Solo travel (photo essay of my epic adventures)

Today FriFotos celebrates ONE year – Happy Anniversary Mr Epstein! =) Great concept, I follow it religiously since I discovered it. And so, fitting it is this weeks theme: ONE. It could mean a variety of things, depends on one’s POV, which is why I love it today – such a variety of photos I’ve seen on Twitter! Woman solo travel it is, then 😀

As for me, this FriFotos theme was a perfect “excuse” to make a photo compilation of some of the journeys I’ve embarked on solo – my many experiences as a solo woman traveler. Please note, this is only meant to be a “teaser” or photo summary – full stories of each journey will follow soon! Conversely, if I have already written about a particular topic, click on the in-text link to read the respective post. Hope you enjoy and have a wonderful weekend! =)

Cancun & Chichen ItzĂĄ, Mexico – March 2008

I tried to get a group of 16 of my college friends together to head out to Cancun for my last spring break before studying abroad. Didn’t work out, so I said screw this, I’m going solo! And this is what they missed *evil grin*

woman solo travel Cancun

View from my hotel room. 'Cause I'm a baller

I, however, always make friends rather quickly…

woman solo travel Cancun kayak

aaand hijacked a kayak

Aaand wore a *cough* thong *cough*

woman solo travel Cancun beach

"Paparazzi: No photos, please!"

Plus spotted some bad-ass Mayan architecture at Chichen ItzĂĄ during a day trip that week

woman solo travel Chichen Itza

What a pyramid!

Washington, DC – June 2008

Shortly after my Spring Break stint, I headed to Washington DC for the Scholarship Convocation of that sweet deal I earned thanks to months of essay-writing and years of good grades . You know, that $20,000 study abroad scholarship to study Arabic in Egypt for a year? Yeah, that one =D Of course, I had to head out to DC solo, got a sweeeet room all for myself right by the Capitol at The Liaison Hotel, and met some wonderful brains in the process. With them I walked around the Mall & marveled at the sights for the first time in my life. Fun times!

woman solo travel Capitol Hill, Washington DC

Me @ Capitol Hill!

woman solo travel Library Of Congress, Washington DC

Library of Congress - with all those amazing books & architecture, truly HEAVEN ON EARTH!

Egypt, Israel, Jordan – August 2008 to July 2009

Just two months after DC, I departed for my greatest solo adventure to this day: Egypt and the Middle East! For a full grand year, I got to enjoy the most stigmatized (imo) region in the world. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that what the Western media says about the fascinating Arab world is quite skewed. Sure, there are problems (aren’t they everywhere tho!?), but I honestly felt more secure walking through the streets of Cairo at 4 AM or the streets of Jordan at 11 PM by myself than doing so in Puerto Rico or Tampa at any time of the day! If you have been avoiding this region because of what the news say, let me give you a news flash myself: JUST TAKE THE PLUNGE ALREADY! It is FASCINATING!

woman solo travel Great Pyramids

me @ the Great Pyramid, Giza, Egypt

I rode camels – several times over

woman solo travel Great Pyramids camel ride

umm yes, that's me

woman solo travel Ras Abu Gallum

Me (left) on a camel safari to Ras Abu Gallum reserve. About 1.5 hours EACH way from-to Dahab on a camel...hurts...but the views + snorkeling at the reserve were STUNNING

woman solo travel Ras Abu Gallum camel safari

I'm prepping on the left (pink tank top, WHITE camel!)

Wandered through historical, ancient cities & sites

woman solo travel Medinat Habu

Medinat Habu temple, Upper Egypt. Def. my favorite - SO colorful!

woman solo travel Islamic Cairo

me wandering the streets of Islamic Cairo

FriFotos Mohamed Ali Mosque

Mohamed Ali Mosque from Al Azhar park, Cairo (Photo: My friend Marta Carelli)

FriFotos Petra

The Treasury, Petra, Jordan

FriFotos Jerusalem

me in Jerusalem - golden Dome of the Rock and Wailing Wall in the background

Climbed many historical sites, all while mingling with locals (and other world adventurers)

FriFotos Petra Monastery

ME on top of the Petra Monastery - a BEDOUIN made me climb! =D

FriFotos Jordan

Bedouin girl fixing my headscarf. She led the trek that day, amazing!

