I Survived as a Vegetarian in Peru, And You Can Too

“You might have trouble finding food.”

These words were solemnly delivered to me, on several occasions, as I talked with meat-eating friends about my upcoming trip to Peru. I had never been to South America and was excited to finally check off a long-time travel goal of mine, but began rethinking my packing strategy as I prepared for the meat-loving country. Perhaps less layering pieces for the Inca Trail, and more snacks?

I have been a vegetarian for almost 18 years. In that time, I’ve travelled through farm communities in Laos, beer halls in Germany, remote villages in Australia, even Memphis, Tennessee (90-95% meat thanks to plentiful bbq joints), all while maintaining my dietary choice. While it has sometimes been a challenge (in a carb-induced hangover in Memphis I began wondering if I’d develop scurvy), I’ve always managed. Would Peru be too much for me?

Our journey began in Lima. Breakfasts at our hotel were easy enough to navigate; I’m used to scarfing fruits and veggies when I know I may not see them again for awhile and took advantage of the buffet set-up to start each day. Hotel breakfasts are pretty standard with what they offer – white, starchy rolls and jam, cheese and luncheon meats, other meats (so much meat! at every meal!) and “essence of coffee” which still confuses me, given the coffee that’s produced in the region. Lunches and dinners took a bit more planning; I spent a lot of time Googling recommendations in between practicing “Soy vegetariana” and “No como carne, ni pollo, ni pescado, ni jamon”, which basically means “I can’t eat anything on your menu, man alive help me.” My fiancé, on the other hand, could eat everything on any menu, twice, so he happily went along with many of my suggestions. I had good success at Tostaduria Bisetti, Saqra and Burrito Bar.

Saqra in particular has a mushroom ceviche that is out of this world; Steve practically licked the bowl. It was nice to be able to experience a Peruvian culinary staple and understand what the fuss is about, having never had ceviche before. Thankfully pisco sours are vegetarian.

We travelled next to Cusco. The altitude mucked about with my appetite for a bit, which was somewhat of a blessing as it allowed me to pace myself on the carb addiction that I was quickly developing. Peruvians love potatoes! And quinoa. I love these foods too, but my pants were quickly becoming snug. As Cusco caters to more tourists than Lima, I did find it easier to find food options, and highly recommend La Bodega 138 (we may have eaten there three times, no regrets, it was amazing), Granja Heidi and Organika. I would move into Organika if I could, just for the pumpkin soup and lava cakes. While I do eat dairy and eggs, I think vegans would manage just fine in Cusco with the number of veg-only restaurants available. It was a pleasant surprise. Menu options favour local ingredients and are on the simpler (albeit spicier) side, all washed down nicely with Argentinian wine or a local ale.

A special shout-out to the Meeting Place Cafe for its out-of-this-world waffles and for actually serving café con leche. My adventures in trying to find a simple coffee with milk in Peru deserve a post of their own.

In between stops in Cusco we walked the Inca Trail (and survived! More on this later!). If you’re doing the Trail, make sure you book with a tour provider who can accommodate your dietary restrictions. Our tour porters were fabulous and did the best they could with a vegetarian and two gluten-free hikers, but by the third day I really noticed how lethargic I was from a steady diet of rice and deep fried eggplant. I ate a lot more trail mix and chocolate covered almonds than I’d intended which helped me get by. But I did not feel great after.

Lunch after completing the Inca Trail was, well, potatoes:

IMG_2665

I managed to find a banana and a coffee in Aguas Calientes, and added Inka Corn to the mix. It wasn’t the most balanced meal I’ve eaten, but to be fair the chips A) came with mayo and B) the mayo was infused with lime which is a fruit!

We went back to Lima for a few days post-Cusco, and I was now armed with more awareness over what Peruvian dishes could actually be vegetarian which made things easier. When looking at menus, watch for:

  • Locro De Zapallo (a stew, traditionally made with meat but in this case replaced with butternut squash. Delicious!)
  • Humitas (small sweet tamales made of corn)
  • Aforementioned mushroom ceviche
  • Rocoto Relleno (stuffed peppers, usually with meat so double-check first!)
  • Quinoa soup (especially in the Sacred Valley)

Also, it’s not the worst idea to scope out a grocery store and pick up some snacks to tide you over. The crackers, cheese and fruit we picked up were lifesavers on a day where I had found it particularly challenging to find foods I could eat and I was feeling very hangry.

