Travel Mumblings

June 24, 2008

Copacabana, Isla Del Sol & La Paz

Filed under: bolivia — Tags: , , , , , — paulparkie @ 16:02

The Border crossing between Peru and Bolivia was a breeze compared to our last one arriving in Peru from Ecuador, and a bus ride later we arrived in Copacabana, the main Bolivian town on Lake Titicaca. It was a quaint little town with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. june-24-paul-62We booked a boart trip to Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun), which was an amazingly beautiful island on Lake Titicaca, but they were scrounging, robbing gits! They had totally cottoned onto the tourist trade, and charged ridiculously inflated prices for everything.

Even by Western prices, things were extortionate. 70 bs for a Mars Bar… that’s about $10! We’d been eating out for those prices! And also, they’d set up fake check points all the way round the hiking trail on the island. So Jayde and I, having walked the length of the island to meet our boat ended up passing through 4 of these check points all requesting 20 bs each. They even had little tables and laminated badges and everything and made a big deal of insinuating that if we didn’t buy a pass for the next part of the trail, we’d be made to turn around! Well, no-one had mentioned anything about these check points to us, so we didn’t have enough money with us and ended up just wading through the last two and telling them to ‘stuff it’ basically. Talking to some other hikers afterwards, we were told that all the checkpoints were just a sham to get more money from tourists and they’re not official at all! Gits! It kind of left a sour taste in our mouths and spoilt what had otherwise been an amazing hike across a beautiful island!

june-24-paul-75We left midday the next day for La Paz, Bolivia’s capital city. Driving the approach towards the city has to rank as one of the most dramatic sights ever. The city is nestled neatly in a massive crater… so there’s this huge city surrounded on all sides by huge mountains and volcanoes. Amazing! Getting in closer it started to become quite daunting – the sheer scale of the place was immense and it mainly seemed to be narrow unmarked streets, roads and alley ways in a labyrinth of confusion. We completely lucked out with our bus stopping just round the corner from our hostel. We dumped our bags and went to gawp at people. It was like no where we’d been so far. It was so busy and on most streets vehicles and pedestrians seemed to fight for right of way the whole time. We wandered round the Witches MArkets where they sold all sorts of weird things, potions, balms and … get this… dead llama fetuses! Kinda grossed us out at first, but after doing some reading later, we discovered people buy them for luck apparently. They bury them under the front door of a new house to bring long life and prosperity. Each to their own I guess.

The next day we explored more of the city. The new James Bond film (Quantum of Solace) was filmed there. june-24-paul-67It was a completely eclectic mix of Westernised commuters and indigenous street vendors proffering their wares. One weird thing we did notice was how similar businesses all seemed to open next to each other. Like, there was a whole street of hair-dressers… we didn’t see any where else to get hair cut than on this street. There was a whole street of stalls just offering party gear – you’d think in a city so big, they’d spread themselves out a bit!

I woke up feeling crap on my birthday. We’d had a trek booked, so Jayde went on that whilst I amused myself with wandering the city more and checking out an English film at the cinema. We had a big meal that night for my birthday which then made Jayde ill, and she was up half the night with sickness… icky.

The next day we picked up a few things for the next part of our trip, went to a cool art gallery and booked our tickets to Uyuni.

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June 13, 2008

Cusco & Machu Picchu

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 16:57

From Huaraz, we took the easier, less stressful bus journey to Lima. Rather than spend half a night in a hostel, we decided to just head straight for the airport and ‘sleep’ (pah) there until our flight at 05:40. Lima isn’t a nice city. It’s loud and noisy and smelly, though I guess you could say that about most big cities! It was strange being in the airport. We saw things we had grown unaccustomed to, like Burger King and Pizza Hut… it was all a very Westernised affair, which by no means is a good thing, but it did make killing the 8 hours until our flight easier!

