UPDATE FROM IRAN

I may end up becoming a travel agent for Iran. Currently in the mountains near the Iraqi border, Howaraman, which is a series of Kurdish Villages built into the mountains. I feel like I’ve entered a movie set – never have I seen anything like it, never will I see anything like it. The people are happy, honest, kind and all that crap. I’ve been invited into family homes and cooked for, shown family photos, given tea etc etc. The impression that we have of Iran being dangerous, is just plain embarrassing on our part. I won’t crap on about that though. Exactly halfway through the trip, plan to dart east to the desert tomorrow before making my way south to cross the Persian Gulf to Dubai, where i will meet a Bondurant. Strangely, this seems to be the only place I’ve had a wifi connection – deep the in mountains. Not fast enough to upload pics to my site though, but I can sneak a few very lo-res versions from the past few weeks here, all from north west Iran, which is a spectacularly diverse region in its own right. I’ve taken thousands of pics, it’s a shame I can’t share them as i go, internet is practically useless. I have absolutely no idea what is happening in the rest of the world, please let me know if Obama decides to bomb us.

Travel stories below.

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Posted in Iran, Travel Post Comment

The Agony and the Ecstacy

Finally, a wi-fi connection. No chance of posting photos til I’m out of Iran, but words can flow freely…

My introduction to Iran, while in many ways great, was also quite tiring. Of my first 3 (very cheap) guesthouses, only one had a shower facility (cold), none had wifi, all had squats, none had toilet paper. Coffee  has been difficult, no more ‘breakfast and coffee included’ like turkey. I soon learnt I needed to buy a jar of instant coffee if i was going to stand any chance of surviving. On a few days, I was forced to forgo my morning coffee due to lack of boiling water – this is a very unpleasant way to begin a day, especially when you haven’t showered. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to start a day without coffee, now I know. It’s bleak. Don’t do it, it’s not worth it. Do whatever you have to do to get that hit. Whatever you have to do.

My obsession with mountains meant I was obliged to head up to Alamut Valley and the Castles of the Assassins. Getting there requires you to play the role of a ball in a pinball machine. It seems like all the cabbies collaborate –  you get in one, he flaws it through the traffic, drops you off (while the car is still moving) to get in another, and so on. They are genius drivers. One managed to cut through absolute gridlock by crossing to the other side of the road, then sneaking through a tiny gap on a road island, doing a U-turn and somehow being on the other side of the gridlock. He turned to me and smiled, with a look that said ‘That was bloody genius wasn’t it’.  Getting to the core of Alamut Valley requires a long, winding journey, which made me extremely nauseous. At one of our pitstops, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and scared the crap out of myself ‘Aaaaah!’. My face was yellow. ‘Im not well’, I thought. I thought the journey was going to be an hour, it was 3. We made many stops along the way, dropping people off, picking them up, dropping them off again. At one point I was sitting in the glovebox. It’s the same deal with the massive busses, they don’t stop at designated places like they do in Turkey, they just slam on the breaks and pull over if someone waves at them. The first time this happened I was convinced we were going to crash into something and die. Then I saw what looked like a Shepherd board the bus, and all was well.

