Stone Town, Zanzibar

Stone Town is the old city within Zanzibar City.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its “being a fine example of the Swahili coastal trading towns of East Africa”.

View from the hotel room balcony.

View from the hotel room balcony.

We found Stone Town to be interesting.  The streets are narrow and don’t run straight.  The architecture is a mix but the buildings are basically mortared together pieces of dead coral, stucco over the coral, and whitewashed.  I thought most the buildings had the British colonial feel to them but understand the overall architecture is a mixture of Arab, Indian, African, and European.

The original but no longer British Embassy.

The original but no longer British Embassy.

Our hotel, Zanzibar Palace Hotel, is located about four blocks into Stone Town from the ocean front road.  Although I can understand how you can get lost we had no trouble finding our way back to our hotel.

The first night we decided to take a walk along the ocean beach.  No — we didn’t walk on the beach where I would get sand all over me and possibly trip on sea weed but on the road and what little sidewalk is available.

Laundry day.

Laundry day.

It was maybe a ten minute slow walk to the park like open space with multiple food vendors are set up for tourist and locals alike to buy and eat from.  I don’t think we succumbed to the first salesman.  Had to be the second.  After all we are professional travelers and know you never let the first salesman, tout, want-a-be guide, or whatever take your money.

 

A Stone Town street.

A Stone Town street.

I don’t remember exactly what we had to eat and drink.  Maybe some fresh squid or octopus which didn’t taste all that fresh or good and who knows what else.  I opted for the fresh squeezed juice and Nancy not wishing to tempt faith more than we were settled for bottled water.  Fun place to eat but the food was at best only average.

 

Our guide was easy to find even in a crowd.

Our guide was easy to find even in a crowd.

We toured Stone Town the next day.  It was an easy tour and our guide was very knowledgeable.  What I found unusual about our guide was he was Christian rather than Muslim.  Zanzibar is approximately 99% Muslin and we had a Christian guide.

Nancy was well into her book, The Sultan’s Shadow, and our guide answered any and all questions she came up with from her readings.  He also was able to answer any question from someone who hadn’t or wasn’t reading the book — like me.

(I swear this is my last travel without an electronic book.  You just can’t carry enough paper back books for a five week trip.)

(Nancy recommends this book.  New York Time’s review: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/12/books/review/Wheatcroft-t.html?_r=0 )

Coral -- the building block of Stone Town.

Coral — the building block of Stone Town.

There was a certain amount of construction in progress as we walked the streets.  I stopped to watch and compare construction in Zanzibar with other places.  Most of the new work for a third world country is reasonably safe — both in the installation and the safety of the worker.  I definitely didn’t think I would be electrocuted should I plug an electronic device into an outlet.

School girls and school boys.

School girls and school boys.

It always fascinates me how clean and well dress the children are where ever we travel.  And Zanzibar was no different.

The boys all wore lime green short sleeve shirts and the girls were covered with a white headscarves.  Each of them looked as if they were ready to learn.

 

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We looked but as with all the other shops we didn’t buy at the Obama Shop.  I will add I didn’t get my haircut at the Obama (men’s) haircut shop we walked by.  I also saw one photograph of President Clinton in the shop we had stepped into.  Is there a shop anywhere in the world where President Clinton didn’t have his photograph taken?

 

Nancy smelling something green.

Nancy smelling something green.

We enjoyed the tour.  Each corner opened up to a new view and no one street seemed to be more than a couple blocks long.

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Zanzibar

Zanzibar.  Just saying the word Zanzibar has always made me think of the exotic in Africa.  The word Zanzibar is exotic sounding all by itself.  Say just the word: Zanzibar.  Thinking exotic aren’t you.

Zannnzzibar!

Waiting room and taxi way and runway.

Waiting room and taxi way and runway.

But first we have to get from mainland Tanzania, Africa to Zanzibar.  Our final departure airport was small.  When we landed, deplaned, identified our bags on the taxi way and stated our next destination — Zanzibar — we were then told to walk over to the waiting room.

