True confessions: I didn´t primarily come to Peru to see Machu Picchu, or to cross the equator for the first time in my life, nor to confirm (I hope my niece Anna isn´t reading this) that if you chop up a guinea pig and toss it in a tandoori oven it makes a tasty (although ultimately unsatisfying) meal . And no, it wasn´t for that either, you tawdry-minded degenerate.
Rather, my decision to venture into Peru was driven by an interest that was first piqued by a National Geographic article enticingly titled ¨Peru: Hell and Back¨, which describes the authors´ experience at an Ayahuasca retreat in Peru.
Ayahuasca is a traditionally used amazonian vine that is considered to be the most potent hallucinogen on in the world. Further reading confirmed my interest, and it became the real reason for my detour south.
I won´t elaborate much beyond saying that it was imbibed in a ritualistic setting similar to the article, and was an intense, at times EXTREMELY difficult, but overall absolutely exquisite experience. Both times.
Despite sister Liz´s prediction, my mind doesn´t seem to be mush, at least no more so than it was prior.
I also think it´s safe to say that I was the only one of the group imbibing who would describe themselves as a ¨staunch materialist¨, most of the participants subscribed to what I´ll call a more ¨Rococo¨ spiritualist world view. Obviously I have a high tolerance for all of that, given my motley assortment of friends (love you guys, you know who you are). Funny juxtaposition though, that on this trip I´m reading Steven Pinker´s ¨The Blank Slate¨, ostensibly about cognitive sciences and human nature, but which is also a bit of a materialist manifesto. The more I read it, the more Pinker is becoming something of a personal hero (Do I hear the sound of someone gagging in Issaquah?).
But, if you were prone to faith, I can easily see how you would take the ayahuasca experience as a confirmation, at least if it was like mine anyway. In fact, if I had a Deity of my own, I would likely be sitting here telling you that I had caught a glimpse.... But I´m not (I know, I know: ¨pearls before swine¨?). There´s no ambiguity though, that it was a fantastic experience.
Oh, and Machu Picchu tomorrow promises to be great, a zoo, but great.
PS: Both Susn and Gary´s addresses are getting bounced back, could somebody in the family forward these?
I know that some of you will be amused by the image of a giant, bald, white man under an umbrella in a downpour, walking through a boisterous market, or rather crouching through that market to avoid all the ropes and tarps set up to keep the goods partially dry. Rest assured you´re not alone in that amusement, although for the locally amused, it was amplified by the fact that of the thousands of shoppers, the only others with umbrellas were the tottering old grannies. I felt in good company. Welcome to Iquitos.
Machu Picchu was indeed something else, and worth the hassle and expense of getting there. The hassle mostly just being multiple creative ways of extracting cash from you in your effort to get there, the tickets for the train, the bus, and the site itself. The city at the base of the mountain, Aguas Caliente, is pretty unbelievable, with more rampant (and in the low season a little desperate) commercialism per square inch than any place else I´ve ever been. But again, the ruins themselves were well worth it, and I was extremely lucky in this low and wet season to have beautiful weather the entire day I was there.
But the whole time I was in the Cuzco/Macchu Picchu valley, I didn´t really feel like I was traveling, but more like I had gone to a sort of Disneyland, because EVERYTHING was so geared towards tourists. The bus and collectivo rides were the only times I had more interesting interactions with people, once (as per usual) augmented by my helping a group of grannies load their cargo of bundled live sheep onto the roof of our bus.
Iquitos though is a whole different story. Although 2300 miles up the Amazon it´s still only 370 feet above sea level, and with 600,000 people, it´s the largest city in the world that can be reached only by air or water, the thick jungle around it has yet to be penetrated by either road or rail. I didn´t realize this before I arrived, but it also seems to be a place with truely no seasons, not even wet and dry. Every day of the year is about 86 degrees with lots of intermittent showers and high humididty. The only change is in the level of the river, which can vary us much as 45 feet, but only due to conditions elsewhere, mostly snowmelt in the Andes.
