Animal Photo Safari

Just for fun, let’s go on an animal photo safari with some of my favorite animal photos from my journeys around the world. I’m a huge animal-lover and always love to see animals when I’m traveling. I don’t go to zoos anymore, and am not going to get into that controversial subject, but suffice to say almost all of the animals here were photographed in their natural habitats. While I have never been on a “big game” tour in Africa, I have been lucky enough to see a range of beautiful creatures.

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I saw this colorful peacock on my second visit to Hawaii on the island of Kauai
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My daughter feeding ostriches in Aruba
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These beautiful flamingos were in Canada of all places (obviously not native, but some of the most colorful flamingos I’ve seen anywhere)
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There were tons of deer on a hike in Austria
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I was thrilled to actually capture this Cayman Parrot in a photo in Grand Cayman Island
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Famous seals and sea lions in La Jolla near San Diego, California
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Do you know there are more sheep than people in New Zealand?
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This friendly little fox followed us around a national park in Chile
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Sea lions in San Francisco because I love both the city and the animal
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These baby owls in Charleston, South Carolina were the cutest little things!
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We saw this alligator on an air boat tour in the Everglades in Florida
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We spotted this moose on our first day in Alaska and never saw another moose on our trip after that!
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Some of the grizzly bears we saw in Denali National Park in Alaska
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Blue iguana, an endangered species, in Grand Cayman Island

Of all of these animals, I think the fox in Chile has to be the most memorable to me. When we first saw the fox, we were naturally a bit nervous because we didn’t know what the animal would do or how it would react to us. Once we saw it was just curious and began to follow us around at a distance, we began to relax a bit (but still always kept an eye on it). I’ve never had an experience like this before with a fox and have no idea if foxes are normally like this or not. The animal was beautiful and to see it with the backdrop of the Andes Mountains was something I will never forget.

What are some of your most memorable experiences with wildlife? Does any one stand out more than others?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

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Beach Photos From Around the World

I grew up in land-locked West Virginia and while it’s a beautiful state full of mountains, as an adult I’ve found I much prefer ocean and beach settings. If I can have mountains to hike in with views of the ocean, then that’s just about perfect to me. I’ve spent my fair share of time at beaches since I started traveling as an adult. In fact, the first international vacation I went on was to the Bahamas when I was in college.

Given the fact that I’m completely over winter and ready to move on to warmer, sunnier weather, I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite beach spots and of course include photos. We’ll take a little photo journey around the world, in no particular order, although I may have to divulge some of my favorites at the end.

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I even got married at the beach! St. Kitts in the Caribbean to be exact
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Agaete at dusk in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
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Sunset Cliffs in San Diego, California, one of my favorite places in the world
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Don’t you just love her enthusiasm? Taken in Naples, Florida
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Nearly deserted black sandy beach at Mount Maunganui in New Zealand
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Coronado Beach in the San Diego, California area during the winter
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Crete, Greece- the water was so clear and beautiful
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Black sand rocky beach in Tenerife, Spain just before a storm blew in
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One of my favorite beaches in Malta
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Black sand, rocky beach in Hawaii
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Powdery soft white sand dune in Charleston, South Carolina
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Quintessential Aruba photo
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World-famous Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman Island with the softest sand I’ve ever felt

I alluded at the beginning to listing some of my favorites but it’s funny because photos are really art, which taken as a whole are not only subjective to the eye of the beholder but also the context. For example, a person’s travel experiences are influenced by things such as who they’re with, what stage in life they’re at, how they were treated by the locals and other travelers, and even the weather. I may look at a photo and it brings back happy memories while someone else may see the same photo and just see the landscape and/or people in the photo without any context of what was going on when the photo was taken.

So what are my favorite photos here? I’m not going to take the easy way out and say I could never choose because they’re all my favorites. I really like the stormy photo taken at the beach in Tenerife, Spain because I love how I was able to capture that moment just before a huge storm blew in. I also love the photo of the beach in Malta because of the different hues of blue in the water and the rocky protrusion, so I’ll narrow it down to those two photos for my favorites here.

