For those who follow our field journals through the year, you know that May ushers in our various dove Bolivia programs as well as the mixed bag programs in Argentina and Uruguay, in addition to the Pigeon program in Paraguay. So, quite a bit on our collective plates here in the Trek office this time of year.
For over 15 years, we have run our high volume dove hunts (with a taste of pigeons) in Bolivia and this year, for the “I just want to shoot pigeons” guys/ gals, we have begun operations in southern Bolivia with Jose “Mozo” Vidal, at his lodge, Pigeon Palace. Mozo’s pedigree dates back to his tutelage under outdoor adventure pioneer Erland von Sneidern, so Mozo certainly understands the business and American shooter.
Although Trek VP Joe Patterson had personally vetted Mozo, and we have him booked through most of the season, we in the office are a bit like mother hens in that we want to be sure that we are around with the inaugural groups as these are our valued clients and we want to be sure everything goes off as planned in the early season. From that point, we relay our observations to Mozo and staff to fine tune the operation. As our clients are experienced shooters and travelers, we actively invite their honest feedback and we are very fortunate that they do just that. Well, on my recent trip we experienced a few un controllable items, in that a little late season rain affected the birds and made a few of the secondary roads a bit of a mess. Some items are under the heading of “controllable” and we made those plain to Mozo and his staff, so, he knows what Trek expectations are, we look forward to the growth of this program.
Upon arrival into Santa Cruz, we, like all of the other passengers on this flight, are herded into the immigrations line. For those of you who travel, you know this is a tedious time as you have flown for hours and know that shortly you will be on your way to your final destination, you just have this final hurdle, waiting patiently in a line that never seems to move. The bright spot for Trek travelers arriving into Santa Cruz is that just behind the immigrations kiosk, you will always see the smiling face of Felipe Molina, Trek partner and owner of Las Palomas and Los Guaduales Lodges, Jorge Molina’s son and the master of all things logistical in this program. This is not just a welcoming smile and wave, but Felipe is also gathering your bags and loading them up on a cart. So, by the time you have cleared immigrations, he has you ready to walk out the door, a very professional touch and certainly welcomed at this point in the journey.
On this trip, I obviously wanted to visit the newly opened Pigeon Palace as, up until this point, Joe from our office was the only “Trek guy” who’d been there. Initially however, I was heading to long time partner and good friend Jorge Molina’s lodges, Las Palomas and Los Guaduales where we currently had clients booked. On the 90 minute drive I had a chance to chat with also arriving Trek clients and actually clients who had reserved their trip through Jorge at one of the big trade shows. Now, when assisting our customers in setting up their trip, I normally get a pretty good feel for their personalities and the like, but, sometimes we are so off base that we are not even on the same playing field and that was the case this time around. As for the guys who I did not book, that is truly a shot in the dark and part of the fun on that drive, finally getting a personal feel for everyone aboard.
By the time we arrived at the lodge, I learned that one man was ex military and a 30 year school principal, not sure which stint was a tougher go. This gentleman was up to most any challenge and at 84 years young, was always the 1st one up for breakfast and in the van, once chastising me for being 5 minutes early for getting to the van. 5 minutes early was late for him as he was ready to go and I was slowing down the process. You can believe I was not “late” again, sorry George. The other gentlemen were from the beautiful state of Colorado and boy had they done it all, from guiding Elk and bear hunts, to heli skiing, to playing competitive level polo, being a college quarterback and a scratch golfer, these gentlemen have and are living a life that many can only dream of, great stories. As one gentleman has 3 young boys, under the age of 4, I can just imagine what these young men are going to experience over the next 20 years, so very exciting.
Once at the lodge and resting up a bit, it was time to gear up and shoot this afternoon. Jorge has a roost that he makes sure every group gets to shoot at least once, just for the “shock and awe” aspect of it. You will never see a higher concentration of dove at one time, anytime and anywhere, it is fun to see the faces of the clients seeing this fro the first time and not knowing which bird to target, it is bedlam until dusk.
Another thing that Jorge will always do is to schedule at least 1 bar-b-que where he combines the groups from both lodges for dinner. This is always interesting to watch as you can see the transformation from 2 groups, to 1. Hunters and outdoors people do tend to have many of the same underlying traits and prior experiences. Who would have thought that now I know 2 guys who heli ski and another guy who’s daughter plays competitive polo and actually battled the school the other attended just years prior. One guy trains polo ponies, another from Calgary trains cutting horses while other have trod many of the same roads, unknowingly for the past 2 decades. By the end of dinner, these guys have all traded email addresses and phone numbers and who knows, might decide to travel together next time around.
