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Flamenco Guitar and Fly Fishing on Lago Yelcho

March 16th, 2011

Down a dirt road, kicking up a roiling tail of dust behind the boat trailer we drive beside the Futaleufu river, further and further into Chile’s wild interior.

Near Futaleufu, Chile

The Fu is placid.

No sign of the devil that rafters and kayaker journey the world over to challenge, those rapids are miles down stream. The river we follow is a whisper as it empties in Lago Yelcho.

Yelcho, Donn tells me, is like the 5th best trout lake in the world, stocked from California a hundred years ago. Donn wears a hand carved wooden belt buckle, a ball cap and a mustache. He has been an outdoors man for 47 years. He taught and directed a college level forestry school for 22 years in western Montana and, as I will find out after the moon rises, is a damn fine flamenco guitarist.

But right now he is just a grumpy 70-something year old man who’s curses and grumblings embarrass his daughter, my friend from Seattle from whom I have accepted the invitation for three nights camping with her family. You can forgive much from a grizzled fishing guide who promises trout so enormous that you wouldn’t need a miracle to feed 5,000.

Yelcho is the sequin skirt that mountains wear. The boat is in the water and we yank on the outboard like the shitty lawnmowers of my youth. The flies are tied and since I can fly fish about as well as I can land a 747 I alternately man the oars and gawk at the sliding scenery.

Darkened phantasms of trout can be seen lurking but cast after cast comes up dry until Donn’s patience, what little he had, frays and we head in empty handed.

What is better than food forged over a fire, on a red hot grill or wobbly fry pan? Dinner fills our guts and the sun sets over Chile and our little camp on Lago Yelcho.

We drink a bottle of wine, then some beer, them some pisco.

With the dark, doubled by the clouds that blot the stars, Donn settles beside the fire and the uncaught fish are forgotten. He stands slowly, ambles away and returns with a guitar case.

I had known he played the guitar, his daughter told me, but I didn’t know, as he unfastened the case and turned over the instrument in the firelight, that he studied in Spain with a flamenco maestro.

From the first flicking of his fingers, pinky to thumb in a wave of long nailed digits, a cascade of sounds flew from his guitar and mingled with the sparks rising from the campfire.

I forgot to sip my drink.

I had never heard anything like it. All the rock and roll strummers that fill Seattle’s taverns seemed like arthritic chimps compared to this old man. The notes do cartwheels, trilling, precise and powerful.

He would pause at moments and apologize for his rustiness, he didn’t practice enough anymore.

“Play Buleria,” his daughter says and opens her palms and holds them apart ready to accompany his song with a percussive clapping.

The clouds part behind the mountain and the moon is let out to play on Lago Yelcho, exciting with its cold light all of the trout we wouldn’t catch.

Photos by Joshua Johnson and Lisa de Beaupre

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