Category Archives: Peru

Mom Jeans, or Solo Woman Travel 101.2

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, I’m re-posting this good read on machismo culture and being comfortable in your own skin.

Stacey Venzel

The Mom jeans have traveled across the globe with me, debuting in South America and Europe.  But I don't think this swan cares that my pants are too short and it looks like I have no butt. The Mom jeans have traveled across the globe with me, debuting in South America, Europe and the Caribbean. But I don’t think this swan cares that my pants are too short and make me look like I have no butt.

I am 27 years old and nowhere close to being ready for motherhood, but somewhere along the way, I acquired a pair of Mom jeans. What makes a pair of jeans Mom jeans, you ask? Let me break it down for you.

  • They must be largely unflattering
  • The butt is saggy
  • There’s no hip hugging action
  • They are abhorrently straight-legged
  • They are likely too short (hello exposed ankles)

Now, I’m no fashion guru. I wear what I want when I want, and I rarely buy clothes. Sometimes I’m fashionable, sometimes I’m comfy, and sometimes I look like Sporty Spice shopping for a bag of beans at the grocery store. But…

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Peru’s “Mini Galapagos”

If you make it to Peru this summer–or ever–be sure to take a trip out to the Ballestas Islands. Tour boats leave from the coastal tourist town of Paracas. It’s worth shelling out $30 or so for the two-hour cruise through the rock island arches. You’ll see penguins, blue-footed boobies and sea lions, oh my!

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These three creatures are a unique combination found in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. Because of this, the Ballestas Islands have been nicknamed the “Mini Galapagos.” If you’re traveling South America and want a glimpse of the island wildlife without having to pay an arm and a leg to make it to the Galapagos (which is worth it and one day I will shell out my savings for it), then don’t miss out on this nature excursion!

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Look closely! I spot 10 penguins in this photo. How many do you see?

Sure, it’s super touristy and you have to view the animals from the boat, but it’s a rare chance to observe these creatures in their natural environment. There’s no feeding of the animals, either, so they’re not exploited.

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Depending on what time of year you go, you’ll see a hundred sea lions or a dozen. But regardless, you will see some up close and personal snoozing on guano-covered rocks. No, that’s not snow. It’s penguin poop.

Look closely in the second photo. How many penguins do you see? I count 10!

What I Learned About Love While Traveling Solo in Peru

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Some argue that love is part of the basic human condition, and therefore inescapable even in wanderlust. Come Sunday, love will certainly be unavoidable. Because Hallmark places love front and center on Valentine’s Day.

But if you’re struggling with a confused heart while your friends are flaunting engagement rings, teddy bears, flowers, cards and candy, you shouldn’t hide away in your room. Celebrate love like you celebrate life. Celebrate you.

We should really celebrate love every day. But on Valentine’s Day, we can be reminded that the most important person to love is yourself.

When I traveled solo around Peru last summer, this life lesson was made clear to me. Alone, wandering dirt paths skirting the Andes mountains, I played both teacher and student. Time alone preached to me that my worth is not defined in the eyes of a relationship. It made me see that I should always feel complete in my own skin, whether in or out of love.

For a relatively timely piece that details what I learned about love while traveling solo in Peru, read my last article here as a Feature Writer for Pink Pangea.

By Air and Sea: Paragliding in Peru & Spain, Parasailing in Florida

Avid travelers see landscapes by foot, train and bus far more often than by air or sea. But maybe we should rethink that. Scenic boat rides and bird’s eye views really put the world in perspective.

My instructor prepares me for our tandem take-off paragliding in Bilbao, Spain.
My instructor prepares me for our tandem take-off paragliding in Bilbao, Spain.

In Peru this past May, my sister treated me to a birthday paragliding trip over a small mountain range south of Lima. This was my second time paragliding after a peaceful jump of a cliff face in the Bilbao region of Spain back in 2010. Both times were humbling—though my instructor did some acrobatics in Peru that left my stomach turning! In Spain, we paralleled the dynamic line of land and sea, dually unnerving and thrilling knowing you have nothing but the wind preventing you from dropping hundreds of feet into the cold dark waters below. A hawk joined us in flight over Bilbao while a pair of caracaras danced on their wings through the sky in Peru.

For another birthday a couple years ago, my best friend from the Florida Keys and I enjoyed a birthday parasailing trip out of Key West. This was another mix of tranquility and adrenaline rushes as we soared above greens and blues and dropped for quick dips into the chop below.