It´s an absolutely raucous port city, that just vibrates with energy despite the tropical heat. I´ve really enjoyed my couple of days here, especially in the evenings along the waterfront, where thousands turn out to catch a breeze and be entertained by what amounts to a carnival. The local standard of ¨flaunt what you´ve got¨also makes any afternoon spent under a fan in a sidewalk cafe or bar all that much more enjoyable,
As I came out of the above-mentioned market, I was met by a chanting street demonstration, as local vendors loudly demanded that two more blocks of the street be shut down to accomodate their stalls. The city fathers apparently don´t agree, having recently invested in a nearby indoor market where they can charge rent, and so the demonstrators were greeted by ranks of riot police with shields, helmuts, batons, and loaded tear-gas guns. The gas didn´t seem near to making an appearance, but I still thought it wise to quickly vacate the scene, an impulse that all the local shopkeepers seemed to share, as they were battaning down their windows as the crowd approached behind me.
Tonight I take a slow cargo boat 145 km downstream to the much smaller town of Pevas, where I´ll likely spend a couple of days and try to venture into the jungle a bit, before taking another slow boat down to Leticia in Colombia. The boat trips themsleves should be as interesting as anything else, because they will entail a total of 2-3 days in a hammock streched out over various cargo, with hundreds of other hammocks packed in around you. I´ve heard that it can be a bit of a party.
I hope you all are well, and don´t be concerned if you don´t hear from me for the week or so it will take me to get to Leticia.
I know my experience is limited, but whenever you see a group of people crowded around a simple outdoor food stand in Colombia, there seems to be one likely explanation: somebody has hollowed out a pig, chopped up the meat and mixed it with rice, then stuffed it all back into the pig and roasted it slowly. I know that pigs are nearly to smart to eat, and it does look as if they are crying, what with the grains of rice trickling out of their eyes, but each portion (served with a bit of crackling skin garnish) is unbelievably delicious. That and a cold coke for breakfast, and your fires are well-stoked for the day. Of course you can also opt (as I do) for a second course of strong coffee and a chocolate croissant, but at that rate (along with the exotic ice cream flavors), I won´t be losing my usual poundage on this trip.
Night Stop, Amazon Freighter
I´ve arrived in Leticia, and so have successfully crossed back into Colombia. Pevas was a really enjoyable few days. It´s a small town of about 3000 right on the river, but has a bit of a cosmopolitan air due to the presence of one Senor Grippa, an artist who regularly shows in NYC and elsewhere, and who lives and works in large compound just next to the small town center. For such a small town, it also has a very active nightlife, at least on the weekends, with a couple of friendly bars, and a salsa ¨disco¨. I found a pleasant place to stay in large traditional house atop a hill overlooking the river on the outskirts of town. My room on the second floor was really more of a screened-in porch (with the roof soaring to a 30-foot peak overhead) and so it felt like I was sleeping out in the surrounding jungle each night. The flock of vultures in the tree just outside gave things just the right bit of Gothic flavor. The owner teaches English at the local school, and also works as a well-regarded jungle guide, and so I hired him as such. The nighttime canoe ride was particularly magical. There was lightning all around, but somehow as we motored upstream for an hour on a small tributary, and then drifted back, the sky just above us remained clear revealing the moon. Quick lesson: the red eyes at water-level are caimans, the red eyes in the trees are snakes, but the blue eyes in the trees are spiders, big ones. We spotted only one small caiman, and I´m choosing to believe that none of the red eyes we caught glimpses of in the trees were snakes. Loads of blue eyes though. Also loads of night birds, owls and such. The dawn canoe ride was crazy for birds, maybe I should have started a lifetime list before this trip.
And speaking of crazy for birds, here in Leticia every night at dusk, a flock of (I kid you not) tens of thousands of parakeets arrives to roost for the night in the trees on the central plaza. The noise is unbelievable. It´s just one of the things that I´m finding charming about this (suspiciously) prosperous small city. Another is a bar I discovered in the center of town that houses billiards tables in the backroom (haunted by neredowells) and a front room inhabited by old geezers who sit around drinking coffee and aguardiente, and listening to the owner´s huge collection of old salsa records played on a beautiful vintage hi-fi. It´s a great place spend a hot afternoon.
