Archive for the ‘Travels – I Has Them’ Category

Mexico, Part 3 and done.

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

The reason I went to Mexico in the first place was not to enjoy the ruins or the extremely delicious hot chocolate, though both of those were terrific. I went to go study a bead technique under two extremely talented artisits, Jan Huling and Nancy Josephson. It took place in Puerto Vallarta which is a seaside town very popular with tourists. I don’t really have much photography to post on the workshop because it was a group of women hunched over a small wooden altar gluing rows of tiny beads. I do, however, have pictures of some of the Mexican artwork I was privileged to see during my stay. Mexican art is, how do I say this, real vibrant. It looks like the artist is on drugs, the artwork is on drugs and if you stare at it too long you too will magically be on drugs from proximity to the art. I was particularly enamored with two different types of art – the beaded objects made by the Huichol (or Wixarika) people who live in the mountains and the alebrijes made in the Oaxaca area. First, beaded objects. The Huichol people started using beads in their sacred bowls in 17-something-something when the French brought seed beads to Mexico. Because they were so rare they were used very sparingly. The bowls looked like this:

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The Huichol use a very sticky wax to get the beads to stick to the substrate. Then in the 1970s when seed beads became far less scarce the pieces started looking like this:

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Very encrusted. Here’s a great video showing you how it’s done.

https://youtu.be/nQxY5Pr4Pw4

I ended up buying a few bowls made from gourds with beads pressed into them. I think they’re pretty snazzy.

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As you can see a bead fell off from the first bowl but it’s no cause for panic because it’s only one yellow bead and as soon as I find one I will squish it into the wax and everything will be fine. Until then the empty spot will be a lovely reminder of the fragility of life. Or something.

The other artwork I was lovin’ on are things called alebrijes. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

Alebrijes are brightly colored Oaxacan-Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures. The first alebrijes, along with use of the term, originated with Pedro Linares. In the 1930s, Linares fell very ill and while he was in bed, unconscious, Linares dreamt of a strange place resembling a forest. There, he saw trees, animals, rocks, clouds that suddenly turned into something strange, some kind of animals, but, unknown animals. He saw a donkey with butterfly wings, a rooster with bull horns, a lion with an eagle head, and all of them were shouting one word, “Alebrijes”. Upon recovery, he began recreating the creatures he saw in cardboard and papier-mâché and called them Alebrijes.

So now there’s an entire art movement based on some guy’s fever dream. They vary in nuttiness but I found two I really liked. One is a… lizard-thing. With a mouth. And wings. And flames coming out of its head. Lotta stuff going on.

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The other is a snail who saw something very traumatic and is going through PTSD. Or he was at the Electric Daisy Festival and took far too much Molly and is having a bad reaction. Either story works.

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The Moomins saw these fellers when I got home and said, “You know, I have a jaunty preying mantis from Mexico that would go beautifully with these sculptures.” So now I also have a jaunty preying mantis friend.

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All of these are fine and good but as with any artistic style there are levels of skill and these are somewhere in the middle. I went to a gallery in Puerto Vallarta and got to see the best artists at this and it hurt my heart. I wanted those pieces so bad, but they ranged in price between $1,800 and $3,000 so I own none. The artists are a team, Jacobo and Maria Angeles, and they are amaaaaaaazing. I found some pictures on the internet that impress their fantasticness onto you. It’s intense.

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I know, right? Drool. Even if you’re not down with the aesthetic approach you cannot deny the skillz. Someday when I win the lottery I will acquire one of their pieces. It’s gonna happen. I should probably start buying lottery tickets though. That would definitely increase my chances of winning.

I brought home the alter that I was working on in Mexico and I have continued gluing beads onto it. I decided I wanted it to look like a petrie dish so I could freehand my design on it. I also glued some origami paper and some coins to it because if you’re going to try something new go all out.

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I’m now making small peyote-stitched tubes that I will sporadically attach to give some depth.

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So there’s my trip to Mexico. If you have any questions, let me know and I will attempt to answer them for you.

Addendum: Other artwork we saw:

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Mexico Part 2.

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

And now for your enjoyment, pictures of the pyramids we saw at the ancient site of Teotihuacan.

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The pictures do the place precisely zero justice. This is not Snorth’s fault. The area is massive and when you get up close to something you can’t photograph it then either because it’s so freakin’ big. Wikipedia has a pretty good shot taken from the top of one of the pyramids that conveys the immensity of the place a bit better.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teotihuacan#/media/File:SSA41434.JPG

Similar shot, more biggerer:

http://theredlist.com/media/database/architecture/history/architecture-pre-colombienne/teotihuacan/cite-de-teotihuacan/007_cite-de-teotihuacan_theredlist.jpg

When we arrived we were standing in a little field in the upper left corner of that picture. The field was meh and the pyramids looked really small and I was thinking, “Okay, this is fine. I mean, after Machu Picchu you can’t expect to be blown away by all the ruins.” I was woefully incorrect. The guide said we had to climb one of those little flat pyramid things and both Snorth and I were like, “Pass.” I still remember the steps of Peru. They haunt me to this day. The guide said, “You really should because how you see the ruins now is not how they were back when the pre-Aztecs built these structures. They were covered with stucco that had paintings and there were carvings. If you climb those stairs you’ll be able to see some of those-” I was off and climbing. Badly. On all fours like a toddler. But I did it. And it was totally worth it.

