Overland Travel to Liberia, Africa: A Country of Long Standing Resilience

After an incredible three week overland trip across Sierra Leone, I finally reached my next stop, Liberia, country #98.

I have been intrigued about this place since the first time that I heard about it years back. Unfortunately, many people have only heard about Liberia through its tragic past with war and ebola, and to be quite honest, fear often holds travelers back from venturing off to that part of Africa. 

I truly met some incredible people during my stay there, some in which suffered things that you couldn’t even imagine during those dark years of war. 

As I traveled through the country, the word that stuck in my mind was RESILIENCE. It is a country that has had it share of suffering, but somehow they have kept moving forward..

If you are not familiar with Liberia’s past, I will give you a very quick summary….

In 1989, civil war broke out when a group of rebels, led by Charles Taylor entered into the country through the Ivory Coast and began killing off the ethnic groups siding with President Samuel Doe. This war lasted over 7 years. Not too long after, the second civil war began, from 1999-2003.

Sadly, more than 200,000 people died during those years of war and the survivors were sent to neighboring countries to refugee camps. 

Many years later, in 2014, Ebola broke out in West Africa. Liberia was the first in the region to report it, and from that moment there was a downward spiral, taking the lives of over 11,000 Liberians..


Let’s be honest…

 

Fear is the factor that prevents people from visiting new places and getting outside of their comfort zone, especially in parts of the world where war only happened a short time ago.

In the case of Liberia, I would not say that I was fearful, but more hesitant and cautious as I made plans to visit there. Many skeptical people warned me and would say:  

 

“Sarah, you have no idea what you are getting yourself into. Danger is all around and you must stay away from there.”

“It is very unstable and it not a place you should visit, especially as a solo female traveler.”

 

I understand that many people mean well in their concerns for me, but these warnings are the same ones that I heard years back when I first mentioned to people that I was going to travel alone across the world. Everyday during that period of time people would warn and try to instill fear in me, but luckily I did not take their advice and stay home just dreaming about traveling.

I took the the most important step that most people tend to skip: ACTION! 

Fear…

Most people live in a prison of fear…

Fearful of change…

Fearful of the unknown….

Fearful of what COULD happen…

Trust me, I know….

Before traveling, I lived in that overwhelming prison of fear…

In fact, if you would’ve told me 15 years ago that I would be taking a solo, overland trip across West Africa, into Liberia, I would’ve told you that you were crazy. 

Through my years of traveling, my idea of fear has completely changed and my current mission in life is to take on any challenge and go into new situations with an open mind and heart.

That is exactly what I did going on my trip to Liberia…

 

                              Liberia. Country # 98

 

 
                             Country: Liberia                       
                             Capital: Monrovia 
                             Language: English
                             Money: Liberian Dollar

                           Visa: 180 USD (this is what I paid, but this can vary                                       depending on where you get it).

 

I crossed into Liberia overland from Bo, Sierra Leone. According to Google Maps, the trip should’ve taken around 5 hours.

 

After having had traveled from Mauritania-Senegal-Gambia-Guinea Bissau-Guinea-Sierra Leone, and then to Liberia overland by public transportation, I knew without a doubt that the estimation of 5 hours would be double or triple that time.

 

Anything can happen while traveling in West Africa and if you are serious about visiting there, you will need lots of patience and a good sense of humor.

 

If you want to pay half the price, you can ride on top!


Without that, you will NOT survive. 

 

My first stop on my wild adventure to Liberia was in Robertsport. 

 

I must admit, there is no better place in Liberia (in my opinion) to make a stop for rest and relaxation than Robertsport. It has a reputation for it’s beautiful beaches, relaxed environment, great surfing spots and a common place to meet other travelers.

For anyone traveling from Sierra Leone to Libera overland, this is convenient place, not too far off the main road, that you can enjoy and see a part of Liberia that you will not see just visiting the capital city. 

 

HOW TO GET THERE

 

The route that I chose was from Bo, Sierra Leone to Robertsport.

It is important to note that road conditions are not the best in this part of the world. Some parts of the highway are brand new and in perfect condition, but the majority of the roads are not good and it literally feels like you are going on a bumpy roller coaster the whole time.

If you tend to get carsick, this is NOT the place for you. 

Also, the conditions of the shared taxis are quite bad and it is VERY normal to have to get out of the car multiple times during the trip in order to help push the car up the steep hills. 

 

ARRIVING TO THE BORDER

After crossing the border from Sierra Leone there is a motorcycle that can take you to the Liberian border for a small price. From there you can catch a shared taxi going straight to Monrovia.

 

 

If you want to stop at Robertspoint, you will need to inform the driver that you need to get off at the road going in that direction. The driver will drop you off along the highway and there will be motorcycles and taxis waiting that can take you the rest of the way for less than 5 USD. 

I chose to take a motorcycle from the main highway to Robertsport and it took us around 25-35 minutes. 

To continue on to Monrovia from Robertsport, you can get a shared taxi and the distance is around 80km. 

 

ENTERING INTO LIBERIA 

There are many different routes that enter into Liberia from the three surrounding countries:

  • Sierra Leone

  • Ivory Coast

  • Guinea.

If you plan on taking the safer option, you can arrive to Liberia via in their main airport, Robert’s International, but keep in mind that flights tend to be quite expensive to and from there. 

It is very important to get your visa situation figured out before arriving. The immigration officers told me that it is possible to get a visa at the border, but I do not recommend it.

There is not an “official” price, meaning that they can try to change the cost to whatever they want. I can tell you from my own experience that it is much better in most cases (if traveling overland) to get your visa in the neighboring country. 

 

MONROVIA (CAPITAL)

This is the largest city in the whole country, and the capital. It is a city filled with history and an interesting place to go in order to get a better idea of Liberia as a country. Passing through the city you can see the remains of old 19th century town houses that were destroyed from war.

