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Brazil

Cracks with the force of the 1000 whips (thats a good thing)

all seasons in one day 35 °F
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.


Traveling on the a trip like this is like going out every night of the week, every week of the month, for eight months. It means often not knowing where you will spend the night when you wake up. Needless to say that can get tiresome. So it was with great relief that I was picked up from the airport when I arrived in Sao Paulo by the father. Not my father unfortunately, but Father Ordean, a friend I met in Trinidad several years ago who was debating whether or not to move forward with his ordination as a priest.

Ordean is not your average priest, or not what I think of at least. He lifts weights, spikes his hair, enjoys going out for a beer. He even talks some trash. My time in Sao Paulo was spent shadowing Ordean. I can tell you its not a bad life He lives in a big house provided by the church, with internet and a woman who comes and cooks for him (and me) everyday. And it was just the bit of luxury I needed after running around in Senegal. From a professional perspective it was also intriguing to be a part of his life as he´s as much a community organizer as a religious leader, gathering and motivating the leadership in nine different small communities. Sunday´s are an day as the only thing open are bars and churchs. The Evangelical churchs sometimes have services in front of giant televisions. Ordean would give me shout outs at his mass.

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I planned on coming to Brazil towards the end of my trip because I thought it would be a comfortable place to land after a taxing seven months. However, for some reason I was hesitant about going to a place I had been before. So arriving in arriving in Rio de Janeiro there was just one thing on my mind; music. It was good fortune that I landed in a hostel with two musicians who enjoyed fiddling the afternoons away. The owner sung love ballads while strumming delicately. And Luca, an Italian, played Brazilian popular classics as he does professionally back home. Luca quickly became a good friend, taking me to house parties in the artsy and historic hill neighborhood of Santa Teresa as well as music and dancing events around the city.

I landed a few days before the World Urban Forum, an event organized by the UN drawing 20,000 professionals and experts in urban issues from around the globe, a perfect opportunity to jump back into the fray of my field of study. Coincidence? I think so. But these days I cannot be sure. So my schedule for the first week in Rio was 9am-6pm at the forum and the World Urban Social Forum next door, organized by local activists, and pretty much 8am-3am with Luca somewhere listening and dancing to Samba, Forró, Choro, or Brasilian Funk.

I was also able to visit with a few old and new friends, but not all, and when it was time to leave I was definitely not ready to go. I became almost emotional at the thought of it and was consumed by Saudade. Rio de Janeiro is the most beautiful and enjoyable city I´ve been to, though not without its perils. I have more than one friend who has fled the city after being robbed in their home or kidnapped from their car and every resident has a story of getting mugged. Crime and fear of crime is something that has been present in every city since Maputo, Mozambique. In the first few days in a new place it can consume you, but after a while it is just a part of life.

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Salvador has a reputation for crime as well, though less organized then Rio. Indeed is a bit rougher around the edges which is both a good and a bad thing. It is a city rich in culture, which has been well exploited by tourism entrepreneurs. Still you can´t beat the tasty acaraje with spice sandwiches on the street and Tuesday nights which fill the historic center with music for the public. After a couple days it was all a bit much, so I took off for the national park Chapada Diamantinha, a land of caves, pools and waterfalls.

It doesn´t seem to matter what I plan, my days on the bicycle are always filled with struggle and glory. This was the last place I planned to cycle extensively so I decided to push my bike to the limit. I crossed rivers with my bicycle on my shoulder, beneath my feet and on the front of a canoe and tore through sand, mud and rocky hillsides. I often arrived at my destination in the dark. I was really out on my own in the forest, sometimes I felt lost, but I was pretty confident I would make it out most of the time, until a tarantula (I think) crossed my path.

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At this point my trip is a Baum Kooken -sp?- (German layer-cake) of experiences. Which sometimes overwhelm me with their diversity and intensity. I´m currently back in Salvador, taking in the music, theater and food of the city. I hope spend the next few days on an island doing nothing before heading north to Fortaleza to visit old friends and then on to Colombia on my way home!

