtown Buenos Aires and then make a two hour flight to Bariloche, a ski town in western Patagonia. Our departure was scheduled for 6:15PM so we had most of the morning and early afternoon to continue our Buenos Aires experience. Once again we enjoyed a fine continental breakfast as part of our stay, however, the pleasant late spring weather and warm temperatures beckoned us to the small Miravida patio.

After breakfast we chatted with Felipe, one of the employees involved in our email exchanges, and he was a very outgoing young man who spoke good English with a bit of a Canadian accent. We wanted to pick up some remaining gifts for friends in the U.S. and believed that soccer shirts were the perfect present, so Felipe provided directions to a shopping district with numerous sports apparel outlets. The hike turned out to be around 10-12 blocks, but we eventually found the area and browsed through five or six shops. Unfortunately we weren’t finding the desired sizes, or the shirts were too expensive, or we couldn’t find the right team, so we abandoned the soccer shirt approach and decided to instead purchase some Argentine candy.

In the morning before leaving we asked Felipe if there was a favorite Argentine candy, and he responded with no hesitation that alfajores were clearly the answer. He wrote down four brands to look for, and he actually grew quite animated at the thought of eating this sweet treat. We had the slip of paper with us, so we shifted our focus from sports apparel stores to grocery stores as we returned back toward the Miravida. After a few blocks we encountered a small grocery store and entered and in a short amount of time discovered a rather extensive display of alfajores near the check out lanes. There were chocolate and vanilla and numerous brands including two of the types listed on Felipe’s slip of paper. We grabbed several packages of one of his listed varieties and offered the correct pesos and rejoiced at having achieved our gift buying goal before leaving Buenos Aires.

It was now late morning and the air temperature was approaching 24 degrees celsius, or 80 fahrenheit so we decided to return to the hotel for a bit and then resume our gift hunting venture. Once again Felipe was at the front desk, and again he was extremely helpful. We were seeking another open air market where we could find craft gifts, and he immediately directed us to Plaza Serrano. Off we went again, but this walk was only five blocks and as we looked ahead we saw the square surrounded by small kiosks where craftsmen displayed their products. Situated on the outside of the plaza were many small cafes and bars with patio seating, so this looked like an interesting place to spend some time. Unlike La Boca the crowd appeared to be largely local Argentines and not tourists.

Plaza Serrano Market

Plaza Serrano Market

We browsed through the small craft stands and settled on a booth with unique crafted products and purchased a few items for ourselves and also as gifts. We now had Argentine gifts for all the friends and family members on our list, so our thoughts turned to lunch. We looked up from the west end of the plaza and noticed a cafe on the second level that overlooked the entire market and surrounding area, and we both decided this would be an ideal spot for a light lunch. After entering the building we found the stairs and climbed to the second floor where we were seated at a table with an umbrella shading us from the warm sun. Shortly thereafter a pair of women arrived and after claiming a vacant table next to the balcony rail, they approached us and spoke in Spanish. We offered the two seats next to us, but for some reason they declined and returned to their previous seating. A bit of time elapsed when we finally realized that they had a third person in their party, and they were asking to exchange tables with us. Once we understood their request, we quickly swapped tables and ended up in a more desirable location overlooking the plaza.

The Beginning of a Great Lunch Overlooking Plaza Serrano

The Beginning of a Great Lunch Overlooking Plaza Serrano

I ordered a German boch beer and Jane discovered a thirst quenching mint flavored lemonade, and then we ate some large salads and returned to the hotel. We now had a few hours to pack and chat before our taxi was due to pick us up and take us to the Aeroparke for our flight to Bariloche. Somehow I mentioned yerba mate to Felipe, and he invited us to join him in a mate tea party. Jane and I walked to the patio table and in a brief amount of time Felipe arrived with his mate gourd. The mug is in reality a hollowed out gourd with a metal rim and upon close examination one could still see the rough membrane on the inside surface of the vessel. A metal straw was positioned within the mate mug and Felipe began to explain the tradition of mate. He described drinking mate as a social event involving the owner of the cup and his or her invited guests. The process began by filling the mug with a thick concoction of light green herbs. Unlike normal tea that is contained in a bag or infuser, the loose herbal mix completely filled the container.

