Five Weeks is at an End

Our five-week world trip is at an end. It’s been fun. It’s been long. And I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and eating a regular diet again. The comforts of home always look so much nicer when I’m away. BUT…after being so long away and seeing so many things, I’m sure I’ll be itching to get on a plane again in a few weeks.

But before then, here’s a quick list of my favourite things from the five weeks:

  • Spending eight days with close friends in Israel, particularly getting muddy and burning in the Dead Sea. After spending so much time together, it was tough to say goodbye to them and a bus load of gays.
  • Hot air ballooning over Cappadocia. This totally lived up to and exceeded my expectations. So glad we did this.
  • Seeing my sister and Paul in Malta, boating into the Blue Grotto and checking out Mdina. Love me an island holiday.
  • That day of sunshine on Faroe Islands and a not-to-be-forgotten dining experience at Koks. 
  • And another not-to-be-forgotten dining experience at Geranium, but for entirely wonderful reasons.
  • Iceland in the summer, boating on a glacier lagoon, seeing puffins closer than ever before and sitting in a natural hot spring. Loved Iceland for a totally different reason the second time around.
  • Reminiscing in Toronto, seeing old friends and getting a taste of our old life. If only we could live two lives at once.
  • A helicopter ride over actual flowing lava and then swimming with manta rays at night. We didn’t see much of Hawaii but the small bits we did do didn’t disappoint.

There were plenty of other things we did, and mini experiences throughout but these are the ones that stand out. We’ve been very lucky, I’ve been very lucky, and I’m grateful for every day of it. Now it’s back to our regular scheduled programming.

Six Hours in San Francisco

Rather than take the shortest and most direct route home from Honolulu, Glen wanted to spend some time in San Francisco so we flew from Honolulu to San Francisco and had a few hours to kill. We caught the BART into town (I couldn’t stop shouting ‘Bart!’ a la Homer Simpson every time it was said over the PA. Small things.) and then I went to the Exploratorium in the Embarcadero.

It was a beautiful sunny day in San Francisco, not a bit of fog about. The reason why I wanted to go to the Exploratorium was because back home I’m working on an energy/electricity exhibition/museum/experience/bit of hell and thought it would be good to check out the competition.

The Exploratorium was established by Oppenheimer (yep, the Manhattan Project guy) who wanted kids to have a hands-on experience of science. It was most definitely hands-on and it most definitely had children. I’d say it met its objectives.

There were mostly single-user interactive exhibits throughout, divided into topics, so I spent most of my time taking photos of magnets, generators and circuit boards. (Definitely felt uncomfortable being a single adult male taking photos in a place dominated with children.) The signs for each had a ‘how to use it’ and ‘why it does what it does’ explanation, but as far as overall interpretive signage for the topics, it didn’t have any.

There were children running around everywhere, making the things do the things, much like Scitech back home. I don’t know about the ‘educational’ value, whether they actually learned anything about the concepts behind the experiments but they looked like they were having fun. The temporary exhibits (school holiday programs) were the most frequented, with enough exhibits for there not to be too much of a crowd around a particular one. In fact, a lot didn’t have anyone using them.

One thing that struck me later as I was going over the visit was that as most of the exhibits were single-user you had one of two unfortunate side effects. The first was that if the person using the exhibit feels like there are others waiting behind them, they’d been inclined to rush their experience and perhaps not do it again and get a fuller understanding. Alternatively, if the person using the exhibit is taking forever, the person waiting behind might get impatient and wander off and not come back. I’m not sure whether it’s a problem but it did strike me that the whole place felt a bit rushed, that kids were jumping from one machine to the next. At least they were having fun. I’d like to see their market research and studies.

After a while, I’d seen what I wanted to, took a bunch of photos and then wandered back to meet Glen and take the BART back to the airport. We got through security (my backpack taken aside for special screening) and then went to the United Polaris lounge for a wonderful shower and lots of food. It was one of the nicer lounges we’ve been to. Then we boarded our 12-hour-plus flight to Auckland.

In transit. HNL – SFO – AKL. One more leg to go.