Wall O' Vinyl
And it is INCREDIBLY hot and humid. Back in Pevas, the five minute walk into town would leave me dripping, even at 7AM, and a two hour tramp through the jungle left me looking like I had fallen in the river. The best respite from the heat was the time I spent on the cargo boats. The breeze from our forward progress was enough to keep things pleasant. For all of these small towns, the sole connection to the outside world is via the cargo boats (and sat phones), so you can imagine they´re jammed full with everything anybody needs, as well a fair portion of the population. On my overnight trip from Iquitos to Pevas, my upper deck was considerably less crowded with hammocks than the one below, which confused me until it was explained that the roof tarp on the top deck couldn´t be counted on to keep you dry if it rained. Thankfully it didn´t that night. One young couple took advantage of the extra room and marginal extra privacy to, in the middle of the night, prove that it is indeed possible to achieve coitus in a hammock. I´m not quite sure how they got the leverage, but clearly things worked out. Of the hundreds of folks on board, for both segments, I was the only non-local, and thus the focus of a great deal of interest from all the kids. Awe at my size was a common theme, they all assumed that I must be the toughest person they had ever met. I didn´t see fit to dash their illusions by informing them that I´m a complete pussy.
River Front Leticia
I managed to get a plane ticket to Bogota (at half my expected price, a second airline has picked up the route, and competition has kicked in), so will be headed up north tomorrow, back to the cool of the mountains. My plans from there are vague, but I´ll likely fly to Popoyan in the south and work my way up the western spur of the Andes though Cali, Armenia, and Medellin, possibly all the way up to Cartegena on the coast, before flying back to Bogota and then home on the 20th.
Happy holidays to you all.
Cali, what with drive-up beer stands at major intersections, tricked-out and lowered vintage Renaults bouncing down the streets, and unbelievably beautiful women, what's not to love about it? Of course the emphasis in that last phrase should be on the word ¨unbelievably¨. If Colombia is famous for it's plastic surgery, Cali is the capitol of that fame. I can't think of the last time in Seattle I saw somebody walking around with bandages from a nose-job, but in just a few days in Cali, it was routine. The fresh ass and boob wounds would be less apparent I suppose, but I'm sure just as common.
After a couple of days in Bogota, I flew down to Cali in time for their biggest festival of the year, The Feria de Cali. More salsa, parades, bullfighting, and beauty pageants than you can wrap your mind around. It lasts a full week , but two and a half days was all I could give it, so now I've moved on to Popayan, in the south. I did make it to my first (and likely only) bullfight though, a major event that marked the retirement of a Colombian matador who is considered (at least by the Colombians) to be one of the top three in the world. Oh yeah, it also marked the retirement of six huge bulls. It's quite the theater, although it's ultimately indefensibly cruel, even if cows definitely are not to smart to eat (can't at least one bull figure out that it's the guy holding the cape you want to go after, not the cape?). I was surprised to be leafleted twice by local anti-cruelty groups (did you sic 'em on me Ms. Diduch?). I'm sure you're not shocked to learn that despite gore, I managed to have a fantastic time. I paid top peso for a great seat in the 11th row of a 20,000 seat stadium. Just next to me were an elderly brother and sister, he speaking worse English that you would expect for somebody who has spent much of the last 30 years in Miami. They were extremely friendly, and quickly engaged everybody in the vicinity in a game of ¨let's see if we can make the big American fall over drunk¨. That was alright with me, because it broke the ice with the five women in front of us who must have had at least fifteen pounds of silicone distributed amongst them. I've not been in much of drinking mood this trip, and had had only maybe 3-4 beers in the previous three weeks, and so wasn't really in training, but rest assured, I frustrated those particular efforts. A couple of the siliconistas did end up falling drunkenly into my lap though, as the stadium erupted when one of the bulls leaped the wall and then shortly later emerged with someone's shawl on his horns and managed to knock one of the spear-thrusting caballeros off his horse (that's better than a trip directly to the slaughter-house, isn't it?).
Overall, Colombians are living up to their reputation for friendliness. A good example is when, in the heat of a Cali afternoon, I wandered into a musical instrument store. The three middle-aged women there were engaging enough to begin with, but after I (haltingly) translated a letter one of them had gotten from the US State department in response to her application for a visa to join her green-card holding husband in the states, well, then I was family. We spent a couple of hours chatting about this and that, they were generally appalled that I'm not married and quickly tried to hook me up with the services of one of their daughters, who runs a website for Colombian women wanting to meet American men. I politely deferred (but will have to check it out when I get a chance...). When they asked me if I liked salsa (which is mostly what the Feria is all about), I replied ¨Si, pero...¨ but before I could finish the sentence the older one piped in to finish my sentence with ¨...pero no puedes bailar¨. Apparently she could tell that I can't dance just by looking at me.
