We arrived at Buenos Aires Airport without any jet lag, went through customs, got our bags and waited for Chef at The McDonald’s, which we heard serves espresso. Chef came around the corner with a giant, beat up suitcase, a sporting hat, and an interesting looking cloak that we complimented. With a proud grin, he said, “Thanks, it’s called a hashaba. I got it in Morocco.” Apparently, his suitcase was beat up for a reason.
Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois and I have been friends essentially our whole lives. We hail from south Louisiana. Along with my husband, Andrew, a wildlife and sporting artist, we were about to embark on the trip of a lifetime: wingshooting and Golden Dorado fishing at Los Laureles Lodge in Entre Ríos, Argentina.
The boys were happy with me, their little T-Whit; “T-”is a term Cajuns use when referring to someone who’s petite. They were so pleased that I helped orchestrate the long-awaited opportunity to hunt in Argentina. This wasn’t just any hunt in Argentina. It was in the month of June, high season for bird hunting in the southern hemisphere. We were going to hunt ducks, dove, perdiz, and pigeon. And to top it all off, we were going to fly fish for Golden Dorado, freshwater fish located in the Parana River, which just so happens to run through the property of the lodge in Entre Roís.
A few years ago, I befriended John John Reynal through Andrew Lee Design in Thomasville, Georgia at a game fair hosted by Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear and Apparel and James Purdey & Sons. Andrew was there for work. I, mainly for pleasure. John John, or JJ as we sometimes call him, owns Exciting Outdoors, a collection of wingshooting lodges in Argentina, including Los Laureles Lodge.
I always heard that Argentines were friendly and found that to be true when I, a non-bird hunter, asked JJ a legion of questions about birds, guns, and of course, his lodge. The verbose attribute has shown itself to be useful. So much so, that I’ve become a representative in the U.S. for Los Laureles Lodge.
So it was the boys and me at the airport looking for our driver who would be holding a sign with our names on it. While I was expecting to see my name, “WHITNEY LEE, AMAZING REPRESENTATIVE TO LOS LAURELES LODGE”, we saw a sign that read, “Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois” instead. It’s only fitting, after all, he is the “main dish” of the group. The friendly driver took our bags, and our trip had officially started.
We met up with our tour guide, Martina, who guided us through the streets of Buenos Aires. It’s a beautiful city with a high influence of European architecture. First stop: empanadas in the city market.
We selected them all: fish, beef, chicken, and my personal favorite: blue cheese and mozzarella. The dough, as JJ tried explaining to me, is the perfect ratio of flaky and firm, soft and crispy.
We then tried “choripan” with various types of chimichurri. I didn’t know there were varieties of “dulce de leche”, but we tried them all too, including mint, which was surprising to the palate and delicious.
After seeing just enough city to begin longing for the countryside, it was time to head to the domestic airport in Buenos Aires for our short flight to Santa Fe. Upon our arrival in Sante Fe, Claudio, the hunt master, located us, gathered our luggage and led us to the truck. This time, it was to our final destination: Los Laureles Lodge.
During the 90-minute drive, we saw the sunset and remarked how the view reminded us of the Texas landscape in some ways. The sky grew darker, and while none of us are astronomy buffs, we did comment on how remarkable it was to have never seen these constellations of stars before, being on the southern hemisphere.
JJ and the lodge staff greeted us upon our arrival in the friendliest manner. To my wonderful surprise, JJ’s daughter, Carmen, was there. Although still in high school, she would be my best friend for the next few days as we hunt with the boys. I’d only met her once before at the 2019 Dallas Safari Club Convention, but she is wonderfully respectful, joyful, and a mature young lady.
We walked into the lodge with the fire roaring, the green leather couches waiting to be sat in, and fully-stocked bar ready to be consumed. I immediately commented on the Mexican floor tiles because they remind me of the famous Louisiana architect, A. Hayes Town. The aesthetic was the perfect blend of high-end and down-home. Just the way I like it.
All of the wooden French doors open to the back of the property which showcases the large fire pit, sheep, and behind that, flows the Parana River.
As we made our way down the hall to our rooms, I knew this was an experience worth cherishing. Without even seeing the land, the birds, or the river, I knew from the hospitality, the ambiance, the smells from the kitchen, this was “me.”
We freshened up, got into more comfortable clothes, and headed to the table for dinner. There, we had quite possibly the best filet mignon. Lest we forget, we were in Argentina.
For dessert, we were served flan with dulce de leche. There are no words to adequately describe the decadence. And that’s coming from someone who’s not a flan fanatic.
My drink of choice for the night and mainly for the week was Salentine Reserve Malbec and Codigo 1530 Tequila served neat. Jean-Paul was partial to the Johnny Walker Blue Label Scotch Whiskey. He reminded everyone when it was cocktail hour when he would announce, “It’s Scotch o’clock!”
Scotch o’clock on night one had to end early as JJ said he had a surprise in store for us for the next day: an all-day hunting excursion out in the field.