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Back in Honolulu

We had an early-ish flight on Thursday morning from Kona to Honolulu, arriving at about 10:30 or so. We picked up the rental car, instantly getting better service once we informed the person behind the counter that we were married. Apparently, she just loves the gays so I’ll take the preferential treatment, thank you very much. In the end we probably didn’t need to hire a car as we didn’t do a lot with our less than 24 hours in Honolulu but it was reasonably convenient to have it.

It was far too early to check-in to our accommodation in Waikiki so we went to Diamond Head, a national park that’s also an historic military site and an extinct volcanic crater. There were a lot of people there—it’s a popular spot—so we joined the queue to park the car in the car park, which didn’t take long.

We then lathered ourselves with suncream and joined the throng of people off to do the ‘hike’ to the top. This involved going along rocky paths in single line formation behind people of varying speeds, and then climbing a lot of stairs, going through a tunnel and up a spiral staircase. It was hot. The sun was beating down. We were puffed by the time we got to the top and were treated to a wonderful view…of young good looking men with their shirts off.

The other view you get from the top is looking down on the crater and then out to the ocean and into the city. The volcano itself is mostly yellow-brown from the heat and presumable lack of rain. If I’d researched this a bit more, I probably would have passed but it was a ‘recommended thing’ from a friend. The exercise was good; the slow people were not. But it got us out and up and doing something.

We then went to Waikiki to where we were staying and unloaded the car of the luggage and then parked the car in the hotel’s nearby parking garage. The room wasn’t ready (it was still early) so we went for lunch at Tommy Banana’s or Cabana’s or something for one of the more unintentionally expensive meals of our five-week trip.

I really liked my food, probably helped along by the two gin and tonics I had. Glen wasn’t so lucky. He didn’t like the cocktail and he didn’t like the salad. And then he definitely didn’t like paying a premium for the privilege. But it killed some time and I left full.

We returned to the hotel and had to wait for a while before getting into our room and unloading our stuff. The room was nice, definitely the nicest hotel we’ve stayed at while in Hawaii. The only downside was that the walls were thin enough that we could hear the people next door having a party, their conversation and the blaring of the television. We wondered how long that would go on for.

Glen wasn’t feeling well so I opted to go for a walk to the beach by myself. Couldn’t really not. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the beach was packed. I walked through the busiest sections around the Hilton and the Sheraton and then kept going down towards the zoo where it got less crowded.

I was anxious about leaving my stuff on the beach and going for a swim but I didn’t like the idea of coming all this way and NOT getting in the water so I took the risk. The water was warm and refreshing and salty…and I didn’t want to get out. I loved it. Plus the section I was in was practically deserted so that made it even better. Unfortunately I only stayed a little while, my time spent watching my stuff on the beach and wondering if someone did swipe it, whether I’d have a hope in hell of stopping them.

I walked back to the hotel, down the fancy street, my shorts dripping wet, carrying my thongs, and shirtless. This got more noticeable the more the shops outshone the beach. It was freeing in a way. I got back into the room and dozed for a while, as much as I could with the noise going on next door.

In the early evening Glen and I went looking for dinner, our first attempt at a tempura restaurant scuppered due to having to wait, so we went back to the Thai restaurant we went to the first night in Hawaii. It wasn’t as good as that night. 

There were no plans to go out in the evening and as we had to be up at 4am for our flight back to San Francisco we were in bed by 8:30 and out by 9, ear plugs firmly wedged in. I woke up at quarter to one and could hear the two women in the room next door and their god-awful music. I banged on the wall about five minutes later and that seemed to do the trick. I passed out again, blood pressure going down, and woke up at 4, bleary-eyed and ready for our return journey to Australia. Five weeks had come to an end.

Manta Rays of Kona

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Wednesday we drove across Big Hawaii from Hilo to Kona, a roughly two-hour drive that took us around the northern coast of the island. There are three routes across: one through the middle, which is the shortest and goes via Volcano National Park, the south (and I think the longest), and then the north which is the most lush. We opted for the north with plenty of time to make it to Kona for my evening snorkel with manta rays.

The drive was easy. We stopped a few times, the first at Rainbow Falls practically in Hilo, and then at Akuna Falls (but we didn’t do the hike). The rest of the drive was spent mostly looking at the window at impossibly green rainforest and being disappointed that dinosaurs weren’t going to emerge at any minute.

