A mountain of fun despite never finding our destination

Marilyn, from left, Pat and Judy point to where we should go. No one knew for sure. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Some of the best adventures are misadventures.

“I’ve seen this before.” We all said it more than once. We were wrong each time. Another U-turn.

Our destination was Marco the pottery guy who lives and works in the mountains near Todos Santos. Two of the four of us had been there before. They were our driver and navigator. Our directions were to make all lefts except the one right at the sign. We never saw a sign. We never saw Marco. We all should take an orienteering class.

Arroyos look the same after a while. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It didn’t matter. It turned out to be an incredibly fun day driving around the Sierra de la Laguna mountains. It was a bit disconcerting that one dirt road looked like another, as did other markers like buildings, retaining walls and the flora. Everything looked different and the same.

We asked more than one person we stumbled upon to direct us to Marco. No luck. Some had no idea who he was, some tried to help. These are ranchers who live in the mountains. Cow bells alerted us to the livestock not far off the road. Other times we slowed down to let them move along.

The meaning of a saddle hanging in the middle of what seems like nowhere remains a mystery. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I never felt truly lost, though it was alarming that the two in the front seats thought they saw the Sea of Cortez when it was the Pacific Ocean. When they first said this I thought they were joking because I knew we hadn’t traversed across the mountains, we hadn’t gone that far east. The fact they were this disoriented meant they thought we were going north when we were going south and vice versa.

These two were also the fluent Spanish speakers – adding more intrigue to the sojourn.

With an eye on the gas gauge, it was time to ask how best to get back to the highway. We made it – just not the way we came in.

A couple ranchers help direct the gringas back to the highway. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We had worked up an appetite, so off to lunch we went at Hierbabuena in Pescadero. A bottle of wine was necessary to toast to a fun day, even though our original intent got thwarted.

After lunch we decided to head to the ranchero store in Todos Santos to see if any of Marco’s work was for sale. Nope. All gone. We also learned Marco wasn’t at home that day so it really didn’t matter that we never found him. We were told we could come back the second Saturday in February for the festival at the ranchero store that would feature several local artisans. I got there too late. Marco’s work was sold-out in the first 20 minutes. I just might not be destined to own any of his pottery.

Art walk in San Jose del Cabo like a treasure hunt

Even the old doors at a store are like art. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Art was in every direction while meandering along the cobblestones of downtown San Jose del Cabo, including inside the stores.

Every Thursday during the busy season several streets in the art district are closed to vehicle traffic so people can more easily stroll through the galleries, stores, restaurants and other businesses.

Those without a shop peddle their wares along the sidewalks, with the bulk being in Plaza Mijares. (The main plaza is named after Manuel Mijares, who was a war hero.)

One doesn’t have to know much about a specific art form to appreciate the work. There is something for everyone – from photography to painting, jewelry, baskets, sculpture, blown glass and so much more.

The art walk is Thursdays in downtown San Jose del Cabo. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

An advantage to an evening like this is often being able to meet the maker of the art. This is an opportunity to delve into the backstory of a piece of art, to understand better how an idea became reality, and the work involved to create it. Photographer Bruce Herman had an array of photographs for sale on the far side of the plaza away from the church. An incredible shot of a baby Baja turtle captured several people’s attention. Asked if he had more turtles, he said he stopped shooting when he got the best one. So, no, would be the short answer. It’s stunning.

The concept of this walk is the brainchild of the 12-member Gallery District Association. It started more than a decade ago.

Allowing only pedestrian traffic on several streets gives it a more intimate feel.

It’s not just the art galleries that are eager to have people visit. All the shops throw open their doors, benefiting from the people sauntering by. Often musicians are playing, with traditional Mexican dancers known to put on a show as well. Restaurants are crowded. It would be wise to have a reservation on Thursdays.

A woman surrounded by traditional Mexican fabric goods looks down on the streets of San Jose. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • Every Thursday from November-June, 5-9pm.
  • Start at the main square and walk from there.
  • Part of the main street, Obregon, is closed as well as a few side streets. Parking can be difficult, so arrive early.

