Tag Archives: unesco world heritage site

Captivated by Curasao’s Colors

PPunda District - WillemstadAmazed! Bedazzled! Captivated!  We could continue to run through the alphabet of words to describe our reaction from the moment we stepped off the plane through the weeks we spent driving about, swimming, strolling and hiking our way through this little island nation.  But there’s no doubt about it – Curacao is all about c-o-l-o-r.Scharloo District - Willemstad

floating market in PundaHowever, it wasn’t always that way.  Curacao’s origins date all the way back to 1634 and the original buildings were constructed from island stones and coral or bricks from incoming ships that had been used as ballast.  These structures were then coated with a lime plaster made from crushed coral and shells and the sticky paste from the aloe vera plant.  The white facades reflected the rays of the intense Caribbean sun and the sight of these white stucco edifices against the vivid blue sky must have been quite dazzling.PPunda District - Willemstad

Otra Banda District - WillemstadAnd here’s where the legend of Curacao’s love affair with color begins. There are many variations to the story (and the locals will be delighted to tell you them!) but it seems that the early 19th century Governor-General, Albert Kikkert, suffered from killer headaches. Thought to have been migraines, he believed that his severe headaches were exacerbated by the glare of the sun reflecting off the brilliant white buildings.  In the grand tradition of a ruling pooh-bah he issued an edict in 1817 that the buildings of Curacao be painted in a color other than white.    All the government buildings including the governor’s home were painted a deep yellow which still seems to be a favorite color throughout the island today.  And to take the story a few steps further and uncover a mercenary motive, we’ve heard it told that the governor had an interest in the local paint business, hence the mandate.   Another variant of the story was that paint colors were priced differently and yellow was the cheapest.  People painted their homes with more costly colors and even used two or more accent colors to reflect their status and boast about their wealth.  Some things never change…Punda

Google Curacao and one of the first pictures that appears is the historical waterfront, Handelskade, on the Punda side of Sint Anna Bay with its Dutch colonial houses painted in a kaleidoscope of colors.  Named number eight on Tripadvisor’s 2012 “Top 10: Fantastically colorful places,” the blocks and blocks of colorful homes and businesses in Willemstad’s Punda, Otra Banda and Scharloo historic districts will wow even the most travel weary.  And no one will dispute any of the reasons that Willemstad was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997.Willemstad Punda waterfront

Otra Banda District - WillemstadBut the colors of Curacao are far greater than just the picturesque painted houses and businesses found ubiquitously throughout the island.   Everywhere one looks there’s a color that pops.  Overhead is the brilliant, bright blue sky with soft white cumulous clouds and the vivid orange troupials flying by or parakeets and parrots.  The Caribbean Sea shimmers, undulates, waves and roils in shades from a clear shimmering turquoise to a deep blue.  During rainy season green hues are underfoot and overhead. The largest park in Curacao, Christoffel, is filled with the deep greens of the many species of cactus, flowering in season, orchids and trees like the divi-divi or the highly poisonous, lime-green manchineel tree with its small and sweet but very toxic little apples.  And did we mention the corals and colorful fish below the water’s surface or the flamingoes wading through the Jan Kok salt pans?Caribbean hiking

Curacao could almost be compared to an onion with many layers.  For those who visit Willemstad for a day of sightseeing from one of the numerous cruise ships, the medley of Caribbean colored architecture with its curlicues and shuttered windows found throughout the winding city streets are the first few tiers.  But, if time allows and you have a few weeks or longer the island won’t disappoint you.  There are myriad opportunities for the eyes to behold the variety of hues existing with each new layer that is peeled back. It’s impossible to leave Curacao without a belief that you have witnessed something unique.license plate

By Anita and Richard

The Two Queens of Curacao: One Swings, One Soars

Queen Emma Brdge

Queen Emma Brdge

Step onto the Queen Emma Bridge and you feel a moment of vertigo as it shifts slightly beneath your feet.  You’ll sway a bit and it takes a moment to realize that what appears to be a simple, conventional bridge with fixed points on either end is actually floating upon pontoons, sixteen to be exact.  Nicknamed the “Swinging Old Lady” this permanent floating bridge spans the Sint Anna Bay and connects the two sections of Willemstad: Otra Banda and Punta districts.Queen Emma Brdge

