Monday, August 31, 2015

Starting things off with a bang... or how we left our hearts in Sayulita, Mexico

      I have been thinking for a long time about how I am another one of those food-obsessed vegans that takes photos of the meals I am excited about, be they in a restaurant, from a truck/foodcart or prepared by my own hand... so in order to make myself feel better about that reality, and because I love to write and share in this crazy quest we call the human enterprise, I am starting this blog. WHO KNOWS?! Maybe someone will read it and try some of these things out, and especially when it comes to traveling, I know that it is hard to find vegan food sometimes and so I wanted to do it for that reason as well. I am not in the employment of anyone to do this nor am I a real food critic. I will not write here about subpar food or waste my or your time writing "scathing reviews". I will leave that to the snobs on yelp and the folks who get paid to engorge themselves and write about it. That is not to say I wouldn't love to write and eat awesome food for pay if you're hiring!! Anyhow, here we go.

     For my first entry I thought it would be awesome to write about the last big out-of-country adventure I had with my lovely in Mexico last February. We went for 10 days attempting to escape some of the grey Casacadian winter (ironically last winter in Portland was dry and sunny including the time we were gone) for some tropical surf and sun in Puerto Vallarta, Yelapa and Sayulita. I knew ahead of time that being vegan in Mexico would be a challenge and the internet searches I did were not very fruitful. That said, with a little Spanish in your command, you can eat extremely well as a vegan in all three of the places we stayed in Mexico.

    We flew into Puerto Vallarta and stayed the first night in the Zona Romantica before departing the next day for Yelapa, our preferred destination. Vallarta is the kind of touristy old white folks destination that we tend to wish to avoid, but it does have some charms to it. For one it has a thriving drag and queer nightlife which was exciting to see and participate in (we got to see a sexy very gay-centric Mardi Gras parade later on in our stay in Vallarta). There are also a lot of remnants of Spanish colonial architecture, which though beautiful aesthetically, are also great historical reminders of the terrible European conquests of North and South America. We sought out a cheap but cozy hotel and found such a place in the Hotel Yasmin, a Frida Kahlo-themed romantic courtyard hotel right in the center of the Zona Romantica on Basilio Badillo.
Hotel Yasmin, Puerto Vallarta

     That night we wandered around trying to avoid the drunken aging white retires from the US and Canada who were literally EVERYWHERE and ended up finding a pretty great dinner at a strangely named but none-the-less delicious restaurant called Fajitas Republic (Basilio Badillo #188) right down the street from our hotel. Our server was super nice to us and, I think, rather excited to be waiting on someone younger than 50 and who speaks some degree of Spanish since most of the snow-birds he deals with don't even try. He knew that we were vegan the second I asked for our veggie fajitas "sin queso, sin crema" and if the rice and beans had "manteca de cerdo o caldo de animales" and he made sure our meal came out flawlessly. Of course he probably deals with so many tourists that he has encountered vegans at his work before and the place was more full of tourists than locals. The fajitas were spot on featuring perfectly sauteed mushrooms, potatoes, grilled tomatoes, onions, peppers, grilled melon and Mexican squash with fresh made corn tortillas, well-seasoned pinto beans, rice, generous portions of avocado and lots of lime. The dinner also started with complimentary jicama seasoned with lime and chili and a spread of salsas and freshly fried corn tortilla chips. It was a great first meal, especially considering how tourist-filled it was. They also had a really nice open air dining room dimly lit with very memorable wooden-basket lights and large copper and metal light fixtures.
Delicious spread of fajitas at Fajitas Republic, Vallarta