Most of us who had been on our flight from the Serengeti were thinking food and something to drink.  We had to ask for the locked chain link gate to be opened.  This took a couple of minutes to find the guy with the key and for him to walk through a security area to the other side of the gate than we were standing and then unlock the gate for us to pass through before re-locking.  We used the restrooms — not the worse I have ever used but not up to the minimum standards I appreciate.  Then Nancy and I refueled ourselves at a ten table cafe.  Following our person re-fueling we had to stand in a passport and security check line in order to reach the outdoor waiting room.

Dang, they lost the pilot door.  Oh yes, there was no co-pilot.  The person in that seat is a passenger.

Dang, they lost the pilot door. Oh yes, there was no co-pilot. The person in that seat is a passenger.

The young man checking my passport never found the first page with my photograph or the entry stamp for Tanzania — I am sure whatever he did look at was important.  I got held up when my backpack required a physical inspection after failing the machine inspection.  I stepped over the conveyor belt with other peoples bags, etc. which had passed the X-ray review.  Bingo, my second camera lens was the problem.  Grabbed my backpack, stepped back over the conveyor belt and met Nancy in the outdoor waiting room.

About 40 minutes after take off there was Stone Town, Zanzibar beneath the plane.  A long ways underneath the plane.

IMG_0831Pilot’s landing was good.  We de-planed and walk to the terminal.  There was my favorite sign: Tom and Nancy Allin.  We are in Zanzibar!

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The Unbelievable Serengeti Plains

Our travel guide(s) recommended saving the Serengeti National Park for our last destination, “save the best for last”.  I have to say the Serengeti is the best park we visited.

I fell in love with the park as we drove from the airstrip to our mobile tent camp.

IMG_0739Absolutely gorgeous in all respects.  The immense and endless horizons, the savannah grasses, the lone or small grouping of acacia trees, the isolated granite kopjes (rock hills), the endless blue skies that remind me of my Arizona desert skies, and the distant mountains to the north which provide a sense of size to where you are.  It is a creation of space and the freedomIMG_0781 the space gives you that makes the Serengeti simply the best place we traveled.

We spent two full days exploring our small area of the Serengeti.  We saw thousands of Blue Wildebeests — none which tried to cross the river no matter how hard we wished for this viewing experience, zebras that typically travel with the wildebeests, a hippopotamuses, a lone Black Rhinoceros, lions, elephants, leopards, several Rock IMG_0753Hyraxes, giraffes, my favorite Wart Hogs — something about their looks and a tail in the air running wart hog I never tiered of seeing, Tawny Eagle, African Cape Buffalo, Elands, Ostriches, Black-backed Jackal, Olive Baboon, Side-striped Jackal, Thomson’s Gazelle, Springbuck, Nile Crocodiles, Vultures: Ruppell’s Griffon + Lappet-faced & White-backed, Black-faced Monkey, Steenbock, Topi, Klipspringer, Banded and IMG_0764Slender Mongooses, Bohor Reedbuck, and another couple of dozen birds.

Saw lots of vultures.  We saw so many vultures hanging out just like in the cartoons where they are just waiting for something to die.

 

Not every river crossing is successful.

Not every river crossing is successful.

IMG_0713The wildebeest make a great meal for the vultures and the crocodiles.

 

 

 

 

 

We even saw a baby.  The baby was a sleeping leopard.  We searched for 30 minutes for its mother but never did come across it in our drive.

 

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The only lions we saw never stirred with our arrival or departure.  The two of them just kept dozing.

The rocks were always a place to look carefully.

 

 

A leopard napping in the late afternoon.

A leopard napping in the late afternoon.

There were a half dozen safari vehicles all moving to get a view and the best the leopard could do was raise his head for a couple of minutes.

Several times we saw one or more Rock Hyrax — a big rat in my descriptive writing.

Rock Hyrax

Rock Hyrax

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the reason the leopards like the rocks is there is always meet on the hoof available for a meal.