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Look at those giant weird heads! I thought the heads along the sides of the stairs (those stairs are enormous btw, around upper-shin-high) were jaguars but it turns out it is Quetzalcoatl the feathered snake, a very important deity in the pre-Aztec religion. The cube-shaped heads are crocodiles (the guide said you could tell by their “tusks” which delighted me no end) and the doughnut shapes are very sacred and represent water. Interesting fact: this whole giant religious place (no one lived here, it was just for ceremonies) was built without wheels and the thought is that the wheel shape was sacred and was not used in construction. I think they used logs, or possibly the same technique used to move large stones in Peru, which is covering the path with smooth cobblestones and sliding them. Nobody knows because this group of people had no written language. Another fun fact: they didn’t use any animals for labor. They didn’t have horses or cows or sheep yet, there are no llamas in this area and both deer and bunnies are notoriously bad at being pack animals so it was all man-strength. When you see how many buildings there are in this place you really appreciate how long it must have taken to build this.

In addition to the cool carvings the whole place was covered in stucco that was in turn painted with ground-up stone pigments. Bits of it remain but it is sparse and in poor condition as one could expect.

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In addition you’ll notice that in the picture above there’s that pattern with the main stone put in the cement and then wee stones peppered around it. That is so you know it’s a rebuilt portion, not original. It makes seeing the original parts much easier. Apparently there was a lot of wear and tear from the elements. A good example of that is the next picture. The part above was exposed. The part below was not. Look at the differences in the faces of the critters on the side. They used to be the same.

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I highly recommend if you’re in Mexico City you go to Teotihuacan. It is an amazing site and well-worth exploring. Bring walking sticks because if you go up and down the stairs there are no railings and the stairs are unforgiving.

After being there for several hours Snorth and I got back to the city and went on a city tour. This is where The Incident happened so I wasn’t paying the correct amount of attention because of the trauma of the theft and the hot booger sauce that had covered my forearm, but I absorbed some information. The first place we went was the parliament. Now, back here in the good ole U.S. of A. in a government building we would have murals of Washington crossing the Potomac or something, right? Not in Mexico, oh no. The government commissioned giant murals from Diego Rivera, a known Communist. And he painted what he wanted. As you come up the stairs you are greeted by the central part which is a giant battle between the indigenous people and the Spaniards.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/da/RiveraMuralNationalPalace.jpg

Okay, fine. However, the mural off to the left takes a whole different turn. At the top is Karl Marx like Jesus and if you look about halfway down you’ll see a woman with her boob exposed making out with a priest (representing the church) and he’s putting money and a cross into her hand. Did I mention this is in the main government building? And the stairs are the only way to get to the second floor?

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Off to the side are several smaller murals depicting the life of the people up until the Spaniards arrived. They show how corn was turned into tortillas and how the food was grown and how the dentist worked, basic village life-stuff. But it was not all sunshine and rainbows. In one of the market scenes there was an Aztec prostitute with creepy red teeth being offered a human arm for her services. I would pay someone to take the human arm away, but that’s just me. Once again, main government building.

Mexico, Mexico City. Murals inside the National Palace painted by Diego Rivera, Mexico CityThe murals decorate the stairwell and middle storey of the main courtyard and depict Mexican History from the life of Tenochtitlan through to the Spanish Conquest,

I highly recommend seeing this in person, frankly it’s pretty great. I mean, it’s weird as hell, no doubt about it, but awesome.

We also saw the Building of Lies, also known as the big Beaux-Arts building in the center of town. Look at it, isn’t it gorgeous with its Art Nouveau and its roof and all that?

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Inside should be similar. NO. LIES. The inside is Art Deco. Art Deco and dark. You can’t even see the ceiling from the inside. I was so bummed.

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It was cool to see that outside there was a Metro station from Paris.

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And gorgeous jacaranda trees all over the place.

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I think it is a testament to Mexico City that even though my phone was stolen I would still totally go back. I loved it there and I need to see more of it.

Next entry: my beading workshop and some of my purchases.

Mexico! Part 1.

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

I went to Mexico to study under an artist I have a massive art-boner for, Jan Huling. I’ve mentioned her before. I didn’t really know the other artist who was teaching, Nancy Josephson, but she ended up being a wonderful kind lovely person as well. Her work is more casual and free-spirited so I used her techniques less (I need control and structure otherwise there is chaos and I’m in therapy to deal with this, thank you) but it’s very cool-looking, especially the birds.

