Family Trip To Samoa
Family trips to Samoa
Over the July 2011 school holidays several families toured Savaii on bikes. Most had some connection with outdoor, hiring bikes, taking an Easy Loader tour or on a fully escorted trip. This article is a report by one of the families taking the Easy Loader option (gear carried and accommodation organised). It is published without alteration.
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Tips for parents
We did this trip independently over 14 days utilising the gear pick up service to get our bags carried. We did the trip with our three children aged 8, 10 and 14. Friends also did the trip with us with their two children aged 15 and 17. I do certainly recommend cycling on Savaii with a family. There is very little traffic and generally the traffic is very slow and very considerate. It was a lovely way to be among the local people and to move around the island. We met lots of locals, lots of other travellers, the odd other cycling couple or family and got to sample different foods at the different locations. The snorkelling was fabulous and easy, generally just a few metres off the beach. Having our bags carried allowed us to carry some extras and generally made life easier. The children hitched a ride on 3 occasions with the bag carrying service to the top of the hills (pre arranged the day before). The kids did remarkably well but certainly got more tired as the trip went on. Definately get as much cycling done as you can before 11am each day. Once the sun was high in the sky and the road was no longer shaded it was hot! And the younger kids did get very slow in the heat. Meals in Samoa seem to take a long time to prepare. We waited over 2 hours on the first night for our mains with very tired kids. So we learnt to order early (mid afternoon) and specify the time we’d like to eat. Some places have a set dining time but often they would feed the kids earlier if we asked. Often there were other families who were happy to eat early with us or their kids were happy to join our kids in an earlier dinner.
We also found that if you wanted an early start it was best to ask for an early breakfast the night before. Generally the staff were happy to oblige.
What to bring
Everything on Ross’s list plus:
Reading material, pack of cards, drawing stuff and if you can manage it a ball (soccer or rugby). These items kept the kids amused during the non cycling time and helped bring together the local and other travelling children. There is a reasonable amount of time for the kids to amuse themselves and there is only so much swimming and snorkelling you can do in a day. It also gets dark early leaving lots of quite long evenings to fill in for older children. The adults enjoyed lingering over drinks and socialising with others but the kids were happier with something to do.
Beach shoes. There was a bit of broken glass around on the beaches so with these on your feet you do not need to worry. Also great for wearing in the water and clambering over lava on or near the beach. Ours were worn every day.
Food. We found the meals in some places quite small, and if the kids further reduce them by not eating some of the items, then it was great to have something for them to fill up on before bed. We also found it quite hard to always find good filling food on the road when we were cycling. White bread or water crackers are the norm but you cannot even always get bread. Some days we could get oranges, bananas or tomatoes from roadside stalls but some days we could not. Our saving grace was peanut butter and vegemite to add to the bread or crackers that can be bought locally, cookie time cookies, muesli bars and one square meals. Note that peanut butter and vegemite are considered gels so you cannot take them on the plane in your hand luggage. We also took Raro which was great for a bit of a pick me up for the kids or for when the local water tasted funny.
We used a water filter which paid for itself on the trip and saved us when the local shop had run out of bottled water. We also took some breakfast cereal which was great for our first and last days (UHT milk can be bought anywhere) saving us time, money and hassle. It was also a good filler when the kids did not like anything on the breakfast plate except the white bread.
Picnic equipment – we took a plastic plate and pocket knife to help make lunch. A knife for cutting the white bread would have been useful. Plastic cups were great for when we bought cold drinks (they come in 750ml bottles). Airtight containers were great for storing open food as the Samoan ants are greedy and persistent.
Panniers – we only used one set as generally we were only carrying our lunch, sunscreen and water filter. It is too hot to want to carry backpacks.
Bike locks. These were great for locking bikes but also locking bags to posts in the fales. We took four bike locks and used all of them. (Editors note - Supplied with hire bikes)
Coffee plunger and coffee. Of course this is not essential but if you like a good coffee (anything other than instant) it is very hard to come by on Savai’i. There is something very nice about lingering over a coffee when you have nowhere you have to be and you are enjoying the company of other travellers and the beautiful beach view from the open dining fale. We did not take Milo or hot chocolate but the kids would have appreciated one every now and again. [editors note: good local ground coffee in some supermarkets)
Cord or something to make a washing line out of and pegs. By the time you hang everyone's togs and towels out to dry plus your washed cycling gear there is a lot of washing to find somewhere to hang.
