This is from a few years back on a fly fishing trip in BC with my brother Jason and a few of my favourite uncles and cousins. Good times!
Summertime in Canada, especially the West Coast is about as good as it gets.
Having recently spent six and a half months adventuring around the world we were stoked to come home to beautiful British Columbia in the summer time when it’s light from 5am through to 10pm and the good times are a plenty. From mid August through late November we love getting out into the wild to go camping and fishing. One of my favourite places for fly fishing is in the remote wilds of Northern Vancouver Island.
Some of my earliest memories are of me fishing with my Uncle Dave. I was no more than 4 years old at the time and to me fishing was the best thing in the world. Both Uncle David and Uncle Bruce were avid fishermen and their love of the sport rubbed off on me. We would spend our days fishing for bass in Beaver Lake close to Victoria BC and when they were old enough to drive we would take the canoe to the ocean and would fish for salmon and cod. We never had fancy gear but we always caught lots of fish. They were simple times full of laughs, good fun and amazing fishing.
40 years later I’m still as crazy about fishing as I ever was and just like then, we fill our freezer each fall and eat salmon through the winter. While my brother Jason and I love fishing be it rain or shine, my wife Josi loves it best when it’s sunny and when everyone is catching lots of fish. For all of us it’s as much about getting out into the wild and off the grid as it is about the fishing. One of our favourite places to explore is Northern Vancouver Island because it’s so remote and full of amazing uncrowded rivers with fantastic fishing. On any given trip we are almost guaranteed to see elk, deer, bear, lots of eagles and sometimes the occasional wolf pack, although you hear wolves a lot more then you see them. The rivers are picture perfect, the forests thick and full of wildlife, and the good times are a plenty.
During the day we often break to tie up some new flies because when the fishing is good it’s not uncommon to loose a few. Come evening we cook baked beans over an open flame, tell stories, laugh a lot and camp under the stars.
The video above we shot in about an hour’s time on a remote river that we love to fish. It’s not professionally shot, but it gives you a good idea of what we are most likely up to when we don’t answer our phones. Hope that you enjoy.
In sharp contrast to New Zealand’s South Island, the North Island is far less rugged and quite a lot busier. We left the South Island at 10:30am and arrived in Wellington at about 1:30pm. Seeing as the ferry dropped us off right in the centre of town we decided to stop for a quick look around. Josi was thinking that it might be nice to treat ourself to a real bed for a night, rather than sleeping in the van again, but after a few hours of walking around we both decided that we had seen enough. Wellington has some cool shops and plenty of great coffee shops. I’m not sure what it is, but Australia and New Zealand have the best coffee per capita out of anywhere I have ever traveled. After buying a merino wool first layer shirt that I had been considering buying for the better part of this trip, and a great cup of coffee, it was time to hit the open road.
Rather than finding a camping spot as soon as it starts to get dark like we usually do, we chose to keep driving into the night. The main reason being that we have been listening to the audio book, Think and Grow Rich, the 21st Century Edition. I had brought the book on this trip and rather than reading like I normally do, I have been spending my evenings catching up on emails and work. For anyone who spends a lot of time in their car, and has dreams of greatness, I highly recommend that you get this audio book. Josi and I have been fully getting into it, working our way through the many thought inspiring questions it asks. It’s been great because instead of just reading a book like this and putting it down, we are committed to actually working our way through it and incorporating it into our daily life. Apparently the key to really getting this book is to read it 3 times in a row. I have listened to it 1.5 times and I’m loving it. I have to thank Darrell Kopke, Chip Wilson, Glen Taylor and all of my other business mentors for their recommendations on great books to help with my life and career.
I have been reading about an abundance of great fly fishing in New Zealand so I was really looking forward to checking it out. Being that it’s almost their winter, the South Island’s fishing season had all but come to an end. In the North Island though, reports from Turangi, a small town on the edge of lake Taupo, was calling for good fishing. We arrived late at night and pulled into a small park close to a river to get our bearings. It was here that I noticed a fly fisherman getting his gear ready to go fishing. I was surprised that he was fishing in the night so I pulled up to talk to him, but I think that I must have startled him because he only seemed to speak Russian and didn’t seem to know what was going on. I figured he was fishing illegally because it was night time, but in talking to the guys at the fly shop the next morning they told us that it’s OK to fish up until midnight. I talked to the guys from the shop for quite a while and they were really helpful. They told me that the big trout in the rivers this time of year are actually steelhead that were introduced many years ago from California. Lake Taupo acts like their ocean and the rivers in this area are their spawning grounds. The fishing had been really good, but the river was a little low and had slowed down a little.
The fishing style here is very different then back in Canada in that they use a floating line with about 13 feet of non tapered 6lb test line tied to a larger beaded nymph with a barbed hook. Then, from that hook, they tie another smaller nymph about 12 inches away. I talked to the guy in the shop about how in Canada we only use barbless hooks in the rivers and how I liked it way better. He told me that their local fisheries office thinks that barbs on the hooks actually makes it better for the fish’s chances of survival because it acts like a anchor and doesn’t move around as much. I told him that in my experience I see way less injured fish when using barbless and that’s it’s the only way to go in my books. Right where the fly line attaches to the mono they use a bright mono indicator which is needed because they cast upstream so there is never any real tension from your hooks to the line. By the time I left the shop I had spent $80 on flies and a licence, luckily they lent me insulated waders for free which came in super handy because the river was really cold. Rather than learning a new casting technique I decided to start with what I know casting a sinking line with a olive wooly bugger which I had been told also works well. It wasn’t busy, but there were other people fishing which got my hopes up. After a few hours of having no real bites and seeing no one else catching either we packed up and drove down river to have lunch and fish some more. Everyone at this spot was fishing with the double hook and using the casting up river technique. It looked easy enough so I tried it as well and it turned out to be easier than I thought. This said, no one was catching fish at this spot either, regardless of fishing style. We tried one more spot that’s known to be popular and once again got skunked. The plan was to stay and fish for a few days, but because the fishing was so slow and there was no rain in the forecast, which was needed to bring new fish into the system, we decided to head out. Had we saw fish being caught I’m sure that I would have stayed until I caught a few. For someone who loves fishing as much as I do, I really don’t love getting skunked.
