This is an update on the travel situation for South America, Chile, and Columbia.
The border into Chile is still closed to foreigners. Only Chilean nationals returning to the country are allowed in at this time. Occasionally on Facebook I see posts by Chilean fishing guides and lodges claiming that the border will open soon, and fly fishing tourists will book excursions for this summer fishing season, December 2020 to April 2021. I’m not sure where they’re getting their information; according to the United States Department of State website the Chilean border is closed. Same with all the news that I can find while searching on the Internet on this topic.
I am in isolation here in the Catskills alone on the top of a mountain. Once a week, I go shopping for food at Adams in Kingston. Three or four times a week, I go swimming in the Catskill Recreation Center pool. The pool has only six lanes, and usually, there’s a swimmer in each. I go early in the morning, make my swim, and then leave; this is all the exposure to others I’m willing to tolerate. Oh, wait I almost forgot I voted last Monday at the election office center in Delhi, NY.
I am still considering a steelhead fly fishing trip up to Buffalo tomorrow or Monday. I have found a few Airbnb’s for $20 a night with private bathrooms but when I read the news, which is all about the coronavirus and Trump these days, I get very hesitant to leave my home.
I have been taking lessons in trout Spey casting with Wayne at River Of Life in Deposit, New York. My rod is an 11’3″ trout rod built by Robert Meisner that I am finding very difficult to learn how to cast but progress, not perfection. I was out with Wayne on the last day of the fishing season. The river was running around 900, higher than at any time I had been there before, and it was cold. I managed to hook into two large browns Wayne took these pictures. It was a good day, and my casting improved slightly.
Do Not Squeeze The Trout!
River of Life Outdoor Adventures Wayne Aldridge 19 Latham Rd. Deposit, NY 13754
Images of the Rio Mañihuales and the Rio Ñireguao often come to mind during the day. I see the fishing spots that I favor and where I’ve had the good fortune to catch fierce and beautiful trout. I can imagine the riverbank in my mind and feel the pleasure of hiking into pristine locations to fish that few anglers visit. There are barbed wire fences, but it’s easier to squeeze through than in the United States. There aren’t any no trespassing signs, and I am in heaven. I love Chile and Patagonia.
I still haven’t decided if I will fly down this year. The border to Chile is closed to Extranjeros, and if one does get in, you have to isolate for two weeks upon arrival. I looked and discovered round trip flights from JFK to Santiago Airport that are very reasonable. Last week there was a round-trip priced at 450 dollars on Copa Airlines. That’s cheap!
Let me tell you about one spot that was shown to me by a local. Here is how I would get there. In the morning, after breakfast, I would go down the highway and wait for the bus. There was a bus at 8 AM and 9 AM going in the direction of my fishing beat. I would catch the bus, ride it for about 15 minutes, announce my stop, pay my $.25 for the bus ride, and get off. The walk started by walking down a dirt road, across a cable bridge, then I trudged down another road but more of a rocky dirt track for a mile before arriving at my “office.” The scenery is an epic Patagonian landscape with mountains, fields, and the river but best of all, no people. There is a lovely riverbank to sit on where I would put on my waders, assemble, and then line my rod. The rod is a 9′ 6 weight Winston BXIII with a 3x or 4x leader. The quarter-mile of the river I fished is crystal clear, but the fish are not leader shy. The flies I tied on that worked consistently were Fat Alberts, Chernobyls, and different kinds of Hoppers’.
I have lived and fished in this area for a couple of years. I keep a canoe on the Pepacton Reservoir where I paddle and fish for trout and smallmouth bass. It is a lovely here with mountains, reservoirs, rivers, and abundant streams that sometimes have fish in them just waiting to be caught.
Thank Ted with the trout and Len with his Bass for their cooperation. All fish taken in the East Branch of the Delaware above the Pepacton Reservoir.
Villa Manihuales is found at the confluence of the Rio Niriguao and the Rio Manihuales.
Villa Manihuales has a population of 3000 inhabitants. The primary income-generating activities of the area are mining, ecotourism, sport fishing, secondary activities include logging, dairy, farming, and livestock.
