Aquaholic Discovers Food Kits! - Your Non-Sponsored, Honest Guide to 6 Meal Kit Subscriptions

It’s amazing the advances in modern life that you miss living overseas for the better part of five years. While I was learning to live more simply, and climb trees for coconuts, the developed world was giving society every gizmo and gadget to make life as convenient (and cluttered) as possible. Returning back to America after 5 years introduced me to the fad of Apple Watches and Fitbits. Apparently moving from the front door to the car never happened unless you have a device on your wrist counting each step. Nearly every phone is adorned with a pop-out circular handle with some sort of cute design on it. I couldn’t figure out what in the world the purpose of these was until it occurred to me that our smart phones are now too big to hold and use at the same time, all with one hand. When did that happen? When I left, we were still trying to make each phone smaller than the last. Now we’re going in the opposite direction. Uber and Lyft lights now adorn the dashes of every other vehicle on the roads. The semantics get a little confusing, because everyone says “Uber” as the general term, even if they actually intend to use Lyft. (That was true at one point anyway; I’ve heard the term “Lyft” used a lot more recently). And my least favorite of all, the rise of Amazon’s artificial intelligence that shares my name. Thank goodness I’ve gone by “Lexi” since college, because I don’t dare say the name “Alexa” anymore without getting thrown the dreaded “Hey Alexa…” jokes.

As overwhelming as it all is, I have become a very big fan of the subscription meal kits. Probably because they allow me to hide inside, away from all of that other nonsense. I was skeptical when my sister first told me about them; I thought I actually liked going grocery shopping. Plus they just sounded like something for lazy or incredibly busy people. I was neither. Then I tried one and realized that cooking is so much more fun when you don’t have to comb the zillions of recipes that exist online, trying to find something that sounds good for dinner. You don’t have to dart around the grocery store, constantly saying ‘excuse me’ to everyone you almost bump into, because you’re instead looking at a million options on the shelves, and why do we need so many different kinds of eggs to choose from? Organic, cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, conventional… Do we really have so many different ways of torturing chickens that we have to label which torture methods we’re not using? And the big problem I always run into is food waste. I'll find some lovely sounding recipe with a couple obscure ingredients that cost a fortune but I only need a little bit, so the rest just sits in the back of the fridge and rots.

What are these meal kit subscriptions I am referring too? If you’ve clicked on this article, then you probably already know, but just incase the rock you’ve been living on is more isolated than mine… I am referring to a subscription you can sign up for that will send a box of pre-portioned ingredients to your doorstep every week, with instructions for how to prepare anywhere from two to four meals, depending on which subscription you sign up for. Most of them have the option to order for two people or for four people, and the option to skip weeks without penalty.

I tried HelloFresh and a little bit of the mind clutter from moving back eased ever so slightly. A box arrived at my door, with three options for dinner, not twenty zillion; the ingredients were all much fresher than I would have expected for sitting in a box (although I guess the food in the grocery stores has to arrive in boxes too), and there was just enough to make the meal, which meant no food waste. The resulting meal was tasty too. I was hooked. I told Fletch about my discovery (we were in separate states at the time) and he initially expressed all the same doubts that I had. Then we tried making a few together when we were all moved into our apartment, and have been on a journey to test all the subscription services ever since.

I’d like to add a quick disclaimer that this is not a sponsored post. None of these services have paid me to claim that theirs is the best product (in fact I’m certain that I’m about to insult a few of them). These are the honest opinions of your everyday pescatarian (vegetarian plus the occasional seafood). As a pescatarian I did opt for the veggie plans on most of these. Know that all of them except Purple Carrot offer plenty of options for omnivores too, but none of my reviews take any land-meat dishes into account. Fletch and I did actually order, prepare, and eat every one of these (apparently some people just write these articles with information they glean online).


HelloFresh


Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Biggest Pro: Consistently overall good quality
Biggest Con: No tofu or tempeh
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $7.49 - $8.99 (depending on the plan)

HelloFresh made a stellar first impression with its user-friendly app and website, fresh ingredients, easy-to-prepare meals, delicious finished product, and friendly customer service. The packaging was minimal, avoided plastic when possible (ingredients like beans and chick peas came in cardboard), mostly recyclable, and/or compostable. The service made it easy to skip weeks or cancel at any time. The few times I contacted customer service with minor issues, they usually discounted the cost of a meal or two from the next week’s box. HelloFresh became the standard against which all the other services were judged, and set the bar high.

Ready to make some Veggie Licious Tacos from HelloFresh!


Compared to other meal kits, HelloFresh did not have quite as many meals to choose from. You can choose from the Vegetarian Plan or the Classic Plan. The Vegetarian Plan offers up to three veggie meals per week, with no variety to choose from. The Classic Plan offers twelve meals to choose from, including the three veggie meals, usually two seafood dishes and the rest meat dishes. I loved the grilling cheese that was used as a meat substitute in some of the veggie dishes, but was surprised that substitutes like tofu and tempeh were never used.

This is the meal kit for you if you like a consistently good product for a reasonable price.

