Middle East travel bucket list: Thanksgiving photo essay

Happy Thanksgiving! I know it is not until tomorrow, but by then my Playa Del Carmen adventures will be in full swing 😉 And so today, I want to be thankful for my world travels. This Thanksgiving #TravelBL special will be all about Middle East travel bucket list items I have crossed off already. More inspiration for you, fond memories to me.

But… why a Middle East travel bucket list?

You must be asking yourself this question. There are several reasons…

Middle East travel bucket list, Abu Simbel

Nefertari: we finally met! At Abu Simbel Temple, Egypt

When I was awarded a full $20,000 scholarship to study Arabic in Egypt for a year, it was a dream come true in so many levels. I had been obsessed with Nefertiti, Nefertari and all those majestic temples ever since I first saw them on a history book in elementary school.

My love for travel started this way.

After watching countless of documentaries on History and Discovery Channel, I wondered whether there were other civilizations like this in the world. How big (or small) is the world we live in, anyway? What other wonders are there to see? The more I learned, the more obsessed I became with traveling the world. I always say travel taught me English.

Basically, my wanderlust was ignited by Ancient Egypt and the Middle East.

Middle East travel bucket list, Medinet Habu

colorful wall at Medinet Habu temple – Luxor, Egypt

And since I’m being thankful for my world travels today, I want to pay tribute to this region, which has transformed me in so many levels. Also, most of my world travels were done while living in Egypt and Morocco, so they hold a special place in my heart..

Today, a toast for the Arab world with this Middle East travel bucket list!

Sailed down the Nile River — and on an ancient boat

What most people don’t know is that the felucca is not only a traditional sail boat in Egypt, but the Eastern Mediterranean, comprising the island of Malta — all the way to Iraq. What’s more: The felucca even made it to the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, back in the 19th century! (Wikipedia, felucca article). It is said that the glorified version of the felucca, known as a dahabeya, was also used by pharaohs and even Napoleon himself.

Middle East travel bucket list, felucca trip

Our felucca trip crew! I’m the second on the right

I was lucky to spend a few days sleeping on board. I drifted on this simple beauty, so close to the historic Nile river. I still slap myself, thinking it was just a dream. And what a dream it was — I have never been so relaxed in my entire life. The most sublime experience though was getting to swim in the longest river in the world + actually stepping out of the felucca to visit ancient Egyptian temples. Just wow!

Middle East travel bucket list, swimming in the Nile River

Yes, the Nile River can be THAT clear! Your felucca captain will know where to stop for you to swim safely

Middle East travel bucket list, African sunset

Me and an African sunset from a felucca on the Nile

Spent my birthday in Philae temple, Egypt

While I had already visited the Giza pyramids several times (and they were a sandstorm of disappointments), Philae was the first ancient Egyptian temple I ever visited. And I got to see it on my 22nd birthday too — what a treat!

Middle East bucket list, Philae Temple from the Nile

The Philae temple complex was much bigger than expected. A portion of it may be seen from the Nile River — like right out of a movie!

Middle East travel bucket list, Philae Temple,

Me at Philae Temple — on my BIRTHDAY!

Saw The Treasury and Monastery in Petra, Jordan

While the Pyramids of Giza were a sandstorm of disappointments, the ancient city of Petra was a completely different story. I cried when I saw the Treasury. I remember vividly how I sat at its feet for at least 30 min., staring at its majesty. Even though it is an extremely touristy site, I visited early in the morning. While there were still some foreigners around, my experience was not tarnished — at all. To this day, I still wonder why Petra had such an impact on me. Just remembering the 2 days I spent there take my breath away…! Definitely a huge item off my Middle East travel bucket list.

Read more: The Treasury, Petra: A tear-jerking Kodak moment

Middle East travel bucket list, Petra Treasury

The Treasury, Petra by Bernard Gagnon

Middle East travel bucket list, Petra

Me contemplating The Treasury

The most surprising, unexpected part of my trip, though? I freaking climbed the monastery — like, to the VERY top. No harness, no equipment at all. I remember slipping once and thinking I was going to die. Still, making it to the top was priceless and worth every scary step!