The town is located along the Carretera Austral which is also called the Ruta del Los Parques and is close to the cities of Puerto Aysen and Coyhaique in the region of Aysen Patagonia.
I found it a peaceful small town with plenty of markets, restaurants, hostels, cafes, and two great little parks. Backpackers, campers, and touring bicycle adventurers plus the usual auto and bus tourists are everywhere in February. The town’s cell service is 4G and first-class plus the hostels in town have fast WiFi.
January can be rainy but in February the weather starts to improve but both months are notoriously windy. In March the weather moderates, the wind eases, and for fly fishermen, the hopper season hits high gear. Hoppers, Chernobyl Ants and Foam Beetles, and Attractors are in order plus anything else you can cast because the trout are hungry and will eat anything.
The Rio Manihuales at Villa Manihuales is the upper course of the river, it is not a white water flow here but it does run fast and deep. The Rio Manihuales is not the largest river in Patagonia but it has a moves and is cold, clean, and has healthy populations of Rainbow and Brown Trout plus runs of King Salmon. Its tributaries are the Rio Picaflor and the Rio Nirehuao and the Rio Manihuales itself is a tributary of the Rio Aysen.
There is no one on the river but me, and there are miles and miles of water all to myself. I have not found many posts on Facebook or in Web searches about fishing the Rio Manihuales which makes it good for me as there are lots of uneducated and trusting trout. The river has runs King Salmon and very large trout but I had to look for them. I found plenty of access and no one seemed to mind if I crossed through their property as I always closed the cattle gates on the trails. The river can be wide so I needed to be able to fly cast for a distance which not my strong point, and there is the wind in January and February, sometimes lots of it, but I hear it lessens in March and April. Despite all this, I managed to land large fish.
My Guide working. I hooked a rather large trout in this lagoon and it fled for the bottom like a rocket and then hid under a submerged tree. Federico swam for it but we didn’t retrieve the fish or the Fat Albert. The picture of me is with one that I managed to hook.
The Parque Lavadoras is large for such a small town. It has gentle trails wandering through the park with pleasant views and benches to enjoy them while sitting. The lower section has custom wooden toy rides for the children and gazebos in case of inclement weather. The park is named because there is a small rill or creek running through it. In the past the washerwomen of the town came to do laundry, scrubbing the clothing in the stream and then hanging it on the trees in the park. One Sunday I was lucky to have been there to watch a performance art piece, that is where the picture up top is from. I also took a video and it is posted below. Here are the credits.
This is an iPhone movie that I made that Sunday afternoon.
I gained an understanding of why the park is named as it is. The performance art was about the spirit of the washerwomen, las lavenderas, who used to work along the stream that runs down from the mountains and through the park.
I was in Bogota Columbia and had just ordered my lunch at the Albahaca Restaurante, it was 1 PM Thursday, March 19th. While I was waiting for my food I took out my cell and opened the NY Times app which headlined the US government advised that all US Citizens should return home immediately or be prepared to stay where they were overseas indefinitely. Wow! Next, I called my friend Marc who works in the American consulate in Juarez Mexico and asked him what was happening and his only answer was for me to leave immediately for home.
My original return flight back to New York was on April 7 with American Airlines. When I called AA to re-book the flight I went right into a hold and when I tried their website it was not functioning. Chase Travel who booked a flight for me put me on indefinite hold also and was not much help either.
What am I supposed to do, wait?
It was smart to move that fast and I was very lucky to make it home before everything shut down. From my understanding, the Bogota airport closed Thursday, March 19th at midnight which was three hours after I departed. JFK closed March 20th.
My travel insurance company will not pay for anything, not the new return flight home, not for the Bogota rent that I paid in advance, nor the food I left in the refrigerator in Bogota, nada nothing. American Airlines told me yesterday April 18, 2020, that they will refund me 15 dollars for the canceled return flight from Bogota to Miami to JFK which originally cost over eight hundred dollars.
