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Old 2nd December 2022, 19:50   #1
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Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

(if you haven’t read “1”, here (Poor manís travelogue | Photo-less & nonexotic) it is)

If Travelogue 1 was a thanksgiving temple trip in consequence to the great escape from the coronavirus, this is a pleasure trip, a car meet. Fiat Club Kerala owners meet. Could have named it dinosaur owners meet, and it wouldn’t be wrong. Anyway, we have this car Whatsapp group (duh.. a BHPian 'car enthusiast' isn't worth his salt if he isn't in minimum 6 car Whatsapp groups) for Fiat owners in Kerala and every year we have an annual ‘meet’ over a weekend in some place in KL. It’s always a family event, where 50% members (the good boys) come with family and 50% (the bad boys) come as stags (for refueling their bloodstream with some OH ions) – A simple, typical, bell-curve obeying, statistically textbook group of people, bonded by car-love. But a group where ‘help’ is at hand all the time.

Help ? what help, you may ask. Well, you see, when you have a dog or a cat or a parrot or even a bull shark as a pet, taking care of it is way easier than when your pet is a dinosaur. A dinosaur whose survival is solely dependent on the mercy of his master, because all the dino-vets have disappeared. Getting dino-specific bandages, splints, fever pills, has become difficult. And boy do they require them. A lot. Because you see, these dinosaurs are a wild ride, they gallop, they fly, they change direction like a housefly, stop on a dime, but most of all, always pleasure their masters’ bottoms and fingers. I meant ‘driving feel’ from a good chassis and a well calibrated hydraulic steering (what did you think?). However, at times, indulgent in these acts of pleasuring, the dino suffers, and ends up with a fracture, an infection or just plain old tiredness. The ‘help’ that I was referring to, was w.r.t the procurement of prosthetic limbs, medical supplies and surgical expertise, for their treatment.

The group is very active, and over the years, members have grown closer to each other, beyond the faceless text interaction, into genuine friendships. So when it’s that time of the year, almost everyone tries to find time and do their best to make it to the meet. This time, we took one step away from KL, and chose TN. Kodaikanal, to be specific. The farthest that anyone had to drive from, was from Bangalore, majority of the folks were from various disticts in KL itself. Saturday morning arrival, Sunday morning departure. Short and sweet.

Proposed the plan to my wife and kid, and they were happy to join. Confirmed our participation to the meet organizers, which was a month down the line. Now, in my mind, I am Dominic Torretto from the F&F movies – rippling muscles always on display owing to a wardrobe of only sleeveless T-shirts, and permanent thoughts about ‘family’. Yes, family. I’m Dom (Inzamam, actually, I look like, but that doesn’t matter), and worrying about my family’s well being and keeping them happy, is the primordial purpose of my existence. So I had to do something for my family (this word is going to appear a lot, be warned) and was nurturing the idea of going to Kodai one day in advance, and give my wife&son some nice sights and sounds of winter in the western ghats. The mist, the fog, the golden shafts of sunlight emerging through the trees in the morning, the steaming hot cup of tea, two smily bright faces peeping out of monkey-caps (I am not from Paris or Milan, so I will call it the monkey-cap, like an agmark tamilian) – I was smiling as I imagined these scenes play like a movie in my head, accompanied by the music from ’96 movie’s opening song (again, wonly tamil running in mind ya, dont know yinglish songs and all that). It all seemed like a perfectly designed vacation – beauty of nature for the family, juicy automechanical topics to discuss for Dom.

Which brings me nicely onto the point that must have emerged in the minds of the keenest eagle eyed of readers : ’Tamil’ ? Isn’t this KL meet ? He’s a mallu guy no ? or tamil-aa ? Well, I am a tamilian born and brought up in KL, now working in the giga-urban-megalopolis a.k.a Bangalore a.k.a Bengaluru a.k.a the-bungled-up. At home, our language is a mix of Tamil and Malayalam, so neither is my tamil good enough for me to be counted as a son-of-the-soil tamilian, nor is my malayalam good enough for me to be accepted as a fast-talking monosyallabillic mallu who is too clever for his own good. Like a photon existing in wave-particle duality, I exist in a mallu-tamil duality. If you put me inside a box, and a mallu opens it, I am a mallu ; if a tamilian opens it, I am a tamilian. Yes, I am that cat from quantum physics. In short, I was born into an existential crisis, I didn’t need to wait for my intellect to mature and search for one.