 

 

Given that the war happened in the last 30 years, the results of the war are still seen in many parts of the city and in the areas outside of Monrovia. 

 

Ducor Hotel 

This was West Africa’s first 5 star luxurious hotel and an important symbol of prosperity for Liberia throughout the world years ago. This hotel was built in 1960 and attracted people from all over the world to Liberia, for business and tourism. 

It had a beautiful rooftop, with incredible views of the city, 106 spacious rooms, a large swimming pool, tennis court and many other fantastic amenities.

 

 

I took a trip to the hotel and walked through each floor, until I reached the top. I could not help but think about how the hotel might have been more than 30 years ago. What I learned during my visit there was that the hotel was closed in 1989, the year of the first Liberian Civil War.

The hotel was destroyed and anything of value was taken out. What used to be this elaborate, luxurious hotel, was soon nothing more than a destroyed, empty, abandoned building.

 

 

As of today, the Ducor Hotel is one of the most visited places and all of Liberia.

The climb up is quite steep, but at the top you can get beautiful 360 views of the whole city.

 

 

WHERE TO STAY 

There are tons of options available to stay throughout the country, but there are two places that I visited during my stay in Liberia that I absolutely fell in love with.

If you are planning a trip to Liberia, you do NOT want to miss out on lodging in these places. 

 

Libassa Ecolodge

Libassa Ecolodge is located about 45 minutes outside of Monrovia (easily accesible by private or shared taxi). This is a perfect escape from the busy city capital. 

 

 

It’s located in a beautiful area right in nature and only a short walk away from the beach. 

One aspect that I loved about this place is that it is totally surrounded by palm trees and not a single one of them was cut down in order to build this place. The trees that are used to build the hut are replaced with a new seed, bringing life to a new tree in its place. 

The huts are so orderly and cozy. The water is restricted and each room is limited to 200W of electricity. All the products are recycled and each day they are coming up with new ways to help save the environment. 

 

 

Libassa has the only wildlife sanctuary and the whole country.

Sadly, in West Africa it is a very common to see wild animals being used as pets or sold on the street. They do everything possible here to create awareness, educate and help stop illegal animal trafficking throughout the country.

 

 

As of now, more than 265 animals have entered into their sanctuary and out of all of these 123 have been released back out into the wild.

Going to the sanctuary was a touching experience and I recommend it to anyone. Not only will your see cute animals, such as a little pangolin, but you can also get that feeling of satisfaction, knowing that your $5 entrance into the sanctuary is going for a good cause.

 

 

If you are reading this and are not able to make a visit and are interested in donating to the cause, enter into their website make a donation.

Even one dollar can make a difference into the lives of these innocent wild animals. 

Click here for more information. 

 

Nana’s Lodge 

 

Nana’s Lodge is the very first place that I stayed in when I first arrived into Liberia in the town of Robertsport.

 

 

One of my favorite things about staying here was the chance to wake up to the sound of the ocean. They have many styles of beach side bungalows. The one that I stayed in had two double beds, a fan and a lovely balcony that faces the ocean.

 

 

Also, if you want to camp next to the beach, you can bring your own tent or rent one from them. As I mentioned, I chose to stay in a bungalow and it was definitely a great decision. I totally recommend it!

The lodge is located just steps away from an area that is very popular for surfers. In fact, I heard that Robertsport has some of the best waves in the whole country.

If you wake up early, you can find many surfers of all ages out in the ocean surfing. 

 

 

The lodge also has a volleyball net, large beach beds next to the ocean and reclining chairs to relax and read a book.

 

 

If you are adventurous, you can take a one hour hike along the beach to find a ghost ship wreck.

I must admit, it’s not the easiest hike in the world and you must be VERY careful because you have to climb slippery rocks (it is very hard to do with flip flops), but the experience was SO worth it! 

Click here for more information: 



My Liberian Nightmare….


Traveling the world is not always a fun, pleasant, happy adventure like people might assume it is by watching through Instagram. There are many moments in my travels that I have found myself in very uncomfortable situations, alone and totally lost. 

The obstacles that I have faced while on the road are part of the experience and with every situation that I have lived, I have come out with more wisdom and prepared to not make the same mistake again. 

With that said……..

After an exciting week exploring Liberia, my adventure took a major detour…..

I arrived at Libassa Resort, checked into my cabin and instantly started exploring the area. The lodge is a mini paradise, with a large pool, beach area and completely surrounded by nature. As I was walking around, I felt a strange sensation take over my body that only grew with every step. 

As always, I remained positive and said to myself, “This is only the exhaustion from endless travel.”

The weakness grew over the next two days to the point that I could barely make it from my bed to the bathroom. My stubbornness told me not to go to the doctor and to just keep drinking water and that everything will be okay…

However, it was not….

On the third day I found myself hunched over, weak and barely able to make it through the door of the International Hospital in Monrovia.

The doctor gave me a look of concern, took some quick tests and within 2 minutes diagnosed me with Malaria, a disease spread from mosquitos. 

 

HEALTH 

Malaria is very common in many parts of Africa and throughout the world. 

It can be easily treated if caught in the right time, but if you wait, it can and will kill you. In fact, thousands of people die every single year because of untreated Malaria.

If you plan to travel to Malaria zones, travel with precaution and realize that this is a disease that you don’t to mess around with. 

Don’t hesitate one second the moment you start to feel any sort of strange symptoms, such as unusual back pain, fever, weakness and fatigue.

Quickly find a local clinic or hospital in order to get tested. The earlier the doctors can diagnose Malaria, the quicker you can get the treatment you need in order to continue on with your life.

Unfortunately, my trip to Liberia was cut short after nine days of being there. The rest of the time I was either laying in a hospital bed or alone in the house of my American friend who allowed me to stay there while he was out of the country. 

 

 

It was hands-down one of the scariest experiences that I have had while traveling. It truly was a nightmare, especially being completely alone. 

