Photo Essay

The ‘Where the other shoe drops’ project

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You know when you’re driving down the street or going for a walk and you see that one shoe on the side of the road and you wonder – where is the other shoe?

Well, we found that shoe. In fact, we may have found ALL the ‘other’ shoes.

shoes mexicoThis place could seem like a nature lovers paradise. Down here at the beach house, the views are incredible. From up on our roof, we see far out over the Caribbean in the front, and over a beautiful freshwater lagoon in the back. We have red-headed woodpeckers, the bluest of blue birds, pelicans and herons flying in and around gorgeous green palm trees while giant snakes and massive blue crabs skirt around dozens of giant coconuts and into their deep holes throughout the sandy front yard.

mexico caribbeanExcept that every day, the 2km walk up and down the beach with the dog, Loba, means sidestepping endless pieces of garbage that wash ashore. These aren’t romantic glass bottles with hopeful love letters, either. This is just junk. Our junk, your junk, all those things that you buy every day and never really think too much about where they will end up when you’re done with them.

Well, these things wash up on the shore here, everything from half pairs of shoes to plastic toys, rice sacks, toothbrushes, oil bottles, you name it, there is one of them out here on the beach.

beach garbageReading this post by No Vacation Required  last month, who asked their readers ‘Once a week or once a month, commit to bringing a garbage bag on a walk or outing. Fill it!’ we were inspired to clean up the stretch of beach we’re walking every day. But down here, there are no garbage services. We burn everything we us except for glass bottles, which we dump on a ‘recycling’ pile in the nearest village.

So, what to do with all the garbage we find, we wondered? I made what I thought was an off-hand remark, that we should make an art project out of it all. Dani took this to heart, and the ‘Where the other shoe drops‘ project began.

While I was laid-up with my broken toe, Dani started sorting and collecting trash bag after trash bag of items, returning triumphantly each day with a black bag over her shoulder like some post-apocalyptic Santa Claus.

dani in mexico cleaning up the beachFirst, she collected all kinds of junk, big garbage bags filled with plastic bottles, oil bottles and other things.

garbage bags mexicoThen there were the hundreds of oil bottles…

oil bottles mexico

Hundreds of toothbrushes…

toothbrushes mexicoDozens of combs (who even uses combs anymore?)

combs mexicoDeodorant galore..

deodorant mexicoWho would think that thousands of plastic spoons, knives and forks arrive on Mexico’s shores every day?

plastic spoons and forksNot to mention all the spray cans and soda cans – they are from all over the Caribbean, Central America and the U.S.!

cans in mexicoEven a juice carton all the way from Germany!

german pineapple juiceTwo toilet seats…

dani with toilet seatsAnd last but not least: 1,647 shoes!

mexico shoesAnd if all this is what ends up on our two-kilometer stretch of beach, imagine how much of these discarded items can be found along Mexico’s 9,330 km (5797miles) of coastline. You buy things, you throw them out, and you never think much about where they end up. But after this, we always will think of what we buy clogging up the coast of some remote paradise.

shoe art mexicoWe can’t very well hold a toxic shoe bonfire down here, so we want your ideas…

What in the world should we do with over 1,600 shoes, two toilet seats, countless plastic spoons and forks, oil bottles, deodorants and toothbrushes?

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Photo essay: The markets of Cambodia

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Come join us for a visual tour of Cambodia’s markets…

If you have been reading GlobetrotterGirls for a while, you know that we are huge fans of hitting up the local markets in every country we visit. There is no better way to describe a Cambodian market than Loung Ung does it in her incredible book on her life in the Khmer Rouge work camps, First They Killed My Father.

‘I am in a Cambodian market where a pile of fish flaps on the dirt floor next to a mound of beef intestines, tripe, and chicken feet. A seller squats next to her goods, her mouth talking incessantly, praising the quality of her products or sharing a yummy recipe on how to cook them. When a deal has been struck, she wraps the goods in a lotus or banana leaf and gives it to her customer. Then, with a wave of her hand, a black cloud of flies levitates and scatters, waiting for her hand to settle down before their eventual return. The smell of her fish, tripe, and chicken feet hovers in the humid air and floats fifty feet away to the people sitting on stools eating their fried chive cakes, pork dumplings, and shrimp patties. Boiling pots of noodle soups, yellow curry, pork-blood rice congee, and pans of hot oil filled with crunchy spring rolls sit on a makeshift oven.

