Posts Tagged With: outdoors

In the Shadows of Paradise

Molokai

The vog was thick on this day. Usually one can observe some detailed contours of this large, rugged rock in the middle of the ocean from either of the neighboring islands of Maui, Oahu, or Lanai. But my eyes struggled to focus on anything beyond the fuzzy layer of cyan-reflected atmosphere blending into the still horizon. This vog I speak of is a form of fog-like air pollution created from the sulfur dioxide emissions of an active volcano. (“Volcano” + “fog” or “smog” = “Vog”) The Big Island of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano (located 135 miles southeast) would be the culprit of my trammelled view. I suppose the vog was synonymous with my mental approach to visiting the island of Molokai for the first time. Hazy, at best.

I had first heard about the island over a decade earlier from some locals I met on a beach on Oahu’s west side. What I learned from them that day was that all there was to do on Molokai, in their words, was “hunt, fish and smoke weed…dat’s about it brah.” Hmmm…that’s it? Unlike the way many people have a clear picture of how they envision their “Hawaiian paradise” to be, the idea of what Molokai was like was never very clear to me. It was still Hawaii, but you never heard anything about it. I had seen some images, read some pretty redundant travel reviews and had talked to a local there who described it as “insanely beautiful” with a “3rd world country vibe”, or maybe a “3.5 world country” (since it is still the USA). But my mind couldn’t paint a clear picture of the place even if I had been gifted the canvas and talents of the late Bob Ross. Information about the island is relatively scarce, as it has been over-looked ever since the Hawaii tourism boom really began to explode in the 1960’s. Almost every Hawaii guidebook that you’ll find dedicates 50-100 pages to most other islands, yet barely even gives Molokai a CliffsNotes worthy 10. Some texts even mention that you might get a healthy dose of “stink eye” there if you are any shade lighter than a koa canoe. I had a feeling this was a dubious statement. Sure, the Molokai natives have put up a successful resistance to any development leading to mass tourism, but “stink eye”?? Come on, Molokai is known as “The Friendly Isle”. How could this be true? None of that really mattered though, because I was well on my way and wasn’t set to return for another 4 days. I was determined to gain a better perspective of this island beyond the lone image that had been dwelling in my mind for the past 11 years…a vision of some tattooed bruddahs sharpening their knives to skin some wild pig and lighting up doobies on the shores of the local fishpond.

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After 90 minutes aboard the Molokai Princess, the island finally began to reveal itself in its true color and form. At close glance, there seemed to be nothing intimidating, or revealing, about this mysterious, multi-hued peak emerging out of the still Pacific. It looked like some sort of monument of nature frozen in time, untouched by modern influences (or concrete). I could barely make out any signs of development at all, or any inhabitants for that matter. It wasn’t long after we pulled into the harbor and I first set foot upon the main town of Kuanakakai that I really began to feel this infectious pulse of relaxation creeping down my spine. This place is as low-key as it gets. No traffic lights, no fancy hotels or beach bars, no buildings taller than the coconut palms. Just a small old-western style town with a few blocks of mom-and-pop shops, some eateries, a supermarket and just enough basic amenities to support its anchored population of 3500. This was definitely not the picture that Elvis painted in his Hawaii-inspired hit soundtrack of Girls! Girls! Girls! where he sang about “girls in bikinis a walkin’ and a wigglin’ by…”. Not here. This is Hawaii how it used to be…and Molokai sure seems to be set in its ways.

Molokai

After chatting with some friendly locals on my way to get my rental car at the airport, I picked up and ignited my Chevy Spark and headed towards the eastern end of the island to meet up with my local guide, Kevin, who would be my host during my 4-day island stay. I didn’t put 2 miles on the odometer before I would initiate a compulsive habit of pulling the car over every few minutes to snap a photo and fill my nostrils with the flower-and-sea scented air. My eagerness to get out and “feel the vibe” definitely got the best of me. The calming scenery and pastoral island rhythm will dictate your pace here. Like the sign posted at the airport says:  “Aloha. Slow Down…this is Moloka’i”.

