Saturday, December 10, 2005

Trolling Inflation

Nahuel Huapi National Park – November 9
Four years ago Argentina went to hell and overnight no one had any money, the peso was relatively worthless, and the world’s best steak was about $6.

Its this last fact—lets just ignore the others—that has helped make Argentina a major tourist destination in the last few years.

“Before, the peso was held to be worth the same as the dollar, which was ridiculous for a country like Argentina” a vacationing Buenos Aires fly fisherman explained to me earlier this evening on the banks of Lago Mascardi. “We went to America and Europe because it was cheap. No one came here because it was so expensive. Now its just the opposite. We can’t afford to travel but everyone comes here because for you its cheap.”

Sometimes the steak is $5, sometimes its $8. Its always fantastic.

So it was with this background that my father and I cooked our own dinner in our El Bolson cabana last night, but managed to spend $100 (290 pesos) on it.

The first step in spending $100 on dinner is to decide to catch it yourself. Patagonia has some of the best fishing in the world, so we hired Jorge to take us out onto Lago Puelo that morning. Four hours of guided trolling cost $68 (200 pesos) and fishing licenses were another $21 (60 pesos). We’d have to catch a lot of fish to make this economical.

And at first it seemed we might because within ten minutes dad had hooked two good-sized trout and it all seemed much too easy. They were about two pounds each which in most parts of the world is a good catch but here isn’t anything to brag about.

After the mandatory look-at-me-holding-my-fish pictures we threw them overboard because you can only keep two fish per trip and we had three-plus hours left on the water. The first trout—blood dribbling from its mouth—floated motionless on the surface of the water when we threw it back. “No problema,” Jorge insisted. He guided the boat over to the fish and tapped it on the head with a spare rod. It woke up and sped away.

All the fish seemed to speed away and for the next hour there were no bites. When the sun went behind the clouds it was downright cold on the windy lake. Jorge poured hot water from a thermos into a mug packed with mate, the local tea. The giant wad of tea floats freely in the cup and is drank through a metal straw with tiny holes in the bottom that keep the tea leaves out when you take a sip.

“The next one is to eat,” Jorge said in Spanish when our dry spell neared two hours. We didn’t want to go home without dinner.

Finally, dad hooked another fish which he thought was a biggie but slipped off the line. Jorge dutifully inspected the hook and reported it was bent by the giant salmon. Then dad reeled in a two-pound trout which Jorge whacked hard on the head with a mallet. We had some dinner.

Pops proceeded to catch a couple more small trout but after more than two hours I was still fishless. A lack of luck and lack of skill were both clearly present. Trolling involves pulling tackle a couple hundred feet behind the slowly moving boat and waiting for a strike. But the water was always tugging at the line and I couldn’t tell when a fish was biting.

“La promixa pesca es para mi,” I promised. The next fish is for me.

“Esperamos,” Jorge said. We hope.

And finally I did reel one in, a good-sized salmon that turned out to be the biggest fish of the day. But we had another hour of trolling and the fish were starting to bite and we didn’t want to max out our catch too soon.

As our time ticked down we snagged another trout—okay, dad snagged another trout—and dinner was caught.

The accompanying vegetables were $.85 ($2.50 pesos) and the expensive bottle of wine was $10 ($28 pesos).

Dad hacked up the boney fish and cooked them in the oven. The TV had international cable so we watched BBC World as we picked through the trout, sipped the good wine, and enjoyed our most expensive—and most pleasurable—dinner in Argentina.


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