Delightful detours

30 05 2015

My posts here are so sporadic that I don’t expect anyone to actually follow them because more often than not, there’s nothing to follow. So much for my career as a blog writer. I did briefly consider it as a convenient source of income while travelling, but thankfully I’ve found alternative employment. I don’t think I would be good at it anyway and I don’t much like writing because I feel like I have to. Amidst an ever-intensifying snowstorm of online content, I’d rather wait until I have something to say. And at present, I thought I’d try to help alleviate my parents of the burden of questions with ambiguous answers – like what I’m doing and when I’ll be home. The latter I don’t know. However, the former I can elaborate on.

Today pretty much hits the 5-month mark for my time in Spain. When I arrived at the end of December, I planned to stay in Barcelona for a couple months, then continue to the south of Spain – cycling around and working at hostels along the way in hopes of figuring out if I might want to start a hostel myself. I enjoyed my first two months of working at a hostel here in Barcelona and learned A LOT! Among many other things, I learned about the tourism climate in Barcelona – mass tourism of a predominantly international crowd. According to The Guardian, Barcelona hosted 7.5 million tourists last year, almost four times the number of inhabitants. So, the people are coming (whether Barcelona residents like it or not) and if a hostel is in a half decent location offering a half decent service, the people will come. There is little incentive to have flexible policies or offer particularly good value. Very seldom are there repeat customers. Online reviews, like Trip Advisor, helps keep business in check to some extent. However, I think sometimes these reviews carry too much importance, and a high-rating business could be more attributed to strategic social media, rather than good overall management. Or worse, one bad review from an impossible-to-please customer can be a huge detriment to a new business. This rant could continue, but I realize it’s a tangent, so I’ll summarize in saying that running a hostel in Barcelona is dramatically different than running a hostel in small town Ontario, or at least I hope it would be. Or course, there are transferable skills, but hopefully, a different approach – more personal, more human, more consideration of the long-term, rather than, to quote Steve Miller, a “Take the Money and Run” mentality. I would want to operate a business that ensures long-term repeat patrons, and considers the long-term effects on the community.

So, after working and living in a hostel for two and a half months (in Barcelona, then Tarragona), then living in various hostels for another month, I was ready to take a break from the scene. I’d planned to work on some farms – get back to nature and my rural roots for a bit and be more immersed in Spanish culture (since the multiculturalism of the city tends to have a diluting effect in this regard. Then, just as I was about to say goodbye to Barcelona, the opportunity arose to help out at a craft brewery while the head brewer was away for a couple months. I had been volunteering there sporadically since January or so, and what can I say, I can’t say no to learning new things, working with interesting and intelligent people, and of course, craft beer. Further, taking an unexpected detour is rarely something I’ll decline. And I felt lucky to be presented with such a sought-after opportunity in such a trendy (sometimes too trendy) industry. So, I found a shared apartment and actually started living in Barcelona, rather than being a tourist. I also picked up a part-time job at a recently-opened brewhouse called Black Lab that I had frequented. Staffing requirements quickly turned this job to full-time temporarily, but I’m now thankfully back to part-time so I can enjoy the summer festivities . So, basically half my work hours helping make beer and the other half selling and educating people about it, so maybe a bit too much beer in my life, but nonetheless nice complements. While I’m a bit afraid of the onset of the summer temperatures that locals speak of, I’m hoping my body acclimatizes.

Not sure how long I’ll continue along this detour, but I trust my capacity for reflection well enough not to worry much about it for now. After all, as some cliche probably goes, life is a detour. And while only hindsight will be able to tell, it might not even be a detour at all.

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Some entrepreneurial ideas…

6 05 2012

The gears in the back of my head are always turning when it comes to community development. I think the rural landscape is slowly fading away as the masses flock to the cities. However, fortunately, there is a resurgence of people moving back to the land and embracing a slower, quieter lifestyle. Even though small is beautiful, I do think many small towns would benefit from at least a handful of key establishments, either business or social enterprises. Because the Bruce Peninsula is near and dear to my heart, I specifically have a constantly running list of business I would start (or would recruit others to start) if I had sufficient capital. (Interested investors should give me a call!) So, here’s what comes to mind at the moment…

  • A good, used bookstore, possibly with an accompanying café, maybe a music collection too
  • A microbrewery & pub, no TVs please, but plenty of live music and maybe the odd night of karaoke (I’ve been inspired by the Brew Pub here in Squamish)
  • A local cheese maker. Pine River just isn’t close enough. Maybe one kind of like the one here on Salt Spring.
  • A little cinema, not a Galaxy or Famous Players. Just something with a screen or two, and maybe an outdoor screen out back for warm, summer nights. It would some classics and documentaries too, and maybe host a film festival now and again. Driving an hour each way to Owen Sound (longer if coming from Tobermory) is just too far and not a very good use of our precious energy resources. That said, I enjoy a good film as much as the next person. I particularly enjoyed “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” which I watched here on Salt Spring at the Fritz.
  • And last, but not least, a local credit union (or other form of financial institution) to make it all happen. It’s time we took our money off of Wall Street and put it on Main Street, where we can see benefits beyond interest. Check out this page from the New Economics Foundation as a launchpad for what I’m referring to.

Anyway, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What do you think our community needs?