The city of Willemstad dates back to 1634 and the shoreline of the older section of the city, Punta, had structures crammed cheek to jowl by the time a bridge between the two parts of the city was contemplated.  To have constructed a conventional bridge would have required the expropriation and destruction of a significant portion of the old colonial city. Entrepreneur and US Consul Leonard B. Smith came up with an elegantly simple solution that allowed the existing buildings to remain by designing a hinged bridge that swings out laterally from the Otra Banda side.  The original bridge, completed in 1888,  opens several times a day to allow passage of watercraft of varying sizes (up to and including the modern mega-sized cruise ships) from sea to the port and vice versa.a portion opens

partially open for small boat

partially open for small boat

When a ship wants to enter or exit the natural harbor, known as Schottegat, a flag either orange (for a short duration) or blue (for a longer duration) is hoisted alerting people.  A bell sounds shortly thereafter and an operator sitting in a small cabin operates the controls for two diesel engines that allow the bridge to swing on its Otra Banda axis in an arc parallel to the shore, a process that takes a surprisingly short amount of time.  During the time the bridge is open two ferries (ponchis) shuttle back and forth between Punta and Otra Banda transporting passengers for free.

bridge opening completely - pedestrians barred

bridge  preparing to open completely – pedestrians barred

opening

opening

open completely and now parallel to the Otra Banda shoreline

open completely and now parallel to the Otra Banda shoreline

Named after Queen Emma of the Netherlands, the bridge was originally a toll bridge; two guilders were charged for pedestrians wearing shoes, ten guilders for horses and, in the 20th century, 25 guilders for cars.  Since the poor citizens without shoes were allowed to cross for free many people would remove their shoes and walk across barefoot to avoid the toll.  Others considered free transit a form of charity and would save both their shoes and their money for the special occasion of crossing the bridge, proudly paying the fee.  After 1934 the toll was abolished and the issue of shoes became moot.

cruise ship moored for a day of sightseeing

cruise ship moored for a day of sightseeing

Over the years the bridge was renovated and enlarged but increased shipping traffic through Sint Anna Bay to the Schottegat harbor resulted in longer and longer waits for cars wishing to cross.  Construction began on the second bridge to be named after a Netherland’s queen, Queen Juliana Bridge, which is now the highest bridge in the Caribbean.  Built to provide passage for the enormous ships entering the harbor, at its apex its height is 56.4 meters (185 feet) above the sea water which also makes it one of the highest bridges in the world.  After the opening of the Queen Julianna Bridge on Oueen’s Day in 1974 which replaced the original structure, vehicular traffic on the Queen Emma Bridge ceased.

Queen Juliana Bridge- view from the Queen Emma Bridge

Queen Juliana Bridge view from the Queen Emma Bridge

Queen Juliana  Queen Emma

Queen Juliana and Queen Emma

The view of both bridges from the commanding summit of Fort Nassau emphasizes the dramatic difference in the relative heights of these two complementary structures and underscores the important role these bridges have played in unifying the city of Willemstad. For the very practical Netherlanders the bridges they’ve built reflect radically different personalities. The old lady, Queen Emma, undulates slowly while pedestrians cross from one side of Willemstad to another then swing dances open to allow the passage of the harbor traffic.  And the regal Queen Juliana from her lofty height is the soaring beauty of the urban island skyline. crossing Queen Emma

By Anita and Richard

 

Unexpected Journeys: Going to Curacao

Curacao - western sideSeveral months back we started thinking about where we wanted to go after leaving Ecuador.  With a bit of back and forth it was clear that both of us were ready to leave the Americas.  We wanted a change in cultures, something apart from the Hispanic inspired societies based upon the Spanish colonial model. Something exotic, something totally different with ancient history, spectacular landscapes, exceptional architecture and unique cuisine.Western side of Curacao

Our conversations went something like this:

“Europe or Asia?”

“Ooooo – what about Turkey?”

“Oh, I want to see Eastern Europe.”

“But what about New Zealand or Morocco or Vietnam  …?”

