Quirky Washington DC Spots: Our Favorites

While I’ve been loving living in Indonesia thus far, I got homesick upon returning from my two-week trip to the US. This is when America’s capital came to mind again: so I decided to write a post about my friend and I’s favorite quirky Washington DC spots!

US Capitol Hill

Photo by Phil Ostroff via Trover.com

Henley Park Hotel: Unique Accommodation

926 Massachusetts Ave. NW, 20001

When I travel, I avoid chain hotels whenever possible, opting for Couchsurfing or other types of unique lodging. My favorite in DC is the historic Henley Park Hotel. Its European architectural details, such as stained-glass windows and 119 gargoyles, make it a special place to stay. Moreover, its location is perfect for visiting Capitol Hill, Gallery Place, and Chinatown.

The Henley Park Hotel, quirky Washington DC spots

Photo by Onebroadsjourney via Trover.com

Perry’s: Drag Queen Brunch

1811 Columbia Rd. NW, 20009

As many of my friends are part of the LGBT community, I have been attending drag queen shows for years. I love them! So when I found out Washington DC spices up your brunch with a drag queen show, I was hooked. The buffet is average, so it’s the queens who steal the show. Perry’s is a great spot to have a good Sunday afternoon with friends—great rooftop for the evenings, too! Insider tip: get there by 9:30 AM if you want good seats for the show.

Perry's brunch, quirky Washington DC spots

Photo by Sarah Sampsel via Trover.com

International Spy Museum: The Real James Bonds

800 F St. NW, 20004

I’ve always been fascinated with crime and covert operations. In fact, one of my majors in college was criminology! That’s why I love the International Spy Museum: a historical compendium of the real James Bonds. It exhibits old espionage instruments, real spy stories, and other interactive media. What makes this spot even cooler is the fact that the museum is hands-on: at the entrance, you receive your own cover which, by the end of your tour, you find out whether you “blew it” or not.

International Spy Museum, quirky Washington DC spots

Photo by Steve Urquhart via Trover.com

Takorean: Mexican-Korean Fusion

Various locations

Washington DC’s best food trucks converge at Truckeroo, my friend Stephanie’s favorite foodie event. Her favorite pick? Takorean. It’s like Chipotle, where you make your own taco, burrito or bowl—but with inventive ingredients such as steak bulgogi, spiced kale, and Korean-style salsa roja. Luckily, Takorean is also open for business at Union Market and Navy Yard.

Takorean, quirky Washington DC spots

Photo by Jeannie via Trover.com

Vapiano: Peculiar Italian Resto

623-625 H Street NW, 20001

Oh dear, I’m recommending a global chain! But hear me out: Vapiano Chinatown is a cool, Italian cafeteria/lounge concept. Not only is the menu fresh and delicious, but the restaurant is also great for groups due to its comfy seating arrangements and payment system. Guests receive cards upon arrival, to be swapped at the different food stations—total which is later paid by each cardholder upon checkout. No headaches splitting the bill!

Vapiano, quirky Washington DC spots

Photo by Tina via Trover.com

Union Market: Collective Foodie Heaven

1309 5th St. NE, 20002

The historic market, revitalized and reopened September 2012, now features 40 local food artisans. I believe it is one of Washington DC’s best day trips, as visitors can enjoy daily happy hour specials and weekly special events—in addition to sampling inventive cuisine.

Orlando for Foodies Guide: Cities Less Traveled

Orlando, Florida: a city less traveled!? C’mon! This probably crossed your mind. But let’s be honest here: beyond the theme parks and golf resorts, Orlando is not a popular city break. I don’t know why though: I personally love it and used to frequent Downtown and Winter Park for concerts and dining. So, with a trip to visit friends in the area coming up next week, I wanted to showcase Orlando for foodies.

Orlando for foodies, Curry laksa

My favorite dish at Hawker’s Asian Street Fair: Curry laksa

Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant

125 W. Church St., Orlando (+4 others throughout FL)

I’ve been dreaming about Jamon Serrano for weeks so cannot wait to go back to Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant. Even though it’s a chain, they offer fantastic live flamenco shows and their menu is both delicious and extensive, with over 100 hot-and-cold tapas and paellas, mostly from Catalunya and Northern Spain. My favorites include the calamares rellenos (squid stuffed with veal, chorizo, Manchego cheese), champinones de Sevilla (4 types of sautéed mushrooms, sherry, goat cheese, toasted bread), and of course, the house sangria.

Luma on Park

290 South Park Ave., Winter Park

With a similar concept of shared dishes and small plates, the upscale Luma on Park offers fabulous Floridian seafood such as bluenose bass and Apalachicola oysters (depending on the season). The star here is their affordable US $35 prefix menu though, offered every Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. The 3-course special ranges from grouper brandade churros to egg cassarecce Bolognese, an 8-hour ragu. Good news to regulars: every menu changes daily.

