Tag Archives: volunteering

Returning to the land of Kiwi’s – days 209 to 212

30th of August to 2nd September 2011

Immigration and cab drivers

Arriving at 1am in the morning and being slightly less compus mentus, especially after having one of my full row seats given to someone else, the fear on my mind was getting through immigration. You may recall that I apparently have similar information, to a person of interest, who the government wishes to talk to! But turned out I had no worries, after joking a bit about the rugby, I walked on through, got my bag and hopped in a cab.

I had exactly $45nz and had estimated it would cost $25. I had a great cab driver and we chatted all the way to Kirsten’s about his days on the boats that ran to Portland, Oregon. As we got closer I noticed we were at $45 and still ticking. In addition to the actual charge there is an extra $7 charge for the airport. At the house hte final charge was $52, but he was sweet and said the $45 was fine. Thank heavens!

Plans Plans Plans

After a rough month it was great having a good friend to bounce ideas off of and figure out what to do next. Its amazing how emotionally draining things can be. I was at the point where I just needed to go and do something fun and not have to worry about costs or transport. Kirsten recommended a tour of the Northland and up to the very point of NZ, Cape Reinga. We looked at just doing a basic bus service up there, at Kiwi Experience and at Magic Bus. Magic won the day as they had exactly what I wanted and included a dolphin tour, sandboarding, Kauri tree museum, visiting the giant Kauris and much more. Normally I would have run in the opposite direction of the cost, but right then and there I didn’t care and it sounded like the perfect trip to get my mind off things. Not to mention that my cheapskate ways now mean that I have a bit extra to do something fun!

So its off to Auckland to stay in the Surf ‘n Snow hostel for a night and then an early pickup Saturday morning. I am so looking forward to this you have no idea.

Look out Northland you are about to be invaded by a Schmidt!!!

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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Tonga – Days 178 to 208 cont… ‘Eua island

My Island Escape

My first attempt at hopping on over to an island failed miserably. I was hoping to tag on with the vet and nurse heading over for a part clinic part vacay trip, but it appeared as if the little amoeba’s growing in my stomach had other ideas. I was shaking and sweating and spending a lot of time with the porcelain god. Luckily it only lasted a day but didn’t want to risk a 3hr ferry crossing with a delicate constitution.

However, ‘n boer maak ‘n plan (a farmer makes a plan), and I soon had things sorted for the following weekend. The plan was to leave on the 12.30pm ferry Friday, be picked up by Taina of Taina’s Place and then take the 5am ferry back on Monday.

That morning I woke up feeling like a kid about to go home from boarding school. I was so excited. I had my bags all packed and went to work to get a few things done, before (I hoped) someone could take me to the ferry. In the midst of autoclaving and making kits and folding drapes and still 3hrs before the ferry, one of the group swept in and said they had to run an errand and so I was going now and to get in the car. Wow… ok sure, hang on, just need to , am coming….

All good though, I got to the terminal with 2.5hrs to wait and so settled in to watch them load the ferry. It was not just a passenger ferry but a cargo one too, as everything (particularly toilet paper and diapers apparently) had to be ferried to the island. I managed to ask one of the other passengers if this was the ‘Eua ferry and got confirmation… I hoped.

The Ferry

Later a gentleman in overalls walked up and asked if I was going to ‘Eua, I said yes. He asked if I had a place to stay, I said yes at Taina’s Place. He said “I am her husband, Tei”. Well what do you know, he is also one of the captains. Sweet! I was still a little confused as to where and when I was meant to buy tickets, whether or not it was safe to put my bag on board etc. But watching all the other passengers I decided to at least put my bag of clothes and bag of food on board and then wait and see about tickets.

Cutey with her peanuts

About 1hr before departure time I noticed a lot of people gathering around someone who seemed official. I assumed right and bought my ticket for 27.50 Pa’anga (about $20). The ferry ride would take at least 3 hrs and we would be crossing open ocean at one point. A few minutes later the ticket guy came over to chat with me. He asked where I was from and how long I was staying on ‘Eua. He was kind of cute, especially in his official work sarong (not sure what the actual name is).

