I wanted to post this article written by former guide and renowned artist Bob White. Bob was the first American guide to guide for Patagonia Outfitters. He first came down in 1986 and guided in Patagonia many seasons. His watercolors are famous. This is the article Bob wrote about his first Patagonian encounter. I thought I'd like to share it as I think many of you will enjoy it. - Jorge Trucco
Thursday, January 29 2004UNDER THE SOUTHERN CROSS by Bob White
"When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way" Stephen Stills
Friends,About this time of year, when the snow is blowing up under the eaves of the studio, and the old stove just doesn’t hold enough wood to get through till morning, my mind wanders back to Argentina. It was a tremendous opportunity and I met some of my dearest friends while guiding there in the mid-eighties and nineties. Today’s watercolor, "Top of the Canyon" is a painting of the Malleo River, looking up river towards the Lanín Volcano.
It all started with a dream well, not really. The dreams started after, as a young boy, I’d read some books about Patagonia and fly fishing for trout in the foothills of the Andes.In my dream, I’m travelling with a teacher. When we start our journey, we are the same age, but as we search, my friend becomes older and I don’t.
After wandering for weeks across endless, rolling hills of dry, ochre colored grass we crest a ridge and see a lush, green river valley in the distance. At this point, I realize that my dream is a large and ancient book laid out on a dark table for me to read.
The book has ornate type and painted illustrations, and as I finish with a page, it turns on its own in a soft, breezy "swoosh".Between the river and us is one last, broad valley with a monolithic rock that looks like a tooth. On our journey, so far, there has been no path to follow and we’ve wandered aimlessly, always choosing the easiest route. Now we follow the slight trail that winds its way past the rock, across the valley, and over the last rise.
As we near the place called “the molar”, we cross a small brook, and in the shade of some tall poplars, is a ruined stone building with an arched doorway.
We sit on the rubble and rest in the coolness. "You look tired." I say. "We could stay here and rebuild this house.""No, it’s not much farther now would you bring me some water?"I kneel in wild spearmint as I dip a tin cup into the thread of water, and return with it and a handful of cress. Patterns of light and shadow dance across the old ruins as we quietly eat, and listen to the midday hum of insects and a covey of quail softly calling from the hillside.
Later in the hot, afternoon sun, we climb the final hill that separates us from the river. In my excitement, I walk ahead of my friend, who has aged even more inthe past few hours. The anticipation builds as we near the ridge. Just a few more yards now and we’ll see the river!
I stand at the crest and look down on the reflected light of the water, with its lush green valley winding away toward the west and a snow capped mountain enshrouded in clouds. I turn back toward my friend, but he’s gone. I am alone at the pass. The wind whispers in the grass and the giant book closes.
Many years later, one thing having led to another, I found myself in Argentina, bouncing down the road to Junin De Los Andes in an old Jeep, with Jorge Trucco. I’d been asked to help Jorge and his partner David guide American fly fishermen for the season, and Jorge was driving me around to meet the local ranchers, get a feel for the countryside, and see the water that I’d read about and dreamed of fishing.
We stopped on a high curve, just out side of town, where the Chimehuin makes a long sweeping bend on its way to join the Aluminé."Just down there is the Manzano" said Jorge, pointing out across the valley. "A lot of good fish have been taken there.""Do you fish it often?" I asked, while slipping on my polarized glasses in the hopes of spotting a good fish in the pool just below us."No, not really. Not anymore" he answered. "I wish that I had the time."
Junín was a dusty little town, and I was surprised when Jorge turned off the main road and started working his way through its neighborhoods. Eventually, we stopped near the river, and in front of an old building, the Hosteria Chimehuin. I felt blinded as we walked into the small, dark lobby from the bright, hot street. As my eyes adjusted, I saw a myriad of old black and white photographs on the tobacco stained walls, and even though the room was still and empty, I sensed that we were in a strange presence.
"I’m going to take you to the Boca next." Jorge said, interrupting my thoughts and making me jump, as surprised to hear a voice behind me as I might be in a quiet cathedral."To know the Chimehuin and the Boca, you must first understand its history." He began. "That’s why I’ve brought you here. These are the people who make the river a legend. This place is a part of that legend, and these people," he continued, gesturing to the photographs, "are legendary."
"When I was a young man Jose and Elena Julian managed the Hosteria and the place was unique. Back then Bebe Anchorena and Prince Razidwil rented separate apartments in the Hosteria for the entire season, every season."
"Bebe offered nightly cocktail parties to his fishing friends, and it was an honor to be invited. Since I was Bebe’s apprentice I was always here, and it was common to see Prince Charles Razidwil, Jorge Donovan, Laddie Buchanan, and other famous Argentine fishermen. Roderick Haig-Brown stayed here in theearly years, and Joe Brooks, Ted Williams, Billy Pate, Mel Krieger, and others were always around when they visited. We’d get together every evening after fishing, have drinks and talk about landing, missing, or losing incredible fish at the Boca or at some of the classic big fish pools on the river."
"This is the Manzano’ pool, the one I showed you from the road." Jorge said, pointing to one of the photos."This is Jorge Donavan with little Florencia at El Puente Negro’," he continued, walking around the room slowly and beckoning to other photos.
"Here is Joe Brooks and Bebe at the Boca. You’ve seen this photo in Joe Brook’s book. This is me with Mel Krieger at Las Viudas’, and the Prince with a big fish at La Piedra del Viento."
Jorge laughed, and then looked very serious. "This photo was taken in 1976 while I was fishing with Bebe at the Boca he was casting Ed Shenk’s skating spiders at the Upper Bushes’, just above of the Devil’s Throat’. At 9 o’clock he hooked a huge fish that broke him off after just ten minutes. He was so mad and disgusted with himself that he left. I simultaneously hooked a monster brown and started calling for him but he’s gone. At 10:30 I was about to land the biggest fish of my life, a true legend and the fly falls out of his mouth and I watched him swim away. A big depression!"
