1st Cold Camping Trip! – Solo Backcountry on St. Nora Lake

 It was Thanksgiving weekend, 2001 and I did a backcountry trip backpacking in to Bucholtz Lake on the Eastern Pines Backpacking Trail in Algonquin Park. I had a -5 sleeping bag and I remember I was laying there wearing all the clothes I had brought in,  including my jacket, in my sleeping bag and I was frozen solid.  All I wanted to do was be warm but there was no way I was walking  out of the forest, two hours in the middle of the night, so I was stuck there.

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It was a beautiful weekend with the fall colors in full bloom and I will never forget that trip,  but on that trip, I vowed to myself to never EVER camp Thanksgiving weekend or later again.  I was not a cold camper and never would be, and, at the time, I was totally fine with that.
 

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It took me 15 years,  but last winter I broke that rule by winter camping.  I was cheating a little bit though,  I had a heater in my tent  and it was enough to keep me warm at night and that’s all I needed to be able to continue. (summer tent with tarp and space heater in picture below).
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I built my tipi, put a woodstove in it, and with that I could now camp in the winter and be warm at night and I was so happy about it.    But there were places the tipi couldn’t go, wouldn’t go, and especially camping solo, it was very difficult, as it is extremely heavy.  The tipi package alone without any gear totals about 100lbs dry.
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There was a challenge that I knew I had to face….  something I had never done before, but the time hadn’t been available to do it until now. My friend was sick and I was on my own this weekend.  The forecast was decent and I had a place to go, that I most likely couldn’t take the tipi into.  So…  just like the promise I made myself that I would never camp after Thanksgiving,  I would break the promise I made never to cold camp, or, would I?
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The night before the trip I was laying in my bed in my somewhat warm house, freezing and thinking , there is absolutely no way I was going to go cold camping  in the morning.  My throat hurt,  I was cold,  I was sick,  I twisted my ankle…  whatever excuse I could think of,  I was going to use it and bail on this trip. No one would really care, except me.  Sigh.
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Finally, morning came.  I got up, I got  dressed with my stomach in knots and a massive pain in my head. I got into my car, and drove to my destination. I began my journey, praying I would be warm inside my new -40 extreme Marmot sleeping bag. Hmppfff. I had my electric blanket on for half of the night before!!!   I was going to die!!!  Omg!  Here we go!
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I arrived at Frost Centre just after 9:30am, as that is when they open the office and I needed to pay for my site. I could’ve booked it online but there was an extra $10.00 reservation fee to do so and with the one night stay only being $12.00, I thought it was a bit of a waste to pay that when I could just do it in on site.

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I also had been corresponding a great deal with Dylan who worked at the office and wanted to meet him in person.  He was the one that sent me a tweet a few weeks ago telling me to come and stay on St. Nora Lake on site 66, and like a good little twitter follower, I obliged!
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I got the full run down at the office from Dylan and Peter.  Which trails were best to snowshoe on, where all the cool icicles were and other sites I might like to check out for future visits.  I felt quite special indeed!  After I paid and knew all there was to know, Dylan took me outside to show me their warming lodge next door.
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He told me at 9am tomorrow, it would be all set up with the fire blazing in the wood stove so if i got cold, just to come here and warm up.  Sweet!
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With huge words of encouragement, I said goodbye and headed to my car to pack my sled, anxious to start my journey.  This was, after all, my favourite part. Exploring somewhere new. The sun even came out briefly which was amazing, because we were supposed to be having a bit of a snowstorm today, I took it as a good sign, clipped my harness onto my waist and off I went!!!
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The trail going in is bit unique.  There are cottages and buildings, I believe belonging to the Leslie Frost Natural Resource Centre and then the trail goes off to the right, up a hill and you are in the forest! POOF!

