Roll up! Roll up, and collect your golden ticket!

Light saber street lighting

We are cycling from Faro to Lisbon following Eurovelo 1. It’s a pleasant quiet coastal route, some tricky rough sandy sections, and some steep gradients, but we are traveling slowly and enjoying ourselves. 

I am rather surprised to hear so many English voices:  until I read a local ex-pat newspaper. One can retire to Portugal (183 days/ year) and not pay any taxes whatsoever on your pension income (lump sum or regular income) for 10 years. Then you begin to pay minimal Portuguese taxes. Nicknamed ” A Golden Visa” The EU want Portugal to tax ex-pat residents in line with the rest of EU, but this will harm Portugal’s booming residential sales and ” grey pound” income. Interesting. But maybe an immediate financial gain will backfire as Portugal’s ageing population demand health care. Retire to Portugal for sunshine, sea, golf and one’s inevitable death!

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France 2018 Wells Cathedral to Notre Dame, Paris

Click on the map to zoom in on the route


Day 1 Depart Wells Friday 25th May – Overnight Salisbury =76.5km/ 47.5 miles

Day 2 Saturday 26th May-  Salisbury to Portsmouth = 75.7km/ 48 miles

Portsmouth to Le Havre overnight Ferry


Day 3 Sunday 27th May Le Havre to Evreux=107km/66 miles or Le Neubourg +83km/52 miles or campsite near Evreux

Important shorter option!! This is a long day (107km/66 miles) but 43km is on Voie Verte, a former railway line so mostly flat. There is a shorter option. At Le Neubourg (+83km/52 miles) there are36 hotels on ≤ £43 and 227 hotels between  £43 – £87 but no campsites. The group could separate so the campers cycle +26km (mostly flat) to Camping Les Sapins outside Evreux and meet the hotel group at Evreux in the morning

Or the hotel group can cycle all the way to Evreux where there are 3 hotels on ≤ £43 and 5 hotels between £43 – £87. The hotels are not near the campsite.

Day 4 Monday 28th May Evreux to Vernon +31.6km/19.5 miles Campers must first cycle into Evreux (flat) to meet those staying in hotels (+10km). Those who stayed in Le Neubourg must cycle on the Voie Verte cycle path (flat) to Evreux (+26km)

Day 5 Tuesday 31st May Vernon to Norte Dame +87km/54 miles Many hotels in the area on but not many in the centre of town.

Rotary club day 1

Rotary club day 2

Rotary club day 3

Rotary club day 4

Rotary club day 5

Rotary club kit list




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Half cut and stoned

We have almost finished our tour!! (There’s a bike shop 40km away with two spare boxes for our return flight from Chennai airport on Tues).  Right now we are in Mahabalipuram, a small seaside town and UNESCO World Heritage Site. From dawn till dusk, the cutting drills squeal like manic mosquitoes transforming granite into sculptures. 

Don’t take the lift

Take one boulder…

The Butter Ball

Imagine cutting this water storage, almost as difficult as clambering out again!

The workers spend their wages on wood alcohol full of methanol ( makes you go blind), but the British sculpture we met, Mark, makes sure they purchase brandy.

We have found another quiet hotel, lovely pool and great food nearby. The pool is necessary: women pick up litter from the beach daily but not the human excrement dotting the shoreline every morning. I know, I know, every time I flush my waste enters the sea untreated, but at least there it is diluted.


The are four types of monuments in Mamallapuram, the open air elephant family reliefs at Arjuna’s Penance, brick built temples at Shore Temple, and the man-made caves and rathas (procession chariots) carved in situ from single boulders. Oh and the Butter Ball straight out of Indiana Jones!
Wow! We have finished. And such a pleasant ride, beginning with a cloudy sky and a tailwind, Sunday cyclists trying to keep up, serious cricketers (thwack, cheers and clapping), there’s always something interesting. Charles has discarded his front box stone for errant drivers – those that force us off the road – he has progressed from dogs! Right now he is dismantling bikes in the cool of early evening (32’). A day in Chennai, then we fly!

Looks like Banksey is in town!

This is the canal close to where we are staying in Chennai’s suburbs. Our flat is in nicer street!


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Pondy rocks!!

