Posts Tagged ‘Peru’

Lima and wrapping up

I figured I should wrap up trip-related posts before I completely got absorbed back into “real life”, and lost all sense of what the trip was like.

On our second last day, a Saturday, for the evening’s entertainment we headed to Parque Reserva, which houses a very nice set of fountains. At night, these are all lit up, and the performance of a few is even choreographed to music. It was spectacular! – I really wish we had something like this in Ottawa. More than a dozen fountains, all quite large (some spectacularly so), all lit up in various colours. A few were even of the type that you could walk through- the large circular one, with concentric circles of fountains which kept turning on and off so you could walk through, and surprise jumping jets, was particularly popular with the teenagers. If you didn’t make it while the fountains were off, you got a little bit wet – but there were also some kids who were running through them the whole time with complete abandon, fully soaked. I did a round of running through to the middle, but Dan was too chicken and stayed outside.

Earlier in the day, we had visited the St. Franciscan Monastery in downtown Lima. What a treat! We got to visit the ground as well as the catacombs – and this is on Halloween day, no less! The catacombs had been used as a cemetery from the time the monastery was built in the 16th century until 1880, with some 25,000 bodies buried. Later, it was reopened, all the bodies exhumed, the bones sorted by type, and displayed in geometric arrangements in the former graves (up to 4 m deep, where coffins had been stacked one on top of the other). Now THAT would have been a gruesome job.

The ceilings in the monastery were made of exquisitely carved wooden tile, and there were many wood carvings present on the chairs, benches, and other various furniture. The library was packed with tens of thousands of volumes, mostly from the 16-18th century. The library room itself was quite stereotypical – long and narrow, with the gallery of the second floor running around the outside of the room, and little spiral staircases leading up to it. The books just looked so old! On display they also had a few very large Gregorian chant books – text and a few simple note sequences. These were placed on a sort of lazy-Suzan holder in the choir room, and rotated slowly so all could see. Genius!

Our last day was Sunday, and what we didn’t realize is that in the evening, most places (including restaurants) are closed even in Lima. However, the rest of the day more than made up for this. In the morning, we headed down to the beach near Miraflores, where we were among the first sun-worshippers and surfers. We walked down to the end of a rock quay, and sat in silence for a while, staring out at the swells, trying to spot the crabs among the rocks and seaweed below, and admiring the paragliders soaring above. Very peaceful (but windy) – why can’t we have an ocean in Ottawa??

The ice cream snack wasn’t enough to sustain us for very long, so we soon left to find lunch. We headed to Barranco, another upscale neighbourhood bordering the beach. We found the mall we were told about, and it was spectacular – set into the top of the cliff, with all the restaurants facing the ocean, spread across 4 or more terraced levels. And all outdoors. Fantastic! We picked a restaurant at random, and while it was windy on the patio, we sat out – when again would we have a chance to sit on a patio, either outside or facing the ocean? The setting was spectacular. The food also held its own – my 3-soup sampler plate was delicious, with a ton of seafood, and the soups were more like stews. Dan’s stuffed sea bass was nothing short of incredible – I was truly jealous of his meal. Shared over a couple of Cristal, this was a memorable lunch, and a great way to wrap up this trip.

Dan is very happy to be home. I’m glad to be home, but do wish we could have travelled for longer. I guess maybe it’s unusual that if I know it’s not forever, I’m just as comfortable hauling a backpack through a crowd of pushy peddlers as I am getting dressed to the nines at home and going to the opera. I enjoy the hot showers and clean toilet at home, but I don’t crave it as badly as one would think when I’m on the road. It’s ok to let go of these comforts for a while. They’ll still be there when I come back.

Overall, I’m happy with this trip. There are things I would do differently, and there are things we didn’t see/do that I wish we had, but as a whole, it was a fantastic and awing trip. I discovered that Spanish is within reach. [Aside: how many countries does THAT open up?!] We reached some great heights (quite literally) and learned to work with each other’s travelling styles. I declare this a successful honeymoon.

