Top Travel Gear of the Year 2016

This post is part 4 of 4 in the series Best of 2016

We’ve come to love and rely on a lot of tried and tested travel gear over the years–from Karen’s Kaikuna hoodie to Eric’s prescription Costa del Mar sunglasses to this nifty thing that lets us take booze in a backpack. Now we present our short but sweet list of top travel gear of the year 2016 including a game-changing lens, a really cool cool bag and hiking boots that were perfect straight out of the box.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

Top Travel Gear of the Year 2016


There’s no question that the most valued new piece of travel gear in 2016 was Eric’s Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. He got a tease with this lens in the Galapagos when another passenger on our M/V Origin cruise let him use his lens. The difference in the quality of the wildlife shots was stunning, so we scraped together our pennies (more than 200,000 of them) and got one. This lens has helped Eric get great shots all year-long (a few of his favorites are above) and though it’s big and heavy and pricey it’s already proven its value time and again.  

Buy on B&H Photo  |  Buy on Amazon


Three Legged Thing carbon fiber Brian evolution 3 tripod

It’s hard to find a good travel tripod which combines durability and versatility in a compact and lightweight package. After years of looking, we found one. Don’t let the goofy name of 3 Legged Thing tripods fool you. They really do rock (in more ways than one). See why in our full review of our 3 Legged Thing Evolution 3  Brian tripod.




Sometimes we need to keep snacks and leftovers cold, for example, when we have a long day on the road with no chance of a lunch stop. Enter our Columbia insulated cold bag. It stays cold, doesn’t leak or sweat, holds more than you’d think, is easy to clean, dries out fast after use, and folds up small and compact when not in use. The only bummer is that the Velcro, which holds the bag snugly folded up when it’s empty, is located on the bottom, so if you fill the tote and then put it down on the ground the Velcro picks up grit. It looks like the specific model we have has been discontinued and only the bigger and beefier Columbia PFG Perfect Cast 45L Thermal Tote is available now.

Buy on Amazon


Brinno TLC200 Pro drivelapse timelapse camera

Time-lapse video is great, unless you’re the one who has to shoot and edit it. For years Eric spent hours every month piecing together then speeding up images taken by a GoPro mounted to the dash of our truck so that we could show readers a month’s worth of driving in just a few minutes. It was such a time-consuming pain the neck that we stopped making the videos altogether and then stopped publishing our end-of-the-month driving posts. Then we heard about Brinno cameras which automatically take time-lapse footage. It was a bit tricky mounting the camera on our dashboard (you can see our workaround, above), but ever since Eric figured that out this camera has made making time-lapse video so easy that we started publishing our end of the month Where We’ve Been driving posts again, complete with Brinno footage.

Buy on Amazon



There’s a cardinal rule about hiking boots. It goes like this: ALWAYS break them in on the trail before you really, really need them. Karen ignored that rule. She had a new pair of boots from a maker she’d worn before. They seemed like good boots. They felt fine on her feet when she tried them on. She settled. Then she wore them on one simple short hike and her feet were in agony. Luckily, there are some fairly well-stocked outdoor gear stores in Cusco, Peru so we were able to find a pair of Merrell Capra Mid Sport Gore-Tex hiking boots at the same price we would have paid in the US. Karen loved them straight out of the box and they proved comfortable and rugged during the multi-day Andean treks we did in 2016.

Buy on Amazon


Curaprox 5460 Ultrasoft toothbrush

Even the lightest packers need to bring a toothbrush. In 2016 a dentist in Sao Paulo recommended that we try toothbrushes made by a Swiss company called Curaprox. She raved about how gentle yet efficient they were, so we splurged, paying about US$7 per toothbrush in Brazil. We were immediately hooked. So soft! So easy to use! So effective! So many great colors! We’ve now stocked up just in case we don’t find Curaprox in other countries. Also, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get good medical care when traveling. These toothbrushes have been around for years but this Brazilian dentist was the first to tell us about them.

Buy on Amazon


Rubber boots El Altar Ecuador

Sometimes the most humble piece of equipment ends up being key. This was the case with our ordinary rubber boots which got us through the muddy, muddy trail to El Altar volcano in Ecuador which would have made short work of regular hiking boots.

