My brother Harry Briscoe is the owner of Hexagraph
Fly Rods and invited me to accompany him on what
has become for him an annual trip to Futaleufu Lodge
in southern Chile. Harry met lodge owner and author
Jim Repine at a trade show years ago and have become
good friends. This will be Harry's 9th season. Our
trip lasted a week and took place in late March 2004.
Jim Clarkson who is the owner of Raptor Rod works in
Chico, Ca. and is my brother's rod builder for
Hexagraph would be traveling with me. He started
his trip earlier in the day in Sacramento and he and
I hooked up in the waiting area for our flight from
DFW to Santiago. After a few pleasantries and
conversation about what to expect on our trip we
boarded our flight and split up since I was lucky
enough to have upgraded to business class and Jim
relugated to the back of the plane with the peasants.
Business class is nice; the only way to go.
Unfortunately it's a night flight departing at
10:00 pm and it's not possible for the early to
bed early to risers like me to take full advantage
of all the perks. Perk number one was a preflight
drink, not something I normally do but it is included.
Perk number 2 came as a small toiletry kit that
contained all anyone needed for an overnight trip;
everything from a toothbrush and paste to socks, ear
plugs an eye mask and a small spray bottle of face
refresher (my wife said it was a spritzer, whatever
that was, it did feel good).
Next came a menu with the 3 choices of entrée's,
various appetizers and deserts all of which I
wanted but chose to pass on in lieu of sleep. Sleep
was a good idea, since by the time this flight and
the connecting one was over I'd have been up for 36
hours, but the flight attendant had other plans, as
she came down the isle with a portable DVD player and
a library of about 20 titles for my own personal use.
Again this was in direct conflict with my plans for
sleep but it was a perk, so I picked one, plugged it
in and enjoyed the viewing pleasures of a 7" screen.
Now I had done a little nibbling on a few food items
that I could not resist but I was pushed over the
willpower edge when along came hand scooped hot fudge
sundaes, I figured what a better bedtime snack and I
Sleep at last, not a lot of sleep, but sleep. Even
in the big leather covered reclining foot-rested
seats sleeping is not the easiest thing to do, but
a soft pillow and fleece blanket do make it a little
easier. Jim told me later that he tried to muscle his
way into the vacant seat next to me but I was out
cold and the flight attendant apparently protected
me from the nefarious riff-raff from the rear of the
Friday morning I awoke somewhat refreshed and thanks
to an attendant with a cup of coffee and my handy new
toiletry case full of the nice variety of refreshing
toiletry items I was quickly re-refreshed and ready
for, that's right, more food.
Breakfast was somewhat of a let down given all the
choices from the night before but I settled on what
appeared to be a cross between an omelet and a ham
and cheese croissant, fruit and some unusual orange
type juice, which continued to re-appear from time
to time during our trip each time I expected orange
juice. Breakfast is complete and we were ready to
Jim and I hooked up again in the terminal and promptly
got into the wrong line for Customs and entry fee but
Jim quickly identified our error and we headed to the
pay $100.00 (American) that is required before entering
Chile and before you get to go to any other line. Chile
requires all visitors to pay upon arrival; it's seems
kind of like getting into Disneyland. Pay once and
that's it. (It is good for 10 years should you ever
go again.) We decided we needed some Chilean money
so we stopped at a kiosk and did that and from there
picked up our bags and went to Customs where Jim was
in a quandary on a question on the entry form as to
whether his cigarettes constituted a plant he was
bringing into the country. We got through with no
problems but even though your baggage is checked
through to your final destination you must pick it
up prior to going through Customs then recheck it
before your next flight. We were greeted by a nice
baggage man who wished to relieve us of some of our
newly acquired Chilean money in exchange for getting
us to our next gate. This turned out to be a good
thing since we really could not afford the time of
getting lost or misrouted.
The plane from Santiago to Puerto Montt is operated
by Lan Chile. They used to be state owned but now are
80% private and do a fine job. Good people and good
service and my second encounter with the unusual and
still unidentified orange drink.