Crackling and browning in another oven are skewers of frog kabobs roasted to a crispy brown. The aroma of the soups and frogs hops over to another customer as she feels the firmness of a pink dragon fruit. From there, she inspects the wiry red rambutans, jack fruit, and durian before she pops a purple grape into her mouth. Drawn by songs of the dessert sellers, she finishes her shopping and sits down for a cool glass of mango fruit shake. As she sips her drink, the pungent smells of dried fish, squid, soups, frogs, fruits, meat, and fish seep into her clothes, skin, and hair.’

South East Asia’s markets were some of the most interesting markets we have ever seen – the street food, tropical fruits that we had not known prior to visiting the region, and other interesting goods. Cambodia was no exception and we found something interesting in every market we went to.

Let’s start with the fruit and vegetables sections – because they are usually the most colorful stalls!

phnom penh central market vegetables
battambang market fruit

phnom penh central market mangosWe were in Cambodia for mango season, and they truly were the best mangoes we had in our time in South East Asia – sweet and juicy… delicious!

phnom penh central market mangosteensWe had discovered mangosteens in Thailand, a juicy fruit with a thick, reddish-purple colored rind and a juicy, soft opaque white core. Over time, they have become some of our favorite fruits in Asia. You have to squeeze the thick rind a little bit, and the fruit will break open in the middle. They are unlike any other fruit we’ve ever had!

phnom penh central market duriansDurians are very popular in Cambodia – Cambodians LOVE them! We do not love them at all, instead we tend to agree with travel writer Richard Sterling though, who described the taste of this unique fruit as follows: ‘pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.’
durian seller battambangThe taste of the Durian has been compared to things like stale vomit, skunk spray, and sewage – by Westerners of course. In most of South East Asia durian is handled as an expensive specialty and you will find durian ice cream, durian chocolate pralines and other durian goodies everywhere.

phnom penh durian vendorWe love all the melons and of course we eat more bananas than most monkeys!

phnom penh central market water melonsBananas are, like in all of South East Asia, only finger-sized, and much sweeter than the ones we are used to in Europe or North America.

tiny bananas south east asiaAnd there are definitely enough melons for everyone!

battambang market melonsThe same goes for coconuts – they are everywhere!

coconut vendor battambangAnother fruit we had not known before we got to South East Asia is the rambutan – a small, hairy fruit with a juicy core similar to a lychee.

battambang market rambutanTangy tamarind is also widely available, but we prefer tamarind juice to the fruit itself.

battambang market tamarindOf course you can buy rice in any of the markets, the price ranging from 2700 ($0.65) to 5000 Riel ($1.22) per kilo, depending on the kind of rice.

phnom penh central market riceThe former French protectorate still loves the baguettes, which you find on the streets, similar to Laos, also once controlled by the French.

phnom penh central market baguette vendorA common snack is sticky rice with red beans, roasted in a bamboo stick. These are filling, travel-friendly and also pretty fun to eat.

battambang market sticky riceSince most of the towns in Cambodia are either close to a river or close to the ocean, you always find fresh fish in the markets.

battambang market fish…or dried fish, hugely popular in this country.

phnom penh central market dried fishAnd then there’s chicken of course – freshly slaughtered and disemboweled. Looks more like science class than dinner to us.

phnom penh central market chickens
phnom penh market chicken vendorMost kinds of birds, as long as you can catch ’em and cook ’em, can be seen hanging upside down in the markets.

phnom penh central market birds
cambodia fried birdsDucks are also very popular everywhere…

battambang market ducksShopping for more than food in Cambodian markets

The clothes section was particularly interesting – we have seen belly-reducing underwear and push-up bras of course, but until we came to Phnom Penh, we had never seen panties to make your butt look bootylicious…

phnom penh central market pantiesAnd these flip flops are pretty creative…

funky keyboard flipflop phnom penhAnother section of the markets is dedicated to flowers – you can buy beautiful flower bouquets or lotus flowers which are usually given to Buddha when visiting the temple..