The upside to our leaving early is that we got to the little town of Raglan sooner than expected. For some reason I had always thought that Raglan was in the far north of New Zealand, but it’s really central which worked out perfectly with our schedule. Out of all of the places that we visited in New Zealand, Raglan is the one place that I could imagine myself spending some time. It’s a super cute little surfing town with really nice people and a few great restaurants. When you drive down the hill toward the main point you have the most amazing view of the world famous point break. The waves were less than epic, but there were still lots of people out and a few good rides were being caught. I hadn’t brought my shorty because I knew the water here was way too cold and I figured that if the waves were epic I would rent a wetsuit. Josi and I watched for a long time and after much consideration I decided that it wasn’t worth the drive back into town to get a pee’ed in rental wetsuit. At the time I was thinking to myself that in a few days I was going to be surfing perfect point breaking waves in the tropical warm waters of Tahiti. In retrospect I wish I had even just bare balled it and caught one wave in my board shorts.
Our next stop was the city of Auckland where we treated ourself to a fancy hotel right downtown for two nights. The weather was less than perfect, but we still ventured out on the town. We walked through all of the hip and cool areas of town and treated ourself to a really great steak dinner on our last night.
While New Zealand is a wonderful country we are excited to be trading it’s cold Fall weather for the sunny warm beaches of Tahiti.
After our Blissology yoga retreat we went back to Seminyak with our new German friends that we met at the yoga retreat. Our plan was to stay here until Eoin left to teach yoga in Australia so that we could surf together, and after that Josi and I would go back to Nusa Lembongan for a few weeks to chill and surf. Unfortunately though, just when we were meant to go I came down with a bad flu. Deciding to not go somewhere remote when I was sick we ended up staying in Seminyak. I was out of the water for a week because of it and in doing so I missed the best swell since I have been here. It’s been over a week and today was the first day that I have been back in the water surfing. The swell has dropped considerably, but at least the sand banks out front have shifted and it’s breaking really nice and clean. I was a bit burned out, but I caught a load of great waves today and it felt great to get back in the water.
The last time I was in Bali it was pre Facebook and since then it has changed a lot. I’m partly to blame because after my first time here I told everyone how awesome it was. I would go on about the beautiful bright blue ocean with it’s countless pealing hollow and uncrowded point breaks, amazingly kind and wonderful Balinese people setting out offerings to their Hindu gods, the crazy hot temperature of both the sea and the air, countless ceremonies and festivals in the streets and how cost friendly and inexpensive everything is.
It’s still super hot here and there are still lots of waves but now it’s very crowded, so much so that much of what made it so special for me has gone. Yes, driving here was always a bit crazy, but there were never huge traffic jams everywhere you went. Things are so congested that I could walk down the beach for 15 minutes to get to the next decent surf break, or I could drive and it might take 45 minutes.
Today when I surfed the ocean was a beautiful and clean just as I remember it back in the day. This is because the plastic bags and garbage that was there last week was washed away by the big swell that just came through and it hasn’t rained for a few days. For the last three weeks I was brushing by floating plastic or scooping up plastic bags every second paddle when surfing. On bad days there are dark brown patches of pollution that migrate along the shore with the currents. When the brown patches pass the locals all get out of the water to walk around it before getting back in. Many of the tourists on the other hand continue to play away as the brown slushy waves engulf them. I’m guessing that it’s a mistake they only make once because I have been told that if it gets on you skin you can get a bad rash, not to mention ear and eye infections.
The pollution in the ocean is bad here because the locals don’t have it in their culture to recycle or dispose of garbage properly. In the 80’s there was no power here and everything was from the land so their method of throwing everything in the rivers and streams worked because it all got digested by nature. Their trash is no longer all organic, but they still dispose of it just as they always have. The small streams are so thick with pollution you can’t see through it an inch and their banks are full of trash. Somehow there are still fish feeding on the surface and even fisherman sitting on the banks fishing for them. We watched for as long as my stomach could handle the toxic smell of the stream, but after 2 minutes we continued on.
Even the Balinese who used to radiate the most amazing positive energy seem to have somewhat lost their glow. Don’t get me wrong, they are still super awesome, it’s just that they don’t radiate as much as I remember. I would be pretty bummed too if my home country was overrun with tourists, pollution, traffic, over crowding, over development, the list goes on. The infrastructure in Bali isn’t designed to support as many people as there are here now and it’s showing the side effects.
It’s not that it isn’t super awesome here, it’s just that for me Bali is no longer a remote tropical paradise. Luckily there are countless islands with equally awesome surf that have yet to be discovered by the masses.
