Category Archives: Contributor

Two Trips to Africa

Today’s post takes us to Africa… twice. It is written by my friend Geordie. Now, I went back and forth on whether or not I should keep the first paragraph in because I feel silly and maybe even a little embarrassed posting it (gah, thanks G!), but… Geordie wrote it (not me – I swear!) and he intended it to be posted, so I will just leave it there and say thank you, G, for your kind words. Sorry to anyone who reads it and rolls his/her eyes… Just pretend it’s not there I guess. Or, just know that I have some pretty amazing friends.

Wait! I just realized that the last time Geordie contributed to TwT, it was the exact same time last year… Here is his post, Gone to Dogon Country, from February 6, 2010. Cool.

My Two Trips to Africa

By Geordie

Tavel once saved my life. No, not in the literal sense (although that would have been pretty amazing) but in an extremely important figurative sense. I will not take up any more of your time than necessary with this totally sincere panegyric, nor will I spell out in painstaking detail the improvements in my life for which Ms. Tavel is responsible. Suffice it to say that her keen emotional intelligence, her compassion, and her uncanny knack for finding just the right way to say just the right thing (“Focus on people, not your thoughts”), has made her one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I shudder to think where I might be right now without Tavel, and that is only a slight exaggeration. But enough of this. On to the exploits.

I am going to try and do a difficult thing in this post. And that is to combine a very serious subject with one that is not quite as serious. I have my reasons for doing this, and I will trust you to trust me on this one. And I have faith it will work out, so perhaps I should just stop talking.

Mopti, Mali (December, 2003)

Picture, if you will, a young man of 20. He is spending the year in Africa on his junior year abroad. It is Christmas vacation, he is travelling in Mali, and he finds himself on Christmas day with scarcely a penny to his name (the only ATM machine in the town being broken). That evening he is boarding a boat to Timbuktu (yes, THE Timbuktu), for which he has bought a five dollar ticket which entitles him to a concrete bed under the stars. With his final few francs he purchases a thin blanket for himself and his platonic female travelling companion. The temperature that night is frigid. They are sleeping on the concrete upper deck of a ship. To have purchased a bed would have been more expensive and shamefully less adventurous. Still, it is very cold. He eventually abandons his companion (thus depriving her of his body warmth, only later does he realize) and eventually finds warmth on the floor of the second class bathroom with Ayn Rand’s The Fountain Head for a pillow. It is miserable to be sure, but what a story! That morning, he goes up on deck and sees the entire sunrise — total darkness, merging into streaks of pink and purple before finishing as a vault of brilliant blue sky. All of this while floating down a river that seems lost in time, surrounded by men in robes and turbans lounging on giant burlap sacks. Even as the sun is rising he scribbles frantically in his black moleskin notebook, trying to capture every moment of this glorious experience.

Kigali, Rwanda (January, 2011)

Picture, if you will again, this same young man, now a robust 27, standing in Kigali, Rwanda. The mission is different this time. He is not here for pleasure, nor is he here for adventure. Or if it is adventure it is certainly of a different sort. The young man is now a PhD candidate at a large Northeastern university. This  university has agreed to pay for this young man to travel to Rwanda in preparation for his future writing (dissertation, journal articles, books, who knows?).

Kigali Rwanda. Photo by Geordie.

Traveling to Rwanda is a difficult undertaking, and not just because it is far away and getting there is tremendously expensive, but because of what happened there. The more time the young man spends in Rwanda, the more he speaks to people about what happened, the more he visits the different sites where the massacres took place… He feels something changing, or rather something becoming more the same… Well what?… It’s hard to put into words. It’s just one of those things. One of those things that’s hard to explain. And one of those things that he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to explain. That is his job, he realizes, trying to explain, understand, that thing he feels that feels impossible to explain.

Dogon Country, Mali (January, 2004)

The adventure for this young man continues. Timbuktu is one and done. There was a camel ride, eating with his hands out of a communal bowl while squatting outside a hut in the desert. He met a group of other tourists on the ferry, and now they call themselves the “Timbukcrew.” He went on a camel ride wearing a blue turban.

 

Geordie in Tumuktu, as seen in previous post. Photo provided by Geordie.

But Timbuktu is done. Now they are in Dogon country, a beautiful part of Mali, except they are there with a lying, cheating Malian guide, who grows angry at us for not giving him more money. He flecks my face with spittle as he admonishes us for our lack of understanding. He is not a cheat, we are simply ignorant. Since no one else in our group speaks French, it is I, the French major, who gets shouted at the most. However, despite the yelling and its mind-numbing unpleasantness, we can’t deny that Dogon country is beautiful — simply gorgeous. Like the American southwest, except with whole villages built into these enormous hillsides, blending in seamlessly as if the huts had risen organically out of the earth.

Geordie in Dogon Country, as seen in previous post. Photo provided by Geordie.

I sit on a mountain ledge, our trip completed, looking out over this flat, endless plain. My god, I think, as I look out, My god. Life. Everything. Life is so complete right now. It is everything right now. I’m in the moment. I’m here. I’m in Africa. Incredible. Just simply f’in incredible. Sure, later, there’s a trip to the police station because half our group won’t pay the guide, and sure there’s a 50 hour train ride back to Senegal (my home during the year abroad) where enormous, loquacious women take up all the seats in our compartment and where I have no bed, a trip (the train ride) that feels less adventurous and more just plain shitty. And then when we get back to Senegal I get really sick, and eat almost nothing for a week. Did I mention during this whole trip I was missing a front tooth? But it was glorious. Simply, simply, simply glorious.

Nyamata, Rwanda (January, 2011)

Most of the memorials in Rwanda are sites where massacres occurred that the government has since converted into memorials. In Nyamata, around 10,000 people went into the local church, in the vain hope that the killers would balk at committing massacres in a sacred space. I am standing outside the church with my group, listening to a guide tell us what happened. The Tutsis hiding in the church barricaded the door from the inside, she explains. Unable to break down the sturdy  metal door, the Hutu militia then used a grenade to blow open the door of the church. I should clarify that the people hiding inside were civilians (ordinary men, women and children) not soldiers. They were the neighbors, and sometimes also the relatives of the people trying to kill them.

