Ollantaytambo – A day trip from Cusco Peru

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

Ollantaytambo is probably one of my favourite day trips from Cusco, Peru.  It is 72 kilometres from Cusco which is about 2 hours away by minibus.

The buses from Cusco go from Calle Pavitos with Calle Belen, which is about a 10 minutes walk from the Plaza de Armas and it costs about 10 soles (3 USD).  You will find buses going to Urubamaba (you can change in the bus station) or directly to Ollantaytambo.

If you have done the Inca Trail then this is the place where you will have stopped to stock up on last minute snacks, water or walking sticks.  It is also a popular day tour from Cusco but it is also easy to do independently as there are plently of buses that go from Cusco.

This would be my 3rd visit to the ruins here and I decided to get the bus and stay overnight as there is a second set of ruins that you can see from Ollantaytambo which I have never visited and I keep saying I must go see them, so I decided to stay overnight and see both.

I got the bus in the morning and checked straight into my hostel, the Ollantaytampu Hostel, located 50 metres from the Plaza de Armas.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

It’s a nice clean little hostel, in a great location with great views from the roof terrace.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

I then decided to go to the main ruins that was included within the tourist ticket I had bought in Cusco.  As I was walking there it started raining as it was doing most days between 12 and 2, so again it was out with the rain jacket to see another set of ruins in the rain!!

Ollantaytambo town is 2,800 metres above sea level with the ruins climbing several hundred more metres up the mountain.

I entered the ruins and this is the first view you get, there were lots of tourists already inside and a lot more groups would be around later too.  It is one of the most popular ruins in the region.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

Ollantaytambo was the royal estate for the Emperor Pachacuti.  The main ruins visited by tourists is the ceremonial site, referred to as temple hill.  Above the terraces there is a sun temple and the wall of the Six Monoliths (see pic below).  These are unfinished and it shows evidence that the site was still being constructed when it was abandoned.

Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

As I was exploring I saw an open door with a path up the mountain and so I decided to explore as I had hours left before it shut.  By this time the rain was easing.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

I climbed up the mountain another 20 minutes where I found more ruins, I then climbed a bit higher, found a rock to sit on and had the most amazing views.  As most tourists have a limited amount of time in Ollantaytambo, this part of the ruins was empty and I had the place to myself.  The views from here are amazing.  I decided to stay here, relax, read my kindle and enjoy the views for a while.  I think I now understand why the Inca’s built there settlements on mountains, it wasn’t for a defensive reason but to enjoy these views!!

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

When it was getting close to 4pm I decided to climb back down, as the gate to the ruins shut at 4pm, and I explored the rest of the ruins.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

After visiting the ruins I went into the town and had dinner and a few drinks on the way back to the hostel.

The next day I was up early so that I could go visit the other set of ruins you can see on the other mountain. To get there you walk along calle Principal away from the Plaza de Armas until you reach Lares Calle which is just a little alleyway.

Ollyantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

After the first alleyway on the left, the entrance to the other set of ruins is just through a door on your right that will be open with a little sign showing the ruins are that way.  It is between Calle 1 & 2 in the alleyway.

There are ruins all over the mountain at this side too, mainly there are storehouses, where they would store the products from the terraces.  The high altitude and climate helped against the decay.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

I then climbed to the highest part of the ruins and once again, spent a few hours sat looking at the amazing views and reading my kindle.  I even somehow managed to get wifi from my hostel at the top of the mountain!! How does that work?

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

After a few hours exploring this side of the valley it was back down the mountain to get my bags and return to Cusco.  You can get a combi from either the Plaza de Armas direct to Cusco or just around the corner, near the market are combi’s to Urubamba where you can change buses (this way does take a little longer) to get to Cusco.

Ollantaytambo is a great day trip from Cusco, or a great little town to visit for a few days if you have time, and its an easy option to do on your own.

Have you visited here? What did you think of these ruins?

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Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

 

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Pisac – A day trip from Cusco Peru

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

As I was spending over 3 weeks in Cusco I decided to get the tourist ticket for 130 soles (40 USD) so that I could go and see all the Inca Ruins in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.  I had already seen them all 4 years previously on a tour but this time I wanted the option of spending more time and being able to fully explore them.  I decided the first ruin I would visit was Pisac (or Pisaq in the local Quechua language), it is located 33km east of Cusco.

