I woke up feeling no different than yesterday, but today is different. Today is the day it supposedly all goes downhill. Today my metabolism slows to a crawl and I gain weight just by looking at food. Today I get to blame my impulsive and bizarre behaviors on my impending “mid-life crisis”. Today I need to find some reading glasses to be able to see the small print on the labels. Today I should stock up on the painkillers to ease the aches in my joints. Today is the day I can blIMG_6623ame my bad memory on old age. Today is the day I begin my descent to death.

Feeling energized, I made my way down to the gym and had an extra spring in my step. I worked out a little longer, partly to offset any birthday indulgences that may come later, but mostly because I just felt good. I have never been one to look or feel my age. In fact, I quite often forget, and have had to check my ID to be sure. I think that all started after 25, when I started traveling the world. That is when I really understood that age was just a number, just as time is only an illusion. Anyway, I fully understand the stigma attached to 40 but I don’t buy it.


Today, I am 40. So I crawled out of bed and checked my muscles but they felt pretty good despite yesterdays 2 hour workout. I bounced up and down a bit and didn’t hear my knees creak, not a peep. Next, I made my way to the mirror to look for hidden grey hairs or new wrinkles…I didn’t see a one. I was delighted to jump on the scale to learn I am the lowest weight I’ve been in years. Hot dog! This 40 thing is really working for me!

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After the gym, my big sister Trina came over to spend the day with me. I knew she had something planned but I didn’t really know what. After all, I wasn’t expecting much since we are going to Vegas in a week to really celebrate.

In my mind, today was just supposed to be a token visit to commemorate the actual day. In all honesty, Trina and I haven’t spent a lot of time together oveIMG_6635r the past few years and have grown apart a little. I was a little nervous to go along with her plan, since we have such different tastes in so many things. But I decided to give up control and go along with whatever she proposed. Trust.

I was excited when she came around the corner, arms full of gift bags and a Happy Birthday balloon bobbing behind her. Wow! That’s all I really wanted! I love balloons. So everything else is just icing on the cake. But I had no idea how big this cake would be!

After a big hug, she gave me a ginormous card half the size of my dining room table. It was hand-made and she had placed candy bars throughout to fill in the words. It read:

Dear CaraIMG_6629mels,

You are always a Starburst wherever you go. It is not a Mirage…everyone realizes you are a Smarties and a Hot Tamales. I am looking forward to our Vegas celebration where I believe we will Skor a Bounty of awesome memories. I will make sure Zero people Snickers as we Rolo into town even if we move like Turtles down the street.

Love you to Reeses Pieces, Trina

It is the sweetest card anyone has every given me. Literally.

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Next she sat me down and proceeded to give me 9 more gifts, all individually wrapped with pretty lace and delicate sparkly paper. Each had a tag with a number and a cute, humorous, or wise quote that somehow pertained to the gift. But number 8 I was feeling spoiled. From bath stuff to cat toys to a magical cloak to sea salt…she got me lots of gifts that I could use. I love useful gifts.

When we were done, Trina pulled out a bunch of crafts and told me we were going to finish some projects that she had started. These were the tools we would use to run around the city doing random acts of kindness. We worked together to put together some laminated inspirational pocket cards, snowmen booklets with  , and smiley packets of gum. She showed mIMG_6650e all the beautiful rocks she had handpainted with positive and loving words that we would be able to gift. And there was a huge bag of teddybears! Needless to say, I was getting VERY excited.


Before we left, I remembered that I had some bags of food that I had wanted to give away so we packed that into the van and we were off. First we went to the University hospital. Parking was a zoo and I was busily scanning for a spot when Trina noticed the first metered spot closest to the door was empty. When we tried to plug it with change, we saw it was out-of-order. Free parking. Win!


As we walked through the hospital, I opened my heart and felt my way through searching for people who needed a hug. Today, their hug comes in the form of a rock. The first man I saw sitting on a bench by himself, staring at the ground, looking forlorn. After I placed the colorful rock in his hand, he looked up at me with a surprised soft smile. I smiled back and went on my way to find my next person.12557810_10153337379132217_305382572_o

We gifted a nurse who was at the bank machine, the information lady who seemed delighted be on the receiving end, a tired doctor who was getting a coffee, an older man crumpled in a wheelchair.