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Northern Peru

Flying to Lima from La Paz, we almost immediately hopped on a pre-booked bus to Huaraz (plane landed at 7 p.m., bus departing at 10 p.m.). The plan had been to do a nice 4-5 day trek up near Huaraz, in the Cordillera Blanca, said to be one of the most scenic ranges in South America. Well, no such luck. The rainy season was upon us, and Dan wasn´t feeling that great, either. The annoying part about the start of the rainy season is that while there isn´t enough rain to deter serious hikes (it only drizzles in the late afternoon/evening), the low clouds are constantly present due to you being trapped in a valley between two high mountain ranges – so there is no view to speak of. Only to the next foothills, and then everything past that is covered in billowing white clouds. And at that stage – what´s the big point of doing a hike renowned for the vistas it offers?

So while Dan was recovering, I explored Huaraz itself and took two day tours. Huaraz is a cute little town but not much to speak of, although I did find one cafe which would put Canadian coffeehouses to shame – 3rd and 4th levels of a building, with an open middle and mostly-couch seating along the outside of the ¨second¨ floor which offered great views of the surrounding mountains (where there were no clouds, that is).

The first day trip was to Laguna Llanganuco, with a few interesting stops along the day. On the first stop we visited the town of Yungay, the site of an avalanche on May 31, 1970 (a result of the Ancash earthquake) which killed most of the town´s inhabitants. The earthquake dislodged a large glacier shelf at the side of nearby Huascaran Mountain, and the multi-million-cubic-meter-strong mass tumbled towards the city, avalanche-style. The debris demolished the city and buried the remains, the force of the impact instantaneously killing nearly all of the inhabitants. The only exceptions were people up in the cemetery (a hill with a giant Jesus statue) and the stadium (natural features upstream of the stadium diverted the flow just enough for the avalanche to bypass most of the stadium). Due to debris settling with age, the city is now buried in around 5-10 meters of debris, and the whole area has been declared a cemetery by the government – no excavation is permitted. This used to be a very rich area, with brides decked out in multiple golden decorations on their wedding day, so numerous fortunes have been lost. A lone palm, old but only with a few top meters sticking out of the rubble, is a poignant reminder of the disaster. It used to grow in the central square of the town, and is about the only thing that survived the force of the avalanche intact. Pieces of the cathedral and a few twisted bus frames also litter the landscape, amongst small memorials erected by families in approximate places where houses uses to be located.

The lake itself was very scenic, with a few glacier-covered mountains in the background, and the drive was just as good – a nearly infinite serious of switchbacks up the mountain. On the way I also got to try two local snacks – steamed corn with some fresh cheese over top (the corn here is like nothing I´ve ever tasted), as well as papas rellenas (mashed potato patties, stuffed with bacon, onion and cheese, and fried on the outside). Have I mentioned yet I love Peruvian food?

The second trip was to Chavin, the site of a ruin of a ceremonial site of the Chavin civilization, build in 1,200-1,300 BC. After another nearly-full day on the bus, I felt like I had gone for a good hike, with my whole body aching – it turns out it takes quite a few muscles to keep you upright on a bumpy road!

Our first stop, after a bit of a scenic climb, was Laguna Querococha, a lovely little (but deep, up to 80 m) lake below a cute peak. One thing I find interesting here is that the source of canyons in the mountainsides is very obvious – large funnel-shaped deposits of rubble litter the slopes right underneath most canyons. Getting back on the bus, we drove past an area where the rocks make fairly obvious shapes of animals – much less imagination required than usual. I saw the dinosaur and the monkey, but not the elephant. Eventually, we got to Cahuish Tunnel, a very impressive tunnel carved right through a mountain – 500 m long, all of it still with the rough look of a just-dug-through-tunnel, and water dripping down from the roof and walls in some places. Coming out of the tunnel, we were greeted by another large status of Jesus, looking over the valley into which we were about to descend.

