Smoggy LA (March 8 2018)

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Hey, it’s actually kind of warm! Well, not really warm but warmer, I should say. People are climbing rocks all over the place. I want to, too, but Big Dog wants to get going. We need to be back at the condo right at 3pm, when the parking restriction ends so we can get street parking nearby for Sprockets.

It’s a much sunnier day as we head out on 62. There is so much more development out here than I remember. Tons of strip malls, big box stores. Big Dog tells me there’s a military base nearby.

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We nearly whizz past the entrance to Big Morongo Preserve but we make it. It’s busy, too! The last time, we were the only ones it seemed. And there were frogs going nuts. That’s what we remembered most — walking on the boardwalk over a marshy area, the frogs stop croaking when they hear you and if you stay real still, get going again. Like crazy! But we might be too early for frogs – it’s not the Croakfest we remember.

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Down, down, down in elevation to Banning Pass. My god, the air is crap today. Is the heat making it worse? You can hardly see ahead for the smog. It’s the worse air I’ve seen in decades but we don’t normally come out here. We keep slogging through traffic that’s as bad as the air.

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“It’s as bad as the 70’s,” I say but Big Dog doesn’t think so.

“No, it was worse then.”

Once past the 405, the air improves dramatically. Good old West LA!

“West of the 405, north of the 10,” that was what Big Dog always used to say and why he only looked for a residence in that Clean Air Belt.

Off the I-10 (wrong direction, sorry!) and to Marukai, the Japanese grocery store, to get some decent soy sauce, then to Benitos for a shredded beef taco lunch, Star Bakery for some outrageously good Persian cakes, and then to the condo. It’s 3pm exactly but cars are already parked on the street! Luckily, there is an open spot right by our condo. It’s time to unpack, launder, rewash, shower…

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Big Rocks and Joshua Trees (March 6 – 7 2018)

Well, it’s a really hot day, with no wind. Hope Joshua Tree is good and we can find a camping spot.

We just have fruit for breakfast so by the time we get to Mecca at the north end of the Salton Sea, I am crashing and getting “hangry.” We need to find some food, fast.

Mecca is a strange little town. It’s very barren with not much of anything. We go into their main Mexican restaurant across from a Mexican market. In the complex with the restaurant is a Mexican barber (men’s haircuts $8! And hairstyles for Mexican men that you don’t see on anyone but!) A Mexican cellphone shop.

The restaurant caters to Mexicans and the tourists passing through. As if they knew how hungry I was, they make me wait forever. The waitress/cashier tends to every other person before she takes my order – twice, and still screws it up – and then is busy doing something else when our food is finally ready. I am so hangry by then that I make Big Dog go to the counter and get my breakfast burrito. Even after wolfing down the strange tasting burrito, I am so upset I forget to leave a tip.

From Mecca, we go east, then northeast, first along farmland, then into a long, winding canyon road through the Orocopia Mountains. I had never heard of them but it’s all dry with little vegetation — looks like Death Valley. Giant canyon walls with diagonal strata of rock. It made me imagine we were on the ocean floor!

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This terrain was shaped by the movements of the San Andreas Fault and the Orocopia Mountains is especially known for its geologic variety. It was used by astronauts training for the Apollo moon landing missions.

There are campers here and there, and hikers, biker and cyclists, too. Cool place – we’ll have to return and spend some time here.

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The road rises out of the canyon to a plateau from where you can see I-10 in the distance. We cross over and enter the southern part of Joshua Tree. It’s the Colorado Desert here, a part of the Sonora Desert, with ocotillo, etc.

We stop at the visitor center at Cottonwood. On the suggestion board, someone has put up “Fire Zinke.” Yes. And Pruitt, too.

Although it’s not as hot here, it’s sunny and at this elevation, you need even more sun protection. We’re about 1000 meters above sea level now. Quite a jump from below sea level! My stomach and abdomen feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the breakfast burrito. Maybe it’s the elevation shift.

Near the visitor center, is the trailhead for the “Mastadon Peak Loop,” beginning at an oasis with the biggest, fattest palms ever! The sequoia of palms! It then climbs up up up to Mastadon Peak, a pile of rocks, from where you get a big view of the area.

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After our strenuous walk, we drive north, through the Smoke Tree Wash. Smoke trees look like puffs of smoke on branches from afar. The landscape is still Colorado Desert when we turn northwest, going into the Pinto Basin. The Pinto People lived here. “And gave us the Pinto bean,” jokes Big Dog. “And Pinto ponies and cars,” I add.

