Un blog Travellerspoint

Day-to-Day Life on the Farm… (by Manon)

overcast 20 °C
Voir Aventure 2011 2012 sur la carte de Abud Nantel.

It is 7:30pm, and night has fallen. Darkness envelops everything and the stars remain illusive, hidden behind winter’s cloudy mantel. Rain comes at night, to wash away the heat of the day and offer its serenade of pitter-patter’s on our metal roof. It is so loud at times that we can barely hear each other speak! But tonight, no rain. The forest is alive with the song of bullfrogs and nocturnal insects, the counterpart to the melodious banter of the many birds that inhabit the garden during the day. The air is humid, heavy with the scent of decaying plants, but fresh.

Today, everyone worked hard on the construction of a cacao dryer: a 5m x 3.5m bamboo structure, covered by a plastic tarp, in which cacao beans will be laid to dry once harvested. The area in which the structure was to built was covered with brush and rocks, so yesterday, we cleared the area with machetes (Alain was blown away by Marianela’s technique!) and by hand. Today, in the humid heat, we dug holes and planted 12 cement tubes that will serve as the dryer’s foundation: sounds simple, but forming a perfect square in this difficult terrain took all day, and every ounce of everyone’s strength. So tonight, we rest… Alain is playing cards with the girls, the Saavedra’s are watching TV, and Marianela never rests, fretting over what she will serve for dinner.

It is rewarding to feel that our labour – as inexperienced with this life as it may be – is proving useful to the family. Since our arrival, we’ve contributed to a number of projects and household chores:

- Planting: cutting up dried leaves with machetes and mixing them into clean soil (from which we removed weeds and rocks) with a shovel, filling over a hundred small bags with this mixture, and planting cacao beans in each bag.

- Harvesting: we harvested cacao pods, emptied them and carried 106 lbs of beans from the mountain to the farm… these were then dried in the sun, and sold for a grand total of 63$ (for approx.. 40 hours of labour). We also harvested various fruit for our breakfast: oranges, mandarins, starfruit (carambola), passion fruit (maracuja) and a few others whose name I can’t recall – but oh so yummy!!

- Road building: Pedro definitely has an Inca gene and is fixated on paving his (long!) driveway with large river stones... We have a renewed respect for the Incas and Romans who built thousands of kilometers of such roads across their respective territories!! It took four adults, working non-stop for 3-4 hours per day, 3 days to “pave” 15 square meters. Phew!!

- Carpentry: during down times or when it rains, Alain helps Pedro with various projects in the main house. Together, they completed the last wall of the master bedroom, thus giving this loving couple a bit of well-deserved intimacy! We also hope to help the family finish the cacao dryer before we leave.

- Laundry: we sit in the river to wash our laundry in its clear waters, using polished stones as washboards (this, it turns out, is the girls’ favourite chore and they have demonstrated great skill at salvaging dirty socks!). Then, we hang our clothes to dry in the hopes that sufficient sun will reach them before the rain returns or run the risk of everything smelling of mold until the next round of laundry.

- Cooking and cleaning: I invested in a pair of heavy-duty rubber gloves so I could take over the dishes for out little clan! Marianela, lady of the house, never seems to stop. She works in the fields with us, and then rushes back to cook delicious meals for 10 people. I help out in any way I can, and am learning the 101 ways in which one can serve bananas and plantains! Baked, broiled, fried, pureed, bbq’d, with freshly roasted and ground peanuts… and all delicious!

This, of course, allows us to fully appreciate some of the things we take for granted at home… I do love my washer and dryer!! I can only imagine how much time and energy Marianela would save if this part of her work could be automated! And while the food is delicious, the fact that the family does not have a refrigerator limits the variety and quantity of food they can stock: bananas and rice are a staple (the latter being served at almost every meal). Meat, dairy and vegetables are available on the days where we go to the nearby pueblo to run errands, and otherwise, replaced by yuka (a root vegetable not unlike a potato), lentils and peanuts. A slight humidity permeates everything and while it is not overwhelming, it is sufficient to irritate my eczema-prone skin. On the other hand, Alain and I seem to be blessed by a natural mosquito-repellent – contrary to the girls, who are waging a constant battle against bites and itches! And Alain does miss his comfy chair at home and his top-notch tools…

