The penguins of Boulder, in Second Life

Boulder, September 2020 – click any image for full size

Note: membership of the [valium] group is required to access this region – see below for why.

We first visited Boulder, the latest region to be opened by Vally Lavender (Valium Lavender) back at the time of its opening at the end of July  2020.  At the time, I admit I held off on writing about it, as both Caitlyn and I found the region somewhat heavy-going – which can often be the case with terry Fotherington’s regions designs (as Boulder is) when heavily populated by avatars. As such, I had intended to drop back in August, once the initial rush of a new region opening had passed and Boulder would be quieter. But things bring what they have been, I’ve only just managed to make good on that plan, so my apologies to Vally for only now getting around to re-visiting and writing about Boulder.

Boulder, September 2020

Since that first visit, summer has come to the region – which might seem odd to those of us in northern latitudes, where we’re now entering the autumn period. However, Boulder is inspired by Boulders Beach, Simon’s Town, South Africa, sitting in the southern hemisphere, and which is enjoying its spring season; so presenting the region in a summer setting makes perfect sense.

Boulders Beach is most famous for being the location of a penguin colony, the land-based and endangered species Spheniscus demersus, the African Penguin (also called the Cape Penguin or South African Penguin). A part of the Table Mountain National Park, the Boulders Beach is also a focal point of operations for  SANCCOB, Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. It is in support of SANCCOB’s work that Vally established Boulder: the money raised through people joining the [valium] group go directly towards adopting penguins in SANCCOB’s care, helping to provide the money needed for their welfare.

The two penguins from SABCCOB so far adopted with the assistance of donations at Boulder

The Penguin colony is a relatively “recent” addition to the Western Cape of South Africa: there is no record of any penguin colony in the region prior to 1983.  A series of sandy inlets sheltered by granite boulders from which it takes its name, the beach provides a perfectly sheltered environment for the penguin colony, which is also under the protection of the Cape Nature Conservation programme, due to their extremely endangered status.

Hunted on both land and sea by natural predators, it is thought that the Boulders Beach colony was made possible by the reduction in land-based predator threats thanks to the local human presence at Simon’s Town. In these respect, the arrival of colony has been mutually beneficial for both the penguins and townsfolk: the humans have kept land-based predators at bay, whilst the penguins have allowed the town to enjoy controlled interest as a tourist destination; and during the SARS-CoV-2 lockdown, the penguins even took to providing “street patrols” as shown in the SACCOB tweet, below!

Within Boulder, Second Life, both the beach and its penguins and a portion of Simon’s Town are nicely represented adjacent to one another. The landing point offers a map of the region, together with copies of the Certificates of Adoption for Molly and Dandy, the two South African Penguins thus far (at the time of writing) that have been adopted.

The beach offers open aspects looking north and west, the land to the south of it rising steeply in a series of rocky, palm-crowned cliffs and plateaus within which are nestled additional attractions – a shanty-style event space reached via stone steps that climb the cliffs, and beyond it a secluded plateau of trees and waterfalls. For the daring, there are places to quite literally hang out waiting to be found, both in terms of swing seats in the trees and a zip line; however, do be aware that the house on the highest plateau is a private residence. A high, tunnel-like arch of rock bores through these uplands to reach the south side of the region, and a ribbon of beach backed by sheer cliffs that runs westwards to join the main beach as it curls around what might be regarded as a low-lying headland.

Boulder, September 2020

The latter is home to the Boulder Art Gallery which, at the time of both of my visits, was featuring the art of two more renowned region designers: Fred Hamilton (frecoi) and Lotus Mastroianni.  The gallery is watched over by a penguin carved from stone, and overlooks a further stretch of sand occupied by penguins.

The waterfront town at Boulder is a take on the historic centre of the town – Simon’s Town ((Afrikaans: Simonstad) has been in existence for over 200 years, being located in a large bay of strategic importance (the South African Navy still has a major facility there). The historical centre offers a range of colonial-style buildings that could look as at home in Australia or America as they do in South Africa. Within Boulder, this colonial style of building is retained, if presented in a more colourful manner than might be the case with the actual Simon’s Town – not that this detracts from the region’s design.

