Tag Archives: vegan

Utah: A Vegetarian’s Paradise

Wooden BearThe drive to Daniel’s Summit was long and cold. The snowy mountain road was indicative of the opening sequence of The Shining. There was no cell service where we were going and the Wi-Fi was supposedly fair at best. No Internet makes John a dull boy and I was hoping not to fall into a murderous rampage that would surely ruin the weekend for everyone. I’ve been to the area once before at least five years ago, but that trip was for a different reason in the middle of the summer, and even then I remember it being cold. The temperature only climbs so high once you reach a certain altitude, and although this isn’t the Andes or the Himalayas, it is still higher (and colder) than most places I spend my time nowadays. In places like these, the only living things that solely eat plants are the animals whose heads decorate the walls of local hunting cabins. A vegetarian would struggle to spend the winter in a place like this. A vegan could possibly starve. The weekend I spent here was a taste of a world that I forgot existed, void of the “liberal” eating habits I had grown accustomed to while living in New York City. But like everything in life, I made the best of what was available and managed to enjoy myself in the process.

I was going to the lodge for an event that involved many friends, both old and new. I hadn’t really planned out my eating situation, as I am used to having options wherever I go, and therefore, didn’t think I would have to. My wife is usually the one that runs into trouble since she is both vegan and gluten-free, but even with her restrictive diet there is always a solution even if it means talking directly with the chef. Being a vegetarian (meaning that eggs and dairy are still fair game) is not as hard as it seems. Things like pasta, pizza, French-fries, and omelets are technically vegetarian, although not incredibly healthy. These things are generally a last resort, because although I am not vegan, I still try to avoid most eggs and dairy. This weekend, sadly, that was not an option.

Gun LampThe lodge was an isolated building on a mountaintop about 20 miles Southeast of Heber City, UT. There are no services nearby, and without a car of my own, the conveniences of the closest civilization were out of my reach. Truth be told, even with a car, finding a restaurant with a vegetarian menu in Heber is still wishful thinking. What people in the east sometimes don’t realize is that Utah is the contemporary Wild West. Cattle ranches, rodeos, and demolition derbies are very real, very common things.The lodge where the event was being held was a concentrated version of this culture with every square inch bathed in rustic cowboy motif. The walls were a holocaust of decapitated prairie animals displayed for the amusement of its guests. Most of the furniture was made out of logs, antlers, and guns. Yes… guns. The leather that covered nearly every surface surpassed any amount I’ve ever seen. Every chair, every sofa, the pillows on my bed, and even the ice bucket in my room, were wrapped in tanned hide. I like to think that I have a high tolerance for human supremacy being that I grew up in the country, but the amount of carnage that went into decorating our weekend accommodations was outright excessive. Apparently, people like me are not their target demographic.

Gun chandelier

The small restaurant that was attached to the lodge celebrated the same Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show theme. Guns, animal heads, and various signs describing what a woman should be cooking decorated the walls. Needless to say, the options for vegetarians were few. There were two specials of the day – an 8-ounce prime rib and a 12-ounce prime rib. Other dishes included chicken-fried steak, chicken-fried chicken, various meat salads, and virtually every edible piece of bovine. I ordered the French fries for lunch and didn’t Wooden Cowboyinquire about whether or not they were cooked in lard. Sometimes, it’s best not to know. Most of my meals consisted of deep fried food with the exception of a pasta dish for dinner one night. My 12 year-old self loved eating fried side dishes for every meal, while my 33 year-old self wanted to smack my 12 year-old self in the head for eating such shit. But that’s the way it goes for a vegetarian in the mountains during the winter. Eat shit, or starve.

Despite the dead animals and grease running through my veins, the weekend at the lodge was pleasant. The coziness of the wooden building was reminiscent of my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, and the wood-burning fireplace added to that nurturing feeling. We spent several hours next to the fire playing checkers, all the while sheltered from the sub-freezing temperatures outside. Good company always makes a difference no matter the situation. It’s the reason people survive (and prosper) in harsh situations. It doesn’t matter where you are as much as who is with you. I could have a miserable time in paradise or a great time in prison cell – perspective is everything. I made the most of my weekend in the modern-day Winterfell. Blizzards, bearskins, shoddy Internet, steaks, and more steaks – not much can stand in my way of enjoying myself if I don’t let it.lodge

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Two days in La Fortuna

We arrived in La Fortuna after sundown, which in Costa Rica, is fairly early. The bed and breakfast, if that’s what you want to call it, was presumably expecting us. Despite the windy, poor excuses for roads that the Garmin decided to direct us down, we were approaching town right on target. Unfortunately, like in many Latin American countries, establishments don’t always have addresses that we are used to seeing in the States. For example, I live at 453 78nd Street in Brooklyn, NY. That means that my home is located on 78nd Street, and since my house number is in the range of 400-500, that means that it is between 4th and 5th avenues. It’s a pretty good system if you ask me. This particular business, Los Dos Perros B & B, was located 2 blocks north of the school. That’s it – no numbers, no street name, nothing. I encountered addresses like these before while in Nicaragua and my desired location was “izquierda en calle de la Pepsi”, meaning, make a left at the Pepsi sign. But in Nicaragua, I was not visiting a business, I was visiting a person’s home. The bed and breakfast was a business, somebody’s livelihood, and the only directions I had were “2 blocks north of the school”. That being said, when we arrived in La Fortuna, I decided to call Los Dos Perros and find out exactly where this place was.