Hawker’s Asian Street Fair

1103 Mills Ave N., Orlando

Believe it or not, my Indonesian city does not have many spots with Asian food, except for the local fair. For this reason, I want to go back to Hawker’s Asian Street Fair and have their excellent fusion picks hailing from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, Beijing, and Bangkok. The most memorable include the Singaporean laksa, Hawker’s duck tacos, and the Southeast Asian curry.

Kappo at East End Market

3201 Corrine Dr., Orlando

Another great spot for Asian cuisine lovers, particularly pickled and raw seafood fans. Kappo at East End Market’s highlights include the scallop uni truffle, the pickled Chirashi bowl, the biggie sashimi plate, and omakase (Chef’s Choice) dinner. With only 8 seats, it is an intimate dining experience. Plan accordingly! Get there at least 30 minutes before opening time—and book minimum 3 months in advance for the omakase.

Treehouse Truck

Various locations

With the food truck trend hitting Central Florida by storm, I had to include one of Orlando’s favorites! With crazy creations such as the GC Luther (bacon cheeseburger between 2 Krispy Kreme grilled cheese sandwiches) and Mama’s PBJ (a Nutella, banana, peanut butter and jelly deep-fried sandwich), a visit to the Treehouse Truck will bring back fond memories of the State Fair. Opening hours and location are naturally erratic, especially since they also offer private catering. Make sure you check out their calendar before planning a visit.

Orlando for foodies, Treehouse Truck

GC Luther burger by treehousetruck.com

I’m currently a writer for HipMunk, participating in the #‎HipmunkCityLove Project. Proud to be promoting Orlando for foodies!

Gasparilla Invasion video and photos: 2014 PARADE

AHOY! I had already crossed Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras, a.k.a. the Gasparilla Invasion, off my travel bucket list back in 2006. HOWEVER, I didn’t know the experience could be that much better when witnessed from a BOAT! Luckily, I had that ultimate experience last month 🙂 Debating whether you should experience it too (it is known, after all, as a festival of debauchery)? Check out my Gasparilla Invasion videos and photos below to decide yourself 😉 With the right crowd (and outfits), I promise you: it’s a lot of fun.

HOW to cross the Gasparilla Invasion off your travel bucket list

If I have convinced you, here’s how you can cross the Gasparilla invasion of your travel bucket list: You may hitch a ride with a Tampa Bay Couchsurfer who happens to own a boat, a friend, a total stranger. Just show up with some drinks, mixers and I doubt any friendly Floridian will deny you entry to their vessel 😉

Gasparilla parade photos, pirate outfits

I found some friendly pirates!

OR, if you feel more comfortable, go the ‘conventional tourist’ route and book a one of the unlimited wine/beer/soft drinks FERRY TOURS from St. Petersburg:

photos Gasparilla Invasion, FERRY TOUR

Throwing BEADS at one of the FERRY TOURS coming from St. Petersburg

Where to stay when attending the Gasparilla Invasion?

It really depends where your new found friend parks his/her boat, if you are boat hitchhiking or whether you’re taking a ferry tour. IF you are not Couchsurfing and plan to stay in Tampa, I recommend hotels close to Jackson’s Bistro (601 S Harbour Island Blvd, Tampa, FL 33602), such as the Marriott and the Westin.

You must book your room WAY in advance, as locals snatch these early. Naturally, traffic is impossible on Gasparilla parade day, so I don’t recommend any hotel outside walking distance from Harbour Island…

Gasparilla parade photos, boats

It gets CROWDED, very crowded! But from the comforts of a boat, not a big deal at all. Unless…

Getting to the Gasparilla Invasion: Parade day tips

Speaking of which, boat traffic is pretty terrible before, during, and after the Gasparilla Invasion as well. Therefore, if your friends are planning to come into Harbour Island, make sure you arrive either the night before or on parade day by 9:30 AM sharp. Also, don’t plan to leave until sunset. Otherwise, it will be a nightmare.

^^ WARNING: strong Sofia Vergara-esque accent due to all-day imbibing ^^

On the other hand, if you’re staying in St. Petersburg and taking one of the ferry tours, ask your tour company which hotel is closest to its dock. Gasparilla can get pretty crazy, so make sure your hotel is nearby!

Gasparilla parade photos, vision impaired

That shall be me — and very likely your vision after attending the Gasparilla parade!

If you have any other questions about Tampa Bay and/or attending the Gasparilla Invasion Parade, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

For more photos, check out my Gasparilla photo album here.

Is the Gasparilla Invasion Parade on your travel bucket list?

Announcement of the HIPPIE HAJJ: aka my Seattle, Portland, Vancouver trip!

ALOOO! It’s Travel Bucket List Wednesday, so what better day to officially announce my Seattle, Portland, Vancouver trip?! I’ve heard about the eclectic trio of cities quite a bit throughout my travels: as far off as Egypt, where one of my roommates happened to hail from the seat of King County.

“You would LOVE my city — especially since they have the best coffee” to “Keep Portland Weird” have always pique my interest for the Pacific Northwest. SO, when I was invited to a travel blogger wedding by Seattle, I knew I had to extend my trip beyond Washington state!