Boulder, September 2020

I’m not sure if the waterfront itself is taken from a part of the actual Simon’s Town, which appears in photos to have a lot more of a modern look, with a large yacht marina and the aforementioned naval base. However, if it is more a flight f fancy than pulled from Simon’s Town, that doesn’t change the fact that it works perfectly within the region, ideally rounding it out.

During our first visit, I noted the region had at least two Firestorm parcel-level Windlight settings in place (day and night) which I found jarring when moving between them simply by stepping on / off the beach. I’ve no idea if this is still the case, as I’ve transitioned entire to EEP-based viewers. However, the performance hit is still there, and can make itself apparent for those on mid-range systems who like to go around SL with things like shadows enabled; so if you do, you might like to consider turning them off when exploring the region. But that said, neither the potential impact on viewer performance nor any Windlight changes that may occur should deter anyone from visiting. And if you haven’ already visited, I do recommend you consider joining the [valium] group to help support the work of SANCCOB and pay a visit.

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Bungenäs at Binemust in Second Life

Bungenäs, Binemust, September 2020

For her latest region design at Binemust, Biné Rodenberger offers visitors a most unusual taste of Sweden’s Gotland.

The largest of Sweden’s islands, and also a province, county, and municipality in its own right, Gotland is a fascination place, rich in culture and opportunities for exploration and discovery, offering many unique experiences (ever had a fish cooked using molten glass? If not, Gotland’s Restaurant Rot is the place to go).

Bungenäs, the inspiration for Biné’s design, lies at the opposite end of Gotland to Restaurant Rot, and is perhaps one of the island’s most unusual attractions. During the 20th century, the peninsula was home to a limestone quarry marked by a pair of unique kilns, and a large Swedish Army training zone, complete with bunkers, barracks, and open and wooded training areas. The quarry enjoyed a 50-year run from 1910 to 1960, while the rest of the 160-hectare site was used by the army through until 1963, when it was also abandoned.

The Bungenäs peninsula showing the former army training grounds in the foreground and and the limestone quarry, centre left. Credit: Gunnar Britse

For the 40 years that followed, the peninsula was closed to the public, until moves were made to re-open it as a park / tourist destination in the early 2000s. However, entrepreneur Joachim Kuylenstierna – whose father had served in the army and trained at Bungenäs – was concerned about  such a move would do to the unique aspects of the location: the ageing bunkers, the run-down buildings and deserted quarry facilities, and so on, if the peninsula was turned into some sort of tourist resort with all the modern trappings – an up-to-date hotel, a golf course and so on.

To ensure this did not happen, Kuylenstierna purchased the land himself and turned it into a most unusual development: a new community location without roads or houses. Instead much of the existing infrastructure of bunkers and buildings would be be converted into unique homes, with the bicycle the primary mode of transport. He employed a specialist architecture firm to convert the bunkers and other buildings into homes and community facilities, and to zone the remaining landscape into plots and parcels that clients could purchase and have homes built to their  own specification and fully in keeping with the existing structures and integrated into the natural environments found across the peninsula, and also carefully redeveloped by the architects in keeping with Kuylenstierna’s broad vision.

We don’t design and build buildings – we work with the landscape and the existing constructions to create structures that are formed after their surroundings. We’re not the least interested in creating “boxes” on the ground. Each plot of land is specifically laid-out and, in turn, has its very own zoning plan. The peninsula was also divided into different regions with their own defined type of nature, which required different types of structures.

– Lisa Ekström, Skälsö Arkitekter, developers of the Bungenäs site

Bungenäs, Binemust, September 2020

Within Binemust, Biné offers her own take on this unique setting, centred on the the old limestone quarry, its kilns and outbuildings. These sit within a low-lying part of the region, the quarry itself flooded, the kilns and outbuildings rising above its rocky ring. Cold sands border the east and south sides of these lowlands, merging with grasslands cut by a fast flowing stream. As the sands curve around to the south, so the land rises to form a bluff between sea and inland quarry, a number of aged bunker-like shells among the sand a grass, hinting at the old military preserve that once existed at Bungenäs.

To the west, a ribbon of sand continues along the coast, marked on one side by old piers that may have once served the lime factory, and a line of old beds that offer a most unusual sun loungers, Biné suggesting they might have been pulled from the old barracks, as is the case at the physical Bungenäs in Gotland.

