Of all the faraway places with strange-sounding names, the one that always intrigued me the most was Andorra, the tiny principality tucked into the Pyrenees between France and Spain. How did one get there? In my imagination I decided that one took the highway from north or south, arrived suddenly at the bottom of a steep slope and then transferred to burro-back. After a while the path became too precipitous even for the burro, and one clambered up pitches of solid rock, inched past grazing ibex and chamois, groped along narrow edges worn smooth by centuries of smugglers. At last, breathing heavily, one arrived to a tumultuous welcome from the natives, gaily dressed in bright yellows and reds, dancing the Sardana and generously proffering goatskin flasks of carmine-colored wine. "Welcome!" they would say in the peculiar Andorran tongue. "You are the second American to arrive in our land. There was one named Lowell Thomas here in 1937." Then I would go off into the woods to hunt wild beasts and catch fat trout till my arms ached.
Well, I have been to Andorra now, and let me be the first to admit that my conception of the country was a trifle wide of the mark, say about nine miles. Not that my wife and I are entirely stupid. I mean, we checked. After we had tentatively decided to vacation in Andorra we sent for the available information. Both of us have a tendency to judge places by the sporting possibilities, and we were practically frothing at the mouth as we read aloud from .the literature.
"Listen to this!" I said, leafing through a pamphlet put out by Credit Andorra, the country's bank. " 'Andorra is a paradise for fishing and shooting. There are trout, woodcock, chamois, vultures and eagles.' "
"You can't hunt eagles," my wife said.
"It's not their national bird," I said.
A few minutes later my wife muttered, "They've got to be kidding."
"What?" I said.
"It says in this pamphlet, 'In Andorra one finds foxes, squirrels, otters, wildcats, hares, rabbits, wild boars and gamecocks. At a higher altitude we find the eagle, the hawk, the snow grouse and, most famous of all, the agile and elegant izard.' "
"You mean lizard," I said.
"No, I don't. I mean izard. It says here the izard is the eastern Pyrenees version of the chamois. What's a chamois?"
"A little mountain goat for washing cars with."
We read on and on into the night. One passage got me so excited I could hardly read it aloud. It was from a paperback called In the Valleys of Andorra by Clara Vanderbeke, and it said, "In Andorra fishing is not just a pastime for grandpa.... Here it is a real sport; you have to make your way upstream and try to catch the fat trout with a fly as they leap through the snowy froth of the torrents...." Another booklet showed a beaming Andorran fisherman holding up "a trout of two kilos."
"How much is two kilos?" I asked my wife.
"Four and a half pounds," she said.
"We're going to Andorra," I said.
Flying the Atlantic, we passed the time by working out a schedule for our vacation in paradise. Both of us were highly curious about izards, so we scheduled an izard hunt for our first full day. On the second day we would switch to trout fishing in the high mountain streams. Rabbit and fox hunting would occupy our third day, and on successive days after that we would hunt wolf, bear and wild boar; shoot partridge, snow grouse and pheasant; fish the high glacial lakes and cast for big trout in the wider reaches of the river. We figured that after seven days of intense hunting and fishing we would be sated with the outdoors, and we would devote the remainder of our two-week vacation to observing the native folkways, bartering with the Andorrans for some of their handicraft and in general picking up the local color. My wife and I are always improving ourselves.
We rented a car and drove toward Andorra from the Spanish side, through a green-on-green valley watered by a foamy white-water stream fished by men in Cézanne hats and rubber knee-length boots, past children with pierced earrings and old ladies on bikes and grizzled men berating their donkeys. Now and then we would pass a Spanish bus festooned with burlap sacks of luggage on the roof and billows of black smoke coming out the exhaust; one would swear it was running on soft coal. All at once, with no visible change in the countryside, we came to a road sign announcing "Andorra." To my surprise, the modern asphalt highway continued slightly uphill through a valley choked with raspberry and blackberry bushes. We stopped at a customs booth in the middle of the road, showed our passports and were informed that Andorra la Vella, the capital of the principality, lay just ahead. We drove a few more miles through the somnolent countryside and suddenly came to the tail end of a line of traffic that appeared to extend all the way to Norway. The traffic would move a few feet and halt, stop and start, herk and jerk through a miasma of bluish smoke being thrown up by the hundreds of cars, most of which were as out of tune as Florence Foster Jenkins. As we proceeded thus into the heart of Andorra la Vella we could discern the reason for the snarl. On both sides of the street, as far as one's watery eyes could see, hundreds of shops displayed everything from deepfreezers to paper clips, all at bargain prices. There were $10 tape recorders and $4 umbrellas and $15 cameras and who knows what all. We had finally reached Shangri-la, and it turned out to be 14th Street. "Don't worry," I told my wife, whose jaw was hanging slack and whose face was ashen. "This is just a minor inconvenience. Anyway, we won't be in the town that much. We'll be up in the mountains catching trout and hunting izards."