What about you guys- do you like black sandy beaches, powder-white, or the more traditional tan/beige the best? Rocky beaches or sandy beaches? What are some of your favorite beaches?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Street Art Around the World

I was inspired by a similar post by Peter and Dona on the blog, “Living the Q Life,” which you can see here. I think there’s a difference between graffiti and street art, but I’m not exactly sure what defines art and graffiti, other than some obvious differences. If someone just paints their name or someone else’s name on a bridge, that’s definitely graffiti. On the other hand, if the painting is clearly meant to be something more than just a scribbling I think it falls more into the street art category. Of course art is one of the most subjective forms of expression there is. One person may love a drawing while another person thinks it looks atrocious and if it’s on a public building, some may find that inappropriate.

I’ll leave you with some of the best photos of street art I’ve taken around the world.

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Freak Alley in Boise, Idaho
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Freak Alley in Boise, Idaho
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Tenerife, Spain
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Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain
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Pichilemu, Chile
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Knoxville, Tennessee
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Valparaíso, Chile
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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North Island, New Zealand

Even though I looked through every photo I have ever downloaded to Google photos, I couldn’t find a single one of what I would call graffiti. I guess that should tell you what I think of graffiti versus street art!

What about you guys? Do you like graffiti? Do you like street art?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

15 Lessons Learned by an American in Chile

After a recent vacation to central Chile, I can honestly say this place was more of a challenge to me than anywhere else I’ve been. I think the biggest surprise was how few people in Chile speak any English. I’ve been to many places where the people speak a little English (i.e.. Costa Rica, Germany, Greece, Italy, etc.), and with that particular language I had attempted to learn before going to those places, it has not been a problem communicating.

Chile was the first time I’ve been to entire towns where no one (at least that I encountered) spoke English, not even at places advertised as tourist information places. While I don’t claim to be an expert on Chile, I learned many things during my two week vacation there and I’d like to share a few with you so that you can hopefully learn from my mistakes.

1. Learn as much Spanish as you possibly can beforehand. Use Duolingo. Use other apps. Listen to Spanish audio books. Do whatever you can to learn all you can before going to Chile. You will need all the help you can get.

2. When speaking Spanish with Chileans, keep it as simple as possible. The less words you have to use, the better. Also, ask the person you’re speaking with to use fewer words if possible.

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We encountered this little beauty at a national park.

3. Buy a hotspot for internet (also called MiFi). Wi-Fi is spotty at best even in some of the bigger cities. We did not buy a hotspot before we went to Chile and had to go a week with basically no internet. I’m considering renting one from xcomglobal for our next international vacation. If you have experience with them, or with another international mobile hotspot company, I’d love to hear about it.

4. There are no guarantees when it comes to public Wi-Fi. One place where we were staying was supposed to have Wi-Fi but it was down the week we were there. We went to a few restaurants and cafes that claimed to have Wi-Fi for customers only to find out the internet was down and would be down for several days at least.

5. Download Google maps of areas where you will be spending time onto your phone before even leaving for Chile so you will have offline access even with no internet.

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6. Find places to visit and things to do before leaving for Chile and print them out. Don’t wait until you get there thinking you’ll figure it out once you get there.

7. Don’t assume your credit card will always work. We tried to pay for lunch once with a credit card we had been using for well over a week with no problems only to be told the transaction couldn’t go through because of problems with the internet.

8. Make sure your credit card is chip-embedded or it won’t work well in Chile. Our debit card did not have a chip and didn’t work anywhere except banks.

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9. Make sure you always have cash on you. There are many toll roads in Chile that only take cash. You also need to be prepared to pay with cash in case your credit card doesn’t work (see number 7).

10. Most roads are in good condition and are paved but there are of course exceptions.

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Horse-drawn carts are still commonly used in small towns in Chile

11. Driving a rental car is your best option when venturing outside heavily populated areas but in Santiago taking the metro is your best option; in fact, driving in Santiago is not recommended.