Since that’s out of the way, back onto the main ‘thing’. Proposed the one-day-earlier plan to family, and they cheered with a resounding ‘yes’. Family (no more warnings, be prepared henceforth) is excited, now it’s upto me to find out some away-from-usual-touristy-drivel places to visit on Friday, before the troops arrive on Saturday morning at the resort/hotel.


D-day minus 1:

We cranked the engine at 3am, the time of the day when wisdom blossoms. The route was Bangalore-Salem-Dindigul, get off NH44 onto the Theni bound single lane highway, and once past Batlagundu, turn right to climb up the ghats. Smooth all the way until the hill climb. Except for the suspension killing trench-train that is now called the downhill ‘road’ descending the thoppur ghats before Salem. Even if one slows down to stay clear of the trenches, there will be someone or the other, cutting you off or panic braking in front, and forcing a switch to the next lane. Thereby subjecting the car to epileptic-fits through the trenches whilst making the switch. Terrible. But it lasts for some 10mins or so, and can be excused bearing in mind the larger good it serves by slowing down coasting-downhill-in-neutral rogue trucks.

We stopped for breakfast at a popular veg restaurant just after Batlagundu bypass at 8am (~400km in 5hrs, helped by lack of early morning traffic). It was a long break, since the place was unusually crowded with busloads of people who were returning from Kodaikanal. The restrooms were huge and well constructed, but were in a state of “1/2 hour more and the smell will have it’s own electromagnetic repulsion field” ; so we chose to water the soil up in the mountains rather than the plains. However, the dining area was clean and the food was excellent (probably the reason for the crowd, whilst other restaurants nearby were almost empty). 45mins and a scrumptious breakfast later, we were back on the road.

Right at T-junction turnoff where the road to Kodai starts, I spotted an IOC bunk with XP95, and immediately filled up the car’s belly. No need to worry about fuel until after we are well into the plains upon return. And thence we set forth, windows rolled down, at a gentle 40-50 kph, through the single laned state highway type road, with lush mango groves on either side, dodging the occasional speed breaker, onwards to Kodaikanal. Slowly we started gaining elevation, and the crisp, non-city morning air with a view of amazing greenery, kept getting better with each successive hairpin. Soon we were engulfed in mist/fog and were regaled with the ‘forest smell’. There was a well driven private bus doing it’s daily run from Dindigul to Kodai, and he was perfect in his power-on, power-off and braking points. Unlike some of the mad locals on a Pikes-Peak-hillclimb-run in their balenos and innovas, I didn’t want to overtake anything and was safely following the bus that was beautifully driven. It doesn’t make up for a good dashcam video when a large hunk of metal is marring the windshield view of the route, but hey, it doesn’t matter to me, I prefer having a horn blaring bus 20m ahead of me as a shield, in case a ghat driving novice moron in his fortuner/zoomcar barreling downhill in the wrong lane ploughs into me at a blind corner. Yes, I am that calculative and careful. In the streets of Cuba, I may be Dom, whilst driving a retro-racer with a burning engine in reverse (and still be faster than my fellow racer driving forward in 5th gear right next to me, since my reverse gear ratio is magically longer than his 5th) and whilst barrel rolling after jumping out of it, simultaneously launching the burning car into the sea ; but on such occasions, I suppress my raw talent and drive like a librarian going to a funeral. Because, family.

Halfway into the ~50km climb, I felt thirsty (Dom is human afterall) and asked for a sip of water – this time it was my wife sitting in the backseat and after 5 mins of silence, she yelped “where is the flask?”.

Dom : what do you mean, it’s there inside the ‘refreshments’ bag that we keep on the floor behind my seat, I put it there myself.
Wife : but it’s not there
(bends down and checks under the seat with her hands)
Dom : when we stopped for breakfast, I remember you fiddling with it
Wife : oh yes… we took it to the restaurant and most probably have forgotten to carry it back
Dom : << after noticing how the “I” became a “we”, and how something “certain” became “most probably”, maintains silence >>
(uncomfortable pause)

Wife : Milton steel flask and the hotel’s jug&tumblers are all ‘steel’, hence easy to miss noticing it…
Dom : << why can’t it be a ‘I forgot’, still silently kissing the apex of the next corner and powering out of it >>
(uncomfortable pause)

Son : Amma, it’s an expensive flask, no ? the biggest we have at home ? water always stays hot, actually I also want some hot water in this cool weather.
(Dom’s son turns into Narada, whenever he notices that his parents are about to have an argument, I blame this tendency on the maternal half of his DNA)
Wife : Hey, poda..
(turns her gaze to the rear 3/4ths of my head, even though I can’t see her, I can feel burning lasers questioning whether my silence is out of anger or out of indifference)
Dom : Fine, it happens (I really didn’t want to make an issue out of it, even though clearly my wife was to blame)
Wife : I am calling that restaurant…
Dom : Why ?
Wife : They can keep it aside, and when we return, we can pick it up by stopping there once again. We are returning the same route on Sunday, aren’t we ?
Dom : yes, of course, good idea.