I've been a bit surprised at the short stature of nearly all Colombians. On the metro in Bogota, nobody on the whole bus would come within two inches of the handrail that I was resting my chin on. And in a museum there, just as I was looking at the uniform of one General Santander and thinking how tiny he must have been, two security guards came up and joined me, both of whom I realized would have been swimming in the general's uniform. Folks in Cali are a bit taller, but not enough to keep me from really standing out in the crowd of thousands at various salsa concerts. (Should I feel bad that I figured out that at those free events, even if the line to get in is several blocks long, there is always a line of only twenty or so men going back in after leaving to piss, and it's easy enough to slip right into that one?)
Great trip so far, filled with moments both coarse and sublime. A particularly sublime moment was the morning after my first night on the cargo boat back on the Amazon. I'd managed to sleep pretty well in my hammock (mostly interrupted only by my own voyeurism) and had gotten up to see the sunrise over the river and jungle. I had the windy front of the ship to myself, and just as I was thinking that it couldn't get much more magically beautiful, a school(?) of freshwater dolphins started leaping in unison just in front of me. Then just as I was thinking that it was all perfect but that I was pretty hungry, a boat-boy appeared with a steaming mug of sweetened gruel for me.
That's all for now, I'll just sign off as:
Kevin ¨Can You Say Caboose¨ Perry
One of my favorite things while traveling is foisting the responsibility for shaving (my face) off onto others, it´s just such a luxury. I´ve gotten three shaves now in Colombia, where all the barbers seem to be women (except in Leticia, where half the barbershops were staffed by flamboyant queens). The first two were delightful, with careful attention to softening the beard prior, and then a light touch throughout (and it seemed like a particular attention to making the area around the mouth smooth was a women´s priority). After those two, I was prepared to rank Colombian barbers right up there with the best (although not up there with the Indians, who are in class by themselves). But then came the third... As bad as the others were good, it was excruciating. I closed my eyes to just try and get through it, but when I opened them I was greeted by the sight of my face as a bloody mess, it seems that she was dragging a corner of the blade. When she finally finished, it took a full fifteen minutes to staunch the flow, which we only succeeding in doing after she ducked out to buy some small ¨flesh¨colored bandages for that one gash under my lip.
You take the good with the bad I suppose.
From Popayan, I had planned to continue on to the ruins of San Agustin, but there were some problems on the extremely rough road down there, so I decided to err on the side of caution, and head back up to Cali for New Year´s Eve. Truth is, I was also missing the company of the lovely (unaugmentedly so) Sylvia, the manager/bartender of my favorite hole-in-the-wall bar in that over-the-top city. I´m sure that I´m not the only man who has spent extra time and money in that place just to gaze at her in awe. I don't think I creeped her out to much. New Year´s there was as over the top as you would expect in a place that had already been partying hard for the week prior. I met up with a couple of amicable engineers from Bogota whom I had met in Popayan (the wonders of traveling with a cell phone) and discovered that while they had been pretty understated when I met them there (where they are working), in Cali they were ready to go on a drunken tear. I think I stumbled back to my hotel at around 4AM.
Back in Popayan, I had a funny experience with a member of the national police. I was having breakfast at a little pastry shop, and he and his partner were sitting across the room from me. As they got up to leave, he came over to my table to question me, in what seemed like an oddly aggressive manner, mostly just about where I was from, where I was going, and who I was traveling with, and then explaining that he was going to his mother´s house for New Year´s Eve. Odd. Odder still was when he then asked for the number of my phone which was sitting on the table. It wasn´t until after he had left that I realized what was going on. As per usual, I didn´t even comprehend that he might be hitting on me until well after the fact... Sure enough, Luis called me yesterday, but thankfully I could tell him that I was hundreds of miles away, here in Pereira.
Pereira is in the middle of the mountainous coffee country, and will be my base for venturing out into the surrounding verdant undulating heavily-cultivated countryside. Tomorrow I´ll head to a hot springs resort in the mountains, and then the day after I´ll head up for a couple of days in a national park hotel that is a couple of hours by horseback from the trailhead. After that, it will be off to Salento, a small town high in the mountains as well, that is purported to have the most beautiful hikes in Colombia nearby. Then it´s on to Medellin for a bit before I finish up in Cartegena on the coast.
