Elizabeth the Island Enthusiast

a celebration of unconventional adventures

Tag: Resort Life

Thoughts from Koh Phangan

As I sit here on the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand in my bikini at the water’s edge, staring out into the blazing sunset on the horizon, I can’t help but think… damn I’m lucky.

Favorite activities these days include wandering up and down the beach with my headphones on listening to Panic! At the Disco albums on repeat and watching local fishing boats drift by. I’ve given up on wearing shoes (I’m probably going to take them off anyway!). My tan lines are absolutely phenomenal.

Just a month ago I would have never imagined being in the position I’m in now; this bewildering, beautiful, blissful, miserable, chaotic, confusing position.

Even despite the amazing view, and even despite the incessant bug bites, I’ve never been so happy and so distressed at the same time in my life.

I have so much to be thankful for – here I am on a gorgeous tropical island right now, enjoying the warm, salty sea breeze in my hair and the sun on my skin, accompanied by the soothing sound of waves and rustling palm fronds. I have nothing to complain about.

Yet, how do I cope with this underlying longing sensation of just wanting to be wanted? I can choose to go anywhere in the world – but I’m not sure how to decide. It’s an incredibly awkward feeling being infatuated with a situation I have zero control over. I can’t get myself to cry because it all makes me too happy, but if I let elation consume me it’s quickly overcome by an aching sickness I can’t begin to describe.

Recent weeks included some of the best emotions I’ve ever experienced, as well as some of the most bizarre. Certain moments replay over and over in my mind, seeming more dreamlike than real.

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I’ve particularly struggled with writing lately because I feel like so many other blogs out there focus on advice or various wise practicalities I’m too stubborn to try, because, well, being conventionally realistic and practical never got me anywhere. And if so, I can’t explain how.

I have no advice to give. If I wrote post after post about what my travels have really been like, methodically outlining my journey step-by-step, most people would cringe.

Honestly, I wouldn’t change anything (with the exception of some weird Couchsurfing experiences in Australia, but that’s a much different topic).

Hell, I’m living my freaking dream. I’ve never felt more alive. I don’t know if I’ve ever found myself more positively distracted by something in this way, and I only wish I could completely give into this feeling. There are far too many unknowns – the only thing I can do is choose to trust this won’t fade away.

What can I say?

It’s out of my hands now.

KohPhanganSunset

Fiji Food Highlights

It’s probably apparent by now that food is not the focus of my blog.

But, while going through the photos from the past two months in Fiji, I did find some pictures of food here and there, mostly taken when I was either REALLY ravenous or particularly amused with its display. Or perhaps to savor the fond memory.

So, without further ado, here are the food highlights (or at least the photographed ones) from my time in Fiji!

Classic Fijian Sunday Brunch in Labasa – Fresh Fish with Coconut ‘Miti’

FijiFreshFishAndCoconut

Sunday is traditionally a day of rest in Fiji (pretty much all shops and restaurants in town are closed), so many families gather together for a nice big relaxing lunch.

The first Sunday I spent in Labasa, my host family prepared a DELICIOUS classic Fijian meal referred to as ‘miti,’ consisting of fresh fish (likely caught very close by in the plentiful fishing waters off Vanua Levu), taro, potatoes, onions and other veggies, drizzled in hot, freshly-made coconut milk (yes, they made the coconut milk fresh out of raw coconut while the fish cooked!).

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The finished masterpiece

The final masterpiece

Stumbling Upon a Kumquat Tree

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When I was in Taveuni, I noticed kumquat trees EVERYWHERE – they seemed ripe, so one day I picked a few from the tree growing right next to my bure. Wasn’t bad!

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Random Cake

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Evidently it was some kid’s birthday at the resort I stayed at on Taveuni Island, and because it was an ENORMOUS cake the resort had prepared for approximately three people, everyone at the restaurant got some! I think it was orange-flavored, and the frosting tasted amazing…

The Breakfasts

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Anyone who knows me well knows breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. That’s probably why I have so many breakfast and coffee photos (it also doesn’t hurt when the breakfast setting is absolutely GORGEOUS – who wouldn’t want to photograph their coffee and French press with a luscious tropical rainforest in the background?).

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The Smiling Mochas

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I encountered these cheerful beverages in Savusavu, Vanua Levu at the Copra Shed Captain’s Café, where I enjoyed a few meals on the water at the marina (can’t beat the views!!).

Mochas are my typical go-to coffee drink (for some reason they always seem to taste better while traveling), but the grinning foam at Captain’s Café was just a lovely whimsical bonus!