Parasailing over the Florida Keys is as beautiful as it is fun!
Parasailing over the Florida Keys is as beautiful as it is fun!

All of these experiences offered me a unique look at my surroundings. Completely immersed in nature, I was at one with the birds in the sky, towering over the foreboding ocean and steep, rocky terrain. If you have the opportunity to take in your travels from a different vantage point, I say do it. It’s one thing I’ve never regretted shelling out money for. You’ll undoubtedly test your courage, have some fun and, hopefully, encounter a fleeting, memorable state of nirvana.

Finalist for Travel Essay Contest!

I am pleased to announce my travel article, “On a Terrace in Peru,” is a finalist for the I Must Be Off! writing contest. It went live on the website today.  The piece humorously captures my experience getting lost in translation while stranded on a third story terrace in Lima, Peru.

As a Top 10 Finalist, the essay is also eligible for a Readers’ Choice Award based on number of unique hits and comments.

Winners will be announced Sept. 30.

Have a good laugh on me today, and thanks for supporting my writing endeavors!  Click the link below to read the article:

http://www.imustbeoff.com/2015/08/on-terrace-in-peru-by-stacey-venzel.html

Lima, Peru

My Favorites: Restaurant Reviews

The search is always on for that vegan escape. As a potato lover, I ate to my belly's content at Hatunpa restaurant in Peru. I was greeted by this potato lady proudly displaying the types of potatoes served there.
The search is always on for that vegan escape. As a potato lover, I ate to my belly’s content at Hatunpa restaurant in Peru. I was greeted by this potato lady proudly displaying the types of potatoes served there.

Any vegan knows how difficult it can be to find a restaurant with both animal-friendly and delicious entrees. When traveling, it’s ten times harder. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and eat the one salad option that doesn’t charge $20 for a bed of lettuce topped with the meat you won’t eat. Sometimes you really have to specify what vegan means. In Latin America, it goes something like this:

You: “What vegan or vegetarian options do you have?”

Waiter: “No meat? Ah, okay we have chicken.”

You: “No chicken, no animals.”

Waiter: “Ah, well we have shrimp and fish!”

Nevertheless, you’ll be surprised nowadays at the vegan/vegetarian/organic spread abroad. That being said, dining out can eat up your funds when you’re a budget traveler, especially at the health food cafes. On the road, I manage to cook when I can, splurge occasionally, and otherwise just find restaurants that give me more than one option for a meal or can prepare a dish up to my specifications. Don’t be afraid to tell the waiter you have dietary restrictions. You’ll be surprised how many chefs are willing to swap out butter with olive oil.

Without further ado, I present to you a list of some of my favorite restaurants I’ve encountered while being sedentary or off gallivanting. Have you eaten at any of these places? Safeguard this list; you never know where life will take you, and knowing where you can find a good meal in a foreign land is always comforting. We all love food, especially when it’s made right.

NORTH AMERICA:

Redbud Café—Blanco, Texas

A quaint local brunch place in a quaint country town. I went here with my wildlife rehab gang on weekend mornings when I lived in the Texas Hill Country. Vegetarian at the time, I drooled over their Pear & Blue Cheese Salad. (Fun fact: The café is right across from the courthouse building where a scene from True Grit was filmed.)

Snow City Café—Anchorage, Alaska

An award-winning breakfast place, the menu is loaded with vegan and gluten-free options. It’s always busy so call ahead the day before if you’re more than one person! Smoothies and the Huevo Nuevo breakfast taco are favorites.

Jack Sprat—Girdwood, Alaska

I just… I can’t even… I wanted to eat the whole menu. So creative, so many vegan options. Some suggestions: Vegan Tacos, Yam Fries, Soup of the Day. I made inappropriate noises throughout the entire meal.

Zingo’s—Perrysburg, Ohio

Greek food at its finest in the cute historic downtown strip. Okay, so it’s my hometown, but I’m allowed to have a love affair with a hometown restaurant, am I not? (Fun fact: My dad’s office is just down the street. Do give him a hug from me if you’re in the area.)

Sublime—Fort Lauderdale, FL

Eat dessert first (coconut cake!). Then order an entrée. Any entrée. ‘Nuff said. (100% vegan. Classy, too!)