I ran out of patience at this point, since I was getting tired, so my observations of the Chavin architectural park will have to come in point form. Here are some notable things about the site:

1) The main plaza is perfectly divided into a north and south half, a division which extends into the main temple, as well. The main steps leading up to the temple are divided by this line, with one half being made out of white (well, grey, in the rain) stone, and the other out of black. Same goes for the outer walls of the temple. The Chavin really believe in symmetry.
2) Underground water drainage systems, leading away from the temple to the river. Guess it rained a lot back then, too. They are shaped in a zig-zag instead of a straight line in order to slow down the flow of water, and include small aeration shafts in order to keep the water flowing when necessary.
3) A stone with 7 circular bowls cut into it, which are thought to have been polished smooth, filled with water, and used as (magnifying?) mirrors to observe the stars. The whole site is supposed to have been an astronomical observatory used to predict which crops should be planted next year, used by farmers from far and wide – and the priests were paid in agricultural product. Clever, huh?
4) The underground tunnels. Very cool. Various tunnels used for everything from storing meat (cold storage) to a maze used in religious rituals. Another subset is called the Gallery of Columns (or something to that effect) and the archways are formed by giant slabs of stone resting overhead. Actually, that one was just a bit scary since some of the stones were cracked, and held up by makeshift wooden supports.

So, a bit of scenery and some history lessons. Not bad. But not as much as I had wanted to do, either. I kind of regret not having put Huaraz first in the list instead of last, when we were closer to the dry season, and weren´t as tired or sick. A pity. This would be another good reason to come back to Peru some day, but with all the other places we keep talking about visiting, I don´t know if that will ever happen. Guess we´ll see. Maybe a 20th anniversary trip to retrace our honeymoon steps? 🙂

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Lake Titicaca

After leaving Arequipa, we spent a fantastic few days along the shores of Lake Titicaca. Our drive there (6 hours) was also fantastic, since we ended up in the sleeper compartment (i.e. first class) of the bus. Holy legroom, batman!

Our lakeside visit started in Puno. What a cute little town! The first afternoon we just wandered down to the harbour, and shared a beer while watching the locals paddle around in a small pond on family-sized paddle boats. What fun! Dan even convinced me to talk to the ladies manning the souvenir stalls about yarn, which resulted in me walking away with 3 different colours of alpaca yarn. Score! Will have to keep an eye out for this in Bolivia.

The next day we had a half-day tour to the floating islands of Uros. What an amazing experience! These “islands” are literally floating, built out of the reeds for which the lake is famous, and anchored in a preferred spot. Before the rainy season, the anchors are removed and the islands are moved to a shallower spot to avoid flooding. Each island has 10-20 families living on it – if conflict arises, an island can literally be cut in half and the dissenting group can start their own island or go join another existing island.

In the afternoon, we had bought tickets for a bus ride onwards to Copacabana, just over the Bolivian border. The “bus” ended up being a little bitty micro-bus, with all of our backpacks piled on top and held in by a net. Good stuff! The crew on the trip turned out to be a great mix, with 4 australians, 2 kiwis, and a swiss guy along for the ride. Good times were had, including 3 trips across the (physical) Peru-Bolivia border since we didn´t know we had to go to two different offices to get the correct stamps in our passports. The bus driver dropped us off on the peruvian side, told us to go get our passports sorted out, and that he would meet us at the other end so we could transfer our stuff onto the bolivian minibus. No instructions were given, of course.

That evening, we ended up going to the same hotel as the whole crew, and also going out for dinner with everyone. What fun! – it´s been a while since Dan and I had been that social.

The following day, in a perverse twist on the scenario a few days previous, it was Dan who was not feeling well, so I went off on my own to explore the Isla del Sol, one of the larger island in Lake Titicaca. I ended up spending the day with the swiss and kiwi guys, and also a kiwi girl the swiss guy had met previously and whom we bumped into on the boat ride there (talk about random connections). In all, given that Dan wasn´t there, this was about the best day I could have had.

The kiwi girl was staying overnight on the island and so had hired a guide to take her along to the ruins, etc., so the 4 of us tagged along with promises to tip the guide well. Score! Just off Isla del Sol is an old ceremonial temple, currently buried under 5-10 m of water, given that the lake had risen almost 100 m since the site was originally built (glacial melting). We also saw the site where, according to Inca legend, the Sun was born (a rock in the shape of a condor, use of imagination is a must), as well as the ruins of a temple and sacrificial stone.

