Argentina

Punta Arenas to Buenos Aires – Riding North

Back on the mainland in Punta Arenas I spent a few days in town waiting for a mechanic to take a look at the bike. Luckily the hostel owner was a moto guy and sent me to his mechanic. He thought I’d easily be able to sell my bike here. He called a few friends but unfortunately no takers. So when the bike was finished up I headed north. So, for the 4th and final time I entered back into Argentina. I doubled back on some roads that I used on the way down however it was a completely different experience. There was no wind and it was heaven!!! I got an early jump on the day and without the wind I used little energy and rode 1000 km (600 miles) north along Ruta 3 to Fitz Roy. 15 km before the tiny town I was having some problems with my drivetrain. The chain was skipping. I stopped and noticed the chain was shot and the sprocket teeth looked like cresting ocean waves. There was no mechanic in the town but an Argentine motorcyclist came by and said he was a mechanic in the next town 70 km away. Maybe I can make it I thought… I started up and the chain popped off. OK, that’s that. He said that if I can get to Caleta Olivia he’d be able to help me. Fortunately, there was a police checkpoint and I convinced the cops to ask all trucks passing by if they could give me a lift. 2 hours later it’s pitch black and there’s has been little traffic.

Caleta Olivia (Ruta 3) 002

Finally a nice couple with a very small pickup agreed. We loaded the bike and I hopped in the back for the 45 minute ride. We called Diego, the mechanic and he came down, opened his shop and showed me to a hotel. Exhausted, I passed out. The next day Diego and his team found me a new sprocket and chain for a great price. We shared some matte and I also helped them translate instructions for a carburetor synchronization tool then I was on my way. Diego was intrigued by the Jetboil Flash.

Caleta Olivia (Ruta 3) 003

But today was different. The wind and rain returned and the roads were super slick with my  balding tires and numerous oil slicks. Riding fast and pushing into the night I finally arrived in Trelew. Back up early the next day it was another 1000 km through the boring pampa up Ruta 3. It’s the start of Semana Santa (Easter) and I saw lots of motorcycles out on the road enjoying the nice weather.

Ruta 3

Driving into the night was scary with the terrible KLR headlight. Finally I called it quits in the town of Tres Arroyos. A pizza and a beer and I’m fast asleep. The next day is the final 500 km (300 miles) to Buenos Aires. Dakar Motos was closed due to the holidays so I found a hostel in the Palermo barrio. A few days here was great. I walked all over Palermo and downtown. I didn’t bring my camera with me as I was paranoid after hearing 3 stories from others who had been held at gunpoint in the city. I also took a tango lesson with Eliane and Christian that was lots of fun! I’m rhythmically challenged but had a great time. Watching the professionals was amazing as well.

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Thanks to Francisco, Christian and family for inviting me to their house for a delicious home cooked meal. A friend of a friend of a friend turned out to be a great connection!

Buenos Aires is a HUGE city with lots of character. The trains and subways were great and cheap and residents walk their dogs all over the city and never pick up the poop. It’s challenging to walk down the street and dodge the dog poop.

Dakar Motos opened after the holiday. The shop is synonymous with adventure motorcycling in South America. Javier has a well stocked shop and they have bunk beds as well. It was nice to stay with other motorcyclists and talk moto for a few days. Sebastian cooked us up a delicious curry for our group dinner.

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Sandra immediately helped me to get a quote to ship the bike home. The next day I brought the bike to the airport where a pallet was waiting for me. Shipping charges are based on weight and volume. To keep the price down, I needed to lower the bike as much as possible so I took off the mirrors, windshield, front wheel and front fender. The airlines require the bike to have deflated tires, be purged of all gas, and disconnect the battery and wrap the cables in electrical tape. The bike and gear were then banded down to the pallet and wrapped in shrink wrap. Easy stuff.

Placing the bike on the pallet.

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Packed up and ready for shrink wrapping.

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Unfortunately, you can’t have any liquids on the pallet. There goes my idea to ship home a dozen boxes of Argentinean wine… Before leaving Dakar Motos I felt I needed to contribute to the atmosphere of the shop so I donated my inflatable sheep, Dirty Joe (a.k.a. Bahhhhhhbara the 3rd). You can tell Sebastian is excited.

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And of course the Swedish riders sponsored by Primus shared with me their sticker. Jetboil was here too!!!