Cusco is a beautiful city. It’s just a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets lined with proud, old buildings, and the Plaza de Armas was one of the most impressive we’ve seen. We just spent the day getting lost really, exploring all the quieter back streets and markets. The amount of street sellers here selling the usual tat and trinkets was amazing… I almost lost it a couple of times with them constantly skulking round me. We had a early start the next day for our Inca Trail trek, so we just grabbed a few last-minute supplies before dinner. I’d seen ‘cuy’ on the menu in lots of places, but it was always surprisingly expensive, for what essentially is guinea pig… you can pick them up in a pet shop back home for a couple of pounds! Anyhow, we’d been recommended a restaurant in Cusco, so decided to plump for a cuy pate… which  was actually awesome. Not sure I could eat it back home, (I can just imagine the conversation in the pet shop… “Do you want this wrapped, or is it to eat now?” ha), but I’ll definitely be eating it again out here!

june-12-paul-013We left early on the next morning and were taken on the bus to Ollantaytambo, where we left on foot up the Sacred Valley. Leaving km 82, as it’s called, where we had to pass through ‘Passport Control’! I kid you not. It’s gone mentally tourist orientated in some places… where else, apart from entering a country do you need to get you r passport stamped? Anyhow, we crossed and climbed away from the Vilcanota River, we passed many ruins and had amazing views down the Urubamba valley. After about a 10km we arrived at Wayllabamba (3,000m). The name in Quechua means ‘grassy plain’.  We camped here for our first night.

The second day (apparently the most difficult), we hiked through steepening woods and increasingly spectacular terrain that brought us to the treeline and a meadow known as Llulluchapampa (3,680m). From there it was a 1½ hour climb to the first and highest pass of the trail (Abra de Huarmihuañusca or ‘Dead Woman’s Pass) at 4,200m. We sat at the top for a while watching other hikers sweating up the trail as the mentalist porters flew past them carrying loads as big as them! I shared my sherbert lemons with the porters. Keep in their good books! ha. Then it was a slog down the other side to Pacamayo (3,600m), where we camped.

On day three, the scenery changed from mountains to cloud forests. june-12-paul-0841It was weird how quickly everything changed. We saw loads more ruins… almost to the point where I was bored of them to be honest, which sounds terrible… but there was just so freakin’ many, and our guide wanted to stop and tell us the exact history behind every single one! Still, Phuyupatamarca, was easily the most impressive Inca ruin so far. The name means ‘Town in the Clouds’. We spent the night at Wiñay Wayna, and I had a shower… and a beer! Amazing.

We woke at 04:30 and hiked the final 1 ½ hours to Machu Picchu hoping to be at the Sun Gate for sun rise. Pah. When we got there we couldn’t see anything. Cloud/mist/whatever the smeg it was, filled the whole valley. Balls! Disappointed was not the word. We couldn’t believe we’d invested all that time and effort to not be able to see anything! We sulked our way down to Machu Picchu and the lo-and-behold the sun started breaking through and we got some awesome photos of the mist burning off the ruins… it looked so mystical! Completely made everything worthwhile. The day there was amazing, we had clear blue skies by  09:00 and we even were lucky enough to be able to climb Wayna Picchu (they limit the number of people allowed up each day). In trying to preserve it, and rightly so, they have little men with whistles running round, keeping people of grassy areas and certain parts of the ruins. One of the funniest things I saw was a bunch of hippies peacefully doing yoga on a quiet patch of grass get whistled at and chased away by two guards! ha.

Wow. So there you have it. One of the most amazing experiences of my life, summed up in a few paragraphs. My words, nor my photos will ever do it justice. It really is one of those places that you just have to go and see for yourself.

June 5, 2008

Huaraz

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 18:55

From Mancora, we headed to Huaraz… a cool town sat right slap bang in the middle of the Andes. The last part of the bus journey here was the most ‘chicken-bus’ we’ve experienced so far. For what was probably only a 6th of the journey distance between Mancora and Huaraz, it took us about half the journey time! Even when the bus seemed full, the driver was stopping at nondescript little villages in the middle of nowhere to take on more passengers. The central aisle was rammed full with women, bags of grain, screaming children and a goat. The roads were similar to what we’d call a bridleway with crazy-big drops falling away to the valley bottom, though thankfully our driver wasn’t as suicidal as some we’d had, and he took his time. We arrived in Huaraz late and didn’t really notice the magnificence of our setting until morning light. The views from the town were amazing… the sheer number of peaks… +5000m that we could see from our hostel terrace was unbelievable.

