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Jebel Shams - Misfah - Al Hamra - Wadi Bani Awf - Muscat

From 3000m to sea level, we travel full circle back to where we started


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Despite last night's shenanigans, I slept surprisingly well. I do feel like a wrung-out dish cloth this morning though, and therefore decide to miss breakfast. Said is very concerned when he hears I was sick last night; he says I should have woken him so he could have taken me to hospital. Really? Like they are going to want to know about a little vomiting.

We had been warned before we left home that the night time temperatures here in Jebel Shams can drop drastically and looking at the weather on-line a couple of weeks ago we saw that it had fallen below zero. We left our thermometer outside last night and when checking it this morning it said Minimum 5 °C. Quite cool, but not freezing.

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Weather forecast for Jebel Shams prior to leaving the UK

We take a different route down from Jebel Shams today, and the journey is, if at all possible, even more spectacular than driving up yesterday. I hang out of the window holding on to my camera for dear life, trying to get a decent shot. My success rate is very hit and miss.

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Look at this hairpin bend!

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Followed immediately by another.

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The impressive turns continue all the way down.

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Craggy peaks line the horizon.

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Goats seem to thrive in this hostile environment.

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Misfat Al A'briyeen

This 400 year old village is considered the most beautiful in Oman.

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Some of the houses are still occupied, mostly by farmers who grow dates, mango and papaya on the slopes below the village.

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Many of the older generation are reluctant to move from their family home, although some of them only use their houses in the village as a weekend retreat/holiday home, escaping the heat of Muscat in the summer months.

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A sign at the entrance to this village, a popular stop on the tourist route, asks visitors to show respect by covering their arms and legs before entering and always asking before taking pictures of people. I have deliberately learnt that one phrase in Arabic: “Mumkin sura, minfadlik” (May I take your photo please), and have not been refused yet, as people are usually so taken aback that I have spoken to them in their own language.

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The donkey doesn't seem to object to having his photo taken, although I have to admit I didn't ask. All transport within the village is by donkey or hand carts.

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It's a fascinating place, with narrow alleyways and steep, uneven stone steps. There is a lot of renovation work going on though, making it very difficult to take decent pictures.

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The village rises around 1000 meters above sea level and is named after the original inhabitants, the Al Abri family.

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There are no wells in the village, the only fresh water available is from a spring higher up in the 'Grand Canyon'.

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Al Hamra Village

This traditional village with its mud brick houses dating back some 200-400 years, is very reminiscent of many such places we saw in Yemen back in 2007.

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We wander along narrow passageways, with towering walls either side, trying to imagine what this place would have looked like when it was bustling with women in dark abayas, men in their flowing white dishdash kaftans, donkeys braying and goats roaming free.

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Today, the only people we see are construction workers.

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The village is otherwise hauntingly empty, with just the remnant echoes of bygone days and happier times.

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I am fascinated by the many ornate doors, some in better repair than others. “Who passed over these thresholds?” “What secrets lay behind them?” I mentally transport myself back 400 years and try to imagine the families who lived here.

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Wadi Bani Awf

From Al Hamra we continue downwards, through Wadi Bani Awf, the magnificent 'Snake Canyon', one of the most spectacular road trips we have ever taken. Not for the faint-hearted or those suffering from vertigo, the sheer escarpment of the Western Hajjar Mountains provides a breathtaking vista around every nerve-wracking hairpin bend.

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The drive is nerve-janglingly dramatic, with stupendous scenery and a rough, vertiginous track which challenges the skills of even experienced off-road drivers, and a 4WD is a must. Not to be attempted lightly, this journey is positively lethal during or after rain.

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As we swing around each and every bend, I try to get some photographs by either hanging out of the window or holding my arm up through the open window and over the roof of the car, neither of which are terribly successful (or safe).

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Very occasionally we see another car, but mostly we have the track to ourselves.

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Our road on the left, the village of Haat on the right, at the bottom of this canyon.

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Look at how this track snakes its way down the canyon - hence the name "Snake Canyon".

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This terrain is definitely best suited to goats.

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We see the occasional isolated village (this one is Haat again), but mostly it is just stark mountain after mountain as far as the eye can see. It is an austere but beautiful vista, although living here must be harsh.

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Around villages we find plantations, and even a beautiful oases in a narrow gorge cut into the mountain.

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The most incongruous sight of them all, however, is this football pitch; miles from any obvious human habitation and on the only flat ground around. A abrupt piece of civilisation in an otherwise forbidding and almost monochrome environment.

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What? No floodlights?

We travel ever downwards, past fascinating rock formations on tracks that at times throw up a lot of dust, making us shut the windows to keep it out of the car and our lungs.

