Becoming a digital nomad or remote worker? Tips to find the perfect location to live and work abroad

Hi there again, 2020. Some of us finally have the guts to face you, stand up, and get creative again! I believe the following guide to find the perfect place to live and work abroad for new digital nomads or remote workers may be the first major step in the right direction for many in an otherwise daunting year.

If there’s a master lesson we were taught in the past several months, it’s the importance of our “base camp”–whether we are a digital nomad or a 9-5 worker. Many of us experienced a really powerful shift in our day-to-day routine, in our priorities.

What do I really need inside these four walls?

How far am I from the places and people I love?

Where can I go safely, while also experiencing a sense of community?

Where do I find my mind wandering to?

digital nomad in Costa Rica working from the beach

To me, it was the beach and yoga. The connection to the ocean and the calmness and centering of the mind and soul that outdoor yoga delivers are all I really needed. With most relatives always afar, that slice of socially-distanced paradise became a sanctuary to my husband and I (oh yes, I got married. More on that on a future post!).

And I’m not alone: the silver lining of this crisis has been that a lot of us find ourselves working remotely full-time, digital nomad or not. This means an increased flexibility to go out there and find a haven you can call home temporarily–perhaps even escaping strict lockdowns and crowds.

If living and working abroad has always been a dream of yours, seize this moment!

Today’s guest writer Aaron is a dedicated yoga teacher I met back in 2014 while on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. Blue Osa, the sacred land he calls home, transformed my mind and soul in ways that I can barely explain, so it is with great pleasure that I present to you his detailed guide. He will share useful tips on how to pick the best remote worker location and see if living and working in Costa Rica is right for you.

Aaron and Blue Osa, take it away!

living and working from Costa Rica yoga retreat

The once-elusive digital nomad job title is now recognized worldwide as a legitimate way to live, travel, and work remotely. But not all exotic locations are great places to live as a remote worker.

As a temporary resident, there are many factors to consider in order to ensure a smooth and successful transition.

When deciding on a location to live and work abroad, you should focus on what could make or break your experience, such as amenities available and community. It’s easy to think you want to be amid the hustle and bustle of a city–until you find you’re unable to sleep at night because of nightlife noise.

On the flip side, you may think you want to live on a remote beach to escape the chaos that this pandemic has stirred–but may be worried about being isolated again.

Enter Costa Rica: the happy medium you may be looking for!

living and working remotely in Costa Rica, things to do

Costa Rica. a digital nomad hotspot

Costa Rica is a place where the jungle meets the beach, with beautiful weather year-round and plenty of fresh food, interesting sightseeing, and adventurous activities to offer. From hundreds of miles of unspoiled beaches and a stress-free pura vida lifestyle to adrenaline-pumping rappelling, zip lines and scuba diving, it’s no wonder this Central American country is becoming a digital nomad hotspot.

Furthermore (and perhaps most importantly), Costa Rica has the infrastructure to accommodate the growing numbers of travelers and remote workers. A perfect example? High-speed Wi-Fi availability, even in seemingly-remote beach towns.

However, many new remote workers make “rookie mistakes,” forgetting to think beyond beautiful surroundings and Internet connectivity when choosing a base camp to travel, work, and live in.

Factors you should consider as a digital nomad or remote worker

A productive environment

Any seasoned digital nomad will tell you how important it is to create a productive environment to work in. If you work from your accommodation, that means ensuring you have a dedicated working space. If you like to go out, you’ll want to choose a location with various coffee shops and unlimited WiFi, plenty of cable ports, and desks. Likewise, if you enjoy participating in local events and networking, you’ll want an area that has a lot going on.

living and working in Costa Rica, community

A community of like-minded people

Working in solitude might be the most productive environment for some. Still, you’ll likely want to collaborate and meet like-minded people every once in a while. As a digital nomad or remote worker, you are away from most things that are familiar to you, including friends and family. Thus, building a community that shares your interests is a great way to feel connected, be inspired, and have fun.

A range of leisure activities

Speaking of fun, you should also strive to create a healthy work-life balance in your new base camp. As many of us have found out, working remotely blurs the line between clocking in and out, so it’s imperative to set up a rough schedule to walk away from your desk. You didn’t jet out to sit at your laptop all day!

Whether you like to go whitewater rafting in the morning or neon rollerblading at night, it’s wise to build some social activities into your daily routine and try something new while living abroad. Remember: having fun and staying healthy is just as important as making money.

Language and culture

If you are reading this, you have a huge advantage over other non-English remote workers. Most locations that become digital nomad hotspots do so because they have plenty of English-speaking locals and services.

While these are great locations to start your journey, it’s still a good idea to learn the language and familiarize yourself with the culture of the country you plan to travel to and work from. Understanding and respecting the customs and traditions of your temporary home will enrich your experience.

working remotely from Costa Rica, warm climate

one of the best parts of living and working remotely from Costa Rica? Year-round warm climate! However, its high humidity is not for everyone.

Climate

When deciding where to go on holiday, it seems the popular choice is ‘the hotter, the better.’ However, if you’re looking to work and live abroad, you want to ensure the weather meets your personal comfort and is conducive to productivity. Can you work in humidity with nothing but a fan? Do you feel more comfortable in a cool shade?

Cost of Living

You may have a secure full-time remote job–or you may be a freelancer in between gigs. Either way, most people become digital nomads and/or decide to live and work abroad because of the low cost of living compared to their home country.

But not all locations are as cheap as you think.

Moving abroad can be costly at first, especially if it’s your first time dealing with currency exchanges and “paying the foreigner tax” (i.e. being charged a higher price than the locals or ripped off). It’s always best to underestimate your monthly salary and overestimate your expenses until you get accustomed to the local currency and cost of living.

Safety and security

A location with a low cost of living might also come with a hidden price tag: lack of security/safety. Once you find the country you’re interested in, do your due diligence online by reading expat blogs, destination guides from digital nomads already on-site, and local forums. This will help you zero in not only on a particular town, but also specific neighborhoods that match your interests and security concerns.

Also important: speak to locals once you arrive for up-to-date advice.

Accommodation types

accommodation for digital nomads and remote workers

where should I stay as a digital nomad / remote worker? 

The 3 accommodation types that most digital nomads and remote workers go for at the beginning of their journey are:

hotels

Hotels are the initial go-to, as many of them offer easy online booking, free unlimited WiFi, private room and bath, breakfast, and other amenities that’ll take care of most of your needs. Moreover, most hotels don’t require a minimum stay or a contract, allowing you to get a feel of different neighborhoods before committing to a specific area.

The flip side? Privacy may come at the price of isolation.

