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On Pincian Hill

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From the notes of Day 39: 6/18/2011

The jazz band is swinging over the edge of Pincian Hill.  Behind them are the piazzas and pizzas of Rome.  The Ancient Egyptian obelisk of Piazza del Popolo fills the foreground.  Further west there is a dome that covers a sizable portion of an entire country.  I am sitting against the railing at the cliff side of Pincian Hill listening to a swinging band and waiting for the sun to set over the Vatican.  It is just past noon so I have a while to wait.

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I opened my blanket into the grass and took a seat.  This part of the park was full of people who were picnicking and napping.  I had a difficult time deciding which one to choose so I did both.  Success all around.

When I woke up from my nap it was still early in the afternoon.  The sun would not set for hours.  I packed up my blanket and walked to the east.  The path led straight as far as I could see.  It also broke off down smaller paths every few sets of steps.  I took one of the paths and found that it paralleled a row of marble busts.  So did all the other paths.  I saw Ancient Greeks and Romans alongside the bust of Charles Lindbergh.  I even saw what purported to be the bust of a wizard from Volinor, though I have my doubts.  At the end of one of the trails I found a small outdoor sculpture exhibition featuring pieces by Salvador Dali.  I circled the exhibit and headed back to the trails.  The busted paths opened into sidewalks, boulevards, and bridges.

I took the high road.

I sat on the guard rails of the bridge looking down at the street below.  On the bridge behind me were weavers and winders on wheels.  They danced and dashed among miniature construction cones on their blades of wheels.  A shirtless man with tattoos and a drum provided a reactive soundtrack.  The bladers slid one footed along the pavement, whipping left and right around the cones.

As the first cold of evening moved in the bridge emptied.  I followed the long, straight path back towards the lookout point of Pincian Hill.  The fountains and statues on the path were lit by the gold of the ready-to-set sun.  I circled them quickly so that I could see the horizon as it went through the spectrum of colors.

I arrived at the lookout point and was soon joined by many others as we watched the sun set over the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica.  The jazz band had been replaced by the smooth sound of a nylon string guitarist.  Rome, never one to give up without a fight, battled back against the darkness.  The streets and buildings of the city glowed yellow-orange and hummed electric.

Rome stayed alive as the night began.  My plans this night were far to the north so before the final train ran I walked down the forever flights of stairs to the Flaminio stop.  I saw the last train warning and people scrambling up and down the platform looking in the cars for an open spot.  I knew that getting a seat would be impossible but I was nearly as certain that I would be getting on this train.  I did.

By the time the train reached my stop most of the passengers had deboarded.  When I arrived back at the campground a new adventure had already begun.  I will share that story some other day.  Until then here are some pics from the day’s adventure…

The obelisk in Piazza del Popolo

Bust of Pythagoras

Bust of the wizard Gandalf

“Nobility of Time” by Salvador Dali

“Surrealist Piano” by Salvador Dali

From the Ancient Roman Legend of Batman Versus Superman

Wheel Dancing

Reverse Wheel Dancing

High Flying Wheel Dancing

Statue in the Sun

And now the view on Pincian Hill as the sun sets…

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The Street Art of Krakow, Poland

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Nearly half a year ago I was sitting in a small but lively hostel in Krakow, Poland when I made a promise to you, my readers.  I said that I was going to give you a virtual tour of the street art of Krakow.  I had not expected it to take me so long but the minute I left Poland I was logging adventures in Madrid and beyond.  Now, as I sit on my back porch on a sweltering summer day in Michigan, I am overjoyed to revisit the snowy streets of Krakow and share them with you.

“Street Art” is a common sight in many major European cities.  So is “tagging.”  Whereas street art draws parallels with great paintings and sculptures through its creativity and execution, tagging is most often analogous to a poorly written signature.  I will be devoting this post to works of art.  “Who decides what is art and what is not?” you may be thinking.  Well, that is a good question.  The answer is, “I do.”  So enjoy the street art of Krakow, Poland…

  I do not do this.  So I bring you this…

A piece with some of the many symbols of Poland (The eagle. The cross).