ScenicSmilingMarinaMochaLunchAtSavusavuMarinaSavusavuFijiSmilingMocha

Even if it didn’t have a smile, I noticed mochas and hot coffee drinks in Fiji frequently come with a complimentary cookie of some sort… Below is the rich chocolatey mocha I savored at Blue Ginger Café in Lautoka, Viti Levu, complete with miniature heart cookie:

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Fiji’s Take on a ‘Hawaiian’ Pizza

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It did have ham and pineapple, but please note the dollops of ketchup (more commonly referred to as simply ‘tomato sauce’ down here) in the center of each pineapple ring, along with the neat tomato-lined crust… I’ll give that presentation an 8 out of 10.

My Bus Lunch En Route to Suva

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There’s really nothing special about this meal. It’s just a cheese-and-Tabasco sandwich I whipped together before stumbling out of the house that morning before catching the 6:40 am express bus from Lautoka to Suva. But, it’s a good example of a lot of food I had during my stay in Fiji (especially the food I had to prepare myself – I am NOT a chef in the slightest).

And honestly, I was just shocked Sigatoka, Viti Levu had a geo-filter on Snapchat (where the bus was currently stopped when I decided to have my lunch)… Had to take a photo of something!

Trepidatious About Leaving Taveuni

I’m a bit trepidatious at the moment, not gonna lie.

I don’t know if it’s because today is my last full day in Taveuni, or because I have two flights on two very tiny airplanes scheduled for tomorrow, or because I honestly have no clue exactly where in the world I will be one month from today (well I have somewhat of a clue, but my plans could easily change)… I’m just feeling a little ‘out of it,’ if you know what I mean.

Last dinner in Taveuni Island... I don't wanna leave!

Last dinner in Taveuni Island… I don’t wanna leave!

Apart from the non-refundable airline tickets in my name, there’s really only one thing in my life I know for certain right now: I gotta come back to Taveuni Island someday.

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I’ve said this before about Lautoka, but under the right circumstances I could seriously live on Taveuni Island. Yes, it’s an idyllic tropical paradise teeming with empty unspoiled beaches, lush rainforests and picturesque waterfalls.

I don’t think it’d be a hard sell for anyone.

But, unlike a lot of the other regions in Fiji I’ve visited so far, Taveuni has a particularly relaxed vibe (which speaks volumes, considering the prevalence of ‘Fiji Time’ throughout the entire nation).

TaveuniIslandFijiPerfectPalmTreeEnjoyingTaveuniIslandFijiBeach

So much island excitement was crammed into my sole week here. I have way too much to write about, but unfortunately documenting the remainder of my Taveuni adventure on here will need to wait until I reach my next stop… Fiji’s second-largest island, VANUA LEVU!

Until then, please enjoy the following selection of photos showcasing a [very small] portion of Taveuni Island’s immensely diverse fauna and flora:

TaveuniIslandPurpleFlowerTaveuniIslandExoticFlowerTaveuniIslandRainforestFoliageTaveuniIslandGingerFlowersTaveuniIslandRedHibiscusTaveuniIslandWaterfallCrabTaveuniWaterfallCrabCloseUpTaveuniIslandPurpleFlowersTaveuniIslandPurpleFlowersButterflyTaveuniIslandRainforestPalmTrees

Now, time to pack!

This never gets old...

This never gets old…

How To Do Natadola RIGHT

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a fun story about my [accidental] resort-crashing adventure at Fiji’s dazzling Natadola Beach. While that was an exceptionally fun day (you can read about it here!), there were a few key things I would have done differently.

So, I went to Natadola Beach again. And this time it was even more fabulous!

HowToDoNatadolaBeachRight

First, I’ll start by saying Natadola Beach really is not at all close to where I’d been living in Lautoka. Even if I were to travel down to Natadola non-stop by private car, it would still take a couple hours. But it’s sooo worth the journey… I might even dare call Natadola the best beach on the island of Viti Levu, although the Coral Coast as a whole is exceptionally picturesque.

If you find yourself in Fiji and are not staying in a beachfront hotel or otherwise ‘touristy’ location, fear not – it’s still quite simple to access the powdery white sands and sparkling, crystal clear blue waters of Natadola Bay. Just follow these tips, and you can have an idyllic Fijian beach day that’s as cheap or extravagant as you please!

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Choose an express bus there and back (if possible). Coming from Lautoka, I’ve had to switch buses at the Nadi bus terminal on the way to Natadola both times. If available, I’d highly recommend opting for an enclosed express charter bus for the first leg of the trip, not only because they’re nicely air conditioned, but also because they’ll get you there significantly faster!

When returning, I’d hop on any bus that will stop for you at the main road (both times I was lucky to get an express bus all the way back to Lautoka with zero transfers!).

