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11. Up a Caprivi Without a Paddle

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Caprivi Strip, Namibia
Saturday, November 20, 2010

After calling last night to find out my pickup time for this morning (9:00am), I pack, read a bit and sleep soundly until almost 6:00. Breakfast at The Kingdom is lavish...a buffet which is the same as are lunch and dinner. All meals cost $22.00 U.S. not including your beverage. Service is on African Time so making it a buffet is wise.

I check out after breakfast and there is a problem. To be able to sign for anything on your room, the hotel insists on, first, charging your Visa card—don't bother to offer anything else because they don’t take it—and letting you consume food, beverage, laundry, internet or whatever until you use up that $100 and then you go and let them charge more. Well, I only spent $79.00 U.S. They don’t really know how to run a $21.00 credit and they won’t give me cash so we have to go through three layers of management to figure out what to do. We finally work it out. The moral: pay cash and don’t use a credit card.

I am picked up promptly and driven back to the Botswana border—about an hour away—using the very same road I traveled yesterday. Clearing immigration is the same...out of Zimbabwe and into Botswana. Then, a new driver takes me to the river Botswana immigration point at Kasame. There, I check out of Botswana. I get into a fourteen foot outboard speedboat with my next "driver" who is Calvin from the Impalila Lodge. We motor for ten minutes or so down the Zambezi river to the Namibian immigration point at Impalila. There, while Calvin watches your luggage in the boat, you walk a hundred yards or so into the bush and turn right to get to Namibian immigration. Again, there are forms and much stamping. Then, walk back to the boat and it is another thirty minutes or so up the Chobe River to the Kasai Channel to Kamavozu Channel, the site of the Lodge.

I am greeted by Ben and Zulu. Zulu shows the around. I meet “Toff” who is the proprietor but he is off by speedboat to somewhere or other. I’ll get to know him better later, I suppose.

Now, I am in Africa. No more big hotels. No more televisions in the room. Actually, no more rooms. I am in a thatched roof hut of sorts (No. 3), built on stilts, just above the Kamavozu rapids which provide a constant background noise that we can only obtain by buying a programmable noise machine back home. Two sliding screen doors and a mosquito net will protect me in the night as I lie in my kingsized bed which overlooks the rapids which I won’t be able to see (they don’t call it “darkest Africa” for nothing). Oh, there is also (mostly) no more electricity. The have a generator and they run it from six to nine in the morning, twelve to two in the afternoon and six to nine in the evening. Otherwise, there is no power.

When the generator is on, there is wireless internet. Can you believe it? I just logged on to see how it works. My old AOL dial-up of about ten years ago was faster. There may be no photos with my dispatches from here. We’ll have to see.

On the way up the Kasai Channel we spot crocodile and hippo along with countless species of birds, the largest of which was a Goliath Crane. Your guess about how big it is would be correct. We also see cattle along one bank. I ask Calvin about cattle and crocodile and he says that when they drink the owners must provide close supervision. I suppose so.

There are some “tourist” fishermen and “native” fishermen along the route. When I arrive at the Lodge, I am the only non-fisherman in residence. The other five guests are after big fish, which I am sure I will learn more about over dinner.large_f447a780-2fee-11ea-a99c-d7e826842ec3.jpglarge_f4444c20-2fee-11ea-80b6-ff8396a47c0d.jpglarge_f4402d70-2fee-11ea-810c-5f0d7db9a6ea.jpglarge_f42f1670-2fee-11ea-b9cb-83295e312673.jpglarge_f428fbf0-2fee-11ea-80b6-ff8396a47c0d.jpg

For now, I write this as Zulu tells me I can have lunch whenever I wish...it is one o’clock. There is a thunderhead in the distance and the rumbling of an impending storm coming from somewhere...I don’t know north, south, east or west just yet. You can find me on a map if you look for the only place in the world where four countries share a border at the same spot (much like the four corners in the United States). Here, it is Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia.

I may just sit and read this afternoon. We shall see. I am going to shut down for a few hours now to conserve battery power in this laptop. Re-charging may be difficult...