Another pa’langi (foreigner) arrived and we started chatting. Then we decided to get on the ferry and secured some comfy seats. But that didn’t last long as we all had to deboard and reboard so they could check our tickets. Only mothers with children could stay. There was much laughter when I asked to borrow one of the babies. We got off and stood right by the gangplank and chatted with the ticket guy. He was so cute and a bit shy speaking English, but it was all good. When we joked about bringing a baby with us next time so we could stay on board he looked shocked, realised we were joking and then started laughing and telling us to stop being bad. Too funny!


Finally it was time to board and we were lucky enough to claim the same seats. Once we were under way we both decided to go sit outside in the glorious sunshine. I had bought a bag of yummy roasted peanuts in their shell and was utterly enjoying myself. After about 40min in the sun though I decided to head inside before I fried. I nodded off for a bit and was woken to much lurching! We had reached the trench and the section of open ocean that could often be rather, exuberant, shall we say. I found it thrilling and would have been out front of the boat if it wasn’t being drenched in water. Instead I stood in the wheelhouse and chatted with Tei and some of the other people. Tongans are so friendly and have an awesome smile. As we crossed the trench one of them pointed out an island that was rising up in front of us and said that was ‘Eua. Higher than all the other islands, it has a wide range of ecosystems and plant life, it is also 1000’s of years older than the others. As we were pulling in to the harbor Tei came and sat outside and we started talking about why I was there. When I mentioned that I was one of the nurses with the vet group the following conversation occurred:
Tei: ahh you can make it so my dogs don’t have babies?
Me: well I just a nurse, not a doctor and I don’t have anything with me.
Tei: don’t worry I have knife and machete!
Me: ahhhh yeah no, am not a doctor.
Tei (with big grin): no worry, I be doctor you be nurse we do it Tongan style.
(I sincerely hope and assume he was talking about fixing his animals…)
All in all it was one of the best 3hr ferry rides I have ever taken and even if I didn’t see any whales it doubled as my whale watching trip.

Getting my sea legs

Captain Tei came and said that Taina should be on her way to pick me up but if she wasn’t there by the time he was done he would give me a ride to the guesthouse. Luckily I only had about 10minutes to wait. Taina is absolute honey, and very welcoming. I soon had a hand full of sweet bread and we were on our way back to the guesthouse. At only 25 pa’anga (about $20) for a dorm room, it is the best price on the island, the next price is over 80 pa’anga for a room at the resort with an ocean view. Taina’s was located in the center of the island which meant no ocean views but walking distance to the jungle hike. She has also been presented with a number of medals by the king, for the best garden on ‘Eua (there is a rumor that it is the only garden, but hey its a medal). In the evening we went to a local highschool reunion we had all been invited to (for some strange reason). For the most part it was rather slow (most of the attendees had started the party at the bar). But near the end there was a fantastic brawl as one lady started beating up another for sleeping with her husband. Ahhh yes the drama, hair was pulled, drinks were thrown, the police were called, ultimately a great night.

Taina's medal winning garden paradise

Taina and me at the reunion

When I went to switch on the light in my dorm room I noticed there was no bulb. One of the guys came to replace it, he came in looked at the empty socket, tried the switch (not sure why), walked under it and then walked out. 1minute later a taller lad came in and screwed in the light bulb (guess I am not the only one with short issues). That night right before bed as I was having a mug of tea I heard a soft meow and looked up to see Phoenix, a very cute orange kitten about 6mths old. She lives in the roof of the kitchen and comes down to beg for food and cuddles. As I was loving her to death, Taina walked past and in true Tongan style said, “You like, you keep”. I was sorely tempted, but restraining a rambunctious kitty on a 3hr ferry ride did not sound promising. Instead I took her with me to bed. After being freaked out at not being in her roof, she figured out what to do and snuggled up next to me in bed. Ahhhhh heaven!


The next day a group of 6 of us went on the 3hr hike to explore. After 4hrs the happy chatter soon turned quiet and after 5hrs we were all dragging a bit. It didn’t help that we spent most of our time slogging through mud and slipping and sliding up and down hills. But after about 6hrs Taina met us and picked us up, thank the heavens. A hot shower and sleep was all I could manage. We figured we had hiked 7km, but it felt more like 17km. I took Phoenix with me to bed again, and she was way more comfortable even nipping out for a bit and returning in the early morning with a purr that was closer to a roar.