Also read: How I Climbed the Petra Monastery with a Bedouin (photo essay)

Middle East travel bucket list, climbed Petra monastery

How to climb the Petra monastery: Looks easy, but it SO isn’t! The path looks deceivingly easy, when it is in fact extremely slippery and precarious

Middle East travel bucket list, climbing Petra monastery

Almost there! See that tiny Bedouin on the top right? I made it THERE!

Middle East travel bucket list, on top of Petra monastery

“I’m queen of the world! Wohoo woohoo WOOOOO!”

Old Jerusalem: Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulcher

This one was huge: I didn’t get to visit Old Jerusalem once, but twice. There are so many things to do in Jerusalem — I am so lucky I got to experience them at a relaxed pace, on 2 different visits. My first trip was with the group of study abroad students during Eid El Adha — an experience in itself. the second time around, I was embarking on my epic Solo Middle East road trip. Highlights included the Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall, and the Church of Mary Magdalene on Mount of Olives.

Middle East travel bucket list, Dome of the Rock Jerusalem

Me at Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem! CLICK on photo to ENLARGE

Middle East travel bucket list, Temple Mount in Jerusalem

Me at Temple Mount: Dome of the Rock on left; Al Aqsa Mosque right behind the arches (CLICK on photo to ENLARGE)

There are many other things from my travels that I am so thankful about. Unfortunately, not much space or time. I will leave you with a few other unforgettable experiences that I got to cross off my Middle East travel bucket list, though!

Experienced the desert — and a real oasis

Middle East travel bucket list, ride a camel


Middle East travel bucket list, visit an oasis

Baharyia Oasis panorama by fellow student Margaux de Borchgrave

Visited “The Athens of Africa” – Fes, Morocco

Fes Bab Bou Jeloud

Bab Bou Jeloud, Fes, Morocco by BjĂžrn Christian TĂžrrissen

Bathed in mud and floated on the Dead Sea

Middle East travel bucket list, float on the Dead Sea

Floating on the Dead Sea! I’m on the far left

Middle East travel bucket list, Dead Sea mud bath

My (muddy) kiss from the Dead Sea!

Want to learn about more about my epic world travels? Check out my lengthy solo female travel photo essay, where I outlined everywhere I went shortly before, during, and after my 16-month study abroad stint in Egypt and Morocco!

What are you thankful for?
What’s on your Middle East travel bucket list?

Christmas traditions around the world + photos!

In the Western & Christian worlds, we celebrate Christmas this weekend. In celebration, I decided to compile some unique Christmas traditions around the world! Since our globe has more than 200 countries, the list below includes only the ones I have personally visited and/or lived in. This way, we keep the number close to 30 😉 Hope you enjoy it!


Christmas traditions around the world, ajaca

Ajaca: Traditional food eaten during Christmas in Aruba, it is made of plantains and stuffed with pork, chicken or beef (Photo:Mourinhospenis.tumblr.com)

In this beautiful Caribbean island, it is commonplace for families to go to church together on Christmas Eve. Then, families gather again for Christmas dinner the next day and sing Aruban songs as they eat ajaca (also eaten in Puerto Rico, but known as “pastel”), salted ham and salmon.


Christmas traditions around the world, Austria markets

Christmas market in Vienna, Austria (Photo: Manfred Werner)

While Christmas markets are very popular in several cities across Europe, they are particularly important in Austria. The most popular in this quaint country are found in Vienna (in front of the City Hall), Innsbruck (in square by the Golden Roof), and Salzburg (by Residenzplatz/the big Cathedral).


Christmas traditions around the world, Barbados

Christmas Pantomime by St Winifred School, Barbados (Photo:Bajanchristmas.wordpress.com)

In the Barbados, a curious tradition is that children put on a pantomime show (instead of a traditional Christmas play) for school. This is also common Christmas tradition in Jamaica.