After shutting the computer down with the earlier words just written safely saved, I opened my book. I decided that this afternoon would not be best occupied with "an activity." A lack of activity beckoned. I opened "Atlas Shrugged" and began to read. The distant rumbling of thunder was somehow perfect for the day. Soon, the skies darkened and lighting appeared on the horizon. A thing noted here: many if not most of the roofing material is thatch. There are no shingles or tiles; instead, roofs are made of perfectly thatched reeds. High above almost all of these stands a lightning rod. I can only speculate as I haven't asked but it seems to me that the rods are the defense against a catastrophic fire resultant from a bolt hitting a roof. The roof of #3 is thatch. There is no lighting rod.

The lighting is closer now and the sky has turned black. Now, what was foretold by the sky and announced by the thunder: torrential rain. It is beautiful. I'm in a spot not far from yesterday's dry and dusty roadway. I can only imagine what is happened there to tourists who are but a day's time behind me. Do the elephant sleep through this or do they answer the rumbling sky with their own unique low frequency base notes? Or, do they ignore it as they do our safari vehicles, too powerful to be bothered by it, a thing seen before countless times by the matriarch and perhaps never before by the newborns? This place is full of questions. Many of them best left unanswered, I'd say. Wondering is sometimes better than knowing.

Me? I gaze out my windows at the rapids listening to the rain and the thunder, my book set aside. A better story is outside my window than between its pages. Life is good in the rain. I wish you were here.
Where I stayed
Kaza Safari Lodge - Eastern Caprivi Strip, Impalila Island, Namibia

Posted by paulej4 14:08 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

12. Hippo Pot of 'em

Caprivi Strip, Namibia

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Caprivi Strip, Namibia
Sunday, November 21, 2010

I slept as well last night as I have slept since March. The sound of the rapids and the breeze blowing through the mosquito net must have been the perfect sleeping aid. With all the curtains open, I am up with the sun hearing the sound of passing hippos. My boat companions later on this day will
describe the sound they make as what gigantic frogs on steroids must sound like. The croak and then they trumpet. That's one fine wake up call.

Today, I see more hippos than anyone has ever seen in a single day...at least any American who is not floating on the Zambezi River. They are everywhere. The river is wide but shallow. You must watch carefully as you cruise so that you don’t hit a hippo. Big ones, small ones. In coves, near rocks, in eddys, in the middle of the channel. They are everywhere.

You cannot effectively count hippos. Some are on the surface while others are submerged. At one point, I counted seventeen heads in one pod (I think that’s right—pod) but then four submerged and three surfaced and then...well, you get the picture.

Today was also about people. Along the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers, people make their homes...such as they are. Thatched roofs over walls of sticks, families live here and work to find their daily meals. Fishermen plow the river’s edge in dugouts powered by their backs and long poles. Moms bathe their children in the river. Kids line the banks. All are friendly and happy to wave as you pass.

One wonders about the families and the hippos. And, of course, the crocs. I suppose the children are well educated about the dangers of these animals. They must be.

At this "Camp" or “Lodge” there is a group of five South African fishermen being hosted by an Indian guide, a German couple, an American couple and me. I have lunch with the Germans and dinner with the Americans. Everyone is friendly and all have stories to tell about what they’ve seen, what they hope to see and how they came to be in Africa...Namibia in particular.

After a morning motor down the river, we come back for a late breakfast and I dive into my book by the pool. It is hot. I’m in the water and back on the chaise; in the water and back on the chaise. I skip lunch due to the late breakfast and am ready for the afternoon cruise on the river but the skies are again threatening. “The rainy season has arrived,” says Toff, the proprietor of this place. The rain skirts us so we (the Americans and I) tromp to the dock and board our boat and away we go. With the overcast skies and the plummeting temperature, I wish I had worn my coat. Literally falling twenty degrees in a matter of minutes, the weather does not deter us.