I decided to get the local bus so that I could spend as much time as I wanted there.  The bus to Pisac leaves from calle Puputi which is just off Recoleta.  It is about a 15 minute walk from the Plaza de Armas.  The bus also passes Sacsayhuaman and the other Inca Ruins near Cusco if you want to get a bus to them.  On Puputi street you will hear lots of men shouting “Pisac, Pisac”, these are the minibuses to Pisac which go quite frequently or when they are full.  It should cost around 6 soles (2 USD) to Pisac and you can negotiate less if you are not going that far.  The journey is normally around 45 minutes and they drop you off by the river in Pisac and it is just a 5 minutes walk to the entrance of the ruins.  The minibuses return to Cusco from the same place.  I love getting the local buses and meeting the local people, there normally isn’t any seat belts so maybe not too safe and you are crammed in with everyone but for me it feels like I am experiencing life there rather than being a tourist!!

As you get near to Pisac and are driving down the valley towards the river you can see Pisac high up on the mountain in front of you.  It is an amazing site, you can see the farming terraces cut into the side of the mountain.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

The town of Pisac is located at 2,900 metres with the highest point of the ruins at 3,400 metres, it is quite a hard walk up to see “Inti Watana” which is where the ceremonial platform and temple of the sun are, but you can rest, take lots of pictures and enjoy the amazing views.

Once you have walked through all the markets and parted with all your cash from buying some of the amazing clothes and trinkets they have in Peru, you will see the welcome to Pisac sign. The large market is open Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday though you will find a smaller market open on other days.   You carry on up this path, where you will have your ticket checked before finally entering Pisac.  It is open from 7am to 6pm so you have lots of time to explore this huge site.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

It is not known when Pisac was built but it is not earlier than 1440 and it was destroyed by the Spanish in the 1530’s.  It was a royal estate and as you are climbing up you can see the agricultural terraces that were built into the side of the mountain.  The fertile soil was brought from the valley so that the crops would grow.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

As I was walking up the mountain the views down into the valley were amazing, despite the rainy and cloudy day.  I kept stopping to look and enjoy the views of the town and the river snaking through the valley.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

As you are walking up the mountain you can see the towers from the citadel (the military part) above you.  I continued upward not realising that these towers would mean I was only halfway up the mountain.  It was around this time that the heavens opened and we had a heavy downpour.   It is something I would get used to while being in Cusco, as it was the rainy season it would rain most days in the afternoon!!  Generally between 12 and 2 which is not great timing when you want to go exploring!!

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

When I reached the military sector I had a walk around as there are lots of ruins in this section, though it is hard to work out what the buildings were used for if you are not with a guide!!  There are people walking around who are guides but as I had done a previous tour I didn’t want to do another guided tour.  It is thought that Pisac defended the southern entrance of the sacred valley, with Choquequirao the west and Ollantaytambo the northern entrance.  The views looking down on the citadel are spectacular, even when it’s pouring down!!

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

As you are walking up the hill from the citadel you can see the main ceremonial plaza, so it was head down as it was raining so hard and a trek up another steep hill to the top.

At the top I had reached Inti Watana the religious part of the site.  Here you can see baths, water fountains, altars, the temple of the sun.  Though for me the higher section was closed off, I think because it was raining so hard.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

After I had had a look around I had a sit down in a little covered area, the only area after the agricultural terraces with shelter, and tried drying off a little, reading my book and just enjoying the view.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

After this it was back on with the waterproofs and down the mountain in the rain.  There are a few paths so you can go down a different way to how you came up and see different parts of the ruins while you are going down.  It would of been amazing to have been able to sit up here and enjoy the amazing views for a few hours but it wasn’t meant to be!! Maybe next time!!

Once I was back at the bottom it was a short walk through the town and back to the bus for the journey back to Cusco.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

It is a great site to visit and the views are stunning and will be even more so on a sunny day, though you will need sun cream and a hat as there is very little shelter!!  If you get a chance it’s worth a visit!!

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Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

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Rainbow Mountain Hike in Cusco, Peru

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

Before I visited Peru I had seen many pictures of Rainbow Mountain and my old guide from my trek to Choquequirao, was now a guide on this trek, and kept posting lots of pictures on facebook and I knew when I returned to Cusco it was a trek I had to do.

When I arrived in Cusco I met with my old guide who told me about the hike to Rainbow Mountain.  There are options of 1 or 2 days though the 2 day hike is normally booked as a private trek.  His company is more exclusive and takes small groups early in the morning (2am) so that when you get to Rainbow Mountain there is no one else in your pictures.  The rest of the companies normally leave between 3.30 and 4 so when you get to the summit there are hundreds of people and that is just in the low season!!

