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.


Coming home & homebrewing

21 03 2014

After four wandering months on the road and six months of van dwelling in the Oakanagan before that, my wheels have at last brought me home. And it feels good to be back – to ski on frozen waters of Georgian Bay (for the first time!) and snowshoe through the old cedars. I glad I returned to witness and enjoy this record breaker of a winter.

Coming home also means having a base to experiment with a range of projects that the van wasn’t so hospitable to, most importantly –  home brewing. I’ve been waiting to apply what I learned at the Firehall last summer, but there wasn’t quite enough room in old Joni for the large vessels, not to mention the necessary sterilization would have been rather difficult.

This past Wednesday, with the help and equipment of some long-time home brewing veterans, I participated in my first home brew operation! They had inherited a couple of kits and a large bucket of pre-GMO corn sugar, so we used these ingredients on hand to make a whooping 50 L double batch of lager. Hard to imagine that on a typical brew day, we would brew 16 times as much at the Firehall Brewery!

Now we’ve let the yeast get to work. Basically, the yeast eats the sugars in the malted barley (and unfortunately the additional corn sugar we had to add) and excretes alcohol and carbon dioxide.

A few hopes and dreams for next time:

  1. Freshly milled malted barley –  The kit we used was a can of malt syrup with hops already added, so all you have to do is add water and sugar. However, the real fun begins when you can experiment with different types of malt and hops. So, hopefully at some point, we can do it more like we did at the brewery, milling the malt right on site.
  2. No added sugar – As the laws of 1516 declared, beer could only contain four ingredients: barley, hops, yeast and water. Modern, large-scale brewers sacrifice quality and take the shortcut of adding sugar or corn syrup rather than barely. It is cheaper and still gives the yeast something to convert to CO2 and alcohol. Unfortunately, it’s not so great for our health. Fortunately, most craft brewers today are returning to the laws of 1516 and hopefully we can too in our home brewing.

Joni’s staples

24 11 2013

Oh, good golly. I can’t believe we’ve been on the road for over three weeks already. We’ve seen and done so much, it’s hard to know where to begin. Our Vanagon Joni has quickly become home for the three of us. We’re living well – cooking wholesome meals on our double propane burners (plenty of oats, quinoa, rice and veggies, carrots, apples, and about a jar of peanut butter every few days…we’re trying to cut back!), singing lots (to our wide-ranging collection of tunes as well as making up our own diddies), exploring the new and changing landscapes, and of course, giggling and laughing (the deep in the belly kind).

In addition to peanut butter, we also have a few other van staples:

  1. The sombrero. I acquired this sombrero at the merch tent at the Ponderosa Music Fest in Rock Creek for a mere $3. In a van that doubles as your home, space is highly valuable, so Olivia rationally pointed out that maybe the sombrero wasn’t the most practical of items. As a result, it was determined that I would have to prove its importance and the 30-day sombrero challenge was born. Originally, the rules were that I would have to wear the sombrero for at least an hour every day for 30 days. Luckily, these rules haven’t been strictly enforced. Nonetheless, the sombrero is not squished into a corner of the van and it makes regular appearances. It goes without saying that we all recognize its significance to our journey and I won’t be forced to give it up.

    Liv & I on our morning stroll to North Head Lighthouse in Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington (just before we crossed the Astoria bridge into Oregon)

    The sombrero makes an appearance on our morning stroll in Cape Disappointment State Park in southern Washington (just before crossing the Astoria bridge into Oregon)

  2. The Firehall Brewery growler. The best of memorabilia from my time working at the Firehall this summer. Now that I’m too far from the Oakanagan to refill it with Stoked Ember or Holy Smoke Stout, my growler is experiencing new brews. And luckily, the Pacific Northwest is renowned for its craft beer, so our trip has also been a bit of a rendezvous of breweries – Elysian (Seattle), Pints (Portland), Deschutes (Bend, OR), Eel River – the first certified organic brewery in the US (Fortuna, CA), Rogue Ales (based in Newport, OR but we visited the pub in San Fran) and most recently, Figueroa Mountain (Santa Barbara, CA). In Seattle, I picked up a nifty beer tasting notebook complete with a flavour wheel to complete for each beer, as well as room for all the stats (ABV, IBU, OG, TG, etc.).
    An impressive 12-sample flight of organic brews at Eel River Brewing

    An impressive 12-sample flight of organic brews at Eel River Brewing

    Jenelle's flight (with a free 7th sample of our server's choice) at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OR

    Jenelle’s flight (with a free 7th sample of our server’s favourite) at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OR

  3. The musical instruments – a ukelele (Duke the Uke), a harmonica, a melodica, a couple of kazoos, spoons and just about anything else we can find.
  4. Dino. Handmade, fleece, pink and complete with a head and tail. I accumulated this cozy dinosaur costume for a mere $3 from the thrift store in Oliver. No regrets! It has kept me warm many a chilly nights while still in BC as well as interior Oregon. It has also facilitated many laughs.

    Dino and Joni Estevanagon somewhere in Oregon

    Dino and Joni Estevanagon somewhere in Oregon

  5. The Kodak Funsaver. Despite the plethora of camera technology ranging from ultra high quality digital cameras to super convenient phone cameras, nothing quite beats the fun of a disposable film camera, not to mention the anticipation as you wait until the roll of film is finished and developed before seeing the photos. So, of course, we have one of these to try to save some of the fun.
  6. 20W50 motor oil. Quite possibly most important of all. While we’re sipping on craft beers, Joni’s drink of choice is some high grade oil. Originally, we were using a lower grade, but found she wasn’t running so smoothly. Upon consultation with a VW mechanic in Cambria, CA, we were recommended a switch. I’ve just bought a 5-quart jug, so hopefully it will quench Joni’s thirst and keep her running smoothly.

Here’s a few other photos from the Washington and Oregon leg of our journey that might offer the essence of van life…

Striking a pose in Squamish Valley, post-breakfast at Fergie's and pre-departure from Squamish

Striking a pose in Squamish Valley, post-breakfast at Fergie’s and pre-departure from Squamish

Enjoying a picnic in the park (Volunteer Park, Seattle)

Found this cute, elderly couple having a picnic in the park


Cheese samples, ice cream and a VW "Baby Loaf" to boot at the Tillamook Cheese Factory

Cheese samples, ice cream and a VW “Baby Loaf” made us very happy about our stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in northern OR


Sipping on one fine cocktail at the Multnomah Whiskey Library in Portland. Notice the shelves of whiskey and library ladders in the background!

Sipping on a fine cocktail at the Multnomah Whiskey Library in Portland. Notice the shelves of whiskey and library ladders in the background!

A disgustingly delicous donut with chocolate icing, Oreo crumbs and peanut butter drizzle at Voodoo Donuts in Portland

A disgustingly delicous donut with chocolate icing, Oreo crumbs and peanut butter drizzle at Voodoo Donuts in Portland

Overlooking the Colombia River Gorge just west of Multnomah Falls

Overlooking the Colombia River Gorge just west of Multnomah Falls