But the moment that touched me the most was when I saw a fragile looking lady standing near the cafeteria looking a little sad. I turned around and approached her with a big smile. She seemed a little scared and jumped when I held out my hand to her. She backed up a little and shook her head. I softened my smile, and looked deep into her frightened eyes. “It’s ok. Today is my birthday and I am giving gifts. I have a gift for you. May I please give it to you?” She studied my face and slowly reached out her hand to receive rock. I chose the one that said “You are Amazing!” with a stipple drawn teddybear on the flipside. Before she could say anything, I turned and briskly walked away to rejoin my sister who was watching on from a distance.


A few minutes later when we were discussing which hallway we should turn down, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to find the same woman who I had given the rock to a few moments before. She told me, “I had to find you and tell you how much this means to me. I really needed this. You don’t understand.” With that, she reached up and pulled off her hat revealing a soft bald head. “I really needed this,” she said again softly. I looked at this young woman, with her pale complexion and her young eyes, and felt such gratitude. We hugged and I could feel her trembling. This moment was heavy and hard and powerful and deep. I have to say this was by far, my favorite part of the day.


After giving out the rest of our rocks, we made our way back to the van where the parking attendant was working furiously at fixing our broken meter. I gave him one of the gum gifts that we had made and told him thank you for all his hard work. Next Trina gave me my next 10 gifts to open, which were even more amazing than the first bunch. Practical gifts, kitchen gifts, and more chocolates. She even made me a handwritten a recipe book!


Next, we made our way to Superstore to give candy to kids. I was a bit nervous about this one but Trina assured me that parents would be happy to have something to occupy their restless little ones while they shopped. A lollypop ring would be a wonderful distraction! Ok….I was skeptical.

We gifted almost a dozen children whose parents were surprised and impressed with the idea of gift giving on one’s birthday. All the kids we found were happy to accept but no one could match the exuberance of this one little boy. He was the youngest of three little boys and before his mom could agree, he snatched the red lollypop ring out of my hand and yelled “YES!” triumphantly. We all laughed and she apologised explaining that he is autistic. I remarked at how awesome it was to have such an honest kid. As we left, I could hear the little guy yelling after us, “See you tomorrow!!” Back in the van, 10 more gifts. Trina was so very creative and thoughtful with her ideas, her heartfelt words were priceless.

Next stop, we drove to a low-income housing development where we spent a few years of our childhood. As we pulled into our old neighborhood crowded with townhouses, I remembered some of the struggles we endured while living on the “wrong side of the tracks”. It was a strange feeling as I walked up to my old steps and placed the bag of food on the stoop. I flashed back to a time when I was 8 and we were given some bags of food and clothes anonymously. I remembered how excited and happy and grateful I felt to be cared for by this magical somebody who didn’t even know us. I hoped that there were children living there now and they may feel that same thing.IMG_6673

After the last round of presents including books, makeup, bracelet, candy, gadgets…40 total!, we went to the mall armed with happy cards and a big bag of stuffed toys. We had no problem finding children who agreed to give our orphan toys a good home. We decided to grab a quick snack before we headed up to see a movie. As we walked through the food court, we saw two little girls sitting with their very disinterested Dad who was looking anywhere but at them. I could see their sad eyes as they unsuccessfully tried to get their dads attention. He looked like he had been through tough times and had a rough looking face. I had a hard time imagining him smile. So I thought I should try.

“Excuse mIMG_6698e, it’s my birthday today and I am giving gifts. I have these two bunny rabbits who don’t have a home. I was wondering if I could give them to your little girls to love and take care of?” His face went from dazed to confused to awestruck all in a matter of seconds. He didn’t even talk he just nodded and grew a smile that transformed his face from hard IMG_6700and closed to kind and approachable. The little girls were happy too.

Trina and I ate a healthy snack then gave out a few more gifts, before heading up to see “Sisters” which we had both been saving to watch with each other. We shared some popcorn (which is a big deal for Trina because she really doesn’t like to share food) and laughed until we cried. To end the night, we went to Menchie’s for froyo and games.

Today was a phenomenal day. Gift getting is fun and I am super grateful but it was the gift giving that brought me to tears. I have to say it is a tradition I will keep. Now that I am 40, I don’t feel like things are winding down at all. I am finally learning what works and making new traditions. I am making my moments count. And I feel like this is just the beginning.