phnom penh central market flower bouquetSpeaking of which – there is even a small Buddha shrine in the market to pay your respects.

phnom penh central market buddha shrineLotus flowers are not only used for its beautiful blossoms though – their fruits are edible and sold everywhere. We didn’t like the flavor though.

phnom penh central market lotus flowersWhile sweets were rare in the markets, Cambodians still get their sugar fix – with sugar cane juice, freshly made while you are waiting.

phnom penh central market sugar cane lady
phnom penh central market sugar cane juiceLike neighboring Thailand and Laos, you also can get fried crickets in Cambodia.

cambodia fried cricketsPhnom Penh’s Central Market is located in a beautiful market yellow market hall with a high, round ceiling. One of the cleanest and most organized markets we’ve seen in South East Asia.

phnom penh central market ceilingNot everyone has a market stall though, so you see some of the vending ladies walking around with big baskets on their head in which they have the food they sell.

phnom penh market fish lady
phnom phen market fruit ladyAnother way to carry your goods are two baskets, connected by a long wooden stick, carried on your shoulder.

battambang vendorOutside of every market, the barbers set up their shops: basically a chair and a mirror and they are ready to go!

phnom penh barber shopSome people just like to come and hang out outside the markets, like these guys playing a round of chess (their wives are probably selling fruit inside!)

phnom penh chess playersOf course there are shoe shiners in the markets…

phnom penh shoe shine stallCyclo taxis are the preferred method to get you shopping home from the market…

phnom penh cyclo taxiNo matter how hot it is, the market ladies always tend to wear long sleeves!
battambang market vegetable vendor
battambang market mango vendor
battambang market vegetables
phnom penh central market chicken ladies

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Photo Essay: The markets of Laos

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Piles of bright green seaweed and giant fish fresh from the nearby Mekong river, mounds of small, bright oranges, live toads and fried rats on the BBQ…the markets of Laos were some of the most exciting and colorful we’ve seen in South East Asia.

morning market roostersAlthough we had heard of fried rats in Thailand, it wasn’t until Luang Prabang’s morning market, geared towards local shoppers, where we saw a couple of stands though that offered these little rodents.

rats morning market luang prabangWe saw living toads, which I am sure were not sold to be enjoyed as pets…

morning market toadsThe markets are filled with local vegetables and spices that are used to make the delicious Lao dishes, like curries or rice dishes.

luang prabang morning market vegetablesWhen ordering food, we would often inquire about the herbs or veggies in a dish only to be told that they were ‘from the forest, only grow in Laos’. The markets are where people from the interior would come to sell these mysterious forest vegetables.

luang prabang morning market wood & flowersWhat a spectacle, and we loved every minute of it! Many soups and stews are cooked with a branch of wood from a tree inside – apparently it adds a lot of flavor to the dishes, but of course it’s taken out of the pot before the dish is served.

luang prabang morning market stuff from the woodsMany restaurants offer dishes with fresh seaweed from the Mekong River, and this is what that looks like:

luang prabang morning market mekong river grassFish is the main source of protein in the Laotian diet, and it is devoured in every imaginable form: fresh…

luang prabang morning market fresh fishDried…

luang prabang morning market dried fishAnd the head is supposed to be extremely scrumptious…

morning market fishAnybody hungry?

luang prabang morning market fish headThe flowers from banana trees are edible, and are cut up into little pieces and added to rice dishes or used for the famous banana flower salads, which are delicious.

luang prabang morning market banana flowersSome of the main ingredients of Lao cuisine: round eggplant, lemongrass (both used for Lao curry) and green papayas – which are a vegetable and used mainly for the fresh Papaya Salads that are served everywhere.

luang prabang morning market vegetablesSpicy papaya salads are made by pounding the spices (chili, garlic, tomatoes, salt) in a mortar, shaved papaya is added, and finally the whole thing is topped with peanuts and lime sauce. Delish! If you are a vegetarian, just ask not to have fish/oyster sauce added, but soy sauce instead.