In the door of the church you can still see the large hole blown by the grenade. You can still see the holes from the shrapnel of the grenade on the ground by the entrance of the church. We move inside the church, and the guide points out that there are also holes in the ceiling of the church because they actually throw grenades inside before going in to finish people off with guns and machetes. Inside the church are dozens of wooden benches covered with clothes of the victims. Just rows and rows of dusty brown tee-shirts, pants, hats, dresses…The church had formally shown exposed bodies but they had since been removed. One body, that used to be prominently displayed, now has its special crypt beneath the floor of the church. There is another crypt nearby where you walk down a narrow flight of stairs into a small corridor where there are bones and skulls arranged on a wooden platforms that are ten feet high. The effect of all of this is at one powerful and surreal. What you find most moving often surprises you. I got choked up looking at the blown off bottom section of the door. At a “Cornell” sweatshirt taken from one of the victims.

It’s also so overwhelming and so awful that your mind sort of shuts off. It wasn’t until I got back to the States that I could really process everything I’d seen (as much as anyone can ever really “process” seeing something like that).

 

Geordie with Rwandan Friend. Photo provided by Geordie.

While the rest of our group was wrapping up the visit at the church, I noticed that one of our Rwandan chaperone’s was sitting in our group’s van by himself. He was about my age and we had gotten friendly the day before so I decided to go over and keep him company. As soon as I sat down he said:

“I was here, you know.”

I was stunned.  “Here in the church?”

“No, no,” he said. “But I came by after it happened. I saw the bodies and everything, it was awful.”

“Yeah,” I said, “that must have been awful.” (What else can you say?)

“Yes,” he said, “It was awful. The bodies, the blood, everything, it was awful”

Rwanda has made remarkable strides since the genocide happened. The government, which is unfortunately far from perfect, has nonetheless done a remarkable job of keeping the country stable while allowing it to grow economically. When you arrive in Kigali today, you are struck by how clean and orderly it is (one of the governments new initiatives was to ban plastic bags). It is also a beautiful country, (Rwandans calls it “The Land of a Thousand Hills”) where you are almost always in sight of a lush, green mountain tops.

View. Kigali, Rwanda. Photo by Geordie.

Ahh, but methinks this blog entry is drawing to a close. Perhaps you are asking, so what of this young man (now almost 28) with whom you have shared the last few moments of your life? Well, he is back in the northeast, reading massive piles of books in French, thinking about past adventures, and figuring out how to do good in the world from his tiny corner of academe.

There we have it my friends. Thus ends my contribution to this blog which I have been such a fan of for such a long time. Another tip of the cap to Mademoiselle Tavel, to whom my entry owes its very existence, on so many levels. Hasta luego, compadres…

Geordie is in the first year of a PhD program in French Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He attended Bowdoin with Tavel where he played squash, did improv, and watched ungodly amounts of French Canadian TV. His favorite place to travel is Africa, but he loves France as well.

If you want to learn more about the genocide, Geordie suggests Philip Gourevitch’s book “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families”, the Front-line documentary “Ghosts of Rwanda” (available on Youtube), and, as a feature film alternative to Hotel Rwanda, the movie “Sometimes in April” which is also available on youtube.

There is also a wonderful charitable organization that helps orphans of the genocide. It was started by Geordie’s former college professor who got him interested in Rwanda. If interested, you can learn more about it and/or donate here:  http://friendsoftubeho.org/.

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Filed under Africa, Contributor, Life Stuff, Travel

Study Guide

By Jackie

It has finally set in: as a medical student, my days of enjoying life (too harsh?) and traveling may be gone.  At least for a little while.

I guess you could say I saw it coming. Last summer (my “last” summer), I took full advantage of my precious time off.  I spent a month in Honduras learning medical Spanish and shadowing in a local public hospital.  After a two-day return to the US, I hopped on a plane to France where I spent two weeks cycling around the Burgundy countryside.  I followed that with a week of speaking French with an Italian family in the Swiss Alps (I’m such a typical over-achieving med student, “enjoying” my summer to the max).

Hay Bales Photoshoot. Burgundy, France. Photo by Jackie.

Oh how those carefree days feel so far away!  Now, I find myself under a pile of textbooks and study guides gearing up for the dreaded USMLE Step 1 Exam.  With so much to learn and so little time to do it, life can get overwhelming.  Things like traveling, or really any kind of fun, often get pushed aside in the name of academics.  If I’m not careful, I can easily spend an entire weekend alone in my room studying; I’ve actually gone full days without any human contact (and I have two roommates).

Chalet. Verbier, Switzerland. Photo by Jackie

To mix it up and avoid going insane, I go to coffee shops to study.  In a way, it’s kind of like “micro-travel.” Although I remain relatively local, each coffee shop/study spot has something different to offer.  Whether it’s the view, the people, or the ambience, each place provides its own experience.

My home base is Pain du Monde in Corona del Mar.  It’s only a couple of blocks from my house and I know all of the people who work there.  A walk to PDM is my standard study break (and often the only human interaction I’ll get all day).  If I’m feeling particularly ahead of my study schedule (yes, this schedule exists – you don’t even want to see the Excel spreadsheet… it’s embarrassing), I’ll pick up a coffee and walk down to the beach for an extended breather.

Little Corona Beach. Corona del Mar, California. Photo by Jackie.

If it’s a beautiful day (which, let’s be honest, happens a lot in Southern California), I might go to Pacific Whey Café.  Sure, it can sometimes get overrun with snobby “OC” people and their kids, but its location, just off of Pacific Coast Highway, is unbeatable.  Any place where I can study and enjoy views of Catalina Island qualifies as awesome (even/especially if I feel like I’m in an episode of The OC).

Kéan Coffee in Newport Beach is more of a “cultural” experience.  Okay, maybe “cultural” is a stretch. Kéan is filled with emo hipsters (and the occasional Bible Study Group).  I go there when I want to feel indy/cool or watch other people trying to be indy/cool.  Plus, they roast their own coffee beans and it’s delicious.

Yellow Vase in Malaga Cove. Palos Verdes Estates, California. Photo by Jackie.

