Viozene, Carnino, Punta Marguareis and the Via Del Sale

A bit late getting this one up on the blog but hey ho….

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Traversing the high meadows between Carnino and Colle Dei Signori

Seeing as we have one of the offspring staying, I decided we need an adventure into the mountains.  We had been planning on walking from Limone to Upega along the Via Del Sale but the threat of thunderstorms and a bit of a logistical faff to get to the start (which would also lose us at least half a days walking) meant we decided to stay a bit more local – mooching around on the high level border between Italy and France.

Ted and Zed dropped us off at Viozene and we made the steep trudge up the hill to Rifugio Mongoie, where luckily a big cold beer was waiting for us.  We enjoyed the refreshment overlooking the impressive valley and towering peaks above us before heading along the footpath to Carnino.  It was tempting to check out the caves that are just by the wobbly bridge that Zed hates but we realised we were already risking being late for dinner and decided to leave them for another day.

Rifugio Foresteria in the middle of Carnino is a great place to stay.  We were served a lovely meal by the patron, who was a bit flustered as his wife was away but the food was delicious all the same.  We had the dorm to ourselves so got a pretty good nights sleep.

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High Altitude Car Park and Punta Marguareis
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The French Side

We got an early(ish) start the next day as we wanted to avoid the heat if possible and so were on the trail at 8am, winding up through some very pretty woods before heading up the side of the gorge which in turn gave way to high pastures, nestled in a bowl almost surrounded by high peaks and the sound of cow bells.  The first marmots could be heard at this point, and the geology started to get really interesting.

Taking note of a very loud bark up ahead which we assumed to be coming from a gigantic cane da pastore (a herd guarding dog – we’d met one the night before and assumed our most humble body posture to be allowed to pass) we proceeded with caution.  A few hundred yards up the track and we came across a small pocket sized dog using the echo from the surrounding mountains to amplify his stature.

Another climb up and we reached Rifugio Don Barbera, who – after a worrying pause – assured us we could stay the night and eat there.  After some lunch (the most meagre of snacks according to Joe) we headed up towards Punta Marguareis, which was looming impressively above us, with some pretty scary looking scree.  With the mist descending rapidly and worried about thunderstorms we opted for the ‘easier’ path to the summit.  It was still a bit of a haul and the odd gap in the mist revealed some exposure close to the path so we picked our way up carefully.  On reaching the summit we were greeted by two very cheerful 78 years olds so we stopped for a bit of a chat, gleefully establishing that we’d all brought our own sandwiches rather than lunching at the rifugio because the Genovese are just as tight as the Scottish (something they delight in).

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We couldn’t see much up here at all, so we used the cloaking mist to be brave and get very close to the edges which were all that stood between us and yawning chasms on three sides.  Joe was actually holding on to my ponytail at one point having coaxed me out onto the precipice.

We scampered down again, with Joe taking advantage of the late snow fields to do some impressive skidding, and then we had a quick explore under the edges, because we could.  Annoyingly coming down to the first Col I realised the top I’d tied round my waist had fallen off so I had to retrace my steps up the hill but apart from that the descent was relatively uneventful, other than a ‘quick’ short cut across a boulder field.

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The day was still young so I persuaded Joe out for another donder around the plateau and we were rewarded by spotting a large lone wolf, not very far away and making full eye contact.  Sitting ourselves down on the rock we managed to watch it patter it’s way up the steep hillside for a full five minutes, a real treat.

Another nice meal and we were ready to hit the hay, a bit less sleep as we were sharing the dorm with another three guys who were doing impressive amounts of cycling.

IMG_1440aFollowing what can only be called a meagre breakfast we struck out south along the Via Del Sale heading for Monte Saccarello.  The first bit was the scariest, with overhanging rock and a big drop to the side but I’ve been making inroads into tackling vertigo and got up there without too much trauma.  The road was open to motorised traffic now (it’s shut on Mondays and Tuesdays except to pedestrians and cyclists) and we were pretty surprised by how much traffic there was.  The scenery was spectacular but we soon dropped down to about 2000m and it wasn’t long before we hit the high tree line.  Walking on a track can be dull in some ways but it does afford the opportunity to take in the surroundings a bit more thoroughly and we saw some interesting sights, including a guys washing out his huge milk churns in the river before presumably milking his herd of goats in the nearby field.  The wildflowers were spectacular as ever, other wildlife including butterflies, possible eagle and vulture sightings,

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Rifugio Don Barbera

IMG_1430IMG_1465IMG_1469IMG_1483IMG_1508IMG_1510IMG_1514IMG_1522marmots and a (sadly) squashed fire salamander.