Back to the cab, eventually we made it to Ghazor Khan. The fun was just beginning. I found 2 guesthouses, as listed in lonely planet, both were definitely closed. When you’re lugging a rucksack around in the hot sun, hopelessly, there comes a point when you just stop and collapse, and say to yourself, ‘Please, no more. This isn’t working. I need food and coffee, now‘. It’s usually at this point a miracle occurs. Something always happens right at the point where you’re about to give up and consign yourself to finally living that fear where there is no accommodation, anywhere, so you just sit on a curb somewhere til the sun comes up. It’ll happen one day, not today though. I heard voices in the distance, so climbed a steep road and saw a guy fixing his car. He hadn’t heard me approaching, so rather than just keep walking and scare the living shit out of him by suddenly appearing right next to him, I made my presence known when I was some 20 metres away, ‘Salaam’. He looked up, with an expression that said, ‘Whoa, wasn’t expecting to see that’. I said ‘o-tel’, with desperation creeping in to my voice. He pointed to the top of a hill. He’s either fucking with me, by making me climb another hill for no reason, or he’s serious. I had nothing to lose, I’ll probably end up drifting into the Caspian Hinterland, oh well. It was the jackpot. A guy saw me coming and excitedly jumped out of his chair, saying ‘yes, yes, yes, this way, good room for you!’ It was a great moment. He hadn’t had a customer in 2 years, I hadn’t eaten in 10 hours, we embraced. The room was a sight for sore-eyes – big, bright, with kitchen, veranda, hot shower and, drumroll… western toilet. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see a western toilet, and one that didn’t smell like raw death. Plus a nice little cat who followed me during my struggles. He’d go missing, then pop out from some bushes, go missing again before finally showing up when I’d settled into the new room. He meowed like he was screaming, but apart from that he was good. There was even a kettle to boil my coffee. ‘Im staying put for a few days’, I thought. The first night I thought of nothing but the morning, where I’ll be able to have coffee on the veranda, and read the New Yorker on the iPad #yuppie. I can’t wait, it’s gonna be so good. My mate cooked me dinner, and breakfast, and lunch, and dinner etc. Each meal was about £2. The room was about £10. Right in the middle of gigantic, endless mountains. The ecstasy.

The Agony

The ecstasy was short lived, as on day 2 there was an invasion. Two car loads of local tourists struck with lethal force, completely surrounding my room. It was chaos. What amazed me was how they never ever stopped for a single breath, they just spoke incessantly, all of them, all the time. On my day of departure, I had to be up at 6:00 to get my ride, and get this – they were already up yapping away. ‘For fucks sake’ I thought, ‘this is ridiculous’. As I passed their room to get in the car, I banged on their door, ‘Don’t you motormouths ever shut up? Fuckwits!’. I continued, ‘What about the serenity? You can’t enjoy the serenity if you’re always yelling at each other. How’s the bloody serenity!!’. I said that a lot to myself before they arrived, ‘How’s the serenity. Oh, look at the cat (the cat staring blankly into the distance), how’s the serenity’.

Posted in Iran, Travel Post Comment

Food, Vanity and Coke in Iran

From my experience thus far, it’s safe to say Iranians are not the healthiest eaters on the planet. Junk food is everywhere. Entire stores are filled with chocolate, cake and biscuits. This can’t be good for my veneers. Last year I shelled out for 2 (giant) veneers on my front teeth, because I noticed my front teeth were disappearing. As a friend put it when she saw them for the first time, ‘They’re quite… um, big aren’t they’. ‘They are, thanks. I was a little bit paranoid about them, now I’m very paranoid about them’. Next time you see a photo of me, look out for them – they’re the 2 large, luminous blocks under my top lip. Back to junk food in Iran, it’s like a western country, back before we realised junk food was bad and needed to be regulated (regulated by the junk food companies, of course). Often, on the long, long (long) bus journeys, I’m forced into battle conditions – stocking up on biscuits and chocolate simply to avoid hunger. ‘Where’s the fruit?’ I cry. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a staunch advocate of fruit. Wherever I work, colleagues are amazed by my gigantic fruit bowl, and the speed at which it disappears. In Iran, sure – there’s fruit, but it either seems to be every single store, or none at all. If you’re in a village or bus terminal where it’s ‘none at all’, it’s sugar or (a big) bust. My body must be wondering what the hell is going on. It’s at the point now where, as I write this, I can actually feel the presence of my stomach below, in a way I’ve never felt before. Parts of it are hanging over the seat belt. There is even a little (gulp)… jiggling. ‘it’s just the bumpy road’ I tell myself. When Adrienne arrives in Dubai, I’m going to be one of those guys with a name-sign, so she recognises me, instead of wondering who the tubby little chap is that’s calling her. ‘Oh, it’s you. You look… different’. ‘Yeah, I’m hooked on sugary snacks, sorry’, as I stuff my face with biscuits and candy bars.

