2016: A Year in Review
Updated: Jan 11
As 2016 comes to a close I find myself reminiscing about some of the grand adventures I experienced this year. Here’s a list of six trips I can’t help but smile about when I think back on ’em.
Hawaii, otherwise known as my favourite place on earth, will forever be my number one vacation spot. Although it can be a little rainy or windy in the winter, 25 degrees Celsius beats negative 25 degrees in Montreal any way you wanna slice it. For me, the “garden island”, Kauai, is heaven. First of all, there are double rainbows everywhere you look (what does it mean?!), and not just any old rainbows either. I once saw a night rainbow during the super moon, on another occasion I saw a circular rainbow around the moon. Once, while hiking high up on a mountain, I saw a white rainbow in the clouds. Kauai’s got wild roosters, rows upon rows of tall skinny palm trees, waterfalls, fire dancing shows, pink and purple sunsets, taco trucks and giant sea turtles. The waves might be a little high in the winter which might be ideal for surfers but not for scaredy-cats like me. Not to worry, off the beaten path you can always find calm swimmable/snorkel waters if you know who to ask.
Fave place to eat: El Taco Feliz Taco Truck (Happy Taco) in Kapaa, Kauai. Best vegan burrito with homemade guac in the known universe!
Fave coffee place: The Kauai Coffee Estate , Kauai’s coffee plantation with tonnes of free samples and iced lattes to die for!
This trip was a bit of a shorter one, as Wes and I only stopped over for two weeks on the way to Australia. We did, however, get a chance to hang out on Oahu for a day, which is way busier and more city-like, but still beautiful nonetheless. We had some insanely tasty vegan treats. Simple Joy offered incredible “chickn” nuggets as an appetizer (the taste/texture was so on point we even ordered seconds) and salty lemongrass tofu teriyaki with grilled veggies. Later, we discovered Le Jardin in the Hyatt Regency mall on Waikiki strip, and low and behold, the most glorious and tropical fruit-filled acai (ah-sigh-ee) bowl I’ve ever seen! For the grand finale, we checked out the Down Beat (bar/live music venue/restaurant) in China Town. I have to say their vegan hot wings are nothing short of divine. I also tried the BLAT (fake bacon which was more like a fake ham, lettuce, avocado, tomato and veganaise) with curly fries, which was fine, but nothing compared to those wings and the vegan caramel milkshake I devoured. Now that I know these fabulous hidden gems exist, I am never ever going back to the Cheesecake Factory in Waikiki.
Fave food: Hot Wings at the Down Beat
Fave Coffee: Coffee Bean (I know it’s a chain but it’s so good though)
Acai bowls are life
2. Costa Rica
Zip lining through the treetops with AmStar’s Buena Vista Travel Lodge and Adventure in Guanacaste was certainly one of the highlights of my year. Volcanic hot springs, mudbaths, vegan-friendly lunch buffet, water slide, and ziplining with howler monkeys? Read my article on A Taste for Travel for the full experience. Costa Rica is a super popular vacation spot because of its luscious rain-forests and funky creatures such as sloths, monkeys, coatis and anteaters. We were lucky enough to enjoy unlimited luxury® at both Secrets and Dreams. Wes and I had a lot of fun in the sun at Secrets Papagayo where legendary bartender Blas got the crowd all riled up with his mad rainbow cocktail skills at the Barracuda swim-up bar! At Dreams Las Mareas we loved Himitsu’s fiery teppanyaki tables. Also we had a personal hot tub on our balcony, so there’s that!
Fave food: Chef Walter’s special vegan avocado sushi at Himitsu, Dreams Las Mareas.
Best coffee: Iced almond milk hazelnut lattes by the saltwater spa pool at Secrets Papagayo.
Bonus: Costa Rica has been named the happiest place on earth and is also running on sustainable energy. No wonder everyone is so relaxed, pura vida!
Secrets Papagayo, Costa Rica
3. The Bahamas, (Nassau)
My mom (AKA “Momzilla”) and I (AKA “the brat”) ventured to the Bahamas right after Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc on the area in early October. Despite the chaos, the chefs at Breezes Bahamas resort were more than happy to show off their vegan new menu items and offered some very special meals. My favorite dishes were the pumpkin plantain “meatball” on a bed of julienned veggies and the tofu teriyaki stir fry (more about it here). Breezes is vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free friendly, especially if you let the chefs know about your needs ahead of time. In the words of executive chef Nigel:
“My philosophy as it relates to food is to simply ‘make the customer happy’ and on that premise, my team and I work tirelessly each day so as to realize that feat. I also want to highlight that we tell all our customers who have special dietary needs to let us know what their concerns are and not think that they will be a bother to us because customer satisfied is the ultimate gratification.”
