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.

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