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In keeping with my vacation-posting style, you would think there would be loads of pictures and stories to go with the pictures. And there would be, except for The Incident. I brought my phone down to Mexico and used it as my camera and everything was going great on Day 1 when we were in Mexico City. Snorth and I went to see some pyramids, both our first time seeing these pyramids, and they were amazing. I know people throw that word around, “amazing,” but these seriously were. When we arrived they were off in the distance and looked wee and both of us were like, “Eh, those are fine, adequate pyramids. I thought they would be big and imposing but whatevs.” And then the tour we were on went past a field area and holy moly, we were on a massive boulevard called The Street of the Dead and there were mini-pyramids lining both sides and two monster pyramids at the end. One was 22 stories tall. Crazy-big. Now, this would be the point where I would post pictures of those things but, as I mentioned before, there was The Incident. Don’t worry, I’m getting to it.

After the phenomenal pyramid excursion Snorth and I went for a much shorter afternoon tour in Mexico City proper to see the Cathedral and other city-center things. The main square is enormous, the third-biggest in the world. (Number 1 is in China, Number 2 is in Moscow and then there’s this one.) While we were walking past the Cathedral it was crazy-crowded and that’s when I felt it. Something hot was running down my arm. I looked over and it took me a second to figure out that someone HAD SPAT A GIANT SPIT-AND-SNOTWAD ONTO MY ARM AND IT WAS RUNNING DOWN MY ARM AND OH MY GOD. I reacted as if I’d been shot. I froze up and yelled Snorth’s name over and over. She was awesome. Snorth carries a small towel around with her when she travels and she had that translucent nightmare mopped up in a jiffy. I collected myself and continued on my merry way until I decided to take a picture of something and could not find my phone. They had stolen my phone using the phlegm atrocity as a distraction. I have to give the thieves credit. I don’t care who you are, if someone snorks that much stuff on you you’re gonna be thrown off your game for a while which is plenty of time for them to poach your goods. I know I’m prone to exaggeration but Snorth is not and her comment was, “On my drooliest day I don’t think I could conjure up that much mouth-fluid.” It was an excessive amount. I thought a vulture had pooped on me. While this was the worst thing that had happened to me in a long time I was actually a tiny bit excited because who has the best “I was traveling and my phone was stolen” story now? Me, that’s who. And even though I’ve traveled all over the world nothing of mine has been pickpocketed so I feel like I’m in an elite traveler’s club.

I ended depending on Snorth to take the pictures and she did a wonderful job but I was at her mercy so you’ll see what you see and that will have to do. I will pepper that with pics I find on the internet for additional info. In the next entry we will commence with cool Mexican travelry.

Mexico! And Mad Max. Lots of alliteration.

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

I’m going to Mexico for a week to study beading techniques under an artist I really love (I’ve mentioned her before). I’m sure I will have pictures and stories when I return. In the meantime here is a review video I made of Mad Max: Fury Road for your enjoyment.

Christmas: The Super-American All-Inclusive Deprogramming Holiday of I Think I’m Their Hostage Now.

Monday, January 4th, 2016

Christmas! A holiday I never really had much to do with. I mean, I watch the stuff on TV and the movies and I’ve seen what it’s like, but it’s never really been something I’ve been immersed in. I don’t even think we did Chinese food and movies as is the way of our people. We went one step lower, doing “whatever’s in the fridge” and “what’s on PBS today?” So when I decided to spend the holidays with my friend Ness in San Francisco I was excited to see what the other 97.8% of Americans do December 24th and 25th. I was not disappointed. Let me give you a bit of backstory. All the people in my family are very very smart and very very useless. My father is a rabbi with three doctorates all in cerebral pursuits like theology and Hebrew letters. My mother is an art historian who speaks three languages fluently and five more not fluently. Our dinner parties are not for the weak of spirit. You know how you are not supposed to talk about politics or religion in polite company? That’s ALL we talk about, and any religion or any country’s politics is up for debate. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say something like, “Yes, but that is due to the rift caused by the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913. If the Ottoman Empire had blabittyblah blah etc. and blah.” Lots of clever and intelligent. However, between both my parents they cannot manage to use a cell phone. They didn’t clean the filter of their household water supply thing in the basement for a decade. A DECADE. (It’s astonishingly easy to replace.) My father prefers a broom and dustpan to a vacuum because a vacuum is a bit too much technology for one man. My point is anything technological or manual labor-y is beyond them. When the apocalypse comes they will be the first to be eaten because they are the human equivalent of kobe beef. Ness’s family, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. They are all in law enforcement of some kind, except for the hair dresser/Zumba teacher. They drink alcohol for fun, not only for religious ceremonies. They can fix things. They like sports. They embrace technology. They don’t watch the news four times a day. I didn’t see them watch the news once, actually. They put those “Love, Laugh, Live” letter cutouts over their couches and have tons of pictures of their families on display. We are not the same. But I imagine the rest of the country is far more like them then they are like me, an effete New York Jew, so I relished the opportunity to experience what life is like for just about everyone else.

