A Travellerspoint blog

Borneo - Gunung Mulu National Park

It's all about them Pinnacles!

all seasons in one day 30 °C

After another fantastically speedy connection courtesy for Malaysia Airlines I arrived in Miri and score myself a new travelling buddy in baggage claim. Well to be honest not a completely new buddy, I had met Iduna originally at Bako National Park and by sheer luck we are on the same flight - small world and all that....Anywho, we share a cab into town and source ourselves some digs. As it transpires we have both arrived in Miri with exactly the same agenda's - a trip to Gunung Mulu National Park to tackle The Pinnacles - perfect.

Gunung Mulu National Park - UNESCO World Heritage Site

Sarawak's largest National Park, Gunung Mulu is a sprawling 529 sq km's of unspoiled wilderness and home to rugged mountain ranges, deep gorges, massive caves, clear rivers and diverse wildlife. Our sights however were set firmly on The Pinnacles an incredible stone forest of razor sharp limestone towering 45m high located half way up Gunung Api.

The accommodation we settled on in Miri just happened to be run by an absolute angel called Joanne who within 30 mins of us telling her of our plan to hike The Pinnacles she has arranged flights for us to Gunung Mulu (the only way to reach the National Park is by flying in) sorted all our accommodation requirements at Mulu and booked us a guide so we had nothing better to do than treat her a few Tiger beers to show our appreciation.

The following morning we are escorted to the airport and 30 mins later land in Gunung Mulu all via a plane called, rather amusingly a Fokker 50. Our hike to The Pinnacles isn't due to start until the following morning so we spent our first day at Mulu exploring the some of the many caves on site. It's during dinner that two familiar figures come hobbling over, it's Rachel & Sarah who I had previously spent three days with on the Iban Longhouse visit. Their inability to walk was due to them just having finished the Pinnacles hike so they spent the next few hours enlightening us to what lay ahead which they described as "a bloody hard slog but well worth it".

Deer Cave

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Our time has come, we meet two fellow hikers at the park HQ - Jay and Soo-Ann both from KL and jump aboard our boat which would will take us an hour up river to the starting point of the trail. Today's hiking is a steady 8.9km amble through the forest to Camp 5 where we would spend our first night before we tackled "the big one" tomorrow. And yes it was pleasant enough, not too taxing and a nice warm up, all is going swimmingly until I got attacked by the leeches. Now I'm not one of those people who gets unnecessarily freaked out by creepy crawlies I'm generally not bothered in the slightest but leeches are my "thing". I just hate the concept that you have no idea you have been bitten until you look down and there they are, locked on casually sucking you dry. They must be able to smell my fear or maybe I have particularly sweet blood cos I appear to attract them in droves. So I was relieved to reach camp 5 de-leech my legs and feet and settle down for the evening.

Camp 5

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Camp 5 is really nice, it is set on the banks of the Sungai Melinau river facing the spectacular Benarat cliffs. It is a hive of activity with a group of cavers on a month long research program and fellow hikers using it as their base before or after tackling the trails. Then the horror stories began, the camp was full of people who had just finished The Pinnacles and are all too glad to tell us of the treacherous feat which lay ahead. Some find it just too hard and are forced to give up or if you don't make a certain point by 11am you have to turn back otherwise you will be lost in jungle for ever to be leech fodder.

A little smiley guy heads over to our table and introduces himself, he goes under the name of Undi and he will be our guide for tomorrow. He's a really nice guy and I immediately like him, naturally we bombard him with questions to satisfy our curiosity. He assures us we will be fine, it's a hard, unrelenting slog to the top but if get an early night and lay off the beers tonight we will be dandy. Following his advice and I am in bed by 8pm frantically trying to force myself to sleep.

I hardly sleep a wink, I am paranoid that if I shut both my eyes at the same time all the leeches in the whole of Gunung Mulu are going to make a B-Line for me so I'm feeling abit jaded when Undi comes to wake us at 6am. It's noodles and chocolate for breakfast and we leave Camp 5 by 7am.

Here's the weird thing, the hike up to view The Pinnacles is only 2.5km long which on the face of it is hardly far at all but non of us are prepared for the gradient. During the 2.5km distance we cover we climb 1.2km high. We are all taken by surprised by steepness, it is more like rock climbing than hiking as we scramble over rocks and tree roots, my body is wondering what the f**k is going on. Despite the lack of sleep I soon find my pace and spend the initial 2 hour ascent bantering with Undi, he's a top guy with an awesome sense of humour so time flies. We reach the last portion of the trail by 9.15am, Undi is surprised at our efficiency despite all three of us being completely soaked in sweat and thoroughly knackered. We are relieved to see that Undi has also had the decency to break a sweat also.