Buy on Amazon



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Travel Gear of the Year 2013

This post is part 1 of 4 in the series Best of 2013

We’re still using (and loving) the travel gear we focused on in our previous Travel Gear of the Year posts and Product Reviews, from WiFi extenders to sunscreen to flashlights to travel pillows to flip flops. Now it’s time to present our travel gear of the year 2013 including a data backup solution, really clean teeth on the road and one tough and versatile travel skirt. Here’s what earned the right to be called…

Travel gear of the year 2013

Travel tech

Crashplan backupLike most digital nomads one of our biggest logistical issues is how to keep all of our data backed up. Because we travel in a truck we have the option of carrying a small flotilla of Seagate hard drives, but in 2013 we added cloud backup to our backup plan via Crashplan. In the past we had used both Mozy and Carbonite as a cloud backup solution but, shockingly, both of these services lost some of our valuable data and the customer support we received after the fact ranged from poor to appalling. The hurdle in adopting a new cloud back up service is getting the initial chunk of data (think terabytes of images) into the cloud. With often limited bandwidth on the road this could take months. Luckily one of the things that sets Crashplan apart is their seeded drive option. The company sends customers a 1TB drive which you load up directly from your computer and ship back to Crashplan. Viola! A terabyte of data is added to your backup without actually having to upload it. Why is this so great for travelers you ask? At the average upload bandwidth we generally have available while traveling in Central and South America, that terabyte would have taken at least 200 days of 24/7 uploading to get into the cloud.


Logitech m525 mouse


We love our Logitech M525 wireless mice (mice? mouse? never mind) because they work on nearly any surface, the battery lasts (nearly) forever and they save our wrists from the aches and pains of using trackpads while we work in contorted positions in yet another deskless room.



In our Travel Gear of the Year 2011 post we raved about our Targus Chill Mats which provide a laptop perch for our computers and help keep them (and our laps) cool and comfortable on our laps. However, they have one big drawback: the USB power cord which powers the internal fan is poorly constructed and eventually breaks rendering the fan useless. Enter the Targus Space Saving Chill Mat which not only solves the power cord vulnerability problem with an improved design but collapses down flat when not in use so it takes up less space.

Targus Laptop Chill Mat travel

2013 was the year we decided to finally get a smart phone (we know, we know). The Google Nexus 5 is as good as anything out there but at a fraction of the price at US$350 for an unlocked contract-free phone. Spending less on your smart phone means you can spend more on travel. Our only complaint is the lack of an external memory card slot.

Google Nexus 5 phone

Travel health

Oscillo cold & flu reliefGetting sick while traveling sucks. We’re generally pretty healthy on the road but whenever we feel a twinge of aches, fatigue or chills we pop open a tiny, lightweight single-dose tube of Oscillo homeopathic flu fighter and pour the yummy-tasting pellets under our tongue. No need for water, just let the pellets dissolve. Oscillo isn’t a liquid so it can’t leak which means we keep the stuff in our packs and in the glove compartment of our truck so it’s always handy. The all-natural ingredients are non-drowsy (so it’s safe to take while driving) and won’t interact with other medicines. Did we mention that it doesn’t taste like medicine either?


waterpik-traveler-water-flosserBasic dental health maintenance while traveling can be tricky. We’ve been lucky over the years, finding affordable, high-quality dentists for annual check ups but in 2013 we added another tool to our dental health care kit: a Waterpik Traveler Water Flosser which is a mini, packable version of the Waterpik Karen used as a teenager with braces. When packed up in its zippered case it’s just over 5 inches square and weighs less than two pounds.  It’s easy to assemble and disassemble, totally adjustable and comes with various cleaning and flossing heads. Just remember to fill it with purified water in areas where the tap water is not safe to drink and give it ample time to dry out before packing it up again.

Karen’s battle with the injury in her right leg and hip continued in 2013, aided by the addition of Arnicare to her routine. This stuff is full of arnica, a natural topical pain reliever, and can be rubbed into any aches and pains. It comes in a cream, ointment and a gel but the gel seems to absorb faster and there’s no old-lady smell. Eric has been caught using it as well, particularly after horseback riding or working on the truck in awkward positions.

