A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: deniseandmike

Botswana Day 2: Kudu Tell Us Where the Lions Are?

Wake up at Tau Pan was 5:30a and a breakfast of muffins and fruit was served at the main building at 6a.

View of waterhole from camp.
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Camp manager, Vasco (same name as our guide).
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By 6:45a, we were tracking leopard and lion that had been thru camp some time during the night.
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Unfortunately, we didn't find them. We found a few other animals around.

Giraffe.
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Souper with an oryx skull.
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Mom and Dad spotted eagle owl with chicks.
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Kudu herd.
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Vulture.
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Yellow-billed hornbill.
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Vasco and Souper tracking on foot.
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More Kudu.
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Springbok.
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Black-backed jackals.
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Mongoose.
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Steenbok.
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Termite mound.
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Around 11a we went back to camp for lunch of beef kebabs, potato salad, green beans, and fruit. It was devastatingly hot during this period of the day so we spent our time lazing around the main building, watching the waterhole, catching up the travel journal, and downloading pictures.

Warthog at the waterhole.
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Giraffe at the waterhole.
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Afternoon snacks of samosas and chocolate cake were served at 4p and then we headed out for the afternoon game drive. It was another fairly uneventful drive.

Yellow-billed hornbill.
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Picked over skeleton.
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Oryx.
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Black-backed jackal with adorable jackal pups.
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Leopard tortoise.
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We stopped for the obligatory sundowner drinks then it was back to the camp for dinner of chickpea coriander soup, beef roast, bob with tomato sauce, sliced squash, purple beans, and dessert. We were up late deciding on the next day's plans to drive to Deception Valley.

Posted by deniseandmike 16:19 Archived in Botswana Tagged africa mike botswana Comments (0)

Botswana Day 1: Small Planes and Small Creatures

We landed safely in Johannesburg about 5a local time and had roughly six hours to kill before our next flight to Maun, Botswana. But there were things to do. First up, of course, was getting thru Immigration, picking up our luggage, and then Customs. This process took a while but wasn't too bad. We then had to rearrange our baggage as a representative from the African Rock Hotel was supposed to meet us to pick up our non-safari luggage to store until we returned to Johannesburg. We had a bit of a snafu in that the cafe where we were supposed to meet had changed names but figured it out soon enough and Givemore arrived from ARH to fetch our bags. Mike had an English breakfast and I had an omelet and I was still fretting about the money situation. So we stopped off at Western Union to find out the details on wiring money from the US. We were assured this would not be a problem. It was now time to re-check our bags on South African Airways for our flight to Maun. We headed to our gate and passed some time again at another Mugg & Bean cafe. It was a lot of wait and wait and wait. Finally, our plane was ready to go. Since we were on a smaller plane, we were bused from the main terminal out to the tarmac. When we arrived to the plane, our assigned row of seats did not exist. Not knowing what to do, the flight attendants told us to sit in any vacant seat. So we sat in the front row, the only place where there were two seats together. Apparently this was "first class," although the only difference from the other seats seemed to be the meal that was served. This did not sit well with the lady behind us as she bitched and moaned the whole trip about it, even though they didn't serve us the "fancy" meal. We didn't care; we were so exhausted that we slept the short 1.5 hour flight anyway. We landed in Maun where we met our travel agent from Safari Specialists. I explained our money situation to her and gave her a head's up that my mother would be in contact. Then we boarded our final flight of the day, a four-seat plane piloted by Itor, and headed to Tau Pan in the Kalahari Desert.
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The runway on which we landed
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We landed safely and unloaded our gear. We were met by our guide, Vasco, and tracker, Souper.
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We stayed to make sure the runway was clear for Itor's take-off.
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We arrived at camp a few minutes later where we met the manager, Joseph, and had a quick camp orientation. Our "tent" was beautiful and the front deck and outdoor shower had a spectacular view over the waterhole.
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Walking from our cabin to the main dining building.
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Bar area in main building
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Public bathroom at main building
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Firepit and viewing deck from main building
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After a quick clean up, we headed out for a short, two hour game drive. At this camp we were paired with two, older Swiss ladies who spoke very little English but were as nice as they could be. They were excited and we all seemed to communicate effectively, even with the language barrier (our guide did not speak Swiss either).