Sun Basket


Overall Rating: 1/5
Biggest Pro: Caters to many different dietary restrictions
Biggest Con: Too many to list here
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $11.99

Ohhhh Sun Basket… This one seemed so promising and ended up being such a disaster. I’ll try to keep my ranting and raving brief. The variety was promising, and offered plans for carb-conscious, paleo, mediterranean, lean & clean, gluten free, vegan, quick & easy, vegetarian, pescatarian, and diabetes-friendly; or chef’s choice, which allowed you to mix and match meals from any of the above categories. The app was easy to use and comparable to HelloFresh. Weeks were skippable, however canceling took the better part of an afternoon to figure out. They hide the cancel button under More>Help/Feedback>Help Center>Canceling your subscription. This brings you to a pop-down menu where you choose the time that works best for them to call you. Then you wait for their phone call, listen to their sales pitch as they try to convince you to give their product another try, and then finally confirm that yes, after all that headache you still haven’t changed your mind about canceling.

Spicy Bibimbap with Tamari Mushrooms, Kimchi, and Yuba Noodles, was one of the better Sun Basket meals.


All ingredients are organic, so if you are like me, and just take “organic” to be synonymous with “quality” then you might be tempted by this one. Sun Basket taught me a very valuable lesson about produce though. Organic dos not always equal quality. Sun Basket had the lowest quality produce of any of the meal kits we tried. Many of the vegetables were pre-chopped, who knows when, and so were completely dried out with zero flavor remaining by the time they arrived. A lot of the sauces and bases were also already pre-mixed, leaving me wondering what was inside, but hey, it was all organic, so I shouldn’t care, right?

I have never been a fan of vegetables that have already been cut up. They are usually already dried out. 


Pre-mixed Sun Basket coleslaw dressing base - but what is it? 


The finished meal quality was about on par with the quality of the ingredients - highly lacking. A lot of the recipes seemed as though they hadn’t been tested before being published and packaged. There was an instance with a black bean quinoa burger that comes to mind. Now granted I’m no expert chef (hence the need for a box of ingredients and instructions on my doorstep), but I follow direction well and after an entire summer of HelloFresh, never once had an issue with a recipe not turning out the way it was supposed to. The black bean quinoa burger recipe suggested that the cooking time would be 35-40 minutes. I spent two very frustrating hours in the kitchen, smoked up the entire apartment, completely ruined our new, expensive, non-stick pan, and ended up with 8 oversized, overcooked burger patties that crumbled when touched, to go with the 4 little buns that also came with the kit. We ended up scrapping the burgers and turning the black beans and quinoa into burrito bowls.

The black bean burger fiasco...


The packaging also bothered me. All materials were recyclable, but only if your recycling center accepts those types of plastics. Everything came in a thick, plastic container. We live in an area without recycling, and so have become uber sensitive about the amount of waste we generate. All that plastic went into the trash, and let me tell you, there was an unnecessary amount of plastic. I felt sick throwing our bag of plastic containers away after every meal. Please avoid this service unless you live in an area with proper recycling.

Why so much plastic?!


This is the meal kit for you if you care more about tag words such as “organic,” “clean,” “responsibly sourced,” and “gluten free,” than you care about the actual quality.

Purple Carrot


Overall Rating: 3/5
Biggest Pro: Best selection of plant-based meals
Biggest Con: Price
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $12.00

Purple Carrot is well known for being 100% vegan. The website is easy to use but they do not offer an app. The serving sizes were sufficient and did not leave us hungry despite vegan foods usually being lower in calories. The ingredients and finished meal quality were all on par with HelloFresh. Each week had six different vegan meals to choose from, with variety from light meals such as salads and hummus bowls, to more hearty meals such as quesadillas and bourguignon. I really enjoyed the options on this one. Purple Carrot does not offer nearly as many discounts and promotions as the other food kits, making it one of the pricier subscriptions out there. When I first became a vegetarian, I was saving money by not eating meat. When did eating vegetables become the expensive way to eat?

Out of the box - Purple Carrot menu & pre-measured ingredients for Rigatoni Arrabbiata 


Edit: I originally rated this one 4/5 but had to drop a point after some unsettling input from my sister who also tried the subscription. I never had any problems with the ingredients being anything less than fresh, but my sister received expired seitan on two separate occasions. Not just a few days expired either, but three months! When customer service was contacted, they apologized, refunded her $15, and said they would get to the bottom of the issue, claiming it was not something that happened frequently.

The finished product - Mushroom Bourguignon from Purple Carrot


This is the meal kit for you if you are a strict vegan, or wanting to incorporate more vegan foods into your lifestyle, and the price tag doesn't scare you away. 

Blue Apron


Overall Rating: 3/5
Biggest Pro: Consistent quality
Biggest Con: No vegetarian option for 4-servings
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $7.49 - $9.99 (depending on the plan)

Blue Apron is one of the better known meals kits out there. The website and the app are both easy to use, although canceling took a little bit of searching around for. I finally found instructions to email cancellations@blueapron.com, and figured that someone on the company’s end would have to cancel the subscription for me. A form letter was returned though with instructions on which buttons to click to cancel.

