Travel through Maya food and its history: Photo essay

Welcome to another edition of Cultural Tidbits Monday. Following my trip to Mexico, this week we travel through Maya food and its history. I will give you a brief overview of Yucatec Maya food (also known as Yucatán food), influences, popular ingredients, and dishes. All sprinkled with delicious photos. ¡Buen Provecho!

Maya food platter

Maya food platter from Valladolid (1yen, Flickr)

Maya food: Brief history

If any restaurant in Mexico claims to serve “pure” Maya cuisine, they are lying. Maya food from the Yucatán is a mix of Yucatec Maya, North African, Spaniard, and other European influences. The Peninsula was active in the Caribbean trade throughout colonial times, which transformed its cuisine.

Maize, or corn, is the centerpiece of Maya food. Every dish is made with, or comes with a side of, handmade corn tortillas. Mashed black, red, and pinto beans are also present in most Maya dishes. The way I see it, Yucatec Maya food is the type of Mexican food Americans recognize. Go visit any other region in Mexico and you’ll be surprised to see how different “Mexican food” can be!

Conversely, the further south you go, the less spicy/hot Mexican food is. Accordingly, Yucatán cuisine is rather mild. They do import hot sauces from all over the country though, so ask your server! 😉

Maya food banana leaves

Maya food wrapped in banana leaves (foodfreak, Flickr)

Chicken and seafood have always been eaten by the Maya, in addition to rabbits, deer, doves, pheasants, and pork after colonial times. These are cooked with chili peppersHabaneros, tomatoes, achiote (annatto seeds paste), wild onions, chayotes, and cucumbers.

Like in the Caribbean, fruits play a big role in Yucatán cuisine. Papaya, bananas, mamey, oranges, guava, avocados, guanabana, mangoes, and pineapple are some common ingredients. Moreoever, Middle Eastern spices such as cumin, coriander, and saffron are now part of Maya food! The end result? Subtle, yet full flavors. Think sweet and peppery.

Traditionally, the Maya would wrap their food with banana leaves and bake it in underground ovens. Nowadays, most Mayas cook over coal fire stoves. By the way, the Maya are still alive in the Yucatán: They have their own villages and manage their own businesses! In fact, several companies in tourist towns such as Cancun and Playa Del Carmen have partnerships with Maya villages, helping them thrive. I loved this 🙂

Now, let’s sample some popular Maya dishes shall we?!

Cochinita Pibil or Pollo Pibil

The Maya used to marinate chicken with axiote and other pre-Columbian spices, baking it in underground ovens. In fact, the dish has its name because pibil means “buried” in Maya language 😉

After the Spaniards came, pork and other Eastern spices were introduced. This mix of cultures gave birth to the most popular Maya dish: Cochinita Pibil. Virtually every single Mayan restaurant you ever visit will list this dish under their specialties. I had it while visiting Playa Del Carmen last month and let me tell you, it is delishh!

Maya Recipe: Cochinita Pibil

Maya food Cochinita Pibil

Cochinita Pibil by Gonzalo Valenzuela, Flickr

Sopa de Lima

Lime soup with crushed (or strips) of tortilla on top. Traditionally, it is made with turkey, but can also be made with chicken. Very light, perfect with a margarita or Coronita 😉

Recipe: Mexican lime soup

Maya food lime soup and cochinita pibil

Lime soup (bottom) + cochinita pibil sandwiches! (Rigoberto Reyes, Flickr)


While there are several ways to cook poc-chuc, I love the the Maya barbecue version 😀 Fine slices of pork, marinated in a sour orange juice sauce, with onions and spices.

Maya Recipe: Poc-Chuc

poc chuc Maya food

Mmm Maya poc chuc (kanuck, Flickr)

Pavo en Relleno Negro

Literally means turkey with black stuffing. The jet-black sauce is made of a spice mix called recado. A variation of the reca’o used in the Caribbean, it consists of “achiote seeds, charred chilies, cloves, allspice, peppercorns and cumin” ( Then, mashed hard-boiled eggs and tortillas are added to complete the stuffing. Yum!