I know some of you have probably been crossed-eyed ever since I mentioned the term “Hippie Hajj” on last week’s blog post too, so here’s your answer 😉

Pacific Northwest photo: Seattle, Portland, Vancouver trip

The beautiful Pacific Northwest by Bureau of Land Management, Flickr

Seattle, Portland, Vancouver trip: aka the ultimate hippie pilgrimage

In case you don’t know much about Islam, Hajj is the sacred pilgrimage each able Muslim must make to Mecca at least once in their lifetime in order to make it to heaven. It involves elaborate preparation and several rites of passage, so speak.

Add to that that, the more I read about each city, the more my theory is cemented: a Seattle, Portland, Vancouver trip is basically the ultimate hippie pilgrimage. Very walkable, co-ops, good farmers markets, great food trucks/stands, dive bars, etc. Or perhaps we could swap the word “hippie” for simply “HIP”? Either way…

This shall be my Hippie Hajj, dammit! A full week on each city 😀

hippie Seattle, Portland, Vancouver trip photo

Shibby777, Flickr

My Seattle itinerary: lots of local events!

I spent the ENTIRE day today putting together my awesome Seattle itinerary. I’m always flexible, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss a thing. And so, I was in luck: LOTS of events scheduled! Excited as heck, for sure.

**VisitSeattle.org, Seattle.gov & The Stranger here UNBELIEVABLE travel planning sources — especially the latter!

Seattle free walking tours: Pike Market Experience & Seattle 101.

-Take advantage of SEVERAL free wine tastings happening every Thursday & Saturday all over the city.

-Speaking of drinking, I want to tour a couple of breweries + must visit the UNICORN on Capitol Hill. I hear it’s funky.

-Catch a band or show at one or more of these venues: Showbox, Tractor, New Moe’s, Chop Suey, Fun House (I may have misspelled one of these, my apologies!)

-Madison Park Art Walk

Splinter dance [FREE! *Tue 9/17]

Sylvia O’Stayformore’s Queen’s Brunch: every 3rd Saturday starting at 11 AM

-Seattle Italian Festival

Guest Chef Night at FareStart: $29.99 for 3-course dinner. All chefs volunteer their time and ingredients! ALL proceeds toward helping rehabilitate homeless people, teaching them skills to be able to work in the food industry. Amazing initiative

-Other foodie activities: Rainier BBQ to try cobra and rattlesnake; Little Uncle on Capitol Hill for Thai street food; try Somali food in the International District; book at least one foodie/gourmet tour of the city.

-Break bland airport food routine at Ivar’s Fish Bar for their famous clam chowder or smoked salmon chowder.

-Try at least 2 different food trucks every day (yes, really).

SO many more on my list, but must move on for this post’s sake!

Seattle, Portland, Vancouver trip: Seattle skyline


My Portland itinerary: loose plans

Given that I spent way too many hours today planning my Seattle trip, I have nothing but loose ideas of what I want to do in Portland:

-Visit Voodoo Doughnuts and by a sexual-innuendo souvenir T-shirt to Mr. B

Secrets Of Portlandia Free Walking Tour

-Portland’s Old Town, Northwest (Nob Hill) & Pearl District

-Hike Wildwood Trail through Washington Park

The Grotto: National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother looks beautiful!

-Possibly one Stray Boots tour: supposed to be a mashup between an informative tour +  scavenger hunt. NICE!

Lan Sue Chinese garden: never been to China, never been to a Chinese garden. Should be a cool experience!

Hair of the Dog Brewery

-Some kind of foodie tour

-Some kind of wine tour (tentative)

-A state or national park (not sure which one yet!)

-Day trip to Oneonta Gorge (although I’m afraid it might be too cold in October!)

My Vancouver itinerary: (sort of) no clue yet! HELP MEEE

The regular “to do” lists are making me kind of yawwwn… I want something quirky! Got any Vancouver recommendations?! For now, this is all I got on my list:

-Forbidden Vancouver tours: look quirky, fun enough

-Some kind of food tour

-Some kind of pub crawl

-A state or national park (not sure which one yet!). MUST be reachable with public transportation btw, as I don’t have a drivers license… Don’t ask! 😛

narrowest building in the world, Vancouver

Oh, and visit the Guinness Record Holding narrowest building in the world in Chinatown, Vancouver! (Leeann Cafferata, Flickr)

Have you taken a Seattle, Portland, Vancouver trip? Write your tips below!

UPDATE: due to an unforeseen emergency, I had to cancel my #HippieHajj trip…but don’t worry, we will make it happen soon!

FriFotos: places I’ve called HOME around the world! (photo essay)

To travelers and nomads, home is typically a state of mind. However, for FriFotos this week, I wanted to take you on a photographic journey to some of the places I’ve called HOME around the world. From sailboats to hammocks; concrete blocks to tiki huts: ¡Bienvenidos a mi hogar!

Home around the world: FriFotos photo essay

Home around the world, Puerto Rico

My humble home in Puerto Rico. Solid concrete = hurricane-proof!

The beginning and the end: my parents house and neighborhood in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Closer to the city of Caguas, though!