Papaya salad stand in luang nam thaAnother very important ingredient of Lao cooking: spicy chilis.

luang prabang morning market chilisAnd nothing goes without rice – there are usually three different kinds of rice in the markets: steamed rice, sticky rice, and dark sticky rice.

luang prabang morning market riceThese baskets are used to steam the sticky rice above the pot of boiling water.

luang prabang morning market basket vendorFresh out of the Mekong River: Crabs, ready to be cooked and easy to transport.

morning market crabsSome fresh chicken…

luang prabang morning market chicken

These pretty little parcels (made from banana leaves) hold minced pork inside.

luang prabang night market pork parcelsDesserts are usually grilled bananas or taros…

grilled bananas laos…or (not only loved by Westerners) donuts!

luang prabang night market donuts…We also sampled some pretty cake from one of the bakery stands:

sweet baguettes luang nam thaLao coffee, often served in little glass cups, tends to have at least an inch of condensed milk at the bottom unless you specifically request to have it black. With a shortage of Starbucks or other coffee shops, Lao coffee is everywhere and whether you love it or hate it, throughout most the country it is the only option. Obviously, then, we have had loads of these coffees…

luang prabang night market lao coffeeThe biggest part of the night market in Luang Prabang is dedicated to handicrafts – woven cloths and blankets, silk scarves, plus silver jewelry, handmade masks, paintings and umbrellas.

luang prabang night market
luang prabang night market

luang prabang night marketAt the end of the main road in Luang Prabang, there are several stands that sell fresh fruit smoothies for 5,000 kip ($0.63) and the typical big Lao baguettes, freshly made to your order, for 10,000 kip ($1.25). They usually have them with cheese, omelet or boiled eggs, turkey, chicken or tofu.

luang prabang night market baguettesFor truly budget eating, head down a little alley towards the south end of the market (before the baguette stands). It is a tight squeeze, but dozens of food stands line this covered walkway, fitting in tables for diners who scoop up these deals. The buffets, which cost $1.25 for all you can fit on your plate, are all vegetarian, with meat (especially freshly grilled fish) added on top.

night market foodWe piled our plates high with several versions of fried noodles, rice, tofu and vegetables, along with salad and fruit at the stand we found to be the best. The dishes vary slightly from stand to stand, so it’s worth having a look around before deciding which stall to buy from – so don’t be intimidated when the first stands shove a plate in your hand right away. Just take your time for the cheapest buffet of your life!

night market buffetIf you are more adventurous, you can try some fried bugs which are available in most of the night markets…

vientiane night market fried insects

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Life on the water: A floating village on Lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia

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The floating markets of Bangkok with their colorful produce on adorable wooden boats floating through the city’s canals, majorly impressed us. When I heard about entire floating villages in Cambodia, I knew we had to take a trip out to see it for ourselves. I mean, what can an entire floating village even look like, how does it even work? All I honestly expected was a gathering of scattered houses on stilts along the lake shore, close to water but on solid ground.

tonle sap floating village houseWhat we found instead was a thriving community on Lake Tonle Sap, a lake big enough to be mistaken for the ocean. It took a 20 minute boat ride sloshing through a small tributary to reach the village. During the rainy season, the trip can take twice the time for the villagers to reach the dry land at the dock.

tonle sap floating villageThe incredible Lake Tonle Sap

Most of Cambodia’s floating villages are based on Lake Tonle Sap. Though this is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia, this unique body of water changes drastically in size throughout the year. In the rainy season between June and October, the lake is massive, flooded with water from the Mekong River. In the dry season, from November to May, the lake shrinks to such a degree that its flow reverses to deposit water back into the Mekong.

tonle sap fishing boatTonle Sap is 16,000 square kilometers and nine meters deep during rainy season. In the dry season, that shrinks to 2,700 sq km and between 1 – 2 meters deep.
tonle sap floating houseBecause the water levels differ so drastically in dry and rainy season, fishing families who make their living on the lake began living in floating villages which move with the changing water levels.

