A Travellerspoint blog

June 2016

The heat and museums of Tuscon

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 41 °C
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When leaving the Flagstaff KOA it was just a short drive up the road to pick up our brand new shower system at Buddy’s RV. Excellent! We’ll be looking forward to great outdoor showers from now on…
And even though we did not realize it at this stage: it was a really good idea to get the shower replaced before reaching Southern Arizona. The climate in Flagstaff had been very pleasant, actually even a bit too cool compared to the nights we had spent in Sedona. Flagstaff’s altitude is about at 7000 ft (2130m), so refreshing even during summer. As we headed south, we realized that we were going down significantly - after all Tucson is only at an altitude of 2600 ft (800m). As we left Flagstaff fairly late (had to stop for groceries and allowed Max one last training session in his favourite bike park), we did not make it all the way to Tuscon, but stopped in Pichaco State Park for the night. Already there we were amazed by the amounts of Saguaro cactus adorning the landscape.

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What a change in climate: while the night before Sam had still prepared a bottle with warm water to take into bed to warm his feet, this night I hardly slept at all because of the heat – it did not cool down further than 74 °F (or 23 °C) at night.
But the next day we got to see even many more of them in Saguaro National Park which was our first destination of the day. When Sam walked around to take some pictures of cacti in bloom, the spider webs in the lower bushes caught his attention. The ranger confirmed that what he had seen were in fact the nets of Tarantulas…

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Our main destination of the day was the Sonora Desert Museum. We enjoyed the museum, which in fact is a combination of a zoo, botanical garden and geology museum. While Max was more fascinated by the snakes and the caves, we also liked the nice exhibits which included a sizable piece of moon stone. Given the midday heat we did not get to see all of the animals, but the black bear was impressive, as were the bobcat and grey fox. Still, the clear highlight was the beaver and the otter which were enjoying a swim in the pool and regularly visited their den.

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While Max enjoyed the visit, Sam was pretty down soon after: he realized that his camera lens was letting him down – the autofocus did not work anymore and as it the whole lens got stuck, also the manual focus did not work. This is not good news, specifically when the large portion of our trip is still ahead of us…
And there’s another thing we realized: in Sedona our fridge had started to make funny noises to the degree that eventually we shut it off periodically. After a bit of troubleshooting and research in the various manuals of the RV, we deducted that the last 17 nights without electrical hook-up had probably depleted the batteries in the back of the RV and that the limited driving we had been doing lately had simply not been sufficient. So the theory was that after the two nights with electrical hook-ups in Flagstaff and Pichaco, we should be fine again. But the theory proved not to be right, as soon after we stopped for the night at a free campsite called Snyder Hill a bit west of Tucson the fridge stated to make funny noises again…

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So we changed our plan for the next day and went to have our equipment checked. After stopping at two camera repair shops, it was clear that we’d be talking a lens replacement and not a repair – as any kind of repair would have left us stuck in Tuscon probably for the next two weeks. Still, both stores did not really have what Sam wanted and were already considering to potentially order a new lens via the internet.
Before making a decision, we decided to check the van first. A nearby Jiffylube soon discovered that both batteries in the back of the van were simply dead. And as living without a fridge in the actual temperatures (at that stage it was probably 101 °F or 38 °C) is simply no option, the choice was pretty easy to get new batteries. At least all the other news was good: the brakes and bearings looked good, the motor oil did not need a change yet and there was no other obvious damage that would need to be taken care of.

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We paid less than expected and even got a coupon for a free car wash as a bonus. So we did that – why not and were soon the owners of a shiny camper van. Great!
Well great, if it wasn’t for the cover of the gas system that was suddenly missing – which we realized at the third camera store we went to. So the feeling of elation about the fixed and clean car subsided quicker than a snap second and I just felt horrified: we would never be able to get that part exactly in that color again except if we’d pay a lot of money to get it custom made… NOOOOOOO!

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It took a while for clear thinking to set in again. Once it did, I called the car wash and asked them to check if a piece like that was found. The lady checked and about two minutes later I was relieved to hear that they had it. Great – I just hoped it would be in acceptable condition and was glad to know that we’d not need to drive the 5 miles again hoping to find the part somewhere on the street – probably run over by other cars a dozen times.
In the meantime, Sam enquired about new camera lenses and eventually ended up buying a new Tamron 16 – 300mm lens. As Sam always wanted to have a 300mm lens, he was happy with that choice and given that online we did not get significantly better prices, he went with that. And we agreed that this will be it – no other birthday presents needed in a couple of days!
Max had been nice the whole time, playing mostly by himself. Still, the heat took his toll also on him and as all three of us were fairly exhausted, we decided to treat ourselves to the local KOA campground which features a pool. And that’s where we spent pretty much the rest of the evening: at first in the regular pool, then soaking in the hot pool. And life was good again – even though the day will hopefully remain to be the single most expensive of our whole trip!
Sam had already fallen in love with Tucson right from the start: after all with the large air force base there were constantly jets and helicopters passing over our heads and soon enough also Max learned to distinguish an A10 from an F16.

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So Sam had really been looking forward to visit the PIMA Air and Space Museum. At first we toured the museum itself - outside and some of the hangars. Sam was fascinated and commented the lack of similar aircraft museums in Europe.

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But after all he had been even more keen to tour the boneyards where the US military is storing 4000 planes and helicopters that have been taken out of service. Some of them are used for parts only, others are ready to be reactivated in a matter of days or weeks. The highlight of the tram tour of the outside facilities at the museum and the bus tour of the boneyards was probably the fact that the tours were held by former pilots who were able to tell by far more stories about the planes than what we would have guessed when just walking around on our own.

