Long-term travel & college: My digital scrapbook

Hey guys! Last night (and errm, today) I spent several hours working on a digital scrapbook, as a Shutterfly promo I got through Tripadvisor to get $30 off a photobook was about to expire. So! Since I’m very proud of the product (and can’t spend any more energy in front of a computer typing), here it is! It basically summarizes (some of) the most memorable moments of my 5.5-year college stretch. You may ask, how did I manage to travel extensively while pursuing so many degrees? The short answer: Study abroad, low-cost airlines & Couchsurfing! I plan to write an entry about the specific steps I took in order to be successful both in school & in life later on.

Part 2 (including trips to Israel, Spain & Iceland) coming soon!

Click here to enlarge the digital scrapbook

Modeling & grabbing at the Pyramids of Giza

You read right. Modeling and grabbing at the Pyramids of Giza. Here, some photos and the sandstorm of disappointments I experienced during my 3 visits

[click any picture of the Pyramids to enlarge]

Pyramids Giza

Modeling…

Great Pyramid Giza

…and grabbing at the Great Pyramid of Giza

=P Click HERE, though, to read entry about my sandstorm of disappointments at the Pyramids in Egypt.

Have you visited the Pyramids of Giza? Are they in your bucket list?

June 25th in History, King of Pop’s death and why I love budget travel

And what else happened on June 25th in history…?

MY BIRTHDAY!! Indeed, a good day ūüėõ Here’s a little time line:

June 25th in History

1972 Juan Peron is elected president of Argentina
1983 After more than 1,500 shows, the musical “Evita” closes at Broadway Theater, NYC
1987 Maria Alexandra (aka LatinAbroad) is born in Caguas, Puerto Rico
1989 1st USA postmark dedicated to Lesbian and Gay Pride
2009 The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, dies unexpectedly at age 50
June 25th in history, Egypt felucca ride

What I was doing when Michael Jackson died

[click on any picture to enlarge]

The day Michael Jackson died,¬†I was celebrating my 22nd birthday in Aswan, Egypt visiting the Philae Temple during the day & starting a 4-day sailing trip on a felucca on the Nile at sunset. Thus, I did not receive the news until a couple of days later, thanks to a¬†Spanish tourist’s loud sobs “¬°ay t√≠o, mi papa me ha dicho que se ha muerto el Rey del Pop!” on a bus trip through the desert, en-route to Luxor. I couldn’t help but look back & ask “Michael Jackson died?”

June 25th in history, Philae temple

Philae temple

This story reminds me of how disconnected I can really get whenever I travel. At the time, I was on an epic Middle Eastern road trip that took me all over Egypt, Sinai, Israel & Jordan. The best part? I mostly hitchhiked & couchsurfed during my 3 weeks in Israel; while I only took local buses (read: Only speaking Arabic will help you find these); “brokered” direct tours with felucca captains, and asked by local bystanders about the best eats in town all through Aswan & Luxor.

June 25th in history, felucca ride friends

You always meet amazing people

Just got a couple of flashbacks…I remember getting lost for 2 hours in a bananas plantation by the Galilee Sea, just a couple of¬†kilometers¬†away from¬†Tabgha Church of¬†Multiplication where, according to Christians, Jesus fed the five thousand. I remember getting rides with a tourist guide, a kibbutz dweller & a grandpa on different¬†occasions, all who recounted peculiar stories, my favorite being the grandpa’s full historic background of the Israeli-Lebanese conflict on the way back from¬†Rosh Hanikra. These, my friends, are the kinds of experiences that stay with you and you never forget. To me, these are reminders of why I travel the way I travel–on a budget.

Jerusalem, Israel

Budget travel really pushes you to experience a place, delve into the culture, smell scents & taste flavors that are simply impossible to encounter on all-inclusive package tours or glitzy 5-star hotels. *sigh* I miss this. I miss traveling. I wish that I were spending my 24th birthday somewhere remote, getting lost again in someone’s plantation, just enjoying the moment & getting lost in nature. But my time will come again soon enough. For now? Let me hit the beach ūüėÄ

What’s the “Today in History” like on your birthday?