tonle sap floating village houseIn the rainy season, this whole area is underwater. During dry season, these villagers live close to the shore.

tonle sap floating villageTonle Sap is one of the world’s biggest inland fisheries, producing over 400,000 tons of fish and feeding over 3 million people. There are over 220 different species of fish in the lake!
tonle sap fishermanLife on the water

Providing over 3 million people with fresh fish means that fishermen are always in need. In total, 80,000 people live on the water permanently, spread out over 170 floating villages. Unlike much of the Cambodian job opportunities, the income is also reliable, but life on the water is difficult. Fishermen sometimes travel two days to reach the middle of the lake and spend up to a week at a time out fishing. Large waves, limited food and dangerous conditions take their toll. The life expectancy of a fisherman is 54 years.

fisherman tonle sapUnfortunately it is fairly common for fishermen not to return from their week-long trips. Many of the floating villages have their own floating orphanages to handle the many children whose parents do not survive.
tonle sapLife is hard on children, too. 12 per cent of the children die before the age of five due to the tough living conditions, the lack of medical care and ironically, malnourishment. Fish provides 65 per cent of protein in the Cambodian diet, but due to the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, it is difficult to maintain a healthy diet. The annual income of households on the lake is under $500.
tonle sap floating village laundryThe community we visited, Chong Khneas, was just about to open its first floating hospital (pictured below) at the time of our visit. With seven villages and a total of 5,800 residents, this is one of the largest floating communities, so it makes sense that Chong Khneas be home to the first hospital.
tonle sap floating hospitalLife in a floating village means that every errand must be run by boat. Dropping the kids off at school or heading off to play basketball with their buddies must be done by paddling over by boat. And yes, there is a massive floating basketball court in the neighborhood!
floating village mother & childMost of the residents are self-sufficient, and it is incredible how they maintain their homes, with floating vegetable gardens and floating barns where they keep goats, pigs and chickens.
tonle sap floating village pigAnd like everywhere in Cambodia, there are dogs out here on the water as well, though I am not sure how they feel about living on a floating house with no room to roam. At least it is much easier to find them if they run…or swim…away!
tonle sap floating village girl with dogThere are also gas stations in the floating villages. Chong Khneas has three in fact, plus five schools, seven fish wholesalers, and for everyone’s entertainment: four karaoke bars. You might remember that karaoke is very popular in Cambodia.
tonle sap floating villageThere are several floating supermarkets, but also floating markets like we had seen in Thailand: boats filled with fresh produce, and women paddling from house to house selling fruit and vegetables, wood and other things.
tonle sap floating marketWe are  not sure how the villagers manage to dry their clothes in Cambodia’s already humid climate, but somehow it seems to work.
tonle sap floating village laundryLittle space for all your possessions…
tonle sap fishing boatFishermen arrive at the closest fish market to sell their catch of the day.
tonle sap fish marketRepair work is also done on the water…
tonle sap boat construction Happy faces… The kids are still enjoying themselves, but we couldn’t help but wonder how long they will stay that way, before following in their fathers’ footsteps.

tonle sap swimming kids

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Village life on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua – A photo essay

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Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua is the largest fresh-water island in the world. The name Ometepe means ‘two mountains’ and refers to the two impressive volcanoes that are the island’s characteristic feature. The Maderas volcano is on the right, Concepcion volcano on the left in the image below.

Volcanoes from water Ometepe NicaraguaThe island has been inhabited for thousands of years, first by the Nahuatl, and today by the local ‘Ometepinos’. These locals remained secluded from the rest of Nicaragua and the country’s conflicts throughout the years. Residents here were self-sufficient thanks to the extremely fertile volcanic soil which allowed them to live entirely off the land.

This has radically changed in the last decade. Initially travelers began arriving due to their attraction to the island’s supposed magic or mystique. Now Ometepe has become a main stop on the Nicaraguan tourist trail.  Jess visited the island in 2000 and again in 2011, and was stunned at difference – from the number of hotels and organized tourist activities to the way of life in the island’s larger towns, not to mention the existence of a well-paved road! However, the further away from the main ferry terminals you go, the more villages you find where people still go on with their lives as they always have.

