Day 18: Colonial de Sacramento, Uruguay

Monday, 30 April 2018 – Day 18: Colonial de Sacramento, Uruguay (34.4607° S, 57.8339° W)

Uruguay! …Huh? Uruguay! …Paraguay? No, Uruguay!…Is that near Guyana?

Indeed, Uruguay is a mostly unknown country, a mysterious place off the tourist radar…and wrongfully so…a nation of only 3.4m people; underdogs all, but with a lot of pride and character. And rightfully so, as they are passionate caring romantics, noble, charming, egalitarian and inviting. My best guess is that their working paradigm seems to be: “Here nobody is better than anybody else.” No tall poppies here…

WE have seen most of the teams the last the few days…some at the hotel, some surreptitiously walking about the city…only one team has not been seen or heard form since Saturday morning….stay tuned.

Officially named República Oriental del Uruguay (Oriental Republic of Uruguay)…and caught between the joyful chaos that is their neighboring giant Brazil, their northern neighbor…and the staid stuffy and flawed nation-state that is Argentina, it’s southern neighbor. It is oft-called The Switzerland of America…Uruguay means ‘River of Painted Birds’ referring to its many rivers including the Rio de la Plata, the widest river in the world and to its 475 species of birds.

So…what can I tell you about Uruguay? Well, long since suffocating under the grip of military dictatorship…Uruguay is today one the world’s most ethical nations. It is ranked first in the Latin American region for: democracy, peace, lack of corruption, quality of living, e-government services, freedom of press, size of their middle class, prosperity and security…in fact, some might say they are over-compensating for their past repressions making all things legal in a very secular libertarian way–usually through national referendums. In fact, in December 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana; it has progressive divorce laws (in a repressively Catholic continent); same sex marriage is celebrated; Women’s reproductive rights are well protected; and although 50% Catholic, Uruguay is one of the least religious countries in Latin America, now calling Christmas “Family Day” and Easter Week is now referred to by almost everyone here as “Tourism Week.” It is indeed one of the least religious countries in Latin America. (Coincidence? It also has a literacy rate of 98.1 percent…hmmm?)

And how’s this one: 95 percent of the electricity in Uruguay is generated from renewable resources, mainly from wind farms. It is a country where cows outnumber people four to one…they are the world’s largest consumer of beef per capita…and soccer wise, Uruguay is the country with more glory per capita in the world…Their national team (aka La Celeste) has 91 international titles, they even hosted the first ever World Cup, and won the 1930 & 1950 World Cups (against Brazil in Brazil!), they have won the Copa America 15 times. And Messi’s sidekick at Barco, Luis Suárez calls Uruguay home, along with: Diego Forlan, Paolo Montero, Enzo Francescoli, Alvaro Recoba…

Uruguay is also home to: Gauchos, maté, chivitos (a filet mignon sandwich), and great wines and beaches.

And so we are here for two days, staying at the waterfront Hyatt Centric Montevideo.

Picturesque Colonial del Sacramento…stalled in time.

Old world charm in a modern laid back city-scape…

yerba mate Tea…

See you in Montevideo tomorrow night, Tuesday at 7:00PM!

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Day 17: Tigre, Argentina

Sunday, 29 April 2018 – Day 17: Tigre, Argentina (34.4251° S, 58.5797° W)

Good morning, buenos dias.

Some cities just look better in the dark…like LA, Bangkok and Buenos Aires too is one of those mysterious dark places with alluring nighttime lights and sounds…Avenida Corrientes is BA’s “street that never sleeps”…walking last night past packed pizza places hopping, sax music spilled out of jazz bars, the siren smell of meats grilling grabbed you as you walked by busy parrillas, dates meeting up on corners anxiously starring into their phones for coming reassurances, porteños both young and old were out in force last night in BA enjoying their Saturday night. My family and I have had the privilege of living here like locals years ago; we had our own apartment and rescheduled our lives and schedules into the cities rhythms. We dinned late, sometimes noshing after midnight on weekends. And so when I finally sat down to eat last night, tired from exploring all day, thirsty for a cerveza and hungry for lomo and frites it was well after 11PM…

The basics: lomo grilled to perfection (grass fed) & potatoes cooked in olive oil, chimmichurri sauces, and a bottle of Malbec.

