Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Awesome Travel Accesories

Yikes, it's been a while. I have much to write about my summer travel adventures. I'm kind of laying low right now, settling in for winter. I'm not quite ready to dive into a whole travel breakdown, so here is a small list of some of my favorite travel accesories. They make my life a little easier when I'm on the road or on a plane.

Ear Plugs
There have been too many times that these suckers have saved my sanity. Howling kids, screaming babies, annoying old drunk ladies, I could go on and on. While they don't block the sound out completely, they muffle it just enough to let me hang on to some dignity and not completely lose it. I'm loving Holly Golightly's purple tassled ones.

Eye Mask
You could go fabulous like Miss Holly, or you could go plain. Either way, it's nice to be able to block out the sun on an excruciating day flight after you've been up for way too long and all you want to do is sleep. Also good for situations when your plane neighbor insists on using his or her reading light or when you want everyone to just leave you alone.
Eagle Creek Compression Sacs
Take a whole suitcase filled with swimming stuff, warm stuff, and other travel clothing essentials and put it in a compression sac. Close it up, roll it, it miraculously gets all squished and vacuum packed. Now you can take more stuff. Just watch the weight limit if you're confined to carry-on only.

Inflatable Neck Pillow
The non-inflatables are more comfy, but who has room in their luggage for a neck pillow? I go inflatable when I travel. They roll up nice and small when not in use. Much more effective for preventing pulled neck muscles than a rolled up sweater or hoodie.

Lush Products
Baby Face Cleanser is a cocoa butter based bar that super moisturizing and effective. It's solid and it's perfect in a little Lush tin. Carry-on friendly.

Angels on Bare Skin is an exfoliating cleanser made from ground almonds and clay for when you need something scrubby to smooth you out. Carry-on friendly (meaning no liquids to worry about).

Breath of Fresh Air Toner lets you mist yourself with freshness when your skin is parched. Also good for getting rid of the remnants of Angels on Bare Skin. Get the small size as it's the limit you can take on carry-on.

Celestial Moisturizer smells heavenly and works well in a light way. Good for all seasons and climates.

Buffy Body Butter is a body soap, moisturizer, and scrub in one. Carry-on friendly, smells good. The only con is that it tends to melt away in the shower really quickly. Sometimes I just use Aqua Mirabilis as a carry-on friendly moisturizer.

And the obvious...
A fully charged ipod, a kindle, a magazine, or a really good paperback. I suppose you could also go with a laptop, but that's not how I roll. If I can get into a good book, I barely care what is happening around me.

More soon!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Vegan in Cairns

It's been a while since I last posted...busy as usual! I'm currently in Cairns, Australia. There are a few falafel places, a ton of Asian restaurants with great spring rolls and tofu dishes, and a bunch of coffee shops with soy milk. The soy lattes in Australia are some of the best I've ever tasted (especially in Melbourne, but I'll get to that some other time). I just stocked up the kitchen of the place I'm staying at with some tofu, soy crumbles, soy milk, pasta, spices, breads, fruits and veggies, and I'm pretty much set for the next few days. It turns out that being vegan here is not that hard at all. I'm taking tons of pictures, visited the reef (it was everything I thought it would be and more!), and I'm heading into the rainforest tomorrow. Will post more soon!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vegan Key West

Key West, affectionately called The Conch Republic, is a warm and easy place that is quite vegan and eco-friendly. Surrounded by turquoise water and snaky mangroves, the streets of Key West are lined with Victorian architecture, art galleries, quirky shops, rowdy bars, and mellow restaurants. We had a reservation for a sunset kayak tour, and after checking into our hotel in the old part of town we had just enough time to walk down the warm, Victorian-lined streets to The Cafe, a delicious vegetarian restaurant at 509 Southard Street. After traveling for a few hours in the car through slow Keys traffic (there is only one road that connects the Keys), I couldn't wait to relax with a delicious vegan meal. Appetizers included spring rolls with sweet chili sauce and Un-wing Dings, which was fried BBQ tofu with a side of a tahini dressing (it normally comes with un-vegan blue cheese dressing, but our waitress subbed it with the vegan tahini).

