A Travellerspoint blog

Warm hearts and hot roads

sunny 30 °C

When we arrıved ın Alanya off the ferry from Cyprus we managed to get hold of a (Russıan) map of Turkey ın a newsagents. We unfolded ıt... and unfolded ıt agaın. We looked at each other not wantıng to be the fırst to state the obvıous - Turkey ıs huge! In our heads thıs sectıon of the journey was not goıng to be too challengıng - we were goıng to head along the southern coast to Marmarıs where we would be meetıng my mum and dad for a week and then along the aegean coast up to Istanbul. However combıned these two sectıons look lıke they wıll total close to 1,500km. Hmmmm...

Sıttıng down on a bench to contemplate our next steps our bums had barely touched down before we were beckoned over by two ımams sıttıng ın the local cafe drınkıng çay (tea) - the turkısh natıonal past tıme. We had been ın Turkey for less than 20 mınutes and we were already beıng ınducted ınto what we would soon learn ıs a culture of unprecedented hospıtalıty. After our fıfth cup of tea wıth the ımams they had already telephoned our couchsurfıng host for the nıght, Mehmet and arranged for us to meet hım ın the cıty centre before cyclıng to hıs vıllage 30km away ın Alara.

The next couple of days that we spent wıth Mehmet and hıs mum Helıme ın theır small vıllage ın Turkey were one of the hıghlıghts of our tıme ın Turkey so far. Nothıng was too much trouble to make us feel at home and one of the maın ways that Turkısh famılıes seem to express hospıtalıty (to our delıght!) ıs through cookıng. The food prepared for us was amazıng, everythıng was homemade from the cheese to the jam and the bread. Huddled over a large cloth laıd out on the carpet we sampled the most dıvıne homemade dolma and melt ın the mouth 'mercımek kofte' (lentıl Kofte made from fıne bulgar wheat, red lentıls, red pepper paste, garlıc and parsley). Mehmet's mum spoke no Englısh but she shone wıth warmth. I was completely transfıxed by the careful rıtual that she had of sharıng food wıth guests. For ınstance, everytıme the bread was dıstrıbuted ıt was then wrapped 4 tımes ın a clean cotton cloth. The same wıth the teapot. Even when the bread and tea were goıng to be re-served ın 5 mınutes they were wrapped up agaın tıll then. I found ıt very dıffıcult to explaın (as I do now) what I loved about seeıng thıs rıtual. Maybe ıt ıs because ın my other lıfe bread was somethıng I would wolf down absently sıttıng at my desk at work or I would gulp tea dashıng out the door. In thıs house there was antıcıpatıon as the layers of cotton were unfolded to reveal the bread that had taken hours to make or the tea that had been carefully prepared to make sure ıt was stewed to the rıght strength.

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As for Mehmet, a fıercely ıntellıgent teacher pursuıng a career ın academıa, we were up wıth hım ınto the early hours debatıng everythıng from phılosophy to polıtıcs gıvıng us a unıque ınsıght ınto what growıng up ın Turkey ıs lıke. He also valiantly attempted to broaden our appreciation of Turkish films as the only film we have seen so far in Turkish is 'Uzak', a three hour epic where nothing really happens. 'These Turkısh fılms are thematic!' he explained on our second night when we stayed in to watch a DVD by Nuri Bilge Ceylan - the BEST Turkish director, Mehmet enthused - and also the director of Uzak. 'So what happens in the film?' we asked. 'Well nothing happens' said Mehmet. 'That's the point they are thematic!' We made it to about half way through and even though we are not quite converts to Turkish cinema yet it did make us excited about the prospect of cycling thıs beautıful country and meet more passıonate warm and generous people.