With our only possible short cuts down behind us, a full five hours later we spotted our goal – the top of Monte Saccarello, not far above us as we were already on the high track above the ski lifts of Monesi.  Unfortunately the sight was accompanied by some pretty hefty thunder so we made a quick decision to hot foot it down to Monesi, getting a serious drenching in the progress.

Monesi was hit very badly by the extreme weather in November 2016 and it was interesting to see the level of damage to the roads, both above and below the resort.  We decided to do our bit for the local economy and stopped for a pint and some food, before pressing on into the rain.  A quick phone call to Ted and we arranged a pick up much further down the hill at Mendatica, I think as we approached the 8 hour mark and passed 30km Joe’s patience might have been wearing a bit thin and we were glad of a lift.

IMG_1525The trip ended as many seem to: in Bar Centro in Borghetto D’Arroscia tucking into some excellent pasta (pizza for the boys) and rehydrating ourselves liberally with the local grape juice.

You can see some of the routes by following these two links, we didn’t record the first section and the second section cut out on the mountain top.

https://www.relive.cc/view/1724694696

https://www.relive.cc/view/1726950404

Monte Monega (with a quick jaunt to Cascata D’Arroscia for dessert)

After far too long away from the mountains cabin fever was starting to set in so, having dropped the menfolk off to help out on a friends new roof, Zed and I set our sights on Monte Monega, a hilltop we’d skirted on a couple of occasions but never summited.

Our starting point was Case Fascei, high above Montegrosso Pian Latte, by way of a road we hadn’t travelled before.  The weather was looking a bit patchy with possible cloud covered tops but we were really desperate for some altitude so pushed on anyway.

The path starts of as a track at the end of the tarmac road from the village of Casa Fascei – which looks to have been completely renovated and using the original materials making it very cute.

We pass a very impressive potato field, being tended manually by a local guy who no doubt keeps very fit hoeing his vegetables.  From here we turn right and wend our way up steeply through the trees on a fairly well signposted path which we only lose on one occasion due to daydreaming and soon pick up again.  We make heavy work of this but eventually pop out into the open, a very well kept rustico with an impressive solar array and cow herd on our left and grassy banks to our front and right, covered in wildflowers giving off a heavenly scent.

Afraid the cloud was about to engulf us we quickly scampered up to have a peep over the edge and were rewarded with beautiful clouds and Monte Guardia peeing out intermittently.

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Glimpses of Monte Guardia 1
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Glimpses of Monte Guardia 2
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Glimpses of Monte Guardia 3

We’d reached another track by now – the Via Marenca – and we followed this for a short time until we got to the signpost which pointed us in the direction of Monte Monega.  It was an easy hike up a grassy slope from here and aside from a strange dizzy spell (maybe from having a big dslr with a 100-400mm lens slung around my neck) we were quickly up at the top.  There were remains of what were probably old fortifications and a metal cross, typical of many peaks in the region, and what has to be one of the best views we’ve come across so far, and let’s face it, the bar was already set pretty high.  (It was so good in fact that we went up again two days later to show Ted and Joe and were rewarded with very clear views of the mountains, giving us some great ideas of where to go next).

 

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Looking across to Mezzaluna and Triora
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Back the way we had come, clouds rapidly encroaching the Passo Pian Latte.
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Beautiful clouds 1
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Beautiful clouds 2
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Beautiful clouds 3
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Monte Fronte making an appearance
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Gorgeous wildflowers
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A bit of macro action
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More wildflowers
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More clouds and a great view of Via Marenca

Although we would have loved to linger longer the clouds were building fast and we didn’t want to get risked getting caught in a storm (which we did manage to do two days later, thankfully just after we’d dropped off the summit ridge).  We headed back along to the Passo Pian Latte where the mist came up and surrounded us briefly, nothing to concern us given the size and quality of the track.  The occasional fleeting flash of light lit up the landscape in verdant green.

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From here we took the track down as opposed to retracing our steps through the trees, it made for a longer circular walk and took us through some very beautiful flower meadows before arriving back at the car.  A thoroughly rewarding and uplifting hike, and one I would recommend to anyone who’s good for an hour and a half slog up.