12. Drivers in Chile are aggressive. Be prepared to drive above the posted speed limit to keep with the flow of traffic on highways, and don’t drive in the left lane unless you are passing. In small towns, however, stay within the speed limit as it is sometimes checked by policemen with radar (we saw this a few times in various cities).

13. Make sure you have plenty of gas when traveling to a new area. You may drive for hours with no gas station in sight (as we did going from Santiago to Vina del Mar).

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Lunch with a view over Valparaiso

14. Bring a converter and transformer (both) to safely plug in electronics.

15. The people in Chile are some of the most patient and kind people I’ve met. If you are trying to speak Spanish and follow their rules they will appreciate it more.

I hope you have been following along with me for some or all of my posts about Chile. This vacation was certainly an adventure but one I very much enjoyed. I would love to hear any and all comments!

Day Trip to Pichilemu, Chile

Pichilemu is on the western coast of Chile, about a 3 hour drive from Santiago, in the O’Higgins Region. We decided to take a day trip here from Las Cabras, just under a 2 hour drive. The drive here is scenic so the time goes by quickly.

In addition to beaches, this area is famous for Central Cultural Agustín Ross. This historic area created by diplomat Agustín Ross Edwards dates back to the late 1800’s and includes a park, former casino,hotel, and restaurant. The park overlooks the beach “Playa Principal” and is a nice place to sit on a bench to take a break.

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Bosque Municipal is a forest right across the road from Agustín Park and has many palm and pine trees along with other varieties of trees. It is a nice respite from the heat and is a quiet place to enjoy nature for a walk.

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Other beaches in the area include Playa Las Terraza, Playa Hermosa, Playa Las Caletilla, and Playa Infiernillo. La Puntilla, the tip of Playa Las Terraza, is considered one of the best spots in Pichilemu for surfing. Punta de Lobos beach is an even more popular surfing area and is considered the surfing capital of Chile. The waves here are between 1 to 9 meters high, and are best between September to May.

There are numerous surf schools, many of which look like shacks put together solely with plywood and a piece of metal for the roof. You can also kitesurf, windsurf, and bodyguard. Fishing is a staple trade in this area and you’ll see many fishing boats and fresh fish stalls.

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You can find many restaurants, cafes, and kiosks selling everything from ice cream to empanadas to plastic shovels and pails for the beach. We also passed a few hostels in town. Cabañas seem to be plentiful in the area as well so it appears there would be no shortage of places to stay for a vacation here.

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This is definitely a beach town so unless you’re here during the summer months of December, January, or February, you’re going to find a sleepy town. Still, it’s a fun day-trip even in the off-season. However, during the summer, you’ll have more options like bike and kayak rentals, hiking, and camping tours, and other outdoor activities.

Since we were here in late May during the off season, it was quiet and some of the kiosks were closed. However, we still found plenty that were open and had no problem finding a stand selling hot and fresh empanadas, which we hungrily devoured. Later in the day we bought bread and ham to make sandwiches and dessert from a bakery. We enjoyed our food while sitting on a small cliff over-looking the ocean. It was a nice way to end our day in Pichilemu. After all, a beautiful beach is still a beautiful beach no matter what time of year it is.

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Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva (National Park in Chile)

The Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva is in the Bernardo O’Higgins region but good luck finding it on your own unless you’re from the region! You will be unable to find directions using Google maps. The best you can do is what we did, find the closest town and hope you see signs from there. We drove to Coya and from there you can easily follow the signs to the park. Fortunately for us, the signs for the park are well-marked and plentiful so once we found the first sign, we had no problems getting to the entrance. There was a tourism office in Coya but no one was there when we tried.

Admission to the park is $5000 Chilean pesos, or about $7.50 US for adults and $2500 Chilean pesos per child, valid for one day. There are six trails, from the best I can tell. A portion of the main access road through the park was closed (no idea why) the day we visited so we couldn’t get to some of the trails but we went on all  of the ones we could access.