Recipe: Pavo en Relleno Negro (with a French twist)

relleno negro, Maya food

Turkey with relleno negro on the left (mswine, Flickr)

Queso Relleno

It is unknown how Edam cheese was introduced to the Yucatán Peninsula. There are several stories, but my favorite is the one told by the chef of the Mayan restaurant I visited: “a ship, containing a large shipment of the Dutch Edam cheese, ran aground at the height of the Caribbean trade in colonial times. Yucatec Mayas discovered  the boxes and started to incorporate Edam cheese in their cuisine. And so Queso Relleno became a Maya food!”

Maya Recipe: Queso Relleno

Maya food platter, Yaxche rest.

Queso relleno (bottom) stuffed with ground pork, which you can see coming out of the top left corner. The black portion is Pavo con Relleno Negro and on the right is the Cochinita Pibil once more


Small fried tortillas, topped with seasoned turkey, mashed fried beans, avocado, pickled onions, lettuce, and sometimes tomatoes.

Maya Recipe: Panuchos

panucho, Maya food

Yucatán panucho (John Chew, Flickr)


It is actually a type of chili in Maya food, but it needed its own category 😉 I found a fascinating recipe mixing these chiles with another authentic Maya dish. You have to try it!

Maya Recipe: Pib X’catik (blonde chilies stuffed with cochinita pibil!)

Pib Xcatik, Mayan cuisine

Pib Xcatik by

Mayan coffee

Last, but definitely not least, is Mayan coffee. Flambéed coffee with shots of Kahlúa, brandy, and Xtabentun (anise, fermented honey) liqueurs, cinnamon, and vanilla ice cream. To make it, a fire show (quite literally) takes place at your table. Think of Irish coffee —  but even better. O.M.G. Why do I do this to myself when I have to be at the office?! *sigh*

Recipe: Maya coffee (without the brandy, though!)

Which was your favorite Maya food? Have you tried it before?

Ek Balam Mayan ruins: Temple history and FriFotos from the PEAK

Having just returned from Playa Del Carmen, I have many wonderful photos from the PEAKS of Mayan temples and ruins. Thus, finding out that is the theme for this week’s FriFotos was a delight! While I visited Coba as well, today I will focus on Ek Balam Mayan ruins — one of the lesser-known Yucatán Mayan sites.

Ek Balam Mayan ruins panorama

Loved this viewpoint at Ek Balam!

Ek Balam Mayan ruins: Brief overview

Not only in Ek Balam, but throughout most (if not all) Mayan sites in the Yucatán, you will find that doorways have “peaks” — they are not perfect arches. They are called corbel arches.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization states that the Mayans created these type of arches, with 9 layered vaults, in order to represent what they believed to be the nine layers of the Underworld. The addition of a keystone, or 10th layer, would be a representation of a body outside the Mayan cosmos (

Ek Balam Mayan ruins, doorway

Ek Balam Mayan ruins: Corbel arch

Ek Balam Mayan ruins is one of several sites built by the Yucatec Mayans. Located 32 miles (51 m) from its famous cousin Chichen Itzá and 30 km north of Valladolid. It is an easy day trip from several resort towns on the Riviera Maya.

As you know, I visited the Ek Balam Mayan ruins on a combo day trip (including Río Lagartos) from Playa Del Carmen. I felt I had plenty of time at the site and was not rushed at all. Thus, it is quite possible to combine a visit to other site on the same day you visit Ek Balam.

Ek Balam Mayan ruins, main temple

Ek Balam’s main temple

Ek Balam Mayan ruins: Climbing to the top of the main temple

Unlike Chichen Itzá, tourists are still allowed to climb to the very top of the main temple at Ek Balam Mayan ruins. The views from the jungle and other ruins throughout the site are amazing! A *little* scary to climb down, but I believe the steps are big enough for you to have plenty of room to step firmly and safely. I had doubts about climbing for a second or two, but went for it anyway! So glad I did 🙂

Ek Balam Mayan Temple climb

At the top of the Ek Balam Temple!

