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Goth Tulum! Valladolid folk art museum, sugar skulls, Mexican graveyard with Loco Gringo Tours.

Valladolid cemetery

Happy Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead! To celebrate, let’s explore the spooky side of Tulum, Mexico. (I was there earlier this year with Yukiro, and have been saving this special post until now.)

Yukiro and I enjoyed relaxing at Karisma El Dorado resort, but we didn’t want to leave the country without seeing a sugar skull or two.

We put our trust in concierge / tour company Loco Gringo, and they truly delivered. Our local guide Paulina arranged a perfect day that included a visit to a colorful Mexican cemetery, and folk museum with hundreds of Day of the Dead skeletons! 

mexican gravestones, tombs

Wherever in the world I travel, I seem to end up in a graveyard. It’s no surprise that my Goth friends and I are interested in how different cultures honor their dead.

mexico graveyard

In the ancient city of Valladolid, the tombstones are painted in bright, colorful hues. Many people think of cemeteries as fearful or depressing places. However, in Mexico, death is represented by smiling and dancing skeletons.

mexican tombstones

Every year from Oct 31 to Nov 2, Mexico celebrates Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) with skull facepaint, music and raucous parades. It’s believed that the deceased come back to visit during this time of the year.

On this special day, families tend to the graves of their loved ones. They leave offerings of bright sugar skulls, flowers, and the favorite food and drink of the departed.

goth graveyard fashion

Outfit details: yes, that’s my Scottish Fold cat peeking out from under my leather jacket!

My top is a gift from illustrator Lili Chin. She makes custom pet portraits that can be printed onto shirts and other products. If you’re interested in a custom drawing of your cat or dog drawing, check out her site.

tulum cemetery

This is not your typical orderly graveyard, with plots in a row. Each resting place is festively decorated in ways that celebrate the deceased’s personality and life.

mexico burial rituals

No two headstones were alike. Despite being a home for the dead, Valladolid cemetery felt like it was bursting with life.

vampire burial

According to local legend, a vampire is buried in this giant grey mausoleum

goth in cemetery

These bright coffins seemed to be inviting us to join the party. The decorative elements were a mix of Christianity and Mexican folk traditions.

mayan carving, sacrifice

We even spotted a sacrificial tribute to the ancient Mayans, who once ruled over this area (Tulum and Riviera Maya).

(Loco Gringo also took us to see the famous pyramids Chichen Itza and Ek Balam — read about it in this post!)

offbeat weird mexico cancun

Dancing with the dead. I wonder who lies beneath the hot pink grave…

colorful graves mexico city

Our guide Paulina answered all our questions about these traditions. I can’t think of a single Riviera Maya tour that will take you to the graveyard… but Loco Gringo is extraordinary, and tailored the day exactly to our interests.

gravekeeper ghost stories

Paulina introduced us to the “old graves-keeper” (who didn’t seem that old), and translated Spanish for us. He told us an eerie ghost story about the time he dug a grave, and felt someone grabbing onto his arm… eek!

mexican graves

Without Loco Gringo‘s expertise, we would never have visited this magnificent cemetery.

Valladolid folk art museum

We climbed back into the van, and our driver took us a short distance to Casa de los Venados: Valladolid’s folk art museum. 

The name translates to “house of deer,” hence the blue man mascot with the animal on his poncho.

mayan statues, carvings art

Loco Gringo suggested that I visit Casa de los Venados, since it has the largest private collection of Mexican folk art in the world.

We stepped into a home that had multiple rooms and courtyards filled with fascinating works.

mexican folk art collection

The hacienda’s owners, John and Dorianne Venator, began their collection decades ago. Today, their home has over 3000 pieces of art, and is open for the public to appreciate.

la catrina, day of dead

The curators have a fine eye for works that reflect the history and humor of Mexico.

To our delight, there was an extensive collection of spooky art. Devils, skulls and monsters — oh my!

devil spirits mexico scary toy

We had fun turning the dial of this toy, and watching the parade of demons, skeletons and coffins march into the mouth of Hell.

mexican nun on currency pesos

We saw many interpretations of sugar skulls (I got nail art from Glam Nail Studio to match).