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And just like that I took a bus to the airport and boarded a plane for the USA. Goodbye Latin America, I’ll miss you.

Categories: Argentina | 2 Comments

Tierra Del Fuego – The Land of Fire

I only keep up to date with a few websites. One of my favorites is Chris Guillebeau’s site “The Art of Non-Conformity” which continues to strike a cord with my life. It’s all about thinking outside the box, life design, entrepreneurship, and travel. The other day he posted a photo with a direct message that encompassed my journey:

Do Epic Shit

Leaving El Calafate I decided to skip the famous Tores Del Paine national park and head straight for Tierra Del Fuego. First stop – Rio Gallegos, some 300 clicks away. I stopped only once during the whole ride at a small pueblo halfway in between. It was sunny, it was dry and the pavement was pristine  but this was the hardest section of riding to date. WIND!!! A very flat topography gave no where to hide from the relentless wind. I leaned the bike over more than 30 degrees just to ride straight. For hours my muscles strained to keep the bike going straight. My entire body was tense to fight the wind. My neck took the worst of it trying to balance my giant helmet head. It was exhausting. Every hour or so I got so tired and frustrated that I screamed into my helmet. “Is that all you got!” and “AHHHHHHH!!!!” and “Bring it on!” The small bursts of adrenaline helped keep me focused.

It was early in the day when I reached Rio Gallegos so I decided to press on. Shortly after the city I saw my first signs for Ushuaia. I’m getting close!

Puerto Delgada 001 

I then crossed back into Chile (for the 3rd time now) and soon arrived at the Magellan Strait. Across this small channel is Tierra del Fuego!

Puerto Delgada 009

Puerto Delgada 009

One of the few buildings at the port is covered with travelers’ stickers.

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Time to jump on the ferry and motor through the rough seas.

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It’s official, I’m on the island of Tierra Del Fuego!!!

 Puerto Delgada 010

The relentless winds continued as I rode to Cerro Sombrero where I stayed the night in a hospedaje. These are my favorite accommodations. Families rent out rooms in their homes. It’s a cozy atmosphere and a delight to speak with the locals.

After Cerro Sombrero there’s about 120k of ripio. I came across some rough traffic on the way.

 Tierra Del Fuego 004

I felt like Moses parting the sea… (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds9PAWTDHkY)

 

After the ripio ended it was time to enter back into Argentina. Yes, the island of Tierra del Fuego is owned half by Chile and half by Argentina. To enter the island you come from Argentina, then you ride through the Chilean side of the island, then you cross back into Argentina to hit up Ushuaia (it’s all reversed on the way back). Ridiculous… At the border I saw that my makeshift starter relay by-pass button was coming undone. So in the wind, rain, and freezing cold I gave into the weather and worked to rewire the system.

Tierra Del Fuego 007 

 Tierra Del Fuego 008

I kept on. The pavement was a nice change but as I furthered south, it got colder and the rain picked up. At the last town before Ushuaia I warmed up in a gas station for a few minutes and decided to push on in the late afternoon to make Ushuaia. Before I could arrive, I’d have to go through a mountain pass with tops covered in snow. Locals told me there would be no ice on the roads. It didn’t take long to lose all the warmth I gained at the gas station. I climbed up the mountains and twisted through the pass. The heated grips didn’t work and I was extending and compressing my legs over and over to work the muscles and warm up my body. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning – so excited for the day to come. After more than 5 months and 20,000 miles I’m about to arrive at the southern most city in the world! I was signing out loud with craziness excitement “It’s the final count down, do do do dooooo…” and “It’s a long way to the bottom top if you wanna rock-n-roll!” Finally, shivering, drenched, and exhausted I arrived in Ushuaia. A fitting scenario for arriving at the Fin del Mundo (end of the world). I was so jumbled that I missed the famous sign welcoming visitors to Ushuaia. I stopped on my way out of town instead.

I made it!!!!!

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Kick back and relax!

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And a special end of the world dance! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-cqvXMnWn0)

 

I found a hostel, took a nice loooooooong hot shower and then got some dinner and a bottle of Argentinean wine to celebrate. WOOOOO HOOOOO! And then I passed out at 10 pm, ha.