Ek Balam Mayan ruins top view

Me on top of the Ek Balam Temple! So glad I made it

Ek Balam view top


Ek Balam Mayan ruins jungle view

View of the jungle from Ek Balam temple top

Ek Balam jungle

Don’t forget to visit the Mayan burial temple on your way up —  or down!

The temple (tomb!) of Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’ was quite fascinating. Its entrance is shaped like the mouth of a jaguar, teeth and all. In fact, the name Ek Balam means “Black Jaguar” in Yucatec Maya language — thus the name of this Mayan ruins site.

I never thought I would see such beautiful carvings inside Mayan ruins before. Clearly, my knowledge about the civilization was very limited! I was like nothing I had ever seen before (i.e. Chichen Itzá). Thus, if you’re thinking about skipping the Ek Balam Mayan ruins because you are visiting Chichen Itza or Cobá, think twice before doing so! I’m sure these images will change your mind:

Ek Balam Mayan ruins, jaguar teeth

The “jaguar teeth” at Ek Balam temple’s

For a very cool interactive panorama of this Mayan temple, click here.

Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' temple, Ek Balam Mayan ruins

Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’ temple, also known as El Trono in Spanish (“The Throne”)

It is believed that Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’ was one of the rulers of Ek Balam. What I found the most fascinating about this character, and Mayans in general, though? The reason Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’ rose to power is because he was cross-sighted and possibly albino.

According to our tour guide, Mayans venerated anyone who was different — thus his rise to power. It is believed that certain objects were placed on the nose or the middle of the foreheads of children in order to try and make them cross-sighted. What for? In the hopes that they would become someone important one day. Oh, how have times changed!

Ek Balam Mayan ruins, carvings

LOVED the well-preserved Mayan carvings

Ek Balam Mayan ruins carvings


Take your time to explore other ruins throughout Ek Balam

You’ll have to walk through other ruins before you reach the main temple at Ek Balam, so take the time to look at the intricacies and differences between all structures. I found it fun to draw comparisons between the structures I had seen at Chichen Itzá and Ek Balam. Additionally, trying to capture the nuances and different angles in photos is a game in itself 😉

Ek Balam Mayan arch

Mayan carvings at Ek Balam

The temple at Ek Balam is too wide to fully capture!

Definitely add the Ek Balam Mayan ruins to your travel bucket list!

I’m going back to Mexico! Playa Del Carmen, here I come

As the calendar ticked November, I couldn’t help but remember that I have an exciting trip coming up. Finally, I can break the news to you all 😀 The PR agency of a new chain, called Xperience Hotels Resorts, invited me to experience (“¡valga la redundancia!”) two of their properties in Playa Del Carmen. Yeah, I’m going back to Mexico! 😀

Yucatan Mexico beach

Photo by Jesús Pérez Pacheco, Flickr

I have been to Cancun Mexico before, but that was a disappointment. Beautiful beaches, yes, but incredibly Americanized and overpriced. I will write a post about my bad experience there soon, okay? 😉

Back to the hotel invitation: It was open, but I decided to jump on it right away, as I had not heard back from Tourism Manitoba (been trying to see the polar bears!). So my Thanksgiving plans changed from chilly and snowy to sunny and sultry. And who’s complaining again?

Playa Del Carmen Aqualuna hotel patio

Boutique Hotel Aqualuna (Tripadvisor)

As a great bonus, the PR agency will also hook me up with a local tour agency and throw one complimentary day trip. I still don’t have all the details, but I built my itinerary anyway!

This will be a partial media trip, so I’m still expected to cover some of the expenses. Meals, airfare, and some tours will be on my tab. Still, this was the perfect excuse to escape my current student debt misery and do something fun with my discretionary income for once.