But it is not all work and no play in the Saavedra house! Once the day’s work is done, everyone takes a (cold!!) shower and refuels at Marianela’s table (usually around 3:30pm). Then, it is time for personal projects and games:

- Pedro plays his bamboo flutes and is teaching Alain how to make them
- Alain’s Casino opens for endless games of Blackjack and Texas Hold’Em
- Marianela teaches us how to braid different types of bracelets and necklaces
- The kids explore the endless possibilities for fun offered by the Nantel iPad
- The four hammocks work overtime as we take turns just hanging out in them with a good book (or the iPad)
- Marianela taught me how to make serving spoons out of the shell of the “mate” fruit
- People pile into Fran and Carlo’s room to watch the evening news or a movie
- Pedro built bamboo bows and arrows for the girls, with real feathers plucked for their chickens!
- The family’s three dogs – Bella, Maille and Idefix – and Mati, the pet parakeet (whom they found as a baby and raised), get their daily dose of attention, with Chloee taking multiple photos of them in every state of play and rest (although Arianne wasn’t as lucky, and had two close encounters with an angry Idefix)
- We run to the rio to splash around and heal our mosquito bites in its fresh waters

Not to mention the wonderful fiestas that we organized for Christmas and New Year’s Eve! In both cases, we donned our party clothes (and the girls were delighted to put on make-up with Stephanie!) and Marianela treated us to a wonderful parilla (bbq). The iPods rocked and we danced into the wee hours of the night. To partake in a local New Year’s tradition, the girls and I bought a papier mache mask to build a “muneca del ano viejo” – a life size paper and tinder doll, representing the old year, that people burn on the stroke of midnight to throw out the old and ring in the new. Our muneca was a not quite life size little dog, which we cobbled together from old magazines and Christmas wrapping paper, but it was very cute! We invited everyone to write a message of “adios 2011”, which we then inserted in a tiny paper mail box and we burnt the whole thing in the bbq at 11pm (thus celebrating the New Year with New Brunswick!).

And yesterday, as a special treat for all, Pedro drove us to the Playa… With a recently built highway, the coast is now only 2.5 hours away (“before and after” signs along this highway show the impact of the government’s investment in this infrastructure – from bumpy dirt road to paved highway). We left at 7am and drove to the town of Pedernales, where spent the morning as we waited for the sky to clear. People here live with the Pacific at their back door, and despite the light rain, families were playing soccer on the beach and frolicking in the waves. We then headed towards Cojimies (40km away) and just before arriving to the village, pulled into an unmarked driveway that wound through an enormous grove of coco palms. Among the palms were a few small houses, chickens and dogs… and a gate that opened onto 46km of virgin beach.

The sky was still gray, the sand was gray, and the sea was gray – but it all shone with a silvery light, and the Pacific, in all its gray glory, beckoned. We were completely alone, and ran into the waves with glee! We spent a few hours there, playing in the surf and hunting seashells and crystals – I wish I knew the names of these stones, and that I had room in my bags to carry them home! In shades of jade, amethysts, quartz, emerald, ruby, ochre… It was if someone had spilled a bag of semi-precious stones along the shore. And the seashells were just as beautiful: pink, red, purple, white, like a garden of spring blossoms on the dark sand.

And then the sky darkened enough to entice us to leave this paradise and head to Cojimies for fresh fish in a small, family-owned restaurant. At $2.50 a plate, this was a feast for our famished stomachs!

Now, it’s time for bed… We have another long day ahead of us tomorrow to get the “secador” ready in time for the next harvest of cacao! And it looks like the rain may hold off, allowing the night’s symphony to unfold in all its magical majesty…

Posté par Abud Nantel 10:46 Archivé dans Équateur Commentaires (5)

Got a spare $50?

overcast 20 °C
Voir Aventure 2011 2012 sur la carte de Abud Nantel.