Pondicherry was fun. There are 5,500 French nationals living here (total pop of Pondy, 1.25m) but also a strong community of Indian citizens who are descended from French settlers. Bollywood dance classes, cookery classes, fine dining… We danced with a reggae band, and a swing band, both from La Reunion, but also enjoyed Indian classical music and traditional dance. It was like Glastonbury without fleeces!!

Coloured rice flour pictures







Six days in one location!! But the music, and daily visits to the pool filled our days.  Here is a  description of our route to the pool, more for myself really, so I never forget!

From our hotel we turn right onto the seafront promenade – the gentle roll of waves, blue sky, pale granite and rustling palms – the brightness is dazzling! Traffic increases further from the coast but the roads are wide and lined with shady rain trees. At the five ways junction we take the second left – easy – then bounce over the railway lines onto a leafy boulevard lined with crumbling mustard coloured colonial buildings – a lycee, un travau public – behind tall gates. The road curves round to the right over the stinky canal ( hold your breath!), then a clear run for 2km, past the squatting fisherwomen, always squabbling, and our fruit vendor, his produce spilling over into the road. Immaculate school children wait patiently in small groups for buses. Girls wear maroon baggy pants, tight at their ankles, long pink tunics and a maroon scarf. Behind their ears, pink ribbons fix the loop of their long glossy plaits. The boys wear maroon trousers, pink shirts and stylish haircuts. These identical children wear sandals, they look healthy, expectant, radiant smiles show perfect teeth.

In contrast, there’s the skin and bone old man, wild hair and beard, nearly naked sitting against a wall.

Occasionally we overtake a bike or moped, one passenger carrying a large pane of glass (no gloves), the honey man on his rusted bicycle laden with baskets of honeycombs and of course mopeds on the inside driving towards us! India is never dull!

The next 300m is horrible. Still wide, 5 motorbikes wide, but incredibly noisy and busy. Machinery workshops, populous tea stalls and potholes force us into the road. I hunker down, concentrate. Two major roads join from the right, buses swing into our path with the divine assurance given by a little Hindu icon sitting on their dashboards!  We take the third right, check behind, check again, breathe, then go, right arm extended and flapping for attention! I make sure my back wheel is tucked in waiting for a gap to cross the other side.

Another km and occasional palm leaf huts show that this narrow road was once a village. Women sweep a dusty strip between house and road, some recognise us from their doorstep and wave, weathered walnut faces melting into smiles. But I am complacent. Ahead motorbikes slow to see a stationary 4×4 and a completely crushed moped. Subdued, we continue to the pool, now on a quiet lakeside road, water buffalo wallowing in the shallow water.


The next day a slow funeral procession comes towards us; a loud marching band, then a coffin on a small open truck covered with fresh flowers. Behind woman scatter flowers and petals. By the time we reach the site of the crushed moped women are already sweeping away the petals from the road
Sadly every tourist will have to use India’s roads, in a taxi, tuktuk, hire car or (God forbid) bus. And the roads are dangerous. We can enjoy rural roads but we face the traffic when we enter towns to sleep, so even on a bike you must be careful.

How embarrassing, the only ‘student’ but really fun!

But not for this guy…

A room with a view

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Greenbank pool with coconuts

We manage to cycle into Pondicherry on delightful quiet rural roads, avoiding the truly horrid highway 32 (we were forced to use it to cross a river yesterday). Farmers are struggling in drought conditions. In Tamil Nadu rainfall for the most important  NE winter monsoon is 62% short of normal, and last summer’s SW monsoon was 19% deficient. Most of the step wells are dry, amazingly there are fish struggling in the shallow rivers. They look like they are trying to escape from the polluted waters and who can blame them? Pondicherry is the worst. Open sewers feed into concrete ‘rivers’ and the stench is truly awful.

A charming young man on Valentine’s day

I smile to see the sea again, Bay of Bengal


The farmers irrigate sand!


Pondicherry has western facilities that preserve Indian culture

Dalits shoveling sh*t

How happy is the birthday boy!!