We said “goodnight”. I headed to my room, ate the chocolate on my pillow, jotted down a few notes in my journal:
“I love the smell here. It reminds me of home. I wonder if it’s from all the wood. The tequila: love it, I never drank bourbon-colored tequila before. The filet: so good, non-aged – interesting. Flan: I thought I hated flan! Not this flan – incredible. Wine: Salentine Reserve Malbec – love. Dear Lord, help me tomorrow. I’m the non-bird hunting, bird-lodge representative. I loved my shooting instructor, but You know what happened at Pursell Farms last week: stepping in the ant pile, asking if there was a youth gun, shooting with both eyes closed, the pinched nerve from the 28-gauge shotgun. And it just healed! I know it was my poor form from shooting, even though Andrew says it was the way I slept. As always, prove to him that I’m right, Lord. And God, what am I supposed to do being a right-handed shooter who is left-eye dominant? Gah, this would happen to me. Help me.”
After our morning wake up call, we all gathered at the table for breakfast. I asked Jean-Paul how he slept. Grinning, he said, “Not good; I was just too excited!”
The men, avid hunters since childhood, were like little boys on Christmas morning. We loaded up into the truck for our drive to the duck blind. There was coffee that the staff put in a Yeti tumbler for me. I thought to myself, “They’ve really thought of everything.”
Andrew and I, along with our hunting guides, got to the duck blind as it was still dark, but we were still able to see. We stood on solid ground and didn’t require waders. The biblical reference of “solid ground” was never so apparent to me as in that moment, especially after the previous night’s journal entry and prayer.
That’s when I started to understand. and appreciate the excitement of what they call duck hunting. At that moment, it was the most beautiful engagement of the senses: the sound of wings flapping, the ducks calling, the sun rising, Andrew’s anticipatory excitement. Then they came. And they came fast.
For one brief moment, a memory was brought to mind when we were preparing for our trip when I’d exclaimed to Andrew, “If it flies, it dies!” as I opened my suitcase.
He smiled from across the bedroom, proud, knowing his wife would be his cool, sporting sidekick he’d been wanting all these years. In addition to the right attitude of confidence, I undoubtedly had the right outfit as well. The new Over Under waxed canvas field jacket had arrived in the mail the day before we left. As always, my wool Orvis sporting hat attends game events and now, all of my Argentine hunts. At the very least, I would look like a bird hunter.
With visions of Barbour ads, my hunting daydream dissipated when my hunt guide handed me the 20-gauge Benelli to take my shot at the ducks coming our way.
I said, “Uhhhh, I nerviosa. I’m not quite ready. I take bueno photos. Gracias.”
The boys’ each shot their 20-duck limit. They mostly came away with Silver Teal and Brazilian Teal that morning: what a sight for my first duck “hunt.” I took photos and videos of song-birds, ducks, Andrew shooting the ducks, a few selfies, and a few shots of Andrew’s guide who was obviously Argentine and to any woman with eyeballs, obviously handsome.
There was no time for arguing over how I chose to appreciate God’s creation through the camera lens.
We now had perdiz to hunt.
Perdiz is the Argentine equivalent to the partridge, often compared to our quail here in the states.
The boys were excited to embark on something new. Jean-Paul had never hunted upland birds before. “So there’s another novice in our midst,” secretly thinking to myself, sizing him up with my eyes.
They were particularly excited when the dogs came into action. In the alfalfa fields, we hunted alongside Fox, the Wire Haired Pointer. Fox began to pursue with an energetic hustle: head down, hunting the field with his nose. We wandered the fields in a line, as he led us. The walk was not arduous, just steady. Fox was steady, too, and intent.
The guys were armed. And so was I with my iPhone in video mode.
We walked and soon, Fox slowed and so did we. He stood on point. He stepped. Slowly stepped again. And again. Then up from the field, the perdiz came up and flew swiftly. In their Argentine accents, the guides cheered, “Shoot! Shoot!” I did the same, “Yes! Shoot! Shoot!”
Capturing the fist pumps, the big grins, and the high fives was an honor. With a limit of eight perdiz each, they reached the limit within the hour. As we reflect, the most exciting part was working with the dog, and when he found his game, it was a guess as to what direction the bird would fly.
Just across the field was the river where the guides were preparing lunch on an open fire. The charcuterie was ready as well as the beer and wine. Underneath a tree that resembles a Weeping Willow, the fire was blazing with flank pork and beef, and Chef was at the grill before you could say “scotch o’clock”.
It was the perfect scene to end the first two hunts of the day. I noted my appreciation of the high-action of the sport partnered with the high-luxury of the atmosphere, food, and relaxation.
It was there that I took the best nap in my life on a hammock next to a river under the Argentine, perfect shade of blue, sky.
They woke us up, enticing us with coffee. I was quiet, which alarmed JJ. Our afternoon concluded with a dove hunt closer to the lodge. While some of us were happy to shoot the dove with our lens, the others were happy to shoot the dove with their shotguns. But truthfully, we were all ready for the lodge to greet us with its welcoming bar, green leather couches, and roaring fireplace.