Most North Americans don’t travel south to this part of the world, preferring the Grand Tour of European bucket list spots and maybe a once-in-a-lifetime Down Under visit. So, Buenos Aires (aka Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Aires, or just BA) is a mysterious place to most. Only two of our 14 travelers had been here before—and these are well-traveled people. So here are the cliches: BA is the world’s most European city…a mix of Paris boulevards, Milan style, London upper crust that make it’s few tourist sights: broad Avenida 9 de Julio, it’s vast 48 different barrios (neighborhoods), the old-moneyed shopping district of Recoleta, tangoing the night away in bawdy San Telmo, making friends in the trendy bars in the Palermo and Las Canitas neighborhoods, perusing Caminito’s colorfully painted houses, wandering the antiques market or watching the protesters at Plaza Del Mayo. The phrase here: “mi barrio, mi vida” (my neighborhood is my life) makes you who you are here in BA.

Teams Biking around the city…

Here at BA’s facts: Great Buenos Aires (Gran Buenos Aires), is the 22nd most populated urban center in the world with over 18 million people. But who really knows…maybe 20-22 million? On the global list—think Vienna, Copenhagen, Vancouver, Geneva, Melbourne on top—it is the second ranked South American city on the list with the highest quality of life/livability ranking coming in 93 overall…(Montevideo #1  at 79). Despite it’s size though, BA it is not an Alpha city, more a Beta city…on par IMHO with the likes of: Atlanta, Guangzhou, Manila, Budapest…BA is not Paris, Shanghai, Madrid, Tokyo, London or Istanbul. Argentina has a per capita GDP of about $21,000. Rich, but not too rich;  distinctly lower middle class in the hierarchy of economics.

Interesting tidbits: Buenos Aires has more psychologists per capita than any other city… even the Buenos Aries city airport (AEP) actually has an open psych clinic for flyers afraid to fly, vent, get anti-anxiety Rx pills. BA also has more bookstores (750+) per person than any city in the world…one location for every 4000 citizens…28 newspapers also  serve the city of Buenos Aires. They like gossip, politics (each political party has their own paper and they have a lot of parties here!).

What I really love about Argentina is: Argentina’s grass-fed beef, cafes that serve dulce de leche topped espressos, great gelato, well-dressed locals, their famed Malbec wine, sentimental, sexy and moody tango, and their passion for soccer of course—the world’s best player Messi hails from Argentina….and frankly, you gotta love that dinner earlier than 10PM is déclassé in Argentina…and of course, it would be social suicide to turn up to a club here before 2AM.

9 de Julio Avenue

An espresso dulce de leche…my personal favorite.

Bone hunting for Evita…

Near MALBA…& van Gough’s & Kahlo’s & Berni’s

Ever present tango motif’s…milonga anyone?

La Boca…watch your wallets folks! (Right Tom!)

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Day 16: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Saturday, 28 April 2018 – Day 16: Buenos Aires, Argentina (34.6037° S, 58.3816° W)

Bienvenido from Argentina…

Not quite Latin America, not quite Europe, not ultra-modern, not old fashion, not truly Spanish, nor Italian, odd mix of cosmopolitan French-style apartments abut Brazilian-style favelas; kind of shabby-chic. Indeed, Buenos Aires, is a tad schizoid and certainly in need of a psychiatrist’s couch. Who am I?

We got in last night just before 11PM after a long repositioning that took us from breakfast in Johannesburg, dinner in Brazil and a nightcap here in Argentina. But we are here…and we are in the home stretch and will be spending five days in Rio Platte region of Argentina & Uruguay. We are here in BA in particular for three nights and staying in an ultra lux hotel.

Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt Buenos Aires

These are brand new destinations…and while my family and I lived here for a while in 2009 (Thank you Sherry!)…and we almost bought a bodega here—in the Valley of Calchaquies, Mendoza; Argentina remained elusive for us logistically speaking.