Obviously, our focus needed to be adjusted and refined.  Some people call this kind of conversation “brainstorming” but we call it “derailed.”   We decided to go online and, after some reading and more conversation about our enormous world with all its possibilities for places to travel, we finally came up with … Malaysia.  It had much of what we wanted including a large expat community, a variety of cultures and nationalities, was high on the exotic meter and completely different from any place we’d ever been.  And a plus – it would be a great jumping-off point to begin our travels in Asia.  We checked out airline tickets from Ecuador to Malaysia (electing to avoid any Malaysian airlines for the time being) and decided it was eminently doable although we wouldn’t be traipsing back to the US for a time.salt flats by Nena Sanchez gallery

And then, before we began to make the serious moves of purchasing the airline tickets and securing our initial lodging, we received an email from a friend we had housesat for in Costa Rica who asked if we might be interested in house and pet-sitting for her sister in Curaçao.  Hmmm … so here’s where we get a little red-faced and have to admit that we had not a clue as to the whereabouts of Curaçao.  We googled it, repeatedly, once to figure out where it was, another time simply to hear its pronunciation (Kur-uh-sow) and then to research the island itself.  For those of you who also have no clue where it is:curacao carib

And so, we read about the island country of Curaçao, which became an independent nation in October, 2010, when the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved.  The island was “discovered” by the Spanish in 1499 who promptly enslaved the indigenous Arawak population. It languished in obscurity for well over a century until 1634 when the Netherlands achieved independence from Spain and claimed possession of the island.  Shortly thereafter the Dutch West India Company decided that its natural harbor and setting made it an ideal location for shipping, commerce and piracy. It also became a thriving center for the Atlantic slave trade and its affluence is reflected in its colorful edifices which blended Dutch and Spanish architectural styles but also resulted in some buildings completely unique to the island, particularly those associated with the older plantation system.Willemstad

Our readings about Curacao resulted in our sensing that this here-to-fore unknown country could be exactly what we were seeking; exotic with a unique history. We sent a few emails back and forth with the homeowner to find out more of what she was looking for in caretakers for both her home and pets.  Soon enough, with very little resistance and much enthusiasm, we had a seven-week house and pet sit lined up in a lovely country surrounded by Caribbean waters.Wllemstad

So, what to do with December since our 90-day visa for Ecuador expired at the beginning of the December?  Cartagena, Colombia went back on our list and, as our faithful readers know, we had a terrific month in that picturesque city sight-seeing and immersing ourselves in its fascinating history.

After years of fixed plans, following demanding career paths and setting five-year goals we’ve come to treasure f-l-e-x-i-b-i-l-i-t-y.  We must remain mentally nimble to take leaps as opportunities present themselves.  It’s become a huge part of our travel plans – or no plans – and we try not to get too far ahead of ourselves so that we can change our direction, slow down or, conversely, move a bit faster.Curacao Otra Banda

And as for our travels after Curaçao? We have airline tickets to the Dominican Republic and other, more nebulous plans that we’re waiting to fall into place. Our travel lifestyle has slowly transformed into unexpected journeys that require curiosity and uncertainty as the ability to avail ourselves of opportunities that may present themselves.view from Museo Tula

By Anita and Richard

 

 

Capturing Cartagena in Photos

Cartagena, Colombia is a city of many facets from the ancient stone wall built by the Spanish to defend the old city from pirates and brigandsthe wall protecting the old city

the wall surroundingto the quaint and picturesque colonial architecture of the historic old town.

old historic cityold cityold historic city

Scattered across the city are parks, museums, restaurants and churches.La Catedral

Museum of Rafael Nunez Iglesia Claustro de San PedroThe old monastery, the highest point in Cartagena at the top of El Cerro de La Popa overlooks the Castillo, an intimidating fortress which protected Spain’s ill-gotten riches and safeguarded the city. ?????????????????????????????????

