Asia Destinations International
Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia)
I stayed in Kota Kinabalu (also known as KK) in October 2006 for nearly 3 weeks. Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah. Getting to Kota Kinabalu (KK) You can fly to KK from London Heathrow as we did. We travelled from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpar, and then to Kota Kinabalu as its not possible to do a direct flight. The ... flight in total was around 15 hours - 12 hours to Kuala Lumpar and 2 and a half hours to Kota Kinabalu. Accommodation
We stayed in a five star resort while we were in KK which was outstanding and very reasonably price.
There is a large variety of places to choose to stay in KK, these range from 5 star resorts, down to small beach huts and hostels which are great for backpackers as it keeps the cost of accommodation down. The hostels are especially good for backpacker as you get to meet like-minded people and can share your experiences and offer advice to one another.
Many of the hostels are very basic, offering a bed and a ceiling fan. There are shared bathrooms but these were in a clean condition. We stayed at a hostel for 2 nights while we were doing a trip and I found everything to be as expected. I was quite worried about the state of the shared bathrooms but there was no need as it was all very well maintained. We paid the equivalent of about £3.50 for each night we stayed at the hostel and this also included breakfast so prices are more than reasonable. The nicer hotels, 3-5 stars usually have pools and in resort facilities such as a spa and nice restaurants although food and drinks inside the hotels are about twice the price than if you were to get them locally in town.
There are some nice hotels in the main town of KK although the hotels nearer to town do not tend to have swimming pools etc.
Our hotel, which was in The Sutera Harbour Resort was about a 7-minute drive from the centre of town so I felt this was an excellent location. I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone wishing to visit KK.
Malaysia is 8 hours ahead of GMT. This means that you can often feel slightly jet lagged when you get there but we just made sure that we stayed awake and went to bed at their bedtime and out body clocks soon adjusted.
In Malaysia, their currency is the Ringgit. While we were out there, the exchange rate was £1 for RM 7.00
Getting Around KK
Getting around KK was very easy and cheap. The main method of transport is taxi. Out hotel was 10 minutes away from KK city centre and a taxi into town cost us RM 10.00 which is about £1.50 so it was reasonably priced. However, from our hotel, they also offered a free shuttle service which was very useful. It ran every hour up until 9pm. However, I am not sure that all hotels would offer this service.
There is also a local bus service which we were informed by other people was very easy to use. However, we never actually used to local bus service as we thought it would be easier getting taxis and then we didn't have to plan our days around the times of the buses.
There are lots of restaurants in KK offering a large variety of food. We found a lovely little Restaurant called Jothy's which was an Indian Restaurant. A three-course meal cost us £7 each and this included drinks. The food was delicious as well. Although the restaurant is very small and doesn't look up to much from the outside, I really would recommend this restaurant to other people. To be honest, we probably would not have gone there either but it was recommended to us by my parents who went to KK a few years ago. Jothy's is situated about a 5-minute walk from the Centrepoint shopping centre so is very easy to get to.
Another place we liked, was called Olives and was situated on the top floor of the Centrepoint shopping centre. In here, they served a range of food from typical Malaysian dishes as well as western food. We quite often went here for lunch where we got a milkshake each and also a toasted sandwich. It cost £1.50 for your whole lunch so we were very impressed with the prices and the staff were very friendly. It's only a small café style shop but very homely inside with a good range of cheap food.
In KK you will find a massive range of cuisine and there are restaurants located everywhere so you don't have to walk for miles to find somewhere to eat. You can have Malaysian food, English food, Chinese, Indian and there are the normal fast food shops such as McDonalds and KFC dotted around the town.
Another restaurant which I would recommend is Atlantis. This is situated on the seafront and you can have your meal outside and look out over the sea which was a nice touch. The food was outstanding, probably my next favourite restaurant after Jothy's. The restaurant is very modern and is very nicely decorated in blue with a bubble theme. Te food was slightly more expensive in here though, I assume because it is quite a posh restaurant but a 2-course meal and drinks still only cost £15 each.
Of course, as well as all the restaurants there are all the hawker stalls in town selling a variety of food. Some people were reluctant to eat from these stalls as to be honest they didn't look very hygienic but as long as the food if hot, I cant see you having any problems. My boyfriend tried some fried chicken (I'm vegetarian so obviously didn't eat any) and he thoroughly enjoyed it and it certainly didn't give him a dodgy tummy.