We also welcome some familiar faces and two teams: old event friends, Zoe & Rainey and Marnie & Greg…they will be with us the rest of the way…they got in yesterday after conducting a brief introductory layover challenge in Bogota, Colombia.

Old Business:
You all came in tied for first in Johannesburg…considering our situation…good job all.

Overall leaders after five legs about a third (par 15 of 24 completed) …the overall top 3 teams are
3. Team Tuna – 54
2. LEO & the Crab – 50
1. SLO FOLKS – 15 out of 15 so far, and are on a truly historic run (thinking Sydney Sisters)—can they continue it?
-congrats all…let’s roll on to our next leg.

Three Things I learned getting from Africa to South America: Listen to your personal travel experience over the noise of the Internet and misinformation of those not in the know; J’burg is not as criminally-prone as many suggest; and travel with friends, new and old ones, makes difficult times easier—you get over yourself quicker!

Our swank briefing in an art gallery this morning…some new faces!

Okay…before lies a tricky long 4-day Par 5…all day Sat, Sun, Mon & Tues…we will not see the teams again until we meet Tuesday night in our Hotel lobby in Uruguay at 7:00PM. By now, the teams are all savvy veterans and can figure the logistics out.

There are 7 Bonuses, 3 Team Challenges, and over 40 other scavenges to consider:
-locate Evita’s resting place…sing to her
-take in a passionate soccer game
-play a round of Taxi Cab Roulette
-Visit “the
world’s most dangerous zoo”
-take a dip in the South Atlantic
-kayak the Lujan River

Another observation….It is a funny paradox: Millennials spend less time in their hotel rooms and more in the lobby, but why? Yes it is true, because A) they are probably traveling as a single and have no real social life—or sex either for that matter according to recent surveys… and B) the WiFi reception is better (and usually free) in the lobby—plus you can photograph your food to social media account.

Question: Why does every city’s tourist bureau and PR machine want to emulate Paris? If Beirut is the Paris of the middle east, Buenos Aires the Paris of Latin America, and Karachi the Paris of Asia…what is the Paris of North America?

Where I am headed right now…Freddo’s of course.

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Day 15: Repositioning from Here to There

Friday, 27 April 2018 – Day 15: Continental Transition Day

It may appear easy…getting from here to there; but getting from Africa to South America is really not easy. In the age of connectivity, one would think there would be a multitude of flight options connecting the two Southern hemisphere continents. You would be wrong. There are in fact, very few flights connecting the two continents. BTW: Even more scarce are flights between South America and Asia–good luck with that one!

A couple travel-related observations…

Odd how since we left SFO and the USA two weeks ago, have traveled on seven flights and moved through eight airports—sometimes twice!—we as a group have yet to see any emotional support animals anywhere?! Wonder if having one is a strictly First World concern—or, just an American thang?

And this is indeed a paradox, but maybe it is just my odd perspective? But isn’t it odd that Men traveling first class tend to weigh more than those in economy, while for women the reverse is true.

Anyway…we will be in Buenos Aires when we next post…stay tuned.

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Day 14: Johannesburg, South Africa

Thursday, 26 April 2018 – Day 14: Johannesburg, South Africa (26.2041° S, 28.0473° E)

Sawubona from South Africa…we repositioned this morning from Zimbabwe about an hour south to Johannesburg. We are heading further and further deep into Africa! (How will we get out?)

Old Business: First we have to close the books on our last Leg, a difficult Par 5. The scores…
5th Buckeyed Terriers
4th Leo & The Crab
3rd Team Tuna
2nd NOLA Secondline
1st SLO Folks for their 4th straight leg win…they ate the most, did the most and laughed the most!

Overall now, the leaders after four legs about a third (Par 14 or 24 completed)…the overall top 3 teams are:
3. NOLA Secondline = 55
2. Team Tuna = 53
1. SLO Folks = a perfect low 14

Three Things I learned from the Zimbabwe-Zambia Leg: Africa is full of smiles and people wanting to sincerly know you and help you if need be—when you leave it is people encounters you remember most; critters and nature remain the key attraction despite mandmade diversions running amok; and I want to come again.

