My Kefalonian Idyll

Being vegan and a hedonistic Taurean my memories of a place are often defined by the food I have eaten there. This pic sums up the simple fare I have enjoyed in Greece and describes my last supper and breakfast in Argostoli.

Tomorrow I will cycle the 70-odd kilometers to the ferry port of Fiskardo and sail to Nydri on Lefkada. From there I will ride to Igoumenitsa and then take the bus to Thessaloniki. My destination is Asprovalta and the Tree of Life Festival.

Argostoli has been beautiful and surprising – it is not an obvious tourist destination. We are just ahead of the summer season so it is still quiet, thankfully.  Besides giant beans, my abiding memories will be of people sitting about in the shade of dried palm fronds and grape vines, talking and yawning, drinking coffee in the day and raki at night.

Each time I cycle past a particular restaurant on the edge of the sea the waiter shouts, “beep, beep, beep” and waves. That’s because the first time I passed him I honked my horn; so now I have to do that every time I ride by.

When I think of the busy-ness in most people’s lives, and compare it to island life, it is hard to make sense of why we punish ourselves so in our daily grind. I gave all that up eight years ago and I haven’t looked back. I don’t own much. I don’t need much: just a good bike, my panniers, simple vegan food, love and friendship.

Greece is a really good place to be if your needs are simple and you want to opt out.


It’s all Greek to me… 

I’ve always wanted to be able to say that in context. And now I can. It is a language where some of the letters are not even recognisable and others are vaguely reminiscent of high school maths or science classes. Slowly, they begin to look familiar. 

I have been in Greece for a week and a few things have struck me. First impressions are so important… you forget what stands out after a while in a new place when the once-new becomes commonplace. 

Firstly, the Greeks: They are a strange mixture of really friendly and somewhat offhand. There is the grandmother who helps her son at the campsite where I am staying and greets everyone with outstretched arms and a big smile — even if she saw you just five minutes before. Sometimes she blows a series of kisses, flapping her hands to and from her lips in frantic butterfly movements. 

The son, who is the manager and in his early thirties, plied us with raki the first night. It didn’t end well… A few days later, after fixing me with his intense Mediterranean-blue eyes, he asked me, “How you stay so “feeet?” I laughed in that way where you feel flattered but don’t want to let on, lest you look middle-aged and needy. He then proceeded to proposition me – on behalf of his unmarried friend (of course) – so perhaps I did look marginally interested. No. I didn’t and wasn’t. He was just being Greek. And male. Male Greek.

Olives and olive trees:  There are many. They arch above the tent and shield us from the intensity of the full moon. 

Sun and boats: There are many of them, too. You could be forgiven for thinking that the entire world population lives on boats. 

The strange custom of putting dirty loo paper in the bin provided instead of down the loo, thereby protecting the aging sewers. By 5pm there’s a certain warm, unpleasant aroma radiating from the ablutions. 

The distinct scarcity of traffic accidents on the island, even though mopeds and bicycles commonly appear the wrong way down a one-way street. You know it’s a one-way because of the direction the cars are parked, I think…

Old men fingering their worry beads. 

Oleanders. 

Then there’s the naturally vegan food: stuffed vine leaves; huge, juicy red tomatoes; olives and capers; boiled greens; cherries; fava and, lastly, accidentally vegan rusks (an unexpected treat.)

Ubiquitous rosy-faced British tourists: They tend to waddle from side to side like ducks. Not sure why.

It’s a lovely place. So calm and peaceful. And warm. Until the afternoon wind picks up and tosses the washing off the line and makes the tent flap, interrupting your siesta.

Here are some pics.

The Parthenon at night. Viewed here from a rooftop cinema. 

Train graffiti in Athens.

Raw vegan sushi.

Ferry to Kefalonia.

Arriving Poros. 

Argostoli.

Vegan dinner by the beach.

Vegan dinner at the campsite.

Cycling the road to Lixouri.

Morning coffee with rice milk from “Bio” shop.

Ell 269 – a vegan eatery in Hermanus

We stumbled upon Norah Hudson’s vegan restaurant ELL 269 in Hermanus today. ELL stands for Eat Love Life and 269 refers to the 269 Life vegan activist movement. Norah offered me a homemade fruity rooibos iced tea and shared her incredible story.

Every vegan has been (and still is) on a journey from the traditional way we were taught to eat and live to becoming a compassionate eater who understands that animals should not have to suffer so that we can have pleasure – any kind of suffering and any kind of pleasure. For Norah it began when her daughter Kendra was 2 1/2 years old and her husband committed suicide. Suddenly she was a widow with a baby daughter.

Five years ago, Norah’s friends got a piglet for their guesthouse whom they named Ziggy the piggy. But they soon realised it wasn’t that easy to look after a piggy and Ziggy moved in with Norah and Kendra. Once they were sharing their home with this little piglet it forced them to realise that we are all in denial about the cruel realities of the meat industry. For Norah and Kendra they were getting to know – and starting to love – a little animal with the intelligence of a 5-year-old child who had become a member of their family.