Josi and I had planned on staying in Bali for longer than the month and a half that we had initially booked our tickets for, but we have decided to continue on to Australia as scheduled which means that we fly out on April 17th. It’s going to be awesome to catch up with some of my good friends from when I lived in Sydney way back in 1996. I loved living in Manly and would have moved there for good if my then young company Cowie and Fox had not landed Westbeach as a client back in Vancouver.
We are on a bit of a milk run as we fly from Bali to Thailand where we stay over night and the following morning we fly to Sydney.
As you drive up to El Chalten you can’t help but be amazed by how massively towering the jagged mountain peaks are as they make for the most magnificent backdrop above this little town. Everything becomes more and more miniature, yourself included, as you slowly draw closer. Their peaks look like someone took them into Photoshop and stretched them vertically into unrealistic proportions.
Everywhere we had been prior was a little more built up and touristy than what we were expecting from Patagonia so we were stoked as we pulled into the small town of El Chalten and the rugged peaks that tower over it in all directions.
Before being let off at the bus stop we were taken to the the parks information centre for briefing of do’s and don’ts. It was like when I went cat skiing and before they let you have your fun they tell you the dangers, give you some very basic survival tips and then set you free to be as extreme as you choose to be. Having packed for a 6.5 month surfing trip around the world rather than a one month trip to Patagonia we weren’t prepared to push the limits as far as we might of otherwise. Hearing stories of people who have climbed to the tops of the biggest peaks with no visible way of possibly making it up. Not to mention that the weather seemed to change on a dime with the winds going from none at all to firing in one direction so hard you would almost fall over and then changing it’s mind and firing the other direction with even more force. We did some pretty big hikes well over 20k that took us to some amazing alpine places that few will ever have the opportunity to witness so in our own way we did feel pretty extreme.
While we did have the ocasional clouds that blew in here and there the locals told us again and again that we were in luck with the weather. The days were mostly warm enough that I only wore a tank top and pants. For the first time in our trip I actually felt chilled at night and would go out bundled up in my hoody and long pants. The town of El Chalten was built in the mid 80’s as a tool used to win a land dispute with Chile. Both countries laid claim to this remote and undeveloped part of the Andes and Argentina. Before that there was nothing there, not even a road and now there is a bustling little town that caters to hard core outdoors people. There is construction on every corner and we have been told that it bustles in the summers and then slows right down in the winters. The one thing that amazed us is that most of the structures are built out of either cinder block that seems very fragile, or particle board. In an extreme location like this that has all kinds of weather I would never imagine that anyone would build a home or a business out of particle board.
The hotel where we were staying had photos of the owner holding huge rainbow trout in the 20 to 25lbs range so I knew that we were in a good area. I was considering getting a fly fishing guide, of which there were two in town, so that I could finally catch some bigger trout. The main guide in town told me that for almost $300 CAD he would provide waders and flies, feed me lunch and take me fishing on a river for the day. He told me that we would catch 40 fish in a day which seemed pretty great, until he told me that most of them were going to be around 7 inches with only a chance of a bigger fish. We went to the other guide and the girl working at the front desk told me that for the same price we would fish a lake and would likely catch 2 or 3 trout about 2lbs each. I knew that I didn’t want to pay for a guide to catch loads of small trout as I can do that back home for free. I also knew that I didn’t want to pay to fly fish from shore on a lake because I knew that I didn’t need a guide for that as I could do it on my own.
I ended up going to a small outdoor store that also sold flies and the old guy that worked there showed me a few dry flies that he thought worked well in the rivers. I was stoked to see that they looked a little bit similar to the multitude of flies that I had brought from home. I bought two flies from him in exchange for his helpful knowledge and the next day we set off on a 1 hour shuttle bus trip to a lake that buts up against the boarder of Chile. Right when we got off the bus there was a sign that we translated as no fishing for 200m. I wasn’t sure so we asked the bus driver and he explained that we were not aloud to fish on the lake side of the sign for 200m. I was stoked because there were trout jumping everywhere so I quickly started casting into the crystal clear river. Within minutes I hooked a big rainbow trout about 3 or 4 pounds. It was funny because within minutes there was crowd of about 20 Argentinian tourists watching me fight this fish. I got it right up to the shore and as I was about to release it it snapped my line. I was surprised because I had just bought new 6lb tippet which should have been more than enough as to not snap. It felt good to hook into such a big fat trout and I was a little bummed that we didn’t get a good photo before I released it. I was also bummed that I had only bought one of the particular flies from the guy and that it was now gone. Before I was even able to get a new fly on, a military/ parks guy came up to me and asked for my fishing licence. In all of my years of fishing I have never been asked to show my licence so I’m happy that the one time it cost me $100 to buy it it actually got put to use. On top of wanting to see my licence he also informed me that the sign read that I could not fish within 200m in any direction of which I was clearly within about 5m. Luckily there were a few locals there who were with me when I was asking what the sign meant and they backed me up and let him know that a local had told me is was OK. He was cool and pointed out where I was aloud to fish and let us go. Josi asked him if we were aloud to keep fish in the river and he said no we had to let them go. He then said that he would make an exception and if we were to bonk it and put it in our bag quickly he would let us keep it. It seemed a little fishy to me, kind of like a story a surfer friend of mine who was in Mexico who bought a joint off a local, who’s friend was a police officer that just happened to be around the corner. The cop busted my friend, took the joint and gave it back to his friend and then took $100 from my buddy to let him go. Regardless of being a trap of not, as soon as we knew that it was all catch and release river we decided to not keep any.