 

People continually ask me “Why did you not get the vaccination for Malaria?!” 

 

As of now there is no vaccination available. 

Many people mistake the vaccination for Yellow Fever that you must get while traveling to Africa for Malaria. 

There are anti-Malaria pills available that you can take during your travel, but given that I was traveling for 4+ months, this option was highly discouraged by my doctor. The pills are quite strong and over a long period of time it might actually cause major problems. 

 

 

If you plan to travel long term in a Malaria zone like I did…..

 


My Words of Advice:

  1. Load up on mosquito repellent and apply it multiple times a day.
  2. Always pack long pants and sleeves and wear them as often as possible, especially in the evening hours. 
  3. Wear a mosquito bracelet (some people swear by these). 
  4. Wear socks any chance you can. 
  5. Sleep inside of a mosquito net. 
  6. For short trips, take the anti-Malaria mediation. 

 

 

 

 

Don’t forget to also check out:

Top Solo Female Travel Myths EXPOSED: Part 1

10 TRICKS BEFORE SPEAKING ON STAGE

THE ONE THING THAT YOU SHOULD NEVER TRAVEL WITHOUT

 

 

adminOverland Travel to Liberia, Africa: A Country of Long Standing Resilience
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Discovering the Beautiful Island of Sao Tome & Principe, Africa

As we were getting ready to land on the island of Sao Tome & Principe in Africa, the man sitting next to me on the airplane looked over and quietly whispered to me, “you must be going to the island for work, no?”

With a very confused look on my face, I smiled and said,

“No, I am going for tourism. I have been traveling alone in West Africa for the last 3.5 months and this is my last stop.”

He looked at me totally shocked, as if I had told him something that was absolutely absurd and unheard of.

“Look all around us and see if you notice anything in common with the majority of the people”- he mentioned

I awkwardly turned around, looking to my right and to the left. He was right, there was a commonality:  Couples, many, many couples. They were of all ages, the giddiest of them being the elderly couple sitting in the seat in front of us, which were kissing endlessly until the plane hit the ground.

So, what the man next to me was trying to determine with his original question is: why on Earth would someone travel to a beautiful island destination, full of lovers, COMPLETELY ALONE?!

Over my years of traveling, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the typical line: “One day, when I have the love of my life by my side, I will travel to that incredible destination I have always wanted to visit, but until then, I will wait.”

Many people constantly wait until another day, and the sad truth is that many will never actually visit their dream destination because they are constantly waiting on a future change or person to come.

Sure, Sao Tome & Principe is a beautiful island and there are many lovers that visit there, but it’s suitable for all types of travelers, even solo travelers. As I was looking out the window as we were landing I did not get upset by his random question to me, nor did I enter in a depression of the reality that I was there completely alone. In fact, I felt the opposite. I could feel the excitement building as we got closer and closer to the runway, knowing that I had 8 full days to explore this small island, which is the second smallest country in Africa.

Sao Tome & Principe was already on my good list before entering, considering the fact that as an American I did not need a visa for up to 15 days. That was an excellent plus, especially given the amount I spent only in visas in West Africa before arriving. In fact, the no visa applies to all European citizens and in many other parts of the world.

NOTE: Before booking a flight it’s important to check and make sure you need a visa. Many require visas in advance. 

Flying to Sao Tome is quite simple. Portugal and Ghana are the normal layovers to enter into Sao Tome through Tap Air. I was super impressed with the company, which had competitive prices, good amenities on board and good food options for the long international flight.

NOTE: Keep in mind that it is absolutely necessary to have you Yellow Fever Certificate. The moment you get off of the plane there is an officer at the door checking each card individually. 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION 

Language: Portuguese

Dinero: Dobra, euro accepted in many places

This is a cash ONLY country. I made the mistake of visiting with little cash and when I arrived I spent a whole entire day trying to get money transferred in by Western Union.

After spending all day at the bank, the transaction was unsuccessful. I then started to investigate different ways to get money and I was informed that if you really need to take out money with your card then you can visit EcoBank and talk with the person in charge. They will then give you a code, which allows you to take out money from the machine. I obviously did not know this, or I would’ve done this in the first place.

If that does not work, there are small places available that you can transfer money by PayPal with 5% commission. In the end, this was the option that I ended up going with. The transaction was super simple and in an official building.

TRANSPORTATION

It’s quite difficult to get lost on the island. Throughout most of Sao Tome, its one main road, with few turn offs. The road conditions are not excellent and especially the more south you go, the more likely the chance is you will need a 4×4.

Without a doubt, the best way to get around is by renting a car. Public transportation is available (yellow minivans shared with many people), but it only stays on the main roads and will not take you to the waterfalls, plantations and all of the places that are worth the visit.

Renting a car will cost you €40 a day plus gas, and if you want to rent a guide, another €20.

I’ve visited the island half of the time by myself and then the other half with a local guide. Looking back, I am happy that I spent the extra money for a guide and the driver, because the roads were rough and as a passenger I was not responsible for any sort of damages that could’ve happened on the road.

In addition, a local guide can give you lots of interesting information, tell you stories and make the experience even more meaningful.

I was traveling alone in the beginning, but I found an elderly 73 year old man that was also traveling alone. We decided to split the travel costs and have a fun adventure together.

Motorcycles are also available, but you need an international motorcycle license. However, I was told by many people that the police do not ever check your license, but in the case that they do, you would be required to pay a fine.

ACCOMODATION

There are countless options for lodging, ranging from very luxurious, mid range, to budget AirbnB rooms. I decided to try many different places out in order to get a more well rounded opinion on the accommodation options available on the island.

For the low budget travelers, the cheapest option is Airbnb for around $12/night. These options are available more outside of the city, but still within walking distance. However, if you are a solo traveler and are looking to meet people, this is not the best option in my opinion.

GUEST HOUSES 

There are two main guest houses in the city, which can range anywhere from $40-100 a night, depending on how many people you are traveling with. This is an excellent way to meet other travelers, cook and share meals and have a common area to talk and have a community of people around you.