It’s all good though, I’m organised. Before the trip, I had her sign a vanity clause. I’m 33, very soon to be 34. In the next few years I reckon there’ll start being visible signs of hair loss. By my forties, it’ll all be on its way out. Put it this way, I’m not going to be one of those 60 year old men that still has a prosperous head of hair. I’m not bald, but I will be bald. And when that happens, there’s going to be some serious questions about the combination. ‘What combination?’ you ask. Well, I’m already short, and I’m certainly not going to resolve that issue. If anything, I’ll get shorter. That’s ok though, short guys can do just as well as regular guys – providing they have hair. So, the combination? I’ll be short, and bald. ‘Ouch, back of the queue thanks mate’. And then, what if work gets busy and I no longer have all this time for the gym, fitness and healthy eating. Short, bald and jiggly. ‘Ok, love, if you could just sign right here. Many thanks’, as I run my hand through my hair, and then brush away the hairs that fell out. I digress, back to Iran – the strange thing is, despite the ubiquity of junk food, I barely ever see a fat Iranian. They all seem to be snacking on biscuits, cakes and burgers all the time, yet most are built like match sticks. In the USA, it’s no mystery – junk food is everywhere, food portions are gigantic, and so are the people. Iran, please explain.

They are also obsessed with cola. They automatically assume you’ll have a bottle with your meal. I ended up just accepting it rather than saying ‘No, no cola. Juice’, then going through the whole production of pointing at the fridge trying to locate fruit juice, which may or may not exist. So, now I’m hooked on the stuff again. I was a one-a-day-guy back in the early noughties, i never touch it now though. Until now that is. When I eat my lunch or dinner, instead of being content with juice, I now think, ‘You know what this meal would benefit from? A nice cold bottle of coke. Oh Coke, its great stuff isn’t it’. I’ve started drinking bottles even when I’m not eating, just for fun. The long road to recovery begins again soon.

Posted in Iran, Travel Post Comment

Welcome to Iran

Look at this, I have access to LO-FI, not much else though. I can’t access wi-fi on my devices , so I need to rough it in web cafes.

I should have listened to the scaremongers, my first day in Iran was a nightmare. Firstly, I was detained for 7 hours upon entry by the Revolutionary Guard, and questioned heavily about my links to my American girlfriend. I was then tortured. When I was finally released, an angry mob was waiting outside, armed with sticks and fire, dressed in turbans and burkas, just like in the news. I had to run. After around 15 minutes of running, a car came out of nowhere and skidded to the sidewalk, ‘Get in!’. ‘Who are you?!’ I screamed. ‘Adrian, there’s no time, you need to get in this car, NOW!’. His name was Jack Bauer, he was on a covert mission to capture the nuclear bomb and detonate it in the Indian Ocean. We sped away. ‘What are you doing here Adrian, this is a dangerous place.’ ‘I thought it was just a myth’. Then we were hit. It was a bunch of masked extremists. Jack did a commando role and shot most of them. He was outnumbered and consequently captured and dragged away. I ran. I ran from Iran. As I ran, I saw three public hangings, as well as a private one. There were angry mobs everywhere. Bang! One car bomb. Then another. I eventually found a hotel. The owner took one look at my Passport and burned it, ‘Now you’re stuck here’. I spent the night huddled up in a corner with some stray dogs. As I dozed in and out of sleep, the sounds of Iran rang in my ears; mobs chanting, a radical cleric preaching, another nuclear test exploding, and the harrowing howls of Jack Bauer as he was being tortured in his cell. Welcome to Iran.

Unfortunately, the reality was painfully pleasant. I’ve never had such a relaxed customs experience. Upon leaving Turkish customs, and entering the Iranian side, I was greeted by a smiling soldier, who managed to make two jokes in the minute we spoke. I was then taken to the magic window to present my Passport. I was accompanied by a casually dressed official who enjoyed making plenty of small talk with me and welcoming me to Iran. Then, I was escorted to a room, where I was introduced to a smiling young lady (what;s with all the smiles I thought, isn’t this customs?) She went through a few formalities, before giving me her contact details, saying ‘If you need any tourist advice or information, let me know’. She also wrote down the conversion rates, and told me how much a taxi should cost.

As I expected, everyone wants to know where I’m from. They all seem to really like Australia.

‘Where are you from?’
‘Australia’.
He smiles and nods, ‘Ah, Ooostralia’.
He turns to tell his friends, ‘Oostralia’.
The friends all smile and nod, ‘Ah, Oostralia’.