If you want a more private tour then please have a look at his website AB Expeditions.

Unfortunately my budget did not stretch to this and I had to go with one of the other companies in Cusco which charges around 100 soles (USD30), for this you get breakfast, lunch, transport (it’s a 3 hour drive out of Cusco) and a guide.  We got picked up at 3.30am and drove around Cusco for another 30 minutes trying to find the hostels of the other people in the group!!  Once we had everyone we started the drive to the start of the hike.  After 2 hours we left the main road and continued on a dirt road slightly wider than a single track, up the mountains with a sheer drop to one side.  I closed the curtain, as to me we seemed to be driving too fast and too near the edge!! As is typical in Peru, everything worth seeing is at the top of a mountain or over a mountain pass!!  This part was only 20 or 30 minutes but I still felt I needed to celebrate surviving and still being alive when we got past this part!!

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

After 3 hours we arrived in at the village of Q’anchipacha where we stopped for a basic breakfast of bread and jam with a tea/coffee and admired the views of the valley.  We were then briefed that we would drive a further 20 minutes before getting out of the van and starting the 3 hour hike from 4,530 metres.  There is the option of taking a horse if you are struggling with the altitude but this costs extra.  We actually had a girl who was sick from the altitude about 5 minutes away from the start of the hike and had to walk back down to the village!!  Now that would be gutting after that journey!!

Until you get to this altitude you have no idea how you will deal with it, everyone is different and it has no relation with how fit you are either!! Coca leaves or sweets help, having a coca tea before the hike too which you can have with your breakfast.  If you have any of the symptoms you need to tell the guide as they can give you some coca leaves or some altitude sickness tablets (though I have heard mixed reviews about these helping).  Luckily I don’t suffer too much from the altitude and have never had to try these, I normally just chew on the coca leaves to give me a bit of extra energy!!.

We got back in the van and set off to the starting point, though at one stage it could not get up the steep bend as it had been raining heavily overnight and all the vans were skidding back down!!  We got out and walked up the valley part of the way, where I got a great picture of the view.

Rainbow Mountain Hike Cusco Peru

Once we arrived at the starting point, our guide gave us our entrance tickets and we started the hike through the valley.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

The views are amazing, the tops of the mountains kept peaking out of the clouds.  It’s a stunning area.

After about an hour the clouds started to surround us and it started raining, so it was on with the rain jacket and head down to get up there, feeling jealous of all the people going past on the horses, knowing they would be at the summit before me!!

There are a few toilets on the way, though one closest to the summit is about a 45 minute walk from the summit.  Also expect to pay as the locals have been building them and are using them as a way of making money.

We had nearly reached the top when it started snowing and I was worried we wouldn’t be able to see anything by the time we got there as I had heard a few days earlier that there had been snow at the top and no one could see the mountain!!  It would be so disappointing to get there and not see the different colours!!

When we could see Rainbow Mountain, it seemed to take forever to walk that final part but eventually I got to the top. It was full of hundreds of people and as I was walking up I saw my old guide on his way down with his group of 3. They had had the place to themselves and got some great pictures.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

To get the best view and the best pictures it’s best to climb a bit higher up to the highest point at 5,040 metres and you can then see the Rainbow Mountain opposite you.  The colours are amazing, it’s so beautiful to see.  The view from the top is amazing, not just of Rainbow Mountain but the surrounding mountains too.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

While at the top the rain and snow kept blowing in, but then it would clear and we would get amazing views.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

After about half an hour and eating a milkyway bar (mars bar in the UK) my hands were so cold that I knew it was time to head back down.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

It rained most of the hike back down but at times it cleared and we got to enjoy the amazing views and to see a view llamas too.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

Once we got back to the van we drove back to where we had breakfast and had lunch of soup and then chicken with rice before starting the 3 hour drive back to Cusco, going back along the terrifying road and arriving back at about 6pm.  It was a long day but well worth it.

The Rainbow Mountain is a great trek and if you are in Cusco then one that you must do, it’s not an easy hike but if you aren’t into hiking then you can always rent a horse.  It’s only a day trip but it’s a long day at 16 hours.

The rainy season is January to March so at this time of year there is a chance of snow and you will need your waterproofs with you on the trek.