Wife makes the call, not once but twice and thrice (mobile tower signals were choppy), ensures that the flask has been located, set aside safely for our return pickup, and profusely thanks the restaurant guy at the other end. We notice that the smile on Narada’s face had turned into disappointment for a fleeting second, but then the relief of ‘not having really lost’ something and the bewitching beauty of the greenery around him puts the cheerful smile on his face back again. His only complaint was that his mother was strictly opposed to rolling down the window on his side since he has a tendency to easily catch a cold.

One thing I forgot to mention is that as soon as it had become mid-morning (past 9am), the rain had started. And had continued. By the time we reached Kodai town, it was a properly sustained downpour, further hampering visibility in the mist. Thankfully, Google Maps worked well, and we found our way to the resort, cheerful of spirit, but clenched of teeth. The roads in and around the town were shambolic, to say the least, and I had to actually move at snail speeds to protect my underbody and suspension, all whilst swallowing the incessant blaring and flashing from vehicles behind.

Checked into the resort, rooms were semi-cottage style, and we freshened up, but not before a well-earned quick siesta. The cold ensured that we slithered under the blankets and slept quickly. We needed that, after having woken up at 2am for this journey. Eventually, it was time for lunch and we opened the door to the realization that 12:30pm now looked like 6:30am. #tremendousrain.

I had planned for a half-day drive to Kookkal and Mannavannur villages to enjoy their spectacular views and had even looked up and marked a nice cosy boutique ‘coffee&cakes’ place on the way (because, family; even though I rather prefer the frothy tea and scalding hot bajjis from roadside teashops). It all looked like a huge dampener on my plans. Nevertheless, we went for lunch, in the hope that the rain would subside. Post a sumptuous lunch, it had, but not by much. Anyway, we set out in the car, once again, braving terrible potholes and trenches, in pursuit of the ‘road-less-travelled’. The destinations were ~10-12 km apart from each other, but around 35km away from the resort. Google maps showed 2h10m. That set my alarm bells ringing but I didn’t lose hope. The route took us westward of Kodaikanal (the myriad entries/exits to/from Kodai w.r.t the plains, are all due east), steadily climbing, and the road was increasingly wilderness-y, badroad-y, and desolate-y, with every passing kilometer. Fewer and fewer vehicles coming opposite, and the rain increasing in intensity. It was getting darker as well. All of this, when it was 2pm in the afternoon. I could sense the fear that had now crept into my wife and son. Soon we reached a fork, after having covered 10km of heavily broken roads in 1/2 hour.

Decision time.

Left takes us back to the resort, in a sort of loop-road, passing through various touristy locations (moir point, guna caves, pillar rocks etc) and a golf course. Right would take us to the intended destination(s). Considering how the rain, dark skies & thickening forest were causing trepidition, decided against piling on any more agony on them, resisting my urge to steer right. I turned left. Because, family. Turned out, the drive through the loop road was scenic enough and we clicked some nice pics and spent some time by the roadside, in between the typical touristy points that we simply drove through. Those touristy points weren’t as crowded as we expected either, probably because it was a Friday and not Sat/Sun. Eventually, we returned to the resort at a leisurely pace, and it was still raining. A few hours later, had dinner and called it a day.


D-day:

The next morning, I got a call from two of our group buddies who were coming from Trivandrum, they were confirming the route and road conditions for the ghat climb, and were planning to stop at the same restaurant. Yes, the same ‘flask’ fiasco restaurant. I requested them to bring the flask with them, in case they were stopping exactly there.

After the morning ablutions and a nice breakfast, we set out towards Coaker’s walk. It was only around 9am when we reached the place; there was literally no one there, except for a few furry dogs and a lonely ticket clerk. After I paid the entry fee and walked on, I expected this to be yet another touristy claptrap box-ticker of a place. However, it turned out to be a little gem, offering stunning views of the valley nestled in between the mountains. It’s essentially a widened ledge-walk (with railings of course) cut on the slope of a tall mountain, overlooking numerous smaller mountains and the valley nestled between them. The timing of our arrival was great – hardly any people and the entire valley was carpet bombed by fog/clouds. It was surreal. This view compensated a bit for what we missed the previous day. It was still drizzling in fits and starts, even this morning.