Baja home to world’s largest salt operation

The world’s largest salt plant is in Guerrero Negro, Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Salt isn’t just for seasoning food. It has about 14,000 industrial uses – including making detergents with chlorine compounds, deicers for roads, soluble cutting oil, latex, and paper products.

The 8.5 million tons of salt that comes from the plant in Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, Mexico, is mostly used by Mitsubishi, which owns 49 percent of the company. The Mexican government owns 51 percent of ESSA. The odd thing about this arrangement is that the minority shareholder is the largest client.

Micro-organisms naturally turn the salt ponds a rose color. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It is the largest salt making facility in the world, having started in the 1950s by a private individual. It covers 86,500 acres of land. Nine percent of the world’s salt comes from the plant. Most of this salt is for industrial purposes.

Jorge, who leads tours of the facility, said part of the area was natural salt flats before it became industrialized. Daily, 27,000 tons of salt are harvested. This takes a workforce of about 1,500 people.

This pile of washed salt is about 500,000 tons. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Water from the Pacific Ocean is pumped into the various ponds to a depth of more than 1½ feet. About 700 million tons of water is used each year. Some of the ponds look as though they’ve been dyed a rose extract. In truth, the coloring is from a single-cell organism known as halobacteria.

The air and sun combine to evaporate the water. Left behind is the salt. Standing in a dry pond ready to be cleared of salt it is like being in a field of snow. The bright sun made glasses and sunscreen necessary. Chunks of the salt were like small blocks of ice, only not cold. Some resembled rock salt that could be used in a homemade ice cream maker.

Salt is scooped from a pond into a truck where it is then taken to a washing area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In an operation that resembles clearing roads of snow, a grader sucks up the salt to deposit it into a massive truck with three storage compartments. From there it is taken to the washing facility. Conveyor belts deliver the cleaned product to a large mound that eventually ends up on a boat headed to Japan.

While in some respects the salt business is a natural occurrence, on the other hand it is an environmental nightmare. The operation is now located in a United Nation’s biosphere reserve. This area of the Pacific Ocean is where whales give birth and birds call the region home, along with other species. However, on a tour last year, birds were non-existent on the 72 ponds.

Vintage piano collection in Baja Sur a relic from 1800s

An array of pianos are on display at the Museo de la Musica in El Triunfo. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

If only all that ivory could tell stories. What sweet music did they once play? Was it mostly love songs, classics, jazz or something edgy? Whose fingers caressed them?

It takes a bit of imagination to think of these relics as something more than dusty pianos in a pseudo museum in the middle of Baja California Sur. In the literal sense, that is what they are – old pianos on display for 20 pesos (about $1) in the town of El Triunfo at the Museo de la Musica. But what were they like in their heyday?

There was a time when El Triunfo was a bustling mining town of more than 10,000 people. (Today there is just more than 300.) Music in the 1800s, like today, was a way to unwind after the work was done. Some of the pianos date back to then. The building is also from the 19th century. Europeans and Asians came here to work, some trying to get rich in the silver mines. They brought their culture, which included their music and instruments.

An array of instruments beyond the pianos is a lesser part of the museum display. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Museo de la Musica, which opened in December 2003, has an organ, horn and string instruments, and old records to complement the pianos.

One display says in English, “Monarck piano: Manufactured in 1880, appertaining to Verdugo family. This piano was kept (covered and hidden) by fear to the revolutionary army that was in a war from 1910. Stayed hidden along five years, and later was rescued and gotten ready to play again.”

A Wagner from 1937, a Steinway from 1857, a Wurlitzer – are all part of the display. The latter was donated by Carmen Romano de Lopez Portillo, first lady of Mexico from 1976-82.

A Cuadrilongo Steinway from 1857 is part of the collection in El Triunfo. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Some pianos are simple, some more elaborate. With a little care, the wood could shine again. Fully restored, a single piano could be worth six figures in U.S. dollars. Most keys need some attention. Undoubtedly they all need tuning. While it’s understandable the public is asked not to touch these artifacts, a little attention might bring them back to life. More information would be helpful to understand their history.

