Roaming Nicaragua

nic_8639nic_8644nic_8668I fell in love with Nicaragua early in the morning. We hopped on a bus in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica, long before sunrise. We were the first to be picked up, the first to meet our guide, Marco, and our driver, Johnny. We were groggy and shy at first, but by the end of the day, we were calling each other family and sharing street food wrapped in banana leaves together. That’s just how I remember Nicaragua. Comfort. Smiles. Warmth. A strawberry-shake sunset. And leaving, unsure you’ll ever see Nicaragua or Johnny or Marco again, is a little heartbreaking.

Taking one day out of my Costa Rica vacation to see Nicaragua was entirely worth it. It’s been several months now, and I have such fond memories of that single day. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt very free that day; I felt lucky and exhilarated. I smiled through every one of Johnny’s close calls when his risky passes jerked everyone from their seats. I didn’t mind that the a/c stopped working a few hours in; it just meant it was time to braid my hair. I felt safe, even when the Americans were made to get off the bus at the border to be questioned and have their temperatures taken to make sure we weren’t bringing Ebola into the country.

Nicaragua blew my mind and made me realize I’m not the open-minded traveler I always imagined I was. It was beautiful, whereas I imagined hills of dirt and filth. I expected to be scared, but we were welcomed. I imagined I’d find ramshackle-life, and mostly, it was simple living surrounded by beauty.

These, my friends, are the nearly 20 hours I spent in Nicaragua. I hope you enjoy. 
nic-001 nic_8739 nic_8738 nic_8735 nic_8734 nic_8726 nic_8724 nic_8713 nic_8710 nic_8708 nic_8705 nic_8699 nic_8692 nic_8684 nic_8682 nic_8679 nic_8677 nic_8676 nic_8671Many of these photos were taken from the bus, but I quite enjoy their feel:
nic_8666 nic_8664 nic_8663 nic_8662 nic_8660 nic_8659 nic_8656Here, we hopped on a boat to explore Lake Nicaragua, a giant fresh-water later with sharks! Oh, and monkeys!
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It makes me want to go back.

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Walking in the treetops | Costa Rican jungle bridges

forest_9405forest_9469forest_9395forest_9111Hi friends. There aren’t many words to say, except, let’s get lost in the jungle …

This was one of my favorite days in Costa Rica. Here, I wrote about the roadtrip to get here.

There wasn’t a lot of chatter. Just the pitter-patter of a few raindrops. The ruffling of leaves as monkeys swung from branches. The teasing hoot of birds in the distance.

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Roadtrip to the Jungle | Costa Rica

forest_8993forest_9013Mostly, we drove quietly to the rainforest. Watching the wind blow the palms outside. Watching the clothes lines zoom by. Watching the already lush countryside turn even more green, thick and tropical.

Because we were a small group — only four of us — our tour guide took us to his favorite restaurant on the mountaintop, just before the entrance to the jungle. We drove for miles up a steam hill paved with golf ball and baseball-sized rocks. The van’s motor died only once, and we all had to hop in the back seat to balance the weight to make it to the top of the hill.

After we passed homes surrounded by their own jungles of tropical fruit trees and flower gardens, we arrived in time for lunch. It was one of the freshest meals I had in Costa Rica, and the mountain view was one I could have stared at for days. forest_9009


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My Costa Rican neighborhood

hood_2hood_1hood_7I like that I’ve been home from Costa Rica for two weeks, and it still feels fresh in my mind. I hate when you return to normal life after something amazing and it starts to fade into dream mode. If I think about it, there’s almost a sadness that Tico life is not my actual life, that I was just a seven-day visitor in a place and a community that felt so comfortable.

One thing I did not want to be in Costa Rica was a tourist who stayed in an all-inclusive resort only eating resort food and only talking to people who don’t live in Costa Rica. Granted, I really want to do this someday, like stay on white sandy beaches somewhere like Playa del Carmen and let someone bring me fruity drinks around the clock. But this was not that.