Hike to base camp. It would have been sacrilege to visit there and not climbed something. So after talking to a bunch of guides and climbing companies, we decided on attempting to climb Mount Pisco (5762m)… it´s not the highest peak in the area, but it´s sat right in the middle of a bunch of +6000m peaks, so the views from the top are unmatchable.

After acclimatising in the town for a day or two, we did an acclimatisation hike to Laguna Churup (4450m), it was a great hike with plenty of psycho dogs thrown into the mix. Both Jayde and I managed with no problems so we were both confident that we were ready for our bigger climb!

It was a three day trip… the first day we drove for 2 hours into the Cordileria Blanca and then had a 3 hour hike to base camp (4400m). We had donkeys… yey. Two donkeys carried our mess tent, cooking supplies, climbing equipment etc… which made the hike to base camp pretty easy really… we just had to carry our day-packs. The views on the hike up were amazing… the weather was perfect and we could see Pisco’s summit towering above us. It was actually quite unreal to think that in the early hours of the following morning we’d be standing on top of it!Hike to base camp

We lucked out big-time that on our summit day there was only us and a Belgium couple planning to summit. So we had base camp to ourselves which Roger, our guide said was pretty unusual. We didn’t have long before nightfall. Just enough time to pitch our tents and have a quick explore of the area. Roger cooked us epic meals! More than any of us could eat, but he ensured us that we’d need the energy in the morning. We went to bed early and were woken for the climb around 01:00. It was cold and dark. We had another massive breakfast, and left camp at 01:40 for the hike across the moraine. It was pretty scary to hear the size of some of the rockfalls, and I wasn’t sure if I was happier not being able to see them or not. Anyhow, none of them fell on us so we made it across safely! We reached the snowline around 04:00 and put on our crampons and harnesses etc. The rest of the climb from here on was hard. Probably the hardest thing I’ve done. A strong wind relentlessly whipped up loose ice particles to blast any exposed skin and the air became notably thinner. Sunrise was amazing though. Definitely one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever witnessed and provided more than enough inspiration to continue.

Our climbing grew slower and more laborious the higher we went, but having the summit in sight kept us pushing on. Our last big test was a 30m ice wall we had to climb to reach the summit of Mt Pisco. That done, the feeling of reaching the top was one of sheer elation. It was 08:45 – we’d been climbing for 7 hours. The highest I’ve ever been in my life! Boom! Summit of Mt PiscoIt was pretty freaking cold though and the wind was even stronger up there, so there there was much speedy rejoicing, the customary photos were taken and then we headed back down. By now, the sun was higher in the sky, the wind had died down and it was easier going, though a few falls quickly gave me the reality check that I was still bloody high, and I should not relax too much. On the lower slopes before we got back to the morraine, Roger showed us a few self-arrest techniques which were good to know, and fun to practise.

We made it back to camp tired but happy at 13:30 and went to bed. The rest of the day was spent sleeping and eating and sleeping before heading back down to ‘Donkey Land’ to meet our lift back to Huaraz. The only other thing we did in Huaraz was visit the hot springs which were a wierd brown colour. The were hot though, I’ll give them that. The bizarre thing about our visit there was that Peruvians were completely baffled by breast-stoke. They all seemed to use a cross between very bad frontcrawl and drowning, so when they saw us moving through the water without making the usual spashes and without looking like we needed a life buoy tossed to us, they started asking questions. ‘Frog Man’ they called me (if my Spanish translation is accurate), ha… so I spent the rest of the afternoon teaching Peruvians breast-stroke, which was harder than you might think, in brown water!

May 22, 2008

Whistler-ler-ler-ler

Filed under: canada — Tags: , , , , , — paulparkie @ 12:44

erm… I left the Whistler blog on my laptop, and so won´t be able to upload my shananighans from there until I get back in July. I´ve just jumped straight to South America instead…

May 17, 2008

The Quilotoa Loop

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , , , — paulparkie @ 02:39

Another balmy bus ride later saw us back in Quito. Our plan was to hire a 4×4 to drive the Quilotoa loop. We managed to find a 4×4 at the airport for a reasonable price. I say ´find´ we didn´t steal it or anything, we actually did hire it!