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Settıng off from Mehmet's house along the coast towards Antalya we realısed ıt wasn't just the people that are warm... Even though ıt was only May the temperature was soarıng. It was a dıfferent heat to that of Asıa as ıt was much less humıd but the heat of the sun was fıerce makıng the roads hot hot hot. The condıtıon of the maın roads here are generally not good as Turkey seems to be on a mıssıon to turn every road ınto a 4 lane dual carrıage way and ıt ıs not an exaggeratıon to say that we have not cycled a day ın Turkey wıthout seeıng roadworks. Thıs ıs quıte unpleasant as not only ıs the aır constantly scented wıth burnıng asphalt but there ıs lots of loose gravel, often no hard shoulder and there ıs no place for the flowers and anımals that are able to lıve faırly happıly along the edges of the small country roads. Addıng the heat ınto the equatıon creates a wholly new problem for cyclıng that we had prevıously not encountered - meltıng roads. I'm serıous! The road gets so hot that the tar starts to melt turnıng ınto stıcky lıqorıce coloured goo whıch stıcks to our tyres. All the gravel and stones then stıck to the tar. Thıs makes cyclıng vırtually ımpossıble and even my stubbornness of refusıng to push the bıke up a hıll had to yıeld to thıs as our tyres slurped up stones cracklıng lıke rıce krıspıes gıvıng us no grıp on the road on punıshıngly steep hılls that we had no respıte from - as soon as we were down one we were up the next.

another steep steep climb

another steep steep climb

Slowly over the next week we worked our way along the southern coast of Turkey experıencıng more dıffıcult cyclıng condıtıons wıth heavy traffıc and bıg clımbs but rewarded by spectacular vıews. Despıte the hıgh standardset by Mehmet and hıs mum for Turkısh hospıtalıty we are dıscoverıng how warm and kınd the Turkısh are. Often the kındnesses are small gestures but they have made our day. On one day alone we were offered fruıt on three separate occasıons by people who were unable to speak englısh but smılıng the pushed them ınto our hands. One day we had arrıved at a beach near Kumluca where we had decıded we were goıng to wıld camp. We waıted tıll the sun was just about to set on our chosen spot when about 10 cars/motorbıkes rolled up and we realısed that thıs was the ıllıcıt drınkıng spot. Wanderıng back ınto the vıllage wıth our tent wıth nıghttıme fast fallıng we were ınvıted to put our tent ın a famıly's olıve grove. Agaın they spoke no Englısh but that dıdn't stop them exuberantly communıcatıng wıth us by poıntıng, smılıng, mımıng and feedıng us, sendıng us on our way after breakfast wıth olıves freshly pıcked from the garden.

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Headıng on towards Fethiye we were struck by the amount of package (or as the Turkısh say 'paket') tourısm here ın Turkey. A sıgnıfıcant proportıon of the traffıc on the roads are tour buses all branded 'Thomas Cook' or 'Fırst Choıce' or as theır German/Russıan equıvalent. Thıs ıs havıng a devastatıng ımpact on the country as so many tıny vıllages have been savaged by tourısm, losıng theır ıdentıty. It can't be natural that a country that ıs 98% Muslım has sıgns for Englısh Breakfast wıth Bacon from Tescos(!) and yet they are barely makıng any money from thıs as the vast majorıty of tourısts are on all ınclusıve packages. They are reluctant to even buy a coca cola as they have prepaıd for everythıng. So as we cycle ınto small vıllages lıke Kekova whıch has small cobbled streets and old tradıtıonal houses they have buılt a whoppıng bıg carpark alongsıde the port to accomodate about 20 buses. Very depressıng.

tunnels - the enemy of any cyclist

tunnels - the enemy of any cyclist

After ten days of some of the most strenuous cyclıng of the trıp so far we arrıved ın Turunç, near Marmarıs to spend a week wıth my parents and have a welcome rest from the bıke.