 

 

 

We spent hours overlooking the river watching the wildebeest and zebras — 600 to 800 at times — go down to the various crossings but never cross.

"Lets wait until tomorrow to cross".

“Lets wait until tomorrow to cross”.

Note in the far bottom of the photograph there are wildebeest at the river edge.  Also note the vultures sitting in the tree above them.  If I was a wildebeest and saw the vultures I might decide tomorrow is a better day to cross than today while there is still grass on my side of the river.

I do hope some day I get a return trip to the Serengeti.  Regrets on our travels in Uganda and Tanzania are very few but another day or three in the Serengeti would have been fantastic.

Wart Hogs with tails up.

Wart Hogs with tails up.

 

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Email: Chewing or is it Chomping

Subject: Chewing or is it Chomping
Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2013 09:07:58 -0500

We took off from a small graded airport at Lake Manyara that included two more stops roughly 20 and 30 minutes apart before arriving at the landing strip nearest the Serengeti North Wilderness Camp.  I considered the Lake Manyara an airport because it had a waiting room that you entered by walking through an unplugged and unmanned metal detector.  Each following landing strip being smaller and maybe even a little rougher upon landing but always with toilet facilities but not always anything else.  However, we eventually arrived at our landing strip where we were driven to our Tent Camp within the northern portion of the Serengeti National Park.

Our safari coach.

Our safari coach.

Our newest guide, Bajati, greeted us; hustled us into his open-sided Land Rower; and we began our tour as we slowly drove toward our new home for the next three nights.  The scenery is incredible: a wide open space as far as the eyes can see with the Rift Valley Escapement showing at the outer edge of my sight abilities, the Mara River winding through the short green grasses of this area of the Serengeti, boulders in the high ground areas, beautiful black trunk acacia trees interspaced between the boulders, and Impalas, Wildebeest, Zebras, Thomson’s Gazelles, Elands, and the occasional Elephant (in two days of game drives we saw 28 different mammals) somewhere within our view during this introductory Serengeti drive to our Camp.

Bajati, our guide, on our last day at lunch.

Bajati, our guide, on our last day at lunch.

Later in the evening, like about 8:00 pm we retired to our tent.  Within a half hour I am asleep.
Sometime late that night I struggled to understand a sound.  Someone was chewing very loudly.  Wait a minute this isn’t just chewing but chomping.  Those of you who know me well or have worked with me know I need roughly a half gallon of coffee before I am truly aware of my surroundings.  Anyway, the only senses working for me at this very dark hour is my hearing and it hears chomping.  I start to roll over and tell Nancy to chew softly thinking she is up reading and having a late night snack.  Wait a minute.  The chomping is coming from over by right shoulder and Nancy is on my left.  I look over my shoulder and I see a very large shadow image on the tent wall.
I reach out and wake Nancy up and tell her we have company outside our tent.  At first I thought it was a Hippo but it seemed to small for a Hippo.  Ok, a Warthog — no too large.  I decided to stop my Goldilock’s animal guessing game. It wasn’t important what animal it was but that it was eating grass not meat and probably would leave us alone.  I went back to sleep and didn’t give any more thought to our visitor until our 6:30 wake up call from two of the camp assistances who also brought morning (instant) coffee and ginger cookies to our tent.
At our 7:00 breakfast we were told zebras were always wondering through the camp at night and this was what made the chomping noise and created the shadow image on your tent wall.
All I know is that morning I realized I would rather have faced a pride of lions than to have faced Nancy after waking her up to tell her to stop chewing so loudly.
Written from our newest home, our room at the Zanzibar Palace Hotel in where else but Stone Town, Zanzibar.Tom Allin
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A Recommendation for the Four-Wheelers

Stuck in the Serengeti.  Our driver pulled them out.

Stuck in the Serengeti. Our driver pulled them out.

I asked our guide which is better in the parks: Land Rover or Land Cruiser?

His answer: I would own a Land Cruiser because it is more comfortable and parts are available anywhere.  However, you will never get stuck in a Land Rover.

