After tying the knot last November, Z and I finally decided to get the hell out of dodge and check off the first place on our bucket list – Chile. For as much as we had dreamed about, read about, and waited for our trip to Chile, we really had no concrete plan for our trip and I wasn’t sure how it would pan out. On the way down we somehow got upgraded on our connecting flight from Lima to Santiago to business class and got free VIP lounge tickets at the airport in Lima. After draining five black labels at the open bar, I lost whatever travel anxiety that was left about leaving work and figuring out what to do when we got there. Everything felt like it was falling exactly into place.
We spent one day in Santiago and then headed down to Punta Arenas to check out some penguin action and then head to Torres del Paine to do a little hiking and unplug for a while. On our flight down we met an awesome couple, coincidentally from Houston, who had quit their jobs and decided to travel for a year. The whole thing struck home and really got the wheels turning. I have to admit that they have a valid point – if not now, then when we’re 60? I guess I thought it was only me, but I guess the hustle and bustle of this big city can just really wear on a body, but anyways enough about that. We spent a day in Punta Arenas and the next day got up to take a boat out to an island in the Straits of Magellan to check out some penguins with our new friends. I must say that the penguins and I share a special bond. Neither I nor the penguin was conceived in the most efficient form to live a life as an ocean predator (especially my post-Houston form as of late). However, whether it’s out of the love of the water, necessity or some combination of both, we’ve adapted to the point where we can’t live any other way. Also, it’s crazy that these little guys swim all the way from Brazil down there for a summer long orgy and seafood binge and then just swim back home when they’ve had their fill of each. I find that incredibly admirable.
Z with the locals
Afterwards we rented a car and decided to drive five hours north into Torres del Paine. We got a late start and decided to stop in Puerto Natales on the the way up for dinner. We had read reviews about places to stay and found a quaint working ranch which also serves as a hotel just outside of the park boundaries. The reviews had all said that the place was excellent but that travelers should be aware that electricity is only turned on for some hours in the morning and then in the evening, so it is not your typical hotel. We were a little concerned then when we left Puerto Natales at 8:30pm for the remaining two hour drive that they might be closed or asleep by the time we got there. About an hour into the trip the road turned into a gravel road. It was pitch blacks and we were dodging the rabbits darting across the road for the next hour winding through the mountains in pitch black. It was hard to tell what we were getting into and then finally we came to the ranch where a big English blond retriever looking almost identical to my parents’ old dog came out to greet the car. A man and woman rushed hurriedly out front to meet us and I felt pretty bad hoping that we had not woken them up. They spoke no English but they didn’t need any words to express their kindness. They offered us food and drinks but we settled for some tea and got back to our very simple room to get some rest after a long day. We slipped off to sleep and had no clue about what was waiting all around us in the morning when we got up.
The view from our room
After admiring the view we got up and moseyed down to the main building for some breakfast where we were greeted by a ginger yet incredibly serious Chilean man, who would very seriously and professionally ask me my favorite questions of the trip – “Pan-cakey??? Heuvos???”. For the rest of our stay si and si were the only two words I needed to know to effectively communicate with him. After eating some pan-cakey and huevos we got ready to do some hiking right around our hotel which was actually situated on the park boundary of Torres del Paine. We hiked that first day around the lake near our hotel, then back around a few more lakes, and finally finished up at mountain over looking the Rio Serrano Valley, which was an incredible view. We broke out our travel wine pouch and plastic wine glasses with removable stems (classy, eh?) and had ourselves a little picnic. The weather had not been kind to us on the 4hr hike over, but the view had been well worth it.
Wine and picnic break over looking the Rio Serrano Valley
By far the largest woodpecker I have ever seen
After scarfing down some cheese and meat we had bought in Punta Arenas and washing it down with some nice Chilean wine, we packed up and got ourselves ready for the trek back to our hotel where my new friend had an excellent country cooked dinner waiting for us. I had a few extra servings to refuel myself from the long trek (or so I justified it to myself) and we called it a night. The next day we woke up with the intent of driving into the main part of the park and doing a hike up to Torres del Paine to see the three famous peaks and lake beneath them. We got up and headed into the park for another long day hike. Unlike the day before, it was totally clear outside with almost no cloud cover. Z and I were both feeling pretty good about ourselves after hiking for about 8hrs the day before and not feeling totally beat down. Then, the first quarter mile straight uphill slapped us in the face and laughed. The previous day’s hike had been more or less at a constant elevation. This day would be a pretty much 4hr climb up with the exception of a few level parts of the path along a river. The trail had us climbing up a dry mountain face, crossing into heavily wooded areas, along river banks, back and forth across bridges and then finally to a rock covered mountain face where we made the final push up. I was on a mission to get up to the top in a decent time so we wouldn’t face nightfall during the trek back to the trailhead. Then, finally Z had it with me and asked “do you have to go so fast! can’t we enjoy it at all, you’re always trying to rush rush rush!”. No sooner did we stop as she said that and a 70+ year old man came crawling up the mountain past us. We both had a pretty good laugh, took a break for some water, and then made the rest of the way to the top. Again, the view was totally worth it. From what we heard later on we were extremely lucky to experience that kind of weather and most days the cloud cover is extremely low and covers the mountain peaks.