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Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

 

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Hiking El Misti a volcano in Arequipa Peru

Hiking Misti Arequipa

Last month (December 2016) while I was in Arequipa I decided that I needed a second attempt to reach the summit of El Misti.

I first tried 4 years ago when I spent 2 months in Arequipa at Spanish school.  At the time I felt I was physically fit but I was not used to carrying a heavy backpack or the altitude and when I booked the trip I only found out the night before that I was expected to carry everything up to basecamp!! This included my clothes, tent, sleeping bag, crampons, ice pick and 5 litres of water.

Unfortunately I had never walked more than 100 metres with this kind of weight and was unprepared for hiking from 3,500 metres to 4,500 metres for 5 hours!!  Despite frequently giving the content of my backpack to the rest of the group, my legs could not cope with the amount of weight hiking uphill for so long.  By the time I reached basecamp my legs had had it but I was still determined I would make it to the top.

Our group was made up of 2 girls and 2 boys.  We had to leave 1 boy at basecamp as once we got to 4,000 metres, altitude sickness kicked in for him and he was unable to see properly or walk in a straight line.  He got in the tent and did not appear again until we were ready to hike back down.  At 1am we got up and started our attempt to summit. At the time I thought I had achieved about 5,300 metres but I now realise it was probably only about 4,800 metres.

4 years later, I knew that it would be more of a mental than physical challenge for me.  I didn’t feel as physically fit as I was 4 years previously but I knew what to expect and I was used to carrying my heavy backpack for at least an hour and I had spent a lot of time in the previous years at altitude.  I got picked up at 8am and taken to the agency to meet everyone else and get any supplies we needed.

As I had already hiked this volcano I had come prepared with my 4 season sleeping bag and no change of clothes or toothbrush/paste (as these add to the weight), I only had 3.7 litres of water and this time I was put in a tent with a boy who I decided looked fit enough to carry the tent!!  Once we were all ready and had our gear packed, we headed out to the jeep and drove to the start of our hike, stopping on the way to buy coca leaves, for us to chew and help us with the altitude.  They taste disgusting and you have to keep them in the side of your mouth, but surprisingly they help with the altitude and give you energy!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

After a few hours and driving up a dirt road forever, we finally reached the starting point. We unloaded, found a bush to use as a toilet and put our backpacks on.  The guides told us it would be a 3 hour hike but I knew last time it took me 5 hours, so I was prepared for a 5 hour hike!!!

It was a hot day and the sun was out.  The last few days, Misti had been covered in clouds and there had even been a little sprinkling of snow on the summit!!  I started off strong with 2 of the guys in my group but quickly the guy with my tent went hiking off in the distance and the other guy started having issues with the altitude.

Hiking Misti Arequipa

I carried on walking a bit ahead of the guides but the path was easy to see and eventually got to basecamp after 5 hours!! My tent buddy made it in 3 hours, but on this trip I came in 2nd out of our group of 7!! This is unheard of for me, I am normally at the back!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

Hiking Misti Arequipa

The last guys made it in 7 hours, just as the sun was setting!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

The sunset was amazing to see, and I just stood there taking lots of pics and watching the lights come on in Arequipa.

Hiking Misti Arequipa Hiking Misti Arequipa Hiking Misti Arequipa Hiking Misti Arequipa

We then had dinner which was soup!! We were all just looking at the guides thinking is this it after a 5 hour hike and when we were told we would only get coca tea and a piece of bread when we got up to make the summit we were like surely we need more food, so they made us some pasta!! Just pasta with nothing on!!

We were then told to go to sleep as we would be getting up at 1, the guide made the mistake of telling us we might have a problem sleeping because of the altitude and of course I couldn’t get to sleep!! Was even worse hearing the guy heavy breathing next to me knowing he had fallen asleep straight away.

I heard the guides get up about 1 but when it all when silent quite quickly I wondered what was happening.  At 1.45am I looked out of tent and woke the guides up and asked them if we were still going to the summit, they said yeah we were just waiting for the water to boil!!!

We eventually set off as a group of 6 at 2.30am.  One guy was exhausted from the hike earlier and decided not to try the summit.  Another of the guys headed back down after about 15 minutes as he could not cope with the altitude (he had got really sick the previous day hiking up to basecamp).