Next to the display room is a concert hall of sorts with a grand piano on a stage three steps up from the main floor that is filled with folding chairs set for an audience. The museum on occasion hosts concerts. No schedule was available.

So much potential exists to make this museum a destination instead of an afterthought, especially with it being on the main road through town.

El Triunfo embraces the riches of its mining history

Note: This story has been updated since it was first published on Jan. 4, 2019.

The mining museum in El Triunfo is a treasure worth exploring. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Driving through El Triunfo it’s hard to believe this was once the largest town in Baja California Sur. Today there are about 300 residents. In its heyday in the late 1800s there were more than 10,000 miners. They came from the United States, Europe and China to strike it rich in the gold and silver mines.

Like so many mines of yesteryear, when the work was gone, so were the people. (The town was first settled in the 1500s.)

A series of mines once dotted the landscape. Today the major visible remnants of the past are the two smokestacks.

Mine carts from the 1800s. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

For the past few years there has been a concerted effort to bring the history of El Triunfo to life. It started with a private-public partnership to restore the nearly 155-foot-tall smokestack known as La Romana, while the other brick edifice is called Julia. While people claimed La Romana was designed by Gustav Eiffel, that has since been proved false. A sign near the base has been erected to help erase the myth. In part it says, “… there is no record of this structure in the Eiffel archives in France.”

The Museo Ruta de Plata (Silver Route Museum) that opened in November 2018 tells the story of this pueblo from 1750-1930. Interactive displays, oral stories by local residents, photographs, and stagnant artifacts spill forth in what becomes an interesting history lesson. Information is in Spanish and English.

The smokestacks in El Triunfo are stable after being restored. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Watching the short film (also available in both languages) is a good launching point for the main exhibit hall that is across the grounds.

The demise of mining in Baja California Sur is in part tied to the United States. The passage of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1890 saw the price of silver go from $1.16 per ounce to 69 cents. The legislation was eventually repealed in 1893. By that time, though, the effects were felt in Mexico, too.

The mining museum opened in 2018. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Mexican miners also had to contend with other economic travails, devastating hurricanes, and the remote location of their spoils. Most mines in the Baja California Sur area had closed by 1920.

Since the museum opened, a trail to the smokestack and other remains has been created. It’s a fairly easy walk, with good signage. Informative panels in Spanish and English explain more history not contained at the museum. “The chimney was designed to achieve high temperatures for the wood fires used to process silver and gold, and to disperse toxic smoke away from the valley’s inhabitants to reduce public health risks.”

No inscriptions are on the tombs at the English cemetery in El Triunfo. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A tour of one of the mines is available, though a minimum of four people is required. This is arranged by calling the number on the sign outside the locked gate and waiting 10 minutes. With only two of us there that day, we didn’t get to go inside. We did keep walking the path that led to a wonderful view of the smokestacks and town. Headed in the other direction is the English cemetery, with large above ground structures and no markings to know who rests there. Chinese and Mexican graveyards are on the other side of town.

While mining may seem to be in the past, the resurrection of mines and exploration of new ones continues in Baja Sur. Mexico City-based Invecture Group with Vancouver, British Columbia-based Frontera Mining Company owns the Los Cardones open-pit gold mine near Todos Santos. The project has been in and out of the court system because of its environmental documents. Many locals are opposed to the project, fearing what it will do to the landscape, the flora and fauna in the sensitive and protected biosphere of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains, and the eventual impact to the town’s water supply that originates in those mountains.


Map of El Triunfo (Image: Google Maps)

Deets:

  • From Todos Santos, take Highway 19 toward La Paz. Take Highway 1 toward El Triunfo. (It’s well marked.) The highway goes through town. The museum is on Calle Ayuntamiento.
  • Closed Tuesdays. Open 10am-5pm.
  • Cost: non-residents 100 pesos, BCS residents 75 pesos. Annual memberships available and other pricing based on age.
  • Website
  • Restaurant and gift shop onsite.