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Instruct the taxi to take you to the beach, NOT the InterContinental Resort. I love the InterContinental Fiji, don’t get me wrong, but they do make you pay FJD $40 for a voucher just to get in the gate. When you go to directly to the beach (it’s an easily missable gravel road near the driveway to the InterContinental), you can wander the beach freely without the obligation of finding a way to spend your InterContinental meal voucher.

Be firm with your cab driver on the pricing. Most of the time, they will always insist FJD $10 or more for transport from the main road. I was actually able to prove my last driver wrong when he tried to convince me the price would be $10 or higher when he ran the meter (it wasn’t). The price should only be $8, even just to the beach. If I’ve only ever paid $8, you should only pay $8. It also doesn’t hurt to come to an agreement on the price before getting into the vehicle!

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If you’re interested in paying for activities (snorkeling, horseback riding, surfing, etc.), take time to shop around for deals. You’ll likely encounter a bevy of locals trying to sell a variety of good and services, from fresh coconuts, an array of beach activities and Fijian massages to hair braiding. After speaking with a number of individuals, you’ll find they’re all competing against one another for business. My friends and I eventually scored a fantastic deal on beachfront massages (only FJD $30 for 1 hour! But it’s a secret, shhhh…).

Stop by Yatule Resort & Spa for lunch, or drinks, or happy hour, or coffee, or whatever. Unless you get looped into buying an InterContinental or plan to bring all of your own sustenance along with you (in which case, props for having the stellar planning and organization skills that I lack), Yatule Resort is a terrific spot to grab a reasonably priced lunch. The menu pricing is about half of what you’d pay for lunch at the InterContinental, and only a few paces away up the beach. Plus, the seating area is much closer to the sand and surf, meaning excellent views of the water any time of day!

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Go with friends! Yes, obviously going to the beach is better with friends, and I was lucky to have two volunteer friends to tag along with on this past jaunt to Natadola. However, I’m not always so fortunate. While technically I am on this extended adventure ‘alone’ and will always be an advocate for solo travel, I’m learning how important it is to continually make new friends while traveling, especially solo. Not only because making new friends is great fun, it’s nice to have someone else on your side when exploring (and/or haggling)!

I’ve met some amazing people from all over the world during my solo travels, a lot of which I still regularly keep in touch with and wholeheartedly anticipate seeing again (a special cheers from the Southern Hemisphere to my Turks and Caicos crew in regards to bonding over that ‘Fish Fry’!).

Travel friends truly are some of the best kinds of friends. Even if it means only getting to hang out for a day, or two, or a couple weeks, it’s always worth it.

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Resort Reminiscing

Earlier as I sat writing about my island adventures from the somewhat-random city of Lautoka, Fiji on a cool, drizzly August afternoon, accompanied by no one but a few friendly geckos darting across the ceiling, I couldn’t help but ponder how, exactly, I ended up where I am right now.

Truthfully, I feel extremely fortunate to be in a place with geckos darting across the ceiling. How lucky am I!

While I’ll admit sometimes precipitation does have a way of making me take a step back to observe my surroundings (maybe because I’m less inclined to go outdoors), it was a casual instagram post from the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia that caught my eye and put me in a rather sentimental (albeit grateful) state of reflection. This particular post was simply a photo of the Greenbrier’s stunning outdoor infinity swimming pool, with a caption something to the effect of “How would you caption this photo taken at our outdoor pool?

This brought back a flood of memories. My family actually used to live at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia for several years, so needless to say it’s an incredibly special place to me. I could think of a variety of suitable captions.

I’d spent days – weeks – months – lounging by that very pool. I’d read the majority of the Harry Potter book series from the sunbeds adjacent to that pool. I’d enjoyed many a tall glass of peach iced tea, copious raspberry smoothies, and other gourmet poolside treats from that gloriously scenic location.

Oh how I longed for that peach iced tea.

Pool towel shenanigans.

Pool towel shenanigans.

Fun with luggage carts.

Fun with luggage carts.

I’m not kidding when I said I was (and still am, really) a ‘resort girl’ through-and-through. The Greenbrier isn’t like just any resort though – I like to think my tastes in clothing, fashion and interior decór derive from my years at the Greenbrier. Just ask anyone who’s seen my extensive Lilly Pulitzer collection or witnessed my obsession for ‘brazilliance’ banana leaf print.

I’ll also give the Greenbrier Resort partial credit for fueling my love for the travel lifestyle – I really do believe it is a lifestyle, and a ‘frame of mind’ if you will; I lived it unknowingly throughout my ‘formative years’.