Hiking up to Torres on a perfectly clear day
After a long trek up…
With two days of 8+hrs hikes behind us, we decided to take it easy on our third and final day and took a boat tour around a glacier in one of the lakes. The glacier was unreal. I didn’t know that shade of blue occurred naturally.
Glacier at the Lago Grey
After our final day at Torres del Paine, we woke up for some professional Pan-Cakey and Huevos and made the 5hr drive back to Punta Arenas for our flight to Balmaceda/Coyhaique. A friend of mine in Houston had told me that he had a friend and fly fishing guide that we absolutely had to hook up with in Coyhaique. We had spoken a few times before we left and he said come after March 2nd and fish, I have nothing booked and the fishing is still great. In our last correspondance he asked if I would need a ride and I said, yeah if you can pick us up from the airport that would be great. Unfortunately, I decided not to check my e-mail after that message when he responded that we should take the shuttle because it’s about 50km from the airport to Coyhaique and he had a hunting trip planned in the mountains that day when we were flying in. We got in, and all the shuttles and taxis started leaving and I started realizing that the people were emptying out. We were the last flight in and the airport was closing down and I started to tell Z hey I think maybe we should hop on one of these. “Oh you’re just like my grandma Babushka Mashka always worrying all the time”. So we decided not to take a taxi or shuttle and wait it out, which apparently was a bad decision. The airport closed down and we found ourselves unpacking the wine, portable wine glasses (best purchase ever), cheese and fruit and having a little picnic in the pickup lane at the abandoned airport. I enabled roaming on my cell phone to look up a phone number and a short two hours later we had a ride there to take us to town. Whoops, not the best start but the boxed wine and food had us in good spirits by the time we reached the hotel anyways.
The next day we got up and Brent met us at the hotel. We got fishing licenses, some killer sandwiches and breakfast pastries and headed out into the mountains. We pulled up to someone’s property and Brent spoke with him for a little while in Spanish and then we had our access through his land and into a great stretch of the river. We strung up the rods and hiked down and immediately started whacking trout. A few rainbows and browns around 20″ were taken, all on dry flies and then we broke for lunch. We sat down, started eating our sandwiches and of course drinking from our favorite portable wine glasses and then I saw a large form moving up through the river. I looked at Brent and said hey, check out that big salmon. He immediately replied – go get that fish! So I tore up the river after it and threw everything I could at it and it wouldn’t take anything. I finally got up to a pool that was holding lots of big fish but they wouldn’t eat a thing. I started making my way back down to Z and Brent and I said hey, they won’t eat anything I have. He reached into his box and gave me a purple egg sucking leach looking pattern and said try this. We went back up and there was an extremely fresh looking fish there. I threw the fly out expecting another refusal as she burst forward with her mouth open and inhaled the fly. I started fighting the fish and after a while she decided to go back down river, so off we tore after her. At some point during the chase I totally ate it, and ate it hard on some hard rocks. I think Brent was hollering something about pain being temporary and I agreed and got back going and eventually caught up to her. My knee was killing me (but that in fact would only be temporary) and I was way out of breath when we finally got a hold of what we estimated to be in the 40-50lb range fish. Awesome.
A big, fresh salmon for our first big fish of the trip
So Z was there and definitely raring to hook into one of her own. So she grabbed the rod and started throwing at some fish herself and a half hour or so later she had a hold of a massive fish of her own. With two massive salmon caught, we were both happy to go back to tossing dry flies at rising trout for the rest of the day.
Z flexing what would be later known as the Russian fist, after landing a monster of her own.
The next day we got up and Brent met us again and we headed off into the mountains. This time we went to another property where an old woman lived who was making a very delicious smelling goat stew. Brent had brought her some wool (she loves to knit) and we sat in her modest home as she cooked her stew over the wood burning stove chatting for a while. She seemed more than happy to have us go through her property to fish the stretch of river in the canyon behind her home and only asked us if we could bring one fish back for her. We fished all day in some of the most beautiful back drops with steep rock faced canyons and bright blue crystal clear water and had rising fish all day.
Anywhere, Chilean Patagonia
Z hooking a fish in a nice little honey hole.
Trout up close
At the end of the day Brent kept one rainbow trout and trotted up the mountain to bring it to the landowner who had granted us access onto her land. After fishing we scooped up Brent’s wife Jen and they took us for dinner at a local restaurant where we had fantastic local seafood and lamb. I have no idea what southern hake actually is, but man is it tasty. We had some great eats and great conversation and then turned in for the night to get up and going for one final day on the water.