Hiking Misti Arequipa

I was doing well, 2nd in the group, again something very unusual for me, but I was mentally getting to the top!! I kept asking the guides how high we were and did we have enough time as I had heard the guide say we needed to set off back from basecamp at 10am!!! They kept assuring me that I would get to the summit, that was my only goal, all I could think was that I never wanted to do this hike again!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

It was freezing cold and my 2 pairs of woollen gloves were no match, luckily someone had a spare pair of gloves and with 3 pairs I was feeling warm again!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

Eventually after about 6 hours I could see the top of the old crater.  Though it still seemed to take forever to hike that short distance!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

It does not really look like a crater as its not deep, but from here we would see the flag in the distance showing where the summit is.  The summit is about a 45 minute hike from the crater.  5 of us made it to this point, 2 decided not to summit but to go see the new crater that was steaming!!  My tent buddy had already done both by the time we made it to the crater, so he headed back down while 2 of us decided to get to the summit.

Hiking Misti Arequipa

It was a hard uphill hike  to get to the summit at 5,822 metres and even a few steps away I had to stop for a break, but eventually I got to the top where I just sat down and cried!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

I couldn’t believe I had made it to the top, I was so proud of myself for having the willpower to get there, it had taken me 7 hours but I did it, and I got to see the amazing views!! Thankfully it was a clear day and we got to see the other volcanoes and Arequipa in the distance.

Hiking Misti Arequipa

Hiking Misti Arequipa

We had about 20 minutes at the summit, taking lots of pictures and selfies to prove we made it before we had to start out descent!! The guides thought we would be quick getting down as you go down the volcanic sand!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

It was funny to watch the guides just run down while I went quite slow, aware that if I fell and broke my wrist again I was only insured up to 4,000 metres and not 5,822 metres!!!

I eventually got back to basecamp to find my tent buddy had packed away the tent and my sleeping bag and eventually we started the descent back to the jeeps.  Again we went down the volcanic sand, which by this time had heated up enough to melt the soles off my hiking boots!! It was great to hike the last hour over rocky ground with no proper soles on my shoes!!! I was so scared of slipping as I had no grips!! Eventually though I made it back to the jeep and looked back at Misti, unable to believe that just a few hours earlier I had been stood on the top of it!!

What an achievement, I am so pleased I made it to the top, and I never need to do it again!!  At times I did think I wasn’t going to make it and that I would be trying again in a few years but NO I made it, I got to see the amazing views and I know that I can cope with the altitude that high.  I know that mentally I am strong and if I am determined I can do anything I challenge myself to.

It’s not an easy hike, one of the hardest I have done because of the altitude, but if you are in Arequipa then it’s a great one to try.  The agencies will tell you its an easy hike but it is far from it and not everyone will make it to the summit!!

Yes you need to be fit, and capable of carrying your backpack for 5 hours, but make sure you take as little as possible in your bag though you do need to take a certain amount of water, tent and sleeping bag.  Clean clothes, deodrant, toothbrushes and toothpaste are not essentials and you can do without for 36 hours!!

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Hiking El Misti in Arequipa Peru

Find out about Why I started travelling here, Miami Beach here, Key West here, Everglades here, Bolton Abbey here, Naples here, Koh Tao here, Yangon – Myanmar here, Ischica – Italy here, Koyasan – Japan here, Machu Picchu – Peru here, Memphis here, Faro – The Algarve here, Fiji – South Sea Island here, Egypt – My trip in a hot air balloon here, Doutbful Sound – NZ here,  Death Road – Bolivia here, Iguazu Falls – Argentina here, Northern Lights – here, Hobbiton NZ – here, The Lost City Hike Colombia – here, Choquequirao Trek here,San Blas Islands, Panama here, Vilnius Lithuania – here, Trakai – Lithuania here, Riga – Latvia here, Sigulda – Latvia here & Kemeri – Latvia here, My 2017 Travel Plan – here

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Choquequirao Trek – An amazing alternative to seeing Machu Picchu

Choquequirao Cachora Cusco Peru

I first saw Choquequirao on Ben Fogle’s Extreme Dreams in 2006.  I had visited Machu Picchu the previous year and had fallen in love with Peru and to know that there was another Inca ruin, visited by very few people in the middle of nowhere, made me determined that the next time I was in Peru I would go. Continue reading

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Machu Picchu – One of the New Seven Wonders of the World

Have you ever thought of visiting Machu Picchu? Did you know it is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World?

I love the place and that is why I have visited Machu Picchu 3 times!! Is that a bit excessive?? I don’t normally visit a place more than once but this place has certainly captured my heart and I can’t wait to visit for a fourth time in January 2017.

Machu Picchu

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