The road goes by the Cholla Cactus Garden. Garden? It’s a giant field of teddybear cholla, spines glowing neon in the backlight. We’ve never seen so many in such density. In other places, they are there with other flora but here, it’s as if they alone have taken over. Of course, in reality there is other vegetation but it’s all dwarfed by the cholla.

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We go through a pass into a higher basin. This is where the Mojave Desert takes over and we finally see the Joshua trees. We drive towards the Jumbo Rocks campground. Skull Rock, a rock that looks like a skull is a big attraction — there are tons of people and parked cars. We are both astonished at the number of people. When we were last here, there weren’t nearly as many and it was more “peak” season (for wildflowers) than now. I think it’s the result of population growth and it’s disturbing. But it’s a nice diverse crowd of families, retirees and young adults.

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Jumbo Rocks is quite busy but it’s the largest campground and near the end of the day, there are still a few open sites. The sun is low and it’s starting to get cold but the afternoon light is beautiful on these distinct round boulders. They all look like soft, round, yummy things. The curves of a fat body. I’d love to shoot some nudes here.

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COLDEST MORNING EVER! 1 degree and overcast. It’s also 4400 feet elevation. After coffee and grits (yes, I’ve developed a real taste for grits – something warm and savory and filling is a good thing this morning) and cleanup, we put on a bunch of clothes and take a walk to Skull Rock. Everything is different and beautiful in this diffused light. We walk through gravelly washes, through pencil cholla, mesquite, desert oak and yuccas to the Big Rocks. I scramble over them with the other visitors. I love scrambling over rocks like I love tree climbing!! The cloudiness actually makes it easier for hiking.

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We head to Keys View, a high point where you can see all the way to Banning Pass, Salton Sea, Imperial Valley. The peaks of San Jacinto and San Gregorio are covered in snow. We’re supposed to be able to see the San Andreas fault but we’re not sure where it is. The exhibits only talk about air pollution hampering visibility though it’s not too bad today.

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From there, we go to Hidden Valley, another popular rock climbing area, and then out the West Entrance. You have to go out of the park once to get to Indian Cove, our campground for tonight.

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Indian Cove is hidden between 2 walls of rocks and has plenty of rock climbing opportunities everywhere. It’s a great campground with dramatic views in every direction. Once we find our spot, we take a little walk to where we can look down on the Morongo Valley, then down through washes. We chat with a group of older men from the midwest who ask us about where to get recreational pot. Very few places in California so far, my friends.

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Bath Time (March 3 – 5 2018)

We have no more food. We’ve been without a bath for days now. And our battery warning light comes on. All reasons to move.

Arizona drivers can be real assholes. The off-roaders and trucks at Mittry speed down the dirt road sending up clouds of dust regardless of whether there are any pedestrians or not. And as we leave today, near the end of the dirt road, a truck pulling an empty trailer overtakes us in a cloud of dust. At Fry’s gas station, vehicles rush in, cut in front, shove you out of the way. Maybe Yuma drivers are tired of geriatrics in vehicles too big for them.

The other odd thing about this part of Arizona are the Confederate flags I keep seeing. I’ve seen more Confederate flags here than I did in the Deep South! You know it’s not about secession or states rights for these flag flyers. They are often flying the Confederate flag with the Stars and Stripes, a real contradiction unless you don’t know much about US history.

I never knew Arizona was such a red state. But I guess it always was. “Barry Goldwater Country,” says Big Dog. Deep red. With lots of military installations.

Our first stop is the farm stand on 95 where we got the fire roasted peanuts before. This time we get papaya, zucchini, tomatoes, strawberries, organic celery, purple onions and the roasted peanuts. Plus a pack of 3 hefty tamales. Then, it’s back to Fry’s where we have to wait for the diesel pump behind a huge motorhome. The guy can’t drive forward because an oil delivery truck is there and we have to do an awkward dance to get him out and us in before any assholes can cut us off. It’s a horrible, confused and crowded gas station. It’s so irritating, it makes me forget other stuff — like getting water and going to A&W for a root beer float. Really important stuff, man!

DSC09751It’s getting windier and windier. We’re driving towards the Algodones Dunes but the wind is making everything really hazy in the desert. There are lots of particulates in the air. It’s Saturday and the ATVers are out in droves. The dunes are a-buzz with noisy, dust-raising vehicles. Big Dog wants to try it some day but I’d rather sled down the dunes. Or ski it. As for fossil fuel burning activities, I’d rather be flying.

DSC09398DSC09407The air is dense with dust but as we get up to the Salton Sea, it clears up a bit. I guess less land mass = less dust. All that dust in those big farm and feed lot areas is probably the worst kind.