GreenbrierResortHorsePose

As nostalgic as those memories are, even despite the landslide of personal misfortunes and seemingly endless pangs of anguish resulting from those years, I don’t believe I’d be where I am today without those experiences. I haven’t been back in quite some time now, and am sure a lot has changed (their casino wasn’t even built yet the last time I visited!), but regardless of how it’s evolved, the Greenbrier Resort will forever and always hold a special place in my heart.

Perhaps I never have led a truly ‘normal’ life – why bother starting now?

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Resort-Crashing at Natadola Beach

This past weekend I was in the mood for a fun-filled, seaside adventure. So, I headed towards Suva to check out the highly-recommended Natadola Beach, located adjacent to the town of Sigatoka on Viti Levu’s stunning Coral Coast. To get down there from Lautoka, I was given a slew of very specific directions:

Hop on a van to the Nadi bus station, then get on a bus to Suva; be sure to tell the driver you’re going to Natadola Beach only, which is the first stop, NOT all the way to Suva; you ought to sit near the front of the bus to make certain you don’t miss it. Then, once you’re there, hail a taxi to drive you the 8 kilometers over to the beach; ENSURE YOU DON’T PAY MORE THAN $8; the cabbies will do their absolute best to rip you off…

Groggy and still recovering from an asperous sinus infection, I made a number of key mistakes.

Luckily, these mistakes, some albeit arguably expensive, turned my otherwise lame morning into a wonderfully delightful afternoon.

First, rather than smartly opting for an express van to Nadi, I took what I’m fairly confident is the slowest bus on the entire island – prior to this, I was under the false presumption that the Fijian open-air ‘party buses’ blasting reggae music drive notably faster, simply because of the thumping bass and lights flashing in rhythm. This ‘party bus’ deceived me, creeping along the road so slow I realized 50 minutes into what should have been a 35-minute drive I probably could have jogged to Nadi faster.

I didn’t arrive at the Nadi bus station until almost noon, which irked me tremendously, considering I’d left the house in Lautoka just before 10:00 am. Well aware the crystal clear azure blue water along the Coral Coast would disappear with the tides in due order, I made a mental note to leave much earlier next time.

The glittering waters of Natadola Bay on Viti Levu's Coral Coast

The glittering waters of Natadola Bay, situated on Viti Levu’s Coral Coast

As I pondered whether it’d be best to just stay in Nadi and lounge in a hammock by the murky waters at Wailoaloa Beach all afternoon while staring blankly at the bus schedules to Suva, a perky Australian woman wearing a fluorescent hot pink button-down and khakis interrupted my thoughts.

“Yeh alright, love? Where yeh headed?”

“Er, Natadola Beach, I’m looking for the bus to Suva…”

“Ah! Natadola’s so lovely, has the best water, that’s for sure. Anyone with you?”

I explained to her it was just me.

“Well no worries, I’ll look after yeh, that’s where I’m headed as well.”

“Oh terrific, are you also out for a beach day?”

The woman laughed, adjusting her blonde hair, piled on top of her head in a large messy bun. “Oh no, love. Today I’m off to a goat farm.”

Before I could ask her why, exactly, she was headed to a goat farm near a bunch of world-class beach resorts for the afternoon, we found ourselves shuffled aboard an overcrowded charter bus marked ‘SUVA,’ which was jammed with three people per row nearly all the way to the back.

I hurriedly found an open space on half a seat next to two elderly Indian ladies, who both raised an eyebrow at the nautical-print romper I’d picked as my swimsuit coverup and prayed aloud as we drove past Nadi’s colossal Sri Siva Subramaniya Hindu temple.

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Finally we arrived at the stop, where a huge ad for the InterContinental and an even bigger sign with an arrow reading something to the effect of “This way to beautiful Natadola Beach! Only 8 km!” pointed towards a winding dirt road.

“Okay love, now this is where you need to find a taxi to drive you the rest of the way,” instructed the Australian woman, who though seated several rows ahead, had kindly turned around to check on me approximately every 5 minutes for the duration of the bus trip. “Oh look, there’s one now, grab it quick!”

I had already flagged it down and darted across the road. If there’s anything I learned from living in New York City for a summer back in college, it was how to hail a cab.

“Be sure you agree on the price first!” I heard the woman yell in the distance as the rusty cab floored it, speeding away down the gravel in a poof of dust.

“So uh… I’m only paying $8,” I told the driver, who promptly demanded $10 in return.

Little did he know, New York also taught me how to be a hard-ass, when necessary.