The rest of the afternoon was spent hiking along the ridge of the island from the north end to the south. The views were absolutely spectacular, with the startlingly blue lake on all sides, and the snowcapped mountain range (including a few 6000+m peaks) in the distance on one shore. I would almost call the scenery reminiscent of the mediterranean, at least until you remember that the lake is a balmy 10 degrees. I really felt sorry all day that Dan wasn´t able to make it, since this is something he would have absolutely loved. But I brought him back a rock and lots of pictures. 🙂

Later on that evening we ended up going to a little bar which had advertised live music. Wow, were we in for a treat! First of all, we ordered our drinks when we got there (had dinner earlier at another place), and were very surprised when the server came back not with 2, but 4 glasses. “Happy hour”, he told us happily! The grand total for the evening, with 6 delicious drinks between the two of us and a piece of cake, came out to about $13. Where else? The music was also absolutely wonderful – a peruvian band on tour, with slightly pop-y sounding south american music. I don´t know what it is about the south american music, but most of it sounds so inherently happy, that it just makes you want to get up and dance. We even bought a CD of theirs, so we have a musical reminder of our honeymoon. What a great deal.

Dan has just reminded me that it´s Thanksgiving back home today. So… happy Thanksgiving everyone! I guess we pre-celebrated by having BFC (bolivian fried chicken) yesterday!

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Whew. What a busy few days. Also, before the post gets underway, I have somewhat bad news – I´ve decided that despite promises to the contrary, I will for now omit pictures from these blog posts. Sorry. The new plan is to update the blog once I´m back home, and add in the pictures then. It´s just proving unrealistic to sort through all the pictures and pick out the best two or three to put in each post. Although, the ipod to camera connector seems to be working wonderfully!

Anyway, back to the trip.

On Sunday morning, we left for our trip in the Colca Canyon. The trip began at 3 in the morning (yes, that´s not just my timezone deprived brain talking) when our guide was to pick us up. This ended up happening closer to 3:30, but hey, apparently this is normal for “South American” time. Our group consisted of us and another canadian couple, which was fantastic. We´ve met quite a few canadians on this trip, but this was the longest we´ve spent with any of them.

The morning started with a 3-hour drive across the plateau, where first the windows fogged up and then that turned into a sheet of ice. Yup. It´s that cold. Luckily, we were prepared this time. In the pre-dawn, we drove past some enclosures (consisting of 1 meter or so high walls built out of small rocks) containing herds of alpaca – too dark for pictures, though. Our first real stop was at Cruz del Condor, the best spot to get a glimpse of condors. We got there at a good time, as right after we got out spots a few of the show-offs among these majestic creatures started making close passes above the crowd. They were a few dozen meters away at least, but even so they seemed huge. Throughout the rest of the hike we saw a few more, but never as close as this. Even so, there is something about them that makes me want to freeze and stare at their amazingly smooth gliding flight.

A few hours later the bus dropped us off for the start of our hike. 15 minutes´ walk brought us to the edge of the canyon, and we began our descent. We were starting at about 3300 meters, going all the way to the bottom to cross the river, climbing back up to maybe 2800, and finally going down to sleep at 2400. A good balance for getting adjusted to the altitude! So far, neither of us has had any problems beyond being out of breath much quicker than normal during the more strenuous exercise, which is fantastic.

We stopped for lunch around 2, after climbing back up from the river. To my utter delight, just before lunch we walked in the shade of the groves of avocado trees. That´s right. Groves. Filled with trees with hundreds of gigantic avocadoes on them (comparable to a good-sized red mango you´d find at a store at home). Sadly, all too green to be eaten right away. Must come back in the summer. All the avocado sandwiches I´ve tried so far have also been delicious, with nice meaty texture and a much sweeter taste than you´d get at home, so I would love to try one fresh right off a tree.

Lunch was fantastic (but after that hike anything would´ve been, probably), and a whole menagerie of animals visited us during the lunch – two large dogs, a weight-lifter chicken (it was that big), and an adorable little black cat which immediately took up residence on Dan´s lap. Eventually, I managed to coax her onto mine, too.

The afternoon hike was uneventful, and hot. Passing by lots of the aqueducts delivering mountain water to the local villages, and many half-abandoned settlements (looking a bit sad with buildings with full walls, but no roof, and grasses growing out of the floor). We did see a local game of futbol – apparently, on Sundays people from nearby villages converge on this one field in the middle, to spend the day socializing, trading news (all of these villages are only reacheable by foot) and of course play futbol.