 

Words Overboard

Well hello there.

I haven’t written in some time.

About six months, in fact. Initially it came down to free time (I had little), and I felt okay with parking that part of my brain for a bit.

And a bit longer.

And then a bit longer still.

And then shit son, six months is a long time!

In between I took a course (which I found incredibly difficult), I moved, and my job became more challenging and required more of me. So I slowly parked other parts of my brain – the parts that enjoy making things, baking, being creative. Then I parked some of the other things I was interested in, like planning adventures both local and elsewhere. And I drifted a bit, sleepily. So when it came time to finally think about writing something, I discovered empty roads. I’d parked everything for so long, I hadn’t noticed that my well of ideas had dried up and writer’s block had strolled into town and set up camp. The jerk won’t leave. And I’m freaked out.

I lost my words.

As an introvert, words are very important to me. If someone was to ask me in person how I was feeling, I’d make an awkward noise, probably squeak out “fine” a little too loudly, and immediately shift the topic back to them so I could sprint back to my comfort zone. But emails and the like are my jam. I’ll write you a short novel about how I’m doing and also update you on the three dogs I ran into today and how their days are going (very well, thank you for asking). The ability to write, and write reasonably well, has been a defining feature of my personality. I take great comfort in the fact that people tell me to write more, that friends and colleagues ask me to review their work and make suggestions. I often remark that I feel that I’m funnier online (my brain likes to be a jackass when I’m telling a joke and muck about with the punch line in my memory). Losing my words, therefore, feels like I’ve lost a core facet of myself and has thrown me off balance.

There are other things afoot that have contributed to this, and I’m slowly working on those, but I need to get my words back. If you’re still reading this blog, bless you for checking in now and then. I’m going to go into clumsy battle with writer’s block. Watch this space to see if I win.

33-for-33

Updated: November 4

Guys, I keep getting older. How is this happening. Ahhhhhhh.

I have some thoughts on 32, that I’ll churn out…eventually…once the move I’m in the midst of wraps up. Until then, some new stuff to keep this year interesting! I’ve opted to remove categories this time around; if any of the items tickle your fancy and you want to do one with me, let me know!

  1. Wander two new-to-me neighbourhoods in Toronto
  2. Throw a dinner party (or brunch)
  3. Go to a drive-in theatre
  4. Go for dinner at Winterlicious or Summerlicious in Toronto
  5. Do five chin-ups. Preferably on the monkey bars at Santa Monica.
  6. Take a dance class
  7. Have a proper high tea
  8. Try my luck at batting cages
  9. Become a mentor…or a mentee! Or both!
  10. Read 33 books (follow along with my progress on Goodreads)
  11. Do a half marathon. Holy crap.
  12. Take a letterpress class
  13. Design and print my own stationery
  14. Seriously learn French…I live with someone who is bilingual, this is ridiculous woman
  15. Stand-up paddleboarding in Toronto or elsewhere
  16. Work on my flexibility. Recommitting to yoga should help.
  17. Go trail running
  18. Go to Quitters Coffee
  19. Learn the lyrics to No Diggity
  20. Invest in myself. Want a nice lipstick? Want to take a course? Want to sit and read a book for an afternoon and neglect other nagging responsibilities? I want to say yes to myself more.
  21. Say no to others. On the flipside, learning to say no. Avoiding the burnout hole I keep tumbling into.
  22. Have a beach picnic
  23. Go on an epic hike
  24. Do a whiskey flight
  25. Bake some bread from scratch
  26. Take a baking class
  27. Go to a Detroit Tigers game with Victoria and Tom
  28. Finally go to Stones Place
  29. Travel to a city or country I’ve never been to
  30. Grow (some) of my own food – I finally have access to a proper backyard!
  31. Create a gallery wall for our new place with our favourite travel memories
  32. Make and sell something (crafty? wordy? We shall see)
  33. Most importantly, on February 26, 2017, look back on 33 and realize it was pretty awesome!

