On Saturday the sixth of August 2011, I began a trip 25 years in the waiting. It is a journey that I have dreamed of doing since I was a child. I'm off to South America, specifically Peru & Bolivia with a relax at the end in Buenos Aires. To say I'm excited would be an understatement.

This journey began for me in 1985 when I lived in Port Lincoln. It was a beautiful summers day, the sun a rich golden warmth that eradicated the edge that lingers in people after Christmas and New Years. Children were everywhere frolicking along the foreshore and through the waters, jumping from the Jetty and enjoying all that could be from the day. The morning drew to afternoon and my sister and her friends started to wander further than my mother wanted them to. She sent me to bring them back closer to her view.

I stepped into the blue water lapping the shore, took a few steps into the pitiful surf, and fell. Electricity shot through my body, screamed into my skull, nerves became alive like never before. I yelled, but not understanding the pain, thinking it was probably just a stubbed toe, I reached into the water and pulled my foot free and into the air. My mind went white, my voice pierced the golden joy of summer, the water darkened, staining with the rich blood pouring forth from my foot, opened like a baguette.

During my stay at the hospital where they repaired my foot as best they can, I received a gift from my Grandmother. It was a calendar with pictures of places around the world. In the calendar I found two that I had to see – The Pyramids of Giza and Macchu Pichu. I have carried a picture of Macchu Pichu with me since then, and finally on the 21st of August 2011, I will be there after having hiked through the Andes for the previous three days.

Below are the entries for the Peruvian leg of this trip.

August 13 to 15 2011 - Arequipa, Chivay, Colca Canyon, Arequipa

A night bus from Nazca takes us across the country to Arequipa. An interesting thing to note about Peru, it seems almost everywhere is 8-10 hours by bus, it's a geographical anomaly. The bus is a double-decker, quite comfortable with reclining seats and a toilet downstairs. The night goes easily and the next morning we are in Arequipa, the White City.

Arequipa is beautiful, with many building made from Sillar, a pearly volcanic rock local to the area. When we arrived the city was preparing itself for a celebration. It was to be 471st birthday of the city. A number of the schools marched around the town square. Every city in Peru is based around the town square with a cathedral(s), a small garden area with a lawn you can't sit on, and often times a small market grows throughout the day and at night food vendors make their appearance.

Arequipa is also home to Juanita, at the Universidad Catolica De Santa Maria. Juanita is a remarkably well preserved mummy of a girl between the age of 11 and 15 who was sacrificed to a volcano atop Mount Ampato in the late 15th Century. Juanita was discovered in 1995 by an American expedition led by Dr Johan Reinhard and Peruvian climber Miguel Zarate. Juanita was incredible well preserved having only been discovered by the retreat of the glacier. Over the following years two more bodies would be discovered in the area.

Juanita was killed by a blow to the temple, although through scans and tests archaeologists confirm that she was in good health at the time of her death. To the Inca, human sacrifice involved only the best and most beautiful. They did not choose at random, and they did not practice it arbitrarily. Juanita was raised specifically to be a sacrifice, kept well fed and cared for. On her journey to the mountain in cotton sandals, she would have been fed well and given Chicha to drink and coca leaves to chew as well at to drink in tea. Juanita's story can be read in great detail in the 2005 publication by the Dr Johan Reinhard, The Ice Maiden.

In the museum with Juanita are a range of artefacts beautifully preserved. Most of the ceramic pieces are in pairs, and a number of incredible fabrics were found on the mountain, their colours incredibly well preserved. Unfortunately they do not allow photographs to be taken, so look up Mummy Juanita and see some images from the museum.

An interesting fact: The Inca kept the umbilical cord and placenta for the child to eat during times of illness to cure them. Interesting in that we now bank the blood from these to be used for medical applications at a later date.

Our group wandered the town, gathering a feel for it. We wandered the markets, discovering all manner of souvenirs which would taint us for most of our journey. Almost every city in Peru has a large market filled with all the same kinds of souvenirs, in fact many have exactly the same. After 20 shops of the same it becomes easy to be jaded by markets. I searched them all for the one souvenir I wanted from my journey, a new deity to add to my collection. There were literally thousands of icons to choose from, and not a single one sang to me.