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Trail is “sendero” in Spanish. We went on Sendero La Hacienda, Sendero Las Arpas, Sendero Los Tricahues, and Sendero Los Puemos, but Sendero Puente La Leona was closed. All of the trails have a unique aspect to them from one another. There is a waterfall along the Sendero Los Puemos, Sendero Los Tricahues has an almost fairytale like feeling, and Sendero Las Arpas has what seemed like a resident fox that followed us around the trail curiously watching us, but was truly the most friendly fox I’ve ever seen. It must be used to seeing people, some of which probably feed it.

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All along the park, we had views of the Andes Mountains towering above grandly. There are also picnic areas so you can have lunch with views of the mountains, which makes for one scenic lunch. Although they didn’t appear to be open when we were there, there are camping areas available. In addition to the friendly fox, there are pumas in the area. We never saw one, but there was the pungent odor of cat urine by one of the water crossings, which could have been from a puma. We also came across a very large wooden crate that looked like one used for capture and release. I probably don’t want to know what that was used for. There are also many types of birds, trees, and flowers native to the area.

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Translation: I do not love man less, but nature more. Quote by Lord Byron.

There’s a funny story that happened to us. We were on our last trail for the day, Sendero La Hacienda, and saw hoof prints again. We had seen them on other trails and had followed them when in doubt of where to go if the trail became not so well marked, thinking they were from horses with riders. Then my daughter said, “Hey, there are actually other people on this trail too!” We hadn’t seen a soul on any of the previous trails we had been on all day. As we got closer, she realized what she had thought were people were cows. We also realized what we had thought were horse hoof prints had really been cow hoof prints. No wonder we got pretty far off the trail at times!

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We didn’t expect to see cows at this national park!

Although this park isn’t the easiest to get to, I highly recommend spending a day here. Parking is pretty scarce, so it would be best if you arrive relatively early to make sure you can find a parking spot. Also, there is a place that advertised having food right by the administration office, but it didn’t look like it was open when we were there. We always like to pack a picnic lunch when we go on all-day hikes, so it wasn’t a problem for us. You should also bring sunscreen and plenty of water. There are bathrooms along several areas in the park. They close just before sunset so if you arrive in the morning you’ll have plenty of time to go on all of the trails (or at least most of them) and have a nice picnic lunch.

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More details on the trails:

Sendero La Hacienda is 5000 meters, highly difficult, is about 1 kilometer from the administration building, and takes approximately 1 ½ hours.

Sendero Las Arpas is 1000 meters, easy, approximately 3 kilometers from the administration building, and takes approximately 30 minutes.

Sendero Los Tricahues is 200 meters, minimally difficult, approximately 5. 5 meters from the administration building, and takes approximately 20 minutes.

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Sendero Los Tricahues

Sendero Los Puemos is 1700 meters, is medium in difficulty, approximately 6 kilometers from the administration building, and takes approximately 45 minutes.

Caminata a Maltenes is 6000 meters, is highly difficult, approximately 6 kilometers from the administration building, and takes approximately 2 hours.

Sendero Puente La Leona is 7000 meters, is highly difficult, and takes approximately 3 hours.

Find (slightly) more information here. And the official site (in Spanish) here.

Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region, Chile- A Test of Resilience

When we drove into Las Cabras in the O’Higgins region from Vina del Mar  and went to check in at the small resort where we were staying, we felt like we were in an episode from ‘The Twilight Zone.” Although we were staying in a golf resort area, there was no front desk, no reception area, no one to greet us and give us our key. The people at the front gate noted our names on a sheet of paper they had, so we were pretty sure we were at least in the right place.

After driving around the property and finding condos and houses, we stopped at the only thing resembling a building for check-in. We later found out that was where golfers check in before they play a round of golf. The woman working there spoke no English but with our limited Spanish we were able to get her to call someone else who spoke a small amount of English. This man arrived in a few minutes and was very kind and helpful. He got us in touch with the woman I can only assume is responsible for checking in guests in at the resort, and thankfully she spoke some English. Her name was Claudia.