 

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Ahh, apple picking in Ontario, a quintessential activity. Crisp fall weather, bright leaves in shades of burnt reds and oranges. A joyous, happy time for many. And one of intense personal reflection for me. Not in a, “This year I am thankful for ___” kind of way, but more of a “Girl, chill.”

Part One: Maybe I’m a Bit Particular About Things
We made the trek to Albion Orchards near Caledon to enjoy a warm, sunny day. Clutching a Starbucks and sporting plaid, I was one Instagram post away from hipster perfection. The line (yes, there was a line to pick-your-own apples; bless you, hipsters) moved quickly and we picked up a bag and entered the enormous orchard, pausing to take a photo of the map to assist with our apple selection.

Then I began mentally overhauling and reorganizing the orchard.

“You know what would be useful,” I mused to Steve who had immediately beelined to a tree to pluck a few apples free, “if these rows were labelled. I don’t think these apples are what the map says they are.” “Uh huh,” responded Steve as the apples landed with a gentle thunk into the bag.

We wandered a few more rows, and I had yet to find what I was looking for (sidenote, though – is this not a parallel for life? Reasonable apples right in front of you, yet always searching for perfect ones? Deep, yo). I looked at Steve again, who was happily pulling some Macs free, before continuing with my insights. “Seriously, though – if they labelled each row, they could also indicate tasting notes and the history behind these apples.” “Tasting notes?” said Steve, incredulously. “Yes! You know. How you can use them. What they taste like. Not all apples work for all recipes. Plus I want to know the history of them! This is a missed learning opportunity.”

Steve just stared at me with a look of slight bemusement, slight regret into what he had gotten himself into. I am familiar with that look.

Part Two: Scratch ‘Particular” and Replace with “Quirky”Apple treeWe continued on, and I stopped in front of a particularly full tree with my arms outstretched. “Look at how beautiful this tree is!” I exclaimed. It’s the perfect tree. Full of fruit. Working so hard.” I pulled one apple free with a gentle tug, and thanked the tree for its contribution to our collection. As we made our way down the row, I thanked several other trees for rising to the challenge and for being such hard workers. “You’re looking really lovely today!” I told one tree with a smile.

At this point, the look of slight bemusement had faded from Steve’s face.

Part Three: Might Just Be Weird
Two hours and much wandering later, I had yet to fill our bag and poor Steve was weary. “Maybe we can just take a few apples from each tree?” he asked. At this point, I was actually in a tree, as I had opted to walk in with arms outstretched (I may have hugged it). I didn’t want to only pick fruit from the outlying branches, as I felt it was unfair to the fruit hanging on the inside that had worked just as hard to grow. I also didn’t want to offend the neighbouring trees by not taking some of their bounty as well.

And at that moment, I realized my level of quirk had perhaps reached new heights. Or lows. So I quickly picked apples from the trees surrounding us and we headed home with a full bag.

So – apple picking. You may come home with more than elaborate plans for crisps and pies and yummy snacks. You may also gain some personal insights as well, and appreciation for the patience of your loved ones.

Eating Kale in Boston

I recently went for a quick work trip to Boston (or “Bawston”). It’s a cool place, one that I’ll definitely have to return to for a proper vacation. Admittedly I didn’t do a lot of planning in advance, save for knowing that I wanted to wander Harvard and pretend that I was a student (someone stopped to ask me for directions and I almost hugged them).

Fenway ParkAfter a restful sleep at an adorable Airbnb and a solid jog around University of Massachusetts, I gave myself the day to wander the city without a set destination in mind. While I’m not a massive baseball fan I still felt the pull of Fenway and wanted to see the Green Monster up close, so I started the morning with a tour of the historic baseball stadium. As I waited for the tour to start, I noticed a number of concessions advertising salads featuring “Fenway kale”. Used to hot dogs and nachos when I hit a Jays game, this made me smile.