The one feature that stood out above all on this island:  silence. Wow. A totally unfamiliar sensation to this city boy. This was the sound of total and true silence. What I was hearing was most likely my heartbeat, which had been truncated to a sedated-like 50 bpm under a skin-tingling breeze, simply numbing to the senses. You could hear two birds whisper to one another from across the tree tops of the island’s historic Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove. It was the calmest sea I had ever seen…flat and glossy like a layer of saran wrap over a freshly polished marble desktop. A fringe of beautifully skewed and intersecting palms lines the shore in a setting so intensely perfect you would swear it was a movie set for a Cast Away sequel. This place felt like a world away from the tourist-seducing island of Maui and it’s lively port of Lahaina, from which I had just departed less than two hours earlier. If this was the “real Hawaii” that people often speak about, why had I only been familiar with the “dreamed up” version for all these years, centered around luaus and Mai Thais? Why isn’t this advertised by travel agents worldwide? I didn’t really need the answers to these questions at this point. I was just happy to be standing there, breathing in the intoxicating air of this veiled island and peeling away layers of its mystery that had simmered in my mind for all these years.

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My directions to meet my host took me along a wonderful coastal road that runs from the main town to the east end of the island, passing ancient fish ponds, rural homes scattered along the quiet shoreline, spacious ranches with beautiful white horses and slices of beach so perfect, and surprisingly untouched, you might question whether they are open to the public or reserved as some sort of island exhibit to lure Oprah Winfrey over from her upcountry Maui mansion. Native Kukui blossoms and Plumerias line the roadside like children awaiting the start of the Christmas Light Parade (which is held in the main town every year, drawing nearly half of the entire island population). Anytime you pass another person along the road in Molokai (which isn’t often), you immediately feel an impulse to raise your hand off the wheel and exchange in a mutual waive that translates into something like “Aloha my friend, good to see another face out here.” Unlike the pineapple industry, which was once an economic mainstay for Molokai for most of the 20th century, the “aloha spirit” is very much alive and thriving on this island. There was no “stink eye” here, only curious eyes that seemed delighted to see a fresh face. I felt very welcome…and very lucky.

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I met up with my host Kevin at his home in Ualapue and after a quick carb load of Loco Moco and Chicken Katsu, we headed out to explore further along the secluded eastern coast of Molokai. After stopping at a few seriously scenic lookouts and mapping out some inland views of the “heiaus” (ancient burial grounds), we wound our way around the island’s lush east side via a dizzying road that slithers like a copperhead all the way to the entrance to Halawa Valley. This is the original settlement on the island and one of its most sacred regions to this day. There’s a classic view of the valley from a point just off the road, but I wanted a different view from the cliché one I had seen so many times during my internet Google searches for “Molokai images”. Upon knowing this, my guide Kevin springs like a bushman hot on the trail of an axis deer onto a not-so-obvious path leading through some nasty Keawe trees towards the end of a peninsula overlooking the valley. Keawe isn’t the kind of terrain you wanna go trailblazing through in shorts and flip flops. I knew the view would be worth every scrape and drop of blood I was about to shed from these thorny shrubs as we paved a fresh path, so I followed him without hesitation. Fifteen minutes and about 25 shin-to-calf cuts later, we reached the end of the peninsula, parched and wounded, and stood over a miraculous view of the coast in all directions.

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The postcard-famous Halawa Valley inlet is a mosaic of emerald blue-green ocean and fertile valley which runs inland to patches of taro farms, native homesteads and an abundance of tropical flora that one would certainly need an expert nature guide to truly appreciate. With a perimeter of green mountains framing the valley on either side and flowing waterfalls in the distance, it’s understandable why the residents have fought so hard to protect this storied land from any development leading to mass tourism (as you must have a local guide to enter the valley). Standing above this scene, I listened to the gentle waves tap lightly across a bed of rocky shoreline, merging together with the calmness of a White House butler placing dinnerware on the President’s dining table. (Yes, I did just finish watching Lee Daniels’ The Butler about 45 minutes ago.) The ocean around Molokai is the same body of water surrounding the neighboring islands of Oahu and Maui, but you’d seriously have to convince me so if I wasn’t aware of the other islands’ close proximity. There is a calmness and silence here that one would be challenged to find in other parts of Hawaii. You can’t describe it. You have to feel it. Time begins to stand still from the moment you arrive to this island and one could easily feel teletransported to the pre-Polynesian era, long before the first boats arrived and brought the original settlers ashore. A place like this should be teeming with tourists. The fact that it’s not reinforces that special feeling you get when you first arrive. You are one of the lucky ones who have made it to see Hawaii in its truest form.

