Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Gert van Dijken, Editor

Caribbean Travel Roundup
Gert van Dijken, Editor
Edition 134
April 1, 2003

Last Update 1 April, 2003

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I, my wife, 13 year old daughter  and 16 year old son spent 13 days in
Puerto Rico in February of 2003.  Prior  to the trip I spent a quite a
bit of  time on the internet  researching the trip  and reading travel
journals so I thought I'd submit a journal of my families experiences.

To start out  we are fairly experienced travelers.  We  have been to a
number  of  Caribbean  Islands  and   my  wife  and  I  have  traveled
extensively in Mexico, I also  speak basic Spanish that I learned over
25 years ago in the Peace Corps.   The last major trip we took was two
weeks driving through Sicily two years ago.

On the  whole we enjoyed  the trip and  Puerto Rico but we  also found
some drawbacks in PR as travel destination.

Day 1 Thursday We traveled from  the airport to Fajardo.  I had booked
3 nights  in the  Hotel La  Familia.  I was  very disappointed  in the
hotel. It was  at the level of a  $5 hotel in Mexico for  which I paid
$120 for  two rooms  that shared  a bath.  They  were bare  rooms with
barely  functioning air  conditioners but  no way  to open  the window
(covered in plastic).   The area around Fajardo was  OK but overbuilt.
We had a nice meal at an open  air restaurant at the end of the Rt 987
across from the  fishermen's cove in Las Crobos.   We went swimming at
Seven Seas Beach which was attractive but kind of rocky.  That night I
drove around looking  for a restaurant and was  not too impressed with
the area.  Finally we ate at a plain but nice family restaurant across
from Playa Sardinera.

Day 2  Friday Bailed out on  the hotel which wasn't  probably the best
idea because  it was Friday of a  three day weekend and  I didn't have
any reservations till  Sunday night.  We drove south  then east toward
Ponce  through some  very nice  looking country.  The roads  were very
windy  and scenic.  I  was looking  for a  place to  stay we  did make
another mistake.  We  stayed on the highway till  we got past Humacao,
which appears  to be  where most of  the resorts/hotels  were located.
There  were not  very many  hotels after  that.  We  did stop  at what
appeared to  be a  very appealing hotel  in the Patillias  area called
Hotel Caribe Playa Beach Resort  (rooms were $118+/_).  It was quite a
small place but with a beautiful  beach front area with palm trees and
hammocks.  The hotel also had a very picturesque restaurant and public
area.  I know someone who stayed at the hotel years ago and spoke very
well of it but they did  not have a room available.  The roads through
this region are very hard to follow particularly through the towns and
every town had  a traffic jam.  The routes are  fairly well marked but
all I can say when the route signs appears to direct you down an alley
or drive  way follow because that  is the route through  the town.  We
went to eat at the Salinas Bay Marina Resort which had a nice location
on  the water  but was  hard to  get  to and  no great  shakes on  the
overpriced food. I was really  getting concerned about finding a hotel
so I made a  bunch of calls and finally booked a  room in Ponce at the
Hotel Milia ($120 for a superior  room). The Milia was a wonderful old
hotel with  a lot of character  and we had  a large clean room  with a
balcony overlooking the Plaza de las Delicias.  The staff at the hotel
is very nice and the whole  family enjoyed the historic part of Ponce.
The  tourist bureau  provides free  horse drawn  carriage  and trolley
rides.  The  guides at  the Parque de  Bombas (Old Fire  Station) were
very  helpful and  informative.  We  had dinner  at a  nice economical
Mexican Restaurant a block from the Square and saw the only live music
of our  trip a Mariachi Band.  Also  there is a great  ice cream place
just below the hotel across from the Plaza, try the guanabana helados.

Day 3 Saturday I spent the morning trying to find a hotel for Saturday
night, after  calling 30 places  on the coast  finally got a  place in
Jayuya, a mountain town about 1 hour north of Ponce .  We went down to
the waterfront boardwalk in Ponce. We  had heard it was a lively place
from friends.  That may apply to  a weekend night but Saturday at noon
it was dead.   One or two of the more an  a dozen bar/restaurants were
open and nobody was there.

