A Travellerspoint blog

Millions of pilgrims on my doorstep

Celebrating the Virgen de Guadalupe

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Ask any Mexican about the 12th December and they will tell you about one of the most important celebrations in the Mexican calendar... the Feast Day of the Virgen de Guadalupe. Ask any person who lives in DF about the same date and they will almost certainly also mention the traffic, noise, pilgrims and firecrackers. This week is when Mexico City, already bursting at its seams with over 25 million inhabitants, has to take on an almost supernatural elasticity to make room for an additional human mass of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who have come to the Basilica de Guadalupe, the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world after the Vatican. The only difference is that here they all descend at this site during the same week.

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Today is the culmination of a journey for pilgrims from all over Mexico who have arrived to venerate the Virgen de Guadalupe on her special day, 482 years after she appeared to Juan Diego on this small hillside, the Cerro del Tepeyac. Many have come in buses, trucks and pick-ups from Veracruz, Puebla, Tlaxacala and ever further afield. Some have cycled or walked with images of the Virgen tied to their backs or carrying their statues. Even more incredible are those who have come painfully on their knees. All of them, however, come with their faith in her intact, ready to thank her for the blessings and miracles she has bestowed on them over the past year.

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The newspapers and TV are full of images and report that up to 6 million peregrinos are expected to have paid a visit this week, a huge gathering which stretches the services of Mexico City well beyond their already-frayed limit. With the crowds have come 1600 tons of rubbish which have been scooped up this week and an incalculable number of dogs who came along for the journey and have been abandoned to their fate. Fortunately no children have come unstuck from their parents so far. A kilometer-thick belt around the Basilica has been invaded by los fieles and I have no idea how the small stalls are providing enough food and drink for them all.

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When I cycled up to the Basilica very early on Sunday morning, early-comers had already taken up residence. Whole families dressed in blankets were warming up their hands on steaming beverages in white polystyrene cups and munching tacos and molletes to give them fuel for the day. Small children had disappeared under thick layers of wooly hats, gloves, scarves and jumpers. I knew they were there somewhere because I could see their breath emerging in white wisps which drifted off in the cool crisp air. Groups of people all wearing the same color track suits were sitting on the steps or gathering around their community image or bandera, stomping their feet and conversing. Still others were decked in the typical dress of their pueblos, ready to sing and dance to the Virgen and anyone else standing around. The atmosphere was akin to that of a village fête or family outing, only on a gigantic scale, a sort of mega-city family fiesta. Thankfully, the weather accompanied the occasion and very soon, the winter woolies would be ditched as temperatures climbed dizzily from 4 or 5 degrees Celsius to the mid-twenties.

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Last night, on the eve of the festival, a constant hum of music and noise filled the background space in my head as thousands of people made their way down Reforma in the dark, ready to arrive at the Basilica on time. Unexpectedly, I was shaken out of my noise-filled dream in the middle of the night by a call. Not surprisingly, there was an even greater cacophony going on in the background of the pilgrim's conversation who had mistakenly dialled my number. Morning light didn't bring the usual melodious birds' chorus but instead a never-ending queue of firecrackers going off all over the city. They are still making holes in the sky every few minutes.

At least the roads were fairly clear this morning when we left for school at 7 am. Tonight will be a different story though as thousands of pilgrims begin their journey home after another year's trip to the Basilica. I'm definitely staying at home this evening.

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For more information, see a previous blog post:
http://whereverlifetakesus.travellerspoint.com/87/

Posted by margaretm 12:40 Archived in Mexico Tagged culture mexico tradition fiestas Comments (1)

Colorful Mexican pinyatas

A bright start to December

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It was actually during the last few days in November that I began to notice them. Springing up all over the city, strung along the streets, on buildings, in the parks and markets, colourful piñatas have begun to appear and transform the urban landscape into a giant party scene. Most of them are star-shaped, shimmering reds, golds, greens and purples, their tassels catching the breeze. Suddenly it looks like some kind of cosmic shower of stars has rained down on the city. It occurs without fail every year, round about the beginning of December. Yes, Christmas must be getting close!

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Whether piñatas originally arrived from China via Spain and then on to Mexico or whether they were an ancient Mayan and Aztec rite, today they are as Mexican as tortillas, guacamole or tamales. Traditionally a clay plot was filled with sweets or fruit and then decorated using crêpe paper and cardboard and colors. Nowadays. most piñatas are made totally of cardboard and paper-mâché, For safety reasons. Nobody wants their child's head cut open by jagged pieces of pottery.

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The piñata is strung up high, and children take turns at hitting it with a stick, their eyes blindfolded. Eventually, after much hitting and even more laughter, the pinyata breaks and spills its contents out onto the kids underneath it. Needless to say, there is usually something akin to a rugby scrum as one and all pounce on the candied treasure.