When I really need a change of scenery, I venture up to Los Angeles for mini study “field trips.”  Just last weekend, I discovered Yellow Vase in Palos Verdes.  The café is nestled back in Malaga Cove Plaza and as I approached it, I felt as if I had been swept off to a French village.  As I’m obsessed with all/most things French, I was instantly filled with joy at the sight of this place.  Then, a group of cyclists walked in and I had flashbacks to my summers cycling in France and I couldn’t contain my glee.  You guys, when you study all the time, you learn quickly to appreciate even the smallest chances at happiness. (Also, yes, I know.  Malaga is in Spain.  But this place felt so French.)

My absolute favorite place for studying/life is the Getty Center.  In fact, I love it so much that I demand that if you ever find yourself in Los Angeles, you must go.  On a clear day, you can see the ocean to your right and the rest of LA to your left.  Plus, you’re surrounded by gardens, beautiful architecture, and ART!  Visiting The Getty calms, inspires, and reenergizes me (all absolutely necessary for coping with the daunting schedule of a medical student).

The Getty from the Gardens. Los Angeles, California. Photo by Jackie.

Medical school is challenging and requires a lot of adjusting.  It pains me to forego important things like socializing, showering, exercising, and traveling (and blogging!) to study.  School consumes my life and it’s easy to get sucked in.  By venturing out, even if it’s to my local coffee shop, I am reminded that while my world may seem limited to pathology and pharmacology, everyone else’s continues around me.

Jackie is a second year medical student living in Orange County, CA. She attended Bowdoin College with Tavel and is a redhead.  Jackie loves yoga, coffee, and studying(?).  Her favorite place to visit is Paris (in the summer). Read Jackie’s blogwww.lamelookatme.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter @sassyjax.

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Filed under California, Coffee, Contributor, Healthcare, Life Stuff

Not Travels and Not Tavel

Yep, you heard me (errr… read… me). I’ve decided that February (which I’ve also apparently decided begins today) is going to be a month for TwT contributors. I want as many contributors as I can arrange, and I want the subject matter to span the world. This is my chance to introduce you to fellow travel bloggers, fellow foodies, friends, and maybe even family (any volunteers?!). However I identify them, they’re all people just like you and me who are writing/reading blogs because it’s fun. Together, we will spice up TwT (at least temporarily) by weaving a web of relatable stories and experiences. Maybe it will trigger your wanderlust, maybe you’ll start salivating, or maybe you’ll just smile. The bottom line: TwT isn’t just about me, it’s also about everyone who’s joining me for the ride.

Today, my good friend from college (and one of my favorite Kansans), Molly, has agreed to be the first contributor. I hope you show her a warm, comment-filled welcome and enjoy the different “flavor” she brings to TwT.

You were getting sick of me blabbing on and on about life anyway, weren’t you?! (SAY NO!!!)

A Kitchen Adventure in Jamaica Plain

By Molly

Today is Sunday.  These past few weeks have been quite busy… I’ve worked the past two Saturdays training college mentors and volunteers for both my own job with Jumpstart and as a guest trainer for an organization called Strong Women Strong Girls.  These days are fun, a tiny bit stressful, and great at depleting my energy tank.  Today I am in the mood for quiet and food.  The quiet will be easy, both roommates aren’t home today.  Now for the food.

Sunday mornings start with a big cup of black coffee and a stack of cookbooks.  Before I tackle the cooking, I need to go to the market.  And I can’t go without a list.  I can’t make a list until I have a plan.  Black coffee is perfect for planning.

Casco the Cat and Cookbooks. Photo by Molly

A colleague recently gave me Mark Bittman’s book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating and I’ve been thinking a lot about cooking and eating food that is both healthy and sustainable.  Bittman makes suggestions that feel very attainable and realistic.  I keep that in consideration and think about planning for leftovers (I’ve got another busy week ahead) as I peruse my books and favorite blogs.  I don’t love leftovers, and I struggle to figure out what I will still want to eat 3 days in a row.  I’ve fallen into the habit of baking on Sundays.  I have an office that would happily snack on fresh baked goods but all baked goods I make never seem to make it out of the apartment.  Hmmm…  back to the list.

On my way home from the market, I snap a picture of this tennis court covered in snow.  Clearly it’s time to get back home.

Snowy Tennis Court. Photo by Molly.

So once my groceries and I reach the kitchen, it’s time to get started.  I tackle Paula Dean’s Savannah Red Rice recipe first (I used her book, but you can find it here:  http://www.smithfield.com/recipes/recipe/savannah-red-rice).  Paula’s not known for sustainable or healthy recipes.  I put a lot of her recipes in my “Farm Food” category…. those are foods you would eat in Kansas but rarely in yuppie Jamaica Plain, MA.  But it is cold outside and I know I’ll be grumpy if I don’t have at least one “stick to your ribs” option.  The fact that Savannah Red Rice doesn’t call for cream of mushroom soup makes me feel a little better.

Savannah Red Rice. Photo by Molly.

Once that’s in the oven, I wipe off the cutting board and get started on the chili.  This time I’ll do better at sticking to Bittman’s teachings so I select Deb’s Three-Bean Chili on Smitten Kitchen.  I love love love beans, this will be great.

I decided to throw in carrots and green peppers.  The first time I made chili with carrots, I thought it was going to be weird.  But I actually liked it.  I think it adds nice color.  The green peppers are a different story.  Red peppers are far superior to green but today I talked myself into buying the green because they are half the price.  I keep telling myself that green peppers add nice color too.

Onions, peppers, carrots. Photo by Molly.

I see a lot of recipes that call for Chipotle in Adobo.  I am not quite sure what brand these cooks are using.  My local grocery cooperative carries a brand that burns so badly I am convinced my face will look deformed if I eat any more.  It’s really that spicy.  And I like spicy food.  I’m skirting around this ingredient by adding roasted diced tomatoes with adobo and some chipotle seasoning.  Crisis averted.

As I am reading the recipe, I see something about broth.  I can do better.  I look around the kitchen, and it hits me.

Beer? Photo by Molly.

My roommate brews beer and he has his brew on tap in the apartment.  Up next:  the secret ingredient.  I feel badass adding beer AND cocoa to chili.

Cocoa... and Dinner. Photo by Molly.

Just simmering the chili for a while.  I’ll taste it, but really this is for dinner.

Work-in-Progress. Photo by Molly

Rice and chili are ready.  Yum!  Leftover potential=Through the roof!