Christmas traditions around the world, Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa Claus) and his helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). Photo: Looi at nl.wikipedia

In the Dutch Caribbean (including the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao) they celebrate what it’s called Saint Nicholas Day. What’s really special in this region, however, is Sinterklaas: The Dutch Santa Claus! He makes an appearance on December 5th and gives out the gifts then! Oh, it is also feast day 😉

Dominican Republic

Christmas traditions around the world, Three Kings

"Los Tres Reyes Magos," meaning "The Three Magic Kings" (Photo: Studioporto.com)

While many Latin American countries celebrate both December 25th (Santa Claus/Christmas) and January 6th (Three Kings Day), only the latter is celebrated in Dominican Republic. There might be some exceptions to the rule, such as wealthy families exchanging gifts on both days. This, however, is rare. What, then, happens on January 6th? Children leave grass for the “camels” of the Three Kings to eat under their beds (not tree!) and then see their gifts there the next morning.


Christmas traditions around the world, fattah

Egyptian fattah (Photo: Mylifeinapyramid.com)

Christmas in EGYPT? That’s right! While more than 90% of the population in Egypt are Muslims, there is still a Christian minority, called the Coptic Church. Also, as an Orthodox Church, so they actually celebrate Christmas on January 7th, a day after Three Kings Day in Latin America (Epiphany). Then, on Christmas Eve, everyone goes to church midnight service wearing a brand-new outfit, then goes home afterward to eat delicious fata (pictured above).


Christmas traditions around the world, Boxing Day

Keswick Boxing Day Hunt, Market Square, Cumbria, Lakes District, England in 1962 (Photo: Phillip Capper, Wiki)

Some peculiar Christmas traditions in England are the Queen of England’s speech (radio and televised) on Christmas Day and the celebration of Boxing Day on Dec. 26th, which nowadays involves giving small amounts of money as gifts to those who have helped you throughout the year (i.e. the mailman, the newspaper boy, etc.). When it comes to food, Christmas lunch includes a chestnut-stuffed turkey, Yorkshire pudding and roast beef or roast goose.


Christmas traditions around the world, suckling pig

Suckling pig: Traditional German dish eaten on “Dickbauch” feast day (Photo:Whydyoueatthat.wordpress.com)

As in several European countries, the day that German kids actually receive gifts is December 7th. Thus, on the night of December 6th, children place a boot or shoe by the fireplace (similar to the mistletoe tradition!) and wait for St. Nicholas to fill it with gifts! Another funny fact? Christmas Eve is called “Dickbauch” (which means “fat stomach”) and if you do not eat well on that day, you will be haunted by DEMONS! Say wha!? Interesting Christmas superstition indeed!


Christmas traditions around the world, Yule Lads

Two of the Yule Lads on a billboard in Iceland (Photo:WikiCommons)

Icelandic Christmas is great, as it lasts 26 days and brings about 13 different “Santa Clauses” (also called “Yule Lads”) and they start bringing gifts 13 days before December 25th! The story behind them is that their parents are mean mother GrĂœla (who takes away the naughty kids in town!) and father LeppalĂșĂ°i, who is not that bad. Their children then are the infamous Yuletid, and each day of the Icelandic Christmas a different one comes to town, either bringing gifts or a prank, or both! 😉 on December 12th, children place a shoe by the window and expect one of the many “Santa Clauses” to leave gifts – but if you have been naughty, you get a potato instead! The major gift exchange and Christmas celebration, however, happens on Christmas Eve, when many Icelanders also go to midnight mass.

Israel & Palestine

While Jews celebrate Chanukkah around the same time, a minority of Christian Arabs do celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, on December 25th. Celebrations are particularly evident in Bethlehem and the Church of Nativity, where it is believed to be the location of the manger where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago. See the video above to get a taste of Christmas in the West Bank/Palestine!

For part 2, and many more traditions from other countries, CLICK HERE!!

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

Travel Bucket List of the Week: Holidays RTW!