The change between the Hilo side and the Kona side was stark; Kona doesn’t get much rainfall so it’s almost desert-like over there. Plus there’s a lot of black volcanic rocks along the side of the road, making it look a little like a quarry. 

We arrived at the Courtyard by Marriott just after 1, were given an early check-in and excellent service. I think we were a pleasant contrast to the demanding customer beside us who seemed to think that because she was tired that meant she should be given early check-in to a room that didn’t have a tree in front of its balcony. Seriously. A bloody tree.

We’re still a bit jet lagged from the time zone shifts between Iceland, Toronto and Hawaii. I’m not even sure what time it is back home in Perth, and when I do look it confuses me. So we’ve been waking up early so by the time we reached Kona, a nap was needed. I don’t think I slept but it was nice to lie down. I think I was also excited about the manta rays.

I started to get ready about 3:30, putting in contacts and packing my bag. Glen slept. As this activity would involve a boat and getting in the water with sea creatures, he was a firm ‘no’. I would be endangering my life by myself tonight.

Because it’s Fourth of July, there’s a parade down the street where our hotel is, meaning the road was going to be closed for a few hours, making getting the car in and out potentially difficult. I opted to walk from the hotel to the dive shop and check-in, thinking that the marina where the boat would launch was going to be just down the road and therefore not need my car. It wasn’t. The marina was about two miles away (which is imperial for ‘a bloody long way’). 

I called an Uber to take me there and was picked up by a guy who was either tired or stoned as his eyes were red. His car was also running on empty and asked if I minded if we got some fuel. I didn’t, as I had time, but then he said he’d probably be fine, then said he probably should get it, and then we got stuck in slowing traffic for the parade.

On the plus side, this little side trip took me back towards near the hotel and I said I’d end the journey here and go get my car. Poor guy looked worried he was going to get a bad rating. I collected the car and drove down to the marina. In the end it was a good thing as when we returned from the snorkel, the place was practically deserted and I would have had no way of getting back to the hotel other than walking the hour or so back.

The boat trip started at six. There were ten of us—two from Denmark, seven from the US and me. We were given info about the manta rays to start off with, how big they get, their individual markings, instructions on what to do and what not to do. The guide, Griffin, mentioned sharks and that no one had seen one, which was a bit of a joke because we’re out there at night and unless one swims underneath our lights, we really wouldn’t see them. But there had been no incidents so we were given the illusion of safety.

We boarded the boat, met Dane, our captain, and then zoomed off south down the coast. Before we left, they said the sea was very calm and flat, and for a moment I thought that perhaps Glen could have come after all, but once we were bouncing around on the water, smashing into very small waves in the speed boat, I think it was probably best Glen didn’t come along after all.

Speeding along at sunset was incredibly relaxing. The water was still (where the boats weren’t), the sun was setting, there was a lazy haze across the water, it was wonderful. We even saw a flying fish! We were going south to the waters off the Sheraton Hotel. The company goes to another site up north near the hotel but they haven’t been seen them there lately, including the night before when they ran two boats and the ones who went north didn’t see anything. I would have been gutted.

We arrived at the site where there were a lot of other tour companies and boats so it wasn’t the solitary experience that I was expecting but in the end that didn’t matter. We put on our wetsuits, fins, snorkel and mask, and then got into surprisingly warm water to hold onto a floating PVC-pipe-and-surfboard contraption with lights shining down.

It took a while to get to the right spot, seeing manta rays in the distance, barrel-rolling underneath another boat that had a lot of children on it who screamed every time the rays came near them. Eventually, however, we joined up with them and the manta rays gave us some love.

There were only four manta rays, two of which were huge, that were feeding around us, but because of their frequency visiting it felt like more. The rays would come from down low then barrel-roll so their bellies were almost touching the board, and their mouths would scoop up the plankton that was attracted to the light. It was phenomenal.

They are so majestic and swim so smoothly, none of our uncoordinated flapping about. They came close enough that I could see down their throats, or into their gills, or the individual markings on their bellies. I loved it. 

We were in the water for about 45 minutes, 25-30 of that was spent having an awesome animal encounter. Our time over, we were dragged back to the boat, got out of our wetsuits, dried off, were given hot chocolate and cookies, then zoomed back to the marina.

