Catemu

When we decided to do this trip Jons colleague Bosse told us to talk to his sister Agneta and her husband Luis who has a house outside of Santiago in a small village called Catemu. As it turned out they were not there at the moment but she told us to visit Luis’s brother Chatto. After many phone calls back and forth to Sweden and Catemu everything was arranged.

We went to the bus station in Santiago, this time the one called San Borja, and bought tickets at the very reasonable price of €3 each. After one and a half hour we arrived, and using our default modus operandi we got out of the bus and started to look a bit lost. Seconds later a Chilean man greeted us and let us know that he is Luis’s brother!

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We managed to more or less speak to each other and understand most things even though my Spanish was as bad as his English. After getting some rest in his house in downtown Catemu we went to buy some food for the evening and Chatto found us all a “Collectivo” which is a taxi that works like a bus with a defined route, and is dirt cheap!

After a quick brush with death as the driver got very creative when making a u-turn on the main road a bit outside the village we arrived at El Cobre which is the small village on the mountainside just outside of Catemu. Here we got to meet a big part of the family, and maybe most importantly Chattos mother who went to great lengths of making sure that we knew that she was the boss there. They offered us some traditional Chilean sandwiches which we accepted and then forfeited our own food we had bought.

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When the night arrived we moved to Agneta and Luis’s house right beside the house of Luis’s mother. It is not completely finished but is starting to look really nice. And it has a view that is not bad at all!

The day after Chatto bought us lunch at the local restaurant, they did not have a menu but rather a choice of beef or chicken. Both turned out to be good! After this Chatto wanted us to meet the lady who runs the local radio station. It turns out she lived a few years in Sweden and therefore speaks Swedish. Jon was put in a chair with a microphone in front of him and asked questions about how he liked Catemu and what Spanish words he knew. The most advanced Spanish that emerged was something along the lines of “Una cerveza, por favor!”.

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All in all it was a great experience to visit Catemu and meet Chatto and the others. The village was very relaxed and Chatto literally knew everyone there! It was also great to meet people with a connection to, not a close one but very different from meeting people in hostels.

Parque Metropolitano de Santiago

After arriving to Santiago and walking the two kilometers from the bus station to our hostel we felt that we wanted to do some more walking… Or rather not, but this day turned out to contain a long walk!

Santiago has a large park in the middle of the city called Parque Metropolitano that is not so much a park as a hill. We had read that there was a mountain railway that takes you up to the top of the hill, where there is a great view. And then it might be nice to walk down to experience more of the park.

We took the subway from our hostel to the stop called Los Leones which looked to be close to a parking and entrance to the park when looking on a map. When getting there we realized that the railway is in the other end of the park, and the only reasonable way to get to it is to walk there, and arrive at the top station. Said and, well, done. It took quite some time since the trail was broken in some parts, and other parts were very steep. Add to this a sun that shines like there is no tomorrow, and no wind since the hill blocks it. I tried to keep happy during the ascent and watch the scenery. Santiago is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, and watching this from a height really gives a perspective as to how big the mountains really are! Linn on the other hand got bad flashbacks from how tired and exhausted we both were after Los Gigantes.

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At one point I sat down to get some rest and look at the view, Linn was some fifty meters behind me and didnt see that I stopped, so she continued walking. I thought that she might just want to get ahead a bit, so I didnt alert her, and I also could not see how anyone could miss me, but it seemed I was probably more hidden than I thought. The path split in two and Linn took the lower and I took the higher route, both unknowing of the others whereabouts. I looked at the map and realized that the paths arrived at the same place. Linn on the other hand wondered where I was and stopped and texted me. After a while I realized that she probably would have done something like this. Therefore I turned off flight mode and received her text, I replied and started walking to find her, and five minutes later we were not lost any more!

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On the top of the mountain there is something that reminds a bit of Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro, but here it is instead Virgin Mary who is the king of the hill.

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After taking in all the views we took the train down from the hill, it was a nice ride and I am starting to get used to strange contraptions that lets you travel in the mountains.

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Crossing the border from Argentina to Chile

We left Argentina by bus from Mendoza with destination at Santiago. This border control turned out the be the most rigid we have had so far in our trip. It began with the bus stopping in the middle of the Andes mountains in the queue to the small building that is the border control and customs. We were handed papers by the personnel on the bus on which we should declare if we were bringing any items that we must declare.