Cellphones. We brought a couple of basic cellphones with us and put local sim cards in them. This allowed us to be in touch with the children when they were hitching a ride with the bags. Certainly not an essential item but we found they gave us and the kids piece of mind.
Do not skimp on the first aid kit. We used a reasonable amount of antibiotic cream for coral cuts and grazes and insect bites that looked a bit nasty. We did not have any tummy bugs but we met a number of people who had. (Beware of bottled water that has been refilled -check the seals on any water you buy)
The snorkelling at Satuiatua and Vaisala.
Snorkelling out to the reef at Vaisala with the teenagers. Pick an incoming tide for safety.
The food at Satuiatua (actually this was our all round favourite place). If you have a spare day spend it here. The tour of Tafua Crater and the blowholes with Warren Joppling Trying different foods at different places. Cold coke and enormous ice creams from the village shops. Amazing how good they taste after cycling in the heat. Church on Sunday. The singing is amazing and we were made to feel very welcome. The kids would not rate this as a highlight but they survived and it was all over in under an hour. Listening to our teenagers having a long in depth conversation about life, culture, religion, behaviour and expectations of kids in Samoa under the stars one evening with a local Grandfather. Swimming at the Afu Aau waterhole. Even though there was no water in the waterfall the swimming hole was exquisite. Great rocks for jumping off and very pleasant water temperature. Playing rugby and volleyball with local kids in the evenings. Taking a ride on a local bus On U’polo swimming at the To Sua sea trench and the food market
Day 0: Friday 3pm.
School’s out for our three children, Ben (14), Brooke (10) and Luke (8) . Into our summer clothes and off to the airport with our bikes. It is the first time we have travelled with 5 bikes but packed into bike boxes they are surprisingly easy to deal with. I have been carefully weighing the bike boxes to make sure that none of them exceed Air NZ’s 23kg limit. What didn’t go into the boxes (our clothes and books) is in the hand luggage. This is the first time I have ever had to weigh luggage and hand luggage when leaving the country. The airport staff didn’t bat an eyelid at the 5 bikes. Easy peasy! Maybe we should take our bikes away more often. We meet up with our friends Mike and Pauline, Levi (17) and Maria (15) and head to Samoa. We arrive at 2am after uneventful and on time flights to Apia via Auckland. The biosecurity official at Apia airport is a little concerned about the dirt on Luke’s tyres and needs to inspect another bike. Why did he choose the bike with dirt that wouldn’t come off? Darryl did a good job convincing him our bikes had all been cleaned (which they had), and he let us go. Now we are 9 people and 9 bikes. Obviously the hotel staff have done this before and they expertly load the 9 bike boxes into one van and us into another. It might be 2am but it is fairly warm and very humid. Bed is very welcome.
Day 1: Friday again thanks to the position of the dateline.
The pressing task is to get the bikes put together. It is hot work but does not take too long. A swim in the sea opposite the hotel revives us and we seek out the local store to find some lunch. We come away with tomatoes, tinned tuna, cold coke and the local unsliced white bread. The store keeper kindly lent us a bread knife for our picnic. We met the local MP in the store with his granddaughter who is over from NZ on school holidays. The kids are amused by a local lad who deftly climbs a coconut tree and knocks down a whole lot of coconuts. We presume this is so they do not fall on people. He then demonstrates husking them and cutting the tops off a couple so we can try the coconut milk. Mid afternoon we cycle the 4km’s down the road to catch the ferry to Savaii. At the ferry terminal we discover taro chips and banana chips. The kids have a new favourite snack. The hotel receptionist accompanies our luggage in a taxi. The ferry is a drive on car ferry and looks OK. Unfortunately due to the coral reefs at the entrance to each harbour the ferry has a fairly flat bottom. This makes the ferry trip a bit rolly. However, in an hour we are at Salelologa. Our first and only experience of traffic chaos is as we get off the ferry. A policeman is on points duty but the drivers seem to be ignoring him. They also seem to find us invisible on our bikes. It takes all 9 of us a while to get over the intersection. A short cycle down the road and we are at Lusia’s Lagoon resort. Mike and Pauline and Levi and Maria are staying in gorgeous fales built on stilts over the water. We are in two fales by the lagoon in the trees. They are probably more suited to our younger children – do not want to lose anyone overboard in the night. We enjoy a swim in the lagoon while the kids try out their snorkelling gear in a wee pool on the edge of the lagoon. They get very excited by the few fish that have been trapped in the pool by the tide. They are in for a treat when we really see fish. It takes over 2 hours to get dinner tonight. Lesson learnt –order dinner early, especially for the kids. The food is yummy when it arrives though and Darryl and I have a new favourite food, Oka. It is fresh raw tuna in coconut cream with chilli and limes – Yum.