When we arrived here, we joined the Saavedra family in their cacao harvesting activities: harvesting the cacao pods (“mazurcas”) by hand; returning a few days later to collect the cacao beans and fill heavy bags that we then carried from the mountain to the house; fermenting the cacao beans in large boxes for a few days; clearing the underbrush with machetes and planting new cacao trees; drying the cacao beans on a tarp under the sun… And then the rain came. This is the beginning of winter – and thus of the rainy season – and heavy rains fall every night and for portions of every day. During this season, work is more difficult because everything is wet and slippery… and the beans that are harvested can easily be overtaken by mould, thus destroying hours of work.

As we watched how they worked, Alain and I could not stop making lists of all the things that could make their lives easier and their work more productive!! For Christmas, Alain actually placed a large order with Lee Valley Tools for a few basic items, such as a good stone to sharpen their tools, which are old and blunt. Next week, we will help them build a cacao bean dryer to help save the beans from the rainy season.

Pedro explained that they only recently decided to process their own cacao. Until now, they had harvested their cacao pods and sold the fresh beans to intermediaries who processed them and then sold the cacao paste to chocolate producers. The problem, however, is that these intermediaries keep the largest share of the profits for themselves: the farmer is paid a pittance for his beans and for his efforts. Given that the price of cacao has plummeted in recent years (from 140$ a quintal, or 100lbs of dried beans, to 70$), local producers make next to nothing. By processing his own beans and selling directly to chocolate producers, he could make more and eventually perhaps, even make a small profit.

He has therefore begun to explore the possibility of creating a cooperative with his neighbours, where his farm would serve as the processing hub. He explained that this may be a long term project for him, because he needs the start up capital to purchase the necessary processing equipment and neither he nor his neighbours have a spare dollar: a machine to roast the cacao beans, a machine to remove the hulls of the dried beans and a machine to grind the dried beans into paste… approximately $5,000.

This would ensure his family’s livelihood, provide much needed additional income to the neighbouring farms and help foster a sustainable and fair economic foundation for this small community.

Think about it… That’s 50$ from 100 people.

I feel like the girl in Eat, Pray, Love (for those of you who have read the book), but if you’ve got a spare $50, it could help change the fate of an entire community – and I can guarantee you that your $50 would be going a long way, for a very real and very concrete cause.

If you would like to contribute, please send me an email @ manonabud@gmail.com.

Thank you!

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Posté par Abud Nantel 08:57 Archivé dans Équateur Commentaires (1)

Ecuador Renaissance (By Manon)

overcast 20 °C
Voir Aventure 2011 2012 sur la carte de Abud Nantel.

Today is the last day of 2011 and it feels particularly fitting that we should celebrate the New Year with our friends in Puerto Quito. We have come to live with the Saavedra family in the hope of experiencing another way of life and of gleaning new knowledge and wisdom in their company. As every new year brings its lot of new beginnings and resolutions, we can only hope that we will be disciplined enough to always honour what we have learned here about family, integrity, passion, honour, justice and hope.

Pedro was a young medical student in Ecuador when the war in Nicaragua broke out and, outraged by the sheer injustice of a war sponsored by America, he chose to leave medical school and enroll as a volunteer medic with the Sandinista guerilla. He lived in the Nicaraguan jungle for six years, caring for the sick and the wounded on either side of the conflict and what tales he has to tell! We cannot begin to imagine the hardship he and his comrades suffered… But most telling is the passion with which he describes the “just cause” and the values espoused by he and his colleagues. He recounts, for example, one incident where three American casualties where left behind and his commandante ordered his men to dig a grave for them. The soldiers, weary from a long day of fighting, took a moment to remove the victims’ booths, cigarettes and items of value before digging a single grave in which the three bodies were unceremoniously thrown. When the commandante returned to assess the work and saw this, he immediately berated them for their lack of respect for these human lives and ordered them to return everything they had taken and dig three new graves to properly bury their enemies – who were, he reminded them, human beings too.

War is an ugly, terrible thing and it destroys souls, bodies and countries… It is therefore inspiring to see a man emerge from such horrors with the unshakable conviction that we must ALL do everything in our power to enable peace and to advance justice.

When he returned to Ecuador, Pedro opted to practice medicine in a country pueblo, to bring his skills to those who needed it most (and would pay him least!) and there he met his bride, Marianela. At 14, she was 20 years his junior, but smart, beautiful, funny and according to the customs of her people, ready to be wed. Twenty years later, she is just as smart, beautiful and funny, and together, they make an indomitable team who has built a beautiful family and home in this lush mountain forest.