Claudia handed us a folder containing the resort rules (all in Spanish), and said “Make yourselves at home. Treat this place as if it was your home.” With that, she handed us the keys to the apartment, wrote down her phone number (although we had no cell phone coverage in Chile, and we had told her that), and she left. Claudia told us while there was no Wi-Fi in the condos, there was Wi-Fi in the restaurant for the property, which was just across the street from the front gate. No big deal. When we recently stayed at one of the hotels in the Grand Canyon , it was the same thing and we would just check emails and get maps, etc. when we were at the restaurant there.

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View from a hilltop in our resort

After getting settled in, we drove to the restaurant and were told there was no Wi-Fi at the restaurant or anywhere in town for that matter, for the next three days (or at least that’s how we interpreted it since the person at the restaurant spoke no English). WHAT? No Wi-Fi for three days?! We hadn’t planned ahead very well and hadn’t downloaded maps for the area or things to do.

We drove into town, searching for cafes or restaurants that had signs for Wi-Fi, gave up, and went to a few different mini-markets (we found they were all different inside even many of them looked similar from the outside), bought groceries, went back to the condo, made dinner, then relaxed for the rest of the evening. It looked like we would be spending the next few days off-line.

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Using my tablet in off-line mode in our sunroom overlooking the pool area

The next day, we decided to go back to the restaurant at the resort for an exorbitantly over-priced lunch, where we were told again that there was no Wi-Fi, and decided to go to plan b. We drove to the biggest town we could find, which was about 25 minutes away, walked around, again looking for Wi-Fi. None of the few cafes and restaurants that were even open had Wi-Fi.

Resorting to just trying to find an open hotspot, we kept searching. Finally! We found a signal that didn’t require a password. It just happened to be by a bench, so we sat down and downloaded maps of a national park where we could hike, some wineries, and of the area in general. We checked email and replied to the ones that we could.

After leaving this town, we decided it was so late in the afternoon pretty much all we had time to do was go to a winery. We went to MontGras, a “new winery, at only 22 years old,” in the words of our tasting guide. The grounds were lovely and it was a beautiful day out. From the comfort of a sitting area in the open-air patio, we had a tasting of 3 wines and appetizers to accompany the wines. First we had a Chardonnay from their Amaral line that was easily one of the best Chardonnays I’ve ever had and some cheese on a cracker with a touch of palm honey to begin. Next we had a Carmenere from their Intriga line that reminded me of Zinfandels (please don’t mistake me to mean White Zinfandels, which are nothing like red Zins) from California, paired with chorizo. Finally we had a Syrah from their Antu line paired with date and ham.

Our guide was very informative, gave us much history and information about the winery and different varieties of wines, and spoke perfect English. We bought a bottle of Carmenere using the 30% discount we were given for doing the tasting. Our tasting guide even gave us a bottle opener with the MontGras label on it for free when we mentioned we didn’t have a bottle opener in our condo where we were staying. We figured we’d take a chance coming back to the States and hoped it wouldn’t get confiscated (spoiler- it didn’t so we have a nice souvenir now!).

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This was only the beginning of our week-long adventure in Las Cabras. The restaurant at our resort never did have Wi-Fi available while we were there. We learned there was a problem in the entire town with the internet that week. We only had Wi-Fi for about 30 minutes twice that week plus the roughly 10 minutes where we found the open spot, but each time we were relying on other people’s mobile phone hotspots. Twice at restaurants we were allowed to use data from the phones of extremely generous people working there when we inquired about Wi-Fi.

Other than going with almost no internet access for a week, we learned to be resilient in other ways during this week. In stores and restaurants no one spoke English so it was up to us to figure things out. How my husband figured out directions and how to get us to some of the places we went to is beyond me but I’m forever grateful. As a family we played card games and watched movies like “Madagascar” in Spanish. I’m sure given the choice any one of us would have gladly have chosen having internet access in our apartment, but I think not having it brought us a bit closer together. I know that week in Las Cabras is a week I will never forget.

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Relaxing with mud masks
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Just another beautiful sunset in Chile