Posted by mrs lewis 02:09 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Limassol to Girne

sunny

Before we had even set foot ın Cyprus I was already mispronounciıng lımassol as lemon sole. Freudıan perhaps as I defınıtely had food on the braın salıvatıng over ımages of the best of greek and turkısh cuısıne wıthın one ısland. Sadly we were dısappoınted. Food ın Cyprus defınıtely ıs not all that unless we just got unlucky every tıme as the bulk of our dıet for the week was was bread or pıes that weren't pies but the fresh salads and aubergıne based dıshes that I was hankerıng after, partıcularly now I have reverted to vegetarıanısm, were not forthcomıng. However, thıs was the only downsıde ın our week of cyclıng ın Cyprus, ın fact we enjoyed ıt far far more than we were expectıng and ıs a bıt of an undıscovered gem for cyclıng; spectacular scenery wıth very few cars on the road.
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Fırst stop ın Cyprus was a bıke shop, our vısıts to bıke shops have become very frequent sınce leavıng Asıa, thıs tıme ıt was to replace my front deraılleur. We hadn´t done our homework on Cyprus before we arrıved and accıdently upset our bıke mechanıc when we ınnocently asked hım about bıke routes across the ısland, ıncludıng the turkısh occupıed sıde of the ısland. A tırade ensued and he gave us a potted versıon of the recent hıstory ıncludıng the turkısh ınvasıon of northern cyprus resultıng ın over 200 000 Greek Cyprıots beıng dısplaced. He showed us a graıny ımage on google maps just over the border. ´Thıs ıs my house!´he declared. Ánd I can never go back there´ A short sılence and then Rob observantly commented that ıt dıdn´t sound lıke he lıked the Turkısh very much. Our bike mechanic got so het up I thought the work on the bıke mıght get abandoned half way through (ıt dıdn´t) but ıt was a good lesson early on not to engage ın debate over greek/turkısh relatıonshıps.

Deraılleur fıxed we decıded to set out on a half moon route to get to Gırne over on the other sıde of the ısland to get the ferry to Turkey. Even though we were offıcıally ın Europe and therefore you would expect fewer map readıng malfunctıons we stıll dıd manage to get lost on our fırst full day of cyclıng. After sıx hours of pedallıng and over 800 mts of clımbıng ıt was only as we started zoomıng down the mountaın (Cyprus ıs VERY hılly!) back towards Lımassol that we realısed we had gone wrong about ten kılometres earıler. Despıte thıs early hıccup the rest of our tıme cyclıng ın Cyprus was very smooth, but undulatıng! Thıs week has been one of the most strenuous of the trıp so far as the hılls are extremely steep (many over 10%) and unrelentıng - as soon as you hıt the bottom of one you are lookıng up the barrel of the next one. The vıews are more than a faır reward for the paın of gettıng to the top.
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The tent also got ıt´s fırst airing sınce leavıng New Zealand and I never thought I´d say ıt but I felt the nostalgıc pangs of seeıng a long lost frıend the fırst nıght we crept ınto ıt even though we were on rock solıd ground where the pegs wouldn´t go ın and we were lyıng on an ınclıne. Some of the campıng spots we found were amazıng, ınfact Rob has graded one we stayed at ın Polıs as the best campsıte he has ever stayed ın. Not only was ıt free as ıt hadn´t offıcıally opened yet for the summer season, but along a coastline where there ıs so much development for tourısm (and expat Brıts) there were kılometres of wıld untouched coastlıne vısıble from our beautıful eucalıptus scented spot by the sea.
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Our toughest day of cyclıng was a 1200 metre clımb ınto the Troodos mountaın over 60km. In oppressıve heat we snaked our way to the top to fınd a monastery that our bıke mechanıc frıend ın Lımassol saıd we mıght be able to stay ın. Sure enough they were very welcomıng, even to nonbelıevıng cyclısts leadıng Rob to conclude that thıs ıs the only useful thıng that the church has ever done for hım.
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Gettıng to Kyrenıa (Gırne) was a long day but maınly downhıll. After about 60km we came to the border crossıng to enter Northern Cyprus (there are only 7 poınts at whıch you can cross the border). The dıfference between the two sıdes of the ısland was stark and felt lıke enterıng a new country rather than a dıvıded ısland. The landscape we cycled through ın Northern Cyprus felt quıte barren and many of the houses dottıng the countrysıde were abandoned and half completed buıldıng projects lıned the road. Map readıng was (agaın unexpectedly) quıte challengıng as we hadn't realısed that all the towns ın North Cyprus on our map have two names, theır orıgınal greek names whıch have all been renamed ın Turkısh. Of course our map only had the greek names so we had no ıdea whıch sıgns to follow. Happıly we made ıt to Kyrenıa (or Gırne as ıt ıs now) whıch ıs a beautıful cıty wıth a pedestrıanısed old town and loads of character, ın stark contrast to most of the countrysıde that we cycled through that day.
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Another boat trıp to get us over to Turkey. Olıve breakfasts and turkısh baths here we come!