A few years ago, they noticed that foreign engineers crawling in the area – including on their land – and learned that a consortium of five oil companies was planning to build a pipeline in the region, which was going to cross on their land. El Doctor immediately sprang into action and took on the consortium, the President and the Minister of Natural Resources in a historical lawsuit: he was the first Ecuadorian to attempt such a feat. Marianela was at home with their three young children, while he crisscrossed the country in search for support for his cause and spent countless hours in courtrooms and with his lone lawyer. The trial lasted 18 months – and cost them 18 months of work on their house and farm – and Pedro didn’t officially win the trial. However, he did get what he really wanted: the pipeline was deviated and does not cross his land, and his case eventually became the impetus for the creation of a new law designed to protect those who don’t have the resources to protect their rights in a court of law.

There are so many more stories to tell about this family… Every day, they surprise us with “anecdotes” which are often profoundly moving and inspiring. But they seem to take it all in stride with dignity and hope – and from Pedro’s thoughts on the current government, it would seem that the same could be said about Ecuador.

Presidente Rafael Correa has been in office for 6 years and in that short time, has been radically transforming the socio-economic structure of this country. He has, for example, shifted the power base for exploitation and imposed new financial arrangements to the oil corporations that benefit Ecuador. He is also building the largest oil refinery in South America, based on the belief that the country’s resources should be transformed locally and benefit its citizens. However, the Presidente also recognizes that the world would be a better place if we didn’t extract oil altogether: there is a vast tract of virgin jungle in the West of Ecuador, under which lies an important petroleum deposit. Presidente Correa has been negotiating with developed countries in the hope that they would agree to “pay” Ecuador for not extracting this oil. His argument is that they are developing country and can scarcely afford to not exploit these resources. However, wit the help of others, they could protect this “lung of the earth” for the benefit not only of Ecuador, but for all of humanity. He hasn’t had much success to date, but idea is a worthy one, not unlike the proposed model for cap and trade carbon emissions.

Three years ago, the government adopted a new constitution that recognizes the full rights of the country’s Indigenous peoples and includes them as “complete and equal” social actors. Moreover, this new constitution is the first in the world to recognize the “rights of Nature” – and this appears on the very first page of the document. While the full implications of this are only beginning to be understood and implemented, it speaks volumes about the values and philosophy of this government (and which explains why there have already been some attempts on the life of Presidente Correa).

Pedro often says that South America is going through a Renaissance, liberating itself from the grip of America and large international companies that have preyed on its resources. He is an idealist, a dreamer, a Don Quijote of the jungle, so we must not forget that there are many sides to every story… But nonetheless, it is clear that things are changing and it seems to be for the better. May 2012 move these dreams along, and may we all carry in our hearts the sacred flames of family, integrity, passion, honour, justice and hope.

Posté par Abud Nantel 08:43 Archivé dans Équateur Commentaires (1)

El Silanche, Puerto Quito (par : Manon)

overcast 20 °C
Voir Aventure 2011 2012 sur la carte de Abud Nantel.

Le 19 décembre marquait le début de notre premier stage de bénévolat. Nous avons fait la connaissance de notre hôte, Pedro, à Quito, aux bureaux d’Ecuador Volunteer où il était venu nous chercher afin de nous conduire chez-lui, près de Puerto Quito. Il nous a accueilli à bras ouvert – littéralement – en nous offrant un sourire radieux et une grosse caresse… Quel personnage!