Who is the nun holding a head? We learned she is Juana Inés de la Cruz, a nun and poet who is the face of the 200 peso note. (Perhaps she inspired The Conjuring 2 movie?)

frida kahlo mosaic mural

The folk art spanned all mediums and sizes, from the ancient Mayans to modern-day artists.

In one of the many mini-courtyards, I found a tile mural of Frida Kahlo, with a black monkey on her shoulder.

frida kahlo decorated room

Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists, and a personal favorite of mine.

An entire room is dedicated to the female painter. How many Fridas can you count in this image?

devil skeleton mexican art

Yukiro and I had never seen so many Day of the Dead representations in a single museum.

We smiled at the Calavera Catrinas, or Dapper Skeletons. First depicted by Jose Posada in 1919, these elegant skull-people are always dressed aristocratically.

dia de los muertos musicians

In Mexican folklore, the dead are joyful during Dia de los Muertos. I wouldn’t mind rejoicing with these smiling musicians skeletons.

devil sculptures

Even the devils like to have fun. They’re represented as cheerful, naughty creatures, rather than as beings to be feared.

Casa de los Venados

Casa de los Venados’ owners did a wonderful job in re-vamping the original house. They added a fabulous outdoor area, with a glass bridge spanning several pools of water.

day of dead ceiling painting

Look up, and you’ll see these happy Mexican skeletons waving at you! I thought the undead pet was a cat, but it’s actually a dog wearing a bandanna.

Casa de los Venados Valladolid

I didn’t know much about Mexican folk art before visiting this museum. It was fantastic to see so many high quality works under a single roof.

tulum swimming pool

Cheers to this glorious pool, fed by multiple overhead streams!

Mexican folk museum Valladolid

I found a cat-face fountainhead to match my tank top.

la catrina skeleton painting

We ducked into the dining room and paid ode to La Catrina, the grand ol’ dame of death. 

Casa de Los Venados museum

At this point, our eyes were popping out of our heads — there was so much to see, in every conceivable space! Even the carved dining chairs and chandeliers were Mexican works of art.

day of dead skull figures

You’d think that a Goth lived here, with all the skulls and bones.

surreal mexican art

The corner table had a surreal display. I want that monkey for myself.

Mexican Folk art collection

These photos show only a fraction of Casa de los Venados. I encourage you to visit the Valladolid folk art museum, and see the rest.

weird mexico goth skulls

Muchas gracias Loco Gringo for being the perfect local guides!

We’re not exactly “regular tourists,” and would have been bored with a cookie cutter tour. But Loco Gringo took the time to learn about us, and tailored the itinerary to our dark fascinations.

bizarre tulum attractions

We hope you’ll reach out to them if you visit Tulum, Riviera Maya and Cancun, Mexico. 

Do you share our fascination with Day of the Dead? Have you ever dressed up and celebrated it?

PS: thank you TripHappy for interviewing me about my work in travel blogging and TV. I talk about my family heritage, inspirations and more.

A Tour of Tulum’s Mayan Ruins with Loco Gringo! Chichen Itza pyramid, Ek Balam cenote.

chichen itza pyramid, tour

The aliens have landed! Yukiro and I vogue-ed in front of Chichen Itza, the mysterious Mayan pyramid.

That day, we had the best possible tour of Tulum’s ruins, thanks to Loco GringoThis local-run concierge company helps travellers with personalized tours, recommendations, bookings, or anything at all to make their trip outstanding.

In Part 1, we’ll show you how our Loco Gringo guides tailored the trip exactly to our spooky interests — starting with the ancient civilizations of the Yucatán Peninsula!

cat custom design tshirt scottish fold

For this special day, I wore my favorite tank top: it has a custom illustration of my Scottish Fold cat on it!