I got pretty lazy taking pictures in Brazil just because its familiar, but I´ll lean on Flickr for photos of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador to compensate for what´s lacking in the gallery.

Posted by dericvito 07:30 Archived in Brazil Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Senegal

Biggie Biggie (Enjoy) Wow Wow (Yes)

sunny
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

My initial impression landing in Dakar was that Senegal is more similar to India then southern Africa. The people are aggressive, friendly, cunning and proud. The hospitality rivals the 40 cups of tea I accepted in Syria. The food and the clothing are spicier and more colourful. The streets are jammed in Dakar and its dirty. Religion is everywhere, but mostly on mini-buses, alongside American flags.

I had two weeks in Senegal, the first with my friend Casey continuing from Cape Verde. We headed straight north and arrived on the former colonial capital island of St. Louis on the eve of Mohammed's (the prophet) birthday. A Frenchmen from our bus named Lula (which coincidentally? is a word for white man in Senegal) took us to his friend´s home. Our first meal was home cooked and a preview of what I was to be eating for the rest of my time here, fish (preferably with Theibu-Jen pictured below). Actually for the last month I've eaten fish pretty much everyday.I now probably prefer it to any other meat, although I've never ordered in any restaurant in the US. It was also citrus season so a steady supply of oranges and grapefruits kept my hydrated was Casey was not pushing water.

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To celebrate the holiday, each mosque in the city set up a tent, which only filled up at midnight with people dressed in their finest gear. Some sang, danced and drummed, others watched. After strolling the island for a day we returned to Dakar, then on to the peaceful abode and lodge of Ras Umu on the island of Goree.

One of my favorite places from the my first week in Senegal was our lodging in Dakar. It was just a regular apartment building for seemingly middle class Senegalesse. There was a shared kitchen and bathrooms and TV space. Families and travelers all mixed together.

I arrived in the Casamance region for my second week in Senegal by boat. I slept very well in my private bunk in a cabin of eight. I love traveling by boat. It has all the isolation of an airplane with none of the crampness and foul air.

I had not intended on coming to French speaking Africa, but due to the overwhelming gregariousness of the people here it turned out not to be much of a barrier to meeting people. I used my TV French 'tres bien' as opposed to my father´s TV dinner French 'french fries' I now default to ´Merci´. I also used of course some English a bit of Arabic and a smattering of Spanish. With that I met tons of people while cycling between and over the waterways of the Casamance trying to avoid the rumored bandits and more real seperatist-government skermishes. At one point a solidier stepped from out of the woods from nowhere to see if I needed assistance with a flat tire. I give him a cookie and he diappeared just as quickly. Here are a few of the people I met:

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Nana (with his wife) is a entrepreneur from Ghana. He left home, and his children (and wife?) to come to Senegal to get a visa for Europe. Failing in that regard he met his current wife and settled down in the crossroads town of Bignona. He started out "hustling" household goods door to door before making enough to build a barber shop which he now compliments with a mini-market and restaurant. He's working on securing food for a meat shop. He wants me to send him a shipping container of American waste to sell.

Fatur (in her restaurant) left here village with her mother to run a business in a slightly larger town with a large fishing industry and tourism. She's 24 years old, not married and spends her days 10am to 10pm at her small restaurant making and selling all the Senegalese classic dishes, from Theibu to Maffe. She´s open to proposals from a variety of men.

Aleiu (next to his friend in yellow) is a student in high school, with a few years left to go. He lives in the village of Albadar, where if you don´t have oranges trees you haven´t got anything.´´ Aleiu speaks good English and his friends speak little though they attend the same classes. His grandfather is the chief. Don´t forget to bid him farewell when you depart the village.

Boubka (in front of his family helps out at his family´s lodge, sweeping the sand. His father, his father´s two wives and a bunch of little ones live in a small house on the outskirts of town. They can´t afford locks on their doors and someone stole his bike. He speaks passionately against corruption though his face shows little expression when he talks.