Flash forward to the halfway point of the tour when our guide stopped us in front of this:Green roof at Fenway

There is a rooftop garden at Fenway!! Be still my heart. According to the guide, the garden’s crops change seasonally but they grow herbs and veggies such as cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, kale, lettuce, peas, broccoli, cilantro, mint and rosemary. The garden provides the concessions at the Park with home-grown goodies and is also used as an educational facility for local students.

I would be lying if I said this wasn’t one of my favourite parts of the tour (hold your cries of outrage for a second – my favourite moment was in fact baseball-related). But I totally dig this – turning an otherwise unused space into a beautiful garden for the community to enjoy. Plus kale! Well done, Fenway.

My favourite part of the tour was when our guide pointed out the giant CITGO sign that’s one of the most identifiable landmarks in Boston. Joe Carter and the Blue Jays would consistently hammer the Red Sox, and a sports writer reportedly asked Carter why he always seemed to hit homers in the direction of the sign. His response was that he read the sign as “C-it-go”, and felt the need to follow the sign’s instructions and send the ball packing. As the only Torontonian on the tour, I appreciated this little nugget.

After the tour, I went and ate pancakes (not kale! Surprise!)

Boston – A+. I’ll be back.

Road Trip – Kootenays

An alternate title for this post could be, “Putting enough mileage on your car in a week to drive 3/4 of the way across Canada.”

Steve and I had a wedding to attend in the Shuswap in late June, a gorgeous region about halfway between Vancouver and Calgary. So, as we typically do, we opted to embark on an epic week-long road trip through the Kootenay region and meander our way up to the wedding. A little camping, a little wine sampling, it was the perfect way to enjoy the warm summer temperatures.

Speaking of temperatures, it was hot. Like, toasty.

We opted to start our journey in Fernie, and revisited some of our favourite spots from our last pass through town. Fernie in the summertime is adorable – a sleepy little mountainside spot with surprisingly good restaurants (sushi, of course) and even better breakfast (Big Bang Bagels, you’ll always hold a special place in my heart – and by heart I mean stomach). We popped into Le Grand Fromage, which I insist you visit if you enjoy cheese. If you don’t, I hope you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, otherwise I am questioning your life choices. We picked up a soft brie, some mild pecorino and a pungent cheddar with caramelized onions and set out for the day’s drive with picnic items in tow.

We followed the winding Crowsnest Trail past mountains, rivers and small lakes, totally absorbed in the scenery and how breathtaking the drive was. Until a large truck passed and lobbed a rock grenade in its wake, which landed in the top right corner of our windshield with a thud. Initially we thought it had missed, until we noticed the perfect bullseye that had formed. But it was small, and didn’t seem to have caused too much damage, so we continued onwards to Creston for gas.

This is where things took a turn. The scorching temperatures meant that the windshield was burning hot, so the bullet wound the rock had left behind began to fork once the cooler temperatures inside the car nudged it awake. It became a not-so-fun game, guessing if/when the next fork would branch out on its own. It put a slight damper on the rest of the drive to Nelson.

picnic gazeboUntil we had this delightful picnic at a small marina near the Kootenay Bay ferry. When your roadside stops look like this, you know you live in a beautiful place.

We camped at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, just outside of Nelson. It was the
perfect place to rest our heads –  the park was pretty empty save for a few sites, which meant we had the beach to ourselves most days and were able to enjoy a book and a little vino in peace and quiet. Thankfully no bears crashed our party. And, thankfully we figured out how to build a fire with log-sized pieces of wood (sans an ax) and very effective fire starters eventually.

The next day, we wandered Nelson. This place was my kind of town – blissed-out artists and hippies, tourists, retirees, all mingling in coffee shops and amazing bookstores. We ate tacos, because obviously. We drank wine. We watched the sunset over the lake at Ainsworth Hot Springs. Before you curse me and declare this post to be nothing but me bragging about this super-awesome trip, the next day I developed an allergy to my sunscreen which is just ridiculous enough to happen to me. It was like 11th-grade chicken pox all over again, except in summertime when it’s hot. With no oven mitts to duct tape to my hands. And, because it was so sunny and stinkin’ hot, I had no choice but to keep slathering the stuff on which made things worse.