A word of warning

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The last portion of the trail is a near vertical climb through a network of ladders and ropes to help you reach the top. It's not dissimilar aN enormous adventure playground apart from one slip on the slippery rock could result in a long and painful fall.

All is rewarded when we reach the top. The sun is shining as we turn the last corner but Undi stops dead in his tracks "Ohh no - what's happened here" he says "what, what's up..?" we reply, "they've gone" and then he absolutely pisses himself laughing - told you he was a joker! We are greeted by a magical view as the fruits of our labour are realised. We've been blessed with a clear view so I get some decent photo's just before the morning fogs rolls in and cruelly covers them from view for the people arriving not 10 mins after us.

The Pinnacles

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Proof I made it!

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The decent is definitely harder than getting up there, my feet have turned to concrete blocks and my legs to big jelly snakes but we make it down in 4 hours and I only sustain one injury when I fall down a hole. Arriving back in camp 5 it's a relief to get out of the sweaty clothes and sit in the river for an hour to cool off. The following morning I feel like I've been hit by a truck, my legs, back and arms all ache from hauling myself up using the ropes. We bid our farewells to Undi and plod the 8.9km back to Park HQ feeling satisfied that we made it - afterall failure was never an option!

Team Pinnacles
(L-R: Undi, Iduna, Gregory & Jay)

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Next Stop - Kota Kinabalu.

Posted by greggers 23:14 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Borneo - Kuching

Taking on the wildlife.

all seasons in one day 28 °C

Well it's certainly a long slog from French Polynesia to Borneo but after a flight from Pape'ette to Auckland, Auckland to Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur to Kuching I was finally able to start living the Borneo dream.

Kuching (means "Cat" in Malay)

The capital city of Sarawak, the largest of the two Malaysian Borneo states is probably one of the most refined cities I have visited in SE Asia. Full of charm, friendly people and delicious food I was pleased to be using it as my base for exploring the nearby Longhouses and National Parks of Sarawak.

My first few days were spent visiting the Sarawak Museum, Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and the Cultural Village.

Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

The centre attempts to rehabilitate orang-utans, monkeys and honey bears which have been orphaned or illegally caged ready for a safe release back into the wild. I was up at the crack of dawn in the teaming rain to catch the early morning feeding for the best chance of a sighting.

Well it appears my "kiss of death" approach to spotting wildlife continues as despite the guides hour long attempt to coax them out of the wild with some pretty impressive Tarzanesque mating calls we saw absolutely zip. I wondered whether it may be the rain but figured orang-utans are pretty hardy creatures and was then informed that with it being fruiting season they are able to source all thier own fodder so they rarely make an appearance for a slice of Watermelon. Although slightly disappointed I did feel gutted for the older couple I got chatting to next to me, apparently it was their fourth consecutive visit and still no-show - you think you'd get the hint....

Sarawak Cultural Village.

The village provides examples of traditional dwellings built by the different tribes of Sarawak in a sort of living museum. The dwellings are inhabited by tribes people who demonstrate local arts & crafts, blowpipe shooting and musical performances. All in all it was very well done although obviously quite touristy. I think the secret is to get as involved as possible, I aced blowpipe shooting, sucked at basket weaving and put in a performance to be proud on the drums.

Longhouse - Sarawak Cultural Village

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Fancy looking guitar

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Viewpoint

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Bako National Park.

Covering an area of 2,727 hectares and hugging the South China Sea on the tip of the Muara Tebas Peninsula Bako contains also every type of vegetation found in Borneo as well as an abundance of wildlife.

After registering at the park headquarters it was a rather choppy 30 minute crossing on a tiny four man boat expertly chartered by a very small, very smiley Malay guy who kept reassuring us we were Ok as we crashed through the massive waves. Shared the boat trip with a scouse guy Daz who was to become my trekking and drinking buddy for the next few days.

Mangroves

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Jungle track

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One of the main draw cards of Bako apart from the rainforests, jungle and pristine beaches are the Proboscis Monkey. Bako is home to 150 of this rare breed which are only found in Borneo. So you can appreciate my delight when we chanced across three or four feeding on the mangroves as we set off on our first trek. We also spotted Long-tailed macaques, silver leaf monkeys, monitor lizards a bearded pig just for good measure.

