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?

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?

My Panama adventures: Overwater hostel, sailing, island hopping!

FotoFri theme this week is ADVENTURE, so I decided to make a trip report photo essay of my Panama adventures: Sleeping in a hammock at the overwater hostel Aqua Lounge in Bocas Del Toro and island hopping on The Andiamo sailboat through the San Blas Islands, to name a few! I went there for my last college Spring Break in March 2010. As with most of my trips, my Panama adventures were epitomes of budget travel, solo travel, and woman travel combined. Enjoy! 😀

VIDEO: Aqua Lounge Hostel, Bocas Del Toro, Panama

My Panama adventures begin: Panama City to Bocas del Toro

I flew from Miami, FL to Panama City and stayed there overnight, as my flight got in late. Early in the morning, I went to the bus station and took a cheap bus to Almirante, where I would then catch a boat that would take me to my overwater hostel in Bocas Del Toro.

Panama adventures, boat ride

boat from Almirante to Bocas del Toro

Panama adventures, Aqua Lounge hostel

Aqua Lounge hostel from the boat! *gasps* awesome!

I instantly fell in love with the AquaLounge Hostel.  I heard some rumors of bedbugs on the top bunk beds in the dormitories, but no worries here, as smarty pants chose to sleep on 5-dolla-a-night HAMMOCK!

Panama Bocas Del Toro hostel

My “bed” for 2 nights, 5 bucks each! Hammock was great

Panama adventures, Bocas Del Toro hostel

View from my “outdoor bedroom” *wink!*

While it was raining for most of my stay (3 days), that didn’t take away from the fun! I met several travelers and surfers from all over the world, hiked around the islands with them, followed the waves, and partied partied PARTIED!

Panama Bocas Del Toro hostel

From left: American, Puerto Rican (me!), Australian, American, and Israeli at over-water hostel

Panama Bocas Del Toro

Around Bocas Del Toro, in search of the surfing beach!

Panama adventures, Bocas Del Toro surfing


Panama Bocas Del Toro hostel

Bar of my over-the-water hostel

Panama Bocas Del Toro surfing

Coming back from the surf

The highlights of my trip to Bocas Del Toro Panama were definitely the high diving board on the roof, the “pool” which happened to be a hole on the deck taking you straight to the ocean, and the 80’s techno party on my last night there! It rained during the latter, which made it even MORE EPIC!

Panama Bocas Del Toro hostel

High diving board! Aussie jump

Panama Bocas Del Toro Aqua Lounge Hostel

The “pool” at Aqua Lounge Hostel!

Bocas del Toro Aqua Lounge Hostel party

Aqua Lounge Hostel 80’s party in the RAIN!

Bocas del Toro Aqua Lounge Hostel party

Waterproof cameras – thank you, humanity!

Bocas del Toro Aqua Lounge Hostel party

80s music = I bang my head and hair around

Panama island hopping adventures: Bocas del Toro to San Blas Islands

But all the fun wasn’t in Bocas Del Toro: After partying it up there, it was time for me to wind down and hop on The Andiamo with Captain Tony to go island hopping through Caribbean waters and encounter the Kuna Yala in the San Blas Islands.

Panama adventures, sailing Andiamo

Our sailboat, Andiamo!

San Blas islands Panama, sailing Andiamo

View of Kuna Yala from my sailboat cabin

What’s interesting about Kuna Yala people is that they are indigenous people who are still politically autonomous from the Panamanian government, in addition to be the only indigenous people to have not been conquered by Christopher Columbus nor any other Conquistadors!

Panama adventures, San Blas Islands Kuna Yala

Me mingling with the Kunas

And so for the next few days, I was chilling with some interesting passengers from all over the world, most notably two Foreign Service Officers, aka diplomats, from the USA serving in Panama. They were happily married and had managed to travel all over the world and get the same assignments through the Dept. of State! At times, they told me, they would have to separate for months at a time when new assignments were due every 2  years or so (about 3 months on average), but that they loved the unpredictability of their lifestyle and the joy to still being able to enjoy their dream careers and each other–AWW!!!

Unfortunately I somehow missed taking my pic with them (how come!? *hits head*), but the memories are engraved in my mind and heart. In addition to some pretty awesome pictures I took of the scenery throughout my journey:

Panama San Blas Islands snorkeling

LOBSTER written all over my face =P

Panama San Blas Islands, Caribbean island hopping

Water was beautiful, different shades of blue

Panama adventures, San Blas Islands hopping

Kunas live all throughout the archipelago, sometimes in desolated islands

Panama adventures, desolated San Blas Islands

Ahh, relaxation at best

To be continued…!

And so that’s a perfect summary and concise trip report of my Panama adventures! Hope you enjoyed it and “Like” me on Facebook and Follow me on Twitter for updates and more fun travel tales 🙂

Panama adventures, Bocas Del Toro hostel

I will miss this place!

Have you been to Panama? Which towns did you visit? What did you do?

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

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