Norah decided to start an ethical eatery helping people understand where meat actually comes from and opened ELL at Spookfontein. She was vegetarian at this stage and thought she could convince people to source their meat “ethically”. She tried to justify eating dairy from Camphill Farm and eggs because they came from a farmer whose hens ran free. But then she and Kendra watched a Youtube video by Martin Dingle Wall called Vegan is the New Black. He explains his journey in such a down to earth and unpatronising way and, when they were finished watching, Kendra, then 17 years old, said, “But mom, now we don’t have a choice.” She was even ready and willing to give up sushi, her favourite food. Norah says, “We could no longer eat bacon and eggs and go home and look Ziggy in the eyes. We then realised that lambs were also babies who were taken from their mothers. We were still eating fish but no meat and then we started to study what happens in the fishing industry.” From that point on there was no going back.

The restaurant was very successful but most people ate there for reasons other than the fact that the food was ethically sourced. Norah did a lot of the cooking but wouldn’t taste the food because it wasn’t vegetarian. Then she had a conflict of interest because she realised she was making money from the very thing she abhorred (animal farming and exploitation.) She also experienced some very stern criticism from staunch vegan activists. It was time to move on. So she sold ELL and waited for an opportunity to open a fully vegan eatery.

Eventually, a vacant shop presented itself and she was ready to open the first fully vegan restaurant in Hermanus. Norah brings to ELL 269 many years of experience as a chef and restauranteur, as well as the compassion of an authentic vegan activist. I just know this restaurant is going to be hugely successful and, more importantly, is going to change many human and animal lives for the better. The food is fantastic (try their signature burger) and all the servers are either vegan or vegetarian.

Strangely, ELL’s opening was the same night as Melanie Joy’s talk in Cape Town – she is one of Norah’s main inspirations – a wonderful coincidence. Be sure to go and support this passionate woman and her worthy cause next time you are in Hermanus.

 

 

 

My Vegan River Cruise

Last week, as a finale to my 1537km cycle trip across France, I boarded the Scenic Sapphire for an all-vegan river cruise from Avignon in the south to Chalon-sur-Saône, via Lyon, sailing up the Rhône and Saône rivers. You could describe it as an eating fest with a bit of sightseeing thrown in. It was the last voyage of the cruising season (which began in April) and, before we boarded, the entire boat was “veganized” in preparation for 160 guests.

How do you veganize a boat? Get rid of any animal products in the kitchen, dining rooms, lounge, and other public spaces; remove any non-vegan cosmetics in the staterooms and replace them with vegan-friendly products; replace the alcohol with vegan alcohol and, last but not least, put Rapunzel chocolate in each cabin for every guest to drool over. When was the last time you had a bar of dairy-free milk chocolate praline? I can’t even begin to describe the scrumptiousness of this german product.

I am not sure how many of the 160 guests were actually vegan… at least half of them, I think, would call themselves “plant-based.” I would love to know the statistics because a lot of people I spoke to were, in fact, vegetarian but were either very interested (in veganism,) or their cruising partners were vegan.

A few small things that I especially appreciated: the hot drinks dispenser –available 24 hours – was filled up with almond milk and vegan hot chocolate powder; the breakfast buffet where I could eat everything, including a choice of almond milk, soy milk or oat milk; being part of “normal” instead of “weird;” and making wonderful new friends.

The other strange thing about this trip was that neither the staff nor the chef were vegan. I think this was a good thing in some ways because it opened up a whole new world of veganism to 50 people. The fantastic food was different to what I am used to in veggie restaurants. I would call it “veganized gourmet.” Most of the meals were out-of-this-world-delicious and a few were quite unusual. I highly recommend this experience and will go again if I get an opportunity.

A word of advice: if you do go, be prepared to feel like you are having too many meals in a day and make a plan to do lots of exercise in between so you can be hungry enough to enjoy the awesome food.

Our cruise was organised by the inimitable Dirk Bocklage, our passionate and comedic vegan German host. For more info on upcoming river cruises click here. If you think you might want to go on the first fully vegan ocean cruise from London to the Norwegian fjords click here.

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Laughing out loud on the bike

I just rode my first 10km after injuring my knee. Every time I take to the road there is a reward waiting for me. Yesterday, it was the flight of a green woodpecker passing right in front of my eyes as I slowly and gingerly cycled down a country lane near Flatford Mill.

Other rewards are the feeling of the sun on my face, the smiles and sometimes comments from passers-by when they see my fancy dress, the scents from the flowers and trees, the breeze on my skin, the anticipation of what is around the next bend, the honesty farm stall where I buy my dinner, the gratitude I feel when I see so many others who can barely walk. Cycling, like many outdoor pursuits (not sports–what I do is not sport) brings you into the moment. No past or future. Just the experience of now. 

I look inside the cars next to me and feel elated that I am not imprisoned. No matter that their occupants probably feel sorry for me.  And then, I laugh out loud with joy.