Just off the expressway, near the Communist block, there were some housing projects. Many of the buildings were adorned with art like this…

…and this.

Much of the art in the streets of Krakow has a strong sociopolitical message…

This is a stencil depicting the recently deceased Polish social activist Rafal Gorski. Krakow has a highly active political scene that is reflected in the street art.

This unhappy bunny is recognized as a symbol of opposition to the police force in Krakow.

Even bunnies against police can like carrots.

Anti-fascism is alive and well in Krakow, especially among anarchist artists.

Some artists use a positive message to inspire hope for the future.

The Guilded Arches

And some things are just for fun…

A young Audrey Hepburn.

Score. 1 UP!

Stencil of “Machete” star Danny Trejo.

In the future we will all wear haz-mat suits. We will also begin carrying boom boxes again. I can hardly wait.

Another bunny. This one does not have a strong opinion about police.

I would explain the symbolism here but it is pretty obvious. I don’t want to insult your intelligence.

Massive street art project near the outer edge of town.

And finally, my favorite piece…

The bionic, rocket launching deer.

Well, these photographs were gathered over a span of three weeks in Krakow.  They reminded me that I have at least a dozen more exciting adventures to share with you from my time the royal Polish capital.  I will tell you all about them soon.  Until then…

Action Jack, What Should I Pack? #1

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I was once told that an electric curling iron was a travel necessity.  I was also once informed by a man who swam in the sewers to “bathe and disinfect”  that there is no need to carry basic first aid equipment.  Much of what is necessary depends on your skills and abilities, where you are going, and what you are doing there.  This means that there are as many opinions on what to pack when traveling as there are travelers who are packing.  This is mine…

In May 2011 I prepared for a 75 day trip to Europe.  This is the backpack I brought and everything that was packed in it.

I brought about 50 items with me on this adventure, many of which I never used and did not bring on subsequent adventures.  However, some things made my life easier and I never leave without them.  This post will be about 5 of those items.  In the future I will be posting my thoughts on more items that should or should not be taking up space in your pack.  In no particular order, here are 5 things you should pack.

#1-  A Hat

Pack a hat.  The photo above is some of the last remaining evidence of my favorite travel hat.  It is important that a travel hat is flexible and broad-brimmed.  This makes the hat easy to pack away when it is not in use and an effective sun blocker when it is in use.  This hat had all of that.  An additional feature that made this particular hat so dear to me is the black pull cord that you see coming out of the right side of the ill-fated headpiece.  This cord could be tightened in high winds so that you would never lose it.  Well, almost never.

After staying in the Croatian capital of Zagreb for a few hours of a five day stay I decided to leave.  I went to the bus station and watched the names of cities on the blue departures screen: Karlovac, Novo Mesto, Ogulin, Rijeka, Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik, and more.  I went to the counter and asked when the next bus left for the beach.  I got the ticket and spent the next four days in Split, the retirement home of Roman Emperor Diocletian.  His palace still remains and after spending my final two nights in an apartment in the palace I went to the docks to find my way to the next adventure.

There was a night ferry that left for Ancona that evening.  I went up to the ticket counter and asked if Ancona was in Italy.  The woman laughed and told me that it was.  I got the ticket and went out for one final adventure in Split.  Here are a few of the highlights…

This is the final picture of me and my hat.

After all of that happened I got in line to get my baggage and passport checked before boarding the international ferry.  I took off my hat as I neared the front of the line.  Five minutes later I was on the fourth deck of the ship, rustling through my backpack.  My hat was not in there.  My hat was gone.  My first thought was that it probably fell out of my pocket or pack and someone picked it up as they boarded.  The BlueLine was not the only ship boarding that evening so there is a chance that my hat ended up in Greece or Sicily.  Then I was struck by another possibility.  My hat may have blown into the port and sunk to the bottom of the Adriatic.  Either way one thing was clear:  I needed a new hat.

A hat is a necessary item.  They are the simple solution to keeping the sun out of your eyes and off of your face while you are out adventuring.  Always have a lightweight, flexible, broad-brimmed hat with you when traveling.  And if you find one that matches that description and is bright red please tell me where you saw it.  I have been questing after that hat for many miles.

