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    • Day7

      On our Bikes in Havana

      March 8, 2020 in Cuba ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

      It's now almost a week since I left Melbourne. The long journey to Cuba took me first to Vancouver, then to Toronto, before arriving in Havana two days ago. Although it has been nice to have some time to explore and soak up the history at the Hotel Nacional, of course the real reason for coming all this way was to ride bicycles. And today that is what we did.

      In our previous adventures we have been treated to some pretty large and impressive buses, but I can honestly say that our bus in Cuba is by far the biggest we have ever had. I am not sure if they did not understand the difference between 16 and 60 when they made the bus allocation as I am sure the bus could easily hold the larger number.

      The bus is actually so large that all our bikes can easily be accommodated in the huge lower storage compartments. We have now met all the support staff that will be accompanying us for the next 16 days. Apart from the youthful Lee (our main guide), we also have a bus driver (Coco) and a bike mechanic (Titi). The bikes themselves are TREK brand mountain bikes equipped with semi slick tyres.

      We began the day at 8 am with an obligatory group photo (or series of photos) in front of the hotel, followed by a short drive in the bus to the place where we would be fitting and testing the bikes. My first impression was very favourable, The bike was relatively light and easy to ride and soon we were snaking our way on the streets of Havana.

      It was something of a relief to find that the streets were almost devoid of traffic. Maybe that was because it was not only a Sunday morning, but daylight savings had only just started that morning meaning that many people may have not put their clocks forward and were still happily home in bed.

      Although the traffic was light, the wind certainly was not. In fact it was blowing a gale all day. Our cycling route took us along the coastline towards the old part of Havana. This also meant that we were heading into the wind for about 80% of the ride. We hoped that this onslaught would not become a daily feature of the weather here.

      The roads were liberally spotted with potholes of various sizes, but were probably in better condition than I had expected. During the course of the morning we stopped at a succession of historically significant locations, while Lee explained their history to us. Because I have a limited capacity to store vast amounts of this type of information, I contented myself with just looking at the buildings, rather than trying to remember all the place names and dates. One theme that did keep repeating is that the history of Cuba and Havana in particular, dates back over 500 years. The city is liberally dotted with ancient buildings that have made it a World Heritage Site.

      When our cycling was complete we adjourned for lunch in a cafe which was apparently one of the favourite haunts of Ernest Hemingway who did much of his writing in Cuba. The afternoon was spent in a walking tour of the old city, however the wind was now blowing so hard that it was hard to stand upright.

      Tomorrow's ride will take us on a much longer foray into the Cuban countryside.
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      Lovely pink ladies 😉



    • Day6

      The Night Plane to Havana

      March 7, 2020 in Cuba ⋅ 🌙 21 °C

      Today was always going to be a bit messy. The problem was that my flight from Toronto to Havana was not due to leave till around 8.30 pm in the evening. "So what ?", you may well ask. The complicating factor was that I was supposed to be checking out of my apartment at 10 am in the morning, so what was I going to do with all those spare hours ?

      The singularly unhelpful concierge had already told me that there was nowhere I could leave my luggage. At least I thought I could spend a couple of hours sitting in the lobby before my taxi arrived to take me to the airport. That was about as much of a plan I had been able to come up with.

      Unlike the beautiful blue skies of the previous day, I awoke to a leaden cloud cover. On closer look I could see that there were intermittent flurries of snow falling. It was quite spellbinding to watch.

      After making myself my final breakfast in Toronto, I sat by the window and spent some time watching the falling snow gradually build up on the branches of the trees. Although I was supposed to check out at 10 am, there was no point in being too early. I needed to steal every hour I could.

      By 11 am I thought that I could stretch the matter no further, collected my luggage and made my way down to the foyer. I found a quiet corner, opened my computer and started watching a movie. It did not take long for my favourite concierge to come over and ask what I thought I was doing. Of course I told him I was waiting for my taxi. Since no one else needed my seat, I could not see that there was a problem. Of course I was wrong.

