Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Riohacha to Palomino

Garmin Info and Maps

Riohacha from the air

Fishing boats on the beach
My stay in Riohacha was very relaxed. I found the lovely, affordable hotel, La Gimaura, that is directly across from the ocean and also has a pool. The hotel had been recommended by the front desk woman at the very expensive Hotel Taroa which was $130/night. La Gimaura was under $40. The room cost also included breakfast. The hotel breakfast offered a good selection of fruit, meat, breads, cereals and eggs. Every day there was a different meat selection. One day was fish, another ground beef and the 3rd morning was chicken. It was prepared with a spice that I could taste but couldn't figure out what it was. The flavor was lightly tangy like a vinegar. Whatever this spice or condiment was it made my ankles and feet become terribly inflamed. This has been a chronic problem for me for many, many years.  I have yet to figure out what the culprit is. I have tried eating vegan, gluten free, vegan and gluten free but the inflammation persists. In fact, ridding my body of inflammation is my main motivation for doing Keto. Before Keto, my feet and ankles would often swell up after eating. It usually only takes a few hours to subside but after eating the meat dishes from the hotel breakfast, it took all day. I went to the hotel kitchen to find out what they used to spice the meat but they showed me normal spices and I wasn't able to identify this extra vinegary taste. Luckily, since leaving the hotel my inflammation hasn't returned. I'm wondering if they are using some unusual vegetable oil but that wouldn't have a vinegar flavor. Maybe a Colombian MSG? The mystery continues...

Main Cathedal in Riohacha

The hardest part of doing this diet is not eating the amazing fruits of Colombia. I make up for this by eating an avocado everyday. Avocados are encouraged on Keto and I am taking full advantage. In Colombia, they are huge, cheap and readily available. Usually there is an avocado man on the street with a cart full. I just need to find the right corner. 

Drone selfie with the kids

Riohacha is fairly quiet at the beach. The center of town is total chaos. The area around the mercado publico is especially noisy and filthy. At the beach, there are kiosks set up along the ocean malecon with tourist tchotchkes to buy and lots of people selling food, beer and coffee from small carts. It was wonderful to be back at the coast. Riohacha is well known for wind/kite surfing and this time of the year the winds are blowing fierce. The trade winds kick up every January. From what I understand the winds also keep the air temperatures more comfortable. When the winds die down, the coast becomes unbearably hot. But right now, with the fierce winds, it would take a great deal of strength to surf. Not surprising, there were a few hearty souls out there catching big wind flying high in the air. When the winds are calmer this is a fun adventure activity for tourists but 30 mph winds is crazy unless you really know what you are doing. Even the surf was very, very rough. But still, the ocean is always beautiful. 

It's easy to make friends with a drone

Everyday I expected to push on but for 3 mornings I woke up and said, 'not today'. I didn't even do much which is very different for me. Usually when I stay an extra day it is to take care of things or to visit a local sight. I think I was taking in the accomplishment of having ridden from Bogotá to the coast. This had been my destination everyday for the last 2 months and it felt great to be here. One day I went to the main plaza to fly my drone and met a group of guys playing Pokemon. We became Pokemon friends and traded some Pokemons. While I flew my drone I was surrounded by little kids and one of the Pokemon guys used my phone to snap a few nice pics. The drone always draws lots of kids and it is fun to show them the image on the screen of what the drone sees from high in the air.

Pokemon buddies

Showing the littlest ones the picture while flying
Finally, after 4 nights, I pulled myself away.  My route today would be along the coast and I had a wonderful tailwind cycling on tree shaded roads. I didn't have far to go. My destination was a sanctuary for fauna and flora called Boca de Camarones.  It is a funny name that means Shrimp's mouth. This very small pueblo is Wayuu tribal land and the people here are very, very  poor. This is a level of poverty I don't often see. There is trash everywhere. There is trash all around the homes, trees, bushes especially plastic bags, beer bottles and used diapers. It is as if there are no cans or even trash bags. To me, it looks like every one drops their trash right out the front door. From what I understand there are little resources or opportunity. Education is limited and alcoholism is rampant. I saw women with carts full of plastic containers to fill with water from sources that I wouldn't use for anything. It was hard for me to believe they were going to drink this water and give it to their children.  The land is only sand and the best the tribes can do is fish and grow a few goats for food. I arrived fairly early in the afternoon and quickly got settled in a very basic hotel. Boca de Camarones is close to other touristic beach towns and most people only come for the day.  There were many kids around and they all loved the trike. One kid who was probably less than 6 years old insisted on riding. He had to practically lie down on the seat and stretch is short legs with his tippy toes to reach the pedals. Adorable. Then the 12 year old Andres put the 2 smallest kids on the rack and rode them around the property. They all had a blast.