We stayed in a condo a few blocks from the beach and about a mile walk to downtown. We were in a neighborhood with locals living in apartments, timeshare owners visiting for their so-many-weeks out of the year and business owners running small cafes and consignment shops. It felt homey and safe, not something my terrified mother expected me to report from the streets of a third world country (gosh, doesn’t that sound so negative?).

Speaking of my terrified mother, I promised to never tell her the story of the time we got lost after dark in Costa Rica, but now that I’ve been home for a few weeks, that promise feels a little less important. And I’m home safe, so I think that speaks for enough, right? But, yes, lost happened. And it happened all over these streets in these pictures. It was in the dark on our first night in Costa Rica — after we’d only been in the country for a few hours, really — and after we walked to downtown in middle of a monsoon and then ate fish tacos at a sports bar while were were dripping wet and wiping smeared mascara from our cheeks.

We decided to walk home because it was before midnight — that’s the specific hour our shuttle driver said it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for us to be out walking around. But we forgot the street we were supposed to turn on and somehow we ended up a lot farther away than we wanted to be. It wasn’t so much scary, but annoying after a full day of flying, it made falling into our rental beds that much more awesome when we did finally find our way home in the nighttime rain.

Over the week, the neighborhood began to feel like home. I found myself walking alone and not minding sitting alone at cafes and restaurants to people watch and check email. It reminded me of college, in a strange and comforting way.

These are the majority of my neighborhood photos, the ones I took while I was walking home from someplace or just when I would wander when nothing else was planned.  hood_3 hood_3c hood_4 hood_5 hood_6  hood_8 hood_9 hood_10 hood_11 hood_12 hood_13 hood_14 hood_15 hood_16 hood_17 hood_22 hood_23 hood_24 hood_25 hood_26 hood_27 hood_28 hood_29 hood_30 hood_31 hood_32 hood_33 hood_34 hood_35 hood_36 hood_37 hood_39 hood_40 hood_41 hood_42 hood_43 hood_44 hood_45 hood_47 hood_49 hood_50 hood_51 hood_52 hood_53 hood_54hood_001

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I spy … monkeys and crocodiles on my boat | Costa Rica

river_7909^^ Wild monkeys hopped into our boat looking for food. It had been five weeks since they’d made an appearance during these boat tours, so we felt extra special. ^^river_7613river_7627river_7869^^ Crocodiles always on the prowl ^^river_7752^^ Iguanas populate the treetops like birds^^river_7884I don’t like the idea of being a tourist. I like to think of myself as the kind of girl who is interested in eating with strangers, sleeping on peoples’ couches and finding my own way home. On recent trips, though, I learned to embrace my tourist side, and I have learned, that like everything in life, you have to have balance when visiting a new world.

I went to Costa Rica without any plans, basically. I was cautious of filling my calendar with long day trips and Americanized excursions instead of morning-til-night beach days or exploring Costa Rican life on my own. This has happened before, where I’ve gone some place and felt like I experienced everything they had to offer, except for the way the locals live and perceive their home. I didn’t want Costa Rica to be that.

And it wasn’t.

It was balanced. Plenty of time to float in the waves. A sufficient number of evenings drinking the local cerveza and rum on Coco’s main street. Downtime for people watching at the Internet Cafe or soaking in the pool outside of our front door.

Without a car (I have decided I will rent one next time), I quickly learned that the tours were one of the main ways non-locals see Costa Rican life, ecotourism, environment and that splendidly lush countryside. So we signed up, first for two tours and then we added a third one later in the week.

Each tour took the majority of the day. And because of that, they didn’t feel like the quick, hop-on/hop-off experience you often feel on tours in the States. On every tour — most of them small in size, the tour guides and fellow travelers became like close friends fast. The drives in vans and small buses were like roadtrips with friends, and you talked about everything from their homes so far from yours, careers and what drew people to Costa Rica. Because everyone has that story to tell.river_7621river_7624river_7865river_7728These photos are from the first tour I took in Costa Rica on the Tempisque River, starting in Palo Verde National Forrest. There were six of us on this trip. A couple from Ottowa, a couple from Oceanside and us. Our driver, who didn’t speak much English at all, drove us through the hills on a rainy morning to another town (that we all meant to figure out the name of, but never did). The driver hopped out of the van for a while, and went into the panaderia across the street. Maybe he’s picking up our lunches, someone said. Maybe we’re picking up the tour guide here, we guessed. Before we knew it, they had us switch vans and we were off once again.