El Faro a beacon for those seeking relaxation in Baja

Sue relaxes in the pool at El Faro as she looks out to the Pacific Ocean. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Traditional chaise lounge? Chair resembling a bird cage for two or for one to stretch out in? Swinging cabana on the beach comfy enough to nap away the afternoon? Secluded chairs in the corners? Dining area? Float in the pool? Cement chair in the water in front of the bar? Those were the difficult decisions to be made – deciding where to hang out.

Resort-style lounging without the expense or the need to be in overcrowded, pricy Los Cabos. That’s what El Faro is all about.

Veterans of El Faro who got there before us knew to stake out multiple locations, including the front row at the pool. No problem. We learned quickly, taking chaise lounges in the second of two rows and a bird cage by the pool.

As we were getting comfortable a waiter brought us a menu and took our drink order. Pampered is what this day felt like, even without a massage. Attentive staff made sure our needs were met without being intrusive. No pressure to order anything. The only thing to do was relax, read a book, wonder what the rest of the world was doing.

Ample umbrellas provided relief from the hot sun.

The pool is perfect for cooling off on a warm Baja day. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While the pool is inviting, it is on the cool side. Too chilly to sit in the water at the bar.

It was the cabana on the beach that was the most difficult to leave. I would have gladly paid someone to gently push this bed of sorts to make it swing. The waves rippling onto the sand chased away all other sound. Add the slight breeze and canopy, sleep would have been an option had it been earlier in the day. Next time I would spend more time here; plus, it was away from the smokers.

It was the chain smoking Europeans who chased me away from El Faro. The pool area should be non-smoking, with smoking as far away from the majority of people as possible.

For 300 pesos (about $15) people can spend all day at this beach club and spa. Cost includes a towel, the pool and private beach, though this section of the Pacific Ocean is not recommended for swimming. Spa treatments are closer to U.S. prices so we passed on that option. No lodging exists here, though it is tied to Guaycura Boutique Hotel in Todos Santos. Those staying at the hotel may use El Faro’s amenities for free.

While reservations are encouraged, there is no guarantee of a poolside lounge chair – or any cushy seating. A good reason to get there early.

What can add up is the food/bar tab. Only water is allowed in from the outside. The margaritas were good, but cost more than at most restaurants in town. Sue indulged in the scallop tostada, saying it was yummy. I would recommend the French fries, which for those who know me, says a lot.

The view of El Faro, which means lighthouse, from the beach. (Image: Kathryn Reed)


Deets:

Cruise ship industry an economic driver in Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, continues to grow as a destination for cruise ships. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It seems like most days there is a huge cruise ship anchored in the bay at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. While there are days without a ship, they are becoming fewer.

In 2018, the port at Cabo San Lucas saw just more than 431,000 cruise ship passengers. This compares to five years earlier when the number was just less than 186,000.

Some of the ships having Cabo as a port of call include Royal Princess, Carnival Miracle, Seabourn Soujourn, MS Eurodam, Disney Wonder and Norwegian Bliss.

The ships are big money for this sector of Baja California Sur.

“For the entire 2014-15 cruise year, the estimated 211,410 cruise passengers who visited Cabo San Lucas spent a total of $18.2 million (U.S.) in Cabo San Lucas,” according to Business Research & Economic Advisors. That same year the 41,100 crewmembers who visited Cabo spent about $2 million.

Business Research & Economic Advisors conducted surveys of passengers and crew to ascertain the data for various cruise locations. While Cabo is growing in popularity with the cruising public, the Caribbean remains the No. 1 destination in the world.

The firm studied 35 ports in 2014-15, discovering that “cruise tourism generated $3.16 billion in direct expenditures, 75,050 jobs and $976 million in employee wages.” The report goes on to say, “The $22.4 million in total cruise tourism expenditures in Cabo San Lucas generated direct employment of 373 residents of Cabo San Lucas paying $2.5 million in annual wages.”

The area benefits from cruise ships paying port fees, taxes, needing navigation services, utilities and supplies. Collectively, the ships in 2014-15 spent $2.2 million in Cabo.

Those opting for a ship with a stop in Cabo are mostly from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada; with the average age being 59, and more than half being older than 65. Average income is $104,500. This is all data from Business Research & Economic Advisors for the 2014-15 season.