However, the skies and the rain have deterred the animals. We see the omnipresent hippos but not much else. Yes, there are birds aplenty but I’m not much of a birder. No elephants. I am crushed. Soon, however, we see a dark shape on a river bank far ahead and it is moving. As we come nearer, it is—darn it—another hippo. But, wait. There is something else there. It’s a newborn. Our guide suggests that this calf is a month old but I’ll bet it is younger than that. Unsteady on its feet, it chases after a bird who’s job it is to peck ticks from it’s mother’s body. Mom grazes unfazed. The baby wobbles and romps. We could watch this for hours.large_08114ef0-2ff0-11ea-810c-5f0d7db9a6ea.jpglarge_08296ad0-2ff0-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpglarge_07951a10-2ff0-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpglarge_07ee0f80-2ff0-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpglarge_07960470-2ff0-11ea-810c-5f0d7db9a6ea.jpg

We’ve been told countless times about how dangerous the hippo is. In two situations, they are very dangerous. If you get between them and the water and they feel threatened by that, they will attack you. If you get between them and their babies, they will attack you. Here, the hippos are on the ground and we are in the water. Our guide feels that we are safe and we approach more closely than we would had these “river horses” been in the water. Mom pays us no heed.

Everybody likes babies. Well, baby hippos are no different. They are lovable—from a distance.

Darkness begins to fall early due to the weather. We head back. It is about an hour with the throttle wide open. It is cold. It is OK.

As I write this, I am listening to the streaming audio of KCFX and the Chiefs are ahead 14-3. I don’t know how long the generator will remain on so that I can listen. This is unreal. I am on an island in Namibia where there is no sign of modern development anywhere hear...certainly no electric lines. But, the internet is on via the Lodge’s WiFi and I am listening to a Chiefs game. Bizzare.

I leave at 9:30 tomorrow morning for the complicated trip back to Johannesburg. Here’s how that will go. I will leave the Impalila Island Lodge by boat. After a 20 minute ride, we will stop at Namibian immigration’s dock so I can walk up the road and legally leave the country filling in a form and having my passport stamped. Then, back in the boat it will be about a 10 minute ride to Botswanan immigration where I will legally enter their country by filling in a form and get my passport stamped. Then, I will be transported by a car of some sort to the Zimbabwe border. That will take about another 20 minutes. There I will have my passport stamped by the Botswana folks, get in the vehicle, drive 100 yards or so to see the Zimbabwe folks, fill in a form and get my passport stamped. Then, I will enter another vehicle and drive about an hour to the Victoria Falls Airport where I will fill in a form and get my passport stamped prior to boarding my international flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. I am getting pretty good at this border crossing stuff. I spend the night at the same airport hotel in Johannesburg where I slept...what was it...a month or so ago?

Posted by paulej4 11:10 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

13. New Business Idea

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Johannesburg, South Africa
Monday, November 22, 2010

I have discovered a sure fire way to riches. This plan is no miss, can't fail. It is guaranteed big money. All we have to do is get in the rubber stamp business in Africa.

My guess is that Zimbabwe will fail, mired beneath its own idea of how to exist. Let me give you an example. At the hotel where I stayed, you cannot sign anything to your room unless you pre-charge—not pre-authorize—some amount in advance. They suggest $100 to start. When you do that, the best thing you could do is to spend it all because getting any of it back is difficult for this reason: they don’t know how to process a credit to your card. It is against their policy to refund the unspent funds in cash. They simply stand and look at you.

At the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia and at the border between Zimbabwe and Botswana, the stop processing trucks at 4:00pm on Friday. The start again at 9:00am on Monday. That means that all the semi-trailer loads of goods, some perishable, that arrive going in either direction at those points must sit and wait. They stack up...for a mile or more. Each truck requires much paperwork, and much fussing over by an official (or two) looking all around, pondering, writing notes, and looking important. Interestingly enough, they never (to my eyes, at least) ever looked inside a trailer or under a tarpaulin. They simply fussed.

There is a sign at the border that says that effective November 1, 2010, (three weeks ago) a new law provides that any automobile to be transported through Zimbabwe that is not driven by its owner must be transported on a semi-trailer automobile carrier. That sounds efficient to me. Next to the sign is a four column dispenser of free condoms.

Oh; M.C. Hammer is a big star here. He is on TV in a beer commercial and is performing at a concert soon.

