Category Archives: South America

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!


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!

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.


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!

Why I Chose Voluntourism


Volunteer tourism–or better termed “voluntourism”–is a humanitarian alternative to leisure vacations. If you’re looking to dive head first into a culture, and do so affordably while simultaneously giving back to the community, voluntourism is the way to go.

If you want to hear about my firsthand experience building a school in Brazil, check out my article for Pink Pangea. It’s a story about hard work with a lot of smiles and laughter. It’s a story about how my green hat helped me make a friendship with a Brasilian schoolboy. Above all, it’s the tale of leaving more than just footprints in a place I visited.

How Living the Simple Life Made Me Indescribably Happy

Photo by S. Venzel.

In the summer of 2009, I spent eight weeks in the Ecuadorian Amazon working at a wildlife rehabilitation center. Living and working in the rainforest, I was isolated from society, surrounded instead by lush canopy, buzzing insects and the local Quechua tribe. The lifestyle was simple and primitive with much of our food coming from the Quechua across the river. Though I lived in a bamboo hut, I was lucky enough to have running water–when the pipes decided to function. Electricity was non-existent, and it in fact made my stay more meaningful than it would have been were I connected with the outside world.

For the next six weeks, I’m a feature writer for Pink Pangea, a women’s travel website. My first article details what primitive living taught me about happiness. You can read the rest of my adventures from my life in the Amazon on my chronological jungle journal published in Perrysburg Messenger Journal.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!