After a few minutes of squabbling, he ultimately gave in, murmuring “fine, but only because today is a holy day, I’ll agree just because it’s Sunday…”

In an instant, the driver’s embittered discontent transformed into deviously warm regards as he inquired when I aimed to return from Natadola that day, followed by an overtly-friendly questioning in blatant attempts to earn my future commerce.

“Where are you from?” he asked with an enormous smile.

“The United States.”

“Ohhh, ahhh! United States! I love the United States! I have been to San Francisco and Sacramento in the United States. I like San Francisco better than Sacramento. Are you from near Sacramento?”

“No, not really.”

“That is good,” he said, grinning. “Sacramento has much crime. San Francisco is very nice. Are you from near San Francisco?”

“No, where I’m from is pretty far from California,” I replied, glancing at my phone. It was almost 1:00 pm. I desperately hoped the tide hadn’t retreated too far, so I could have a glorious swim in that amazing, clear water…

“You want to go to the InterContinental, correct?”

“Uh sure, whatever’s easiest, I suppose…”

Then I noticed we were parked at the front gate of the resort. At once, a uniformed guard swept down from a tidy brown hut marked ‘InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa’ and asked if I had arrived for check in.

Trying to seem as legitimate as possible, I informed the guard I was just visiting for the afternoon. Surely that’s fine, I thought to myself.

“So you’re here for lunch?”

“Yes, absolutely,” I responded, doing my best to appear relatively affluent.

“You will need to buy a voucher.”

“Pardon?”

“You need to buy a voucher, then you can redeem at any of the restaurants,” the guard continued. “The minimum spend is $40. No cash.”

I sheepishly handed over my credit card after confirming the cost was in Fijian dollars, and decided that wasn’t so bad; I needed lunch anyways. Plus, $40 FJD was a price I was gladly willing to pay if it meant I could feel blissfully at ease for a couple hours.

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Escape to one of the world’s most luxurious beachfront resorts!” touts the InterContinental Fiji’s website.

Here’s a fun personal detail – a long time ago, I used to live at a 5-star luxury resort. At heart, I am a resort girl through-and-through.

Even despite the mild interrogations from numerous hotel staff members as I found myself dumbfoundedly stumbling my way towards the resort’s adults-only beachfront infinity pool, I immediately felt at home.

According to my voucher, non-overnight guests were strongly encouraged not to utilize the majority of the resort’s facilities, especially during high season.

Use of the resort amenities including (but not limited to) the swimming pools, complimentary poolside service, beach towels, sun loungers and/or beachside cabanas are exclusively reserved for paying overnight guests of the hotel… We sincerely thank you for your cooperation and understanding.

InterContinentalFijiResortMapNatadolaBeachNatadolaBeachCoralCoast

By the time I reached Toba Bar & Grill, where I planned to redeem my meal voucher, it dawned on me the resort grounds were quite empty. Exceptionally empty. Empty enough that no one would notice nor care if I chose one of the thirty or so vacant poolside chaise lounges to relax for a bit.

I safely determined it was not in fact high season and parked myself on a lounger chair, boasting a fabulous view overlooking the infinity pool with the sparkling Natadola Bay beyond.

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Not wanting to get in heaps of trouble for taking advantage of the discreet “CALL FOR SERVICE” flag cleverly attached to the side of my lounger, I sauntered over to the bar area with every intention to enjoy my lunch there, but was straightaway advised to go take a seat by the pool and order via poolside service.

Okay, if you insist…

I treated myself to a frozen strawberry daiquiri and possibly the best hamburger I’ve ever had in my life, followed by a few invigorating swims in the infinity pool to cool off from the blazing South Pacific sun. At one point a server even came by offering delectable, bite-sized skewers of watermelon – a refreshing touch to say the least!

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Once I concluded I’d roasted enough for the day, I meandered back towards the resort entrance, pausing for a just moment longer to indulge in a cup of outstanding macadamia-flavored New Zealand ice cream.

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Without question, the front desk of the hotel gladly called me a taxi for transport to the main road bus stop, thanking me for my stay as I departed.

Vinaka,” I replied, using the Fijian term for ‘thank you,’ still glowing from the generous dose of vitamin D.

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Fully expecting another tedious journey home involving multiple bus transfers and a moderately unpleasant layover in Nadi, it was by some serendipitous chance an express bus to Lautoka happened to pass by, uncrowded and air conditioned to my liking.

Thankfully, the return trip from Natadola took significantly less time than the laborious trek there, complete with entertainment the whole way consisting of an Eddie Murphy movie marathon playing on a gigantic mounted flat screen TV up front.

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There’s no doubt in my my mind I’ll be returning to Natadola Beach – I look forward to giving the InterContinental Fiji a thorough inside-and-out evaluation in the future!

******

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