Having just lost my one fly that hooked a big trout I went straight for one of the flies that I tied. I’m not sure if its just me, but I love fishing with flies that I personally tied way better than store bought flies so I was stoked. I was even more stoked when I started getting bites on almost every cast and catching fish after fish. The biggest fish I caught that day was a brown trout about 20 inches and I lost a rainbow that was much larger. The river was packed with fish. I caught about as many browns as rainbows. The thing I noticed about the rainbows is that they were really fat in compared to the ones back home. There was a glacier hike that we were planning on doing that day, but I was so excited to be fishing, and catching fish, that I couldn’t leave. Josi was a sport and sat in the chilly breezy sun and read while I had my fun.
A few days and a couple of really big hikes later we came back to the same spot for another day of fishing. This time Josi did the glacier hike on her own and I stayed and fished the river once again. The water had dropped quite a lot over two days and this time I was able to wade out into the small cold river allowing me room to cast to the banks on the far side. There I hooked into a really large rainbow that got off and shortly after that I hooked into another really big brown. This time I was determined to get it in and fought it more gingerly because I knew that I didn’t want to snap off again. Right when the 4lb brown was at my side and I was about to lift it so that I could take the hook out it snapped off. I couldn’t believe that another one snapped off. I tested the line that I had bought and it was strong so I’m not sure what was going on? Perhaps the pull of the river was adding a few pounds to their already large size, or perhaps it was because I wan’t handling them in like I do when I want to keep them. Either way it was great to hook into some really decent size trout on a beautiful river using a dry fly.
After spending a week in El Chalten I started to hear about more and more spots with great fishing, all of which are off the beaten path. When we come back to Argentina we will be sure to bring full trekking gear and will spend way more time way off the grid in search of some of the really big trout that I have only heard about in this part of the world.
Argentina and specifically southern Patagonia was a wonderful adventure that exceeded my expectations and I’m sure that one day we will be back. I’m writing this blog post from my big oversized, business class seat that fully reclines into a bed as we fly over the Atlantic on our way to Cape Town. I have never been to Africa and I’m super stoked for what adventures lay in wait.
I always dreamed about going to Patagonia to experience the incredible mountain activities and witness the breathtaking views. Even the name is cool: Patagonia! It screams Adventure and Adventure it was.
As Noel mentioned in his previous post, our first stop after leaving Buenos Aires was Bariloche which we accessed by a 22h bus ride. Travelling in a bus for such a long period of time was a first for Noel and I. We had heard so much about the amazing experience of travelling by busses in Argentina that we had to give it a try. There are different classes of tickets that you can purchase and we had been told that a trip over night was best in a Tutto Letto seat which means a seat that fully reclines for a better sleep. Unfortunately for us, they were all booked so we went with the second best choice, a Cama seat, which means that your seat reclines to a 45 degree angle. Each tickets were 980 pesos which is more or less equivalent to CAD$200. It comes with a blanket, a mini pillow, snacks, breakfast, a hot dinner and wine. Not bad at all for a bus ride. We were also told that in the busy season, people reserve their seats a couple of months in advance, so if you are concerned about comfort, it’s best to plan ahead.
Here were the highlights of our stay in Northern Patagonia:
The best way to get a panoramic view of the Nahuel Huapi lake is to hiked up to Cerro Otto, a view point accessible right from the town of San Carlos de Bariloche. We started our hike from km 1 (town marker) which made for a more gradual ascent over approximately 8 km. We snapped a ton of photos since the sky was without a cloud allowing you to get a full 360 degree view. We had a quick picnic at the top and started our descent using a super steep trail right underneath the gondola. If you want to save your feet for the many hikes you will want to do, I strongly recommend to come back the same way you came. The views you get from the trail are better anyway, but most of all you will still have a smile on at the end of the hike. It doesn’t look that steep on the photo below, but believe me it was.
Cerro Catedral and Refugio Frey
Catedral ski hill is about 20km from Bariloche and is a cute little ski town with a bunch of super cheap restaurants at the bottom. The hike to Refugio Frey starts for the parking lot of the ski hill and goes up and around the side of the mountain giving you stunning views of lake Gutierrez. The path then climbs up a valley to a first refuge hut and until then it feels like the climb is pretty gradual and not exhausting. After you pass the first hut, the hike gets much steeper and more strenuous. It is so rewarding to finally reach Refugio Frey. The mountain refuge built in 1956 is nestled between the various rocky and pointy mountain peaks. If you are travelling with camping gear, definitely plan on staying up there for a night as you can access other hikes for the top. We had lunch by the little lake while watching the climbers scale amazing cliffs right in front of us before coming back down and completing our 20km journey.
Playa Bonita is about 7km out of the town of San Carlos de Bariloche is a great place for a quick dip in the turquoise, glacier cold water. For anyone who spent some time in Whistler, I would say that it’s about the same temperature as Green Lake, so it is best to dive in for a full refreshment and run back to shore before your toes freeze. Noel and I couldn’t believe how packed this little beach gets around 4pm. You would think you are in Santa Monica as you try to find a spot to lay your towel.
Hotel Nido Del Condor
Once again we lucked out and got a great discount on 3 nights at this great hotel just outside of the busy part of San Carlos de Bariloche. To our surprise, we got a room that was bigger than our Vancouver apartment and had a kingsize bed overlooking the lake Nahuel Huapi. There is no need for a tv when you get such an amazing view! I have to admit, it was a bit fancy for our needs and at the same time It was great to come back from our hikes, shower up and lay in bed while watching the sail boats go by. I would highly recommend this place for honeymooners but make sure to shop online to get a discounted rate.