Arriving in Puerto Montt around noon we were met
by Eugeno, the son of Virginia, a local travel
agent who serves as a handler in Puerto Montt
for the lodge. Eugeno took us to the Hotel O'Grimm,
got us checked in and told us he'd see us tomorrow
around noon for our flight to Chaiten.
Jim and I cleaned up and hit the town. Our first
stop was to try to find the local farmers market
to buy some local items to appease the generous
souls we live with back in the states (and who
were kind enough to allow us to make this trip).
Our first attempt at a cab took us to the docks
where the cruise boats load and unload and though
this was not what we expected, we did find an
open-air "phone store" where we were able to check
in with those we left back home.
These phone stores are generally a shop where you
go in, give the proprietor the number you want to call;
they dial it and send you to a booth where you pick up the
phone and are connected. This one however was a guy
on the dock with a bank of 15 cordless phones where
he dialed the number then handed you the phone, .50 cents
a minute. Not a bad deal. A guy overheard our
talking about the market that turned out to be a
cabbie that spoke more English than we spoke Spanish
and was able understand where we were headed. He took
us there and kindly relieved us of more of our Chilean
The market begins with a fish market at a boat
dock that is comprised of a series of small
kiosks some with fish only and others with
fish and a small, and I mean small, restaurant.
The restaurant might consist of only one table
and a few chairs where I guess the special of
the day depends on whether the boats back yet.
Both sides of the street leading up to the fish
market are lined by small wooden kiosks which house
various versions of the same things, Wool sweaters,
carved wooden items and other nick-nacks that are
aggressively hawked to the bus loads of tourists
apparently from the cruise ship that anchored in
After we had walked the entire line of shops and
decided that each was about the same as the last,
we settled on a couple of items and headed for some
local libation. We found a small bar, I guess, that
had about 5 tables filled with smoking locals
drinking beers, sodas and some of that unidentified
orange stuff I referred to earlier. We sat and were
promptly waited on by a kindly old gentleman who
fully understood my command of the Spanish language,
"cervesa's por favor."
We caught what we thought was another cab driven by
a young man who did not understand us and did not
understand where we wanted to go but we did drop off
the kid he had with him when he picked us up so we
figured we had just done our good deed for the day
by paying for this kids ride. After a wild ride
though the back streets of the city we emerged
into an area we recognized so we decided we had
gone far enough and talked him into letting us
out. We figured the costs of the 3 cab rides up
to that point were about the same as buying the
Eugeno had told us about a great restaurant where
he worked and recommended we have dinner there.
Unfortunately not another resident of Puerto
Montt had ever heard of the place and even though
each tried to tell us how to get there, we never
did and wound up back at our hotel where we enjoyed
a fine dinner. Well at least I did. Jim had attempted
to sample every variation of tequila that was lined
up behind the bar but unfortunately the tequila
lasted longer than Jim did and the bartender
performed the last rites on what was left of him
at about 9. I pushed him towards his room and hoped
I'd see him in the morning.
It's Saturday morning and I feel Jim looks surprisingly
agile considering what he had gone through the night
before, not to mention what had gone through him.
Anyway, I was in the restaurant when he flowed through
the door and began the day in a considerable different
manner than he had ended the one before.
We sat there admiring the fog covered morning and talking to Felix
O. Grimm, the owner of the hotel who was with his wife.
Felix is a very interesting fellow who is a local guy
who went away to school and returned to buy this hotel
and become a successful businessman.
My brother Harry, who had been fishing at Bella
Vista in Tierra del Fuego the week before and was
arriving from Buenos Aires that morning so we were
wondering if we'd see him before we were to leave
on our next flight. Jim and I were enjoying our
complimentary breakfast of espresso, cheeses and
pastries when Harry walks into the restaurant.
Eugeno had picked him up at the airport and dropped
him with us until time for our flight to Chaiten about
three hours later. We finished breakfast, packed and
wandered the streets while we waited for Eugeno
and our next flight.
The type of plane for the flight to Chaiten depends
on how much is going; that means luggage and people.
