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villa de leyva

July 19th, 2014 · No Comments

arriving in the center, i soon got off the bicycle to push it through the cobblestoned streets. these were redone only sixty years ago to recreate the paving during colonial times, before the town was declared a national monument. many overlanders travelling through colombia stay at the hostal renacer, which offers camping and a nice atmosphere to relax. it is a bit outside the village up the hill and offers good views over the valley in which villa de leyva is located. i pitched my tent and enjoyed having a kitchen at my disposal for once, which makes things considerably easier. the next day, i first met fernando from argentina, then iker from the basque country and then victoire from france, and the four of us spent a good while together exploring the surroundings and having a good time in the evenings.

fernando and iker rented bicycles and we went for a ride to the paso del angel. the description of a walkway in between two canyons sounded really inviting. it was a nice ride out of town, slightly climbing towards santa sofia. shortly after that village, the road dropped steeply and we were already wondering if the views would be that much better from the bottom of the valley. well, we never found out. the axle of iker´s bicycle broke and the frame was bent. nothing we could fix on the road. we decided that the ride was wonderful as it was and we wouldn´t have to reach the walkway to call it a good day. so we walked back to santa sofia, where the two were taking the bus, and as there was hardly enough space for their bicycles, i set out on my own on the way back.

here´s the great crew on one of the evenings.

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just behind the guesthouse starts a trek up the hill to some viewpoints. it is only a little hike about half an hour, but the views over the valley were already good.

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…and once more with the four of us.

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on the last night together, we decided to make use of the wood fired oven of the guesthouse, an opportunity too good to pass. it took about three hours to heat up that stubborn oven and sometime we lost all hope to get the pizza done that night. but with patience, playing music together,

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and sufficient wine to pass the time, we finally got there that it was time to put the pizza in the oven.

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by that time it had already melted with the carton we put it on, and it was anything but an easy task to maintain some sort of a pizza like shape while shifting it from the carton into the oven. despite its wrinkled appearance, it was the best pizza i had in years and also one of the best evenings in colombia.

after a rather short night´s sleep, i went to the bus terminal to say goodbye. it would have been a really sad day, but luckily it was also the day that felipe arrived in villa de leyva and i was meeting him an hour later at the central plaza. with him was his mother and his father, so spanish went on to be the language of choice. the little plastic bag he put on the table didn´t do justice to the importance of its contents. the shift-lever and a camera, so this place here will get some more photos, though the time without camera wasn´t bad and thanks to other people, i could still get some photos uploaded.

the next day we went to the house of felipe´s mother and had a look around the garden. find of the day was the lulo fruit. i don´t know how many new fruit i tasted for the first time while travelling, but it is good to see that there seems to be plenty more to discover.

i followed the world cup in brasil while travelling, though i watched mostly only the second half of a game, when i stopped for a break. on a sunday here in villa de leyva, i took the time to watch the final together with felipe and a dozen other colombians in a small café in town.

after a week, it was finally time to move on. with a wonderful week behind me, i set out excited by what was to come.

 

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norte de santander

July 18th, 2014 · No Comments

stopping in mompos for a rest day, i soon moved on as the heat was too much, even for just relaxing in the shade. i followed the rio magdalena for a while, before i took a turn off to ocaña and the start of the andes. it was a heavy and rocky climb to the lovely little town of el carmen. after i pushed the bicycle up the steep streets, cozy old houses with terraces in between, which offered great views over the valley, were the reward. on the look-out for a place to sleep i was directed to the tienda of chepe.

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the room turned out to be rather a house with a courtyard and one of the mentioned terraces just in front of the door. i stayed an extra day, just content to be in the mountains, away from the big streets and the heat of the lowlands. i also made a promise to two chicos with guitars, whom i met the previous day when i entered the pueblo. i had played a couple of songs and one of them then wanted me to teach him one of these. so we met the next morning and got to work.

here´s the goodbye the next morning with chepe and his family…

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who made me feel so welcome.

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after ocaña i made a side trip to playa de belen, where a unique geological site can be visited. sometime after the turn-off, a car stopped next to me and i was invited by willy and his family to stay over at their finca.

first i visited ¨los estoraques¨, a place which reminded me on cappadocia in turkey. still partly privat owned, the park offers no tours through the entire area, at least not by any official guide. but i met rene, a local guy who knows the area very well and would like to work there, once the dispute is settled between the government and land owners. he offered me a tour and, as he was interested in study options abroad, i guess we both learned something that afternoon. later at the finca, food was served the minute i arrived. we then took a walk through the surrounding hills before i pitched my tent in the garden. the next morning started with an extensive breakfast and a photoshoot.