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We had come as one of the first people in the morning and left only shortly before the museum closed, so it was not a long decision making process to define that we’d go back to the KOA with the pool.
Before heading off to visit some more museums around Tucson, we first dipped again into the pool – after all it was supposed to get up to 109 °F (44 °C) today, so we figured that a bit of cooling off before starting could not hurt.
Our first stop was at San Xavier der Bac mission, an old building from the 18th century. The stop at the mission was relatively short, but ended with a culinary highlight: it was time to try Indian frybread: Sam and I tried the bean-tomato-cheese-lettuce version, while Max was delighted to get his frybread with cinnamon and honey. We were not alone for lunch: there was a whole group of little whistlers surrounding us.

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Strengthened by lunch we were ready for the next adventures. A bit south of the mission we stopped at the ASARCO Pima mine. After a quick photo session in their yard (in which Sam was quite disappointed not to see any of the local rattle-snakes) we went on the mine tour and were impressed by the sheer size of the excavations. But also the milling processes to extract the copper from the rocks were enormous.

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But more to come, as we still had one more agenda item on the list for today: Sam really wanted to see the Titan Missile Museum. We got to see a missile in its silo – without the nuclear warhead that would have featured these missiles still until 1982 when they were decommissioned. What a reminiscence of the cold war and it’s quite hard to believe how much effort and ingenuity was put into devising a system that was only designed to retailiate in case the enemy would have attacked first. Impressive, but at the same time quite scary as well.

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An hour’s drive later we arrived at Benson, our stop for the night. And the first activity was to jump into the pool. It seems that by now we have adjusted quite well to the temperatures. Sam was already feeling cold and went to get his jacket at 8:30 pm – when accuweather still said that the local Benson temperature was 95 °F (35 °C)… Let’s see it his projection of freezing tonight with his light blanket will come true!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:43 Archived in USA Tagged arizona museum air mine tucson space heat lens battery missile Comments (0)

Birthday celebrations in Tombstone

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 41 °C
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It’s Sam birthday. So we planned for an easy day and kept the Mexican border formalities for the next day…
After a nice omelette in the morning Sam and Max explored the playground. As it had only little to offer, they soon switched their preferences and went to the pool where they pretty much stayed until it was time to check out. A quick stop at Walmart’s ensured that we had a birthday cake – unfortunately Sam’s favourite apple pie was not on stock, so he had to go for the cherry pie.
And then we got to Tombstone. What used to be a bustling silver mining town back in the 1880’s is now a Western town renowned for its enactments of historical gunfights and for visitors and people living there dressing up just like in the old days. It sounded like a fun place to be and a perfect place for celebrating a birthday (thanks for the recommendation to go there, Rainer and Ulrike!). Our first stop was in fact to see a gun fight – a comedy one as we were promised. And it was fun and we had lots of good laughs.

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But also just strolling through the streets was really nice – there were lots of people looking like they were about to star in the next Western movie and all of that in a really nice scenery. What looked like real life was obviously a lot of acting and really nice costumes. When we had a conversation with one of the cowboys who had been starring in the gunfight, we found out that what looked like a local actor, was actually a long term traveller: he had given up his home after years of working with mentally ill people and later as a professional photographer and now travelled the world together with his dog. He travels on his BMW GS1200 and the dog travels in a side car. He somehow tried the acting and had been doing that for a month. Still, he did not know how long he’d be staying around from there on and where he’d be headed next.

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Eventually it was time to have lunch: a huge burger for Sam, french fries for Max and cheese enchiladas for me. This was actually enough food, but probably it was the name that made us order ‘Death by chocolate’ as a desert. And even though no one of us was really hungry anymore, the portion was gone in what seems like a split second – and we even forgot to take a picture of it before it was all eaten up.

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In a last stop before leaving Tombstone, we went to the Boothill Cemetery. What at first looks funny with lots of signs in the graveyard starring statements like ‘shot by…’, murdered, ‘killed by Indians’, ‘hanged’ or ‘hanged by mistake’ is actually an awful reminder that the old times were in fact very dangerous times and that it was most probably not really fun to live back in these times.

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Our campground for the evening was in Patagonia Lake State Park and it was a real pleasure to cool off in the lake after a hot day.

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One once Max was sleeping soundly in the back of the van, we enjoyed the starry sky and had an attempt at taking some pictures of the stars. The attempt was fun and ended with a long shopping list of equipment that would enable taking really nice pictures of the milky way – given that we came up with a total bill of almost 10,000$ to do that, we concluded that we’d be happy for the time being with those pictures we were getting. And Sam started considering that instead of buying an enduro bike upon his return to Europe, this could be an alternative option for investing his money... With that we went to bed - most likely our last night in the US for a couple of weeks.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 08:18 Archived in USA Tagged lake dinner birthday cowboy tombstone Comments (1)

Heading into Mexico

written by Birgit, sorry no pictures of that day... we had other worries on our mind!