The next morning, I woke with a full belly from the previous night’s dinner. That one may have been my favorite meal; although, I may have said that for all of the meals. “Surubi”, they call it: catfish with cream sauce.
In the bathroom, getting ready for the day, the landscape of sheep grazing in front of the river was my “Good morning” greeting. My window was open to view the perfectly pink sky with song birds singing. I got ready and walked into the main living area and decided to sit close to the warm fireplace to type a few emails. Right on queue: “Good morning, Lady.” Alejandra happily served the fresh, hot coffee.
I saw Jean-Paul through the French doors taking pictures of the scenic morning. He was in high spirits for the Golden Dorado fishing we would be experiencing later that morning. I said, “So about fishing: you know how we grew up in ‘Sportsman’s Paradise’? And you know Dad; he’s the golfer. Along with playing “house” at every tee box, I’ve also never exactly fished before.”
He took the news well. He’s an understanding guy. And honestly, he wasn’t that shocked.
We were past my shameful admission; we were ready to embark on the day.
On the lodge property, we got in the Carolina Skiff and began our ride along the 16 mile-wide river. The never-hunted, never-fished, observant-one remarked how it reminded her of her beloved south Louisiana, especially seeing Cypress knees and Cypress trees in the river.
I love the outdoors: the experiences of the sights, the sounds, the air. It was satisfying, being out there with the boys, basking in the scene of the sky: Mexican Eagles, Ibis, Southern Lapwing.
Able to enjoy my environment, I was happy to assume the position of Chief Documenter. Since neither of the boys were experienced fly fishermen, the guides set them up with spinning reels and bait-casters. That being the case, it wasn’t long until Andrew got some action on his line.
The Dorado contorts, jumps, and fights which makes it an entertaining experience for the fisherman and for those in the “film crew” as I called myself. Andrew and Jean-Paul won the fight several times, and with big grins, smiled for my camera, and released them back into the river.
They were able to fish several spots on the Parana River, but soon, it was time to eat again. In Louisiana, we often talk about what we are going to eat for our next meal while enjoying our current meal. Food is habitually on our mind. As we entered the lodge, Chef took the words right out of my mouth when he declared, “Smells like Mom’s house!”
Panko-fried perdiz was the appetizer served as we sat out back in the Adirondack chairs. We then enjoyed what we can call “Mom’s House Pork and Gravy.” If you want to be showy, you can call it by the proper name, “Bondiola”. Regardless, it lived up to its aroma.
It was nap time now, a luxury that I cannot do without, especially after a hot lunch, a glass of wine, and dessert.
Although I woke up refreshed, I accepted the espresso offered to me.
And then, it was time.
It was time to shoot birds, not with a lens but with a shotgun.
We drove five minutes to the dove field. There are so many doves, that to any hunter it would be absolutely thrilling.
The guides went with Andrew and Jean to one blind, while JJ and Carmen accompanied me to another.
They were patient with me when I didn’t like the birds they suggested I shoot. I eased into it, mastering the proper shooting position several times. “Good”, they would tell me. Already, I was proud of myself. I shot at a few and missed. They guided me saying, “You were a little behind” or “That one was close.” A few moments later,I saw a dove approaching at a favorable angle; JJ liked it too.
I shot and down it went. Cheers erupted. They were so proud of T-Whit. Turning around, Andrew was filming. He was beaming. I kept going because it was infectious.
If they would have told me that Chef prepared the celebratory dinner in my honor that night, I would have believed them. I can be cocky like that. But thankfully, I saw Chef marinate the perdiz earlier in the day, prior to my champion shots. It’s for the best that I stay humble.
Chef’s masterpiece was orange-marinated perdiz with carrots, zucchini, and charred cabbage mixed with chimichurri. He was the real winner that day. While I was celebrated for embarking on my new shooting skill, we toasted to Chef for his dedication to his work. With masterful expertise, Jean-Paul served a delectable cuisine despite the language barrier, time constraints, and limited resources.
In keeping with all of the accomplishments that day, Andrew took his wood burning tools and free-handed duck, dove, and perdiz designs on the Los Laureles boot jacks that night.
Now, everybody was just showing off.
Exhausted from all of the day’s accomplishments, we enjoyed drinks by the fire on those green leather couches that I’d come to plop into as I would at home.
We retired to bed as we would get an early wake-up call for the ducks the next morning. The variety of hunt would start over again. A new day, a new series of hunts, a new decadent array of cuisine.
I had come to be just as giddy as those boys on their “Christmas morning.” Maybe I had become more than a spectator to the hunt. At the lodge in Argentina, maybe I had become a bird hunter.
Born and raised in south Louisiana, Whitney Bolotte Lee grew up enjoying “Sportsman’s Paradise” through experiences, food, and being a spectator. She now lives with her husband, Andrew, and two sons in Auburn, Alabama. She is gaining knowledge, confidence, and passion in hunting and fishing adventures as she represents Los Laureles Lodge in Argentina as well as through Andrew’s work as a wildlife and sporting artist.