To learn more about #TravelBL Wednesdays, click here

Happy #TravelBL Wednesday peeps! The items on this week’s travel bucket list are related to Christmas and the holidays. So grab a pen and keep expanding that travel bucket list of yours!

travel bucket list, Loi Krathong festival

Loi Krathong festival, Thailand (Photo: Robert Pollai)

Holiday travel bucket list item #1: Loi Krathong festival, Thailand/Laos/Burma

I had no idea of this Thai festival’s existence until I heard it was on one of my fellow tweeps’ travel bucket list yesterday at the #TravelBL chat. Happening on the full-moon night of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar (usually sometime in November), krathong rafts are released into the water as a way of “paying respects” to the spirits of this element. Fireworks and a huge party are typical of this celebration as well. Who wouldn’t want to go?!

travel bucket list, Vienna Christmas market

Christkindlmarkt in Vienna, Austria (Photo: Manfred Werner)

Holiday travel bucket list item #2: The European Christmas markets

I have heard so many things about the wonderful, magical Christmas markets in several cities across Europe. However, the one that has mostly resonated around me has been the one in Vienna! Although also Luxembourg…and Prague…but they are all close by so I’ll probably cross them all off my holiday travel bucket list at once! 😉

travel bucket list, Australia Day

Australia Day fireworks in Perth (Photo: Nachoman-au, Wikipedia)

Holiday travel bucket list item #3: Australia Day, AUS

We all know that Aussies really know how to party. Then, imagine how it would be to celebrate the first settlement in Port Jackson (nowadays, part of Sydney) with them?! A whole different story! I plan Australia Day celebrations to be top-ranked among the best parties ever experienced once I finally crossed this one off my travel bucket list. When will this happen? I was planning for 2012 or 2013, but it seems that Egypt & the Middle East are calling my name strongly once more. But behold my fellow Aussies, I shall join you soon enough!

Holiday travel bucket list item #4: Christmas in Bethlehem

Some call it West Bank; others Palestine. Tensions keep rising. Regardless of your political views, a vigil on Christmas Eve & Christmas Day celebrations in Bethlehem will definitely take your breath away. The aura and air simply smell differently; the surroundings charged with spiritual energy. I was really close to crossing this item off my travel bucket list 3 years ago, but I ended up spending Christmas in Puerto Rico instead. I, however, plan on joining the solemn vigil & celebration at the place most believe Jesus Christ was born in the future. Can’t wait for that day 🙂

Holiday travel bucket list item #5: The Chinese Lantern Festival

I have always been infatuated with this Chinese type of lanterns–they are romantic and add spice to any room’s decorations. Now, put thousands together and let them fly up into the sky, all during a traditional festival that has been celebrated for more than 2000 years — now that’s just something else! Oh btw, it is to scare the ghosts away, too 😀 it happens on the 15th lunar day of 7th lunar month, which will fall on February for the next 3 years. I wanna go in 2014, just because it falls on St Valentine’s Day — how romantic would that be?!

Want your travel bucket list items featured next week? It is simple: Post your travel bucket list items on your blog, post the blog post link in a comment below, tweet that post with the #TravelBL tag and then cc @latinAbroad (moi!) on it. Y listo! I’ll RT and feature the post on next week’s Travel Bucket List Wednesday. What if you guys take a vacay and I don’t have any new blog posts and lists to feature? I simply go around the Internet browsing and reposting the best of the best for our travel bucket list. Moreover, don’t forget to join us on Twitter #TravelBL chat every Wednesday at 12 & 6:15 pm (EST)! 😀

What’s on your holiday travel bucket list?

Bathing in mud at a Dead Sea beach, Israel

The Dead Sea and its mud: My picks for this week’s Travel Tuesday! So many stories I had heard of its healing waters, the misery you find yourself in if even just one drop falls into your mouth or eyes, the vast and serene landscapes you enjoy simply by driving through the area. I was thrilled to finally go, for the first time, on December 2008 (as I studied abroad in Egypt). Yep: I just hopped on a bus and traveled the region! Several items were crossed off my travel bucket list 😀

We visited the Dead Sea public beach, which I believe is located in the Ein Gedi area. We bathed in mud, floated on our backs and our bellies. You know, the whole deal 😉 You come out as if you had just submerged from a fountain of youth, with your skin feeling as smooth as a baby’s butt (maybe even softer). Ahhh, how much I would give to have a little “miracle pool” with waters like these on my own backyard!