Bungenäs, Binemust, September 2020

The north side of the region is marked by a highland plateau, rich in fir trees and crossed by tracks and paths, representing the more natural aspects of the Bungenäs peninsula and, perhaps, the 3 km tour trail that winds through the region – as noted, road vehicles are generally banned from the region to help preserve its natural state. These highlands are also split by the stream, which drops by way of a single waterfall to continue its way the the sea across the lowlands.

There are differences between Biné’s vision of Bungenäs as the real thing: houses at Binemust are represented more by modern structures than converted bunkers; there is a camp site at Binemust, although as Bine notes, there doesn’t appear to be anything like it within Bungenäs. She’s also added horses to roam alongside the sheep (which are a feature of Bungenäs).

Bungenäs, Binemust, September 2020

However, she’s also replicated some of the original’s cosier features: the mess hall at Bungenäs, for example has been converted into a café with a small suite of hotel rooms above it that visitors can book for short stays.  Bine offers the same through a small bed-and-breakfast house tucked away in the region. She also includes bicycles, which for the common mode of transport within the community. Finally, and in a touch of her own, she’s included a small selection from her personal art collection from SL, located in the limestone warehouse, which doubles as the region’s café.

All of which makes for an engaging and educational visit – be sure to look up Bungenäs on the interwebz for yourself when visiting.

Bungenäs, Binemust, September 2020

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Isolation’s Passengers in Second Life

Isolation’s Passengers – click any image for full size

Archetype11 Nova, aka Schmexysbuddy Resident, has been responsible for some of the most evocative / thought-provoking region builds in Second Life. I’ve covered a number of them in these pages – notably his Hotel California builds; his work embraces landscape design and artistic statement, often mixing ideas and sentiment, ideals and imaginings in an eclectic whole that captivates the eye and challenges us to look deeper, think a little harder and take a closer look at what is being offered.

With Isolation’s Passengers, Archetype11 offers what might be his most provocative  – and possibly his most personal – region design yet. It occupies a private full region that has the additional Full region LI bonus, although it does not currently make use of the extra land capacity. This additional space  – previous builds by Archetype11 / Schmexysbuddy have tended to be on Homestead regions – appears to offer plenty of opportunity for expansion or (perhaps) for multiple environments within the same location.

Isolation’s Passengers

The foundational aspect for this design is that of the SARS-COV-2 pandemic. This is not an uncommon theme within art and region design at present, but with Isolation’s Passengers, Archetype11 offers a different perspective on the pandemic, one which – as noted – touches on the personal for him, as he noted to me whilst I was visiting the region:

It’s intent is the onslaught of 2nd and 3rd order effects of isolation that aren’t readily visible…the invisible passengers of this pandemic. It was inspired by the death of a friend and brother of mine.

– Archetype11 Nova, describing Isolation’s Passengers

The story of that death can be found here, and should be read as a part of a visit to this region, as it helps to frame some of the motifs to be found within it.

Isolation’s Passengers

For those unfamiliar with the concepts of the 2nd and 3rd order effects of isolation, in the 1980s and as a part of studies into the long-term impact of isolation can have on the psyche among groups such as submariners, small teams on long-duration expeditions in the Antarctic and crews aboard the International Space Station. In particular, they noted three distinct reactions to being so isolated, linked to different points in  the isolation period.

The first order comes early on, encompassing the initial weeks / months of isolation.  It is marked by heightened anxiety, possibly mixed with periods of confusion and panic (think of the early stages of the the pandemic: anxiety over lock-downs, panic buying of toilet rolls, etc.). The second order (sometime referred to as the “sourdough order”) is marked by a sense of routine, possibly edged with a sense of newness / novelty (again, in terms of the pandemic: the novelty of working from home, the formation of a new routine based on self-motivation, etc). And then there is the third order. This is more negative: the dropping of routine as everything blurs into a never-ending whole where days are difficult to separate, and encompasses resentment towards our situation and towards those who are around us (not so much because of who they are but rather because they represent the fact we cannot interact with anyone else), and is a time that can be marked by emotional outbursts, aggressiveness, rowdy or anti-social behaviour.

Isolation’s Passengers

The 3rd order can often include a further emotional response that might appear as contrary to the others listed for it: that of anticipation – the sense that things will soon be over, and life can “get back to normal”, which in turn can lead to further frustration as “the end” doesn’t seem to get any closer, despite the passage of time.