Travel road trip gear

Fellow road trippers George and Teresa of Road Adventure turned us on to Maps with Me in Colombia after it saved our butts as we navigated through a maze of tracks in the desert at night on our way to Cabo de la Vela. We’ve been using it ever since. So far in Coolmbia and Ecuador Maps with Me has a number of back roads that don’t even exist on Google Maps and, most importantly, Maps with Me works totally offline so there’s no need for an internet connection. This is definitely our APP of the Year.

Steering is important. When ours started going (too many rough roads, potholes and killer speed bumps) we upgraded our factory steering components to heavy duty tie rods from Rare Parts. These things are no joke and neither are the roads ahead of us.

For years our transmission has been heating up during climbs. In 2013 we did something about it by installing a Performance Transmission Cooler made by Pacific Performance Engineering (PPE). This thing was easy to install and keeps our transmission about 30 degrees farenheit cooler simply by increasing air flow. Bring on the Andes!

Travel accessories

Platypus PlatyPreserve travel wine preserverGlass bottles are heavy. PlatyPreserve bags are a lightweight solution when you want to carry booze with you on a hike or in circumstances when you have luggage weight limits (like taking small planes to remote locations like the Galapagos Islands). Though they’re marketed for carrying wine (and they’ll hold an entire wine bottle), we got multiple PlatyPreserve bags and use some for wine and some for rum or other liquors. They never leak, never puncture, they’re easy to clean (though they take ages to dry) and they take up about the same amount of space as a sheet of paper when they’re empty. We’re not sure we buy claims that PlatyPreserve “eliminates exposure to air” thus preserving wine but the bags have come in handy while traveling as an alternative to heavy bottles.

Karen’s ExOfficio Nomad travel skirt provides UV protection, is stain resistant and quick-drying, has secure zippered pockets, a comfy fleece-line waistband and it’s cute. That’s why it’s become her go-to warm weather wardrobe staple. When ordering bear in mind that this skirt runs a bit small so you may need to go up a size.


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Travel Gear of the Year 2012

This post is part 1 of 4 in the series Best of 2012

We’re still using (and loving) the travel gear we focused on in our previous Travel Gear of the Year posts and Product Reviews, from WiFi extenders to sunscreen to flashlights to travel pillows.

Now it’s time to present the travel gear that proved to be indispensable in 2012. Weirdly, lots of clothing this year.

Travel Gear of the Year 2012


Chaco Eco Tread Flip Flops

Karen has had her Chaco Flip Eco Tread flip flops on her feet nearly every single day for the past couple of years. A strap finally broke while we were exploring Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua and she had to buy a new pair. That’s when she realized just how fabulous these flip flops are. The durable, non-slip soles (in the foot bed and on the bottom) resist odors and are prefect in the water or on slippery or rocky trails. The soft, pliable, nylon upper straps are easy to clean with a bit of liquid soap and an old toothbrush and they dry fast. And they’re tough as hell. Sure, one pair bit the dust (check out her old pair on the left above next to her brand new pair on the right) but only after years of daily use . The few days during which Karen had to wear cheap plastic flip flops while she waited for her new Chacos to arrive were hell. Now Eric has a pair too. Another thing we love? The size is clearly and durably printed on the back of the heel of your Chacos which lets you re-ordering online worry free even without the chance to try them on before buying.

4g ipod woth Otterbox Defender caseWe left on our Journey the year before the iPhone was introduced. While we did have an early incarnation of a smartphone in the early days of our Journey, it was pretty stupid compared to today’s iOS and Android phones, since “smart” back then meant your phone also had email. It took a while, but 2012 was the year we finally joined the smartphone club…almost. The addition of an iPod Touch 4th generation to our tech arsenal means we have a “smart device” but not a smartphone since the touch isn’t a phone. Still, as long as we have a Wi-Fi signal, we can get email, connect to the web and use any iPhone app without having to drag out our computers. We have not been immune to the allure of all of those tasty iPod accessories either and our new gadget is now housed in an Otterbox Defender Case. These colorful and beefy case have three layers of protection including a clear panel over the screen. While we have no plans to toss around our new iPod or drop it in the bathtub the rugged, smart design of this case does inspire confidence that it would survive such shenanigans. We only have one criticism: in order to mount our iPod onto speakers we have to remove it from the Otterbox case entirely–no easy feat.