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here with darlington who works at an environmental organisation and we spent quite some time talking about his work and related topics.

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it is every time amazing what can happen, once you leave the busy streets and head to the inner country, with its small villages and wonderful people. it just takes longer to make progress concerning kilometers. but these meetings and experiences are just too good to compromise.

there was no day without a substantial climb or downhill part. from el tarra at the bottom of a valley i first had to climb half of the day and was a little annoyed at my otherwise fine map, as the distance shown was off by fifty kilometers. luckily fifty kilometers of almost uninterrupted downhill to sardinata. from then on my way lead mostly on dirt roads up and down the mountains. in salazar i met nacho as i was just about to enter a hospedaje, and he invited me to stay at his house.  the following day we went to some waterfalls, hidden between stony cliffs, and spent a good while on his balcony in the evening, enjoying good food and music blasting from the stereo. after cucutilla another climb brought me back to the main road close to pamplona, where i watched the soccer game of columbia and brasil.

the climbing continued towards presidente, but then my break lever broke and despite some attemps to fix it, it wouldn´t work anymore. i had received news that a friend of mine would visit his family in colombia from europe and so i sent him an e-mail, asking him to bring that part over for me. the next day i set out with two gears left, as i could only shift between the two chainrings in the front. it wasn´t half as bad as i imagined and i could continue to enjoy this wonderful part of the country and only changed my plans slightly. after some more climbing i reached the páramo, a very unique landscape between tree line and snow line, typical for the northern andes region. one flower, the frailejón, is dominating in this region and it looks just a little different from any place i visited so far. over 3500 meters in altitude, for the first time i was aware i had to buy some gloves and warmer cloth to cycle. i postponed that after dropping 2000 meters into the cañon de chicamocha, where things were considerable hotter. on the photos on wikipedia, you can see how the road winds its way up and down the mountain sides. it took me an afternoon and the next morning to climb from the bottom of the canyon to the pass. but with such a scenery, it is easy to forget about a little hardship. a night´s stay in belen and a downhill to duitama ends this adventure. from then on, it was mostly flat and the roads rather busy towards villa de leyva, where i will have some rest days, as i only had four in the last month. i will meet felipe, the friend i was visiting in paris after the last trip coming from new zealand, and get that shift-lever on the bicycle fixed.

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cartagena y copa del mundo

July 8th, 2014 · No Comments

it started to rain once we entered the bay of cartagena. it was refreshing and we felt like true sailors holding on to the ropes while facing the wind and the rain. one of the first things i did, once we reached land, was to get rid of the effect the saltwater had on the bicycle. after cycling into town and checking in at the tortuga hostel, i went for a walk around the old town with a girl from buenos aires. the historic center with its restored colonial houses and balconies make for a nice setting, as is the old city wall especially during sunset. i stayed four days to get a feel for the new country, its food, its currency, the heat and the idea of starting a new chapter in a new continent. meeting again with paul the next day called for a round of drinks. i still had a bottle of flor de caña rum with me that survived the crossing, and we met at paul´s hostel with paola from mexico and anna from cali to see to it that i don´t have to lug that thing around any longer. next door was an ice factory which helped to keep the drinks cooled and we spent a lovely evening without being troubled by seasickness or fatigue by a long day´s ride. cartagena is one of these places you can lose track of time and easily wile away several weeks. but the andes were waiting and so we set out, at least the first two days riding together as we had different plans for the following weeks. on the second day we watched the first match of the equipo de colombia against greece.

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no sooner was the game over than thousands of people took to their motos and a convoy in the predominant colour yellow was rushing by.

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this was going on for far too long for it to wait to end and so we continued. soon we were encircled in that same convoy as it returned to town, dodging flags and counter the occasional hit on the handlebars. once we arrived in the town of el carmen de bolivar our ways parted another time as paul wanted to get to medellin and make some progress south, while i was tempted by a route through norte de santander and boyaca.

since the camera is gone, there is still a lack of photos on the blog. but sometimes i can put the photos from other people here, like this time from paul. you can follow his journey on his well written blog and look at some stunning photos from his trip from the very north of alaska here.