Hotels are less homey, plus it’s uncommon to have access to a communal kitchen or shared spaces with other travelers and digital nomads, making it harder to meet people. It’s also the most expensive of all options–and it’s unlikely for you to be able to book longer than 30 days online. This means you’re limited to short stays unless you speak with the hotel staff in person and arrange an extended stay.

However, if you’ve already decided on a specific location, staying in a hotel for a few nights while you find a more permanent place is a sensible option. Being on the ground means you get a feel of the area you’d be living in, plus you can talk to owners to get the inside scoop and strike better deals.

hostels

If you are an adventurous remote worker and want to meet new people while living on a budget, a hostel is a great accommodation option for you. Usually, hostels provide dorms with shared bathrooms and, in some cases, they may provide private bedrooms and bathrooms.

Hostels are also non-committal and more flexible. You can stay anywhere from one night to 50– it’s entirely up to you. You can expect to meet many new people, as the guest turnover is much higher at a hostel than at any other accommodation type.

The best part of staying in a hostel? They are designed with sociability in mind, offering a variety of activities during the day and other social events at night. If you’re not an outgoing person or you’re someone who likes a lot of personal space, perhaps a hostel isn’t for you.

Additionally, keep in mind that hostels cater to short-term travelers first and foremost. As a remote worker, this means you’ll need to be proactive about setting a work routine and finding quiet spaces to work.

Another issue to remember when living and working at hostels is security. You’ll need to bring a high-quality padlock to lock away your valuables and work equipment when you aren’t using them.

co-living for digital nomads and remote workers in Costa Rica, Blue Osa

co-living spaces and residential programs

Co-living spaces and residential programs are somewhere between a hotel and a hostel. They typically offer many of the amenities you are used to at home, while sharing some of the living spaces with other like-minded remote workers. You can expect to share a kitchen and other communal areas, all while still enjoying a private bedroom and en suite bathroom.

Another benefit of choosing a co-living space or residential program is that you may snag some great deals when booking long-term stays. This makes them more cost-effective than staying in a hotel, while still being able to enjoy many of the same amenities and some sense of privacy.

While there are many different types of co-living spaces and residential programs, the one thing they share in common is the focus of connecting like-minded remote workers and digital nomads.

There is a sense of community and shared purpose in all co-living spaces.

This type of accommodation option offers you the social life you’d enjoy at a hostel, while the focus of most of the residents is on networking and collaborating instead of partying.

Of course, you may choose to work hard and play hard, too! But you’ll at least always have a quiet, private space to retreat to whenever you need to.

co-living in Costa Rica, Blue Osa residential program

Why choose a co-living program

‘Community hubs’ and ‘expat haven’ are excellent terms to look out for when deciding on a location. But if you know what you like and you plan to stay 1-2 months in one place, going for a co-living or residential program is a wonderful option.

Sure, living and working by the beach while living in a cute Airbnb is great. But living, learning, and retreating with like-minded people is one of the top benefits of being a digital nomad or remote worker abroad.

Whether you’re into yoga and establishing a spiritual practice or building a tech startup and looking to make work connections, there is a co-living program out there for you.

a co-living program in Costa Rica

Why not combine your working schedule with your holistic needs and seek answers to life’s big questions?

Blue Osa, a retreat and spa located in the lush jungles of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, also functions as a co-living residence. Its residential program for remote workers offers private bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, 3 healthy meals a day, high-speed WiFi, and a variety of holistic activities such as yoga classes, meditation, and nature excursions. The experience has been designed to meet digital nomads’ needs beyond the usual sense of community, internet connectivity and other amenities.

Some of the benefits of the Blue Osa Residential Program:

  • Live and serve in a community of like-minded people dedicated to serving others
  • Take breathtaking daily beach walks at sunrise
  • Enjoy the companionship of three dogs and four cats
  • Have access to guided yoga practices
  • Enjoy discounted rejuvenating spa services

Is it safe to live, work, and travel to Costa Rica right now, though?

Costa Rica is positioned as an ideal destination post-COVID “thanks to the successful management of the pandemic and robust health system.” By nature, its remote jungle location allows for semi-private, boutique tourist experiences that are perfect for observing current precautions without adding many hindrances.

Specifically, Blue Osa currently adheres to the COVID guidelines of social distancing and other precautions. Better yet? This retreat is located in an open-air facility on the beach. The continuous ocean breeze, spacious grounds, and secluded private beach–combined with social distancing–make this Costa Rican haven the perfect place to live and work from.

live temporarily in Costa Rica, digital nomad destinations

Come to a safe space where you can wake up every day in a tropical destination and sink deep into an understanding of who you are–all while propelling your career forward and meeting like-minded travelers and remote workers. Live the balanced life you have always wanted!

For more information about Blue Osa’s residential program, click here.

Unique Proposal Destinations: 15 of My Favorite Spots

Last week I received a wedding invitation from my favorite cousin, who proposed to his lovely woman in Seville, Spain. As I plan my trip to their gorgeous Puerto Rican wedding (and home!), I couldn’t help but dream of unique proposal destinations.

Not just the cookie-cutter ones you see on every other article, though.

So! I scoured my own travel bucket list to come up with a unique list of spots where I would love my beau to pop that beautiful ring — I mean question 😉 From a multicultural trading island in Africa to a beach-less Caribbean island, here are my top 15 dream proposal spots around the world!

Unique Proposal Destinations: My Top 12

unique proposal destinations, Zanzibar

probably one of the most “crowded” beaches you’ll ever encounter in Zanzibar by Pelle, Flickr

Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, East Africa

Zanzibar is an African coastal trading island, which fused Indian, Arab, European and other Asian cultures for more than 1,000 years. I can’t think of a more romantic spot!

Stone Town, its capital city, has a fine array of unique Swahili architecture–clearly influenced by the aforementioned cultures that converged at the trading town over the centuries. Moreover, the island is lined by some of the most pristine beaches you’ll ever see in your life.

Dakhla Oasis, unique proposal destinations

Dakhla Oasis panorama by Darla Hueske, Flickr

Dakhla Oasis, Egypt, Middle East

An oasis town built over the remains of a Roman-era settlement, surrounded by forests of date palm trees and the Libyan desert–that’s Dakhla. In my humble opinion, this little-known tourist destination in Egypt is one of the Middle East’s best kept secrets.

My favorite spot for a proposal? The terrace of Desert Lodge, where I stayed for one magical night. It has incredible views of the historic town of Mut, the rest of the oasis, and beyond the desert. Oh, and absolutely killer views of the Milky Way at night, which can also be taken in from the natural hot springs behind the hotel.

Lembeh Strait, unique proposal destinations

Lembeh Strait aerial by kungkungan.com

Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi, Indonesia

The moment I first laid eyes on North Sulawesi’s Kungkungan Bay Resort, I imagined an intimate proposal at the porch of one of the beachfront traditional villas — all while a golden sun rose in the horizon. Le sigh.