Day 2: Saturday
Warren Joppling arrived at breakfast this morning and gave us a geology lesson on Samoa. Savaii is pretty small but has 450 volcanic cones on it Most of the island is covered with lava and most of the lagoon areas have been filled in with lava. Hence, U’polo is the more populated island as Samoans traditionally live near the lagoons. So armed with our new knowledge we head up to Mt Tafua to walk in to see the volcanic crater. We see the crater and Warren explains the rock layers and vegetation. We also see flying foxes which are related to the fruit bats you see in Australia. The Samoan ones are very rare so we were lucky to see them. We see the Samoan laid backness as we travel. A gate over the road is locked and no one seems to have a key so we retrace our journey to take another road. You need to be patient in Samoa. We drive along the South Coast to the Alofaaga blowholes. Warren’s helper, a local Samoan man, picks up a bunch of coconut husks. The blowholes are powerful and impressive. Watching the coconut husks get blasted out of the blowholes, high into the air and then smashed as they fall on the rocks is hilarious. The kids are well amused. By now it is 2pm and we still have an hour to travel back to our accommodation. We stop at a supermarket to get some lunch supplies. The shop is poorly stocked but we manage to get bread and tinned tuna again. Warren makes a stop at the market and we secure some oranges and bananas as well as cold coke. The kids are starving! We spent the rest of the day swimming in the lagoon. We ordered dinner early and ate at a reasonable time tonight. The younger kids were in bed early while the teenagers challenged some of the staff to a game of pool. Samoa beat Australia in the rugby so the locals are very happy. They are absolutely obsessed with rugby.
Day 3 Sunday Lusia’s - Aganoa
Our first real cycling day. We have 11 flat km’s to cover today so it should not be too hard. Tropical breakfasts are lovely. We partake of banana, pawpaw, coconut and supo esi (a warm pawpaw and sago dish a bit like sweet porridge) before tucking into pancakes, bacon and eggs. The cycle was easy and pleasant along the coast. Being Sunday there is very little traffic. Everyone is at church. We see the odd person running down the road, obviously late for church. We stopped outside a couple of churches on the way, and enjoyed the singing. The Samoans really do sing their hearts out and they have beautiful voices. Aganoa beach is gorgeous. We have a cold coke in the restaurant, open sided and overlooking the beach of course. In Samoan style all the fales are full (even though we are pre booked and pre paid) but that is Ok. All 9 of us are going to sleep marae style in the ground floor of the house. Our room is not quite ready yet. We soon realise that the entire large extended family and all their belongings need to be moved out before 9 mattresses can be moved in and mosquito nets erected. We head off to the beach to swim, snorkel and enjoy a picnic lunch. The snorkelling is just gorgeous. There is a variety of tropical fish, all shapes, colours and sizes plus colourful coral just metres from the shore. Now the kids are really excited. The highlight for them was the brilliant blue starfish. A volleyball game was started in the late afternoon and the kiwi kids are happily entrenched with the local kids. We were served dinner with all the guests buffet style. It was a simple but yummy meal. The older kids are again challenging the locals to games of pool. The palagi are well and truly beaten by the locals.