The game drive started out with the smallest of creatures.
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And moved on to some bigger ones - kudu.
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Guineafowl - also known as the Kalahari chicken.
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Weaver nests.
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Wildebeest.
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Springbok.
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Bat-eared fox couple.
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Jackal approaching the bat-eared foxes.
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Squirrels.
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Cape Fox.
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Abandoned ostrich egg.
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Rabbit.
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Black Korhaan.
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Steenbok.
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Before stopping for sunset drinks, we did see an African wild cat but unfortunately, it was skittish and Mike scared it away. We headed back to camp and enjoyed a buffet dinner of spinach rolls, Thai-style chicken curry, mushroom chickpea curry, rice, butternut squash, broccoli, and bread pudding for dessert. Dinner at Tau Pan is communal with the guides and other guests. This evening we talked with five other guests from Finland. We spent some time around the campfire then enjoyed an outdoor shower, listening to the lions roar in the distance, hoping we would find them the next day. After a long day, we made it to bed around 12:30a.

Posted by deniseandmike 14:05 Archived in Botswana Tagged mike botswana pan kalahari tau Comments (0)

Dubai Layover 1: Desert Dunes and Dinner

I was finally returning to Africa! It had been only two years but it had seemed like forever. This time, instead of it being a girls' trip, it was my honeymoon. After twelve years, Mike and I got married just three days before leaving on our long-planned trip. It couldn't have been better timing.
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This trip was much different than the first. It was a three week journey with ten days of safari in Botswana, three nights on the South African coast, and five nights in Cape Town. On either end of the trip, we had long layovers in Dubai. The official itinerary looked like this:

Friday, November 20 - Fly to Dubai.
Saturday, November 21 - Arrive in Dubai. Long layover.
Sunday, November 22 - Arrive in Johannesburg. Fly to Maun, Botswana. Fly to the Kalahari Desert. Spend three nights at Tau Pan.
Wednesday, November 25 - Fly north to the Linyanti Region. Spend two nights at Lagoon Camp.
Friday, November 27 - Road transfer to Lebala Camp. Spend two nights.
Sunday, November 29 - Fly to the Okavango Delta. Spend three nights at Kwara Camp.
Wednesday, December 2 - Fly back to Maun then on to Johannesburg. Spend night at African Rock Hotel.
Thursday, December 3 - Fly to Cape Town. Drive to De Kelders. Spend three nights at Cliff Lodge.
Sunday, December 6 - Drive back to Cape Town. Spend five nights at Lawhill Luxury Apartments.
Friday, December 11 - Fly to Dubai.
Saturday, December 12 - Arrive in Dubai. Long layover.
Sunday, December 13 - Arrive home.

Our car arrived for airport pickup at 8a sharp. We were so excited that we hadn't gotten much sleep the night before. We arrived at the airport and had breakfast at Tigrin's Pub. Mike had bangers and mash and I had an American breakfast. We boarded the gigantic A380 for our 14-hour flight to Dubai. Our seats were toward the back of the plane, just in front of a bulkhead, near the toilet. Emirates supplied us with hot towels, socks, and eye covers. There was plenty of leg room, good food, and free drinks. I would say this was the most pleasant overseas plane trip I've been except for the constant shrieking of babies throughout the flight. Mike was able to sleep through most of it. I was not. After a dinner of chicken ragout for me and sweet and sour fish for Mike, I watched a foodie documentary and he watched "Minions." I then played "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" for a large portion of the flight. I got very, very close many times but never could clinch the win.