We’re back at Fountain of Youth. The office is already closed and we check in with the guy at the gate — the friendliest, most personable, helpful guy.

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As soon as we find our designated spot in the Dry Camp zone, I immediately go to shower and soak. Ahhhhhh! Wash hair!!! Lather and scrub! Soak! It’s terribly windy but in the tub, it doesn’t matter.

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Over the next couple of days, that’s about all we do: soak. It’s still a bit strange for me to be in a hot spring with clothes on but they do have the private tubs where I can soak naked. They are filled with pure, unchlorinated mineral water – the way we like it!

We also read a lot and I discover their very nice gym where I work out with a bunch of Very Fit Campers. Big Dog spends time in their Media Room with its good internet connection.

I also find a Maya Angelou book in their library (great selection of reading! DVDs! Puzzles!) – a collection of short essays, Letter to My Daughter. She has no daughters. Neither do I. But like her, I want to share stuff I’ve learned with “my daughters.” I’m sad I have no daughters to pass on the lessons I was given by my own mother, like she was by her mother. From very practical things like how to wipe your tush, iron a shirt, cook rice and all sorts of deliciousness, to caring about the world, respecting tools, being your own self, living with confidence, positivity, grace, perseverance. Being strong. Always growing. Embracing change. Feeding curiosity. Expanding your imagination. Compassion. These were lessons that shaped my beautiful, unexpectedly (and maybe undeservedly) blessed life. It’s all in the mind and heart — not a bank account! I’ve learned lessons of my own, too, which I’d love to pass on. Being fearless. Loving the leap. Not letting others define who you are and what you want to be. Jumping headfirst into the unknown. Being your own best friend, biggest supporter. Self reliance. My mom’s adage: We are all given the same amount of time, how you use it is up to you. The preciousness of time and the need to use it wisely. Staying busy. Making the extra effort. Gratitude. So much. So much.

The wind dies down a bit, then picks up again. Seems there is no escaping it for us on this trip.

Many campers are leaving daily. It’s the end of the season here. Apparently it’s pretty quiet by April. It’s time we go, too.

Living Lakeside (February 28 – March 2 2018)

In the morning, we stayed in our spot for a bit, pulling out our table so I could do dishes, cut fruit, have breakfast…

A worker appears to paint stuff around the canal lock and Big Dog has a chat with him. Mittry Lake is part of a system of lakes and canals from the Colorado. The thick marsh and riparian vegetation provides a home for many birds, yearround and migrating or wintering.

We want to see what’s up ahead. It’s higher and farther from the water but there are more camp spots, including one that has a ramp to the water. The east side of the road is a canal that is not open for fishing or boating (so I guess kayaks are off limits, too.) Eventually, you get to a paved highway. Seems there are RV parks and other boondocking spots beyond, but we turn around, wanting to find a spot with easy water access.

DSC09727Our old spot is vacant! Yay! There are 3 or 4 little camping sites around this tiny cove but ours is the most private. After we set up, we take a walk to the day use area, passing our neighbor who is sunbathing naked, another in a colorful schoolbus that has “One Nation Under Goat” (huh?) painted on the side. It has big solar panels on top. For a weekday, the whole area seems very busy — much more so than the last time we were here.

A big convention of off-roader old-timers (“Foothills Roadrunners” car club) is taking place at the covered picnic area. A generator provides power for their big coffee pot! The vehicles are jeeps and other off-road vehicles, some just modified to have a lot more ground clearance, some with winches, all with big fat tires. There’s even a VW Beetle on big fat wheels. Other people are fishing, boating. One guy has two retrievers who are completely focused on him — he’s holding a pair of short float sticks and they are waiting for him to toss it into the water. Eventually, he does and they leap in after them. They look like they could do it for hours.

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And then I came face to face with a mouse!!!! Eeeeeek!!!

We were watching the tremendously boring and confusing Tree of Life in bed, when I glance to my left and there is a tiny mouse between Big Dog’s and my face! The tiny mouse about the size of a jalapeño pepper and I look at each other for a nanosecond before I go nuts. I shine the light all over stuff but of course I’m not going to find the mouse and if I do, then what? All I can do is tuck away any vulnerable foodstuff and try to ignore the noises as it moves around the RV. Will it be in my face again tonight???

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The ducks and geese spend their nights somewhere else but hang in our cove during the day. At first, a handful, then more appear. These ducks cluck and clack and click all day. Sometimes there’s an egret or heron. Or another long-necked water bird. The big group are birds with fat white beaks. They’re herbivores, diving down for the vegetation under water.