Coming into Boca de Camarones

Santuario sign
I stayed only one night in a very basic 'hotel' for $12. The main attraction in Boca de Camarones are 2 lagoons with a large flamingo population. In other parts of the world where I have seen flamingos there have been boats to take tourists out into the water. Flamingos are skittish and viewing is usually at a distance. Here, the only way to see the flamingos was to take a motorbike. I'm not a big fan of motorbikes but I really wanted to see the flamingos. Typically, it is hard for me to get on and off, they aren't comfortable, I never know if I can trust the driver and, essentially, I just don't feel safe on the back of a motorbike. I talked to Fabian, the driver, for a while to explain that motorbikes scare me. I needed to know he understood that we were going to have to go slower than probably most people.  He seemed to understand my concerns and then we settled on a price and a time. I wanted to go later in the day because the light for pictures would be better and the flamingos might also be feeding.  

Andres and the kids

Boca de Camarones

With Fabian, my motobike driver
Fabian was on time to pick me up. He had told me we would need to ride about a 1/2 hour through Wayuu tribal land. This time of year, because of the trade winds, the flamingos move to the bigger, 2nd lagoon that is farther away. Fabian's motorcycle was smaller and easier to get on than many I've ridden in the past. Much of the ride was along the water negotiating a single track path through sand. Fabian rode very slowly through areas where we might skid with his feet down to keep us from falling. He did a great job. I was surprised that I wasn't scared. In fact, I was quite relaxed throughout the entire ride and enjoyed it. There was a lot of scrub and places where we had to duck to avoid hitting tree branches. Close to the flamingos, we rode through a very poor Wayuu community. The driver stopped to pay a woman to pass. Grandpa was laying in a hammock yelling about being paid and was obviously very drunk.

From there, it wasn't far to the lagoon. Fabian parked the motorbike out of the hearing range to the flamingos and we walked to the water's edge. There were hundreds of flamingos walking from the sand out to the water and back and forth. They were scooping up something from the sand. I've always heard that flamingos eat shrimp and that is how they get their pink coloring. I don't know if shrimp live in the lagoon sand. It was absolutely mesmerizing watching them. The wind was blowing incredibly strong and it was hard to hold my camera steady. If I had known the wind was going to be so strong I would have brought my monopod but I had to do the best I could. I could have stood there for many more hours but after about 1/2 hour Fabian suggested we leave. The sun was setting and he wanted to get me back before dark. 

We left a little too late and probably the last 10 minutes of the ride was in darkness but Fabian knew the way. I'm sure he has ridden this more times than he can count. When we reached the 1st lagoon, the big blood wolf full moon was rising over the water. This was a lovely sight. I tried to explain to Fabian that tonight was going to be an unusual full moon but he had no idea what I was talking about. I got some of it on video. This whole experience was fascinating and I was very happy I decided to come and didn't chicken out because of the motorbike.

Eagles and cactus

Andres and 3 dogs

The next morning I went on a bird watching walk with the hotel owner's 12 year old son, Andres. I was very impressed with this kid. I think I was the only person staying at the 'hotel' and I was his only opportunity to make a little money. I was even more impressed that a 12 year old kid would get up at 6 am. Of course I said yes and didn't even bargain with his very ambitious $7 price. We walked for about an hour with 3 dogs. 3 dogs is probably not ideal for bird watching but we actually did see lots of birds.  He was an adorable kid. He walked with a speaker and an app on this phone with a selection of bird calls hoping to draw birds closer. There were a few other guides with gringos in tow. These other guides were very upset with Andres for bringing the dogs. But I could also tell they really loved the kid too.