Earlier this week, my roommate brought home Red Velvet cookies.  They’re addictive.  As I was perusing cooking blogs, I remembered that Ali posted a recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes on her blog Alexandra’s Kitchen.  Ali is my friend Katy’s friend and I met her while I was in California last spring.  I’ve tried several of her recipes and they are all awesome.  I have high expectations for these cupcakes.  I rarely stray from recipes in the baking department and I’m following this one exactly, except I’m using a bit less red food coloring.  For some reason, food coloring scares me.  The staining potential is just too much.

Makin' Red Velvet Cupcakes. Photo by Molly.

Red Velvet Cupcakes. Photo by Molly.

As I read the ingredients for the frosting, I notice that I’m supposed to use two sticks of butter and 2 cups of powdered sugar.  I know Julia Child would be disappointed in me, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.  I used a little more than half of what the recipe says.  The result–frosting is very cream cheesey but still good.

Red Velvet Success. Photo by Molly.

I’ve just surveyed the damage.  I have just made enough food to feed 6 people and I’m the only one at home.

I’m going for a run.

Molly lives in Boston and works in the non-profit world.  She loves to run, cook, and tap dance.  Sebago Lake is her favorite place to visit. You can follow her on Twitter for more kitchen adventures in Jamaica Plain at @molstherunner.

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Filed under Contributor, Food, Winter

Same Quito, Different Blogs

I wanted to write a special blog post to acknowledge my fellow Quito bloggers. These blogs (listed below) each offer a different perspective on this Ecuador experience that we have shared.

First, The Traveling Bard:

Allison is one of our newest interns. She hails from Arizona and has a contagious zest for life. Her very strong passion and love for travel and anthropology shines through in her blog. She makes wonderful little YouTube videos for every trip we take, so you should definitely check those out. I have posted my favorite one below, and it’s not just my favorite because I am in it a LOT. Here she captures our trip to Cotopaxi in a way that photographs cannot, and yes there are a lot of cameos of my butt, so enjoy.

Second, Chomp and Circumstance:

Libby was the first person I met before moving to Quito. She started one week before I did and will be leaving two weeks before me. Libby is from Ohio and had only one trip abroad under her belt before making the ballsy move to Ecuador. She came here with absolutely no knowledge of Spanish and no experience with Latin America (except for her cute Chilean boyfriend back in the states). The girl’s come a long way, and she captures her experience in a very matter-of-fact and un-fluffy way.

Third, Rambling Em:

Emily, also an intern, has a very subtle and dry sense of humor. I often hear her sighing heavily, and that is how I know she is style editing — her least favorite activity, possibly ever. She is probably the most efficient person in the office and has a delightful dark side, although she mostly smiles and laughs through the frustrations of life. She has mixed feelings about Ecuador, and I always enjoy when and how she expresses them. She is a bit self-depricating at times, but I hope she knows she is kind of a star.

Fourth, Even Owls Pine:

Desiree is a west coaster through and through. She has lived everywhere from Colorado to Iceland and loves to talk about her old roommate, the stripper. She is funny and sweet on the outside, but I know she has a dark side. She only writes about one blog entry a month, but each one is enjoyable and focused. Her most recent entry deals with her anger towards Jon Stewart, who indirectly called her a prostitute.

And finally, there’s Jena in Ecuador.

Now, Jena was an intern in the office when I first arrived. She had to go home (to NJ) for a bit, but now she is back. Like, literally — as of yesterday. Today will be her first day in the office as a staff writer and I cannot wait to see her. Let’s just say she gets the party started. And she is a great writer. Her blog is probably the most thorough account of the experience in Ecuador, so you can peruse it all you want to learn more.

 

The Traveling Bard, TwT, and Rambling Em in Cotopaxi, Ecuador.

 

So there you have it. In case you ever wanted to read different perspectives of my experience, or get other people’s takes on this beautiful and unpredictable country, there ya go. Many other interns and friends have come and gone, but this is the current group, and these are the people with whom I will be sharing the last leg of this crazy adventure in Ecuador.

Enjoy.

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Filed under Contributor, Ecuador

An Ironman

I want to do something a little different today.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Zach P. competed in Ironman Canada. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m fascinated by Ironman competitions (and Ironmen… allegedly… heh). Not that a marathon isn’t an accomplishment, but I find it hard for many people to grasp the actual physical challenge of an Ironman which, for those who don’t know, is a super triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run/marathon). For a race that long, it is as much physical as it is psychological (or way more psychological?). Sure, you need to be physically prepared so that your body can handle the intensity and endurance — but, like many competitions, it’s our minds that usually get in the way.

I always LOVE reading the post-Ironman race report that my Ironman friends share afterwards, in an attempt to capture some of the pain and euphoria of completing this bad boy. And while I have never raced in anything even close to an Ironman competition, for some reason, as I read Zach’s race report this year, I felt more connected to the experience than ever.

I just thought I would share what Zach wrote, because somewhere in his Ironman saga, which involved travel woes and feeling like death, it reminded me of life in general. My life, maybe. Even though most of us cannot relate to the physical pain and mental determination it takes to complete an Ironman, I think we’ve all had our own “Ironmans” to get through. Some of us are in the middle of one right now.

Zach P.

Here is Zach’s story:

***

The Saga That Was Ironman Canada

Here we go!!!

On Wednesday I left the apartment and headed out to LaGuardia Airport at 10:30am in order to get there with enough time to spare for my 1:30 pm flight.   I checked in and got through security with ease.  I always love to get to the airport early so I can watch all the large planes take off.  My imagination soars away with the planes as I wonder where those lucky people will land at the end of their flight.

It was raining out and several Air Canada flights had been cancelled, so I started to sweat.  Then of course I hear “the 1:30 pm flight scheduled to leave for Toronto has been moved to 3:30 pm.”  Uh Oh!  That means I will miss my connection from Toronto to Vancouver and my third flight from Vancouver to Penticton.

I went to the kiosk and they re-booked me to Penticton but told me that I needed to re-tag my bags when I got to Toronto.  What?? Never did that before, but I didn’t think much of it.  I mean, I’ve traveled to many different far off destinations, missed connections and never had to re-tag my bags.  Not going to worry… (Infamous LAST WORDS!)

