Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Things I Learned from My Islands Trip: No.3 My Need to be Near the Ocean!

Picos de Europa, Asturias

Picos de Europa, Asturias

Walking in Asturias last year I inevitably had several long conversations with my guide, Juanjo. A fountain of knowledge, Juanjo was one of those rare people who give the impression of being at peace with themselves.  At one point, I asked him if he had ever been to the Canary Islands, and he told me that he’d been to Tenerife to walk the mountains here. “You don’t want to go somewhere completly different?” I wondered. “You know, away from the mountains – for the change?”  But he, a true, modern mountain man, living in a tiny village, which gets cut off by the winter snows, has lived all his life surrounded by Los Picos de Europa. He replied that the mountains and mountain life were in his blood, whether it was cross country skiing or snow shoeing in those winter snows, or climbing the mountain pathways in summer. On vacation, too, he chooses to explore other mountain landscapes. I think it fair to say that I envied him the certainty of his words.

“I think I feel like that about the ocean,” I said, but I wasn’t 100% sure. I knew that I can pass hours simply watching waves, crashing onto rocks or lapping the sand; sometimes not even thinking about them, simply feeling the experience; sometimes marvelling at the fact that the moon affects tides, or how an earthquake on the other side of the ocean can drive a swell which engulfs a beach thousands of miles away. But I was falling in love with those breathtaking Asturian mountains too; the mountains of the English Lake District had been my second home for some years; and there were days, living here on the coast of Tenerife, when I looked up and knew that I needed to get up into those hillsides. That’s happening again now that I’m back, but there is a difference. I now I know how important it is for me to be mainly close to the ocean, really close. However breathtaking the view from 1400 ft above it, it’s like pressing your nose to the candy store window when you have no money. And knowing that it waits only five minute’s drive at the end of the most beautiful valley on the islands isn’t quite enough for me either.

The lush and very beautiful Hermigua valley in La Gomera

The lush and very beautiful Hermigua valley in La Gomera

I’d long been aware that I had the good fortune to live somewhere so easy to enjoy both ocean and mountain scenery. Running through my list of pros and cons of continuing to use Tenerife as a base (and there hasn’t been one year in the 27 I’ve spent here that I have not done that), it ties for first place with the pleasant climate. But now I have that same certainty about the seas that Juanjo has about the mountains. I’m lucky I don’t have to choose, but if I ever did, I know which one makes my heart beat that bit faster.

Playa Santa Catalina otherwise known as Playa de Hermigua in La Gomera

Playa Santa Catalina otherwise known as Playa de Hermigua in La Gomera

I’d begun to suspect it in La Gomera: the hours I spent working on the beach, and the total of those hours I wasn’t really working, but watching the colors of the water change as the waves rushed in, rose, offered a window into the depths, and then foamed onto the pebbles, gave me a clue. Of course, I’d happened upon my work place because there was a 3G connection, but I found that in other places too, and none captivated me as much as Playa Santa Catalina. Even with windows in the van closed, the wind rocking it and the rain pouring down it was still my favorite place to work. I only stopped when the sea began its bid to come too far ashore.

The stark, red and utterly beautiful inland scenery of Fuerteventura

The stark, red and utterly beautiful inland scenery of Fuerteventura

Just one of Fuerteventura's stunning beaches Cotillo

Just one of Fuerteventura’s stunning beaches Cotillo

Fuerteventura is all about the ocean, really. Despite the glowing red of its inland landscape, it was the beaches which awed me, and I began to admit that I felt different when I was close to the sea. Lanzarote and Graciosa confirmed it. La Palma clinched it. The island argueably has the most stunning scenery of all the islands, inclusing a dramatic coastline, with rockfaces plunging sheer down to cerulean waters, yet its steepness means that in so many places you hover 500 or a thousand feet or more above the ocean.