The food is great, and the calm clear blue waters and white sand beaches are definitely something to write home about. Also, the town of Nassau is full of colourful buildings, local markets, and friendly people so be sure to check it out.
Fave food: Plantain/pumpkin “meatball” at Breezes Resort.
Vegan meatballs, guacamole, and julienned veggies from Breezes Bahamas, Nassau
Breezes Bahamas and Junkanoo Beach
To be honest, off the resort, I had a bit of a hard time locating vegan food of any substance in Panama (ate a lot of dry baked potatoes steamed veggies for dinner). But Panama is a cool place to practice Spanish and shop, that’s for sure. I’ll keep this brief but I will say that the views from the high-rise outdoor pool at the Hard Rock Hotel are pretty dope. In the end, I got to see some wild sloths and monkeys hanging out in the back of Dreams Delight Playa Bonita . At the time, it was still called Secrets Playa Bonita, and I had some lovely fettuccine at Porto Fino and delicious vegan wraps at the Seaside Grill.
Fave experience (of the year?!): Hanging out with a wild baby sloth on the forest hike just behind Dreams Resort!
Baby Sloth at Dreams Delight Playa Bonita
A little out of the ordinary for me to enjoy a non-tropical destination during the ruthless east-coast winter, but I was lucky enough to present at a sociology conference on St. Patrick’s week which was freakishly warm for that time of year (17 degrees in March?!). My two pals from school and I conveniently stayed 5 minutes away from the airport at the Hilton Garden Inn Boston Logan Airport which wasn’t too far from downtown but secluded enough to give us much needed peace and quiet after some rowdy nights out. The older gentleman at the front desk was especially charming and helpful. We enjoyed our last night at The Godfrey Hotel Boston, a swanky luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Boston. Overall, Boston Pubs are a great place to have a pint do not have much to offer if you’re looking for good vegan food, so choose your dinner spots wisely. Although we were only in town for five days, we quickly became regulars Grendel’s Den and Restaurant in Harvard Square (Cambridge) which offers cheap student drink specials and unique vegetarian options such as a Reuben sandwich made of portobello slices instead of actual smoked meat. Also worth checking out is the New England Aquarium where we gawked at sea turtles and manta-rays in a huge open tank.
Fave Food: Cheap and tasty sweet Teriyaki Burrito at Boloco
Fave Cocktail: (Grendel’s Den) Kanye’s Workout Plan: Rain Cucumber Lime Vodka, soda water, splash of lime juice.
Best Coffee: George Howell Coffee at the Godfrey Hotel.
BoLoco vegan burritos in Boston
Technically I took this trip at the end of 2015 but it’s my blog and I’ll do as I damn well please! Momzilla and I checked out the SEED vegan food and wine festival (read about our trip here) and discovered some really innovative restaurants and bakeries (Bunnie Cakes, Green Bar and Kitchen (Fort Lauderdale), Atlas Meatfree Deli). We enjoyed Miami in style by staying in room with a view of the city at the glamorous AC hotel (steps from the beach AND equipped with a rooftop pool). Right around the corner is a hidden gem called the Broken Shaker Bar at Freehand Miami, which offers creative handcrafted cocktails and cute snacks like vegan iced cream sandwiches. Outdoor gardens, poolside seating and ironic mustaches makes this place a hipster’s paradise. I have to admit, we did have a pretty good time, what with the punch bowl and all. The Freehand courtyard is the perfect spot to let your hair down on a humid Miami night.
Bonus: If you’re a fan of key-lime everything, the Florida Keys are quirky and fun for a weekend getaway. They even have a sea turtle hospital (I may or may not be obsessed with sea turtles). We stayed at Amara Cay Resort, a highly recommended boutique hotel in Islamorada with a great staff in a tourist-friendly area.
Fave food: Green Bar and Kitchen’s “chickn” salad sandwich made with Beyond Meat which is probably the best mock chicken on the market today.
Fave cocktail: The Broken Shaker’s “Bitch Better Have my Money”: Absolut Vodka, Strawberries, Florida Citrus, Aperol, House Made Cinnamon Reduction, Local Opal Basil.
Freehand Hostel: Photo Credit Freehand Hostel, Miami
Right now, as our 11-hour flight from Honolulu to Melbourne lands us in Sydney due to crazy weather, I gotta remind myself to go with the flow because that’s what traveling is all about. Things seldom go according to plan, but that’s where the best stories come from. Thanks to all of you for following along for the ride. For more culinary travel experiences, be sure to check out my contributions at A Taste For Travel.
Here’s to an adventure down under in 2017. Cheers and happy new year!