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

Tourists flock to the tony hotels, restaurants and high-rises that line the fine sand beaches of the harbor in Bocagrandemonastery on hill in background; Bocagrande in the foreground

Bocagrande

and spill over to the more local neighborhoods like GetsemaniBarrio Getsemani Barrio Getsemani

Barrio Getsemani

or Avenida Santander (where we lived) alongside the Caribbean ocean.

view from our apartment

beach across Avenida Santander

One doesn’t need to look too far to find statues and sculptures in public spacesPegasus in the plural??????????????????????????????????? ????????????

or street art upon building walls.street art in Barrio Getsemani

Barrio Getsemani

Streets are filled with all manner of vehicles from taxis and buses to carts pulled by horses and donkeys or horse-drawn carriages.horse powered

an uninspired tour busAnd lacking all other resources, sometimes carts are propelled by people.human propelled

The residents of Cartagena are friendly, welcoming and quick to smile as well as to share a friendly word and point one in the right direction.  One gentleman, posed proudly for us after showing us around a museum. our guide - Irsis

However, there aren’t too-many freebies in this tourist driven economy and the more colorful characters ask for change in exchange for photos.street vendor

street mimeColombian vender

And at the end of the day lovers find a quiet moment in the niches of the old wall to watch the late afternoon fade into night and the sunset reflected in the sea.?????? Lovers in old wall

A  UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cartagena is an amazing city and we greatly enjoyed our time here as we celebrated our third Christmas as retired nomads and welcomed in 2015.  Some places take a piece of your heart and we’ll leave a little of us behind as we move on to the Netherlands Antilles.vendors

By Anita and Richard

Silk Underwear Concealed – Kleptocracy Revealed: Lima, Peru

Armas PlazaWe flew from Manta, Ecuador to Lima for a few days to meet-up with family members who were visiting for a week and on their way back to the States after spending a total of two-plus weeks acclimating to the altitude in Cuzco and then volunteering on conservation projects at Machu Picchu. We were looking forward to the reunion but we weren’t prepared for the fact that Lima is c-o-l-d, damp and gloomy.  The city sits in the northern fringe of the Atacama Desert which gets roughly an inch of moisture a year; 95% of that comes in the form of a fog that blankets the city each morning. At this time of year (November) it lifts briefly only to return in the late afternoon usually accompanied by a blustery wind. However, we were both excited to each inherit a set of silk long johns to warm us in the absence of sunshine.  We were assured that the sun does indeed make an appearance for two to three months a year starting in January, unimaginable as it then seemed. Love Park in bloom

Parque KennedyMost surprisingly, given this climatological fact, was the abundance of flowers in the parks and boulevards of the city; daily watering keeps the city in bloom. Parque Central and Parque Kennedy, near our residence were redolent with blooms and lazy cats stretched out and napping on the lawns. Love Park or Parque de Amor, was awash with flowers, a statue of two lovers entwined and intricately tiled mosaic walls. Plaza de Armas and Plaza del San Martin were similarly bedecked as were most of the wide boulevards with grassy medians.Armas Plaza and the Palacio Gubierno

Lima, and the adjacent port city of Callao, host roughly eleven million people, more than a third of the country’s population, with urban sprawl being a pronounced feature. The old Historic District radiates out from the Palace of the President, the Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace, San Fransisco Church and Convent, among the notables, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

We toured the underground crypts in the San Francisco church, a bastion of egalitarian burial. Each of the crypts were filled with ten bodies with no distinctions between classes and then covered with quicklime. The members of the religious order may have had a separate chamber but in death a commonality of the human condition was finally recognized.

We wound our way through tunnels with side chambers and came upon a unique feature, the ossuary, which was a circular crypt where the curators, displaying a macabre sense of design, had arranged the larger bones, tibia, fibula, etc. and skulls artfully in elaborate patterns.  We guessed that the smaller bones had sifted their way down to pile up below.

MuseumRafaael Larco HerreraAbout midway through our visit we caught a cab across town to the Museo Larco which was as fine a museum as we’ve seen anywhere, including all the offerings one might see in the Smithsonian. The grounds were a riot of colors, impeccably landscaped and it was a pleasure just to sit and gaze around at the spectacular gardens.grounds of Museo Larco

Funerary bundle with mask and gold crown

Funerary bundle with mask and gold crown

The benefactor, Rafael Larco Hoyle (1901-1966) began the museum in 1926 and, with his family’s financial backing, amassed a collection from archeological sites along Peru’s northern coast.Gold adornments

These included many cultures previously unknown and the objects were of precious and semi-precious metals and stones, ceremonial and everyday pottery and earthenware and vestments of the upper classes. In all, 45,000 items were cataloged and on display to the public.  After hours of wandering through this fabulous museum we were satiated and our eyes began to cross and glaze over!