I´m home two weeks from Sunday, see some of you then,
You´ve got to love Colombia, where the national sport (literally) is Tejo, which consists of tossing a two-kilo chunk of steel at a metal ring four inches in diameter and sixty feet distant. A bit like horseshoes, and simple enough, except that what makes it distinctly Colombian is that the metal ring is surounded by packets of gunpowder, so a particularly good toss results in a nice explosion. To top things off in the category of surreal, there´s always a shorter ¨children´s¨ area that features the same packets. Heavy metal projectiles and gunpowder, the perfect thing for your eight-year-old´s birthday party!
It does seem, however, that I have a natural talent for the game, probably because of all the hours that Mark and I spent obsessively playing bocce a few years ago. The experience certainly seems to have translated, because by my second night playing, I was producing a respectable number of explosions, as judged by the old-hands playing in the lane just next to us. Us being Eddie (of Glasgow), Richie (of Manchester), and myself. Our performance was good enough to result in an invitation to play in the regional tournament this weekend in a town about 30 minutes away from us here in Salento, the lovely little town in the mountains where I´ve been staying the last four days. We´re pretty excited, and have been ¨training¨ every night in preparation. And did I mention that the Tejo is free as long as you buy a steady stream of beer? Finding the correct blood alcohol level for optimal performance seems to be a key part of the game. That non-drinking mood I was in earlier has clearly passed. Come the tournament, I´ll be happy if we give another team a run for their money, and beside myself if we manage to win even one game.
Due to the new obsession and congenial company, I´ve lingered here in the coffee region longer than I expected, and am not on the verge of leaving just yet. It´s a pretty easy area to get comfortable in, what with all the waterfalls, rustic hot spring resorts, and jungle/mountain-filled national parks you could ask for. The trip on horseback through the lush mountain jungle up into the national park was spectacular, although getting back into the saddle was a bit difficult the second day. Before I discovered tejo, I was spending my evenings in the billiard halls of Pereira, where tipsy geriatrics were schooling me on the finer points of the game, and inviting me to stay with their families when I get to Medellin. We´ll have to see about that.
I arrived in Salento just in time for the last day of their week long annual fiesta celebrating the town´s founding in 1841. That of course entails lots of loud salsa and reggaton in the central square, but they are smart enough to have created a small low-wattage radio station, so all the impromptu bars are blasting the same music for everybody in a two block radius to dance to. There were loads of events, from mule auctions, to wood-chopping contests, to dwarf matadors engaging young animals in non-lethal bullfights. The funniest thing for me though, was the thirteen-piece national police salsa band performing in full dress uniform, all but the three singers packing heat. For them, the guns would have gotten in the way of their swishy little line dance maneuvers. It was a hilarious image, and one that I think Luis in particular might have appreciated.
I have a week left for this trip. After this weekend´s tournament, I´ll head up to Medellin, and make my way back to Bogota one way or another from there. My rudimentary Spanish (rudimentary yes, but the quality of what I have is good enough to cause a great deal of confusion about my level of fluency, a Spaniard back at the hot springs told me my pronunciation was ¨perfect¨) has certainly made things interesting thus far, so I´ve stopped trying to work out any sort of set itinerary.
Hope you all are well,
The morning of the tejo tournament, a bad case of the jitters had us nearly backing out. We were worried that our going on a lark would be taken as an insult by the folks who were quite serious about the game, not to mention that we might slip and send a tejo through somebody´s skull. But in hindsight, I´m appalled at the idea that we even considered not going. The jitters were well justified though. Think about it, you´ve got a lane maybe eight feet wide, on each side of which you´ve got at least forty people sitting on benches and leaning in to observe your form, which leaves you a gap of maybe five feet through which to toss a three pound chunk of steel at a four inch target sixty feet distant. When I first stepped up for a practice throw, the entire hall, which had been a boisterous party even at 11am, went dead silent as three hundred people turned to see what sort of game I was bringing. I quickly downed a couple of beers to calm my nerves, and managed a respectable toss. The tension was to much for Richie (of Manchester), so he became strictly coach and beer jockey, but Eddie (of Glasgow) managed to calm his nerves as well, and actually took his game up a couple of notches. That was a good thing, because it compensated for my game falling off a couple, and also because the locals in Salento (who we were quite proud to have competed well against) were rank amateurs compared to the competition at the tournament.