The last day of our fishing trip Brent told us to check out of the hotel and stay with him and his wife on their farm. They have a beautiful stretch of land right on the Rio Simpson with a guest cabin at the head of the property and a beautiful cabin that they are still working on finishing towards the back of the property closer to the river. We put up our bags, suited up and walked back through their property and down to the river. What an awesome thing to be able to do. The fishing was great again, but the wind was definitely ripping. Towards the middle of the day I had to switch to some smaller mosquito type fly patterns to entice some of the rising fish to eat and towards the end of the day we decided to just switch to streamers which was a blast. Brent had been instructing Z on getting her cast better and better. Towards the end of the day, with the wind howling Brent and I were BS’ing and looked down the river to Z casting into the wind with such a tight loop and perfectly timed double haul. Both of us stopped talked and said holy crap, she’s bombing them! After we had our fill of streamer fishing we made our way back up the hill and to Brent and Jen’s cabin.
A streamer produced trout
Z and Brent with another brown trout
We definitely felt the great hospitality. Jen had prepared a bunch of small dishes or appetizers and was getting ready for the main course – tenderloin filets from the red stag Brent had shot with his bow two days earlier. I will not say that I have eaten a ton of wild game, but I’ve eaten my fair share and I must say that these red stag steaks were some of the best if not the best I have ever tasted. Great company, great food, and then of course the great wine started really flowing. Jen and Brent introduced us to the Bote, a leather wine pouch with a restricted drinking nozzle which can be squeezed and squirted into your mouth. The rules – that your mouth cannot make contact and the further from your face you get, the more style points you score. The bote went around and around and six bottles of wine later Z and Brent were both passing out all over the place and it was time to call it a night.
I must say that I have not had the best experiences with taking guides fly fishing and always walk away feeling like damn, I just dropped a lot of cash on that and I could have dragged my skiff there or walked my a$$ there and done that myself and been happier. That could absolutely not be further from how I felt with Brent guiding us. I have never felt like I have spent my money so well with a guided trip. It’s nice to have someone that’s just fun and laid back to hang out with. Secondly, Brent just so happens to know everyone in the town and outside of the town and probably all up and down through the mountains there around Coyhaique (judging from his ability to strike up conversation with strangers). He knew the rivers well and knew where the best access was and then knew the land owners whose land we’d have to cross to get into those areas. Also, he is probably one of the greatest fly casters I have ever seen. If you for any reason find yourself wanting to get down to fish Chilean Patagonia do yourself a favor and look up Brent Taylor and make sure you head out with him, it will be money well spent and you will definitely have a blast fishing with him.
We got back to Santiago with just a few days left and I had one thing on the brain – wine, wine, and more wine. We spent our first day back in Santiago looking around some of the museums and local sights and then went to a local winery – Cusino Macul. I was not impressed, nor was Z. It was kind of a let down. So we decided to hop on a bus the next day and go to Valparaiso, a city on the coast with a lot of personality. We found our way to a bus and started off on the 2hr bus ride back and Z was busy at work in her lonely planet travel book. The wheels were turning in her head I could tell. Then she showed me her grand scheme. Halfway between where we were and Valparaiso was the Casablanca wine valley. She said we need to tell them to let us off the bus here. I was like, uhhh, Z… we are in the middle of no where. How will we get back? That’s a bad idea let’s just go to Valparaiso. Oh Svin, she says, you need to get more adventurous! Before I knew what was going on she had the bus stopped and we were hopping off on the highway in the middle of no where with nothing but grapes around and a big modern building through the vineyards and on the top of a hill across the highway. It must have been over 90 degrees. We scurried across the highway and hopped the median and then onto the other side and started walking down a dirt road towards this winery. This thing had better be open. I must say that it looked a lot closer than it was. By the time we made it to the top and got inside I was drenched with sweat. Do you have any wine tastings? Yes, we do the woman replied. I said fantastic, but first some water. We drank a tasting of 5 wines that blew up my taste buds and totally erased the memory of the poor tasting the day before in Santiago. Holy crap this stuff is good. The next thing I knew we had a taxi arranged to pick us up from this winery and take us to two more in the same region. Looking back, this was probably an ambitious plan, but the wine was good and why stop a good thing when you find it. We were pretty well blasted when the tastings were all said and done. We found our way to a little town where we were able to catch another bus to Valparaiso and as Z threw up in the toilet at the back of the bus I knew that our little tasting excursion had been quite the success. We spent a day in Valparaiso and then it was time to come back to Santiago and say good bye to our honeymoon. Chile had been fantastic to us. The people, the scenery, the fishing, and the wine had all been incredible. I think it’s safe to say that we will definitely be making a trip back, hopefully in the very near future.