In the U.S., when we think of Oktoberfest, we think, naturally, of Germany. German sausage, sauerkraut, maybe some German music, and everything written in a nice, German-looking font. But let's face it, we mostly think of beer. So when I heard of an Oktoberfest happening in the small community of Malloco, a short drive from Santiago, I was happy to find out that here, too, Oktoberfest means beer.
When I say "we," I mean a group of English teachers like myself and other friends, all understandably curious about the very promising, long list of Chilean breweries that would be present and serving many varieties of their hand-crafted beers. Upon arriving at the bus terminal, we discovered many, many buses with the words "Malloco: Fiesta de la Cerveza" scribbled on the sides. Presumably, these buses would be making round trips all day long, shuttling partygoers to and from the capital and the party. Just how many people would be there?
But then the path opened up into a wide, dusty field encircled completely by beer vendors. Literally, dozens of breweries. And at that hour, right around lunchtime, there weren't so many people at all. So we went straight up to one of the first breweries that caught our attention and made a purchase. Dark, delicious and cold beer. Not your typical commercial pilsener; that day, there would be none of that. No. Nothing less than microbrew, at its flavorful finest. We split up, some of us dedicated to enjoying our first pints in the shade, and the others striking out at once, intrepidly in search of the next cupful.
Clearly, there were many festival goers who were doing just that. But after an education at Ohio State University, my personal rate of consumption had been tempered by years of experience, and most of those in our party had clearly learned similarly.
Meanwhile, the festival was filling up, and the beer stands were heaving with spirited clientele. Thankfully, that didn't mean that the vendors stopped giving out free samples, but the time for idle chit-chat was over. Interactions with the bartenders became terse and to-the-point:
Me: La negra.
B: ¿Grande o pequeña?
M: Una muestra, nomás.
Incidentally, the little wheel behind the red tower is one of those contraptions that is designed to send you spinning along multiple axes at the same time. The weekend before at the same event, a young man who had likely had too much to drink, decided he would stick his legs through the bars of the cage he was locked in for his safety while the ride was in motion, and his feet caught on the center axle, snapping his legs at the shin. He died in the hospital a couple of days later. Not surprisingly, that ride was not in operation the day we went. Alcohol and carny rides are never a good combination.
When all was said and done, we had tried beer from just about every brewery available that day, over the course of five or six hours. Drinking at a moderate pace for that much time doesn't get you drunk if you do it right, but it was like a shift at work, and left us physically exhausted at the end. The bus ride home was a rowdy one, us standing in the aisle with crowds of Chileans chanting hymns that all of them knew and none of us did. Were they singing about politics, or football? Instead I focused on the number of beer stains noticeably visible on the white shirts of many of the people seated around me. Perhaps the people were on this bus and not behind the wheel for their own safety, and for the safety of others.
My personal bill for the day was 5000 pesos for the entry fee, and about 1500 pesos for each pint, 3 in total. Plus food, and another 700 pesos or so for the bus ride each way. Let's put the grand total at around 15,000 pesos, that being about $30 US. I'd do it again next year. Who's with me?
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