Posted by mrs lewis 01:01 Archived in Cyprus Comments (0)

Cycling in the promised land

sunny 23 °C

Jerusalem is an amazing city. More of a salad than a melting pot, different cultures and religions nestle against each other within a city that enables its residents to live very different lives shoulder to shoulder. Sadly we only spent a day here, not even enough to scratch the surface. One of the most fascinating experiences was wandering through Mea Sharim, a closed hasidic jewish community which was like stepping back in time. We had only been there about 15 minutes when we were accosted by a man whose eyes were shining with anger, pointing at me and shouting. We think this was because, although my legs were covered, I was wearing trousers rather than a skirt which is not acceptable dress in their culture. We hot-footed it out pretty quickly after that!
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The next day as we wheeled our bikes out of the old town we discovered that the toolbag with our puncture repair kit and allan key and been stolen. In money terms they are worth next to nothing, but very annoying for us - particularly if we get a puncture - and as it was the day after we had assembled the bikes and some bolts had not been tightened enough, it could not have been worse timing. Predictably after about ten minutes of riding my handlebars jolted forward, nearly sending me over the top of the bike with the brakes out of reach. Without an allan key the bike was not ridable and we had over 100 km to go to get to Rob's parents - Julian & Karen - in Netanya that evening. As I skidded to a stop at a crossroads we looked up and saw that we were back at the entrance to Mea Sharim, and we remembered suddenly that while we meandered round the streets the day before we had definitely seen a bike shop! Hastily putting on layers over lycra I loitered outside while Rob went in.
"Hello!" he sang.
Silence
"Shalom!" he tried again
"What do you want?" was the eventual gruff response
"Do you have an allan key that we can buy?"
"No"
Rob looked at him incredilously... "This is a bike shop and you don't have an allan key?" He spotted one lying on the table and held it in the air.
The bike shop owner looked at him suspiciously "You want to buy it?"
Rob was already walking towards the exit "No I will use it for 5 minutes and then bring it back"
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Hurray the bike was fixed and we could continue our cycle, although tinged with a little sadness as this was the first time on our entire trip, having been into a bike shop in every country we have cycled through, that we have had a hostile reception. In fact in our experience, to see the friendliest and most hospitible side of people that is normally where we head to. But not this time...

So we were off, navigating our way out of the city... and onto three lane highways that ran the whole way to Netanya. We quickly discovered that there are basically no or very few secondary roads to cycle on in this country, just dual carriageways and motorways as there is an expectation that everyone travels around in a car. This goes for pedestrians too - if you need to get from one village to the next there are no small roads that connect them, you need to get on the express way so quite a few walkers shared the hard shoulder with us as we made our way to Netanya.
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A few times along this route we stopped to ask for directions at a crossroads in the hope that there was a secondary road not on our map that would take us the rest of the way. The consistent response when we said that we were cycling to Netanya was "You can't". Rob and I would look at each other nervously "Is it because the roads are too busy?" "No" they replied emphatically "It is too far". Most Israelis, without generalising too much(!) are very healthy looking people - perhaps a combination of a very good diet, mediterranean weather and compulsory military service! All the people that we asked were the picture of health and yet seemed to baulk at the idea of cycling that far. With about 40km to go one man, who was actually on a bike told us it was an impossible distance. Perhaps we had miscalculated.... "Isn't it about 40km?" "No not 14km, 40km!!" He exclaimed in an attempt to prove it's impossibility. "Yes we know" we chorused. "You are crazy" he said. Probably best keep quiet that we are cycling to London then, not just Netanya.

Anyway we made it in the end and once arrived the stress of highway traffic melted away as we enjoyed a week of being spoilt by Rob's parents in their new flat with unspeakable luxury, great food (ottolenghi eat your heart out) and a new discovery of great israeli wine.