With retinas satisfied by the fog and taste buds satisfied by coal-fried corn, we returned in a happy mood to the resort. It was happier still when we arrived, as teams of people arrived in groups one after another. The usual greetings, hellos and chitchat followed. By noon, all who were stated to arrive, had arrived. Our flask was also kindly delivered to us by the dear Trivandrum buddies. Right from the time when arrivals began, even from mid-morning, the biting cold had ensured that one of the ‘stag’ rooms had transformed into a disco bar – the beats from Marshall speakers threatening to shatter the tiled roof of the ageing cottage and the beats from unsteady feet threatening to fracture a few bones. Appetizers over, lunch was served in the dining room, post which, we retired for some rest. I am sure the discotheque continued without pause. Past 4pm, evening tea was served in the community hall of the resort – a nice cosy place, welcomingly warm, isolating from the chilling cold outside. We had sort of an all-hands meeting ; where, for a brief duration, formal decorum was infused into the gathering – group members formally introduced themselves and family, and spoke in length about their rides. I could spot almost all the wives/girlfriends/children forcing a sullen smile, for the sake of their nut-case husband/boyfriend/father. It was remarkable, too witness how much families put up with people like us, who eat sleep and talk cars all the time. Perhaps they have resigned and accepted that one nutcase within the family, is atleast better than two or three. We also had a (now traditional) group anniversary cake-cutting ceremony and distribution of goodies (caps,umbrellas,bags with group logo). Overall, an evening well spent in getting to know each other even better.

All the photographers in the group were a bit disappointed with the incessant rain. It had been raining throughout the day and continued well into the night – which meant we couldn’t conduct one of the events that families (especially children) look forward to the most – a large campfire. There was a small stream flowing through the resort and at many points alongside it, blocks of wood shaped as seats were laid out in circles, to form sitting areas. Would have been an ideal location for a big campfire. Alas, the rain put a dampener on all such plans – alas, we were in the right place, at the wrong time.

Nevertheless, post dinner, the night was ripe for ‘the big party’ in the community hall (due to rain). I am a teetotaller, yet enjoy the company in drinking parties (unless there is projectile vomitting), to regale in the stories of fake adventures and false machismo that pour out, as the alcohol pours in. I was looking forward to the party; but alas, my son started his tantrum bang on time. He was feeling a bit under the weather and wanted to ‘sleep with appa’ no matter what. Wife struggled a lot, to manage him on her own, but eventually had to give up, as he was crying himself into serious sickness. She called my phone from our cottage, and explained the situation. Family. Dominic Toretto had no choice but to abandon his buddies and attend to family. Because that’s what being fast and being furious is all about.


D-day plus 1:

The party was a grand success and had continued well into the night, I came to know the next morning ; and I washed my regret down with 4 cups of steaming hot coffee. Then I proceeded to stuff my face with idli-vada, poori-sabji, pongal & even more coffee, partially because of ‘its over today’ realization, but mostly because breakfast was complimentary. Post breakfast, it was time to checkout and leave, but not before we lined up people and cars for a photo shoot and some drone videos. Eventually, with a tinge of sadness, we all bid goodbye to each other and set forth on our return journeys.

Our drive back was largely uneventful with the usually expected Sunday evening madcap return crowd on the highway, except for one incident around noon, during our descent from Kodai to Batlagundu. I was driving at a steady pace, neither fast nor slow, giving enough room to speedsters of all kinds – cars, vans, buses, trucks, two-wheelers etc. On one such occasion, there was a grey volvo S60 that looked unusually fast in my rear-view. As soon as he approached my tail, the road widened and I immediately let him past. He was a proper rash driver, one could see just from they way he was accelerating and braking very ‘unsmoothly’. Moments before, all three of us had already caught glimpse of a large, beautiful waterfall on the face of a distant mountain, beyond the valley beside. We had been able to see it in fits and starts, owing to thick vegetation that lined up the cliff side of the road (we hadn’t spotted this two days before whilst climbing, because it had been extremely foggy,cloudy and rainy). However, lack of a safe spot to stop, meant that we continued. Now, this S60 guy must have also spotted the same and must have wanted to stop for photos. But what he then did, totally surprised me. A minute after he had flown past us, as we came out of a blind curve, this guy was braking all too suddenly, in a narrow section, just before yet another blind curve. Presumably because that spot offered a clear view of the waterfall. I was a bit too fast to brake suddenly behind him, I have to admit, so was already half-way into overtaking him, when the S60 moron suddenly decided to abandon his parking attempt and look for another spot. He immediately restarted like a jackrabbit, and hadn’t bothered to look in his rear-view. I had to make a sudden evasive move to my right, well onto the opposite lane – and lo and behold – a huge bus suddenly appeared out of the blind curve, pummeling straight into my path (or his path, rather). There had been no one honking except me, I had been honking since I spotted the moron S60 braking, but never got a reply honk. A multitude of reasons (including my mistake to not sudden brake behind a stopped car ahead, especially in the ghats) had conjured up the perfect recipe for a head on collision between me and the bus. But thanks to the Fiat’s sharp and accurate hydraulic steering, and it’s mature chassis, I was able to swerve and correct, with inch perfect accuracy (actually it was Dom’s lightning reflexes and superior skill). The bus guy blared in anger.