My friend, LA-based designer Lili Chin, is a “pet portrait artist” and made this for me. She can make you a shirt, print, pin or other design that looks exactly like your dog or cat. Simply send her a photo of your pet, and she’ll transform it into a portrait. (Check out her pet shirts and pet art websites for details.)

tulum best tour guide, loco gringo tours

Our Loco Gringo guides went above and beyond our expectations, to deliver a tailored tour and make us feel at home. They picked us up early in the morning, from our Karisma El Dorado hotel, and took us all throughout Tulum that day. We couldn’t have possibly covered so much ground without them.

When we arrived at Chichen Itza, we met local expert Abel and were immediately swept away by his passion for Mayan culture. He whipped out his iPad to show us how the ancient calendar influenced the architecture, and encouraged us to do fabulous poses in front of the structure!

el castillo, Temple of Kukulkan

Loco Gringo took care of our tickets and logistics, so we were able to bypass lines, and go straight to the best viewing locations.

We found a prime spot in front of El Castillo, the famous stone pyramid of Chichen Itza.

temple of warriors, chichen itza

Abel riveted us with tales of rituals and myths about this pre-Columbian city. At the top of this Temple of Warriors is a “chac mool,” or sculpture of a reclining person with his head turned 90 degrees. The Mayans made sacrificial offerings on its chest, including human blood and hearts.

In front of the stairs, he clapped his hands — and we heard a reverberating “quack quack” sound! We were amazed at how well the ancient Mayans understood acoustics and design. Or… perhaps the pyramids were built by extraterrestrials…

alien skulls, mayan flat foreheads

Abel showed us photos of Mayan skulls, with coneheads. Alien invaders? Not quite: in fact, the Mayans performed cranial deformation as a body modification (they pressed a board to an infant’s head, creating a long and flat shape).

I’m endlessly fascinated by the way standards of beauty can vary so widely, in different eras and cultures.

tulum mayan stone pyramid

From the 8th-10th century, Chichen Itza was an economic powerhouse. I could still picture the vivid ceremonies that took place right where I’m standing.

Today, the pre-Hispanic city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and considered a new World Wonder.

carved serpent heads, chichen itza

At the base of the El Castillo stairs, I saw these feathered serpent sculptures. At certain times of the day, the steps cast shadows that make it look as if a snake is wriggling down the side. Some believe that this is a representation of the Mayan god Kukulkan.

mayan pyramids, archaeological sites

We walked around and saw the Temple of Venus, and a large ball court where game results were literally a matter of life or death (a member of the losing team could be offered as a human sacrifice).

chichen itza tourists, tours

Chichen Itza fed our fascination for unsolved mysteries and ancient civilizations. If you’re staying in Tulum, Cancun or Playa del Carmen, I encourage you to reach out to Loco Gringo for an entertaining private tour like ours.

valladolid mexican restaurant courtyard

Our guide Paulina and driver Miguel then took us to the old city of Valladolid, for lunch in a charming courtyard. We always love getting to know locals, especially when they are as passionate about their country as these two.

mexico enchiladas mole chocolate sauce

They helped us pick out the most authentic dishes from the Mexican menu — such as enchiladas with mole, a traditional sauce accented with chocolate.

valladolid park loveseats

In Valladolid park, Yukiro shared a cute moment in the love-seat with driver Miguel.

colorful day of dead skulls

Loco Gringo knows that we are connoisseurs of dark matters… so they made sure we visited a Mexican graveyard, and museum filled with Day of the Dead skulls! Coming up is an entire post about these places, as we saw so much in a single day.

cenote ek balam, swimming hole

No visit to Tulum is complete without seeing the famous cenotes, or natural sinkholes filled with groundwater. Loco Gringo took us to Ek Balam cenote, where people can dive in and swim. These beautiful natural formations were important to the Mayans, who conducted sacrificial offerings and rituals in these “sacred wells.”

ek balam stairs, black dog

Yukiro and I let our imaginations run wild, as we explored the ruins of Ek’ Balam (another Mayan kingdom, 35 miles northeast of Chichen Itza). The name translates to “the black jaguar” — and eerily enough, the stairs are always protected by friendly stray black dogs.

ek balam tulum ruins

Yukiro ascended the steps of El Torre, the 30 meter high tower of the Central Plaza. This evil queen gesture seems appropriate for an ancient structure, laden with Mayan symbolism.

female fashion travel blogger tulum

I wish my Scottish Fold cat, Basil Farrow, could go on these journeys with me… But at least he’s present on my custom pet t-shirt by Lili Chin!

tulum mexico ancient ruins

Yukiro and I are more interested than ever in Mayan culture, after seeing these ruins for ourselves and learning about the history.