The next morning we journeyed toward the Colca Canyon. Before leaving Arequipa, we needed to get supplies so stopped at a small shop. From this shop I bought a bag of Coca leaves. Coca leaves is the natural source of cocaine (average 0.8% of the content of a leaf) but has been utilised in South America for millennia and my guide tells me it is one of the reasons the Inca and pre-Inca civilisations were capable of producing some of their massive structures and other super-human feats as running 40 kilometres at high altitudes faster than marathon runners. The leaf contains several alkaloids besides cocaine which can suppress hunger, thirst, pain and fatigue. It also apparently assists people with altitude sickness. The strange thing about this plant is that if Cocaine wasn't an issue it would most likely be the most widely distributed herbal medication on the planet, but is instead restricted because of the 0.8% Cocaine. Go figure. The purchase of the leaves was for me to chew, to brew and to offer the Apus, Inti and Pachamama along my journey for their blessing.

The drive through the countryside was beautiful, vast majestic plains with graceful mountains, some capped with snow, some with the threat of eruption.

We stopped here and there to take pictures of the Andes prized camels – Llama (pack animal), Alpaca (Meat & Wool), and Vicuña (the most expensive wool in the world). Then we stopped at a small tourist truck-stop café where we had Coca tea. I had the 'triple' of coca leaves and two local herbs. It was delicious. This was our halfway point to Chivay, the town we would spend the night before rising early to see the Andean Condor.

At Chivay we checked into a lush hotel, far better than I was expecting and settled in. On the other side of the hotel there was a small walk up to an old fortification. I wandered over and got to the stairs that led to it. Believing in my own invincibility and believing the stair runs at work could prepare me I began bounding up the stairs as fast as I could. I reached the top and my lungs were heaving, burning at the exertion of running up maybe 30 metres of stairs. Then I remembered, I'm at 3600m and the air is a little thinner here. So I sat and tried to control my breathing. Paul (22), one of the people I am travelling with came up behind me.

“Tried to run up the stairs, huh?”

“Yeah” I gasped.

“Me too. Almost killed me”


I was glad that someone else had suffered the same fate, it made me feel not so bad at having nearly torn my lungs free, especially one over a decade younger who has never smoked.

The fortification was excellent, and I took some great shots from the top. We then walked around and saw some stone domes similar to an igloo in shape. Then we wandered along the paths that led to the Colca river. We reached the cliffs edge and the sight was impressive. An Inca bridge spanning the sheer cliff, shattered boulders lining the river below. We then walked back up to our hotel to meet the group and head to the hot springs to relax.

The hot springs are located about 3km from the town, and it's a nice walk first along the cliff then along the river. The hot springs are fed from a mountain flow and in the pools the temperature is around 38 degrees centigrade. Staying near the inlet is the hottest, but the entire pool is warm enough that you would not consider it tepid. Cocktails are served to the patrons and I ordered a Colca Sour. This drink is like the Pisco sour except they use a local cactus fruit similar to kiwi fruit but very sour.

We went to dinner that night at a quaint tourist restaurant where they had a local band on. The band played traditional post-colonial music and there were a couple of dancers as well. Part way through the dinner, they gathered a few people from the crowd, one from each group to make an offering to Pachamama and drink some Chicha. I made the offering and drank the Chicha, which was very nice.

After dinner we walked to the town square where the Celebration of the Virgin Mary was starting up. There was a parade, The square was filled by people celebrating and the parade was unique. In each of the corners of the square was an altar. The parade was made up of a people in traditional dress and musicians followed by the priests and a large display of the virgin carried by a number of men dressed in black.

This struck me as being odd, here was Catholicism blended with traditional pagan iconography. Peru has managed to integrate both of its sides into one harmonious structure. By day the Peruvians are Catholic, by night Quechua.

People danced in the streets and drank copious amounts of alcohol. It was a good party.

In the morning, we rose early and drove to the Colca canyon. The Colca Canyon is the deepest surface canyon on the planet, reaching 4000m at its deepest, although the sides are not as steep as the Grand Canyon. At the section we arrived at, it was only 1km deep, but that's all you need for the Condor.

Walking down to the lowest viewing platform, I was struck by the same awe I felt when I arrived at Indian Peak in the Grand Canyon. It was stunning, the colours of the canyon seemed like a freshly painted backdrop more than reality. I gazed for about 5 minutes at the sight before I saw my first condor.