The main course consisted of a coconut tofu dish with roasted red peppers and bok choy. It was smoky, creamy, and super filling. Good thing we had a fridge and a microwave in the room we were staying in!
One thing I really wanted to try while in the Keys was vegan Key Lime Pie, and it was here that I got my chance. Tangy, sweet, and creamy, the filling and raspberry sauce contrasted nicely with the crunch of the graham cracker crust. Stuffed and satiated, we soon had to head back to our hotel, where our ride from Blue Planet Kayak Tours was waiting. We headed to a dock on a bay, and hopped into a kayak along with the rest of the tour. We paddled our way through mangroves while the sun set, spotting all sorts of creatures along the way. We saw a GIANT, red hermit crab with eerie green eyes that made it's home in a huge conch shell, southern sting rays, three different kinds of sea stars, a sea hare, sea cucumbers, and whelks.
As the sun fell into the horizon, and the water went from clear to black, we put on headlamps (flashlights that you put on your head!), and continued to paddle through the mangroves, which started to take on a spooky appearance. The grand finale of the kayak tour was on the way back to the dock, when the sky and water were completely black, and our paddles stirred up some bioluminescent plankton that sparkled through the water like twinkling stars. The sound of the paddles through the water was only punctuated by occasional laughter when our kayaks got stuck in the flat, shallow bay and the occasional splash of an unidentified fish jumping out of the water. It was an unforgettable experience.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I'm Going to Oz!

I haven't even finished writing about my trip to the Florida Keys, but I am so excited about my next vacation I just can't keep it to myself any longer... I'm going to Australia!!! I'm not really exactly sure of my Australian travel plans yet, so far all I have are plane tickets.

I'll be sure to write about the rest of my vegan adventures in Florida this weekend.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vegan Key Largo

Key Largo is the diving capital of the world, or so they say in Key Largo. After flying into Miami, renting a car, and stocking up in Whole Foods, we slightly settled ourselves into our condo/hotel that was set among the mangroves and faced the Atlantic. Most of the meals we ate while in Key Largo were in our condo. However, we did venture out to Cheng Garden, a Chinese place that served a few options with tofu. The Sesame Tofu and Szechuan Vegetable Tofu were pleasant, but not spectacular. It's worth noting that there is a small health food store and a Thai place that also serves tofu in Key Largo. Generally, everything is clustered in a mini mall on the Overseas Highway.

We didn't go to Key Largo for the food, we went for the diving, and the diving was excellent. Not having much experience, I hired a guide that started calling me the turtle whisperer after I spotted two juvenile Hawksbill sea turtles! While I heard mention of a fin popping out of the water from some of the snorkelers near the boat, I didn't see any sharks or dolphins. The scariest thing was a school of about 15 shiny and gigantic barracuda hovering above the reef. Yikes! There were tons of fish including French Angelfish, surgeonfish ganging up on territorial seargant majors, and many different kinds of parrotfish and triggerfish. I saw brain coral, the biggest lobster I've ever seen in my life, and I made a silent vow underwater to never dive without my camera again.

After two nights in Key Largo, we headed to Key West, but before we did, we stopped at the Key Largo Conch House. While not a very vegan sounding name, I couldn't resist checking out this restaurant/cafe set inside a cute peachy/pink house. I had a fried potato breakfast and we got an iced coffee with soy milk and a strawberry banana smoothie to go. Both were delicious, by far the best tasting thing we had in Key Largo.
Fueled by sugar and caffeine, we headed west. The incredible shallow blue water that looked warm surrounded the road practically the whole way. We had a reservation for a sunset kayak tour so we didn't stop for much on the way...
More about Key West next! I had a long absence from this blog due to computer issues that seemed to be somewhat resolved. I also have two trips planned for the near future, one is fulfilling a lifetime travel wish, but more on that next time!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Win a Free Juicer!