sunny 35 °C
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Our day started easy and relaxed. Sam and I were up already soon after 6am, such that the heat was still bearable. While Sam unpacked his sling trainer and did some exercise, I used the time to write up a bit more for the blog. Once Max was up and breakfast eaten, Sam and he left to go down to the lake while I was packing up.
And I realized that it would make sense to make sure we have all documents ready for getting easily into Mexico. And even though one should think that in a small van like ours it is straight forward to find everything, I managed to have trouble finding our car documents. Eventually Sam located them just next to the place where we store our important stuff like passports… Still, not finding them would have put quite a damper to our plans. Once we had the documents we headed off towards the border which was just 30 mins away from Patagonia Lake State Park.
You might recall that border and immigration situations tend to make me be rather tense and nervous. This was true also this time. And even though I always hope that everything will go just so smooth such that the nervousness would not have been justified at all, this time it was definitively justified…
At first things looked almost too easy: at the Nogales border no one on the US side even bothered (so let’s hope that no one will ever want to see any stamps in our passports for having left the US) and on the Mexican side we were only asked if we had anything to declare. Upon saying ‘no’ we were waved through and more or less forced our way into getting immigration cards. We were told to just park somewhere behind the border and to walk back into the immigrations building. A bit strange, but fine – why not! A friendly gentleman gave us the paperwork to fill, advised us where to pay the money and upon returning handed us our immigration cards with the stamped passports. Excellent.
So the three of us were now officially in Mexico with all required paperwork. That is us, but not our car. We were told that the customs entry point for temporarily importing cars would be about 20 km further down the road and that this is also where we’d get Mexican insurance. Hmmm, that did not sound too promising. I did not like the thought of not having insurance for these 20 km. As expected the border featured a couple of insurance places, but unfortunately only one which was selling Mexican insurance (all the others sold insurance for the US). And the quote I got there simply did not appeal too much: liability with a coverage of 20,000US$ should have cost 130US$ for a month. Upon my request that this was too little liability, I could have also bought one with 100,000US$ should have cost 200US$.
So I then did what I should have probably done already a while ago: I searched Mexican liability insurance on the web and as I wanted to avoid clicking through too many form sheets, I called a friendly lady on a toll free number. As promised on the web, she was able to give me a quote within a couple of minutes and hooray she offered me coverage of 500,000US$ for 121 US$ for a month… So without much further research, I purchased this insurance on the spot and had my insurance documents in my mailbox 5 mins later – thank you, internet!
So we were all set to head off into Mexico. Except that we did not have any local money yet. Unfortunately, this time it was my VISA which claimed to have not enough funds to give me money, so it was Sam using his newly unlocked Mastercard getting us cash.
We then worked our way south through the town of Nogales. And just from those first meters, it was clear that we were not in the US anymore. Traffic is just different. Wilder in comparison, faster and requiring a good bit of concentration. Sam managed well and felt reminded of his times in Romania.
We soon passed the city limits and were headed south on the highway. There was a stretch on the highway where 70km/h and 40 km/h signs were alternating like every 500m and Sam was a bit unclear on which one was the correct one. Not even a mile after having left Nogales, Sam had the flashing lights of a police car in the rear-view mirror and stopped next to the road.As you can imagine, Sam was shaking a bit – he had not expected to be caught out at all. So the policeman walks up to our car, Sam lowers the window. And it turns out that the policeman had seen Sam talk and had deducted that he was speaking on the phone. Not surprisingly as Sam was in fact speaking, but Max and I were both sitting in the back behind tinted windows… My Spanish was sufficient to clarify the situation and we were let go without any issues. Still, a bit of shock remained.
Still, the real issues were still to come: the next and last step we still had to accomplish was to import our car temporarily into Mexico. We knew that the original registration papers or the original title of the car were required to do so. And we had taken the conscious choice to take only the registration papers and just a copy of the title.
So we were quite positively minded when approaching the customs office. Our first stop was the copy place where copies of passport, immigration card and car registration were taken. We then proceeded with the copies to the banjercitio where everything was checked. And unfortunately the official behind the counter was not happy with the papers I presented him and refused to process them. When Sam asked what the chances were that we’d be able to go on, I was like 50-50. It’s always hard to judge on how these things will go. Officials might be very bureaucratic and insisting in having exactly what it takes and refusing everything else. Or there might be back doors and alternative ways of doing it that are not written down officially…. So we had to see what would be coming next: the official sent me to another counter to talk with the customs representative.
So once again I showed all the documents I have. He thoroughly checked the papers, went back to his colleague at the banjercitio and eventually returned asking for insurance papers. Luckily enough I was able to present the insurance documents – after all I had just gotten Mexican insurance for the car. But I did not have a copy at hand and consequently the customs official was not able to get a copy for himself.
So following the recommendation of the official, we went into the tiny store next door and asked if it was possible to print the insurance papers there. It was. I sent an email from my phone to the store keeper, then after some back and forth which involved him leaving the store twice for a couple of minutes he suddenly came back with a print out.
Before handing the precious print out (yes, it did come for quite a fee!) to the customs official we made sure that we got another two copies of it at the copy place. Then the customs official checked the insurance papers and attached it together with the other paperwork we had at hand to stamp it and write a note onto it saying that the copy of the title and insurance papers were accepted to compensate for the faulty registration papers… After thanking him for what feels a dozen times, we were able to go back to the banjercitio.
After this critical step was successfully achieved, the rest was easy: I had to stand in line a bit, then the stamped pile of documents was again thoroughly checked, I then had to fill additional paperwork about the contents of the camper van. As usual the window for the officials were at a very inconvenient height. To properly see and speak to the agent behind the window, I had to bend down to what is approximately breast height for me… But eventually I was happy to receive in return for paying the respective fee the sticker for the car and all relevant documents.
We did it! Even though a bit more complicated than anticipated, we were now all set to continue our journey as planned. At that stage it was already 3pm in the afternoon – it had taken almost four hours to get all of this done since we had approached the border in Nogales. So time to eat.
And then time to continue towards Hermosillo. Unfortunately, even though Hermosillo is a town with a population of over 800,000, there is no campground of RV park there. So we had to continue onwards towards San Carlos / Guaymas. The sun was going down already when we passed through Hermasillo and it was another 150 km to Guaymas. We knew that it was not recommended to drive in Mexico at night, but did not really know what else to do. So we just continued along the carretera towards the south.
Once we were out of Hermasillo the potholes subsided again, but it still felt a bit intimidating to go on a Mexican highway after having gotten used to the highways in the US. Having to rather narrow lanes and rather steep declines towards both sides without any additional asphalt on either side felt strange again. And considering that nobody seemed to stick to the posted speed limits, but surpassed them significantly did not help either. Just to illustrate: in a construction area where the onwards traffic was using the left lane and we were limited to the right line, a speed limit of 60 km/h was posted. I drove already about 95 km/h and was still overtaken by trucks and busses on stretches with almost no visibility and they were soon out of sight – I guess they were driving far beyond 120 km/h. So driving required a lot of concentration and we were happy to eventually arrive at 9pm in total darkness at the Totonaka RV park in San Carlos.
The security guard let us in and we could not resist to walk to the beach right across the street once we had parked our camper van. Everybody was exhausted and tired. And we were sweating! It was cool in comparison to Southern Arizona, roughly 86 °F (30 °C), but we were not used to temperatures including high humidity anymore!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 12:46 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico border insurance heat customs carretera humidity guaymas nogales Comments (0)