Posted in Iran, Travel Post Comment

Tell People You’re Going to Iran

There’s a game I created in the lead up to the trip, it’s called ‘Tell people you’re going to Iran.’ It involves telling people you’re going to Iran. I’d go through the itinerary, then pause and say ‘Oh yeah, and Iran’. It was like saying you just shat yourself. Someone would drop their glass. Any American patriots in earshot would get straight onto the phone about me aiding the enemy. Most people develop a look on their face that says ‘Why? Why, why oh why?’. Then they come right out and say it, ‘Why would anyone want to go to Iran, they’re dangerous people.’ I would then strike an arrogant, patronising tone, and mock people about their ignorance. I then loudly ridicule them for getting their news from Rupert Murdoch, before storming outside in a huff, clicking my fingers so that my entourage and loyalists follow. It’s when I’m outside I realise no one followed, and they’ve already forgotten about me and moved on to something else, so I just go home. I leave pubs like that a lot, I try and say goodbye but everyone just ignores. ‘Guys, I’m off, see you later’. Nothing. ‘Who was that guy anyway?’

Me thinking I’m going to get stoned to death or kidnapped in Iran, is like a Persian or Arab thinking that if they go to the US/UK, they’ll  be stripped naked and photographed on their knees with a dog collar, and then killed by sadistic western soldiers, as happened in neighbouring Iraq. Or have their door kicked down and house burned by heroic troops. We only hear the bad stuff about Iran, and the bad stuff is bad (Sharia Law, anyone?), but it’s only a snippet of a vast, ethnically diverse country, in much the same way that there’s much, much more to the USA than military invasions. We can’t judge entire nations and their people purely on the bad apples. Heck, what would happen if the world judged Australia on its choice of Prime Minister? We’d be laughed at everywhere we went, more so. There is no way you can explain Tony Abbot. I’ve tried, it can’t be done. Just take it. Americans abroad had to cop it during the era of W Bush, it’s only fair that we too accept ridicule for giving power to a brain dead ideologue.

Is Iran dangerous? Well, yes – if, I plan on having gay sex, taking drugs or try to enter the country illegally. That said, Iran is a much safer place to try and enter ‘illegally’, than say, Australia. You don’t wanna mess around with that countries borders, they’re fucking crazy. ‘Stop the boats! Lock them up! Send them to Papua New Guinea!!!’. Wtf? Furthermore, I like to keep all options open on a trip, so I’m not ruling out gay sex, or snorting heroin from the breasts of a muslim escort . I play hard, and I play fast – a bull like me has no time for rules. (For any Revolutionary Guards reading, I’m just pullin your headscarf). From what I read, Iranians are among the most ridiculously friendly people in the world – they’re so happy you decided to see their country, they just wanna make a good impression. That, and they’re naturally hospitable people, much like many people across the Middle East.

This is my closing statement before crossing the border, everyone huddle round, cue piano… Throughout the world, Governments tend to serve themselves and the careers of their their staff. The militaries serve their weapon contracts and geopolitical strategic interests. Corporate media serves the interests of the military and big business. The people just try and get by off what they’ve got, whether in New York or Tehran. Iran? Respect the law, know the customs, learn some phrases, be open to conversation, don’t snort smack from a Muslim’s breasts.

See you on the other side*

*Please note, my head and my body may reach the other side separately. In such circumstances, you are encouraged to reduce mail costs by shipping all body parts back to the family in the same package. Modest funeral requested.

Posted in Iran, Travel Post Comment

Pray for Me

‘Mum, I need to make an important journey to Iran’. Mum bursts into tears, ‘Oh dear, you’re going to die. I’ll pray to The Lord for your safety’. ‘Ah, I think the Governor in these lands is Allah, and his deputy Mohammad. I’m not sure how it works – if you say a prayer from Australia, does it automatically connect straight through to Jesus’ line, and his Dad God? Or, is it based on who you’re praying for? I.e, if you pray for me, and I’m in Iran, does it automatically connect through to Allah’s line, so he can look over me? Look, let’s play it safe, pray to Jesus, tee him up for the trip, then do a sneaky one to Allah. I can send you some basic phrases in Farsi and Arabic so he knows what you’re saying. That way, if I’m captured by the Mujahideen, I can say that my Mum prayed to Allah. They can check the records, and voila, free. I might get cheaper insurance too. Mum, are you there. Oh, she hung up.’