San Blas Islands pictures (Panama)

These San Blas Islands pictures were taken during a sailing trip I took while in Panama (2010). The trip was great value & I highly recommend it. The boat is called The Andiamo, with Captain Tony. =)

Gorgeous beach - found while island hopping

Me being silly =P

Snorkeling

Ball Drop in Times Square, NYE! Photos and video

New Year’s Ball Drop in Times Square, NY!¬†Ahhhhh, New York. From your skyscrapers to your boroughs; from your street stalls to your nightclubs. There is something about the aura, the energy, the pace of this city that is simply intoxicating to me. A city that I first disliked, like a Casanova, slowly captured my heart forever. All of this in just 6 visits,¬†3 of them which took place in 2010 (-2011!) ūüėÄ

Statue of Liberty, NYC

NYC skyline

While I could write a book about the Big Apple, today I’m simply going to tell you¬†how¬†I got to see the infamous Ball Drop in Times Square on New Year’s — from the VIP lane!! Woot woot: Officially scratched off my Bucket List! Oh, and did I mention I did it without waiting much?! While I may earn a couple (or many) haters with this post, it is simply a tale too irresistible¬†to not share.

New Years Ball Drop in Times Square, NYC: The Initial Plan

It all started with a $200 ticket for the Madam Tussaud’s New Year’s Eve party. Apparently, this was the only venue that was relatively close to the ball drop &¬†still had NYE tickets that I could (barely) afford. So, Latina style, I bought the ticket last minute–right on the 31st around 4 PM =D to celebrate, I had some¬†HEAVENLY¬†Venezuelan arepas with chimi-churri sauce, GLORIFIED tostones with cheese and spiced-up mayo for dinner¬†at Caracas Arepa Bar¬†on East Village:

Venezuelan food arepas NYC

A such a wonderful dinner, I changed really quick & hit the road. The friend I was staying with didn’t feel like doing Times Square, so indeed, I ventured solo. Yup, SOLO! Gosh, why is it that almost every incredibly memorable experience I’ve ever had has been while venturing solo!?

Ball Drop in Times Square: Barricades and perimeter

SO! I finally get to the ball drop in Times Square perimeter around 10 PM and got through many barricades thanks to my ticket — I thought to myself, OMG, I got the Golden One! But boy, was this “slightly” far from the truth…

Times Square New Years ticket

The Golden Ticket?! *buzzer* Fail.

I get there, oh so close from the ball drop in Times Square…to be told I had to take a left (?) turn. Yes, turn. So there it was, The Ball in Times Square, oh so close yet so far. I was moving behind the building that serves as its base…and after walking for a bit, you can barely see the blessed Ball. So, I stood in the middle of the street, right in between the entrance of Madam Tussaud’s & The Ball feeling defeated, even a bit nostalgic already. A group seemed to have noticed the clear disappointment on my face, so a bright lady in her late 30’s approaches me with her 2 teenage boys…and starts to¬†whisper at me…

The sneaky scheme

Ball drop in Times Square, NYPD

Mr Officer & me! Covered his face for his protection..

“Shhh, hey, same feeling huh? You thought you were going to be by The Ball drop, but you aren’t?! Doesn’t that suck!?” Thank you woman, you just lit up my face with ¬†a huge smile. I nodded, laughing, and we started a conversation. They came straight from Australia *just* to see The Ball, but weren’t going to be able to make it. They thought that maybe they could stay wandering around the barricades and then at least get a little glimpse of The Ball. They asked me to join them. However, 10 minutes later our party was pooped on–NYPD asked us to please clear the street & enter whichever premise we had tickets for. Aussie lady didn’t give up though, oh no she didn’t! She tried to flirt her way…didn’t work. So, we started walking away, defeated yet another time, until one particular NYPD officer whistled at me–I looked back & smiled. He then kind of started to walk toward me, talking–he was a Latino, of course. Aussie mom whispered, “omg, he likes you! I think he could get us in!”

Yes, Aussie mom wanted to use me as¬†The Golden Ticket to be able to see the Ball drop in Times Square. Ironically enough, NYPD officer said “I can only get one of you in, not anymore than that. I’m so sorry.” Aussie mom & her boys looke at me. I stood there silent. We all know what that meant. With a big group bear hug I said goodbye, and Aussie mom,¬†like a champ, just winked at me and said “you go girl.” She took a picture of us, teary eyed, and said “next year, it will be US!” I think I teared up a little as well…

Seducing Mr Officer: Mission complete

New Years Ball drop in Times Square, VIP

Some Latinos in the audience excited to mingle w/ this celebrity, yours truly

And off we were, Mr Officer and me,¬†wandering freely through the barricades…on the VIP lane. Yes, I was passing through a lane¬†only available to magnates & celebrities. Unfortunately I didn’t stumble upon any TV cameras, but people thought I was a celebrity–asking for autographs, screaming at me, taking many pictures, etc. Whoa, I thought to myself, is this what being famous feels like!?