When I landed in Toronto I learned that I had 55mins to de-board, go through customs, grab my bags and clear customs again before dropping them off, getting through another security check, and then running to my gate.  AHHHH!!!!  I’m doing an airport Ironman and my transitions have to be lightening quick!!

I somehow managed to do everything and get to my gate as they were preparing to board…..BUT……..WAIT…..they have canceled my flight due to mechanical problems.  Our flight was now going to be two and a half hours later.  Wait, that means I will miss my flight to Penticton. Yep, it will according to customer service, but DON’T WORRY they will book me on the next morning’s flight and give me a room in a hotel, but THAT will have to be decided by the gate agent when I get to Vancouver.  WONDERFUL, I am at the discretion of some tired agent in Vancouver who couldn’t care less about annoyed patrons. Ok I told myself, it could be worse.

I then told customer service that I didn’t re-tag my bags cause they gave me absolutely no time to figure out what the hell I was doing with the bags before needing to board my flight.  “Well that is not our problem” said the French employee “however you have such a delay that I wouldn’t worry about it, they will be on your flight.”  Ok I said, and on I went to wait for my next flight.  Somehow I was upgraded to first class!  Free baked cookies and ice cream! Nice flight over to Vancouver besides sitting at the gate for an extra hour as they off-loaded all the checked bags because someone decided not to fly.

Upon arriving at Vancouver, I waited at the baggage terminal for my bags not to appear. I was not alone; a woman who I swear looked like a PRO IRONMAN woman looked pissed off as well.  We both trudged over to Air Canada baggage service.  “Oh, we have your bags already checked through Penticton, I guarantee it. They will be there when you arrive tomorrow” a tired spokeswoman stated… Infamous last words, take two.

I headed off to my hotel, which turned out to be a suite, NICE!!! Two stories in fact, phantasmagoric!!!

The next day I flew out to Penticton, and on our arrival I saw the swim course and people swimming.  Goosebumps appear.  This is really happening!! I am here!

My happiness fell flat when I saw that my bags were not there. Where the F*&$ are they?  I have had enough of the S#$% service Air Canada has been providing.  “We don’t actually know where they are, our hunch is they are in Vancouver waiting to board the next flight this evening” the gate attendant said. At this point I was so mad that I told her, “ your fucking company has had me flying for over 24 hours and you are leaving me sitting on my ass in the middle of nowhere without anything in my name. All I have are these shorts, shirt, a computer and a dead phone.”  The woman I saw the night before said that she was missing a bag too, but then they found hers.  I could have sworn she looked familiar…. Who was she? Ha ha.

I went outside, screamed and threw my binder of files into the wind.  The next two days were full of ranting and raving about not having my bags.  All I was able to do was register for the race and sit around whimpering while all the other tri-hotties rode their bikes around. Finally I gave in and bought some gear so that I could swim and run, to rid me of my anxiety of having to race and not having gear with which to do so.

All this training and literally nothing to show for it……Why now?

I felt like I was on a show; I had been dropped in the middle of nowhere and it was my task to get back to civilization alive and healthy.

On the bright side to all of this, I had the pleasure of speaking to Paula Newby Fraser—-the queen of Kona Hawaii Ironman and she gave me her cell number telling me that everything would be ok, and that I would be racing on Sunday.  If anything went wrong, I could call her. WOWZIERS I am still in shock… A goddess of Ironman was speaking to a mere mortal such as myself.

Finally Air Canada found my gear…….in Sydney, Australia.  It would come to my doorstep, hopefully, the Saturday afternoon or the day before the race.  Well at least I would have something.

The bags arrived and I was ready to set up for the race. Yikes….it’s here….IRONMAN CANADA.

Oh, and by the way, the woman I thought looked familiar on my flights was Tereza Macel, last year’s winner in Ironman Canada for the women. She finished 4th in Hawaii… A budding GODDESS. He he.

At 1 am I got up to eat and drink around 1,500 calories of food that consisted of peanut butter, a banana, Gatorade, water and tomato soup.  I headed back to bed, but couldn’t sleep — nightmares.

5am came and THE DAY HAD ARRIVED!  2 hours before the canon blew.

I checked in, got body-marked, put on my wetsuit, checked my bike and gear, and headed down to the swim start.  I wanted to start on the outside, away from the main pack of swimmers. It’s not the straightest line but I felt that I would make up for lost time on the outside by not being kicked in the face by the main pack, who had a straighter line.

2,900 athletes lined up for one large mass start. I had goose bumps and everyone started talking about how nervous they were.  I was nervous but I wanted to get the show on the road.  The gun went off, and everyone started to swim!!!

I got around 500 meters into it and started to see swimmers who looked like seals with their suits all around me, and I began to hyperventilate for some reason. I kept saying to myself “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.”   I began to breaststroke.  I told myself “ I have trained for this, I have trained for this” over and over.   I started to get into a zone again and continued on.  The course was an out, over and back in a semi rectangle….a perfect course.  On the way back to the shore, around a mile into it, I started to get VERY cold and I felt like I was going to freeze to death. I actually felt myself shivering. Finally the shoreline came up and people were walking up to the transition area.  I looked at my watch, 1:07…YES!! My goal was 1:10 for the 2.4 mile swim.

Swim time 1:07:10

In transition I saw that my hands were blue and I was shivering. A fear set in that I wouldn’t make it out on the bike, that I was too cold. But I decided that there was no way in hell that I came out here to do just a swim. I would rather be pulled off the course by officials than give up.  I got dressed and got on the bike.

Transition 1 time: 8mins 29 secs

The 112 mile bike:

I quickly settled into a rhythm on the bike and started to warm up.  It was sunny out but a little windy and definitely not warm.

The first 40 miles were mostly flat and I felt great; my heart rate was easily under my 145 beats per minute target.  Up comes Richter Pass, a significant 10 miles of climbing.  It went pretty well. There were thousands of supporters forming funnels on the toughest parts of the climb — AWESOME!! So motivating and positive during a tough time.

The middle part of the bike was rolling and WINDY! Headwinds, tailwinds, side winds, under winds. Wind wind wind.

I made it my goal not to stop on long bike rides for fear of cramping, but I had to in the middle of this one. I couldn’t help it!! The stop took 5 minutes or more — not a great thing because I had to wait in a line. Yuck.

