FriFotos: places I’ve called HOME around the world! (photo essay)

To travelers and nomads, home is typically a state of mind. However, for FriFotos this week, I wanted to take you on a photographic journey to some of the places I’ve called HOME around the world. From sailboats to hammocks; concrete blocks to tiki huts: ¡Bienvenidos a mi hogar!

Home around the world: FriFotos photo essay

Home around the world, Puerto Rico

My humble home in Puerto Rico. Solid concrete = hurricane-proof!

The beginning and the end: my parents house and neighborhood in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Closer to the city of Caguas, though!

Home around the world, Puerto Rico concrete houses

The neighborhood I grew up in! A dead-end street with beautiful palm trees and mountains in the vicinity.

Due to hurricanes, most houses in Puerto Rico are made of solid concrete throughout:  including walls inside the home. Only the wealthy can afford intricate homes, as it is more expensive and difficult to build and mold concrete houses. However, if you just want one big concrete box, that won’t be too expensive!

The million-dollar home in Tampa, Florida

Home around the world, million-dollar home Tampa

The pool area, part of a yacht, the lake, and other million-dollar homes in the area.

In the summer of 2010, I was lucky enough to score a housesitting and pet sitting gig in an affluent neighborhood in Tampa, Florida.  For 2 full months, I lived like a rock star!  A yacht, a boat, fun neighbors, great food! I also got to hang out with the amazing family when they were around every couple of weeks. I bonded with my hosts so much that I now call them my American family. I even call the married couple mom and dad!

Whenever I can’t go back home for Christmas, I spend the holidays with them 🙂

Home around the world, American family

My new American family!

Don’t worry though, my first familia will always be in Puerto Rico. I simply call them mami and papi to differentiate my 2 sets of parents 😉 lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful people—much love indeed.

A hammock, overwater hostel, and a sailboat in Panama

Home around the world, Aqualounge Hostel Bocas del Toro

Aqualounge Hostel in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Only reachable by boat!

Home around the world, Bocas del Toro hammock

My bed for a couple of nights in Bocas del Toro, Panama

While this hammock and overwater hostel in Bocas del Toro were my home for less than a week, I had an amazing time! Great drinking specials, quirky characters, and fun parties.

Home around the world, sailboat Kuna Yala

View of Kuna Yala village from my sailboat cabin

More about this trip: Panama, my last college spring break! (photo essay)

This trip got even better with 4 days sailing down the San Blas Islands—in great company as well. Just imagine this bubbly Puerto Rican, a loopy captain, 2 diplomats from the US foreign service, 2 retired lawyers, and a Kuna Indian fisherman…!

College campus in Morocco

Home around the world, Al Akhawayn University Morocco

The gorgeous campus of Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco (Amina Lahbabi)

In the fall of 2009, I studied abroad in Ifrane, a small town by the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, for 4 months. The American-style college is called Al-Akhawayn University and I had a blast! Gorgeous grounds, architecture, and people. The dorms were even better than in most colleges I’ve seen in the USA, which was crazy!

Home around the world, Moroccan college dorms

One of the dorms! Photo courtesy of Munir Sayegh

I felt most at home in the classroom of my World Religions class with Portuguese professor Jacques, though. Handsome, wise. He taught me so much about unknown cultures, religious traditions, rites, etc. I haven’t been that happy in many other places! Unfortunately, no photo of handsome Jacques available.

 Cluttered roofs and sleeping on an ancient felucca in Egypt

Home around the world, Cairo apartment

Cluttered roofs and dirty apartments — commonplace in otherwise-fascinating Cairo, Egypt

I must have moved about 4 times during my year of Arabic studies in Egypt.  Issues ranged from roommate conflicts to sketchy bowaabs (building doorman)—you name it! And even though my digital camera died within the first week in Cairo, my first flatmate—Natalia—took a good picture of one of the apartments (photo above).

Umm yeah…with my student budget (relying exclusively on a scholarship), I couldn’t afford a maid to keep the apartment dust-free nor a better view than that one. All in all, a very humbling experience. Seriously, cleanliness…one of the many things we take for granted everyday.

Home around the world, sleeping on a felucca

Relaxing morning, sleeping on a felucca!

It goes without saying that where I felt the most at home during my year in Egypt was while drifting down the Nile on a felucca for 3 days and 2 nights.  Absolutely magical.

Home around the world, felucca sunset

Sunset during my 22nd birthday (by Aswan, Egypt)

This photo essay is almost 800 words now, so enough of home for today! 😉

Hope you enjoyed it.

Felucca Sunset Egypt

Yup, that’s me on the felucca once more. Had to save the best shot for last!

Where’s home to you? How many countries have you lived in?

Cigar City Brewery Tampa: My favorite USA beers (photos and history)

Another busy week in the life of professional juggler Maria 😉 I’m still tied up in several travel writing projects, business strategies, etc. Yet, I couldn’t help but join this week’s FriFotos theme “Brands.” Finally, the perfect time to introduce you to my favorite USA beers! Ladies and gents, here’s the sexy Cigar City Brewery Tampa.

Cigar City Brewery Tampa glass

Photo: Dave Goldberg, Flickr


I can’t believe that the Cigar City Brewery Tampa does not even have a Wikipedia article. So! Here’s my attempt at a short history lesson…

While Florida is commonly known as “beer wasteland,” there have been some fine breweries around. The first was the Florida Brewing Company, which was founded in 1896 and carried on until 1961. Then, other breweries emerged (although not for long).