Home around the world, Puerto Rico concrete houses

The neighborhood I grew up in! A dead-end street with beautiful palm trees and mountains in the vicinity.

Due to hurricanes, most houses in Puerto Rico are made of solid concrete throughout:  including walls inside the home. Only the wealthy can afford intricate homes, as it is more expensive and difficult to build and mold concrete houses. However, if you just want one big concrete box, that won’t be too expensive!

The million-dollar home in Tampa, Florida

Home around the world, million-dollar home Tampa

The pool area, part of a yacht, the lake, and other million-dollar homes in the area.

In the summer of 2010, I was lucky enough to score a housesitting and pet sitting gig in an affluent neighborhood in Tampa, Florida.  For 2 full months, I lived like a rock star!  A yacht, a boat, fun neighbors, great food! I also got to hang out with the amazing family when they were around every couple of weeks. I bonded with my hosts so much that I now call them my American family. I even call the married couple mom and dad!

Whenever I can’t go back home for Christmas, I spend the holidays with them 🙂

Home around the world, American family

My new American family!

Don’t worry though, my first familia will always be in Puerto Rico. I simply call them mami and papi to differentiate my 2 sets of parents 😉 lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful people—much love indeed.

A hammock, overwater hostel, and a sailboat in Panama

Home around the world, Aqualounge Hostel Bocas del Toro

Aqualounge Hostel in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Only reachable by boat!

Home around the world, Bocas del Toro hammock

My bed for a couple of nights in Bocas del Toro, Panama

While this hammock and overwater hostel in Bocas del Toro were my home for less than a week, I had an amazing time! Great drinking specials, quirky characters, and fun parties.

Home around the world, sailboat Kuna Yala

View of Kuna Yala village from my sailboat cabin

More about this trip: Panama, my last college spring break! (photo essay)

This trip got even better with 4 days sailing down the San Blas Islands—in great company as well. Just imagine this bubbly Puerto Rican, a loopy captain, 2 diplomats from the US foreign service, 2 retired lawyers, and a Kuna Indian fisherman…!

College campus in Morocco

Home around the world, Al Akhawayn University Morocco

The gorgeous campus of Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco (Amina Lahbabi)

In the fall of 2009, I studied abroad in Ifrane, a small town by the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, for 4 months. The American-style college is called Al-Akhawayn University and I had a blast! Gorgeous grounds, architecture, and people. The dorms were even better than in most colleges I’ve seen in the USA, which was crazy!

Home around the world, Moroccan college dorms

One of the dorms! Photo courtesy of Munir Sayegh

I felt most at home in the classroom of my World Religions class with Portuguese professor Jacques, though. Handsome, wise. He taught me so much about unknown cultures, religious traditions, rites, etc. I haven’t been that happy in many other places! Unfortunately, no photo of handsome Jacques available.

 Cluttered roofs and sleeping on an ancient felucca in Egypt

Home around the world, Cairo apartment

Cluttered roofs and dirty apartments — commonplace in otherwise-fascinating Cairo, Egypt

I must have moved about 4 times during my year of Arabic studies in Egypt.  Issues ranged from roommate conflicts to sketchy bowaabs (building doorman)—you name it! And even though my digital camera died within the first week in Cairo, my first flatmate—Natalia—took a good picture of one of the apartments (photo above).

Umm yeah…with my student budget (relying exclusively on a scholarship), I couldn’t afford a maid to keep the apartment dust-free nor a better view than that one. All in all, a very humbling experience. Seriously, cleanliness…one of the many things we take for granted everyday.

Home around the world, sleeping on a felucca

Relaxing morning, sleeping on a felucca!

It goes without saying that where I felt the most at home during my year in Egypt was while drifting down the Nile on a felucca for 3 days and 2 nights.  Absolutely magical.

Home around the world, felucca sunset

Sunset during my 22nd birthday (by Aswan, Egypt)

This photo essay is almost 800 words now, so enough of home for today! 😉

Hope you enjoyed it.

Felucca Sunset Egypt

Yup, that’s me on the felucca once more. Had to save the best shot for last!

Where’s home to you? How many countries have you lived in?

A year in travel (and life): My 2012 roller coaster ride

Welcome to the roller coaster ride of my year in travel — and life. 2012 was full of not only travel bucket list adventures, but also several struggles and personal growth. In fact, it was one of my toughest years to date. Let’s take a look back and breath in the positive, breathe out the negative, learn from the mistakes, and most importantly: move forward!

year in travel, my first snowfall

There’s no rainbow without some…SNOW! 😉 My very first snowfall in Frisco, Texas

Local tourism: Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras and the Dalí Museum

As I currently live minutes away from downtown, I took part of the Gasparilla Parade (Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras) on January 2012. “The Invasion” celebrates the legend of José Gaspar (better known as Gasparilla). Rumor has it that the Spanish pirate captain invaded Florida’s west coast between the late 18th – early 19th century. No evidence of such “attack” or even the capt. himself appears in writing until late 20th century though, which makes his existence dubious. But who cares? It is still a heck of a party!

year in travel, Tampa Bay Mardi Gras Gasparilla

“The Invasion”! (Christopher Hollis for Wdwic Pictures)

Also, I finally went to the new Dalí Museum in nearby St. Petersburg. It was an amazing experience see the works of my favorite painter, in addition to having some random fun by the Tree of Wishes in the courtyard!