Okay. It felt a bit like when someone gets out of a cult and they need to be reacclimated back into society and they have to be strapped to chair and immersed hard. First, Ness insisted on only Christmas music. I heard that epically crappy song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by BandAid about four times. Don’t ask me how many times I heard Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” A million, give or take. Then, Hallmark Christmas movies. Ness DVRed about ten of them. I watched five from beginning to end. I would like to deviate now from my trip to talk about the Hallmark Christmas movies if I may. They all have the same plot structure and here it is:

“Hi! I’m a woman, a single woman, and I have a promising career in medicine / dress design / business! Gosh, I’m well on my way! Reaching for the stars! Oh no, I’ve been stranded in Garland, Alaska on my way to my fellowship in Boston due to weather, or maybe my father passed and I need to return to the rinkydink town of my childhood from L.A to take care of my father’s affairs. Whatever reason, I have to leave whatever major city I was heading towards or living in, the major city where I’m going fulfill my potential. No biggie, I’ll only be here for a short while. But what’s this? This charming local man who is a woodworker / elementary school music teacher / fireman. His smile, it causes me to swoon and melt right into my mom jeans. What to do, what to do? Give up on all my career goals, ones I might have had since I was a child, to stay here with Mr. As Hunky As Hallmark Could Afford whom I barely know?”

Let me save you some time. They all stay in Flyover Town USA and devote their life to the dude. Each and every single one. I want to listen in to the Hallmark Christmas Movie meetings. I feel like they sound like this, “We must keep the women of America who got pregnant at 19 and couldn’t go to college placated, put out another movie that convinces them that careers are meh and true love is only found in rectangular states to keep them from poisoning the Sloppy Joes and fleeing to a coast. That should do it.”

Sorry about that. Back to the trip. Ness likes to plan lots of activities so on the first day I was in San Fran we did tourist stuff. I went to the Cable Car Museum. We walked around Little Italy. We met a former co-worker for dinner. Normal stuff. Day two is where things got fascinating. I was invited to an Oakland Raiders football game, complete with tailgating. I have been to one other NFL game (read this for a recap of that magical experience) and this time I was excited to have someone with me to explain the finer points of the sport. Ness and her aunt decked me out in appropriate regalia and I sat quietly in the parking lot and watched the other tailgaters do their thing.

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Their thing is THOROUGH. I’ve been to weddings less organized than some of these camps. Giant tents. The most insane food being cooked – prime rib, lobster tails, king crab legs, deep-fried turkeys. Not only did people bring their own sound systems, they brought their own DJs to spin their desired tunes. All of this was happening in a parking lot. People brought entire bars. The smell of weed was pungent and copious. (Is nothing illegal in California? Where are your mothers?) I was told that since it was Christmas Eve there were far fewer people than usual, normally the whole giant parking lot is full.

Look, proof! Lobster tails:

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A DJ for a group of about six people:

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Lest we forget it’s San Francisco-adjacent, dirty hippies!

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And some guy’s small school bus that he decorated both inside and out:

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Finally after about four hours we wrapped up the light debauchery and headed into the stadium. I would like to say I watched the game with rapt attention and can tell you all about the different players and what they did. I wish I could say that. The truth is I only watched three things: the big screen (Kiss cam! Pop and lock dancing!), the cheerleaders (did you know they’re out the the entire game freezing their components off?) and the hover-camera. That hover-camera, which I originally thought was a drone, tapped into something really primal for me. It’s a camera that looks exactly like a A.I. version of a black shiny hornet and it zips around on three cables tethered to the top bits of the walls of the stadium. It zips extremely quickly and did I mention it looks like a giant robot wasp? We were right behind the goalposts so whenever it bzzzzzed with great alacrity over to the touchdown area I would scream. I could imagine it breaking free of its moorings and killing everyone. That’s it. That’s all I paid attention to the whole time. SPORTS!

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I had heard the Oakland Raiders fans are the scariest in the NFL. They were fine. Charger fans would walk through the parking lot fully decked out and the Raiders fans would boo at them, then offer them snacks or wave goodnaturedly. There were 30,000 fans there and I saw one fight break out. It was quelled before I could even turn around and get a good look. Fine. Everything was fine.

The next day was Christmas. We watched the Warriors vs. the Cavaliers (basketball). We wore festive red and green garb. We ate cheesy potatoes and ham and green bean casserole. We opened seven thousand presents, four thousand of which were sports-related socks. This may not sound that thrilling for you, but I’ve never done these things. I must have looked completely daft watching Ness’s family like they were part of a scientific research project. I imagine this is what it must be like when people come to our house for Hanukkah. It’s neat to be on the other side.

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I spent most of my time chilling with the cat on the couch. I love that damn cat so much. SO. MUCH. I have spoken of this love before.

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The last few days there we went to Muir Woods were there are old giant pine trees. It smelled amazing.

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I must have said, “Look at that tree!” fifty times.

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Not gonna lie: hugged a lot of trees.

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There was a massive crack in one of the trees where people were taking pictures.

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Here was our version.