Day 4 Aganoa – Satuiatua
It is the longest cycle day for us today so were were off straight after breakfast. Just 7km’s into the day we came to Afu Aau waterfall and pool. There was no water in the waterfall (dry season) but the swimming hole was well worth the visit. Lovely clear, fresh, temperate water with some great rocks to jump off. We had a very enjoyable swim. It was hard to leave but we were conscious we still had a long way to go and the sun was rising ever higher in the sky. We cycled 35km’s to the turn off to the blowholes. By now it was 12.30pm and we were absolutely baking. So pleased we came to the blowholes with Warren. No one would be volunteering for the extra 5km side trip to see them now. At the turn off there was a shopselling ice cream and cold coke. Unfortunately no bread or fruit. Apparently we are in the outback and the delivery truck does not always make it this far. So we delved into our NZ crackers and tinned tuna and enjoyed the cold drinks. School has just finished and three very cute and slightly mischievous kids had a lovely time playing with our helmets and watching us. 16km’s later we arrived at Satuiatua, a very welcome sight. We’ve called out hello and goodbye hundreds of times today, mostly to all the pre-school children who call “bye bye” from their fales as we go past. We were very proud of our kids today. It was a long hot ride and they did remarkably well. We had arranged for them to be picked up by the bag transport if necessary, but they had done the distance before the pre arranged time. The beach at Satuiatua is long and sandy. We quickly settled into our two fales on the sand and the kids made friends with the other families staying here. The coral runs right along the beach and at mid tide we were able to get in at the far end and just float along the beach on the currents and hop out at the other end of the beach. The coral was stunning as were the fish. The staff here are really friendly and obliging. We selected meals from the menu and chose a time to eat. The kids were promised extra ice cream for dessert by the staff on account of their impressive cycling effort today. We enjoyed another lovely evening in the open dining fale with a beach view. All the kids staying here have gathered at another table drawing and playing cards. The staff bought out the promised ice cream and everyone was happy.
Day 5 Satuiatua – Falealupo
We were sad to leave Satuiatua. If time permitted we would definately have stayed longer here. Mike and Pauline have an extra night here and we are envious. After such a big day yesterday we arranged to have the children picked up after an hour of cycling so they avoid the hill today. We got 12 kms along the coast to Lovers Leap (a viewpoint where you can sometimes see a turtle and shark). The sharp eyes of Darryl, Ben and Luke saw the turtle. Peter and Sarah arrived to pick up the kids who were quite happy to go in the van. They had a container of pawpaw cut up for us. Darryl and I enjoyed a pleasant couple of hours cycling through the little villages before riding the 7km downhill into Falealupo. We called many more hello’s and goodbyes today and answered the “where are you going” question many times as well. One thing that strikes me is how gorgeous the gardens are. Especially given so much of the ground is covered in lava. Some villages obviously take real pride in their gardens and street verges. We finished the day cycling through coconut trees as the road disintegrated into a sand track. Falealupo looks like the end of the world. Distance wise we are exactly half way through the cycling. The kids were pleased to see us as they were the only ones there when we arrived, bar one staff member who didn’t speak much English. Again, no bread but we did get cold drinks. After a swim to cool everyone down we all settled into a lazy afternoon lying on our beds reading and drawing. I’ve never seen the kids so quiet. In the late afternoon several more families arrived including a kiwi couple cycling with their l0 year old son. He was travelling with a rugby ball and that was the beginning of many games of touch rugby, turned spotlight in the dark. We dined on reef fish and rice with a vege stir fry. The fish were pretty small and the younger kids weren’t so sure about eating fish with their eyeballs still in. It is a challenge to produce meals out here anad given their resources we thought the staff had done pretty well. The nearest shop is not close and I imagine it’s very hard to grow much other than coconuts here.
Day 6 Falealupo – Vaisala
We started the day with a demonstration by our children of their new coconut tree climbing skills. After a prompt 7am breakfast Darryl and I started the 7km steep uphill back to the main road. We left the children happily engrossed in a big touch rugby game. Again it was pleasant cycling and the village people are very friendly and keen to converse. There were plenty of chickens, pigs and piglets around as well as dogs. At the top of the hill we sat in a road side fale and ate oranges while chatting to a local lady waiting for a ride. Peter and Sarah arrived right on time with the children and some sweet oranges for us. We all enjoyed the rest of the day, cycling mostly downhill to the coast and then onto Vaisala. The big old Vaisala hotel has seen better days but it looks very inviting. It is lovely to be in a real room again with real beds. We even have a fridge and a jug to make coffee and keep our drinks cold. We have a lovely deck overlooking the beach with which to enjoy our drinks from. The kids are very excited because there are three puppies here (one each) which they are welcome to play with, take to the beach and carry around provided they return them at the end of the day. The puppies are promptly named Alpha, Bravo and Charlie and carried everywhere for the next two days. After a swim and snorkel (great snorkelling here) I relish in a hot shower complete with hair washing. Lunch at the hotel is a welcome change from crackers and tinned tuna and the deck it is served on has a lovely outlook over the sea. Over lunch we witness a Samoan meeting and feast and see how important Samoan men are treated (like royalty). More swimming followed lunch and we visited the natural rock pool at the end of the beach. This rockpool had fantastic coral and fish in it, as good as Satuiatua and the kids were able to happily swim all over it. The hotel was having a bbq this evening and we got to try a few new foods including taro and breadfruit as well as Octopus and Palusami (banana leaves and coconut cream baked in layers). Some of the female staff dressed up and they danced beautifully while a two piece band played and sang. The band consisted of a guitar and an instrument made out of a plastic bucket, stick and nylon string and they made a great sound.