Sunrise over the ocean and shores of Costa Teguise in Lanzarote

Sunrise over the ocean and shores of Costa Teguise in Lanzarote

I fell in love with the white sands and turquoise waters of Graciosa, smallest of the inhabited Canary Islands

I fell in love with the white sands and turquoise waters of Graciosa, smallest of the inhabited Canary Islands

Stunning scenery in La Palma, dramatic cliffs and cobalt seas

Stunning scenery in La Palma, dramatic cliffs and cobalt seas

Over 40 years ago I visited Rome for the first time. My most vivid memory, even now, was Michaelangelo’s La Pietá in St. Peter’s. I thought it was the most beautiful manmade thing I’d ever seen, and to be able to reach out and touch it sent shivers down my spine. It was 30 years before I saw it again, after some madman damaged it, and it was, protectively, so far away from the hoards trying to glimpse it that you couldn’t properly see its purity. That’s how I feel about the sea. I need to be near to it, seeing it from above was like seeing La Pietá from a distance.

I know that it isn’t the same for everyone. Juanjo’s soul roams mountains. Being addicted to the ocean doesn’t mean that I don’t love to breathe the pure  mountain air, nor inhale the energy of cities. Everything is a balance I suppose. One reason I felt immediately at home in south Tenerife all those years ago is that deserts always fascinated me, hence perhaps a reluctance to follow up on my occasional urges to move north. I love it all, the damp forests, the parched badlands, the neon-lit cities, but most of all the dank seaweed smell on my morning walks, the magnetic blue, the knowing that there is so much hidden under those tireless waves. Perhaps I am not as committed to the ocean as Juanjo is to his mountains, though, but the next time I crave the green hillsides or the vibrancy of a city, I know that its ok to give in to it because the ocean will always draw me back.

This post is then, an ackowledgement of my passion, and a warning to expect much more writing about the oceans. Right now, they are in danger. Polluted and over-fished by men, they are desperate for help. Some say they are dying. I’ve touched on environmental topics on this blog before, but you can expect more in the future. It’s not going to be all gloom and doom, it will a celebration of the beauty of our oceans, their variety and their importance to us too. I don’t actually care more about the oceans environmentally than I do about the mountains or the deserts or the plains, but I don’t have time or space to embrace it all, and clearly my heart is more at home on the shoreline.

Montaña Roja and El Médano in Tenerife my most familiar shoreline

Montaña Roja and El Médano in Tenerife my most familiar shoreline

My island journey isn’t done, I am back to base for a number of reasons, but this is also a part of the trip. I am learning as I go.

If you are curious about the other things I’m learning, here they are to date, both practical, personal and philosophical;

Things I am learning from this journey 1: I am addicted to sunshine

Traveling with Trixy


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My Best Fish Dinner Ever: Casa Tomas in Lanzarote

I’ve been doing it for years, and sometimes I don’t give it a thought, other times, I am a tad wary of eating alone. I was looking forward to eating at Casa Tomas in Las Caletas on Lanzarote’s Costa Teguise. It came highly recommended. It was the end of my week’s stay, and I was floating on a wave of bonhomie, that had engulfed me from the moment of arrival. What could go wrong?

Casa Tomas is located right on the main street that winds along the seafront of Las Caletas. Easy to find; easy to park; I trot jauntily down the street, to see a group of good old boys hanging around the door, blocking the entrance. I’d had mixed experiences with bars which still seem to be the male domain in these islands. I hesitate.

Casa Tomas Las Caletas LanzaroteOne of the guys thumps his friend playfully on the arm and says, “Hey let the lady pass!” and the entire group smile and wish me a good day. Passing into the restaurant is like surfing on a wave of goodwill.

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Home for Now

The morning air is utterly neutral on my skin. Those Atlantic breezes do their thing overnight, and bring down temperatures, so we don’t suffer the way, say, Florida does (Orlando is on almost the same latitude as Tenerife).

Outside the main door of the apartment block the delivery guys are sitting on the low wall that surrounds the grassed, center part of the walkway, waiting for the supermarket to open its back doors for their deliveries. They chat quietly and smoke. Soda cans and plastic bottles have been tossed onto the grass overnight, and, mysteriously, yoghurt cartons and a handful of curtain rings.