     The next day we had a delicious breakfast of black bean, plantain and soyrizo breakfast burritos and fresh gamay and kiwi fruit at a little cafe called Salud (Calle Olas Altas 534) and then took the water taxi from Vallarta to Yelapa to stay in a beautiful palapa that our friend Jesse Rose (who also recommended the Hotel Yasmine to us in Vallarta) owns called Casa De Los Sueños (house of dreams). There was a yoga retreat from Minnesota renting the majority of the place so they had lovingly-crafted and delicious vegetarian and vegan-friendly meals that we could purchase right there at Jesse's place which we obliged several times. We spent our 3 days in Yelapa hiking round the jungle there to the waterfalls, swimming and sunbathing on the beaches there, practicing a little DIY yoga at the Sky Temple right next to our palapa high up on the hills with an incredible view of the whole little village and just enjoying the slow relaxing way of life in Yelapa.
Vegan breakfast burritos and coffee at Salud in Vallarta

First view of Yelapa from the Taxi Aquatico 

    Yelapa is a very small village with no carreteras (highways) reaching to anywhere else in the state of Jalisco (thus the water taxi being our entrance) and no cars or paved traditional roads. It is really amazing to be in a place with no cars or "traffic" except for people and donkeys/horses/mules. There were a few ATVs in use but the majority of the place moved at a much slower pedestrian pace. While in Yelapa we got to try a local Jalisco, Mexico-specialty moonshine made from agave called Raicilla that I wouldn't necessarily seek out but that was interesting to try none-the-less. We didn't eat at cafes or restaurants much in Yelapa as there aren't many and the few there are would not be very vegan or vegetarian-friendly but there are tiendas there where one can purchase fresh fruits, vegetables and tortillas and our palapa had a kitchenette so we could cook a little.
Amyrose reading "Dune" on a beach paradise in Yelapa

    The most memorable dining experience in Yelapa was at a little place, one of the only places that was open late (past 11pm in that sleepy little village), called Taqueria Los Abuelos (Privada Bacalao #4, Yelapa, Mexico). We stumbled upon it at night on a random stroll among the unlit winding pathways of Yelapa in search of a place to get a nightcap cocktail of some sort. Nestled on a seemingly private path and overlooking the Bahia de Yelapa, we were seated at a table on the balcony and immediately given the customary fresh tortilla chips and salsa. An aside, I jokingly started using the hashtag #picodegallotour on our instagram posts while in Mexico because of how many times we ate chips and salsa at bars, cafes etc etc but pico de gallo is a serious artform in Mexico. They mince the tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers into perfect little cubes and everything is so fresh and perfectly balanced, I could wax poetic about it for a long time, but needless to say, Mexican cuisine is one of my all-time favorites and nowhere save for parts of California will one find better than this cafe in Yelapa. We inquired with the server about making something "sin carne y sin mariscos" (the menu was heavy on seafood and meat) and she talked to the chef who personally came over and introduced himself. He informed us that he had worked at a very upscale resort for years before opening Los Abuelos and that he would gladly make us a vegan masterpiece and then he set our taste-buds ablaze. Not with spiciness mind you, with flavor! He made us a massive burrito with several kinds of squash, potatoes, mushrooms, expertly-seasoned beans and rice and then fresh tacos with various vegetables all sauteed and seasoned to perfection. That meal sticks out as one of the best of the whole trip and I even wrote them a glowing review on yelp which means a lot because I hate yelp and don't tend to use it at all but I wanted to let folks know and give them a serious shout out of praise for future weary travelers to seek them out.
Typical salsa spread EVERYWHERE in Mexico... pico de gallo tour! This one was from Pancho's Tacos in Sayulita.

      After a few days of a very relaxing and quiet pace in Yelapa, we boarded the water taxi back towards Vallarta to catch a bus north to our next destination, Sayulita. We decided spur-of-the-moment to stop at the Botanical Garden in El Tuito when the water taxi stopped in Boca de Tomatlan at the advice of many who had raved of them. We took a short bus ride to the gardens and then doused ourselves in insect repellent and hiked around in the lush jungle preservation around us. They have done a wonderful job with those gardens and I can not emphasize enough that if you get the chance you must go! Small paths across creeks and rivers over rope bridges surrounded by native trees and vegetation extreme and exotic; we saw native vanilla, coffee plants, jade ivy, local deciduous trees native only to the region and various beautiful jungle flowers and carnivorous plants and tillandsias (those trendy air plants are actually native to this region). After hiking several miles of the jungle we checked out the restaurant at the gardens and had jamaica (floral hibiscus blossom tea) and an avocado salad with fresh fruit and peppers in it served with, you guessed it, big crispy corn tortilla chips and pico de gallo.
Avocado salad and jamaica tea at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens

      We continued after the garden on a bus through the jungle back to Vallarta and then through a series of connecting busses to the outskirts of Sayulita a few hours later. Once in Sayulita, we found our open-air room from Air B & B (casita de los arboles, Casa Jardín) and settled in before going around to the center of town in search of adventure.
Our tree house accommodations in Sayulita 

     Sayulita is a small surf town and has a very simple set up with a main square in the center of town with small streets framing that in and providing access to the beaches, the neighborhoods a little further away, and across the river next to the center of town where there is a quieter side of town inhabited by amazing artisans from the local Huichol indigenous population. Our lodging was really close to the central square so we walked around a lot in Sayulita. In the interest of avoiding being too lengthy in this post as I have waxed poetic quite a bit in the previous paragraphs, I will attempt to condense the highlights of our five days in Sayulita.
Massive margaritas in Sayulita with my lady (yes I grabbed some of these photos from Instagram haha)

     The food and drink scene in Sayulita was wonderful though it is apparent that this formerly off-the-beaten-path town has been seeing rapid gentrification thanks to the influx of tourism. We ate out every single meal there and the highlights are legion. At the top of the list was Yeikame at Calle Jose Mariscal 10. Amazing authentic Mexican recipes prepared by a family of very sweet folks. We ate here several times it was that good, and the highlights for me were the blue nixtamal huaraches with pureed black beans, calabacín (zucchini), mole, nopales and white corn; the enchiladas de espinaca (garlicky spinach and black bean enchiladas wrapped in fresh handmade white corn tortillas) and the blue corn picante papas y hongos (spicy potato and mushroom) gorditas with an amazing pico de gallo. Seriously, we ate at Yeikame three times during our five day stay, it was THAT good.
Spinach Enchiladas at Yeikame, Sayulita

Spicy Potato Gorditas at Yeikame (sadly I don't have a photo of the amazing huaraches!)

      Right next door is a little burrito place called Burrito Revolucíon where they assured us the beans and rice were "sin productos de animales". They had great burritos and the place was teeming with reminders of some of the revolutionaries of Mexico's history from Emiliano Zapata, Flores Magón to the Zapatistas. They also had this garlic and ancho chile salsa that was off the chain delicious.
Vegan burritos at Burrito Revolucíon, Sayulita
     Another amazing spot was called Pancho's Tacos (Calle Revolución 24D) and it was only open at night. It was a non-descript little hole in the wall taco stand, but they made us amazing mushroom tacos and were super enthusiastic and friendly about making vegan specialties.
Tacos with mushrooms, peppers, onions and garlic at Pancho's in Sayulita 

     We also ate at some of the touristy spots on the square and though the meals were fine and very easily adaptable to veganism, nothing was as noteworthy as those previously mentioned. We tried the "health food cafe" La Esperanza just down the street from Yeikame on Calle Jose Mariscal and while it was tasty they were targeting more of the gluten-free crowd and the steeper prices and lack of vegan options made it not appeal as much as other places did. Other places in Sayulita of note were the super popular and touristy Cocobanana which had some decent vegan breakfast options if you alter a few things, Lush Hostel and Bar which has a bar out on the street with rope swings and cheap hookah rentals which we took advantage of for some late night drunken fun and the little coffee shop just a few doors down from Cocobanana on the central square called Yah Yah Cafe. Yah Yah had great vegan pastries and veggie-hummus bagel sandwiches and delicious coffee not to mention great people-watching. We went to Yah Yah every morning to get our coffee fix being the Portland coffee addicts we are. While drinking and smoking hookah at the Lush Hostel and Bar we made a friend named Ivan from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico who we hit it off with swimmingly.
Ivan right before we went surfing in Sayulita