The next day, we joined some locals for a hike to a rarely visited area on the island’s west side (though most areas of Molokai can be classified as “rarely visited”). Our backpacks loaded with Spam musubi, Gatorade and lilikoi, we headed out on a trek to a “locals” beach – a place well beyond the end of the road – called Kaupoa. Along a 45 minute hike through what looked and felt like the Australian Outback, we passed several empty beaches (that would make any resort developer absolutely salivate), eventually arriving at our target destination. If you’ve ever dreamed of an oasis at the end of a long, hot and dusty road, Kaupoa is the reality of this dream. Fluffy golden sand and that tropical water a perfect shade of piercing Hawaiian blue had us all mesmerized at first sight. Bear in mind, I was witnessing this with 3 locals who have lived in Molokai for years, and their jaws were just as wide open as mine in the presence of this untainted scenery. We were like 4 kids in a Toys ‘R’ Us for the first time, not another shopper in sight…and it was all ours for the taking. We couldn’t wait to dive in and indulge. With every footstep sinking deeper into the marshmellow-like sand, I eagerly made my way to the ocean to feel this glimmering water on my heated skin and lose myself in a dreamlike setting for a day…or perhaps a month, if no one were to wake me up. I could tell that my companions had gained an even greater appreciation of their homeland upon seeing this place. We spent the day swimming and walking along the tide pools and lava rocks, enjoying the sights of a variety of marine species such as eels, crabs, opihi shellfish, bat rays, colorful butterfly fish and even an undisturbed monk seal that was basking in the sun like a retired Arctic field surveyor. It is one of those unique corner pockets of the island that Molokai seems to somehow casually keep secret.

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Kaupoa

Behind the beach there is an abandoned campground hosting a collection of retired bungalows and lonely palms that appear to have not seen a visitor for decades. This is partially true, as Kaupoa was a former tourist hot spot in the late 90’s-early 2000’s that was sadly shut down and left abandoned and is slowly becoming swallowed up by the scraggy coastal vegetation. It’s a fate difficult to wrap one’s mind around, being that this is the perfect paradise getaway for those seeking such a refuge. Pride-fueled politics and disputes between the locals and the Molokai Ranch, who own the property, have resulted in a resort ghost town (home to presumably some of the most relaxed ghosts in the world). The tipping point: the natives refusing to allow further development at La’au Point, a sacred site just south of Kaupoa, resulting in the Molokai Ranch shutting down operations. It is a paradise lost, but still able to be discovered by the curious traveler. We were such on this day, and we did just that. What people once would pay a handsome sum of dollars to enjoy, we had all to ourselves, all for the simple price of a sweaty 45 minute hike, some muddy flip flops and a little sunburn on the neck. It was the perfect escape.

There was a mutual disbelief among us that places like this can still be found in Hawaii after all the decades of mass tourism and global marketing of this island chain to the world. This site is an ironic example of how Molokai works. A once booming resort complex that feuled future commercial development ambitions couldn’t survive the forces of nature and its native voices that defy anything that threatens the traditions that this island so proudly protects. Had money won over pride, Molokai might not be too distinguishable from its neighbors. Far more important than selling its soul for cash is the Molokai community’s deep-rooted values of “aloha ‘aina and malama ‘aina” (love and care for the land). Their true wealth is measured by the extent of their generosity and the preservation of these values.