We hadn’t completely run out of energy though and on the road down we passed a sign saying the Cascata d’Arroscia was only half an hour away, and although we were a little pushed for time it was far too tempting to ignore, having heard about these legendary waterfalls.  We fast walked/ran the route and managed to get there and back in about 35 minutes give or take the odd stop for a quick iphone snap – there were some fantastic trees besides the path.  The waterfall had it’s charms, and reminded me of being in the jungle in Sri Lanka, but compared to the waterfalls we’ve got used to in Scotland, Iceland and the Faroes it was a bit of a whippersnapper in truth.

It was definitely time to call it a day after this so we headed home, just pausing for a refreshing dip much lower down this same river, in Borghetto D’Arroscia.

You can see both the routes by clicking on the links below:

https://www.relive.cc/view/1682294471

https://www.relive.cc/view/1682374135 (excuse the typo)

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Awesome tree 1
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Awesome tree 2
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Cute wee bridge.
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The Cascade, it’s taller in reality than this photograph suggests.

Pisso Di Ormea (not) part 2

14.7km    1245m ascent   4h 16mins

Who could resist the thought of a lunch date with a wild clematis? Not me, that’s for sure.

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Chionea (bottom right)

Zed and I got packed up and headed up the road through Nava and Ormea before climbing up to Chionea to start the walk. The first section unravelled pretty much the same as last time we were in these parts, a steep burst through the top village, flower meadows and vegetable gardens. The path forms a kind of small gully between two walls here, which seemed like the designated meet up spot for all the butterflies in the area.

We turn up onto the rocky and tree covered ridge and see the vibrant orange lilies are out in force. I’m sure this is where they belong but it’s still startling to see such a showy flower out in the high mountains.

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Lilies

A little further up as we come across the first pasture I’m chuffed to bits to find some arnica, for someone who manages to hurt themselves as much as I do it’s a brilliant ally. I leave this in the ground though as it’s not abundant.

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Arnica Montana

The roses are just starting to appear too, in numbers, although they are no match for the azaleas (yet).

(A lizard has just scampered up to the window to watch me while I write, tapped his foot a few times and then buggered off. No, me neither).

Legs are a bit tired today and its slow going, the top of the hill looks ominously cloudy though, although it’s a bit brighter when I take my shades off so we push on.

This time we manage to find the ridge top path straight away which leads along a spectacular rocky stretch and I’m immediately on the look out for more clematis patches. I’m certain I’ll find the one I saw last time  (how difficult can it be to find one particular plant on a whole mountain top?) but I’m curious to know if there will be more. Also I’ve decided I’m having lunch with the first clematis I find, and I’m bloody starving.

A flash of blueish purple catches my eye from under a rock and we’ve stumbled upon our first clematis of the day. Not having learned any lessons from the last time, I take a crappy iphone picture of it, knowing that I’ll find the larger specimen further up the track. Or not, as it turns out.

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Clematis Alpina

We stop for a clematis-less lunch with fine views over Liguria, we can even see down to Albenga which is our nearest coastal town. With the cloud lifting we decide to push on up to the mountain lake, it’s a steep grassy path with an impressive drop off to the right. As is often the way, as we reach the signpost to stop climbing and turn to the right, the cloud makes a swift and fulsome descent. I decide it’s best not to tangle with the next phase of the path and we turn and retrace our steps.

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We’re overtaken by a mountain biker not long after and Zedboy gets his hopes up that he’s still a trail dog, we both miss our biking days.

We make a brief stop at the unmanned rifugio, which is open today as there’s a family with a couple of kids staying there – what a wonderful way to spend the weekend. We fill up with water and have a general nosy inside – no dogs allowed inside unfortunately, so Zedboy frowns at me from the porch while I inspect the accommodation.

The views from here are spectacular, last time we passed the visibility was about 10 metres and we could only guess at the surroundings.

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Striking out along the high track we extend the walk by another 5km or so, returning by way of the lower track.
(At this point Ted phones me and says he’s about to take off from Milan and I’m truly boggled to receive a text from him as I arrive back at the car saying he’s landed – the time passed for me so differently than had I been on that flight.)

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..2
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…3.

There are a couple of interesting abandoned buildings, one of which has a stream running right out of the front door, I’m assuming it won’t be standing for too much longer.  We linger for a while to enjoy the birdsong.