The rest of the middle section of the ride went well. I kept under or at 145 bpm for the majority of this section.  I also hydrated and had pretty good nutrition, eating my 200 calories per hour and around 800-1,000mg of sodium per hour.

THE RIDE WAS VERY BEAUTIFUL, MOUNTAINS EVERYWHERE.  I felt like yodeling during many parts of the race

Then came the third and last part….Yellow lake, another huge climb.

All of a sudden a gale force wind hit us like a truck and the clouds that had formed above us began to lightly open up dropping rain. Having to climb a large grade on wet roads and heavy wind equaled my first feelings of personal hell.  I felt like I wanted to die and I still had to get to the top of a mountain.  The only way I did it was with the amazing crowd who again formed funnels around the course, even though it was raining.  Thanks crowd!!

Bike time 6:10: 56

I finally got back to the transition area feeling ok. I changed, use the bathroom again, and off I went onto the run course.  I felt good and I started to get emotional because I didn’t think I would feel this good on my tired legs.

Transition 2 time: 7mins 29sec

26.2  mile run (aka, marathon):

I ran the first 12.5 miles and then began to run/walk, which is what I planned on doing if I made it to the halfway point feeling ok.  On the way back I started feeling very, very bad, and the only way I made it is through was with Pepsi and warm chicken broth soup.  Honestly, all I can say is that I felt like death, but had to keep moving.  There really isn’t much to say besides the fact that personal demons come to mess with your psyche halfway through an Ironman marathon… At least for me.

When I finally made it back into town, around the last corner, a mile from the finish, I saw that I might make it under 12 hours!  I ran like a bat out of hell!  My dad was cheering me on and I sprinted to the finish line to cross in 11: 59:55.  It was an amazing end to a windy and rainy day. I wouldn’t trade this race situation for any other.

Marathon time 4:25:57

Thanks for reading.

***

Hey Zach… CONGRATULATIONS (again).

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I Should Be In Africa

First, I just want to say THANK YOU (…SO much) to everyone who reached out to check on me over the past couple of weeks. Thank you for all the comments, the emails, the little messages, the love. I think we killed the amoeba together, and I’m slowly trying to get back to normal. I might even go on a 5 hr hike at over 4,000 meters this weekend! (Hmm.) Can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that people are tuning into TwT, even though I’m far, far away from most of you.

Now let’s talk WORLD CUP.

Well, first, I have to post this song, because you literally hear it every five minutes here. I’m not sure how much play time it gets in the US but, whoa…

Oh, oh! And this one… They LOVE it here. It’s also got a lil’ Latin flair…

Love ’em or hate ’em, these two songs are the soundtrack to the World Cup in Ecuador, which is in full-swing and getting more and more controversial and exciting. Today is the final Round 1 Argentina game!! I am PUMPED. However, tomorrow is probably the biggest game of the World Cup so far. OK, maybe just for Americans, but I think a lot of people will be watching because this game is about fairness; it’s about right and wrong, the history of US soccer and, in a sense, the future of US soccer. For America, this is really OUR World Cup. If we win this game, we advance. We beat the skeptics. We prove ourselves. We win.

This is it. During the last game against Slovenia, the US pulled out one of the biggest moves yet; they came from behind and rallied to score three goals when they were down 2-0! But, a very unfair and questionable call by the Malian referee left many of the American players and fans “gutted.” Some wins are earned and some are taken; this was a win the US earned, with all their hearts. They played their asses off, they surprised everyone for the second time in a row, and they WON. But, their victory was stolen from them. Just like the US vs England game: even though it was a tie, the US won and England lost. Everyone knows that. It’s going to be very interesting to see if USA comes out onto the field against Algeria tomorrow with guns blazing or their tails between their legs. But, if I know my country and if I know Americans, they are going to BRING it. (I love you Bocanegra. Mmm, mmm, mmm!) It should be a lot of fun.

In honor of the big US game tomorrow, I want to introduce guest blogger Geordie M. who managed to attend every US game of the last World Cup without having tickets in advance. If anyone understands my excitement for this tournament, it’s him. Enjoy.

I should be in South Africa right now. I’m breaking a promise I made to myself right after spending the 2006 World Cup in Germany, one of the craziest, oddest and most memorable couple weeks of my life. Among many other things, I got a place to stay and guided tours of the town of Essen from some guy I met on the internet, scored a 75 Euro (holy f! that was cheap) ticket to the US-Italy game, played soccer in a park with German middle-schoolers, watched Japanese and Croatian fans get rowdy together, and I got tickets to all three US games. It was incredible. I left convinced that I’d be back in 2010. It had been too amazing, too huge, too incredible not to do again.

Well, I ain’t got the money. Simple as that.

I tried to save, but life intervened. Bummer. I have some friends there and, ughhh, it pains me. So jealous. Because, well, the World Cup isn’t something you can quite understand until you’ve been there. It’s not the Olympics. It’s not the World Series. It’s not big time college football. It’s a month long international party, with a clear beginning middle and end. The rivaliries and passions are real, to be sure. But that doesn’t stop people from having post-match parties, drinking beer, dancing. It’s like all the joys of summer vacation, studying abroad, a night out at the bar and Super Bowl Sunday combined into one. There is literally nothing like it. I would give anything, ANYTHING, to be there right now (excuse me while I sigh grind my teeth, and bang my head against the back of my chair).

A few highlights and lowlights from my experience in Germany.

Geordie (center) with fellow World Cup fans. Germany 2006.

I’m rolling down the highway with my friend Andreas to go see the US v.s. Italy Game. Clear, sunny day, rolling green fields, American flag flying from the back of the car. People honking at us as we drive by. Went to the stadium hoping to score tickets, willing to pay 300+ Euros, and found some ladies who unloaded TWO tickets for 150 Euros. (Are you kidding me?) Hundreds of people trying to score tickets and I not only get them but get  them for so cheap that I genuinely feel bad.

Score tickets to first US game (USA v.s. Czech Republic) literally minutes before kick-off. Went from “fuck it, let’s go back to town” mode to “holy shit we are inside the fucking stadium and fucking watching the match. A-holy fucking shit.” And then they lose. Badly… 3-0. English fans taunt us as we leave the stadium. Two hours ago, total elation. Now 200 Euros poorer and feeling like shit.

