"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�t� 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.