I really enjoyed my stay in the guest houses and if you are traveling with another person, the price comes out to be very reasonable.

The two main guest houses are: Sweet Guest House & Sao Pedro. They both have different atmospheres and are located on different parts of the city, so depending on your taste, you can easily decide which one is best for you.

Both are about a 10 minute walk to the city center and easily accessible by car. I tried both of the guest houses out and I can say with 100% confidence that either one of them are excellent choices.

SWEET GUEST HOUSE 

The best thing about here is the cozy atmosphere, the shared, fully stocked kitchen and common area. I met other travelers there and even learn how to cook some delicious Nigerian food with 2 Nigerian men that were there for work. The common area has a big TV and couches for people to sit and relax, as well as an excellent outdoor area, right off the kitchen, to eat outside.

The vibe is very good there and the rooms are spacious and comfy. Of all the places that I stayed, this one had the best air conditioning, which was a huge plus! The staff was helpful and even organized a trip for another traveler and I to the south of the island.  They did all the work and all we had to do was show up, pay and enjoy the trip.

Breakfast is available in the morning at an additional price, which included tropical fruits, coffee, eggs, etc.

Highly recommended.

For more information, click here

SÃO PEDRO 

The best part about this place, in comparison to the other places that I stayed in the island, was its distance to the beach. You literally walk out the door, down the street two minutes and the beach will be right in front of you. Also, if you plan on visiting the chocolate factory, it as well is just a 2 minute walk.

You can feel the vibes of this place the minute you walk in. The huge pool, surrounded by palm trees gives this place a very tropic feeling. It’s a perfect place to lay out by the pool and read a book, relax or even go for a swim.

This is a good place to meet other travelers, in a location that is ideal and safe. The guesthouse is gated,  so I had to fear in laying out by the pool in the evening or night.

The owner was very helpful in helping me to organize my stay, finding nice places to eat and organizing my transportation.

Breakfast is included in the morning for an additional cost and has a large variety of fruits, cereals and bread.

Overall, I highly recommend this place!

For more information, click here

HOTEL CENTRAL

After visiting the guest houses, I decided to try out a couple of hotels in order to see how they are different in comparison to my experience at the guest houses.

The first hotel that I stayed at was Hotel Central. It gets its name because of its location. It is centrally located, right in the middle of all of the action. It´s just minutes away from the main market and restaurants. Wifi was not available in the rooms, but there is a small couch downstairs where one can sit and use the internet.

The rooms were very comfortable, with air conditioning. A breakfast buffet was included in the morning, which offered eggs, fruits, bread and cereal.

A very great alternative if you want to be centrally located!

For more information, click here: 

SH BOUTIQUE HOTEL 

If you are looking for a place that’s more upscale, then look no further than this hotel. This hotel is just 15 minutes away from the airport, in the area “Vila Dolores.”

The rooms were very modern, spacious and elegant. The hotel had all the nice extra amenities that I love, such as a robe, slippers, hair dryer and a a mini fridge to store my drinks.

This hotel has 24 hour security and a good parking area if you have a rental car. This is a quiet place to go and relax, located 10 minutes by foot by the city center.

Breakfast was included in the morning, with different options of fruits, cereals, eggs etc.

For more information, click here: 

WHAT TO DO

CHOCOLATE TOUR 

If you are a chocolate lover, then this is your place to splurge! Years back Sao Tome & Principe used to be the world’s largest cocoa producer, but from what our guide explained, after the small country became independent, a lot of the plantations throughout the island were abandoned. The cocoa history is quite interesting here and you can learn about it at Claudio Corallo Chocolate Factory.

For just 4 euros you can join a chocolate tasting tour where you get the chance to try all kinds of delicious chocolates and learn about the history.

LOCAL MARKET 

It can get a bit wild, but the market is a great place where you can get a good feel for the local culture of the island. This place is packed full of people selling fruits, fish, meat, and everything you can possibly think of. They can get a bit rowdy in there, so hold on tight to your stuff.

They sell a lot of raw fish and meat, so if you have a weak stomach, you may want to just visit the market from the outside.

I highly suggest buying some Jackfruit and trying it out. It’s not available in all parts of the world, so it’s a fruit that everyone should try at least once.

SAO SEBASTIÃO 

This is a unique 1566 fortress which is now converted into a museum. This is great place to visit in the city center, with rich history and excellent places to take photos.

GASTRONOMY TOUR 

There are so many dishes available in Sao Tome, which are strongly influenced by the Portuguese. One of my favorite activities that I did within the city was visiting different restaurants and trying typical dishes.

The most common food on the island, without a doubt, is fish, banana and rice. Other local dishes that I enjoyed are:

Calulu: a traditional dish prepared with fish, veggies (eggplant, onion, spices and typically served with rice and plantain. This was my favorite dish that I tried.

Barriga de Peixe: traditional grilled fish, with comes served with rice, or breadfruit

Cachupa: delicious dish, made with green beans, corn and broad beans.

 

SOUTH

In my opinion, the south was the most impressive part of the island. Its a straight road to get there and is located about 2.5-3 hours by car from the airport.

I highly recommend spending at least one night in the south, but it is possible to just do a day trip, although it will be a bit rushed.

ROCA AGUA IZE 

This was one of our first stops on our way to the south of the country. This is one of the most original and largest cocoa plantations, which many years ago had thousands of locals employed.

There are many places for breathtaking views from there and it’s definitely a stop that you must visit.

BOCA DE INFERNO (HELLS MOUTH)

I absolutely loved visiting here. There are some amazing views and it’s interesting to see the water pound hard against the rock to create a large blowhole.

Although my guide told me it was not a good idea, I still decided to go down the hill closer to the rocks. Its interesting to see up close and its a better place to get a photo.