      For the rest of our stay in Sayulita, my partner, Amyrose, and I had a blast with him trading lessons in Spanish and English and getting to know one another's life stories. He also plays guitar and is super passionate about his music and was attempting to try vegetarianism before we even met him so we showed him the cafes we had already found to be amazing and how to eat how we eat! He already loved falafel so he insisted we try the one falafel spot in Sayulita, Falafel and Friends on Calle Gaviotas #50 and it was pretty good.
Mural of Frida and Emiliano next to some really great local Huichol artisan shops in Sayulita

     We went out dancing several nights at the night-club on the plaza square called Bar Don Pato where the live band were playing a hilarious mix in their several hour long repertoire ranging from Iron Maiden to Bob Marley and Rage Against The Machine and (ughhh) Sublime to more nuanced songs in Spanish (maybe not covers but originals?). The musicians seemed to be enamoured with bad American 90s alt-rock but they were all very talented and I loved the Iron Maiden cover and the songs that they played in Spanish much more than the Sublime and reggae. One night Amyrose and I walked in the evening rain showers to a Cumbia dance party on the beach across the river where we imbibed lots of tequila and danced the night away to classic Columbian cumbia anthems and some more modern Mexican dance music played by the rowdy surfer DJs local to Sayulita. It was a blast. Below is a song that was played that night that my partner fell in love with:

     We also took surf lessons with one of Ivan's good friends on the beach and all three of us fell in love with surfing, though Amy had already done it herself in the past. We explored other beaches further away from the surfing bustle in Sayulita and a came across a really nice quiet beach full of locals, no tourists, called Playa de los Muertos (beach of the dead) next a beautiful old catholic cemetery with amazingly artistic grave stones. At this beach we met some fellas who were practicing on a tightrope tied between palm trees who encouraged us to try and gave us lessons and we also met a group of young Mexican women from Mexico City D.F. on vacation who invited us to hang out with them a while. All-in-all it was great and made even better by having made a new friend in Ivan who could make the experiences that much more exciting.
Playa de los Muertos, Nayarit, Mexico
Panoramic shot of the last crepúsculo we had on the beach in Sayulita

     Leaving Sayulita was hard after such an incredible time there and after making such a great new friend, but we had reservations in Vallarta for the end of our trip and were due to fly out of the airport there so we said our goodbyes to Ivan and made a few new friends with the only local punks we had met at the juice bar on our way out of town. Back in Vallarta we just took it easy after the explosive nights we had in Sayulita had left us feeling pretty hung over and haggard. We also had both developed really raw stomach conditions, a very strange feeling that we could not decipher since we were not showing other symptoms of illness. We theorized as to what it could be; the spiciness and constant acidity of our diets in the last week, drinking so much tequila, bacterial induced illness, who knows?? We took it easy the rest of our stay and that was ok with us because Sayulita was a much preferable town to really get caught up in the local spirit and go buck wild than Puerto Vallarta anyhow.
Last crepúsculo in Vallarta 

     We did eat out at a couple of pretty good spots that I will mention before closing. Archie's Wok (Francisca Rodriguez 130) was a very vegan friendly Asian food spot and our sore stomachs appreciated the reprieve from tomatoes and lime and spiciness on that occasion. We also ate at the vegetarian buffet Planeta Vegetariano (48300, Iturbide 270) next to the old cathedral in central Viejo Vallarta (Old Vallarta). The standout at the buffet was their sopa del dia (soup of the day); sopa de albóndigas de semillas de calabaza (pumpkin seed "meat ball" soup in a rich tomato broth).
sopa de albóndigas de semillas de calabaza at Planeta Vegetariano, Vallarta
     After a few days of laying low and not drinking anymore we returned home to Portland and back to our jobs and regular lives but with the vibrant shine of Mexico and it's amazing people, delicious foods and enamouring jungles in our hearts.


  1. Great reviews of your vegan experience in Mexico- enjoyed it even though an aging white person! haha! i loved the Cumbia song and cartoon, and the photos as well! More tempted to put Mexico on the short list of places to visit! Thanks for sharing,

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