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The start of the trail was all up hill and I was huffing and puffing as you can see in the video. The sled, wasn’t anywhere near as heavy as it was with the tipi parts on it last trip, but it was still a bit of a struggle pulling it uphill.  Hahaha and Dylan told me it was a nice ‘walk’ to the site. Hopefully, there weren’t any other surprises?
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The sun wasn’t quite out but it was bright and being in the forest, the wind was basically non existent. The trails were just the right width and if I had a bigger sled, I would’ve had alot more issues. There were a few parts on the trail I did have some trouble with.
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The trail would go two ways, or along an embankment and the sled would have a mind of it’s own and head straight down the slope.  I figured out that when I approached any areas that looked tricky, it was best to dettach the harness from my waist, turn around and pull the sled by the poles, the way I wanted it to go.  (unfortunately, I didn’t learn this until a bit later! LOL)
The scenery made it all worth it.  I was in my glory and so happy I’d decided to come. For now, the cold night was at the back of my mind. I was excited to get to my site and set up my camp. Create my snow couch or chair, and explore the area!!
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It was all going great until I came to a series of hills, the trail just a narrow path, with a pretty steep drop off heading down to the lake.  The sled decided pretty quickly, it had no intention of successfully executing this part of the trail, by pushing me down the hill in front of it and then stopping at the base of a tree.  Oh dear!  Now what?
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I knew I wasn’t very far from the site, but didn’t know exactly, as I’d never been here before.  I left the sled where it had decided to park itself and walked the trail ahead to see if the sled could make it and how much farther I had to go.
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I walked for a few minutes and knew almost instantly that I could not bring the sled fully packed on this trail.  There were a few spots where I needed to use extra caution to get myself further, without falling down the side of the cliff, without the sled.  After maybe 5 minutes I found the sign for the site and walked to it. Well, I tried to. I couldn’t actually find the site?  There were a few massive trees lying on the ground blocking me from going to where I thought it was. That was also an issue.  I started to worry and wonder what I would do.
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My plan was to walk to the site, then walk back to my sled via the lake and make sure all was okay for me to go back that way with the sled.  There were snowmobiles all over the lake and I had no doubt the lake was frozen where I needed to walk. I could walk along only a few feet from shore, so I decided that would be my best bet.  When I returned to where my sled was, I walked out to the lake and could see the site plain as day ahead of me.  There were also tracks on the lake from someone snowshoeing on it and they were fairly fresh, so that gave me confidence.   I began my descent to the lake, pulling the sled carefully, as it pushed me towards the lake.
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Right at the start of the walk, I looked to my left and there was a huge icicle waterfall that I would’ve missed had I taken the trail.  Also, it showed me how high the rock cliff was that the trail went along and reaffirmed the decision I’d made was the right one.
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It took me less than ten minutes to walk on the lake to the site and I was elated once I arrive there!  WHOOOHOOOO!
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I took a walk checking out the space I had. I knew it was supposed to get really windy this afternoon, die down for a bit at night, then get windy again late morning Sunday.  I decided to put my tent in the trees, down the path a ways from the point. I grabbed my little shovel and dug out a nice spot. The snow was very deep and it didn’t look like anyone had been on this site for at least a few weeks. I piled the snow just around the outside edge so I could use it once the tent was up to close off the bottom and keep cold air from blowing up into the tent.
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As Marmot gave me an extra ground sheet with my tent, LOL, they are so good to me! I decided instead of using a big tarp, I’d use 2 footprints. One inside, one out.  I liked putting one on the inside, it seemed more useful there.
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Everything takes so much longer in the winter. I had to keep my snowshoes on while putting the tent up because the snow was packed down for snowshoes but not for boots. When I tried to walk without them my feet would go down a foot or two, sometimes more.  It’s hard walking around a tent with snowshoes on, just fyi!! LOL . But eventually I got it up, put my thermarest in, blew it up as dry as possible, put down both sleeping bags I brought, one for ground insulation, one to sleep in and I was good to go!
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After a little digging, I found the fire pit and dug out a nice walkway and a snow chair for myself to sit on. As I was building it, part of me was telling myself it was too windy out here to sit, but the other part was having too much fun building her new living room! hahaha.