#2- Underwear (Enough Underwear)

Underwear (plural) are a must.  The minimum number allowed for any trip is two (one for wearing, one for washing.  Rotate.  Repeat.).  I recommend more.  I am not saying that you must always wear underwear.  That is for you to decide but there will come a time when underwear will be a must.  These are the times that you prepare for.  Besides, underwear are light and when rolled properly can be shoved into otherwise useless corner space in your backpack.

#3- Passport Holder

Theft and loss are two of many people’s biggest fears while traveling.  These two things even cause some people to stop traveling before they begin.  A simple passport holder can reduce your chances of being the victim of a professional thief or your own forgetfulness.

I carry the pictured passport holder with me any time I travel.  It hangs around my neck.  The holder and the strap are concealed under my shirt and my valuables are in my sight at all times.  Passport holders like mine also have zipper pockets for cash, credit cards, and important documents like boarding passes.  If a pickpocket gets my wallet he will be lucky to walk away with a fiver and since I started carrying my passport holder I spend much less time going through my pockets in line to board a bus or a plane and I like to think that the passengers behind me appreciate that.

So take a passport holder.  Keep your important things in it and keep it attached to you when traveling.  It will give you additional security and help you make friends.

#4- A Blanket

A fleece blanket is a great multipurpose piece of traveling equipment.  The size of the blanket will vary greatly depending on what kind of traveling you are doing and how much space you have in your backpack.  Even when folded and rolled this blanket, which was a standard 6′ x 4′ blanket cut in half, took up nearly half of the large compartment in my backpack.

It was worth its space in gold when I arrived at a Dublin hostel that only had light weight summer sheets left for a January night.  Take a blanket, especially if you are traveling in the winter.  It can also be rolled up and used like a pillow on buses and trains or make any midday snack into a picnic.

To make a blanket travel more efficiently roll it up then take the extra set of shoe laces that you are carrying with you and tie them around the blanket to hold it together.  Maybe I should have mentioned this first but carry an extra set of shoelaces with you when traveling.

#5- Fork and Spoon.

Take a fork or a spoon.  It takes up very little room and just might come in handy like my fork did for me the day I arrived in Montforte, Spain.  That morning I woke up early in a dorm in Santiago de Compostela.  As I packed I began to think about what the Catedral de Santiago might look like in the sunrise.  I had never seen it before noon and I was leaving in a couple hours.  The only reasonable thing to do was pack my stuff, run to the Cathedral, and hope I could still make my train.

  Well, I made the train and it was totally worth it.

So back to the fork and spoon.  After arriving in Montforte I wandered the village for a while.  I passed a couple shops and a bakery.  I had been in such a hurry that I had not eaten all day.  I tried to walk into a shop and the owner pulled down the gate in front of me.  I turned around and saw all the gates closing on all the shops, the bakery, the restaurant on the corner.

The streets cleared and I found a spot on a bench in an empty plaza.  I heaved my oversized, military issue backpack onto the bench and dug through the side pocket.  I pulled out a sealed tin of fish and set it on the bench.  Then I reached back into my pack and got out a white plastic fork.  I cracked open the canned fish and had a picnic in the plaza.

The main advantage of having my fork was that I did not have to get the food dirty with my hands or my hands dirty with the food.  Aside from the obvious convenience of not having fishy smelling hands it is also important to watch what you eat for the sake of your health.  How many things do my hands touch in a day of riding the bus?  A LOT.  I would not want to have most of the things I touch with my hands in my mouth.  So I bring a plastic fork to eat with and when I am finished I wash it and put it back for next time.

Well, those are 5 things that are always with me when I travel.  Look for the next edition of “Action Jack, What Should I Pack?” soon.  In the meantime, let me know what you travel with in the comments section.  Until next time…

My First Night in Dublin

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Hey friends,

I am about to share with you my first travel experience.  This is my adventure from Dublin, Ireland on May 11, 2011.  It was the first time I had ever traveled outside the United States and it was the first time I ever wrote about traveling.  It was great looking back at this and I hope that my regular readers can appreciate the humor in this story.  Just think about the adventures I have had.  This is where they started.