Teams had a ball…and finally, I have a few photos to share:

Teams figuring out border detials: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana & Namibia

Half of SLO Folks about to do something to do with big elastics…

Small World story: SLO Folks run into friends from home, while away! What are the chances?

Leaving the Batonka Guest Lodhe in Vic Falls…thank you all!

Welcome to Soweto

We turn the page here in South Africa with a short 1:00PM till 9:00PM leg; we call them layover challenges.

8-Hour Layover Challenge:
J’burg Edition
lay•over  \ ‘lā-, ō-vәr \ noun (1873) – STOPOVER n (1885): a period spent by a passenger at an intermediate point in waiting for a transportation connection; a brief halt in a journey caused by scheduling in the course of a journey; a short stop in a long journey, especially one between airplane flights; free time between flights spent in an airport hub—and to be avoided like the plague.

Alas…despite best laid plans…we had to call an audible in J’burg. Seems the day before departing Victoria Falls I was unceremoniously notified that our airline took it upon itself to unilaterally change our flight departure time from a morning one to an afternoon flight. We finally arrived at JNB after 3:00PM! We simply did not have time to do all the things we wanted to accomplish in South Africa due to our upending flight schedule change. So, we went out to eat and drank and swap travel war stories two weeks into the event.

On a side note: we certainly have dug ourselves a geographic hole here coming all the way to South Africa, very far from everything and everywhere else. Where is next for us? Time will tell as we have a morning to catch to… reposition to someplace else!?

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Day 13: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Wednesday, 25 April 2018 – Day 13: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (17.9318° S, 25.8256° E)

That feature photo is what Victoria Falls looked like in November when I was last here during the dry season…that’s the before photo.

Victoria Falls after photo…during wet season.

The problem with the after photo is there is too much of a good thing. It is like a white out (wet out) with so much water crashing down creating micro-climates…squalls really, that prevent you from really seeing the majesty of the falls. You get absolutely soaked…saturated even. But alas, we are here, enjoying ourselves tremendously. Heard a team was going bungee jumping and maybe zip lining too? Hopefully, video later…

Leo & the Crab tanned & rested enjoying breakfast at Batonka.

Something lurking between me and my pub! Yield the right-of-way…

Baobab Tree sunset

Tiger Fish (aka African piranha)…something to think about white water rafting!

What inflation looks like…a real note. Bitcoin anyone?

All the teams returned on time at our 9:00PM check-in with stories to tell. Drinks kept them flowing until the wee hours of the balmy night…

So conflicted? Which way to go to begin the last 10-days? Thoughts?

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Day 12: Livingstone, Zambia

Tuesday, 24 April 2018 – Day 12: Livingstone, Zambia (17.8520° S, 25.8285° E)

Our 2018 around the world event has reached its midpoint here in Zambia…our glass is half empty, yet remains half full!

Teams are in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, Chobe National Park in Botswana and here in Zambia too.

To all my new friends at Camp Hwange who made me feel like I was the only one in the world: John, Kim, Beth, Jean, Morris, Amton, Matrabuli, Donacious…thank you!

The mighty Zambezi River

Dr. Livingstone I presume….

The Capetown to Cairo Railroad crossing Vic Falls

That is beer being downloaded in Zambia Market

They like their President

My favorite Namibia bar…

This Teams check-in is tomorrow night 9:00PM Wednesday, April 25

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Day 11: Chobe National Park, Botswana

Monday, 23 April 2018 – Day 11: Chobe National Park, Botswana (18.6667° S, 24.5000° E)

I was here in November scouting out the four country area…checking for things to do, services, infrastructure and ease of travel.

One of the world’s poorest countries in the 1970s, Botswana transformed itself into one of the fastest-growing economies by harnessing around $3 billion a year in diamond sales, to become one of the world’s biggest producers, and gained middle-income status….landlocked country of just two million…is now becoming a adventerurs haven with enlighenthened environmental policies.

The things we will see today.