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We come across a convoy of vehicles filled with tourists travelling the opposite direction. I am so glad we are going downhill as I am sure the view is better this way.

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I am overawed by the technical engineering logistic and sheer amount of work it must have taken to create this road in such a perilous location. How did they get machinery up here to cut into the declivitous rock face and construct a road in such an improbable place?

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It makes me feel somewhat (but not a lot) safer to know we are in a 4WD vehicle, and Said is an excellent, and very experienced, driver. Just look at that drop along the side of the road... “gulp”.

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Bait Bimah

At a flat area in the bottom of one of the gorges we stop in the shade of a tree. Intriguingly, there is a gate next to the tree. What on earth would you want a gate for in this remote and wild area? And what is behind the gate?

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We go through and find a gravel path leading past a building made from rocks. I look around as various parts of the surroundings come into view and I cannot believe my eyes: there is a veritable oases, with colourful bougainvillea adorning the perimeter fence, a restaurant, clean toilets, children's playground, sunbeds and outdoor seating areas. Unbelievable!

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To one side of the covered seating area a buffet is laid out with delicious looking curries and rice. After last night's vomiting my stomach is still very fragile so I daren't eat anything. There are no public toilets along this road, and with a steep mountain one side and a sheer drop the other, 'going behind a bush' isn't an option either.

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After lunch, we continue on our journey ever downwards, and the scenery doesn't exactly get any worse.

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A large group of German tourists are blocking the road as they have got out of their cars to take pictures of the view. Again I feel grateful for travelling on a private tour for just the two of us.

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We drive precariously near the crumbling edge to get past them.

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As the dirt track meanders in a zigzag fashion further down the valley, we see more goats and a traditional felaj (irrigation channel) running alongside the road.

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Irrigation channels a couple of metres up the rock face.

The felaj brings water to the plantations that start to appear.

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We both wish we had a geologist with us to explain the various types of rocks, and how the fascinating and varied strata are formed.

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Eventually the mountain track joins a main road and we are out of the canyon.

Nakhl Fort

At the imposing Nakhl Fort, built in the 16th century to protect Muscat from invading marauders coming across the mountains, we make a brief photo stop.

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From here, the 120 kilometres or so to Muscat is along a smooth, asphalt road, and I doze in the car all the way.

Al Falaj Hotel

We have now made a full circle and are back where we started. This time, we have been upgraded to a corner suite, with a dining table for four and a lovely seating area with a cosy sofa and armchairs.

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The bedroom itself is no bigger than a standard hotel room, but the living room is enormous!

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Muscat by Night

Said, being the kind gentleman he is, has agreed to take us down to Muttrah Corniche tonight, just as the lights are fading, so that I can photograph the city after dark.

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He goes off to the mosque to pray while I set up a tripod and admire the bright lights reflected in the harbour.

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Room Service

Once we return to the hotel, we consider what we are going to do about food this evening. Despite having dinner included tonight (buffet) we decide to treat ourselves and order room service instead. It seems a sin not to make the most of the facilities we have here in this suite, and as most of you know by now, we are not at all keen on buffets. I eat half a burger and three chips, which is the first thing I have eaten all day after my vomiting last night.

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And thus ends another fascinating day here in Oman, all thanks to Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:35 Archived in Oman Tagged road_trip view ruins panorama lunch deserted journey buffet vista muscat 4wd steep vertigo suite goats ruined corniche haat spectacular jebel_shams hairpin_bends al_falaj_hotel lunch_buffet muttrah hajjar_mountains al_hamra falaj precipitous specticular declivitous craggy_peaks misfat_al_a'briyeen narrow_alleyways deserted_village wadi_bano_awf snake_canyon nerve_jangling football_pitch bait_bimah muttrah_corniche muscat_by_night room_servce upgraded felaj irrigation_channels nakhl_fort wadi_bani_awf Comments (5)

Bristol - London - Dubai - Dar es Salaam

First leg of the journey

30 °C
View Comores 2017 - Cloud Coup Coup Land or Secret Paradise? on Grete Howard's travel map.

Where do I begin? I know a lot of you have been anxiously looking forward to reading all about the challenges we faced on our trip to the Comoros, and I shall try my best to make sure this blog lives up to expectations.

So, stay tuned and follow along as we make our way to – and to a certain extent around – Comoros, also known as Cloud Coup Coup Land (explanations of this moniker to follow in the next instalment).

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Flight changes
Our (potential) problems start a few weeks before we lave home, when we receive the email below from Precisionair. All our flight tickets are booked through Budgetair, using Emirates from London to Dar es Salaam via Dubai, and onwards to Moroni (Comoros) on Precisionair.