Avec ses cheveux blancs, son teint basané, son nez arqué et ses grands yeux en chocolat, il semble descendre tout droit des Incas qui ont longtemps régnés sur son pays. Il porte en lui la noblesse et la sagesse de ses ancêtres : médecin, il travaille (pour moins que rien) dans un petit hôpital qui traite les morsures de serpents ; révolutionnaire, il est parti six ans au Nicaragua pour faire la bonne guerre contre les Sandinistes (en plus d’avoir fait ses études médicales à Cuba) ; environnementaliste, il a tout laissé derrière lui pour acheter 15 hectares de jungle, où il est en train de créer un réel jardin botanique pour sauvegarder les espaces d’arbres indigènes détruites par la déforestation, en plus de la culture du cacao et de divers fruits tropicaux ; homme de culture, il semble savoir tout sur tout (et surtout sur les failles de Los Americanos!) et a refusé d’envoyer ses enfants à l’école car le curriculum national n’était pas, selon lui, conçu pour leur ‘apprendre à penser’ – il les a donc éduqué à la maison et Camilla (12 ans), Carlos (16 ans) et Francisco (18 ans) sont tous trois brillants et bourrés de talents. Son épouse, Marianela, est une femme au sourire lumineux et constant, qui veille amoureusement et attentivement sur sa petite famille et pour qui rien ne semble compliqué ou pénible.

Nous sommes installés dans une petite maisonnette de bambou, qu’ils ont construit de leurs mains, avec le bambou et les pierres recueillis sur leurs terres - tout comme ils l'ont fait pour leur maison. Les filles dorment dans des lits superposés, dans une chambre qu’elles partagent avec Stéphanie, une belge qui est arrivée en même temps que nous et qui fut la première bénévole ici il y a trois ans.

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Nous ne sommes ici que depuis quelques jours, et déjà, nous sommes complètement chez-nous… La famille est généreuse, accueillante, joyeuse. Nous nous levons au chant du coq (littéralement!) et profitons du petit matin pour un petit moment tranquille : les filles lisent au lit, Alain et moi faisons du yoga sous les palmiers au son de la flûte de Pedro qui commence chaque matin en musique. Nous partageons le petit déjeuner avec eux et partons ensuite travailler dans la jungle pour aider avec la récolte de leur cacao : nous avons tous appris l’art de manier la machette, les filles y-compris! C’est un véritable paradis… Pedro et sa famille sont des environnementalistes convaincus et font tout en leur pouvoir pour protéger et raviver la flore et la faune de leurs 15 hectares. Ils ont donc planté une variété énorme de palmiers et d’arbres à fruit, pour faire contrepoids à la déforestation qui sévit dans la région à cause des grandes cultures industrielles (de palme, de cœurs de palmiers). Ils se sont donc créé un véritable jardin botanique, refuge pour les animaux et oiseaux des environs.

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Quand le travail du matin est terminé, nous rentrons à la maison pour nous doucher – ils insistent que l’on se savonne deux fois pour enlever toutes traces de ‘bichos’ (bibittes!) – et partageons le grand repas de la journée, el amuerzo. Ensuite, repos, jeux et ‘manualidades’ (travaux manuels) – Chloée tresse des bracelets, Alain apprend à faire des flûtes de bambou, Arianne joue avec qui veux bien lui faire des câlins et je fais un peu de tout. On dîne vers 20h30 et ensuite, c’est au dodo dans notre maisonnette de bambou, où l’on se fait bercer par les bruits nocturnes de la montagne : le glouglou d’un ruisseau, le chant de milliers d’oiseaux, le battement des ailes des oiseaux-mouches à notre fenêtre, le bruit du vent dans les palmiers et le bruit de la pluie sur notre toit de tôle…

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Notre désir était de partager la vie d’une famille afin de faire l’expérience d’un autre univers – et bien, nous sommes servis! Nous n’aurions pu choisir d’hôtes plus merveilleux que la famille Saavedra.

PS Nous avons aussi découvert les plaisirs du 'taxi pick-up' : les filles ont adoré faire le voyage de Puerto Quito à la ferme (environ 15 min) dans la boîte d'un camion! Et de même, dans le derrière du jeep de Pedro!

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Posté par Abud Nantel 14:01 Archivé dans Équateur Tagué el _silanche puerto_quito Commentaires (4)

Rome to Quito part 1 and 2

overcast 22 °C
Voir Aventure 2011 2012 sur la carte de Abud Nantel.