After the next mornings shoot, I hitched a ride with a bus traveling from Santa Cruz to The Pigeon Place. As they traveled right by Jorge’s place, it was just a matter of coordinating a pick up time and place. I hopped aboard the 20 passenger bus and headed south the 2 hours to Mozo’s Pigeon Palace. Long time Trek clients Takumaro Ikeguchi, his sweet bride Kate and his son Stephen were aboard and ready for their first Bolivia pigeon adventure. Now, Ike is no stranger to shooting or to Trek and he dates back to the earliest days of Trek Safaris with Bob and Mike Cloaninger. It was a very enjoyable trip down memory lane and the time to the lodge passed quickly. Also, as Ike, Kate and Steven have experienced pigeon shoots at the highest level in Paraguay and Argentina, they knew what to look for and were a great litmus test for this lodge. Steven is also a very talented photographer/ videographer and was willing to assist Mozo by making some promotional shots during their stay, look for those soon on our web site or our Facebook and Instagram pages, he has a real talent.
Our first afternoon, the family is split into 3 blinds, in 3 adjacent fields and I am in the cat birds seat being able to see Ike and Kate’s blinds from the road between. As the birds begin flying, it is apparent that Mozo has fallen for Kate’s sweet smile and demeanor as although the pigeons did fly well for Ike, Kate had birds on her the entire session, she kicked their rear ends, scoreboard, Kate.
After dinner, we get settled in, but during the night hear the distant rumblings that can only mean that the weather gods are not on our side. We awake to a gray morning and heavy sky, but in hopes that the rain will hold off, we head to the field. The run to this field was just over 15 minutes, so, the shooting is very close to this lodge, a big plus. After setting up everyone in their blinds, we see the first bit of drizzle, which shortly turns into rain. You know how it is when you want to shoot, play golf, whatever and there is bad weather. You keep looking at the sky and pointing out that 1 tiny patch of blue sky and assure everyone that it is going to clear up soon. Well, that did not happen and it was back to the lodge. Now, although most of the roads here are in pretty good shape, a down pouring like this can make them “interesting”. With safety as our prime concern, I doubt we ever got out of 2nd gear on the drive back to the lodge, but even at 5 mph, on a muddy road, you are not 100% in control. So, yea, we got stuck, but Mozo was at the ready in his trusty truck to get us all safely back to the lodge.
As I was apparently the black cloud over this trip, they ran me out of Mozo’s the next day assuring they had sunny sky’s for the durations of their trip. So, Ike and Kate got their pigeons and Steven got to break out his drone to get some awesome aerial shots while in the fields and at the lodge, seriously, please look for these soon, they are terrific.
Mozo gave me a lift to a half way point where Jorge Molina Jr. and his cousin Martin met us and assisted me the remainder of the way to Las Palomas. I naturally think about mixing competitors in this manner, but listening to both Mozo and the Molina’s, I feel like they can work with each other and both will benefit, possibly some high volume dove shoots with high volume pigeon combo’s on the horizon.
Back at the Molina’s, I related my weather stories and, to a man, all I heard was…is it coming this way? Well, no rain, just sunny skies and lots of dove and a few dozen happy shooters by weeks end.
If any of you have ever visited either of these lodges, or even met any of the Molina’s at one of the sporting trade shows, you will know that this is definitely a family affair. Papa Jorge Sr. at the helm, Jorge Jr. hosing clients at one lodge and cousin Martin at the other. The kitchen staff was trained by Jorge’s wife Karen and the logistics for getting clients around and pulling gun permits falls to youngest son Felipe, it really is a tight knit crew. Jorge Jr. has just built and opened a micro brewery, right on the lodge property and is providing several unique beers to our clients and the local population. Jorge also supplies beer to several bars and restaurants in Santa Cruz. On your next trip, you are bound to get a brewery tour and all the Honey Bear Ale you desire.
On the day I departed, Jorge’s lovely wife Karen offered me a ride to the airport, meaning a 5 am departure from the lodge. So, as we head down the road, I hear the unmistakable sound of beer kegs bouncing around in her SUV. Apparently, Karen also serves as the beer delivering maven to the newly brewed Sir Piper Beer, definitely a family affair. Stay tuned for more on Jr.’s newest brewing endeavor as Joe from our office also just returned from Bolivia and will be detailing this exciting addition in his soon to appear travel journal.
The season is really starting to heat up now as the absolute prime months are just ahead. Now, with Mozo’s Pigeon Palace and Jorge’s (2) lodges, we can definitely find a spot for you between now an the November 1 season end, give me a call.
Until next time, Kevin