The schedule is dictated by how full the plane is.
Our entire batch of luggage was weighed when we
checked in and an additional fee is paid for going
over whatever their limit is for the day. For this
trip it was the 3 of us, another person we did not
know, and the pilot so that meant the smaller plane
which is a twin engine 6 seat job which the pilot
announced when we climbed in "eet's a guud plane".
The luggage is distributed between the 2 planes
that were going and was stuffed into every open
crack crevasse in the plane. We all climbed in
and then stuffed Jim into a seat next to all the
luggage. He never could find his seat belt but
I told him if we crashed, he'd most likely be
found with the luggage and besides it might be
The overcast had not yet lifted so the hour long
flight was somewhat uneventful as far as sightseeing
went but we could still see the mountains and some
coastline from time to time and as we approached
Chaiten we made a sweeping banked left turn against
a mountain at the end of the runway and curled our
way into this very tropical looking coastal town.
When we landed a small group of folks immediately
attacked the baggage and unloaded it from the 2
planes. We then made mad dashes around both looking
for ours and getting them into the hands of the
infamous Juan Carlos, driver extraordinar.
Juan Carlos has been with the lodge quite a few
years and apparently knows about 80% of the people
in the entire country. I'll bet we didn't pass a
half dozen people in the week we rode with him
that he didn't honk at, roll down the window and
yell at or otherwise make contact with. He owns a
mechanic shop in Futaleufu and can fix anything,
anywhere from whatever is on hand. He immediately
announced that it was time for lunch so we headed
into Chaiten to his favorite lunch spot.
Of course he knows the lady who runs it and sat us
down and ordered a slab of fresh pan fried fish
filet and fries and a Fanta to wash it down. They
love the orange stuff down there.
Chaiten is a small fishing village of about 1500 souls
nestled in a flat spot on the coast surrounded by heavily
foliaged mountains. I say foliaged because it's comprised
of trees, bamboo, large leafed plants and who knows what;
very dense, very thick, very much like a tropical rain
forest but not quite as tropical. We wondered if you
could get even 30 yards walking into it.
The road to Futaleufu starts out as a nice black
top but after about 10 to 15 miles turns to well
They still call it a highway but it's just your
basic gravel road. For the next week the only
pavement we'll see will be on the bridges. As
we drive inland the mountains continue to rise
on all sides and it is not long before we began
to see glacier after glacier.
This is where all the water comes from and boy
is there lots of water. At one point we pass the
remains of a DC-3 airplane that apparently landed
on the road some years back and could not take off
again so the locals moved it across the ditch and
turned it into a house, fireplace, curtains and all.
We come to a unique bridge at the outflow of Velcho
Lake (yell-co). A huge natural lake surrounded on
all sides by glacier topped mountains.
This natural lake is almost 30 miles long and we
continue along side of it for quite a ways, then
leave its view and return to it in another 10 to
The lake and surrounding mountains were cut by
glaciers and you can readily see the many unique "U"
shaped valleys one after another.
At the small town of Villa San Lucia (the site an
old Chilean military compound that we feel has never
been attacked) we turn towards Futaleufu and arrive
about 4:00 pm. Juan Carlos takes us for a quick spin
around the place honking at each and every passerby
waving and yelling at most of them. We pass his repair
shop were a half a dozen guys are almost working and
he honks and yells again. A young girl is biking down
the street and we stop and meet his daughter Nagalie.
After a stop at a couple of shops looking for film for
Jim's camera we head towards the lodge.
Just outside of town a military officer flags us down
and J.C. (who of course knows him) discusses things
with him and on we move on. The Argentine government
closes the border (which is only a few miles distant)
each day at a certain time and since Futaleufu is the
last town before the border the officer does not let
anyone through that cannot make it before the closure.
We're turning off this main road as soon as we leave
town so we're not affected.
Just outside of town we cross the bridge we turn downriver
and begin what is one of the most unique stretches of
road (if you can call it that) we'll travel all week.