Dead Sea beach

the Dead Sea beach we visited on the Israeli coast

Dead Sea beach

me bathing in rich Dead Sea mud at Dead Sea beach in Israel

Oh and that black ball over my head? Just my hair in a bun 😛 trust me, you don’t want any of that Dead Sea mud or potent salty water to get anywhere near it. And considering how huge my afro is…even more so!

Israel mud beach

a (muddy) kiss from the Dead Sea!

Dead Sea floating

us floating on the Dead Sea!

Wish to read more about my first trip to Israel/Palestine? Click here!

Have you been to the Dead Sea? Tell me about it on a comment below!

My Travel bucket list: Manatees swimming, Abu Simbel temple, Rome!

Whether you call it a bucket list, or travel bucket list, or things to do before I die; or if you simply call them dreams or goals: Everybody has one of those “lists,” either written on paper, on a computer, in their mind, or in their heart. My bucket list has always involved traveling, and so I have called it the travel bucket list (part 1!). It contains my written dreams and goals yet to accomplish. However, in the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to cross some “items” out! And so here, for the first time ever, I make it openly public! Btw, all crossed-off items on this entry are clickable! So if you wish to hear more details and tales about each experience on this travel bucket list, click on any bullet point (opens in new window, btw)! Here they are, in no particular order:

* Visit Egypt and see all the Pharaonic temples, particularly Abu Simbel

travel bucket list, Abu Simbel temple

Egypt – check!

DONE! Some tough decisions, sacrifices and several drafts later, I won a $20,000-dollar scholarship to go live in Egypt for a year and study Arabic full time (2008-2009). It’s been, so far, one of the most challenging, yet most amazing experiences of my life. I learned so much not only about the world around me and Islam (at a particularly tough time), but also found myself there. Granted, the only thing planned about this was my dream of visiting Egypt ever since I first saw a picture of Nefertiti [CLS essay stuff here]. I prefer the modified package, though! *wink* =D

* Swim with Manatees

travel bucket list, swim with manatees

Swim with manatees – check!

You heard all about it the other day! This item was crossed off thanks to one of my best friends, Josh. We headed to Crystal River (Florida, USA), rented a boat, grabbed a map and went were they were! Gentle, adorable mammals who don’t mind being close to humans =)

* Swim with dolphins…and whale sharks and manta rays and seals and…

My list of swimming with marine creatures is so long that it could easily serve as my entire travel bucket list itself. While I could easily cross off dolphins by going to any aquarium it seems like these days, I do not want to condone keeping these creatures in captivity. Namely, I want to swim with them in the wild–wouldn’t that be more amazing anyway!? With the dolphins I plan to play with when I go back to Israel, as around Eilat there is a place where dolphins come and go as they wish and the love interacting with humans, called Dolphin Reef Eilat. As for whale sharks, I think I want to go far far away–like Palau or Indonesia =D for manta rays, I hear Manta Ray city in Grand Cayman is quite popular, but I may head to a different place where I could do it at a lower cost *wink* seals? Probably a good one to cross off while diving in GalĂĄpagos Islands. As for other creatures, I can’t think of all of them right now, but if you got some write them down in a comment because some might escape me!

travel bucket list, Old Jerusalem

The Holy lands: Check!