Our day ended at the Oasys – a village at the bottom of the canyon with a natural spring nearby. Not hot, but definitely fresh source water. Every lodge has their own little swimming pool, filled with this water. At 22 degrees C, this would´ve been perfect during the day, but unfortunately we got there after the sun had set beyond the edge of the canyon. Incredibly refreshing, though, and putting on clean and soft clothes afterwards felt like pure heaven. The temperature at the bottom of the canyon is a lot more constant than on the plains, so it never got very cold in the evening. We spend the few hours until dinner sitting under palm trees, drinking warm beer, and chatting about this and that. Bliss!

Our overnight accommodations consistent of a cute little round mud hut, with a roof made of dried palm leaves, and two windows covered with sheets of plastic, set close to the river. Best sleep ever! The moon was incredibly bright, fully lighting up the opposite cliff face, so unfortunately we did not get to see as many stars at night as I had hoped.

The next morning involved a 3-hour hike back out of the canyon. The simple bread&egg&jam breakfast at the first village we hit was divine. The bus picked us up and drove us back along the canyon, stopping at a real hot springs. Despite my reservations (who wants to go into a hot spring on a hot day?), it was fantastic – more like warm bath water, and after getting out and drying off in the chilling breeze, getting back in was heaven. A great way to soothe the muscles no longer accustomed to 1000+m climbs.

I knitted on the drive back (the gloves are progressing nicely), while most of the people on the bus slept. We saw lots of herds of hundreds of heads of alpaca, but the road conditions (horrible) made it very difficult to snap a picture on the go – only about 1 shot out of every 3 turned out clear due to all the bumps. Even worse, the roads that had at one point been paved but had falled into disrepair were actually worse to drive on than the pure gravel roads. Odd. Even worse, I´ve had a hard time finding any alpaca yarn. Plenty of overpriced garments made of alpaca wool, but no raw wool yet. Hopefully in Bolivia?

Today was more of a relaxation day. We went to a grocery store and bought food for breakfasts and dinner. We booked our next few bus tickets, and planned out the rest of our trip a bit more carefully. Tomorrow we head up El Misti, then on to Puno (Lake Titicaca) and on to Bolivia. We need to end up in La Paz on the 24th for our flight back to Lima, and time is starting to get disappointingly short. For our first night in La Paz, I found in the book a hostel that comes with a microbrewery on premises. I should´ve just booked it without telling Dan, but I was too excited and had to tell him. He looked pretty happy about it too. Now I just have to email them to make sure they have space. Until the next 50-cent hour of internet!

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Cusco and Macchu Picchu

Grabbing a half an hour of internet at the bus terminal in Cusco before our overnight bus to Arequipa leaves, and since there are no emails to reply to, thought I would post a little bit (no photos this time around, though).

Our flight from Lima to Cusco was pretty uneventful, and after some time spent waiting for other passengers to join us in the collectivo directly to Ollantaytambo, we caved and decided to pay for the extra two seats so we could leave sooner. A private ride all the way to our hotel, sweet! Ollanta is a sweet little town, about 2,000 people. Its claim to fame is that it´s not Aguas Calientes, but you can still catch an early-morning train from there to Aguas Calientes to beat all the tour groups to Macchu Picchu.

Our train the next morning left at 5:30 a.m., and we fell asleep around 8 without even having dinner. The train ride was fun, getting tickets was effortless, and before 7:30 we were standing at the gates to Macchu Picchu. First thing I noticed – all those notices they write in the book and on the tickets about no food, drinks, or walking sticks? Yeah, you can ignore them. I saw all of those being broken within about 5 minutes of walking around (lucky for us, since we were also breaking the first two as our plan was to stay there most of the day and hike up Wayna Picchu).

Macchu Picchu itself is absolutely gorgeous, everything you see in the postcards and more. We were lucky enough to get some time to wander around and explore before the throngs of tourist groups (complete with matching t-shirts and tour guides with flags and whistles) got there. The stonework on some of the buildings is absolutely amazing, in particular how often you seen a stone that has actually been shaped to fit with another stone. Both of them the size of your torso. The weather that day turned the site into what I had always imagined it as, surrounded by clouds hanging on to nearby mountains. The air stayed clear enough to offer us incredible views, though.