ITMB maps - Nicaragua

The extremely well-traveled folks at the award-winning International Travel Maps and Books (ITMB) are fanatics. They have a team of cartographers and the itch to explore and their combo of artistry, OCD and travel passion has resulted in travel-centric maps covering just about anywhere you want to go (they currently publish more than 425 different maps). We began relying on ITMB maps in Nicaragua and Costa Rica and will stick with them all the way to Tierra del Fuego. The company spent 22 years mapping South America, so we think we’re in pretty good hands.

Just when you thought the sweat-wicking/smell-resisting/SPF-giving/insect-repelling materials used to make outdoor clothing couldn’t get any smarter, along comes Sol Cool, a fabric which contains Xylitol, a scary-sounding name for something that occurs naturally in birch trees. When added to clothing, Xylitol cools you off by up to five degrees when the fabric comes into contact with moisture (like sweat), which is then wicked away. The Sol Cool fabric also gives you SPF 50+ protection. ExOfficio is using Sol Cool in a line of clothes for men and women. Karen is practically living in her Sol Cool Sleeveless Sun Dress and Eric swears he feels cooler every time he puts on his Sol Cool t-shirt.

Seagate GoFlex 1TB portable drive

Over the past six years of our Trans-Americas Journey Eric has taken more than 80,000 photos which take up nearly 1TB of space. That’s a lot of vital data to keep backed up and safe in dusty, bumpy,hot and humid conditions on the road. Through the years we’ve lived through the nightmare of having drives from LaCie, Western Ditigal and Maxtor fail on us at one point or another. So, in 2012, we made the switch to Seagate drives, including their smaller size, higher capacity and (so far) tougher portable drives (like the one above in use in Panama). Before switching to these drives Eric had to split his photo library between two 500MB drives—not exactly convenient or organized. Now his entire photo library fits on one Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 1TB drive. (Note that this line was recently updated to the BackupPlus Portable l line.)

UV skins 50 SPF sun protection shirt SUP

UV Skinz made it into our travel arsenal literally in the final days of 2012 but we’re already sure we’ll be swearing these sun protection shirts every time we’re in the sun for extended periods of time from here on out. With styles cut specifically for men, women and children the fit is good–not too clingy and not too baggy. And despite a fairly heavy feel to the elastene fabric our UV Skinz aren’t too hot and they dry quickly. How do we know? We took our new UV Skinz for a virgin run during a stay at Nitro City Panama Action Sports Resort. This newly-opened place less than two hours from Panama City, Panama is owned by Travis Pastrana, a motocross/X-Games/Red Bull extreme athlete and stunt man turned Nascar driver along with his equally amped-up partners. They all have one goal: give guests a taste of adrenaline and a luxe place to rest and recover after the rush. Nitro City has a top-shelf activities staff (many of them champs in their sports) offering kite boarding, wake boarding, stand up paddle boarding, dirt bike riding, skate boarding and more to newbies and budding pros alike. We fell into the former category as we enjoyed wake boarding and stand up paddle boarding at Nitro City, always wearing our UV Skinz. After four days we were sunburn free. We also like that the seams are flat so UV Skinz don’t rub under life vests or SCUBA equipment or other gear and the fabric is impregnated with SPF 50 protection and it’s chlorine resistant.

We’re not going to go into it. Suffice to say that Karen’s right hip has been in open revolt ever since she hiked up Santiaguito Volcano in Guatemala carrying a too-heavy pack two years ago. We’ve been carrying Leki trekking poles with us in the truck since day one of our Trans-Americas Journey back in 2006 but in 2012 they become a necessary hiking accessory for Karen providing balance and support.


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Travel Gear of the Year 2011

This post is part 1 of 4 in the series Best of 2011

We’re still using (and loving) the travel gear we focused on in last year’s Travel Gear of the Year 2010 post, but a few new additions to our road trip proved to be indispensable in 2011.