I stumbled upon a workout of the pro-basketball team in Ziguinchor in the Casamance and got my feet on the court for the first time in six months. It felt pretty good and I held my own though I was impressed with the level of play. Everywhere in Senegal you see boys in training, mostly jogging through town or along the highway, sometimes with their team and sometimes alone. Soccer I assume is big business and a big opportunity here.

I am currently in Brazil. Resting in Sao Paulo why slowly making my way northwards towards home, which is very much on my mind as are all of you.

Posted by dericvito 14:26 Archived in Senegal Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

South(ern) Africa

The cliches are true. The stereotypes are false.

sunny 84 °F
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

I recovered from malaria in style catching a train from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape coast on a mostly empty train in my own compartment. Next door was my new best friend in South Africa, Zonke. During the ride Zonke brought me up to speed on contemporary South Africa. We dined together as the countryside passed by and discussed her potential for an appearance on "The Apprentice." Soon enough I arrived in Port Elizabeth. While I'm still getting a feel for how people interact in South Africa, I can say South Africans are very gracious and generous. The first day I was given a coke while putting my bicycle together in the train station, a map when I couldn't find one in the book store, and a water bottle for no reason at all in the checkout line of a supermarket.

Physically South Africa looks a lot like California to me, with the exception of the townships and makeshift housing. With no real strong connections in this modern country, I followed more of a tourist route here. But, I didn't cage dive with sharks, visit the snake sanctuary, do the highest bungee jump or ride the ostriches. Mostly I was reading and riding. I delved deep into Nelson Mandela's autobiography during rest breaks as I cruised along the coast toward Capetown. It was really fascinating to be engrossed in this country's political history book while observing modern South Africa. While it was mostly a solitary experience (not a bad thing), I did arrange a visit with a family of cyclists on a farm through a site called warmshowers.com (the cyclist's version of couch surfing). It was a very pleasant experience to dine, converse and stay in their country cottage. Even the irony of a refreshing cold shower in this drought ridden territory made me smile. They directed to some of the most beautiful territory I've visited, off-road and into the desert and mountainous Karoo.

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With all this time on the bike I've had some time to contemplate my habits. Thus I present the top ten things I do while cycling in southern Africa:

    1. Look around
    2. Respond Bom Dia (Mozambique) I am fine (Malawi) Good Afternoon (Zimbabwe) Thumbs up (South Africa).
    3. Sing (from Jorge Bem to Cat Stevens to K'naan)
    4. Compose blog entries and reflections in my head that occasionally get written
    4. Look down at the ground
    5. Think about food
    6. Think about things other than food
    7. Listen to music
    8. Swelter in the sun
    9. Practice good posture
    10. Ride on the wrong side of the road though there were so few cars most of the time it didn't matter

If nothing else, I have made people here laugh, sometimes intentionally, sometimes for no apparent reason. At times my helmet was a most ridiculous accessory. While I enjoyed the sound of laughter, I preferred the sound people make here of surprise or acknowledgment. For women it's something like: eeiiii and for men: aghghghg (with mouth wide-open). I've picked up both. Something else I've gained a greater appreciation for are trees. There are all types of big beautiful trees here, most well utilized for their shade as meeting spaces and relief along a short or long journey. I'm told most people come to Africa to see animals. I prefer humans (they're much easier to see and interact with). However, I did get to observe a number of interesting species along the way, plenty of baboons, wild boars, elephants, etc. But mostly I saw birds. From ostriches on down, all colors, makes and models.

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I had a fantastic week with my father in Cape Town. We covered the city well with a different journey everyday, mostly by foot, but also train, bus, and finally car. It was a nice break from my vagabond ways to spend time with my father and sleep in the same place for eight nights. In Cape Town I put on my urban affairs hat and tried to understand how the city was making up for hundreds of years of inequality by attempting to provide new housing for townships dwellers. The task seems virtually impossible. But I found the sociology of Cape Town perhaps even more interesting then the politics that caused it. Apartheid titles like "coloured" are still used. Coloured was a term used essentially as caste that sought to group all people of mixed identity and those of strictly Asian decent. What's fascinating today is that at some level, it worked. We went to a "minstrel show" a traditional event of the "Coloured" community which involves singing and dancing competitions between neighborhoods. It was amazing to see the mix of faces and religions in this group and the absence of white or "black" faces. While the terminology used for this event and this identity group is pretty hard to digest, I do think Seattle needs a dance-off between neighborhoods.