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IMG_5743Today was one for the record books. I bounced out of bed 45 minutes early, brimming with excitement about our first safari in Kruger National Park, here in South Africa. I quickly put on some hot water in our kettle to make some coffee. This roused Michael, who began getting ready as well. I was dressed before he made it off the bed. We gathered our packed breakfasts and made our way to the front gate to meet our guide a few minutes before our meeting time of 530am.

Frank, from The Other Animals SIMG_8360afaris was out of town, but sent us his best guide to show us around the park. South African Marc Cronje is a personable young man who actually grew up in a zoo. His father worked in the zoo in Joberg so he has been around animals his whole life. Literally. You can tell because he has an ease with nature only comes with a lifetime of experience. Frank couldn’t have left us in better hands. Marc answered all our questions with expertise and had many an interesting story from his four years of guiding.


I borrowed a soft heavy blanket from our hotel room and wrapped it around me as we took off down the road in the open-air safari truck toward the gate. The air was crisp and the sun came up quickly. We were only 3rd in line at the gate and Marc hopped out of the truck to chat with his fellow guides. At exactly 6AM they opened the gates and all the guides raced to the guard shack. Michael and I purchased a “Wild Card” which gives us unlimited access to all the South African parks for a year. The 2770 rand (about $230 USD) international couples pass is worth it if you are spending more than a week here. Plus, I don’t mind supporting the animals. They need all the help they can get. Marc told us about the poachers who are driving the rhinos to extinction because of a myth about rhino horns curing cancer. Park officials have implemented a shoot to kill policy on poachers in the parks, but unfortunately, just like the drug trade, it is a losing battle. ThIMG_7929e foot soldiers that make it into the park are expendable and the smuggling kingpins are safely out of reach. The exotic animal smuggling problem is quickly surpassing the illegal arms trade according to the numbers. If this continues, the only rhinos left will be in zoos. It makes me sad.

The first animal we saw was, in fact, a sleepy rhino unsuccessfully hiding behind a sparse bush. He was a huge creature and nothing was waking him. We continued on and Michael spotted his first elephant! He called him Bob. Bob who was barely 15 feet away, was tearing branches off trees like he was peeling a banana.

We watched the elephant for while then continued on our way when another game truck full of people pulled up. We are insanely lucky to have the whole 10-person truck to ourselves. I felt very spoiled when we would pass truck after truck packed solid with tourists. “Sardine Safaris” are one way to do it but not optimal. If you ever have an opportunity, a private safari is where it’s at.


Over the next eight hours, we saw lots of impala, elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos, boks, turtle, warthog, buffalo, alligators, a squirrel, baboons, vervet monkeys, a rhino, kudu, two leopards, tons of birds, butterflies, and a giant snail crossing the road. Perhaps my very favorite moment was when we were alerted to some activity by the excitement of the monkeys in the nearby tree. The chatter escalated rather quickly and we knew something dangerous was near. We all waited, and I scanned the bushes with my eagle eyes.


Suddenly, I saw him! Through the tall golden rods of dry grass, a heart-shaped furry face peered out at me. Just as I saw him, he saw me and he darted across the clearing. I barely had time to alert the others before my leopard was out of sight once again. It was exhilarating! I caught my first leopard! I imagine that when you are the first to spot and discover an animal on a safari, that one is yours. At least for that day. As the monkeys quieted down, we knew that the leopard had taken off. We continued on in search of more adventure.

Michael wasIMG_7996 very excited about the tower of giraffes that he manifested. He is in love with the gentle creatures and couldn’t seem to get enough of them. We got to experience a troop of baboons all but enveloped our vehicle, having family arguments and “sexy time” right in front of us. The best was the little baby riding on the mothers back like a cowboy.


Next we were treated to a dazzle of dozen brazen zebras crossing the road and galloping into the thick brush.IMG_8263

My other highlight was when we had front row seats to an elephant crossing, complete with newborn babies and shy teenagers. They were just coming up from a river session and a memory of about 30 pachyderms decided to walk about 15 feet in front of us. Marc pulled the track sideways to block the road when he saw them coming, to protect them from inexperienced overeager tourists who would inevitably inch too close to the majestic creatures.