Fascinating how blood was considered the nourishment of Mayan gods — and so, human sacrifice was the ultimate offering. 

private guided tours playa del carmen

We’re grateful to Loco Gringo for understanding our “offbeat” interests, and tailoring the day trip to suit us exactly! Instead of a cookie-cutter bus tour, we got to move at our own pace, and get to know our sweet guides.

Loco Gringo is an indie company, and all of the staff lives in the Riviera Maya — I can vouch they are true, passionate insiders. They also give back to the local community with each reservation, including donations to Coco’s Animal Rescue and other charities.

ek balam pyramid

Yukiro and I hope you’ll get to experience Loco Gringo’s outstanding service and expertise for yourselves. Whether it’s a Tulum tour, apartment booking, or concierge request — they will go out of their way to help you out. For more, take a look at the LocoGringo website and Facebook.

mexican alien mysteries pyramids

Have you heard stories of Chichen Itza and alien visitors? The truth is out there… I’m kidding…

(PS – check out more funny photos like the one above on my Instagram and Snapchat @lacarmina.)

Hong Kong’s natural, healthy pet food retailer: Pet Sensei! Cat & dog supplies with a cause.

custom cat mascot suit, big cat head mask

Animal-lovers, you will love this story. Above, as you can see… my Scottish Fold cat has become a life-size mascot!

We’re thrilled to support a new Hong Kong pets service — Pet Sensei. This online store sells healthy products for dogs and cats, and supports animal charities. 

scottish fold cat cute face ears

Basil gladly “lent a paw” to the company, knowing that they only sell the best brands of food, litter and more — at affordable prices. Plus, Pet Sensei donates funds from every item sold to animals in need.

(Read on for more, as well as a Chinese Gothic Lolita modeling shoot!)

Pet 師父, petsshk

These days, having a pet is like having a family member. We want to provide our furry friends with the best possible food and care. (What a baby — Basil Farrow loves to be carried!)

However, in China and Hong Kong, it’s expensive and difficult to purchase high-quality pet food. Respected international labels (such as Orijen and Wellness) aren’t found in most local pet stores, and online prices are astronomical. Locals told me they feel stuck and frustrated by the situation.

pet sensei hong kong cat and dog food

Basil to the rescue! My plump cat is the face of Pet Sensei, a site that makes these top-quality products easily available in Hong Kong. The company imports pet foods and supplies directly, and sell them at lower prices than other sources. They’ll also deliver right to you.

buy healthy pet food online, hong kong

Pet Sensei has created an entire community around their mission of helping animals. On their Facebook page (Pet 師父), you can share cute stories about your pets, learn about animal care, and play games to win prizes.

In Hong Kong, it’s hard to find pet foods without by-products and potentially toxic ingredients. Pet Sensei, on the other hand, sells top-rated international brands including Orijen, Wellness, Oven Baked, Natural Balance, Artemis.

natural cat dog food retailer, hong kong

The staff illustrator does a fantastic job at turning Basil (the maoo) and Tiny (the dog) into cartoon characters. Above is a comic from Halloween — you can see the latest ones on the Petsshk Facebook page.

hong kong dog rescue, pet charity

In addition to donating funds to charities, the staff of Pet Sensei takes direct action to help animals in need. 

Recently, they rescued Pi — a dog who was constantly being mistreated, underfed, and thrown into the sea. When the owner found out Pi had cancer and needed urgent surgery, he abandoned him. Pet Sensei stepped in and paid for the surgery. They are giving updates on the Facebook page: “Pi is now recovering slowly. We will continue to fund the clinic expenses until we can find someone who can take good care of him and love him for the last stage of his life.”

scottish fold cat basil, pet sensei

Not all pets are as lucky as Basil… That’s why we wanted to lend our support to Pet Sensei and their animal rescue work.