Having a cell phone overseas makes a world of difference. It can be the deciding factor between having to sleep in the street or your rental car, and finding the place you’re looking for. Once, when I was in the Czech Republic, it was very late and I was having a hard time finding my hostel. After trying to decipher the street system of Prague based on signs I could barely read, I decided to say fuck the roaming fees and call the hostel I was supposed to be sleeping at that night. Luckily, someone answered and was able to give me simple directions that led me to my destination, thus easing the panic built up from being lost in a strange place by myself. I wish that phoning Larry, the owner and operator of Los Dos Perros, would had provided such a simple solution.

“Hello?”

“Hi, my name is John, I’m in La Fortuna and I’m trying to find your place.”

“Oh, hi, where are you?”

“I’m on the corner of via 142 and calle 472 in front of the Alamo car rental.”

“Hmmmmm…” (long silence) “Hey Bob, do you know where the Alamo car rental is? What else is it near?”

“Well it’s a one-way street…”

“Oh ok, well what you need to do is make a U-turn.”

“I can’t make a U-turn, it’s a one-way street.”

“Oh, yeah… (laughs) I guess you’re right.”

“So what else are you near?”

As I described everything around me, I assumed at some point the light bulb in Larry’s head would turn on and he would suddenly know where we were, but as we later found out, the light bulb in Larry’s head had burned out long ago and he had no idea it was in need of replacing. When the frustration settled in, I handed the phone off to my wife, who in most cases is the least patient of the two of us, but somehow managed to refrain from calling him an imbecile for longer than I was capable.

“Do you see a gas station around you?”

“No.”

“Well when you see the gas station, then I can give you directions from there.”

“Well where’s the gas station?”

“It’s… it’s really hard to say…”

“Ok… is there only one gas station?”

“Yeah, there’s only one.”

We start driving. I ask directions in broken Spanish. We find the gas station.

“Ok, we’re at the gas station.”

“Which one?”

“At the only one, you said there’s only one.”

“No, there are two.”

“Ok, so now there are two gas stations?”

It was apparent from the beginning that this guy had no clue where his business was located. In Ocotal, Nicaragua, buildings don’t have addresses because there are no street names, but we were in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, a town whose economy is fueled by tourism, and here, the streets are named and buildings have numbers. This guy simply had no idea what his address was and was too burnt to figure it out. Following the directions he gave my wife, we eventually end up on a dirt road leading out of town.

“Ok, so what kind of road is your place on? Is it paved or unpaved?”

“Well… It’s kind of paved… but it might be unpaved… ”

“Ok, well when you told us to take a right, it took us to an unpaved road.”

“Well, when you made that right, you should’ve made a left. I don’t think our brains connected on that last one.”

It felt like he was giving us clues to a riddle of which he didn’t quite know the answer. Every right and left he suggested was a blind guess at best. After much protest, Larry finally let us get off the phone (he insisted we stay on until we arrived) so I could leverage the Google maps app to locate a hotel he said was near his. This happened to be the one piece of reliable information that Larry communicated to us, and in a few minutes, we arrived at Los Dos Perros.

I’ve stayed in many hotels, hostels, guesthouses, and bed and breakfasts, so I’m accustomed of the conventions of checking-in. Usually, I arrive at a front desk of sorts and tell the person my name. They then look in a computer or book, see that I am scheduled to be there for x amount of nights, and complete the check-in process. When we arrived at Los Dos Perros, I finally meet the man who doesn’t know where he lives, and without surprise, he has no idea that we are supposed to be staying there.

While I was on the phone with him, I assumed Larry was a long-haired 20-something that was escaping life in the States by running a shoddy bed and breakfast in Costa Rica. As it turned out, he was a no-haired 50-something that was escaping life in the States by running a shoddy bed and breakfast in Costa Rica. Los Dos Perros seemed to have not been a functioning bed and breakfast for some time, and the vegetarian restaurant attached to the B & B, of which Barry was also owner and operator, was basically his kitchen with a menu scribbled on the wall of standard vegetarian fare, none of which was orderable.

“Hey! You must be Lily,” he says to my wife, who is actually named Tara. “I owe you a beer! Do you have a reservation?”

“Yes we do, my name is John. We’re staying for three nights.”

This information was met with a blank stare.

“Oh, that’s cool… Where did you book it?”

“On the internet.”

“Oh… Like… On a website?”

He explained that his wife sometimes handles reservations and that he doesn’t always know when people are coming, which I found odd, since he, not his wife, was the one standing behind the counter when we arrived. I later found out that the counter/front desk was also his personal hangout and makeshift bar for him and Bob, his stoner neighbor who made Larry look like a complete genius. I fumbled through the email on my phone until I found a receipt for three nights that we unfortunately already paid for.