Jorge paused, and I could see that the memory of losing that fish still troubled him. He shook his head, shivered slightly, and continued."Every year you would see the same people, and every one of us looked forward to spending those days together. It was a fraternity. That all ended when Bebe finished his new house on the Chimehuin and moved there in 1981. The Hosteria Chimehuin wasn’t the Hosteria Chimehuin any more.
"We drove in silence for the next forty minutes, each with his own thoughts, while we followed the Chimehuin upstream to its source at Lake Huechulafquen.
When we crossed the bridge near the Boca, Jorge became animated once again."Come on, I’ll show you la piedra de los once." He said with a smile. "Do you know the story?""The rock of eleven?" I said. "Isn’t that where Bebe caught the 11 kilo brown on a dry fly? A big variant?"No, you are confusing two different stories. He was standing on la piedra de los once when he hooked and landed the 11 kilo brown imagine 24.2 pounds! He took that fish on Honey Blonde", a salt water streamer designed by Joe Brooks and tied with yellow bucktail. It was tied on a #3407 Mustad hook."
I had to hand it to Jorge; he felt the same way about flyfishing as me."What you’re thinking of is the time Bebe caught a 7.5 kilo fish on a large dry fly, a big Wulff pattern, I think. He caught it above the bridge, where the cars are parked. As some people claimed that it was pure luck he went back and did it again, catching another 7.5 kilo fish on a skating spider!"
As we left, Jorge slowed the jeep to a stop on the bridge. We were both looking for fish"Now you get to see the Malleo and meet La Bruja’!" Jorge yelled above the screaming transmission as we climbed the Paso Santa Julia.
"La Bruja?" I yelled back, my Spanish being a bit rusty."The witch of San Huberto! Just be sure that she likes you it will be a long season if she doesn’t.
"We came over the ridge and caught a brief glimpse of the river valley below, and it stretched away into the distance like a green snake in a sea of dry yellow grass. The broad valley that separated us from the river had a large odd shaped rock in it."What is that called?" I asked."La Muela." Jorge answered. "The Molar’ in English."I was trying to pull a fuzzy image from my past when we screamed around a sharp bend in the road and a bullet riddled sign that said "Vado" flashed past."What was that?"
"Hold on!" Jorge yelled, jamming gears to downshift. "Vado’ it means how do you say a low water crossing a ford."The jeep bottomed out in the thread of water and bounced us above the windshield. As we took the following turn, and climbed past the ruins of an old stone house with an arched doorway, the transmission was screaming, and I thought that I smelled a hint of spearmint in the smoke of a burning clutch.
We had one more long dusty climb to the top of the last ridge, and it was even money on whether or not the old jeep would make it to the top. My new Helly Hanson jacket was covered in transmission fluid as we crested the ridge and Jorge skidded the poor thing to a stop."It’s all down hill from here," he said with a grin.Dropping down to the valley floor was quieter, but no less exciting.
"Do we bring the guests this way?" I asked. "Over the Santa Julia?"
"Sure! There’s no other way to San Huberto It’s no problem, this is the international highway to Chile you’ll see busses on the pass all the time."
"Wonderful," I thought to myself.A few miles up the road we turned into a narrow lane that took us through a dense planting of pine trees and entered another world.
The shade from the trees was palpable, there were immaculately manicured lawns and gardens, Ibis paraded around the place, and Lapwings screamed and screeched as they hopped about and fought with one another.
A deep, shaded, veranda that was bordered by a riot of rose bushes, fronted the lodge, and on the lawn, playing with a mountain lion cub, was "La Bruja".
"Trucco! Cómo estás?" she asked, rolling the cub over on its back, cuffing its ears, and rising to meet us."Bien todo bien. ¿Y vos?" he answered."And this is your American friend?" She said, switching to English and then back to Spanish. "¿Cómo estas?"
My Spanish was abysmal, but I had practiced for this moment, and I was determined to make a good impression.
"Bien muy bien, gracias." So far so good.
"Y cómo se llama, chico?" she asked.
"Me llamo Roberto Blanco." I responded proudly.
She glanced at Trucco with a puzzled look, and then back to me with the beginning of a smile."Oh my God!" I thought what have I said"
Roberto Blanco Roberto Blanco?" She repeated her laughter now uncontainable. "You mean that your name is Bob White?!" She laughed out loud.I blushed in embarrassment."Oh, you’re a cute little Gringo!" She said sweeping me up into her arms and giving me a crushing hug. "My name’s Carmen, Carmen Olsen."
After introductions to her husband, Carlos, Karin her only daughter, and her sons, Gustavo and Roni, Jorge suggested that we walk down to the river and fish the "Swimming Hole".As we walked away, and as soon as we were out of earshot, he turned to me shaking his head, and said, "I think she likes you. You’re a very lucky guy!"
My first "winter" in Argentina was a dream. When I wasn’t floating one of the big rivers, the Aluminé or Collon-Curá, with Jorge, I was usually at San Huberto, and though I struggled to learn the language and the water, my fishermen caught their fair share of trout because as Jorge had so aptly said, I was, "a very lucky guy".
The books that I read as a young man were, Roderick Haig-Brown’s, "A Fisherman’s Winter and "Far Away and Long Ago", by W.H. Hudson.
Carmen Olsen became a second mother to me that first season in Argentina, and all of the family are still dear friends. Jorge Trucco continues to teach me, and is an old and trusted companion.
At the end of my dream, as the giant book closes, I was able to see the author’s name