Proboscis Monkey

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Day two involved a leisurely 8 hour trek through the park. There are 16 different colour coded trails running through the park which are easy to navigate so there is no need to take a guide along. That night we also did an hour long night hike (this time with a guide) who pointed out a whole manner of creepy crawlies some of which glowed in the dark which was pretty cool.

So that's Kuching and now it's time to make a move after a thoroughly enjoyable 10 days.

Next stop - Miri.

Posted by greggers 02:53 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Borneo - Skrang River

Iban Longhouse visit

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Sarawak's cultural diversity is a heritage of it's 27 ethnic groups of people. The largest group is the Iban community which contribes 30% of the total population of the state. The Iban was reputed to be the most feared of Borneo's headhunters, it was believed that the magical powers of the heads would bring strength, virtue and prosperity to the Longhouse.

Traditionally the Iban live in Longhouses - long wooden structures built on stilts where up to 25 individual families all live under one roof, each family has their own room which all lead onto one communal veranda. Tourist day visits to the Iban Longhouses are popular but I got chatting to the guy who ran the hostel I was staying at in Kuching who was able to arrange a 3 day homestay for me with a host family at the Lalang Longhouse on the Skrang River 230 kms outside Kuching. This promised to be a much less touristy experience and a real opportunity to gain an insight into Iban way of life.

Day One.

Early pick-up from hostel by Abba who will drive us as far as the Skrang river. There are five of us in total making the trip so I meet Des & Sue a lovely couple in their 60's from Northern Ireland and Sarah & Rachel two fellow backpackers from Wimbledon. The drive takes 4 hours but we stop off at the market en route to buy supplies and gifts for our host and the Longhouse Chief.

We meet Entili our host and guide for the next three days and all climb aboard his longboat. We are asked to take off our shoes and trousers and to put on lifejackets. As it is Borneo's rainy season the river is very high and we are told we can expect rapids along the way - exciting. Entili negotiates the rapids like a pro and we all arrive at the Longhouse safely. We later learn that a fortnight earlier another couple are not so lucky on a visit to another Longhouse along the Skrang, the boat gets over-turned and they drown.

I had seen pictures of other Longhouses but when we arrive at Lalang I am surprised at how make shift it is (can't think of a better way to describe it). It's made predominantly out of wood with a corrugated iron roof. We sit down with Entili and his wife to have tea and a chat about the next few days. Afterwards we are introduced to some of the other residents many of whom speak very little if any English but they are all very welcoming.

Lalang Longhouse

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Longhouse interior

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In the evening we have a welcome dinner with Entili and his wife in their room which is absolutely delicious, then Entili cracks open the Tuak (rice wine) this is drunk with all us sat in a circle. Entili hosts so he drinks first and then refills the glass and passes to the next person on the left, then he refills and the next person drinks. Each family produces their own rice wine but Entili has nailed it, compared to some other rice wines I have tasted in SE Asia it is very agreeable.

We are invited as guests of honour to meet the Chief of the Longhouse and give him his gifts. Then we are treated to a welcome dance by the Chief and other members of the house. I am the first to be invited up to dance with them and I don't know if it the rice wine but I am convinced I can dance like a warrior, it seems to go down well as other members of the house start clapping & cheering. After the dancing we spend the evening chatting to other members of the house. Just before bed they bring out big pots of Hot Chocolate and everyone (almost 100 people) all have a mug before we all retire - it was Hellacool!

Yer Man - The Longhouse Chief

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Everybody gets involved in the celebrations

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Group photo with the welcoming committee

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Day Two.

We are sleeping under mozzie nets on the veranda and are up by 6am when other members of the house go out to hunt, fish and collect fruits. After breakfast we head off on a jungle trek with Entili it's a lovely day and Entili is constantly pointing out wildlife. We finish the trek at a clearing after wading through a waist high stream for about an hour. Entili and two other guys from the Longhouse build a BBQ and cook steamed rice, chicken, fish and jungle ferns all wrapped in Banana leaves it's seriously tasty food. We spend the afternoon back at the Longhouse and I help some of the guys lay some decking.

Entili manning the BBQ

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After another dinner with Entili and his wife I am asked to play host for the Tuak drinking - the evening is spent chatting to the people of the Longhouse. It's really interesting to hear all about the history and observe their way of life, they are also equally as interested in us although our lifestyles couldn't be more different.

Basket making

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Day Three.