      "This is not a hotel", he repeated his now familiar refrain. "You will have to go". While I could have been confrontational and reminded him that it WAS snowing outside, I really had had enough of the pathetic little weasel. He obviously thought that being a concierge was only a step or two below being the Prime Minister, so I decided to pack my stuff as slowly as I possibly could and then roll my way out of the building for the very last time.

      Fortunately there was a very warm shopping centre just across the road, so that is where I went. I purchased a coffee, found a spare table and made it my home. My taxi was due at 1 pm, but did not arrive till 1.30 pm. I had spent the missing thirty minutes waiting in the doorway, while the cold was slowly permeating into every corner of my body. We just don't know what cold is in Australia, but I should have been grateful it was only about -3 C. Last year at this time it was apparently -26 C.

      Alex and I continued our discussions about the cricket all the way to the airport. I completed the self check in without incident and made my way through security and immigration. Another very long wait at the departure gate. Outside the snow was still falling. The time passed slowly. I continued watching my movie.

      The time for boarding finally arrived and we all jammed into the modest plane. There was not a spare seat in sight, but it was only a rather modest three and a half hours, so I did not really care.

      I was seated by a window which gave me a great view of the never ending succession of brightly lit cities we passed over as we flew over the eastern states of the USA. The night was crystal clear, without a single cloud to obscure the view. In some ways there is something cosy and comforting about a night flight. At times I dozed. By almost midnight we started descending into Havana Airport and another adventure was about to begin.

      As I retrieved my bag from the jammed overhead lockers, I noticed that my luggage label had somehow gone missing. I suppose I should be grateful if that was the only thing that went missing - I still had that anxious time of waiting to see if my main luggage would appear on the carousel.

      Back in Australia we had all paid significant money to the Cuban Consulate for a visa to enter their country. You can imagine my surprise when the hostess walked around the plane, handing out blank tourist visa forms and telling us to fill them in ourselves ! It looked like we all may have wasted $100, but it would not have been worth the risk.

      In spite of preliminary fears about the difficulties of entering the country, the immigration process was quick and easy. I was soon reunited with my luggage and went out the exit door into the unfamiliar world of Cuba. I had been told that a driver would be waiting for me (even though it was now about 12.30 in the morning).

      Once again the arrangements went perfectly and soon I was being whisked along in the back seat of a comfortable taxi. Even at this late hour there were plenty of cars on the road and plenty of people wandering the streets. The temperature was a comfortable 22 C. It did not take long to see the old cars that Cuba is famous for. It was like being at some sort of a retro car show. Obviously they just never get junked, they just keep rolling along.

      Our home for the next few days is the huge and very imposing Hotel Nacional de Cuba. This vast place was the place of choice for the rich and famous back in its heyday of the 30s and 40s. Even all these years later, it is still an impressive place. The foyer is massive and filled with colonial character. There was even a working lift !

      I was relieved to discover that my allocated room was clean, huge and had fully working air conditioning. I think I will enjoy my time here, but my first thought was to head for the bed and finally get some sleep.
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    • Day14

      Havana original

      March 11 in Cuba ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

      Today we brought our rental car back to the airport. We have no euros left and the bank changes money terribly that it’s not worth it. So we decided to walk all the way back to the AirBnB… nearly 4 hours along the street.
      Was ist a cheap decision? Yes.
      Was ist a good decision? Absolutely not!!

      It was very hot wirh any shadow. The cars encased us with exhaust gas and very loud motor sounds. A lost of waste everywhere. When we came into the city we noticed that this is definitely the Havana where the local people life, pretty sure no tourist have ever been here😅
      It was very bad. Garbage everywhere, dead rats and cockroaches. Everything is broken and rocks just laying around in puddles of probably water. It smells very bad too. From urine to rotting food and probably the smell of something dead is everything included.
      We can see the poverty and how terrible their system is. We saw many lines of people waiting to get their food with coupons and fruit stands.
      At least the people seemed happy, they laughed and sang together.🌼
      How ist it possible we life in the same century?
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    • Day1