PICO CAO GRANDE

This rock is one of the most famous volcanic rocks in the hole world and it’s impossible not to see if you are traveling to the south. You can either take a hike towards the rock or get a nice shot from the road.

JALE BEACH (PRAI JALE)

This was such an impressive beach, with beautiful white sand. Out of all of the beaches that I explored, this was one of my favorites. The area was super clean, white sand and very peaceful.

The roads are unpaved to get there, so it’s recommended to go with an SUV. There are different bungalows available to sleep, which is an excellent idea for at least one night.

This is also a popular turtle beach between the months of September and April. Here you will be able to see female turtles lay their eggs in the sand, which is a pretty neat experience!

PORTO ALEGRE 

I took a long stop here to explore the area where the fishermen were hard at work, bringing in the fish and cleaning their boats. They were all so friendly with me and had no problems with me taking a few pictures.

From Porto Alegre you can visit Rolas Island, which is the area in which you can cross the equator. It takes about 20-30 minutes and will cost anything between 35-45 euros.

I did not make that trip, but I have heard from other travelers that its a beautiful experience!

NORTH

BLUE LAGOON 

On my road trip by car to the north of the island, I came across the Blue Lagoon. There is a very pretty view spot from the road, or you can go down and swim in the crystal blue water.

This is an excellent stop for divers or snorkelers who love to explore the underwater life.

PRAI DOS TAMARINDO 

This has the reputation for being one of the best swimming areas on the island. It easy to reach from the capital and its worth the visit. This is a good place to get some amazing views and to relax on the beach.

NEVES 

This is one of the most important towns on the island. What I loved about visiting this area was going into the town and getting the authentic feel of the people on the island.

I stopped and had a local lunch and had the opportunity to connect with the kids, listen to them sing and put on performances for the International Kids Day.

If you are feeling really adventurous, just outside of Neves you can find the beginning of climbing point for Pico de Sao Tome, which is the highest mountain in the whole island.

 

CENTER 

The center of the country is where one you can explore different waterfalls, see the forest and even bird watch. There are many different endemic species of birds and on a chilled out day, this can be a great option to explore.

MONTE CAFE 

This is the main place that one can go and learn about coffee, processing, harvesting and have a good coffee tasting.

Coffee is a huge part of their culture here and its a must see when visiting. It’s very close to the capital and can easily be done in just one morning.

Here you can also visit some of the plantations. If you are lucky, a cute kid might even come up to your window and hand you a cocoa pod so that you can suck the sweetness out of each bean. It tastes just like candy!

SAO NICOLAS WATERFALL

This is a waterfall that’s about 20 by car minutes from Monte Cafe. I went during the dry season, so it was impossible to swim, but my guide mentioned that many people enjoy swimming there. The waterfall is accessible by car and requires no hiking to access it.

Its located in the forest and the drive getting there is beautiful, but quite bumpy!

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION 

If you have a lot of time it is highly recommended to visit the neighboring country, Principe. At this moment there are not boats that take tourists between the two islands, but flights are available at different times throughout the week.

Prices range from €70-150 one way. Unfortunately I did not get the chance to make this trip, but I plan to go back in the future and check it out.

Don’t forget to also read:

HOW I GRADUATED WITH HONORS IN 1 YEAR WHILE TRAVELING FULL TIME TO 20 COUNTRIES

THE PERFECT DAY GONE WRONG: MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT IN KO SAMUI, THAILAND

7 GESTURES YOU MIGHT WANT TO AVOID IN OTHER COUNTRIES

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10 Tricks Before Speaking on Stage

I can remember the sensation like it was yesterday as I prepared to give my first big speech in front of my junior high class. The intense pounding of my heart against my chest nearly knocked me to my feet. I chugged bottle after bottle of water, but still was unable to quench my thirst. I felt weak and nauseated and no matter how hard I tried to stop shaking, I could not seem to calm myself down.

I could not understand what was happening to me….

In school I was always an outgoing and friendly person and the fact that I had such stage fright was something that did not go in line with my personality. In small groups of people I came alive, but the moment I was I was asked to get in front of the class, where all eyes were on me, I completely froze, without being able to make out a single word.

I felt completely alone in my fear of public speaking, thinking that maybe there was just something wrong with me. However, I learned over the years that I couldn’t be further from the truth.

I was not alone. 

In fact, I have spoken to hundreds of people throughout the years about their fears and anxieties and more than half of them tend to mention public speaking as one of their main ones.

Believe it or not, even after years of getting on stage, I still continue to have the fear. However, I made a promise to myself to never let fear hold me back and to always take action steps daily to tackle and overcome this beast.

I went from having a panic attack just from the pure thought of getting on stage, to now speaking to audiences of 2000+ in both English in Spanish. I was invited to speak at the largest TEDx conference in Spain, in my second language, one that I did not even know 2 years before my talk.

I understand from experience the anxieties and fears that come along with public speaking. Given that it is so familiar to me and its something that I still have to confront before getting on stage until this day, I decided to write an article on 10 things you can do before getting on stage (right before your speaking engagement) to get your nerves under control so that you can give the best speech that you possibly can.

These are tips that I personally use and I believe can be helpful tools in preparing you for your next talk.

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1. EXERCISE

Movement is the drug that keeps me sane before a big speaking event. In my case, right before a speaking engagement, I have my mind filled different emotions: excitement, nerves and anxiety. It’s almost physically impossible for me to sit still the day of my speech, and especially minutes before getting on stage.

On event days, I always start the day off with some sort of cardio exercise in order to burn off some of that stored up energy that I have within, which sometimes can get out of control.

Even if it’s just 20 minutes, this helps my mind to get into a more peaceful and focused state, while helping me to keep my nerves and anxiety under control.

Minutes before my speech, I like to do some form of exercise, whether that is walking, jumping or stretching. When our nerves are at their peak, it’s important to not let our body tense up and become stiff.