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The next day I relaxed, did some organizing, and walked around the city. The landscape is beautiful – “The land of fire” – a spectacular end to the horrendous Pampa.

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Old ship in the port.

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This is an active port with lots of shipping going on too.

 Ushuaia 007

All afternoon I checked with every hostel and travel agency as well as the Antarctic Expedition Center for a “last minute” deal for a boat to Antarctica. Normal prices are $5,000 – $25,000 USD but at the end of the season they can be as low as $3,000 USD (still crazy expensive). Unfortunately, it looks like the last boat of the season left 2 days ago. I just missed it! Oh well… Next time 🙂

 Porvenir 003

The weather report for the next day showed sun in the morning and rain in the afternoon. Perfect I thought, so I took a boat ride through the Beagle Channel to view cormorants, sea lions, and penguins. Unfortunately, it was overcast all day (terrible light for photos). And go figure, the afternoon had beautiful blue skies!

Cormorant Island.

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Sea Lion Island.

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Sea lion island video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aucLny5c6hE

 

Lighthouse.

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PENGUINS!

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  Beagle Channel 134

Penguin movie – watch them waddle! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q20ypwqZDtM

 

My Italian friends on the boat. Franco invited me to Italy to check out his collection of 15 motorcycles. Thanks for the lunch too! Next stop… Italy.

 Beagle Channel 138

Beautiful mountain scenery at the bottom of the world.

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In town I picked up some new stickers for the Micatech top box. Ruta 40! Ushuaia!

 Porvenir 009

I have decided to try and sell the bike down here in South America. Before leaving Ushuaia I made a SE VENDE (For Sale) sign for the front windshield.

 Porvenir 004

Then I left town, passing through the mountains and back onto the windy pampa of Tierra Del Fuego island. It was a long day riding through the strong wind. After crossing back into Chile (4th time now) it was a 140 kilometers on ripio to the port town of Porvenir. The next day it was a 2.5 hour ferry ride to the largest city in southern Patagonia, Punta Arenas. However, the ferry didn’t leave until 5 pm so I had a chance to hangout at the “dock” for a bit.

Fishing gear.

 Porvenir 002

Big chain.

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Strapped down for the ride.

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Although I’ve already made to the southern most city in the world, the adventure continues. Stay Tuned!

Categories: Argentina, Chile | 4 Comments

Patagonia, Argentina – Southern Ruta 40

A swift and simple border crossing and I’m back in Argentina for the second time.

 Ruta 40 - Border (Los Antigous) to El Calafate 001

Back to desert. Windy windy desert.

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It’s a long days ride with lots of ripio before I arrive in Gobiernos Gregaros

Ruta 40 - Border (Los Antigous) to El Calafate 003

The wind has picked up significantly since the border and the landscape has changed back to Pampa. There’s lots of rheas too. They are these funky mini ostrich type birds. They run fast along the road as I pass.

There’s only 4 hospadejes to stay in and they’re all full. Fortunately, I convince the last one to ask if anyone is willing to share a room and I’m lucky to find a bed for the night. The next day it’s more of the same – ripio and wind. Some sections are particularly challenging. I’m riding on a path not more than a foot wide. On either side is a 6 inch tall strip of deep gravel. The wind is howling and I’m leaning the bike over 30 degrees just to stay in a straight line. Every once in a while the wind pauses and then picks up with a strong burst. I struggle to correct and sometimes I’m not good enough and I run into the gravel patch, losing control and fishtailing wildly. Somehow I managed to keep the bike upright and even with many close calls I never dropped the bike. Here’s what the loose gravel looks like.

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Dirt tracks.

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I pulled over for a snack break and saw a campesino on horseback coming my way. He and his dog were herding sheep through the hillside. His skill was amazing.

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Did I mention that it’s windy out here?

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Reaching the tarmac in Tres Lagos was heaven. As the road wound through the hillside I turned to a direction that yielded a tailwind. If I matched the speed of the wind I could ride in complete silence (except the engine). No wind was blowing in my face or across my helmet and it was magical serenity. I didn’t have to struggle to keep the bike from being blown off the road. But all good things must come to an end and when the road changed directions (even slightly) the wind came back with a force and the battle continued. This sign pretty much sums it up – WINDY!