Items mentioned were excessive electronics not for personal use, each person could bring one laptop and two cellphones for example. Another thing they were vary about was items from plant or animal origin. This caused me to check the box as I had a sandwich with both ham and cheese on it, and I didnt want it considered contraband.

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It is a very beautiful place to wait for the border check in, but a bit cold and windy!

After waiting for about 45 minutes we were ordered by the bus driver to go to the admissions desk inside the building. So we did and rather quickly got first the exit stamp from an Argentinean official and then a Chilean entry stamp from a Chilean one. Our EU passports are really worthwhile since we get free entries in all countries in our trip, and for example US citizens have to pay huge fees for every crossing.

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The rigid part of the border crossing began after our bus entered the building, everyone had to take their carry-on luggage and stand by a table and open it. Then a dog trained to find fruit searched all the bags and marked on the ones smelling like apples, bananas and other items illegal to bring.

As I had the remains of a banana being squished after our trip to Los Gigantes the dog marked my bag. A guard walked up to me to look, assured me that the dog was only trained for fruit and not drugs, so if I had any drugs I did not need to worry. After telling the tale of the squished banana he left me and continued the search. A little while later all bags were x-rayed and we could continue our bus trip, sandwich and all.

Traversing the Andes by bus, Mendoza – Santiago

After spending the night at the Diplomatic Hotel we were unsure about if we wanted to leave. Ever.

Thinking  back to our planning attempts before the trip did remind of us a rather packed schedule after leaving Argentina:

We are going to make our way up from Mendoza through Chile, have time to visit Valparaiso, La Serena and Antofagasta. From there continue to see the salt flats of Uyuni in Bolivia. After the salt flats we have to make our way to Cuzco and Machu Picchu in Peru. After these two adventures we are supposed to make our way back through Bolivia where we want to stay for a while in each city we pass. The final stop in Bolivia is the train of death before we see the Pantanal in Brazil. After this we have to put full speed ahead back to Rio if we are going to be able to spend at least a few days on Ipanema with Caipirinhas in our hands before returning to our cold home.

Alas, we have to separate ourselves from the bed and get going!

When we arrived to the bus station we had the impression that there would not be a bus for many hours and we would pass into Chile during the night. But to our great pleasure we found a bus that left no more than one hour later!

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This was very luckily as this was probably one of the most magnificent and enjoyable bus rides so far in the trip. Four hours of beautiful views of the Andes mountains, in the middle a stop to enter into Chile, and then three more hours of beautiful views. A post on the border formalities passing from Argentina to Chile can be found here.

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To all of you back home, we do have some snow here as well, not just as closely upon us.

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This bus ride was definitely worth the €50 it cost us in first class, it was both a necessary part of our trip and a joy for our eyes along the way! The view above is from when we waited our turn to clear customs.

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As a person scared of heights I was very thankful both for the quality of the roads and for the fact that our bus driver drove slowly and carefully in the hairpin corners of this amazing road! Can you see the remains of the rail track on the other side of the ravine in the picture above?

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There used to be a working rail service along the same route as the road, but the tensions between Argentina and Chile during the 70s caused service to stop, and was only resumed briefly before finally ending in 1984.

Proper rest, The Diplomatic Hotel

After spending one night in the hostel after our adventure by horse Jon was spiking a fever and I was feeling a bit under the weather. Both probably caused by our excess of horseback riding combined with too much sun, wine and meat.

The first idea was to leave Mendoza by bus to Santiago de Chile directly, but unsure about our condition we decided to stay one more night. The night before we had changed dorm to a smaller one but with more beds in it and without some kind air condition. Not feeling that well I decided to use another of my hotel nights. After a quick look I found The Diplomatic Hotel.

We were a little anxious not to be let in with our backpacks in the fancy hotel but we got our room and it was the size of half the apartment back home. Even if I think I’ve learned to stay in hostels and get used to sleep in dorms (and the weird people staying there), the lack of cleanliness, the smell of mold, broken beds and people who steal your food in the common fridge it was awesome to stay in a hotel with a king size bed, without other people and a telephone to room service.

After some rest we went out to get a quick bite and then back to the hotel. Watched too many episodes of Criminal minds and then Jons fever spiked again. This made us decide to order food from room service even though there was a french restaurant that was supposed to be superb just around the corner. And we didn’t get disappointed – the food was great.