Molokai

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It’s hard to imagine myself standing on a crowded beach like Waikiki again, surrounded by rows of sun-baked tourists courting their umbrella-dressed cocktails (with the famous golden arches of Mickey D’s just a few yards away), and feeling that I’ve arrived to experience any semblance of the real Hawaii. A trip to Molokai will change everything you’ve ever known, thought you knew, or ever imagined about the phrase “getting away”. Though I had 4 full days in Molokai, all it took was a few hours there to convince me that this was the Hawaii many people seek, but rarely find. It feels like a lost piece of time…like a classic vintage recording stuck in pause mode, just waiting for someone to come along and push the play button. For those who do, its timeless harmonies and pacifying melodies will loop in your mind long after you leave…as the dusty reels continue to spin at their own speed…as they always have, and most likely, always will.

Molokai

Molokai

Molokai

Molokai

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Molokai

Molokai

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Happy New Year from the Gringo With A Green Bag!

Happy New Year 2017

FacebookInstagramYoutube – Website – #GringoWithAGreenBag #GWAGB

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A “Running Man” in Puerto Rico

Amigos, it is my pleasure to introduce to you a whole NEW way of travel! This is Puerto Rico…as the world has never seen before… 🙂  #GringoWithAGreenBag

 

 

 

 

 

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Merry Christmas…Happy Holidays 2015!

Looks like I’m not the only one with a green bag this year… 🙂

Christmas-2015-GWAGB

The Gringo – and the Santa – With A Green Bag would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas (Feliz Navidad) and a wonderful Holiday season!  Let’s all make great memories!

-Damian

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Moments in “Time”

Time(Calaveras Big Trees State Park – California)

Life goes by pretty fast. Time is the one thing we can’t control. All we can do is make the best of it. Without moments of pause and reflection, we can’t really appreciate time. Most people are allowed a lot of time in life, but we often frown upon it because we feel we don’t have enough of it or that it is passing by faster than we’d like it to. I believe time should be measured in moments, not by clocks or years on the calendar. We can’t slow time down, but when we slow down and enjoy moments in time, the less we will worry about “having” time and the more we will enjoy “living” in it.

#GringoWithAGreenBag

#FreedomTour

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Fall “Freedom Tour” Part 1 in the books!

Inyo National Forest

Just wrapped up the first leg of the #FreedomTour 2015 (literally…got my knee sleeved up as a result of some rugged hiking and shifty-legged Glidecam work. Took me a few embarrassing attempts to jump up on that rock, lol). The first stop was in the Eastern and Western Sierras of Central & Northern California (my home state). It could very well be the most beautiful and naturally diverse state in the union (but I’ll leave that judgement for a later day…once I’ve seen all 50 of those bad boys.)

Autumn in California…we’ve got some colors too folks. 🙂 More photos and video clips coming soon. Walking and gliding (sometimes stumbling) through nature…nothing quite like it.

#FreedomTour 2015

 

 

 

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A quick hop around Kangaroo Island, Australia

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For me, traveling to Australia was a BIG deal mates. BIG country, BIG planning, BIG airplane, BIG fella sitting next to me on the plane stealing all my elbow space, etc. I had a long list of things that I wanted to do and see on this trip. There was the obvious, of course:  see the Sydney Harbor, try a Vegemite sandwich, guzzle cold Aussie beer at some pubs, avoid severe sunburn, see some kangaroos. Of all those, the latter was the most important on my list. I mean c’mon, who hasn’t watched Jack Hanna or Steve Irwin play with the ‘roos on TV and not thought that would be the coolest thing ever?? I wanted to see some ‘roos. Plain and simple. You can’t go to Australia and not see the ‘roos. It’s like going to Chicago and not eating a Polish dog…or seeing a Polish person for that matter. And I’m not talking about seeing them in the Sydney zoo man. They’ve got ‘roos at the San Diego Zoo an hour and a half drive south of me. I don’t need to fly 7500 miles to view a wallaby in a playpen. I’m talking in the wild…untamed, free-roaming, curious…the way nature was meant to be enjoyed! So I booked a side trip to a remote place off the coast of South Australia called Kangaroo Island. Not that a place’s nomenclature necessarily guarantees the existence of its particular reference (the “Island of Women” near Cancun is a perfect example. But hey, whatever draws tourists), but it sounded intriguing. I did my research, like the savvy traveler I am. This was the place to see and be seen (if you’re a kangaroo looking for a good time, that is :P). Besides the surging population of ‘roos, I heard this island was one of the most wildly beautiful places on the entire continent. Sounded like a hot ticket…book it!