Finally, Cigar City Brewery Company (most commonly known as Cigar City Brewery Tampa Bay) began operations in 1994 in Ybor City. It remained there until 2003. on this location is where the famous Ybor Gold Amber, Brown Ale, Gaspar’s Porter, Calusa Wheat and Light were brewed. However, following the move from Ybor City to West Spruce Street, these brands were bought by the Florida Brewing Company in Melbourne, FL.

Ever since Cigar City Brewery Tampa moved its operations right to the middle of my current bus route from work to home, it started brewing my favorite USA beers 😀 Among them are:

Maduro Brown Ale

With a higher alcohol content than the regular English Brown ale, the Maduro features  flaked oats in its malt bill, giving it an outstanding silky-smooth feeling in your mouth and down your throat. It is as orgasmic as it sounds!

Cigar City Brewery Tampa Maduro beer

My dark lover, Maduro (Photo: Christer Edvartsen, Flickr)

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Brown Ale

As weird as it may sound, this is the most surprisingly-delicious beer you are lips will ever touch. It really tastes just like an oatmeal raisin cookie! What’s funny is that, whenever I go to the Cigar City Brewery Tampa tasting room, bartenders say that this is one of the most popular beers–particularly among men. It is only brewed seasonally, and whenever they do, it is sold out within a day. And so, whenever I get the chance to get another taste of this beauty, I rejoice in celebration. It is not easy to come by!

Cigar City Brewery Tampa oatmeal raisin cookie beer

Label of one of my favorite brown beauties (Photo: Humble Elements, Flickr)

Cubano-style Espresso Brown Ale

You’ve guessed it: I love my brown beauties 😉 Whenever my usual lovers are not available, I cheat on them with this Cuban-style beer. It is roasted with rich espresso beans, sweet caramel, toffee, and a touch of dry nuttiness. Yet, once poured, one can also taste notes of chocolate, then caramel, finishing off with some vanilla aftertaste. Ohhh SI.

Cigar City Brewery Tampa Cubano-Style Espresso Brown ale

My only Latin lover (Photo: naiserie, Flickr)

That’s it for today! If you wish to know more about other Cigar City Brewery beer varieties, click here. You will see other available beers and their ingredients on menu on the left.

Have you tried Cigar City Brewery Tampa? Which is your favorite beer?

Hurricane Season: Happy birthday to me! Tropical Storm Debby came to party

Hiii! I know, was supposed to write a brilliant Cultural Tidbits Monday post. However, I went to bed at 3 AM last night (yes, work) to wake up at 6:40 AM to Tropical Storm Debby and still be required to work from home (yes, on my birthday). So! I’m pretty exhausted and have a minor case of cabin fever. My roommates went for supplies as I worked and looked at flooded neighborhoods nearby on the news. Is it that time of the year for Hurricane Season Florida, Gulf region and the Caribbean…? Yup:

Welcome to the Hurricane Season! June – November 30th every year

Oh: We had tornadoes because of it, too!

Those are your tidbits for today 😉 I’m safe, don’t worry, I’m just exhausted and have not much to do on my birthday other than, well, keep working. Bah Hurricane Season…

Orrrr…maybe a bubble bath will be welcomed as a birthday gift by my yearning body?

Have you experienced Hurricane Season? What’s your story?

Siesta Key beach FL photos: The best USA beach? Maybe…

For Beach Thursday this week, I decided to feature Siesta Key beach FL, which has been voted as the best beach in the USA.

Siesta beach FL, number 1 USA beach sign

Siesta Key beach FL: Number 1 USA beach sign

I went there last month for the first time and visited both the North and South beaches (one side had small waves; the other side had pretty big ones!). I found it interesting that the quality of the sand varies as you walk along the coast for several miles (which I did and regretted later). You see, sunburn and tons of bird poop on my back are not my exact definitions of fun. But according to Jodi (Legal Nomads), bird poop is great for luck, so I guess the rest of 2012 is all done for me! Lol 😛 So, that being said, I would rather go to the beaches on the North (of Siesta Key beach coast), which also happen to be a little less crowded. Now, let’s get to the nice Siesta Key Beach FL pictures shall we? 😉

Siesta Key beach FL water

What do you think of the water? This was on North side

Siesta beach FL, Aviator sunglasses shot

I’m a sucker for Aviator sunglasses shots…!

Siesta Key beach FL Aviators shot

Aaaand that’s why I’m posting another one

Being from the Caribbean, one thing triumphs all when I travel:

It is hard for a beach to impress me.

As such, Siesta Key FL did not make it to my Top 10 Best Beaches list. I do admit though: It is one of the most beautiful beaches I have visited in the USA.

Siesta Beach, Siesta Key FL

Photo: aoskilinn, Flickr

Siesta beach FL ride

We hitched a free ride in this! Took us straight to where we parked, which was pretty dang far may I emphasize. So yah, parking is a biotch at Siesta Key beach FL!

Sieta beach FL cart signs

Signs on roof of our free cart ride to one of the furthest parking lots

Naturally, it is crowded and not for everyone. However, if you enjoy crystal-clear water and ultra-fine white sands, Siesta Key beach FL will sure please. For better atmosphere though, I would give my vote to Honeymoon Island beaches instead. Honeymoon Island, by the way, is also located in Florida and its beaches are not nearly as crowded as Siesta Key’s. Yet, they are just as beautiful–if not more so! I’ll talk more about them on next week’s Beach Thursday post 😉 Gotta boot now and prep for TBEX next week!

Siesta Key beach FL 069 bikini

Is it weird that I think it’s funny this photo of me at Siesta Key beach FL is # 69 in my photo album…?

Siesta Key beach FL couple

Me and my gringuito (sorry boys!)

Have you been to Siesta Key Beach FL? What’s your favorite USA beach?