Day 7 Vaisala
Today was our first rest day and we were ready for it. The kids disappeared early to play with the puppies while we lingered over breakfast. We all took a walk along the street and visited the two shops. It was great chatting to the shopkeepers who were happy to tell you about their lives and families. We came home with new lavalavas, banana chips and ice creams. We spent some time swimming and enjoyed another lovely lunch on the hotel deck. I caused a bit of a fuss by locking our key in our room. There was no spare key. First the staff tried sawing the lock off, then they tried jimmying the door jam. Next someone climbed into the rafters of the eaves to see if they could get in through the ceiling. Our policeman friend Mike tried to pick the lock. Eventually, the staff went through the room next door, climbed onto our deck and bashed the door open, ripping the bolt off the inside. We left them repairing the door while we went off to swim. Darryl, Ben and I snorkelled out to the reef with Mike and Levi. It took us a couple of hours to make our way out there and back and it was the best snorkelling of the whole trip. The variety and number of fish and coral was amazing. We had another lovely evening with live music on the deck.
Day 8 Vaisala – Manase
Today was the toughest cycling day in terms of hills. Darryl and I left early and arranged for the children to be picked up two hours later and dropped at the top of the hill. There was a big women’s meeting on in Asau and for the first part of our cycle we were accompanied by large groups of beautifully dressed women, walking to their meeting. We headed inland and up. In the shade of the morning the uphill didn’t seem too nasty. There were plenty of friendly hello’s and “where are you going?”s. There are less houses up here and lots more traditional fales as well as plenty of free range pigs and chickens about. We had our one and only scare with dogs chasing us. We armed ourselves with dog sticks but never needed them. Our children arrived at the top in the van about ten minutes after we did. The downhill to the coast was again very pleasant and picturesque. As we came down the villages became more frequent and larger. The predominant buildings in every village were churches. Just before Manase school was out and our kids were the centre of attention, being asked plenty of questions. Again, the cycle helmets seem to be intriguing for the local kids. We arrived in Manase ready for a swim. The beach was lovely and sandy again. The snorkelling here was poor but the swimming was lovely. Our fales are on grass this time which is a lovely change. There are big bunches of bananas hung up for you to help yourself too. Fresh bananas are much tastier that the imported ones at home. It didn’t take the children long to find out that the shop down the road sells ice cream. After dinner the kids were again playing rugby with the local boy who leaves here and is very keen for team mates. Even our ten year old ballerina is starting to look quite adept at touch rugby.
Day 9 Manase
Another blissful day to swim and enjoy being on holiday. We went on a snorkelling trip on the dive Savaii boat this afternoon. The snorkelling was possibly not as good as what we’d experienced when we’d swum out to the reef at Vaisala but the younger kids really enjoyed the adventure ofbeing in the deep water. And it was great having guides to tell us about the fish and coral we’d been seeing. Darryl, Ben and Luke saw a turtle which was a real highlight for them. The kids had great fun diving off the boat repeatedly until the last snorkeller was on board at each site. After dinner we saw a fia fia (traditional dance show) at a neighbouring property. It was very entertaining and the fire dances were quite spectacular. Back at Regina’s, granddad had turned up to do a stint of night watchman. He was a lovely, gentle old man and he spent a long time talking with our teenagers on all sorts of deep topics like family, culture, religion, expectations of Samoan kids. It was quite special to see these kids from such a liberal culture engrossed in what the man was saying.