The Andean Condor is large, majestic and endangered. The Andean condor is of the new world vulture family, and is a carrion eater. At its largest, the wingspan is 3.2m making it the largest land bird capable of flight. One of the reasons for it being endangered is that each year a mature adult will lay a single egg. Another is habitat loss and tainted food supply. The condor is quite specific regarding food and as such it is easy for it to suffer secondary poisoning due to carcasses left by hunters. The condors design is a little strange in that its talons are largely straight and blunt, adapted for walking rather then gripping. This also leads towards its inability to gather carrion as it is unable to grip its food and take it to safety, rather it must eat where the food dies.

Over the course of the next hour, there were four condors in the sky, gracefully drifting on wind currents, seemingly for our benefit. A Quechua man was playing his flute, trying to summon them, and the music added an extra ambience to the sight. The beauty of seeing a condor in flight will stay with me for decades to come.

That afternoon, we returned to Arequipa, the sights lingering in our minds.

In Arequipa, we were forced to leave our bus early. It seemed that the city had erupted into full party mode, celebrating the 471st birthday of their city, and the street that our hotel was on was right in the middle of it. We struggled through 3 blocks of packed streets, with people dressed in all manner of costume – traditional Quechua, Inca, colonial, dance costumes, school uniforms, everything they could think of. It took around 30 minutes but we made it, checked in then went to the balcony to watch the spectacle.

A few of our crew decided to go for coffee but Paul and I opted to stay and watch from the balcony. Ten minutes later we thought to go join them and see this parade from the street. It was absolute chaos. Even without our packs it was hard going, and after making it to the first side street opted to go around to the corner where the coffee shop in question was located. The crowd was so dense it seemed impossible to cross into the parade let alone the crowd on the other side. After a few attempts, a local girl promised to get us in for a kiss on the cheek. I complied and found myself in the road. Trying to get out the other side was a different story. A couple of other local girls offered the same to get me through but failed to fulfil their end of the bargain once they had received their kiss on the cheek. It was then I noticed an arch guarded by a police officer who ushered us through. We then had only 3m to go to get to the store. It still took 15 minutes.

Inside we had coffee and waited for the others to arrive. They didn't so we thought we'd check out the extent of the parade. It was massive. The parade consumed the road of our hotel, then entire town square and another street stretching off into the distance. Most of the side streets had turned into mini-malls of food vendors and souvenir sales. Being we were now on the wrong side of the parade to return to our hotel, we began looking for a way to breach the crowd and get to other side again. It was like living a crazy joke. For around twenty blocks we tried and failed to cross. We could see the arches but couldn't reach them. Finally, we doubled back to the block closest to our hotel. After a few hours navigating the city we came to the intersection closest to our hotel. It took a bit of effort to get in the middle, this time no kissing, and we were in. Then straight up to our hotel and over the crowd.

We had made it back. So, we sought out the rest of our crew and could only find Nathan, then headed back out into the melee for dinner.

The party continued on until after midnight, with much the same enthusiasm if only slightly diminished crowds. Peru knows how to celebrate.

The next morning we flew out to Cuzco.




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August 12 2011 - Nazca

NAZCA, is a town of approximately 60,000 people, with the primary industries being mining, tourism and agriculture. Mining has boomed over the last 3 years with the Nazca - Brazil Highway project, and in order of importance, they mine Copper, Iron, Gold, and Quartz. The mining has increased the cost of living and commerce here and has begun to increase the distance between rich and poor (there is no middle class here in Peru).

Farming in this district faces a major issue regarding water. The majority of its water supply is flow on from the wet season in the Highlands and the aquifer. As such it is dependant on a good rain season to support its crops of Cotton, Chickpeas, Butter Beans, Gold Corn (animal feed), White Corn (eating), Black Corn (drinking – Chicha Morada), Pumpkins, Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Watermelons. The farmers use a range of mulch and drip water systems to maximise the water they have access too and maintain their crops for the longest season.

Dried seaweed is a new enterprise for the area, attempting to cash in on the dry environment and the recently released lands. The seaweed gets sold overseas to manufacturers of fertiliser and cosmetics. It's early days, but the hope is for expansion due to the cheap labour and supply.