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Here’s some video of the windy Pampa. Click the link if the video doesn’t appear in your browser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xARXCUaLITw

 

Arriving in El Calafate I ran into Jeff (who I met back in Mexico) and Oliver (from England, riding Alaska to Ushuaia). We went out to dinner at a parrilla (grill house).

El Calafate 002

Dinner = meat meat and more meat along with some Patagonian wine.

El Calafate 003

The next morning I set off to visit one of the world’s last remaining stable glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park. The drive in traced Lago Argentino with spectacular views.

Perito Moreno Glacier 002

The Perito Moreno glacier is BIG. This view (with terrible light) is from the road. It covers an area larger than the city of Buenos Aires!

Perito Moreno Glacier 003

I took a boat ride to get closer to the massive glacier. It’s hard to get a reference scale but these walls are 60 meters (200 feet) tall!

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Twice, school bus sized ice chunks broke off from the face as the glacier advanced. These enormous masses of ice roared and plunged into the lake below. Incredible power! Here’s a few shots of the sparkling blue glacier.

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As I left the park the clouds disappeared and the sun shined through (figures). I stopped for a photo and my bike wouldn’t start back up. For reals?!?! Luckily I was on a hill so I coasted down and popped the transmission into gear, bump starting the bike. I figured my battery was shot since I rode out there on low RPMs with my heated grips cranked on high. I rode back with high RPMs and without the heated grips. Close to town I climbed a hill and stopped the bike to test it. Nope, nada. What a pain… OK, so I found the only mechanic  in town and we diagnosed the problem as a busted starter relay. Unfortunately, they don’t have a spare and I’m not wanting to wait around to get one shipped in. He showed me that I could use a screw driver to short circuit the relay and essentially hot wire the bike. SOLD! But that’s going to be annoying. Together we fashioned up a switch that I can use to complete the circuit. It works! Now let’s just hope it can hold the current over the next 3000 miles. Man rule #73: Find Solutions.

Here’s some route details for the adventure riders out there. Chile Chico to Perito Moreno (the town – there’s a town with the same name as the glacier but they are over 700 kilometers apart) is all paved. You an find gas in Chile Chico, Los Antigous, and Perito Moreno (be sure to fill up here). From Perito Moreno head south on Ruta 40 which quickly becomes desvio’s and ripio (they have construction going on. I imagine it will be finished within 50 years). There’s a sweet 50K of pavement somewhere mid way and then it’s back to dirt. Turn off Ruta 40 for Gobernos Gregaros to fill up with gas and spend the night (rumor has it you can stay on Ruta 40 and you’ll find another small pueblo – I didn’t have it on my map though). I left Chile Chico at 9am and arrived in GG at 5pm – 340 kilometers? The next day head towards Tres Lagos on all ripio. You’ll find gas just past the turn-off for the town and the pavement begins. It’s all pavement to El Calafate. I left GG at 9am and got to El Calafate at 4pm (with a long lunch in Tres Lagos) 330k in total? (My speedo cable broke so I’m not sure on exact distances). This can be done on street tires but if it’s wet, you’ll want some knobbies. Some of the dried mud looked horrendous. I can only imagine how challenging it would have been in the rain.

The final push for Ushuaia is coming up next, stay tuned!

Categories: Argentina | 6 Comments

Central Argentina

My friend, Charlie, has been following the journey with a map he keeps updated on his desk at work. Thanks for the support, Charlie!

Charlie's Map

Argentina! Woot woot!

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Shortly after crossing the border I’m able to see the tallest mountain in South America, Aconcagua 6962 m (22,841 ft). I thought about climbing it, but then I thought better of it and just took a picture.

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A few more kilometers down the road and I find the migracion and aduanas office. It’s the first border crossing that resembles order and logic. It still takes a while, but it’s all good.

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And a few more kilometers down the road I come across this truck that’s flipped over and halfway off the road.

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A bit further down and it’s the shrine for the local saint, Difunta Correa. Legend has it that she travelled through the country during the civil war in the 1850s and died of thirst. When local villagers discovered her body they were amazed to see her baby son was still alive. He survived by suckling on her breast and living off her milk. This miracle prompted a shrine. People now present her with offerings of water bottles and it’s told that she protects travelers on these barren roads.

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As I get closer to Mendoza I pass through the wine region. Lots of grape vines.