To sum it up, there is a great variety of choice of food in KK. I loved the fact the you could literally have something totally different every night and it was nice to be able to try some local dishes as well as my usual favourite like Chinese. You will certainly not go hungry in KK.
Things to do in KK
Although KK is quite small, you will still find loads to do. There are many shopping centres, the main one being Centrepoint which is a large shopping mall spread over 4 floors. There is also a cinema and a bowling alley. There are other smaller shopping centres but unfortunately I cannot remember the names of them. There is the Philapino market situated on the seafront at the far end. Although all the stalls are very small and its sometimes difficult to get around (as its so cramped). This market opens around 10am and closes around 8pm although some stalls are open till later at around 10pm. The stalls sell handmade goods as very reasonable prices. I bought some necklaces back as presents for friends and the more you buy the cheaper they will sell them to you. You can barter with the locals as often they will tell you a price that is too expensive and you eventually agree on a price somewhere in the middle. I enjoyed this market as local people run all the stalls and it was fascinating to see some of the crafts they had made by hand.
Also on the seafront is the fresh food market. This was also fascinating to walk around. The stalls sell fresh fruit and veg and also fresh meats and fish. This market is open all day, up until about 9pm. You will find hundreds of different types of fish and crabs. We didn't actually buy anything from this market as I think it's more of a market for local people who have cooking facilities at home which we didn't have at out hotel. They also sold meats such as chicken and beef. I must admit that some of the stalls were not very hygienic, for example, there were stalls with chicken meat laid out on them and this meat would stay there in the boiling hot sun until somebody bought it which I didn't think would be too healthy. At the far end of this market, they have stalls that cook food fresh there and then. We ate dinner here one night and had a Malaysian curry with some rice. This was very cheap - £2 for both meals. There are a few benches where you can sit and eat your food although this did get quite cramped as many of the locals come here to eat! The stalls offer a variety of foods such as curries with rice, whole cooked fish and chicken meat on skewer to name a few. There is a stretch of restaurants and bars along from the market. There are a few restaurants and also a few pubs / bars. There was an Irish bar here which had a pool table and played English music. The only problem with drinking in Malaysia is that the prices are not that different to here.
Many of the large hotels have a pub / club in the resort which can be useful if you only want to stay in one place. The clubs have various themed nights throughout the week. For example, the club called Jugs that was attached to our hotel has ladies night on a Thursday which meant all women got free drinks all night!! They also had special offers and happy hours which were good to take advantage of! Many of the bars and clubs in town had local bands playing throughout the week. We watched a couple of them and it was good entertainment. The Reef Dance bar and Grill was another place that I would recommend to people wishing to visit KK, this is situated on Beach Street.
There are five small islands located near to KK and boat trips to these islands are very cheap. It cost us £5 for a return boat trip to the islands. These islands are Palau Sulug, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Mamutik, Palau Manukan and Pulau Gaya. We visited Manukan and Mamutik. We went scuba diving from Mamutik. Scuba diving was spoilt slightly by the fact that we went during raining season and due to the many thunderstorms the visability was quite poor. However, on another day we went to Manukan Island to do some snorkelling and the visibility was great, we saw loads of brightly coloured fish. Again though, due to thunderstorms, we had to cut our trip shorts and head back to KK as the boats stop sailing in stormy weather. I would recommend this trip to anyone though, the furthest island is only a 2o minute boat journey away and its great to see the other islands. All sorts of activities are offered on the islands such as scuba diving, snorkelling, para sailing etc. The islands we visited also had restaurants and gift shops as well as small beach huts which you could stay in over night. If you are interested in the history of Malaysia there is the Sabah State Museum but we didn't visit it so I can't really give you any details!
Attractions that are easily accessible from KK
One of the main attractions of KK is Mount Kinabalu which is situated in Kinabalu Park. Kinabalu Park is on the northern end of Borneo. Trips were offered from our hotel and the price was £30 per person and that included the 2 and a half hour coach trip from our hotel and also entrance into Kinabalu Park. Kinabalu Park is dominated by Mount Kinabalu which stands at 4, 095 metres making it the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. The grounds are rich in species with examples of flora and fauna from the Himalayas, China, Australia and Malaysia.