Year in travel, Dali Museum Florida

By the courtyard and Tree of of Wishes of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida (Matthew Paulson, Flickr)

My first travel conference: The NY Times Travel Show

In March 2012, I went to the New York Times Travel Show for the first time. For being my very first travel conference period, I feel it was a success! I later contacted some of the media agents I connected with throughout the weekend — and even got some comped trips later in the year. The networking that ensued forced me to think about my brand, how I market myself, and where I want LatinAbroad to be. Professional and personal lessons.

Also, I finally got to meet some fellow travel bloggers! Including some of my “idols” 😀

year in travel, NY travel Show Expedia party

NY travel Show Expedia party with travel bloggers @CaptainandClark @MidlifeRoadTrip @live_for_travel

year in travel, New York Times travel show

Top: Woman travel session (with legendary @JourneyWoman, Evelyn!). Bottom: Asia section with lovely dancers from Sri Lanka (left) and Thai display (right)

Life after studying abroad: My post-travel depression

Around April, my life after studying abroad was starting to get to me. More often than not, I was quite sad, unable (or unwilling?) to accept my new life. This post-travel depression hit me hard. I started to fight a lot with my new beau. In fact, it was one of those fights that helped me see that I really had to improve my day by day.

While I still struggle from time to time,  I keep reminding myself that my long-term goals will allow me to travel for the rest of my life! I just have a wee-bit left to get done stateside 😉

year in travel, Tampa FL local tourism

Local tourism in Tampa! Part of my life after traveling the world

American work culture and illness: More struggles ahead

In May, even more hurdles were put on my path. I struggled with the difficult American work culture and a new illness: RSI/carpal tunnel. Due to not having health insurance, I have still not been officially diagnosed, but the pain in my hands and dainty fingers doesn’t lie. I found a way to move forward by buying voice recognition software and learning to relax. A journey, not a destination…

Year in travel, American work culture

Stressed.Out (Deborah Leigh, Flickr)

June: More domestic tourism, TBEX and my 1st Blogiversary

I define domestic tourism as traveling to states or provinces of the country you are living in. This summer, I saw more of America by visiting the number 1 beach in the USA and going to the West for the 1st time. Where to? Keystone, Colorado for TBEX!

Year in travel, Siesta Key Beach FL

Me at Siesta Key beach FL: Number 1 in the USA

While TBEX was my 2nd travel conference, it was my 1st (official) travel blogger trip. I got to meet even more of my travel blogging idols and long-time online friends face-to-face. Among them, the legendary Lola DiMarco, Jodi Ettenburg, Michael Tieso, and Stephanie Yoder. Furthermore, I got my first translation deals! They are still on the works (none have gone live), but I know 2013 will bless me in that department 😀 As a TBEX 1st timer, this meant a lot to me.

Year in travel, TBEX conference

Me (bottom) surrounded by some big names and travel bloggers! Guess who?

You know what else happened in June? It was LatinAbroad’s 1st anniversary! I can’t believe my baby travel blog is over a year old already. Thanks to YOU for all the support! This will keep going for years and years, I assure you 😉 I love it too much.

Year in travel, TBEX Colorado

Champagne and a view: Couldn’t ask for a better ride! (Photo: Jennifer Huber)

Puerto Rico gringo invasion — and partial media trip!

In July, I had the great opportunity to go on a partial media trip to my island, Puerto Rico. With my gringo in tow, we visited my family and other quirky attractions in the island. The highlights?

The sensual Hotel OK and Motel Villa Arco Iris:

Year in travel, sex Hotel OK Puerto Rico

Hotel OK suite: Complete with stripper pole, heart-shaped Jacuzzi, and the mandatory ceiling mirrors over the bed and hot tub!

Year in travel, Puerto Rico sex Motel Villa Arco Iris

Our romantic suite at Motel Villa Arco Iris. And yup, that’s a ceiling mirror over the bed — and over the Jacuzzi as well!

Going down the tallest zip line in the world:

Small plane ride over the ocean from mainland Puerto Rico to Vieques:

Year in travel, Vieques plane ride

Gorgeous views of mainland Puerto Rico! This flight was courtesy of Vieques Air Link

Laid-back Vieques Island beaches:

Year in travel, Vieques Beach Playuela

Entrance to hidden gem Garcia Beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico

 …and my gringo trying to drive!

A Russian restaurant, the Olympics, and a patriot’s dilemma

The end of the summer brought an unexpected local outing. I got to travel through food and visit an authentic Russian restaurant in Florida. I drank some Soviet-era vodka and ate some interesting Eastern European food.

year in travel, Russian food

I ate the Eastern European lobster pierogi. It was an interesting cream sauce with caramelized onions, plus the perioges seemed to have been stuffed with crab too

Additionally, I got into some arguments around the Olympics due to my strong Puerto Rican patriotism and ignorant Americans’ inability to understand it.

year in travel, Puerto Rico patriotism

Who would have thought this moment would cause so much commotion — in a negative way!?