Within Isolation’s Passenger’s we see many motifs representing elements of the second and third order effects of isolation – take the line of large masks with waterfalls falling from one eye: their repetition suggestive of routine; painted bodies suggestive of excitement that the freedom of expression isolation and working from home appears to initially present. Then there is the large clock sitting to one side of the region, representing the dragging passage of time and the resentment it can cause – the reminder of how long its been, and how long, potentially, we may still have to go before things “get back to normal”.

Isolation’s Passengers

But there is more here as well: the personal element of love and loss of a friend beautifully offered through these suggestions of life and death, love and loss through the use of angelic figurines (some partially dismembered), the shrouded busts with their crowns of thorns, the floating bodies under their own shrouds, the great church, the huddled skeletons, the shiny Morgan sports car with its “Just Married” sign and the promise of a bright future,  sitting amidst the wreck of several junker cars suggestive of age and decrepitude – and loss.

The layering of images and ideas within this build is compelling in their sheer diversity. Take the line of masks noted above; within them might also be seen the cracking of our daily façades – the faces we present to the the rest of the world that are becoming increasingly redundant in this age of isolation; also to be found within them is the sense of tears offered by the falling water. Between two of them sits  the carcass of an ageing ship, an orchestra playing even as pumps fail to keep the water at bay. This is rich in multiple motifs: there’s the idea of trying to carry on as normal in the rising tide of change; the echo of the Titanic and the idea we’re facing the sinking of all that can be normal in an increasingly  confusing, isolating world; the hint that despite the current disorder, perhaps normality can return; and then there’s the personal element again: music played in remembrance of a loved one.

Isolation’s Passengers

Poignant, beautifully presented, and watched over by the floating spores of a virus that hang in the sky – a reminder that as per that title of the build – we are all just passengers in the unfolding situation in the world today. Even the region’s core name – Solveig – seems to reflect the intertwined themes presented in the build – Sol and Veig being old Norse words meaning “house” or “hall” (the place where we most commonly have to isolate) and “strength” or “battle” (reflective of the strength we draw on from within in handling the battle we face in moving beyond the 3rd order of isolation).

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The dunes of La Vie in Second Life

La Vie, September 2020 – click any image for full size

After receiving a poke fro Shawn Shakespeare, I was surprised to note that it has been over two years since our last visit to La Vie, the Homestead region held by Krys Vita and previously dressed by her and Arol Lightfoot. As such, following on Shawn’s suggestion, we hopped over to take a look at the region in its latest iteration.

This design is the work of Krys and her SL partner CarterNolan, and is beautifully minimalist in  presentation, whilst offering an attractive and photogenic setting.

La Vie, September 2020

The easiest way to describe it is simply to say that given the current worldwide climate of uncertainty around SARS-COV-2 and so on, La Vie represents the kind of idyllic location many of us probably would like to run away to and spend time appreciating without the the pressures of the world intruding,

Sitting as a series of sand flats that poke their heads above an azure sea, the region has the feel of a place perhaps at high tide – at least on its western side, where wind breakers usually put out for sunbathers sit partially submerged in rippling waves, a pelican watching over them and possibly wondering why the silly humans didn’t move them before the water rose…

La Vie, September 2020

Raised board walks run across the sands and also connect them, their presence perhaps suggesting that at certain times in the year a lot more of the setting might be waterlogged – although for now there is enough sand and low dunes to make wandering well beyond the board walks easily manageable – not that the channels cutting through the landscape are particularly deep. At least not until you get to the east side of the region that is.

It is on the east side that the region places host to signs of civilisation: a tidy mesh of piers and moorings for boats and sail craft, most of the wharves stout and broad enough to carry wooden buildings on their backs. These are mostly commercial in nature and include workshops and sea-related places of business, although a couple of units offer the opportunity to work off the extra kilos that might be added to one’s weight following frequent visits to the Salty Dog Café.

La Vie, September 2020

There’s a strong sense of this all being a local, family-run centre given the frequent use of the “Saltwater” name.  Perhaps the house at the centre of the piers and wharves being the base of operations for whoever runs things. It’s also something of a tour de force of building with AustinLiam’s designs as well, an approach that lends further authenticity to the feeling this really is a place put together by a single group of people working to create a unified presence, rather than a place that has grown over times with many different hands and views. I’ll also admit that seeing AustinLiam’s Captain’s Retreat in the region gave me a case of itchy fingers, as it is a design I’ve long wanted to fiddle around with and make into a cosy home.