      Havana: first room, first love

      December 1, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

      From Tijuana to Cape Horn, there are 20 Latin Americas but sometimes it feels as if there are 19, and Cuba. It spent years being virtually cut off from most of the world and still differs in many ways from most of it. It's no exaggeration to say that in many ways Cuba is locked in a time warp. The internet is starting to make inroads but for most people, access is only via prepaid cards. There are still shortages of household goods and queues outside shops are common. Electricity and water outages are frequent as well. In most streets traffic is very sparse but everything they say about the ancient American behemoths is true; some of them are lovingly restored while others rust away quietly in the backstreets.
      And the currency; where else would you find a banknote in 3 units, or parallel rates for local people who pay in pesos nacionales while tourists pay in convertibles? European winter has begun and I can't wait to get started.

      The driver collects me from the airport in the vehicle shown here. A Chevrolet of 1957 perhaps. Culture shock overtakes me as he drops me off in one of the main streets of Havana Centro. It's very run down and looks threatening but the hearsay is that the crime rate is relatively low, maybe because there isn't a serious drug issue (yet). As the days go by I start to feel that this quarter is home. An increasingly popular Cuban institution is the "casa particular", a private house where the owners let out rooms to visitors. And these can be booked in advance on line. Belascoain 360 has 4 such rooms; my hosts Daniel and Fina are charm itself and full of useful information.
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      Speak, World

      Oh, how jealous I am. All these 68 years and I’m STILL denied a trip such as you are able to take to Cuba—and 5-6 times as well—am I right? The photos are wonderful. The car! The yellow! I’m grateful for the blog.


      Yes, I have been several times before and this may well not be my final time. There are flights from the USA to Cuba but you would have to convince your authorities that the visit is for other than tourism.

    • Day3

      Havana day 2

      April 26 in Cuba ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

      Massive healthy fruit (with taste!) and egg breakfast before a full day of walking.

      Capitoli nationale (capitol), Old churches and cathedrals, plaza vieja, Cuban fine art museum (with a lot of propaganda!), Malecon sea side, Santeria (local religion) memorabilia market where we bought a cement guardian weird statue - we'll learn more about this religion later in our trip.

      Monuments are clean and in pristine conditions, which is a big contrats to the people living conditions, when you look inside apartments (they live with open doors), it is beyond poor and insalubrious

      Prices are quite low. Lobster meal is 13€, regular meal about 6€ in the tourist area. However shortage are common. Lines for oil in the street. No milk. No chicken. Diesel hard to find....

      Our internet is very limited and slow, updates will come when we are able.

      We found a way to get rid off all the harassing people offering tours etc. "last day here, sorry". Worked so far.
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    • Day12

      Days 12 & 13: not the Caribbean

      December 12, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

      With a short roadside stop, a colectivo takes me back to Havana. Once again I'm staying in Habana Centro but in a different guest house. It's called the Caribena but as most people know, the island's capital with its magnificent Malecon (waterfront) faces the Gulf of Mexico. Along its 3-mile length it's popular with walkers, fishermen, tourists and selfie-takers. Maria Antonia, who runs the Caribena, is a considerate host and organises an excellent breakfast. There's a problem in the bathroom but she explains how to stop the lavatory from leaking. An engineering lesson in Spanish!

      Back to walking ways, I cover the wonderful backstreets of Habana Centro little seen by tourists. Once again I'm struck by street after street of mansions and palaces that have fallen on hard times. And such lovely names: Concordia, Salud (health) and Lealtad (loyalty) to name a few. UNESCO have taken the lead in restoring the oldest part of the city but Centro remains neglected. For all its faded elegance, living conditions here must be quite tough.
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      Speak, World

      Perhaps nobody in Centro applied to UNESCO for status. There’s a downside to UNESCO: many residents have to be relocated when the area is “UNESCO’d.” Thousands were resettled when the Pelourinho was done in Salvador—sent to live in the favelas, naturally.

    • Day2

      Days 2-4: Havanaaaah

      December 2, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

      Havana was founded in 1519 and is not slow to remind us of its quincentenary. By chance a city in Mexico I stayed in earlier this year, Veracruz, is also 500 years old and with its lively, working port atmosphere has been compared to Havana. Much as I liked it, the Cuban capital out-Veracruzes Veracruz with to use a fairly new word, vibe or an old word, funkiness.