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My favourite signpost “hunting forbidden”

We’re also very taken with a couple of little grotto type spaces that have formed around the banks of a burn by the track.

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Heading down at what can only be described as a dawdle, stopping to photograph flowers and insects on the way we descend towards Chionea and a promise of a gig (The Fantastic Blue) and unlimited pizza for 8 euros at the Bar Centro in Borghetto D’Arroscia.

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Check out the animation of the walk here: https://www.relive.cc/view/1642424123

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Up Next?

First Thoughts on the Panasonic G9

FIRST DAYS WITH THE G9

Taking good photos is all about the grey matter behind the eye, as every individual sees the world with a unique perspective. The camera is our paintbrush, that enables us to present that vision to a wider audience. But as with any tools, they should operate intuitively and be a pleasure to use rather than slow you down or frustrate.

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Image – Hidden falls. Leica 12-60mm

With this in mind I headed out to a few local venues around our house here in Liguria to get a better feel of the Panasonic G9 camera with Leica 12-60mm & 100-400mm lenses. I should note that in these first escapades I am not seeking to test every function and indeed I doubt I will ever use many of the advanced functionality available to me, but when I head for the hills I want to be able to quickly and efficiently understand where the main buttons are and that they work seemlessly so I can concentrate on the images not the technology. So how did they behave?

Image – In the mist. Leica 12-60mm

Well my instant impression is one of quality. The equipment is not light and flimsy, rather solid and professional. The grip is very comfortable and all the buttons and dials are solid and firm. What does take a little getting used to is the sensitive shutter release button, and I had to take it out of silent mode to feel I was connecting with the moment of release. After 3 days I am now used to this and as with the location of some of the buttons (exposure compensation, ISO & display) once you are used to them they are generally very easy to find without taking your eye from the viewfinder. Most are “on” the camera and not buried deep in menus which is a real blessing. Less intuitive is the location of the playback button which I find a little awkward to reach with my left hand which doesn’t naturally sit within easy reach.

Image – Door detail. 12-60mm Leica

The EVF is thus far excellent and is one of the features I have become very accustomed to over the past few years over its optical cousin (I note I am shooting stills and have not tried its video capabilities to date). The tilting rear display has yet to be used very often but it feels very sturdy and it has significant adjustment options both high and low angles. The fact it can be folded away is very useful to me when working in rugged environments.

I do wish all manufacturers could sit down and agree terminology but this is not Panasonic’s fault per se and after a read of the manual I am becoming familiar with the main terms and features presented. (I often download alternative manuals eg the excellent Friedman archive manuals). But what I do like is the standard in camera ability for multi exposure and time lapse, both of which are likely to get an outing on the trek (almost a norm these days but still nice to see). A 60 second shutter release will address most normal long exposure requirements (and is better than many) though I was hoping the free remote app might allow for longer exposure but this does not appear to be the case.

Image – Rocchetta Nervina. Leica 12-60mm

I rarely use this feature in the field but I felt a 4 click single image delete operation to be a little excessive in truth but in its favour the multiple delete was extremely clear and effective.

Both lenses are very pleasant to use, solid, compact though not so light as to cause concern. The ability to zoom to 800mm on the longer zoom is quite extraordinary for one so small. Both have smooth confidence inspiring operation and the image stabilisation (though not often used) seems to allow what seems to be about 3 stops “extra”.

I look forward to pixel picking the results but on a constrained trip the lenses size and overall weight of the combined package saves a significant burden on my overall pack weight where every gram counts.

Image – Leaves in water. Leica 100-400mm

I have been out in low cloud and a small amount of rain though have yet to really test the weatherproofing functionality which is always a key for me. Likewise, this trip will not include any super cold environments (better not, I have not packed for anything below -5 degrees) so it would take a more northerly trip to test this. But I will report back in due course.

The burst speed on continuous is memory munchingly stunning, way more than I would need for most purposes but a level above anything I have used. I can envisage situations where this would be extremely interesting to try out but given I will have reduced capacity on this trip will probably leave this for another day.

Image – Water detail. Leica 100-400mm

Battery has been excellent for a small camera and I got at least 900 images on a single charge (low power mode and no lengthy review period) though it did seem to lose the second half of the charge quicker than the first, just like the fuel tank in my car! More testing needed here. It charges via a USB from my external battery pack – which incidentally is charging fantastically from the Anker 21w solar panel I will be carrying with me.