Find a form of movement that works good with you and do it before getting on stage. Work to keep your body flexible and open even as you step in the spotlight. This relaxed posture will help you in coming across as a more confident speaker.

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2. STAY HYDRATED

Sometimes it seems like no matter how much water I drink before a speaking engagement I just can’t seem to feel hydrated enough. Staying hydrated before an event is key to reducing dry mouth and an itchy throat.

Keep in my mind that drinks, such as coffee, soda or alcohol can be dehydrating and interfere with your speech. If you deal with any sort of stage fright it’s especially important to limit your caffeine intake. Your nerves, mixed with caffeine, can cause more anxiety, restlessness, a pounding heart rate and excessive trembling.

It’s important to stay hydrated, but to not feel over hydrated. Too much liquids, mixed with the nerves might give you a constant sensation of needing to urinate.

Don’t be afraid to take a bottle of water with you on stage. If you feel like your mouth is notably dry and it’s interfering with your speech, take a breath, grab a sip of water and continue.

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3. DEEP BREATHING

Breathing seems like the most obvious piece of advice, but yet so many of us forget to breathe deeply before and during our speech. Short, shallow breaths tend to leave us feeling winded and exhausted, while deep, long breaths help us to find our balance and allows oxygen to get to our brain, which enables clear thinking.

Breathing allows you to regain your focus and slow you down, which is necessary, especially for fast speakers like myself. One exercise that I like to do before going on stage is a breathing in for 3 seconds, holding it in, and then releasing it (along with a small body stretch).

Training our body to breathe, slow down and to not panic is something that does not happen over night. This is something that can be practiced on and off the stag. Like anything, and the more you do it, the more second nature it becomes.

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4. VISUALIZATION

Visualization is one of my main secrets to overcoming anxiety and can be an excellent tool for anyone if used correctly. Having the opportunity to inspire others is a very gratifying experience, so before going on stage I like to feel the end gratification even before it happens.

I love to close my eyes and imagine the satisfying feeling that I will have after facing my fear and giving a great speech. I visualize the audience clapping, telling me good job and the lives that are going to be moved because of my story.

It’s so important to believe in your own story and feel in your heart that the message your are delivering to your audience is valuable and worth their time.

If you believe in your message with all of your heart then it will be easier to visualize a positive and gratifying ending.

However, I have spoken to people that say that visualizing puts pressure on them, causing them to visualize bad possible scenarios that could happen during the speech, such as going blank, saying something wrong etc. In the case for some people, the best idea is to just stay in the present moment and not visualize future outcomes.

What works for one person might not work for the next, so find what works best for you and practice that each time.

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5. VISIT THE STAGE

There is a huge difference in my anxiety level when I feel familiar with the area in which I am speaking beforehand, compared to an odd place that I have never seen before in my life. Any chance that I get to visit the stage where I will be speaking before my event,  I hop right on it. I love to get familiar with the stage, walk around and visualize myself there with an audience of people.

If I have some time I like to rehearse different parts of the speech, especially the opening and closing, while implementing my silences, breaks and body movements.

During my first TEDx conference I was unable to visit the event site the day before. However, I arrived early the day of the event and spent at least 30 minutes walking across the stage, getting a feel for it and imagining a successful talk.

It was my first time ever to do a talk in Spanish and I believe that this short time familiarizing myself on stage beforehand was a key tool in the success of my talk.

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6. SOCIALIZE

Every event is unique and runs on a different time table. Some allow for socializing beforehand, while some save that special time for the end. If the option in available, take time and socialize before it is your time to get on stage.

I have always found that walking around, introducing myself and connecting a bit with others beforehand always helps me to connect with my audience even more during my talk.

When you personally take time to meet and greet people that are attending the event, you get a more friendly feeling and sense of connectedness with them.

When I get on stage and look out into the audience and see familiar faces, I automatically feel more at ease and relaxed, as if I am talking to friends, and not just an audience of distant strangers.

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7. CREATE A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR YOURSELF

If you are organized, then your speaking day should not be stressful and chaotic. It’s important to create a positive space for yourself the night before and the morning of your speaking engagement.

Creating a stress free, positive environment for yourself might include

  • Waking up early in order to get some exercise and meditate.
  • Preparing everything the night before (outfit, electronics, cameras etc)
  • Arriving at least an hour before your event in order to avoid feeling rushed.

IMPORTANT: If possibly, delegate the responsibility of your PowerPoint  and technical issues to someone else.

As a speaker, you have enough on our hands as it is. Your focus should not be on technical issues, but but rather focusing and preparing for your speech and then presenting it.

In some cases it might be your responsibility to deal with setting up your powerpoint, etc. If you have this responsibility, it’s important to have everything prepared beforehand and to think ahead for things that could possibly go wrong and to have a quick solution to fix it.

Technical issues are very common and I have seen in multiple occasions, including in very organized and large events, problems where no matter what they did, the powerpoint just would not work. 

It’s important to prepare and to not depend solely on your powerpoint to get by. Feeling comfortable with your speech, just in case your powerpoint does fail, can help you to go on stage with ease, knowing that no matter what happens, you will know what to say and when to say it.

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8. TONGUE TWISTERS

Tongue twisters are excellent ways to warm up your voice and ease the tension you might be feeling before getting on stage. It helps to bring you into the present moment and focuses your mind on the task at hand, which is trying to say a difficult phrase.

It’s a small action that one can take that most might not even think of, but it really can work!

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9. KICK PERFECTIONISM TO THE CURB

Perfectionism is a huge barrier that stands between many people and their life long dreams. Being a perfectionist has the ability to delay you from getting on stage and can easily send you into a negative spiral, feeling a constant feeling dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

If you are constantly thinking about giving the perfect speech, with the perfect jokes and the perfect everything, you will set yourself up for failure and burn out.

Keep in mind that it’s OK to make mistakes. In fact, most people claim that they prefer a more authentic speaker, rather than one that seems flawless and perfect in everything.