Bird watching with Andres, my 12 year old guide

Bridge with rebar
Leaving Boca de Camarones

Video of my ride from Riohacha to Dibulla

After breakfast, I got packed up and made my way back to the highway. Today I was going
I stopped for coffee and met a Mica monkey
to a beach pueblo known as the indigenous capital of La Guajira. I didn't really understand what that meant. Mostly I was going to this town because the next town was just a bit farther than I'm comfortable riding in a day. Why do 50 miles when you can do 25?  The road leaving Boca de Camarones was very rough and much of it wasn't paved. I wanted to fly my drone over the lagoons and stopped on a small bridge. I put the drone in the air and got a compass error.  This didn't seem like a good thing and I brought it down, recalibrated and tried flying again. Again I got the same error. Very strange. And then I looked at the bridge surface and realized it was concrete and probably full of rebar which was more than likely the compass confusing cause. I walked off the bridge a little ways and, sure enough, everything was right with the world again. There is so much to think about when drone flying. After all this, the video wasn't as interesting as I was hoping but I did get some bird shots. Once I got back on the highway the riding was smooth and faster. In Dibulla, I noticed there were more Arhuaco tribes people than I usually see. The Arhuaco dress all in white with a little white hat and only a little bit of color. They are not as poor as the Wayuu but still quite poor. They also carry a long woven purse bag over their shoulder that usually has an intricate design. These bags have become artisan items and very popular with tourists. The Arhuaco mostly live in the area around the Sierra Nevada mountains and they consider these mountains to be the center of the world. There were some statues around town highlighting the Arhuaco but mostly this was a quiet and clean beach pueblo. The Arhuaco are very shy and don't like having their picture taken. I can totally relate because people are taking my picture on the trike all day long. The difference is when I park the trike at a hotel I become anonymous but the Arhuaco always stand out. I found a hotel that appeared to be brand new and checked in for 2 nights. The town didn't seen to have much to offer and I was perplexed why anyone would build a new hotel although I very much enjoyed it. The next day I walked around and went on a short boat ride up the river. It was very, very windy all day. This is a sweet place to visit.

Arhuaco tribe man

Dibulla fishing boats

Hungry pelicans

Stunned Goldfinch recovering on a table
Dibulla kids
After 2 nights, I got packed up to head out to a touristic town that I have heard about since I 1st started this tour.  Every one says Palomino is a not-to-missed beach town that I heard is much more international and also more expensive. So far, I hadn't been in a town that I considered international since leaving Bogotá. But, of course, I don't think the route I've taken to the coast would be interesting to most tourists. In my mind I imagined a boutique town with lots of upscale hostels and hotels. I was quite shocked to arrive to a town with unpaved roads and no infrastructure. The main road is a potholed mess with lots of ruts and rocks. There is hostel after hostel with a few cafes in between. The town is probably no more than 4 blocks from the main road to the ocean. Of course, Myrtle was the biggest attraction. I went from hostel to hostel seeing places for backpackers with bars and loud music. This wasn't what I was expecting and certainly not what I was looking for. I kept going down this road until I got to the beach and found the last hotel. This hotel was perfect. There was no bar, no loud music and it was right on the beach with a good restaurant. The cost for a room was $24/night. Saving the best for last. I checked in for 2 nights.

Palomino beach
My beach hotel

Palomino town

Road view
It took a day for me to take in little bohemian Palomino and it really started to grow on me. The beach is long and there is also a river where kids can swim protected from the harsh surf. Lots of people were tubing lazily down the river to the ocean. It was all quite idyllic. I also had a few nice meals in Palomino. At the end of my rest day I asked if I could extend my stay. Unfortunately, the hotel was full. I asked again later in the evening and they were still full. I wasn't really ready to leave and was surprised and happy when, for grins, I asked again in the morning and this time the answer was yes. I guess sometimes all you have to do is ask one more time. I had a lazy day walking along the beach and the river taking pictures and flying my drone. It was exactly what I needed and after another day I was ready for the road once again.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Valledupar to Riohacha

Garmin Info and Map

It was hard to pull myself away from Casa Roselia in Valledupar. This hotel was like an oasis or a little sanctuary.  Especially after spending the last 2 weeks in dusty noisy towns where the hotels didn't have hot water, toilet seats or shower heads. Taking a hot water shower felt like a luxury. Every morning the kitchen staff made whatever I wanted for breakfast. I typically ordered scrambled eggs with cheese and avocado with lots of coffee.  Perfect.