"Dear Sir/Madam
Kindly be informed that your flight from DAR to HAH on 17th Aug is cancelled and you will depart with ATC departing at 08:00hrs same day. Kindly be at the airport 2hrs before departure time with your precision airline document."

As this really does not cause us a problem, I print the email ready to show at the check-in desk at the time and file according.

Fast forward to five days before departure, when we receive a phone call from Budgetair, our flight agent, offering us a refund on the flight from Dar es Salaam to Moroni which is cancelled. It seems Precisionair didn’t inform Budgetair that they rebooked us on the Air Tanzania flight. I explain the situation and forward them the above email and all is well: they are happy and we are happy.

Five minutes later they ring back. The timing has changed. The 08:00 Air Tanzania flight is now leaving at 06:00. I have to admit that I am impressed with the service from Budgetair, they do seem to be diligent and on the ball. Little do I know…

Check in on line
48 hours to go, and it is time to check in on line for our main Emirates flight. When inputting our details returns an “Unable to process your request” message, I open an on-line chat to find out what is happening. A very nice lady called Yasmin informs me that it is because we have two different airlines on the same booking but reassures me that the flight is confirmed and that we have seat numbers allocated. I am happy with that.

The next day (the day before departure) we receive a confirmation email from Emirates with all the above information as per my conversation with Yasmin, although it seems Precisionair haven’t informed Emirates of the cancellation and re-booking of their flight either, as we are still shown on today's itinerary from Emirates as being on the (non-existing) Precisionair flight from Dar es Salaam to Moroni, not the Air Tanzania one that we have been re-booked on.

I am still not concerned, I am sure it will all be fine when we get to the check in desk in Dar es Salaam. Then we notice the details for the return journey.

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According to the Emirates itinerary, we are now departing Comoros one day earlier on an Ethiopian Air flight. Where on earth did that come from? Having to travel a day early puts all sorts of spanners in the works: it means we will not just lose a day in Comoros, but we will have to rearrange the flight coming back to the main island from the smaller island for a day earlier; and we'll have to get a hotel, transfer and visa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in order to catch our Emirates flights the following day.

Panicking ever so slightly, I contact Budgetair, first by email and later by phone to try and find out what is going on. The guy on the other end of the phone (most likely in an Indian call centre) does not appear to understand my problem, and he “will get back to me within 48 hours”. Doh! After explaining the situation for the fifth time, I can feel my irritation rising: 48 hours will be too late, we leave in less that 24! He tries to pass me off and says I should contact Precisionair or Emirates, but I strongly remind him that my contract is with Budgetair and stress the importance of this. Eventually he reluctantly promises to get back to me as soon as he can. I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

Surprisingly enough, we do not hear from Budgetair before we have to leave for the airport the following day.

Check in at Heathrow
We start our journey at Heathrow Airport, where we encounter our next challenge at the check-in desk. We have a single ticket all the way through to Comoros, but are breaking the journey for 19 hours in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (it was the cheapest flight option and we are cheapskates), and the airline representative (or rather the system) wants to check our luggage all the way. Normally this is also what we would want, but as we have an overnight stop in Dar es Salaam, we would very much like to have access to our clothes and toiletries. The guy totally agrees with us, and eventually manages to get his supervisor to override the system.

Another spanner in the works, this one deflected, however.

Dinner
Whenever we have a long-haul flight, especially an overnight one such as this one today, we like to have a decent meal at the airport before we board so that we can sleep through food service on the plane.

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At Planet Restaurant I have Prawn and Chilli Pasta, which at first looks a little disappointing: I can only see a grand total of three prawns. There are, however, several more crustaceans lurking underneath the surface. As they do. The fresh pasta is nicely al dente, and the chilli carries a bit of a kick. David enjoys his fish and chips too, with a crispy coating and flaky fish.

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David’s only disappointment is that they have no ‘proper’ cider, only berry.

Bar
Naturally, the next stop then has to be the bar for David to get his fix. As we are only drinking, not dining, we are not permitted to sit down at a table, but have to perch on uncomfortable, high bar stools, so we don’t linger.

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Heathrow – Dubai – Dar es Salaam
The flights from London Heathrow to Dar es Salaam via Dubai go smoothly (we both sleep a lot of the time), but not totally without incident, as David manages to pour a cup of hot coffee all over his beige trousers. The crew helpfully provides him with a number of face cloths to mop it all up.

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Ready for an adventure

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Tanzania coastline from the air

Dar es Salaam
The Arrivals Hall at Tanzania’s biggest airport is absolute chaos. The so-called queue for immigration is just one massive throng of people, with no-one knowing what to do or where to go and several flights having arrived at the same time. Passengers with connecting flights struggle to get anywhere near the Transfer desk for the crowds, and there are no signs to advise visitors that there should be one queue for people who already have visas (us) and another for those wishing to obtain visa-on-arrival.