After a week traveling the amazing East Coast of Australia (where I hadn’t seen one stinkin’ ‘roo the entire time, wth??), it was time to punch my ticket to the island. The ferry ride over from Cape Jervis was a beautiful and relaxing 45-minute voyage to a remote piece of land in the Indian Ocean, far enough removed from the mainland to validate its “wild” reputation. My first impression upon seeing the rugged coastline and piercing blue waters:  “Yeah baby, it’s on! I’m gonna go buckwild photographing this place!”. I guess that doesn’t really say a whole lot, since I have the same reaction when I arrive to a family reunion or a local chili cook-off.  But lemme tell ya, this place is special…and you can sense it before you even get off the boat. The port town of Penneshaw is very accommodating. I was treated to an upgrade 4WD SUV vehicle when I arrived at the rental agency, as my reservation had been lost in cyberspace, which worked out to be perfect since it would serve as my hotel during this 2-day excursion. It was also an ideal vehicle to have while driving along the many dirt roads that make up the island’s transit terrain.

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At first sight, the island seemed like a bushman and fisherman’s dream. It’s craggy interior and over 340 miles of pristine coastline creates such a dramatic contrast that I was salivating to get my camera out and start going photo bonkers. I took the first unpaved road I saw and began to explore the unspoiled wonders of this vast adventure-seeker’s paradise. I saw landscapes here straight out of the imagination of a fine-art painter’s dream portfolio. Things just look different here. The ultra-golden hues produced by the sun created colors that were indescribable. The terrain is so diverse and raw. The trees are wicked-crazy looking. The colors of the dirt roads are a deep hue of reddish-orange. The sky and sun seem more intense. The beaches are awe-inspiring. You’ll see bizarre things like the Remarkable Rocks, huge naturally-carved boulders over-looking the sea that look like something out of a Tim Burton movie. Animals roam freely about the land and the roads wind like a maze through the thick vegetation and hilly island turf. It is “wild” as advertised, and you won’t see many people once you leave the arrival port of Penneshaw. As a matter of fact, the further you get away from the coastal towns, the more you get that feeling that you are all alone on an isolated island full of insane beauty and teeming wildlife, just teasing you to be explored at every turn. It would be wise to stock up on gas, water and Peanut M&M’s at one of the towns near the eastern end of the island (Kingscote, Penneshaw or American River), as it’s just you, the native wallabies and the birds & the bees for the majority of your drive throughout the island. (Not the birds & the bees your mom told you about in the 3rd grade. Kangaroo Island is a bird refuge and is famous for its Ligurian bees, which produce some of the finest honey in the world. But feel free to get as kinky as you want over there.)

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The coastline is definitely one of Kangaroo Island’s highlights. The azure ocean crashes against the rugged, rocky shores at some points and gently glosses over stunning white sand beaches at others. As I hopped from beach to beach (pun intended), I was blown away by how different each was from one to the next. Some harbored wide stretches of soft sand and pellucid blue waters which seemed quite inviting for snorkelers and swimmers. Others were formed by intensely colored red rocks and jagged cliffs which greeted the crashing waves head on. The one common feature of all these stretches of coastline: no people. If you want a sequestered beach all to yourself, you’ve come to the right place. On the southern end of the island, you’ll find massive sand dunes that trickle down to the sea. This area, called Little Sahara, is popular for sand boarding, one of many outdoors activities that Kangaroo Island has to offer. Australian Sea Lions and New Zealand Fur Seals may be your only companions out there as you explore the untinged coast of this fascinating island paradise.