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Are There Any Rhinoceros Left in the Wild?

 

Black Rhinoceros in the Serengeti.

Black Rhinoceros in the Serengeti.

There are two African species rhinoceros.  There is the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and the White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum).  The rhinoceros is the second largest land mammal in the world.  The elephant is largest land mammal.  The rhinoceros ranks among the most endangered species in the world.

It is estimated there are only 2,500 to 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild.  I have read many articles discussing the potential extinction of the rhinoceros in the wild.  I don’t believe this extinction really penetrated my gray matter until we spent over a month in the game parks of Uganda and Tanzania.  In all the hours we spent in the parks, outside the park and in these two countries it wasn’t until our second to last day of safari that we saw a rhinoceros and then it was a single lone rhinoceros.  The only predator of the rhinoceros is man.  The Black Rhinoceros population is down 97.6% since 1960.

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When we saw the rhinoceros rambling across the grasslands for some unfathomable reason I knew I was seeing something I most likely will never see again: a wild rhino.  The rhino moves with a certain elegance for an animal weighing in at over a ton and carried by its stumpy short legs.  At the same time it armor looking plates of skin makes me think of what a dinosaur might look like.

The slaughter of the world’s rhinoceros is so bad that one precaution being taken in certain areas is to drug the rhinoceros and surgically remove the rhino’s horn.  Man is introducing the hornless rhino.  However, the rhino uses it horn for battle over territory and females.  Their horns are also used as a defense against other animals.

IMG_0720Other rhinos are having micro chips implanted which then allows game wardens to track and physically provide the rhinos bodyguard protection.  Personal rhino body guards is my example of desperate measure in desperate times.

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Ngorongoro Crater

The only park in Tanzania that may be more famous than Ngorongoro Crater is the Serengeti.  My guess is very few visitors to Tanzania don’t spend at least one day at the Crater.  Ngorongoro Crater is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the world’s largest inactive intact and unfilled volcano caldron.  It is estimated there are 25,000+ large animals living in the Crater.

Kori Bustard (Ardeotis lori) 50" big.

Big cats

I don’t believe we had driven a mile into the Crater and no where close to the bottom of the crater when we pulled over to look at two lions.  Of course there were eight other vehicles already stopped for the lions and within another half hour I am guessing 18 safari vehicles were jockeying for best viewing position.

We spent an hour watching these two lions.  The last 40 minutes we watch as they split up to circle around in opposite directions to bring down a badly limping zebra.  The zebra was still alive and a half mile from the lions when they gave up and we gave up on the lions.

Kori Bustard (Ardeotis lori) 50" big

Kori Bustard (Ardeotis lori) 50″ big

Although the crater is known for its animals it does have a large bird population.

Among the large number of birds is the Lessor Flamingo.  I didn’t take the time to count but am estimating there were several thousand Lessor Flamingos on the lake.

Peter explained to us that some of the animals come and go.  There is no fence around the crater.  I think in a simplify way of explanation it is easy to say the animals think along the lines of  “Why leave heaven”.

Brindle Gru or Blue Wildebeest and Zebras

Brindle Gru or Blue Wildebeest and Zebras

The drivers are required to stay on the roads.  Since the animals have no fear of the vehicles they walk in front and around you so there is no need to go off road.

 

 

 

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I have no idea how many animals we saw.  However, Peter spent the afternoon looking for the fabled Rhinoceros and unfortunately neither we nor anyone saw one this day.

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Hippopotamus out of the water.

Hippopotamus out of the water.

We did see three hippopotamus out of the water and napping.  Look closely, can you imagine these hippos standing on their hind legs wearing tutus?

 

 

 

Spotted Hyaena -- it is the scariest animal we saw and crossed the road ten yards in front of us.

Spotted Hyaena — it is the scariest animal we saw and crossed the road ten yards in front of us.

The Spotted Hyaena is just downright nasty looking.  They walk with their mouth open and a full set of dagger like teeth open for your inspection. It doesn’t take any imagination to visualize those teeth tearing flesh from bone.