She muttered something. "What did you say?" I asked.
"I said, 'Did you see those cashmere sweaters for $20?' "
"Izards," I said. "Keep your mind on the izards."
At the tourist office just across from the town square we explained in a mélange of French, Spanish and English that we were interested in the country's outdoor life, and a harassed clerk explained to us in a panache of French, Spanish and Catalan that he didn't know much about it but he could show us a hunting map that would be helpful. As far as I could determine from the symbols on the map, you could hunt izards in the high mountains to the northwest, deer in the central part, bears to the north and skiers in the west. There was also some hunting for skiers in the south. We had started to leave to find a hotel when the clerk gave us to understand that by a stroke of good fortune an official of the Andorran Hunting and Fishing Association was sipping a pastis at the café next door and perhaps could be of assistance. The official turned out to be a suntanned, pleasant individual who spoke mostly the native Catalan, but who somehow or other managed to communicate to us the awful truth. The izard season had ended two days before and, anyway, hardly anybody ever saw an izard these days. It was sort of like hunting walrus in Nigeria, he said, and laughed at his own cleverness. As for bears, the last brown bear had been shot along the Spanish border in 1942. Wild boars? The official of the Andorran Hunting and Fishing Association inquired as to what we meant by wild boars. There were foxes, yes, and squirrels and rabbits and a few rats, but wild boars? "It is to laugh," he said, and once again broke into laughter.
"Now listen," I said, "are you telling me that all that tourist office literature is baloney?"
Yes, the man said, that was certainly one way to put it.
"Well," I said philosophically, "we're here and we'll make the best of it. If you don't have anything but rabbits and foxes and rats, we'll hunt rabbits and foxes and rats."
The man said that would be impossible. The season for rabbits and foxes and rats did not open for three more weeks. A few more sputterings on my part brought the news that there was nothing huntable at that moment in Andorra.
"O.K.," I said, "then we'll fish."
The official of the Andorran Hunting and Fishing Association told us that the high mountain streams were all closed at the moment because the trout were using them for trysts, that there was some magnificent trout fishing in the lake of Engolasters, but unfortunately the lake belonged to the power company, which permitted no fishing, and that there was another excellent trout lake just across the French border at Fontargent, but one had to face the lamentable fact that the French had arbitrarily closed the lake to fishing for five years. If one might be allowed to sum the matter up, the official concluded, one could fish in the lower streams for smaller trout, and one could shop in Andorra la Vella, where there were bargains of unbelievable dimensions. Also there were some very interesting bridges that dated to the 11th century. I offered my thanks through clenched teeth, and we drove off.
We put in at a pleasant enough little hotel called the Roc Blanc (White Rock), unpacked in about 30 seconds flat and began a desperate campaign to salvage at least some portion of our dream itinerary. I called upon Se√±or Antoni Forné, permanent secretary of the Andorra Tourist Bureau, and posed some questions. Why did the official tourist maps of Andorra show enticing little insets of bears in the north and deer in the center, not to mention izards bounding all over the place and trout in mad profusion? Sr. Forné, a former captain in the Spanish Republican Army who fled to Andorra after the civil war, explained that a bear had been shot in Andorra only 25 years before "and surely, my dear sir, there must be some remaining. It is only a matter of looking in the right places at the right time." As for the deer, that was merely a mistake; there were, in fact, no deer in Andorra. The mapmaker had intended the inset picture to be an izard (two small horns), but the artist had been carried away and had made them look more like antlers, and huge ones at that (about 13 points). Sr. Forné's final counsel to us was to forget about hunting. "I will do my best to find a fishing guide for you," he said, "and in the meantime you can enjoy yourselves in our shops, where you will find the best bargains in Europe."