**For the record, the above is a false characterisation of Sue, she offered no resistance, and trusted my judgement.

Posted in Iran, Travel Post Comment

London to Australia by land & sea, Part 1: Over

As my cart quietly pulls up to the most easterly point of Turkey, the Iranian border, my horse stops and my drivers turns to me, ‘I’ve taken you as far as I can, from here, you’re on foot’. ‘Much obliged Sir, Teşekkür ederim’, as I hand my driver 10 Lira and and an Australian football, ‘This is a souvenir, a real Football’. I observe a sign in Farsi, which I use Google Translate to decipher, ‘Please leave all western evils behind before entering Iran’. I promptly unpack Facebook, Flickr, Skype and 2 bottles of beer from my sack. A Persian approaches, ‘And that one too, Sir’, pointing to the bottle of beer in my pants.  ‘But please Sir, I’m Australian, I need it’. ‘Ha! Beer? Where you’re going, you won’t need beer’. ‘Ok’ (I have another hidden further down my pants). As I walk the final stretch, the credits begin to role on Part 1 of the trip. Part 2, ’30 days in the Islamic Republic’, begins tomorrow. The trip has officially begun.

Road to Iran

Posted in Travel Post Comment

Press Conference

In response to the media’s unrelenting attacks on my sanity for my decision to travel to Iran, I’ve decided to call a press conference, the intention being to set the record straight about the level of actual danger I’ll face in Iran, as opposed to the pretend danger.

Thanks for coming at such short notice everyone, there’s not much time, so I’ll keep this brief. There has been an endless barrage of concern about my safety, and my sanity, for placing Iran on my itinerary. Endless talk of Iran being dangerous place for travellers. Such talk is unfounded, and my staff and I find it grossly offensive to suggest that we would be so naive as to travel to a dangerous country. If you think Iran is a dangerous place for travellers, with complete respect, it’s probably because you don’t know a lot about Iran. If anyone can give me an actual reason for why this trip is any more dangerous, than say New York, Rio or a Greek party island, I’ll cancel it right now. Over to you…

In your opening statement, you referred to ‘your staff’. However, you’re on your own, are you crazy?

Next!!

Iranians are unpredictable people, many are religious extremists/terrorists. You won’t be safe with them.

How many Iranians have you met? Hey, Sherlock! I asked you a question, how many have you met?

Well, none, but on the news I saw..

Please, please stop. You’re embarrassing yourself. You’ve never been to Iran, and never met an Iranian, but yet you’re convinced they’re dangerous people? So I take it you think all Americans are members of the CIA, too? Put your copy of the Daily Telegraph down, go online, and Google ‘Backpacking Iran’. You’ll find endless travel blogs of people who have actually been to Iran. Your challenge: find one, just one, that says it was dangerous. Find one that doesn’t say that Iranians are the friendliest, most welcoming people they’ve ever met. You just need to find one. Then go onto Amazon, and enter ‘Iran’ into the search engine, and take a look at how many respected writers are making the point that the west urgently needs to change its militant stance on Iran. That the west’s position is based on myths, and it is a position that is flirting with catastrophe. Then read ‘Lonely Planet Iran’. Then, tell me again that Iranians are dangerous people. These fears you have, they are based on what exactly? The news? There’s your answer kid, don’t believe everything you see on the news, it’s cherry picked for your entertainment. What are you going to learn in a 2 minute clip, or 3 paragraph article? Next!!

What are your thoughts on Iran’s continued defiance of international law to build a nuclear bomb?

Firstly, can you please present to me the evidence you have on their desire to build a bomb. *Silence*. Hey! I asked you a question, hand me some evidence.