Giant Banyon tree, about 200yrs old

The view from the lookout

Smoking Cave - its a VERY long way down

The last day was a Sunday which meant church. We all decided to go. I had been to the Catholic Church on the main island, and it was very grand and austere and Catholic churches all over seem to be. But here the church was small and quaint and the singing was awe inspiring. Without any musical accompaniment the men and women wound their voices together in true harmony and I felt myself quite moved. That afternoon I sat and made bracelets for everyone and then we all had dinner together. After a cup of tea I grabbed “my” kitty and went to bed. Am really going to miss this little flea bag. She is so loving and spunky. But logistically its just not possible to get her across on the ferry and then have to find her a home.

Tei and his youngest daughter

Gas Tank a.k.a Tongan Church Bell


At 4am, those of us heading back on the ferry roused ourselves and got sorted, at 4.20am there was no sign of Tei or Taina. Finally I went and “knocked” at the curtain that was their door. 2minutes later Tei was there and we were off. As we pulled out I saw Taina shoo Phoenix away, she seemed to have tried to follow me. Dramatic pause to blow nose and sniffle

My beautiful Phoenix

The 5am ferry left at 6am (we had to wait for the tide). And as we sailed into the open area that was the trench the sun started rising. It was glorious to be out on the ocean and I loved every minute of it. Not to mention that we had an amazing captain who rode the waves and never once got the front of the boat drenched in water. Nothing quite like waking up to the sun rising over the South Pacific as you relax on the bow of a ferry. Truly spectacular. ‘Eua is definately one of my all time favorite places to be. And if any of you get a chance be sure to stay at Taina’s Place and say hi for me.

Getting My Flirt On

I had to return a week later to the ferry to give Tei the flea and tick medicine along with instructions that I had promised him for his animals. It was the least I could do considering I refused to use a machete to neuter his dogs. Feel free to cringe at the statement, I still do. As I walked up to the dock a young man came up to me with a huge grin and asked why I was there. When I said I came to see Tei he looked disappointed. That’s when I realised it was ticket guy, he wasn’t wearing his official sarong so I didn’t recognise him. He seemed much happier when I said Ihad to drop off medicine for Tei’s animals.

As we walked to find Tei, he asked me when I had got back from ‘Eua. He also said when his boss had to go fetch one of the vets to check his animals he thought it might have been me. Ahhh schucks he had been thinking of me. I don’t care who you are that always makes you feel good. After I finished explaining the medicine to Tei, I headed out. Ticket guy was there with a friend, and he proceeded to ask me where I was staying, how long I was here for, when I left and when I planned to come back. Finally he finished with saying, “well I probably won’t see you again then, so, ummm, good luck with your travels”. There was an awkward moment, as his friend stood and grinned like a cheshire cat, and then I waved and walked away. When I glanced back he had his friend in a headlock… oh to know what had been said after I left.

A South Pacific Sunrise

Final Note

In hindsight there are a few things I would have approached differently with the volunteer program. But if I had to do this month over again I think I would still do it, bad and good combined. I have learnt some valuable lessons (life has never been really subtle when it teaches me a lesson, or maybe its me who doesn’t get the subtle lessons), and met some amazing people. Its not everyone who gets to say:
“I just spent a month in the South Pacific”.

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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Tonga – Days 178 to 208 cont… Umus and markets

O’holei Resort…show and umu

One of our owners happened to run the O’holei Resort and offered us some free and discounted tickets to their show and umu feast. So after work 5 of us piled into the car and after getting lost a few times on the 2 main roads in Tonga we finally found the resort. I offered to be designated driver and we settled in for a grand evening.