The valley is split into a few different parts separated
by steep mountains that the river has cut through making
for some very dramatic canyons and whitewater. The road
leads into a valley that is home to about 30 families.
Since the suspension bridge down river fell in a few
years ago, this road is the only way these people can
get to and from town and they have only 3 methods of
which to do that; 4 wheel drive vehicle, horse or on
foot and to my knowledge the lodge has the only motor
vehicles in the valley.
The word road is stretching that description to its
limit. The first few miles the road is a road, a
rough one, but still a road, then it becomes a wide
trail that has been hand made, cut into the mountain
side and shaped with shovels, tree trunks rocks and
boulders. At times it's just up and over bare rock;
at others it's through deep cuts and gouges where
the side of the road is a few inches from the side
mirrors. We have to pass through a few gates from
time to time but as steep as the cliff is and as
thick as the foliage is on either side, I can't
imagine how anything could get around if not on
At one point we're forced out of the truck to walk
over a particularly sensitive spot. This spot has
a log laid horizontal to the cliff side of the road
supported by a vertical upside down tree trunk
wedged into the mountain below the road. This
supports the road that has been filled with rock
and dirt. It seems Sonia, the lodge owner's wife,
had a dream once of a group of fishermen going over
the 500 foot cliff here and since then, everyone walks.
Everyone that is except for Juan Carlos who must
drive the truck. Harry suspects that in Sonia's
dream J.C. was apparently expendable. The river
far below is a piece of the stretch that is F5
whitewater that is almost impassable; it's quite
a way down, you wouldn't stop for a while if you
went over here. It's a nasty spot but the guides
tell us there are other spots that are more unstable
Just a few hundred feet from Sonia's drop off is
an interesting spot. If one had not just come down
the road you would swear it ended here on the rock
face. It doesn't even remotely resemble a road or
a trail for that matter, barely wide enough for
the truck. The driver hugs the vertical side of
the "road" as the outside wheels spin and catch
on the solid rock ledge. As soon as we round the
corner a gate appears. A gate, here? To keep what
out? A billie goat would have a hard time negotiating
These gates are unique too, as with almost everything
down here they're hand made from what ever is available.
All of the lumber is cut on sight. The gates are
constructed like most board gates except with a
round log on the pivot side of the gate. The hinges
are either cut from a tree trunk with a right angle
or a solid piece of plank lumber; a circular hole
is then cut into it and that becomes the pivot point.
The log end of the gate fits into the 2 hinges with
the bottom hinge at a slight angle that allows the
gate to swing shut by it own weight.
After a few more miles of your shoulders bouncing
off the window, almost stopping, downshifting and
an average speed of about 4 miles an hour we hit
another piece of the valley, deep ruts in the hand
built road, past a few farm houses then towards a
sign that says "Welcome Harry Briscoe and Group"
Jim and I are apparently "Group."
A final gate to open and our world looks little
more civilized again. As we round the last corner
dusk is settling in and a large group is awaiting
our arrival. All hands on deck to greet the new
guests, as we begin shaking hands and meeting people,
Marcelo (I hate to call him a waiter but...) asks
what we'd like to drink. Beer, wine, Pisco Sours,
whatever we want and whenever we want. Paz, the
lodge owners daughter and Warren a lodge host from
Canada who is helping out this summer, both welcome
us and begin our orientation to the area. The drivers
and lodge workers are busily unloading gear and sorting
out who's is what's and what belongs where.
In a few minutes Wayne Bradshaw and Tom Prettyman
walked up from the river with their guide G.B. where
they had been getting in a little extra fishing time
before dinner. Tom is a photographer friend of Harry's
from California and Wayne is the sucker he brought
with him. Actually Wayne is a wonderful guy, (an
investment counselor from southern California), but
he'll appreciate the previous remark, so you can imagine
how the week went, we hit it off immediately.
We found our rooms and sat around the fire getting
to know everyone and had a few drinks, Marcelo brought
around appetizers and more drinks and then we were
called to dinner. Meals down here are fabulous, period.
Everything down here is fabulous.
Next time, the fishing! ~ David