On the fly
Chilean Patagonia is a trout fishing paradise
One version of heaven on Earth is sitting in the wooden hot tub at Posada de los Farios (the Inn of the Brown Trout) in a remote valley of Chilean Patagonia easing aching limbs after a day of amazing trout fishing, eating crisp empanadas filled with melted cheese, letting the piquant liquid pleasure of the pisco sour spread its healing influence. Another is lunch beside the blue rippled waters of Lago las Quemas with chicken, avocado, tomato and a dab of chilli sauce wrapped in tortilla and accompanied by a cool beer, on a shore shaded by ancient lenga trees after a couple of hours stalking (and catching) the big trout that cruise along reed beds and nose into bays under rock cliffs.
And here’s one more version — lying on my back in a long, deep, crystal-clear pool on the Cisnes River, staring up into a flawless blue Patagonian sky, rod, waders and clothes left on the bank, in certain knowledge nobody will appear on the skyline to be appalled by the spectacle of my unclothed 60-something body because there is no one for kilometres around.
And this – the almost non-existent human touch on a pristine landscape – is the chief impression left by my extended stay on the Cisnes, which runs 160km through the central part of Chilean Patagonia to the sea. Hardly anyone lives here, and those who do are campesinos (country people), gauchos and their families, men on horseback in abbreviated flat caps and jeans or sheepskin leggings, who ride out to keep an eye on the cattle and sheep that graze the uplands and the meadows by the river.
The Cisnes Valley is a thumb of Chilean territory thrust through the Andes into the pampas grasslands east of the mountains, with Argentine territory either side. The gaucho way of life still prevails, notable for the slowness of its pace. I never see a man on horseback moving faster than a walk, usually with an ox and a couple of cows ambling ahead and dogs of dubious parentage trotting at his heels. One evening, nursing my beer on the veranda outside the lodge, I watch the oldest gaucho, Tito, pass by, as erect in the saddle as a marshal of the French army taking the salute. He is in his 80s, the father of 13 children, with a mother still going in the local village at more than 100.
The exception in this very basic mode of existence is