It is a well known fact that when there are babies around, elephants are hypersensitive and will do anything to protect them. Marc recounted a sad story of one of his favorite elephants being shot to death a few years ago when an ignorant tourist continued to provoke him even after many warnings.  As they ambled by, the smallest baby let out an excited squeal and the parents were quick respond, blocking him inside a sIMG_8117afety envelope between them. I was transfixed by the personalities evident and how the maturity causes them to walk and move differently. The slightly clumsy teenagers seemed curious but timid and shy only taking short sideways glimpses of us through their long lashes. The littlest ones were like little tornados bouncing by unbridled and carefree. When the baby stopped, everyone stopped. He seemed to be waiting for his big brother before he started walking again. The largest and most mature of the pack were very deliberate with every move and positioned themselves to protect the others. The biggest male kept his eyes locked on us as until every last one was safely off the road before he seemingly did a little dance and moved on himself.


We had two rest stops at Skukuza camp where we stocked up on Kudu wors and coffee. In the giftshop, we also found an elephant shirt for me and a Save the Rhino glass water bottle for Michael. When our day was done, we thanked Marc and sat at our lodge glowing in what was a fabulous day. We had a nap before dinner then went to bed reasonably early since tomorrow we head north to another lodge.


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The plane ride was long but very easy. We watched a couple of movies and slept most of it. The two flight attendants were extremely friendly and entertaining. They even had a little “Fred and Ethyl” skit going on. The only real miss was the food. It was pretty much inedible, which was ok for us because we had brought our own. Since this was Michael’s longest flight he was super-nervous about it. We made sure we had more than a pound of crispy bacon for him. We also bought a little tapas spread of olives, cheese, pepperonis, peppered turkey, assorted nuts, and all my veggies. I also brought my scrambled eggs that I didn’t eat at home and some avocados, so we were set. We barely made a dent in it all, but Michael was able finish every last strip of bacon (even the one that fell on the floor).

We deplaned in JoBerg and walked straight to the Avis rental car counter where we picked up our pre-reserved car. We ended up with a little silver Chevy Spark and it was pretty much brand new. I was happy that it had a USB charger port and a decent music system. We will be doing a lot of driving over the next month so along so it has to be comfortable but still get good gas mileage.

The sun was just starting to go down as we left the airport and headed into the city. I flipped on the radio to listened to local music and found it was pretty awesome. Even better than our normal stations at home in SF or Edmonton. Maybe it was because of the South African accent but we both voted for radio over anything that was in our iPhone music collection. At one of the stop lights there was a man going from car to car begging. I remembered the extra food we had and opened my window when he approached. I asked the man if he wanted food, and he answered “Yes Ma’am” in the most humble, gentle voice. I handed him a tupperware of eggs and meats then the light turned green. As we drove the rest of the way, I sat quietly, reflecting on how real life gets here. I hadn’t even been in the country an hour, and I already felt my heartstrings being tugged at. South Africa made a huge impact on me the first time I was here 10 years ago and that energy was still here, even more so.

We pulled into the large fenced property and met our lovely host couple. We really hit the AirBnb jackpot for that one night in Johanesberg. Bridget’s place was so charming and cozy that it was really hard to leave. She and Jeremy had spared no expense in stocking the place with everything you could ever hope to need. They showed us around their gorgeous property and gave us the run down on how it all worked. I especially liked the “emergency” button that was way too close to the light switches. They explained that if we pushed that, a bunch of men with guns would show up almost immediately. Though I was curious, I didn’t really feel the need to try it out. I have never had such hospitality shown in any AirBnb as I had at this place. They had nuts and biltong waiting for us to snack on along with every kind of fruit. There were cookies, teas, coffees, and crisps. The fridge was packed with our favorite drinks. I was blown away with the level of detail and care that they put into our stay. We were presented with delicious hot cappuccinos and I felt so lucky. These guys have hospitality perfected.

I felt a bit dirty so I wanted to freshen up a bit before we wandered the neighborhood to look for a bite to eat. I was impressed by the fully-stocked bathroom. There was every kind of lotion, soap, specialty cleaners and special bath oils and salts. Bridget had thought of everything. I eased myself into the oversized tub and soaked for a while. After my bath I felt energized and ready for an adventure. We were given directions to the nearby restaurant row. They kept asking if we wanted a ride but we insisted walking was half the fun. We set off and within 15 minutes we were in the thick of it.