Witnessed history buried underwater…

FriFotos Wreck diving

Travel bucket list item: Shipwreck diving - CHECK! (Thistlegorm)

even floated on historical waters…

FriFotos Dead Sea

me (far left) and other travelers floating on the Dead Sea (one kind man took photo for me)

…and, as a dramatic farewell, embarked on an epic 5-week solo Middle Eastern road trip, which took me to dozens of cities, spanning 3 countries, hitchhiking and Couchsurfing all the way. AH-MA-ZING!

FriFotos Abu Simbel

Ramses II, your ego is truly heavy (me at Abu Simbel Temple)

FriFotos Aswan

me drifting down the Nile on a felucca - look at those Nubian eyes!

FriFotos Egypt Israel border

by the Egyptian-Israeli border - AMAZING!

“The Transatlantic Tour” NYC, London, Spain – August 2009

The Middle East wasn’t enough to satisfy my wanderlust, oh no – I had to study abroad again in Africa, this time a little west, in Morocco. En-route, I went on what I called “The Transatlantic Tour,” with stops in NYC, London, Spain & 2 cities in Morocco before arriving to Ifrane.

FriFotos NYC

Statue of Liberty, NYC

FriFotos London

Big Ben & me - London

FriFotos Madrid

Me (right, skirt) with some travelers I met up with in Madrid

Morocco – August to December 2009

I briefly visited Casablanca and Fez, but that first day in Moroccan lands was so erratic, I couldn’t really take many pictures (click here to know why).

And so! High in the Atlas mountains, I studied Arabic language, Islamic history and World Religions at Al Akhawayn University for 4 months.

FriFotos Ifrance, Morocco

Library (left) and part of the mosque (right) at AUI. Photo by fellow student Jonathan Jacobs

It wasn’t all books, though – I befriended a great entourage from West Point (yeah, that bad-ass school) and together we took road trips around Morocco and have quite a couple of stories to remember! (to read more, click here)

FriFotos Morocco

secret beaches...

Essaouira, Morocco

...ancient doorways and kids...

Moroccan road trip

...dangerous roads...

Marrakech, Morocco

...and interesting characters! (umm, the COBRA is real, by the way...)

During my Moroccan stint, I even got to go to Europe for a 3rd & 4th time!!

Colosseum, Rome

Party I attended by the Colosseum, org by Couchsurfer I stayed with!

Blue Lagoon

me at Blue Lagoon, Iceland (OK this is cheating, I did have a travel buddy this time, who took the pic)

Panama – March 2010

Ater heading back to the US of A in January 2010,  I realized my last college Spring Break would be 2 months later, and so I planned my next journey: PANAMA! I traveled solo, met some great travelers from all over the world at Aqua lounge Hostel in Bocas del Toro and then heard some interesting stories from US diplomats on a chartered, 8-people, 4-day sailboat trip through the San Blas Islands by the Caribbean coasts of Panama. Yes, epic should be my middle name -I know (because clearly, modesty isn’t. LOL!). For a full trip report of this journey, click here!

View of Aqua Lounge Hostel's "pool" from my bed, I mean HAMMOCK ;)

FriFotos Aqua Lounge Hostel

Aqua Lounge Hostel

From left: American, Puerto Rican (me!), Australian, American, Israeli @ our Panamanian over-water hostel

Panama sailing

The sailboat - Andiamo!

San Blas Islands sailing

view of Kuna Yala from my sailboat cabin (San Blas islands)

And then…I stay put for a while. I haven’t embarked on any crazy solo journey ever since, except for the occasional weekend Couchsurfing in Orlando, FL for some concerts and Miami, FL for Latin spice and extra fun in the sun. Oh, WAIT! There’s ONE MORE!!!

Times Square NYE

Me celebrating New Year's Eve in Times Square, from VIP lane!!! (after midnight, ppl could cross, thats why you see many ppl in the photo)

Ummm, yes, as the photo caption suggests, somehow I flirted my way to the VIP lane and could get first-row-seats (I mean, standing spot) with even a private bathroom at the Ball Drop in Times Square for New Year’s 2011. Probably not too legal, thus the covered NYPD Officer’s face so the poor kind man doesn’t get in trouble! (to read more about this epic Times Square NYE, click here)

And behold, my loyal followers – the next epic adventure is set and the wanderlust shall continue!

SE Asia & Oceania map


*happy sigh of relief*

What was your definition of ONE for this week’s FriFotos? Share in a comment below!