While in the water we’d seen a few bursts of the official fireworks, but on the ride back fireworks were going off all along the coast and in the hills as people lit their own. It was nice. We ran out of fuel just outside the marina but had spare on the boat so it was a quite fill and then we were back in.

We got off the boat, handed out our tips (I never know how much outside of a restaurant), and then drove back to the hotel. The roads had reopened and the traffic was non-existent so the dire predictions didn’t come to pass. I told Glen all about the experience, mimicking barrel-rolling manta rays, and then we went for dinner over the road from the hotel, lucky to find somewhere still open at 9:30pm.

If you’re interested, the tour company is called Big Island Divers and I’d recommend them.

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Helicopters over Hawaii

One of the few things that Glen said he really wanted to do on this trip was to see flowing lava. When the volcano erupted on Big Hawaii over a month ago, we thought we’d not get the chance to see it due to closed airports or roads or what have you. But we booked a helicopter ride anyway, the tour company saying they were still going ahead.

We left Honolulu at 9:30am on Tuesday morning, after spending the night in the city. We’d travelled all day to get from Toronto to San Francisco to Honolulu, getting a lie-flat seat for the five-hour flight from San Fran to Honolulu and getting a bit of shut eye. We caught a taxi from the airport to the hotel, went down the road for dinner and then went to bed around 10pm, struggling with the five-hour time difference between Hawaii and Toronto.

The flight from Honolulu to Hilo on Big Hawaii took about an hour. (And it’s Hilo as in Lilo, not Hilo as in Milo—or the milk.) We landed into a humid tropical island, everything green and just on the right side of muggy. We picked up the hire car and drove the 10 minutes from the airport to our hotel, passing a drive-through restaurant that had a sign that said, ‘If no can, no can. If can, Verna’s.’ What on earth does that mean?!

We checked into Hilo Hawaiian Hotel much earlier than expected. I’d thought we’d be able to dump our luggage and then check-in after our helicopter ride but the woman behind the counter said she had a room on the top floor with a king bed that was ready now if we wanted that. Yes, we wanted that. She then joked that it would cost $100 for an early check-in but I didn’t quite get the joke so she had to quickly say she wasn’t serious. We were just glad to check-in early.

After a quick lunch in the hotel cafe, we drove back to the airport for our 12:30pm check-in for our helicopter ride. There was about an hour of pre-flight stuff to go through, getting weighed, going through the safety briefing and being assigned our helicopter and seat. We’d booked an hour-long volcano and waterfalls ride in a helicopter with no doors. This meant there were only four passengers plus the pilot. Glen and I had seats 3 and 4 respectively, giving us window-views (the only person who wasn’t by a window was the girl in seat 1 who sat between her dad and the pilot. She would have been much less buffeted by the wind than us.

We were taken out to the tarmac, given our life vests and headsets, then walked out to our helicopter. Our pilot’s name was Matt. The helicopter blades were 10 feet off the ground so we didn’t have to worry about getting our heads chopped off (unless we jumped when we climbed in). We were strapped into our seats, our headsets connected to the PA system, and soon the helicopter was smoothly launching into the air.

This was our first time in a helicopter and I was mildly fearful of the situation, imagining all sorts of crash scenarios with hideous outcomes. But those fears quickly faded away as we ascended into the air and set off up the coast to the most recent volcanic activity.

We were advised to wear long pants and a jacket because, with no doors, it was cold and windy inside the helicopter. I could have done with wearing a thicker set of pants. My face, especially my ears, was constantly batted by the wind, which also made it harder to keep a camera steady, but at least there was no window in the way. (Once or twice I did wonder about the strength and sturdiness of my seatbelt.)

The pilot flew us towards where the lava flow has met the sea, but before that we were flying over areas of land where the lava had already been. It took me a while to realise what I was looking at which was cooled lava turned to black stone, some of it now covering the road where it had passed. Some of the vegetation remained green and lush, while a large amount was now yellow having died from the noxious fumes. It was a strange thing to witness.