Speak from the heart and don’t let your perfectionism get in the way of giving a heartfelt message

Keep your purpose and mission in mind before and during your talk and kick perfectionism to the curb. If you keep your focus in the center of your being, then you are more likely to capture the heart of your audience and succeed.

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10. SMILE

Smiling has been scientifically proven to have multiple positive health effects in our body, even if it’s forced.

Forcing a smile can help you to feel better by releasing endorphins and serotonin into your blood. Cultures from all over the world practice smiling meditation in order to generate happy feelings and emotions in our body.

So the next time you feel like your heart is about to jump out of your chest due to fear and nerves, try a simple smile and see what happens.

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And most importantly……

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RELAX AND ENJOY IT ALL!!

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One of the worst things that could happen in your career as a public speaker is to let stress get the best of you to where you don’t even enjoy the process of speaking and getting on stage.

Public speaking and having the opportunity to inspire and share your story is an opportunity of a lifetime. We must learn to enjoy the process, embrace the fear and realize that its all part of the experience.

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Suan Mokkh: 10 Day Silent & Meditation Retreat in Thailand

When people think about traveling through South East Asia, the first thought that typically comes is the idea of their pristine beaches, wild parties, elephants, delicious exotic food, beautiful women and one of a kind temples.
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Many eager travelers from all across the world flock to Thailand each and every year to get a little taste of this paradise, at a price that will blow your mind!
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After an amazing month of traveling throughout Thailand, immersing myself in the culture, meeting all kinds of amazing people, exploring the islands and even attending one of the craziest parties on Earth, the Full Moon Party, I realized that I desperately needed a change of pace.
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Sometimes when you least expect it, life has a way of throwing curve balls. That is exactly what happened to me the day of the Full Moon Party, as I riding as a passenger on the back of a motorcycle through Ko Samui Island.
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My driver suddenly lost control of our bike and sent us both flying through the air. The impact caused both of our helmets to go flying and we both suffered serious injuries. We were taken 45 minutes away by ambulance to the closest hospital and from there all of our plans completely changed.
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This unfortunate situation truly opened my eyes and helped me to see how fragile life really is how anything can change in just a blink of an eye.

After my accident, I was told by the doctors that I would not be able to travel for a period of time, especially the way that I was used to. I was only 2 weeks into my 5 month long trip through Asia and this news was a huge shock to me.
Instead of losing hope, I decided to check out my options in Thailand and look for an experience that was low key and peaceful, while I figured out what steps I needed to take in order to get healed.
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It was in a moment of desperation that I found a 10 day silent/meditation retreat called Suan Mokkh, that luckily was only a week away from starting, and did not require any sort of pre registration.
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I had previously done a 10 day retreat called Vipassana in India, but from what I read, Suan Mokkh was a whole different type of experience, combining different styles of meditation (sitting, walking, group) and yoga.
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Given that I was limited in what I was able to do, the challenge seemed suitable for me and my condition, so shortly after learning about the retreat, I took a road trip to the retreat site and prepared for a very challenging, but rewarding 10 days of silence.
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My mind was a crazy, uncontrolled disaster upon entering into Suan Mokkh.  I felt untamable…..

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All of my thoughts were going in different directions and I spent hours a day worrying about my previous collarbone injury and how I would manage to travel with a broken collarbone.
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On top of that, I felt an overwhelming sense of stress related to work assignments, social media and collaborations. I literally felt like I would be incapable to turn off all my devices and enter into a completely silent world, especially for 10 whole days!
 

WHAT IS SUAN MOKKH? 

 
This is a monastery out in the middle of nature, where many monks live and study. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, which means Servant of Buddha, is the one that founded this magical place in 1989. Since then, thousands of people all over the world have been able to visit and have a unique experience that you can’t get anywhere on Earth.
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At this beautiful, peaceful getaway, one will get to have the opportunity to live with the monks during 10 full days in a stress free atmosphere, surrounding by nothing more than other mediators, monks and nature.
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This place attracts more than 1000 foreigners each and every year, although not all of people that start the retreat will actually finish.
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RULES

  • No talking or non verbal communication during 10 days
  • Electronic Free (cell phone, Ipods, cameras, computers, video games, radio etc)
  • No personal books (you may read books they have assigned during break time, after a few days of being there).
  • No sexual activity (including masturbation).
  • No alcohol, drugs, caffeine or tobacco.
  • No snacks
  • No shared rooms (males and females in separate buildings).
  • No meals after noon time (2 Vegetarian meals/day + 1 drink in evening).
  • No shoes in meditation hall, rooms or kitchen.

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NOTE: This retreat is not for the weak in mind. I can tell you from personal experience that it can be a shock to the body and possibly cause you moments of severe anxiety, especially if you have any sort of addictions (caffeine, cigarettes, etc).

Keep in mind that all of the comforts that one tends have on a normal day to day basis, such as 5 meals, a comfortable bed and the ability to talk and move around freely are completely monitored and restricted.

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If you keep your mind open and embrace the change, it can be an excellent experience.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Registration is done in person on the last day of the previous month by 3pm. The option is available to sleep the night before registration on site (free of charge).

Location: Suratthani, Thailand.

Cost: 2,000 baht (non refundable) = $65.00

Language: ONLY English (it’s very important to have a good level of English if you want to get the most out of the experiences and lessons that are taught each day).

ALL Dhamma teachings are done in English.

Arriving: There is a bus from Suratthani that will take you directly to the retreat. Mention that you want to get off at Wat Suan Mokkh (What Soo-An Mock) and the driver will lead you there for around 50 Baht  ($1.45).

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WHAT TO TAKE

Given that the location is far off into the woods, the main thing you want to make sure that you load up on is mosquito repellent. Due to the mosquitos, its always helpful to take socks (even if its hot) to serve as extra protection against them.