Image – Lone house. Leica 12-60mm

App functionality including WiFi/Bluetooth download has been very easy to operate and even I managed to set this up with no hair loss, swearing or camera throwing. No mean feat I can assure should. So I am now very hopeful to get posts onto social media and a blog. Another stress gone.

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I have left the format set to MFT with grid lines in the viewfinder and in truth am rather enjoying it as a format. I have decided for this venture I will stick with this for now and crop in post, though I might change my mind so make no promises.

I guess there are two main functions of image that are most relevant for me though. Firstly, overall quality across the frame at the various apertures across the zoom and depth of field. My standard is an ability to print up to 100cm in the long dimension (assuming I have done my bit and been technically competent). I realise there will be some compromises to be had given my requirements on weight for the trek (I simply cannot carry primes without breaking my back) and as with all lenses I firstly check the quality performance reviews (of which there are several) and bear in mind the limitations of any lens when out in the field. If I can avoid the “weak points” most issues can be resolved. This is true of any lens.

Image – In the clouds. Leica 100-400mm

The 9 leaf aperture should help a smooth Bokeh and I appreciate there may be a compromise here over full frame but I have yet to test this in any detail so will have to get back to you on this one.

I have only had the briefest of chances to review the images to date as I have been out in the field but attach a few of the images taken so far. They are taken from the jpegs with almost no adjustment and without printing but I am very happy with what I see so far. A more rigorous test will follow on my return.

Image – Main Street. Leica 12-60mm

CONCLUSION

To conclude, I am really enjoying using this system so far. I am very impressed with the build of both camera and lenses. Real world use in the field is intuitive save the odd button placement (is any camera perfect on this score?), battery is good for a camera so small and I can recharge it via USB (using solar power:-). I can honestly say that I now feel confident to take this as my solo camera into the field for 3 weeks which frankly is one less stress. We will sure find out soon enough as I head for the hills tomorrow!!!

A Short Walk in the Southern Uplands

 

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Sheep buchts

 

On waking I had no idea that a day of wonders was in store for us in the Galloway Hills.

We started out at the Lorg cottage, as far as I know used only as an outpost for shepherds and shearers and wanders up the Water of Ken, which itself offers up a treat  in the form of a small gorge with cascades, somewhere we could have easily spent a day if we didn’t have our minds fixed on a long wander with some exercise involved.

Striking out across sheep fields we were intrigued by the old circular sheep buchts and stopped to grab a quick snap of their frosty stone geometry, remnants of a bygone age. We headed into the woods from here, wondering if we would find an actual path or have to negotiate the often treacherous clamber through dense forest. We were pleasantly surprised to find a wide and open path through the trees, soft and springy underfoot. I don’t know the history of this path – possibly an old drovers route but we were immediately struck by a sense of the past, echoes and whisperings of long-past traffic and centuries old journeys. Moss laden sheep pens and trees and an earthy scent from the forest floor left us in a temporarily fanciful state, our imaginations running riot.

Emerging from this and returning to reality, we also found ourselves back on the forest track and decided to take a quick detour up to the Polskeoch bothy which can be reached by road from the Scaur Glen. A quick look around and plans made to come and camp overnight there sometime and we were back on our way, only to be pulled in by more winter magic, frozen mud on a rickety wooden bridge and some eager steam rising from the small burn, highlights from the sun reflecting in the water and dazzling us. Dragged on again by an unwelcome timepiece reminding us of the short daylight available we carried on up the path, with another brief stop to marvel at some backlit moss, enhanced photographically by Ted’s breath steaming in the cold air as I attempted to capture it.

Not one hundred metres further on we chanced upon some of the quirkiest ice patterns in puddles I’ve ever seen. Nature had one last treat for us before the walk resumed a sense of normality*, some tiny plants growing in the forest track, momentarily shedding their icy cloaks before the sun slipped back down behind the hill.

Breaking out onto the top of the hill we took an unexpected pelting from the wind which we’d been blissfully unaware of in the shelter of the trees.  It failed to dampen our appreciation of the marvellous views, hazy in the winter sun.

*Fresh air, good paths, bad paths, weather, spectacular views, flora and fauna abounding.

Photos from a Canon 5d mk III and an iphone6plus

 

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Eager steam
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Frozen mud

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Flora
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The End