Here was the view from the bed:
The Ice cream
My friend Tricia wrote me an email as we were leaving Buenos Aires to make sure that we taste the Argentinian ice cream and especially the Dulce de Leche flavour. Noel and I had a pastry filled with Dulce de Leche in Buenos Aires and couldn’t wait to taste the Dulce de Leche Ice Cream. There are so many places selling Hellados here, it’s like seeing a Starbucks Coffee shop on every street corner back home in Vancouver. Our favorite is to share a 1/4kg as it allows you to try 3 flavours. My favorite mix was chocolate with almonds, Crema Americana, which taste like vanilla and rasberry. Another flavour that I loved was the Vanilla with swirls of dulce de leche and chocolate chips….abslolutely delicious. I have yet to try the orange flavour icecream and I am sure the opportunity will arise as we have planned a lot of hiking and might need a little pick me up after our mountain treks.
I enjoyed spending a few days the Bariloche area and would love to come back in the Winter time to experience the snowboarding and seeing this magical winter wonderland.
Road trip outside of Bariloche
Hotel Tronador and Mount Tronador
I would have loved to camp on the mountain when we went to mount Tronador but unfortunately the black flies were so ferocious that camping was not an option. Luckily, we got a killer deal on two nights at hotel Tronador right on lake Mascardi: http://www.hoteltronador.com/ Normally it would have been above our price range and we would have passed on it, but luckily for us a family had cancelled their two bedroom suite and we were able to get it for a fraction of the price. The lodge has a rustic feel as it was built in 1933 and to this day it is still family operated. It felt like going to a kids summer camp where they feed you 3 meals a day, they provide you with a free rowing boat to explore the lake and they provide you with a list of hikes, lakes and rivers to fish, horse back ridding and many other activities. You could spend a full week there and never get bored.
Despite the black flies, Noel and I did a bunch of hiking and fishing and drove to the base of Mount Tronador where you can get a decent view of the immense glacier and do a short hike to a beautiful waterfall. I have to say that getting attacked by black flies really irritated me and I had a hard time enjoying the sights as you constantly had to battle those little buggers. Most people were fully dressed with long sleeve shirts, pants and hats and still covered themselves with a towel. Apparently it is not always like that in the summer. The weather was much higher than usual and made for an extra buggy week.
San Martin de Los Andes
Hotel Siete Flores
Right outside of the little town of San Martin de Los Andes is this cute little lodge that offers well priced rooms and delicious breakfast: http://www.sietefloreshosteria.com.ar/ On top of making the most delicious marmalade, the main cook was so nice, spoke great English and gave us some great tips for places to fly fish and hang out.
Fly Fishing and swimming
There are so many lakes and rivers around where you can do a few casts, jump in for a quick swim and they are all great spots for picnics. My two favorite spots were Lago Meliquina and a secret river past Junin de los Andes.
I was a bit hesitant at first to drive up a gravel road for a few hours to reach San Martin de Los Andes and I am so glad we did as it is a lovely area not to miss. It was well worth the sweaty, sticky, dusty hours in the car.
Overall I loved Northern Patagonia and would love to come back in the Winter time to experience the snowboarding and seeing this magical winter wonderland that I heard so much about.
We opted for a 22 hour bus ride from Buenos Aries to Bariloche rather than spending the extra on a flight. We had been told that the busses were pretty great, as far as busses go, so we had to give it a try. Unlike the busses back home in Canada, the busses in Argentina have seats that go right down into a slightly angled bed with a full leg rest so you can actually lay out and get pretty comfortable. They also play fairly decent movies in english, feed you 2 course warm meals complete with wine and desert, give you blankets and pillows and when they do stop it’s only for a few minutes so you aren’t stuck wandering around weird buss stops in the middle of the night while the rest of the people line up for bad food. All up we arrived well rested and it was a pretty good experience. If I was a few years younger and had all of the time in the world I would likely take busses all over the country, but since we only have a month here and our next destination is a 33 hour bus ride away and then the one after that is even further we are going to take planes from here on in.
Everyone tells us that we got lucky with the weather as it’s been in the mid to low 30’s which is well above their average. Bariloche reminds me of a bigger Nelson in the way that it’s a cute hill side town overlooking a lake and is situated about 11k from a really great ski hill. The main roads are paved and most of the smaller ones are gravel and very dusty. The main strip in town is quite a bit larger than I was expecting and there are lots of scruffy hippy types milling about. The tourists, of which there plenty, flock to the many chocolate shops and buy in bulk. My overall impression of Bariloche is that it’s larger than what I was hoping for, a little run down and a bit spread out. I guess I was expecting a South American Whistler type vibe and it wasn’t quite up to par. Having such a great summer and winter vacation like Whistler in your back yard is something that I will never take for granted.
After a few days of taking busses and taxis to various trail heads for our hikes we opted to rent a car for a week. It wasn’t cheep, but it was worth it because if took us to places we would have never seen otherwise. One of the first things I noticed about this part of Patagonia is that regardless of how far up a remote gravel road you are, you are sure to run into loads of young people hitch hiking with back packs and trekking gear. They must just pop out of the mountains, find a road and start hitch hiking because they are in the most random spots. The same goes for people fly fishing. It didn’t seem to matter how remote we were people were everywhere. I guess crowds are to be expected as this area of Patagonia is considered close (22 hour bus ride) to Buenos Aries and in their summer a lot of them vacation here.