We arrived in Dubai around noon and made it through immigration with no issues. Our luggage was checked all the way through. Our first order of business was to find an ATM and get some UAE dirhams. Unfortunately, my debit card was rejected and I couldn't retrieve any cash. I didn't know why and since it was a Saturday, my bank was closed. I had some US cash so I changed some of that into dirhams and decided to deal with the cash issue later. We took a taxi to the Souk al Bahar, a shopping center connected to the Dubai Mall. We stopped for lunch at Mango Tree, a Thai restaurant with a tableside view of the afternoon fountain show and the Burj Khalifa.
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We dined on prawn chips with sweet and sour sauce and shrimp spring rolls while watching tourists zipline across the fountains in front of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
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We relaxed at Mango Tree until around 3p then walked down to Guest Services at the Souk to meet our guide for our dune bashing safari and dinner in the desert. Anil met us there shortly and after a short stop for gas we set out for the dunes. We drove about 45 minutes outside of town.
Anil stopped so we could take some pictures and he could deflate the tires.
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Then the dune bashing began. I didn't really know what to expect with dune bashing. I knew we'd be driving over the dunes but I didn't expect we'd be doing it at break-neck speed and turning and spinning. It was a little scary and I didn't care much for it to be honest. We were sideways and all over the place. I thought we were going to flip over several times.
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After only about 15 minutes, Anil miscalculated and we got stuck. Our back right tire was deeply embedded in the sand and our front left tire was completely off the ground. We weren't going anywhere. He had us get out of the car so he could inspect the situation.
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He made some phone calls. He paced around. He pulled out a shovel. I use the term shovel loosely. It was actually a kid's play sand, beach shovel. There was no way we were going to dig out with that. We could see other cars driving in the distance but had no way of signalling to them. Mike and I paced around and tried to enjoy the scenery.
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Finally, help showed up to pull us out.
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And there was a cavalry behind them. Mike and I just tried not to get run over.
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Shortly we were on our way again. I was totally over the dune bashing and quite frankly didn't have a lot of confidence in Anil's driving capabilities at this point. But he was on a mission to show us a good time.
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Thankfully, the sun was starting to set so the dune bashing didn't last much longer. We pulled over to get some last pictures before dark.
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Anil then drove us to the desert camp for our dinner and show. It was a beautiful, candlelit camp set up in the middle of the desert. The camp had a full bar and offered henna tattoos, sand boarding, camel riding, and traditional robing. We chose a table near the stage and grabbed some drinks.
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Before dinner, Mike really wanted to try on the traditional dress of the UAE. I was not excited about this and thought it might be disrespectful to do so. I also did not want to take part in the oppression of women that I believe the traditional dress supports. But I relented and we wandered over to the tent to take a look. We did put on the traditional robes and seeing a picture of myself in this garb was an eye-opening experience for me. It makes me thankful that I was born in a country where I can enjoy full equal rights.
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The pre-dinner show was a tanoura dance from Egypt. The word tanoura refers to the colorful skirt worn by the dancer.
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After the show, a buffet dinner was served of beef and chicken kebabs, aromatic rice, salads, and Indian flatbread. Mike bought a traditional headwrap which he wore the rest of the night.
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The after dinner show was a belly dancing performance which, according to Anil, is not traditional in any way to the UAE but is performed for the Westerners only. There was a little boy whom she would dance over to and he would giggle and smile shyly. This was cute. The older, salivating men who acted like they hadn't seen a woman dance before were not.
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Anil arrived after the show and drove us back to the airport. He showed Mike the proper way to tie on his headwrap but when we went through immigration at the airport it was obvious that the men there were talking disapprovingly about Mike wearing it. Anil had said it would be okay. It was obviously not so Mike removed it so as not to cause a problem.

We didn't have a lot of time to kill at the airport but we did stop by the duty free shop on our way to the gate and my debit card was again rejected. This time, the manager said that VISA was telling him to confiscate it and cut it up. I was almost in tears by now as we had very little cash and I was depending on the ability to ATM money during our entire trip. We were about to head to Botswana for ten days where we would have no access to phones or email so I had no way to contact my bank or resolve the issue. I convinced the manager NOT to cut up my card and was able to pay for our items with another card. I came up with a plan and made a quick phone call to my mother asking her to Western Union some cash to us to arrive in Johannesburg in ten days. She would have to coordinate with our Botswana travel agent while we were on safari. She agreed and we boarded the flight.

With almost two days of very little sleep, we were both asleep before take off. Mike woke up just long enough to see the Burj Khalifa lit up as we soared overhead. We woke again for some beef in tomato sauce for dinner and then played "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" together for a while. We drifted off to sleep again and enjoyed a very quiet flight all the way to Johannesburg.

Posted by deniseandmike 16:50 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged dubai mike layover Comments (0)

Padre Day 7: Dolphin Quest

Vi and I had our own plans for today which involved a little bit of shopping and some dolphin watching. Mike wasn't too interested in either so he elected to stick around the condo for a last day of surf fishing. Since we were stealing the car for the day, we took him to get some bait then drove into Port Isabel to do a little pre-dolphin shopping. We found one of the best beach-themed stores I've ever visited (which is saying a lot). I don't remember the name of it but it's on the corner of the square where the Lighthouse is located, right next to the Pier. They have really cute, beachy home decor and some beautiful jewelry items. I bought a silver starfish ring and my traditional Christmas ornament, a handpainted flip-flop. We actually returned to Padre 10 months later when Vi's son got married and the first thing I thought when I heard that's where the wedding would be was that I would get to go back to this store. That's how good it was.