Out of the box - pre-measured ingredients for Lemon-Butter Scallops from Blue Apron


The ingredients were all good quality, 100% of the eggs were pasture-raised. We received fresh noodles a few times which was a treat. The finished meals were almost as good as HelloFresh. Almost. A little extra something was usually missing to round out the flavors though. Preparation was slightly more advanced than some of the other kits, although still suitable for a beginner. The biggest difference was that the instructions actually told you how you should be multi-tasking.

Kudos to Blue Apron for the cardboard packaging on their sesame oil.


Blue Apron offers four different plans: 2-Serving Signature (choose from any of their 14 meals), 2-Serving Freestyle (choose from the 6 recipes that accommodate weight watchers), 2-Serving Vegetarian (choose from 3 vegetarian meals), and 4-Serving Signature. The serving sizes were smaller than some of the other meals plans, and so still being hungry after several of the meals, we tried to upgrade to the 4-serving plan. With all of the other food kits, any of the meals were available in 2-servings or 4-servings. Strangely, Blue Apron has an entirely different menu for their 4-serving plan, which only includes one vegetarian option, and does not accommodate a chicken-less diet.

The finished product - Austin-Style Breakfast Tacos from Blue Apron


This is the meal kit for you if you have a family who likes chicken.

Green Chef


Overall Rating: 4/5
Biggest Pro: Variety of choices and the quality to go with it
Biggest Con: Price
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $10.99 - $12.99 (depending on the plan)

Green Chef arrived on our doorstep and the box looked suspiciously like HelloFresh’s box. We opened her up and the contents were very reminiscent of HelloFresh as well; similar recipe cards, the same paper bags and labels. Come to find out that HelloFresh did acquire Green Chef a year or so ago. So the quality is all strikingly similar, but there are more options for more dietary needs, and a steeper price tag to make you reconsider if the options are really worth it.

Kudos to Green Chef and HelloFresh for using paper bags.

This one has an easy to use website, makes it simple to skip weeks and cancel, but does not offer an app.

The ingredients are all USDA certified organic, and unlike Sun Basket, they are all fresh and good quality. One week we received some of the prettiest kale I had ever seen. Yes, I just called kale pretty. It was purple! The portions were all a good amount of food and we were never left wanting more. The packaging is as minimal as they can get away with, and their website includes clear instructions on how to recycle every item in the box (but again, you have to live in an area with recycling).

The finished product - Corn Pesto Flatbreads from Green Chef

Available plans to choose from include Pescatarian (5 meals to choose from), Keto (5 options), Paleo (5 options), Heart Smart (5 options), Omnivore (6 options), Vegan (3 options), Mediterranean (4 options), Vegetarian (5 options), Gluten-Free (5 options), and Lean & Clean (4 options). The only downside to all these options is that there is no Chef’s Choice that allows you to mix and match between all the recipes available. Once you choose a category, you only have the options within that category. You can swap over to another category the following week though.

This is the meal kit for you if you have dietary restrictions or don’t mind paying more for organic.

Marley Spoon


Overall Rating: 2/5
Biggest Pro: Price
Biggest Con: Recipes are very hit or miss
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $8.70 - $12.00 (depending on the plan)

I really had much higher hopes for Martha Stewart’s meal kit. It was almost as disappointing as Sun Basket though. The only reason I gave it one extra point was because we did get a couple good recipes out of it. (The Thai-style veggie fried rice was surprisingly flavorful). Most of them were just plain bland though. The first one we tried was a white bean & swiss chard stew. I don’t know if she learned how to make it in prison or what, but it reminded me of the cabbage stew that poor little Charlie Bucket had to eat every night in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, because his family was too poor to afford anything else. This stew had one spice, and that was paprika. The rest was water and beans and leafy greens. No stock, or bouillon, or anything beyond a bit of paprika.

I’m thinking that Martha Stewart doesn’t cross over into the realm of vegetarianism very often, because the bean stew offered the most protein out of the six meals that we tried. Most of them were pastas and fried rice and nothing but carbs. The cheese would have added some protein but another complaint was that she seriously skimped on the cheese. The recipes called for enough, but the handful of individually packaged, bite-sized cheese morsels sent in the kit never added up to anywhere near the amount that the recipes called for.

We chose a lot of recipes that called for a good amount of cheese. All we ever received in the box were a handful of these individually-packaged, bite-sized parmesans. 


The other things that bothered me about Martha’s meal kit included the packaging. Lots of the produce came shrink wrapped to styrofoam trays. Martha was the only meal kit that sent styrofoam, a material that is harder to recycle than plastic and never decomposes. Sorry turtles. The produce, like the recipes, was very hit or miss. Many of the limes were too dry to get any juice out of, and the garlic was in sad shape. What Martha lacked in spices, she made up for in oil usage (not included in the box). Many of the recipes called for 1/4 cup here, 1/4 there, whereas recipes from other meal kits never called for more than “a drizzle” unless it was to make a dressing. Finally, the portions were lacking. Whether this was because they were too small, or because we were eating mostly carbs and therefor not getting much in the way of protein or nutrients, is up for debate.