This is a barrio, a ‘hood – even in a town so small there are divisions. It’s the sort of place where people hang out of their ground floor windows and chat with friends on the street. Sometimes I’ve passed one of these conversations on my way out to walk Trixy, and it’s still going on when we return.

Conversation is a serious business around here. Already in the couple of weeks I’ve lived here I’ve hurried to the window thinking a big argument was taking place outside, but it was only the delivery men flirting with the supermarket girls, or women hanging around outside the hairdressers a little way down to smoke their cigarettes.

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Tanausú and Acerina: A Story of Love & Betrayal from La Palma

From Roque de los Muchachos La Palma

Islands, as I’ve said before, are full of stories; some are simply myths, tales passed down from before written history, so that any truth has been lost in the telling. In some the kernel of truth still beats at the legend’s core, and this is one of those. It happened on a Canary Island called Benahoare, the most westerly and the most isolated of the islands; that which we know today as La Palma.

Although much of the history of the island was eradicated by the Spanish, we know that when an elder knew in his heart that his time had come, he had only to utter the word “vacaguare,” (I want to die), and he was aided by family to do so with dignity. He was taken to a cave, covered with goatskins, and surrounded by chosen possessions and a bowl of milk, was left to make his peace with his gods.

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Of Dream Homes and the Internet

Do you have a dream home? Oh, I don’t mean a house as such, though that would be a part of it, I mean a place. When you travel are you, even unconsciously,  looking for your dream home, that special place which ticks all the boxes in your heart and soul? Everywhere I’ve ever been I believe I’ve asked myself, “Could I live here?” The answer invariably is, “No,” but sometimes there’s a “Yes.” To date, however, the yeses have been too expensive, forbidden (no longterm visa) or too far away from aging family.

Generally for me it’s that middle thing, the not being allowed to live in my chosen spots. Deciding what to do a few days back, I made a list of what it would take to make my dream place. It is, of course, by the ocean, but with mountains within easy reach; it is multi-cultural, drawing color and passion from folk from many different backgrounds and nationalities;  there is good wi-fi; a variety of cuisines at reasonable prices available; it’s lively and has sports facilities; easy access to art is high on the list (bookshops, cinemas, theater, museums, concerts); it’s sophisticated (in the real sense of the word) in a laid back way. The climate is important, but if everything fell into place, and the seasons were as seasons ought to be (i.e. not 12 months of rain and cloud) then that might be less important. In fact, I guess, if enough boxes are ticked, then the ones which aren’t become less significant.Early morning El Médano

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Eating Fuerteventura: The Good, The Bad and the Meh

My recent post, about gofio, made me think more seriously about food and whether I get a bit too obsessed by “eating local,” and how food is a part of our travel experience. I have several friends in the blogging community who focus on food, but it isn’t so important for me – or is it? I have to confess that I was disappointed with eating experiences in Fuertventura for instance, so did it color my perception of the island?

Luxurious Lapas

My first memory of eating there is one of the best, and it’s never a good thing to start off that way. During the very first days of my wanderings I spotted a road sign which showed I was close to Giniginamar. How could I not follow a sign to a place which sounded like something out of Mary Poppins!

Ten minutes from the main road I found a wee fishing village, quite unspoiled expect for some attempted modern buildings, and the inevitably abandoned ones, on the outskirts. And right there, on the pretty beach a bar with a half wrap-around terrace. whose menu indicated that there was a touch of the “foreign” admid its traditionally Canarian fare, I lucked out on my very first island foodie exploration. I settled back with a cold drink, and ordered lapas, one of my favorite local dishes, though by no means available in every fish restaurant.

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Lapas are limpets. Like whelks or squid, done right they are ambrosial, done wrong they have the consistency of old rubber. These were very much right, served, as per tradition, in the half shell, and amply coated with the very best mojo verde I’ve ever tasted, and just that right chewiness to make each bite bring out the flavor of the ocean. I even ordered bread to mop up the sauce, which is something I avoid, and for this reason …… it generally leaves no room for desert! This time was no exception, and I’d had my heart set on blueberry pancakes, which are no way something one generally finds in the Canary Islands. I resolved to return another day to try them, but somehow never did.