Plumes of sulphurous smoke billowed into the sky where the lava met the sea, which had also turned turquoise. Along the coast we could also see small sections of red glowing lava that hadn’t yet cooled. While these areas in themselves were impressive, they were nothing compared to what came next.

The pilot flew the helicopter up to the source of all this trouble, Fissure 8. Due to the fact that it’s still spewing lava and gas, regulations mean we couldn’t go fewer than 3000 ft above the fissure. This, however, didn’t matter. We still got an excellent view of this molten lava pumping out an endless supply of lava. It was incredible. Occasional fountains burst up into the air, but otherwise it just kept going. The lava then cooled into a grey river that was hurtling down towards the ocean. It. Was. Amazing. And best of all, Glen couldn’t keep the smile from his face.

We didn’t have a lot of time left after this but the pilot took us over the highway were successive fissures had cracked the highway but so far hadn’t released any lava (though the authorities are still cautious). If they do go, it’s going to make things even more difficult for getting around the south of the island. Volcano National Park is still mostly closed, and as a result of the eruption, 600 homes have been lost. The clean up from this is going to be epic.

From the highway we went towards the rainforest, flew over some beautiful waterfalls, and then returned to the landing pad, giddy with excitement from what we’d seen. We got out of the helicopter, nevertheless a little worried about the blades chopping our heads off, and then collected our stuff and returned to the hotel.

We absolutely loved it and are so glad to have done it. We were extremely fortunate that this natural disaster meant unprecedented viewing opportunities. For your reference, the company we went with was Paradise Helicopters and they did an excellent job.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the hotel room, almost sleeping because it was late in Toronto and we’d also been awake since 5am Honolulu time. In the evening we went for Chinese at a suburban restaurant down the road, which was much better than expected. And then we were back at the hotel and ready for sleep by 8pm. Oh, how much stamina we have! The birdsong at dusk has given way to a million frogs singing, so I’m hoping I can get to sleep otherwise I’ll be cracking out the earplugs. 

And for those of you who grow fiddle-leaf figs at home, you ain’t got nothing on the monsters that grow here. There are some beside our hotel which are at least seven storeys high.

#helicopter #Hawaii #bigisland #fissure8 #gaycation @paradisehelicopters

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Reminiscing in Toronto

We left Iceland on Thursday morning, dropping the car off, struggling to get checked in because of Air Canada and our eTA and blah blah blah. After a five hour flight, we landed in a very familiar Toronto Pearson Airport and we through border control in next to no time. Toronto had switched on the summer for us (it rained last weekend) and we emerged around noon to bright blue skies.

Driving into the city was like old times, the skyline changing a bit with yet more condos going up. Toronto is not a pretty city when you enter via the freeway but it was comfortable and pangs of homesickness were fast to come.

We got to Bec and Al’s and whiled away the afternoon and early evening there. Julian and Simon came over in the evening after we’d got Thai take-away for dinner and it was a bit like old times (except for some familiar faces no longer living in TO and Bec and Al now have a beautiful baby girl).

#toronto

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Friday was a bit of an errand day. We went to the gym, then shopping through the Eaton Centre and Hudson’s Bay, buying enough to prompt us to pick-up a big suitcase to carry it all. We went to the bank and closed our bank account (a sad moment but it was incurring fees and we weren’t using it). Later in the afternoon we went for haircuts with Steve, getting the kind of cut, care and attention we haven’t found in Perth.

New cuts.

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In the evening we went to Cam and Vince’s for dinner and to meet their little boy, Jacob, who we’ve only seen via photos. So adorable.

On Saturday we went to the gym again (get us being all healthy and not at all spurred on by the guilt of four weeks of carbs) before lunch at Julian’s parents’ house and a swim in the pool. Julian’s mum fed us all extremely well and we were ready for a nap and rolling out the door at 2:30pm. Julian and Simon left to return to Australia a few hours later, their trip now at an end.

After a short nap back at Bec and Al’s, we went to Ur and Israel’s for a bbq with Cam, Vince, Matan and Jose and ALL THE KIDS. There were seven of them, ranging from six months to eleven years. We’ve certainly been getting our kid fix. We had another swim in the pool, some drinks, some food and caught up.