Another industry that is expanding is based around the Prickly Pear Cactus, which is used to trap the parasitic Cochineal Beetle which provides a red dye prized by the textile and cosmetics industries and once was a primary food colouring. These beetles get a very good price on the market and Peru hopes to get a larger share of that market.

Nazca is also home to the largest sand dune in the world, Cerro Blanco, 2080m high, 9km wide. It stands high against the sky, a mountain of sand.

Nazca is full of wide roads (for Peru) packed with cars driving to destinations unknown and taxis honking for fares. The streets are alive with commerce, women selling fresh bread from carts, fresh fruit stores hawking their wares, and randomly a DVD salesman with a portable screen and speaker trying to attract children to get parents to buy his product.

Our little group needed to get some supplies so we walked around town exploring. It is here I realised I should really have learnt more Spanish, or rather any Spanish at all.

Chauchilla Cemetery is an archaeological sight located just outside Nazca from a pre-Inca civilisation. It strikes me that my understanding of this region is quite low, as in the books I have read and what little school taught regarding this land, very little of it beside the Inca myths (which are mostly Quechua) has any relevance. For example, the books refer to the Inca and pre-Inca peoples. What they should tell you is of the great diversity of peoples that were pre-Inca, and vastness of their accomplishments prior to Inca establishing their massive empire. The Nazca were one such civilisation and so are the Ica Chauca. The mummification processes they used and the structure of their burial chambers show very complex funerary practices.

The cemetery is 1km long and 250m wide and contains between 400-500 tombs. Excavations were started in 1996 and sadly most of the graves were empty, having been robbed over the preceding centuries. Currently there are 12 tombs open and available for viewing by the public. The area surrounding the open tombs is littered with debris left by grave robbers, small bones and desiccated fabrics, things that they saw no wealth in. The remaining tombs contain as much as was left and are laid out to allow the public the best view and understanding of these peoples and their practices.

The first tomb contains a mummy sitting foetal in a woven cotton basket facing the east, complete with hair and teeth, but sadly the fine alpaca and vicuña fabrics have been stolen as well as the gold adornments and ceremonial bowls and other items of wealth.

In the Ica Chauca culture, the royals elongated their heads, beginning at childhood with binding placed around the skull, and through early life until the skull growth was of the right shape to continue. In this way the royalty ensured their visual differences from the commoner. Binding is interesting in that it occurs amongst societies across the world, and it makes you wonder where and how they got the idea for it. These skulls have been especially looted as they fetch a very good price on the black antiquities market.

The next tomb includes a baby, wrapped in cotton. The baby, the same as the adults, would have been wrapped in fine textiles but would not have had the same level of physical wealth as the adults, but was still in the foetal position facing the rising sun. Once more the tomb has been looted.

Another tomb contained a shaman or other powerful figure, this was marked by dreadlocks over 1 ½ metres in length. Other tombs still contained eyes in their sockets, the skin stretched over fingers, or curled back over the face. In many ways people would find this grotesque, but in a few centuries our descendants will most likely be doing it to our graves and wondering at the bizarre funerary practices we used.

The Ica Chauca chose this place specifically for the properties of the area. Their mummification process involves keeping the entire body intact, unlike some other cultures that remove the internal organs. This area has a very high salt content, combined with the dry sand and low moisture means excellent preservation of the body. To mummify, the body would first be washed, then salted to dehydrate, then covered with herbs and resin to preserve. The body would then be wrapped in Cotton to absorb the excess liquid, then dressed according to their station. The body would then be placed in the cotton basket, weaved in a spiral to symbolise eternity, with a range of leaves and herbs at the bottom to keep moths from infesting. Over time the fluids would pool at the bottom and mix with the sand, which shows us where the bodies would have been.

The tombs themselves were excavated as rooms. The wealthy dead were the more elaborate with inner and outer mud brick walls, a roof made with wooden branches as cross beams, thatch of mud and leaves, then sand around 50cm thick. The wealthy were buried deeper, with the roof still at the same height, whilst the poor were shallower with no walls.

It was a fascinating experience.

Nazca Pottery; We visited a local ceramics store. The owner/operator was trained by his father-in-law who was a Grand Master of the Nazca style of pottery keeping the traditional method alive. Nazca pottery differs from Ica Chuauca in that Nazca pieces appear glossy decades and even centuries after they have been made. Our host talked us through a rough guide to the process.