Getting to the Baja California

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 31 °C
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A first night in Mexico with the sound of the waves in the background… Nice!
Even if this is probably not doing mainland Mexico it’s justice, it is in fact only supposed to be our transit route towards the Baja California. Given that along the 1000 miles (1700 km) peninsula of the Baja California there’s mostly just one highway with asphalt, we simply wanted to avoid going down and up the same roads twice.
Our base plan was to take the ferry at Topolobampo towards the very south of the Baja in La Paz. I had checked ferry schedules and prices already a couple of times. There were regular departures, availability did not seem to be an issue and the only down side were the prices. A regular car was defined to be less than 5,40m long and it would cost 1230 mexican pesos to ferry it over. Unfortunately surfing the net, it seems like our camper van is 5,42m long. And this is without considering the aircon in the back of the camper which adds probably another 8 cm. And cars longer than 5,40m unfortunately do not just cost a bit more, but the prices suddenly raise to 5700 pesos. Still from the way we set up our journey, the ferry was the only plot that made sense, so we were still planning to do that independent of the cost.
Admittedly, after all that initial research I had not checked ferry details again and as I was not sure which length to use for the car I did not want to book tickets online anyhow, but was planning to get them on the spot. So when driving somewhere close to Hermosillo, I realized that the Topolobampo ferry that was announced to be in maintenance for the month of May was only restarting operations much later and that they first availability was only as of June 15. That did put quite a damper to my plans: while there were a couple of interesting things to see on the mainland, there was not enough that sounded interesting to keep us busy for 10 days.
There are two alternatives for ferries: we could also use the ferry to La Paz from Mazatlan. This would entail driving probably another 10 hours south on the mainland on those highways we already found quite strenuous on our first encounter. In addition the ferry would take longer and be a bit more expensive than from Topolobampo. The other option would mean to take the ferry from Guaymas to Santa Rosalía. As Santa Rosalía is just about half way on the Baja, this option would result in driving that stretch south to Cabo San Lucas and to then drive it again in the other direction on the way up.
None of the three options were ideal, but we were clear that our preferred one was the last option. The guidebook warned to be early to book tickets, specifically as the ferry from Guaymas is significantly smaller than the ones from Topolobampo or Mazatlan and as the ferry does not leave daily, but only three times a week. I tried my luck and was fortunate to hear that there would still be availability for the ferry that would be leaving in the evening. This was great news, so I made the reservations on the phone and was told to be there latest at 5:30pm and that the ferry would leave at 8pm.
Excellent – that was great news, as we were anyhow not too keen to stay much longer in hot and humid San Carlos with its loads of mosquitoes. We had another look at the sea to see how it’s like in daylight and concluded that we’d rather jump into the pool to cool off a bit. And that was very enjoyable and very relaxing. That was good since we were in dire need of a bit of relaxation anyhow.

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So we did not do too much else before eventually going to the ferry terminal. As usual the Scout app on our mobile phone helped us easily to navigate our way towards the terminal. Except that close to our destination the ‘ferry’ signs subsided and there was nothing that looked even remotely like a ferry terminal. After a first tour of the harbour area, we decided to ask someone. We had gone too far. Fine, on our way back we asked three more people and eventually ended up at a gate with two small buildings to either side of it. And in fact one of them sold tickets for the ferry. The lady at the counter found the reservation for ‘Bernardo’ that included a Ford Econoline with 2 adults and one child – so I figured that this was us. She then helped me to measure the car and luckily enough she concluded that the car was not longer than the 5,40m for a regular vehicle. So I paid for our tickets and after the marines arrived at 6pm, we were admitted to drive towards the ferry.

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After quite a while of waiting while all baggage was checked by dogs searching for drugs, all cars were searched as well: a dog entered through every door of each car – and every step of the process was thoroughly documented with a camera. Eventually I got to drive onto the boat together with another 6 cars and a small truck (we’re talking a small ferry!). Max and Sam had been waiting on the upper deck of the boat already over an hour.