At the airport in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, two flights were departing to Johannesburg within ten minutes of each other. One was a South African Airways flight and the other was a British Airways flight. There are only two gates (doors, really) which stand fifteen feet apart. Both flights were booked full. The seating area is adequate for about 25% of the capacity of these two flights. People must stand almost on top of each other immediately after clearing security. It is very crowded. And, therefore, noisy.large_4ea64f00-2ff0-11ea-b9cb-83295e312673.jpglarge_4f0add30-2ff0-11ea-b9cb-83295e312673.jpglarge_4e902ef0-2ff0-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpglarge_4e2add70-2ff0-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpg
The two planeloads of waiting people mostly spoke languages other than English. I heard French, German, Spanish (from Spain), Portuguese, Korean, Chinese and Japanese.

The time for the first flight comes and goes. The time for the second flight, ten minutes later, comes and goes. There are no announcements because there is no public address system. There are also no signs. The people jostle for position but don’t know what position for which they are jostling. Which flight goes through which door? Nobody knows.

One of the gates—its door actually—opens and a non-uniformed person begins taking boarding passes from people. But, the people don’t know whether he is taking boarding passes from the SA flight or the BA flight. So, he simply takes the SA ones and shoos those people out the door toward the aircraft and refuses to take the BA boarding passes. Those people are now clogging up the front of the mob (there is no line) just standing there and the people coming from the rear who have boarding passes for either flight all keep coming because they don’t know which boarding passes he is accepting and which ones he is not accepting. A note: most of these folks are not into what we in the U.S. would call "order." There is much jostling and no lining up. Remember: there are many Korean, Japanese and Chinese here and they simply don’t line up. But, the worst offenders had to be the French speakers. Most courteous? The Spanish.

Soon, he yells, (in English only) “FINAL CALL,” in heavily accented English. There is much anxiety at the gate. It is fun to watch. It is not good for business.

A bit about the heavily accented English. In Zimbabwe (and through much of Southern Africa) they put the emPHAsis on a diffERent syllABle than you might EXpect. Do you remember LEOnard from a couple of days ago? Well, I had a nice chat with a roBERT. It isn’t South AFrican; its South AfRIcan. Now, I got used to this pretty quickly but I would have to say that most people don’t get used to this so there is much repeating.

There is little hope for Dr. Mugabe’s country. It will fail. From what I read, the rest of the nations of the world will mostly be happy about that. It is sad for the people. They seem nice enough. That is not to say that they seem competent to be doing what it is that they are being paid to do. But, they are really nice.

Now, for my day. B-o-r-i-n-g. I am awakened by hippos outside my room at 4:00am and enjoy listening to them so much that I get up and sit on my balcony. It is too dark to see them. Slowly, dawn breaks and: there they are. Making their way down stream, they croak and trumpet to each other saying, I assume, “Hurry before the bumbling hippo immigration guy shows up and blocks the channel.”

I shower and head for coffee. Last night I was assured that my departure is to be at 9:30; no, wait; let’s make that 8:30. Luckily they tell me that at 7:30. OK. I’m ready; thankfully. I’m a pre-packer. We’re out of boats. OK. What’s the plan? We’ll take you part way by four-wheel drive vehicle; the mud has dried up from the recent rain so we think we can make it. Think? Good. We DO make it. The veHICle was, by the way, a toyoTA.

I pass through Namibian exit immigration (nice lady) and board a boat to Botswana entry immigration and board a van to Botswana exit immigration (OK man) and board a van to Zimbabwe entry immigration (he recognized me from a couple of days ago and said HELlo) and board another van for the one hour twenty minute ride to Victoria Falls Airport where I passed through Zimbabwe exit immigration (grouchy lady). I already told you about the rest of the Vic Falls International experience.

The BA flight was great. I arrived only slightly late at Johannesburg and made it through South African entry immigration and then through the terminal and across the street to catch the Airport Grand Hotel’s shuttle van to the hotel where I now sit. It is six in the evening.

Did you want pictures with that? Sorry. You can't take pictures at borders or of immigration facilities or airports because it is a national security risk.