It’s mandatory to wear loose fitting, non see through clothing. Anything that draws attention to the body is not allowed and they will ask you to change. Your shoulders must be covered and you must have pants or shorts that go below the knee.

All bucket showers must be done with a sarong placed around you, which they will provide free of charge on day one.

They have a small store available in the cafeteria with everything that you might possibly need, such as sanitary products, first aid, toilet paper, repellent, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.

It’s important to stay hydrated, so take a big water bottle that you can fill up throughout the day. There are many places on site that you can fill up your water bottle with fresh water.

Given that you will be walking many times in the night and early morning, it’s helpful to have a small flashlight or headlamp.

Also, if you are like me and need to wake up multiple times in the night to go to the restroom, this flashlight will be extra help for you. Remember, you won’t have your flashlight on your phone to get by!

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————-WHAT TO EXPECT—————

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REGISTRATION

After you pay, they will do a short one on one interview in order to get to know you better and ask about any previous experience you have had with meditation.

Shortly after you will be asked to store away all of your electronics and prepare for a group talk about the expectations of the retreat and the rules that you must follow.

CHORES

Upon arrival. you will be given a piece of paper and asked to choose a chore, which you will need to do on a daily basis during the length of the retreat.

There are different options available, from sweeping the dorms, to washing the tables after lunch, to cleaning the bathrooms. The earlier you arrive on registration day, the better your chances are of picking a chore that you enjoy.

I was assigned to sweeping the area outside of the dorm rooms and I actually enjoyed sweeping in silence each day. I turned my duty into a form of working meditation and found a lot of peace in the experience.

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MEALS

Meal time was hands down one of my favorite times. Each time that we prepared to eat, we listened to a small message from our instructor, followed by a short meditation that we had to read out loud in order to help us focus and stay grounded before and during our meal time.

All meals are 100% vegetarian and absolutely delicious! The food was very tasty and the serving sizes were large, normally allowing enough for seconds.

After about 1pm, you will be required to fast until 0800am the next day. While this might seem impossible, especially if you love to eat, you will most likely be surprised about how your hunger tends to diminish when your body gets used to skipping a few meals.

In the evening they provide some sort of drink, which might include hot tea, hot chocolate or coconut water.

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SLEEPING

I entered the mediation retreat with a collarbone that was broken in half, so my sleeping situation was quite complicated. You are asked to sleep on a concrete bed, with a hard, wooden pillow. It’s quite uncomfortable for someone without a broken bone, so just imagine in my case with my collarbone in horrible condition.

Also, if you fear bugs and spiders, you will have to suck it up. I didn’t see many entering my room in the night, but I know many others had quite some problems with that. I heard a few random screams in the night from girls (I couldn’t help but laugh), due to spiders and large bugs entering into their bed and crawling on them.

Mosquito nets are provided, so that does help to give you some protection against insects.

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DAILY SCHEDULE

0400- WAKE UP BY MONASTERY BELL

0430- MORNING READING

0445- SITTING IN SILENCE MEDITATION

0515 YOGA AND EXERCISE

0700- MEDITATION AND DHAMMA TALK

0800- BREAKFAST AND CHORES

1000- DHAMMA TALK

1100- WALKING OR STANDING MEDITATION

1145- SITTING MEDITATION

1230- LUNCH AND CHORES

1430: SITTING MEDITATION

1530: WALKING OR STANDING MEDITATION

1615: SITTING MEDITATION

1700: CHANTING & LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION

1800: TEA TIME & HOT SPRINGS (OPTIONAL)

1930: SITTING MEDITATION

2000: GROUP WALKING MEDITATION AROUND THE POND

2030: SITTING MEDITATION

2100: PREPARE FOR BED

2130: TIME FOR BED

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MY PERSONAL IMPUT?

DID I REALLY ENJOY IT?

My experience at Suan Mokkh was absolutely fantastic! I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to stay there and grow in the ways in which I did.

It was not easy at all for me, even though I had previous experience with a similar retreat years back. However, I left the retreat feeling very grounded and truly shaped and disciplined from the inside out.

Personal growth and development is not an easy thing. This experience brought me to tears and at times made me feel like I was going to pull my hair out.

However, the sense of satisfaction I felt to have made it to the very end was something that cannot be put into words. Many people dropped out due to the fact that it is challenging, but I worked through the pain and uncomfort and finished what I started.

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PERSONAL PREFERENCE:

SUAN MOKKH OR VIPASANNA

Both meditation retreats are unique in their own way, but if I had to choose, I would pick Suan Mokkh. What I loved about my experience there was the variety and the opportunity to practice yoga each and every morning as the sun came up.

I believe in the strong connection between the mind and body movements.  Having the chance to meditate, while exercising and walking, opened my eyes up to a whole new aspect of meditation.

In Vipassana, we were expected to sit all day, with absolutely no form of exercise. I love movement, so I was much more eager to attend a retreat which allowed me time to move freely.

Hands down one of the neatest experiences I had, which I never had at Vipassana, was the nightly group mediation around the pond. The sound of bugs filled the air as we circled barefoot in silence around the pond and the peace I felt was something that can not be put into words.

The sky was clear and filled with thousands of stars and it truly was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

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MY MAIN LESSON LEARNED

There are so many lessons that I learned from spending another 10 days of my life in complete silence. Slowing down and getting in touch with my heart and soul allowed me time to reflect on my life, blessings, relationships and to help me find a deeper sense of gratitude for this beautiful life that I have.

Being away from all materialistic possessions and distractions of the world allowed me to learn more about myself in a more intimate way and fall deeper in love with who I am.

Slowing down allowed me time to generate more love and respect for the others around me find more appreciation for nature.

I felt greatly connected with the present moment and free to release the barriers that were holding me back in the past and the fears that I had for the future. I learned, through practice, how to focus on the breath and mediate focusing strictly on that.

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HAPPY & SATISFIED GROUP AFTER 10 DAYS OF PURE SILENCE…..

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