The point is that for 2 days I had to completely rely on myself with no support or assistance from any of the airlines, travel agents, backup or insurance systems I had in place. I paid through the nose for everything and when push comes to shove the people I engaged and who were supposed to look out or assist me did not answer the phone.
Note, eventually my return ticket on American Airlines was refunded to me.
Early summer down here means changeable weather. A climate that goes from sunny and warm to suddenly overcast, cold, showers, and blustery winds.
I was hiking up the road and met a young fellow who was hiking down. He was Chilean and grew up in Santiago but he now lives and works in Berlin but keeps a small home in El Gato which he was visiting with his wife and child. Jorge suggested I join him the next day for an expedition to the upper Nireguao.
The next day the weather was windy, cold, and wet with no shelter, as you can see in the above picture. But there was a lot of trout and hungry ones too. The Nireguao at this end is considered a spring creek, do not let the picture deceive you it is narrow and in places shallow. Jorge started ahead of me and was soon out of sight. I followed the steam downriver, crossing again and again while catching trout and trying to stay warm. After a couple of hours, I headed back to the car but did not find Jorge.
Heading back to Bogota on Tuesday morning, it’s a 8 to 10-hour bus trip through the mountains and the suburbs of the city. There is more to do in Bogota than in the campo especially if I am not fishing. I also want more Spanish tutoring, even though it’s expensive it does help my confidence with the language. Additionally, in Bogota, I am better able to manage my diet as there are more restaurants and markets with healthier food, I am limited to tourist fare here in Salento.
Valle de Corcora; The creeks and streams are running clear up in the mountains even with all the heavy rains. The steep mountains are forested or grassy, and although there are places where there are cattle herds, the streams run clean
I have noticed here in Salento in the Department of Quindio, Colombia, that there are many small properties with well maintained barbed wire fences between them, which gives me pause. I have not found that in Chilean Patagonia. Properties there are much larger, and the barb wire fences maintained with only a couple of wires that are easy to slip through. In this area of Colombia, the locals are catching the trout to sell to the restaurants.
My stomach has settled down, it makes life so much easier when I do not have to be located near a head.
I am lining up my to-do’s when I arrive in Chile. Hopefully, my Entel Telephone SIM card will still work, and I only have to add data to get the phone up and running. I also need to buy a fishing license. In the past, I purchased my fishing license in Puerto Montt, at the main commercial and sport fishing office; buying a license in Coyhaique will be a new experience. It was easier.
I am still trying to rent a car, and I found a few very good prices. It would be a great advantage for a week or two when exploring and looking for Chinook in Aysen Provence.
None of my Facebook friends in Coyhaique will tell me where they catch salmon. They post impressive pictures with great stories of the humongous fish they caught, but when I ask “WHERE,” I get nada, nothing, totally ignored, they are guides after all. You know me and my where’s, “where did you catch that”? Next winter, I will stay upstate for the winter, or most of it, and I will try and get a guide’s license. It would be great to guide on the Pepacton and its tributaries for bass and trout. What do you think?
Eleven hours to go less than 300 miles, but there were spectacular mountain peaks with vertical sides surrounded by clouds, twisting two-lane roads, bottomless gorges, endless cliffs 2 feet away from the bus that dropped down forever, but it was a modern road. Day off today.
Have I written about the marches, protests, and in Chile’s case, riots taking place in South America? Chile has seen all the above for the past month. People and police have died, buildings, stores, transportation facilities have burned, and teargas and Molotov cocktails tossed in multiple cities. Columbia is a lot calmer, but there have been national strikes. Today there is another one. I am not fearful, but I am concerned about what is happening in Chile and how it will affect my journey.
Cali is hopping today! Columbia has had a national strike, but I am in one of the better parts of town. There is no unrest here. Last night some marchers passed by the Hotel Intercontinental just down the street. Today there are supposed to be marches that will pass close by me. Right now, there are lots of helicopters flying. I think I will lay low, stay close to home, and reduce my profile.
I hear the march off in the distance and it is getting closer, there are lots of people, whistles, chanting, honking horns, and police sirens.