One of my favorite places in all of Indonesia, Lembeh Strait boasts unique black sand beaches and incredible muck diving–all in an isolated, idyllic tropical oasis. I can’t wait to go back with my beau!

Québec City, unique proposal destinations

me in Québec City <3

Old Québec City, Canada, North America

When I first caught a glimpse of Old Québec City in 2012, I was a bit confused. Had I just been whisked away to a small, romantic village in rural France?!

Narrow, cobblestone streets; quaint cafés; French phrases dancing with the wind…But I was in North America! At one of its oldest cities!

Old Québec City oozes romance so effortlessly. Whether you pick one of its Tunisian restaurants–with their Moorish-style interiors–or outdoors at one of the corners of Quartier du Petit Champlain, a proposal at this French-Canadian spot will be more unique than anywhere in Paris (à mon opinion).

Palau, unique proposal destinations

Palau aerial by Charly W. Karl, Flickr

Island nation of Palau, Pacific Ocean

Imagine being proposed to while taking a romantic dip in a lagoon filled with non-stinging jellyfish?! Might seem scary to some, but the golden Mastigias is special species of jellyfish that thrives in Palau’s Jellyfish Lake due to the lack of natural predators.

The young island nation, which gained independence from the United States in 1994, is an exclusive nature lover’s paradise as well. Receiving less than 200,000 tourists a year, Palau is certainly one of the most unique proposal destinations in the world.

Bukhara, unique proposal destinations

historic hotel in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Bukhara, Uzbekistan, Central Asia

Bukhara was an important religious, cultural, trading, and even scholarship center on the Silk Road — in a region that has been continuously inhabited for at least 5,000 years.

Its historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the perfect place for a fairytale-like proposal. But really, any of Bukhara’s 140 architectural gems will do!

Savannah, unique proposal destinations

Spanish Moss Road in Savannah by Graham Veal, Flickr

Savannah, Georgia, USA

The quaint, charming South of the United States is certainly a unique setting to pop the question. Particularly, Savannah boasts picturesque architecture and a variety of stunning walks that are straight out of a storybook.

The fact that this charming Georgian city also happens to be one of America’s oldest makes it even more dreamy to a history buff like me!

Iceland, unique proposal destinations

proposal at appropriately-named Diamond Beach under the midnight sun?! YES! (Photo by GuideToIceland.is)

Iceland, Europe

The aurora borealis and a cheap ticket from Morocco to Puerto Rico brought me here — and I fell deeply in love with it. Iceland is one of those rare places that make you feel like you traveled to outer space and landed on a different planet.

Glacier lakes, thousands of waterfalls, “diamond” beaches so extensive your eyes can’t meet their end — how could you possibly say no at any of these spots?

Colchagua, unique proposal destinations

Colchagua Valley by eljuglardelalibertad.blogspot.com

Colchagua Valley, Chile, South America

No, I’m not about to suggest what seems to be a Photoshopped version of Tuscany. What you see above are vineyards among mountains and volcanoes in rural South America.

Colchagua Valley is a Chilean agricultural region about 100 miles south of the country’s bustling capital, Santiago. It has all the ingredients for a perfect proposal: fine dining, charming châteaus, excellent wines, and stunning landscapes.

Saba, unique proposal destinations

Windwardside village, as seen from Mt Scenery, Saba by Radioflux, wiki Commons

Saba, Dutch Caribbean

Saba, part of the Lesser Antilles chain and a special Dutch municipality, is an almost unheard-of Caribbean island. Why? Probably because it can’t can’t boast about its beaches, as there aren’t any. Yet, its unique topography is a draw in itself.

The “Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean” is home to several renowned dive sites, a towering dormant volcano, and underwater mountains. Hiking trails abound, so you can take in the fabulous mountain, ocean views.

Curacao, unique proposal destinations

Willemstad, Curaçao Harbor

Curaçao, Caribbean

I couldn’t help but also include multicultural Curaçao when speaking of the Dutch Caribbean! While the island has been independent since 2005, its people still cherish and retain much of their Dutch (mention the other groups here) roots.

Romantic spots can be found everywhere: from the charming streets of Willemstad to the lookout of Kenepa Grandi or Westpunt Beach.

Antelope Canyon, adventurous proposal destinations

Antelope Canyon by Luca Galuzzi

Antelope Canyon, Utah, USA

Antelope Canyon my not be a top spot on a romantic destinations list, but it is one of my favorites. Just getting there is an adventure in itself; pumping my adrenaline before he even thinks about going on one knee.

Kissing, flirting, and photographing each other among the smooth, rose-red walls is one of the most romantic getaways I can think of. Couple that with a stay in a houseboat along Lake Powell next door? Pure, blissful romance.

Chefchaouen, romantic proposal destinations

Chefchaouen by Mark Fischer

Chefchaouen, Morocco, North Africa

Have I stepped into a dream, where everything is colored like a bright, blue sky?

The Moroccan town of Chefchaouen could be the set of a Smurfs movie — or the most unique proposal of all time. Blue-washed buildings, narrow alleys, and ancient souks complete its romantic charm.

Banff Canada, unique proposal destinations around the world

Banff by Taylor McBride

Banff, Alberta, Canada

Towering peaks from the Rockies, blue-turquoise lakes, and other outworldly vistas surround the Canadian resort town of Banff.

While quite popular, my dreamy proposals list couldn’t do without it. Banff is sprinkled with château-style accommodation and a short distance from thousands of miles of scenic trails and roadways. Plenty of opportunities to find your own secret spot!

Tasmania, unique proposals around the world

Tasmania panorama by Ben Ashmole

Tasmania, Australia, Oceania

Rugged, isolated Australian wilderness that is simply jaw-dropping, Tasmania has been nicknamed the Natural State. Nearly 45% of its land is protected, being part of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, parks, and other reserves.

OMG is all I have to say.

Got other unique, romantic spots on your list? Share them below!

My Blooming Lotus Yoga Experience: Rehab, Pain Relief & Euphoria

blooming lotus yoga experience, Ubud Villa

I was scared. I would go from living fully on less than USD $150 a month to 6 times that in a week’s time. From an ephemeral Ubud yoga retreat at Blooming Lotus Yoga, I would move back to the Expensive States of America. Reverse culture shock was already affecting me psychologically.

“This trip has taken almost 2 hours. Are we there yet?!”

My impatience, while riding in a comfortable air-conditioned van, was a perfect reflection of that. Travel fatigue, in addition to fibromyalgia, were the physical ingredients that completed the recipe for disaster.

I could see, smell, taste, hear, feel pain like never before.