“Oh! Looks like you paid for the full package. That means all food is included.”

The reason we picked Los Dos Perros was because my wife has pretty serious dietary restrictions, wherein she cannot eat dairy, eggs, meat, or gluten (wheat). Second only to vegan restaurants, vegetarian places are usually very aware of the ingredients that are in their food, and since there are not many vegan choices (none, actually) in La Fortuna, we decided that a vegetarian bed and breakfast would be our best bet. Some of her restrictions are by choice, particularly the animal products, but there are very serious health consequences if she eats gluten. On a trip to Puerto Rico, she was poisoned by gluten multiple times, which resulted in her being covered in hives for the next several weeks. It was very unsettling knowing that the man that didn’t know his own address would be responsible for preparing gluten-free, vegan food for my wife.

As we stood at the counter waiting for Larry to figure out our accommodations, an overwhelming feeling of “what the fuck are we doing” came over me. I felt like a kid getting dropped off at summer camp for the first time preparing to endure the humiliation of having to shit in an outhouse for the next week. We stood there conversing with stoner Bob for the next 20 minutes while Larry searched for the key to our room. As it turns out, both Bob and Larry grew up near my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, a fact that chipped away at what little pride I had about being from my home town. Finally, we were shown to our room, which he graciously upgraded for us. On the way to our room, he again apologized for the confusion in finding the place, and said, “well, at least it’s not your honeymoon…” As if the situation wasn’t uncomfortable enough, it actually was our honeymoon.

We opened the door to our “upgraded” room to find what looked more like a storage closet for beds. The small room consisted of a king-size bed, a queen-size bed, and a bunk bed, organized so that a small path snaked between them from one end to the other. “Wow” I said, “there’s an awful lot of beds in here.” Judging by the look on Barry’s face, I thought I accidentally said, “Wow, Barry! Your mom is a big whore.” He was obviously offended that his gratuitous upgrade wasn’t what we hoped it would be. He proceeded to show us our originally booked room – a queen-sized bed in a room the exact size as a queen-sized bed – which made our mattress bounce-house look all the more appealing. Honestly, if not for the ant infestation we encountered later that night, it wouldn’t have been so bad.

As mentioned before, the menu for the Flying Potato Vegetarian Restaurant, the sister business to Los Dos Perros, was more for decoration than actual ordering. Larry decided our meals for us, often on the fly. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners were hit or miss, but mostly miss. Luckily, there is no shortage of coffee and fruit in Costa Rica, which made breakfasts safe and easy. One day, we went on a very wet and rainy hike to see Arenal Volcano, the main attraction in La Fortuna. Unfortunately, the hike itself was a bust since we saw no volcano, but rather an extremely foggy forest due to the massive amount of rain we received. On the bright side, Larry made us a cold salad consisting of fresh veggies, chickpeas, and balsamic vinaigrette, of which he allowed Tara to check the label. This turned out to be the best prepared meal of our stay. Dinners were thankfully safe for Tara, but not very flavorful since Larry couldn’t use his standard Sazón seasoning since it contained hints of wheat. The pumpkin soup was nothing more than pumpkin puree, water, and an excessive amount of pepper. The cauliflower “scrambled eggs” seemed to follow the same recipe – cauliflower puree, water, and a little less pepper than the soup. Needless to say, although the food was secure for my wife and her allergies, it was underwhelming and simply stopped us from being hungry until we left.

On the second day of our three night stay, we made a decision to leave early. To be honest, this decision was made the moment we arrived, but since we had already paid, we decided to stick it out for two of the three nights. I’ve certainly stayed in worse places, but this was our honeymoon, a time where everything should be at least as close to perfect as possible. This wasn’t a standard backpack-around-Costa Rica-and-enjoy-every-experience-because-you’re-young-and-life-is-long kind of trip. Both my wife and I have had those types of trips. Trips where everything goes wrong but you land in the most interesting situations make for captivating stories, but are often nerve-racking while you are experiencing them. This was supposed to be a flawless, relaxing trip to a beautiful B & B in the mountains during our honeymoon. In retrospect, just like my other travel experiences that didn’t go as planned, there are lessons to be learned, and at the very least, great conversations to be had because of people like Larry. The fact that it was our honeymoon didn’t exempt us from the funny things that happen when you go to another country. Things are hardly ever what you imagine they are going to be, regardless of how many pictures you see or how many Trip Advisor reviews you read. Los Dos Perros was given five stars with no mention of the incompetent innkeeper that ran the place, which had me questioning the reliability of the few reviews I read. Either way, it didn’t ruin the rest of our trip. Honeymoon or not, it was full of the standard unexpected surprises and colorful characters that make travel (and life) interesting and worth the trouble.

The names and places mentioned in this post have been changed. Although we had a negative experience at this particular establishment, I don’t feel it is right to publicly bash the proprietor or his business.

 

 

 

 

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