Looking for a way to get some more leafy greens into your life? Leave a comment on this post and you could win a free juicer courtesy of 877MyJuicer.com. From what I've read about the Lexen Healthy Juicer, it's a manual, easy to clean, lightweight and travel-friendly wheatgrass and leafy green juicer. More detailed information about the juicer (including reviews) can be found here. If you'd like a chance to win, leave a comment on this post about juicing. My personal favorite juice combination is carrot/apple/beet/ginger, heavy on the ginger. What's your favorite? Have you ever tried wheatgrass? What did you think of it? The winner will be randomly selected and contacted by May 29th. Unfortunately, this contest is open to U.S. residents only. If you are a winner, I'll need to give the people at 877MyJuicer.com your first/last name and valid email address. Good luck!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lula's Vegan Ice Cream

Vegan ice cream selections at Lula's Sweet Apothecary in NYC

I have a ton of photos from my recent vegan adventure in the Florida Keys to sort through, and I'll write about that soon. In the meantime, I finally went to Lula's Sweet Apothecary the other day. Everything is vegan at Lula's. In addition to the hard ice cream flavors pictured here (including peanut butter Oreo, espresso, chai, mango), there's soft serve chocolate and soft serve cake batter (which really tastes like cold and creamy cupcake batter). They're super generous with giving out little flavor samples. It was hard to choose, but I finally settled on chai ice cream in a cone. It was awesome. I will be going back often.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day

Harbor Seal, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ
Photos and food from the Florida Keys and Miami coming soon...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Akumal, Mexico: The Place of the Turtles

Akumal is a short ride from Playa del Carmen, but it's like a different world. The word "Akumal" means "The Place of the Turtles" in Maya. While Playa del Carmen is a lively city on the beach, Akumal is like a sleepy little village. Both have shops, bars, and restaurants, but Akumal's draw is the laid back beach and not the night life. Home to a sea turtle sanctuary, we saw no less than SIX sea turtles, three adults and three cute little juveniles when we were snorkeling there. When I go back to the Riviera Maya, I'll definitely spend more time at Akumal.
To get there from Playa, we walked to a street with some collectivos. We managed to find one that was going south. The collectivo is basically a mini van that goes up and down the highway, stopping at various destinations, depending on where the passengers want to go. It's sort of like a cab and a bus combined, and it was way cheaper than renting a car or getting a private taxi. The collectivo was packed filled with people before we left Playa, and just when I thought we were dropping people off, more people got on. It was squishy and weird but definitely interesting, sort of fun, and cheap. When we finally got to Akumal, the collectivo dropped us off on the highway, and we had to walk to the beach. At first, it was a little confusing because there was so much construction going on. We had to go over a walking bridge, dodge some construction debris, then find this freshly cemented path:Eventually, the path turned green and shady. We stocked up on water and snacks at a little grocery store that had this wooden mermaid hanging in front of it. I love mermaids!

I had a blast shopping at MexicArte, a folk art shop filled with jewelry, ornaments, and art crafted by local artisans. The beach was calm and relaxing.

We picked a shady spot near a palm tree, rented some snorkel equipment right on the beach at Akumal Dive Shop, then swam with a barracuda, some needlefish, French grunts, a bunch of other fish, and sea turtles. What a lovely end to a great trip!

There were quite a few vegan options at the Akumal restaurants, all within walking distance of the beach. The beach bar had veggie burgers, and two more restaurants had veggie options. We settled on the Turtle Bay Cafe.

I had the lentil burger. It was deliciously smothered with beets, carrots, lettuce, hummus and mustard. Yum! All that and a deliciously refreshing limeade for about six US dollars.