The Umu is a traditional feast that is mostly cooked in the ground. This one was amazing and consisted of sweet potato, plantains, potato salad, kasava, sea cucumber, sea urchin, clams, teryaki chicken, sushimi, steamed fish and the suckling pig. For desert there was bread fruit pudding. I just barely managed to fit in a second helping, all dished up on plates made from the stems of banana palms.

the group

This little piggy came to dinner

Then it was time to go into the cave and have the show. The cave was a natural outcropping of rock and created the perfect stage for a truly spectacular show of Tongan dance and fire twirling. The young performers were outstanding and many said O’holei had the best show out there. Half way through our host introduced 2 members of the group that are from the far flung island of Niu. The dialect of this island is a lot faster and sound downright comical. The following exchange happened as the host pointed to me:

Host – tell her she is beautiful
Performer – I think she has husband
I shake my head
Host – see no husband, tell her she is beautiful
Performer – I am sure she has boyfriend
Again I shake my head
Host – see I told you!
Performer – mumbles something in top speed and then shyly dashes away.

I know it was all part of the show and have no idea what he actually said, but who cares, every little bit is good for the ego. They then continued with the dancing. In Tonga they often smear a sticky substance on the dancers or newly weds and encourage the audience to plaster them with money, much to the chagrin of the banks who have to have the money sent away for industrial strength cleansing.

Our Host


End of clinic Umu

The ministry did an Umu for us on the last day of the clinic. Mote stayed home all day cooking for us, apparently he did everything, except the last section of turning the pig which his son did after school. The feast was amazing! Thank you so much to the Ministry of Agriculture, to Mote for cooking and Nau for organising everything.

mmmm pig, thats whats for dinner

Mote the chef

Food glorious food!

Markets, Markets, Glorious Markets

As much as I hate shopping, definately missed out on that gene, I love exploring markets and haggling for deals. Give me a market in a 3rd world country any day. The markets in Tonga did not disappoint. You could get anything from Levis to Old Spice to a fur coat.

Market day is called “The Fair” and runs on weekends. It is the place to be and thing to do, not only because you see everyone you know but its also the best time to find the random little necessities such as shampoo or imported canned fruit. It is hard to truly describe the 3 markets so here is a photo gallery dedicated to each one:

Market 1 – along main road

from traditional to modern

all you need or don't need

these somehow disturb me

Lovely people

Jolly jumper with your lawn mower???

Market 2 – along water front, known as “the fair”

Fur coat in 90C weather anyone?

when it poured

what can I say...

A vital part of any Tongan wardrobe

Fish section of The Fair

All the colours of the rainbow

Got crabs?

not quite sure... but its meant to be edible

Market 3 – Fruit and Crafts

Fruit and veggies


tables and tables of produce

Tapa Handbag anyone?

beautiful people

Market street

negotiating for Tapa

Sita painting Tapa

To follow: Adventures on the Island of ‘Eua, getting my flirt on and woodcarvings!


Posted by on September 12, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Tonga – Days 178 to 208 cont… Fun Memories!

Just a few fun stories and great memories from my time in Tonga

Mr. Maka

For the past number of years the Billfish Bar has run Mr. Beer competition, but this year the name was changed to Mr. Maka, maka being the Tongan brand. It consisted of 4 young hunks between the ages of 18 and 22, all strutting their stuff. But it wasn’t all beauty and brawn, they also had to demonstrate cultural values and knowledge and show leadership potential.

It was great fun, and I fear I may have acted as bad as some of the other ladies, well maybe not quite. But it was a great hoot and nothing quite as much as screaming for your favorite hunk. And having Miss Ribena and her/his sidekick, Venus, as our hosts and entertainment just made the night even more fun.

Of course the highlight of my evening was when some of the lads were pulled out to dance (please note: dancing with a Tonga could be considered an agreement of marriage). One of the lads was dancing in our group and then he gave me a thumbs up, winked and lei’d me. Mmmm I wonder if I have left Tonga engaged…and I didn’t even know his name????

The winner on left, runner up on right

second runner up and my "lei"

I got lei'd in Tonga


Pangimoto is an island about a 15min boat ride from the dock. It costs 20 Pa’anga ($16) return and is the palangi (foreigner) hang out on sundays. I got the chance to go just once and it was amazing. I managed to get in some snorkeling, shell collecting, ate a fruit platter and then for the heck of it took a stroll around the island.

Technically 50% would be a wade around as I chose high tide. But it was just amazing and you feel so remote when you are on the far side of the island and all you see is blue water and the occasional palm tree laden islands dotted here and there.

