Posts Tagged With: mountains

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon and Chasing the Northern Lights

One place we had read quite a bit about before heading to Iceland is the infamous Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon. Located on the southeastern coast of Iceland (the edge of Vatnajokull National Park), this glacial lagoon is the gateway between a gigantic glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, and the Atlantic Ocean. All day (and night!), chunks of glacier ranging from tiny baseball-sized pieces up to car and even house-sized chunks of ice break off of the head of Breiðamerkurjökull and make their way through Jokulsarlon and on out to the Atlantic Ocean. Some of these ice chunks are carried out to the deep Ocean, while others just wash up on beach (right across the road from Jokulsarlon). Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon is known as a large tourist location because of its gorgeous lighting, peaceful surroundings, and varied textures and patterns. If you’re driving from Reykjavik, here are the directions:


When we arrived at Jokulsarlon, there were quite a few tourists hanging around taking photos…so we grabbed our gear, made our way over, and just started snapping photos. The day was absolutely gorgeous… freezing but blue skies and a bright sun. The reflections of rays of sunlight on the ice chunks was indescribable.

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Jokulsarlon Lagoon

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Glacial Chunks

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Ice chunks of all shapes and sizes

 

We spent perhaps 2 hours taking photos. We captured the sunset right over the nearby hill with the lagoon in front. There were a multitude of photographers lined up with their tripods, not even paying attention to the sunset… clearly they come here often. They had their cameras set to take photos every few seconds for maximum effect. Honestly, I hope I never get to a point where I take something like Jokulsarlon for granted… to the point where my camera is just snapping photos. It was just too gorgeous and I probably wouldn’t even have moved if Andrew hadn’t suggested warming up a bit before coming back out.

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Jokulsarlon is just gorgeous

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A sea otter enjoying the water

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Great textures

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Mesmerizing, isn’t it?

 

We bought some hot chocolate in the little stand that was jus closing for the day. We sat in our car and warmed up a bit before we decided that we would try to move a bit down the road to look for another spot where we could set up shop and hopefully catch the Northern Lights. At this point in the trip, we had seen them a handful of times, but we hadn’t spent a solid night sitting out in nature and darkness watching… so we pulled down the road a few hundred feet. There were pull offs every so often and we selected one and pulled in. The parking area backed up against a hill and we hoped on the other side, we would see the lagoon. We ran up and scouted it out and to our happy surprise, you could actually hike down the other side of the hill to a small stone beach right on the shores of the glacial lagoon. A perfect little nook where no one else was yet set-up. Away from the main parking area of the lagoon, away from the cars, away from the talking… just the glacier, the lagoon, the sky, the mountains, and us. Perfect.

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A beautiful sunset

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Jokulsarlon at sunset

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View from our little beach

 

We grabbed a little disposable grill that we picked up in one of the towns we drove through, along with our little cooking bowls, some ramen, some bread, some cheese, some beer and Brennavin, our sleeping bags, our tripods, and our cameras. We bundled up a bit more with gloves and hats and sweatshirts and then made our way up, over the hill, and back down the other side to our secluded mini beach. Over the next hour, we laid a sleeping bag out to sit on and used the other as a blanket. We set up our tripods and cameras and adjusted the settings. We cooked ramen and grilled cheese on a tiny grill, and we reveled in how perfect the night was…

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Andrew setting up camp

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This is my dream

 

A little while later, we noticed something in a faded green color that started to dance across the sky. There they were; the Northern Lights. So unique and completely mesmerizing. They were perfectly imperfect. We snapped 100s of photos of the Northern Lights, the glowing red of Bardarbunga, the volcano erupting at that time in Iceland, and the stars. So many stars. Living in DC, we don’t get a lot of chances to watch the stars. Sure, we still see some here and there, but it’s nothing like being out in the middle of nowhere. We took as many pictures as we could and just soaked up the sights and sounds. It was absolutely beautiful and the perfect night.

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The Northern lights, Bardarbunga (red glow of an active volcano), and the stars

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So many stars

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Dancing lights across the sky

 

When we eventually grew too cold to stay on our little beach, we packed up and head back up to our car, where we unloaded, crawled into our sleeping bags, and immediately fell asleep. What a perfect day! If you have the time, make sure you get out to Jokulsarlon. It is definitely worth the drive. There is no cost to “enter” and take pictures. They do run boat tours if you are interested in going out into the middle of the lagoon, but honestly it’s not necessary. There are a ton of vantage points to take pictures from or to just sit back and relax. I highly recommend that you venture beyond the main parking lot. Hike on up one of the hills and down the other side; you will be all alone and so happy that you did it!