Parkhurst is clearly the trendy part of town. All the stores were shut but I couldn’t imagine ever affording anything in them anyway. The restaurants were packed and each one had a different vibe and flavor. We walked the whole row and settled on one called Craft. There was a large wood burning stove and Michael got very excited at the prospect of meat cooked in there. We settled into our table smack dab in the middle of the packed out place, and ordered. Michael had steak smothered in a ale and cheese sauce overtop of cauliflower rosti. I had a huge salad with grilled haloumi. We broke the rules and ordered the popcorn panacotta for dessert. Tummies stuffed, we waddled back home and fell into bed.

I slept for just a couple hours before I woke up with a start. It was the middle of the night and way too early but I clambered out of bed so I wouldn’t wake up Michael. When I checked my email, I learned of some problems back home. I spent the next three hours trying to put out the fires that had sprung up with my rental properties. It was very stressful but this is what I signed up for when I chose to manage things myself. I have tried many property managers over the years but none have been able to pull it off. They seem to make things just so much worse and then when I come home I end up having to repair all their mistakes. When I finally felt things were on the right track, I got dressed and made some coffee. There was no use trying to get anymore sleep so we just decided to start the day early.

We were spoiled rotten when we were presented with a picnic breakfast for the road. Our gracious hosts had made us delicious scotch eggs, hot sausages wrapped in foil, yogurts, fresh raspberries, MORE biltong, and nuts. They even gave us the cutest wooden utensils to eat it all with. We feasted all the way to our next stop in Hazyview.

When we were about halfway there, we ended up at a toll booth which caused us some worry. Apparently they only form of payment they accepted was South Africa credit cards and the Rand. We didn’t have either and the moody toll booth lady had no patience for us. She ordered us over to the side of the road where the “authorities” would deal with us. As we pulled over, I was frustrated with myself for being so unprepared and making such a rookie mistake. Just as Michael was about to open the door to face our penalty for ignorance, a car pulled up beside us and rolled down the window. I was confused what this family of four wanted with us and assumed there was something wrong with our car. What next!? But to my surprise, the dad handed us a 50 Rand bill (exactly the amount of the toll) and then sped off smiling. We were barely able to shout thank you after them.

We both sat there dumbfounded how they even knew our predicament. I supposed they must have been behind us in line and witnessed the drama.

I was so touched by the Random Act of Kindness, I almost had a tear. There are opportunities to perform RAOKs every day, and lately I have been making a point to answer the invitation. Today, I realized that the more of this magical energy you surround yourself with, the more these small miracles you get to experience. It feels amazing to give, and powerfully humbling to receive in those rare moments of need.

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Woke up early enough, but wasn’t all that excited to get off the ship. In fact, I entertained the idea of staying onboard. I really didn’t want to get any more sun. It’s not the most painful sunburn I have ever had but I don’t want to compromise my time in some of the future ports which I am really looking forward to. There is meant to be some world-class diving coming up and it would be a shame to be too burnt to enjoy it.

After room service came, I took my cup of coffee and wandered out to the promenade deck. We were just pulling into port and I was thrilled to see that we were not tendering. I love the freedom and ease that come with just walking off the gangway into a port. There was a small group of musicians playing us traditional welcome music. I loved hearing the pounding of the drums as it echoed through the metal corridors of the ship.

I decided since it would all be so effortless, I could get off for a “little” while and at least walk around. There wasn’t much to the town and I could probably cover it in an hour. After a slow start, we finally got off the ship. As we were checking out the touristy souvenir huts made of grass that were placed in an area next to the ship, I wasn’t expecting to but anything. I was pretty sure I was done shopping for stuff, unless I found something spectacular. I found lots of black pearls in shiny shells and jewelry of every kind. We found coconut bras in every cup size and hand dyed sarongs in colors of the pastel rainbow. I was temped by some wood carvings but remembered that it can be tricky getting these things back into North America. I am not savvy on what is permitted and watching too much “Border Security” has made me paranoid. That is why I normally just don’t bother with stuff.