This is the meal kit for you if you are a fan of Martha Stewart and her name is the only thing that matters to you. I honestly can't think of another reason to spend money on this.



Conclusion


HelloFresh was the clear winner in our household, as it offers consistently good quality, doesn't cost as much as some of the other kits, and has the least amount of packaging. If you are a strict vegan, I would check out Purple Carrot, as they offered more vegan options than any of the other kits. If you have other dietary restrictions, skip Sun Basket and go straight to Green Chef, as their quality is far superior. 

Coming soon: How to take advantage of different plans' discounts and eat for cheap! 

Wake Up, World: Our Disposable Plastic Addiction Needs to End - 11 Ways to Reduce Plastic Consumption

I hope you all enjoyed the photos and stories of all the amazing little critters we discovered in Indonesia. In honor of World Oceans Day, I just wanted to throw out a little public service announcement to please stop trashing our oceans and to start noticing how much plastic we dispose of on a daily basis.

As a culture, we have become way too comfortable with all things disposable, but guess what, just because we get to dispose of trash items we no longer want in our presence, doesn't mean they just go away. Out of sight, out of mind as the old saying goes. Not for our planet though. It takes plastics 500-1000 years to decompose. Now remember that plastic has only been around since the early 1900s. That means that nearly every piece of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever produced is still in existence today (only 12% has been incinerated). Not all of this enters landfills or gets recycled. An estimated one truckload of plastic enters our oceans every minute. Think about that next time you chug one of those ridiculous pocket-sized water bottles and then throw it in the trash right away.

Now don't think that I'm going all eco-warrior mode and lashing out against all plastics. They are a necessity to our modern life in many shapes and forms. There are also many areas in our lives where they are getting out of control. Is using a straw for a few minutes to sip a drink really worth the 500+ years that it is going to, in the best case scenario: end up in a landfill, or worst case scenario: find its way into the ocean and ultimately end up in the stomach of a fish, or up the nose of a turtle? Is it? Is it really?

In much of the world, it is more common to see shorelines trashed than not. Shoreline of Lembeh, Indonesia.


There's a multitude of articles online about the health hazards attributed to plastics. There are hundreds of infographics on Google image search regarding the amount of plastic polluting our oceans. I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of numbers and details. But I do want to share with you the less flattering photos I took in Lembeh, Indonesia. You see, Indonesia is the second largest plastic polluter in the world, and the Lembeh Strait is a small boat channel where many sailors never learned any better than to just throw their trash overboard. The Lembeh Strait was home to more trash than critters if I'm being perfectly honest. I've seen trash on all my dives, not just the ones in Lembeh. I try my best to pick it up when I see it. Having to see what it does to our beautiful planet on a daily basis has made me hyper aware of the amount that gets disposed of constantly. I know that for many Americans who live land-locked, we don't see the consequences of our disposable culture in person, and so it is easy to not think anything of it.

Consider buying canned beverages instead of plastic bottles. While Coca-Cola may be eye-catching on the store shelves, it is a major eyesore in nature. Do recycle your cans though. I recently learned that even they have a thin layer of plastic coating to keep your beverages at optimal freshness. 


Many people think their plastic consumption doesn't matter because they are recycling it at the end of the day, but a recent study found that only 9% of plastic is recycled.

Try this for a while: don't throw away any plastic. Only when you've reached 100 pieces of plastic piled up next to the trash, can you throw out 9 of them. How long will it take before you want to move out?

That 9% statistic was figured even before China recently stopped accepting millions of tons of trash shipped over from Americans for recycling every year. Where will it all go now? Many cities are cutting their recycling programs because there is nowhere for it to go.

Clearly the recycling game is doing too little, too late. The best option is lowering the demand for single-use plastics.

I spent a good five minutes trying to carefully untangle this delicate feather star from this plastic, whatever this is. 


Here are a few simple ways to reduce your plastic consumption. This doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing task. If you can find a way to implement even one or two of these into your lifestyles, the oceans will be a better place for it.


1. Use Reusable Grocery Bags

Most grocery stores in the US these days have their logo stamped on a canvas bag at the checkout line that you can purchase. If you don't want to pay for one, there are lots of creative tutorials online for repurposing items such as old t-shirts into tote bags. Keep a supply of these in the trunk of your car. Or just carry your items out when only making a small purchase. Running into the store for one item does not require a plastic bag.

You will use this bag for the amount of time it takes to get your shopping from the store to your home. It will exist for hundreds of years under the sea after that. 

Turtles can't tell the difference between this and their favorite snack: jellyfish.