Reclamation shops are really interesting

Villa Helena for a French birthday dinner

Our daily swim.


























































Pondicherry is as chaotic as any other Tamil town but in the central “Ville Blanche” (a nod to colonial racism) next to coast the quiet leafy boulevards are delightful.  This is not Nice, during the day the seaside promenade, has the forlorn look of an out-of-season French resort – to be fair the 2004 tsunami damaged many buildings, and the occasional waft of sewage doesn’t help – but it’s nicely designed, perfectly laid cut granite slabs, and newly planted palms.  From 6pm the seafront is  closed to traffic and the effect is remarkable! I gasp, arrested by the hushed sounds of footsteps and chatting voices. In all urban areas my ears are assaulted by the pervasive honk of horns (Charles thinks they all need a good slap!) We stroll, smiling at policemen in De Gaulle-style képis, sit on the black basalt boulders watching the waves…. an old man sits near us, then asks us if we are still cycling, apparently he met us in Hampi two months ago!! How many people in India? 1,326,801,576 people (UN figs 2016) projected to be 1.7 billion by 2050 yet or paths cross.


Google suggests a rooftop cafe for salad so we find it and begin to climb the stairs, alongside two American girls. They coo over a pair of newborn puppies asleep on a step … ‘Didn’t know puppy was on the menu’ jokes Charles. No response, yet he persists ‘Wouldn’t they make a great pair of moccasins!!’ Now a stony silence. I am struggling to suppress my laughter as three people who speak English fail to communicate!

I ate a typical English salad and chips with French bread and quiche using a knife and fork – proper cutlery for the first time since Rajasthan last December. And I did enjoy it, but not as much as the delicious masala dosa, plain mango milkshake (it means no sugar) and giggling ladies at breakfast.  Women want to communicate, share stories and laugh out here. It was fun.


Boutique heritage hotels and chic cafes cater for French tourists, Pondicherry is rather like Galle in Sri Lanka, and it is wonderful! Charles celebrates his birthday with food: french bread, real coffee, apple pie, coconut lime cheesecake, dinner in a pretty garden villa.
I look for the swimming pool where Piscine Molitor Patel or Pi learnt to swim  (Life of Pi, Yann Martel). There’s nothing at the point Google maps suggest but a woman sends us 2km further down the road suspiciously close to a river- surely she doesn’t think we plan to swim there? Then there it is!! Eight 25m lanes of crystal clear water surrounded by palms, and only ourselves. A joy! Greenbank pool with coconuts!! A Parisian pool is used in the film.




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Through the Cauvery delta



The 60m gopura at Brichadishwara


Brihadeeswarar is a really impressive Hindu temple, dedicated to Shiva in Thanjavur.  The central gopura is 60m tall, no wonder it’s called “Big Temple” on road signs!  It was built by Rajaraja I (985–1014), a powerful leader in the Cholas dynasty (these were the guys who ruled southern India for over 1,000 years). Rajaraja’s military campaigns spread Hinduism to the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Java, but he also encouraged literature, painting, sculpture, traditional music and dance. This is one of my favourite temples: I like that its solid granite is exposed,  beautifully carved and not painted. We sit cross-legged in the shade reflecting on our trip, smells of incense, monks chanting, pilgrims worshipping, and I feel so calm, so chilled.

Chilling at Brichadishwara temple

Soft feet on hot slabs!

It doesn’t last: the traffic in Thanjuvar is particularly bad and I am foul-mouthed again! There is no concept of ‘Give way’, the rule is do not hit anything in front, which is why drivers rarely glimpse to the right when they turn left and pedestrians walk with their back to the traffic.

The Nayaks ruled after the Cholas, so we cycle to see their royal palace and the Chola C10-13th bronzes sculptures. I like them, and it is lovely to chat to two English ladies (I could chat all afternoon, I’m starved of female company!) It’s really hot and Charles has had enough so we retreat to our hotel pool, yes a small swimming pool with clean clear water.

Airavateshwara Temple

Nyak royal Palace


The next day we visit Airavateshwara Temple, built by King Rajaraja II (1146–73) in a small village called Darasuram.  Another favourite. I’m struggling with the multiple names for the same deity. Most temples are devoted to Shiva, the supreme being who creates, protects and transforms the universe. At this temple, Shiva is called Airavateshwara because he was worshipped here by Airavata, a white elephant. I know that Nandi is Shiva in bull form.  