The drive  up to Jayuya  was very scenic and  interesting particularly
since  we had  an  old  map that  did  not show  the  new highway  10.
Stopping at  those little mountain  top village colmados can  be nice,
you get  a drink, talk  to the locals.   We stopped at one  the people
were very  friendly and they  redirected us to  a better route  to our
destination. The Town of Jayuga is not a major tourist stop, it's kind
of nondescript with  kind of a dumpy main street  but the country side
around it was very attractive. The hotel Posada Jayuya was a semi dump
for $69 a room which were OK.   There is, at least from the outside, a
very nice  looking Indian  museum but it  is closed on  weekends.  The
central plaza with the requisite Catholic Church had a cool small town
feel and there  was a wedding going on while we  were there which made
for some nice  local flavor.  The dining opportunities  in Jayuya were
very limited, through the hotel  advertised a BBQ Chicken joint it was
closed.  So that  leaves the 3 fast food type  restaurants on the main
street which was really kind of funny.  There was a Chinese place that
had sandwiches  and fried chicken and  a fried chicken  place that had
Chinese food  and a sandwich shop  with guess what.   In our wandering
around we saw  the same cooks and counter people  going back and forth
between  the places distributing  the fried  chicken and  other foods.
The rest of  our stay was not very interesting  the kids quickly found
that the only English stations on  the TV were religious and TV guide.
This was an  unplanned detour that I would not  repeat on purpose, but
the people were  friendly and helpful and it was good  for the kids to
see a real PR  Town but even this place had a  Burger King on the road
leading in.

Day 4 Sunday I did watch  the sunrise from the hotel balcony in Jayuya
it really was beautiful.   With the mountains, tropical vegetation and
the cocks crowing,  the town did look its best but  not good enough to
stop us  from making an early  escape. We took the  local roads, which
are part of  the panoramic route to the new highway  RT.10 and we were
in Ponce within 1 hour and in Guanica, our next stop, in about another
30 minutes.  Since it was too early to check into our rooms we went to
the local beach Ballena Caqa Gorda.  This beach was great, very clean,
nice facilities,  plenty of  shade, good snack  bar (only open  on the
weekend), easy  parking and  right next to  the Copamarina  Resort. In
fact on a couple of occasions I walked down the beach and used some of
their facilities.

At  about 1:00  PM we  went down  the  road less  than a  mile to  our
accommodations.  We had reservations at  Mary Lee's by the Sea for the
next 5  nights (  After the
last three  places we stayed the  family was on my  case about another
less than  spectacular lodging choice.   Luckily Mary Lee's  was great
even my  16 year  old son  who usually keeps  his positive  remarks to
grunts said  "You did good  Dad".  It really  is a very  unique place.
Mary Lee  herself was  very helpful and  quite interesting  stories to
tell as she had spent time  in Batista's Cuba before moving to PR over
30 years ago. The main compound  had three or four apartments but it's
hard to tell  because each one is very  private.  We rented Tranquilla
($170/night) advertised as a two bed  room it could sleep 8 in comfort
and privacy.  I bet counting the covered deck it was over 2,000 sq ft.
The kids had their own rooms which was great after 3 days in one hotel
room  and the car,  getting everyone  there own  space was  nice.  The
apartment  is  uniquely  decorated  with  beautiful  use  of  fabrics,
lighting  and   plants.   The  grounds  are  small   but  very  nicely
landscaped.  The waterfront is mangroves, with two docks that give you
access to the water.  Swimming off the  docks is only so good as it is
shallow and the bottom is sandy with sea grass.  It didn't bother me I
swam,  snorkeled,  fished and  watched  the  moon  every day  off  the
docks. Since  the apartment had a  complete kitchen we  went back into
Guanica (a 10 minute ride down  a windy road) to the ECONO supermarket
to get supplies.

Days 5 thru 8 Mary Lee's was very relaxing there is no TV but Mary Lee
has a small paperback library and a stock of board games.  It was good
for the family to kick back and relax.  We explored the local area and
did some  hiking in the dry forest.   Which was OK but  hot, access to
the visitor's center was at the end of 334 where the guide was helpful
but spoke no English but he did supply a map.  The best walk I thought
was to go  to the end of  333 and walk along the  deserted beaches.  I
also did some surf fishing in this area with varied success.  Mary Lee
does have kayaks for  rent but it was quite windy most  of the time we
were  there  and  the  currents  around  the off  shore  cays  can  be
surprisingly strong.