      Traditional music is fabulous in most Latin American countries I have visited, but one could argue that Cuba is the most musical of all. Relieving my blisters in the bar of an upmarket hotel in Habana Vieja (the old city), I enjoy the sound of a traditional "son" quartet. This word literally means "sound" and largely acoustic and guitar based , it has a strong percussive flavour recalling Africa. Larger bands of up to 15 performers include brass and keyboard sections and form what's usually known as salsa. What the lady in white thinks about the performance, she isn't saying! The following picture includes vinyls by Los Van Van, one of the finest bigger bands in Cuba, and Pablo Milanes, a distinguished folk singer sort of in the Dylan mould but whose daughter Haydee prefers a jazzier sound (whose live CD I find later for a princely 4 CUC or £3).

      I can't resist photos of the lady in African garb, the young people promoting computer literacy, or of the guy bemoaning the encroachment of phones on a traditionally oral society.

      The final picture shows the route out of Havana, which I ride in a "colectivo" or shared taxi for the 150-odd miles east to Cienfuegos. This is the "autopista" that runs the length of the island---somewhat different to the M25 as you can see.
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    • Day193

      Dem Fidel sein Schniedel

      July 28, 2018 in Cuba ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

      Zurück in Havanna bleiben uns weitere zwei Tage, ehe es zurück nach Mexico geht. Haben wir an unserem ersten Tag in Kuba den zarten Versuch, eines der inoffiziellen Taxis zur Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) zu ergattern, noch nach vierzig Minuten genervt und desillusioniert abgebrochen, sitzen wir dank einem etwas forscheren Vorgehen nach rund fünf Minuten in einem furchtbar klapprigen und umso authentischeren Oldtimer-Taxi. Es stinkt, aber wir findens toll. Kostet ja auch nur einen Drittel im Vergleich zu einem offiziellen, modernen und total uncoolen Taxi. Die Heimreise um ein Uhr morgens verläuft hingegen weniger souverän. Kaum auf der Strasse, empfangen einen die offiziellen Taxi-Fahrer - ruhig und anständig. Quasi die Löwen dieser Steppe. Der aufgerufene Preis in etwa gleich stolz, zwanzig Stutz. Wir lehnen dankend ab und laufen weiter, um wenige Schritte später den Geparden über den Weg zu laufen. Etwas hektischer als Löwen und die selbsternannten „Haus-Fahrer“ der FAC. Der Preis von zehn Stutz scheint nicht verhandelbar, schliesslich haben Geparde auch einen gewissen Stolz. Die Fahrt findet in einem privaten Auto und somit wohl am Staat vorbei statt. Was den halben Preis durchaus nachvollziehbar macht. Wir lehnen erneut dankend ab - schliesslich haben wir es für fünf Stutz her geschafft - und gehen erneut ein paar Schritte zum Ende des Blocks. Und was kommt am Ende der Safari-Rangordnung? Knapp vor den Geiern? Genau, die verdammten Hyänen.