Of course, none of our conversations in Andorra went as smoothly as they now sound in retrospect. My wife and I are both language illiterates. She studied Spanish for four years but is still under the impression that sí means a body of water. I studied German for five years, and when somebody said Guten Tag to me last year in Berlin I told him to watch his mouth. In Andorra almost everybody speaks Spanish, French and Catalan, but the amount of English that is spoken daily could be engraved on the inside of a Swiss hotel keeper's heart in 96-point type with enough room left over for a Scot's income-tax return. To be sure, a smattering of European phrases had impressed themselves upon my brain during frequent travels in Europe. I could say "pass the salt" in two languages, "please" in three, and "Where is the men's room?" in six, but none of this was of any practical use in Andorra. The French and Spanish words that were thrown at me by the natives came out with Catalan overtones, thus rendering them almost incomprehensible. In Catalan, the "s" is made to sound like "sh," and listening to three or four Catalonians having an argument is like standing in a busy steam kitchen. It all short of shoundsh like thish.
Nevertheless, we were able to understand that a guide would call upon us at our hotel, at Sr. Forné's direction, and that we would be escorted to some trout spots high in the mountains. We went back to the hotel and waited. We waited, in fact, for two days. "The Andorrans have no conception of time," explained one of the hotel receptionists, a German. "Spain is a ma√±ana country: Andorra is a day-after-ma√±ana country. Here, if you have an appointment for 9 o'clock, you had better make it your business to be there at 10:30 sharp!"
During our enforced waiting period (my wife insisted on calling the delay "a good test of your maturity," which made me absolutely want to throw up), we learned what had happened to Andorra. Not many decades ago it was almost exactly as I had imagined in my dreams. There were no roads from France or Spain, only donkey paths. There were no shops selling schlock. The streams were jumping with trout. Izards and foxes and all sorts of wild game wandered right into the villages. Then a road was pushed through from the Spanish side, and another from France. The people of Andorra, many of whom had made a precarious living smuggling goods from France to Spain and back again, discovered that there was easier money to be made by selling untaxed goods to tourists, and almost overnight Andorra became a nation of shopkeepers (thus exchanging the underhand for the glad hand, as John Sack once elegantly put it). The tourists, mostly French bargain hunters of the middle and lower classes, descended upon the country (nearly 1.5 million of them this season alone), and the destruction of Andorra as an unspoiled operetta setting was all but complete. Nor were all Andorrans thrilled to death by the change. "Why, we don't even get the middle class anymore," one of them told us over a glass of armagnac. "In July the camping sites are full of Frenchmen. They put up their tents, spend almost nothing and start smoking our cheap Andorran cigarettes three at a time so they can get their money's worth. I saw one French couple come into a cafe and price the coffee. When they were told it was 8¢ a cup, they turned and walked out. Imagine! They were shopping for a cup of coffee!"
As impartial observers, my wife and I could only feel sympathy for the French visitors to Andorra. Their natural shopping tendencies are kept under a tight hold by the French customs guards, who allow them to bring back 10 packages of Andorran cigarettes and one bottle of liquor duty-free and nothing more. Sometimes cars are practically taken apart at the border stations on the French side, or they may be waved on to roadblock traps 10 or 20 miles into France. The douaniers come bounding out on the highway shouting, "Surprise! Surprise!" and strip the car from bumper to bumper. If contraband turns up, the driver goes to jail and the car is confiscated.
After two full days of waiting and assimilating such information about the tiny principality, we received word through an intermediary that we were to go to a certain store on the Avenue Charlemagne the next morning and meet a man who would help us in our quest for a trout-fishing guide. We complied with the instructions and in the back of a little dry-goods shop enjoyed a long talk with a pleasant young man named Sr. Dolsa, who informed us that the hunting in Andorra was lousy but that the fishing, on the whole, was rather poor. If we insisted on going, he said, he would arrange for a guide to meet with us at the hotel and discuss terms.
We returned to the hotel and waited another 24 hours. Finally I wrote out a note, had it translated into Catalan and handed it to the hotel clerk with instructions to show it to everybody he knew. The note said: "We are an American couple interested in hunting and fishing in Andorra. We do not know where to begin, and we are willing to pay well for a guide who will show us something of the outdoor life of your wonderful country." Within an hour a seedy man arrived to tell us that a relative of his would be happy to take us out smuggling and poaching if the price was right. I told the man that we had your everyday curiosity about smuggling and poaching but that we did not want to participate in either activity, being pronouncedly allergic to confinement. "However," I went on smilingly, not wanting to miss this opportunity to connect, "we would be happy to do a little legal trout fishing with your relative and maybe we can talk about smuggling and poaching later."