Before I could reanalyze why the heck I was even moving back to the USA, we arrived to our destination. My door opened as the staff of Ubud Corner 88 welcomed me in warm Balinese fashion.

blooming lotus yoga retreat, Ubud corner 88

The pleasing sound of Bahasa Indonesia slipped out of my lips to greet them in return. Quickly after, the lively scent of lemongrass penetrated my nose and the sweet taste of shredded coconut and honey filled my mouth. The soothing sound of the river and birds chirping serenaded my ears.

It’s amazing how simple sensations are augmented in distress.

Just a few minutes after my arrival, I knew the land that hosted Blooming Lotus Yoga had been blessed.

It was special.

The aura, energy that increasingly enveloped me with every step into the property made me want to jump of joy. I don’t know how I switched from worry to euphoria in such a short period of time.

Such is the ambiance of a proper yoga retreat, I’ve come to learn.

Ubud yoga experience, Bali Villa

For the next 4 days, I was nourished with vegetarian meals, grew with meditation lessons, and strengthened with yoga sessions. While the asanas and flows I followed there seemed elementary, the mindfulness I learned to apply while doing each move is what completely transformed my practice.

Slowly, my body’s energy flow shifted. I felt so light, like a leaf in the wind.

Some practices were challenging: my mind shaken as a collapsing Jenga tower, piece by piece. I was diminished to tears as little knives rapidly stabbed my weak wrists and fingers. The pain was almost unbearable.

Yet, other hours I would reach such depth meditating that I would burst out into tears. JOY — joy so powerful I had to make the supernatural effort to not jump off the roof. Literally.

blooming lotus yoga review, Bali retreat

Shockingly, I almost forgot I suffered from chronic disease by the end of the yoga retreat. The pain was so sporadic, so fleeting.

I felt so strong! Healthy, for once…

I didn’t want to leave. I was so scared of my previous mental and physical state. I was clinging to my experience in Bali. Then, I was reminded of one profound lesson from Buddha that we were constantly reminded of throughout our Blooming Lotus Yoga experience:

You only lose what you cling to.

So I simply let go. Like the wind, I let it gentle caress me–and enjoy it while it lasts. Yet, just as its lovely touch came, I let it go as it brushes away.

Everyday’s a struggle, but being grateful and rejoicing in what I have instead of what I don’t is slowly, but surely, relieving my pain. It’s not only a physical, but also a mental metamorphosis.

And of course: yoga every damn day.

blooming lotus yoga in Bali, pool

Letting go gives us freedom – and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety or possessions – we cannot be free.

Thích Nhất Hạnh

Have you been to a yoga retreat? Would you try Blooming Lotus Yoga?

Namaste to Ramananda, Lily, Ashley, and the entire staff at Villa Ubud Corner 88 for offering me a Blooming Lotus Yoga experience on a complimentary basis. I did not receive any payment for this article or the views presented therein, however.

Thus, the following has been an authentic account of my metamorphosis during my short stay in their blessed land. By taking part of this yoga retreat, I truly experienced physical and mental pain relief and euphoria. It’s the most effective rehab ‘program’ I’ve been part of. I’ll be forever indebted to you for your kindness, my dear Blooming Lotus yogis.

Koh Tao Attractions: My Top 15 [PHOTOS]

Have you been to a place you only planned to visit for a couple of days, but somehow stayed longer, waaaay longer, than planned? That was Koh Tao to me. This magical island on the Gulf of Thailand captured my heart and soul in ways I can barely describe. Today I relive my experiences fondly, sharing with you my top 15 sites, eats, and other unique Koh Tao attractions.

viewpoint, Koh Tao attractions

UV night dive with Big Blue

Corals re-transmit light in differing wavelengths or colors, which causes them to glow beautifully under black light. A florescence UV night dive is one of the most unique Koh Tao attractions and I highly recommend one! It’s super trippy and fun 😉 I booked through Big Blue Diving and despite the big boat, I was still part of a small group and had an outstanding experience. Try it!

Snorkeling and hiking at Koh Nangyuang

Rent a cheap traditional tailboat to spend an afternoon at Koh Nangyuang, a stone’s throw from Big Blue Dive Resort. There, you have the option to snorkel the world-renowned Japanese Gardens or hike to one of Koh Tao’s most spectacular viewpoints.

Koh Nangyuang, things to do in Koh Tao

Seafood with a side of cabaret at Sairee Beach

While staying on Sairee Beach, make sure you check out the nightlife and Koh Tao’s best foodie spot. Barracuda Restaurant and Bar is renowned for its unique, delectable seafood creations and unbelievable value. After a pleasant dinner, head next-door to Queen’s Cabaret for a fun drag queen show.

Barracuda, Koh Tao restaurants

Breakfast or brunch at Cappuccino

Speaking of food, there are several contenders when it comes to proper western breakfast or brunch in Koh Tao. Out of them, Cappuccino in Mae Haad stood out to me due to its superior homemade croissants and competitive prices. I dropped by several times before a full day of diving.

best croissant, Koh Tao restaurants

Diving Chumphon Pinnacle and Sail Rock

The reason Turtle Island first made an appearance on the backpacking trail? Cheap, yet outstanding scuba diving courses and day trips. Make sure you don’t miss one of Koh Tao’s top dive sites Chumphon Pinnacle and a day trip to Sail Rock.

top Koh Tao dive site, Chumphon school of fish

That’s ME! Diving Chumphon Pinnacle

Ride dirt bike to Mango viewpoint

This one is not for the faint of heart: Mango viewpoint is only reached after going up several precarious dirt roads and inclines. You must rent a proper dirtbike, 250 cc minimum, to make it! Once on top though, you can have drinks from the bar or even food from the restaurant on-site to complement THAT view.

Mango viewpoint, best of Koh Tao

Snickers shake and burger at Safety Stop Pub

Did you know you can burn up to 600 calories per hour while scuba diving?! Multiply that by 2 or 3 times a day–yah, plenty of room for naughty food! I stumbled upon this local gem by the Mae Haad pier and it offers comfort food at its finest. I mean seriously, their Snickers chocolate shake is said to have 6 FULL bars in it! I tried it and confirm: it is liquid peanut butter caramel chocolate. AHHHH.

safety stop pub, best Koh Tao spots

Swim with sharks and turtles at Shark Bay

If you are not a diver or simply wish to take a break from the regulator, a great Koh Tao day trip option is to rent a scooter and go beach hopping. Particularly, snorkeling Shark Bay close to sunset (between 4 and 6 PM) increases your chances of seeing feeding reef sharks and turtles.