He uses Andean clay, which he makes himself. He collects the clay and puts in a container with water for 30 days, then filters it. He then mixes in sand to get the right consistency.

He then starts to mould it. All pieces are made by hand, gently sculpted and spun on a Nazca ceramic wheel. Once the right shape has been made, he sun bakes the piece then polishes and paints. Nazca is only painted in oxides and he makes all of his own paints, gathering the ingredients and mixing them to his own specific recipe. The brushes are made from baby hair because of how fine it is. He has a range of sizes to achieve the necessary lines. Once the piece is painted he fires it in his traditional Kiln at around 900 degrees centigrade over night. The pieces are in the centre of the kiln with a ceramic cover over the firing area, covered by the heated carbon. This heating binds the oxides to the clay creating a permanent stain. After the pieces are cooled, they are stone polished, with the oil from the skin closing the pores then laid in the sun for 3-4 days. A quick wash and dry and the piece is perfect.

The designs used here are only traditional Nazca, taken from countless archaeological relics and images and replicated meticulously. Nazca pieces are almost always pairs, for ceremonial, decorative and domestic use. The pieces are quite stunning and when you compare the artefact with the replica, the colours are barely distinguishable, the only difference you notice is that the replica is whole. It is a stunning process, and well worth looking into experience when you visit Nazca.

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August 10 to 11 2011 - Pisco & Nazca

We take a public bus from Lima, filled with Peruvians travelling to the countryside, the ride takes us from Central through to the highway. The suburbs in between are blends of old, new, half demolished, modern and despairing. Construction is everywhere, even throughout the poor districts. At times the poverty is heartbreaking, then you see a beggar with a mobile phone, and you realise that this is a city bursting at the seems to be modern against all the trials of a developing economy, struggling against decades of corruption. Unemployment is over a third of the population, apparently a few years ago it was closer to half if not more of the population. Last month there were elections in Peru, a chance to change for the better. The Peruvians I have spoken to are divided. Some believe this will be a great opportunity while others believe that this is going to be just more of the same as before.

The country side driving south is sand and rock, a desert with green blushes periodically. Many would find it inhospitable, but life clings and thrives amongst the wastes with agricultural ingenuity.

Along the drive, our guide Ali, chooses to correct some misinformation we may have regarding the people of Peru. The first one is that the people called Inca are actually Quechua. The Inca were the kings while the Quechua are the people of the land. Quechua is still a living language and we will meet quite a few people who use it as their primary language and Spanish as their second. When we get to Titicaca, we will need Quechua mostly as they are very traditional people.

We arrive in Pisco in the early evening, and wander through the small seaside town. It is a quaint town offering little besides restaurants and access to the Ballestas Islands, a group of islands that is a wildlife preserve, scheduled for the morning.

When we wake, we make our way to the tour office for our trip. Apparently there has been some bad weather and the Government has cancelled access to islands in the name of safety. We are given the option of driving to a national park where we can see other animals or continue early onto the winery where they make Pisco. If we go to the winery early, it means we will be at the Ica sand dunes for sand-boarding earlier. The group opts for Pisco and sand-boarding.

It's a short drive to the winery, Bodega Dona Juanila, where we are given a guided tour of the winery. The winery practices companion planting with its grapes, growing bananas and papaya. In April, the winery (and all the wineries in the region) host a party to crush the grapes and make the Pisco. It is here we are told that Quechua people are mostly alcoholics who enjoy any excuse to drink and party. They are devout Catholics while the sun is up, but pure Quechua when the sun goes down.

Pisco is a brandy distilled from freshly squeezed and pulped fruit rather than matured wine. It is also fermented in ceramic conical containers and must remain organic without any additives or preservatives, although sometimes other fruits are added to create special blends. It is fascinating to listen to the guide talk you through the very traditional techniques as well as highlight the failures to modernise the process.

When the tour is over, we are taken to the bar for a tasting. There are six to try, and the flavour difference between them is astounding. The Piscos were:

  • Pisco Sour
  • Vino Rose
  • Vino Perfecto Amor
  • Pisco Puro Torontel
  • Pisco Acholado
  • Fina Crema Con Pisco

All the Piscos were quite strong, sitting around the 40% alcohol mark, although the flavours were such that the alcohol didn't override on most. For me the Rose really stood out as a sweet intoxicating beverage, so I bought one to take home.