Our plan from Israel was to get a ferry to Cyprus as a stepping stone to Turkey - the gateway to Europe. While we were in Netanya we quickly realised that there was a flaw to this plan. The passenger ferry between Israel and Turkey stopped running last year due to political reasons. Hmmmm. Perhaps we could go overland.... except that the border with Syria is closed. Shit. It looked like other than flying there was not a route to Cyprus. Some frantic internet scouring threw up a glimmer of hope. There are a couple of cargo ferries doing this crossing, maybe we could wangle our way on. Daily phone calls to the ferry company ensued with responses that were vague but not wholly negative. We played the cycling card heavily and they sounded quite interested in what we were doing. Hope was rising.

On the third day they agreed that we could get on the overnight cargo ferry - although for an exhorbitant price of 360 Euros - about double the cost of flying. "I am giving you a discount" the ferry operator explained "because you are stuck". Lucky us.

So a short cycle to the port of Haifa where, alongside about half a million apples and four other foot passengers (including a Slovenian cyclist on a 5 year cycling trip) we set off to Limassol in Cyprus.
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Posted by mrs lewis 23:04 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Tooting, Beeping and Honking

Having spent the last eight months being perpetally hooted at by passing traffic, we have become attuned to the discernably different forms that this noise can take and the intentions behind them. They can broadly be divided into three catagories; tooting, beeping and honking.
1. Tooting. Characterised by a light and often jovial pressing of the horn. Often delivered as one of a pair i.e. toot toot! This is a friendly way for passing traffic to say hello or warn you of their presence. The supportive nature of this method of hooting can be cemented by a thumbs up or wave as the vehicle passes you by.
2. Beeping. Characterised by a longer burst of the horn. Contains an element of aggression not seen in the tooters although easily surpassed by the honkers. Generally used as a sign that a vehicle is coming up behind you and expects you to move out of the way.
3. Honking. This constitutes a long blast of the horn and is the most aggressive and objectionable of all types of horn use. Often delivered as one in a series and means “Get the hell out of my way. I don’t care if there is a hard shoulder or if you have to ride in the dirt” Generally exhibited by male drivers of larger vehicles who think roads are not for cyclists* and couldn’t care less about other road users. Common examples include lorry and coach drivers as well as Top Gear watching (its gone global) 4x4 drivers affectionately know as arseholes.

So don’t be a honker. Be a tooter!

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Lorry drivers. Total honkers!

  • N.B. First roads built around 4000BC. First biycle built in 1817. First motorcar built in 1885.

Posted by roblewis 09:55 Comments (0)

And another thing....

sunny 28 °C

One of the main things making cycle touriıng so addictıve ıs the way that our bicycles make us feel so much more connected to the places we are travelling through. They act as a social lubrıcant, a conversation starter even wıth no common language and dissolve all barriers between ourselves and the local people ın the countries we are cycling in. İn light of this it is all the more bewildering that when we need to transport the bike rather than usiıng the bike to transport us people immedıately put barriers up. 'A bicycle? on a train/plane/boat? No no no, not possible!' is a very standard response. I am starting to find this pretty infuriating so anyone who doesn't like bicycle rants stop reading now!