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On my insistence Ness also hugged a tree in her own way.

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I highly recommend Muir Woods. Especially if you wish to protest something. They have an area for that.

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It was a magnificent trip and Ness has already planned activities for my next visit. I’ve never been to Alcatraz and I want to ride on the double-decker bus, so we will do that.

South America Part 14 ‘n’ done.

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

The equator! What Ecuador is named after. The equator runs right through and I got to visit it. It was weirder than I expected. We did some scientific stuff standing on the actual line and things did not go how I anticipated. But first, some Quito pics.

A tree in the giant park in the middle of town. The parks were lovely. There are artists along one whole edge with all different styles of paintings for sale.

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We went to a market that the locals shop at. It was intense. Everything was out and the meat and fish were fine (meaty and fishy, to be expected) but the vegetable and fruit section, I could have hung out there all day.

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There were giant piles of fresh herbs. There was a lady who only sold potatoes. She must have had fifteen or twenty different kinds. And, as with most places in the world that are not the United States, you could bring your dog in with you.

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We also went to a authentic sorbet maker. In the olden days a donkey would carry down ice from the tops of the mountains that would be put in a large tub with salt. Now they use regular freezer ice but the rest of the process remains the same. A big flat-bottomed bronze pan with two handles is placed on the ice and fruit juice mixed with sugar is poured in. The the sorbet-person uses the handles to spin spin spin the bronze pan and uses a wooden spoon to move the juice mixture around the bottom. Eventually all the juice freezes and boom, sorbet. The one we saw being made was from local blackberries. It was delicious.

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Okay, the equator. It’s actually part of a whole teaching space sponsored by the Ecuadorian government. We learned about the cultures that lived around there. We saw a human shrunken head and a sloth’s shrunken head.

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And in the same area was THE WORST TAXIDERMY I HAVE EVEN SEEN. EVER. I started laughing so hard, I felt bad for the guide. I tried to explain that it had nothing to do with him but I couldn’t breathe and had to go sit down for a minute. Here, allow me to share some of these magical creatures with you. The two most incorrect ones were the ocelot:

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And the anaconda. Oh dear Lord, the anaconda. Are… are those eyes hot-glued on?

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The sideshow creatures were the only sub-par element there. Everything else was beautiful. The landscaping was particularly lovely.

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We were shown an ancient sundial which told you only three times a day – morning, midday and afternoon. It was scary how on point it was. It was almost exactly 4:00 in the afternoon and look, the shadow is right on the 4. Amazing.

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I didn’t know much about the equator.

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I’ve mentioned this before but in high school I took Biology for Football Players and Poets in my senior year. My STEM skills are weeeeeeak. So every experiment the guide did was like a miracle for me. For example, he had a sink that wasn’t hooked up to anything, it simply had a bucket underneath. When he positioned the sink and bucket six feet to the left of the equator (in this case it was in the Southern hemisphere) and poured water into it, the water swirled in one direction. Then he moved the bucket and sink six feet into the Northern Hemisphere, repoured the water and it swirled in the other direction. Finally, he positioned the sink and bucket directly on the equator and the water went straight down. The next experiment we did was balancing an egg on a nail head. You can do that on the equator you know. (I did not know.) My niece Drea was the only one with the steady hands to do it. We were all very proud.

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Finally, the guide asked us to walk heel to toe along the red line. None of us could go more than three steps. Apparently that is because when you are in the Northern or Southern hemisphere and you walk like that, you only get pulled in one direction so you can self-correct. One the equator you are being pulled very gently in both directions, enough so that your balance is quite compromised. Science!

There you go, the end of my trip. It was scary and exciting and thrilling and wonderful and I’m glad I went. If you wish to do the same trip, here is the company I went with.

https://www.oattravel.com/trips/small-ship-adventures/south-america/machu-picchu-and-the-galapagos/2016?icid=global:ouradventures:southamerica:mpg2016

South America 2015, Part 13.

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

The rest of the Galapagos! Predominantly sea-dwellers! But first, other stuff.

Our guide Luis removing a bee stinger from a fellow traveler’s arm. Her arm was swelling up and Luis calmly plucked a giant thorn off of a bush and picked out the stinger. Then he pulled a different leaf off of a different bush and squeezed the leaf contents on the wound. By that night the swelling was gone and the little booboo was almost completely healed. It was amazing.

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A photo of the big yacht we were on during our time in the Galapagos.

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The trail left by a marine iguana on his way to the ocean.

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Some dead marine iguanas. As tempted as I was I did not take home their skin or bones. You need to respect the nature there and I did even though it was a struggle.

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A stunning cliffside. Many of the animals we saw were clinging or perching on this cliffside.

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A small grotto where pirates would hide their booze and other plunderings.

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A rock formation that looks like an elephant’s head.

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A plant making an effort to grow in the lava field. Nature is so great that way, always trying to shove life into inhospitable places.

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Remember when planes had the “no smoking” light-up sign. I noticed that there is a new message in its place. The times, they are a-changin’. Not that that’s a bad thing, just a thing.