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It took a bit of investigation to find our cabin and it was quite a disappointment: there were empty food containers and empty cans on the table, the bedding of the four bunk beds looked used and the cockroaches on the floor were not suited to change our first impression. We quickly closed the door again and concluded that travelling in the salon would be a better option. After all the roughly 100 reclining seats there were made of leather. We picked the last row that was a proper bench and looked like a better sleeping option than the recliners and were happily waiting for the ferry to take off.

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Well, the ferry did not take off that evening. As the captain explained to everyone a bit later, the harbour had been closed due to bad weather and the ferry would be able to leave earliest tomorrow after midnight, i.e. 28 hours later than originally planned. As the ferry was ready to take off and it was the harbour leadership taking the decision, they would not pay for hotels, but at least the tickets would still be valid tomorrow. And everyone who did not want to stay on the boat could call around noon the next day to get an update on the ferry departure.
We decided to leave and declined to experience a night on the boat in the harbour. We rather went back to the RV park we had stayed at already the last night. So another 45 min of driving in the night on Mexican roads and watching out for pot holes and unannounced speed bumps…
We did not have a lot of trust into the ferry leaving that evening, so we took it quite easy. After breakfast we took a walk (and Max his little bike) to the local Ley supermarket. And even though we were limited in our shopping as we had to carry everything back to the campervan, it was fabulous shopping. We found many things that US American stores seem not to carry, such as milk in one liter packs that does not need to be refrigerated. Given our small refrigerator we really prefer small sizes and things that will not go back also without refrigeration – so this was an excellent find! And given the low prices specifically for fruit and vegetables it was simply fun to shop again!
The bad news was that when leaving the store, we realized that Max’ little bike had two punctures in the front tire and consequently he had to push it home vs. being able to ride it. Well, if there wouldn’t have been the nice car mechanic 100 ft down the street from the supermarket who noticed us walk by and offered his help to pump up the tire. We explained that pumping it up would not do the job, as there were also punctures to be fixed and he explained that this would be an easy job for him.

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And in fact within less than five minutes he had taken out the inner tube of the tire, had identified the two punctures, roughed them up and vulcanized them such that the tube was better than new. Back into the tire, pumping it up and letting us go… Just like that. He did not even want money for the quick help he had given to us and refused to take the equivalent of 2 US$ I gave to him, as this was too much. He was fine with taking half of that and we were just so pleased to have Max riding his beloved bike again and knowing how easy and fun life can be in a country like Mexico.
Another round of swimming in the pool and eventually Sam reminded me to call the ferry again, as they had advised us at noon that they’d only be able to tell us more at 4:30 in the afternoon. And when they said we should be there latest at 6pm for the ferry to leave at 8pm panic set in – at least on my part – as I had mentally written off the ferry for that evening already. So we quickly took a shower, gathered our stuff together, sorted what we wanted to take onto the ferry (knowing how it looks there helped already big time to decide what we should take) and then left for the ferry terminal. The rush was completely unnecessary, as the marines only arrived an hour late and we had to wait in the meantime. But eventually after the same procedures of checking all cars and baggage, we were admitted to the ferry and looked for a mice spot in the Salon for the night.

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It seemed that about half of the people who were on the boat the evening before had given up the idea of taking the ferry, so there was plenty of space. Good for us. Still, the ferry ride was not really pleasant. There were quite a bit of waves and the boat was rolling heavily. Lying down helped and also the fact that the main salon was located underneath the car deck and that we got a spot fairly in the middle, so close to the gravitational center of the ferry. But going to the toilets or the upper deck included being shaken around a lot. And I don’t even want to imagine how much we’d have been shaken in our cabin two decks further up and located on the side vs. in the middle of the ferry.
Contrary to his parents, Max slept through out the whole journey and it was rather hard to wake him up the next morning when the ferry arrived at 6am local time in Santa Rosalía. So we made it to the Baja California after all – and arrived even much earlier than originally anticipated.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged california santa pool baja bike ferry repair rosalia cancelled mechanic guaymas Comments (1)

Beaches and pools – life is beautiful in BCS

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 34 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

So we have made it to Baja California Sur. And as we arrived more north than originally planned, for the first and potentially only time on our journey we how had a stretch of road ahead of us that we’d take again on our way back. While this might sound like a bit of boredom, I got to like the idea a lot. It takes away a bit of pressure in the sense of ‘should we stay here longer – is this really the place to be or maybe there’s a nicer place just around the corner’. In case we’d like it somewhere and did not stay as long as the spot would have deserved, we will easily be able to come back to it on our way back. And we will easily be able to pick out nice spots on our way down and stay there later.
It did not take a lot of searching to find a nice first spot to stay: While Sam slept in the car and Max listened to a story with his headphones, I drove through Mulegé and towards the Bahía Conception. Heading down towards Playa Santispak, it just seemed too tempting to go there. And even Max liked it so much that he woke up Sam saying ‘look, such a nice beach!’.

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So we had a look and decided to stay for the day and the night. And to avoid the burning sunshine, we parked next to a ‘palapa’ hut which provided us with enough shade and protection from the light breeze. What a nice spot! And what a bargain – 150 pesos for the night including the palapa, i.e. roughly 8 US$... Life is beautiful in Mexico.

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We spent most of the day hanging out in the shadow of our palapa or in the shallow warm water. Lunch consisted of an enormous portion of fresh fish that we had bought in the morning from one of the rolling stores. In the evening we had a nice fire at the beach and enjoyed some roasted marshmallows with the family that stayed next to us.