Posted by paulej4 11:21 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

15. Harmony in the Indian Ocean

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Mauritius, Mauritius
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I left the wall of curtains open on my room overnight so that I would be greeted upon awakening with whatever view this spacious suite had to offer. I wasn't disappointed. The sky is blue, the water bluer and the traveler bright as the rising sun.

In my suite one towel is folded into the shape of an elephant and two more are sculpted to create a pair of swans coming together to form a heart. Both are sprinkled with flower blossoms. It doesn’t go with my solo traveler mountain man look but nobody, least of all me, seems to care. It’s fun.

There is a gigantic breakfast buffet and many tours offered but, for me, today is a day to rest and enjoy the beach and the pools and my balcony. I’m going to finish my book before getting back to Kansas City but, at 1166 pages, I need to get moving. The busy schedule I’ve kept up to now has kept me out of the pages and the hectic days have found me falling asleep after fifteen minutes or so of reading. Today, I’ll make up for it.

Matt and Donna Clark, my friends from Edinburgh are here and have invited me to get together. I called them after breakfast, around nine, and I’m afraid I woke them. I later find out that they were out to dinner with other friends last night and didn’t get back to their bed until around three. We agree to meet for lunch. They are a pair of young Brits and delightful conversationalists...something I value highly as a single traveler.

The tropical sun is high and hot after lunch and I am not anxious to get sunburned on my last full day so, even with the availability of 100 SPF sunscreen, I am cautious.3fdf80c0-3015-11ea-8cec-9d4679a1377d.jpg3ff48f60-3015-11ea-b63e-ab448738f224.jpg3f4bcc40-3015-11ea-a024-f1276fa42fbe.jpg3f45ffe0-3015-11ea-b691-c301e4bd3b9d.jpg

I’ve booked a table for one at the seafood restaurant here for eight o’clock tonight...my final night on the ground during this whirlwind tour of Africa and now the Indian Ocean. My hair is a bit too long and my beard is a bit too scruffy (there are those at home who would howl at my outlandishness) but here I’ve no one to please but myself. So, I happily allow those who would wonder about me to, well, wonder. I look a bit like mountain man Jeremiah Johnson, I’m afraid, but my smile seems to reassure skeptics.

The staff here is mostly Indian and all are friendly, offering warm greetings at every encounter. The servers have an interesting method of pouring a bottle of beer that I got to witness with Matt. Davinah, our server, placed a standard glass on the table and then she used the mouth of the beer bottle to tip the glass a few degrees and simultaneously pour the beer down the side of the glass. She’s got it down to knowing how far to tip it so that it doesn’t topple over and how slowly to gingerly right the glass so that the head of the beer is perfect once the bottle is empty and the glass is full. I’ve never seen that done. It’s fun. If you’re interested, I’ll attempt to show you how it works but, please, let’s do it at your house and not mine in case I am not as skilled at the procedure as is Davinah.

The atmosphere here is one virtually devoid of Americans. There are French, British, Indian, Spanish, South African and many others. A multitude of religions easily mix. Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims can be identified by their appearance. Christians and Jews are not so easily identified. But nobody seems to care. The French smile less than everyone else, it seems.

Dining is al fresco. The weather is superb but the staff says it is too hot. I respectfully disagree. It is in the eighties. The humidity is not high. The ocean is beautiful and the grounds are well kept. The sunset promised to be spectacular but a low cloud on the horizon spoiled that at the last minute. From my balcony, I watched ten or twelve photographers anticipate award winning shots only to be foiled at the last moment.

Le Meridien on Mauritius is a fine place. Perfect for honeymooners. Good for families. For me? I may have been the only solo traveler in the place.

I have been asked by a couple of blog readers to include a photo or two of me. I have a tripod and a timer on my Nikon so, for this installment, witness me as a subject in a couple of the photos.

Tomorrow: my final day on "holiday."

Posted by paulej4 14:07 Archived in Mauritius Comments (0)

17. Boring Logistics and then: Home

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Paris, Île-de-France, France
Thursday, November 25, 2010

During my list of things to be thankful for, I forgot to add safe airline flights. Duh.