It was getting close to noon and time for our dolphin trip so we walked across the street to the Sea Life Center to meet the boat. No one was inside and we entered to find a giant tortoise entangled in an extension cord on the floor. We untangled him and I have to admit this was a bit disturbing to me. But we headed down to the boat dock anyway. Unfortunately, the actual Dolphin Lady was not on our trip. Her very talkative husband was the guide. We shared the boat with another couple and a mother and her two young children. Also on the boat were the owner's two dogs and Cheetoh-eating pig.
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We made our way out into the bay and had a nice view of the Padre skyline.
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We did spot our first Atlantic, bottle-nosed dolphin in this area. Not having much luck here, we headed over to another area and came upon a couple in the water. The dogs helped us spot them.
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A pelican was watching over the action.
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Once they disappeared, we had a bit of a scenic trip to look for others.
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The pig was tired from all the work.
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The pelicans follow the dolphins hoping to get scraps of leftover food.
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The dolphin trip lasted about two hours and we were back at the dock. We were hungry by this time so we grabbed some nachos at a little cafe on the square and finished up our shopping. We met Mike back at the condo and talked about his day. He caught a small catfish and met an 88-year-old Battle of the Bulge veteran on the beach. As a military vet himself, he loves talking to other vets about their experiences.

For our last dinner, we met Vi's sister, Diana, and her husband, Frank, at Pelican Station in Port Isabel. They live about an hour away and we really enjoy spending time with them when we can.
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Dinner was very good. I started with seafood stuffed jalapenos and Mike started with clam chowder. My main entree was flounder with crawfish and mushrooms in a cream sauce and Mike had lobster tail.
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After dinner, Frank and Diana followed us back to the condo and we all went to the Wanna Wanna for drinks and cigars (for the boys).
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After they left, we got things packed up and went to bed. The next morning we finished our packing and cleaned up the condo. We left the condo around 11a and stopped for lunch at Senor Donkey before leaving Padre. We drove to the airport where Mike and I caught our flight to Dallas via Houston Hobby and Vi waited for her sister to pick her up. She was returning to her parents' house so that she could drive back to Dallas with her daughter and granddaughter. It was a nice trip and a great time of year to visit Padre; no crowds, nice weather, and good friends.

Posted by deniseandmike 16:43 Archived in USA Tagged padre vi Comments (0)

Padre Day 6: Fishing for Dinner

We woke early again this morning to another beautifully sunny and warm day. After another taco breakfast courtesy of Vi, we stopped by the Blue Marlin grocery to pick up lunch for our fishing trip and a fishing license for Vi. We were meeting our fishing charter at White Sands Marina in Port Isabel so we headed across the bridge, stopping for a minute at the Port Isabel Pier and Lighthouse.
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Captain Cliff and the pelicans were waiting for us at White Sands Marina. His normal fishing boat was in the shop so he was leasing a boat for our charter today.
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We climbed aboard and got everything settled then made our way out of the marina. We happened to pass the "Pura Vida," a sailboat with the same name as the one Mike and I had recently donated after seven years of ownership.
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Our fishing day started at the old Causeway Bridge, under the piers, for mangrove snapper. Mike had great skills, reeling in seven keepers. I caught just one keeper plus a sheepshead and a mojarra.
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Mojarra are very uncommon fish in the Gulf of Mexico. They are more commonly found in the Caribbean. When I first saw it, I thought I had pulled it's mouth out but Captain Cliff assured me that this look was typical for the fish.
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Vi didn't have any luck with the mangrove snappers but caught a stingray and two sheepshead.
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We stayed in this area for about 1 1/2 hours then decided to go up the coastline about 15 miles to fish for speckled trout. This was a different kind of fishing and I was apparently not good at it at all. Captain Cliff brought in a trout we could keep as did Vi.
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We returned to the marina about 4:30p with all of our catch. We thought it had been a pretty successful fishing day with eight mangrove snapper and two speckled trout.
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Captain Cliff filleted the fish for us as the pelicans feasted on the spoils.
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His recommendation for a restaurant to cook our catch for us was Blackbeard's, a restaurant on the strip not far from the condo. So we went back to the condo and made ourselves presentable for dinner. We took five of the fillets and had them fry half and blacken half. We added scallops and shrimp then picked two personal sides each.
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It was wonderful food, the best of our trip.

Posted by deniseandmike 15:04 Archived in USA Tagged padre vi Comments (0)

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