Today my father set off on a train for Johannesburg and I a plane for Porto, Portugal. However, just to end my time in Southern Africa with a surprise, I was abruptly stopped on the street by some undercover Cape Town police. They looked like something out of '21 Jump Street' in basketball jerseys and couldn't have been older the 24 or 25 so of cours I didn't believe they were police. I had made the mistake of trying to take the alternate exit from an underground internet cafe ending up in a shady spot. Still I was shocked when these two grabbed me 2 blocks down the road. I finally agreed to a search, and stuck my hands in the air, though they repeatly told me it was not necessary. This fortunately and faithfully proved my innocence before a streetfull of onlookers.

Now on to Porto en route to Cape Verde and Sengal fully itinerary here

But before you go, this is my time in southern Africa summarized in moving pictures with sound:

Posted by dericvito 01:29 Archived in South Africa Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

Zimbabwe

After the meltdown there are still dipped cones

sunny
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

Even before I saw the glass towers, it was the full fledged fitness gym that let me know I was entering a new world. Malawi was a rural country, which was visually rich in agriculture (though I was told there was a food shortage) with small huts dotting the tropical plains. Zimbabwe feels urban and sophisticated. In Malawi, search of cold water I would scour for power lines riding through the countryside. In Zimbabwe dipped cones are available 24hrs a day from the Creamy Inn. I've enjoyed Zimbabwe for these and other contrasts and strangities. It is a country of big boulders, beautiful babies with big eyes buried in their mothers backs and the world's biggest reserve of U.S. two-dollar bills.

After just a morning in Harare, I caught a bus for the mountainous east to mount my bicycle. On the way a raucous group cheered and jeered the driver as he passed and was passed by other vehicles. In Zimbabwe I cruised along on well paved roads, one day in the mountains and three days moving towards South Africa. The only thing that slowed me down was the heat and the constant police road blocks, which I learned to enjoy. The easy questions were straightforward: Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you from? But the tough questions provided some challenge, here are some excepts:

ZIM POLICE: Do you know where Sean Paul and Riana live (pop musicians)
ME: NY, LA?
--
ZIM POLICE: Aren't you afraid traveling alone?
ME: No... should I be?
---
ZIM POLICE: You look like that swimmer, what's his name? Oh yeah, Michael Phelps.
---
ZIM POLICE: Didn't you bring something for us to remember you by, maybe five dollars?
ME: No
---
ZIM POLICE: Do you have cold water? Can I have some?
ME: OK
--
ZIM POLICE: Let's you and me go to the saloon tonight and find some ladies.
--
ZIM POLICE: What's your phone number? Will you call me when you get to America?

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Apparently the police were there in part to interrupt the diamond trade. All along the road men would hiss at me and make a diamond symbol with their fingers. The police policy to shoot poachers on site has massively cut down the trade I was later told at the empty hotel at which I arrived (which was often the case). According to the lonely and unpaid receptionist, the place was filled with diamond traders the previous year. On the road I found people in "Zim" more reserved than in Malawi. Or perhaps it's because white people are less of a novelty here. In any case they made up for it with fantastic whistling skills.