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san blas islands

July 8th, 2014 · No Comments

we met with the captain, fabian, the day before our departure and several things were discussed like safety at sea and how toilets on sailing ships work. we met the next day in the evening and brought our bags over to the ship before dinner. the bicycle was tied to the railings and was dangling rather adventurously over the water. but carmelo, the ayudante and cook on the ship, tied it with a thick rope on frame and wheels and my mind was put at ease. it took a little longer to get out of the harbour and we could get some sleep while still in calm waters. the rocking and rolling started early the next morning and i wasn´t feeling too well when i got up and skipped breakfast and was just nibbling on some dry toast. throughout the day i felt tired and spent most of the time lying around until we reached the first of the san blas islands. little dots of sand with only some palm trees and huts on them, they make for a beautiful stop-over to cartagena. surrounded by coral reefs, half of its beauty lies under water which we thoroughly explored. here’s a shot of the group.

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snorkeling made half of the day´s activity, which stayed interesting, as we maneuvered each day to another island where wrecks of an old freighter and also of a sailing ship, that was set against the reef by a drunk captain, were lying just meters below the surface. the last day in san blas was spent on an island with only a bar and a soccer field on it. after dinner we set sail for cartagena. there was nothing much happening during the fifty hours of the crossing. one highlight was when ayudante carmelo caught this fish.

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like in australia, i broke with being a vegetarian as there was plenty of fish to eat. but had no trouble returning to it, once i set foot on colombian soil.

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panama

June 28th, 2014 · No Comments

it was quiet a hilly introduction to panama and i was camping somewhere on top of these hills between changuinola and almirante before taking a boat towards bocas del toro on the island of colon the next day. there were dark clouds over the island and once we arrived, it had started to rain heavily. i put on the raingear for a short distance to a hostal that offered camping and spent three days mostly lying in the hammock and reading. the hostel had a nice wooden tower with view of the ocean and a nice breeze coming through that was missing five meters below. refreshed i continued over the hills between the caribbean side and pacific coast through the reserva forestal de fortuna. the downhill after a night spent camping in the hills was fantastic and i was in such a good mood that i took a wrong turn and was just to lazy to stop and ask for directions as i slowly made my way towards boquete, which is rather the opposite direction that i wanted to take. but the road was inviting and sometimes you just want to get lost. just before nightfall a guy in car stopped and offered a place to crash at his finca. once he toured europe on a bike himself before he was sent to panama with a job and settled there. growing up in germany, he still knew a little german, and so we communicated in a mix of german and english mostly, with the odd spanish word thrown in. i was thinking about a patch of gras to pitch my tent, but in the end found myself in a guesthouse with a swimming pool in front which was just heavenly after a long day in the saddle.

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retracing my steps the next morning, i soon found myself on the panamericana. there are hardly alternatives towards panama city if one wants to make progress. for the most part it was rather dull but as i still wasn´t sure how i wanted to get to south america, this gave me some time to think this over. spending a rest day at santa clara beach my camera was stolen. just returning from the internet café, i forgot to put it in my tent and left it outside. to make things worse, i had just put my sd cards with all the fotos in the camera bag before i left the café. a thing i did for the first time during this trip. bad timing. i met an argentinan couple who stayed with some fishermen next door, and we had a delicious dinner made in the kitchen shack directly at the beach. i had already encountered the marañon fruit in guatemala which consists of two parts. the cashew apple and the nut. as we met again for breakfast the kitchen was shrouded as the two were roasting cashew nuts they had collected the day before. one has just to get rid of the charred shell and is presented with this most delicious nut.

i did not cycle into panama city and just took the amador causeway after the bridge of the americas to enjoy a view from afar. this causeway was erected in between islands with the construction waste of the panama canal. there are a couple of las vegas style hotels which are closed and slowly falling apart and today the causeway is mainly used by cyclist to go for a spin close to the city. stopping for a coffee, i had a great view over the skyline. cycling back, i left the city to my right and followed more or less the panama canal railway towards the san pedro locks and was watching a freighter making its way slowly through them. the road continued to the national park soberania where i found shelter from heavy rain at the park entrance. the weather wasn´t inviting to explore the area although the scenery looked amazing. at least i got a glimpse of the park on a wonderful road through the densest rainforest i have seen so far. plants seemed to be growing out of each other, the trees were ladden with other plants and there was hardly any sun reaching the floor, which seemed to be a neverdrying mix of fertile earth, decaying wood and leafs. i reached portobelo the next day for lunch before making my way to puerto lindo, from where the boat would be laeving to cartagena in colombia. by then i had decided to go with a sailing ship through the san blas islands. which is a bit more expensive, but with food included, no charge for the bicycle and some days in this carribean islands seemed to be a good way to get to south america. in puerto lindo i visited sandra and bert whom i had met at the spanish school in xela and who are now proud owners of the bambu guesthouse. it was a warm welcome and later they invited me to stay in one of the rooms. the terrace and bar have a beautiful view over the bay and their garden bordering the forest made for welcome visitors such as tucans, hummingbirds and different types of monkeys.