I don’t have any with my, but Obama said

Ok, I’ll stop you right there. You don’t have any evidence, because there is no evidence. Never has been. You should have learnt your lesson after Iraq. Iran may be building a bomb, but until there is evidence, there also may be a unique breed of wild dogs who roam freely on the moon. You wanna talk about international law? Surprising, because most western politicians and journalists stay well clear of the subject. There’s a good reason for this, it’s because the west doesn’t actually follow international law, it just sets it. Firstly, it’s illegal to threaten to bomb a country, so the US and Israel are guilty of that charge. Secondly, Iran is a signatory of the The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), a status that gives them the indisputable right to enrich uranium. Under international law, they are permitted to enrich uranium. It was one of the clear stipulations of the treaty, a countries’ sovereign right to enrich uranium on its own soil is a right that should always be protected. The Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Japan also have uranium-enrichment facilities as signatories of the NPT. So, far from being in defiance of international law, they act firmly within it. You’ll never hear Obama or Netanyahu talk about the treaty though. There’s good reason for this, firstly, Israel isn’t a signatory of the NPT. Secondly, if they acknowledged Iran’s sovereign right to enrich uranium, they wouldn’t be able to justify the economic sanctions, or a much sought after terror attack. The economic sanctions, btw, are not mandated by the UN. They’re also not supported by pretty much the entire world. It’s only a select few countries that are worried about Iran. They just happen to be the world’s police states, so they’re the only ones that matter. Aren’t the police supposed to obey the law too? Of course not. Next!!

You know that a German was on death row for having sex with a Muslim in Iran? And 2 Americans were detained for hiking on the border?

Yes I know, we all know, because it’s the type of news story we all love. It’s not really news though: if you enter a country illegally, you’re going to be in the shit, just ask Australia. Same scenario if you blatantly disrespect the customs. I don’t agree with many of the customs, but I’m not going to choose now to protest them. I have my entry visa and plan to enter via the appropriate channels. I’m not having sex in Iran. I’m not taking drugs, or drinking alcohol. If I don’t get hit by a bus, I’ll be fine.

It has Sharia Law, They’re crazy.

Yes, sharia law is crazy. So is the number of americans shooting each other everyday, so is the invasion of Iraq, so is Clapham High street on a Saturday night. Glass houses. I’m not going to test the boundaries of sharia law, so it won’t affect me. If, as a traveller, you plan on breaking the law in the countries you visit, you’re going to find trouble. Whether in SE Asia, Australia or Iran. If you obey the law, you won’t find trouble, unless you’re going to a dangerous country, which Iran is not.

Why are you such an apologist for Iran?

There are a lot of myths about Iran, this has been proved by people’s reaction to me going. I don’t think the US or Israel should bomb them, so I’ll always go into bat for that to be avoided. That’s not batting for Iran, it’s batting for sanity.

What about the terrorists though. Aren’t you afraid of being hung?

Ok, this press conference is over. Ignorant! The lotta you! Blind sheep, baaah, baaah, watch Sky News, read the Herald-Sun. Wake up and see past your own balls.

That’s when I pulled out my AK 47…

‘You want danger, this is dangerous!’

Security enters to restrain.

‘The truth, seek the truth!!!’

I was injected with a sedative, but the point was made. My team quickly drove me to the border and threw my body over, with an accompanying note ‘This prick has been talking about Iran for a year, take him, he’s yours’. My hanging is tomorrow, please try and attend.

Allah bless xx

Posted in Iran, Travel Post Comment

Meanwhile, in Dogubayazıt

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Posted in Travel Post Comment

I’m Getting Closer – the Wild East of Turkey

I like it when you reach a point in a trip and receive a sign that you’re getting further and further from the world you know – from tourists, from everything, and entering another world. Last year it was entering a station in Siberia at 4:00am. This year it was during a break on the bus en route to the wild east of Turkey. It’s 2:00 AM, which is always a fun time, especially when you know you’re no chance of ever sleeping. We disembark to a bunch of men standing in front of a shop. For whatever reason, a mans voice is shouting into speakers, loudly, God knows what, over and over and over. Then it would play a little jingle, and start again. There’s a woman sitting on the ground. I thought to myself, ‘Gee, shits starting to get weird’. So weird that the guy whose voice was incessantly shouting over the speaker, somehow sounded Australian. Then a young Turkish woman approached and hands me a piece of fruit, ‘I saw you before, I thought you were Turkish’. O…..k. She gave me a pear, she loves pears and thought I should try a Turkish pear. I didn’t really care for it, it was so hard it nearly cracked my front teeth. ‘Thanks though, mmmmm, it’s delicious. I really love the rocky texture. Now can you help me search for my cracked teeth, I actually need some of those.’ Surely I’ve stumbled into some movie set, and the director has decided to just go with it. That, or I’m finally getting closer to where I was headed.

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