And in fact, overall, our worries were for naught, because as the first gringo tourists to ever participate in this regional tournament, we were received as minor celebrities. Of course we were slaughtered in the actual competition, but when early in our first game Eddie (of Glasgow) managed to drop his tejo in the middle of the ring for six points, the entire hall erupted in wild back-slapping applause. Despite our obviously being out-classed in terms of skill, it still took nearly ten hours for us to be eliminated, which left plenty of time for what (despite the considerable prize money) was clearly the real purpose of the event: the boisterous party. Having come unprepared for the long day, we were grateful to discover that our entrance fee included a big bowl of the rich pork vertabrae stew (with a chunk of cow tongue tossed in for good measure) being cooked in a huge vat over a fire out front.
Late in the day (after a platoon of police had arrived for a surprise frisking of all the men) the tension from the combination of vast quantities of beer and high stakes prizes boiled over a bit when the man standing just next to me, who apparently was quite good but had arrived to late to compete, expressed his frustration by breaking a beer bottle over the head of the man who had taken his place. After hesitating for a moment to be sure that the bottle had been dropped and no other weapons had appeared, I quickly managed to wrestle the two of them apart. Stupid, I know, but I had been drinking all day as well. After that, I rocketed from minor celebrity to full on rock-star status. The owner of the hall thanked me profusely and plied me with all the free beer that I really didn´t need, and while I had had my picture taken with loads of folks before, I´d be surprised if there was anybody there who missed out on the experience after. Later when we were getting ready to leave, and it was learned that we were looking for a taxi for the 30 minute ride home, that option was quickly dismissed and somebody rounded up a truck and only moderately drunk driver for us instead, gratis of course. Then to really complete my rock-star experience, as I was getting into the truck, I was slipped pieces of paper with the phone numbers of the two most attractive women there, and told that although they were both there with their boyfriends that night, they both quite wanted me to call them the next day. This to the great chagrin of Richie (of Manchester) who had spent his extra time in a failed attempt to woo them, before he realized they were taken. Even I though, can recognize the dangers of engaging with a Colombian woman when she has a boyfriend, so that didn´t happen.
Overall, a really amazingly good time.
I´m now in Medellin, trying to work out what I´ll do for my last few days in Colombia. There´s enough to see and do here that I may just split the time between here and Bogota, but I´ve not decided yet.
Medellin certainly made an impression on me. Okay, more accurately, Betty (of Medellin) certainly made an impression me, initially so on a raucous sweaty dance floor until three in the morning. Apparently the matron from Cali was wrong, I CAN dance, at least with the right inspiration... She seemed to find the accent of my (miraculously improved) Spanish as alluring as I found hers to be in English. Needless to say, I spent the remainder of my Colombian time in Betty's home town, and was smitten enough to to be a bit sadly disappointed that she would never even consider a move to the United States. I can understand that, because life in Medellin seems like it can be pretty sweet, even for someone like Betty who, as a 30-year-old receptionist in a law office, is clearly not wealthy (more like solidly lower-middle class). And I am certainly not moving to Medellin anytime soon, but all of that didn't stop us from enjoying each other's company.
I managed to pull myself away for a plane to Bogota late Saturday night, in preparation for my flight home early Sunday morning, only to discover that the flight to Atlanta had been delayed by twelve hours (Damn, I could have had another night in Medellin!). That delay of course resulted in my missing the connecting flight to Seattle, and instead catching one this morning, after only two hours of sleep in an Atlanta hotel. At least Delta gave all of us on the original delayed flight a $200.00 voucher as compensation (Hmmm, a quick week's getaway to Medellin this spring becomes more feasible...). That last flight was mostly smooth, the only real event was a near miss with a military jet that whipped by just underneath us on a perpendicular path. My seatmate (a young navy guy who is normally an aviation technician on the USS Lincoln, but who was just returning home after volunteering to serve a year in Iraq, I bought him lunch on the plane) was a bit freaked out (as was I) estimating that it had passed only a hundred feet below us. I'm not sure, but it certainly seemed that close. It didn't seem like anybody else on the plane noticed, although I'm certain the pilot had to of.
I'm now safely back home, sleep deprived, but not overly jet-lagged.
I hope you all are well,