Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ecuador & Peru: Part 1

            I was going to wait to discuss my vacation until I had finished editing my photographs but if I did that, I’d never end up talking about the trip.  It’s quite sad how many photographs I take on vacation.  I’m still editing photographs from vacations we took five years ago.  So in the interest of memory’s sake I shall at least discuss the first few impressions of Ecuador that I had as a vegan.  You know, incase anyone of my readers here wants to go there some day.
            First of all, here is Ecuador:
            That may seem odd to those reading this if you’re not from the U.S. but it really is necessary.  Geography and Americans are like the continental drift:  as time goes on, the distance between the two groups grows.
            …Anything?  Come on, that’s a decent geology joke.  Anyway.
            I was quite apprehensive about our trip to Ecuador.  I had visions of the streets roaming with pickpockets, volcanoes spewing down in every town we stopped (it seemed like every travel book said some active volcano was right next to wherever we were staying), and having terrible food poisoning throughout the trip.  I must also point out that this didn’t happen just because we were going to South America, per say.  I also got nervous before our trips to Ireland, Costa Rica, and Germany.  Any destination far from home where I either don’t speak the native language fluently or where I expect culture clashes to occur can fill me with dread.
            Then you add in the fact that I’m vegan and I have to somehow convey this message whenever we eat out?  Checking out the Happy Cow site didn’t do much to calm my fears much either.  Even 1 review of, “I tried to tell them I’m vegan but I could definitely taste dairy cheese,” can be enough to fill me with panic.  I had taken Spanish for 2 years in high school and off-and-on while in college but even with a small refresher using Rosetta Stone, I still couldn’t remember every fruit and vegetable out there.  What if I thought a word that was in a dish was a vegetable but was really some sort of animal product?  Yeah.  Fun.
How I knew everything would be ok. Bumblebee was at the Quito airport!

            So, with all of this apprehension, we arrived safely in Quito after a long day of flying.  After walking through the airport and taking a taxi that seemed to zip in-and-out of lanes with a speed barely slow enough for the human brain to process, we were dropped off at our hotel in the heart of Quito.  Being almost ten o’clock, we didn’t feel like eating anything despite having nearly nothing of substance to eat all day.  Instead, we decided to just eat a snack bar and some homemade bread we had stuffed in our backpacks.
Quito!  From the slopes of Pichincha

            Because we were there for only a limited amount of time, and because we wanted to see as much of the country as possible, we crammed as many activities into one day that we could.  After hiking around the slopes of Pichincha volcano (exhausting, by the way, if you’re not acclimated to the heights. We went from about 10,000 ft. to about 13,000 ft.) and parts of the old town, we went for a late dinner at El Maple, which was about a ten-minute walk from our hostel.
            It was a bit difficult to find, however, since Happy Cow’s directions were both a bit off and vague.  I walked up and down the block it was supposedly on and tried to get directions from people inside a fast food joint (awkward much?  Being a vegan and going into a chicken fast food place for directions.).  That didn’t pan out.  I finally found someone inside an internet café that had heard of it and we were on our way!

            It was a cool little vegetarian restaurant with brightly lit rooms on the inside.  We had one room all to ourselves for most of our meal but that’s probably because we were eating after eight and most people in Ecuador seem to have dinner either earlier or later.  Either way, I was looking to devour some food.  Besides a very small breakfast in our hotel that morning, we hadn’t had much since.  Eating one or two meals a day would be a regular thing for us on our vacation.
Breakfast at 1 of our hostels.

            With the apprehensions I spoke of earlier running through my mind, I nervously ordered dinner for myself.  Thankfully, the meal turned out to be quite good!  For an appetizer we had ordered a plate of diced potatoes covered in some sort of sauce (sorry, my memory is fading) and for a main meal we each had a plate with rice, seitan ‘steak’, lentils, a plantain, and a tiny salad.  I was worried about the raw salad because everything I read said to avoid raw salads but I figured that was mainly aimed at people eating in omnivore restaurants, so I ate it anyway.  Besides, when you’re ravenous, you will eat anything.

            Even though the meal was delicious, it definitely wasn’t an American-sized meal.  Needless to say, I was still a bit hungry even after the meal but it probably would’ve been fine had I had more food throughout the day.  Thankfully, worrying about the raw salad was pointless because I had no trouble that night or for most of the three-week vacation.  I’m not sure if that is due to veganism or because I was just lucky but I’ll take it.
Restaurante Manantial

            The next day was another day where we had one main meal but this time it was a late lunch at Restaurante Manantial, a vegetarian restaurant.  Again, the place was impossible to find because there was no sign outside to indicate where it was and the directions on Happy Cow were vague.  Again, we were hungry as hell when we showed up.  The portions for our meals were small but that was my fault.  I misunderstood the guy at the counter and asked to have the fixed menu for my wife and I.  The meal cost us about six dollars and while the food was good, it wasn’t enough for people who were starving.  And again, I ignored the warning about raw salad and ate some anyway.