The owner, Josephina, was an absolute gem. She is very warm and engaging. I didn't really know where to go after Valledupar and she helped me plan a route. I explained that I would like to keep my daily riding to less than 50 miles (80 kms) and she plotted 2 stops on the way to Riohacha at the coast. It was exciting to see that I would be at the ocean in 3 more rides.

Casa Roselia owner,
Josephina, and los niños

While in Valledupar, I explored the city and learned about a new-to-me music called Vallenato. Valledupar is famous for this type of music and there is an international festival dedicated to it here every April. I went to a home showcasing the composer Diomedes Diaz and the Accordion museum. At the accordion museum I learned that the music is a fusion of Indigenous Colombian, African and European. The accordion comes from Europe, the percussion came with the slaves from Africa and it is fused with the local sound especially of the Arhuaco tribe.  The owner of the museum, Beto Murgas, is an accordion master and he gave a short class on the different styles of accordion playing. My Spanish wasn't really up to understanding everything he was talking about but it was still very interesting.

Downtown Valledupar

Los niños loved the trike

The hotel I stayed at only has 7 rooms and it seemed like everyone else staying was a friend of the owner. I suspect they have all been coming to the hotel for so many years they are all friends. I can see why as the hotel really is lovely and very affordable.  The last 2 days construction started on a new apartment and there was a lot of pounding going on. I took this as a sign it was time to push on. I have yet to stay in a hotel in Colombia that didn't have some extra noise. There are always lots of children playing, loud neighbors, music or construction. It never fails. Thanks God for earplugs.

There was a family from Bogotá staying and the kids loved the trike. There were 3 boys and 1 very young girl. They gave me a formal military style farewell complete with salutes as I departed.  This was very adorable and I loved it. 

Rio Guatapuri

I made my way to the Rio Guatapuri which is very popular for swimming. I flew my drone a bit and enjoyed watching all the action. There were people walking on paths, kids playing soccer and lots of people having fun in the water. Next to the river little cafes were set up. This is a nice place to hang out and stay cool. Everyday has been hot but there has also been a fresh breeze blowing keeping the temperatures more manageable. I have always heard that this area and the coast can get unbearably hot but the breeze made the heat ok.

Lots of signs to respect cyclists

Leaving Valledupar there were a few hills where the wind was blocked and I could really feel the heat. But they weren't very high and soon I was back in the breeze. In these conditions a light headwind is really appreciated and that's what I had today. The riding was very beautiful. I crossed streams and rivers and had a view of mountains in the distance. The road was also tree lined which kept the sun off me and more sheltered from bigger gusts of wind. 

Video of my ride from Valledupar to San Juan del Cesar in La Guajira

Crossing a river

Flying a bit on the Rio Guatepuri in Valledupar

As I went through a check-point, the policeman asked me if I wanted anything cold to drink. I pulled over and they were really exited to get pictures with me. These guys were so much fun. One policeman took his scarf with the police badge patch, wrote a nice inscription and had all the guys sign it for me. What a nice gift and probably the gift of the trip. This I will treasure!

Fun policemen gave me a wonderful gift

These guys were awesome!

San Juan del Cesar iglesia
The road was mostly up and the riding was slow. I rode from the Department of Cesar to La Guajira. A new 'state'! The afternoon was getting late especially since I got a later start and spent some time at the river in Valledupar. But luckily, I only had 34 miles for the day. I arrived in the small town of San Juan del Cesar and was pleasantly surprised to find a nice looking normal hotel when everything else looked quite poor. The staff was very attentive and they all loved the trike. The guys were eager to find a safe place and I could see they really wanted to ride it. There was a restaurant and I was able to order a delicious custom meal. I was thrilled. 

Beyond the church in the plaza in front of the hotel, there wasn't much to see in San Juan del Cesar. I noticed that some of the homes were very nice. They seemed newly constructed with small manicured gardens full of beautiful flowers. But, mostly, the town seemed very worn down. At the market, Olympica, there was a crush of moto-taxis fighting for position hoping the next shopper leaving the store would need a lift. It all seemed quite desperate.

Iglesia at night

This guy fixes shoes and sells live chickens on the street of San Juan

The Hotel Casa Murillo was very comfortable but, unfortunately, I arrived the day of a big fiesta in the plaza directly in front of the hotel. It was incredibly loud and went into the wee hours of the morning. Even with ear plugs I couldn't sleep. Again, every hotel in Colombia has been noisy without fail. Tonight was extreme.