Shark Bay, best of Koh Tao snorkeling

Rappelling and rock climbing around the island

Other great day trips and relatively-unknown Koh Tao attractions include rappelling and rock climbing around the island. I thoroughly enjoyed a half-day trip with Goodtime Adventures! Their guides are great instructors and heaps of fun. The chosen spots double as stunning viewpoints as well.

rappelling, unique things to do in Koh Tao

Discover how delicious vegan cuisine can be at La Carotte Qui Rit

Vegan cuisine is not only vegetarian, but also does not use any animal products whatsoever. This means popular ingredients such as cheese and honey are out. Loving the latter, it was hard for me to imagine vegan dishes could be that good–until I was invited for lunch at La Carotte Qui Rit. Their creative menu, particularly the Thai dishes, are outstanding. The use of spices is so brilliant, I forgot I was having a vegan lunch.

vegan restaurant, unique Koh Tao spots

Become a student or spectator at Flying Trapeze Adventures

If you’re looking for something special, drop by Flying Trapeze Adventures on Sairee’s Main Road, opposite to Prik Thai. Training or watching students fly about with Gemma and her graceful team is, hands-down, the most unique thing to do in Koh Tao. Too bad they were not doing a full-blown show during my stay! I encourage you to check their schedule upon arrival to the island and see if you’re luckier than I was.

trapeze, unique Koh Tao attractions

photo by Maike Crosscastle

Poi fire show on the beach

A popular attraction throughout Southeast Asia beaches are fire dance shows–and Koh Tao isn’t an exception. You can enjoy them nightly at several cafés, bars, and restaurants on the beach. Make sure you pick a seat further away, as the fearless dancers like to get a little too close for comfort!

fire show, top Koh Tao shows

Homemade gnocchi at Koh Tao Regal Resort

Orgasmic is the only fitting adjective for the quattro formaggi gnocchi at Koh Tao Regal Resort’s beachfront restaurant. Its new Chef worked at some of the best restaurants in Bangkok–and you can taste it. The hand-rolled dumplings, along with the strong four-cheese blend, melted in my mouth in a way that moved me to tears. Of joy. Better yet? It is nearly half the price than similar dishes at other Italian restaurants on the island.

Italian food, best Koh Tao hotels

Trash Hero and Jack, the artist

Jack is a peculiar artist who turns garbage into art. You would have to ask around for his specific location, as I couldn’t find any info besides a promotional video on Koh Tao TV! First people to ask would be the Koh Tao chapter of Trash Hero: an organization whose goal is to create sustainable communities by removing and/or transforming waste. Spend a day volunteering on a beach or coral reef cleanup if you can!

trash hero, Koh Tao eco-friendly attractions

Sunday Roast at The Hacienda

English food has a pretty bad reputation worldwide, doesn’t it? The Sunday Roast at The Hacienda completely flipped my perspective, though! Their impossibly-juicy beef & gravy, cheesy cauliflower, and flaky-yet-chewy Yorkshire pudding in particular left me speechless. Needless to say, Koh Tao was the last place I expected to find the best English dishes I’ve ever had!

Sunday Roast, best food in Koh Tao

I received complimentary dives and accommodation at Big Blue Dive Resort; a half-day rappelling trip with Goodtime Adventures; and dinners at Barracuda Restaurant. I was not paid for positive reviews, however, so all views expressed on this post are my honest opinion. I LOVED these experiences! I can’t wait to go back and relive them.

Which are your favorite Koh Tao attractions? Share them below!

Asian curries list: Traveling through my favorites (photo essay)

Travel Through Food series is back this week and today’s feature is an Asian curries list. That’s right: A deliciously spicy photo essay, showcasing the different types of Asian curries that I love, descriptions included! Hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoyed eating many of them last week 😉

types of Asian curries photo

Photo: Sandy Austin, Flickr

Asian curries list: Vietnamese

Vietnamese curry is considered a “Southern dish” and it is the more soup-like of all types of curry I’ve tried. I love thick curries (specially Indian!), not going to lie. However, there is something about a vibrant orange cà ri gà made with big chunks of taro roots, sweet potato, carrots, rice vermicelli, coconut milk and big amounts of crispy fried onions and cilantro garnish that make me melt!

The Vietnamese also serve goat curry, but its strong taste must be acquired in order to really enjoy it.

Another interesting fact? The only reason Vietnamese have any type of curry in their cuisine is because of contact with the Siam from India back in the 17th century.

Aha! It all makes sense now 🙂

Asian curries list, Vietnamese curry soup

Mmm, look at that glorious Cà Ri Gà (Vietnamese curry soup)! I could eat this every day

Vietnamese goat curry

Vietnamese goat curry with coconut cream – less common, but served in some areas (Photo: lensfodder)

Asian curries list: Malaysian

Malaysian curries can also be attributed to Indian immigrants. Thanks to them, curries have become a staple in Malaysian cuisine as well. Common ingredients in Malaysian curry mixes are turmeric, chili peppers, garlic, coconut milk, shallots, ginger, and belacan (shrimp paste).

I had this type of curry for the first time during my first visit to London. I was Couchsurfing with many travelers from all over the world, including a sweet Asian girl named Hyejin.

On our last afternoon in town, I expressed how I was dying to have a new type of Asian curry. So, she excitedly took me to a popular Malaysian joint where we ordered “mild curry” or else I would die.

How does this story end? Well, I died anyway.

My new Asian friend and cute waiter could not understand how “a curry so mild!” could have left me with this face:

Asian curries list, me after eating Malaysian curry

My dazed and confused face after having a fiery Malaysian curry in London

Asian curries list, Malaysian curry soup

The apparently-mild Malaysian curry that killed me–EVEN MY CAMERA SHAKED!

Asian curries list, Malaysian shrimp curry

Malaysian shrimp curry (Photo: beavela, Flickr)

Asian curries list: Chinese

Chinese curries tend to be much milder in comparison to other Asian types. Also, Chinese curry sauce is typically yellow and the dish consists of onions, potatoes, green peppers and either chicken, lamb, fish, or beef.

I had Chinese yellow curry chicken for the first time in Dahab, Egypt (from all places!) at the only Chinese restaurant in the area. Unlike how it is typically described (watery), the Chinese curry I had was a thicker sauce with chicken that seemed to have been marinated with a dry rub beforehand.

It was delicious, but I wonder if it was the real thing?! All my servers, and the chef, looked Chinese…in Egypt…so maybe?

The mystery remains.

Chinese curry

Chinese curry at Seven Heaven restaurant in Dahab, Egypt

Chinese yellow curry noodles

Chinese yellow curry noodles with chicken (Photo: whity, Flickr)

Asian curries list: Indian

This is, by far, the longest Asian curry affair I’ve had! Indian curries are the first type of Asian curries list I ever tasted.

I’m not sure why I never tried any other types of Asian curries for a while...