I was keen to find out where the best fly fishing was and Josi was keen to hike every mountain peak. Back home in BC Josi and I usually find mountains to hike that have good fishing at the top so we both get what we are looking for. In Patagonia, when you hike to the top of mountains you are way above tree line and the freezing cold lakes at the top are void of fish because they at the foot of giant glaciers and full of silt. We came to a silent and mutual agreement that for most every day we spent hiking a mountain we would also spend a day finding river to fly fish.
The day after we arrived in Bariloche we did a 16k hike up a mountain peak that overlooked Bariloche and the surrounding lakes. Going up was easy, but one the way down we chose the more direct route to get home which was straight down under a gondola. Going down would have been a great ski run, but on foot your toes start to jam against the tips of your shoes. By the end the day our feet were pretty sore. The next day we hiked 24k on a much much bigger mountain called Refugio Frey who’s trail head starts from Mt Cathedral. Along the way we came across a super cool cabin built partially under a massive huge boulder that is used as a refuge for climbers. At the top there was another cabin/ refuge beside a small lake. Here there were many climbers camping with their tents sheltered by small stone walls to protect them from storms. It was a really cool vibe as people played music, socialized and climbed the many cliff faces that surrounded the camp. By the time we got to the bottom we were pretty spent and getting to see such amazing sights made the trip well worth the effort.
After back to back days of climbing and one day of shopping around Bariloche is was time to go fishing. I read online about one fishing store in Bariloche that was meant to be good so we went in to buy some flies and to talk to them about where the fishing was good. When we got there the older lady working was smoking a cigarette while she helped some other customers so I checked out their fly selection. I though that I was going to be in trouble because I had packed a bunch of trout flies that I tied back home that work really well for cut throat and rainbow trout up in Canada, but the ones they had looked nothing like the ones I had. When I asked the lady what flies worked well and where the fishing was good she pulled another drag from her smoke and told me that she didn’t know and went back to her smoking. Needless to say I didn’t buy anything and hit the road with the flies I had. After driving a while we pulled up at a river to have lunch and I fished for a little. It was pretty heavily fished and I didn’t have any luck with my dry flies, but thought I may have had a bite on a nymph. When fishing in a river you can’t always be sure if you had a bite, or you are bouncing off of the bottom. After lunch we continued on and stubbled onto a little river on a dead end road that lead to a lake so we decided to give it a try. The first thing I saw when we got there was a big brown trout about 4lbs jump out of the water along with a few nice sized rainbow’s jumping as well. I was so dam excited I could barely wait to get my fly in the water. After fishing for a while with no bites I stopped a local who was fly fishing with his son and asked him if he could recommend any of the flies in my box. He shook his head in disapproval and pointed to a couple of yellowish flies and said “colour”, but that was about it. I fished for a while longer using the few that he pointed at and still no luck. We couldn’t catch them so we decided to join them and jumped in for a refreshing swim in the crystal clear water.
When we got to the next town we found a proper fly fishing shop and this time is was more of a familiar experience. The guy in the fly shop showed me a selection of dry flies that work well in the area and then pointed on a map to a spot on a river a few hours away. Unlike the flies we use back home these all had big long legs and they look very real and bug like. All geared up we packed a lunch and headed out. One thing that I find really interesting in Patagonia is how in one minute you can be in a lush green forest with lakes and mountain peaks so high that they reach up and touch the sky and the next minute you are in a virtually flat dry and dusty desert with dusty gravel roads that go straight for miles. It’s a contrast that I’m not used to having grown up in BC.
When we got there we were in what seemed to be the middle of no where and once again we were surprised to see how many people were camping and fly fishing along the banks of this remote river. Turns out that many of the people who live in the cities had for the area in Patagonia in and around Barlioche and many of them love to fly fish. After fishing for a short while and only catching few small trout we drove on. We came to a indian reserve where they collected $30 pesos ($6 CAD) from us in exchange for us fishing on their land. While we didn’t catch a lot of fish the few we caught were small, but a decent size, the biggest of which was about 17 inches.
After that we ventured to Mt Tronador which is 3,491 m mountain a few hours away from Bariloche. We got lucky because there was a last minute cancelation at the Hotel Tronador which is a super remote and very cool 50’s lodge way up a gravel one lane road 30K away from the base of Mt Tronador. It’s situated on the edge of a beautiful bright green lake and included in the costs are three meals a day and the use of a small row boat and loads of trails leading up into the mountains. The lake had huge trout that loved jumping in front of my flies, but none would bite. The local fly fishing guide told me that it was too hot and the chances of catching them were slim. He did tell us about a small lake 8k up a hiking trail in the mountains. Josi and I decided to check it out, but when we got there there were so many hungry biting horse flies that we didn’t even get a chance to fish. We drove up to the base of Mt Tronador and went for a quick hike, but once again the horse flies were all over us. Even our OFF spray from Canada wasn’t enough to keep them away. Josi was even getting bitten through her sweat shirt. Lucky they weren’t so bad in and around our hotel. Staying here was the highlight of our time in the Bariloche area.
My next blog post will feature our next stop in this amazing adventure as we fly south 3.5 hours to El Calafate and then on to the even more remote town of El Chalten. This will be the furthest south either of us have ever been and there’s a lot of excitement around our travels to this remote part of Patagonia.
Mal Pais, Costa Rica
Being here has provided a great opportunity to shut my brain off and to relax after working so much during the last six months prior to the trip. I find it amazing what one is able to put them self through with regards to long long hours of non stop work, and what one is able to accomplish, when you are working toward a goal. With out something to look forward to I could have never put in the hours that I did.