      Diese traurigen Biester mit ihren kurzen Hinterbeinen und hässlichen Fratzen. Und davon hat es hier viele. Im ersten Moment gefällt mir der Auflauf. Grosses Angebot heisst gute Preise. Die Verhandlungen bleiben für einen Moment bei acht Stutz stecken, ehe sich die hungrigen und daher teils aggressiven Hyänen anfangen zu unterbieten. Schnell geht es sieben, sechs, fünf und für einen Moment sogar runter bis vier. Die Situation wird unübersichtlich und immer mehr Hyänen mit ihren sabbernden und stinkenden Fressen wollen sich ein Stück vom von Löwen und Geparden übrig gelassenen Aas sichern. Diese Meute markiert definitiv die unterste Stufe der hiesigen Transport-Industrie. Das sind gar keine Fahrer mit eigenem Fahrzeug, sondern viel mehr ununterbrochen quaselnde Schlepper, die Fahrgäste für eine kleine Kommission bei etwas weiter entfernt parkierten Collectivos abliefern. Vielleicht wartet man dann noch eine kleine Ewigkeit, bis die Karre voll ist. Steht man dann bei einem der Gefährte, sollen es anstelle von fünf doch wieder acht Stutz sein. Verdammtes Gesindel. Kaum habe ich das System im Ansatz verstanden, gerät die Situation auch schon ausser Kontrolle. Als ich geschätzte fünfzehn Hände an und auf mir spüre - wahrscheinlich waren es nur zwei, aber ich bin bei solchen Dingen etwas empfindlich - und Sue, die ich für einen Moment aus den Augen verloren habe, ein lautes „Hey!“ von sich gibt, breche ich die Übung ab. Hände weg ihr jämmerlichen Hunde! Mit einem einzigen Roundhouse-Kick wie Van Damme in seinen besten Zeiten, strecke ich vier der dreckigen Hyänen nieder. Zumindest im Geiste. In Realität laufe ich einfach davon und verteile ein paar „heb doch d’Schnurre!“. Zurück zu den Geparden. Die hatten wenigstens Anstand. Zehn Stutz sind ja auch nicht schlecht. Ist ja schon nach Eins. Und Sue? Sue hat auch überlebt. Wie immer nur ganz knapp. Verdammte Hyänen!

      Mein Fazit zu Kuba fällt trotzdem durch und durch positiv aus. Das Land in dem die einfache Taxi-Fahrt zum Flughafen mit fünfundzwanzig Stutz mehr kostet, als die achtzehn Stutz Rente, die unsere Casa Mama im Monat bekommt. Ich war von Beginn weg überrascht, wie viele der alten amerikanischen Karossen noch immer das Strassenbild prägen. Nostalgiker kommen auch in diesen Tagen noch auf ihre Kosten. Viele der ausladenden Strassenkreuzer aus den Vierzigern und Fünfzigern sind aufwändig restauriert und dienen für überteuerte Stadtrundfahrten, die meisten sind aber einfach nur alt. Ausserhalb Havannas dient aber erstaunlich oft das Pferd, mit oder ohne Wagen, als Fortbewegungsmittel. So steht auch an überfluteten und schlammigen Wanderwegen ein Kavalier, der einen für ein kleines Entgelt auf die andere Seite bringt. Vervollständigt wird das Bild von unzähligen Ladas und anderen unaussprechlichen Fabrikaten aus sowjetischer Produktion, gemischt mit ein paar moderneren Gefährten und mehr Elektro-Scootern, als in jedem anderen Land, das wir bisher besucht haben. Keine Ahnung woher die alle kommen. Wohl von unseren kommunistischen Freunden aus China. Eine skurrile Mischung. Das gilt auch für das restliche Erscheinungsbild Kubas. Eine farbige und oft widersprüchliche Optik aus mondäner, kolonialer Prunk-Ästethik, einer grossen Prise sowjetischer Kälte und einem ordentlichen Schuss kommunistischem Zerfall. Dafür machen sie gute Zigarren die Kubaner.

      Das gilt irgendwie auch für Pizzas. Zumindest wenn man den Preis von vierzig Rappen und Volltrunkenheit beim Verzehr mitberücksichtigt. Daran könnten wir uns gewöhnen. An den vorübergehend exorbitant gestiegenen Zigarrenkonsum eher nicht. Ich wollte das mit den Zigarren ja selber herausfinden. Gekauft habe ich auf und vor Farmen, in Küchen, in offiziellen sowie weniger offiziellen Läden und auf der Strasse. Mit echten Labels, mit offensichtlich falschen Labels und gerne auch ganz ohne Labels. Geraucht habe ich nicht selten drei am Tag und ich komme zum Schluss, es stimmt. Obwohl die beste Zigarre, die ich hier geraucht habe, kein Label darauf hatte und sieben anstatt dreissig oder mehr Stutz gekostet hat, sollte man in offiziellen Läden kaufen. War ja klar. Denn es gab auch diverse grenzwertige Exemplare, die ihren Preis nicht wert waren. Kann man rauchen, will man(n) aber nicht. Nicht gut für die Stimmung. Und kosten auch. Bananenblätter oder mit Verschnitt gedrehte Zigarren wurden mir allerdings nie angedreht. Immerhin. Schlussendlich habe ich meinen Humidor - und auch sonst jede freie Ecke im Rücksack - mit Originalware aus Casas de Tabacos gefüllt. Nicht die billigste Variante, dafür mit Genuss-Garantie. Wieder was gelernt.