I'll definitely go back to Akumal again! Now, I'm off to the Florida Keys. I'll be diving in Key Largo and taking a sunset kayak tour in Key West. More on that soon!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Delicious Vegan Food in Playa del Carmen

For years I've heard that it's hard to be vegan in Mexico. My well-travelled vegetarian friends have told me that "there's no tofu or soymilk in Mexico", "there's lard in everything", and "even if you ask for something without cheese, it will come with cheese because they put it on everything". I didn't want my diet to keep me from enjoying the beaches and incredible scuba diving of the Mayan Riviera. Before leaving for our trip, I tirelessly searched the internet for vegan-friendly options. It sucks to be hungry when your traveling, so I wanted to be prepared. Armed with a list of eight possible restaurants, we confidently made our way through the heart of this fun and quirky beach town. Looking back, two places were our clear favorites: 100% Natural for snacks and light meals, and Babe's for dinner and drinks.

The first day we arrived in Playa del Carmen, we checked into our hotel and walked over to 100% Natural. Since it was so close to where we were staying, and since it offered the most fantastic fresh juices, guacamole, and some tofu options, it became one of our regular stops for the rest of our stay. Most of the seating is outdoors, surrounded by big trees. The weather was perfection: about 75 at night with a slight breeze, 85 during the day. It was a pleasure eating outside!
I loved the prices: this enormous and insanely delicious juice was something like three US dollars. My favorite juice combinations were the California (apple, lemon, orange, and pineapple juices), the Bali (pineapple, lemon, spinach, and orange), and the Oasis (pineapple, strawberry, and orange). 100% Natural also has veggie burgers and a fried veggie/noodle dish with plain silken tofu.

After dinner, we'd walk around Quinta Avenida and wander in and out of all of the little shops.I loved the architecture and laid-back attitude. Though there was no boardwalk, it sort of had a boarwalk-vibe in that there were tons of tourists walking up and down this pedestrian only street just steps from the ocean. Some stores were just crammed with affordable tourist-y trinkets. I loved the bright colors! Other stores sold Mexican art (Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were well-represented on almost everything from magnets to stationary), and still others sold Havaianas and T-shirts. I almost bought one of these jellyfish lamps:Dia de los Muertos figurines were everywhere. This bride and groom were life-sized! The last thing I expected to find was Thai food in Mexico, but we ended up eating some sort of Thai influenced dinner pretty often. Babe's is a noodle bar. That is, they serve delicious noodle dishes and huge, cheap and delicious icy drinks. It's casual, Thai, simple, fresh, and fun. This isn't authentic Mexican food, but it was delicious, cheap, and filling. Our favorites were the spring rolls and the spicy fried tofu.

Speaking of authentic Mexican food, it was kind of hard to find something sin pollo, carne, pescado, huevos and queso. Our one night at an authentic Mexican restaurant was just OK. They put some kind of weird cheese all over the guacomole and the fried veggies and rice were just mediocre.

Prepared for the worst, I actually packed some food and made sure our hotel had a kitchen. This worked out really well, we were able to cook and save some money. Plus, it was so convenient to store last night's leftovers in the fridge, then heat them up for lunch the next day in the microwave. Breakfast usually consisted of tofu scramble or oatmeal. I brought silken tofu, tofu scramble mix, and little oatmeal packets.

There was a Starbucks right around the corner from where we were staying, and while we totally supported Java Joe's often for delicious espresso, it's worth noting that the Playa Starbucks has soymilk!
In my next post, I'll write about Akumal...land of many sea turtles and more great vegan food!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Upcoming Trip: Scuba in the Florida Keys

I'll be heading off to visit the coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in a few short weeks. Before I go, I plan on writing more about my time in Mexico. I have more to tell about vegan options in Playa del Carmen and snorkeling with sea turtles in Akumel. Is it just me or did March fly by? Look for more about Mexico in the next few days!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Scuba Adventures in the Riviera Maya

As I re-read and reviewed my PADI diver's manual on the plane, any nervousness I had about breathing 50 feet under water quickly was replaced with excitement. I couldn't wait to actually start diving! I love the ocean, and I was so happy when the realization finally sunk in that I was going to be able to explore it underwater for an extended period of time.