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In the four weeks we have safari through Uganda and Tanzania and we have seen some brightly colored lizards.  Can’t say the Arizona lizards strut the same colors as their African cousins.

 

 

Late in the afternoon we came across two more lions.  Within a few minutes of our stopping they also got up and went zebra hunting.  All I can say is they had better do better after we left or it was going to a hungry night for the two of them.

Late in the afternoon we watch two lions on the hunt -- they went hungry.

Late in the afternoon we watch two lions on the hunt — they went hungry.

Just strolling across the grasslands.

Just strolling across the grasslands.

What is animal viewing if there isn’t an elephant to look at.

 

 

 

 

View across the crater floor.

View across the crater floor.

And I saved the best photograph for last.  A zebra scratching its ass.

Self explanatory and the other zebras were waiting in line to take this zebra's place.

Self explanatory and the other zebras were waiting in line to take this zebra’s place.

We did see one male lion in the crater but the distance was too great for my camera lens.  However, we each got a good view with our binoculars.

 

 

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Ahh, the Good Life

We have been on the road for almost four weeks.  There have been many hours in the last four weeks when we have been literally on the road.  Roads with asphalt between the potholes, roads with mud, roads with dust, roads that don’t qualify to be called roads, roads that are trails and the list goes on.

This morning is a lazy morning.  We went to bed without a set time to get up or a wake up knock.  And damn, if we both didn’t sleep until almost 8:00 am!  Keeping with our relaxing morning it took 30 minutes for us to get out of bed, walk to the dining room, and have our first cup of coffee.

Peter at 9:00.  The three of us sat and talked about the route we have taken to date.  We discussed how I was keeping track of birds, new birds to Tanzania, and new birds for our life list.  I explained ebird.com and its reliance on citizen scientist.  Eventually we finished our last cup of coffee, checked out, and hit another road.

The grounds are green even in the dry season -- what are wells for other than to water grass and plants.

The grounds are green even in the dry season — what are wells for other than to water grass and plants.

Today’s drive is a short drive; maybe an hour if you don’t stop to souvenir shop which of course we did.  We bought the obligatory carved African animals and when you buy them in Africa after four weeks of seeing the animals in the flesh the carved animals look a little better than the first time you saw them.

We arrived at our new home: Plantation Lodge.

Our cottage is behind the banana plants.

Our cottage is behind the banana plants.

“A genteel place with spacious cottages set in expansive grounds and a cosy, highland ambience.”  Lonely Planet

The pool and distant farm land.

The pool and distant farm land.

 

 

 

 

 

A great bar!

A great bar!

We enjoyed ever minute of our stay at the Plantation Lodge.  I put their small bar and outdoor seating up there with the best I have enjoyed.

What you don’t see in the photo to the left is the 4′ diameter glass floor looking into the basement wine cellar.  You can rent the wine cellar for an evening.  I didn’t ask to see the wine list.  I do know the majority of the wines I saw in the bar were South African.

I wonder if I can grow new world agaves in the piney woods of East Texas -- these look great.

I wonder if I can grow new world agaves in the piney woods of East Texas — these look great.

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Lake Manyara

Black-backed Jackel

Black-backed Jackel

Our next stop was Lake Manyara with the hope of seeing a tree climbing lion.  What can I say.  The books tell you seeing a tree climbing lion is a “possibility”.  Of course, when you are in the NE United States there is also the possibility of seeing Big Foot.  I am sure this is a nice park but it is also a park I would recommend skipping.

 

Laying down vultures -- Nancy had to have a photo.

Laying down vultures — Nancy had to have a photo.

Good news was the Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge was a big lodge, had a hair dryer in the room for Nancy, the weather was cool, our room had a great view out over the savannah, the food was good, we had internet in the room, the room had several outlets for charging our gear, and we needed a place to rest.