Sri Ranganathar Swarmy in Trichy.

These ‘cars’ are decorated for festival parades in Sri Ranganathar Swarmy in Trichy.

But it gets very confusing trying to understand Brahmins in Sabhanayakam Temple in Chidabaram. In a legend, King Hiranyavarman made a pilgrimage here from Kashmir, to cure himself of leprosy by bathing in the temple’s water tank. To show thanks, he enlarged the temple and brought in three thousand brahmin priests from the Dikshitar caste, distinguishable by top-knots of hair at the front of their heads. Young men always have beautifully styled hair. Today the temple Brahmins wear the same top-knot, but jauntily angled to the right. We are allowed to wander throughout this crumbling temple and the young Brahmins are keen to chat, and anoint us. There are identically carved massive granite columns lining tall shady passageways, and smooth cylinder columns of black basalt.

The drought has left most wells dry. The water is too polluted to bathe. Saradharam temple

Busy with worshippers at Saradharam temple in Chidabaram

Properly grand at Sirkazhi

Dilapidated Brahmapureeswarar Temple


What is the concept of Brahman?

“It is the pervasive, genderless, infinite, eternal truth and bliss which does not change, yet is the cause of all changes. Brahman as a metaphysical concept is the single binding unity behind the diversity in all that exists in the universe.”
How can one begin to understand Hinduism?  I see grave, inapposite Europeans, dressed in white Indian robes on spiritual quest and I know that will never be me.

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Marvellous marble


Road signs show that Chennai is only 350km from here – so close!! We will detour through settlements from Pandyas, Cholas, Vijayanagar (kings of Hampi), and Nyak dynasties (yes Charles, yet more temples) and hopefully a beach resort or two! While I anticipate the pleasure of family and friends, and my own bed (and 6 nations rugby) I’m actually aware of just how special our lives have become. Today for example. Well maybe not breakfast – a local millet muesli with water (no milk available) served in a tin mug is not particularly appetising but at 6am food is fuel. Post dawn the roads are blissfully quiet and the light is magical: hills of weathered pink granite lie like slumbering elephants behind the palms. This is the geology of Hampi, part of the Indian Craton.  Most people wave, some old women scowl, children cheer, mopeds slow for a chat. Our route crosses the Cauvery plain, an arid landscape second by bunds waiting for the Monsoon rains in May. We stop in a village bus shelter for shade. There is absolutely nothing here to entertain the crowd of young people who come to check us out. They are fascinated by my tablet, and my blue eyes. Between them they produce a single mobile phone for a selfie. It would be too unkind to eat our small snack in front of them, so after 20mins we cycle again.

Another village proudly displays is bull stockade. After many protests, on Feb 1st 2017, Jallikattu “bull taming” was reinstated as part of Tamil village culture. The zebu bull is tormented, then released into a crowd of men who attempt to grab the large hump of the bull with both arms and hang on to it while the bull attempts to escape. Every day we read of dozens of fresh injuries, and some days, death. In one village a viewing platform collapsed, was repaired and collapsed again sending another crowd off to the hospital! Without a doubt this is cruelty to bulls.

But are we guilty of cruelty to dogs? In a hamlet, Charles disappears around a corner to buy water. The silence is disturbed by dogs barking: do I pick up a stone and help or leave him to it? There’s a yelp as a foot meets snout and the dogs scarper. Any cyclist who follows our route will wonder why the dogs are so aggressive!!!
We arrive in Trichy, and cycle through the heart of the city to lavish Sri Ranganathar Swamy Temple. First we are on the main road where not one vehicle turning right actually goes around the roundabout! Then through bustling markets on narrow lanes barely wide enough for the delivery tricycles. There is so much interest, colour, traffic and noise, more exciting than any fairground ride! By the time we reach our pilgrims’ hotel I am buzzing and breathless: we are still alive!!

Which is no joke for the homeless man asleep near the temple. Beggars are drawn to the free meals and shelter in the temple, and the occasional generosity of pilgrims. He was pitifully thin, barely clothed, but when I approached him with some rupees I saw that his eyes and mouth were covered in flies. He did stir, not dead then, but dying. This morning he was gone, but at least he was old. Last year in Mexico we met two young Australian surfers: five days later they were shot dead in a robbery. Life is cheap on our travels. More than anything I am so utterly grateful that I was born in England!