We took  the boat ride to  Gilligan's Island which was  nice but quite
small.  We  went on a Thursday morning  and by afternoon it  was a bit
crowded.  It must be jammed on the weekends.  It is a unique place, on
the  ocean side  there is  access to  the coral  reef  (caution strong
currents) the  coral was ok  but in the  area I tried was  shallow and
water was cloudy.  The best feature of the island is the lagoon in the
middle of  the island, it is  turquoise blue with a  U shaped mangrove
channel.  You swim  against the sometimes quite strong  current up one
leg of the U  and the current floats you back the  other leg.  Quite a
few fish and the clarity of the water is pretty good.

Another day  we took  a ride  to La Parguera  and Bouqeron  Beach.  We
really liked La Paguera the town looks like it would be very lively on
a weekend night.  It's full of bars and restaurants  but no beach, the
waterfront is  all mangroves  with lots of  offshore islands.   We had
friends that raved  about staying at the Villa  Parguera on a weekend.
We took  a very interesting  hour and a  half boat ride ($25)  saw the
house  boats,  iguanas,  starfish  and  sea  urchins.  We  tried  some
excellent sangria at a bar by the  docks and had one of our best meals
in  PR at  a restaurant  called The  Balconies (inexpensive  buffet of
local dishes).  There  was also a great artist coop  where we bought a
beautiful Carnival Mask print.  We  continued on to Bouqeron Beach for
a  swim, nice  beach  but not  worth  the hassle  of  parking and  the
facilities were  poorly located.   On the way  back we stopped  in San
German,  nice  old  town center,  and  a  good  coffee shop  near  the

The other  thing I really  liked about staying  at Mary Lee's  was the
Town of Guanica. I thought it  was a great example of a very friendly,
attractive small  Puerto Rican  town.  It had  a nice  central square,
very  colorful friendly  Colmado's  and a  pretty  waterfront (if  you
ignore the fertilizer plant).  I really enjoyed going into Town in the
morning stopping at the Panaderia for some pastry or an excellent ham,
cheese and  egg sandwich  and the San  Juan Star  (english newspaper),
stopping at one of the fruit and vegetable trucks for mangos, avocados
and papayas.  Also by about 2:00  PM the fishermen come in and you can
buy fresh fish  and lobsters at the fish market  (located next to that
ugly  fertilizer   plant).   I  find  the  social   life  at  Colmados
intriguing, you  go in and there are  always 4 or 5  people sitting on
chairs visiting. When  I stopped in looking for  supplies somebody was
always willing  to give advice  on the best  rum (with maybe  a sample
from those  little plastic shot glasses)  or where to go  to buy fish,
invariably some  one would ask  where I was  from and relate  how they
were  once in  Boston or  had a  brother that  had lived  there.  Very
social places, kind of like the myth of the old general store with the
pot belly stove and the cracker  barrel.  One other high points of the
area is the  hidden restaurant at the Gilligan's  Island ferry landing
(located between the Copamarina hotel  and Mary Lee's there is no sign
so it's easy  to miss).  They had very good  lobster, fish and steaks.
My lobster monfongo must have had 2 pounds of sweet fresh lobster meat
and the owner  was very friendly and would  actually make whatever you

Day 9 Friday  We departed from Mary Lee's with  heavy hearts hoping to
someday  return  (not realizing  I  had  forgotten  our passports  and
airline tickets in the bedroom  and would have to return much sooner).
The dive to Rincon was  fairly quick and not very attractive basically
a collection of strip malls,  car dealers and roadside businesses.  We
found our next  rental pretty easily.  We rented  an apartment through
Lemon  Tree Waterfront  Suites  (  It  wasn't
part of the complex but only two doors down.  It was a very nice newly
renovated two bedroom  apartment with a nice porch  right on the water
with a spectacular view ($160night).  There is no real beach here, the
water is  lapping right against the sea  wall but it is  sandy and you
can walk along  the waterfront in ankle deep water.   We met the owner
very nice  woman and we  had use  of a 2  person kayak and  some other
assorted floats and a rubber  rafts.  The water was great for swimming
and the snorkeling was quite good  right in front of place in the rock
formations. The apartment is located on a large bay that made for calm
waters great  for kayaking.   I had  a great time  fishing out  of the
kayak  and caught  10 different  species of  fish including  a  3 foot
barracuda (which  I didn't quite  know what to  do with when I  got it
close to the kayak).