With more marshy land off to the south sitting under the spread of a huge oak tree and a pair of monkeypod trees, and open sands to the north that carry the suggestion of strong winds sometimes visiting the land, this is a setting watched over by an old lighthouse to one side and an equally old forest-style look out tower on the other, both offering vantage points from which to suss out the best sunbathing spots on the sands below.

La Vie, September 2020

Completed by multiple places to sit and enjoy the setting – including a swing for watching the local sea turtles – and finished with a gentle sound scape, La Vie in this iteration really does offer a welcome sense of escape and freedom.

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  • La Vie (La Vie, rated Adult)

The stunning beauty of Souls of Dreams in Second Life

Souls of Dreams, September 2020 – click any image for full size

We first visited visited Xana Newall’s Souls of Dreams in November 2019 (see: Souls of Dreams in Second Life). A captivating design built by Loly Hallison with added décor from Xana, at that time it occupied a Homestead region. Well, time has moved on since then, and so has Souls of Dreams, with Xana relocating to a Full region and bringing in Busta (BadboyHi) to provide the a new look.

Busta is responsible for a range of captivating region designs across Second Life, many of which I’ve covered in these pages since 2016. It’s something I’m always happy to do, as he really does produce designs that are worth seeing; and with the new Souls of Dreams (which at the time of our visits, he was busily completing), Busta has produced something truly exceptional.

Souls of Dreams, September 2020

A visit commences on the south side of the region on a wide terrace complete with waterside structures that have something of an ancient Greece feel to them. Steps slip gently down into the shallow waters on two sides, the water also being the home to an expanse of marsh plants floating on its surface.

These marshy waters continue on around to the west side of the island, beyond a growth of tall mangroves, to where wooden board walks span faster-moving waters fed via a variety of falls tumbling out of the region’s uplands.  Beyond these, flat shingle runs sit between the high cliffs and the water, moss-covered stone slabs suggesting a path or terrace may once have lain across them, wooden bridges offering crossings where water continues to flow outward from further falls.

Souls of Dreams, September 2020

Rounding the island to the north, the path offers wooden steps leading up to the higher ground, guarded at their top by an old warehouse now converted into a place of residence. This is furnished by Xana, who once again has offered plenty of touches of her own throughout the region to help bring it to life, and is open to the public to explore inside. For those who prefer, the path at the base of the cliffs continues onwards to the east, passing a beach and further opportunities to move inland via by rocky path or rough wooden steps, before it arrives at a headland house, also open for exploration.

And that’s just the start of things for the region – indeed, given it is reached by skirting the mangroves and following a path lying in the shadow of the cliffs that rise behind them, it is really the least obvious route of exploration for arriving visitors. This is because immediately to the east of the landing point (and visible from it) sits the bulk of what appears to be a small seafront town beckons, reached by way of a small flagstoned and gated terrace and two gently arching bridges which a distinctly Dutch flavour to them.

Souls of Dreams, September 2020

Within the archways leading into the town, the Dutch feeling is for me heightened both by the tall forms of the buildings used to define it, and the narrow, stone-sided waterways spanned by cobbled bridges, that have more of a feeling of canals rather than that of a simple mooring basin for boats. Though it may occupy less than a quarter of the region, the little town is very evocative of parts of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and has plenty to offer the camera lens both within and around it.

Cut off from the rest of the region by two narrow channels of water, the town is nevertheless very much a part of the whole, not just joined to it by the bridges that physically link it with the rest of the setting, but because Busta’s design offers a marvellous blending of locations and styles.

Souls of Dreams, September 2020

There’s the aforementioned landing point with its Mediterranean hints, the town with its Dutch twist, suggestions of terraces and paved areas of great age mixed with beaches and a curving bay backed by ancient walls that also sit behind a more recent  terraced bar, and the Tuscan villa lying in the lee of the island’s highest peak.  This is reached via a number of paths, be they stone steps, rocky trail or rutted track, and is again open to exploration. And off of these elements are richly and marvellously presented, drawn together into a single and quite natural whole both by the various paths and trails that link them, and by the green stitching of foliage provided by great oaks and smaller maples.