There’s a bit of wind but we finally get out the kayak and pump her up. It’s all dusty from being on the road so long.

DSC09738DSC09748We saw other kayakers earlier but aside from them and a boat or two, the lake is empty. The birds all flap and run on water when they see us nearing. As we row around, we see there are other flocks in other places.

On another kayak trip, we go towards the southwest end. A road going to the other side of the lake is there — that’s how those campers got to the other side. There is also an opening through reeds that we kayak into for a bit. Very Jungle Cruisey! On another, we go east of our site to investigate our cove and find out that the “peninsula” is an island we could circle!

We like this lake — it’s so peaceful. Even the boat people just float and fish. There isn’t a lot of speedy, noisy motor action. It’s very quiet (except for loud kids before they pipe down for the night.)

We’re happy to have the heat that we missed in Mexico. And it’s full moon time.

As dusk settles in and we’re moving in, there is the biggest fullest moon rising above the reeds directly in front of us. The sky is still pink and mauve and the scene is amazing.

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Hard to capture the REAL in digital photos… (Or maybe I’m just a crap photographer.)

Back Through The Wall (February 27 2018)

It was a much warmer night but the wind has caught up with us and has been howling through the night. Time to get out of here. We pack and pull out, waving goodbye to Cool Rudi.

The road to Golfo de Santa Clara is a good paved highway that goes through the Gran Desierto, then through dunes and tidal flats, with amazing wind-carved arroyos here and there. Finally, it drops down to the “town” of Santa Clara. It’s a windy, overcast day and there is not much to see at Santa Clara.

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From there, it’s a northerly route to San Luis Rio Colorado, going through a big checkpoint near El Doctor. Here, the military actually come into Sprockets, knocking on cabinets and such, looking for drugs and guns.

SLRC is a funky border town. It is difficult to find the entry point to the US and what we think is the way isn’t but we can’t turn around on the one-way street and not knowing where to get back in the long line, we shove ourselves into the short line. Our bad. It turns out to be for “Sentri Only.” We have no idea what this is about but boy, did we get it from the Border Patrol! Sentri Only is for those who have applied for expedited border crossings. Big Dog apologizes profusely, saying we hate cheaters too and aren’t queue cutters. That made one of the officers ask Big Dog if he’s lived abroad. “No one says queue in the US.” And because of our using the wrong lane (?) we got a full RV inspection. (They take away the EGG I’d forgotten about – it’s been riding with us from LA. The papaya, tomato, avocado, the meat and fish inside our fridge were all okay.)

When the CBP are finally finished with us, we go back through the wall to the US of A. 95 takes us to Yuma, then 32nd through suburbia to… where else? Walmart! Ha ha. Back so soon!

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Rudi’s beer can bouquet rides along with us

While I am getting water, milk, wine, vodka, munchies and veggies, Big Dog goes online to reactivate our data on the iPad, check mail, etc. Thankfully, we are not staying at Walmart but going back to Mittry.

Our former site is occupied so we keep going…beyond the parking and boat ramp. The road rises and keeps going and we find a spot just beyond another set of locks. It is far from the water but has a nice view and a bit of privacy although there is another camper at the site across from us who we can see and vice versa. At least we’re not on top of each other. And we are out of the wind. Ahhh.

The Oyster is Our World (February 26 2018)

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3 degrees! It’s the coldest morning yet. When I had to get up to pee in the dark, it was like walking into a meat locker naked.

Rudi has 3 pit toilets without doors or toilet seats. But it’s doable. Anything is better than the Dreaded Bucket.

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Guarding the ridge…

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The sun is so bright out here. Hopefully it will warm things up. But Big Dog is talking about Death Valley…Quartzsite… We need some real WARM on this trip. For the moment, however, we will stay put for another day.

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Rudi is out early, getting ready for the day. A big church group is coming, he tells us. First, a car with several women and a man arrive. They’re preparing food as more vehicles appear. I love the way the Mexicans spend a day at the beach. They bring lots of their own food, supplement it with the local offerings, and spend the whole day there enjoying each others company.

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Rudi is an interesting character — not your typical Mexican at all. He is more reserved, more cognizant…of what, I don’t really know, but he is good about picking up on vibes and is aware of how much of himself each group needs. Those who want the socializing, he accommodates. Those who don’t, he leaves alone after shucking the oysters.

Ernie from El Desemboque wondered how these ostioneros can be out there so isolated, but I kind of get it. You are in God’s World, with dramatic nature and your job is as a shepherd for these tiny creatures. Do oyster farmers eat their oysters? They must. But I can imagine those who don’t. Or can’t.