The view from our secluded beach

The view from our secluded beach

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Categories: Iceland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Homer, AK

Well, we awoke on the Homer Spit on the beach. Awesome. What’s more awesome? Eagles on the beach. Super awesome! We saw a juvenile that we took a bunch of pictures of right on the edge of the water, before one of the kind beach photographers with us let us know that there were some adult eagles down the beach. So, we slowly made our way down the beach where we saw THREE adult bald eagles. So awesome!! We took A LOT of pictures and spent almost two hours on the beach. Here are a few pics:

 

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After our picture fest, we got ready to go and headed into breakfast at the Sourdough Express– a restaurant that we had read about in an article discussing delicious sourdough pancakes. It is also well known for its efforts to locally source most to all of its ingredients (including meats from sustainable local sources). Pretty awesome! We ate a delicious meal (including reindeer sausage! Sorry, Vixen) and then decided to check out the rest of the sites around Homer. By the way, I’ll note here that I’m not sure Reindeer sausage is for everyone… it has a very particular flavor (and is smoky). Reminds me of venison. Anyway, I digress.

 

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We headed up into the mountains to check out the skyline drive that promised to provide us with some beautiful views of Homer, the Spit and the Mountains. We made our way up through the obviously wealthy area of Homer and took a short jaunt over to another Russian Orthodox Church first [All Saints of America; information below]. This time, there were people there (the last Russian Orthodox church we were on our own). Here, we met a woman (Sharon) who told us that we were welcome to go in and look around and that the Father would be down to show us around. True to their word, a few minutes later he did come down and chatted with us for a bit about the church. He and his wife travel from another town every so often to have church services here… pretty cool. It’s a small little church with gorgeous decoration.

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From the church, we headed next to the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center just up the road. The visitor center was closed at the time we arrived, so we just grabbed a trail map and headed out for a walk. We didn’t see any Moose to our dismay, but the trails were well-maintained, the views were great, and then area in general is a great little spot. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the area!

 

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After the nature center stop, we moved on and drove along Skyline drive, stopping here and there for a picture stop because of the sweeping views of Homer and the mountains and volcanoes. We made our way across and back down to the visitor center where we parked and let my mom go in and gather her beloved brochures. Andrew and I also hopped out and said we were going for a short walk. The truth was, we had researched and called a bakery in Homer called, “Two Sisters Bakery” while we were in Seward to order a Birthday Cake for my parents (Today’s the big day. Yep, both of them). We made our way down to the bakery and were immediately happy with our decision. The inside is a cool little wooden bakery and restaurant with a huge display of baked goods and food for people to try out. Andrew ordered a cinnamon roll and we paid for/picked up the cake (chocolate cake, caramel filling, cream cheese frosting). They had decorated it beautifully—especially considering how small of a cake it was… with a blue Happy Birthday and a row of fresh flowers. The cake was so delicious. Highly recommend if you are in the area and want a bite to eat or want to order a cake.

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After cake and sandwiches in the RV, we tried to make our way to Homer Meadery only to discover that the Meadery shutdown and is no longer functioning. So, we headed off to the Homer Brewing Company, a large brown building seemingly in the middle of nowhere. My dad, Andrew and I went in and order a few tasters of beer—basically small 4oz. glasses, $2/glass. They had EIGHT beers on tap—very impressive! The inside of the brewery was pretty cool- one side had the brewery itself with all the equipment on display to see. The other side of the brewery was the “taproom” of sorts. They had a few tables and some merchandise and a small bar. After we tried out our samplers, we decided on a beer that we all liked and had him fill up our Seward Brewery Growler [don’t forget to visit our tip for microbrewery drinking while traveling- purchase a growler at the first brewery and just refill as you go]. We also picked up a pint glass to add to our collection (We opted for the Abbey Ale to fill our growler).