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I was pretty hungry and it was a few hours past lunchtime, so I forced myself to stop for a moment and make my sandwich. I brought turkey and cheese with the option to eat it as is, or heat it up. I decided to heat it up and although it took forever, it was really yummy.  After I finished lunch, I made this little video to give you a tour of my campsite. 🙂
I packed up my food and put everything away and tried to find my way off the site. This wasn’t actually very easy as I didn’t walk into it and I had no idea where the trail was.  Dylan had advised if I walked from the back of the site north, I’d find the trail, but every path I took led me into thick sections of trees that I kept getting tangled in.  I finally found a way to the trail and off I went to explore.
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I decided to head straight up the High Crest Trail. It was pretty steep and challenging, even with snowshoes on,  but after sitting still making my lunch, I needed to warm back up and this definitely helped with that.
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I brought a bag with me and as I walked and came across any dead wood or tinder, I would put it in the bag.  I had to carry it all the way back, but it was a two in one mission that I thought worked well until I realized the carrying it all the way back part. hahaha
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Aside from hearing the occasion snowmobile off in the distance, the forest was dead quiet. I saw no creatures and I didn’t hear them either, but I was snowshoeing through the forest, I was warm and I was happy.  Except at the lookout, it was windy and cold up there!!!
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There were so many beautiful sights on these trails.  Several spots I found frozen waterfalls like these. Some were blue, some were white, some were yellowish brown, and some were grey.  They were all simply amazing!!!
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After a bit more walking, I came across a sign that was pretty neat.
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It actually looked like someone had taken a shovel, or just used their bum and packed all the snow down along the whole bench.  Totally cool!!!!  I had to have a seat and a snack while I was there.  In winter, you can’t sit still for very long, especially if you sweat, because you get cold very quickly.  So as soon as I was done my snack, I was back up and on my way again!
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From the high crest trail I continued on to New Vista so I could just do a big loop back to the site.
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All kinds of neat things to see in the winter, that don’t exist in the other seasons.
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When I reached the end of New Vista, I took a right turn to take the shorter way back on the Vista Trail.
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There I discovered more cool things to look at!
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Just before I reached the trail that took me up the hill, I came across these frozen waterfalls.  I hadn’t even noticed them when I went up the trail, but they were just to the right of where I started earlier and somewhat close to my site.  I took a bunch of photos knowing I was in good proximity of my site. It was starting to get close to the time it gets dark out. I wanted to be out as long as possible to keep moving and stay warm, but I also wanted to be ready for the darkness.  After I got my fill of picture taking, I headed back to the site to prepare for darkness and cold.
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I got back and got a fire going pretty much right away. After sitting for a few minutes to warm up by the fire, it stared to snow again. It had been snowing most of the day but as I was pretty much in the forest the whole afternoon, I hadn’t noticed much.  Out here, with the wind blowing and the snow coming down, I would not be able to stay outside long. It was just after 5 and would be getting dark very soon.  I had to make a decision, after all my hard work, I had to relocate the fire pit.  Challenges are great when you are camping, they keep you busy and moving and keep your mind from thinking about being cold. LOL
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Earlier I had scoped out a site a little ways down from my tent. It was small but I didn’t need much room. Most important, it was sheltered, from the wind and the snow.  It felt like I was in a different day compared to where I was out on the point.  I got to work shoveling but there wasn’t as much snow as at the point, so it was much easier.  By the time night set in, I was all set up with my fire going, warming up my wet gloves and having a short rest before heating up my dinner.
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I was soo happy I moved my living room.  It made such a huge difference and I almost felt like I was in a shelter.  The only problem was there wasn’t enough wind to blow my fire… hahaha. but I could take care of that, as long as I was warm, I was happy and so far, I was still warm!
It was getting late and I was getting hungry. While I sat I made snow water, which took what seemed like forever.  One pot of snow turned into about a quarter of a nalgene bottle. I had two of them with me. hahaha.  One pot of snow took about ten to 15 minutes to melt on my stove with the fuel slightly frozen, so it was indeed very time consuming.