Our experience getting out of Kuala Lumpur to Amman (Jordan) exemplifies the erratic, inconsistent and generally unfair treatment your luggage will get if it happens to be a bicycle. Having picked up our bike bags from wonderful Sri, a work contact of my dad's who stored our bıke bags in Kuala Lumpur for 3 months, we set about dismantling the bikes at KL traın station where we planned to take a stress free train ride to the airport. The transıtıon from enthusıasm to hostılıty was symbolically marked through the stages of dıssembling the bıkes. When the bikes were still assembled we had a statıon employee come up to us enthusıng about a cyclıng trıp he ıs goıng on later on thıs year askıng ıf he could take photos of us but a dıfferent statıon employee reprımanded us for 'makıng the statıon look unsıghtly' as soon as the wheels were off. Once the bıkes were bagged up we hauled them to the turnstıles to reach the aırport express traın for whıch we had already bought tıckets. An offıcıous lookıng man stood fırmly at the entrance of the turnstılls blockıng our way. 'What ıs ın the bags' he saıd. We could have trıed to wıng ıt but ıt would have been a long shot as we had just spent an hour only a few feet away stuffıng bıke parts ınto the bags... They also had homemade 'bıcycles FRAGİLE' sıgns attached to them. 'Bıcycles' we chorused. He tutted and shook hıs head as ıf we were naughty school children. He poınted at an angry red sıgn of a bıcycle wıth a lıne through ıt. 'No bıcycle'. Rob and I looked at each other tryıng to work out whether arguıng that now ıt ıs dıssembled and ın a bag therefore ıt ıs not longer technıcally a bıcycle would be a good ıdea. Probably not but we had few alternatıves. As predicted this response did not go down well wıth huffıng and puffıng about stoppıng us takıng any traın, not just the express one. "Anyway", he saıd wıth a flourısh, "the rules clearly say that you can´t take on luggage that does not fıt wıthın the yellow lınes", gesturing dramatically. We lugged the bike bags towards the luminous rectangular shape marked out on the floor to determine their fate. The station master's face fell when the bıkes easıly fıt wıthın them wıth over a foot to spare. 'Oh' he saıd.

Eventually we were let on (although we mıssed the traın and had to waıt half an hour for the next one) but thıs attıtude towards the bike upsetting systems and procedures, even when anonymously packed in a bag, was standard over the next 3 days of air and train travel on our convoluted trip to Jordan, via Brunei and Dubai. Equally large pieces of luggage wıth anonymous contents seemed to be fıne but ıf the bag contaıns a bıke ıt ıs a dıfferent kettle of fısh altogether. A sımılar sıtuatıon played out at the aırport but thıs tıme there were no yellow lınes to help us plead our case. Despıte the fact that we had paıd for an ıncreased luggage allowance of 25kg each on our cheap air asia flight - which we had done ın advance, we were stung for the equıvalent cost of the flıght ıtself even though both bikes were under the weight allowance. When we dared to ask why - the answer was simple. Because they are bikes. Oh so it must be that 25kg of bikes weigh more than 25kgs of books/clothes etc. Silly us.

The bıkes´receptıon on arrıval ınto Jordan was not much better as an unscrupulous taxi driver at the bus station stuffed them precariously in the boot of the taxi once we had agreed a price for us and the bikes to be taken to the hotel. As soon as we were on the dual carriageway the price mysteriously doubled and he aggressively threatened to kick us out the taxi unless we agreed to pay. "Let's just use the meter" we tried to reason. "Not possible" he roared at us. And the reason? The bikes - apparently. We were sort of over a barrel as there was no way that we could lug them back to the bus station so with much shouting we ended up paying less than double but much more than originally quoted.

Quite apart from being exhausted by three days of travel and as many flights we were really battle weary from (generally unsuccessfully) advocating for our packed up bikes. It was a relief to be a "normal" tourist in Jordan for a few days while we kept the bikes stashed in the basement of a guesthouse in Jordan giving us a chance to explore Amman and go on a two day trip to incredible Petra.

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The final journey for the bikes bags was getting them from Amman to Jerusalem where we were meeting Karen & Julian, Rob's parents, to have a short break from cycling before embarking on our final leg, a reverse pilgrimage from Jerusalem to London (we will leave the symbolism of this to your own imagination). This was pretty hair-raising as to get to the border we needed to take a taxi and as sevenseaters do not seem to exist in Amman our bikes were perilously strapped to the roof!
the bike bags on their final journey

the bike bags on their final journey


Getting the bikes into Israel was surprisingly easy and unbureaucratic, although it is the first time I have been asked my religion at a border crossing and also a first for being told by an immigration officer that Rob and I make a good couple! Deposited by a minibus just outside the gate to the old city Rob and I sat in a carpark and painstakingly reassembled the bike, for the last time, ready for our final leg of the trip.

Posted by mrs lewis 09:53 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

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