Part slingback backpack, part full service camera bag, the Lowepro SlingShot 202 AW Camera Bag holds Eric’s Canon D50 camera body, four Canon lenses, one Flip video camera, one Canon S95 (see below), extra batteries, memory cards, filters and one GorillaPod tripod. When a zipper broke on Eric’s first SlingShot bag after years of use, Lowepro didn’t just fix it they replaced the bag with a brand new SlingShot 202 without asking any questions or requesting a receipt. Incredible! Improvements in the latest version of this bag include an outside tripod hook, a slightly roomier design, a few more convenient small pockets and cushier, more durable strap padding. Plus that outstanding Lowepro customer service.


Eric’s Canon PowerShot S95 camera combines the convenience of a compact, lightweight camera with professional features like the ability to shoot in RAW format and full manual control. The result is pro quality pictures with less schlepping. We’ve come to rely on the S95 as a replacement for Eric’s large Canon D50 in circumstances when it’s smart to be low key and inconspicuous (like night shooting in cities) or during outdoor activities (like volcano trekkking and white water rafting) when a smaller camera is easier to carry and use. The only weak point is the (short) battery life and the less-than-exact battery meter. Invest in a spare and keep it charged.
Note: The Canon PowerShot S95 has recently been updated and the current model is the Canon PowerShot S100. And Lowepro also makes the perfect hard-sided case for these cameras. This compact case is sturdy and it comes with a loop that allows you to thread it onto a belt and carry it inconspicuously underneath a shirt.

Shortly after purchasing a Canon PowerShot S95 (Eric’s first compact digital camera) we decided not lug his full size cameras and lenses up Santiaguito Volcano in Guatemala and take the compact instead. It produced great long exposure images (like the one above) with very little “digital noise” (those annoying speckles left behind by lesser compact digital cameras when shooting in low light situations ). It was also a heck of a lot easier to carry up the steep volcano.


Buy GoPro HERO Camera at GoPro.com
For years now our web site homepage and our monthly Where We’ve Been posts have featured a detailed map showing our exact driving route made using GPS data from our SPOT Satellite Messenger. A few months ago we added a video component to our monthly wrap ups thanks to our GoPro Hero HD camera. Mounted on our windshield, it takes a picture every ten seconds which we then turn into a time-lapse video which shows you what we see as we drive through The Americas. We can now show you roughly two hours of real-time driving in one minute of GoPro video. In 2011 look for GoPro generated time-lapse videos of us zip lining, ATVing, surfing and more. We do find that the battery doesn’t last as long as we’d like (something they’ve apparently addressed with the new model) and when the battery does run out during use it resets the date so your footage is undated.


First we bought just one Targus Lap Chill Mat. When we started fighting over who got to use it we decided we needed two. The Chill Mat acts as a base for a laptop, cooling it with two small fans and providing a stable “desk” when we work in bed with our computers on our laps (like we’re doing right now). Our only complaint is that the little rubber feet come out too easily. We’ve already lost two…



We’re often in circumstances where the internet signal is very, very weak. Our Alfa wireless USB Wi Fi singal booster can usually boost an insufficiently strong signal into something that actually allows us to connect and get some online work and research done.


Sadly, our truck was manufactured in 2007, a year before the radios came with a direct iPod input. Also sadly, the XM Satellilte radio service we subscribed to petered out in Southern Mexico and then the iPod connector we’d been using conked out. That means that for more than year we’ve been a road trip without road trip music. Not anymore! We recently installed a PIE GM12-POD/S Digital iPod Interface Adapter which allows us to connect our iPods (we have two) and use our factory-installed stereo system to control the iPods and listen to everything on them.


It wasn’t all about new tech tools in 2010. We finally ditched the full-size pillows we’d been carting around since embarking on the Trans-Americas Journey back in 2006 and replaced them with Hummingbird Travel Gear compressible travel pillows. Read more about why we love them (small! comfy! clean!) in our full product review.

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Travel Gear of the Year (s) – 4th Anniversary Edition

This post is part 1 of 4 in the series Best of 2010

We just realized that the Trans-Americas Journey’s four year anniversary of active road trip travel (not counting various planned and unplanned recesses since we embarked in April of 2006) just sort of slipped by this month (hey, we’ve been busy!).