USA v.s. Italy. I get my incredibly cheap tickets. Gorgeous day. Just fucking so pumped that I got to TWO games through shear luck. Watching Italy warm up. So close to the field. I am THERE! Singing national anthem with huge US contingent. Italy scores then US equalizes (on an own goal, but whatever). End of game, Italy down a man, US down two men, field looks about twice its normal size. US goalie makes improbable save after improbable save. US scores but WHAT? OFFSIDE?! REF, YOU’VE GOTTA BE KIDDING ME! Last twenty minutes. Panicky. Naseous. We somehow hold on for the tie. Players come over to our section and we clap. Later that night, we go back to Andreas’ apartment. I put on a flag as a cape and dance around the apartment singing patriotic songs. Giddy. Euphoric.

Geordie dancing with US flag. Germany 2006.

Third US. Game. They need a win to advance. Ghana. Things are going OK, but gradually fall apart. We lose. Really sad. Stay in stadium until almost completely empty. Can’t believe it’s over. Time to head back to France (home at the time). Book train as quickly as I can and get the f- out.

Geordie with fellow US fans. Germany 2006.

And there is more, and more and more and more. An incredible experience., and goddamn it, I can’t believe I’m not there right now. Arggghhhhhh! (Not that I’m not pumped. USA! USA! USA!)

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Panoramalamabangbang

In honor of the end of the Olympics (and wrapping up three years at one job, or maybe that’s a stretch?), I’m going to be patriotic and bring us back to the US for this week’s Mystery Snapshot.

First, how dramatic were the Olympics this year, eh? The heartbreaks, the dreams coming true, the surprises, the relief… I think most things happened as they should have in the end. MOST things. Canada won hockey but we Americans were allowed that moment in the last 25 seconds of the game before overtime that reminded us “miracles” can happen (again). For about 15 minutes, we had won something. We felt everything we needed to feel. While one more goal would determine the gold medalist,  we had gotten something very American out of the game:  hope — that belief in the dream, that reminder that incredible things are always possible, even when improbable. Meanwhile, Russia’s president has asked all of its coaches to resign (offering to “help them” if necessary) after the country’s disappointing medal haul leading up to their big moment as hosts of the 2014 Olympics. Two heartbreaking deaths — the Georgian luger and mother of the Canadian figure skater — created a scene of palpable emotion, making these Olympic games, once again, about much more than winning gold.

Part of the reason we watch the Olympics is because we know, with each event, anything can happen. We know that four years –an entire lifetime– of training can all come down to as little as 30-seconds on the ice, and what happens during that 30+ seconds is a beautiful range of disappointment and happiness. It’s life, condensed into a sporting event. We watch, because each person’s story becomes a moment of glory or tragedy. The stakes are SO high, but those moments are what define us. One announcer, describing the ice dancers, said that to be an ice dancer or a figure skater, you have to be prepared to fall. You have to be ready to land hard on that ice, over and over again. If you’re not willing to fall, you’ll never fly. I think, in many ways, I’m an ice dancer right now. No matter how hard that landing might be, I want to encourage others to be ice dancers as well.

Have I mentioned how much I LOVE THE OLYMPICS? OK, back to our Mystery Snapshot!

Today’s image comes to us from contributor Tom H, and it is our very first panoramic photo. Whoohoo! Aren’t panoramic photographs awesome? A slightly wider image immediately creates a powerful effect, a slightly stronger sense of BEING there in the hills, not just looking at them…

Tell me where in the US this is. You know the rules: specifics if you can, general if you can’t. What does it look like? Have you been somewhere similar?

Tom H. Hilly Panorama

Just to explain the title of this blog entry, “Panoramalamabangbang”, I want to share a video. Every time I say or write the word “panorama,” I think of this song I love by Roisin Murphy called “Ramalama Bang Bang.” I noticed that there is a pretty cool and creepy performance from the show (which I do not watch, although I LOVE DANCE) called “So You Think You Can Dance.” I’m posting this purely for the song and for the song’s connection to the word panorama, but some of you might enjoy the dance performance as well.

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Everest

First, I want to thank all of you for the encouragement and support as I take a risk. It means more to me than you know!

Now,

take another look…

Everest and the Himalayas. Meghan G.

Yes boys and girls (specifically Ben, Missy, Geordie, and Ursula-sorta), the last Mystery Snapshot is of the one and only Mount Everest! (Wow, right?!) Located in the Himalayas, it is the highest mountain on Earth (29,002 ft above sea level). BUT, did you know that Mauna Kea on The Big Island, Hawaii, is the tallest mountain in the world from base to peak? And I’VE BEEN THERE! (see photo from Snowmance entry).  It’s a pretty cool experience to drive from a sun-soaked beach all the way up to a snow-capped mountaintop (a woozy experience, I’ll add). But well worth it when that sun goes down, let me TELL you. To put things in perspective, Mauna Kea is 10,200 meters tall (that’s over triple the altitude of Quito, Ecuador – the second highest capital in the world), but only 4,200 m above sea level (6,000 m is submerged), whereas the peak of Everest is almost 9,000 meters high! There are plenty of fun facts about Everest (easily Google-able), but fun facts mean nothing when you’re standing at the base of the tallest mountain in the world.

Meghan in Tibet.

Let’s hear what Meghan has to say about her encounter with Everest:

After a 48 hour train ride, a multi-day jeep ride, several breakdowns and an eight kilometer walk, we finally found ourselves below the majesty of Everest. It was a breathtaking sight – one of the most amazing and incredible sights I have ever seen.

Everest in the Distance. Meghan G.

To get to the base camp we parked the jeep at a nearby monastery, and after a riveting game of high altitude frisbee with the locals we embarked on our walk to Everest.

Meghan Discovers Everest.

Struggling with altitude sickness, the walk seemed to stretch on forever and the looming grandiosity of Everest seemed to be almost a mirage. The starkness of the mountain stood in sharp relief against the barren landscape, and the simplicity of the environment (not another tourist for miles!) illustrated the reverence the Tibetan people have for their sacred mountain. Instead of turning it into a tourist trap, the Everest Base Camp is a simple green tent with a Chinese official checking permits. There is not even a sign to let you know where you are (Everest speaks for itself).