After a long ride through rain and mudpits — and with only one stop in which all of us English speakers tried to explain that the heater was muy caliente and burning the lady in the back seat — we made it to the river. Our tour guide, a local with a wide smile who drank Britt iced coffee out of a box (that I would later discover in the market and stock up on), hopped in to the passenger seat.

This river tour was the most touristy of all the tours. But I sat back, and embraced it, and took pictures of every floating alligator, every monkey, every crane — not because I necessarily needed to remember every bird, but because our guide was so excited every time I showed him a photo and he would loudly gasp, “Yes,” every time he saw my camera pointed at wildlife. It was great. We became friends, and we talked about cameras and shared the pack of cheese crackers I found stashed in my backpack.

river_7629river_7632river_7651river-2river_7646river_7655river_7676river_7658river_7679river_7701river_7709river_7731river_7753river_7755river_7758river_7761river_7778river_7784river_7800river_7805river_7829 river_7843 river_7852 river_7857river_7892river_7894 It was so great to see all the wildlife, especially the monkeys jumping on our boat and the crocks, too. Here are two Instagram videos I posted of the monkeys and the crocodiles eating at our boat.  river_7984At the end of the day, we went to a family-owned restaurant near the river. We were served a family-style Tico lunch of fresh meats and veggies. It was a beautiful day, and our first full day of experiencing Costa Rica. river_7612

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Swimming in the falls | Costa Rica

falls_8777^^ Softs water spots on the lens. Can you see the rainbow?^^falls_8754falls_8751falls_8763falls_8760falls_8836falls_8769At the waterfall, a list:

1. Pull off the Pan American Highway and park in a dirt lot.

2. Use the back row of the van to change into your swimsuit.

3. Wait for the friend with the 4×4 who tells you the van can probably make it to the falls because it didn’t rain that hard last night.

4. Hike down the hill, sometimes to take a helping hand, sometimes to take a photograph.

5. See the gray-blue ripples just before you hear the rush.

falls_8786falls_87946. Stand at the edge of the lagoon in the sun for approximately two minutes.

7. Marvel at its beauty.

8. Wipe the mist from the lenses of your sunglasses.

9. Ignore insecurities.

10. Walk in, one step at a time.

falls_8789falls_8801falls_878411. Dive in as soon as the water is at your mosquito-bitten knees.

12. Swim straight into the fall, and feel the pounding of the water on your face.

13. Say “this would have been a great place to take pictures with my waterproofed iphone” and sigh to the French Canadian. Feel better after she tells you how she lost all of her photos on the last day of her Kenya trip, and how she learned then that “right now is all I need to remember.”

14. Float on your back and take it in for as long as you can.

15. Dry off in the sand.

falls_8806falls_8822falls_8816falls_8817falls_8820falls_883216. Watch an orange and yellow butterfly flutter on your pink beach towel.

17. Hike back up the hill.

18. Drink water out of a coconut with a straw.

19. Dive back into the bus, and sit on beach towels and halfway promise that you’re “not that wet.”

20. Talk about how awesome it was to swim in the one of the last waterfalls that is still open for swimming in Costa Rica.


falls_8860falls_8855falls_8825falls_8827falls_8830falls_8831falls_8835The Llanos de Cortez waterfall was a hidden treasure we didn’t expect to experience in the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste. It was lovely. We went early, and were some of the first visitors of the day. Some said most of the local waterfalls have been closed for swimming due to bacteria and other issues, so it was especially great that we got to float in the lagoon and perch ourselves on the mossy rocks under the falls.falls_8848falls_8849

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Costa Rica is …


Costa Rica was fish tacos and iguanas in the trees and natives who love with no strings attached. That feeling that it’s okay to be you — refreshing to be you — in any form. A freedom to dive head first into thunderous waves and to walk a mile in the pouring rain in nothing but cut-off denim shorts and strappy orange sandals.