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Sands Beach Resort Lanzarote: Canarian Hospitality at its Very Best!

“Yes,” I heard myself say. “I’d love to.” I’d just been invited to spend a week at Sands Beach Resort in Lanzarote, and dear reader, you know how ambivalent I am about accepting anything which might imply that I have to write effusive prose about it afterwards, be it a hotel, a meal or a trip of some sort! Truth is I’m kind of stubborn and independent. I do make exceptions in the right circumstances, and if my curiosity gets the better of me. The right circumstances are that I feel no pressure to write anything, good or bad, and that it fits with my personal interests. Both these applied, plus I was only a hop, skip and a jump away in Fuerteventura the other week – hence my enthusiasm.

Entrance Sands Beach Resort Lanzarote

Sands  Beach Resort is located in Costa Teguise, on the north east coast of Lanzarote, and is thought to be the first Canary Island to be settled by “modern man.” It’s famous for its volcanoes and caves, and its carefully controlled architectural heritage.

Sands Beach lies on the Atlantic Ocean

Sands Beach Resort lies on the Atlantic Ocean

Morning stroll (hard to break the habit even when Trixy wasn't with me!) as the sun rose - bliss!

Morning stroll (hard to break the habit even when Trixy wasn’t with me!) as the sun rose – bliss!

I arrived mid-afternoon, after driving pretty much the length of Fuerteventura, taking the ferry from Corralejo to Playa Blanca and dropping off Trixy at kennels recommended by fellow blogger, Julie Cliff-Jones (check out her website if you want to know more about Lanzarote), and then driving almost the length of Lanzarote, so in other words, a bit hot and dusty.

Just walking into my apartment-for-the-week was refreshing in itself. High ceilings with pretty little stained-glass-effect-windows and skylights let in oodles of light without the heat, but for when heat might build up there were plenty of ceiling fans. I loathe air con, but love light, so sometimes that’s a problem, but it wasn’t going to be here – stylish kitchen, cool bedroom and a long bathtub – I sank onto the comfiest couch my bum has encountered in a while, and smiled.

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Gofio: A tale of Food and History for The Day of the Canaries

I firmly believe that no-one, ever, says, in anticipation of breaking the night’s fast, “Yum, yum. I can’t wait for my musesli this morning.” Although I am told I’m wrong in this.

Museli is something I tolerate, in the absence of a tastier, healthy alternative. However, having inherited a huge jarful, and finances being bleak a while back, I decided it was waste not, want not. Austin had also left a quarter packet of gofio, so I tossed that into the jar and gave it a good shake, also in the interests of waste not, want not. To my surprise, the gofio gave the dour museli that missing kick it needed, the je ne se quoi. I scoffed the lot, without a grimace, inside of a week.

What  is this miraculous stuff, that can transform something which tastes, essentially, like sawdust into a tasty treat? Gofio is best described as a type of flour, made from toasted grains and seeds. A simple bag of it may contain only wheat, or it may contain, these days, up to seven different components, such as barley, rye, chickpeas, maize or different local seeds.

But, more than foodstuff, it is, I’ve been discovering during my wanderings, a link between the islands of this chain, a constant, a comfort, a slice of island history. Local author, Marcos Brito wrote a book about it, “Sabers y Sabores: El Gofio” (Gofio: Wisdom and Flavor)* which reads like an ode to something loved, and which he describes as a tribute to “the men and women who live in harmony with nature.” Gofio is a tangible link to the past, and the story of the working man.

Its exact origin is lost in time, and we can only go as far back as when the conquering Spanish set foot on the islands in the 15th century. In Tenerife, the Conquistadors found  a people, the Guanche, living in caves, mummifying their dead, and living what is generally refered to as “a Stone Age existence.”  There are some variations from island to island. In Fuerteventura, where there were less caves, they created homes by digging holes into the ground and lining them with stone, creating a cave like dwelling. Guanche origins are still uncertain, but it is generally accepted now that they came from the north of Africa, that they were Berber, and possibly that there were different waves of emigration. There remain a lot of unanswered questions, but it has been fairly easy to work out their eating habits, and amongst the evidence of seafood, goat, fruits and even cacti, it is known that they ground seeds into a type of flour, using crude stone handmills.