After breakfast Entili suggests another trek, the others are too tired so it's just the two of us. He takes me up into the valley for some awesome views of the rice fields - annoyingly my camera battery dies. He tells he all about his two sons who are both studying in Sarawak but miss the Longhouse desperately I can appreciate why it is such a unique way of life but he also wants them to get a good education and learn English so they can have a life outside of the Longhouse if they wish. On our way back we collect fruits and nuts for Lunch.

We then take the boat back to meet Abba for the drive back to normality. The visit was such a worthwhile experience and I am chuffed to have had the opportunity to have spent some proper time with the Iban people and to have learnt about their heritage and lifestyle.

Posted by greggers 02:37 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

French Polynesia

Wingin' it around the Society Islands

all seasons in one day 30 °C

It's fair to say that French Polynesia had a hard act to follow after the awesome Cook Islands but we ventured off with an open mind and a hearty dose of optimism - this is how our 3 week stint panned out;

Pape'ete - where the frick are we?

Our first stop was Tahiti's capital Pape'ete where we were greeted in arrivals by what's commonly referred to as a culture shock - everyone is so bloody rude and unhelpful. We paid an absolute fortune for a taxi to our accommodation and paid a further fortune for two skanky bunks in a very skanky hostel in the middle of the red light district (got to count your blessing I suppose). The first impressions were not good.

The following morning we set off on an exploration exercise. I was expecting a lush tropical island but what we got was an over expensive, dirty port town. We had originally planned to stay in Pape'ete until New Year but decided to make a move the following day after we had sampled the night life - everyone is either horrifically drunk or proper crazy or both.

Mo'orea - the one we really liked.

We hopped on a ferry across to Mo'orea after 2 nights in hell - now this is more like it. We got ourselves settled with some nice accommodation (by French Polynesia standards) right on the lagoon. We spent alot of time chilling on the beach and saw some awesome sunsets, each evening just after the sun had gone in the reef sharks would come into feed which was a pretty thrilling sight. We met a really good crowd of people and enjoyed seeing in the New Year with our new friends. We ended up staying for just over a week, the sun was shining, we were having a good laugh and quite frankly we were abit scared to move on incase this was as good as it got!

New Years Eve with Jasper & Maria

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On shark duty

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One evening we treated ourselves to a night out at Tiki Village which is a replication on what a traditional Polynesian village would have looked liked. In addition to the food and dancing they take you on a tour of the village and explain all aspects of Polynesian heritage so it was pretty interesting. The show after the meal (which coincidently was cooked in a ground oven) was more of a theatrical performance and really rather good.

Earth Oven - Dinner is served

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Tiki Village perfomance

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Huahine - the unspoilt one.

One by one all our mates left Mo'orea so we decided to make a move to Huahine. Huahine isn't a major player on the tourist trail so it is pretty unspoiled. We checked into our accommodation to discover we would be sharing a dorm with Imke and Claudia two Dutch birds we had been hanging around with in Mo'orea (I think they hid thier disappointment well)

The weather wasn't great so we decided to hire a car the following day to explore the island. We visited a pearl farm, fed some wild eels, looked at ancient burial grounds and did some snorkeling. The evenings were spent drinking happy hour Hinano's with drunk fisherman trying to deifier what the hell they were rattling on about. We did incidentally learn some funky new handshakes as noone in French Polynesia does a conventional shake.

Bora Bora - the hideously expensive one.

A strict diet of 2 minute noodles and baguettes with Jambon & Fromage had been adopted from the outset of French Polynesia - we were too poor to eat anything else. When the girls suggested a trip to the Millionaires playground which is Bora Bora we didn't want to look like Pikey's so we tagged along.

Arriving in Bora Bora

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The weather had taken a turn for the worse and it rained pretty much solidly for the 2 days we were in Bora Bora putting quite literally abit of a dampener on the proceedings. It's a nice place, the lagoon is beautiful (the Cook Islands were better) but it just isn't set up for the budget traveller unless you have an industrial strength credit card. It's full of load American tourists on cruise ship tours who dress horrifically.

We made a good friend in the guy who ran the place we were staying who doubled as our personal chauffeur. We went to go and watch some more dancing (there is pretty much nothingelse to do of an evening) and got chased by wild dogs alot.

The Band

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The Groupies

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Ra'iatea - the boring one.