Traditional life on Ometepe

Village Road with Pigs Ometepe NicaraguaThe village of Balgue on the southeastern part of Ometepe is the last stop for the bus, as it sits at the end of an unpaved, but still  passable road (beyond this, the road becomes more of a path which leads around to an area with several of the island’s petroglyphs). This is a far cry from the new, smooth asphalt road which connects the main ferry port of Moyogalpa with villages on the way to Santo Domingo, a developed, tourist-friendly part of Ometepe with quality hotels and restaurants.

From Santo Domingo, the road turns into a rocky mess which we wouldn’t have wanted to drive ourselves. It leads to Balgue, a village in the shadow of Maderas volcano where daily life,  not focused on the tourism trade, goes on as it always has.

Laundry on Ometepe NicaraguaIn rural parts of Ometepe, you’ll still see laundry being done on the shores of the stream – a common meeting place for the women of the village.

Most of the houses are still made of wood, in the traditional way, although more and more people have started using concrete to build sturdier homes.

The Animals of Ometepe

Pigs on Ometepe NicaraguaInstead of cats and dogs, most villagers here, like in many parts of rural Central America, have cows, chickens and pigs in the yard.

Carrier Horse Ometepe NicaraguaThe majority of the villagers here do not own cars, and use oxes and horses to work the fields or transport wood and other materials. Sometimes the animals seem to walk entirely alone down to the village, like this horse we saw, packed down and plodding along the trail while his owner hung far back chatting to people as they passed by.

Pet Monkey Ometepe NicaraguaThree kinds of monkeys – spider monkeys, howler monkeys and capuchin monkeys –  live on the island, so you will definitely see them swinging through the trees. You won’t need an alarm clock, as the howler monkeys will wake you up first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, some locals – though now a small number – keep monkeys as pets. This capuchin in Balgue was kept on a chain and seemed miserable.

Watch out! If you are not careful, you might even get trampled by the cattle…

Cattle Ometepe Nicaragua…who use the streets more than the few buses and cars on this part of the island, which lies in the shadow of Maderas volcano.

The Volcanoes

The Maderas volcano is the popular choice amongst visitors to climb (though the eight-hour trek partially knee-deep in mud did not interest us in the least). The main reason why the Concepcion volcano (below), which rises so majestically out of the western part of the island,  is a less popular climb has to do with the fact that Concepcion is still very much an active volcano. Ometepe saw the volcano’s last severe eruption in 2010.

Concepcion Volcano Ometepe NicaraguaDespite the government’s warnings for locals to leave the island, only very few followed the order and evacuated. The rest remained on the island, and despite over 34 eruptions within 24 hours, a few of which shot ash over 10,000ft  (3,000m) in the air, no one was hurt.

Ruta de Evacuacion Ometepe Nicaragua

The future

We hope that the villagers on Ometepe continue to have that hard-as-nails mentality to stand up against future eruptions, both of Concepcion volcano as well as the eruption of tourism that is dramatically altering the essence of Ometepe Island.

Have you been to Ometepe? Did you take away similar impressions or was Ometepe a different experience for you? Where have you felt the bittersweet effects of tourism?

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Nicaragua rocks!

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The entire country rocks, literally. Yes, we did love Nicaragua that much, but actually we are talking about the fact that each evening, Nicaraguans around the country, gather together with friends and family, either in their front room or even outside, and rock the evening away in their rocking chairs.

But even in the early mornings, as we made our way through the already-blazing hot streets, we caught glimpses of men and women, sitting in their cool living rooms, peacefully reading the paper and sipping their coffee in their rocking chairs. The fact that the Nicaraguans build their houses with such an open front and keep their doors and windows wide open is a reflection of their open, even gregarious nature. Welcome, it says, talk to me, we are all a part of life in this town.

Luckily, the rocking chair tradition is not limited to private houses – we had rocking chairs in many of our hostels and even in a few restaurants. It was a fun way to try out one of the aspects of ‘being Nicaraguan’.

As the sun set, we enjoyed some Flor de Cana rum and watched the world go by from our rocking chairs.

And yes, it rocked!

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