A new travel cooking series — and financial anorexia

October brought with it some exciting new plans — and some old struggles. Hostel Cooking recipes debuted thanks to my good friend Josh Snore; while the Black Dog showed its ugly face again. I even accepted I suffer from financial anorexia. However, I pulled through — and they won’t beat me!

Year in travel, hostel cooking

Never thought you could cook Moroccan chicken with couscous in a hostel, did you? Get the recipe here!

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico: My 2nd trip to the Yucatán Peninsula

In November, I had another great opportunity to go on a partial media trip to check out 2 of the boutique Xperience Hotels. This time, I would be heading to Mexico for the 2nd time to check out the laid-back beach town of Playa Del Carmen! I was beyond excited, as I could not see many attractions my 1st time around.

I sampled Mayan cuisine, went rappelling and tubing in a cenote, visited the lesser-known Ek Balam Mayan ruins, and even got a 70-minute beach massage for only USD $18! Oh, and sure thing, la gente esta muy LOCAAA in Playa Del Carmen nightlife (and I absolutely loved it).

year in travel, cenote rappelling

Cenote rappelling! Don’t I look excited?!

year in travel, cenote tubing

Our group tubing in a cenote. Of course, I’m the one posing pretty haha

year in travel, Ek Balam Mayan ruins

Ek Balam “Jaguar” Temple: Mayan carvings

Christmas in Texas — and MY FIRST SNOWFALL!

Last month, my partner surprised me with tickets to go see his family in Texas for Christmas. It was a pretty laid-back trip, but with some great highlights!

Right out of the airport, I was taken to sample some good ol’ Texan barbecue. Omg.

year in travel, Texas barbecue


year in travel, Texan BBQ

Texan brisket and sausage

The Downtown Frisco musical light show and surrounding homes brought out the kid in me. I squealed like a little girl, I was so happy! 😀

The next day it was all about the spanking-new Perot Museum of Science was so much fun — but extremely crowded. I recommend you be the first through the door and have fun at the bottom floors first, as they are the most interactive. My favorite sections were the oil drilling and minerals, in addition to the human anatomy floor. There, you could see the many wonders of the human body via some excellent experiments and quirky gadgets. It was so unreal —  perfect for kids, by the way.

Then, it was Max Donuts. And family banquets. Just SO. MUCH. FOOD.

Year in travel, Max Donuts TX

Max Donuts and other delicacies

Year in travel, veal sausage

Southern veal sausage: spicy, juicy, delicious

Year in travel, southern brisket

Southern brisket right out of the oven

Year in travel, Texan bacon cheeseburger

Just look at that sexy Texan bacon cheeseburger

Year in travel, Midwestern food

Midwestern food in Texas

Year in travel, Southern biscuits

Southern biscuits: garlic, cheese, herbs, and a lot of butter!

But nothing, I mean NOTHING this year could top this one off:


That’s right: up until Christmas 2012, I’d never seen snow fall from the sky. Ever. And yes, it snowed right on Christmas Day! It was so so perfect, I even teared up a little, especially as my partner stepped outside in order to kiss me under the snow 🙂

Year in travel, my first snowfall

It started to snow! It started to snow!

Year in travel, my first snow storm

This is what extreme happiness looks like. Very 1st snowfall in my life, I even teared up!

Indeed, happiness is an understatement here. So of course, I had to shoot not one, but 2 videos. It was freezing cold, but I was so overjoyed I couldn’t even feel it!

New Year’s in Tampa Bay

In comparison to other years, the last few hours of 2012 were very laid-back. However, I spent them among friends and, most importantly, the man I love. 2012 taught me that I could love again, even though travel and a broken heart had stripped hope.

year in travel, fireworks

A great start to 2013 <3

And so, with a kiss and embrace, we said goodbye to 2012 — all while watching a good ol’ firework show over Tampa Bay:

2012 resolutions: Moving back to Egypt, Arabic degree, Oceania — FAIL

Last, but definitely not least, are my failed 2012 resolutions. Last year, I wanted to not only improve my Arabic and even earn a Master of Professional Studies degree, but also move back to Egypt. Plan A didn’t happen, as the federal government stopped funding that program and the situation in Egypt deteriorated (so did my job prospects).

What about Plan B, to become a flight attendant and fly all over the world, or even Plan C,  which involved me moving to Australia and traveling all over Oceania? Well…

I started to take my finances so seriously that I set a plan to get rid of all my debt (about $50,000 of it) in 3 years or less. I just wanted to be free, be free of all Western world strengths and the flawed American work culture.

I decided I want to be a full-time nomadic translator, travel writer by 30.

And, most importantly: DEBT-FREE by then!

