Land of Plenty, Story and photos by Nick Price - continued
I spent three weeks last winter living with the Salas family at their home and Los Torreones Lodge, which is on the Simpson River, about halfway between the towns of Coyhaique and Aysen.
On the drive back to Los Torreones, Pancho points at an unimposing gray concrete building. “This is where the good guys go to jail,” says Pancho, who owns and operates Los Torreones with his wife, three sons and daughter. “I’m not joking,” he continues nonchalantly. “There’s no wires. No fences.”
I’m hoping for an evening hatch session on the Simpson River, followed by a lamb dinner. Originally from Chile’s capital, Santiago, Pancho has been a guide in northern Patagonia since 1984. All of his children were born and raised in the Simpson River Valley, where we are rattling along a dirt road bisecting fields of vibrant purple chochos (a type of lupine), raspberry patches and ferns. We leave a dusty contrail behind us as the “good guys jail” fades in my rearview mirror.
“I stopped here with Sebastian yesterday,” I tell Pancho, pointing to the side of the road. Sebastian is his 26-year-old son and a fly-fishing guide, as well. Sebastian drove my favorite guide rig ever, La Machina, a well-seasoned 1980s Mitsubishi four-wheel-drive minivan with mud tires, off to the side of the dirt road. He rolled down his window and ate raspberries from the vine with his head sticking out of the van.
Sebastian has deep-set eyes and a dark beard that is slightly longer than his short hair. His smallish frame is reminiscent of a well-trained wrestler’s, a sinewy build stemming from early morning work on the ranch and long guide days behind the oars. Sebastian asked me the previous day whether I wanted to help slaughter a lamb for our dinner tonight. “Should only take half an hour,” he said. “We’ll fish the evening hatch when we’re done.”
Work comes first in the Salas family. We took La Machina down a bumpy dirt road with fly rods in the back, and a knife and bucket in the front, and opened and closed three rickety wooden gates secured with frayed lead rope. Dust filtered through the air. A small herd of goats parted in front of us, and we arrived at a dilapidated cabin, still on the ranch property, in a green pasture a few hundred feet from the Simpson. Clouds of caddis started to gather high above the water’s edge near a coigüe tree that, according to Pancho, could be nearly 800 years old.
In no time, Sebastian picked out a lamb from the flock of 40 or so, dressed it, skinned it and hung it on an old wire by its hindquarters in the cold cabin to air out for the night. “I’ll use the skin for a horse blanket,” he said. “A lot of people in the world think meat is born in cellophane packaging.” There was cow dung on the concrete floor, and some of the windows were broken. He’d washed his hands and the knife in a bucket of water. “Let’s fish,” he said.