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Day 10: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Sunday, 22 April 2018 – Day 10: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (17.9318° S, 25.8256° E)

Mauya from Zimbabwe…and Mosi-oa-Tunya “the smoke that thunders”…also known as Victoria Falls. We have repositioned our game board heading south-west across Africa to Zimbabwe.

The falls…

We are staying in the Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) & Livingstone (Zambia) metro area…where about 180,000+ live in this tourism-dominated area. We will be here for four nights, staying for the most part, at the Batonka Guest Lodge a wonderfully welcoming boutique hotel here on the Zimbabwe side of the Zambezi River. Did I mention great staff!

Our yard at the Batonka…drinks at 6 on the veranda…

Old Business: we have gone over all the peer reviewed ADD Leg (Par 2) scores…
6th Buckeye Terriers
5th  Team Tuna
4th Leo & the Crab
3rd NOLA Seconline
2nd Sonoma County Strong
1st SLO Folks who completed 22 scavenges in our short Addis Ababa visit. 

Overall leaders after three legs about a third (par 9 or 24 completed) …the overall top 3 teams are
3. Leo & the Crab = 29
2. Sonoma County Strong = 18
1. SLO FOlks = a perfect three for three with 9

Three Things I Learned from the Ethiopian Leg: People want to go back and see the country side more, including: the rock-etched underground churches of Lalibela, muraled monasteries, castles of Gondar, and the so-called “cruelest place on Earth”—the Danakil Depression; It is probably politically incorrect of me to report, but you either love it or hate it…some call it one of the world’s worst cuisines, along with, in my humble opinion, the foods of Nepali, Russian, England and Israeli cuisines…but Ethiopian food surely ranks in my book. (Haters don’t hate!)

let’s keep it rolling on…

New Business:

Zimbabwe will be a busy difficult long Par 5… 3 1/2 full days of scavenges, sometimes in rather remote areas…more about Bonus scavenges here than urban 25 point scavenges….it is about safari…seeing nature…maybe visiting 4 countries too! And there is something for everyone here too: Thrill-seekers, adrenaline-pumping activities galore, hub for white-water rafting, bungee-jumping, zip-lining, safari, helicopter rides, bridge swing, Devil’s Pool, at the very edge
– they have a hotel here for 4 nights, but most will take a day pack & explore overnight on safari for a night, or two!

VFA leg check-in will be 9:00PM on Wednesday, April 25…

Among the 5 Bonuses, 3 Team Challenges, 40 other scavenges
-visit the world’s only four nation-state Quadripoint
-Botswana’s Chobe National Park
-Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park
-Victoria Falls sunrise
-go river rafting on the Zambezi River—watch out for tigerfish!

It is gin and tonic time…and I love African sunsets…more tomorrow from some other country…we are in Africa!

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Day 9: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Saturday, 21 April 2018 – Day 9: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (8.9806° N, 38.7578° E)

Good evening…hard to believe that a week ago we were in San Francisco. Seems so long ago…when you enter that zone, that being in-the-moment place, you lose track of time absorbed in the here and now. It is a good, satisfying and fulfilling place to be. And here we are…in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is in good hands.

Ethiopian (formerly known as Abyssinia) is relatively unknown to most Westerns. Maybe you’ve heard of the Queen of Sheba, Emperor Haile Selassie, coffee, or Rastafarianism? That is usually the extent of it. And Ethiopia is home to all the above. But most likely, you know of landlocked Ethiopia, the 2nd most populace nation in Africa with 105+ million citizens (63% of which are under 24!), from the 1985 MTV generation “Live Aid” broadcast and Bob Geldof’s “give us your fuckin’ money…please!” efforts to offer relief to the horrific mid-80’s Ethiopian famine…it changed a few consciousnesses. It was “a biblical famine in the 20th century” and “the closest thing to hell on Earth” at the time…not anymore. According to World Bank number crunchers, with an 8.5% GDP growth rate, Ethiopia is the world’s fastest growing economy now. Yet, it remains mostly an agricultural country with only 20% urbanization. So, lot’s of economic change is coming to their future as the cranes and new construction we have witnessed here attest. But despite the economic growth, know for certain that Ethiopia is poor…very poor, with an average per capita income of less than $2,100. That’s less than a Starbuck’s venti a day folks. (Remember what Gandhi said: “The earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”) Is it all relative?