After arriving at the airport in Cancun, finding transportation to our hotel, and checking in, our first day in Playa del Carmen was primarily spent exploring. We walked to the beach and along Quinta Avenida, a pedestrian only street filled with little shops and restaurants. The next day, my scuba adventures began.

The ocean's currents were just too strong for novices that day, so we drove to a cenote with our dive instructor. The Yucatan is filled with cenotes, most of which are found in caves or completely underground. My first diving experience was in the Cenote El Jardin del Eden, a great place to refresh the skills I learned in a pool back home.
Part of this cenote was completely in a cave, and part of it was open. We had to stay in the open area since you need special training to dive in a cave. We saw a bunch of divers training to do just that as we were getting our equipment ready. After a seated entry off a little dock, we were ready to go under!
The water was cool but comfortable since we were wearing full wetsuits. The visibilty was perfect (though not so much when we beginners started kicking up algae when we lost control of our buoyancy a few times). It was so fun to swim by green, algae covered rocks and tree roots with these cool, silvery fish with iridescent fins. I think the peaceful sounds of inhaling through my tank, then exhaling bubbles has to be one of my new favorites. (The cenote fish photo was borrowed from http://alanformstone.com/pics/ponderosa_jun_04.html).

The next day, thankfully, an ocean dive was in order. The cenote was fun, but I wanted salt and currents and waves! We packed our group and our equipment onto a tiny little boat docked right at the each, and off we went, hurtling over the waves to Sabalos Reef and Barracuda Reef. The sun was hot, the water was warm, and I couldn't wait to go under!

It was quite a challenge donning the necessary equipment on a tiny, cramped boat. After a safety check, we sat on the edge, put a hand over our mask and regulator, and fell backwards into the deep blue. We used a line to control our descent. This helped me a great deal with some equalizing issues I was having in the cenote. You're supposed to equalize the pressure in your ears every few feet, and I found it was easier to do that when holding a rope.

Eventually, we made it to the sandy bottom and let go of the rope. We neutralized our bouyancy, making us essentially weightless and floating, and off we went to explore the gorgeous reef. We drifted by an amazing shelf filled with purple sea fans that waved back and forth in the current. We swam by corals, anemones, and huge sponges. The blue was everywhere, the water temperature was so perfect, and the peaceful bubble sound I loved had me smiling so much that my mask kept filling up with water. I'm glad they had us practice mask clearing so much!

The reef was so colorful: red, orange, yellow, green, and purple everywhere there wasn't blue. It was like floating through an enchanted alien forest. We met a big, dark lobster hiding in the crevices of the reef moving about his antennae. There was a sponge so big I could comfortably fit my whole arm inside it. The sea fans moved so elegentaly and effortlessly back and forth, slowly with the current. I heard a metallic tapping when our dive instructor spotted a beautiful hawksbill turtle, swam over to it and watched it eat. A spotted moray eel curled into a hiding spot nearby.

Eventually, the last dive was over and we followed our bubbles up to the surface. There was a scary moment when we realized we drifted so far from where we initially started, that we couldn't see the boat at all. It was just us bobbing over the waves, no boat in sight. I half thought we might have to swim to the shore, and I thanked my lucky stars that the shore was in site. Thankfully, we were spotted over the waves somehow. The tiny boat picked us out of the strengthening current, and we were returned safely to the beach.

Now that I'm officially certified, I can't wait to go diving again!!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

More turtles, scuba, snorkeling, and vegan food coming soon!

I've been a little delayed in writing about my recent trip to the Riviera Maya. I'll write all about getting scuba certified in a couple of days. I miss it already! It's too cold in NJ.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Onlineshoes.com Contest Winner!!!