2. Carry Your Own Water Bottle and/or Thermos

I haven't always been so plastic-savvy. My adopting a reusable water bottle (actually several, I have a thing for water bottles) goes back to the days of being a broke college student and wondering why in the world anyone would pay for something that comes free out of the tap. Now granted, there are many places in the world where tap water is not drinkable, but we are very lucky to live in a country where the tap water is clean. Let's take advantage of that. Plus the bottled water industry produced 4 billion pounds of plastic just in 2016, in the US alone! Please don't contribute to that madness.

Keeping a thermos on hand for those Starbucks runs will help keep those plastic lids out of the ocean. Starbucks even makes reusable versions of their iconic cups if you just can't live without that Instagram photo.

This is not what our oceans were meant to look like. 


3. Refuse the Straw

This is a tricky one. There have been so many times when Fletch or I have asked for no straw at a restaurant too late, only to watch the server/bartender pluck the straw out of the glass and promptly throw it straight into the trash, because once it has touched your beverage, it's against health codes to reuse it. It has taken some trial and error to remember to ask when ordering the beverage. If you're not a fan of raising a glass to your lips, there are plenty of reusable options out there these days: stainless steel straws, paper straws, silicone straws, foldable straws, all that come with little brushes to clean them out afterwards.

How cool is this foldable straw? 


4. Request 'No Plastic Cutlery' With Takeout

Most of us order takeout to eat from the comfort of our couches while watching Netflix, right? Most of us already have cutlery in our kitchens, right? Leave a note on your takeout order to not include any cutlery. Bonus points if you bring in your own Tupperware and limit all of their plastic containers entirely. If you are frequently eating on-the-go, consider purchasing a small travel cutlery set like one of these on Amazon.

Takeout already requires enough plastic. Request no cutlery when possible.
(Disclaimer: this photo is from pexels.com)


5. Look for Plastic-Free Alternatives to Your Everyday Household and Grocery Items

A lot of the country is starting to cut back on single-use plastics when it comes to straws and shopping bags, but for some reason, everyday grocery items seem to be going in the opposite direction. All of our favorite items now come in fancy, plastic packaging, and ironically enough, it always seems to be the"eco-consciencious" or "cruelty-free" versions that are wrapped in plastic. Certain brands of cage-free eggs now come in plastic cartons while the rest are still cardboard. Almond milk comes in plastic while other milks still come in the cardboard box. Fancy new brands of dairy-free ice creams are now in plastic containers while Häagen-Dazs still totes the cardboard. None of this makes any sense to me. Choose the non-plastic packaging when given the option.

Many foods have to come in a container of some sort. Fruits do not. So why contribute to even more plastic in the ocean?
(Disclaimer: this photo is from pexels.com) 


6. Have You Heard of Shampoo Bars?

My latest obsession is with these amazing bars of shampoo sold by Lush. They are every bit as luxurious as the stuff that comes out of bottles, minus the plastic. The bars of conditioner on the other hand still need some work.

Lush is not even sponsoring me to say how obsessed I am with these things! 


7. Rethink That Keurig

An estimated one in three households now has a pod-based coffee machine. That's a lot of little plastic pods going into the trash every morning. Consider buying the recyclable pods, or even better, their reusable basket (off-brand varieties are also available).

Fletch is a big fan of Nespresso's recycling program. They have 122,287 collection points around the world where you can drop off your recyclable Nespresso pods, or if you order directly from the site, you can add a recycling bag, free of charge, and simply drop it in the mail with all your used pods.

The Story of Stuff Project estimates that the number of K-Cups that have been trashed could wrap around the planet 10 times. Try a reusable pod instead.
(Disclaimer: this photo is from a Google image search)


8. One for the Ladies

Gents, you can skip this one. Fletch took a peek over my shoulder and said to add a second warning to please skip it. You've been warned. This discovery did not come from trying to limit plastic, that was just a convenient consequence. No, somewhere around year two or three of full-time travel, I got really sick of the space it took to pack a year's supply of feminine hygiene products (options overseas are usually sadly lacking). There had to be a better way to travel as a lady. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered an alternative option (a silicone cup) that had been dismissed in my pre-teen book about growing up as something for tree-hugging hippies who didn't shower. I did a little research into this shunned product and found a staggering number of benefits, including keeping all that plastic out of landfills and oceans, not disturbing your body's natural pH, and removing the risk of TSS. The only downside is the gross factor. Seriously, society has dismissed a great product simply because we're uncomfortable with our own bodies. Because I'm still too polite to go into too much detail on my personal blog, you can find a whole list of benefits by clicking here.


9. One for the Babies

As a woman who has opted to never have children, I'm going to try to refrain from giving out parenting advice. I'll just say that the EPA reports about 20 billion disposable diapers are dumped into landfills each year, accounting for more than 3.5 million tons of waste. Cloth diapers are a thing. I've also mentioned before that when I see trash in the ocean, I try to pick it up. Not diapers though. I have found diapers on the reefs and have left them behind in disgust, because that's just gross. Sorry turtles.


10. Reusable Versions of Ziploc-Style Bags are Now a Thing 

Fletch and I use Ziploc bags for everything, from keeping food, to storing miscellaneous knick-knacks, to organizing our stuff for travel purposes. In the past years of practically living in the ocean, I've kept those Ziplocs around and tried to reuse them until it was almost gross to do so. Obviously I was super excited to find that there are now reusable versions out there, some of which you can simply throw in the dishwasher.