How to poop in the Middle East and Africa: Travel tips

Hey guys! Learning how to POOP!? Oh, that’s right! It’s Cultural Tidbits Monday and today we are taking a little break from the “Traveling Through Food” series so I can show you a funny, albeit quite useful, post I published a bit ago on my Travel The Middle East website. Indeed, learning how to poop while traveling the Middle East or Africa (or any other third world country or place with squatters, really) is a skill that must be mastered and be on your high-priority list along with packing and other RTW-soon prep. And so, with no more preambles…

There is no more valuable lesson when traveling the Middle East or Africa than…knowing how to poop. That’s right folks: Pooping is indeed an art, one which must be mastered if you plan to travel throughout the Arab world and any other developing countries for that matter. So today I show you what I learned from living and traveling the Middle East for 16 months.

How to poop - Squatter

How to poop method squatter (Photo: Mintguy, Wiki Commons)

1. Practice squatting

While practicing may seem stupid to you, knowing how to squat is not enough in order to be able to actually know how to poop properly. Ask me, when I had to squat for long periods of time in the scorching Egyptian sun by a hole with only wooden walls, a door, and no roof. I would just squat there until actually, well, going, about 30 mins later (I wish not to remember sometimes). Thus I learned: You should practice how to poop while squatting at home, prior your trip. This way, if your “endurance” is not too good at first, at least you can “drop” safely on top of your toilet seat until, eventually, your body gets used to it. And trust me, it will learn how to poop right away once you squat with your pants down. It is basically muscle memory (really).

2. Spot your target and plan your strategy

Yes, you need strategy when it comes to knowing how to poop here. Start looking at some pictures of squatters (like the one above) and imagine placing yourself on it in a way that you are comfortable and able to poop properly inside the hole. If not, just practice on an actual squatter once at your destination–but when you don’t have to go. Not planning ahead will mean walking out with a prize of your, ermm, effort. This happened to me several times during desert trips until I finally learned to plan ahead and practice my strategy when I didn’t have to go so I could be ready for when I had to.

3. Be prepared

Always carry plenty of tissues and hand sanitizer with you. Why both? The tissue will be good for wiping, while the sanitizer will be the true cleaner. For instance, what if you make a mistake while squatting? I’m sure you’ll want to sanitize the victimized area afterward. Never underestimate squatting accidents–they can be pretty ugly. Once I lost my balance…and yes, I fell on it. All of it. Not only did I not have enough tissue to clean up, but I didn’t have any sanitizer whatsoever. Nonetheless, lesson learned (and the dirty way)

4. Always carry a bag

While some of your waste will decompose, your tissue probably won’t. We don’t want to pollute the environment–always carry a bag you can tie to put dirty, non-biological items in. How to Poop Etiquette 101, okay?

5. Practice digging

Sometimes, you find yourself in a situation where no squatter is nearby and you really need to go. We want to be as considerate as we can be, so knowing how to poop properly includes Etiquette 102: Practice digging a little hole in record time on your backyard. Recommended depth is 6-8 inches or 15-20 cm by the way. The more you practice at home, the faster you’ll be able to dig a hole once abroad and the least likely that you’ll poop yourself in the process. Some of you might think “well, I’ll just poop on the surface!” Really, really? Not nice…

Got more tips on how to poop abroad? Share on a comment below!

Traveling through Puerto Rican Food (photo essay)

It is Cultural Tidbits Monday and we continue with our new mini series, today Traveling Through Puerto Rican food! Tough one, as this means food from my homeland–hard to pick just a few dishes! But I will choose, I mean do my best. =)

As you already know, on the series, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite ethnic foods and restaurants through educational (and quite yummy) photo essays. Buen provecho!

Puerto Rican food: The fast food trucks

I was just in the Enchanted Island earlier this month, so I made sure I savoured some of my favorite Puerto Rican food. let’s begin with what I always miss the most: Boricua FAST FOOD! 😀

First, let me begin by explaining that some of the best Puerto Rican fast food comes in a truck by the ocean…

Puerto Rican food truck

Gotta love them Puerto Rican food trucks on random beach sides in the middle of a highway

After finding your perfect fast food truck (which btw, mine was closet o the town of Dorado, PR), you simply ask for your banquet. I knew exactly what I wanted… Alcapurria filled with crab meat, pastelillo (aka empanada) filled with chapin (red snapper), and fried toston with crab meat. Oh.My.Gosh