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With the water factory shut down for the moment I turned to heating up my dinner. I had brought a nice little mix of roast beef with gravy, carrots and rice, and I could not wait to get it into my tummy!!!!
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It didn’t take too long to heat it up and I ate it right from the pot.  This helped keep it warm longer and after I ate about half of it and it got cold, I put it back on the stove to heat it up again.  Hot food + cold outside = happy camper christina. LOL
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I put my gloves by the fire to dry them out. It was really cool to watch because they started to smoke, which I assume was the water leaving them. I tried to get a photo but magic can’t be photographed I guess? It was around this time that I noticed my boots.  I’ts funny, when you are cold and things hurt, you notice them right away and it dwells in your mind. When nothing is wrong, you don’t notice and pay no attention.  It was then that I was grateful for my Keens.
 I continued to melt snow, this time for the hot water bottle that would go inside my sleeping bag. Once that was done and filled up, I heated another few pots of snow to put in my nalgene bottle. This would go by my feet.  When they were both done, I took them into my tent and put them in my sleeping bag, with the clothes I would change into for bed.  As I had sweat today and my clothes were definitely damp, this would be important in helping me stay warm during the night. It was something I was definitely not looking forward to!
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After preparing the warmup of my clothes, I prepared myself for bed, doing all those things you do before going to sleep.   Once I finished all my tasks, put the fire out, etc, I headed into my cold tent, dreading the next section of time. This is what I was worried about all along. Getting into a freezing cold tent, having to take off all my clothing and put on dry clothes and go to sleep.
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I was so wrong about it.  I got into the tent and it wasn’t quite freezing cold. I think the hot water bottles warmed the tent up a bit and with no wind coming into the tent, it was warmer than it had been outside.  Putting on the warm clothing was awesome!!!  I was really pleased with that little arrangement I’d made and actually looked forward to changing out each item after the first one was done.  I even warmed a light pair of slippers I’d brought that I thought would help keep my feet warm, and it was soooo nice being toasty warm all over.  I quickly got into my sleeping bag after I put on my big fur hat to keep my head warm and I was sooo happy. I wasn’t cold at all. I was warm and I was happy. I dreaded having to get out to go to the washroom, but I’d deal with that when it happened. For now, this cold tenting wasn’t that cold at all and I was a very very happy camper! Night everyone!
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I emerged from the tent, feeling awesome! I had gotten up at 1am and again at 530am to use the privy but it wasn’t too bad.  The hot water bottle and nalgene had remained warm through the night and was still a bit warm when I got back in my sleeping bag at 530. It was too early to get up, it was still dark out, but I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I worked on a few social media posts inside my sleeping bag until I finally got up at 7am. I changed my clothes while inside my bag, then packed up the entire inside of the tent before heading outside.  My plan was to have breakfast, get things packed up and get back to my car to drop off my gear, then go for a snowshoe before heading home.
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The fire pit looked really cool and I thought it deserved a picture.  I loved the way it looked, although at the moment, I’d also love looking at a fire in it! I rectified that asap.
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Once the fire was going, it was back to making snow water again. The one nalgene I’d used for hot water last night tasted awful. I had put the pot in the fire to heat it up faster as I had another bottle full to use to drink from and now it needed to be replaced. The bottle I had left outside of my sleeping bag had frozen some, so I set it by the fire once I”d drank all the water I could from it.  Water factory again, took forever and totally slowed my plans down.
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Eventually, I had enough water to last me the day. If I was going snowshoeing I would need more than just one nalgene, and as that was the plan, I completed filling both bottles before moving on to making breakfast.
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I had brought precooked scrambled eggs with cheese, an english muffin previously buttered that just needed to be toasted, and some precooked bacon, which also just needed to be heated up, although I was kind of munching on that before it was warm! LOL.  I’m really glad I precooked everything as it took about 10-15 minutes just for the cooked food to heat up.  In all fairness the eggs were still frozen, or frozen again, not quite sure but they took quite a while.  Eventually, it got warm enough to eat, so I ate, and then cleaned everything up so I could get back to packing up so I could head out.