And I guess in retrospect I should use the term ´4×4´ loosely. It was a Toyota Rav4. Hmmm. Still we got a good price for the four days we wanted it, how bad could it be (?) Jayde and I met Shelia whilst we were in Otavalo who didn´t take much persuasion to join us. But with Jayde´s age, and Shelia only having one arm that worked due to a mugging in Columbia, I was nominated ´driver´.

I´m going to go on record right now and say… getting out of Quito without damaging the car and keeping my underwear clean, was hands down one of the hardest things I´ve had to do! Road markings were all but non-existent, red-lights at intersections were merely a ´suggestion to stop´, and every other driver on the road seemed to be obsessively compulsed to honk his horn every other second. After being stopped at a set of lights, if I waited more than a nano-second to pull away once the lights turned green… every Tom, Dick and Hernando would start honking.

When we eventually made it out of Quito (which for the record, must be one of the longest cities in the world), the landscape quickly turned greener and ´rollier hillier´ (what?… they´re words!). We spent the night in Latacunga before leaving early in the morning for ´The Loop´. The road to Zumbahua was mainly paved. We climbed quickly on winding roads and passed through countless indigenous farming communities. I nearly flattened a few of them, herding their sheep on blind bends!? … Not smart… tsk.

Road signs on ´The Loop´, we began to realise were all but non-existent, so we were stopping often to ask for directions, often for us to be left starring agog at the road/track/path that we´d just been sent down. On the map we had the road connecting the villages was labelled as a ´main road´, but seriously, after driving it, I´m certain parts of it wouldn´t even pass as a bridleway back home!

Regardless, after more than a few wrong turns, dodging round the odd landslide here and there, oh and there were a few parts where half the road had fallen away into an abyss, we eventually made it to Chugchillan. 14km took us nearly 3 hours, and I made it out of first gear twice! Oh, and by the by, we ripped our exhaust in half in the process. Oops.

may17-paul-77We thought it wasn´t worth worrying about the exhaust until we needed to leave again, and spent two days hiking around Chugchillan – the nicest being the walk to Canyon Rio Toachi. The morning we planned to leave I patched up the exhaust the best I could with duct tape and a bungee cord. It sounded less like a rally car for about 5 minutes until the duct tape melted off. Hmmm. The road back didn´t seem quite as sketchy as two days previous, but there were a few moments when Jayde and Shelia definitely had white knuckles and their eyes closed!

In Quilotoa we stayed at a cool hostel run by the indigenous people, which cost us $10 for dinner, bed, and breakfast… bargain! The main reason we went to Quilotoa was to see the crater lake. A volcano, dormant since 1800´s filled with water. Amazing. No really. We spent a day hiking around the rim, which was way, way harder than we expected. It was brilliantly sunny when we set off, but by an hour in, the clouds had dropped and it began to rain… the only way we had of knowing that we were heading the right way, were by glimpses of the lake about 1500ft below.

may17-paul-99The path was much more difficult than we were led to believe. There was loads of scrambling, and long stretches of crumbly path, no more than half a metre wide with that big 1500ft drop either side… some of the time, we said we were glad it was foggy, then we couldn´t see the drop! We met a few dogs on the way round too! Dogs out here are bloomin´ psycho! They´re soooo territorial, and start barking and growling before you´re anywhere near their ´turf´. Jayde and I have started taking our trekking poles out and picking up rocks whenever we near homesteads and hear dogs… I´ve never known anything like it. As vicious as they seem, there´s only been a couple of times when I´ve actually thought one´s been ready to attack us. Then lobbing a rock at it´s head and jumping and screaming like a caveman has fortunately been enough to dissuade it! Good times though, the crater rim hike was a cool thing to do, and it was a good workout for sure.

We left Quilotoa for Quito in the morning, only stopping at Zumbahua on the way to see their indigenous Saturday market. Hmmm. It was unique to say the least. They were slaughtering sheep on the street, and gutting them there and then. The street dogs were eating the entrails as they fell to the floor, and people were sat eating their chicken broth soup for breakfast just a couple of stalls away. Friendly place though, and there was more fresh fruit and veg than you could shake a stick at! Ha… and on the drive back, we were following a bus, with 4 sheep on the roof! They were tied on though… so that´s ok!?

May 13, 2008

Quito & Otavalo

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 12:49

Ok, so I´ve been here around twelve days so far. I´ve seen bus-surfing sheep, have new rules for toilet paper, don´t quite yet need to buy shares in Imodium, and haven´t yet tried ´cuy´(guinea pig).