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The next morning, we were just ready to have breakfast when Chicho stopped by to pick us up for the boat ride we had arranged with him. As we had not taken into account that the southern part of the Baja is again back on mountain time and not on pacific time, so Chicho had to wait a bit for us to be ready. As we headed out into the bay with his motorboat our first stop was for snorkeling. On the way to our next stop we saw large colonies of pelicans sitting on their already white rocks. We really liked the secluded beach on little Coyote Island. Being very shallow and extremely calm and clear water it was fun for all of us to swim there.

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I really enjoyed being at Playa Santispak. Just sitting there and looking at the water was all I needed. Somehow it felt that roughly eight weeks after the last working day, this is when I arrived on our trip. Life is beautiful. So we were clear that we wanted to stay for another night at this marvelous place.
This evening we were too lazy to cook ourselves and just went to the restaurant a bit further up the beach. Food was good, the view even better, the beers were cold and also the margarita did not disappoint us.
It was hard to go to sleep that night (well, not for Max) and once the raising moon had left the scene, we were treated to a great starry sky featuring the milky way and a couple of shooting stars. And by then temperatures had cooled off enough for a good night’s sleep.
Even though it was hard to leave that nice little spot we had found, we knew that on our way up we could easily stop by again. So it was relatively easy to leave the next morning headed towards Loreto, the former capital of Baja California.
Along the way we were treated to a couple of really nice vistas not only of beaches, cacti and mountains, but also of a Hummer AWD being stuck in a mangrove swamp and obviously not having a winch to get himself out again.

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After almost two hours of driving we arrived in Loreto, where we treated ourselves to lunch at one of the many little restaurants along the road. The fish and shrimp tacos they served were excellent and we continued ordering more and more.

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Loreto surprised us as being a really beautiful town that seems to be laid out for a lot more people and tourists than now in the low season. We had a look at the old mission church and wandered through the pedestrian zone to the sea.

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After having an enormous ice cream each, we eventually headed to our campground for the night, the Loreto Shores. Even though the view of the beach was a bit obstructed by houses, the pool was just great. All of us enjoyed to soak and cool off.

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Max eventually went to bed while Sam and I used the opportunity of having a good internet connection to get the blog and pictures up to date again.
The next morning, we easily took the decision to stay for another night. It was just way too comfortable and pleasant to head off already. So we just took it easy, spent most time either at or in the pool and enjoyed life. Only in the late afternoon we headed for a round into town and quickly found a nice place to eat. Max enjoyed Tacos de Pescado, Sam Camerones con Ajo and I tried the Pescado Empapelado. It was excellent!

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When paying we had a nice conversation with the older lady who had been tending our table, just like one of the many conversations we had with people we met. She commented on Max’ blond hair and his age and added that she had a grandson who was six years old. A bit later she added that he had a brother of 10 years and a sister of 12 years and that actually all three of them were living with her. Their mother had left them due to drug addiction issues and their father lived in the US and did not take care of the kids. So she was all on her own with the three kids trying to make enough money for all of them to get around… What a story and how sad to hear this. She had touched us quite unexpectedly and we realized once more how lucky we can call ourselves to be well situated. By coincidence we saw her in the street when leaving town the next day. We might not have noticed her, but she was waving so nicely at us that we recognized her and waved back to the tough lady.
The next morning, we took an easy start: breakfast at the pool was followed by soaking in the pool until we felt prepared to head off. Between running some errands, shopping and lunch it was almost 2pm when we left for La Paz. The road was initially winding through the mountains with lots of cactus on both sides, then we passed through agricultural land, desert-like dusty plains and eventually got into rolling cactus hills again before seeing the bay of La Paz lying in the early evening light ahead of us – really nice scenery.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:38 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach road pool loreto palapa motorboat santispak Comments (1)

Exploring La Paz and surroundings

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 36 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

We could not resist to stop at the beach promenade, the Malecon. We walked along while the sun was setting over the sea and Max enjoyed trying to do some tricks on the bike.

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With all that it got a bit late when we headed off towards north to find the RV park that our Mexico guidebook promised. Unfortunately, we searched in vain and were not able to find it with the sketchy explanation of the book. And given that all the usual search sites of the net were unable to provide us with directions either, we had to go for another RV park that Google Maps and Tripadvisor suggested. So after another 20 min of driving we ended up at half past nine a bit south of the Malecon at the AquaMarina RV Park and picked a nice spot maybe 150ft (50m) from the water. Nice!
La Paz surprised us as being a very pleasant laid-back town, probably because we had not expected much of the largest town in the southern part of the Baja. We spent a full day strolling through town, had lunch at the marina at a local restaurant, once again strolled up on the beach promenade and even made it up the hill to the local cathedral / former mission church.

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Back down at the beach we met Petra and Pascal, our Czech / Swiss neighbors from the RV park and liked the idea to have a sun-downer at the beach. We were joined by Theresa from Austria and Daniel from Mexico who are traveling the peninsula with their bikes. What a nice evening. And surprisingly enough the lady police officer who stopped to tell us that consumption of alcohol on the city beach is not enough was really friendly and calm. Our local friends had the solution at hand: just put your beer can into a small black plastic bag and continue drinking.

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Just before it was getting too late we headed back to our place, enjoying the sunset along the way.