We never got round to climbing the mountain or visiting the park as we ran out of time but we spoke to many people who had visited and they all recommended the trip. Also, within the grounds of the park are the pouring hot springs where you can bath in them - I have to say this did appeal to me!!
I have a friend that backpacked in Borneo and he climbed Mount Kinabalu, he did a 3-day package where you actually stay in accommodation at 3, 000ft! They watched the sun rise, sunset and also had a guided day of bird watching so there are a variety of activities to do while at Kinabalu park. White Water Rafting in Kiulu
About a two hour coach journey from KK is Kiulu and The Kiulu River. Here, you can take part in white water rafting. We paid £15 each for coach journey, the rafting and hire of all equipment and also a BBQ lunch. White Water Rafting is fantastic. As we had never done it before, we decided to go on a Grade 2 course which is basically the safest one. My only regret is that we didn't do a slightly higher grade. All the instructors were very professional, and gave us some safety tips like what to do if the raft capsizes etc! The white water rafting took about 2 hours down the Kiulu River and there were some amazing view throughout our journey. There are 6 people to a raft and we went with about 7 rafts in total. Each raft had a guide and all passengers were provided with a life jacket, helmet and paddle. After we had completed the course, we were provided with a BBQ buffet lunch before we headed back to KK. I would recommend this trip to anyone wanting to try White Water rafting, the course had a few drops in the water but if you are a bit of a dare devil then I would advise you to go for a grade higher then 2.
On the whole, Kota Kinabalu is an amazing city and well worth a visit. If you used to Ibiza clubbing holidays then it probably wouldn't be your sort of this but if you like cultural holiday with plenty to do then you would thoroughly enjoy Kota Kinabalu. I have only covered a small percentage of things to do as quite honestly we ran out of time to visit all the attractions so I have just reviewed the attractions that we took part in or visited.
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Those of you who know your history will be well aware that this region of Turkey was subject to great turmoil after the First World War when, in the early 20s, Kamal Ataturk guided the creation of the Turkey we know today from a very different geographical disposition. Much of the mainland where Kalkan is situated was at ... the time Greek whilst most of the off-shore islands were Turkish. Conflicts between the Greek and Turkish governments resulted in the mutually agreed policy of forced expulsions of Greeks and Turks from their former homes. It is for this reason that we find today Greek islands just a few miles off of the now Turkish coastline.
If you read Louis de Berniere's "Birds Without Wings" you will get a good feel for the impact that this draconian solution had on families who were made to leave the homes that they and they ancestors had occupied for generations, many side-by-side and in perfect harmony with neighbours of the opposite ethnic origins and religious persuasion. Politicians have a lot to answer for!
We landed at Dalaman Airport on Monarch from Gatwick amidst heavy rain. Clearing customs and collecting our luggage was relatively pain-free in this modern airport. As Turkey is not [yet] in the EU, a visa for a stay of up to 90 days has to be purchased at the airport for the princely sum of £10 per person (which is payable in Pounds Sterling). This covers you even if you take a trip to a Greek island during your stay.
We were greeted by representatives of Anatolian Sky, who appeared all to be ex-pats, now living in Turkey. They were all very helpful and seemed to be spaced out at every point where we might need a decision on which direction to take to our coach to the resort. The journey took around 2 hours, including a comfort stop. The original single-track road is currently being upgraded to dual carriageway and so the transfer may well be shorter in future.
Turkey is not in the EU, although are trying desperately to join. The problem of their "zone of influence", Northern Cyprus, will probably need to be resolved first though. It is also one of those countries where you would be well advised to buy your local currency at the resort rather than in the UK. The local currency is the Turkish Lira. If you visited Turkey in the past you will probably remember getting thousands of Lira to the pound. Those days are gone. A few years ago, Turkey realigned its currency and withdrew all the old notes and coins.
I did acquire a small quantity of Liras before we left the UK, just to have something to use during the first day or so. I got 2.64 to the pound at Eurochange. In the resort itself you would be able to change currency almost anywhere and benefit from the general rate of 2.80 I even saw one shop offering 2.83. It is quite safe to change money in any bank, post office or shop but I suggest you restrict yourself to just these outlets. I suggest you don't change money at the hotels though: ours, for instance, was only offering 2.75.