To catalogue everything here would be a waste, as Souls of Dreams needs to be not just seen, but savoured. Places abound where visitors can sit and relax, whilst joining the local group for L$250 gives photographers rezzing rights for props (do remember to pick them up afterwards!). But truly, there is so much to see and appreciate here that you’re going to want to set aside plenty of time for wandering and finding all the paths and touches; and even then,it’s likely the region will call you back because the region really is that attractive.

Souls of Dreams, September 2020

Definitely not a place to miss, although given the amount of detail, some adjustment to viewer settings might be required to ease moving around comfortably if you tend to have a lot of rendering options turned up).

With thanks to Loverdag by way of Annie Brightstar for the pointer. 

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A Light of the Desert in Second Life

Light of the Desert, August 2020 – click any image for full size

Back in May, I wrote about Camila Runo’s homestead region design, A Taste of Africa (see A voyage to Africa in Second Life). Since that time, Camila has redressed the region so whilst it remains rooted in Africa, its foundation lay further to the north and perhaps east than that iteration, as the new title – *NOUR* – Light of the Desert – indicates.

As with the previous iteration of the region, this is a richly evocative setting, incorporating multiple aspects of what might be called – for those of us in the west, at least – “traditional desert settings”.

Light of the Desert, August 2020

There’s a domed palace on a rocky plateau, complete with a small garden house with with the most valuable commodity to be found within desert dunes: free-flowing eater. Then there is a Bedouin camp site sitting at the edge of an oasis (or a wadi, depending on your preference). In between these sits a waterside village, crowned by a luxurious bath house, although the dhows sitting on the river suggest this is more of a working village than a resort.

From the landing point, located in the south-west corner, it is possible to visit all of these locations in turn, the region being neatly laid out in such a way so as to suggest a walk through a desert, one surrounded by high dunes (although these are admittedly off-region, so the intervening water does spoil the effect a little), passing from one oasis of life to the next. A path running down from the landing point points to the route to be taken, with the first stop that of the high palace. sitting on its plateau, commanding a view across the rest of the region.

Light of the Desert, August 2020

Topped by yellow-painted domes and reached via a stone stairway that sits just within the walls of the village and that leads the way past the lower-lying garden house, the palace has thick walls to help keep the heat out, a tall fountain splashing water within its main hall. Lavish curtains and drapes separate the side rooms from the hall, and latticed windows allow whatever breeze might pass to enter the building,  while the upper level offers an ornate bath and chaise lounge on which to recline.

Down below, beyond the garden house with its fountains, water, grass and flowers, sits the village. Flat-topped houses and a souk built of mudstone surround an open market of tented stalls. It is bracketed by water to one side, where wharves for dhows sit, and a long ruler of a wall on the other, clearly designed to keep as much of the wind-blown sand out of the village as possible. Standing as a place of local commerce, the village is dominated, as noted earlier, by the squat bulk of a great bathhouse, within which sits a large square pool and plenty of opportunities to relax.

Light of the Desert

A single gateway sits within the long village wall, parallel lines of rounded stones marching out into the desert beyond. These wind around and between rippled dunes, showing the way to the oasis / wadi. Whether you follow them past the old desert fort or simply set out over the banked dunes to reach the greenery that lies beyond them is up to you, but once you’ve passed through the ring of palm trees you’ll find a spacious Bedouin camp set out around a body of water unusually – for a desert –  fed by a rocky peak from which water tumbles in multiple falls.

Throughout all of this are many details that add depth to the region. There are a lot of places both within the grander buildings and in the large tents to sit, with more outside around camp fires or shaded by the likes of blankets draped over simple wooden frames. Dromedary camels add to the felling of the north African / Arbian setting, whilst a rich (if a little intrusive in places) sound scape brings life to the village with the noise of people going about their daily business filling the air. Adding their own conversation to the mix are the camels, given as they are to the occasional grunt and snort as they wander.

Light of the Desert, August 2020

Following on from A Taste of Africa, Camila’s latest build continues in the same vein of offering an immersive, engaging setting, one particularly rip for avatar photography, although the region offers more than this for those willing to dress the part and / or explore it from end to end. All-in-all, an excellent build and engaging visit.

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