Gofio handmill in the Gofio museum in Valle Guerra, Tenerife

Gofio handmill in the Gofio museum in Valle Guerra, Tenerife

The Guanches used all manner of wild seeds to make gofio. In Fuerteventura they say that the creeping red cosco (mesembryanthemum nodiflorum), which I never see without thinking of “War of the Worlds,” was used, but other versions say this plant was imported after the conquest. As usual here, consensus concerning history isn’t easy to find, but what does seem certain is that the ingredients now mostly commonly used, wheat, maize and barley were brought over by the Conquistadors, and the habit of toasting the grains continued. This was done to preserve the grain, and the custom spread from here to various South American countries with the various waves of Canarian emigration over the years, so that countries like Venezuela and Cuba also have traditional dishes made with toasted-grain flour.

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Time to Move On Again

A brief post after too long an absence, due to returning to La Gomera, some family time, and back problems. Long story short, in reverse order, I have spent most of the past week more-or-less on bed rest as an old back problem re-emerged. Most days, to be honest, it was too painful to sit and type, or the meds were making me sleepy. Happily it seems to be well on the mend now, so I have a lot of making up to do!

The previous week my son, Guy and his gorgeous girlfriend, Rachael, were here, and it made me really happy to show them around La Gomera, as well as some old haunts in Tenerife. Social media more or less bit the dust, except for some personal photos, and it was nice to switch off and relax!

The journey from Fuerteventura to La Gomera proved much more interesting than the outward journey, which was mostly at night, and marked by fitful slumber on the Gran Canaria to Fuerteventura ferry. Had I not been enjoying the experience of being somewhere new then I would certainly have been grumpy!

Leaving Puerto del Rosario in Fuerteventura at 1 pm, and watching the island I had come to know drift past my window was a much better option. I was able to spot the lighthouse atop the cliffs at Entallada, the achipelago’s closest point to Africa, and the long, white sand beaches of Jandia.

Beach at Morro Jable on the Jandia peninsula

Beach at Morro Jable on the Jandia peninsula

Lighthouse at Morro Jable on the Jandia peninsula

Lighthouse at Morro Jable on the Jandia peninsula

 

The lighthouse at Entallada, the closest point on the archipelago to Africa

The lighthouse at Entallada, the closest point on the archipelago to Africa

Because of the location of the ports on Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria this part of the trip takes 5 hours, but the Armas Ferry was comfy enough, and quiet (I’d figured that midday ferries wouldn’t be too crowded), so I set up my own space at a table for four with a plug alongside (not too many of these, note, if you’re planning this journey, but there are a few around if you scout enough. I’d missed them, until I noticed someone charging a phone, asked, and looked on the opposite side of the boat to find the equivalent there. The food was acceptable, and likewise the coffee, so much more fun than flying! The downside of a quiet ferry is that the people watching isn’t so interesting, but I did enjoy the guy who flopped near to my window and took a timple (small, guitar shaped Canarian string instrument) out of his backpack, and strummed for a while. Mostly, the passengers are truck drivers who ply between the islands delivering cargo from the major ports in Gran Canaria or Tenerife to the smaller islands. Many of them take a cabin and get some shuteye, even when traveling in the daytime, so that reduces the clamor too.

We were late arriving in Gran Canaria, where we changed ferries to complete the ride to Tenerife as dusk began to fall. Odd being back on familiar turf, knowing just which road to take and which traffic lights would change as I drove south to stay, briefly overnight with friends Colleen and Pablo, before an early start for the third ferry the next morning, and, finally, the also familiar 40 minutes from the ferry to Hermigua, and the whirl down the rabbit hole to this green and beautiful valley.

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fuerteventura

Back to the lush forests and nestled again in this stunning valley, with guardian peaks all around, the hot, red soil of Fuerteventura is a world away. It’s hard to realize that Fuerteventura and La Gomera are in the same island chain. More about both islands very soon.