Thursday
5 am wake up in Rome
6 am airport driver is late 20min (because he did not hear his alarm clock...) wait patiently
10 am take off from Rome
11 hrs flight
In flight Rome - Caracas

In flight Rome - Caracas

3pm local time (+ 5.5 hrs) land in Caracas
5pm Flight delayed (Airplane issues????) with Santa Barbara Airlines (SBA)
6pm Impossible to get any info as when we are going to leave
10pm flight takes off from Caracas to Quito
12pm informed in flight that Quito airport is closed (bad weather)

Friday
1 am local time (+0.5 hrs) land in Guayaquil
Passengers going to Quito stay in plane
1h30 first aid crew enters the plane???
1h45am new flight crew and passenger enter the plane
2h00 am plane and crew are ready for take off
2h20 informed that Guayaquil airport is closed for the night, must exit plane and sleep in Guayaquil airport. +- 150 passengers are stranded.
2h50 am here we are (see photo) making new friends and listening to x-mass music...

In Guyaquil Airport

In Guyaquil Airport

In Guyaquil Airport

In Guyaquil Airport

3h00 no idea when and how we will get to Quito
3h10 kids want to play and not sleep!
3h30 go to a quiet place in the airport and try to sleep
3h50 can sleep, the air-conditioning draft and the x-mass jingle could have something to do with it
4h00 The old man beside me starts to hum the x-mass jingle, That it… no more faking sleeping and I get up, can’t take the jingles.
4h10 I stink
4h15 The first swarm of angry passenger shows up at gate 6, which happens to be adjacent to our sleeping bench. Manon and Arianne are brutally awaken by angry passenger yelling at an innocent airport worker.
4h20 First offer by Santa Barbra Airline to go to a hotel. However there are no details as to when we can leave for Quito. There is a SBA plane leaving at 6am for Caracas and rumours are that I may stop at Quito and drop us of. Due to the uncertainty of the situation all passengers decide to stay at the airport.
4h40 Many more angry exchange between passengers and airport and useless SBA staff see short video. Notice the sign behind the crown… Yes this situation feels like in are in La Republic de la Banana

5h00 We are informed that the Caracas plane will not stop at Quito and we should be able to leave around 9h00am.
5h10 The electronic departure board shows that our flight is leaving at 11h30
5h30 SBA plane for Caracas is also using gate 6, however airport staff move the gate to prevent conflict between angry passengers and passengers for Caracas
5h35 +-50 angry passengers swarm new gate, more yelling
6h00 The second offer for the hotel, again we do not want to leave the airport.
6h10 The airport is slowly awakening to a new day as passenger and staff start to fill the airport.
6h15 SBA staff offers crummy sandwiched, bottles of coke, sprite and water.
6h20 Yes there is a silver lignin, we meet Esteban, he is a young doctor that lives in Calgary and is from Ecuador. He spends the next 50 min showing us place to go and tips for travellers in Ecuador. Most important are the tips for the Galapagos. We were also concerned with Chloée caught. He pulls out his stethoscope and examines Chloée. His verdict; she is in great shape, caught is linked to allergies. This is fantastic news; we do not have to find a doctor in Quito.
6h30 I stink some more.
6h45 SBA directors come out to speak to the crowd, lots more shouting.
7h00 SBA directors confirm… our flight can’t leave until the flight crew has 8hrs rest. Therefore estimates time of departure is 11h30. Once again the offer for a hotel room is given.
7h10 We are en route for the hotel.
8h00 Shower and eat breakfast.
9h00 Sleep for 1hrs.
10h15 Back to the airport.
11h00 Wait for the pilot and crew to arrive at the airport. Parents are angry and kids play

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11h45 We board the plane.

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12h15 Ready to take off.
12h00 OMG we are on our way to Quito.
12h45 We land in Quito 21h late.
13h15 We pick up luggage, none is missing – great relief.
13h16 Notice that one of our luggage has been open.
13h40 We are picked up at the airport by the Volunteer Ecuador’s driver and brought to our host family.
14h10 Arrive at our host family and welcomed with open arms, this is great. Spend the rest of the day resting…

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Sunday morning:
We confirm that our cell phone, GPS and empty USB keys are missing….

Conclusion: if ever you travel to South America don’t ever take Santa Barbara Airline. This is not only based on our experience but everyone around us tell us that this is terrible airline.

Posté par Abud Nantel 09:51 Archivé dans Équateur Commentaires (3)

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