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The next day we wanted to explore the beaches around La Paz. Our first stop was Balandra Beach, a very shallow bay with crystal clear turquoise water. What a nice beach and considering that it is considered one of the top 5 beaches in Mexico, still so few people there. Just enough to observe a bit the local lifestyles. Life is beautiful…

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Eventually it was time to go to our next place to stay. Just another 5 km further we went to Tecolote Beach to find our spot for the night. Sam cooked us nice shrimps for dinner and we enjoyed a nice sunset over the beach.

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The next day was our tour to the island Espirito Santo. After a motorboat ride of almost an hour we arrived at the island and got to see a couple of small passage ways and a little cave. At the rocky 'Islotes' at the northern tip of the islands we got to see the local sea lion colony with about 500 animals. And we were lucky to see lots of new-born babies which are all exactly five days old. It was nice to see how a mother sea lion was helping her baby to get up a rock that it continued sliding down.

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After surveying the colony a bit, we got to go into the water to snorkel with the sea lions. It was quite impressive to be in the water with a 1000 pound / 500 kg male sea lion swimming just underneath us. In a small cave we found a sea star and eventually found ourselves in the middle of a whole school of light blue fish.

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After all of that excitement it was time for lunch. We were treated to excellent Ceviche at the nice and secluded beach of Ensenada Grande and had some time on our own to do some snorkeling in the shallow waters.

On the way back we took a couple of stops along the way, learned about the local flora, fauna and history. Our guide Alan, the marine biologist from Espiritu & Baja was an excellent source of information and kept us informed very well.

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The highlight of the trip back to La Paz was probably the group of manta rays jumping above the water. What a great sight!

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We spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to buy a USB card reader. At the first store we bought some sweets and got a referral to another store. At the second store we got some food and found a nice playground for Max and got referred to once again another store. At the third store they thought they had a card reader in their still unpacked delivery and after they had a look were referred to a fourth store. At the fourth store it was a matter of two minutes to locate and buy the card reader. And eventually it was late enough to take the decision to go back to our good old AquaMarina RV park. There we met Petra and Pascal again and the original plan of having dinner was substituted with having beer and chips at the little ‘bar’ between our campsites. And it was lots of fun to talk about their planned adventure that should take them all the way down to Patagonia vs. our travel plans that will take us north again quite soon.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 12:43 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach island snorkeling sealion promenade lapaz motorboat espiritusanto Comments (4)

Summer solstice at the Tropic of Cancer

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 32 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

Our next destination was Todos Santos (the Mexican version of ‘Allerheiligen’) and we were all looking forward to see the Pacific. Todos Santos is located directly on the Tropic of Cancer and just an hour north of the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula. The town itself was very pleasant – small, but already a bit more touristy in comparison to Loreto or La Paz. The main points of interest were quickly seen: the legendary ‘Hotel California’ and the mission church.

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But the key highlight was the ocean itself: we were quite impressed by the power of the waves coming in and how cold and refreshing the water was. We only tested it with our feet, as due to the rip tides and undercurrents swimming is very dangerous on that beach. Still, after having been used to the calm and warm waters of the Sea of Cortez so far, this was quite a change in scenery!

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Another town, another campground – extremely laid-back and surprisingly cheap (full hookup for the camper for 150 pesos the night, i.e. ~9USD). The campground is located in the outskirts of town and consequently treated us to a typical Mexican concert: the sound of the waves in the background was overlaid by the barking of dogs, all kinds of different birds singing their songs, really loud frogs (if they were frogs they must have been extremely large!), typical music coming from various directions and cars making their way through the dusty roads.

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We all were in need for a quiet day again, so our Saturday was dedicated to making phone calls home, playing extensively with Max’s Lego and car collection and just hanging out. Eventually in the late afternoon we made our way into town to get something to eat and we treated ourselves to good food. Days like these are important. It feels a bit like weekend – which in fact it is.

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Even though Sunday would probably also count as weekend, the one day of relaxing was absolutely sufficient and consequently we headed off towards the tip of the peninsula. But we did not have to drive far for our first stop at Cerritos Beach, a pretty empty long stretch of beach that is safe for swimming.

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So we used the opportunity to take a refreshing dip in the waves of the Pacific Ocean. While we just jumped a bit in the waves rather at the edge of the water, a bit later some locals went a bit further into the waves. And one of them got pulled outwards more and more and started crying for help. Only one of his family members seemed brave and well trained enough to go out to get him. But as soon as the women in the family realized that they eventually both got pulled out even further, they raised the attention to more people around to help. Sam raced up to get the surfboard of the family next to us, got the quick advice to just try to get the two to swim sideways such that they get out of the outwards current and to make sure that once he reaches them they don’t grab him, but only the surfboard. And off he went into the waves. By the time he reached the pair, also the surfer who had been waiting for waves all the way back had noticed and come to get them. So each of them took one of the local swimmers and got them back to the beach. A bit later he came over with a big bottle of beer as an official thanks to Sam for going out to get him.
Sam had always wanted to help and rescue someone anyhow, so he was very pleased. And I was very happy that he had not just gone out like that, but with the surfboard – otherwise I’d have feared that he’d get pulled out as well, just like the others did before.
Eventually we got hungry and left the beach in order to get food. We found a nice seafood place back at the town entrance of Todos Santos. We were treated to excellent (and expensive as we realized after the fact) Ceviche de Cameron and Ceviche de Pulpo (i.e. shrimp and octopus seafood cocktails). Max was not too excited when he realized though that his fruit platter was sprinkled with chili powder.
After an hour of driving we reached Cabo San Lucas. It marks the place where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez and used to be probably a really nice and romantic place. Well, now it is a major tourist centre and it’s hard to find a lonely spot anywhere. On our way through town we stopped at the probably busiest beach of all: the beach just next to the entrance to the marina was crowded with locals who were enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

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Sam and I simply enjoyed watching the people on the beach and observing the dozens of boats getting into and out of the marina headed for land’s end just a couple of hundred meters further along the rocks. Some of the boats were party boats with loud music and people dancing on deck, there were themed pirate sailboats, large trimarans, low key small glass bottom boats and luxury yachts – a boat for every taste. Max had other interests: after having observed for a while, he was ready to get right into the middle of the fun at the beach and joined the local kids jumping from the rocks into the sea.