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Now, about those ‘Roos. The entire time I was driving on the island, I had an eye peeled back looking for those bad boys. Where the heck were they?? I knew they were out there. I mean, I didn’t expect they’d be hanging out at the gas station bumming Funyuns or anything, but I was frustrated that I hadn’t seen one in a whole week in Oz, and especially within my first hour on an island named after the damn things! I saw a few dead ones on the side of the road, but that didn’t really satisfy my visual appetite (or actual appetite) if you know what I mean. But with scenery like that, it’s easy to forgive the island for not producing what I was obsessing over right off the bat. I had already seen an abundance of wildlife:  sea lions, koalas, sheep, cows, rare birds, possums, fur seals, various reptiles, small wallabies…someone even mentioned seeing penguins somewhere. But I was after the ‘roos. My dedicated research should have reminded me that most kangaroo species are nocturnal, as well as being crepuscular (check out the vocab on this gringo ;)), meaning they are most active near dawn and dusk, often using these times for feeding. Ok…so I just had to wait until dusk I guess. No problem Jack.

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I had some time to kill, so I decided to go on a little bushwalk (hike). With one-third of the island protected in conservation parks and Wilderness Protection Areas, you don’t have to go far to find a good route to stretch the legs. I came across what looked like a decent trail, packed my bag with water and electrolytes and hit the bush. Now, I’m not even kidding when I tell you this part of the story. My wildest expectations wouldn’t have prepared me for what was about to occur in the first few minutes into my hike. So I’m walking along this path, surveying the landscape to compose a photo. I decided to stray from the trail a bit in order to gain a better visual vantage point. I had to meander through what I remember to be a ramshackled and rusted barbed wire fence to get where I wanted to be. It was thick scrub here so my visibility was limited to whatever natural obstacle I had to maneuver around next. I carefully pass through some scraggy vegetation, turn a corner…and BAM! Big ‘ol kangaroo sitting right there! Less than 12 feet away! Ka-BOOM! Scared the pasty vegemite right out of me (almost literally)! The furry freak of nature grunted, leaped up and bolted out of there like a…well…like a scared kangaroo that had just been abruptly rolled up on from behind by a beef jerky scented bushwalker! It happened so quick I couldn’t even snap a decent photo, just this semi-blurry one (as my parasympathetic nervous system wouldn’t allow me to compose myself properly). We were both startled, and my jumpy little marsupial friend was long gone before I could even say G’day. Ladies and gentlemen, I had found my first ‘roo! 🙂 An extreme close-up encounter in the wild! Though brief and heart-jolting, it was awesome! My days of envying Jack Hanna would soon be a distant memory.

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As sunset neared, I would get several more opportunities to see the local ‘roos that day, as they began to emerge from their mid-day shelters to explore the land and find food. They would even hang out on the side of the road near dusk, which makes for a very adventurous “video game-like” driving experience (remembering the roadkill I had seen earlier). I was able to get pretty close to a rather large one that evening. As the late Steve Irwin would say:  “She was a beauty, mate!”. They are quite timid animals in the wild. It kept an eye on me with an equal amount of curiosity as I did with it, but remained calm and even let me approach within a surprisingly intimate distance. When you see a kangaroo close up, you realize how well these animals are equipped to seriously whoop some butt if they need to! With those hind leg muscles, 2-inch claws and a powerful tail as thick as an anaconda, you don’t need instincts to tell you to keep your distance, just eyes. In saying this, they seemed quite peaceful and gentle in my experience with them. They are a special creature to witness and interact with. I snapped my photos, set my camera down and hung out for a while, enjoying this amazing scene of one of Nature’s most exotic animals in its native habitat, allowing me to be an uninvited and trusted guest into its placid domain. This was an experience my mind could only wishfully imagine for prior to coming here. This was Kangaroo Island. I had come a long, long way to see it, as have many others…and another satisfied visitor was about to return home to share its wonderful story.

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Here’s some more scenes from my 2 days on Kangaroo Island…

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