That night a swarthy man with a broken nose and straight, greased black hair arrived at the hotel desk and asked for Sr. and Sra. Olsen. He introduced himself as Juan Tomas (pronounced in Catalan Zhoo-on Toe-mosh) and said he was our guide. "Macho gusto!" I said. I was beside myself with joy. Here we had been in Andorra only three days and already we were going to go fishing, and, not only that, we were going to learn all about smuggling and poaching to boot. "Sit down, Zhoo-on," I said, "and let us make plans." We sat together on the sofa in the hotel lobby. "Now in the morning we can go trout fishing, correcto?" Juan said that was correcto. "And in the afternoon we can search for game with a camera, is it not so?" Juan Tomas said it was so. "And after that," I said, giving him a broad wink, "we'll come back to the hotel and talk about other matters, right?"
Juan Tomas looked puzzled and stood up. In a somewhat tentative manner he said he would meet us in the morning at 10, and then he was gone without so much as an adios.
"What the hell's eating him?" I said to the desk clerk. "Do all smugglers and poachers act so spooky?"
"Smugglers and poachers?" the clerk said. "He's no smuggler and poacher. He's the guide Sr. Forné sent!"
The next morning we drove our little Fiat 124 Sport high up in the mountains, passing under huge boulders suspended above the road in a matrix of soft sandstone and dirt. "Don't they ever fall down and kill anybody?" I asked Juan. "Never," he assured us. Minutes later we rounded a curve in the road and almost hit a freshly fallen five-ton boulder. "Almost never," Juan Tomas said.
When we arrived at the 7,000-foot level Juan advised us to park the car. Our fishing location was just a few steps up the mountain path, he said. We walked in the hot sun for the better part of an hour, straight up an old dry creek bed, slipping and sliding on slick stones, and at long last, puffing like elderly dragons, we reached a small plateau atop the mountain. I strained my ears for the sound of rushing water and jumping trout, but I could hear nothing. All questions as to the precise location of our fishing site were answered in generalities like "not much farther" and "a few more minutes." Juan excused himself to go off in search' of mushrooms. He returned in an hour and explained that he wanted to take a few more minutes to see if he could spot an izard for us. Forty-five minutes later he came back and said there were no izards around, but if we liked we could now fish. He pointed down the steep backside of the mountain. It developed that the stream was at the bottom of the other side of the mountain, down an old burro path and along a dozen or so rock-slides. "What do you do if an avalanche starts?" I asked our guide.
"You step to one side and let it go past and pray that your mother is not coming up from below," Juan Tomas explained.
Leaving my wife to wait safely at the top of the mountain, Juan and I made the long descent and at last arrived at the River Madriu, a wildly flowing stream perhaps six inches in depth and four feet in width. "Voil√†!" Juan Tomas said with a grand gesture, as though he had guided me to Victoria Falls. From a vantage point over one of the Madriu's pools I could see a few fish of three or four inches feeding on microscopic particles. I captured a grasshopper and flipped it into the pool, and all the fish fled madly. Juan said, "Too small."
"The grasshopper?" I said.
"No," he said, "the trout."
"Well," I said, "put the rod together and let's try fishing here anyway."
Juan explained that we would have to get gusanos (worms) up the side of the next mountain. He would go for the bait while I rested. One hour later he came whooping and hollering down the path bearing a wriggling trout of some six inches in length. "I got him on my premier cast!" Juan said proudly. Then he disappeared into the bushes for another hour, returning with three small worms in an old p√¢té tin. It was getting on toward 4 in the afternoon and I still had not held a fishing rod in my hand. Furthermore, I had been sitting alongside the River Madriu for better than two hours now, probing the depths of the stream with my Polaroid-assisted vision, and I had not seen the vaguest suggestion of a trout longer than my middle finger. I communicated all this to Juan, and he said he was sorry that he had been unable to catch more than one fish for me, but he thought he knew a place where we could connect the next morning. I finally comprehended, through a dim hate compounded of muscular soreness, general fatigue and profound annoyance, that Juan thought he had been hired as a fish-catcher, not as a guide. I tried to explain to him that I was more interested in fishing than fish, but he could not get this concept into his head. I said that the one fish we had taken so far had cost me and my wife about $6,000 a pound, and he admitted that this sounded on the high side, but he would try to catch more tomorrow and bring the price down somewhat. I said that I wasn't interested in poundage, but in catching big, fighting, sporty trout. He said if I was interested in big trout, why had I come to Andorra? Anybody knows, he went on, that the only big trout in Andorra are in France.