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Okay, back to the animals I encountered. We came across a small island that that had masked boobies on a tiny blob of an island in the middle of the sea. There were other birds hanging out on Wee Blob Island but they all flew away in a panic as soon as a hawk landed. The boobies went nowhere, I guess because they were so much larger than the hawk. He was no threat to them. My niece Drea got some terrific shots of the boobies and the hawk existing in each others’ spaces.

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Frigatebirds! You’ve seen pictures of the male frigatebird a bunch of times. It’s got a big red air sack on its chest that it puffs up to attract the ladeez. I also learned that the frigatebird doesn’t really hunt for its food, it hassles other seabirds until they barf up the fish they just caught and the frigatebird eats that. Frigatebirds are douches.

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A shark! I saw several sharks on this trip but they were while I was snorkeling so I couldn’t take pictures of them. The only one I could get a photo of was this guy. They were all small white-tipped reef sharks. Very cool.

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Booby sex! That sounds faaaaaar more interesting than you would think. We went to a plateau where blue-footed boobies were dancing and mating. They didn’t seem to mind that we were there. (Don’t tell the boobies I said this, but I don’t think they are super-bright.)

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Crabs! That are not Sally Lightfoot crabs! We saw a hermit crab who I loved.

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And some ghost crabs who I also loved. I love crabs, I really do. I love how delicately they eat and how they scuttle and their weird eyestalks that look like exclamation points. They are great.

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Swallow-tailes gulls! They are like the tuxedo seagull to our jeans-and-a-tshirt-seagulls we have back here. I thought they looked beautiful. Luis told us that they are the only nocturnal seagull.

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Galapagos fur sea lions! You may think I am repeating myself, but these guys are different from regular fur sea lions. They are smaller and they have a shorter, pointier snoot. They were almost hunted to extinction because they are so so soft and furry, but thankfully they are coming back. They still don’t like people, so they basked far away from us instead of coming up close and being all inquisitive like the fur sea lion.

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An oyster-catcher! We saw one on a beach. They look like they have not slept in quite some time.

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And the brown noddy! It’s a small, rather plain bird, but I liked it. It had subtle color changes that the camera couldn’t seem to catch.

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Those are all my Galapagos pictures. Here are three to close out this truly magical experience.

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Next entry: the last few days in Ecuador and then… done.

South America 2015, Part 12.

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Sea and sea-adjacent creatures! But let us begin with a random selection of Galapagos pics.

A drink consisting of coconut water in said coconut with rum in it. You would think it would be delightful. You would be wrong. It tastes like something a doctor would make you drink before a procedure so your liver will glow or something. No delicioso. Unpleasant and medicinal. Take a pass on it.

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The sign in the airport bathroom. Short version: the toilet water is recycled so it’s a weird color but that’s totally normal.

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Our phenomenal guide Luis with a ginormous cricket on him.

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He wore the equivalent of a balaclava while we were traveling around because he is very concerned about sun damage. We looked like hostages being taken around by a terrorist. See for yourself: here’s a picture of us in front of one of those “Yorkshire pudding” islands I mentioned.

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Okay, sea creatures. First, one of my favorite creatures, one I was very excited to see, the Sally Lightfoot crab. Another name for them is “abuete negro” which I originally thought meant “black grandma” (I do not know Spanish) but when I looked up the definition of “abuete” I got a website that asked me what it meant to abide in Christ so I gave up. Sally Lightfoot crabs are vibrantly colored and I took about 700 pictures of them. I am a bit obsessed. Here’s what the famous author John Steinbeck had to say about them (from Wikipedia):

Many people have spoken at length of the Sally Lightfoots. In fact, everyone who has seen them has been delighted with them. The very name they are called by reflects the delight of the name. These little crabs, with brilliant cloisonné carapaces, walk on their tiptoes, They have remarkable eyes and an extremely fast reaction time. In spite of the fact that they swarm on the rocks at the Cape [San Lucas], and to a less degree inside the Gulf [of California], they are exceedingly hard to catch. They seem to be able to run in any of four directions; but more than this, perhaps because of their rapid reaction time, they appear to read the mind of their hunter. They escape the long-handled net, anticipating from what direction it is coming. If you walk slowly, they move slowly ahead of you in droves. If you hurry, they hurry. When you plunge at them, they seem to disappear in a puff of blue smoke—at any rate, they disappear. It is impossible to creep up on them. They are very beautiful, with clear brilliant colors, red and blues and warm browns.

Man reacts peculiarly but consistently in his relationship with Sally Lightfoot. His tendency eventually is to scream curses, to hurl himself at them, and to come up foaming with rage and bruised all over his chest. Thus, Tiny, leaping forward, slipped and fell and hurt his arm. He never forgot nor forgave his enemy. From then on he attacked Lightfoots by every foul means he could contrive and a training in Monterey street fighting has equipped him well for this kind of battle). He hurled rocks at them; he smashed at them with boards; and he even considered poisoning them. Eventually we did catch a few Sallys, but we think they were the halt and the blind, the simpletons of their species. With reasonably well-balanced and non-neurotic Lightfoots we stood no chance.