Costa Rica is a list of things I fell in love with. Pink hammocks on front porches. Strung turquoise, stone and silver. A handful of soft shells. Toes drifting up and down in the tide. Pictures soft with the blur of ocean mist on the camera’s lens.

I’m back home from a week in Costa Rica, determined to keep the most important souvenir: those deep, weightless breaths that tingle as they hit the base lining of your stomach and make you smile wide even when you’re sitting alone under the cafe’s mango tree. Costa Rica was that in many ways. It was forgetting the small complexities of home. Seeing the struggles I don’t have. Feeling thankful for people my heart really missed. Living in the moment. Seeing the beauty of all things. Having heartfelt conversations with people, even though we didn’t speak the same language.

I feel like there was a mutual love affair between Costa Rica and me. Every hand that held my hand and every hug goodbye at the end of a meal or an evening was uniquely passionate and meaningful. Costa Ricans showed me kindness, respect and their family photos on smartphones. They were loves, and I will see them again.cr_1a

cr_1bcr_2It was these people and these moments I tried capturing with my cell phone, as I always do. I find that my cell phone — its ease, small size and discreetness — allows me to capture those details better than I sometimes care to try with my big camera.

But in middle of my stay in Costa Rica, I forgot to snap closed the charge port on my waterproof case. Not only did my phone not turn on to recover what I’d already captured, I was unable to use it for the rest of the trip. It forced me to embrace my large Canon in the comfortable and trusted way that I did before iPhone came into my life. But it also made forced me to be present. To keep my hands down and just look. To soak it up. To remember the age spots on the woman’s face who tried selling me bags of Nicaraguan cocoa. To see the juxtaposition of the tangled wires and tropical pink flowers growing side-by-side. To see the contrast in the rainforest between the fluorescent leaves and black shadows. I had to look curiously and deeply, knowing the flashes of my memory would be the only things I’d have to take home.

Except for two things. The 40-something photos I posted to Instagram and Facebook from Costa Rica before my phone went snorkeling, these that I salvaged from the social web and am sharing here.

And, my teeny tiny notebook made of recycled banana. I bought the small notebook at the airport on our flight home. And while I flew over the tip of Costa Rica, deep blue seas, white sandy beaches, Belize, volcanoes and ocean reefs, I filled almost every page of that notebook with thoughts that are now last week’s memories. I wrote down every picture I didn’t take. Every feeling I could put into words. All the little words I hope will spark a vivid memory in 10, 20, 50 years from now.


Here, my friends, are the photos I salvaged and some of the words I wrote in pink ink in that tiny banana notebook:

costa rica is …

** pura vida, simply.

** rain that sprinkles and gushes, and soaks you before you sit down for dinner and drinks.

** it is the steam that rises from active volcanos.

** that first pina colada topped with whipped cream, a plump cherry and a skewer of pineapple on the edge of the sea shore.

** the wet heat that makes everyone look like they’re glowing.

** it is the anthropologist from Italy who teaches you how to moisturize your skin with a mixture of coffee grounds, olive oil and grated coconut.

** the genuine smiles of the local tour guides who love sharing the pride they have for their country.

** the way they talk about their esposas and ninos and share their family photos.


** the conversations with a woman named ale, short for alexandria, who is anxious for a new life in nepal or mammoth — she doesn’t care. she is the woman who has two kids from two different fathers and feels guilty for it. she is the woman who told you not to believe in love, but to believe in powerful friendships.

** it is the birds of paradise that sprout orange and red on the curbs of streets. butterflies painted on light posts. chalk drawings on sidewalks.