There was one little hut that was something slightly different than the others and I was drawn to it. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but I just liked it in there. Then suddenly it caught my eye. It was the most stunning cluster of shells arranged into a necklace of carefully weaved straw rope. A lot of the shells were artfully cut so you could see their skeleton and they were placed together in such a way. There were lots of other necklaces that had the same idea but those were all made into shell patterns and were so much more tame. This one was extremely unique in that it was a giant cluster of every shell I had ever seen. It was gorgeous. I didn’t even dare contemplate it. It was so impractical. It made no sense to buy such a piece. Even though it was one-of-a-kind, hand made, and I would likely never see anything like it again. I walked away. I didn’t even show it to Michael.

We puttered around looking in the three supermarkets which were within a couple blocks of each other. I tried to figure out the difference between them, but I couldn’t. I did notice that they all had a particular odor and it wasn’t pleasant. I reminded myself that I have smelled much worse in places like India and Egypt. I put it out of my mind and tried to find some vanilla in the baking aisle, which is one of the things they are famous for in this part of the world. It was sad to see that the only vanilla they had for sale was imported from McCormicks. Ugh. They also didn’t have any Noxema skin cream to soothe my charred skin but I wasn’t counting on finding that so far away from home. Most people haven’t even heard of the stuff.

We went around the other markets and shopped the other gift stores. Once we finally felt like we had our fill we were getting ready to go. Michael had become obsessed with buying a black pearl for himself. He kept looking and looking and we finally found one that suited him. It wasn’t a perfect pearl and therefore was not all that expensive. He said he liked the imperfect ones…they are unique. I thought of the special necklace in the first souvenir hut. Since we had looked through every store and I think I saw more than a thousand shell necklaces, I realized how dramatically different that one was to all the others. There simply was nothing else even comparable.

I asked Michael to come, that I really wanted to show him something even though I was sure it was already gone. There was no way someone hadn’t snapped it up in the last few hours. When we got to the small hut, I was so excited…it was still there. The sweet little lady who took care of the shop had her head down and was busy working on another necklace. I asked her if I could try it on and with her heavy French accent and broken english, she said “of course!” It fit like a charm, and I was in love. I don’t get attached to things. I just don’t, and especially things that are impractical. Its quite a challenge for me to buy something just for the sake of it making me happy. Like my Elephant painting at home in my bedroom. It serves no purpose at all, but it was important to celebrate a success I had achieved.

It was marked $25 but the lady saw how much I adored it, and gave it to me for $17. I was so happy and touched that she seemed to understand how important it was for me to have it. She looked into my eyes and asked me knowingly, “It is your favorite, isn’t it?” I nodded wholeheartedly and hugged her, thanking her for sharing her talent. Just as we were leaving, she stopped me and produced a shell cluster ring, that seemed to match the necklace. She put it on my finger and smiled, sending me on my way. It was made with such love and every time I look at it, I remember that sweet woman, and the kindness she showed me.

Now, all that said, it is a treasure, but it takes some bravery to wear it. It’s massive! It’s not just a shell necklace, its THE shell necklace. I wore it tonight to dinner and many many people complimented it. When the polynesian entertainers onboard saw it, they were in awe. They fawned over it and commended me on finding it. I realized that if I had their stamp of approval, they who know and are from these lands, then I must have done well. A bunch of older ladies advised me to store it in a shadow box at home, to preserve it and keep it safe. I can’t wait to show it to my Mom, who loves shells and everything beachy.

During supper, we were sailing away and the rains started coming down. As I gazed out the window next to our table, I was surprised to catch another lucky moment! In the middle of the ocean off in the distance, a double rainbow had appeared. What a day!

Even though my skin is tight and I am red as a lobster, I kept my commitment to reaching my 10,000 steps. I didn’t walk enough today so we made our way up to the gym before hitting the sack. It was a little difficult to walk on the treadmill in flip-flops, but I didn’t have much of a choice. Since I had not worn any socks in Bora Bora on my long walk, my runners had worn deep welts into my achilles heel. Now they are raw and bloody and there is no way I am putting anything on them. Hopefully they heal soon, because walking 10,000 steps in flip flops create blisters between the toes.

Tomorrow is Tahiti and I am pretty sure I am going to take it easy. I have done no research so I have no idea what to expect…but then, those random days are often the ones that turn up the best surprises.

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Finally Bora Bora!

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