It might not be a perfect plan, but it didn’t matter in my head — it still ruled out Plan B. Then, I got a promotion in Florida and decided to stay put longer, as the new salary and benefits were in line with my new financial & other important long-term goals. There went Plan C

But was my toughest year yet ruined because of all these changes? As you could see throughout this post, definitely not. Yes, I struggled. Yes, I didn’t travel as much as I wanted to.

But I grew. I learned a lot.


So: Cheers to 2013! I’m ready to learn, to be amazed, and to be blessed once more. Shall this post be a reminder of John Lennon’s words:

Year in travel, John Lennon quote

A motto to remember

How was your year in travel (and life) in 2012? Share your milestones!

Salsa music history and videos: Travel playlists

There are many misconceptions about salsa music history and its true origin. For this reason, I decided to write about my favorite Latin music genre for this week’s Cultural Tidbits Monday. Additionally, I have included some of my favorite salsa music videos for you to spice up your travel playlists. Enjoy! 😀

Salsa music history: From Cuba or Puerto Rico? Settle already!

As a Latina, I StumbleUpon this debate all the time: Did salsa music originated in Cuba or in Puerto Rico? I’ve seen Cubans and Puerto Ricans alike go head-to-head about who is right, who can take credit for this amazing contribution to Latin music and culture. The truth of the matter is, neither is 100% right.

Salsa music history, Fania All-Stars

“In 1971 the Fania All Stars sold out Yankee Stadium” [Steward, Sue (2000). “Salsa: Cubans, Nuyoricans and the Global Sound” pp. 488–489]. Photo: Tommy Muriel, Wiki

Salsa music history can be traced back to New Yoricans (Nuyoricans), or Puerto Ricans living in New York City, in the early 70s. While it was very common for any type of Latin music to be categorized as “salsa” (even mariachis!) since the 30s, it wasn’t until Johnny Pacheco, creative director and producer for Fania Records, fine-tuned a balanced mix of Latin sounds and created what we know as salsa music today. Back then though, the Fania sound was known as New York salsa.

Yes, Cubans will still scoff at the term and say that salsa was/is nothing more than a mix of old Cuban sounds. However, many fail to acknowledge that the salsa genre we know today was truly a mix of Cuban and other Caribbean sounds — thus the term (salsa = sauce, a concoction of ingredients). Even musicians that only played Cuban music changed the name of their genre to salsa “as a financial necessity” (Wikipedia, salsa music).

Salsa music videos: Travel playlist ideas

Heading to the Caribbean or Latin America soon? I recommend you add these explosive salsa mixes to your travel playlist! They come directly from my personal favorites collection 😉

Héctor Lavoe tribute by Mark Anthony, from the acclaimed film El Cantante. I recommend you download the entire album! But my favorite track is definitely “Aguanile”. No salsa music history article is ever complete without it. You may listen to it at the beginning of the video:

Another classic salsa music history group that has been around for decades is El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. I had the privilege to have them play at one of my proms in high school while living in the island. Superb! This is what I would call top-shelf salsa music 😉

What did you know about salsa music history before reading this post?

Arepas El Cacao review: Venezuelan food in Kissimmee (photos)

Today’s Venezuelan food joint Arepas El Cacao review is brought to you by Mr. B, with short commentary by yours truly. Tomorrow, for Traveling Through Food Monday, I’ll be talking more about the origin of arepas and cachapas. Additionally, I’ll give you some delicious recipes to try at home. This post though…it is just the humorous account of a gringo’s first encounter with Venezuelan food. Enjoy!

Arepas El Cacao, Co
3283 S John Young Pkwy
Kissimmee, FL 34746

Arepas El Cacao review: Venezuelan food in Kissimmee

Venezuelan food is a lot like the country: Full of amazing resources, but serious violence once you are deep inside. We walked toward Arepas El Cacao, a place with a giant cherry on the top of the building (these guys know what they are doing). There were only two side windows, both plastered with massive menus that covered them in their entirety. We stood confused at where the entrance was when, magically, a window opened and a boy of the ripe age of 9 was ready to take our order.

Maria led the way, as I assumed the language of origin of the people inside was Spanish. But even this edge did not help with the completion of our order. We were allowed to stuff 5 things into the cachapas (actually, the arepas Mr. B) or whatever and we decided on some meats. Additionally though, I decided to add some handmade cheese (queso de mano) because it confused me (I thought cheese came from cows?).

Arepas El Cacao review menu

Arepas El Cacao menu is plastered all over the windows – and prices upon request only

Yet, before we could make our fifth choice, the 9-year-old was off — back into the abyss of blackness that was the kitchen. We asked if they accepted cards, since they didn’t have a sign to say otherwise. And…surprise! Only cash accepted. Luckily, Maria and I dug out the amount of money needed, we were handed over our ¾ finished order, and we were on our way.

When we finally sat down and started eating, we had some major realizations: 1) We got ripped off. HARD ($14 for an arepa and a cachapa? Umm, no bueno) and 2) One looked like a pancake wrapping around italian cheese, while the other looked like a hard tac biscuit with some meat from the Walmart tubs in it.