-Jack

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05/11/2011

The sun was about to set on my first night in Dublin.  I walked up Talbot Street looking for a bite to eat.

There was a storefront for a One Euro Store, which is like an American Dollar Store.  Two bald men with wires running down the inside of their suit collars stood watch in front of a casino.  One store promised the “world’s lightest luggage.”    The window that I was interested in promised pizzas, burgers, and kebabs.  I ordered a slice of the meat special pizza and took a seat at the four person dine-in counter.  I started to think about what could happen over the next couple months but there were more possibilities than I had time for.  After all, the sun was about to set on my first night in Dublin.

So as I ate I thought about what had happened since I arrived in Dublin this morning.  After passing through customs and circling the airport parking lot twice I got on a bus.  The driver asked me what I was looking for and I was not sure what to tell him.  I knew the name of my hostel but that was probably not what he was looking for.  I remembered that the street started with a “G” and was in City Center.  I decided to leave off the first part.  “City Center,” I replied.

I sat in the back of the double decker bus waiting for our departure.  Two fellow American travelers boarded and sat next to me on the long bench seats.  The man had auburn dreadlocks and was either tan or dirty.  His clothes were tattered and layered.  He unloaded the small backpack off his chest and then heaved the much larger travel pack onto the seat.  I thought about how much more difficult it would be to travel with so much gear.

The woman had long brown hair atop a tiny frame.  She had her nose pierced on one side and her skin had the same oversunned or underkept look as the man.  Her hoodie hung over the top of her eyes and sagged from her bony shoulders.  They were both from San Francisco and had spent the winter traveling through Spain.  They had spent the previous summer traveling in northern Europe.  Dublin was their last stop before going home to California.

The couple was staying at a hostel on Gardiner Street.  I was also staying at a hostel on Gardiner Street.  We both got off the bus at The Spire.  I stayed with them until we got to Gardiner.  When I found my hostel  I checked in, dropped my bags, and went out onto the sidewalk.

I followed the buzz of activity to a mostly pedestrian road made of asphalt and red brick called Talbot Street.  I walked up the street and stopped where it crossed Gloucester Place.  With my back firmly against the wall I began opening my map of Dublin.  Before I had one fold unfolded a voice stopped me…

“What are ya lookin’ for?” the age-worn Irishman asked.

Once again this question had me stumped.  So I started talking with the old man.  He asked me if I ever boxed.  He thought I might be a relative of a fighter known as Kid Douglass.  “Aaaah! It’s the dimple.  You look just like him,” he insisted as he shadow boxed with me on the corner.  Suddenly he stopped his fists.  His back straightened.  His smile flattened.

Seconds later he was singing about me, my dimple, and Kid Douglass while waving his fists in the air again.  When he stopped again I asked where I could find something good to eat.  He motioned towards the building we were leaning against with his arm.  He took a few sideways steps towards the door while beckoning unsteadily with his head.

I followed my new friend, Noel, into Mother Kelly’s.  I took a seat at the counter near the front door.  I ordered at the bar and when the waitress brought out my meal she also brought out a complimentary pint of Guinness, which comes with lunch at Mother Kelly’s.  I sat eating my vegetable lo mein and trying to get Noel’s attention.  I looked across the room and he was sitting on the arm of a chair with one of his arms wrapped around a man seated in the chair and the other one waving furiously in the air.  He bawled and gyrated before finally hopping to his feet and circling back around the bar, stopping at each table.  When he reached me Noel burst into another round of “The Kid.”  I thanked him for his company and for helping me find good lo mein.  I gave him a pint of Guinness, which he carried from table to table, toasting,  until long after it was empty.

  Artist’s rendering of Noel.

After meeting Noel I walked back to my hostel to shower and get ready for my first night in Dublin.  The sun was about to set and I had just finished eating a slice of pizza in a kebab house on Talbot Street.  As I turned the first corner I entered an alley.  I came out on a street similar to Talbot on the other side of the alley.  I turned right towards The Spire and enjoyed the final seconds before the sunset.