 

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After the brewery, we headed uphill to the Bear Creek Winery (following the Homer Fermentation Trail). There are only 11 wineries in Alaska and 1 of them happens to be in Homer. Interestingly enough, they do not grow grapes here. Instead the source them and make the wine here… they had quite a few wines available to try. The idea here is that you pay $___ for 6-8 samples of wine (you choose which wines you want). They have pure fruit wines, chardonnays, zins, ports, and even one ice wine, although sadly, they did not have the ice wine when we were there. My dad and I each made our list of wine and the ladies working the wine brought out halibut spread on crackers and cheese for palette clearing. The wines were awesome! The fruit wines blew me away—they had a Pomegranate wine made with Pom and Grape and it was phenomenal! They even had a mead that we made sure to try (and bought a bottle of for the road). It was a great top and the folks are super nice!

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Back in Homer “downtown” we stopped by a few gift shops and also “The Cool Juicy Bus”, an old school bus that was turned into a smoothie café. The girl working at the bus was really friendly and had a huge menu of smoothie mixes and fruits as well as add-ins such as flax and hemp and proteins, as well as soy/almond/coconut and other non-dairy/dairy milks. We chatted with her a bit and learned that originally, her mother and father owned the bus and drove around and up to Alaska (noting that her mother was a bit of a gypsy). She decided to set-up the smoothie and bus and the rest is history. Two other people came up while we were waiting. Both Homer-ites and both knew the woman who owned the bus… and they chatted with us. Everyone is so nice here!

 

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My mom had heard from the Visitor Center that there was a really cool authentic Russian Café about 40 minutes out of Homer. So, she called and asked about availability and then we were off. We made our way to the town of Nikolaevsk. The “town” wasn’t really much to see- a small run-down area with a few small buildings and houses. The Russian Café [Samovar Cafe] was located near the end of one of the roads. A small building with a wide-open parking lot; no other cars. We parked and slowly made our way to the front door. It’s really hard to adequately describe what awaited us on the inside of the building. Today, as I type this over a week after that experience, I’m still not 100% convinced that it actually happened and/or was real. The café has a small outdoor area that is covered from the rain. The inside is a small room that is jam-packed with just about every Russian trinket you can think of from teas and traditional spoons to nesting doll sets. In front of us was a small bar “area” with 6 stools and behind the bar was Nina. Nina the Russian; dressed to the nines in traditional Russian clothing. She greeted us with a great big smile and welcome. What followed I can’t be sure… there was some VERY quick speaking with a heavy accent and discussing the options of meals, food, and “experiences”. This culminated with the four of us sitting at the bar for the “Russian Experience”. We were not allowed to speak to Nina while she was “cooking” and we were not allowed to ask questions. She gave us booklets and pamphlets of information on her, on Russian, and on the café.

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We were to receive several courses each coming just as quickly as the next. We started with borscht- a traditional soup that was very similar to vegetable soup (heavy on the tomato) with a small squirt of sour cream. With this, each couple also received a plate with a slice of Rye bread and a traditional Russian Pierogi. The Russian pirogi is more of a potato bread- a soft roll stuffed with a mashed potato substance. Both breads are served cold but were very delicious when dipped in the borscht. The perogi may have been my favorite part of the meal J.

 

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Next, the four of us received a mixed combination platter- essentially a sampler. It had sausage on it, sauerkraut with craisins, small meatball dumplings (looked like your more western-style perogi), and pickles. For dessert we were each served a cup of tea and a tall dish with cream puffs, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and a cherry. After dinner, Nina dressed us in traditional Russian garb and took pictures of us by a giant nesting doll. Then, just like that, we were thanked and ushered out the door.

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The experience was cool. It really was… and it was unlike anything we’ve ever done. Was it authentic Russian? I’m not sure because I’ve never been to Russia, but my sense is “no”. Here’s why: the sausage she served us was microwaved and cut off of a giant plastic-packaged sausage. The dessert simply looked like cream puffs from Costco with Hershey’s syrup and Ready-whip. I wouldn’t classify those things as “Traditional Russian” but perhaps I just don’t know Russia.

The food was delicious, don’t get me wrong and as I said, the experience was fun and unique. The café was lauded online by various travel and news companies including National Geographic and folks on Trip Advisor loved it. To me, though, it seemed to much like a push to get money and take advantage of the customers. There were signs everywhere when you walked in—taking 4 photos cost money, taking more cost more; to sit at the bar instead of outside under the awning cost money, the plate that we split four ways was about $25 (to me it was not worth that amount). The bread was something like $2/slice. Microwaved sausage just makes me really sad. The kraut, the borscht, the perogi, and the tea were my highlights of the meal. While it was fun dressing up—it wasn’t necessary. It just seemed really staged. In the end for four people, we spent well over $100 for 4 cups of tea, 4 cups of borscht, 2 slices of bread, 2 perogis, 3 desserts, and a plate with 1 cup of kraut, 4 slices of pickle, some meatball dumplings, and a couple slices of sausage.