That got us looking back at the best of the past 1,500 or so days of travel including the travel gear we’ve used the most and loved the most since day one.


Costa del Mar sunglasses

Our Costas have literally been on our faces (or pushed up on the tops of our heads or dangling around our necks) almost every single day and there’s not a scratch on our 580 series lenses or a loose screw in sight. We’re about to put these watersport-specific sunglasses (the lenses cut glare and improve vision on the water) through their paces double-time when we board the Aggressor III in Belize for a week on the water and some hardcore liveaboard SCUBA diving. We’ll fit right in since 99.9% of the guides and boat captains we’ve met during our 2.5 months of travel from tip to tail in Belize wear Costas too…

Costa del Mar sunglasses


SteriPen water purifierSteriPEN water purifying wand

There’s no telling how many gallons of water we’ve purified over the past four years–especially since leaving the US and Canada in 2009 and entering Mexico, Guatemala and Belize where tap water does not equal drinking water. This thing is tiny, easy to use (can you push a button?), quick (60 seconds) and chemical/yucky taste free since it uses UV light to zap the belly busters. Another plus? Imagine the money we’d have spent and the mountain of plastic water bottles we would have left in our wake during the past four years if we’d been buying commercially purified water instead of using our SteriPEN…



Pacsafe MetroPacsafe anti-theft “securse”

Karen’s Pacsafe Metro 200 shoulder bag is a nylon bag reinforced with lockable zippers and an unslashable wire-filled strap. It’s certainly secure (that’s why she calls it her “securse”). It’s also durable, easy to wipe clean and it holds a ton including:

1 bottle of hand sanitizer
our Samsung SAGA smart world phone in a snug sleeve which protects the screen
multiple pens and notebooks
1 Lonely Planet pocket guide to Spanish (yes, we still cheat)

our car alarm keyfob and keys to the truck
2 packs of chewing gum
Canon S95 digital camera
1 mini tripod (found along the way)
1 Tide Stain Stick (indispensable)
2 different lip balms
Trans-Americas Journey business cards and stickers (yes, we have stickers)
breath mints
2 packets of pocket-size tissues
1 dispenser of Visine dry-eye relief drops
1 in-country cell phone
1 tough-as-nails SureFire E1L Outdoorsman mini flashlight
3 packs of matches
1 mini Totes umbrella (also found along the way)
4 individually packed Ya! bug repellent wipes
1 Canary Wireless Digital Hotspot Wi-Fi Finder
assorted toothpicks
1 sewing kit
2 mini emery boards
pocket-size dental floss dispensers (kindly supplied by our friend Dr. Dave Goldberg of Gentle Dental in Massachusetts)


Cocoon lightweight/warm night sleeping bag

Sure we’ve got hardcore sleeping bags but most of the time south of the border it’s too warm for them. That’s when we go for our Cocoon Silk Tropic Traveler mated with a zip in silk sleep sheet to create a double bag with two different weights. Put the lightly poly-filled side up on cool nights, put the silk-sheet side up on warmer nights. We loved having this lightweight (less than a pound) option when we packed down into Havasu Falls in Arizona for a few nights of camping and, most recently, we broke it out in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize (the world’s first jaguar preserve). It’s also ideal on dodgy beds.


Point 6 sockspoint6 super socks

Wet or dry, short or tall, thick or thin our wardrobe of point6 merino wool socks (made by the folks who started SmartWool but way more affordable) have gotten us through steamy cities, up Half Dome, through caves, down into the Grand Canyon (from both rims) and back up again. They even work in Eric’s cowboy boots and his fancy-time loafers. The magic is in the wool. Feet (even Eric’s baby-soft feet) stay comfy and blister-free even if the socks are wet and we can wear the same pair for days and they don’t get stinky. Honest.






KINeSYS Sunscreen

No stinging in the eyes.  No oil slick on your skin. And no sunburn. This non-aerosol (read: no waste) spray-on super water resistant sunscreen is the reason neither of us has gotten sunburned during the course of our Journey.


This post is part of the Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Travel Blog Carnival hosted this time by Vago over at Vagobond. The Carnival is hosted every two weeks by a BlogSherpa member. The topic this time is Essential Travel Gear.



Some of these products were provided to us for use and review.

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