Despite the pumping adrenaline, the live commentary that was going on, wasn’t lost on me :
Wife : Eeeswara…Krishna..Rama..Govinda….ayyayyyoooo…….
Son : wow, appa – formula 1. Yaayyy!!!

Last edited by venkyhere : 2nd December 2022 at 19:57.
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Old 2nd December 2022, 23:18   #2
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

You need to write more. I really enjoyed reading your narration & did not miss the lack of pictures one bit. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 3rd December 2022, 08:11   #3
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

I enjoyed that immensely! Please continue....
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Old 3rd December 2022, 08:17   #4
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

Brilliant as usual. Keep writing
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Old 3rd December 2022, 08:35   #5
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

Seriously you've the gift of the pen, or should I say keyboard

Brilliant write-up and a perfect read for a Saturday morning. We were in Kodai last Nov and can su relate to what you mention about the rains, fog and Coakers Walk if you get the timing right.

Please continue to write as others have said. You've a talent for this.
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Old 3rd December 2022, 09:48   #6
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

Quote:
In the streets of Cuba, I may be Dom, whilst driving a retro-racer with a burning engine in reverse (and still be faster than my fellow racer driving forward in 5th gear right next to me, since my reverse gear ratio is magically longer than his 5th) and whilst barrel rolling after jumping out of it, simultaneously launching the burning car into the sea ; but on such occasions, I suppress my raw talent and drive like a librarian going to a funeral. Because, family.
I read this bit 3 times and each time I laughed loudly.

Having seen your messages WA I couldn't have expected this blog to be written in any other way.

Enjoyed every bit, thanks for sharing.
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Old 4th December 2022, 09:49   #7
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

As usual, crisp and creative writing.
Keep it up.

Having the satisfaction of reading PG Wodehouse, RK Narayan and Sujata at one go.

Looking forward to more such writing from you.

Kind regards
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Old 4th December 2022, 15:43   #8
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

I did not think i was gonna finish this when I started reading. Engaging and witty. Great job
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Old 4th December 2022, 22:21   #9
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

group members formally introduced themselves and family, and spoke in length about their rides. I could spot almost all the wives/girlfriends/children forcing a sullen smile, for the sake of their nut-case husband/boyfriend/father. It was remarkable, too witness how much families put up with people like us, who eat sleep and talk cars all the time. Perhaps they have resigned and accepted that one nutcase within the family, is atleast better than two or three.



So relatable.. I thoroughly enjoyed both the travel and writing .
Waiting for your next post
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Old 5th December 2022, 05:41   #10
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

“Family.” )

Awesome write up. You have proved that old saying ‘a picture is worth 1000 words’ totally wrong ! Truly ‘Poetry in motion’ (sorry Stanely)
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Old 5th December 2022, 12:43   #11
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

Absolutely amazing prose. Very well written sir
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Old 5th December 2022, 14:53   #12
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

Enjoyed reading your blog both the parts and superb, hilarious, descriptive and perfect to the point. Please do keep writing.
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Old 5th December 2022, 15:31   #13
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

You Sir, have a fine sense of humour. Do keep writing for us, the ordinary mortals who just envy the gift of the gab individuals like you possess.
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Old 5th December 2022, 16:00   #14
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

Excellent post. I thoroughly enjoyed. What can we do about the guys like the one you encountered. They are an inevitability on the roads. Only magnitude and frequency vary.
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Old 5th December 2022, 19:28   #15
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Re: Poor Manís Travelogue 2 : Photoless and non-exotic

Another wonderful travelogue. I love your writing style. Keep it up and expecting more from you. I took the same route on December 1st morning and cranked my engine at 3am just like you mentioned I was travelling towards Kumali and had stopped immediately after the Batlagundu bypass for breakfast.
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