* Visit the Holy Land, Israel & Palestine

I know, disputed territories and decide what’s the actual “proper” name — I give the name to both and that’s it, people that want to fight can keep fighting if they want–I won’t! Anyhow, this item has been on my list ever since I first heard about Jesus and performed my very first prayers. Raised as a Catholic, but now a non-denominational Christian after some soul-searching, this is a special place for sure. In fact, no matter what religion you are or are not part of–Jerusalem and the Holy Land have a different vibe to it that makes it truly unique. Even if for history’s sake, these lands must be in several travel bucket lists I’m sure–and with a reason. I am so happy I was lucky enough to visit twice in 2009, and one of those times was during a special Muslim holiday, Eid el Adha. You may click here for details about my first trip or on the bullet point above to read about my experiences during both of my trips there on my Travel The Middle East website.

travel bucket list, Backstreet Boys cruise

Backstreet Boys? Check! Im in the white-and-blue dress!(click for full size)

* Meet the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and the Spice Girls

So you might be thinking, how is this possibly travel-related? Well, the way I met them! I went on a Backstreet Boys cruise. You heard right: A Backstreet Boys cruise. Not only did I meet all of them several times, but I also got called on stage during the beach party to limbo dance with them and had some, umm, intimate moments with one of the members, HOWIE! Yes, you can laugh and point at me and call me teenybopper all you want, because *makes Arnold Schwarzenegger accent* I don’t caaaare! lol. Unfortunately though, I haven’t met Ms Spears nor the Spice Girls; though I did go to a concert and see the Pop Princess pretty up close. Soooo, Spice reunion pending!

travel bucket list Colosseum, Rome

Rome – check!

* Visit Rome & as many parts of the ancient Roman empire as possible, sp Tunisia

I can’t begin to explain my obsessions with Rome. Just like the Egypt and its pharaohs, the Roman empire made its way into my heart at an early age as well. While the empire was huge, I at least have already made it to its center: Rome. Couldn’t have been any more exciting when I finally made it there! I traveled solo, as I usually do, and Couchsurfed for about 4 days. All in all, an unforgettable experience indeed =) still though, many other locales to go!

And that shall be it for my travel bucket list, part UNO! I think I’ll make it habitual and every Wednesday post will be about my travel bucket list. What do you think? =)

What’s on your travel bucket list? What have you crossed off already?

Palestinian Superstitions: Part 5 of series

Today we resume the already-popular The World’s Superstitions series, traveling all the way to the Middle East and bringing back a list of Palestinian superstitions! Oh, btw, I have decided that it is best to continue cultural tidbits posts on  Mondays and generalizing this series *wink* also, that leaves the rest of the week for fresh posts about other tales from around the world. What do you think? Any feedback is appreciated!

Palestinian superstitions

Want to be guarded off evil at all times? Keep reading

* “If you use clothes in reverse your stomach will ache”

* “If you deny food to a pregnant woman you will get a sty in the eye”

* As the French, according to Palestinian superstitions, when you feel your ears are buzzing, someone is talking to you, maybe even from far away =)

* According to some Palestinians, they remember that when they were young, their mothers would tell them not to wear wet -shirts, as they could cause tummy aches as well!

* If you say something like “this has never happened to me!” you must knock on…a head! According to many Palestinians, any action in the West that would prompt a “knock on wood” reaction would prompt a “knock on someone’s head” reaction. Funny, no?

* Thought being a lefty was bad enough elsewhere in the world? Well my lefty friends, you are not spared in Palestine: They believe that if you enter a new place by stepping in with your left foot first, it’s bad omen!

* Love cherries? Don’t eat them with seeds – or else you will get appendicitis!

* See a black cat or walk under a ladder? Yes, you guessed it: Bad luck to you my friend!

* Got the hiccups? Oh, that means someone somewhere has mentioned your name! For the good or the bad? We don’t know that much!

* Keep those slippers of yours capsized at all times – Palestinian superstitions say that not doing so makes them bad omens.

* Want to be guarded off evil at all times? Then always wear a Khamsa (Hamza) pendant (picture provided above)

That shall be all for Palestinian superstitions! Stay tuned as tomorrow I’ll have a fresh entry including tips on how to dress in a certain country (you’ll find out tomorrow!) and of course, next Monday we’ll be discovering cultural tidbits of a whole new country! By the by, if there is a particular country you would like me to research, tell me in your response so I take it into consideration! (Hint: I will probably write about every country I am provided *wink*)

Previous featured countries:
Puerto Rico

Know any other Palestinian superstitions? Share in a comment below!

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