Additionally, on the phone, Nina had told us that we better bring “green paper” (aka cash) with us. She insisted on it, despite the fact that the front door said she accepted both Visa and MasterCard. Now, I totally understand businesses (especially tiny ones like the one she had) not wanting to pay the fees to charge credit cards, but it just seemed weird because we were even given the option of using a credit card (and realistically, we probably would have ended up spending more).

So all of that being said, would I do it again? Probably not. Am I glad we did it? Sure. Why not? I’m all about new experiences and branching out… I’m just not sure I’d rate it as highly on the “must do” in/near Homer, AK as the others.

After dinner, we piled back into the camper wondering what just happened. We made our way back to the Homer Spit and our campground via a bumpy gravel road, complete with beautiful views and another friendly eagle. Then we hit the hay.

 

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Not a bad way for parents to spend their Birthday, eh?

 

Homer Resources:

  1. Campground: Homer Spit Campground Information (showers: $1- unlimited time)
  2. The Fresh Sourdough Express: Website; Trip Advisor Reviews; Facebook Reviews
  3. Skyline Drive: Information (the drive is located between East and West Hill Drives)
  4. All Saints of America Russian Orthodox Church: Church Website (located off of Skyline Drive) 
  5. Carl E. Wynn Nature Center: Website Information; Trip Advisor Reviews
  6. Two Sisters Bakery: Website
  7. Homer Brewing Company: Website
  8. Bear Creek Winery and Lodging: Website
  9. The Juicy Bus: Website Information
  10. Samovar [Russian Café] in Nikolaevsk, Alaska: Nina’s Main Website; Webpage on Russian Cafe “Samovar”

 
Google Map Showing Our Path and Stops for the Day (excluding the Russian Cafe):

Google Map Showing Route from Visitor Center in downtown Homer to Russian Cafe [Samovar] and return to Homer Spit Campground *Note- these directions use the gravel road. To take main roads, take Sterling Highway 1 out of town (north) and then in Anchor Point, make a right on North Fork. This will be the SECOND right turn for North Fork Road that you see when leaving Homer. The first North Fork Road is the gravel Road. Once you turn on North Fork, follow the road all the way to Nikolaevsk. You’ll see a painted sign on a building reading “Cafe”. You can turn left at this building [follow the arrow] and it will take you down and around to the Samovar Cafe.:

Categories: Alaska, Hikes, Microbrews, Restaurants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Day#1: Seward

After our successful stop at Safeway to stock up on goods, we headed down the highway towards Seward. We read and followed a Milepost along the way. The Milepost in a giant magazine that provides information based on the mile markers you are passing—it includes campgrounds, rest stops, scenic views, things to do and see, warnings about bear/moose areas, etc.

For lunch, we simply pulled into a turn off on the side of the road. It was located right on Turnagain Arm, a sort of inlet of water. Surrounded by water and giant snow capped mountains on one side and rock cliffs on the other side, it was a pretty cool place for a lunch break! All together, our lunch consisted of chicken, salads and a sandwich. Yum!

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We continued on and stopped off at Bird Point; a scenic area where you can walk on a really nice boardwalk up and towards the water. There were great look out spots and some of those giant magnifying lens things (great description right?! Think giant metal binoculars…) so you could take a closer look at the water and surrounding area. We were on the look out for Beluga Whales, the only all-white whale that is sometimes found in Turnagain Arm because it feeds on two types of fish that live there. Bird Point also had statues of the Beluga Whales embedded in the cement at the end of the parking lot. They were designed in a way to replicate what you would see when spotting them in the water swimming. Pretty genius if you ask me. We didn’t see any Belugas, but we did take an excellent walk, get an excellent panoramic view of Turnagain Arm (waterbody) and we saw a lot of birds, including a carefullys spotted bald eagle by my dad.

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After bird point, we continued on our southward travels making stops along the way to snap pictures of the snow-capped mountains and beautiful inlet. We also stopped at one point on the highway where a spring exits the cliffs on the side of the road through a long cylindrical pipe. We filled up our water bottles and cups and enjoyed a nice cup of ice-cold water.