Every hotel, cafe, restaurant has the most marvellous marble floors!

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Thirumalai Nayak Palace, 1780. Solid!!

We bounced along a levee and found quiet lanes to reach the large city of Madurai, one of the oldest cities in South Asia (2,500). It’s river, the Vaigai is a smelly struggling stream in a wide, littered river bed waiting for the Monsoon rains (the current drought is the worst since 1901 ‘India Times’ so rice prices are at a record high – r56/kg). Our hotel on Lake View Road overlooks a field!  
I read that Madurai was described as “the Athens of the East” as far back as 302 BC. It was the capital city of the stable Pandyan dynasty for over 1,000 years. The city’s silk, pearls and spices were traded as far as Rome: a lucrative trade that enabled then to erect the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple. The 14 tall gateway towers (gopuras) are covered with multicoloured mythological figures, lovely against the bright blue sky, but the temple is surrounded by a sea of modern concrete cubes and noise and unsympathetic markets selling tourist tack.  It’s difficult to date the temple, Wikipedia writes the temple was originally built in the 6th century BC but its present structure was built between 1623 and 1655. We read that some restoration work happened  as recently as 1963. Undeniably, it is hugely important to devout Hindus: praying, anointing powder paints, wedding blessings… Temples devoted to a female deity are rare.
Meenakshi is an avatar of the Hindu Goddess Parvati, the goddess of fertility, love and devotion.  The museum in the heart of the old temple is worthwhile, full of Hindu sculptures (there are 33,000 in the temple). My favourite represent Sri Boodevi, but what is it with men, even  Pandya females are portrayed as Barbie dolls.


Sheltering from the sun in a bus stop

I have no idea who this is, in several villages

Containers make this great little restaurant, lovely food.















































Politics dominate the newspapers here. The woman voted by her peers to lead their party is to be chief minister of Tamil Nadu. But V K Sasikala must wait for the Supreme Court verdict next week in the disproportionate assets case against her before she can sworn in. Her caretaker minister O Panneerselvam is popular with the people and is gaining support her party. Articles write of accusations, intrigue and abduction!

Can you believe this? A candidate in a minor local election is charged with the murder of his brother and his brother’s friend to gain sympathy votes!!
Suicide dominates the news, usually farmers, mostly by poison. Today we read of a couple in their 50s and 19 year old daughter, their textile business failed.  Another man found his wife had killed herself and did the same…

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 This will make you laugh! Pamban bridge connects India to a large island that peters to a sand spit and tiny islands just short of Sri Lanka. It fact one of those islands is the shortest land boundary between any two countries. The bridge is a tourist attraction with dozens of wealthy Indians leaning on the railings taking photos. One young girl sticks her head out of a minibus and her vomit just misses Charles. I am less fortunate. There’s a gap in the line of people and then an older couple, but it’s too late when I realise that (his back to me) he is pissing into a violent cross wind; flapping white robes and a wild hosepipe of urine! Yuck, yuck, disgustingly yuck, I am sprayed!!  First into the shower. Still yuck! I’d much rather be pissed then pissed on!  Re-crossed the bridge this morning, joyful views, my ‘shower’ almost forgotten

At Adam’s bridge 15 km of fast flowing shallow water (1-10m deep) separates India from Sri Lanka. There was once a ferry connecting Rameswaram to northern Sri Lanka but now all travellers must fly. Or excellent road is part of a long term plan to build a bridge.

Again, we read in the paper that “ custom sleuths” have captured drug traders, this time from Sri Lanka ( sadly we read that 75% of Punjabi families have a member addicted to opiates, also 7 tigers have been killed in shares by villagers protecting their livestock in Bandipur park).  An Indian on a motorbike noticed us and informed a cyclist ahead. Unlike the rest of Asia, touring cyclists are rare, so he waited, and we joined him for a couple of days. At 23 Warde has cycled from his home town in Belgium to Oman before flying to Sri Lanka, then India. Plucky!