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The next day we woke up as good new and we had a great breakfast before we went to the bus station to take the bus to Santiago (please do this bus ride in daylight because it was pretty awesome). 

 

Mendoza – Winery visit by horse

After Los Gigantes and Córdoba we took a night bus to Mendoza, a city probably most known for its wineries. The tourism that surrounds the wineries has created another good thing in Mendoza, a lot of good restaurants!

We spent our first days eating everything from sushi to steak, and Mendoza is truly a good city to eat and drink well in. My favourite was a french one called Anna Bistro, where when I asked for a blanket as it was getting colder in the evening the waiter lent me his jacket.

But! The great thing about Mendoza is of course the wine! Linn planned a tour comprising of riding a horse from a ranch to a winery. There a tour of the winery along with tasting of the wines is conducted. The final part is riding the horse back to the ranch to enjoy a typical Argentinean Parilla!

The tour began at the ranch called “Rancho Viejo” in Lunlunta south of Mendoza. We got there by taxi from the center of Mendoza and paid around €19 for this.

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The horses here were a lot more animated than the ones in Chascomús, and we were offered a lot of freedom to trot and gallop as we wanted to, but the horses did sense that they had two riders who were unsure about how to ride western style. They listened mostly to Elio, the stableman who rode along to make sure the horses did what they should.

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As can be seen here we were both offered and chose to wear helmets, a seldom seen thing in South America. At one point in the tour we arrived at a very steep hill, covered in rounded stones. My first thought was that I am not sure I would be able to climb this hill myself. Apparently the horses could, as Elio rode first and showed the way.

After two and a half hours of horse riding, including some passages where I was unsure if the horse would be able to get by, but did so graciously, amazing views, burning sun and sore legs we arrived at the winery. Our guide informed us that the guy running the winery had once been selected as the foremost winemaker in Argentina!

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The visit began with sampling of the vines, on the left in the picture is our guide, and next to Linn is the sommelier of the winery. The sommelier poured different wines, told us about the different grapes and how they affected the taste and why the wines were blended as they were. We actually did learn a lot to contrast my usual belief that there are only two kinds of wine, wine that tastes good and wine that doesnt.

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Here are the wines we sampled, the Semillon on the left was amazing and Linn who is no big wine drinker really liked it. I think my favourite was the one on the right, it was a blend of both Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.

As you can see the winery is the Mendel one that is apparently rather well known, and we liked the taste of the wines!

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After the sampling we got a tour of the winery, which is one of few buildings made of adobe still standing. And as someone who made wines with mixed results during his teens, I found it very interesting to see how it is done when done for real.

After we finished the tour we got back on the horses and rode back. This time we took another route and finished the tour by riding in a small stream of water. Being up on the horse in the sun I could just imagine how nice it must have felt for the horse to dip his legs in the cool water.

Getting back to the ranch our legs hurt a lot, but we were happy. César, the guy who runs the place had been preparing the barbecue while we were away. Sitting down and enjoying some wine and great cuts of meat from the grill was perfect after this tour.

Restaurant: Al Malek, Córdoba

Our first encounter with Arabian food on the trip was a great one, a small place called Istanbul in Paraty. After the experience there it was no wonder we chose to go to Al Malek in Cordoba.

Al Malek serves Lebanese food, so we started with some Hummus, Tabbouleh and pita bread. And while we were at it we ordered one Shawarma each.

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After finishing part of the Tabbouleh and Hummus, along with four or so pita breads we were starting to get full. We felt a bit sad about not being able to eat infinite amounts, because everything tasted perfectly!

In comes the two portions of Shawarma, and they are generous.

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After finishing a third of each dish we asked for a doggy bag, and tried to explain to the confused waiter that we loved the food, but were unable to eat it all.

The day after we served ourselves the doggy bag for lunch, it still tasted excellent.

Yet another day later the cravings returned, and we were to be seen at Al Malek yet again. This time however, we were a lot more reasonable in the amounts of food ordered, and we actually finished everything this time.

The next trip should probably be to somewhere in the middle east, just writing about this makes me wonder when I get to taste a good Hummus next time?

Zoo Cordoba

Cordoba has a big park called Parque Sarmiento. Inside this park is located the Zoo Cordoba, a typical city zoo. We took one of our last days in Cordoba to visit the park and the zoo.