We met again the next morning, and before we left the hotel I explained to Juan once again that this time I wanted to fish, I did not want to go mountain climbing, and that I would thank him to lead us to some fishable water pronto! Right away! Tout de suite! Juan hauled out a map and showed me a lake near the French border. He said it was one of the most beautiful lakes in Andorra and it was only a one-hour hike from the highway. "How big are the fish in it?" I demanded.
"There are no fish in it," Juan said, "but the scenery is beautiful."
"See?" my wife said. "He's not a fishing guide. He's an Alpinist."
After all sorts of gestures, some of them threatening, we drove off to the village of Pal, a historic community where once upon a time an Andorran wrestler had met a Spanish wrestler with half the countryside at stake. My guidebook told me that the Spanish wrestler was bigger and heavier, but that the Andorran was smarter, and so he taunted the Spanish wrestler into chasing him. "The heaver man was soon tired," my book went on. "The Andorran wrestler took advantage of this to jump on him, rolling over on the ground, holding him down, and waiting until the referee interrumpted the struggle and declared him winner." I have always found that fishing and hunting pleasures are heightened if one knows something of the history of one's surroundings, not to mention the spelling.
Once again we walked to a tiny stream, this one about five feet wide and perhaps eight inches deep, and once again Juan Tomas went off to hunt for gusanos. When he didn't come back for a long time I searched and found him in earnest conversation with a farmer and his wife who were out raking hay. Juan took me aside. "It is inderdicted to fish in the river," he said, "so we will have to wait until the farmer leaves."
"What's the farmer have to do with it?" I asked.
"He is one of the councillors of Andorra."
An hour or so later the farmer and his wife completed their appointed task, and at 2:30 on the afternoon of my fifth day in paradise I finally held a fishing rod in my hand, or in my hands. It was an Andorran rod, 19½ feet of cane from butt to tip, and it weighed about three pounds more than my oldest child. One walked along the creek, poked this Washington Monument of a rod through the greenery and tried to place three feet of line and one inch of worm into the pockets and riffles where monstrous trout lurked. Or so Juan Tomas gave us to understand.
After a while I got a bite, jerked the butt of the rod upward and flipped an infant trout 15 feet into an overhanging tree, from whence it dropped back into the stream. "Here," said the guide, wrenching the rod away. "I am showing you." He dropped the worm into a likely hole and suddenly catapulted a five-inch trout 50 feet behind him on the bank, using exactly the same stroke that is used by the commercial tuna fishermen off San Diego. Then he handed me the rod with a look of superiority. Using the Andorra technique I caught two trout, both of them miniscule, and finally informed Juan Tomas as politely as I could that it had been a grand experience but I had had my fill of trout fishing in Andorra. We returned to the hotel and I paid him off. Somehow the price had doubled, but I put this down to the language barrier.
The next morning a loud knock interrumpted our sleep. "Good evening," said one of the bellboys. "I am telling you the information that a good friend of mine is the best hunter and fisherman in Andorra."
"What?" I asked sleepily.
The man went on to explain that his friend John of the Dogs had agreed to take us fishing that same afternoon.
"Who?" I said.
"Juan dels Gosos," he said in Catalan.
"Juan de los Perros," he said in Spanish. "John of the Dogs."
"Where'd he ever get a name like that?"
"I am not knowing that," the bellboy said. "His real name is Juan Clotet, but we all know him as John of the Dogs. He is shoot dogs when he is a small man, I am told, but I do not ask him because I am afraid."
In any case, John of the Dogs had consented to take time out from his busy schedule to guide us into the woods at 3, and one must understand that we were very lucky people to be able to go fishing with el mejor pescador d'Andorra, the best of the best. A nice tip would not be unwelcome.
That afternoon we met John of the Dogs, a dark little man with a grubby mustache and stark black hair and a stub of a cigar sending up clouds of smoke like the battleship Missouri. He had the manner of a sawed-off Anthony Quinn. His voice was gruff, his teeth were snaggled, his breath would have offended the Winged Victory of Samothrace, but he plainly knew his business. Did we want to find some large trout? All right, then he would return later with the canes of the fishing. A few hours before dark we were off. John of the Dogs directed us to a place one mile up the road from our hotel, handed me a spinning rod with a silvery Mepps spinner on the end and pointed out a dark pool, directly behind the Andorra la Vella power plant, where he said there were large trout in abundance. There were also tin cans, wine bottles, empty containers of Vel and Duz, an old boot and a "Super-bombe Insecticides Parfumerie" in abundance. John of the Dogs disappeared upstream in a cloud of smoke and insouciance.