At Charles De Gaulle, I have access to the Air France Business Class lounge during my six hour and 15 minute layover. Sure, I could clear immigration and then customs, find something to do with and or place to put my baggage, grab a train and head into Paris and see the Eiffel Tower again or whatever but, you know what? I am not going to do that. That's a bit of stress that I don't need. I am simply going to wait right here, take a nice hot shower and read. I have been to France twice (or is it three times?) and a whirlwind dash in and out of the City, beautiful though it is, is more than I want to attempt. What about a traffic jam? What about a wildcat train conductors' strike--as the French love to do? What about...

After arriving back home, I get to rest up until Tuesday morning when I fly to New York for a couple of days. That's Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I'll be fit as a fiddle by Tuesday. Just watch.

For those who have inquired about logistics, I think this is all correct:

Event Local Time in KC Elapsed Time

Arrive Mauritus Airport 5:35pm 7:35am 11/25 0:00 hours

Flight leaves Mauritius 10:35pm 12:35pm 5:00 hours

Flight arrives Paris 7:35am 12:35am 11/26 17:00 hours

Flight leaves Paris 1:50pm 7:50am 23:25 hours

Flight arrives Detroit 4:35pm 3:35pm 32:10 hours

Flight leaves Detroit 7:50pm 6:50pm 35:35 hours

Flight arrives Kansas City 8:55pm 8:55pm 37:40 hours

In airline parlance, in business class (and in first class where it still exists) there are "lie flat" seats and “flat bed” seats.

A “flat bed” seat is one that, when you push a button, the part beneath your behind slides forward, the part beneath your calves angles upward, the part beneath your ankles stretches downward and the part behind your back angles backward to create one long, flat, level with the floor “bed.” I have had the pleasure of sitting—or lying—in these seats on various trips abroad and they are, without exception, great. In every case where I have experienced one of these “flat bed” seats, they are angled in the cabin...not facing directly front but, instead, facing at a slight angle in the direction of the aisle. If they didn't do that, the space required between rows would be increased so much that the carrier would lose a lot of potential high dollar seat space.

The best one of those I ever sat in was on a Japan Airlines 747 from Chicago to Tokyo where I was given pajamas to change into and while I was in the double-wide toilet getting that done, the flight attendant fitted a sheet onto that seat, tucked in a top sheet and laid a quilt over the entire masterpiece. Unbelievable. And, you get spoiled. Your expectations are raised for every flight you take in the future.

A “lie flat” seat? That’s a whole different animal. These seats have the same button to push with the same component parts sliding around but, while they still create a one, long, flat seat, they are not level with the floor. The seat slants with the head several inches higher than the foot. In this way, not so much space is taken up and the airlines don’t lose a precious row of seats.

The problem with “lie flat” seats is that, with your head higher than your feet, gravity takes over and you tend to, over time, slide down the seat until your feet are pushed against the seat in front of you and that is uncomfortable. Add the inevitable vibrating of the airplane which hastens your sliding and you find yourself—if you are like me—being awakened every half hour or so to “scootch” yourself up in the seat to relieve the pressure on your feet.

From Atlanta to Johannesburg, I had a “flat bed” seat. There’s a picture of it in that first blog entry. From Johannesburg to Mauritius, from Mauritius to Paris and from Paris to Detroit, I had “lie flat” seats. The difference is six to eight hours of blissful sleep in the lap of bed-like luxury to very satisfying half-hours of blissful sleep.

For all of you “coach” flyers who know what it is to be crammed into a too-tight space where the word “flat” applies only to the carbonation in your soft drink, go ahead: tell me where to get off. I just don’t do “coach” any more on long flights. If I’m going, I’m going to sleep well and not curse the journey’s first and final legs. With frequent flyer miles and with careful searching of fares (which vary from one flight to the next in wide swings) I can be semi-economical and highly comfortable.

All of that is background to let you know that on the twelve hour flight from Mauritius to Paris, I didn’t sleep all that well. Poor Paul.

Where I stayed
Paris Marriott Charles de Gaulle Airport Hotel - 5 Allee du Verger, Roissy, France
pentahotel Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport - 12 Allee du Verger, Roissy, France

Posted by paulej4 14:06 Archived in France Comments (0)

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