When talking to a guy in our hostel who apparently felt strongly about animal rights about our planned visit, we got the usual “wild animals should not be locked up”. I do agree that putting a tiger in a cage to have annoying kids shout at it for not being entertaining enough all day is not a good life for the animal.

But considering that most zoo operations do much more than just keep the animals locked up for display, we still chose to make our visit. If a zoo can enlighten people about the fact that for example tigers are an endangered spe

cies, and also that the zoo as an organisation does a lot of work to preserve species, both in captivity and in the wild, it might be that the zoo is not such an evil place after all?

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The monkey however, is very sure about his position about captivity, he is sad.

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There used to be a entertainment park next to the zoo, but now it mostly looks spooky. And reminds me of Spreepark in Berlin. It is something creepy about entertainment parks that are abandoned, but I am not sure what.

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At first we didnt take any photos of the birds, because we already took so many of them in Parque das Aves, but then we remembered that they look good and love the camera!

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To Linns delight the zoo had one alligator, a sleepy one should be noted, but that is the way they have survived some 37 million years, and why change a concept that obviously works?

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A lioness relaxing, amazing animals!

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The lion standing on top of his house-like thing and growling.

All in all we had a nice visit to the zoo, and some animals seemed to like being there less than others, but there was a lot of information scattered around the zoo, hopefully educating people visiting. Also some information about the work the zoo does towards preserving endangered species. Apparently they are part of a lot of different organisations, not only in preserving species in captivity and the wild, but also ones that focus on research and education.

Los Gigantes – The adventure

After getting off the bus we realized that we were not completely alone, a guy and a girl who had a similar mission had also gotten off the bus, and were heading to Los Gigantes. We came to talking and they confirmed what the bus driver has told me (which i did not completely understand) that we should ask in the first house on the right of the road when we got off, an old lady there offers accommodation, camping and some food. This sounded good comparing to the bad reviews of La Rotonda.

When we got there I realized that this was the place called Casas Nuevas that had a sentence or two on the internet if you looked really hard. Luckily for us it turned out that there were two beds available at the fine rate of €13 each, including hot showers and breakfast. And of course the friendly and loving service of Felipe, the lady who hosts everything, along with the other people who work there.

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At first we had to sign a release confirming that we take full responsibility should anything happen, and that we understand that we can not expect any kind of medical assistance in a timely fashion. Mostly making sue that the state of Córdoba is not responsible for our bad decisions.

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As we didnt have a guide I had downloaded a GPS track here and added it into OsmAnd on both my Xperia Z3 Compact and my old Xperia Acro S, both waterproof. We started out on a nice walk towards the foot of the mountain, not hard at all, but very beautiful.

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As you can see in the picture the weather is not too bad, actually very nice for walking as it did not rain, and we were not cooked alive by the sun. All along our route were small piles of stones made by previous trekkers. When we reached the foot of the mountain and started ascending, one magnificent view after another presented itself. Along with complete silence except for our footsteps.

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We felt rather small, exploring this mountain. And as the path got steeper we stopped a few times to drink some water, enjoy the views, the silence and the fact that we actually made it here!

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A hole in the clouds light up a small portion of the view.

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Small green patches in between the sharp stones opened up as we ascended.

After walking and climbing for about three and a half hours we sat down and had some lunch, and some well earned rest for two persons not used to this much physical activity all at once.

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And here we are, happy to have reached the summit, but we can see the clouds in the distance getting thicker!

All along the path up we saw impressions in the ground from cows, apparently the mountain is used as pasture for some cows, but how they manage to get all the way up without tripping and falling toward a certain death is beyond us.

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The clouds were now thick enough to leave some dew in our hair as the blew by.

As the climbing got harder, Linn got unsure about her capabilities, and at one moment sat down stating that she would stay there. When I reminded her that Los Gigantes was her idea, and the probable outcome from staying here would probably include starving to death she changed her mind.

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On the way down the rain turned from dew to rain, and from rain to downpour. Our trusty GPS path also turned out to have some less appealing parts to it, including more or less gracious jumps over small rivers of water. As the rain increased, so did the rivers. The last three hours of the walk we were more or less soaked in water. We suddenly stopped caring whether we put our shoes in the river or beside it, as we felt that they could not get any more wet.

We did not take any photos coming down, my only focus was on getting the GPS to show the way, instead of doing other things because of the completely soaked screens of the phones.

When we finally reached La Rotonda and the road we were so happy, we just had two kilometers to go to Casas Nuevas. We felt a lot more hopeful walking on the road than in the steep hills flooded with ever increasing rainfall.