My Playa Del Carmen itinerary:

Thursday Nov 22nd arrival: Chill at the Aqualuna Hotel in Playa. Dinner at the hotel in order to review it. Maybe do Xcaret at night?

Friday Nov 23rd: Tour Ek Balam-Río Lagartos (13 hrs approx.). Nightlife in Playa later in the evening Definitely check out the Yaxche Restaurant on Quinta Avenida. Heard they have amazing Mayan cuisine and coffee!

Overnight Aqualuna Hotel.

Start video at 0:15 sec. mark:

Saturday Nov 24th: Day trip to Valladolid and Coba! Travel bucket list item: Swim in a CENOTE. Do ruins early morning 2-3 hrs, then spend rest of afternoon at the village. Back to Playa for party party. Or maybe try to see the Akumal turtles around 9 PM? Or both? PERFECT!

Overnight Hacienda Paradise Hotel.

Sunday, Nov 25th: Checkout from hotel and check-in cool-ass hostel or meet up with Couchsurfing host. Underwater museum tour at 11:30 AM. Afternoon spent swimming with turtles back in Akumal.

Overnight in either Playa or Akumal.

Monday, Nov 26th: Early flight back to USA 🙁

Playa Del Carmen beach, Quintana Roo

Photo by Carlos Guevara, Flickr

Umm, yah, my flight is already booked. Unfortunately, my love couldn’t join me, and the other friend I invited hasn’t confirmed yet. But I wouldn’t mind going to Playa Del Carmen solo. I’m sure I’ll have a heck of a lot of fun!

One of my nights isn’t covered (I extended my stay, duh), so I’m still debating which hostel (or Couchsurfer!) to choose.

Any suggestions are welcome!

Playa Del Carmen port on Quinta Avenida

Playa Del Carmen port on Quinta Avenida (Photo: Tripadvisor)

Now Mr. Movember, please hurry the heck up so I can get to Playa. Mkay?

*thinks of Mexican parties and what they will be like*

Have you been to Playa Del Carmen? Which sights I shouldn’t miss?

Photo guess game: Which Caribbean island group am I?

It’s Travel Tuesday and, since I’m preparing a deeper article to publish later this week, today’s post will be short. Ladies and gents, it’s Photo Guess game time!

photo guess game, Caribbean village

Which Caribbean village could look like this?

I’m a beautiful archipelago, or string of islands, located in the Caribbean Sea. Interestingly though, I was one of the few groups to have never been colonized by the Spanish conquistadors. While I have maintained most of my traditional customs and traditions, you can still find some traces of modern times in my lands, such as TVs and beer.

Moreover? We govern our territory autonomously.

photo guess game, Caribbean archipelago

Caribbean bright blue waters

Palm fringed Caribbean island

Photo guess game: Which island group am I?

Answer: San Blas, Panama (8/31/2012 update)

Pupuseria in Tampa and Central American food staples (photo essay)

Howdy! This week’s Cultural Tidbits Monday post will be about a Salvadoran food staple, the pupusa, and a pupuseria in Tampa that I visited for the first time a few days ago.

pupuseria in Tampa and Central American restaurant

pupuseria in Tampa and Central American restaurant

Why didn’t I write about this pupuseria in Tampa earlier, you may ask? Due to carpal tunnel pain, I couldn’t write or blog much last week. And so today I swallowed the pain, took a deep breath, and typed a bit slower so I could finally post…

What is a pupuseria, or a pupusa for that matter?

Naturally, a pupusería is a place that sells pupusas. And what are they again!? Like a taco is to Mexico, a pupusa is a thick corn tortilla and traditional food staple in El Salvador. Pupusas might remind you of arepas, although their taste is wildly different.

pupuseria in Tampa, pupusa with curtido

My cheese and chicharron pupusa, topped with curtido

pupuseria in Tampa, pupusa con tostones

My pupusa and fried plantains (tostones)

The pupusa corn flour mixture typically contains cheese, pork, refried beans or loroco flower bud. Once hand-stretched, the pupusas are fried and then topped with curtido, a Salvadoran side dish similar to coleslaw. They can be eaten as snacks, an appetizer or even a meal. I ate my pupusa with a side of crispy tostones, for instance (see second photo above).