Island Girl

island life

coconut palms anyone?

Sized up for marriage??

On our first village visit I spent a lot of the time pre-medding animals and also watching them recover. Sometimes they have bad wake ups and can get a little tripped out, so its always good to have one of us close at hand.

During one of these occasions I believe I might have been sized up for compatibility by one of the owners as I recovered his dog. The conversation went something like this:
Owner – Are you single?
Me – yes
Owner – how old are you?
Me – 34
Owner – same age as me, I am 33. I am police, personal guard to the king, only police in this village.

(right at that point I got called away, but there was definately a direction he had in mind)

During the same visit we had to neuter a fairly large dog. As our location was a large hall, we often had people stand and watch us. And while I might not speak Tongan, I definately understood the comments as I clipped and then cleaned the testicles of this dog.

Shortly after, when I was again recovering an animal, the policeman said something to the boys (who had been making comments during the surgery prep), they all laughed and then he said to me:

Owner – that boy wants the doctor to take his balls
Me – Yo, Alice, he wants you to neuter him
Alice (vet) – sure come on over, I have a table ready!

This was met with much laughter and all 3 of the guys covering their privates and looking a tad nervous.

My potential suiter is the one to the left

Enima, rural style

On our second village visit, we had the boss of the two Tongan guys who help us as a vet and vet assist, bring us his dog who did not look well at all. It appeared that he had a severe case of constipation. We had to perform an enima but with no supplies we had to turn to the hardware store.

The owner brought us a brand new hosepipe (cost 80 pa’anga about $65). He said when he left this morning his young son and told him to “save my dog please”. So he was ready to do whatever it took or cost.

We had to put the dog under anesthetic as this was going to be exceptionally painful. While I monitored, Alice used the hose to get water up the anus. She also had to manually remove as much debris as possible. She pulled out large chunks of bone and what appeared to be hair. We later realised that the dog had most likely eaten coconut husks and the hair had matted with the bones and cause this severe plus. Alice and Mote (the Tongan vet assistant) had to get quite physical to move the mass of debris through the pups system. The poor animal would be walking funny for a few days after this. The entire time we were conscious that the vigorous actions might lead to a bone puncturing the intestines, but there was no other option.

We gave him lots of pain medication and hoped he would pull through and start having bowel movements. At the end Alice told the owner he owed her a beer… he bought us a case!

I am happy to report that the dog’s bowel movements were back to normal within a few days and there seemed to be no adverse effects.


I had heard that there was a taekwondo gym on the island and I really wanted to go. But without transport or knowledge of where it was I figured it would most likely not happen. Luckily during one of Zettie’s (one of the 4 amazing South Africans I met) dinner parties, her bosses wife invited me to join her daughter and even said she would pick me up and drop me off.

It was a fantastic class. The instructor was very knowledgeable and the students were very welcoming. It also felt brilliant to do the moves and exercises. I forgot how much I enjoyed the art. I managed to go to a total of 3 classes and loved every minute of it, even if I couldn’t walk probably the following day.

More stories to come…

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Posted by on September 12, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Tonga – Days 178 to 208

1st August thru 30th August 2011

Disclaimer: Management wishes to apologize for the lack of posts in the last month. Due to lack of reliable internet in the Kingdom of Tonga and other extraneous circumstances I have not been able to publish any posts.

General Overview

My time in Tonga was both the best and worst times I have had. Due to misunderstanding and assumptions certain personality conflicts came into play with my volunteer team. But I made the best of it and the following entries will focus on the good times.

Flying into The Kingdom of Tonga

Why go to Tonga

I had barely even heard of the Kingdom of Tonga and whenever someone asked me where it was my reply was “Somewhere north between Australia and New Zealand in the middle of the South Pacific”. Then I came across a fantastic volunteer group focusing on spaying and neutering the local dogs and cats. I was very excited and asked to join the August team. I was accepted and really looking forward to it. This group, still in its infant days, has great promise and, in my opinion, with a little more organisation, will prove to be a driving force in changing the views of islanders to their pets.

one of the little cuties

The Clinic

The Clinic

Renting a clinic that used to service human patients, we regularly saw between 5 and 10 patients a day. I spent most of my time cleaning and doing auctoclaving to sterilise the instruments. I went not knowing much about making kits and left an expert at packing, folding and sterilising. We even treated pets of the royalty including an awesome dog named Bill who had to have his leg amputated after being hit by a car.

