Advice from people who never had time to read what I wrote was plentiful, including that I start some sort of travel blog. So I tried this. And realized right after posting that if I had wanted to go into journalism I would have years ago. As Johnny Rotten put it, It's no fun.
Or should I say, it is semi-embarrassing. Writing about real people makes me cringe in ways that fiction rarely does. Even when people think a fictional character is about them, it almost never is––characters take on a life beyond any specific person. With real people... yeah, just cringe and apologize, if necessary.]
CHILE'S NEXT CRAFT BEER INNOVATOR?
Four days into a stay at the 3-B Hostal in Playa del Carmen, south of Cancun. A former fishing town that was discovered by Italian vacationers decades ago, transformed into a backpacker's paradise and then despoiled, with the usual mixture of commerce (cheep trinket shops) and decay. A mini-Cancun that thankfully lacks the all inclusive puke-to-party vibe.
The main street, Avenida 5, is full of invitations to spend, from hand-rolled cigars and Argentinian steaks and live salsa bands. Mexican seaside vacationing with a European flair. It grows on you as you explore the nooks and crannies, try the church-run restaurant where you get 10 hot tortillas and the day's beany soup and rice for 32 pesos. Not a bad place to finish Arisugawa Park [now A Beautiful Case of the Blues], play flute with the rooftop DJs, and do the usual freelance assignments. [It was hard not to sound smug at the time, very triggering in retrospect.]
A typical night at the hostel. A Chilean dorm neighbor of the past several days makes a salad in the common area on his last night at the hostel. A recent college graduate, he shares a semi-private double bed with his girlfriend. Since they arrived, I have not exchanged more than a few nods and smiles with this perfect tribe of two. Munching midnight greens, Vicente Espinoza Ashton and I fall into the sort of easy conversation that hostels are made for. The random connections that sometimes compensate for complete lack of privacy.
From the municipality of Huelquen in the Andean foothills south of Santiago, Vicente has a vision of bringing craft beer to Chile. Something of a beer connoisseur (whose tastes have inexplicably drifted toward the crisp and quenching), I am intrigued.
As Vicente describes it, his father is a well known hippy vintner who operates the Antiyal winery and is a purveyor of biodynamic vintages. Antiyal means “son of the sun” in the local Mapuche dialect and has an ethos of growing vines with as little irrigation as possible. Organic composts are used to fertilize and grapes matured holistically. Though the yield is lower, the resulting wines are imbued with a distinct sense of place––the essence of the Alto Maipo, with its dry climate and alluvial gravel that has washed down over the centuries from the high Andes.
With his family well established in the wine world, I ask Vicente why beer? He explains that Chile does not have any decent beers, only conglomerate products such as Heineken and watered down national brews. He feels motivated create the country’s first true craft beer, taking inspiration from Stroud in England, where he completed an internship in 2012. I am not exactly familiar with that brewery but a quick Internet perusal reveals it as a British cousin to those U.S. craft brewers who take pride in organic, locally produced ingredients and unique (over-hopped) taste profiles.
I ask Vicente when he plans to roll out this brewery and a couple lines appear on his brow ––with his father renowned as a wine producer, Vicente wants to make it on his own terms. He is young but there is a compelling business case to be made––for one, wine is on a different timeline from beer. You have to wait more than one year after harvest and bottling to sell wine. With beer, you can produce and sell quickly, in quantities that exactly meet demand. Basically then it is a matter of gaining financial backing.
Vicente graduated university in December and would ideally like to learn as his father did, who trained in locales as diverse as California, Australia, and South Africa. He has however not been given that option. Unlike his brother, who is currently learning advanced irrigation practices in Napa Valley (Chile's Alto Maipo is in the midst of a protracted drought), Vicente must find a way to expand his repertoire beyond the family business. Moreover there is pride. As Vicente puts it “I want to make something different because my father makes wine really good. If I am just doing the same, I’m always going to be the son of Alvaro." That doesn't sound like much, when you have visions of being son of the sun.
I ask if Chile produces quality hops and barley and he tells me no, to his knowledge there is only inferior product available. He will need to import the raw ingredients at first as he experiments with small home batches. He then foresees a couple years of intensive training with international breweries. I recommend finding one in Czech or Northern California and he mentions that his family lived in Hopland, Mendocino, when he was very young. This geographical pedigree suggests that his father may have indeed been a true hippy (a quality prized, or at least not mocked, in Latin America, where rightist dictators and leftist imbeciles have brought a yearning for free-spirited righteousness.
I mention my passing familiarity with Mendocino and we have a moment of recognition––as if over the puff of a joint or first sip of a very good beer. Alcohol-laced reveries of consequence follow, the vision a new craft brewing reality in a land that has no such tradition. I ask Vicente what name he has chosen for this prospective beer company and he mentions Quadreros, the Chilean for bandit. His mountain community is historically known for its outlaw presence––I imagine bad men in creased black hats and improbable fu manchus, holed up in some improbably precipitous ravine that lawmen dare not traverse. [Not far from the mark, as a lengthy article about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's time in South America attests.]
As conversation peters out, Vincente's face grows long. Sadly, he will likely need to take a job in the corporate world and brewing beer will be relegated to the sideline.
Conversation turns to my so-called endurance writing and how I have sacrificed family and traditional markers of success for a dream. At age 40 there is finally hope, just––that I may be on a path to success––although I have never equated success with money.
Talk shifts to Jesus. Another money-adverse model of delayed gratification. Vicente is most interested in the historicity of Christ. He has received one version of Jesus, via a lifetime of Catholic school learning, and is not convinced that Our Savior is a Superhero. He sees the evidence pointing toward Jesus as the son of a king (David), who was a potent political force against an occupying Roman force. He is looking toward a possibility that, as Leonard Cohen put it, Jesus was “just the man.” [I believe I put all this in poor Vincente's mouth, when it was my own train of sudden reasoning. Sorry V, hope you did not get excommunicado.]
I, who have never put much thought into Jesus’ historicity, peruse an online article by Fernando Bermejo-Rubio, a professor of Greek philology and Indo-European linguistics at the Complutense University of Madrid. The author suggests that “Jesus of Nazareth and his followers were in fundamental sympathy with the principles of the members of the anti-Roman resistance groups, the use of violence not excepted on principle.” In other words, they carried daggers, switchblades, and knives.
Suddenly everything clicks–– the time was ripe, during a time of colonial overlordship, for a figure who represented a still strong cooperative of Jewish tribes to emerge. (No simple seditionist, he was also naturally a moral force who preached a unifying message). To the early Christians of the Mediterranean, I imagine Jesus was emblematic of successful resistance to the use of overwhelming, exploitative, force of the Romans. I could be Jesus, you could be Jesus, if the time was right. And oh yeah, the global warming crisis will bring us there in a heartbeat. Gospel of––still searching for the son of the beach.....
With this hazy realization, it is time to bid goodnight to Vicente Espinoza Ashton, leaving him to an early rise for travel to Cancun tomorrow.