Only pupuseria in Tampa

The cafeteria and pupuseria in Tampa that I visited is more like a family-run restaurant. Not only does the Pupusería y Cafetería Centroamericana offers pupusas and other Central American staples, but they also serve full-blown meals such as Salvadoran steak, combinación Guanaca, and fried pork chunk with cassava (see their Central American food menu here).

pupuseria in Tampa, combinacion guanaca

Their combinacion guanaca dish includes a tamal, a pupusa, beef and a side of curtido, rice and refried beans

While I waited for my carry-out pupusa (made in the premises from scratch!), I got to chat with the son of the owner for a bit. He told me that there are no other pupuserias in Tampa, or in much of the south for that matter, and that this has helped his family business stay afloat despite a dim economy. It made me feel good that I was contributing and helping a small local business! Which is why I decided to link to their website and talk about my positive experience there, even though I paid full price for my order and no freebies were given to me for reviewing the Pupusería y Cafetería Centroamericana.

pupuseria in Tampa, restaurant decor and signs

Decor gave me a good laugh (click to ENLARGE, then read 2nd sign on upper left)! If you can read Spanish, you know why 😉

This pupuseria in Tampa is within walking distance of the house I just moved into, and with a 6-month lease, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample more of its menu items. I love traveling through food, so I’ll be coming back with my gringo boyfriend soon!

What are your favorite international rests. in your neighborhood? Why?

Pupuseria & Cafeteria CentroAmericana on Urbanspoon

Panamanian superstitions: The World’s Superstitions Series pt 11!

Resuming the popular series, today we discuss Panamanian superstitions and see what they have in common with the other World’s Superstitions. Namely, my first Panama trip was back in March 2010 and was pleasantly surprised to notice how similar their customs, traditions, and even natural landscapes are to my homeland’s (Puerto Rico). Hope you learn something new today! 🙂

Panamanian superstitions, el Chupacabra

"El Chupacabra" attacks once more! Keep reading

* “Cuidado con El Sereno“! That evil, invisible fog appears between sunset and dusk. It can cause all types of illnesses, almost like one of the plagues in Moses time. It is not only part of Panamanian superstitions, but also shared with several Latin American countries, including my island! As a kid, I could never go out at night while my hair was still somewhat wet or with a little tank top on, as Mr Sereno could give me pneumonia in a second.

* Oh, El Chupacabra! Just like Puerto Ricans, this feared animal eater is vivid among Panamanian superstitions. If you have a farm, wake up one morning and one (or several) of them are dead, they must have been eaten by the Chupacabra. Guaranteed.

Panamanian superstitions, espasmo

what an "espasmo" apparently looks like (

* Panamanians have a curious sensitivity when it comes to hot and cold changes. For instance, if you burn yourself with a hot iron, you should not wash the area with cold water right away. Also, if you have been performing arduous manual labor for hours, it is advised that you cool off for a bit first before taking a cold shower. Something about sudden temperature changes could get you sick? No one really knows. Regardless, Panamanians are careful about this!

* According to Mr Panamaniac, you must never eat a watermelon if there’s liquor around. Ever. Apparently, the watermelon-liquor mix could be deadly and throw you into an espasmo.

* Speaking of espasmos, this medical “condition” cannot be really explained, but according to Panamanians, it definitely exists and one should be careful not to fall into one. The hot and cold combo explained earlier on this post is apparently a common cause of espasmos, in addition to ironing prior to moisture exposure (a sink? Toilet? Rain? Either).