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The Best Meatballs Ever

I’m early, so I wander around the small shopping mall, because, you know, I’m English, and we don’t do early just as much as we don’t do late – well, not unless you’ve lived on island time for a few years at least.

The mall does not inspire. It is the familiar mix of tourist tat, but years of living in or close to tourist resorts have taught me that it’s as foolish to be snobbish about them as it is to confine oneself to their boundaries. And, to be honest, I’ve become a little blasé about traditional foods, and crave something “foreign.”

I’ve walked past the restaurant twice, and the aromas of oregano and garlic trail me as I make another circuit, until I can stand it no longer, and step over the threshold of Portobello a tad early.

I’m in Lanzarote for a week to work with Sands Beach Resort, and they have arranged for me to dine at Restaurant Portobello in Costa Teguise this night. I am to ask for Natty, short for Natividad, who is the owner.

The cosy restaurant is buzzing in a relaxed way, and I guess that the diminutive figure with the huge smile, talking animatedly with a group at one table is Natty. It is, and she turns her sparkling eyes and warm smile in my direction, and I know that I am in good hands.

I adore Italian food, and although Natty hails from Andalucia, she makes sure that the food coming out of her kitchen is prepared with the same love and passion that traditional Italian mommas put into their cooking, this much I have been told, so I ask what she recommends. She doesn’t hesitate. The meatballs are especially good tonight, so I order them, and the paté to start because it makes a point on the menu of stating that it’s homemade.

Good choices, the paté is tasty but smooth. It slides down like liquid. Then come the meatballs. When I see the steaming dish I wonder if the paté with all the toast was a good idea. The smells evoke memories of Italy, the herbs, the sunshine, the love of good food. La dolche vita. I halve a sphere, and pop it in my mouth. Zing. Every taste bud throbs in happiness. I spear the other half to make sure. Yep. I am in for a treat here. I consider figuring out what the ingredients are, but decide to simply let my senses take over and enjoy the moment. I eat slowly and savor every single mouthful. This is the secret of Italian cuisine, I think, to take something unpretentious and make it ambrosial.

meatballs

Hoemade pate at Portobello

Hoemade pate at Portobello

As I eat, I watch as Natty glides from table to table, greeting people, advising, describing dishes; and the staff, one of whom is Natty’s son,  who work together with that efficient familiarity which makes you think they’re telepathic. Afterwards I learn that the couple in the table in front of me have been every night for a week; another family have visited the restaurant several times, even though they sport the bracelets of an all-inclusive resort; and another group are locals who come regularly. I’m not surprised. I’d very much like to work my way through the menu.

What made Natty and her husband, who came to Lanzarote 36 years ago, (her children were born on the island) open an Italian restaurant? Their story, is one that resonates with a lot of us. 23 years ago, stressed and dissatisfied with the pace of life in the business world, they looked for an alternative, something about which they could be passionate, and saw the opportunity in offering something other than traditional Canarian fayre in the fledgling resort of Costa Teguise. committment to quality in both food and service rapidly gained them a good reputation, which only grew as the resort expanded and more restaurants opened. To stay the course that way speaks volumes in the restaurant industry, where fads and fashions come and go, or businesses become complacent. I asked how they were surviving Spain’s horrific recession, “La Crisis” as it is known (as if there has never been another). They managed by judicious pruning, but since 2012, they’ve seen much improvement, and have even taken on extra staff.

It’s a family affair, and it’s my belief that shows  in the restaurant business. Walking into Portobello is something like walking into your favorite auntie’s house, where you are as welcome as the flowers in springtime, and spoiled – just the right amount.

Additional Notes:

1. Portobello doesn’t really (yet!) have a social media presence, so you just have to take my word for it! If you’re in Lanzarote you can find them at Commercial Center Las Cucharas in Costa Teguise. If you want to ring for a reservation it’s 928590241.

2. I am really, really sorry that my photos turned out badly apart from this one from my phone :( – hah! Need to go back to take more!

3. I was invited by Portobello to sample their menu, but you don’t honestly think I would rave about it like this if I didn’t mean it, do you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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