I also saw Pounds Sterling and Euros widely accepted and you will get your change in Lira.
With one notable exception, credit cards are widely accepted and we had no qualms in presenting them. Everywhere we used them, modern portable terminals were brought to us although the screens only seem to display instructions in Turkish, even though this was a UK card!
...is basically an old Greek fishing village, which has grown to meet the demand, mostly from Brit visitors. The heart is still the original old town as it probably has been, more or less, for years. The tight-packed buildings, narrow alleyways and steep climbs up from the harbour are utterly delightful. The shops and restaurants are quite commercialised, as is to be expected in such a popular resort but adds a charm that never quite descends into tackiness.
Outside of the old town things get a little more utilitarian. Frankly, the majority of the commercial buildings around here would struggle to win any prizes for architectural merit. Further out and higher up, as you move further and further away from the harbour, are most of the new housing developments and some of these are quite attractive. Many are being bought by Brits choosing somewhere less expensive and warmer to retire. You can get good value for your money.
The harbour area is where the day cruise and visiting yachts moor. Running alongside the edge of the harbour are a number of restaurants and bars which have terraces on one side of the access road and the actual restaurant on the other. You can sit at either but most people take the terraces. We did have couple of beers in one one morning and, although the prices are a little higher here they are not excessively so.
Sun, sea and sand
The town itself has only a small, stony beach which is often almost totally submerged. Few visitors patronise it, most preferring to stay around their hotel pools or to take a dolmus or a scheduled bus the 30 minute journey around the coast to Patara Beach.
Kalkan has over 300 restaurants; you are not going to get to try every single one during your holiday; deal with it!
Gourmet - A triumph of style over substance - Highly rated on TripAdvisor (14) so we had to give it a try. Big mistake! Yes the place is tastefully decorated. Yes the views from the terraces are good (though by no means the best). Yes the food is beautifully presented; I just wish more care had been taken over the cooking and serving of the dishes as was over the squiggles of soy sauces around the edge of the plate! Our starters were brought before we had finished our tasters. They asked what we wanted for dessert before we had even been served our main course. They forgot to bring us our main course, which arrived over-cooked. They charged our wine the next table (suppose I shouldn't complain about that except they eventually realise their mistake)! And it wasn't even good value, had they service been acceptable. All in all a memorable night out, but for all the wrong reasons. We would not return.
Mango - Bob Marley! - on the Kalamar road and nearly opposite Moonlight (below), we dropped in here one lunchtime, on our way back to the hotel. The food is good and the prices here, out of the main town area, reasonable. However, the music choice is very much reggae, with Bob Marley well to the fore! The restaurant's tables are near the road and so there is some traffic noise. However, if it does rain or there is remorseless sunshine, they do have a canopy that they can wind out to cover the tables.
Akin - Sitting on the dock of the bay - Well, just a little above it actually, so you benefit from better views than you do at harbour level. Once again, the food is good (we had lunch) and the atmosphere here is very pleasant. We had the Turkish version of tapas (meze) and a couple of beers, and a very nice way to spend an hour or so it was.
Rami's Fish Restaurant - All to ourselves, nearly - I simply don't understand why on the night we ate there there weren't more customers. Rami's is closer to the harbour and has no high buildings in front of it so the views from its terrace are outstanding. The food there is superb; the choice if fish is unequalled in any other restaurant in which we ate. The fish is all fresh caught so inevitably not all will be available on the day; we had no such disappointments though.
The food is beautifully prepared and perfectly cooked. The accompanying wine, chosen for a small but well chosen selection, was delicious. The service was excellent. The value for money beyond reproach. Rami's deserves to be far better patronised than it was the night we were there. Mind you, there are always those who value style over substance.
Moonlight - Wouldn't you Credit it, the Best in Kalkan - Saving the best till last. Found purely by chance: out of the centre of town, you could walk right by and not realise it was there. Located on the Kalamar road, above an estate agents and a car hire office, a discreet sign announces its presence. Entered at the side of the building, up steps, you climb to a tiny rooftop terrace with simply staggering views over Kalkan, probably the best. There is only space for 10 tables and all were full the night we ate. You will not get a table here without booking well in advance.