Panamanian superstitions, la Tulivieja

The Tulivieja! (

* What about fortune? Oh, the Panamanian superstitions list is shock-full of it! So, what are some rules of thumb? Johannica gives us the lowdown: Planning on cutting your hair? Do it during full moon for good luck. Raining outside? Do not open the umbrella inside–it’s bad omen! Baptize your children as soon as possible–or else the Tulivieja will take them away. Broke a mirror? Ahh, seems like that’s a seven-year bad-luck sentence everywhere in the world.

* Speaking of La Tulivieja…who is she?! According to Panamanian superstitions, she is a woman who lost her baby, died, and now wanders from river to river at night crying for her baby son: “Mi hiiiijo, mi hiiijo!” What’s interesting is that a similar legend exists in Mexico, with the same back-story, only that she’s named La Llorona.

And that’s it for Panamanian superstitions today! Every other Monday I’ll post a brand new list of superstitions from a [surprise] country. Would love to learn more about the customs and traditions of a particular place? Suggestions for future posts are always welcome! 😉 Just contact me and I’ll feature it. Hasta luego!

Previously featured countries:
Puerto Rico
The Netherlands

Got more Panamanian superstitions? Share them in a comment below!

Christmas traditions around the world PT 2!

CLICK HERE for pt 1 of Christmas traditions around the world! learn about the FESTIVE customs and traditions of even more countries.

Christmas in Italy

Christmas traditions around the world, nativity scene

Presepe: Nativity scene in Italy (Photo: Davide Papalini)

Thought Christmas were longer only in Latin America? Think again! In Italy, Christmas officially starts on December 8th with the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception and then, families typically start to decorate their homes with lights. Gift giving, however, does not happen until January 6th or Epiphany, a tradition shared with many Latin American countries. That 12th day of Christmas is when it is believed that the Three Wise Men (aka Three Kings) visited Baby Jesus and showered him with gifts. As such, just like in Latin America, the main Christmas decoration is the Nativity scene, or as it is called in Italian: The presepe.

Christmas in Jordan

Christmas traditions around the world, beef and bulgur

Minced beef and bulgur, a traditional Christmas dish in Jordan (

Christmas in Jordan is celebrated with great fervor by the Christian minority there. What surprised me the most, however, is the tradition of soaking dry fruits in rum, brandy, and cognac by women in early December! I can’t wait to go back to the Middle East an try those! 😉 Then on Christmas Eve, a cake is baked, while Christmas Day dinner consists of grilled eggplant, vine leaves in tomato sauce, stuffed turkey, and minced beef with bulgur

Christmas in Martinique

Christmas traditions around the world, shrubb

Clément Créole Shrubb, a popular one in Martinique (

Christmas in this creole tropical island is a mix of Caribbean and French flavors. Their most distinct Christmas tradition, however, is the making and drinking of shrubb, a fine liquor made of white rum, sugarcane syrup and dried peels of tangerines and oranges, which are abundant at this time of the year.

Christmas in Mexico

Christmas traditions around the world, posada

Posada procession in Oaxaca, Mexico (Photo:

Mexican Christmas (or “Navidades”) officially start on December 16th with a tradition called “Las Posadas,” which last all the way until Noche Buena or Christmas Eve. This tradition involves the recreation of Mary and Joseph’s hard journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, trying to find shelter to give birth. A different part of the journey is recreated every night, culminating with a party at a neighborhood. Children dress as angels, shepherds, and also as Mary and Joseph in such processions, with their parents following with lit candles.

Christmas in Morocco

Jemaa el Fnaa

Jemaa el Fnaa Square. Marrakech, Morocco

As a Muslim country, Christmas is rarely celebrated in Morocco. Yet, due to the strong French/European influence in the country, along with a growing expat community, you will find Christmas lights and decorations sprinkled throughout the big cities. Days vary, however, depending on the faith and background of that minority. For instance, members of the Orthodox Christian Church celebrate Christmas on January 6th; while the Coptic and Armenian Churches celebrate the holy day on January 7th. Last, but not least, the Catholics typically attend a special evening mass on December 24th to start Christmas.