Eventually, after a lot of pushing, shoving and shuffling for nearly an hour in the stifling heat, we get through Passport Control to be faced with the next shambles: the luggage 'carousel'. Five deep with passengers and trolleys, we can’t get anywhere near the conveyor belt. We both hop around on tiptoe to try and spot our cases for a while, then decide to go and check the pile of luggage at the end of the belt. Sure enough, there, right in the middle of a huge mound of bags, is our luggage. With much back-straining, David manages to rescue our cases and we make it out of the terminal building, fighting our way through the traffic jam of luggage trolleys, prams with kids, cling-wrapped boxes, abandoned suitcases and people milling aimlessly around.

Although it is nice to be out in the fresh air, the temperature is no cooler. Having pre-booked an airport transfer with an included city tour on the way to the hotel, we look for someone holding a sign with our name on it. Nothing. We hang around for a while, fighting off the hoards of taxi touts and tour guides. Still nothing.

Checking tomorrow’s flights
While we wait we might as well take the opportunity to visit the Precisionair counter to check on tomorrow’s flight. I hand over the email we received from them and the girl looks at it without a word. With a dismissive wave of the hand, she points to the Air Tanzania counter and states: “Check with them”. Not surprisingly I get the same response (in reverse) from the girl at the Air Tanzania counter. At my insistence, she reluctantly saunters over to the Precisionair counter with the email and comes back stating word for word what is on the email: “Be at the airport 2hrs before departure time with your Precision Airline document.” I enquire if the tickets are definitely confirmed and am brushed off with a “Yes, yes”.

As there really isn’t much else we can do at this stage, we go and change some money and wait for our transfer. And wait. 45 minutes later and having been unable to contact the transfer company, we take a taxi directly to the hotel.

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Dar es Salaam street market

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Safari inspired street sculpture

The traffic through Dar es Salaam is horrendous. A new overpass is being constructed, and the police are directing the traffic. We sit in a queue, not moving an inch, for nearly 20 minutes while we watch the traffic crossing the junction from left to right and right to left. When will the police let our long line of waiting cars go? Eventually we move on.

We are so pleased to finally get to the hotel that David accidentally pays the driver in Pounds rather than US Dollars. Nice tip for the driver!

Golden Tulip Dar es Salaam City Centre
The hotel doesn’t look very welcoming from the outside. The entrance is down a dodgy looking side street and the armed security guard outside doesn’t exactly make me feel any better. The steps leading up from the road are very steep, making it difficult to haul the cases up. Eventually a porter arrives and takes over. That is better.

Reception is on the 20th floor and we travel up in a fabulous glass-sided outside lift, with great views of the city below.

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On checking in, we are delighted to find that not only are they expecting us, we have been upgraded to a suite!

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We have a comfortable living room, bedroom, the usual shower and toilet and a separate large double corner bath with Jacuzzi!

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On the 19th floor, we also have stunning views of the city as the sun is going down and the Muezzin calls the faithful to prayer at the local Mosque.

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Night Photography
After a quick shower and change (thank goodness we have our luggage!), we head for an outside seating area on the 20th floor to take some shots of Dar es Salaam at dusk.

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David, always the joker, thinks it is funny to point out the cladding following the Grenfell Tower disaster.

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Dinner
Not wishing to explore the dodgy-looking neighbourhood, we opt for dinner in the hotel at a restaurant named “Fire” which promises to serve “hot, tasty cuisine”.

What they don’t have, however, is alcohol. This is a dry hotel.

I order a Swahili style Miskaki chicken kebab that is advertised to come with a ‘spicy tamarind sauce’. I ask to have it extra spicy.

David chooses a Red Hot Pepper Beef Fillet, medium-rare.

After some time the waiter appears, full of apologies: the kitchen has cooked David’s steak well done. Can he bring it anyway?

When the food arrives, I am pretty sure they have mixed up the sauces, as David’s steak (or rather small pieces of fillet) comes with a dark, rich, sweet sticky sauce, very much reminiscent of tamarind, whereas my sauce is red and weak without any ‘fire’ at all. I am too tired to even be bothered to question it.

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My somewhat insipid chicken

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David's well done steak

After dinner we slope off to bed very early. Not only did we travel all through the night last night, we are also getting up very early tomorrow morning. With high hopes of tomorrow being a much better day, we drift into a nice deep sleep.

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged travel flight adventure tanzania trip dubai uae flights united_arab_emirates heathrow emirates suite problems dar_es_salaam upgrade comoros air_tanzania golden_tulip spanner cloud_coup_coup_land budgetair Comments (9)

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