Land of Plenty, Story and photos by Nick Price - continued
We are back at Los Torreones after our day on the river. Dogs run around the green pastures, and six or seven geese huddle underneath La Machina. In the kitchen, I crack a cold Escudo and sit with Pancho and Sebastian at a small wooden table while Pancho’s wife, Alejandra, works the lamb on a cutting board. It’s a small but functional kitchen with a wood-burning stove and a gas stove.
We are all in our socks, as the plan is to hop into our waders and fish the ranch water for the evening hatch, which often extends past 11 p.m., given the southern latitude. “The caddis should be good tonight,” Sebastian tells me. “It was warm enough today that tonight will be good. Maybe later than normal, but good.”
Pancho and Sebastian wear boar’s tusk necklaces. “Mine’s not the biggest, but it tells a story. That’s why I wear it,” Pancho says while holding the ivory-white tusk below his chin. “This boar killed three of my dogs.”
He hunts boars with a team of dogs: the trackers, the fighters and the holders. Once the dogs secure and hold the boar, Pancho jumps onto it with one arm around the neck and shoulder and the other holding a knife that he tries to plunge into the boar, to penetrate the lungs and heart in one attempt. If all goes well, it’s a quick end for the boar. “I don’t seek out the really big boars,” he says. “They can be too hard on my dogs. This one wasn’t that big, but he was really tough. I haven’t lost a dog since.”
This kitchen is a meeting place for family and friends. A swinging door separates it from the guest dining and living rooms. The family cooks on a wood-burning stove that keeps the indoor kitchen on the warm side during the summer months. “How’d you end up in Patagonia?” I ask Pancho. He is standing now, presumably ready to fish. He’s seldom stationary or sitting.
“I knew I didn’t want to go to university,” he says. “I love Patagonia and knew when I first came here I didn’t want to leave. I love it here. I’m happy.”
The kitchen has a gamey aroma that piques my appetite. Alejandra adds wood to the stove and walks back to the cutting board, where she peels and slices a tomato.
Pancho is genuine. What you see is what you get. I have never met any guide like him. Work hours on the ranch start around sunrise — which is before 6 a.m. on this summer day — and often don’t finish until after an 11 p.m. dinner with Chilean wine, which he loves. Pancho is a great patriarch at the dinner table, recounting stories of hunting wild boars and catching marvelously huge trout in remote lakes, all the while smiling as he unearths another vignette of a robust life.
Although fishing was the reason for this trip, and the fishing here has been very good, the Salas family has astounded me with their kindness, work ethic and authenticity. They move elegantly through the daily tides of the simple life they have chosen. They approach ranch work with a lighthearted spirit and leave plenty of room for spending large amounts of time on trout water.