Our hike up Wayna Picchu was like the Peruvian version of the Grouse Grind. Steps, more steps, tourist backups, and views all along the way that made it all totally worth it. Macchu Picchu looked even better from up here that the other side.

On the way back down, we walked the stone steps instead of taking the bus back down switchbacks – very tiring, following a day of walking around, but incredibly rewarding. The shared pizza and beer in town, waiting for our train, was bliss. As we were sitting in the town square, wasting some time, the cutest little dog (there are many of them in Peru) came up to us, tried to get some attention, and then promptly plopped on the ground and curled up right in between my boots, one paw possessively on top of my hiker. How do they know?

The train ride back was the best thing ever. Not only did we get airplane style service of food and drink, but we also were treated to a traditional dance performance (in costume) in the aisles, along with a fashion show of alpaca-cloth clothing. The awesomeness of the performance (the sound track included “Too Sexy”) wasn´t even spoiled by the fact that they later tried to sell us the clothing.

Today, on our way back from Ollanta to Cusco, we again hired a driver who took us to the sites of Moray and Salinas. Absolutely amazing.

Moray is an old Incan agricultural site, where apparently they spent time breeding and acclimatizing many of the plant species currently widely used on the continent. The site is set into quite literally a hole in the ground, so you have no idea what you´re in for as you approach it by car. Walking to the edge, you´re looking down into a pit of circular terraces, access into each lower terrace allowed by steps made of stones literally sticking out of the wall to form steps. An arduous climb down, but so stunning to be standing down there. Amazing that someone could have not only come up with the concept for this area, but also built it and successfully used it to accomplish something so significant.

Salinas, on the other hand, are a salt mine. Driving up, right before beginning a dizzying descent down a series of switchbacks, you see a “The Matrix”-style field of terraced pods, set into the mountainside, each containing liquid in various shades of white. Upon further inspection, you realize that each “pod” is a small salt pan (maybe 3 by 2 meters) in various stages of drying. The sight is absolutely incredible. So far as we were able to figure out, there is a natural stream that comes out of… somewhere, which is actually salt-rich. The banks of the stream are stacked with salt deposits. I can´t wait to read up on this and figure out how this came to be (and how it has grown to be exploited in such a way).

My half hour is almost up, so I leave until next time. Hopefully, there will be a picture update soon!

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We arrived in our hotel late last night, with no more than a few small snags along the way. Even our luggage made it!

On our second stopover, which was in Mexico City, we got a pleasant (to me) surprise of an extra stamp in our passport. Since our flight to Lima was departing from a different terminal than the one we had arrived in, we had to pass through Mexican customs. Of course, Dan promptly found a bar and got a beer, even though we could have purchased one from the 7-11. I had a delicious guanabana margarita, ice and all. Mexico City itself looks absolutely gorgeous from the air, with all the bright coloured buildings and humongous cathedrals every few blocks. I would love to go back and actually spend some time in the city.

We got up late today and went exploring in downtown Lima. No real sights visited, just wandering around. There were a couple of very nice Plazas flanked by beautiful old buildings, as well as a charmingly falling-apart monastery, although Dan didn’t want in their catacombs due to the lineup. We also discovered what seems to be the main shopping street, where you can buy a top for $2 and a pair of nice leather shoes for $30. I was surprised when Dan suggested we use at least a part of our last day in Lima on shopping, but now that the offer is out there I might just have to take him up on it. Beyond clothing, on that street you can also buy pot – at least two heavily tattooed men with business cards and flyers offered it to us, along with tattoos.

The bus system is fantastic. 50 cents will get you across town, as long as you have a nice hostel owner (as we did) to tell you which of the 20-odd different buses going past the hotel to take. The buses rule the street, with everyone employing the “I get right-of-way because I’m bigger” rule.

I was surprised when Dan agreed to stop at a little hole-in-the-wall for our lunch. It was absolutely delicious. Apparently I ordered lamb, and it was good. We ordered beers, and ended up with a ginormous 650 mL bottle each. The beer cost almost as much as the meals, for a grand total of about $8 spent on lunch. We’ll know to order only a single bottle next time, since neither one of us was able to finish ours!

Tomorrow morning we fly out to Cusco, from where we will head to Ollantaytambo and then on to Macchu Picchu. More ruin exploration to follow. Should be an exciting couple of days!

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