I guess I was unsure whether Eastern spices could live up to the Indian spices I had fallen in love with?

I know, newbie mistake.

Anyway! Below are my favorite types of Indian curries.

Indian goat vindaloo curry

“Goat Vindaloo, Butter Chicken, Spinach and Black Eye Beans with half rice and roti” (avlxyz, Flickr)

Indian chicken korma curry

Chicken korma: Yellow mild curry made with almond and coconut powder. I usually like to kick it up a little and add some chili powder to it (Photo: hisc1ay, Flickr)

Indian lamb pasanda curry

Lamb pasanda curry (bottom of plate) is mild and made with coconut milk, cream, and almonds. Other items on this plate: “Red lentil dhal, rice, cabbage and potato curry” (Denni Schnapp, Flickr)

Indian bhuna curry

Look at that gorgeous bhuna curry: Medium spicy and a thick sauce, my favorite mix! Common ingredients include fresh coriander, cumin, chili, cardamom, paprika, turmeric, garlic, lemon, yoghurt, oil, and garam masala (Photo: kiyanwang, Flickr)

Asian curries list: Thai

Yet another long list of my favorite Asian curries comes from Thailand. From Panang to Massaman curry, to the red, yellow, and green-colored sauces…from khao soi to kaeng som!

Oh, I could just write about them all day as well…!

But instead, I’ll sign off with some delicious photos:

Asian curries list, Thai panang curry beef

Panang curry “traditionally includes dried chili peppers, galangal, lemongrass, coriander root, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, garlic, and salt, and sometimes also shallots, peanuts, and shrimp paste” (Wikipedia. Photo by Ariane Colenbrander, Flickr)

Asian curries list, Thai Massaman curry

Massaman curry: My favorite Thai dish! Originally from central Thailand, it came to existence thanks to a Persian trader in the 16th century CE. Typically, it is made with coconut milk, roasted peanuts/cashews, potatoes, chili, cardamom pods, star anise, palm sugar, fish sauce, bay leaves, cinnamon and tamarind sauce (Wikipedia. Photo by Pabo76, Flickr)

chicken Thai green curry

This Thai green curry, served with roti on the side, was made with “shredded kaffir lime leaves, yardlong beans, makhuea pro Thai eggplant, makhuea phuang pea-sized eggplant. For garnish: Holy basil (bai kraphao) and sliced large red chillies for color” (Takeaway, Wiki Commons)

Thai khao soi curry

Northern Thai khao soi, which means “cut rice,” is a soupy coconut milk curry made with deep fried egg noodles, pickled cabbage, shallots, lime, ground chillies fried in oil, and meat (Takeaway, Wiki Commons)

Asian curries list, Thai pumpkin curry

Thai pumpkin curry: Not in the list, but delicious regardless!

What are your favorite types of Asian curries? Comment below!

Taxi cab driver story: The day a Haitian made me cry

I always take the bus. However, today was raining like crazy, so I had no choice but to splurge on a cab ride. This is the taxi cab driver story that developed.

Taxi cab driver story rainy day

Taxi cab driver story begins (Flickr Photo: Clint)

My alarm went off at 6 AM. I hit the snooze button…so many times that I had to jump out of bed like a possessed soul at 7:30 AM. Ten minutes ’til the bus, phew! Then I looked out my window.

Torrential rain. Damn. I guess I can’t walk to the freakin’ bus after all.

Knowing how cabbies take forever in this city, I quickly called one in, hoping it would arrive just in time to make it to work early. I took a shower, came out, and ACK! My cabbie was 3 miles away, TEN minutes ago! I ran out of the bathroom and almost fell flat on my tile floor. I looked out the window but no one was there. So I called the company…apparently, cab 475 was nowhere to be found. Operator dialed and dialed.

No answer.

“Cab driver will be seriously reprimanded, I am so sorry m’am. I’m calling a different cab your way right now.”

Le sigh. Late to work. On first day of the month. As a marketing manager. Didn’t look like a bright Friday.

Surprisingly, as I looked out of my window in frustration, I see cabbie 475 – YAY! I ran out in the rain and asked him to please wait, I’m here, let me get my purse!” Five mins. later, we were on our way.

Where the taxi cab driver story took a sharp turn

As I hopped in, Charlie quickly apologized: “sorry for the wait, m’am!” I then went to tell him the ordeal, and Charlie lamented that his phone broke down and hasn’t been able to answer some calls. This has happened all week and he’s about to lose his job, even though he’s right there to pick up customers a few mins. after the assigned time.

At this point, I call the cab company and tell them about cab 475’s technical issues, to please not reprimand him, that he made it despite the rain, and was very professional and courteous.

Taxi cab driver story tear

Photo: smilla4, Flickr

My cab driver teared up: “I can’t believe you just did that. That call just saved my job. That’s the nicest thing anyone has done for me in a while”

Naturally, given how much of a softie I am, I teared up too. “But it’s simply the right thing to do. Who wouldn’t do that?” Charlie responded: “Two other customers I had today were in your same exact situation, but didn’t even bother to call my boss to say everything was OK. Instead, they complained the whole way and told me how I needed to hurry the hell up, that they were late as it was because of the rain”

Wow.

Charlie went on: “I just can’t believe you did that. I know you must also be late for work, yet you have been so nice to me. You saved my job. You are such a good person. It is so hard to find people with such a kind heart as yours nowadays.”

Yep, you guessed it: I teared up again. Just yesterday I had the most horrible day, deep within my life after travel depression, even yelled “I just fucking hate this country!” while sobbing in my gringo boyfriend’s arms last night. And then…I find a beautiful soul that makes my day (besides my boyfriend). But this not it for this taxi cab driver story.

Where this taxi cab driver story got funny

Charlie started asking where I’m from and if I’m a Christian. I say Puerto Rico and that yes, I’m a Christ follower. We started going about how we’re both just trying to follow Jesus footsteps and hoping that spreading our kindness however we can may hopefully transform some lives daily. We then went off about how hospitable Caribbean people are, how we rejoice on daily life and are not so sucked up on material things, like the new American Dream trap and such. I digressed, saying not many Puerto Ricans are like that, but we laughed it off. Live day by day. “Live that your memories will be part of your happiness.” That sort of thing.