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Look! Little brown youngins!

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We got to witness the congress of two crabs. They approached either other and very slowly the female slid upside-down under the male where they hung out for a while. I have to say I may be pushing anthropomorphic qualities onto this but it totally looked like the female didn’t want to go through with it and the male was pressing down hard on her shoulders like, “Shhh, you’ll like it, get down there, don’t be a prude.” I was considering pulling the female out from under him and then chastising him (“No means no, Crab!”) but I decided not to meddle in the affairs of the Grapsus grapsus.

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Sea birds! Specifically pelicans and boobies. I learned that they plow into the surface of the water at crazy speeds because they dive-bomb into it. They have a gasket around their eyeballs to prevent damage from this intense impact and when those gaskets eventually fail, the bird goes blind and dies of starvation. Because Mother Nature is a mean beeyotch in case you had forgotten (see above crab rape).

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One of our first stops was a small blob of lava where a school of sardines had swum by so everybody was hanging out there. By everybody, I mean egrets, cranes, blue-footed boobies, pelicans, penguins and fur sea lions. It was amazing.

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Another place all the sea creatures were hanging out was at the small fish market on the main island. This poor woman was trying to run a business and she has this big furry sea lion begging like a dog and a group of giant demonic-looking pelicans watching her every move. Other sea lions hung out nearby but took the opportunity to nap at the feet of other tourists.

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Fur sea lions! They swam around us all over the place. They are actually light blonde but look dark brown when they are wet. You can tell how long they’ve been sitting on the beach sunbathing by how much of them is blonde. They are charming but judgmental. I was snorkeling at one point and a fur sea lion swum up to me, looked at me, made a gesture like, “Nah,” and swam away. I was like, “Hey, you don’t know me, I have many redeeming qualities if only you’d get to know me nevemind you’re gone.”

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A penguin parent guarding his penguin baby. It might help to know the penguins are a foot tall. They are super-wee and precious.

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Next entry: the end of my trip to the Galapagos.

South America 2015, Part 11.

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

More awesome beasties from the Galapagos! But first, plants!

In keeping with the weird and rough landscape, the flora is also weird and rough.

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For example, this hibiscus-type flower with stabby leaves.

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Hairy finger trees.

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Chestnuts maybe. Or 11th century maces. I have no idea.

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A shrub made entirely of pain.

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There are prickly pear cactuses everywhere. There was one growing in the middle of street.

I guess they drive around it.

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When the cactus doesn’t have any thorns it doesn’t look too good.

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However they look terrible with their thorns and whatever that crust is so it’s a bit of a lose-lose for these cactii.

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Finches! I know they are important and they have different beaks and that shows they make the natural selections, but to me they just look miffed and surly.

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Here’s a great picture my niece took of a plump yellow bird in the foreground with finches in the background.

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We visited a tortoisium (I seriously doubt that is its real name, I came up with that). Since humans introduced rats onto the islands the tortoise eggs are at risk of being eaten, so the eggs of the various tortoii are rescued and brought here to hatch. The tortoisium was created to prevent the same fate as Lonesome George. Lonesome George was the last of his kind and could not mate with any other type of tortoise so when he died a few years back it was a sad day. His body was shipped to the Museum of Natural History in New York where he will be mounted and put on display some time in the near future.We visited where he had lived.

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When the wee toi-tois reach the size of a lunchbox they are returned to their respective islands because once they get that big they have no predators. We saw many ones almost lunchbox-sized. They looked like little old grumples.

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You can appreciate how different the types of tortoises are. There are the very round ones I saw shortly after I arrived, but there are also the saddleback ones. Their shells are flatter and they have a large lip at the front.

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Sometimes you just gotta lay with all your limbs sticking straight out.

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“Uhhh, you lookin’ at something there, Bud? You wanna start something?”

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But the best thing we saw, possibly the best thing from the whole island experience, was meeting Donatello. When we were looking at a model of a tortoise egg (fun fact: you should not rotate tortoise eggs the way you would with chicken eggs, so when they are found in their little burrows information is written on the top of the egg and that always faces up) when I asked if there were any brand new baby tortoises we could meet. The keeper said there was one, born a month ago named Donatello. We were not allowed to touch him because we might give him mainland germs but we cooed over his tiny angry cuteness. So tiny. So angry.

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In keeping with the theme of animals who look disinterested and consumed with ennui, land iguanas!

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And finally for today, flamingos! Yep, they’re there. Here are some flamingos. The brown pointy things in the foreground are foraging ducks’ butts.

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Here’s another one.

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And another one. They were sparse but all over the place if that makes sense.

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Next entry: all the sea creatures. Crabs, birds, birds who eat crabs, and penguins.

South America 2015, Part 10.