Dueling set

Dueling set

On our penultimate full day in Lima we went to Museo Oro del Peru – the Gold Museum – another privately endowed property. The ground floor was more a monument to militarism and kleptocracy, devoted to armaments from the 16th through the 20th centuries from all over the world. We took a few pictures before being reminded that photos are discouraged but a “short” list of some of the implements of war and the related accoutrements follows: armor complete with codpieces, brass knuckles, dirks, a “Beefeater” uniform, Gatling guns, a beautifully polished Kalashnikov rifle presented by the USSR Ambassador, a plethora of fantastic European dueling pistols, maces, Moroccan scimitars and Nazi paraphernalia. Two over-the-top items were uniforms personally donated by Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain in 1938 and Generalissimo Augusto Pinochet of Chile in 1976.

After being sidetracked on the first floor for well over an hour we climbed down the stairs and reached our real objective, a subterranean level which housed within vaults containing gold, silver, bronze, copper, pearls, turquoise, weavings, funerary offerings, litters, and mummified corpses. In a nod to the ultimate equality of mortals a corpse of a lower class commoner was among the items. A corpse’s class in life could be determined by its position: a corpse laid out horizontally was in the lower classes as opposed to the corpse seated vertically in its funerary bundle in the higher classes.  In addition, death objects accompanying the body ranged from pottery shards to the elaborate which, again, made the class distinction painfully obvious.  One thing that struck us, just as we were again reaching our critical threshold of museum overload, was that the precious metals, pearls and stones would not have filled the hold of the smallest Spanish galleon. The fact that these items were buried kept them beyond the reach of the acquisitive conquistadores.San Simon Plaza

We barely scratched the surface of the city of Lima and didn’t explore any of Peru’s other magnificent and well-known sites.  But we had a terrific reunion with some of our family, learned a little about this country’s rich and varied history and, clad in our silk long underwear, departed gratefully for warmer climes.

Love Park - Lovers entwined and workers maintaining

Love Park – Lovers entwining and workers maintaining

By Richard and Anita

 

A Tale of Three Cities: Panama City

We celebrated our last few days in Central America and Panama and splurged a bit by returning to Panama City and renting a charming apartment in the tony area, Casco Viejo, with rooftop views of the city and the bay.Casco Viejo rooftop view

When thinking of Panama City the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, the Panama Canal.  But Panama City is far more than this modern marvel and encompasses two old and venerable cities within its boundaries: Casco Viejo and Panama Viejo.  In between these two entities, each of which shares the distinction of being selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contemporary Panama City carries on its robust and active life with towering skyscrapers, billboards and neon signs and three and four lanes of traffic jammed with honking, speeding cars.  All of which were jarring to our senses after days spent in a tranquil, seaside village.Panama City traffic

Panama Viejo, or old Panama, is the oldest Spanish settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas.  Founded in 1519, it grew in importance as the Spanish empire expanded in South and Central America. Panama Viejo’s value to the crown was the fact that it served as the port city for most of the silver, gold, pearls and other loot that was stripped from the Andes of South America and the rain forests of Central America. From there it was moved overland, by land or water, depending on the season, to be transported to Spain. Not only did Panama Viejo flourish, it became a tempting prize for the many pirates who prowled the equatorial waters seeking lucre. Being alert to this danger the city was situated inland from the coast and fortified by a defensive wall.

Panama Viejo

Panama Viejo

It was put to the torch by its Spanish rulers just prior to being overwhelmed by the notorious pirate, Henry Morgan.  He was now a more respectable English admiral but still commanded a pirate army that had crossed the isthmus after razing the garrison at San Lorenzo.  Panama Viejo was abandoned and fell into oblivion except for providing building materials for the new city which arose at a point roughly six miles southwest along the coast. This site, later known as Casco Viejo, was protected by fortified walls and a reef which allowed access to the city only at high tide.Panama Viejo

But the remains of Panama Viejo are magnificent and inspire an almost reverential awe as one walks among its ancient ruins.  The old city’s remaining skeleton contained houses and a hospital as well as the remnants of the Cathedral with its adjacent tower which, as its medieval shape implies, probably served as a watch tower. The Iglesia de la Concepcion housed a convent for the nuns and their servants in addition to the church with its altar, sacristy and nun’s choir. The site’s location, quite near to massive, towering modern structures, offers a quick comparison of the fate of the long-ago dead in the modern era.Panama Viejo with skyscrapers as backdrop