Then he told me a funny Haitian tale and my top taxi cab driver story:

Back in Haiti, there was this good old man with 4 sons: Three were rich, one was very poor. One fine day the good old man dies. At his funeral, his 3 rich sons dropped $20,000 cash, EACH, inside the good old man’s coffin, so he could take riches to heaven. Can you believe that?! All that cash! Haitian beliefs and materialism, bad bad mix most times. Anyway! All that cash is in, then the 4th son of the good old man, the very poor one, goes by the coffin, writes a $100,000 check and tells his good old man: “Father, God doesn’t accept that much cash in heaven. I’ll take the $60,000 — here’s a $100,000 check, with $40,000 just from me, because I love you so.” Then the poor son walked away rich, with $60,000 … whilst his bank account had NO FUNDS!
But hey, there’s no cash and no banks in heaven either, are there? 😉

Lol! I died! We both laughed so hard! Charlie continued:

“You see, many times, many rich people not so smart, but many poor people very smart too. Depends where you go. But I see it here in the USA too: People with so much money, buy so many cars and big houses, put away so much money, work so so so many hours, barely live until just a few years before they die. Then they die and where does all that money go!? WASTED! Most true rich people, rich people in the heart, live instead of exist. Live much happier life. Enjoy much more life. Not saying being rich is bad, but it is like Jesus said: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ Only the humble in the heart will enter heaven. To me, only the humble in the heart, too, have true heaven on Earth.”

I nodded and teared up a bit again as we rolled into my company’s building. I said farewell, took his card, and went into my office. I know who I’m calling on another rainy day.

Taxi cab driver story

Got a taxi cab driver story? (Photo: presta, Flick)

Do you have a good taxi cab driver story? Share it below!

Travel and a broken heart: How they changed my life forever

Travel and a broken heart: Gluing the pieces together

Travel and a broken heart feel like… (Nevit Dilmen, Wiki)

I don’t know where I would be if it weren’t for travel and a broken heart. My life, personality, and even career choices would be completely different as we speak. So today I open my beat, albeit undefeated heart and show you that the worst things in life usually end up being the best for us. Thank you BootsnAll & 30 Days of Indie Travel (prompt 2) for making me open up again and hopefully strengthen and inspire many others to follow their dreams & passions — despite of the consequences

December 13th, 2008. I was in Egypt studying for my Arabic language finals, a little distracted because I was excited to go back to America in 10 days to surprise my future husband, love of my of life, for Christmas. He thought he wasn’t going to see me for a full year – all the way ’til the summer – but who does he think he is? I am Maria Alexandra, expect the unexpected! His handsome face, cheery eyes and dropped jaw once he saw me at his front door were all I could think about that night. Then, the call

“I just can’t do this anymore,” his broken voice spurted. I thought this was a bad dream: “Didn’t you just tell me last week that you looked to your bed in the morning and realized how much you missed me, that you couldn’t wait to hug me, squeeze me, and kiss me? That you missed seeing me standing on my tippy toes because I looked so cute? That I am the love of your life?!” My heart paralyzed and went into chaos all at the same time. I couldn’t breathe. I was choking in my own tears. I don’t think I have ever hurt or cried so much in my entire life.

He might read this, but he knows anyway. And if he doesn’t, I am kind of happy that today he will find out. And so, I decided to write an open letter to him…so you can see how travel and a broken heart were the two best things that ever happened to me (having loved with my all tying at the top…)

Dear James,

Today I want to thank you for giving me the gifts of travel and a broken heart. I know you planned it all very carefully, I know you also hurt while doing so, but furthermore I know you did it all because you deeply cared for me. They were almost 3 bittersweet years. You were there through my worst, through my depression, eating disorders. YOU, in fact, took me out of those black holes in my life. You never deserted me. You saved me. You truly loved me James, and I’ll cherish that forever.

Thank you for lying to me when I asked you if you wanted me to stay or apply for the Boren scholarship that eventually paid for my studies in Egypt. Keeping a straight face for a full year as I prepared my essays, application, and dreams must have been hard. Thank you for taking my essays to the most suitable person you knew so they could be proofread and the finish product be stellar. Thank you because no matter what, you always put my happiness before yours. You knew I’ve had the travel bug for quite some time, and instead of killing my dreams, you gave them wings. You knew that our relationship had come to a point of no return, that it was too damn difficult, and there was no way I could be truly happy with you. That we could be happier apart. And while both of our families already knew about the wedding plans…they could be put aside to make the best decision for both of us, the ones who actually mattered in the scheme of things. So you let me go…

Gracias.

Yet…you did tell me to stay AFTER you, YOURSELF, faxed the contract that bind me to “my dream” for a year in Egypt, and you know there was no chance of me backing out from it at that point. WHY DID YOU DO THAT!? That pissed me off! Sorry, I had to say it. I believe my heart was broken just then. True of the matter is, I was such a little girl. I didn’t understand. You simply wanted me to know how you truly felt — and that the reason you did all of that was so I had no choice but to follow my dreams. You knew I would drop everything in a second just to be with you – and you didn’t want me to do that. Of course, I didn’t understand then.

Ironically enough though, I felt that every day that went by just brought more and more pain, more and more guilt, more and more questions on why I was still there with you. But I guess I was too weak. I couldn’t let you go even though you were simply an “idealized” image of what I wanted my future husband to be. You were him though, a wonderful man! You loved me, you were/will always be there for me. Yet, I was also sure that wasn’t going to be the case.

So I left. Travel and a broken heart…

And you know what James? It is the best decision I have made in my life. I learned Arabic (reached intermediate level in just 2 semesters!), traveled to more than 11 new countries, and even decided to study in Morocco after a year in the Middle East because I just couldn’t handle coming back to Tampa and see you every day on campus. And once again I thank you, because you were my impetus, the catalyst – in so many ways. Basically, running away from you equaled even more travel and a broken heart.

In 2 years, my country counter almost hit 30, I could get by in 3 different languages, and most importantly, I found myself. I figured out exactly the kind of man I needed (an educated, rambunctious wanderer like myself). I realized that my career goal had to be being a successful digital nomad through writing, translating & interpreting in a myriad of languages. At last, I knew exactly what I wanted. I became a woman. I grew up.

As I went through said metamorphosis though, I struggled with embracing the changes. I still hated you while loving you so deeply for more than 2 years after the break up. I was traveling, learning, seeing new things but once a week or so, I would break down. I would write pages and pages in my journal telling you how much I hated you for dropping such a beautiful kind of love. Clearly, I was still a little girl back then. Or maybe it simply means being human? Whatever it was, one day I finally understood that you didn’t give up on love. Neither of us ever did. We simply realized that “letting go doesn’t mean giving up, but rather accepting that certain things aren’t meant to be.”

Love is like energy: It can’t be destroyed, but rather, transferred or transformed.

True love never dies. Life moves on, people come and go. A new relationship might make us happier. A new love is born. However, that doesn’t mean ours will weaken or dissipate, James. Love will always be strong & true. It has simply…changed.

*wipes tears off her cheeks* Remembering the best and worst moments of my life always makes me cry of joy. They are reminders of how greatly I’ve been blessed, because they have all taken me where I am. Which is where I’m supposed to be today. Crazy I figured it all out by age 24…

Travel and a broken heart changed my life forever.