Day 10 Manase
This morning we awoke to the smell of smoke because it’s Sunday and everyone is preparing their umu (like a hangi cooked above ground) for Sunday lunch. Breakfast was a rushed affair as all the staff were off to church. We all got dressed up in our best clothes (white t-shits we’d been keeping clean especially and lavalavas) and headed off to the local church. Our effort was rewarded with beautiful singing that was well worth experiencing. The pastor made us very welcome and explained in English what he was talking about. The kids managed to pass the time playing paper, scissors, rock while the service was conducted in Samoan – hopefully no one was offended. The antics of the local children in church kept us amused while we couldn’t understand what was being said. Everyone was decked out in their white Sunday clothes. The experience was well worth the effort. An umu lunch had been prepared for us back at Reginas as well. We whiled away the afternoon swimming and reading. The Samoans all disappear on Sunday afternoon to sleep off their enormous lunches. They all reappear on Sunday evening though – ready to socialise and play.
Day 11 Manase - Lano
The children are definately getting tired now. Today we cycled 33km’s with some minor hills and a bit of a head wind and the kids struggled. We stopped en route at the lava fields and had a good time exploring the old church and walking around on the lava. It is quite surreal cycling over a lava flow. We observed high school in session for a while this morning. The classes are very basic – held in an open sided fale with desks and a blackboard. There’s a lot of learning by rote and a lot of chanting. Our kids were intrigued to see a class of girls having their fingernails inspected. Lano is a long golden sandy beach and again the swimming was lovely. There were plenty of children here to keep our crew company. The only disappointment of the day was the local shop is out of ice cream.
Day 12 Lano
We are enjoying the relaxed feel of Lano. Today’s mission was to take a ride on one of the brightly coloured local buses that we have seen trundling past all through our trip. We waved down the bus and squeezed in. The bus was full but a local plonked Luke on his lap and someone else made room for Brooke and I to squeeze onto the bench seat. Darryl and Ben crouched behind the driver. Once the bus was moving it was surprisingly cool. The ride was fun. We picked up a few supplies at the supermarket and enjoyed an ice cream under a tree while waiting for the bus back. The afternoon was spent swimming, reading and relaxing. It is going to be hard to leave here too.
Day 13 Lano – U’polo
Our last cycling day. An easy 19km’s back to Salelologa and then back to Airport Lodge hotel on U’polo. We cycled mostly flat roads along the coast waving and calling out to the pre-schoolers who were calling bye-bye from their fales. We experienced our first real rain of the trip a very heavy downpour which was all over in 10 minutes. The kids were keen to go shopping so back in Salelologa we purchased wooden boats and shell necklaces at the market. Sarah and Peter met us at the ferry with our bags and we said goodbye to them. They have been fantastic, always turning up on time and never forgetting anything or leaving anything behind. The kids rocketed back to Airport Lodge on their bikes, like horses returning to their stable. Darryl and I gave the bikes a good clean and boxed them up and we all enjoyed another swim.
Day 14 U’polo
We had organised a van and driver today. It is surprisingly slow going into Apia but there was plenty to see. In Apia we visited the Robert Louis Stevenson museum. What a beautiful home and the tour that is included made the visit really interesting for all of us. Luke was particularly taken by the lion skin complete with head. We would have liked more time to explore the garden but we were off to the south coast to visit friends and the local pre-school at Satitoa. The tsunami debris along the south coast is a sobering sight. The highlight of the day was a picnic and swim at To Sua Trench. We also enjoyed the markets at Apia and watching the chaos at the bus station at 5pm. On the drive back to U’polo we saw village life and evening prayers. Once the bell is rung for evening prayers the streets go from being full of rugby and volleyball games to being instantly deserted as everyone joins their families for 10 minutes of prayers and hymns. The kids managed a few hours sleep before we got them up at midnight for the flight home. Again the bikes were no problem. Back in Auckland the biosecurity officials had a quick look at two of the bikes, and satisfied that they were clean sent us on our way. What a great family adventure and a great way to see Samoa and meet the people.
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On the Road
Biking - the best way to meet people
Blowholes at Alofaaga
These seem to blow whatever the weather.
The water is about 26 degrees and there are plenty of safe beaches
Relaxing at Manase
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