The flights ended up passing really smoothly, though I hadn´t really thought the 8 hour lay-over in Miami through. Leaving a chilly Whistler, and heading to a damp Quito, I´d naturally dressed accordingly, but walking around Miami in the mid 30´s in my wool socks, long pants and wind-proof fleece did not really work out for me so well! Point of note: Miami is hot.

We got to Quito and had two days there, mainly to acclimatise. Our hostel was amazing with a breakfast terrace overlooking the whole Old Town… amazing views every meal time. We were also given new ´toilet paper rules´. Apparently, Ecuador’s sewage system isn´t up to much, and can´t handle anything but human waste, so everything else has to go into a littler bin next to the toilet… and then some unlucky sole empties all the bins twice a day. Hmm.

Quito was only ok. Jayde and I never really felt entirely safe. Every night at the hostels, people would have fresh stories of muggings and robberies to share with everyone… Oh the joy! We did wander the Old Town and it´s churches though, and it was all pretty nice to see, and bought 2 apples, 2 bananas, 2 oranges and a papaya for $1.60!…. the crazy thing being I still think we were ripped off! Point of note 2: fruit is cheap.

The next day we planned to take the bus North to a small market town, Otavalo. This was to be our first ´bus experience´ in South America. Here goes. We caught a taxi from our hostel to the terminal terestre. When we were about a minute away the taxi driver asked me where we were catching a bus too (which in England would be fine and normal, but it can take me a minute to process anything remotely Spanish spoken to me). After convincing myself how to reply, and then babbling something about Otavalo to him, he pointed excitedly at a line of buses slowly creeping along a parking lane. That was the terminal terestre (bus depot). Strange, none of them ever appeared to stop. The taxi screeched to a halt. No seat belts. The buses were still moving. may17-paul-44We were thrown out, we grabbed our bags, a little man came and tried to grab Jayde’s bag for her, but she rightly didn´t let go of it. So both of them carried her bag awkwardly. Me, Jayde and the little grabby-bag man ran up the hill to the bus that said Ótavalo on the side. We assumed that was going to Otavalo. It still hadn´t stopped. A crazy guy hanging out of the door shouted, “Otavalo, Otavalo” a couple of times, that was proof enough for me. Another guy gabbed our bags, and threw them underneath. Jayde and I were ushered onto the bus, convinced by now we were heading to Otavalo. The bus hadn´t stopped once. And breathe.

Otavalo was a breathe of fresh air after bein

g in Quito. A lot of the countryside reminded me of home. Our hostel there was sat 300m above Otavalo on the mountainside. It had it´s own massive gardens for us to loll around in, and there were flowers and birds AND humming birds everywhere. I wad quite excited about the humming birds. Jayde and I hiked a short distance to Taxopamba Falls. We got lost only once, and realised after a few minutes that a pretty large landslide had blocked the path, and that the gargantuan pile of mud, shrubs and trees shouldn´t be sat ahead of us.

Otavalo is famous for it´s indigenous market. We weren´t really prepared for how big! We wandered it for the best part of a day, without I´m sure seeing it all. It was pretty amazing how much stuff they had to sell… a cacophony of sound and colour. Hand made rugs, bags, sweaters (Jayde bought an alpaca sweater), chickens (whole, and then by any individual part of them you might ever desire!), tonnes and tonnes of fruit (we bought 12 bananas for $0.50!

The next day we hiked from Mojanda Lake up Fuya Fuya volcano. This was the highest we´d been in South America so far (4263m), and we found it pretty slow going whilst we got used to the altitude. It´s such a weird feeling going to breathe and not being satisfied with the amount of oxygen in the air. Still we made it to the top and had lunch whilst we waited for the cloud to clear. On a clear day we were told that we should be able to see Quito. It wasn´t that clear. We didn´t see Quito. But, it was good acclimatisation for higher climbs later on!