Travel and a broken heart are the reasons why I’m so happy I could die

Lyrics of my life’s anthem here

Traveling through Egyptian food: Photo essay

Ahlan wa sahlan! It is Cultural Tidbits Monday and today we Travel through Egyptian food! As you already know, on this mini series, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite ethnic foods and restaurants through educational (and quite yummy) photo essays. Let’s get started! As I lived in the Arab world for almost 16 months, I will admit that the Egyptian food selections of today’s photo essay are pretty biased (read: My favorite dishes). However, that does not make each dish any less of an Egyptian food right? That being said, I did my best to pick some of the most distinctive dishes among my favorites. Enjoy!

Mezzes

Egyptian food, taameya

Egyptian food: Taameya inside a pita (Photo: Politicalmonkey2010.wordpress.com)

Taameya / falafel

Had to start with the taameya: The Egyptian falafel. Mashed beans made into balls, then deep fried. Middle Eastern goodness that most of us have tried at least once. The Egyptian taameya, however, is a different kind and has a quite distinctive flavor and deep pistachio-green color: Different from any other falafel I had tried elsewhere. They use different kinds of beans in different Arab countries, thus the different falafel varieties. Certainly, one could travel all over the Middle East simply trying to find the perfect ball of falafel. A mission I might attempt to accomplish soon…

Baba ghanoush

Egyptian food, baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush: Pita dip made of mashed eggplant mixed with spices, typically bathed in olive oil and garlic

I will never forget the baba ghanoush I had on a daily basis in Cairo, particularly the one at my favorite restaurant in Dokki, called Taza. Walking distance from my house, it was part of my evening walk back from Arabic classes at AUC. Its garlicky, even smoky kind of flavor is what made Taza’s baba ghanoush the best in town. I tried many others and none can compare, so make sure you head to 146 al Tahrir Street if you go through Cairo, Egypt and sample this Arab delicacy. What is interesting is that this great review comes from a person who usually hateseggplants. So if you are like me, please don’t give your back to this dish: It is a must-try!

Fuul

Egyptian food, fuul

Egyptian fuul (mashed fava beans, simmered for over 8 hrs) with crazy toppings. Photo: Politicalmonkey2010.wordpress.com

Ahh, fuul. This Egyptian food is so dynamic (is that the right adj? lol) that I would sometimes eat it 5 times a day without even thinking about it. I would had it with falafel and eggs in my morning pita pocket; for lunch with a couple of kofta pieces; a pita pocket filled with just fuul as a snack – the possibilities are endless. Basically, fuul is to Egyptian food what rice and beans are to Latin cuisine (now we’re talking, I know). My favorite concoction must be fuul alaskandereya(literally meaning “Alexandria fuul,” from the Egyptian city on the Mediterranean): Fuul spiced up with hot peppers . They were basically the Robin to my Batman when I lived in Egypt.

Kibbeh

Egyptian food kibbeh

Egyptian food: Kibbeh

Egyptian food open kibbeh

Egyptian food: Opened kibbeh (Photo: Cassaendra, Sittoo’s, Parma, OH

Another mouth-watering Egyptian food, kibbeh rounds up my Top 3 mezzes list. What I find the most curious about this dish is that it looks and tastes so similar to a Puerto Rican fast food, called the alcapurria. While the Boricua appetizer is made of either cassava or plantains, the shell of the kibbeh is made of cracked wheat. Also, the ground beef that fills them is spiced differently. However, when it comes to looks, the Puerto Rican alcapurria seems like an elongated kibbeh. Wow, this is truly torture…I want some now!

Main courses

Egyptian food: Fiteer

Egyptian fiteer (Photo:Twincitieseats.blogspot.com)

Fiteer

Doubling as appetizer/desert for a table or a meal for one, fiteer is another Egyptian food I often have dreams of at night. A hybrid between a crepe and a pizza pie, fiteer is made of several light, buttery sheets put together and then stuffed with all kinds of ingredients: From veggies to lamb, to cheese and chicken, even Nutella (chocolate spread) and nuts! It is absolutely delicious, could either be your app or desert, and you could eat it every day for a month and not get tired of it: Too many varieties to choose from!. Be careful when eating it hot from local restaurants and stands though: The nastiest case of Pharaoh tummy, aka food poisoning, while I lived in the Middle East was caused by some old cheese stuffed in my fiteer from well-known Egyptian rest. chain GAD. So smell your food and make sure the cheese looks melty and “right” prior to consumption!

Kushari

Egyptian food, kushari extra onions

My favorite kushari: Extra fried onions, please!

Egyptian food kushari

Mix well — and never judge a book by its cover!

Oh my kushari. The quintessential Egyptian food, you can’t say you’ve been to Egypt if you haven’t eaten this dish. At first sight, it looks like a bunch of leftovers of macaroni, rice, lentils, fried onions and salsa dumped together. However, if you can get past the looks, your taste buds are in for a real treat. I love to add some extra garlic sauce and double the fried onions topping, in addition to a hint of the super-spicy Egyptian pepper sauce provided. Your kushari stand attendant always remembers how you like it if you are a regular like me, which is a plus (because, naturally, i would then get 3 times the fried onion topping. Aiiiiwa!). Best in town is debatable: Current competition is between Koshary Abou Tarek (16 Maarouf St., Champollion, Cairo) and Koshary El Tahrir (12, Youssef El Gendy St. ,Off of Bab El Louk St.). Naturally, reviews are quite mixed. I went to both and can’t pick a favorite, so I recommend you pay a visit to both restaurants and decide which is the best Cairene kushariyourself!

Shish tawook

Egyptian food, shish tawook

Shish tawook: The Egyptian chicken kebab (Photo: Basel15, Wiki Commons)

Typically known as simply “the grill,” my favorite plate of animal goodness includes some shish tawook/shish kebab and lamb kofta. I would typically buy this dish at least once a week at Taza rest., ask for a tower of pita and simply roll the bread around the meat, then dip it all in the big plastic container of baba ghanoushI would always get on the side. Egyptian food heaven: I dare you to try that.

Kofta

Egyptian food, kofta

Egyptian kofta: Lamb meat wrapped around a thick skewer, grilled, then skewer is taken out prior to serving (Photo: Food Stories, Flickr)

That shall be it for part five of the mini series, Traveling through food! Hope I piqued your interest (and appetite) for Egyptian food further and you venture out to try something new.

Egyptian food, sweet fiteer

Sweet fiteer, topped with honey and cheese, for dessert: Anyone? (Photo: Bootsintheoven.com)

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

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

Next?

*happy sigh of relief*

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