Not sure why the apples and oranges need to be in a ziplock, but at least the plastic won't be going into the ocean in a day or two!
(Disclaimer: This image is from Amazon.com)


11. Keep an Eye on Subscription Services 

With the rise of subscription boxes that ship everything you ever needed and more straight to your doorstep, I came up with this brilliant idea that after receiving household items we use on a daily basis, we should be able return the containers for a refill instead of having to trash them. Luckily other people came up with the idea too, because my lifestyle isn't very well suited to starting such a business.

Cleancult is one such company out there now. They will sell you a standard bottle for all our your household cleaners the first time you shop, and then ship all of the refills in cardboard milk cartons afterwards. This is a new discovery for me, so I haven't tried it yet to see if the products are any good. And that's just the problem isn't it? It's hard to say goodbye to our favorite, trusted, big-brand items.

That's why I was ecstatic to learn about a joint initiative by recycling company TerraCycle and big brands like Tide. The program aims to bring reusable containers to your favorite products, delivered to your doorstep in a reusable tote bag. When you're done, you simply return the containers to the tote bag, set it back on your doorstep, they get returned to the companies who clean them, refill them, and return them to your doorstep, much like the old-fashioned milkman. The program is still in its testing phase, but keep an eye on it, because it could be a game changer.


While not mine, this is a very real photo of a dig sitting atop a trash pile in India. Sights like this  are all too common in under-developed countries.
(Disclaimer: this photo is from pexels.com)


I hope I haven't depressed you too much. I certainly get discouraged every time I walk into the grocery store and see shelves and shelves lined with plastic. It's a necessary evil, as many of our modern conveniences wouldn't be possible without plastic. It is also destroying our oceans though. So let's be mindful of what we are tossing into the trash, and try to reduce our footprint on our beautiful planet. Thanks for reading. The turtles thank you too. 

Touring Lembeh, an Island Not Frequented by Tourists

We opted out of diving on our last day in Lembeh, Indonesia. We could have squeezed in a last morning dive and still had time to decompress before our flight out of the country, but why push the limits? You may be aware that flying too closely after diving is about the equivalent to your insides as opening up a bottle of soda that has just been dropped down the stairs. I don’t know about you, but I’m not in any great hurry to drink that soda. (The recommended time between diving and flying is 18 hours if you were about to open a new tab to look that up).

So Tanja, Stefan, Fletch, and I signed up for a land tour through the resort. It would be a shame after all, to leave Indonesia without actually having seen any of Indonesia.

I mentioned before that we were staying at a relatively new and small resort, only a year and a half old with nine bungalows, and we were the only guests there for that entire time. As such, there were a few things that we were the lucky firsts to experience. One of these things was the Indonesian snack platter. We ordered this one evening whilst sitting by the pool with drinks. There was much confusion, plus a language barrier; several of the staff intermittently asked what we wanted on it, both Fletch and Tanja tried to ask for whatever it was meant to come with, and we finally ended up with a small bowl of fried veggie fritters, which were tasty but didn’t exactly represent a “platter” worth of food for four people. The next morning we received apologies and an explanation that no one had actually ordered that off the menu in the resort’s year and a half of being open.

The land tour was the next thing that I’m pretty sure no one had ever done before. In fact, at times it felt like no tourist from any of the resorts in Lembeh had ever done anything of the sort before (which you know me, I'm always keen for an adventure away from the normal tourist crowds).

The dive boat ferried us around the corner on our last morning to the neighboring village, where a safari truck picked us up. You may have run into these on your own travels, where a pickup truck has been outfitted with benches in the bed, sometimes a nice little awning. They are very practical and would never pass any safety standards for being on a road in the US.

We huddled into the back along with our Indonesian dive guide and one of the staff girls, then started winding along the dirt roads and up the lush hillsides. I had absolutely no idea that there was so much elevation to be gained in Lembeh, but we were hanging on to the rails to keep from sliding off of the benches and falling out of the truck bed. Our poor dive guide was turning green in the face, which was rather ironic given that he spent his days on boats. I guess sea sickness and car sickness are two different things.

We rumbled past numerous villages, some as big as 400 people, some only a couple shacks on the beach, which our Indonesian comrades got a good laugh out of telling us constituted an entire village. It must have been election season, because many of the villages were waving the flags of their political parties. We descended into one valley, to find a sea of red flags with bulls flying over every home, like a realm from Game of Thrones all waving their house sigils.

A picturesque village in Lembeh, Indonesia.


As we made our way around the island of Lembeh, it quickly became apparent that this was not a tourist, or even a highly developed area of Indonesia. There were no cities, no supermarkets, not even any hotels save for the few dive resorts on the Lembeh Strait side of the island. Just lush green jungle and scattered, sleepy villages. Imagine our surprise then, when the vehicle dropped us off at a replica of Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue, a replica that was even taller than the original supposedly. Why did this 19 square mile island have a bigger and better version of Brazil’s most famous landmark? I don’t have a clue. I have scoured the internet and nothing is written about it (in English anyway). It was like finding a replica Eiffel Tower in a sleepy little mountain town. We wandered around the deserted statue in puzzled awe for several minutes before heading back to the truck.