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Things take so much longer to do in the winter.  One minute it was 7:30, then next it was 10:30.  I have no idea how it took me 3 hours to pack up a tent, put my pots and pans away and pack them, put out the fire and pack up the sled?  However, along with making snow water, heating food in the cold and trying to keep my gear dry and off the snow or from fresh snow landing on it, that’s just how long it took.  I was a bit frustrated, but there was nothing I could do.  I was packed up now and once I got to the front of the site,  I realized again how important moving my living room/firepit area  yesterday had been. Out on the point of the site, it was super windy and felt so much colder and the snow was falling more here too.
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I carefully brought the sled down the rocks (they were covered by snow but I knew they were there) and to the frozen lake.  Once there, I bundled myself up, put my hood on to keep the wind from biting me and made a b line to where I would get back onto the trail.  Just before I packed up I took a short video of what I was to do, I called it a sled portage. LOL
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It took me a bit of time, but I unpacked the sled, put my backpack on my back and took it up the hill to where it was somewhat flat again. I then took the empty sled and the remaining items up next and then repacked the sled once I was up at the more level area.
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Easy peasy! I was back in business.  I continued on the trail and took a few photos on the way out. It was far later than I wanted it to be, so I was contemplating if I would do the snowshoe after this or not? I was starting to think…. not.
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I walked along with the sled and when I got to any difficult spots, I undid the harness and turned around guiding the poles by hand. This worked perfect and except for one little mishap where I fell in the snow, lol, I got it through much easier than the way in.
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I walked along smiling the entire way back, especially when I got to the big hill I came up on my way in, that was now all downhill.  I was almost out and I was sooo proud of myself.
Soon I saw the buildings and then the office and then my car.
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I did it! I cold camped and didn’t die and I was actually quite happy about it all.  I unpacked my sled and went into the office to see Dylan and Peter.  While inside Peter told me about a cool spot to visit with my kayak in the spring, so I booked a site with them, and then said my goodbyes.  My car had been running with the heat on and it was pure heaven when I got into it. The drive wasn’t the best, it was snowing and blowing an awful lot, I would even go as far as to say, it was blizzard like, but I didn’t care in the least. I was in my warm car, heading to my warm house and I was a very proud and happy girl!!!!
I’m not entirely sure if I will cold camp again this season?  I have a lot of plans in place for the next few months, but I am quite certain at some point I will cold camp again. I am also happy to know that if I camp in April or May or October or November, I will be fine, as I’ve camped in the snow, by myself at -11 and actually had a pretty good time doing it.  Yes, it was only one night, but it was enough for me, for now.  I’ve come a long way since my first winter trip last year, staying in a yurt and for me, that’s plenty good enough for now!
I really hope you enjoyed my post and you come back to check out more of my adventures!  If you have any questions, or comments, please leave a message and I will get back to you as soon as I am able to.
If you are interested in cold camping, hot tenting, or winter camping in any way, please check out the Winter in the Wild Festival at Algonquin Park during Family Day Weekend! I will have the tipi set up for people to come check out and there will be tonnes of winter campers there with all sorts of set ups for you to check out and ask questions about etc.  They also have a bunch of really cool activities planned for all ages, so grab some friends, your family or come on your own and check out the festival.  It’s a great experience! I was there last year and have been looking forward to it ever since!
If you’d like to see the video slideshow I created of this trip, click here.
Happy Camping!
Camper Christina
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10 thoughts on “1st Cold Camping Trip! – Solo Backcountry on St. Nora Lake

  1. Awesome Christina, way to go. You did it! How do you take the photos of yourself? Like when you were sitting in your snow chair. I need to know how to do that. Tnx. Jim

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! It almost makes me want to cold tent….almost. I’ll start with the tipi / hot tent. 🙂 Your adventurous spirit is inspiring!!! I don’t think I could do what you seem to accomplish with ease! Thanks for writing about your trips and giving us all ideas for things to do – outside!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I have heard the same. i have another trip booked there in a few months. Really looking forward to it. Thanks so much for your continued support and lovely comments. I greatly appreciate it! Thanks for reading!

      Like

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