7 Mile Grill—Marathon, FL Keys

My Greek food addiction was beyond satisfied when I discovered this local joint. I can’t say enough good things about it. There are so many restaurants in the Keys, but this one lets you escape from the tourist crowd. I went at least once a week when I lived in the Florida Keys. The staff is unbelievably personable; the owner chats with you like you’re longtime friends (which we basically were after I became a regular). They will give you samples of new concoctions just because, and they’ll cook your order just the way you like it. The classic Greek Lemon Potatoes and Greek Salad (with Grape Leaves!!!) are a must.

The Café—Key West, FL Keys

A vegetarian’s dream in a city with enough restaurants to dine at every day of the year. It’s tucked away on a side street but easy enough to find. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu; the cuisine is all over the board. I recommend the Classic Sprouthead or the Baked Brown Sugar Acorn Squash. Enjoy the hippie vibe with local artwork and a broad color pallet.

SOUTH AMERICA:

Café Tortuga—Tena, Ecuador

This place is just too cute. Their batidos (fruit shakes) are scrumptious. The place was recommended to me by the hostel I stayed at when I went into town once a week during my summer in the Amazon, and I subsequently became a weekly breakfast regular. (Check back in the guest book from 2009!)  Great place to meet backpackers; mentioned in Lonely Planet!

Green Point Café—Cusco, Peru

Everything on this menu is delicious and fresh and vegan, but I recommend the menu del dia. You are served an appetizer, entrée, dessert and drink for the equivalent of $5. Seriously can’t beat that. Also, you’ll think you’re lost when you follow a map to this place but just stick with it. It’s in an alley off an alley off another alley.

Arlotia—Barranco district, Lima, Peru

Basque country inspired plates are served to you by a couple who relocated to South America. The food is always fresh and the menus del dia unique, often with a vegetarian option.

Hatunpa—Arequipa, Peru

A potato lover’s paradise. If you’re in Arequipa, this is the perfect opportunity to have the “potato experience” in a country home to more than 4,000 species of potatoes. This restaurant’s potato dishes offer you a handful of these species—even purple potatoes!  Lonely Planet gives it a shout out, too.

EUROPE:

Eduardo—Madrid, Spain

This local tapas bar was a favorite for my sister, and when I kicked off my 2010 solo summer travels in Europe, it started off my mornings right. I was first introduced to the simple yet delicious Latin American Pan con Tomate here, and I make it for breakfast every now and then just to transport me back in time.

Inspiral Lounge—Camden Town, London, England

Located on a canal in the trendy district of London, this ‘vegan restaurant of the year’ was the first to open my eyes to the magical culinary combinations of vegan cuisine. Fresh-tasting and unique dishes in a hip atmosphere.

CARIBBEAN:

Chez Pierre—Long Island, Bahamas

A feisty French Canadian chef who now calls this “out” island home has brought a taste of fresh, authentic French cuisine to the Bahamas. His cuisine is ranked in the top 10 in all of the Bahamas. You just have to get used to his quirky personality. He is tolerant of vegan, gluten-free diets and will do his best to accommodate. The Pesto Salad is to die for. Reservations are a must!

Sautéed Veggie Burrito Recipe (Vegan)

Asparagus was the king of this wrap.  Peruvian "choclo" was an added bonus.
Asparagus was the king of this wrap. Peruvian “choclo” was an added bonus.

Raw veggie wraps taste great, but so do sautéed veggies blanketed in a tortilla. The asparagus and corn are unique veggies to this burrito. Additionally, minimal spices are needed to give the dish flavor. The corn used in this particular dish is choclo, also known as Peruvian corn. It was, of course, widely available in Peru but might be difficult to come by outside of South America. Any type of corn will do.

Ingredients:

Asparagus, purple onion, tomato, mushrooms, ear of corn, olive oil, salt & pepper, tortillas, ½ c water

Serves: 3 people

Directions:

  • Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and toss into a pan. A fresh ear of corn is preferable to frozen or canned corn. If available, stand the cob vertically and slice from top to bottom the length of the corn, catching the fallen kernels.
  • Steam the vegetables by pouring the water into the pan. (You might need to add or subtract water based on the amount of vegetables you are using.) Asparagus and corn should be added first, tomatoes last. Stir often over medium heat up to a few minutes before the vegetables become tender.
  • Sauté the vegetables in olive oil on a lower heat setting until tender.
  • Add in salt and pepper to taste.
  • If desired, warm the tortillas in another pan on the stove top on low heat.
  • Scoop some of the vegetable mix onto your tortilla and fold over as best you can.
  • Serve, eat, enjoy!
Toss all the veggies in the pan for some sauteeing action!
Toss all the veggies in the pan for some sauteeing action!