Lembeh's replica of the Christ the Redeemer statue, which is taller than the one in Brazil.

The view from the Christ the Redeemer statue. 


Our next stop was a beach to go snorkeling. There was a long boardwalk to get there, and by boardwalk, I mean individual planks of wood nailed together that looked as though they had been soaking in the high tide and then drying out in the sun a few too many times over the years, and might give way at any moment. The spaces between the boards were wide enough that we had to watch our feet carefully as we walked the perilous path over mangroves.

The beach was mostly coral with lots of driftwood. It looked like a little patch of desert amongst all the jungle, and was a relaxing spot to stop and stare at the sea. Unfortunately we arrived at low tide, and it would have taken a walk halfway out to the horizon and burning to a crisp in the meantime to reach any water deep enough to snorkel. So we sat under a little thatched roof shelter and amused ourselves by watching a black digger wasp digging himself a hole in the sand to use as a trap. It mesmerized us for some time.

Driftwood on the beach in Lembeh, Indonesia. 

Some more of the Indonesian resort staff arrived out of nowhere, all smiles, eager to join the day’s adventures. Whether they wanted to tag along for the fun of it, or were sent along to take notes for future land tours I’m not sure, but the more the merrier.

With nothing else to do, we got hungry pretty quickly and said, let’s go eat. The original plan for the tour had included the resort’s kitchen packing a picnic lunch for us to eat on the beach, but Fletch had lovingly requested that we go eat somewhere local, knowing I wouldn’t be happy leaving the country until sampling the Indonesian cuisine (and something besides resort food, as good as it was).

I know a lot of people visit Lembeh for the diving, but I was beginning to think that not many tourists before us had ventured out of their resorts, because all of the locals as we got closer to “town” were waving at us and staring at us like we were celebrities. My suspicions were further confirmed when we discovered that there really wasn’t a local restaurant on the island to go to. We pulled up to a roof covering several stalls. A couple of them were miniature convenience stores. Some had fold out tables with buffets of a few dishes set up, covered in tents to keep the flies at bay. A few plastic tables and chairs were crammed into the empty spaces. One of the plastic tables was hurriedly cleared off, and we were told to help ourselves, so help ourselves we did.

The selection was much like the selection we had been served at the first resort: lots of curries, a few meat dishes, a few veggie dishes, and rice. None of the nasi goreng that Fletch had been talking about since Bali. The food was excellent though. There was an eggplant dish that I had to go back for seconds of because the flavors in the sauce were so lovely together with the eggplant. The food outside the tourist realm is always the the most flavorful. I guess there’s a reason they don’t normally serve it to tourists though. Stefan was polite enough to wait until that night to inform us of the maggots hiding at the bottom of his fish.

Tickled at seeing white people dining with the locals, an Indonesian lady a table over was filming us on her smart phone for several minutes as we ate. Tanja was the first one to get up the nerve to ask her to please stop. After lunch, a dude approached us to ask if we’d take a picture with him. We hesitantly agreed, and then he proceeded to pull out his political poster for the red bull party (which I looked up, and represents the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle). In unison, we all said ‘No no no!’ I don’t even involve myself with politics in my own country. No way am I supporting an unknown foreign political party in a predominantly Islamic, underdeveloped nation, in an area of the world where corruption runs rampant. That was harsh, but who knows what we would unknowingly be supporting. The man was still happy to put the poster down and take the picture without it, although he did manage to throw up his political gang sign at the last moment. Then the rest of the locals in the little eating area wanted photos as well.

Pretty sure that we were the first white people to eat at this lady's food stall.


We crouched back into the truck, and continued down the road to Monumen Trikora, a spot we had dived off of several days before. We had seen mandarin fish under the water, and an old plane on display up the hill. We had absolutely no idea what the place was, and none of our guides knew enough English to explain. We wandered around what looked like a multi-story war monument. The place had not been maintained, and was littered with trash. Sculpted war murals were peeling off the concrete walls, painted murals by school kids were fading, and the area surrounding the plane had turned into a picnic ground for events.

War murals at Monumen Trikora, Lembeh

Part of a structure at Monumen Trikora, Lembeh 

Monumen Trikora, Lembeh

An old war plane on display.

A giant, painted tarsier statue. 


A lady in an official looking uniform approached me with her phone as Fletch and I were staring up at the plane. She didn’t speak any English, but seemed to be asking for something with her phone. Not knowing what else to do, Fletch took a photo of the two of us.

Hope I wasn’t breaking any rules ma’am. Here, have a photo; everyone else seems to want one today.