            That night my stomach was just killing me.  I even passed fast food joints where I knew there wouldn’t be anything to eat with a look of longing.  We ended up ducking into a place called the Toronto Restaurant, a buffet place, because if I was going to resort to eating in an omnivore establishment, it was going to be in a Canadian-themed restaurant in Ecuador.  My wife didn’t partake but I devoured the hell out of a ton of potatoes, broccoli, rice – to name a few.  It was a pit stop made out of necessity rather than desire, really.  I was really nervous because it was our first stop into an omnivore restaurant and a buffet to boot.  My mind’s paranoia was screaming at me not to put anything on my plate but my stomach won out.  I’ll admit that I’m not really proud of this food stop.  Not because the food was bad but because after leaving, I felt like someone sneaking out of a one-night stand’s apartment with disheveled clothes at five in the morning.
            Overall, my initial fears around food were somewhat misplaced.  Up to this point I didn’t really have trouble communicating that we were vegan and didn’t eat certain foods.  I enjoyed Quito a lot more than I thought I would even though there were quite a lot of people.  The food for vegans and vegetarians is pretty decent and there are several vegetarian and vegan restaurants throughout the city.  If you ever make it there, you won’t go hungry.  Just make sure you don’t do it like I did and eat one or two meals a day (womp womp).
            One thing that made me a bit sad was the amount of street cart vendors that had piles of dead animals roasting on open grills.  The smells wafted through the air around these carts and there were quite a few people eating off of them.  It was a sad sight for a number of reasons, not least of which was the image of all the animals being raised for these food carts.  Plus, it just looked so incredibly unhealthy.  If even half of all the food carts that we saw in Ecuador and Peru started to operate in the States, every single one would probably be shut down for poor sanitation.
            South America also has a lot of stray dogs roaming the streets and every sad or sick or malnourished dog I saw, I could only think about our Collie.  I wish I could’ve taken care of each one of them.  I had to resist the urge to go pet every dog I saw.  My wife, on the other hand, picked and chose which dogs she would or wouldn’t pet, leaving me exasperated as I tried to urge her to back away.  I secretly was glad she ignored me to show the dogs a small sense of compassion.

            Other than that, however, it was a positive experience in Quito.  I would definitely go back.  I think this is as good a place as any to end things for part 1.  Perhaps I will pick it back up at some point in the future.  Until then, keep calm and vegan on!

If you want to learn more about El Maple, you can go HERE.  You can find them on a number of social media sites including Twitter at: @elmaple  (they have yet to tweet anything, however.)
If you want to learn more about Restaurante Manantial, you can go HERE.
The map of Ecuador was found using a Google search.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

VeganMania 2014!

            I’m sorry for the delay in an update.  We finally went on our vacation to both Ecuador and Peru in September and it was a blast!  I enjoyed myself a lot more than I was expecting despite a few bumps in the road along the way.  I shall be updating about the food and sights in another entry but I’m still in the process of editing my nearly 4,000 photos that I took while there.  A bit overboard?  Perhaps, but when everything I saw was amazing it’s hard not to take a photograph.
Just a few of the vendors

            Today, I figured I’d update about this year’s 6th annual VeganMania that was held on the 11th.  It was our 4th time going to the event and the 3rd time since they moved the event to the Broadway Armory.  I always look forward to the event for a number of reasons.
I quite enjoy the speakers that they have each year.  There’s always a broad spectrum of speakers – someone for everyone to listen to.  My wife knows more about the ‘famous’ vegans in the community and even though she tells me about them, without a face or direct exposure to the people she’s talking about, I have the same blank face your dog has when you say anything more complex than “sit” or “treat” to him/her.  It never fails that each year there’s some speaker she knows about and I respond with, “Who was that?” This is followed by a confused look on her part but that’s because she doesn’t understand why I couldn’t automatically recall some name she mentioned six months ago. (I have the memory of a goldfish…)  However, after sitting through the talks, I always come away with new people in the community to appreciate.
In the past I’ve enjoyed talks given by – but not limited to – Jenny Brown (from Woodstock Farm Sanctuary), Dr. Oppenlander (author of the fantastic book, Comfortably Unaware), Erin Red (host of Red Radio), Kristin Lajeunesse (of the Will Travel For Vegan Food blog), and Ellen Jaffe Jones (speaker, author, & athlete; wrote Eat Vegan on $4 a Day).
David Robinson Simon