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A short distance later on Seward Highway found us taking photos of a large Moose just hanging out on the side of the Highway. First Moose sighting of the trip! Our last stop on our way into Seward was at the Bear Creek Weir. We drove down a small gravel road and rounded a corner — passing a small Weird on the left. We almost missed it completely… and almost skipped it when we turned around, but we pulled over just in time to check it out anyway… because why not? We got out of the RV and headed over to the little bridge. Looking over the side, I stated, “no fish.” Then I amended it “oh there’s a fish” which then became “there are fish everywhere”. The salmon were there en mass and they blended in that it took a few moments to see how many there were!  On the other side of the bridge, we were able to see the fish trying to jump and swim upstream We also walked over to the small Weir building there were there were two people working. They said “hi” but didn’t offer much more than that— we saw the capture a few salmon with a net and place them in another area in the building- not sure what they were doing with those fish, but it was still interesting to see. It was a great little stop!

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After our Salmon stop, we continued on our drive to Seward, stopping at many of the pull offs because it was just
gorgeous. There is no way to adequately put into words what it is like to be driving down a highway with cliffs on one side and a giant body of water surrounded by snow-capped mountains on the other. It is genuinely indescribable. I’m including some photos below but even they don’t do it justice. Do yourself a favor and go there yourself so you can experience it!

 

 

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We arrived in Seward and pulled down into a waterside campground. We parked looking out at the water and snow-capped mountains. The sun was still shining (doesn’t get dark until about 11PM in early June). My mom disappeared to go see where we needed to meet the next morning and when she returned, Andrew and I were pretty much ready to collapse from the long day (our flight left DC at 6AM). She returned with a French Dip Sandwich and Fries from the small Bakery by the harbor where we were to meet with our boat crew the next morning. After eating sandwiches and figuring out our wake up call time, we headed to bed. All the shades were drawn on the RV and eye masks were used to help block out the bright sunlight.

 

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All in all day#1 of the trip was a HUGE success; beautiful vistas, wildlife, good eats, big mountains, waterfront campgrounds, and cozy towns.

 

Wildlife List:

Moose
Eagle

Categories: Alaska | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Village Above the Clouds

After a great and relaxing evening, we woke up at Puri Mangga in Lovina and had a delicious breakfast that consisted of fresh fruit plates, coffee, fruit juice, pineapple pancakes for Andrew, and the more traditional Mie Gorenge [Fried Noodles] for me.

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We then loaded up our stuff and headed towards the sky…. Village Above the Clouds, more specifically [also known as Desa Ata Sawan]. It’s located past Bedugul, in the center of Bali– up in the mountains, above the clouds, as it may be. Andrew found this spot and I am so glad that he did— it consists of a main hut that is just a sitting room with a view over an organic farm, three separate huts [we stayed in one of these], and then a kitchen building with two separate rooms above the main floor. It is tiny and a hidden gem- tucked away in the mountains, far away from the hustle and bustle. It is well worth the drive and I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone [website here: A Village Above the Clouds]. On our drive there, we again saw gorgeous rice terraces and tobacco plants as well as…. a new item to check off the list- monkeys. Lots and lots of monkeys. More on them later.

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When we got to A Village Above the Clouds, we asked one of the employees if they had a map of the area so we could walk around and his response was, “oh you don’t need a map. Just go get lost and have a great time.” Ummm awesome. We were allowed to wonder through the terraced organic farm and surrounding areas. Ugh just gorgeous. There were all sorts of veggies and plants growing in all different stages. We saw integrated pest management [ a way of naturally dealing with pests rather than spraying] or perhaps it was just shade tolerant plants growing in between non-shade tolerant plants. Either way, I loved it. We saw some intricate bamboo watering systems that carried fresh water from the stream nearby and diverted it down into the farm rows. Bamboo, of course, was also used as growing trays for seedlings. In the mornings, from our hut, we could watch as farmers picked the fresh produce and took portions of it into our kitchen to place on the menu for the day or night. The menus for dinner at A Village Above the Cloud are pre-set but they let you see the menu earlier in the day so you can provide comments or choose not to eat there… it’s very “Americanized” in the sense that they didn’t serve anything too exotic while we were there and the first night it was actually Mexican-Themed [and delicious, by the way]. Our first afternoon here, was spent as mentioned above- exploring and walking and relaxing and deciding that the next day we would rent scooters and ride back into town: destination: Monkeys, Straberries, and Water Temples.

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