The food can be chosen from a set menu or A la carte but, if the latter you must notify your choices at the time of booking. I recommend that you stick to the set menu: I defy you not to be able to find something you like and at under 35 TL it is staggeringly good value for money. The wine list is limited but contains good choices. The food is very much local in orientation and utterly delicious. This was definitely the best food we had tasted anywhere in Kalkan.
So, what's the down-side? Not discovered until we came to pay, they do not accept credit cards! Fortunately, they are happy to take any currency; we paid in Pounds Sterling - £40 for two, including wine and tip. Unbelievable.
The dolmus is alive and well but these days it no longer consists of a huge old American car with shot shock-absorbers and saggy seats. The general transportation is the minibus seating around 10 people. I even saw one where in order to squeeze in an extra person that placed a plastic garden chair by the door. Clearly H&S has yet to reach Turkey!
There are also regular scheduled buses, which you can catch from the bus stop in the town or from the bus station at the top of the town. Fares are very similar by either scheduled service or dolmus but, of course, you can flag down a dolmus anywhere.
We took trips to nearby Kaş and to Patara Beach. Both were 5 Lira each way, per person. They will try to get you to commit to a set time for a return journey in advance but I suggest you resist. There is no price benefit and you are then tied to an agreed return time no matter what.
Both buses and dolmus have a regularity of around every half hour and most depart on the hour or half hour.
Cruises - As I mentioned, there are a number of yachts of various sizes, lined up in the harbour, touting for your trade for a day out cruising around the bay. It appears that there is fierce competition and, it seems that violence between owners is not unknown. When we were walking down for our trip there was clearly a very unpleasant situation developing between two big guys, surrounded by dozens of others trying to keep them apart. One was carrying a huge hammer so he obviously meant business!
However, the actual trip itself was very enjoyable, aboard Sea Bella. We cruised out to a well-known swimming spot with blue waters and cliff caves. The boat provided snorkels so you could go fish spotting. I was surprised that there was so little underwater flora and fauna and can see no real reason why.
There was another stop for a swim in the afternoon, after our on-board lunch. The food was good and drinks are available but at an extra cost. Prices for drinks were slightly more expensive than ashore. The cost of the tickets for the day was £35 per person.
Patara Beach - We also went to Patara Beach where you can enjoy real sandy beaches rather than the stony one that you find in Kalkan itself. There is 18kms of beach and the bus from Kalkan drops you right at the southern end.
13 Lira will give you two sun-loungers and a sunshade for the day. The sunloungers were in very good condition, unlike the broken old wrecks we have found elsewhere in the Med.
There is a beach restaurant here, where you can get snack but don't expect anything special. Burger and chips is typical. You can also get your drinks to drink in or take back to the beach.
The restaurant also has fairly decent, modern, clean toilets but don't be surprised to find some stalls have "squat" type toilets rather than pedestal ones.
On the approach to the beach you can see on both sides of the road the ruins of the ancient Lycian city. I was interested to see that the original amphitheatre is currently being reproduced alongside it, presumably to to be used for actual concerts. I assume that the original structure was in too dangerous a condition to be reconstructed.
Kaş - A similar town along the coast, the coastal journey takes in some stunning scenery; the day out is worth it almost for the journey alone. A bit bigger than Kalkan, we went on the day we did (Thursday) because they have there an open-air market. We didn't buy anything but there is certainly a lot on offer, largely divided 50/50 between food and non-food.
The old town area is the most interesting part, with much the same sort of attraction as Kalkan: mostly restaurants and bars. We had lunch on the Harbour at the Mercan Restaurant. A very nice atmosphere and extremely good food, fish for both of us, washed down with a very enjoyable local white wine.
Tlos - Not just Patara, the whole area around here is filled with the ruins of ancient cities and the one at Tlos is one of the principal ones of the region. We enjoyed a morning climbing and walking around the site, accompanied by a guide who pointed out the various constructions from different eras.
Saklikent Gorge - After our visit to Tlos we were taken on for a visit to the Saklikent Gorge. This deep rock formation extends around 13kms inland and carries a rapid watercourse out from the mountains behind. Initially you walk along a raised metal walkway bolted to the the rock wall on one side. This leads, after around 150m to a more open area where you could picnic if you wanted.