Day 10 to 13  We traveled around the area a bit,  we had a great lunch
at the very attractive restaurant  The Landing.  The food was good and
a humpback whale was putting on a show right in front.  The Landing is
located on Sandy Beach which was the nicest beach we saw in the Rincon
area.   We  drove out  to  Crashboat beach  but  didn't  find it  that
appealing.  In Rincon we also went to Tres Hermanos and the town beach
near the center  and both were kind of dirty and  unkempt. We also ate
at  the  Lazy Parrot,  which  had  a nice  setting  but  the food  was
uninspired.  One  of the  best tasting and  best priced meals  was the
chicken, rice and yucca from the road side BBQ Pollo trucks. You get a
delicious chicken  and all the  fixing for about $8.00.   Another good
place to eat  or get take out was  the seafood empaqadillas restaurant
at the high point on the way into town from the south.

The major  side trip we took from  Rincon was to Camuy  Cave Park.  We
found this  very interesting and enjoyable.  The  cave is spectacular,
the guide was  good and the park in general  was very attractive. This
is kind of a canned tour so don't expect to be wandering through caves
by yourself though I was  told more adventurous trips can be arranged.
We arrived at the park at  about 10:00 AM on Monday bought tickets for
the tour (I  think they were $10  each plus $2 to park).   There was a
snack bar and  a gift shop at the Visitors Center.   Once you get your
tickets you  are called by  groups to see  a short movie (10  min) and
then get on the  trams that take you to the bottom  of the sinkhole to
the cave opening  (our group was called within about  15 min of buying
our tickets though  it looked crowded with a longer  wait later in the
day).  The  tropical vegetation in the  sink hole is  impressive as is
the cave.   A guide  takes you on  an informative  1 hour tour  of the
cave.  After the tour another tram takes you to another sinkhole which
has a very nice board walk and stairs down to the bottom.  This you do
at your own pace which is quite  nice.  I found the best way to get to
the caves from Rincon was Rt 2 to  Rt 111 to Rt 10 this is a nice ride
through  the country  much  better  than the  highway  with all  those
annoying stop lights.

Day 13 We  had a 6:20 PM flight  from San Juan so we got  up early and
left Rincon before 9:00 AM.  Believe me that is early when you have to
get two teenagers  up. We had to  go back by way of  Guanica because I
had forgotten our  tickets. We made a fairly quick  trip back and then
took the main highway over the mountains from Ponce to San Juan.  Very
pretty  and easy  ride,  though I  don't  know why  the local  drivers
haven't figured out  the left lane is for passing  not driving 45 mph.
Not many highways I guess.  We got to San Juan before noon.  We wanted
to spend some time site seeing and have lunch in Old San Juan. We have
spent time in  Old San Juan in the past  and always enjoyed ourselves.
It was a nice day and we  did some shopping and poking around had some
free rum  at the  tourist center by  the harbor.  Also we went  to our
favorite lunch place in San  Juan, La Bombonera on Calle San Francisco
259 it is a Bakery/Deli try their roast pork it is excellent and quite
inexpensive.  After  a few  hours in Old  San Juan  we got rid  of the
rental car  and went to  the airport for  our trip back to  the frigid

Conclusions and tips
*  We liked PR in general but we  are not sure we would be coming back
   soon. I will probably opt for Mexico next time.

*  One problem is it isn't different enough from US to be exotic.  Too
   many MacDonald's, Burger Kings and Walmarts.

*  I found the beaches somewhat disappointing sometimes rocky, shallow
   or weedy and the water was always cloudy. Granted I did not see all
   the beaches in particular I didn't go to Culebra or Vieques.

*  I  like to snorkel  and I  found snorkeling  from the  beaches very
   disappointing and I tried everywhere we went.  Again I didn't go to
   Culebra or  Vieques where I hear  it is great.   I have experienced
   spectacular snorkeling from  beaches in Yucatan, Barbados, Jamaica,
   Dominican Republic and Cayman's so I know it's out their.

*  I found the food expensive  and disappointing with the exception of
   some local restaurants in the small towns.