Bill, pre- amputation

Bill with his rubbish bin cone, post amputation

On our second to last day of the clinic the word had suddenly got out and we saw over 30 animals. We all worked non stop. At one point I was monitoring 2 animals at the same time inbetween trying to sterilise and have new packs ready for the next in line.

Village Visits

Another important aspect of our clinic duties was to visit local villages and bring the doctors to them. I got to go on 2 of these trips and they were some of my best times in Tonga. The people were amazing, the kids staring at house through the windows were ridiculously cute. There is nothing quite like realising we had to do surgeries on random sized tables, the docs had to scrub up in a bucket and on the rare occasion we ran out of kits we would reuse the same kit on sibling animals.

Setting up

scrubbing up for surgeries

Surgery with an audience

our audience

preparing for surgery

School visits

Another important aspect was school visits. The best way to educate is to start with the children. I was not given an opportunity to join one of the visits but heard they were very successful.


My sterilization room

Bat Dog?

cutey for neuter

Following entries will focus on non-clinic activities and some of the fun times I had well in Tonga

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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Uncategorized


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AmaZOOnico Day 58 – 63 – Week 6 in the Jungle

March 5-10 2011

Week 6

What the???
Our volunteer house is 2 separate living areas connected by a walkway and the bathroom, as Murphy’s Law dictates, is on the other side of the walkway. Add to this the copious amounts of water we drink during the day to stay hydrated and that equals midnight runs to the bathroom. On this particular night there was one of our typical mammoth storms with rain, thunder, lightening and much rain. As I headed out on my usual 1am potty run I opened the door to see a large furry shape sitting on the walkway. Once I recovered from a mild heart attack, I realised it was just Luka the Liana Lodge dog. He ended up sleeping in my room that night and then took a liking to it and often showed up around once a week after that. The best part is that Liana Lodge would send a canoe to pick him up, so there is also the chance he just liked the free ride.

Carnival is a 4 day national holiday all over South America. It involves lots of fiesta, drinking, eating and general merry making. For us at AmaZOOnico it means hundreds of visitors a day, mostly Ecuadorians. The first day was reasonably quiet, but from Sunday we were swamped. A tour almost every 30minutes. Mostly it was Spanish speakers which left the volunteers who could not cover tours to do the feeding and cleaning. But even though it means more work, it also means a much needed influx of money for the refuge.

The Tuesday of Carnival we got to go enjoy it. We headed out around 5.30pm after work and caught a canoe to Ahnu (15min up the river). Iho, one of our Kichwa volunteers, lived in Ahnu and his grandfather had agreed to let us sleep in his house (which was a mansion by local standards). Then we headed up one of the 2 streets located in town to the main fiesta site. Within a few minutes we had been doused with canned foam, covered in powdered paint and flour and it didn’t take long before we were all sprayed with beer.

We danced, ate and drank all night and had a blast. It felt great to be out with everyone away from the refuge and being covered in powder and foam to the point of not recognizing each other just made it all that much better. It also turns out that I am fairly good dancer when it comes to Latin music and had a fair number of people to dance with. Around 12.30am Sarah and I headed back to the house and the others followed an hour later. At some point someone put a blanket over us. At 6.30am we had to wake up and try get a canoe back in time to start work at 7am. We pulled in at 7.05am, brushed our teeth and went straight to work. I spent all my tours saying “I am sorry for the purple hair and skin, but we were at carnival”. It took 3 days to get the paint off my skin and 2 weeks to get the purple out of my hair.

Tena bound
I might have had to work the day after Carnival but I also got to finish early and head to Tena. I took 3 warm showers and still was covered in paint. The combination of yellow and purple around my neck made it look like someone had tried to throttle me. It would take many more showers before the color came out. And I would repeat the experience in a heartbeat.

Stay tuned for more adventures in the jungle

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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in Uncategorized


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