After we had wandered around and failed to learn anything about the ruined structures, we returned to the truck which brought us to the village of one of the staff girls. She introduced it as Pintukota Kecil, or “Door to the Small City.” It was a breathtaking little village that looked as though it had been cut out of a cliff. Sheer rock walls surrounded all sides except for the shoreline. The quiet made it feel as though we were stepping on sacred ground, and we moved cautiously as if entering a library.

She lead us over to the church, and allowed us to enter. It had pretty stained glass windows and a ship at the front. Someone outside was planting a garden. She explained that for Easter, everyone in the village would compete to have the nicest garden. We walked down the village to the shoreline where she pointed out a garden on the opposite cliffside. That was hers. I felt like she was showing us something very personal. She lead us through the entire village except to the corner where she lived. Fletch’s joke about meeting her mom must have made the shy girl rethink showing her home to a bunch of foreign strangers.

Church in Pintukota Kecil village, Lembeh

The ship bow at the front of the church.

A grasshopper on an eggplant. 

Our guide's Easter garden on the hillside. 


It was springtime, and all the dogs and cats and chickens had just given birth, and so there were puppies and kittens and chicks happily roaming the entire village. It was a lot of cuteness for such a quiet village, and we stopped many times to play with all the fur babies. It was a little bubble of utopia, this quiet village in the cliffs, cut off from the rest of the world and filled with puppies and kittens. Time seemed to stop there for a moment, and the chaos of the world ceased to exist. It was almost hard to say goodbye when our guide led us back to the truck to bring us back to the resort.

The truck dropped us off a final time, not in the neighboring village but at the top of the hill where the resort was located. We began the trek down the hill and spotted a small snake along the way. The train of local staff behind us simultaneously shrieked and jumped a foot in the air, running frantically back up the hillside, shrieking and laughing at themselves as they went. We all had a good laugh. Luckily Fletch, being a snake person, was able to reassure everyone that it wasn’t dangerous or anything to be afraid of, just a small constrictor. Plus it already had a gecko halfway down its throat, and once down, it is extremely difficult for a snake to spit out what it is eating.

The next morning the four of us donned our field trip t-shirts for one final laugh, and bade the wonderful staff farewell. Thank you to everyone at both Thalassa Dive Resorts for a fantastic vacation! It was fabulous to experience the world's capital of muck diving, which surpassed all of my expectations, and to finally get our own dive holiday where we weren't the ones in charge. What a welcome treat!

Farewell, Thalassa Dive Resort!

The Elusive Ghost Pipefish and the Purple Crab Who Lived in the Purple Sea Anemone

I've had the remainder of my blog posts on Indonesia sitting in the drafts folder for far too long now collecting dust. Don't ask me why. I guess I was hoping I could come up with something cheekier to say about the last of the little critters in my photos. But there really isn't all the much written about these sea-dwelling creatures, not compared to the widely adored seahorse or the fiercely fascinating mantis shrimp anyway. So I'll just throw the last of my photos at you with a tidbit of information or two.

This is the ghost pipefish. Little is known about them besides that they look super cool, which is really what it's all about. While they may look quite eye-catching in photos, they are anything but that on the reef. These masters of disguise can perfectly camouflage themselves in with various marine crinoids and algae, and only grow to be about six inches.

Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus)


Juveniles are mostly transparent, and float along in the open blue, being swept along in the ocean currents. If they survive long enough to find a reef, they settle down and find a partner and make little baby ghost pipefish. Although they belong to the same order as seahorses, it is the female that carries the eggs amongst these fish. It is believed that after reproducing, ghost pipefishes will return to the open blue, never to be seen again, much like their ghostly namesake.

Ghost pipefish are capable of changing color, and sex, although the latter has only been observed in aquarium settings, so it is unknown if this practice is common in the wild, or just something they do out of boredom while sitting in a glass box all day.

Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus)

This species is mostly found amongst feather stars, where they look just like another feathery arm. While they will change color to blend in with their surroundings, it has also been noted that pairs will often try to match colors with each other, much like Chinese honeymooners who wear matching t-shirts.

Here you see see a closeup of a feather star. It might not even be obvious right away that there is a little fish hiding amongst the feathers. 

Better contrast of the same ornate ghost pipefish. 


Robust Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus)

This species is usually found amongst seagrass and algae due to its leafy appearance. Unlike the ornate, these guys are a little more American in that they run and change as soon as they notice they put on the same shirt as their partner. 

This really just looks like a bit of seagrass floating over the bottom. Can you make out the fish? 

A beautiful, off-white variation of the robust ghost pipefish. 

Harlequin Swimming Crab (Lissocarcinus laevis) 

I love this little purple crab, in his little purple sea anemone. There are no remarkable facts or tidbits about this guy other than the usual crabby stuff (did you know that some crabs have teeth in their stomachs?). But he has a stellar knack for color coordination.

This little fellow is about the size of a pea and his shrimp friend, a lima bean. 

He has such great taste in color! 


That's it for the critters I'm afraid! I hope you've enjoyed getting to know the animals under the sea that aren't the usual shark and turtle suspects. I have one more post about Lembeh coming, though a land based one, and then it's on to the next adventure!