*  One tip when I  rented my car I was told I  needed a letter from my
   insurance company  stating that  my coverage was  valid in PR  or I
   would be charged $15.75 per  day for their insurance.  Luckily this
   was during business hours so I  called my agent and he faxed down a
   letter. Rental  was from  Thrifty $275 per  week for a  Ford Taurus
   which was fine.

*  On the positive  side PR was easy  to get to a nonstop  less than 4
   hour flight from Hartford; dealing  with money was easy US dollars,
   ATMs  (ATH in  PR) everywhere.  The  people were  friendly and  the
   weather was great.

*  Knowing some Spanish was helpful but not at all necessary.  Most of
   the  time  when  I started  up  in  my  basic  rusty Spanish  in  a
   restaurant  or store  someone  spoke English  much  better than  my


Just returned from a long anticipated  trip to St. Lucia. We flew from
Toronto via Air Canada into Hewanorra late Saturday afternoon and yes,
the roads are  terrible to the Jalousie Hilton. At  first it wasn't so
bad because we  were enjoying the scenery but then  it started to rain
and  got dark  and we  couldn't see  anything. We  just wanted  to GET
THERE. One hour later, we arrived at the Hilton to chilled towels, rum
punch and a  complimentary upgrade to a Villa Suite. They  put me in a
good mood until dinner at  the Pier Restaurant which was expensive and
not very  good. This is the  main weakness at the  Hilton. The choices
for dinner are limited and pricey and in the end only so-so.

However,  in terms  of service,  location, upkeep,  responsiveness and
facilities, the  Hilton gets 9 out  of 10. Our villa  suite was nicely
laid out, with a good size  plunge pool, mini fridge, air con, bottled
water, tea, coffee,  plenty of towels, bathrobes etc.  The grounds are
great with a nice beach area and pool.

Here is a short rundown of our stay:

Sunday:  Breakfasts were  always a  buffet at  the Hilton  (and  a bit
pricey  at $18 per  person) but  the Verandah  restaurant is  a lovely
setting and they certainly had enough choice.

We took a  water taxi with some other guests to  go snorkeling at Anse
Chastenet. The  snorkeling was pretty good,  you can walk  in from the
beach.  It was  interesting that the locals didn't  seem too impressed
with Anse Chastanet.  According to two boat operators  I spoke to, why
would you  pay all  that money  for no pool  and no  AC in  the rooms?
Interesting take.

Had  dinner  at  Bang, right  next  to  the  Hilton which  was  fairly
reasonable and had good basic food. We met the owner, Lord Glenconner,
who encouraged us to come back on Wednesday which we did.

Monday:  Rain,  rain, all  morning  and  early  afternoon. Against  my
wishes, my husband rented a jeep  from Cool Breezes. We went out for a
short drive to get oriented. We drove up as far as Canaries. The roads
were not as bad but still  very twisty. We stopped in Soufriere on the
way back  to pick  up some groceries.  Walking around the  town wasn't
bad. It's small and quaint. However, when we were driving out of town,
we were  hit up for  money by a  guy "directing" traffic. We  gave him
some money and he demanded more! We made it clear that that was all he
was  going to get.  He caused  such a  commotion in  the road  that we
didn't turn where he said and we  ended up on a side road going toward
the Diamond Falls.  I didn't want to  go back so I told  my husband to
keep going  and eventually the road took  us back to the  main road. I
managed to calm myself by a great buffet dinner/ party at Dasheene.

Tuesday: This was our day trip day to the north. We knew it would take
time but  we managed to drive  to Pigeon Island,  Castries, Rodney Bay
and Reduit  Beach. We liked Pigeon  Island but found  Castries to busy
and clogged, and Rodney Bay very  touristy. We stopped to have a drink
at the  Royal St.  Lucian  on Reduit Beach.  The hotel has  a gorgeous
pool  area but  I thought  Reduit Beach  was very  crowded.  We passed
through some small villages (Anse La Raye, Gros Inlet), and managed to
navigate okay.  For dinner, the  Hilton had a fish market buffet which
was not bad.