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 22 days since we left home, crazy how time flies. Our days have been going something like this. Wake up really early and surf for two or three hours. Shower and go for breakfast. Come home and check emails and then possibly do a bit of work. Eat a light lunch. Go fly fishing in the surf or adventure around a little and check things out. Then go for an evening surf, shower up again, go for dinner and go to bed early.
The waves have been smallish, but have been consistent and the mornings have been a lot of fun. My late takeoff on my backside drop in’s have been touch and go. I got totally rocked today on a wave that I normally would have caught with out much problem. I’m happy that I’m working it out a mellow beach break rather than on the razor sharp reefs of Indonesia. My goal for this trip is to get back into shape and to catch airs on my surfboard again. In truth, I have only ever landed a few and that was years back. I’m confident that I will be sticking them by the end of this trip. I was stoked the other day to ride out of a little frontside barrel which is always a good start to a surf trip. For the most part there haven’t been much in the way of barrels to be had, but there have been lots of fun waves. The water is crazy warm and I could stay in it all day with out getting even the slightest of a chill. I’m also stoked that Josi is getting the hang of her new board and is catching lots of waves. I keep hoping that the swell is going to pick up a bunch so that we can surf some of the many great point breaks in the area, but I din’t think that that’s going to happen. Not to worry, lots of opportunity for great waves over the next 6 months.
Lets just say that as long as you love delicious seafood, or chicken for that matter, then you will love Costa Rica. For dinner, a huge main course consisting of a protean like fish (mahi mahi, yellow fin tuna, snapper), chicken, or beef with rice, beans and a salad costs about $10 to $14. It’s a lot of food and it tastes really great. For breakfast we have a traditional Costa Rican meal consisting of eggs, rice and beans, a corn tortilla and a protein (Josi usually has the fried local cheese and I usually have bacon). Breakfast is about $5, but when you add in coffee and fresh fruit smoothy it costs a little less than $20 for both of us including a decent tip.
There have been huge amounts of sea birds diving into the surf every day as they feast on small silver bait fish. The locals are fishing from the shore every day using two hand lines, one for catching bait and another for catching the larger fish eating the bait. As the pounding surf comes at them they throw their line over the wave and then quickly duck under it. Normally on surf trips I bring a casting rod but because we are spending a month in Argentina and I plan on doing a lot of fly fishing in Patagonia I only brought a 6 weight, 4 piece Sage rod. i have had a less then easy time learning to cast through the surf as it pounds you over again and again. Prior to yesterday, the closest I got to catching a fish was seeing some fish chase my fly as I retrieved it in quickly. I haven’t seem many locals actually catch fish, but I have seen a few which is enough to keep me coming back again and again. I keep experimenting with new flies and yesterday was the first day that I used a fly that looks like a white minnow. I still didn’t catch anything, but I had one one which is a start in the right direction. I saw the fish come out of the water as it hit the fly and I think that had I not been worked around by the surf I would have set the hook sooner and would have had caught it. I’m not sure what they are called, but I have seen them as big as 8 pounds and the locals say they taste great. Hopefully in my next blog post I will be able to tell you first hand how it taste.
I’m not sure that I mentioned it in my first blog post, but the adventure starts even before you land in Tambour. As you are flying in you see a tinny little gravel airstrip that drops into the ocean. Coming in you are thinking to yourself, are we really going to land here? It’s the type of air strip I imagine being used by drug lords rather than tourists. When you take off out of San Jose you fly over some pretty poor neighbourhoods with all of the houses having bars on all of the windows and old tin roofs. Makes me glad for what I have and for how blessed I have been in my life. I like to think that if I were really poor I would live by the sea and not in a city.
Having been to Mal Pais so many times in the past we have seen pretty much all of the sights, but this is Josi’s parents first time so we are seeing it all again which is great. With every corner you turn there is another beautiful beach, lush tropical jungles, beach side restaurants serving up fresh food and delicious blended fruit drinks, huge lizards scurrying across hot and dusty roads, and all sorts of other cool and wild things. The other day we watched as they released endangered baby turtles into the sea. It’s super cute watching them scurry across the sand as they make their way into the surf to live a life at sea. We collected clay rocks on the beach that we took home and crushed up in warm water to make a mud paste. Josi, her mom and her dad and I went down to the beach and we all gave ourself’s a home made luxury mud bath. It was pretty funny as we caked it on ourself, face and all, which made for some great photos. After it dried in the hot sun we washed it off in the open ocean. The end result was perhaps the softest my skin has ever been.
Most of the locals wear Jobbies hats and shirts that I designed for his surf shop. It’s neat traveling so far from home and into a remote beach side community where everyone is wearing creative that you created. I’m hoping to be able to take photos of some of my new creative that is at the print shop now. I’m expecting that it will be done before the new year, but it is Costa Rica so who’s to say?
This is only that third Christmas I have ever spent away from home. Once I was in Tokyo, once I was surfing in Australia and this year I’m going to be here. Lets start by saying that I have always loved Christmas. While it won’t be the same as being at home, people have put lights up in cactus’s and there are a few fake Christmas Trees up so it feels just a little like the holidays. It’s also great that Josi’s parents are here. Family, even if they are my new family, are great to have around over the holidays. And I think that I would much rather the sun and a surf than snow and a toboggan ride on Christmas morning.
Happy Holidays and I look forward to updating you again soon.