** an unmade bed every day.

** and ruffling the sheets before you crawl in, just in case a critter was planning to join you for the evening.

** it is the native gallopinto — a mix of beans and rice — at almost every meal.

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** it is the feeling of success when you conquered the timeshare owner. and the way the salesman ditched his speal and instead told you of his texas roots, his father’s costa rican coffee farm and showed you pictures of his young son covered in black sand on the beach.

** the subtle sweetness of fresh-cut mango. the mushiness that sometimes sneaks up on me.

** the way you ask for wifi passwords any time you stop to eat or drink.

** the millipedes that crawl across the kitchen floor and the pinky lizard that hunts for buggies in your closet.cr_6

** it is having a conversation with the taxi driver even though you don’t speak each others’ languages.

** the thickness of local fruit juice at breakfast. the way it never seems quite cold, but it is always refreshing.

** it is the cold section of the grocery store where all of the coke bottles have emmanuel’s name on them.

** the fluttering of two blue butterflies, magestic creatures who are rare and only live where the air is pure.

** the freedom to wear a swimsuit on the beach — or anywhere — even if you don’t look like a model surfer.

** the olive-colored eyes of crocodiles hunched in muddy waters.

cr_7 cr_8 cr_9** coconutz, the sports bar on the main strip where the seats are swings and where 90s music from america plays on nights when futbol hasn’t brought in a packed house.

** the long black fingers of monkeys who hopped onto the roof of your boat and were lured inside with banana chunks on blonde kids’ heads.

** stick shifts and grinding gears todo los dias.

** moving to the back of the van de tourismo so you could make it all the all the way to the top of the mountain after it stalled on a rocky road.

** making a genuine connection with locals who are relieved to meet open-minded tourists.

** forgetting your english and how to form sentences.

** surprised to hear yourself speaking new words in spanish, words you thought were left in your ninth grade spanish class.

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** it is a place where you feel safe to walk late at night. there are regular long walks to town and back and learning you don’t really need a taxi.

** 24/7 spanish tv, but the occassional “modern family” in english.

** it is china white iced coffee with whipped cream ordered at the internet cafe on the corner and the tall barista who walked around with strappy sandles and her vintage leather purse.

** lone palms grow in bright green fields.

** it is pre-downloaded amazon prime tv shows on your kindle to watch in bed.

** frozen bottles of water that melt before noon.

** the loud holler of cicadas when you drive with the windows open.

** the sacrificial beach towel that didn’t fit in your suitcase for the flight home because you bought too many hammocks and bags of costa rican coffee.

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** it is sneaking to the courtyard with the wifi to send brief emails, emojis and post photos to facebook. and later being glad you shared because all was lost.

** buying a large bag of brown rice to house your iphone in, and praying for a miracle.

** walking by laura’s place, the dive shop sign, the smelly trash bin, the lady who sang while she cleaned.

** the way you wonder how bananas grow upside down like that.

** looking for monkeys. always with the monkeys.

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** black monkeys hovering on branches as you lounge at the farthest end of playa hermosa.

** the guardian angel in the pond.

** pink and white paper lanterns than dangle above the chase loungers at cafe de playa.

** outdoor showers.

** the soft tips of the sugar cane plants; the subtle sweet aroma that so faintly filled the van.

** horses and cows tied to fence posts and left to graze between the road and property lines.

** a 70-year-old surfer from oceanside, california. they way he calls everyone amigo.


** that feeling of home on the mountaintop. thinking you want to share it with your family because it seemed like a place they would like to live. secluded. beautiful. majestic.

** fresh, fresh food.

** it is the waterfall that rushed into the lagoon where you swam with french canadians, and you all felt lucky because it’s the only place left to swim in a waterfall.

** it is being glad you took $100 in singles because you tipped for rides and help at the airport and housekeeping and drinks and tours and breathing.

** packets of starbucks instant peppermint mochas in the morning when local coffee wasn’t brewed yet.

** a quaint drive through gunanacaste with the girl who inspires you with her travels to so many islands and kenya and cuba and europe.

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** the iguana banging its head into the glass door because it couldn’t get inside.