On our last day in Otavalo we hired some horses for a trek into the hills behind the hostel, to look down on Otavalo and San Pablo Lake. I hadn´t ridden since I was like 12 years old on Scout camp… and even then, I think our horses may have been roped together, nose to tail. So, least to say, I was a little nervous. “Horses can tell if your nervous y´know”, Jayde (having ridden horses all her life!) told me … Great! Bloody great! Anyhow, after blagging the most ´tranquillo´ horse out of the three, I felt better. And, I actually enjoyed myself once we´d got going, even though I´m sure on that ride, I was pretty much just taken for a ride. A lot of the route was on a small cobbled road,

may17-jayde-65

and my horse didn´t have any shoes on! If I was to design the most uncomfortable surface for a horse with no shoes to walk on… cobbles would almost definitely be up there! Needless to say, my horse didn´t really want to walk on the cobbles, especially with a fat Englishman on his back. So he proceeded to seek out any patch of nice, soft, lush, feet-friendly grass he could find, which just and so happened to be narrow patch

es down the side of the cobbles. Thus I got dragged through any trees, flowers, spiny plants and bug-laden jungle that was over-hanging the road… which was pretty much the whole way round. Horse riding therefore, remai

ns: Work in progress.

September 19, 2007

Vancouver, B.C. and The Rockies

Filed under: canada — Tags: , , , — paulparkie @ 19:35

Ok… so I’ve been here a little over two weeks now, and I’m still coming to terms with how unimaginably, erogenously, vast the scenery is out here!

I spent a few days when I first arrived in Vancouver and took some time to explore the city. It’s a cool city, and I love the fact that it’s only walking distance to the sea and a short bus ride to the mountains. There’s more homeless people than I was prepared for, but after seeing what most of them spend there money on, it’s easy to become hardened to it all. Though their scrawled messages on pieces of card, or street tricks to inveigle a few cents from passers-by are always entertaining!

And so, I’ve walked the sea wall around Stanley Park which took the best part of a day, I’ve perambulated China Town (which is apparently the second largest settling of Chinese outside of China), which was an experience… I’m convinced there’s nothing that the Chinese won’t ‘salt, dry and eat’… there were octopi, lungs of some description, flying squirrels (I think), all manner or innards and sea creatures, and many more unidentifiable animal parts! It was there I also thought it’d be ‘fun’ to try chicken feet… yup, that’s right… feet. I thought it’d be good to be able to tick it off my list, but when they came, man-o-man, nothing has instigated my gag-reflex more quickly… they were like little Jeremy Beadle hands… and crunchy, yet slimey… and alas, I couldn’t finish them! Eurgh!

When I haven’t been in Van, I’ve spent about 12 days trekking around Rockies which are awesome, and I’m sure that my photos will never do the scenery justice! We’ve done loads of hiking in ‘bear country’ which was slightly disconcerting to start with… every Canadian I’ve met has had bear stories to tell, and it did take me a few hikes to come to terms with the fact that I was not top of the food chain! The funniest/scariest bit of advice I’ve read for a grizzly attack is as follows: “If the bear does follow through with a charge and attacks, play dead. Lie faced down with your hands round the back of your neck and your legs apart to prevent the bear rolling you over. However, if after 2 minutes the attack persists, playing dead probably isn’t working and you need to start fighting back!” … can you believe that!!?? … Give it 2 minutes, and then have the wherewithal to start fighting back!! Haha, that bit made me laugh, …and cry a little bit at the same time! Still, there’s plenty of ways to make it safer, mainly by making plenty of noise and singing, which is always fun, though I’m not sure how we’re supposed to enjoy the serenity at the same time… meh, serenity versus a good mauling though is a no-brainer! haha

We stayed in a few wilderness hostels with no electricity or running water which were cool… really cool, the pace of life just slowed and time became so insignificant… we sat around the fire, cooked ‘beer can chicken’ and met loads of great people, swapped stories and got the ‘down-low’ on surviving bear attacks if they were Canadian! haha … needing a wee in the middle of the night was also a bit ‘sketch’ … having to walk through the trees to the outside toilet always kept me on my toes…

So yeah, I’ve seen more amazing lakes, mountains, glaciers and canyons than you could shake a stick at… I’ve done kayaking, climbing and white water rafting … this is just the best place to play-out!

I’m off to an ice hockey game tonight and then I’m heading off to hitch around Vancouver Island (all being well)… where bears are only the second scariest thing to mountain lions… aah, the joy!

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