Despite getting home about 8:30 and technically being able to rest and then go out to Fly (a nightclub), we were happy to sit in bed and watch the RuPaul Drag Race season 11 finale. The finale was a disappointment (even though I won the sweepstakes) but it was nice to chill. We were asleep soon after 10:30, the five-hour time difference between Iceland and Toronto having an effect.

Back in the gaybourhood.

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Sunday was a lovely slow start to the day. It was even hotter than yesterday, the humidity bumping the ‘feels like’ temperature to over 40°C. We went for a walk down Church St, bumped into Marcio, and then went for lunch at Smith with Kyno and Chevo. Felt just like old times being in the neighbourhood but didn’t feel any huge desire to relocate our lives and return to Toronto permanently. I think because life is good in Perth and we get to leave frequently it’s actually a better spot for us (ignoring the socially conservative ‘values’ of our home country).

In the evening we had dinner with Kevin and Adam at Fushimi, the sushi restaurant we used to go to, and the first place that Kev and I hung out which was also at Pride. We spent a few hours there, stuffing our faces and our bellies, then went to 7West for a drink. They walked us back to Bec and Al’s afterwards, the humidity barely going down. We tried not to have a sad goodbye but it’s hard.

The taxi for the airport picked us up at 7:30 on Monday morning. Bec and Al were up with Maddy so we got to talk for a bit and then say goodbye. Goodbyes suck. It’s been a great whirlwind tour, still plenty of people we didn’t see, but there just wasn’t the time. But we’ll be back.

Hot Springs in Iceland

Wednesday was our last full day in Iceland. Originally I’d thought of going west to see Snæfellsnes, which was a two-hour drive each way, but after talking to Ollie from Iceland while on the Israel trip about hot springs, he suggested Reykjadalur and we were set.

We had breakfast in Reykjavik at Sandholt, a fancy bakery that served breakfast. Most other open places were attached to hotels and we wanted something simple. The yoghurt and berries were nice too.

The drive to Reykjadalur was about 50 minutes and included a retrace of our steps and then a U-turn to get to because we hadn’t keyed in the right location to the GPS. Words were had but we eventually arrived.

The sky was grey but at least it didn’t rain. I’d assumed to hot springs were ‘right there’ and we could go from the car park to hot water in no time at all. But I read up on it the day before and that wasn’t the case.

We parked the car and set off with a growing number of people for a 45-60 minute hike up and down hills, beside waterfalls and flowing streams, and 100°C+ sulphuric pools and great wafts of sulphur dioxide.

Eventually we reached the hot springs part which has had a boardwalk put in on either bank to stop it from subsiding because it’s now a popular destination. 

We got changed into our boardies in roughly 9°C weather which wasn’t as cold as some other people there were making it out to be, even after getting out of the water. We stepped into the stream at a luke warm section, the stream strong enough to pull you along if you weren’t holding on.

We walked further up the stream and the water got hotter and hotter. It was like being in a hot spa without the chlorine. It was magic. We soaked for about an hour, also finding a spot where a separate cold trickle of water joined the stream and there was a nice mix between hot and cold.

This hot spring was just what I was after. We’d been to the Blue Lagoon last time, which is manmade and touristy, but this was outdoors and natural and I loved it.

After a while it was time to go. We got changed and hiked back. When we arrived back to our car, it was to find that there were now double the amount of cars so I was glad we went when we did. We drove back to the main town, had cod and chips in a fishmonger’s and sat in the window taking our time. I felt so relaxed.

We arrived back in Reykjavik around about 2:30 or so, parked the car near the bit cathedral, and then chilled out in our room in the afternoon. After being go-go-go for the past few days, it was nice to have some downtime.

In the evening we went to Rey and Oli’s place for dinner. We’d met them on the Israel tour so it was great to catch up. They brought out fermented shark and Brennivin (an Icelandic schnapps also called Black Death) as the pre-dinner snack. I took a small piece of shark and it was hard enough to get that down. Definitely an acquired taste. The Brennivin helped with the taste.

Dinner was lovely, lots of chats, and time flew, talking a lot about travel, which is always fun. We bid farewell at 10:30 and walked back to our accommodation, finished packing and slept ready for the next day’s flight to Toronto.

Hot springs today after an hour’s hike. Water was wonderful. #iceland

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