Then I looked down onto the sidewalk.  The first thing I noticed was the blood.  There was a man in it.  He was holding a towel over his head.  He laid on the sidewalk, trying to hold himself upright with the aid of a garda officer.  A few witnesses stood around the man.  The rest of us walked around the garda’s car as we were instructed.  As I walked away I heard one of the witnesses say “I don’t know who he is but he’s been hanging out around this neighborhood all day.  I’ve seen him five or six times.”

I kept walking but suddenly the darkness and that street seemed threatening, intense, and violent.  Every step that I took away from my hostel took me further adrift in a dark, unknown place.  I needed to gather my thoughts and decide what to do.

I went back to my hostel.  The man at the desk was holding up a paper.  The headline read, “We’re Not Gay.”  This was the statement issued by the Irish pop duo that consists of identical twins named John and Edward.  The band’s name is Jedward.  The man at the front desk was furious about the article.  He did not care one bit about whether or not the twins in Jedward were gay.  That is what he was furious about.  The front page of the paper was entirely devoted to these two pop stars and, as he explained to me in full detail, they are “dreadful.”  I agreed politely and climbed the stairs back to my room.

Ambling in Amsterdam

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I sat up in my bed and looked around the room.  After emptying both of my backpacks, cleaning them, and refilling them I was getting hungry.  I grabbed an apple and headed through the pumpkin orange lobby to the hallway.  The sun was shining all the way down the brown-painted hallway.  I stood on the sidewalk outside the hostel and ate my apple.  I waited for clouds or rain but nothing came.

I threw my apple core in the rubbish bin and headed east.  I decided to follow the canals from the center out until I reached Vondelpark.  Looking at Amsterdam on a map this looks like a very simple task.  The city is shaped kind of like a horseshoe with a rectangle at the top.  The rectangle at the top is Centraal Station.  The horseshoe underneath is a series of canals that are formed by progressively larger horseshoes.  When walking them it is a tangled web of alleys and one lane, one way streets shared by bicycles, pedestrians and automobiles.  Here are some pics from my wanderings in the sun…

 When you come into Amsterdam this is where everyone starts.  This is Centraal Station Amsterdam.  From here you can take buses, trains, metros, or trams to the airport, Moscow or just about anywhere in between.

 This is an inset of the right tower of Centraal Station.

 At the corner of Nieuwe Brugsteeg in the tight streets of Amsterdam.

So finally I reached Vondelpark.  It was nice to see people seated on the grass instead of hiding under trees from the rain.  The lawns were filled despite being two months before the high tourist season here in Amsterdam.  Here are a few things I saw in Vondelpark before reaching my destination…

I was near the middle of the park and I was beginning to wonder if I had lost my way.  With one sudden scent I knew I was close.  In the center of Vondelpark is a garden with dozens of flowerbeds.  On my first trip to Amsterdam there was not a single flower.  I had hoped that this time would be different and the lingering, sweet smell assured me that it would be.  Here are a few of my favorites from the gardens in Vondelpark…

I spent the afternoon in Vondelpark and by evening made my way back to Dam Square for the carnival celebration.  I have more pics and stories but this is my last night in Europe for a while so I am going to get out and enjoy it.  Until our next adventure…

 

 

 

Porto on the Duoro

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I arrived in Porto a couple hours after sunset.  The warm sea breeze and smell of kebab shops settled me into the second most important Portuguese city very quickly.  As I enjoyed the sights and smells of Porto I began to get my bearings.  Unsurprisingly, I had gone the wrong way at the first roundabout.  I soon found the long road that would bring me all the way to the neighborhood where I had a room waiting for me.

As I walked the road got wider.  It opened up into outdoor cafes, restaurants, and bars.  I passed a cathedral and a park.  I took note of them so that I could take a visit after I unloaded my packs.  Then I continued down the road.  It took a sharp turn to the left and pointed me out over The Duoro River, which end here in Porto after travelling across the Iberian Peninsula.  This is what it looks like at night a short distance from the ocean…

Now I was in the neighborhood of the Tattva Design Hotel and wondering how I could miss a hotel on a tiny residential street.  After a quick search I found the hotel without a sign.  It was identical to all the surrounding flats on the outside but when I walked in I knew this was probably not what the apartments in this neighborhood looked like.