This year was no exception.  The 1st speaker we caught was David Robinson Simon, lawyer and author of Meatonomics.  My wife has the book but I haven’t been able to read it just yet – an issue I plan to correct very soon.  Surprisingly, I did remember my wife telling me about the book and the author before we showed up.  See?  A broken watch can be right, after all!  Mr. Simon touched upon a few points that he expands on in the book.  For example, he talked about how the meat and dairy industries work with the government in a myriad of ways including their effective lobbies in Washington.  He also discussed the true cost to taxpayers for that hamburger you buy at that golden arches burger joint.  The talk was fascinating and despite vaguely knowing the issues addressed in the talk, it is alarming to hear cold, hard facts coming from someone who obviously put a lot of work into the research and cares about the topic.  I’ll talk about the book in-depth once I read it.  Stay tuned!  Needless to say I highly suggest checking out his book!  It will blow your mind.
Left to right: Mariann Sullivan and Jasmin Singer

            The next speakers were the hosts of Our Hen House, Mariann Sullivan and Jasmin Singer.  Again, I knew of them thanks to my wife listening to their podcast.  Other than recognizing the name of their podcast I didn’t really know what to expect.  They gave a talk on what struggles a newbie might have in the world of veganism.  It wasn’t necessarily a topic that concerned me since it’s been awhile since I’ve been a newbie vegan, but it was quite funny and you could totally feel the enthusiasm the two had talking to the audience and for sharing their experiences with veganism.  After the talk I told my wife that there was yet another podcast I would have to start following.  Check it out!

Another reason I love VeganMania is the food, d’uh.  Every year I stuff myself with as much food as I can when I’m there.  There are around a dozen or so different restaurants and other vendors who have dishes for you to try in the food court.  And everything looks and smells so good!  I try to vary my selection when we get there but sometimes there are a few favorites we just have to visit.  I’ll sometimes try something from the Chicago Diner or Native Foods Café since I love their food but then I try to get something from one or two other vendors (at least).  This year, I tried some soft serve ice cream from Temptation, a gyro-like plate with BBQ seitan bits from another vendor, a salad from Native Foods Café, a raspberry chocolate cupcake from Chicago Diner, and a few bites from food my wife had, too.  Besides the main food court there were a few businesses set-up through the main room that were giving away samples of their products.  My stomach was quite happy by the end of the day.
My seitan gyro

My wife's kale burger - so good!

My salad from Native Foods Cafe.

Tofurkey samples, which were so good!

Yet another reason I go is to refuel my vegan batteries.  I’ve said it before but it’s cool to be around others like you when you’re in a relatively small minority of the larger population.  Everyone seems to be in a good mood when they’re there and the vibes are infectious, which, given the current state of the world, I should probably avoid catching to be on the safe side.  It’s very cool to see vegans, vegetarians, and the veg-curious all come together in one place.
My swag!  Too much?

Lastly, probably my favorite reason for going is all the vegan merchandise.  My wife and I are suckers for funny and/or in-your-face bumper stickers.  I never thought I would be one of “those” people when I was younger but I can’t deny that I am.  I love watching people in my rearview mirror as they read the stickers and either shake their head or laugh or take pictures of their favorite ones.  I picked up just two this year but I think they make good additions.  The “eat humans” sticker is from Action for Animals and the “humane meat” one is from Herbivore.  I also like my vegan message shirts that I sometimes get.  I’d go broke if I bought everything I wanted to get while there.  I picked up a t-shirt from Compassion featuring an elephant breaking out of chains with the caption, “Animals Are Not Property”.  It’s pretty b.a.
All in all, a very fun time!  I can’t wait for the next one.
Sorry for the lack of decent pictures.  I was using my phone’s camera this year and the quality kind of shows.  I’ll step up my game with the next entry!  Until then, keep calm and vegan on!

You can not only find Compassion HERE but on Twitter at: @compassionco
You can not only find Herbivore HERE but on Twitter at: @herbivorecc
You can not only find Action for Animals HERE but on Twitter at: @action4animals
You can find David Robinson Simon a number of ways online like HERE.  Follow him on Twitter at: @meatonomics
You can also find Mariann and Jasmin from Our Hen House a number of ways online like HERE.  Follow Our Hen House on Twitter at: @ourhenhouse
For the skinny on VeganMania, go HERE.

I’ve mentioned a few others here before but:
You can find Erin Red on Twitter at: @erinred
You can find Ellen Jaffe Jones on Twitter at: @EllenJaffeJones