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I really enjoyed my stay in Mendoza. It’s a beautiful and lively city and everyone is using the word “vos” down here. It’s the informal form of you in Argentina. Other Latin American countries use “tu” instead.

Leaving Mendoza I head south on the (in)famous Ruta 40 for Malargue. As I get closer to Malargue the wind picks up. It’s very windy in the town and the next morning as I’m making my way out of town, down the main road that has 3 poorly visible traffic lights, I get in an accident! I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure I ran a red light. The traffic lights were poorly angled and near impossible to tell the color. Regardless, I should have been paying more attention and driving more defensively.

The accident was like slow motion and fast forward all at once. I entered the intersection and suddenly noticed a car coming from my side. I slammed on the brakes and skidded. The car did the same (unfortunately, had he kept his normal speed there would have been no collision). I crashed my front end into his rear panel. Somehow I high-sided, fell off the bike, and rolled down the street. By the time we collided I wasn’t going very fast and fortunately I wasn’t hurt (neither were the driver or passenger of the car). There was a loud crunching sound as we met and then my bike lay in the middle of the road. The driver came out yelling but quickly calmed down and helped me pick up the bike and move it off the road. I took an inventory of the bike and noticed the mirrors were bent (easy fix) and that the front plastic cowl was broken (bummer, but OK).

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The first thought in my mind is that I’m going to prison in Argentina. I then rationalized my thoughts and realized that I didn’t have insurance. OK, so the cops and driver are going to get me for a big bribe. OK, a potential loss of $500 is bad but not the end of the world. I calm down and apologize to the driver. The first thing he says to me is that we don’t need the police. Huh? We’re both pretty sure I broke the law and I’m at fault. There’s a fair size dent in his rear panel and he doesn’t want the cops involved??? He must be hiding something… but I’m not going to argue because this really works out in my favor. He doesn’t even ask for any money. He tells me to drive more carefully and we’re on our way. I’m not going to wait around while he changes his mind so I hit the road. The windscreen is flapping in the wind the whole way. Stupid Stupid Stupid. I got lazy. I’m lucky I didn’t get seriously injured. Time to focus more on the road.

Ruta 40 south from Malague starts with 50k of good pavement, then 50k of ripio, then 50k of more good pavement, then 50k or more ripio before leveling off with good pavement. It’s slow going through the ripio.

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I push on for about 9 hours and finally arrive in Zapala for the night. After riding such a long day I get some dinner and pass out. The next day it’s more of the same scenery and little traffic. There’s a lot of land down here and it’s sparsely populated every few hundred kilometers. Looks like I still have a long way to go.

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The landscape starts to change around Bariloche and it’s really spectacular country filled with large rock formations and big beautiful blue lakes. It’s a pleasant change from the more barren land up north.

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Bariloche is beautiful town beside a serene lake. I popped into a mechanics shop (ya, I do that a lot) and they helped me fix a few things (there’s always something needing fixing). My free brake pads from the shop in Chile turned out to be junk. The backing on them was so thin that it somehow bent and separated from the braking pad. So that’s why my brakes suck… OK, I bought some new pads (front and rear) and they helped fixed my front plastics. Some diamond plate and pop-rivets. Beautiful!

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After leaving Bariloche, I ride through a few miles  of bumble bees. THWACK! It’s loud when these guys hit the helmet. And of course one hits my neck and goes down my shirt. I feel it squirming on my skin. I pull over and tear off all my layers to finally get him out.

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When I stop for a snack a few hours later I see that right rear blinker has been lowered and is now being melted by the exhaust. There’s always something, isn’t there….

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I arrive in Esquel in the late afternoon. It’s time to change my tires (again) to prepare for the off-road riding on the Carretera Austral in Chile. There’s always a tire changing place in Latin America. In Mexico and most of Central America they were called Vulcanizadora (or Vulka). In most of northern Central America they are called Llanterias and in Argentina they are called Gomerias. Whatever their name you can find them by the signature giant tractor/truck tire in front of their building.

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The asphalt stops in Trevelin and it’s gravel all the way to the border. It’s another quiet frontera. I’m first in line and pass through with ease. There’s also lots of European trucks on this road. Those you see in the picture below are the smallest. Most are giant lorries.

Border - Futalafu

Up next, back to Chile to ride the Carretera Austral. Stay tuned!

Categories: Argentina | 6 Comments

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