Passengers in Cabo must take a tender to shore. There is no cruise terminal at the dock, as is common in other locales. Passengers come out at the marina where they are confronted by an array of entrepreneurs hawking their wares or offering excursions.

Ninety percent of the passengers and 33 percent of crewmembers in 2014-15 got off the ship in Cabo to visit the area. The study found that they spent $22.4 million on “cruise tourism expenditures.” Most of the money was spent on shore excursions, food and beverages, watches and jewelry, and clothing. Most of the excursions are in the Los Cabos area, but some ships offer bus trips to Todos Santos for the day. While there are organized outings by the ships like scuba diving, plenty of people put together their own excursions.

Roller coaster heaven at California Great America

Screaming. It’s what riding a roller coaster is all about. That exhilaration when it drops suddenly as though it’s in a free fall, or turns upside down again and again making it impossible to know where the sky or ground should be.

I don’t know when I rode my first roller coaster, but the last time is fresh in my memory. It was last month for my birthday. It had been years, probably decades, since I was last at California Great America in Santa Clara. It used to be a place I would visit most every year when growing up in the East Bay. (It opened in 1976.) Darla and I would run from ride to ride. We stopped to play the games of chance. One year we each won a huge stuffed animal. Not sure whose parents were driving that day, but we managed to fit our winnings into the vehicle.

Gold Striker is a wooden roller coaster with present-day twists and trills. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In September, I was there with Sue, a self-proclaimed non-lover of roller coasters. Still, she was a trouper. Had it been up to her, we would have stuck to the water rides and the 4D holographic journey. Both were fun, but they aren’t adrenaline pumping, oh my gawd that was so outrageous let’s do it again rides. Rip Roaring Rapids was a must-do on Sue’s list. Oh, my, the before and after pictures are telling. Dry in the first, soaked in the second. The other two people in this oversized inner tube of sorts were also wet as we disembarked.

Don’t be fooled by Gold Striker. Even though it’s wooden, it’s modern. It opened in 2013 and to this day remains the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in Northern California. Every year it has been named one of the world’s Top 10 roller coasters by Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards. If you like the Giant Dipper at Santa Cruz, you will definitely want to ride Gold Striker. It goes 53.7 mph, with a height of 108.2 feet.

Kae and Sue on Rip Roaring Rapids — the before (dry) and after (wet).

While Sue indulged me on this birthday outing, the photos of us on the rides clearly showed who was having more fun and who was more scared. I was all smiles; she never had her eyes open.

It’s hard to decide which coaster was my favorite. All are different in their twists and turns, whether it’s more or less jarring, if feet are suspended or inside the cage.

The first ride of the day I did alone – Flight Deck. It debuted in 1993 with the name Top Gun. This is how the park describes it, “Riders soar through a 360-degree vertical loop, two 270-degree after burn turns, a full-circle wingover and a zero gravity roll. If that’s not enough, you take this 50-mile-per-hour flight in a floorless coach, suspended below the coaster’s steel track.” It was awesome.

The smoothest coaster we went on was Rail Blazer. Instead of sitting next to your scared friend, there are individual seats lined up in cars of eight. The track looks so narrow. This is because the cars are straddling it. It opened in 2018 and is the newest coaster at the park.

Rail Blazer is an incredibly smooth roller coaster. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The Santa Clara City Council in 2017 approved a new master plan for the park. This means more rides are coming, some will be replaced, and hours of operation will expand.

Going on a Saturday in September was ideal – it wasn’t crowded, the wait time was reasonable – for rides and food. Now through Nov. 2 the park has special haunted nights in celebration of Halloween. Be sure to visit the website, as the park is not open year-round, and pricing is better online.

Hewlett-Packard’s beginnings a landmark in Palo Alto

The garage on Addison Avenue in Palo Alto, California, where Hewlett-Packard was founded. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

If it weren’t for one particular garage in Palo Alto, the world might be a very different place. It is considered the birthplace of Silicon Valley.