I learned something regarding the Wine Industry in Peru. There are quite a few Pisco wineries around but there are far more vineyards. Most of the vineyards are leased by Chilean companies for the production of Chilean wine because the Peruvians do not have the capital to support their own industry. Most of the leases are for 30 years and the Chileans get major concessions for this, so much so that the majority of money made from the production of these wines goes abroad ensuring that Peru will not be able to establish itself properly in the market. It's quite a shame really, as the grapes produced here are quite exceptional and give Chilean wine a lot of its character. If some rich person wanted to help the Peruvians get a god start they would set up a sustainability project here, leasing land for grapes, building the proper facilities and offer world class training to the locals with a goal of establishing a world class Peruvian wine, that could grow and offer independence to the people. It could be built as a community project, that would remain the property of the community afterwards, with the profits used to raise the community and help grant them financial independence.

After the Pisco shots, we made our way to the Sand Dunes at Ica.

Now this was a highlight. We all piled into a Dune Buggy, myself at the front and started tearing our way across the dunes. The buggy roared it's way up the dunes, carved wide arcs across their crests and plunged into the hollows between. The speed was exhilarating, and the adrenaline built steadily in all of us as we made our way through the dunes to the first of our boarding sites. We reached the top of the dune and disembarked. Our driver pulled the sand boards out of the back and began waxing them. The sand-boards look much like snow boards, with Velcro straps for front and rear foot holds. The first slope was quite steep and our driver told us that this one would be lying down.

Here's how you prepare for a face first slide down a dune:

  1. Wax your board
  2. Lay down flat on the board, grip the front foot straps with your hands
  3. Tuck your elbows in and rest them on the board
  4. Have your feet and legs in-line with the board
  5. Be pushed off the crest
  6. Open your legs and raise them slightly for speed
  7. Steer with the weight of your legs – higher or lower on each side
  8. Brake with your feet, if you must

It is intoxicating, and you build up quite a speed. I have some video which I will post when I get back home as I have no way of converting it here into a file that will upload and be played easily.

One at a time we fly down the slope, each cheering at the speed we reached and each other. Once down, we run to the next summit. Our driver gets the buggy and drives away. At the top, Mads and myself decide that we are going to try standing up for this one. Mads goes first and does a zigzag down, trying to maintain control, and reaches the bottom having experienced a few nice speeds.

For myself, I think, how much different can this be to snow-boarding? So, knowing I'm going to stack hardcore, I strap in, position myself for a straight downhill run and go. I make it a short way and have to lift the front of the board out of the sand, then go again – fast, quickly digging myself in again, before the world goes cyclic – round and around, direction loses meaning as I catapult myself through the sand. My board is strapped to my feet and I feel it catching sand a few times before I stop. Awesome! That was my best stack ever, and by far one of the most fun.

For the next hour we board two more slopes, before our driver asks: "One More? A Big One?"

We of course say yes, and he drives us to a massive downhill. The photos I took probably don't show the scale of it, but it was huge. I set my camera to sports mode and took enough pictures that I can create a gif when I get home to show the scale and speed.

When we had finished our awesome final downhill, our driver ripped across the dunes once more, gradually taking us back to the village to have lunch and lounge by the pool. A thing to take not of, is that Peru has some of the biggest sand dunes in the world. From Nazca, not too far away, there is a Sand Dune that qualifies as a mountain.

After lunch we drove onward to Nazca, into the hills the road swerves drastically in short curves and hairpins, long wide corners next to sheer cliffs with epic views of the valley then down into the plains and onto the highway to Nazca stretching long into the distance. Planes swoop low, lilting side to side to offer a view to their passengers of the lines not visible from the ground. Halfway through the stretch is a small lookout. Here you can pay 2 Sols to climb and see two of the Nazca lines: The Hands, and The Tree. They are impressive to behold, but really are just patterns in the dirt, be it very old patterns. The wind in the lookout is moderate, but when you reach the ground the wind is negligible, in fact it is pretty much non existent below one foot. Therefore, the wind doesn't destroy the patterns.

Onwards into the town of Nazca, and to our hotel. A relaxing evening before the next day's activities.

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