After some wandering, Mr. Officer just looked at me, smile and said: “Happy New Year. Enjoy it!” and left to fulfill other duties. That of course, after he presented me to every single officer on every single checkpoint through the avenue, so I could walk freely between the stages (New Kids On the Block, Backstreet Boys & Elvis Crespo were going to perform!) & then come back to my prime chosen spot…

Ball drop New Years Times Square

Stage where I saw my NKOTBSB & Elvis

VIP NYE Ball drop in Times Square

Mission Impossible Status: Accomplished

New Years Ball Drop in Times Square from VIP lane: Accomplished!

And that, my friends, is how I saw the New Year’s¬†Ball Drop in Times Square on 2011.¬†Furthermore, on the last 15 mins of 2010, I made some new friends, with whom I hung out for the rest of that long weekend.

Ahhh, I love random precious moments like this one!

NYE Ball drop in Times Square explosion

NYE Ball drop in Times Square view

So with a huge grin on my face, some new friends, and The Ball drop in Times Square from the VIP lane, I received 2011 with utter joy from New York City.
What an experience!!!!!

NYE Ball drop in Times Square, VIP lane

Woot woot – scratched from my travel bucket list!

Is the NYE Ball drop in Times Square on your Travel Bucket List?!

Secret Beach in Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Just so you get to know me (and my background) a little better, here is a video of possibly my favorite secret beach back home in Puerto Rico.

Located on the east coast of Puerto Rico, Fajardo is one of my favorite towns in the island. And this secret beach, my friends, is how the Caribbean used to be! Disclaimer: Verrry strong Latina accent

Have you been to Puerto Rico? Which are your favorite beaches there?

My Travel Blogging begins: An introduction

How did I learn English? When did I get bit by the travel bug? What motivated me to start a travel blogging? Through pictures and mini tales, I give you a little introduction and background of my life today!

I was just about 8 when I had my very first English conversation during a parade at Disney World, which ironically was my very first trip outside of Puerto Rico as well. I was able to do so just with the limited knowledge I had gathered from going into the library and teaching myself English through dictionaries and storybooks. When I came back, I remember asking mom for cable television “para poder aprender ingl√©s.”

travel blogging intro, Disney

Tank jou, Mickey!

Soon enough I was addicted to Discovery Kids, National Geographic and the Travel Channel. Even with the closed caption, I didn’t understand much. However, I knew the shows were related to what I was learning in my history & geography classes.¬†It was about other cultures, long plane rides away from my island. As wildfires, they ignited¬†my passion for languages & traveling

And so my first journey started: Learning how to speak English by myself.

Then, when I was 13, I got my first computer with Internet. I remember how my online habits included blogging on Kiwibox about my life as a teenage nerd, looking at pictures & reading stories in English about all those places from TV, all while excitedly flipping though a Webster Spanish-English dictionary & chatting with my virtual Norwegian boyfriend through the then-chatting-sensation ICQ program, of course.

travel blogging intro, dorky me

And this blogger was born.

A couple of hundreds of entries later, I finally¬†decided to take my bags, leave my family behind, and go after “the American Dream.” I moved to the USA to go to college in Aug 2005.

travel blogging intro, Venice

Venice, Italy – one of the stop of my first Euro trip (6/2005)

And a world traveler was born. Between 2005-2010, I traveled extensively, mainly during my study abroad experiences in Egypt (2008-2009) & Morocco (Fall 2009).

travel blogging intro, Egypt

Abu Simbel, Egypt

travel blogging intro, Morocco

Marrakech, Morrocco

Now here I am, 6 years later, working & living in the United States solo, after graduating with 2 degrees from the University of Tampa last fall. Languages, travel, and blogging made all of this possible. Ironically, they will also help me become a digital nomad.

My name is Maria Alexandra & I’m about to embark on yet another journey: Become a nomadic translator & writer,¬†sprinkling Latin spice all over the world.

So it begins! Are you ready!?

Question of the day: What motivated you to start travel blogging?