Imke & Claudia headed back to Pape'ette from Bora Bora to catch a flight to LA so myself and Mark headed over to Ra'iatea. We stayed on a guys ranch in a converted barn which in principle was a pretty good idea apart from the weather was awful so we spent 48 hours playing cards and wishing the weather would give us a frickin' break! So we didn't really see much of Ra'iatea and we did brave the weather and chanced a stroll we got chased by wild dog again (is it my cologne..?)

Pape'ette (again)

Back in Pae'ette waiting for our flights to escape. Had abit of a tip off the Dutch girls as to where to stay which was much better. Also, and I am not at all proud of this as I am an honest law abiding citizen most of the time but we did sneak into the Intercontinental Resort and spent the day chilling at their pool and wondering why the hell American people always have to talk so loud and dress like they are stuck in the 80's.

So we survived but only just, luckily I had been having french lessons off Adeline on the sly back in the Seymour days which came in handy although I never did learn the french for "Get your fucking crazy, rabid dog off my chuffin' leg will ya mate" - you can't win 'em all.

My advice if your looking for tropical paradise, give Polynesia a miss and stick to The Cooks.

Next stop - Malaysian Borneo.

Posted by greggers 20:59 Archived in French Polynesia Comments (0)

The Cook Islands

Probably the friendliest people in the world!

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Not really fancying spending the festive period with the 'crazy Kiwi Experience crowd' in Auckland, we managed to score ourselves some muchas cheapo flights over to the Cook Islands to bask in a sub-tropical climate instead.

Rarotonga.

Our first stop was Rarotonga the largest of the Cook Islands. We spent our first five days here kicking back and well & truly embracing the island way of life. The first thing which struck me about the Cooks was how amazingly friendly they are. I appreciate I have said this alot on my travels but the Cook Islanders really are in a league of their own when it comes to random acts of kindness to complete strangers. We had only been there for a day when a local lad saved my life advising me against sitting under a coconut tree which was about to drop a coconut on my head. I mean the average youth in England would gather his mates and watch in great anticipation with his mobile poised to record the unfortunate event and then put it on the net for all to enjoy.

We hired bikes for a few days to get around much to the amusement of the locals who all have really cool mopeds. We did dedicate one afternoon to cycling around the island, the coastal road is only 32 kms but it took us all afternoon because everyone stops to have a chat with you 'I am very happy you have come to visit my island - have a wonderful time' how cool is that? I have promised myself that I will do the same to each and every Japanese tourist I have to barge through on Oxford St when I get back home.

The Cook Islanders also enjoy a good drink and a boogie so we spent a few evenings down The Banana Court - Rarotonga's premiere nightspot mixing it up with the locals. We were staying a few Kms out of town but if people see you heading in the same direction they pull over and offer you a lift home in the back of their pick up.

Aitutaki.

Aitutaki International Airport

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The super helpful lady who ran our hostel in Rarotonga told us of a flight and accommodation deal to the close by Island of Aitutaki. Aitutaki is the island where they film Survivor Cook Islands and also Shipwrecked if you have ever seen either of those. It is a tiny island set in a lagoon and the offer was just too good to pass up on. After a 45 min flight on the smallest plane I have ever seen we arrived. If it possible, the people of Aitutaki were even more friendly than Rarotonga. Absolutely everyone you pass gives you a wave or stops to say Hi. It felt like being a celebrity at first but with it being such a small island I suppose everyone knows each other. You could be having a beer that evening and someone will come over to you and be like 'remember me, I was the sixteenth person to say Hi to you today - how's it going Bruv?'

One of my highlights of Aitutaki was definitely a lagoon cruise we took. The lagoon is absolutely stunning, crystal clear water and pure white sand. We went snorkeling, visited the Survivor Island and also a tiny island called One Foot Island which has the smallest operating Post Office in the world. You can also get your passport stamped there which we did.

Another hectic Monday Morning

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We also went to an Island Night at The Blue Nun. At Island Nights you have a massive traditional Cook Islands feast and then the local dance group put on a performance of traditional dancing. All the blokes do this well cool Haka style dance which involves alot of knocking your knees together really quickly (we both got pretty good at it in the end) the ladies do alot of booty shaking which makes Beyonce look like a pure amateur!

So as you can probably gather we had a great time in The Cooks and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who's after some pure island style relaxation.

The End

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I will upload some photo's when I have got a faster connection.

Happy New Year!

Our next stop - French Polynesia

Blockbusters Rarotonga Branch

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Aitutaki from the plane

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Sunset in Aitutaki

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A chilled one down The Banana Court

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Posted by greggers 15:20 Archived in Cook Islands Comments (2)

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