Hotel staff bringing Myrtle to the street

Saying goodbye to Casa Murillo staff
In the morning, the hotel guys helped carry Myrtle out to the curb. I let them take the trike for a spin and then had a group photo with the staff. They all had a blast and then we said goodbye. 

I really got a late start today. First, I woke up late and by the time I ate, paid my bill, got packed-up and then let the guys ride Myrtle it was well after 9 am. Looking at Googlemaps, I saw there wasn't much climbing and I had about 44 miles. It seemed very reasonable until I started riding. As I came to the end of the town I was greeted with a big headwind. The wind was really blowing. The trees were swaying all over the place. It was also very hot but the wind provided some relief. 

Town of Distracion

The 1st town I went through was Distracción, which seemed like a strange name for a town. I met a very nice family when I stopped for coffee. While we were talking a very young kid rode passed on a strange 3 wheeled recumbent cycle. It didn't have a pedals or a chain. The wheels were like casters and he sat in a recumbent chair. The front wheel moved and he had his feet on a bar that he moved to the right and left to propel himself. I don't know what to call the thing but it looked to be new like maybe it was a Christmas present. It was painted a bright red. I yelled at the kid to come over to find out more. He rode over from a few houses away but I couldn't understand anything he said. 

Kid riding a crazy recumbent 3-wheeled something or other.

Fonseca is famous for Vallenato singers
From there I went through the small town of Fonseca which is very famous for producing Vallenato singers. There is also a famous singer named Fonseca but he is from Bogotá. The town was good sized with a lot of trash in the streets. I saw 2 cows standing on a street island going through trash. Very strange.  On the edge of town I stopped for soup and a salad. The waiters here were really fun and they helped me forget about the wind for a bit. They said that this time of year the trade winds kick up and it is always very windy in January. They also said when the winds die down the temperature and humidity will be stiflingly hot. 

I'm seeing a lot more trash today. It feels like La Guajira is much poorer that anywhere else I have traveled, so far, in Colombia. There is poor and then there is poor where people throw trash everywhere. This is a place where people live in their trash. There are places like this in Guatemala and Mexico too. It is a very sad sight.

Cute goat

The wind was crazy strong. Every time the road turned I was hoping for relief but the wind only got stronger. The road surface was also very rough. It didn't affect me so much but the car drivers were going all over the road to avoid potholes and it was sometimes scary watching them drive toward me.

I missed a turn and ended up riding through the very busy town of Hatonuevo. I really wanted to stop to eat but I had less than 10 miles to go for the day and kept riding. The road was also turning here and I hoped the last miles would be easier. Incredibly, this was my 3rd turn in the road for the day and I still had a very strong headwind. I couldn't believe it. Somedays you just can't shake the wind. The last ten miles were tortuous and I was exhausted. This was turning into a very long and painful ride. At my slow rate of speed I wouldn't get to the hotel until after 5 pm which is very late for me. 

Iguana resting in a tree

By the time I got the hotel I was completely spent and not feeling well. This hotel had been recommended by the hotel owner in Valledupar. I wish she had told me how expensive it is. Holy moly, I couldn't believe a hotel like this could exist is the middle of nothing. It was huge and had a lot of security. At first, I had to get passed the guard at the gate where lots of dogs were barking incessantly. I was in no mood for rude dogs and wanted to shoot them. Then I rode down to the reception building. At first, I was quoted $120.00 a night. This is a shocking amount to pay for a hotel room in Colombia. It would be like finding yourself at a $350 a night hotel in the US. I talked them down to $90.00 but they wouldn't go lower. In the US $90.00 isn't unusual but here it is still a huge amount. This is the type of resort place that caters to corporate clients and people celebrating important life events. If I had known I would have made other arrangements. But, there was nothing else around and I was completely exhausted. They had me. I was so exhausted I knew I would need 2 nights to recover. I wasn't even sure that would be enough. 

Beautiful songbird perched in the hotel restaurant

I got to my room and the luggage guy turned on the tv to an 80's music station. I lay on the bed unable to move for a long time even though the music was driving me nuts. I was feeling very nauseous like I could throw up but I didn't. Eventually, I got up and had a shower. A wonderful hot water shower. I went to the restaurant and had a bowl of soup which made me feel better. Wow was this a tough day.