You are likely aware that Zimbabwe has been through some rough times, which hit the international news hard: an aggressive land reform policy that expropriated white farmers large land-holdings, hyper-inflation leading to empty grocery shelves (and they have so many grocery stores here!), cholera and bulldozed slums. Zimbabweans are very sensitive to this reputation and remiss about better days past. Indeed I didn't even consider coming here till I talked with some travelers. But I'm glad I did, because it's a fascinating mix of what I assume is old England and modern Africa. African women walk the streets with British wedding hats and bumbrellas, school children in flower cut dresses or khaki shorts worn high and belted tight with blue button-up shirts. Groups glad in white robes sing along the road. It's also a very pleasant place to be. The land reform issue is widely talked about, and I heard both sides, but their doesn't seem to be any active tension. The currency issue was solved by adopting three other currencies, the Botswana Pula, American Dollar, and South African Rand, all valued differently in different cities!

Sometimes the best thing after a long day of cycling is a cold bucket shower. But often in Zimbabwe the bucket was missing. As was the toilet seat. I have no idea how Zimbabweans bathe or use the toilet; I mean that literally. Most often there is a tub, but no drain stop and no bucket and no curtain. Similarly, they have western toilets, but no seat, I would think a squatter would be more effective. It's also the only tropical type country I've been to where wall to wall carpeting is common. A record temperature here is under 70 degrees, yet all the beds have a warm blanket under the comforter.

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I spent ten days traveling in Zimbabwe, most of it very independent and some way out where there was no one to ask directions and that was enough this trip. I tired a little of the evening power outages, always right when it got dark. Hot candles can be unpleasant when it's still 80 degrees. Outside of the cities, food could grow quite mundane as well. Every day the choice was the same, chicken or beef, rice or sadza (like cream of wheat, but corn), usually with either coleslaw or pumpkin leaves (quite tasty). Perhaps this routine lulled me into a daze of forgetting my Malaria pill or perhaps I did take the pill, but in any case it hit my full-on about an hour into a six hour bus ride. High fever, achy legs and general discomfort. The mini-bus let me out at the only town along the way with a hospital. I was diagnosed by "the sister" a nun I assume, and given some pills. Generally disoriented I somehow arrived at the guesthouse of the Zimbabwe Power Company, which overlooked a plant looking something like Homer Simpson's workplace. Of course even here the power went out, but I was satisfied for the comfortable bed and vanilla ice-cream. Not even the thunder and lightning which rocked the place could wake me from a twelve hour sleep. With the fever gone I traveled on and after a three day course I've 100% recovered. I'm now in South Africa making my way to Cape Town along the southern Coast.

While I couldn't manage or bother to capture Zimbabwe in photos, I will leave you with just a taste of culture from the streets of Bulawayo.

Posted by dericvito 07:07 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

From Mozambique to Malawi

It was the holiday season in Southern Africa too

all seasons in one day
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

My skin has turned the color of a honey-roasted peanut. There are constantly strands of fruit stuck between my teeth from tiny mangoes sold by children, five for a nickel. The air smells strongly of roasting cashews, though apparently the season is almost over. These were my last reflections from Mozambique

I spent Christmas eve and day with my traveling companion (hint: it has two wheels) riding from Nampula in north central Mozambique to the coast, Ilha de Mozambique. While the only visible signs of the holiday where the occasional santa hat and even more occasional small plastic Christmas tree, there was a palpable holiday spirit in the air. It was in the calls of 'boas festas' from those I passed and the busyness of the market on the 24th, ´dia de familia´. Perhaps it was even in the spirit with which women and children skinned down to their underwear and less when the rain started. They did so to take advantage of fresh puddles to the road to wash their clothes.

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I arrived in Ilha to a wedding. Along the way I saw many people taking advantage of the holiday season for ceremonies. There was traditional dancing, a circumcision ceremony and other occasions which I was not privy to. I landed at a private home and a courtyard filled with children. My room had an overhead fan and a bright
green bathroom. Over the next few days I plied the street of the island, one of first European settlements in Africa and the southern hemisphere. Young-men aspiring a career in tourism approach me with sophisticated and casual pitches. I usually had a ten to 16 year old accompanying me at all times. Ilha is home to some beautiful and smart European owned restaurants as well as a densely populated African villages. Children play freely on the beach, roll tires and enjoy their nakedness in the puddles. It was here that Mozambique's seafood reputation finally caught up with me. A chunk of fish in broth, lobster salad, shrimp and calamari. Some of it even lacked the customary grains of sand that have appeared in almost every dish I ate since my arrival. At night the sleepy colonial island filled with the beat of club Nautico and dancing youths. It was with reluctance that I left Ilha and caught a train to the border before my visa ran out as well as the year.