Alfajore Wrapper and Mate Mug

Alfajore Wrapper and Mate Mug

Next to the gourd was a pitcher with hot water, and Felipe made it clear that the water should be heated until it was just below boiling. In fact the pitcher on our table had a mate setting. Felipe picked up the pitcher and filled the cup to the top and all the dry herbal mixture absorbed the hot water. As we looked on, Felipe cautioned us that it was not polite to touch the metal straw anywhere but the top with your lips, and it was also tradition that the owner of the mug should take the first drink as this was the most bitter. With this information now communicated, Felipe took the first sips of mate until all the liquid was withdrawn and then refilled the cup and handed it to Dave. Dave put his lips on the hot metal straw and sucked as much tea as he could from the green mash and then passed it to Jane. Once more Felipe topped off the mate mix with water and Jane took her turn at the straw. We made one full round and then Felipe and Dave took a second drink and we ended the mate ritual. It was fun to be introduced to a South American tradition in this way. The flavor of mate was somewhat bitter and clearly was an acquired taste in my opinion.

With time remaining before our departure to the airport I asked Felipe about the standard of living in Paraguay as I remembered it to be one of the poorest countries in South America from my social studies class in sixth grade, but I’d lost track of the landlocked country since then. During our mate discussion Felipe mentioned that he grew up in Paraguay, and my question prompted a fascinating history lesson. Unbeknownst to me, Paraguay had a golden age in the early 1800’s before the U.S. civil war. According to Felipe the British government then instigated a war between Paraguay and Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina and the result of this mismatch is fairly easy to predict. Paraguay lost and then Brazil and Argentina took control of land and shrank the size of Paraguay to its current state.

After the war the country went through a long period of unstable government and dictatorships culminating in the 35 year rule of Alfredo Stroessner. Felipe contends that even today the government is corrupt and accepts bribes from foreign multinationals such as Monsanto and Rio Tinto to exploit the land and natural resources. Felipe was certainly one of the favorite personalities that we encountered on our trip.

Our departure hour had now arrived and a taxi arrived at the door once again so we crawled into the back seat and enjoyed a normal ride to Aeroparke, the domestic hub. When we checked our bags we were informed that our cumulative kilograms were 20kgs over the allowable weight, so we were sent to the cashier to pay for the overage. The woman at the check-in counter gave me my boarding pass but withheld Jane’s until the $14 fee was paid. We walked down the wide hall a ways and found the cashier window with a long line extending through a maze. Did we need to wait in this line to pay our $14 so we could obtain Jane’s boarding pass and make our flight to Bariloche? We were beginning to fidget and stress over the likelihood of another travel snarl, and making things worse were three large men who stood in front of the one cashier window speaking loudly in an attempt to outshout each other and the man behind the window. Would this never end?

Finally another man arrived and told us he waited unnecessarily in the long line as that line was for purchasing tickets. Once we heard this we heaved a sigh of relief and jumped behind our new friend and in a short amount of time we paid our fee and possessed Jane’s boarding pass. When we arrived at the gate we discovered that the flight was a half hour late, so we actually had more time than we realized.

The rest of the day unfolded pretty much as planned, and we landed in Bariloche at 9PM. We had arranged through Lirolay Suites for a transfer from the airport, and as we emerged from baggage claim a young taxi driver held a sign with our names printed on it. We greeted our driver and joined him for a fairly long ride from the airport to Lirolay Suites along Lago Nahuel Huapi because the airport was in a rural location far outside the small city, and the hotel was on the opposite side of the city. We were quite hungry so after Francisco checked us in to our suite, we returned to the front building and ate a nice dinner of salmon and trout in the dining room adjoining the office. Our waitress Maria was very nice, and the cook eventually came out to ask us how we liked our meal, and we had a nice conversation with him before paying our bill and returning to our room.

Fireplace in Our Room at Lirolay Suites in Bariloche

Fireplace in Our Room at Lirolay Suites in Bariloche

We were now in Patagonia and poised for a week at Rio Manso Lodge.