Arepas El Cacao review, cachapa mixta

Cachapa mixta: The only good thing we tried from the Arepas El Cacao menu

When I started to eat the flapjack (umm, the cachapa, Mr B), it was a pleasant surprise. You can taste corn, meat, cheese, and with the weird mayo-ketchup mix it was top notch. The hard tac (aka the arepa) on the other hand was a tad harder to chew. It seemed to be crunchy in all the wrong ways. Meaning, it was a tad stale. However, the cheese that came from the 9-year-old-boy’s hands was great.

Arepas El Cacao review, arepa photo

Arepa stuffed with handmade cheese, chicken, and pulled pork

Overall, we are glad we gave Arepas El Cacao a try. I mean, I see it every time I drive down to see my woman, so it was nice to finally cross it off the list. Unfortunately, I have put it on the Never Go Again list as well. I felt bull coming out of my a** about 30 minutes after I ate there…no bueno!

TLTR: Flapjacks (cachapas mixtas) are nice, hard tacs (arepas) are not, and a couple Venezuelans ripped us off.

Arepas El Cacao review: The Latina pitches in

While Mr. B was pretty spot-on with his Arepas El Cacao review, I must admit that I would probably hit this joint again. If just to have another cachapa mixta. It was good. But…but…at $7 a pop, it is not a Venezuelan fast food place in Kissimmee you want to visit often. Specially when you are trying to pay off $40,000 worth of student loans in less than 2 years, as your annual salary is about that more or less…

All this said, though, I found out that there are two Arepas El Cacao joints: The one we visited in Kissimmee and a food truck in International Drive. I read many rave reviews about the latter, by the way. Maybe we should hit that one up next time we visit the theme parks in Orlando. Seems like their arepas are much better!

Kissimmee Arepas El Cacao review

Say no to an arepa (top); say yes to a cachapa mixta (bottom) at Arepas El Cacao. Ironic, si…

Got a different Arepas El Cacao review? Have you tried cachapas?

Cigar City Brewery Tampa: My favorite USA beers (photos and history)

Another busy week in the life of professional juggler Maria 😉 I’m still tied up in several travel writing projects, business strategies, etc. Yet, I couldn’t help but join this week’s FriFotos theme “Brands.” Finally, the perfect time to introduce you to my favorite USA beers! Ladies and gents, here’s the sexy Cigar City Brewery Tampa.

Cigar City Brewery Tampa glass

Photo: Dave Goldberg, Flickr


I can’t believe that the Cigar City Brewery Tampa does not even have a Wikipedia article. So! Here’s my attempt at a short history lesson…

While Florida is commonly known as “beer wasteland,” there have been some fine breweries around. The first was the Florida Brewing Company, which was founded in 1896 and carried on until 1961. Then, other breweries emerged (although not for long).

Finally, Cigar City Brewery Company (most commonly known as Cigar City Brewery Tampa Bay) began operations in 1994 in Ybor City. It remained there until 2003. on this location is where the famous Ybor Gold Amber, Brown Ale, Gaspar’s Porter, Calusa Wheat and Light were brewed. However, following the move from Ybor City to West Spruce Street, these brands were bought by the Florida Brewing Company in Melbourne, FL.

Ever since Cigar City Brewery Tampa moved its operations right to the middle of my current bus route from work to home, it started brewing my favorite USA beers 😀 Among them are:

Maduro Brown Ale

With a higher alcohol content than the regular English Brown ale, the Maduro features  flaked oats in its malt bill, giving it an outstanding silky-smooth feeling in your mouth and down your throat. It is as orgasmic as it sounds!

Cigar City Brewery Tampa Maduro beer

My dark lover, Maduro (Photo: Christer Edvartsen, Flickr)

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Brown Ale

As weird as it may sound, this is the most surprisingly-delicious beer you are lips will ever touch. It really tastes just like an oatmeal raisin cookie! What’s funny is that, whenever I go to the Cigar City Brewery Tampa tasting room, bartenders say that this is one of the most popular beers–particularly among men. It is only brewed seasonally, and whenever they do, it is sold out within a day. And so, whenever I get the chance to get another taste of this beauty, I rejoice in celebration. It is not easy to come by!

Cigar City Brewery Tampa oatmeal raisin cookie beer

Label of one of my favorite brown beauties (Photo: Humble Elements, Flickr)

Cubano-style Espresso Brown Ale

You’ve guessed it: I love my brown beauties 😉 Whenever my usual lovers are not available, I cheat on them with this Cuban-style beer. It is roasted with rich espresso beans, sweet caramel, toffee, and a touch of dry nuttiness. Yet, once poured, one can also taste notes of chocolate, then caramel, finishing off with some vanilla aftertaste. Ohhh SI.

Cigar City Brewery Tampa Cubano-Style Espresso Brown ale

My only Latin lover (Photo: naiserie, Flickr)

That’s it for today! If you wish to know more about other Cigar City Brewery beer varieties, click here. You will see other available beers and their ingredients on menu on the left.

Have you tried Cigar City Brewery Tampa? Which is your favorite beer?