Rudi invites us to have some oysters and we go for a dozen. A dozen oysters for breakfast! How outrageous is that!

We tell Rudi we want to stay another night but need to go into town. He is fine with us staying, telling us to go ahead and use his kayaks if we want. I think he likes us being there — he pointed us out to the church people earlier.

Since we are going into town, he asks us to get him some “cigarros.” I think he’s talking about cigars but he hands over a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes. There’s a picture of a drooping cigarette and a warning about smoking causing impotence. Variations on this theme appear around the box.

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If you smoke too much, maybe you need more of this…

When we get back to Rudi’s, there’s a gringo foursome (two couples) none of whom like eating oysters! What?! They just wanted to watch the “work” of an oyster farm. One guy bravely tries an oyster. The others don’t even touch it.

Earlier, before we went into town, we watched the tide rushing in. The stacks of oyster boxes that were exposed get submerged and the babies get their nutrients. Now, it’s high tide and the boxes are mostly under water.

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One of the Church Group Partiers gets oysters out of the bed. Sort of like U-Pick, huh.

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In the afternoon, we take a walk south. There’s an astounding amount of trash beyond Rudi’s place. Big Dog starts picking up trash and I do, too, but soon it’s evident that there is just too much of it. We put a bunch in a crate left on the sand and just pick up the aluminum cans. Rudi thanks us and gives us a “bouquet” made of beer cans.

As soon as we begin having our dinner — flounder a la Veracruzana, potatoes and broccoli – a couple New Hampshire comes by to talk to us and by the time they leave, it’s dark, we’ve missed sunset and the dinner is cold. Oh well.

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Heading North (February 25 2018)

Snowbirds are slowly vacating their winter homes. The guy from Marseilles (who lives in Canada) in the huge fifth wheel behind us left this morning. He had someone washing his truck yesterday and was packing up but it was a quick departure this morning. While in bed, we heard them hook up his truck but it was already on the path before Big Dog got back from the bathroom and was soon gone.

We are leaving, too, and heading north. I cannot believe we’ve only been in Mexico for 16 days!

We get half a kilo of those big scallops, half a kilo of brown shrimp and two big flounder fillets and hit the road, back up the coastal highway, through the Sonora Desert … We’re hungry but aside from 2 or 3 abarrotes, there’s nothing until Puerto Libertad.

Right at the crossroads is a street vendor with seafood. He has a food truck and is accompanied by his pretty wife and cute daughter. Big Dog orders us tostadas while I go back for my jacket. The wind has really picked up and it’s cold. Our tostada is a campechana piled high with a mix of octopus, shrimp, scallops, caracoles, fish and squid. Bits of it taste like abalone.

From Puerto Libertad, it’s about 2 hours to Puerto Peñasco. Big Dog has to dodge a bunch of potholes. Some are undodgeable. Some are deep enough to bury a dog, though not as deep as some of those Baja potholes. One nearly undodgeable pothole has a small strip of asphalt in the middle and Big Dog is able to pilot Sprockets so we hit that narrow strip.

“How’s that!” Yup. The Natural Born Driver Strikes Again.

Nearing Peñasco, I keep my eye out for the turnoff to Rudi’s oyster farm but I miss it and we’re at the turnoff to the Cancha peninsula. Shit. We turn around.

I see the faded sign for Ostiones de Las Mujeres but can’t find the dirt road. Up ahead is a newer sign for Aquamar and we take it. I am convinced it’s a different one. Even as we pull up to a place that looks nearly identical to Rudi’s. A man comes out — “He’s not Rudi,” I say but he is! Just without his shades. I guess all dirt roads lead to Rudi’s! Maybe even if you take the turnoff ahead (with a different sign) it brings you here.

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Once again, we are the only customers. We order a dozen oysters, get our beers, give Rudi one. As we order the next dozen, a truck full of people drives up. Rudi was telling us how slow things were even though in anticipation of more Sunday business, he had prepped a bunch of oysters. So we were glad he had more customers, who order 4 dozen oysters. A mom, dad and teenage daughter are from Peñasco with a big herd of young adults and small children from Sonoyta. One Sonoyta couple are very gregarious and keep offering Big Dog oysters and beers. We talk and laugh with them for a while. The 15 year old daughter gets excited when she hears I am from Japan. I wonder what image she has of the place? And the Sonoyta couple are excited to hear that Big Dog was once an actor! Cute people.

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More customers appear, so good for Rudi! And he is fine with us staying here tonight. When the customers leave, it is very quiet. With a big waxing moon, stars and nothing else.

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