On my third cast I snagged the Mepps on an underwater entanglement and broke it off. I hastened upstream to find the guide and get a replacement. Thirty minutes later I was still picking my way through the brambles and rocks looking for John of the Dogs. He was gone. Disconsolately I went back to the flat rock where my wife and a new lady friend from Andorra la Vella were playing gin. I sat and watched the only game in town. John of the Dogs returned in an hour or so with seven small trout. "I would like to present these fish to your beautiful wife, to these fish," he said, and once again I realized that I had hired a man who thought we were making a 10,000-mile round trip for the sole purpose of amassing trout meat. "Thanks, Juan," I said. "You have done your work well."
That night, as we made plans to depart Andorra, who should show up but the smuggler—a genuine, bona fide contrabandists right out of the third act of Carmen. In so many words, he informed us that all other guides were humpties, that he was the only person of Andorra who knew where the big trout were hiding, and that he would take us the following day, provided we paid him well enough and did not identify him to any of the French or Spanish authorities. I promised to describe him as a six-footer with red hair and gold teeth, and he said that would be sufficient to throw off anyone who got on his trail. All during our conversation he kept casing the lobby and tilting his head to one side, as though he could hear the faint jingle of handcuffs in the distance, and he finally dissolved into the rainy night with a promise to pick us up late the next day.
En route to the top-secret fishing hole, the smuggler turned out to be one of Andorra's most voluble players. He never used one word when 10 would suffice. He opened up by telling us that shameful things were happening in his beautiful homeland. Once upon a time there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of contrabandistas, all of them joined in warm camaraderie, but now there were perhaps only 50 in the whole country. Back in the good old days they used to smuggle cigarettes and tobacco and jewels and watches, but now they were reduced to hauling 15 or 20 miniature Japanese television sets over the mountains, walking at night and sleeping by day and finally making a rendezvous with a truck on a country road in Spain. One had no idea what 30 kilograms of Sonys did to one's back, and for this one would only make $100 or so for three days' work.
I asked the smuggler if he had ever been caught, and he said that the French douaniers had nailed him 20 years before. "I was carrying auto parts," he recalled, "and I threw my load and my pistol down the mountain when I saw them coming out of the bushes. I explained that I was merely taking a walk in my beloved mountains, but they told me that somehow I had wandered into their beloved mountains and would have to go to jail. So of course I broke loose and ran. They had guns but they did not shoot. The French never do. The Spanish customs guards will shoot to cover up their stupidity—Pfui!—but the French guards pride themselves on not shooting." After that, the smuggler said, he concentrated on smuggling into Spain, leaving the French work to others. "It is too difficult," he said. "The French douaniers are too wise. Now they use clever dogs to track us down. The Spanish use dogs, too, but they use stupid dogs. We just drop a little pepper on the path and the dogs lose their interest."
By now we were almost to the Spanish border (Andorra is only 18 miles from one end to the other), and the smuggler showed me where to hide the car alongside the wooden footbridge crossing the Gran Valira, the biggest river in the country. Swearing me to lifelong secrecy, he said he would direct me to a pool where he himself had taken a four-pound trout, and he would show me exactly how to fish for the big ones. "Here is the key that opens the door to all grand trout," he said, and handed me a silver-wrapped wedge of "La Vache Qui Rit," the-cow-that-laughs, a soft French cheese. "You put a little ball of this on the end of your hook and the big trout go mad," he added.
"What does the trout think it is?" I asked.
"What do you mean what does the trout think it is?"
"Well, when you fish with a streamer fly, the trout thinks it's a little minnow. When you fish with a spinner, the trout thinks it's a bigger minnow. What does he think this piece of cheese is?"
"What does he think this piece of cheese is?" The smuggler scratched his head. "He thinks it's a piece of cheese! When you sit down to a piece of cheese, what do you think it is? A watermelon?" Leaving me with this inscrutable bit of Catalan logic, the smuggler headed upstream in what I had now come to recognize as the time-honored style of the Andorran fishing guide. Two hours later he returned. I had not had a bite. He had caught a few small trout on spinners.
"You must not become discouraged," he said. "I know a place...."
"I'm sure you do," I said.
The next morning at 7 we packed the car and drove over the pass of the Envalira, at 8,500 feet the highest in the Pyrenees, and down toward the French border. "Did you enjoy your visit?" the customs guard asked politely.
"Formidable" my wife said, exhausting her total French vocabulary in one shot.
"You wouldn't believe it," I said sarcastically, and we were waved back into the everyday world.