To get beyond this is, however, a lot more difficult. A raging stream runs out into the main watercourse and you have to cross this to get to the shingle on the other side if you want to get further. However, there is nothing to aid you in your crossing. A couple tried it and abandoned the attempt; one made it across but it is clearly quite risky.
Returning to the entrance to the site you'll find the usual stalls for memorabilia, and food.
We very much enjoyed our visit to Kalkan and the surrounding area. Had the weather been better we probably would have done more but this was the middle of October so, although temperatures in general are warm, the weather conditions can be variable. The centre of Kalkan gets very busy at night and, although we didn't spot any nightclubs or things of that sort, if you enjoy eating your really can't go much wrong. We could ask little more. Hopefully it would suit you too.
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Mekong Delta (Vietnam)
On our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia we moved between the two countries by boat along the Mekong River. This river has always had rather romantic, exotic images, a bit like Constantinople, Casablanca , the Yangtze River and Other places that just sound so exciting that you must go and see. We stayed the night in Chau Doc in ... Vietnam in a lovely hotel right on the river. We had had a great day exploring this part of Vietnam, watching a family make rice wrappers for spring rolls, we had eaten some rather strange food local to the area, satay frog legs and an ell dish; neither of which I asked the recipe for to emulate at home but it was interesting none the less.
We boarded the boat and took our rather hard seats for the journey. The boat was a river launch a bit like a hovercraft so all closed in and it went very fast along the river creating a huge wash behind it.
After about forty five minutes we reached the border. We all had to get out with our luggage and go through border formalities. We then got back in and stopped a few minutes further down the river to enter Cambodia and once again we all got out and so did our luggage. It was sent through a very primitive scanner in a hut with a grass roof that was open on all sides. We sat on wooden benches under a grass roofed hut and waited for our turn at the passport and visa window. Around us were several scraggy looking dogs with some little children and a few hens scratting around for food.
Once you had your turn at the window the passport was stamped and visa sorted then once everyone had been through the system we got back on the boat again. The luggage was also loaded back on and off we went.
We stupidly had no realised quite what a long journey this was and after a few hours the scenery alongside hadn't changed. Lots of trees and a few huts and cows grazing but nothing really much changed hour after hour.
The journey was five hours in total and that sitting on a hard wooden seat in a stuffy boat racing along a river with scenery much the same. I am really glad we did the journey but I wouldn't rush to do it again.
When we arrived at Phnom Penn we had to climb out of the boat along a very narrow ledge and also get our case off the boat too. This required so pretty athletic manoeuvring and quite considerable strengthen and having watched some young back packers really struggle with their ruck sacks we opted for the paying a nice tip to the young local boat men as neither of us fancied a dip in the river.
I had envisaged us chugging up river on a nice open boat and being able to watch local people getting on with their day to day activities but instead we were inside a stuffy boat with steamed up windows. There was no option of outside as all there was outside was the ledge around the edge that we had to balance on to disembark and a small front part in front of the driver.
It was an experience but not one that I am in a hurry to repeat. We had another boat trip to come three days later as we went from Phnom Penn to Siem Reap on a boat too. This was a similar experience and not one I would recommend for scenery and a nice boat ride.
This was another few hours and a lot of this was crossing a huge lake so that all you could see was muddy brown water for hours.
On arrival at Siem Reap the boat just pushed into the mud at the front and then they let down a ladder that you had to climb down. Even the young back packers were looking slightly concerned as the boat was moving and the mud bank was wet and slippery. To cap it all we had to get our luggage off too and walk across the mud carrying it to the transport, car, bike, truck, bus or whatever.
Once again I am afraid we took the cowards option and paid a nice young local chap a good tip to bring ours down. He made it look very easy but having watched the other Europeans attempting the task I am glad that we didn't bother as one poor girl ended up on her bottom.
You can choose to take a bus from Phnom Penn to Siem Reap which is cheaper and equally luxurious or you can fly. I think I would suggest flying if you have the money and this is coming from someone who would always prefer to travel on land as you see more of the country that way but in this case I would fly!
So what did I think of my mighty Mekong experience? Well, I am glad I have done it and it gave us some interesting memories but it isn't something I would rush to do again. I tried not to think about what might have happened if the boat had had a problem in the middle of the huge lake as I am sure health and safety was not paramount.
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