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

 

More Galapagos! First, a cartoon I found that seemed pertinent:

16FOK

Now, before we delve into the Galapagos pics let me tell you a tale about the roughness of the ocean. I mentioned before that it wasn’t just choppy, it was insane. And I was on epic amounts of seasickness meds so at no point did I get sick. I did, however, bruise myself repeatedly getting thrown around our room. I thought it was cute that there was handicapped railings on every single wall but I grew to depend on them. As soon as we boarded I went to the room and to drop off the luggage. I decided to check out the latrine and as I was crouching to sit down the boat lurched violently and I was hurled face-first into the fiberglass shower wall like a cartoon character. So my fellow travelers and I learned quickly to plan movements when crossing the open plains of the main deck, for example. You would see people standing there holding on to the railing with that expression that Olympic athletes have before they push off on their bobsleds. They would breathe deeply and, when the moment was right, sprint quickly to their destination and grab on to something and hold on. It was living in an obstacle course. We were nowhere near lights so after dinner this elderly Norwegian gentleman named G and I liked to go up to the topmost deck and look at the sky in the hopes of seeing a falling star. (We did on the last night at sea. Very happy.) That means we would be up there when the anchor would get pulled up and we would start our nightly travels. The third night the captain miscalculated and we ended up getting caught in two currents battling it out. Not only was the boat swinging side to side but also front to back. G and I were just pleasantly sitting there when the boat tipped a bit too far and two legs of my lawn chair came off the ground. I grabbed G’s arm in time for the boat to go in the complete opposite direction and both of us to topple to the deck in a heap. I don’t know the last time you had a tall lumberjack of a man completely made of elbows and knees fall on top of you, but it is not the awesome sexy time you might think. My camera skittered away from me like a demon robot spider and G crawled over to grab it right before it fell overboard. You can imagine how often this top deck gets cleaned so we were both covered in grease and layers of seabird crap and who knows what else. I ended up crawling over to the stairwell where The Moomins magically appeared, wide-eyed and panicky, convinced I had been washed away. We struggled back to our room where I went into the bathroom, put the lid down on the toilet and sat down unmoving. The Moomins was like, “You’re covered in disgusting grime. Wash off all of that, get undressed and go to bed.” And I calmly said, “No.” The Moomins was confused. “Seriously, wash off the dirt all over you, take off those filthy clothes and go to bed. ” And responded with a peaceful, “No.” I realized later that I was freaking out but very peacefully if you can understand that. I figured I was going to die and I would like to sit quietly in this nice cool room and not move any part of myself ever again ever. That’s it. I sit in this bathroom now. This is my life. The Moomins gave up and went to bed and eventually I found the inner fortitude to wash my forearms (the part of me that bore the brunt of the deck-grot), get undressed and go to bed. The next morning we met at breakfast where Luis our guide told us he was very sorry for the previous night. I asked him to be honest with me and tell me how bad it really was. He said on a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being placid and 10 capsizing, we were at an 8. So if you think I’m exaggerating, I am not. People were thrown out of bed. It was real. The only benefit of this was at the end of the week when we flew on a small plane that needed to land in the Andes and there was excessive turbulence and we missed the runway and had to fly around and try again, normally I would be very unhappy and stressed out by this.  I was like, “Ehhh whatever. I almost joined the cast of Pirates of the Caribbean, this is nothing.”

Okay, pictures! Here we go.

Lava lizards. They’re everywhere. The males are avocado green. The females have a red face.

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One of the things I did not realize was the variety of land in the Galapagos. The islands really differ. Some islands are brown sand that has been carved by the wind.

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Some have red crumbly soil.

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There were different rock islands.

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It was fascinating. The islands I was most excited to see were the ones with lava. I was so psyched to walk on fields of lumpy rippled stone.

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That’s not the only type of lava though. There are the islands where the lava hit the ocean water and the ocean water bubbled and boiled and lava hardened and what you’re left with is razor-sharp lava blades. We went there too. I have never been so cautious while walking around in my life. I looked like the Pink Panther. It was scary. The white stuff you’re seeing is not bird poop. It’s a special kind of lichen that only grows on this evil scary lava.

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Peppered between the lava blades were groups of marine iguanas. They look EXACTLY like tiny Godzillas. They swim extremely well. On land it’s hard to tell if they’re dead or alive. They don’t really do anything. Their day seems to consist of predominantly laying around, unmoving and expressionless.

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The lava lizards are so common, they are like the mosquitoes of the islands. No one seems to notice them.

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Here is a fur sea lion sleeping nearby.

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With a lava lizard on it.

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Picture of above fur sea lion, a marine iguana and the terrifying lava blades. It’s a complete picture.

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I loved this picture. It makes me think of a gang from West Side Story.

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And this is Luis explaining to us about the marine iguanas who are laying in a big lump on in front of him.

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Here’s a field where, based on that sign, they come to lay their eggs.

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Here are a bunch of marine lizards eating algae off of a boat dock.

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And here they are lying in the middle of a walkway. I have been assured these guys are alive. I am still undecided.

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Coming up next: more beasties.