Thank you to everyone that left a comment on my last post. We have an Onlineshoes.com contest winner! The random number generator came up with number 10, and the tenth comment was from:

Syn of the blog Vegan on Stage!

Congratulations on winning the contest, Syn!!! Please e-mail me (vegansnorkeler@gmail.com) with your last name so I can forward your info to Onlineshoes.com. Have fun shoe shopping!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Eco-Friendly Vegan Shoe Contest and a Sea Turtle

I'm back from Mexico, and I'm officially scuba certified! I meet this handsome sea turtle about 50 feet under the surface of the Caribbean Sea. It was a thrilling, crazy, awesome experience that I will be sure to detail as soon as I get a little more settled back into life in New Jersey. It's weird going from gorgeous warm water and tropical beaches to winter in one day!

In the mean time, I have a fabulous contest to share with you! The people at Onlineshoes.com are offering a $50 gift certificate to one lucky reader of The Vegan Snorkeler. Onlineshoes.com offers free shipping, a 90 day unconditional return policy, and over 200 vegan shoes!
Check out the Onlineshoes.com Earth Page. Earth shoes are eco-friendly (70% recycled content) and use negative heel technology. That's supposed to help you get more toned and burn more calories while you walk while promoting healthier posture. I've worn Earth shoes before, and they really are comfortable.
If you'd like a chance to win, simply leave a comment! The winner will be randomly selected and contacted on Feburary 16th. Unfortunately, this contest is open only to U.S. residents. If you are a winner, I'll need to give Onlineshoes.com your first/last name and valid email address. Good luck!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Clear Sinuses and Scuba

My Mexican vacation and scuba certification are so close I can practically feel the sun and taste the salt water. Here in New Jersey, I've been surrounded by flu and cold germs. Stuffy sinuses and scuba don't mix, not being able to equalize the pressure in your ears can result in some pretty nasty injuries. I'd like to say I've been super pro-active about taking vitamins, getting plenty of rest, avoiding stress, and drinking plenty of liquids. Real life kind of gets in the way of my best intentions, though. I have been kind of stressed, haven't been getting enough sleep, and sort of remembering to take vitamins. I have been religously using a neti pot with this amazing quick dissolving salt that has essential oils mixed with it. So far, it's been keeping my nasal passages clear! This stuff is amazing. I've been waking up sort of congested, and after using the neti pot, I'm all good. For anyone not familiar with a neti pot, it's this device you fill with warm, salty water that you use to literally clean out your nasal passages. You kind of tilt your head, stick it in one nostril, and let it out the other. It sounds gross, but it WORKS! If you've never tried it, I highly recommend that you do, especially if you've been having some sinus issues.
Hopefully I'll complete my scuba certification without incident. My next post will be all about my vegan scuba and travel adventures in the Riviera Maya! Wish me luck!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Vegan Carry-On Luggage

I've been searching for the perfect carry-on bags: big enough to hold all of my stuff, small enough to still be considered carry-on, and no wool or leather. Bonus if it's eco-friendly and economical. Here's some promising options:

Made of 100% recycled polyester, the Half Mass Bag from Patagonia is on sale this week ($70).

Also from Patagonia, the MLC Wheelie ($200) is made of recycled soda bottles and can carry 3-5 days of clothes.
Land's End makes a nylon carry-on/under seat bag combination that is pretty much as big as you can get and still consider it carry-on ($250).
More affordable, Roxy carry-ons are coated cotton. This carry-on bag is $66.
This matching roller suitcase is $135, also made of coated cotton.

Sometimes you can find Roxy luggage on sale at macys.com.

Don't forget about the 3-1-1 rule for packing liquids on carry-on bags. Each passenger can fill a one quart bag with liquids in containers not more than 3 ounces. The Container Store has a reusable set ready to be filled with your favorite vegan shampoos and soaps.