Wednesday:  This was our  relaxing sail  day. It  didn't start  out so
relaxing. Communication seemed to break down between the booking agent
and  the  operators,  so  that  some people  were  given  wrong  start
times. Also,  a couple who  were booked on  a half-day sail  were told
that the booking agent had made a mistake, and there wasn't a half-day
sail that day. Eventually, we made to the boat (a 37-foot Benteneau (I
know the spelling is wrong).)  The  captain was not in a good mood, we
had lost  almost an hour.  Also, the trip  was designed to give  you a
choice of either bringing your lunch or eating at Marigot Bay. The one
other couple we  were with had brought their  lunch (because they were
on  an all-inclusive  plan). We  wanted to  eat at  Marigot  Bay. This
caused more aggravation. The Captain  said that we wouldn't be able to
go  to Marigot  Bay at  all because  of the  delay, and  that  when we
stopped at  Anse Cochon to snorkel, we  might be able to  go ashore to
the restaurant on the hill at  Ti Kaye village. So the day sail didn't
start  off very  well  for me.  But it  was  a beautiful  day and  the
snorkeling  was good. It  was clear  that the  Captain didn't  want to
ferry us to the shore,  so our sail companions graciously shared their
lunch with us. We had a  relaxing sail back and the captain started to
warm to  us.  Dinner: We went  to Bang for their  legendary floor show
and had a good time.

Thursday: My husband  went on a Jeep/Rainforest tour  but because of a
previous foot injury,  I stayed at the Hilton and  treated myself to a
facial at  the spa. The spa is  quite good. I then  went snorkeling at
the beach  and found that to  be worthwhile as well.   Dinner: Went to
Dasheene. Saw David Bowie and  his wife Iman having dinner. (They were
staying at Ladera, the rumor was). Dasheene is a great restaurant.

Friday: Decided  to splurge a  little a take  a water taxi  to Marigot
Bay. It  cost US$90 return. We  had lunch at Doolittles.  I was really
happy  we did  this because  Marigot Bay  is beautiful.  It  was worth
seeing.  We had  a good  lunch as  well.  Dinner:  The Hilton  had its
Creole Buffet night with entertainment.  It was okay.

Saturday: My husband  had his complimentary massage at  the Spa and we
packed  and vacated  our room.  Because  our flight  wasn't until  six
o'clock, we  hung out  on the beach  and had  lunch at Bayside  in the
Hilton. The lunches  were good at Bayside. Then it was  time to go and
face the long bumpy ride to the airport. We had a smooth trip home.

General  impressions: Beautiful  island but,  in places,  hard  to get
around. People were almost  universally warm and friendly. Encountered
a lot more panhandling/aggressive vending in certain areas. The Hilton
was excellent but dinners are  so-so. I think it's a worthwhile island
to see. I would encourage anyone who goes there to get out and see the


My wife and I just returned  from a week at the Landing, 3/1-3/8/03. I
cannot begin to express my total satisfaction and appreciation for all
the hard working employees, from  the gracious ladies who took care of
our room  (Island) to the  maintenance workers to Larry  the bartender
(Jammers  Beach Bar)who  was so  very helpul  and informative  and the
staff at the main office, check-in area and Main desk.

We had an  all inclusive plan that took care of  all meals and drinks,
excepting  the   usual  top   shelfers  like  Absolut,   Baileys,  and
similar. The meals at Papa  Dons were excellent, as were breakfasts at
Dragonfly and of course lunch and dinner at Jammers.

The weather was picture postcard perfect, low to mid 80's and mid 70's
at night with  an ocassional 400 a.m. shower and a  once or twice 1000
a.m. shower that did no harm.

Sit thru  the RCI time  share and  save $60 or  so per person  for the
Wednesday Endless Summer  cruise that takes you down  the coast to the
"drive  through" volcano, nearby  Diamond Botanical  Gardens...The RCI
deal was such a bargain and  the representaive, Curtis, was a real pro
and no high pressure salesman,  but a thorough professional. We bought
a time  share and will be  returning to beautiful St.  Lucia again and

Final suggestions? Bring SPF 45 sunscreen, maybe 50 2 dollar bills for
tipping and the  like, half the clothing you think  you will need, and
spend as much time on the internet to learn as much as possible before'll save you time and money. If using birth certificates
in lieu of a Passport, have drivers license and if married, a marriage
certificate for returning through INS.

US Air direct from Philadelphia is a good bet also.

Tim Wolfe (maybe more thoughts later, can direct
questions to me at e-mail, Subject Windhjammer or St. Lucia.

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