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costa rica

June 27th, 2014 · No Comments

the sleeping outdoors on a deck chair was a great experience. once in san carlos we had some time to kill until the boat would leave to los chiles in costa rica. the first boat in the morning left without us because some guy in army suit thought that four loaded touring bikes would sink the boat. we spend the time until the afternoon running around town, discussing options, which included entering costa illegaly at a not yet finished border crossing over land, and talking to the port authorities and finally our persistence paid off and we were allowed on the boat in the afternoon. we stopped at the border at some grim looking soldiers which made us glad that we did not opt for the illegal entry and soon after arrived in los chiles. there was a lot of talk amongst travellers in nicaragua that you would need a flight out of costa rica to receive a stamp as well as a yellow fever vaccination. in the end none of that was needed and instead of any demand, a smile and good wishes for the road were offered. we shared a room and thus had an affordable place to sleep despite the sharp increase in cost since leaving nicaragua. paul and i waved goodbye to tina and ben the next day as they wanted to take it slower, but maybe we will see each other on the roads of south america.

the road led over rolling hills with hardly any traffic. soon i also parted with paul as he wanted to take the quicker route along the pacific while i decided to investigate the carribean coast. as we shook hands the dark clouds had already gathered around us and soon i was riding through pouring rain. soon i stopped as the sight with rivers and waterfalls over my eyes wasn´t the best and read a book for a while sheltered in a bus station. the rain continued the whole night and i just made a rush to reach the next town where the owner of an internet cafe refused to let me use one of the computers while water was still dripping from every part of my body. inquiring about accommodation  the outlook to pay a little more than ten dollars for a dry place to sleep didn´t seem too bad anymore. the next day´s ride to san miguel began with a nice downhill until i hit the main road with heavy traffic to and from puerto limon. about halfway there i met a swiss and german cyclist on the last leg ot their tour through south and central america as they were returning to the port where they would take a ship leaving towards hamburg after two years on the road. after puerto limon came a welcome change as the road became quiet towards puerto viejo, a place mainly caitering for backpackers. on the next day i visited the refugio nacional gandoca-manzanillo where the rainforest borders directly on the coast.

 

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some howlwer monkeys, sadly almost no birds and rather small animals and insects like this spider, into whose net i almost ran, could be seen.

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after a ¨shortcut¨ through some hills on very rocky roads, i cycled the last kilometers towards the border with panama.

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the old railway bridge serves as border crossing where no cars are allowed which is the reason for the low traffic towards the border. although there is nowadays a bridge next to it over which some trucks are allowed to pass. it was a rather quick spin through costa rica. one reason was the increase of the prices, another that interesting places like national parks are mostly reachable but not explorable by bicycle and finally that after some months in central america i was longing to reach south america and the andes.

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granada y isla ometepe

June 20th, 2014 · No Comments

we arrived in granada rather late. we went out for dinner with a girl from corn island who made for quite some contrast to a couple of tired cyclist with her lively manner. the next day was spent with only little time in the saddle. since i couldn’t be bothered to explore the town on foot, i cycled through the center for a while and then stopped in the central park where a band was playing and people dancing.

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i cycled around a bit more to find a place to change money and some lunch while i was passing a church every 5 minutes.

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the following day we left granada on a boat bound for ometepe.

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we arrived sometime after dark and had a somewhat amusing ride from the dock into town over a sandy and rocky road. ometepe sure had an island feeling to it. everything is a bit downscaled and laid back. we had heard about a good place to camp on the other side of the island and started after a good and complementary breakfast the next morning. around midday we stopped at ojo de agua, a natural swimming pool that is part of a finca. it was a good place to spend the hottest time of the day, lie in a hammock and to go for a swim every now and then. when we were about to leave, we met tina and ben, a cycling couple from australia and germany. after some initial exchange of greetings we started cycling towards balgue for lunch and made loose plans on meeting again at the finca magdalena, the place where we planned on camping, the next day. we camped on a wooden platform which was something like a huge balcony with a great view over the lake and one of the two volcanos which formed the island.