The two girls at the front desk were busily trying to check people in and answer questions.  When it was my turn they explained that the hotel had only opened the week before so there was still a lot of chaos whilst they tried to figure out how to run this hotel.  The hotel’s short existence also helped explain why they were pretty much giving away rooms at prices I had never seen anywhere before.

The first floor had a fish lounge with aquariums, computers, and other rectangular boxes for people to spend their time looking at.  The second floor had a kitchen for self service food, as well as a private restaurant/bar for the guests.  The roof above the hotel had been transformed into an outdoor tiki lounge, fitted with a high brush-fence and torches.  Each floor had its own theme of either fire, wind, water, or earth.  It was an interesting place but the thought of Porto in the twilight piqued my interest more than any caged fish or roof without a view.

Around midnight I headed towards the city center.  I had not eaten yet so I looked for one of those kebab shops that had wafted its way over to me on my way from the bus stop.  There was not a kebab shop open so I looked around for a bar with a kitchen.  After hearing the same story (kitchen closed at midnight) a few times I moved on to another option.  After spending ten minutes walking around a parking garage that I believed was an entrance to a shopping mall (due to the similarity of a Portuguese word and a deceptively unrelated English word)  I was told that there were no supermarkets open in Porto tonight.

It seemed that I was probably not going to find anything to eat so I moved on to more important things, like adventure.  I had just under twenty four hours to spend in this city so I had to make every second count.  I went back to the park I had noted earlier.  I saw cathedrals built into the surrounding apartments.  I followed the roads that run alongside the river at different heights.  By the end of the night I had seen all six of the famed Porto bridges.  Here are a few of my favorite pics from that night…

As the night grew to be morning I knew it was time for some sleep.  I had a lot to see the next day and not much time to see it so I went back to hotel, walked past the aquarium, and made my way up to my pillow.  Well, this is how I spent the shorter of my two partial days in Porto.  The next day proved to be filled with even more sights, sounds, smells, and finally tastes than the first.  Until then…

A Road Less Traveled

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This morning I cleared a spot for a new garden.  The new patch of soil will eventually be the home of a dozen or so tomato plants.  It’s too bad I will no longer be here in Ferreira de Panton when the bulbous red fruits blossom but I am happy to have had a chance to help my gracious hosts expand their horticultural terrain.  After that I built them a pit for smoking meats.  Then it was time for some fun in the sun.

Mick has been telling me about a particular hike he has spent years perfecting around here.  He would follow a path until it ended abruptly, as many Galician trails do.  Then he created a map that showed the trails that would connect to form this uninterrupted three and a half hour hike, which peaks with a 360 degree view of the surrounding area.

As you may have guessed after a full day of work and hiking I am quite tired.  So here are some pics from today…

  Most of the trails look something like this.

  This is a good example of many of the older Galician structures that we passed on the way.

  As we rounded the bend and were about to enter a paved road for the first time on our trip we saw this flock of sheep.  Chaos ensued.  Watch it here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYk3PzL-ass  As the chaos reigned supreme the struggling shepherd employed our assistance to regain control of the sheep.  Basically, we were supposed to act as human guardrails.  This is how that worked out… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRqlz62Ko4s

  After the sheep shenanigans we passed this gate, behind which lies one of the most important historical homes in the area.  Notice the ornamentation above the arch and the coat of arms to the left of it.  It was a hotbed of political activity before and during the Spanish Civil War.  It most assuredly was used to support to the Galician demigod, Franco.

Before reaching the peak of our journey we came across a lot of dogs.  Some were wild and some were domestic.  Some were clean and some smelled of manure.  These two were just plain adorable… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okAk8sv2SxA

As we climbed the final segment before the top Mick made me promise not to look around until we reached the apex.  I agreed and when I opened my eyes this is what I saw all around me…

And here is a slightly too long video of my view… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqjIQ91ceqo

The walk back was filled with pricker bushes, streams, holes dug by wild boars, and dozens of this same scene…

Well, the rest of the night was spent eating a full curry chicken meal and relaxing in the lounge.  Now it is time for a good rest before another full day of work and fun tomorrow.  Until next time…

 

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