Hotel pool

Hotel Waya is in the middle of nothing

The next day, I didn't do much of anything. I was feeling better but still wasn't feeling great. The nauseousness improved but didn't go away. I decided to stay another night because I am expecting the next ride to the coast to be equally as tough as the ride here to Albania. Riding when not feeling well didn't seem like a good idea. Once thing about this hotel that was very surprising is the walls in the room were paper thin. I could hear every conversation in the room next door. 

Boganvilla against the setting sun sky

The next day it occurred to me that I am probably low in electrolytes. I drank down 2 glasses of water with added salt and this helped immensely. By the time I went to bed the nauseousness had lifted and I had more energy. That was a huge relief.  In the morning I felt good enough to ride. I talked to the front desk people about the road ahead. They said I had 2 options. The better road to Riohacha was 75 miles and there were no hotels. In fact, there wasn't much of anything. The shorter route was 44 miles but the road is much busier and is in horrible condition. The way the front desk people talked about the road they had me concerned for my safety but 75 miles is too far for me to ride in a day especially not feeling 100%. I packed up and started out early expecting the wind to be a big problem again. 

Ready to leave the Hotel Waya

Parrot type bird
I don't know what the front desk people were so concerned about. The road surface for the 1st 15 miles was fine and the wind had shifted to almost a tailwind. Woohoo!! I was cruising. This road is lined with people selling gasoline from jugs. I also passed a few real gas stations but it seems everyone buys gas from the guys with the jugs. There were also groups of women selling honey, jam, cheese and other food stuffs from little huts. Maybe because I got such an early start the road was much quieter than I expected. The road from the hotel meets up with my old friend, highway 45, that I have ridden all the way from Bogotá. Here the number has changed to 49 but it is the same road. The last 5 miles before the junction had some rough patches but there really wasn't much traffic. I also started to see beautiful bright green birds. Some looked like parrot type birds and others looked like little song birds. The parrot type birds flew in flocks and there were a lot of them. 

CocaCola bottle tree

Mud construction
Before I knew it I was at the junction. I was hoping there would be a cafe for coffee but there was nothing. I turned onto the road and found a beautiful wide shoulder. My old friend didn't disappoint. Since this road went directly to the coast I was worried about a off-shore headwind but it didn't materialize. From here, there would be a gradual downhill all the way to the ocean. I was making really good time. What a difference from the last ride. This was fun.

Friendly faces
As I rode on, the amount of trash all over everything was simply astonishing. There were fields that were completely covered in trash. I wanted to fly my drone but there were also lots of kids everywhere riding bikes that made me nervous. The amount of trash strewn all over everything would have been something to see from the air. But bored kids make me nervous. Sometimes the kids would ride with me but they quickly got bored of that as well. Packs of kids can be trouble especially when they are bored and there are no adults around. Luckily, there was enough traffic that I felt safe. I can remember times in Morocco where groups of kids were really a problem.

The closer I got to the ocean, the stronger the wind the became. Soon the wind was too strong to consider flying my drone. But, luckily, it was still at my side. Coming into Riohacha I was expecting a tourist town but this was another very dirty, busy, poor town with a lot of trash in the streets. The motorcycles were driving everywhere. There didn't seem to be any rules to the traffic. Once I got through the market area the traffic quieted down and the town started to look better. A couple of blocks from the ocean the area became more touristic. I had a recommendation for the Hotel Taroa which is considered the best hotel in town. I found it quickly and couldn't believe how expensive it is. They were asking $140.00 a night and they were full. Wow. The front desk people recommended a lovely hotel just over a bridge outside the touristic area. It is called Hotel Gimaura and the rooms are $40 a night. It has a very nice pool, a huge grass area with lots of flowers and is directly across the road from the ocean. This is more like it. I had a showerhead and toilet seat but no hot water. I checked in for the 2 nights and may stay longer.

Entering Riohacha

This is a momentous occasion on my tour that I want to celebrate. I have ridden a tricycle from Bogotá to the Caribbean coast of Colombia. How about that?!?

Welcome to Riohacha and the Caribbean coast of Colombia
Hotel Gimaura

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