We hope Hong Kong pet owners can feel great about buying quality goods from a company that cherishes animals, and helps them speak out.

buying pet food litter hong kong store

And to top it off — the prices are pretty fabulous. Right now, they are holding a week-long Pet Carnival that is offering discounts, lucky draws, games and more fun.

The site is available in both Chinese and English. Customer service is very responsive and fluent in English, so if you’re an ex-pat in Hong Kong, you won’t have any trouble ordering from them.

hong kong pet store, english language chinese supplier

I hope you’ll check out Pet Sensei — and please tell your Hong Kong friends who have pets! Basil sends a snuggle in return.

chinese gothic lolita dresses, spider hong kong

What else have I been up to in Hong Kong?

I recently did a photoshoot with my friends. Above, I’m modeling with Natalie Lam, designer of the local Gothic Lolita brand SpiderThese enigmatic photos are by Thomas Sandfield, who shoots fashion editorials and music videos in Hong Kong and worldwide.

hong kong rooftop fashion photoshoot

We snuck up onto a rooftop to shoot these images. Thomas has a magnificent eye for capturing the mood of the city.

chinese goths, gothic lolita models

Above, I’m with my rainbow-haired friend — Mim Lai Sandfield of Sandfield Productions, a talented illustrator who also edited these photos. We’re all wearing Spider Gothic & Lolita fashion.

chinese girl makeup portrait

K. Lau of Bright Production took part in the shoot too (we met in Cebu, Philippines). He captured the above portrait of me, and the behind-the-scenes below.

fashion photographer hong kong, street style

Natalie and I look pleased with the shots Thomas took!

"miffy

We are obsessed with Miffy the X-mouthed bunny. I got this purse from the Miffy store in Shanghai (there are branches in Hong Kong too).

hong kong fashion bloggers photography

Hong Kong’s gritty buildings formed the perfect backdrop for a squad of Goths. 

hong kong goth lolita fashion

A peek at what goes on behind the lens. Thanks also to photographer Arthur Rash (far right) who joined our adventure.

corset lace victorian goth dress

Good thing I’m not afraid of heights… as we were up high on the roof, without a barrier!

Thanks to my Hong Kong friends for the fun shoot.

goth bathrobe, silk kimono

Finally, on the topic of Gothic fashion… thought I’d give you a head’s up. Shopbop is having a big sale here until Nov 30 — a great time to pick up winter items, or presents for friends. I’m personally loving this silk kimono robe, top with collar and bow, and fuzzy black gloves.

What do you think of my Scottish Fold being a pet mascot? Enjoy more cat cuteness on the Pet Sensei site.

My cat went on a Stuffed Toy Tour of Poland with Panda Tours! Travel agency for toys in Europe.

For me, 2015 has been all about voyage-voyage. It’s only September, and I’ve already flown to a dozen countries this year.

It’s too bad my Scottish Fold cat can’t travel with me… Basil Farrow always likes to look out the window, his round face full of curiosity.

However, thanks to an innovative tour company, he got to have a foreign adventure of his own. Read on to find out how Basil visited a country I’ve never been to, with a group of furry friends!

Basil and I got an intriguing “press trip” email from Panda Tours, a travel agency that creates vacations for toys. The owner, Agnieszka, offered to send one of my stuffed animals on a customized tour of Poland. 

Basil convinced Panda Tours that he’s a “plush kitty” (the above photos are proof enough) — so I put him in a box, and mailed him overseas. A few weeks later, Panda Tours emailed me to confirm he had arrived and was napping soundly.

And so, the journey began! I looked forward to waking up every morning and checking the PandaTours Instagram, where I could see Basil’s day-to-day activities. 

I’m usually the one posting updates from foreign countries, so it was fun to have the tables turnedI’m sure you will smile at these photos… so read on.   More here!

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