 

Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater (Merops oreobates)

Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater (Merops oreobates)

We had Peter take us on a three hour morning drive and a three hour late afternoon drive.  We saw olive baboons, 1″ diameter crabs — no we didn’t come to Africa for the crabs, wart hogs, blue monkeys, vervet monkeys, hippopotamus, Thompson Gazelle (a first for us), zebras, Black-backed Jackal (a first for us), wildebeest, banded mongooses, giraffes, Dwarf Mongoose (a first for us), and elephants.  Our bird count of 27 birds included eight new birds.

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Email: Lions in the Nights

Subject: FW: Lions in the Night

Three evenings ago we were signed up for a night drive originating from Oliver’s Tent Camp (a must stop if you are traveling in Tanzania) within the Tanganari National Park.

We left the camp at 5:30 pm with the sun beginning to set.  Stopped to view a couple of birds, made it in time to the swamp — one of the most beautiful sites we have ever viewed — and watched a hundred plus elephants leave the water for the forest and a 1000 cape buffalo make for the swamp from the forest.

As night took over from the day light we drove carefully through the elephants while using the Landcuiser’s lights plus a  light man who swung a spot light from side to side looking for the reflection of animal eyes.

There is our first animal — a small rabbit running down the road in front of us.  Latter we saw a jackal who was dining on a cape buffalo which had died/been killed the day before.

We had been out for about two hours when we turned around to make the trip back to camp.  Saw two hyenas but not well.  Not too much latter we stop for five minutes to watch an African Civet — a shaggy low slung dog like animal weighing between 15 and 40 pounds that belongs in the cat family.

Then it was back to several elephants which the guide/driver turned off all lights so as not to disturb or more importantly make mad.  Then we looked out and all we could see we hundred and hundred of pairs of eyes looking at us — the cape buffalo were grazing after having filled up with water at the swamps edge.

We had passed the swamp and were about 20 minutes from camp when our guide stopped the car and pointed to the right.  Sitting and laying next to the road were eight lions.  All within 30 feet of the Landcruiser.  Our guide told everyone to look to the side and the back of the Landcruiser for additional reflecting eyes.  I quietly called out for the guide to look to the left side of the road, another pair of eyes.  The light man moved his light and sure enough the eyes belong to a ninth lion.

About this time, Nancy leans over and says, “I have never taken a game drive in an open-sided vehicle.”  While at the same time, the guide says, “This is going to be tricky with lions on both sides of the roads.”  Which Nancy then says, “This is scary.  An open sided vehicle with lions on both sides of the road less than 30 feet away.”  Hey, its Africa and we came to see wildlife.  I will state, I didn’t bother to pull out my two inch pocket knife and hoped the park ranger with his rifle sitting behind us was a good shot and I would not be permanently deaf should he have to use his rifle.

We continued to watch the lions with the guide hoping they would move on and at the same time asking everyone to keep looking around the vehicle for any additional lions.

While we watched, the lions laid.  Nothing we did bother them in the least.  This included the guide twice backing up and then moving the open-sided Landcruiser at the nearest laying down lion.  The noise of the engine and the size of the vehicle was hopefully going to get the lions to move.  Unfortunately for us, the lions were totally unimpressed with this tactic.  Looking into the nearest lions eyes all you saw was disdain and boredom for this maneuver.

The guide again explained we were in a tricky situation.  With lions on both sides of the road he didn’t want to drive between them.  He said he was worried that one or more of the lions might decide to seek dinner from within the vehicle!

Finally the guide decided it was “safer” to drive off road around the lions and risk a tire flat which he never did explain how we resolve this potential problem than between the lions.  Off we go.  No flat tire and we continue to the lodge.

Only one more stop,  In the middle of the road is a 15″ long Puff Adder — yes, it is a viper and a snake you don’t want to be bitten by.  Then again, no one in our Landcruiser had any intention of jumping down and picking a fight with the snake.  We watch for several minutes until the Adder had slithered off into the brush.

P.S. When we arrived back at camp we were escorted down to the private dining area and served a great meal with red wine — and following the lion encounter what can I say but no wine was left in the bottle.

Tom Allin

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