People also don’t know that Ethiopia is the world’s second-oldest Christian nation, after Armenia. And that aside from a brief military occupation by the Italians during World War II, Ethiopia is the sole African nation (out of 54) that has never been colonized. That speaks volumes to the independent spirit of the people here. Today, 43% of all its inhabitants are Ethiopian-Orthodox Christians, with a significant 34% being Sunni Muslims, along with a couple hundred thousand from the so-called lost tribe of Beta Israel. But it is the twin tribal groups, the Oromo and Amhara people, one residing in the north, and the other in the south, that make up about two-thirds of all Ethiopians today. (And yet the traditional warrior tribe of the Tigray dominate the country’s military and power structures.)

But we are in the capital city of Addis Ababa, known in Amharic as “the new flower”. There are over 5 million people (way over) that live here in the mountainous surrounded city at an altitude of, like I mentioned yesterday,  about 2,400 meters (8,000 feet). It is a growing, big, dusty and overcrowded busy city–Africa’s 4th largest by some counts. Sights and sounds include: the constant pounding of Chinese construction, car horns (although to be fair, much less then in India), the scream of ambulances, Mullahs call to prayer, barking dogs, random yelling in the street, and the occasional rooster. It is intriguing to be here. Addis is a Brave New World cosmopolitan mix of South and West (South as in emerging or developing world versus that old cliche of East as in Asia)…a mixing of churches, monuments and museums, and hectic crazy busy markets…all chaotically tucked alongside stylish new cafes, brand-selling boutiques, and international hotels and restaurants. There is a large diplomatic crowd stationed here as Addis, which also serves as hub for international aid and diplomatic concerns “helping” Africa. The Chinese are also here…noticeably so.

And during our day we ran into teams seemingly everywhere we went:

Buckeye Terriers & Sonoma County Strong at Mt. Entoto
Teams Leo & The Crab and Team Tuna checking out Lucy.

(Lucy is an early australopithecine specimen and is dated to about 3.2 million years ago…also of Lucy in the Sky’s fame.)

We sent those willing to help out to Hand in Hand Ethiopia‘s K-12 school here in Addis.
Where hopefully meals were shared and friendships were created:

Students here range in age from 4 to 20…

Sonoma County Strong getting & giving love

Aksum obelisks


African street scene…mangoes of course!

Observation: The Chinese aren’t coming…they are here! They built the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad, they built Addis Ababa’s light rail transit system, they built the new home of African Union, they built… Time to wake up America, the Chinese are doing things differently in the world—using our own Marshall Plan idea. For good or bad–only time will tell, but I have an opinion on the matter–the Chinese are moving in and taking over buying buildings, investing and extracting. Not just offering security and military aid ala USA. While we send Africa 6,000+ troops/advisors in 50 African countries, the Chinese are spending $60 bn of new investment in major capital projects in 54 African countries…on top of the $14 bn already spent. Why? Well, by 2050, 25% of the world’s nine billion population will be Africans and most of them will be under 30…huge market potential aside from the obvious extraction of vital resources and creating future diplomatic allies.  But…African countries should be careful not to forfeit their sovereignty when they accept loans from China, the continent’s biggest trading partner now….China’s approach to Africa resembles the American-business model  of predatory loan practices….and the Chinese footprint will only expand with over 1 million Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs relocating to Africa.

So…we leave Ethiopia tomorrow (Sunday) to someplace new, albeit too soon. But that is what this event is—global grazing. Opening a new surprise gift and enjoying a great appetizer round everyday for 23-days straight!

We also reluctantly say good bye to Team Sonoma County Strong (Pam + Denise)…they have to return to California and their familiar duties…and take a night flight tonight to Istanbul then back to San Francisco—and yes they have a series of Layover Scavenges in the great city of Istanbul to complete…they are leaving the hotel in about an hour.

Till tomorrow…


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