And the city that was literally rebuilt from many of the stones of Panama Viejo?  This is the rapidly changing old quarter known as Casco Viejo, the Spanish colonial city that replaced the vestiges of Panama Viejo in 1673. When the Americans’ began construction of the Panama Canal in 1904 the old town of Casco Viejo was all that existed of Panama City. However, with the completion of the canal and the natural growth of the capital city many of the country’s elite began to abandon the old quarter and it deteriorated into an urban slum. The stately homes, hotels and government office buildings fell into disrepair. But recently, a new wave of gentrification has emerged and the process of decay is being reversed and eradicated. Even now, part of the charm of the place is the grungy disrepair which stands in stark contrast to the modernized and revitalized buildings.Casco Viejo gentrification

Casco ViejoIf the trend continues, and there appears to be no reason at that this point to assume that it will not, Casco Viejo may be one of the most in-demand neighborhoods in the capital. It is filling rapidly with a mix of traditional Panamanian and gourmet restaurants serving a variety of menus aimed at satisfying every taste, chic shopping venues and large colonial buildings that are being converted to stylish condos. Most of the old churches remain along with many government buildings, the national theater and the original offices of the French Panama Canal organization. And so, Casco Viejo stands alongside Panama Viejo and the contemporary Panama City in a perfect trifecta and a tale of three cities.Panama City Bay

By Richard and Anita

 

Adios La Antigua

La MercedWe’ll be leaving Antigua this week and heading to Rio Dulce and Livingston, Guatemala on the Caribbean coast and then into Belize again to renew visas. We’ve been here for over five months, much longer than the two month stay we had originally planned when we arrived to volunteer. Our lifestyle of slow travel came to a temporary stop when a chance meeting, our own flexible itinerary and a bit of serendipity landed us our first official housesitting gig for an additional three months.

La Catedral Ruins

La Catedral Ruins

What is it about Antigua that so captivates us?  Surrounded by three volcanos in the central highlands of Guatemala, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Guatemala.Santa Rosa ruins Founded in 1543 by Spanish Conquistadors the city was “the capital of the Spanish Empire in America” from the 16th to 18th centuries until, after a devastating series of earthquakes earlier in the 18th century, a major earthquake in 1773 destroyed most of the city and the Spanish moved their capital to Guatemala City.There are impressive and melancholy ruins of ancient churches everywhere one walks throughout the city as well as a multitude of beautiful Spanish colonial and baroque edifices still in use.

Fountain in Parque Central

Fountain in Parque Central

Antigua is a very compact city and it’s wonderful to be able to walk anywhere we want within thirty to forty minutes. However, the sidewalks can be uneven with little steps going up or down and very narrow in places forcing us to walk single file or even on the street. Traffic right of way and trying to cross a street can be a guessing game called “Pedestrian Beware!” since you can’t assume that the cars will actually stop for you. There are few street signs on the corners so, for those of us who are directionally dyslexic, finding and orienting yourself can be a bit of a challenge too. The streets are paved with cobblestones and, while picturesque, can be treacherous if you’re not paying attention.

Marimbas - Guatemalan traditional music

Marimbas – Guatemalan traditional music

And it’s hard sometimes to watch your feet when there are so many things to see. Most weeks have a celebration or procession and there’s always the live traditional band with trombones, tubas and huge drums playing in the late afternoon on Fridays at the Parque Central. Just sitting in a café or a bench in the park watching the people (tourists and locals) can provide colorful sights of interest and entertainment.

A couple in the park

A couple in the park

The Antiguans are quite indulgent so long as you are respectful. They realize that tourists are the life-blood of the city and work to accommodate their desires. In return, we maintain the attitude of guests in their country, educate ourselves as to their customs and remain appreciative of their patience. This is rather simple when they routinely, and with great tact, help us with our struggling Spanish.

We have been fortunate to have been in other colonial cities; but it may be a time before we encounter another with the charming mix that brings La Antigua prominence.beautiful smile

By Richard and Anita, August, 2013

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