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Our designated destination for the night was the Vagabundos del Mar RV park, which Petra and Pascal had praised highly. To our disappointment it was full. But after talking a bit with the guy at the office, we found a solution to stay in a spot where some construction work was going on. We even got a large discount on the usual price, as we’d not have any electrical hookup, which we did not need anyhow after having been hooked up for a couple of days in a row lately.

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After a dip in the pool, it was time for dinner and given Sam’s rescue action today, we wanted to celebrate. And luckily we did go to the local restaurant just next to the pool: once we were there we found out that the last game of seven of the NBA basketball finals was going on with the Cleveland Cavaliers playing the Golden State Warriors. And wow – the game was exciting till the last minutes. Just three minutes before the end the game was still tied. In a very tight finish the Cavaliers made it and LeBron James had lots of reasons to be proud and celebrate a great season, a great final and some personal records. The many Californian supporters in the restaurant had gone more quiet at the end when their team was falling back, but for us it was enjoyment to see the championship independent of the winner. It just reminded me a lot of my time in Chicago in 1992 when the Bulls won the championships with Michael ‘Air’ Jordan’s lead. I kept stacks of newspaper clippings on the Bulls victory and had decorated my room back in Germany with them upon my return from Chicago.
The next day we realized that in fact the discount for our site was fully justified: as of seven in the morning we had construction noise all around us. Not too bad, but still. As Max noticed right away: there were just people with their tools and no big construction machines at work.
One of the local construction worker stopped by when we had breakfast. He was quite talkative and told us many things. He is from Guerrero Negro (i.e. 14 hours by bus away from Cabo), but he has been working in Cabo for the last 11 months, as here he’s able to earn 300 pesos (about 18 USD) a day vs. only 200 pesos in his home town. He said he’s missing his five kids (15, 13, 8, 5 and less than 1 year old) and kept stroking Max (who was not really amused). In addition, he has two more kids with another woman, so Sam and I were wondering for quite some time afterwards how this is working out financially to support so many people with so little wage. We continue to be puzzled and just hope that he is supporting the rest of his large family vs. spending it all on alcohol drowning his sadness about not being able to be close to his kids.
We left Cabo San Lucas that morning and drove along the coast towards San José del Cabo. The views alternated between great beaches (also for surfing), large resorts and huge construction sites to fill the empty slots in between. We kept wondering how many tourists are needed to fill all those capacities. But knowing that the airport in Cabo is the sixth largest of Mexico despite not too many people living there, explains already a lot.

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As we’re not too keen on meeting too many other tourists, we preferred San José over San Lucas. It’s older, much smaller and has retained its old town away from the beaches. We strolled around, had great lunch and then stopped at the local fresh water lagoon close to the beach. What an oasis for birds!

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Our next destination was the fishing and windsurfing mecca of Los Barriles. Just a couple of miles before we reached the town, we crossed again the Tropic of Cancer. And this time we also found a large sign to mark it. So 2.5 years after taking our picture with a sign of the Tropic of Capricorn in Namibia, we now also have one with the Tropic of Cancer.

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Once we were in Los Barriles we headed to the campground at Martin Verdugo’s beach and got a space underneath a big tree with lots of shadow – excellent!

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Sam and Max headed right away to the beach as they wanted to try their fishing equipment. They had lots of fun, even though they did not catch anything.

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The next morning, we went right back to the beach. The water was absolutely still, there were no waves or wind at all. It seems like the windsurfer’s paradise is only true for the winter months. After our dip in the sea, we headed to the pool and only went back to our van when it was time for lunch.
On June 21 at lunch on the Tropic of Cancer we got treated to a special feature: there was no shadow – the sun was standing exactly above us. Luckily we were parked underneath that big tree such that we could still enjoy lots of shade.
We spent the afternoon around the van. We watched a hummingbird in the tree, ate some coconut that Sam had gotten from the palm tree next to our van and eventually headed to the supermarket to replenish our stocks.

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The evening we spent again at the water, which was again nice and calm. Sam took another go at fishing. He almost caught a yellow puffer fish, but not knowing if it is edible, he rather let it go again.
As there was a big group of manta rays just passing along the shore, jumping out of the water in formation flight, Sam hurried back to get his camera. By the time he was back, the mantas had gone already a bit further out, but till doing their jumps.

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What Sam had not counted on was to catch a manta ray so close to the shore with his small fishing gear. But once he saw the shadow of a manta circling his swimmer and eventually realized that the line had been bitten off, he stopped his attempts of fishing. After all, manta rays are nice in the wild vs. fished out of the water.

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The remainder of the evening we spent in the pool, enjoying the nice place we had ended up in. As usual it’s those place you don’t expect much from – like in this case Los Barriles – where we were treated to a nice surprise: great inexpensive and clean campground, great pool and calm waters… Just great!

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:23 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach place lagoon cabo solstice todossantos losbarriles Comments (3)

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