Christmas in Panama

Christmas traditions around the world, Panama

Left: A traditional pollera dress; Right: Light show during Panama City’s Christmas Boat Show (Photos:

Christmas in Panama is quite lively and several great events are held, specially in the capital Panama City. Festivities kick off the 2nd weekend of December with a big Christmas Parade. Gorgeous floats pass by and women dress in very bright, traditional dresses called polleras. Also, at night, an amazing boat parade showcase a light show that is truly spectacular!

Christmas in Puerto Rico

It is tough to decide what’s your favorite tradition of a Puerto Rican Christmas. Is it the fact that they begin on Thanksgiving Day in November and don’t end until the end of January? Is it the party after party throughout the whole season and how virtually everyone decorates their homes with hundreds of lights? Or is it the food and plena music?

Coming from the Island of Enchantment, I can tell you that the most unique and fun Christmas tradition in Puerto Rico is the parrandas! In essence, they are drunken Christmas carols! Learn more about Puerto Rican parrandas here.

Christmas in Spain

Christmas traditions around the world, Pavo trufado

Pavo trufado: A traditional Christmas dish in Spain (Photo:

Naturally, Christmas traditions in Spain are very similar to those in Latn America. Thus, I have decided to switch it up a bit on this entry and leave ya with a recipe of a traditional Christmas dish in Spain: Pavo Trufado de Navidad (Christmas Turkey with Truffles)!

1 turkey of 4 kg.
½ kg. minced lean pork
1 kg. minced veal
Salt and ground black pepper
1 glass of brandy
1 large glass of dry oloroso sherry
3 tins (of 90g) truffles (mushrooms)
150 g “jamon serrano”
200 g belly of pork in rashers
6 eggs [click here for the rest!]

Christmas in Switzerland

Christmas traditions around the world, Swiss ringli

Ringli: Typical Christmas treat in Switzerland

A special Swiss Christmas tradition is to await the arrival of Christkindli: A white angel wearing a crown full of jewels, which holds a face veil over its face. This angel is the one that brings the presents. These, by the way, come in a basket, which is carried by Christkindli‘s child helpers. Also, another Swiss Christmas tradition is  to eat ringli (homemade doughnuts) with hot chocolate.

Christmas in St Thomas (US Virgin Islands)

Christmas traditions around the world, St Thomas sweet bread

Photo recipe: (click to enlarge)

One event to look forward to when spending Christmas in St. Thomas is the Challenge of the Carols outdoor concert. It is infamously glorious! While at it, grab some Johnny cakes (traditional holiday sweet bread). Click on the image above for a traditional recipe to bake at home!

Christmas in Vatican City

Christmas traditions around the world, Vatican

Vatican Christmas Tree (Photo: Sunshine city, Flikr)

Naturally, the Pope delivers his traditional Christmas speech and directs mass to thousands of fervent believers. This service, called “midnight papal mass,” actually begins at 10 PM on Christmas Eve in St. Peter’s Basilica. The papal speech, however, is delivered around noon on Christmas Day.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions around the world? Why?

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 Itzá, 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 Itzá 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!

Cancun, Mexico – Beach Thursday photos

This week’s Beach Thursday pick is Cancun, Mexico. Below, photos of me at different beaches around the main hotel strip, taken during my spring break 2008. Personally, I felt that trip was such a rip-off, for so many reasons. Cancun trip report, naturally, will come soon enough *wink* For now, enjoy the pics!

Cancun spring break

view from my hotel room. Saweeet!

New friend I made TJ (left) and me (right) after I won a booty-shaking contest + some VIP passes to Akon's Cancun concert. Oh yah, full story to come! 😉

Cancun spring break

we hijacked a kayak (and that rhymed)

Cancun spring break

Me at one of the many gorgeous beaches. And yes, I AM wearing a THONG! =P

Have you visited Cancun? What did you think of it? Comment below!