We ended the trip with a brief stop in Kelowna for some wine tasting at Quail’s Gate before heading up to the Shuswap for the wedding. Shoutout to the kind pharmacist who took one look at my arms and said “Wow, you are really allergic, eh?” before loading me up with drugs. Shoutout to Steve for putting up with my Benadryl-induced hallucinations which kept cropping up throughout the night and rest of the drive. And shoutout to Shuswap Lake for being so darn pretty to look at.

shuswap lake

Since returning from this trip, a number of wildfires have been burning in this region as well as many other spots in Western Canada. Sending positive vibes and support to those who have been forced to leave or have lost their homes, as well as the amazing fire crews who have been battling these fires. It’s a magical place. I hope you can explore it.

Mildly Tipsy Hiking, or, A Salt Spring Island Weekend

If I had to summarize Salt Spring Island in a word or two, I’d use “delightfully kooky.” We were greeted at the Fulford ferry by our B&B host with a warm smile, and as we dragged our suitcases towards a dusty van she hollered, “I hope you don’t mind the back – I didn’t bother to put the seats back in.” What was in the van instead was about eight pounds of dirt and stone remnants, plus Steve, always the good sport.

Our host was kind and shared recommendations as we drove of places we should visit during our weekend stay on the island. We had planned to rent bikes and toodle around, but upon arrival at the B&B she insisted we take her van instead as we pleased. Being from Toronto and generally the type to insist on locking absolutely everything immediately, I was skeptical enough when she hopped out of the van and left the keys in the ignition. To hand over her only mode of transportation to two strangers she’d just met seemed ludicrous. But this was Salt Spring, home to some of the most laid-back and generous people I’ve met in my travels. So off we went in the van, after Steve dusted himself off and moved up front.

It was a warm Saturday and we had a hankering for wine. Once in Ganges we wandered the market and picked up picnic supplies – cheese, bread and apples. It was tasty and the views of the harbour with mountains nestled in the distance made for the perfect backdrop. But armed with a car and a limited window of time, we knew we had to get moving. Our first stop was Mistaken Identity Vineyards.

Glasses of wine on picnic table

After we sampled three red wines, we opted for a full bodied merlot and cracked it open on a picnic bench in the vineyard. In the warm sun I nursed a generous pour, savouring the flavours on my tongue as I soaked in the surroundings. I probably could have laid down on the bench and napped, but I’m sure the vineyard owners would have raised a few eyebrows and ushered me off the premises. Instead, we opted to drive over to the trailhead for Mount Erskine, which was standing guard over the vineyard and surrounding fields. Our host had recommended climbing the trail to the summit. “I think it’s a short climb,” she had said. Uh huh. I reluctantly left the bottle of merlot in the cup holder and off we went.

Never one to shy away from a mountain climb, Steve soldiered ahead like a machine as I huffed and puffed along. Three thoughts crossed my mind during those initial few minutes:

  1. “Damn girl, you’re out of shape. There’s hardly an incline here!”
  2. “Wait, this is at a higher altitude. Maybe you’re just winded from that.”
  3. “Maybe don’t knock back such a large glass of vino before hiking a mountain next time, champ.”

I’d like to say things got better, but damn that hike was long. And that mountain was actually high, who knew. It’s about a 400 m elevation game and a really steep climb. A pair of hikers making their descent gave us false hope with the ol’ “You’re almost there! Just a few more minutes!” Liars. By now I was concerned that I should have just brought the wine with me, for the van was very hot and the wine was probably uncomfortable. Then I remembered that the wine was not people and likely didn’t have feelings, and perhaps I should focus more on where my feet were moving.

Somehow I made it to the top. The views were well worth the effort:

Back of girl at top of mountain

Views from summit

Anxious to return the van, we hoofed it back down the mountain and I reunited with the merlot and promised to never leave it in a hot car again.

The rest of the weekend was spent being nice and lazy with books in the park, and eating more good food at the Tree House Café and El Loco Taco, a tasty Mexican food cart located right next to the Ganges marina. Time moves slowly on Salt Spring, and it’s well worth the visit to recharge your batteries.

Also the wine is excellent.

And the food.