Shivering in the Himalayas. Meghan G.

Once past the tent there is a small mound which we climbed up to get a view of the mountain. I could not believe how strong the wind was – I was knocked over twice and taking pictures was quite the ordeal (but we managed!). Standing there on that tiny mound we encountered only six other people (fellow travelers from Switzerland, England, Bulgaria, Canada and America) who were also battling the wind. On that mound we shared a common bond as we each, in our own little world, took in the reality of this mesmerizing natural landscape. (Little did we know that these people would become our traveling companions on and off for the next month!)

Tibetan Prayer Flags, Meghan G.

Everest truly is a symbol of the Tibetan people: strong, solid, peaceful, and unassuming. It was a journey I will never forget and an experience I will carry with me for a lifetime.

Here, Meghan explains each of the photos:

Himalayan Sunrise, Meghan G

After a freezing cold night, we arose bright and early in order to catch a glimpse of the sunrise over the Himalayas. We drove for about 1 1/2 hours in the pitch black until we turned a bend and there in front of us was the vast range of the Himalaya Mountains.  My friend and I had a habit of chattering away incessantly and oohing and ahhing at every beautiful thing we saw. But when we caught that first glimpse of the mountains we lost all ability to speak as we gazed in awe at nature’s canvas in front of us. After parking the car we went for a long walk up a hill and came to the top just as the sun was hitting the peaks (as seen in the photo). There was not a single soul to be seen for miles, just the rising sun, the beautiful mountains, me and my friend Selena. The stillness and peacefulness of that moment humbled us as we realized just how majestic and beautiful the unspoiled natural world can be.

Tibetan Prayer Flags and Everest, Meghan G
Any traveler to Tibet notices how spiritual and devoted the Tibetan Buddhists are. Their culture and way of life is integrally tied to the practice of Buddhism and it seeps though their art, architecture, and natural landscape. Due to their reverence for the natural environment, the entire landscape is left practically untouched, save for the encroachment of new Chinese high rises and hydro power plants.

Driving from Lhasa to Kathmandu in a 4×4 we had days during which we saw nothing but vast open space with a sprinkling of monasteries and sheep. Standing in stark contrast to the vast openness and simplicity of the Tibetan landscape were the mounds of prayer flags heaped over trees, mountains, roads, hills, and monasteries. Prayer flags are strung up to purify the air and pacify the gods. All contain the symbol of the the longta [windhorse] who carries the prayers up to the sky. The colors — red, green, yellow, blue and white — represent fire, wood, earth, water and iron.

This picture [the pile of prayer flags with Everest in the background, above] was taken on the walk to Everest Base Camp. The bright, colorful flags stood in contrast to the crisp bright sky and the blinding white snow capped mountains. The colors in this photo don’t even do the landscape justice, I have never seen such colors in my life. The landscape looked as if it were a painting and we had to keep reminding ourselves that it was actually real.

Tibetan Landscape. Meghan G.

Tibetan Children, Meghan G.


Meghan’s Note on the Chinese presence in Tibet: It is impossible to travel through Tibet without developing a strong, strong, wrath over the Chinese presence there.

Chinese Military Presence in Lhasa. Meghan G.

Earning Merit, Tibet. Meghan G.

Monk and Meghan, Tibet.

THANK YOU MEGHAN for contributing your beautiful photos and for sharing your experience with Mt. Everest!

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Huts on a Hill

This week’s Mystery Snapshot comes to us from the one and only George “Geordie” MacLeod —  my college buddy, squash player extraordinaire, and a true lover of languages and people. (How’s that for an intro, G?)

My hint is that this is a part of the world I have yet to explore. Other than that, you’re on your own!

So, what part of the world — continent, country, region — is this? Do you know anything about the huts featured in the photograph? Do you recognize them? Have you been there? What might it suggest about the culture that built them? Do they remind you of anything? How old are they? Can you teach us something about what you see? Where the heck are all these questions coming from?! GO!

Mystery Huts

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When In Bruges

Dawn’s Mystery Snapshot is, in fact, of beautiful Bruges/Brugge, Belgium. My favorite guess would have to be Nato Potato’s, “Somewhere in space. Or Belgium.” But the winner is Ursula, who was right on (even if she only guessed Bruges because she “likes the way it sounds”).

The Beguinage. Bruges, Belgium

When it comes to languages, things get a little more complicated. The official language in Bruges is Dutch, but Flemish — a slight variation of Dutch — and French are also widely spoken. I’ve read about it, and Dawn has kindly explained it to me, but if I’ve learned anything about Belgium it’s that language is a VERY complicated issue. But no need to freak out about which Rosetta Stone to buy before a visit: For better or for worse, most people in Holland are fluent in English. Many Dutch people speak even better English than we do.

View from Belfry. Bruges, Belgium.

Bruges, Belgium

Dawn writes:

“If you didn’t recognize the orange tiled rooftops, or the narrow canals, you must have noticed the two cathedrals that dwarf the rest of the landscape (there are nine others out of view).  Notice also that this view is from far above even the cathedrals.  The photo is taken from The Belfry, up 366 steps of a narrow, winding staircase.  The 13th-century building was an observation tower for spotting fires and other danger, and there is still a full-time “carilloneur” who plays the 48-bell carillon.  It’s almost ear-splitting from the upper tower, where you’re right next to the bells!

Bruges, Belgium.

“At street level, the city is a perfect fairy tale.  It has the cobblestone streets and smoky cafes of quintessential Europe; the courtyard of the Beguinage blossoms with daffodils in April, and Belgian beer, waffles, frites and chocolates tempt you from every corner.  If you wander far enough down hidden, winding alleys, you’ll find the creperies, old city gates, and windmills that most tourists never know about.

Windmill. Bruges, Belgium.

Canal. Bruges, Belgium.

“The movie, ‘In Bruges’ [watch the trailer here. The movie picks on Bruges but, at the same time, does a good job showing how beautiful it is] is right about one thing: it’s no party town. But that’s exactly what draws people to it.  Particularly as an American, standing among 12th-and-13th-century buildings is just surreal: here we understand what HISTORY really is.”

* NOTE: All the photographs in this entry were provided by Dawn R. Dank u wel!

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