This is where Bill Hewlett and David Packard in the 1930s formed Hewlett-Packard, aka HP. (A coin toss decided whose name would come first.) Both were students at Stanford University.

Packard and his wife were living in one of the apartments, while Hewlett resided in a shed on the property. Together they used the garage to develop their products.

A sign in front of the property explains the significance of the garage. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Driving by it would be easy to assume this was just an ordinary neighborhood in the Peninsula. The large sign out front proves otherwise. It says, “The garage is the birthplace of the world’s first high-technology region, ‘Silicon Valley.’ The idea for such a region originated with Dr. Frederick Terman, a Stanford University professor who encouraged his students to start up their own electronics companies in the area instead of joining established firms in the East. The first two students to follow his advice were William R. Hewlett and David Packard, who in 1938 began developing their first product, an audio oscillator, in this garage.”

Walt Disney was the first to recognize the two were onto something, deciding to use their initial product, an audio oscillator, in select theaters showing “Fantasia.” The duo came out with their first computer in 1966. The handheld calculator followed in the next decade.

While the garage is closed and there is no access to it, it is clearly visible from the street. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

California recognized the significance of the garage at 367 Addison Ave. in 1989 by naming it a state historical landmark. It was in 2007 that the garage was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The detached garage sits back from the road and house, but is easy to see from the street. The sign is near the sidewalk.

Eat-Drink-Soak — Three Diverse Businesses In One Location

All ages enjoy the 100-degree waters at Carson Hot Springs. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Beer, burgers and hot water all in one stop.

This is what one finds on Old Hot Springs Road in Carson City – Shoe Tree Brewing Co., Sassafras and Carson Hot Springs. One Saturday in September we enjoyed what the three distinct businesses had to offer.

With such an array of beer choices, Sue and I opted for two rounds of tasters. A flight of four is $12; each being 5 ounces. We indulged in the Muscle Powered Pale Ale, High Desert Brown, Coco Burrito, Wicked Shifty, Brunswick Blonde Ale, Atomic Ale, Shoehorn, and Ash Canyon Amber Ale. My favorite was the High Desert Brown. The brewery describes it as “notes of coffee, roasty & toasty.”

The Hammer is so popular that there is a 5-minute time limit to use it. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Brothers Paul and Jeff Young opened the brewery in March 2017. According to their website, “The brew system is a 7 barrel (217 gallons) brew house with a four fermenter farm able to produce 600 barrels (13,950 gallons) of finished beer annually.”

While food isn’t served at the brewery, plenty of choices are available next door at Sassafras Eclectic Food Joint. If they aren’t too busy, they will deliver food to the brewery. We shared a burger and roasted beet salad – perfect amount of food, and great quality.

With so many beers on the table, it was hard to know what paired best with our lunch. I’m a believer you can never go wrong with a beer and burger.

Still, the restaurant isn’t just a burger joint. There are pizzas, grinders, cold deli selections, and specials that range from Cajun Mac & Cheese to Shrimp Tacos to Salmon Sriracha. It is definitely eclectic.

Sassafras has its own beer menu and has a full bar. With plenty of seating, it is a destination in its own right.

Shoe Tree Brewing Co. has a range of beer to choose from. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Next door are the hot springs. The Washoe Indians were using these waters in the 1800s as an undeveloped site. It was in 1880 that Thomas Swift bought the area and added amenities like a clubhouse. It has been known as Carson Hot Springs since 1910. New owners in 1999 added two Jacuzzi tubs, though they were not operational when we were there.

“Natural mineral water flows out of the ground at 121 degrees. Air spray and evaporative cooling are used to lower this water temperature when pools are drained and refilled during each day. No chemical or city water is added,” according to the hot springs’ website.

The main soaking area looks like a normal, rectangular pool. The difference is there is no chlorine and two overhead spigots are regularly delivering hot water. One is so powerful it is aptly named The Hammer. It’s an intense massage of sorts.

An added convenience is the springs provide noodles as flotation devices, which is nice since the depth goes to 6½ feet. The shallow area is where most people were hanging out.

While we enjoyed all three businesses at this location, each is worth a visit without the others.

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