Puerto Rican food

Typical Puerto Rican food staples! From left: An alcapurria (still untouched), Goya hot sauce, Coco Rico coconut soda, mojito spicy seasoning, mayo ketchup (yes, mayo + ketchup in a bottle)

Let’s start with my # 1: The alcapurria (on left). It can be made of either mashed plantain or Yuca (cassava), basically making a “dough,” which is stuffed, rolled, and then deep fried. Typical fillings include ground beef, shrimp, chapin (red snapper) or crab meat. My favorite is the latter, then slightly seasoned with some drops of hot sauce while eating =D and, ahh, how can we forget my Coco Rico? Such a refreshing soda, made of coconut water and sugar cane. Yum!

Puerto Rican food

From left: Alcapurria (almost fully eaten), toston filled with crab meat, pastelillo (aka empanada) filled with chapin (red snapper) and Coco Rico soda

Now to my # 2: The toston. The best part of this one is that it can be anything: You can make a gigantic one and fill it with a seafood salad; you could use it as an edible bowl for whatever Puerto Rican food your little heart desires; make a couple of small tostones as sides of a meat dish with rice and beans; or finally, like I did on this sunny day at the food truck, simply eat it as a small appetizer. It is so easy to make, too: Simply buy a green plantain, slice it (medium thinkness), dip it in garlic salt, fry it lightly, take it out, smash it (so it is like a thin disc), fry it again until crispy: That’s IT! Then put whatever you want on top. I felt like crab meat this time =D

Puerto Rican food

A better view of my Puerto Rican food. Of course, I had already killed the alcapurria

My favorite thing about Puerto Rican fast food is that most stands (or food trucks are alway located by the ocean, so great views can be enjoyed while nom noming *wink* while the food truck i chose this time didn’t have the best view or beach…

Puerto Rican food

Those waters were dirty from all the mud and soil movement due to the heavy rains of Hurricane Irene. But anyway, gotta love them Puerto Rican food trucks stopping right by the ocean! Here I’m enjoying my alcapurria with crab and CoCo Rico soft drink =D

Kiosks located in Luquillo, for example, are awesome for both the quality of their food + views:

Puerto Rican food Luquillo Kiosks

Puerto Rican food kiosk in Luquillo. The cigar-shaped “tacos” are just like the typical empanadas, but shaped differently. Can be filled with lobster, shrimp, beef, chicken, red snapper (Photo:

Luquillo, Puerto Rico

Gorgeous beach just a few steps away from delicious Puerto Rican food in Luquillo (photo:

Puerto Rican food: Samplers

Before I jump to the heavy weights, I need to give you some other samplers of Puerto Rican fast food…

Pinchos Puerto Rican food

Pinchos (Photo:

^^ Pinchos = Puerto Rican shish kabobs. BBQ chicken or pork, you name it. Seasoned well with good ol’ adobo (Latin spices conveniently mixed packed in a bottle). Nicely divided pieces with crispy tostones. Enough said (nom nom!)

Puerto Rican food, bacalaito

Bacalaito, Puerto Rican fast food specialty. Photo:

^^ Bacalaitos, made of salty cod fish. It is basically a bit of batter and cod fish put together, fried. Final product? A crispy outer layer with a somewhat-chewy inner layer. They are really fatty, so just have to be in the mood for them. Sometimes I like them, sometimes I don’t. But when they come nicely crispy and fresh, you just can’t say no!

Puerto Rican food: The heavy weights

Now the heavy weights *cracks fingers* you see, it is tough to choose between them. In fact, so tough, that I am considering writing a Puerto Rican food part 2 of this series…but only if your request it! =P at any rate, let’s start with my favorite heavy delicacy, of course: The MOFONGO.

Puerto Rican food, stuffed mofongo

The good picture of stuffed mofongo (Photo:

Seems like everything I love about Puerto Rican food has something to do with either plantains or yuca (cassava) or seafood. Mmm. To the foreigner, the simplest way to explain what mofongo is: Amazingly-seasoned mashed plantains. Glorified mashed plantains stuffed with goodness. What’s goodness? It could either be calamari/octopus, seafood mix, or just lobster, shrimp, pork or beef. You name it. People choose different adjectives to describe and order their mofongo, you know what I mean?