** emails from home.

** that super fresh pico de gallo with the pineapple chunks that you dump on top of your coconut-crusted white fish.

** coca in a glass bottle.

** the way they smile when you say your name is lorena de las mariposas.

** the rooster and goose guarding the kayaks at la vida loca.

** the water’s wamth.

** knees shredded on tiny sea shells as waves thrust you to the sea shore. worth it.


** coffee on the balcony as you listen to screeching birds and howler monkeys in trees growing on the outskirts of the neighborhood.

** new friends who say the rainforest and waterfalls were better because you were there.

** it is the crushed leaves from orange and lemon trees that smell stronger than they do in california.

** the way the lizard man whispered “i like you, i really like you” over and over.

** the obsession with all sports that involve balls.

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** ecotourismo and a country that gets its energy by volcanic power.

** catching a man smiling at you as you look up from photographing a tree’s roots and his words, ‘its’ refreshing to see a real photographer from time to time.’

** ale’s white tanks and beige khakis. always.

** that pink glow as the sun sets, even when you can’t see the sun.cr_24


cr_26 ** four stamps in your passport in one day.

** the tall american travel agent with a costa rican mother who always wore her blonde hair in white scarves.

** pink sunsets over the gulf of papagayo, telling you its going to be a beautiful day.

** five dollar bottles of water at dinner, chilled tableside like champagne.

** the local girl who made bracelets with knotted flowers. she wasn’t pushy like the rest, and called your eyes verde. she talked about her baby who turned one just five days earlier. you return the next day to buy her turquoise and she’s not there.

** a mingling of wires and foliage.

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** the costa rican flag hanging from the windshield and a woman’s tiny hair clip on the string.

** david, the tour guide, talking about how he loves his wife.

** guava juice.

** promising to learn spanish when you get home.

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** it is never knowing how to covert money into $2 taxi rides or $70 leather purses.

** the way their eyebrows raise and their smiles widen when they find out you’re a california girl.

** paying a few colones more for pineapple and melon off the back of a truck than at the grocery store.

** finding a snorkel and mask at the automercado for $10 u.s.

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** leaves the color of neon green and much bigger than your head.

** the italian in the condo by the stairs who wears tortoise-shell glasses and always said ‘alo’ with a cigarette in his hand.

** the sway of the trees in the rainforest and the light that trickles in. the way ferns glow like they do in pixar movies.

** learning to close the port on your waterproof iphone case — forced unplugging.

** a few pages of lena dunham’s “i’m not that kind of girl.”

** sharing cheese crackers with the tour guide who lives by the river and is excited with every nature shot you show him on the camera.

** thinking of your favorites at home and wishing you could share all of it with them.

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** costa rica is hammocks hanging from front doors and homes painted the color of avocado, mango and the ocean sky on a clear day.

** it is crowds of people playing futbol in the beach-side field.

** it is the way in which you don’t care if your skin is sticky all of the time.

** flickers and shadows in the forest.

** it is polka-dotted ankles after tiny black mosquitos bite into your skin.

cr_41 ** the holler of locals calling you and pointing for you to see what’s in the tree above: an iguana the size of a goat perched on a high branch, they say they’ve never seen one so large.

** a bow to the condo builders who built around the mango tree that houses the family of howler monkeys.

** cardboard floor mats on taxis’ floorboards.

** it is buying eggs and chorizo and tortillas and making our own breakfast together.

** a casino (?)


cr_46cr_47cr_49** floating in a deep blue pool in middle of the night, and not feeling a single chill when you get out.

** weekday roadtrips with new friends from all over the world.

** raindrops on windshield and the greenest of green countrysides.

** pizza that is no bueno. and breadsticks like biscotti.

** the brush of thin sundresses at your ankles.

** the dogs that roam free even though they all have collars, and the cats who purr when you walk by.

** feeling like you want to go back even before you’ve left.cr_50

cr_51cr_52cr_53cr_54cr_55cr_56cr_57cr_58cr_59Thank you for visiting, friends. I have many, many more Costa Rican posts to share as I work on getting back to reality. Come back soon.               cr_60

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