      Und was hat das jetzt mit dem Schniedel von Fidel zu tun? Hm, nichts. Ich fands trotzdem lustig. Wobei, welches Bier importieren die Kubaner am Liebsten? Natürlich, Heineken. Roter Stern auf grünem Grund! Das hatte der Fidel ja auch auf seinem ... äh, nein, auf seiner Kappe! Oder auf beidem.
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    • Day123

      Kuba - Havanna

      December 17, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ 🌙 27 °C

      Am 17.12 sind wir auf Kuba angekommen. Es ging mit dem Taxi nach Havanna in unser Airbnb- hier auch Casa particular genannt. Unsere erste Mission war Lukas zu finden. Da es hier nur an einzelnen Orten Internet gibt (zudem wird eine Internetkarte fürs Einloggen benötigt), gestaltete sich dies nicht ganz einfach. Wir versuchten unser Glück beim Airbnb von Lukas. Da es jedoch das Falsche war, hatten wir keine Ahnung wie wir einander finden sollten 😅. Somit versuchten wir unser Glück erst einmal mit dem Abheben von Bargeld. Dies ist jedoch nur mit einer Kreditkarte möglich. In Kuba gleicht Bargeldbeziehen einer Lotterie. Beim ersten Versuch funktionierte es bereits nicht, da die Geldautomaten wahrscheinlich leer waren. Als wir uns dann entschieden in einem Restaurant etwas zu essen, hofften wir, dass Lukas vielleicht bei unserem Airbnb auf uns wartet. Wir entdeckten ihn in schliesslich in einer Bar (wo sonst) gleich neben unserem Casa. 🙈😅

      Die ersten drei Tage verbrachten wir in Havanna. Es ist schon fast schockierend, wie es ausserhalb der touristischen Plätze und der Altstadt aussieht. Überall uralte und kaputte Gebäude. In den Touristenviertel sieht es jedoch ganz anders aus. Schöne Architekturen und natürlich die berühmten Oldtimer auf den Strassen.

      Havanna ist Kubas Hauptstadt und besitzt eine sehr schöne Altstadt (ist ein UNESCO Welterbe) und feierte dieses Jahr seinen 500sten Geburtstag. Die Zigarrenfabriken und natürlich Rum gehören zu Havanna wie die Schokolade zur Schweiz. Wir besuchten einer dieser Zigarrenladen- eine Zigarre kann zwischen 5-30 CUC (die Kubanische Währung für die Touristen) kosten. Ein CUC ist etwa gleich viel wie ein Schweizerfranken.

      Zudem genossen wir eine zweistündige Tour mit einem Oldtimer. Der Guide chauffierte uns durch die ganze Stadt und zeigte uns einen Aussichtspunkt, bei dem wir über ganz Havanna sehen konnten. Die Altstadt ist sehr schön- der Rest naja😅.
      Bereits zu diesem Zeitpunkt begannen unsere Verdauung zu rebellieren. Wir gingen jedoch davon aus, dass noch etwas von Peru mitkam🙈.
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    • Day2

      Dag 1 in Cuba

      July 27 in Cuba ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

      Eind van de middag in Cuba aangekomen. Mijn bagage is gearriveerd, maar van 4 reisgenoten niet. Net als een heleboel anderen van dezelfde vlucht.
      Na met de gehele groep te hebben gegeten, zijn we om 23 uur terug naar het hotel te gaan. Omgerekend naar Nederlandse tijd is dit 5 uur in de ochtend, dus tijd om naar bed te gaan na een lange vliegreis 😴Read more

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