I had my glorious mofongo this time by a stationary Puerto Rican food truck (attached to a casual restaurant) close to my parents’ house in Caguas, Puerto Rico. This time, I chose to stuff it with pulled chicken breast, soaked in garlic goodness (sorry, my mobile camera sucks!):

chicken mofongo Puerto Rican food

The chicken mofongo

In true heavy weight fashion, I couldn’t *just* have stuffed mofongo…

Puerto Rican food, asopao

My seafood and rice asopao. Way more delicious than this crappy photo can attest

…I also had some amazing asopao (aka ridiculously-seasoned, heavy-charged Puerto Rican soup)! The seafood kind this time: Mine had chunks of lobster, jumbo shrimp, octopus–and some yellow rice for good measure. The little disks you see on the right? You guessed it: Crispy plantain tostones! All.To.Die.For.

Puerto Rican drinks

How did I wash all that Puerto Rican food down? I had to make a tough decision between a Coco Rico and…

Puerto Rican Malta India

Puerto Rican Malta India – very sweet malt beverage

My beloved 100% Puerto Rican Malta India won the duel. How could I say no to India? I’d had enough white lately (no offense!)–I needed some brown sweetness in my life. And ahhhh, was it all worth it. Oh please Ms. India, take a canoe and come back to me!!

Hmmm, so I am both getting hungry again, nostalgic and thinking this post is too long already. *sigh* I was only getting started with the Puerto Rican food! Alright alright, some of us need to sleep while others need to go back to the frozen lunches I mean good pre-packaged food =) if you wish to learn more about Puerto Rican food, just let me know on a comment below and I will make sure I write another educational, nom-nom post for ya, yeah?

Puerto Rican roads

Have you ever had Puerto Rican food? What’s your favorite dish?

The Hijab in Islam: What’s your take? (interviews)

Hijab in Islam: What are the different interpretations? Keep reading!

Hijab in Islam, different views

Hijab in Islam: Differing views (Orrling, Wiki Commons)

From my travel journal, written while I lived in Morocco in the Fall 2009

Background info: Sukeina’s family is high-class, originally from Fes, but stayed in a residence in Ifrane close to campus during Ramadan, just so they could be together in such special time. This “data” might be important as to customs and traditions do vary across the country

The second week of September, I was invited by my Moroccan roommate, Sukeina, to have futuur and dinner with her family. At first, I was hesitant to accept the invitation.  I’m a Christian who is not fasting this month (I did fast the week after, though). It is not the fact that I’m from a different religion that deterred me from going at first–it was the fact that these people had been fasting diligently, while I had been eating like a pig all day. Meaning, I felt bad eating like a pig again when this was their very first meal of the day. Get it? However, my roommate was so persistent, I felt just as bad declining the offer. Paradox has been a common word in my vocabulary while living in the Arab world.

We drove for about 10 mins. until we reached the residence. It was not time for futuur yet, so Sukeina, our other roommate Siham, and I walked around the grounds. I was curious to know their views about the hijab in Islam (head covering or veil), specially after the strong views I heard back in Egypt. For instance, the husband of one of my Arabic teachers is a tiny bit liberal: He told me that hijab is not Islam, but rather a “political move” by Saudi Arabia to “control the region. Before, Egyptians didn’t wear hijab or anything!” He also added: “They do not have real land to control, like Egyptians do. For this reason, they use their women as property, as that’s all they have” *gulps* Note: He really did NOT like Gulf Arabs and did NOT consider himself an Arab, but a Pharaonic Egyptian, or even part Nubian, instead.

Conversely, my wealthy friend Hussein (high class, like my teacher) was appalled by those views and said that of course, the hijab in Islam is essential.

Concurrently, my Moroccan roommates’ reaction was not any different. In fact, they asked me to repeat my Arabic teacher’s take on the hijab in Islam being “a political move,” as they couldn’t believe it. After gasping several times and highly doubting whether this man is truly Muslim or not, they told me hijab is Islam. The reason why they don’t wear it is because they are “not ready” and feel they “must be better persons” before they do. They basically see the hijab in Islam as the jewel in the crown: Once a woman feels “good enough,” then she must show it by covering up with a veil. Otherwise, a woman is not “worthy of admiration” by wearing a hijab in Islam, as they are not “good examples” or “role models” yet. Or so I understood from their explanation…

Have you traveled to the Middle East?
Did you encounter different views about the hijab in Islam?