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we chilled throughout the day until tina and ben arrived with their bikes and after they had a look around decided to move in as well. to avoid the panamerican we all decided on continuing by boat to the other end of lago nicaragua to san carlos over night to cross into costa rica from there on a another boat.

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león y volcan telica

May 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

the first city we stayed at was leon. famous for its colonial architecture like the cathedral.

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at night a couple of food vendors set up their stalls just behind the building and sold delicious plates with grilled cheese and vegetables.we stayed at the sonati hostel where we met toby and formed the plan to hike up the telica volcano and camp there for the night. we went by ourselves and got a self-drawn map from a guy from Algeria, who did the trip a couple of days earlier and who was also kind enough to lend me his backpack. we took a bus to the closest little village and hiked up in the afternoon. luckily we met some people working on the surrounding fields as the map proofed anything but a reliable guide. and without going astray too many times we arrived early enough to have a look around the crater before sunset.

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we had heard, but only half believed it at the time, that there are people selling cold beer up here. but it proofed to be true as we saw this guy with his bright red cooling box, which we could see several hundred meters away, coming to intercept us as we walked along the ridge of the old crater towards the now active one. the people are from a cooperativa which help keeping things organized in the area. they keep an eye on people clearing the woodlands for their fields, helping to keep up the order in case of an emergency as when there is a warning about rising activity of the volcano and people are asked to evacuate the dwellings closest to the volcano. so even if it is not their private property where we pitched our tents on a meadow below the crater, we agreed to pay two dollars each. after dinner we made a photoshooting with the illuminated tents…

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…and climbed up to the crater once more to have a better look at the red lava pools. no photos were do it justice. and it is just half as exciting without the sound. that reminded me on the time in indonesia and the volcan bromo, which besides the sound made itself noticeable through the shaking earth beneath ones feet while appoaching the crater. here’s another shot of the volcano with toby just after we arrived…

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… and the crater after sunset.

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we all slept just a little and when we got out of our tents, some horses were grazing nearby, as we made our way towards the crater one last time for sunrise.

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on the next day we packed and started on the long ride to granada.

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from where we will take the ferry to isla ometepe.

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honduras

May 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

it was a short ride to the border with Honduras where we met some truck drivers while stopping for lunch. it was a sunday and the majority was already waiting since Friday evening for the banks to open again on monday as they have to pay taxes and in between Friday afternoon and monday morning no border crossing is possible for them. thus the travel time is easily adding up and some drivers are on the road for two weeks or more if they have more than one border to cross before they reach their destination. for us the border crossing went smoothly and also a short ride through the country. paul was a bit in a hurry to ariive in panama in time to reach a boat taking him to Colombia and we crossed the country at its narrowest point. it’s also the hottest part of the country and the hottest time during the year just before the start of the rainy season when we cycled through it. at noon we were glad to find a fruit stall which made this ridiculously big fruit platters; just the right size for us.

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the breakfast the next morning was another nice surprise. it consisted of baleadas, typical honduran street food, and they had delicious pancakes to complete the meal. we only stayed a night in Honduras and then made our way to the border with Nicaragua.

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the el salvadorian cyclist

May 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

once in zacatecoluca i met paul, a cyclist from england who started his tour in Alaska. we were going in the same direction and thus started after a hearty breakfast towards Honduras. it was a long day of cycling and still there was one more climb ahead of us towards the coast. a pick-up truck passed us and a guy presented himself together with an invitation to camp at his place. josé cycled from canada, where he lived in quebec for several years, back to his native el salvador on his rather odd bicycle and is known to fish tired cyclist off the road an invite them to stay at his house. we arrived at his village on the brink of a holiday and paid a short visit to the feria to get a bite to eat, but before we had our proper dinner we had to help him visit some farmers in the surrounding villages, from whom he buys corn, and helped him to load the bags on the truck after they were weighed. but the following pupusa dinner left everybody happy.

from his time of hosting cyclist josé has quite some stories to tell and it was a very pleasant and entertaining time we spent with him. in the morning we took a goodbye foto…

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… and wrote in his guestbook which was already full of lovely comments.

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