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. Forn� 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.