Safely back at the house we hang our clothes to dry and fell asleep. As the house didnt have too much heating on (we were mostly cold from the rain, heating was not really required otherwise), we felt very cold. Linn especially who can be quoted on saying “I am not sure I will ever get warm again”.

The day after we had a light breakfast served by Felipe. Her concern was total when she saw that we still had some wet clothes on, we didnt think to bring any extra, and the wet ones didnt go from soaked to dry just overnight. She lended us some old but dry clothes to put on while she sat down in the kitchen in front of the stove holding our clothes up to it until they were dry! Such an amazing care she took of us.

Very tired, but a great experience richer we took the bus back to Córdoba. There we got use of part of Linns Christmas present from her parents, hotel nights!

Los Gigantes – Getting there

While staying in Córdoba Linn read about a place called Los Gigantes, a remote place with a stretch of mountains resembling giants. The recommended way to experience these were to get there and walk around them with a guide. We searched for a way to get there and asked in a travel agency. The travel agent there told us that they do not do tours there, he insists on us going with a guide, if we have GPS we might be able to do it by ourselves, but it is not recommended.

He tried to call a friend of his who is a guide there, but he didnt respond as there is no cellphone reception on the mountain. We were promised a call at the hostel the next day if he could get a hold of him.

We started to do some research on our own, how feasible is it to do this ourselves? We had multiple GPS units in the form of smartphones, two of them waterproof. I also found a path to follow on wikiloc which is a website where you can share rows of GPS coordinates with others, this path was rated as medium in difficulty and was 15 kilometers long. Now we just needed to get there.

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It turns out that the bus from the company Sarmiento leaves every morning at 7:45 except on Tuesdays when it leaves at 6:00 and on Sundays when it leaves at 9:15. It takes more or less two hours to get there and our path was timed at 6 hours and 40 minutes with a supposedly avid trekker who recorded it and uploaded it to the website. The buses back passes Los Gigantes at 12:10 except for Tuesdays at 11:50 and Sundays at 17:15.

This gave us a new problem, how can we go there, walk for 6 hour 40 minutes (9 hours?) and then get back? Again we searched for a solution, our first approach was that maybe we could borrow a tent somewhere, but then we would need sleeping bags and other things that people who sleep in tents have. We actually had sleeping bags in the start of the trip, but these were sent back to Sweden after less than one month of travel as we never saw a need for them. Before now.

After some continued research we found a place called La Rotonda which is supposed to be some kind of accomodation for people doing the walk in the mountains. The only review on TripAdvisor was one letting us know that La Rotonda is a place which wants to have your money, in every possible way, they charge horrendous amounts for things like water and hot showers. But it also seemed like our only option. We had our hostel manager call them and confirm that they existed, charged like a hotel and had rooms available, and they did.

Next up we bought a lot of food and water which we stuffed our small backpacks with, and the morning after we set an alarm for 6:15 to be ready to get to the bus station in time to buy tickets, leave our big backpacks in storage and get on the bus before it left. We got to bed at 2:30 in the morning.

Ah, the morning comes, early with a great adventure, eager as we were we got out of bed before our alarm. Or did we?

Trying to snooze the alarm I must have turned it off, and upon awakening at 7:08 and realizing that we had overslept my first thought was “Great, I dont want to walk in a stupid mountain anyway, I much prefer it to stay inside and watch TV series!”. Moments later I realized that I do want to walk in the stupid mountain, and that it is still possible to make it to the bus.

7:15 our bags were packed and we were outside hailing a taxi, at 7:25 we were at the bus station buying tickets and leaving our bags in storage for the following day. We made it!

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After a ride with our friendly bus driver that took great care to drive very fast as long as the road was good, and slow down enough for every bump not to make the ride too bumpy we arrived at “Parador el Valle” which is the last stop and opportunity to buy some extra cakes or a bottle of coke before Los Gigantes. Here I started asking a bit about Los Gigantes, this led our bus driver to interrogate me about a lot of things, ranging from if we had a place to stay, do we have GPS? To other like why dont we have a guide? Do we have rain jackets? Do we have enough food? All this in Spanish, but he put in a great deal of effort in making sure that I understood everything. After the questions were over, so were the time at el Valle, and we were back on the bus, two stops later we were at Los Gigantes!

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To be continued…