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I crossed the border into Malawi by bicycle. Either I was at some altitude or Malawi is all down hill, but regardless it was a beautiful decent down to Lake Malawi and the city of Mangochi. I managed to spend keep my bicycle in one piece and unpacked for my entire visit to Malawi although I found new obstacles along the road. Baboons, women dancing, and children crying out "Azungo". They would do so individually, "Azungu, Azungu," collectively AZUNGU, and even chant, "Azungu! Azungu! Azungu!. Their other favorite phrase was "give me money." I can almost imagine the vision in their head of a gangly (relatively) pale cyclist grabbing fistfuls of Kwacha notes from his bicycle bag and tossing them into the air. In fact I could afford to do this. There is only one bank note here worth more than $1.30. Should I? While perhaps it is a needed economic stimulus, my rationale not to is that it would reinforce paternalist notions that run strong here. Should I instead give to the international charities who have a strong presence in Malawi? I fear for propagating the NGO industrial complex. However it's hard to disregard foreign aid altogether when I get met workers at an independent foundation that has reduced malaria deaths by 90% in a community I visited, just by opening a clinic.
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From the peaceful, bicycle friendly town of Mangochi I biked to the water's edge to pass the new year at a small beach community. I fell in love with the large and beautiful Lake Malawi. On new years eve, the midpoint of my journey, I was plucked from my travelers isolation by by some Irish nurses and taken to the roasting of a goat. There we were entertained by the a band of children with drums. They played Malawian classics like "Who let the dogs out" and "How are you; I am fine." The next day I caught a ferry up the lake, which was a time of great peace, only briefly interrupted by Malawian tourists who boarded at every port to check out the ship on their day off and take photos with me (for status? strangeness, I don't know). A few days cycling and chasing wildlife and I'm departing for Zimbabwe tomorrow. This is the most travel intensive portion of my journey. I know I'm getting a bit worn down because I've been hanging out with other travelers for the first time and staying at backpacker places. Still I'm happy with this adventure and looking forward to the future.

Reflections in Bullets:


    I´ve been slowly trading away some of my high quality goods for handiwork. I took the frame off my backpack and had a tailor put in on my bicycle bag so I´m basically just carrying the bike now and a shoulder bag. Some guy liked the thick rubber on my heavy Chacos so I traded them for some flip-flops.

    I feel like somewhat of a friend sl-t here. I met so many people, but within a week I´m gone. I knew it would be hard and it is. Hard for me to process and II feel guilty for knowing there are few I will actually keep contact with.

    In Mozambique there´s a marketing war of epoch proportions between two cell phone companies, Vodocom and Mcell. They plaster there logo on everything, free shirts are particularly effective. Or perhaps its the absence of all other marketing I noticed.

    It is widely known police, like everyone, put the pressure on during the holiday season. Bus drivers will be stopped four times over four hours and either talk or bribe their way through checkpoints. My first night on the bike in Maputo I was waved over by a cop. My heart pounded as the officer requested papers for my bicycle. I stalled and eventually he let me go.

    Not bribing is one stalwart rule of the travelers to do no harm. Another I´ve tried to follow is to purchase down the economic chain. Buying from street vendors can be healthier for me (often fruits or homemade goods), the environment (generally no or natural packaging) and the least well off. Unfortunately It´s been a struggle , as those packaged cookies with the frosting inside can provide relief from a stressful day of travel.

    Malawi's got religion! The presence and prominence of both mosques and church and their respective schools and charities was distinct from subtle Mozambique.

Finally got to upload some photos, https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/DJG/

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Posted by dericvito 09:24 Archived in Mozambique Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

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