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At the tourist office just across from the town square we explained in a m�lange 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 caf� 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 Forn�, 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. Forn�, 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. Forn�'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 s� 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. Forn�'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!"