On quiet roads we delight to see so many eagles, kingfishers, flamingos, peacocks, and striking cobalt blue bird whose name I cannot find.  Development has started in this wild landscape, old people chopping wood to make charcoal, and the industrial scale  wrenching crunch of diggers removing acacia trees for farming and settlement. SE India will look different within 5 years, but right now there little traffic and always something interesting to look at.

Horns have a spectrum of meaning from notice me /acknowledge me to I’m undertaking/ overtaking or I’m cutting across in front of you. On a quiet stretch of road two buses in front and one behind were blasting their horns at each other almost continuously. But then it dawned, they were blasting at me ‘Get off the road or we will kill you’. I stopped, and a bus skimmed by, whisper close, swerving to avoid the two ahead. Then silence, and I realised I was holding my breath!

What were the chances of three buses meeting me on a narrow section of an otherwise empty road? It’s too easy to become blasé on Indian roads. My new song to keep me alert is “ Oh, oh, oh, oh, Staying Alive, Staying Alive….”


Our worst ‘hotel’ in India!! Bed bugs included!!

Pan am bridge

What about this name Aileen: Sri Mangalambigai Samedha Srimangalanadhar Thirukoil

15km to Sri Lanka

Plucky Ward de cycled Oman then flew to Sri Lanka and then India. Good to share 2 days

1,000s of turbines spinning in the wrong direction. Tough cycling!!




































































Rameshwaram town is mentioned in the epic ancient Hindu poem Ramayana. In the poem  Rama ( the reincarnation of the god Vishnu, the protector – the blue god with four arms), worships his perfect wife Shiva.  The demon god Ravana of Lanka (the one with 10 heads and 20 arms to represent his many disguises) abducts Sita. So there is a big trip to Lanka with a monkey army, crossing the boulders peppering the sea between Rameshwaram and Sri Lanka at Adam’s bridge to successfully rescue Sita. But it never seems to work out well for women! Poor Sita must pass a virtue test by fire and in many versions of the tale she is exiled and swallowed by mother earth.

No cameras are allowed inside the colourful temple: it is very peaceful, calming, as we walk along tall covered corridors and stop to watch the pilgrims receive small silver pails of water poured over their heads from each of the temple’s sacred tanks. The pilgrims also bathe in the sea, sharing the beach with wandering cows and goats. The water is not inviting – we swim at Adam’s bridge. Swamis (Hindu teachers) recite mantras sitting next to lingams. These are the phallic stones, sprinkled with flowers that represent the god Shiva, the god of creation, destruction and reincarnation ( the transformer). Usually lingams sit in a dish called a Yoni, representing female genitalia so that together they are the source of creation. It’s all very atmospheric. Again we are the only westerners.

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Industrial India

The Kaumaram sect of Hinduism worships lord Muruga, the god of war. It’s popular here in southern Tamil India as we discover at the ancient Murugan Temple, site of a bloody battle, in Tiruchendur. There are 100s of devotees who queue to make offerings, then bathe in holy well water to cleanse themselves after a dip in the sea. It’s completely different from other temples, and interesting to talk to the few who speak English. Most pilgrims sleep on the marble temple floors but we benefit from the plethora of hotels and restaurants provided for wealthy pilgrims; great food again!

Next day we return to “the arse end of beyond” (Charles). Grubby towns and roads with traffic take us to the industrial city of Thoothakudy with its huge port. A chap on a motorbike introduced himself to Charles as a Sri Lankan pilot. Charles tells him that he captains an Airbus 320. Mistake! We are invited into his home, to meet his family and share some food. You may have heard of the cycling website ‘ Crazy guy on a bike’. We realise we have met crazy guy on a plane. Surely he must be lying. No doubt he looks at Charles in his 4 year old cycling lycra from Aldi and thinks the same! With difficulty we retrieve our bikes and scarper!!

A fraction of the fishing fleet

Our kissing Captain, yes he was so pleased to meet us, he grabbed Charles and kissed him!

There was no concern for this obviously distressed elephant

‘My photo’ so many youngsters like to see themselves on my camera. Families frequently as ask us to be in their selfies.

This is at 6am The previous evening wearing a swim suit and goggles got me noticed on the beach. Stares changed to laughter when I was tossed by a big wave. First swim in the Indian ocean.

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