Finally my cold is gone and I can do stuff again. I found it less than easy to stay in bed while everyone was having fun. Since I’ve been feeling better, I am packing my days with activities and enjoying as much sunshine as possible.
Most of our mornings are dedicated to surfing. Noel had warned me that it would take a while for me to get used to my new 6.0 board as it is much shorter than my 7.0 that I am used to. The beauty is that I am now mostly able to duck dive and I can get past the break way easier and much faster. Duck diving is an art. My board is super floaty and I’m not so big so whenever I don’t get it perfect the white water hits me and I end up riding the wave backwards and getting worked. I’m sure that it provides much entertainment for the people on the beach! The surf has picked up and the shapes of the waves are way better. Today was my best day so far as I caught quite a few decent waves and rode down the line. I can’t wait to go back tomorrow morning!
My folks are in town and it’s been a real pleasure hanging out with them and touring around. We recently rented a car and went to Montezuma, a village on the tip on the Nicoya Peninsula. Our friends Jobbie and Veronique joined us and we had a great time shopping, playing on the beach and enjoying some delicious cocktails. I had the Papaya Colada and I have been craving it again ever since. We’ve also used the car to visit playa Manzanillo and Playa Hermosa which were both beautiful and so peaceful. Noel put his line in the water, but no luck. Still, it was super fun.
Another thing that kept us all entertained today was our mud baths that we took! We collected a bunch of clay rocks on the beach at low tide, crushed them with boiling water and made two big containers of mud. We then went to the beach where we proceeded to spread the mud all over ourselves. We couldn’t stop laughing as we started snapping photos. Once you are done spreading it, all you have to do is to let it dry. It feels like your skin is going to crack and it sure gets people’s attention as they walk by! Once all dried, we jumped in the ocean and washed it all off, leaving your skin soft like a baby. There is nothing like a free homemade day at the spa!
I should go to bed soon as we are getting up at 5:50am tomorrow. A lady that we met on the beach will be taking photos of Noel surfing first light in the morning. It already sounds like the best morning ever! Exercise first thing as we get up and then after go enjoy some delicious Costa Rican coffee made by my lover and then go out for a yummy breakfast.
We flew out of Bocas Del Toro to San Jose Costa Rica and then connected to Tambor which is an airport with a super sketchy little small gravel airstrip on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. On the plane we sat in front of a guy who lives in Santa Teressa who knows Jobbie so we shared a cab with him to Mal Pais with saved us a couple of bucks which was nice. Having spent a lot of time in Mal Pais over the years it felt as though we were back to our home away from home. While there is always swell here, it’s not the waves that keep us coming back, it’s the people and the laid back vibe. It’s super chill with great food, decent surf most of the time, and lots of fun things to do.
Our good friend Jobbie, a fellow Canadian who I met down here 12 years ago, has a surf shop and surf school in Mal Pais. http://www.jobbieslongboards.com. If you are looking for the perfect get away from the winter rains and want to learn how to surf, relax, and have a blast, be sure to look him up. And if you are wondering why his logo and all of his apparel graphics are so dam cool, it’s because I have been doing all of his creative since day one. A little ruthless self promotion. What’s cool is that yesterday I also designed up some shirt and ball cap designs for Product C, a local fish market and restaurant that totally rocks in exchange for free meals.
Josi had caught a cold in Vancouver just before we left and it never quite left. Over the last week she was hit pretty hard and she even had to take a couple of days out of the surf. She has been riding her now short board and was stoked to find out that she can now duck dive, something that she always wanted to do. Now that she is starting to feel better I’m sure that she will be in the surf every day. I have been waking up between 6 and 7am for an early morning surf but today I took the morning off because I paddled through some jellyfish yesterday and my arms are marked up pretty good. It hurts a bit when you first get stung, then feels like a mild burn and the next day it swells up and gets itchy. Your only defence once you have been stung is to pee on it right away, then pour vinegar on it when you get home and after that to scrape it with a credit card. The scraping is meant to get out the stingers. It doesn’t help that I’m more susceptible to jellyfish stings than some and because of it seem to get stung more than most.
Jobbie hooked us up with a killer apartment right by the beach which is so great. Two bedrooms, AC, full kitchen and 24 hour security so you don’t have to worry too much about things getting stolen which is good. While it’s super beautiful here and the locals are all super nice, you hear stories of things going missing all the time.
Josi’s parents have joined us here from Montreal and are staying through Christmas which is really great. For them this is a big adventure as they have only been out of Canada a few times and usually it’s at an all inclusive. It’s pretty rustic here with only gravel roads and the restaurants are often open walled huts where they cook on open fires. They are great sports and I think that they have been having a good time so far.
Yesterday we went fishing with our friend and local fisherman, Dougie (https://www.facebook.com/douglas.castrillo.14). $150 gets you a boat that can sit 6 people out on the open ocean for 4 hours. Dougie is a great guy and as far as the local fisherman go he is the best. If you are ever down here I highly recommend that you send him a message and have him take you out. Josi caught a big Amber Jack, Luke caught a huge Mahi Mahi (Dougie is holding it up in the photo below, I caught a super tasty Yellow Fin Tuna and the rest of the team caught nice size Amber Jacks as well. We saw dolphins, huge sea turtles and lots of fish. Needless to say, we are all going to be eating lots of fresh seafood for the next few days!
Well, it’s hot and I’m itching to go for a surf so I’m out of here. At some point I will pull out my good camera and will take some nicer photos. And if the surf gets big then we will be sure to get some surf photos as well.