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In past centuries, the Catholic church in Mexico gave the European/Aztec tradition a new meaning. The points of the star represented the seven deadly sins and the clay pot represented the temptations of evil. The faithful would symbolically resist temptation by hitting the pot and breaking it and would be rewarded by a handful of sweets. Today the religious significance has all but been lost and now piñatas are a guaranteed source of entertainment at children's parties and in Las Posadas, a Mexican tradition at Christmas time.

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For me, though as soon as I see the dazzling stars appearing all over the city, I start to feel that Christmas is just around the corner... must go and buy my piñata!

Posted by margaretm 13:33 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico christmas traditions pinyatas Comments (0)

Bone-shaking roads and waterfalls

Las Cascadas Mágicas

Part 5 - Magical waterfalls

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It took 1 and a half hours of bone-shaking driving into the mountains to find the waterfalls but they were well worth the effort and damage to our bodies. It's not every day you get one of nature's spectacular spots all to yourself!

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We started off the day with a full-blown Mexican breakfast, knowing that there would be nowhere to eat along the way

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We soon found ourselves driving along a very dusty bumpy dirt road heading up to the mountains

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A small church we passed along the way

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This area was still very dry

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A typical house along the way

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Watched attentively by the locals - a dog and turkey!

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A small wayside stand by the road

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Driving deeper into the mountains.. here it was very green

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Crossing a stream

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Tree draped in lianas

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We finally arrive at the waterfalls. It took 1 hr 10 minutes to cover 30 kms of bone-shaking dirt mountainous road

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Beautiful lush rainforest all around

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The first waterfall we saw

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Th Bridal Veil waterfall

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Looked so refreshing

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Walking to the other waterfalls

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Green everywhere!

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Squeezing through the rock

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Huge tree trunks

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A waterfall all to ourselves!

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No captions needed for the following photos... this is paradise!

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Time to go back down... slow going, following the local "bus"

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A satellite dish in the middle of the forest!

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Breakfast on the beach at Santa Cruz - our last full day at the Bahias de Huatulco

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Delicious sincronizadas

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This can only be Mexico!

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Souvenirs in Crucecita

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Funny sign seen

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Fried ice-cream!!!!!

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Weaving looms where they make rugs and mats and fabrics

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Colour everywhere!

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Even the chairs!

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Mexican-style prawn cocktail - delicious!!

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Sunrise on our last day

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We ate breakfast on the empty beach at Playa de Chahue

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Huatulco Airport with its palm huts! The end of our holiday and back to Mexico City!

Posted by margaretm 06:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged waterfalls food beach mexico oaxaca Comments (0)

Bahias de Huatulco, Mexico

Part 4 - Beaches, surf and relaxation

The second part of the holiday was spent at the Bahias de Huatulco, a series of 9 bays along the Pacific Coast. When you hear the words Pacific Coast, you know that there are going to be waves! We discovered that not all the beaches are suitable for swimming!

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This was the hotel we stayed in, a little more "luxurious" than our ecological bungalow.

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Although Huatulco is more developed than Mazunte, it's still very quiet.

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A hotel at the Playa de Chahue

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The Playa de Chahue, beautiful sand... but no-one around!

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We soon discovered that it wasn't a place to swim as the currents were dangerous.

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So off we went a few minutes down the coast to Santa Cruz

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Boats in the port at Santa Cruz

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Ready to take people on excursions along the 9 bays of Huatulco

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Sign seen at Santa Cruz

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There were tables right along the beach where you could sit and order food and drink whenever you wanted

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Shady tables along the beachfront

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We arrived early and had the beach to ourselves!

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People started arriving later on

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My first coffee of the holiday... cafe de olla, Mexican-style

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It was a sheltered bay and safe to swim... no waves at all!

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Two seagulls eyeing us up

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The small port at Santa Cruz

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An "open-air" church on the beachfront... a roof and pews but no side walls... and incredible views.

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fun activities... the banana boat, a water-bicycle and other things

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The church at Crucecita, a small town inland

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Crucecita is a typical Mexican town, full of colour

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A local bus

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Enjoying a meal at Crucecita

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Ripe mangos on a tree

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Looking towards the church from the small kiosko in the town square

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La Iglesia de La Crucecita

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The inside was covered in paintings

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La Virgen de Guadalupe, painted right along the ceiling, is the largest painting of the Virgen in the world!

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View over the Bahias de Huatulco

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Blue-coloured building

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A small place called Bocana de Copalita

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The coast is rocky along here...

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...and popular with surfers

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Riding the waves

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Looks a bit dangerous by these rocks!

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No lifeguards on duty!

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The sand is blackish around here

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Locals playing football

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We visited a small locally-run iguana centre at Copalita where they breed iguanas and release them in the nearby National Park

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Marc holding a young green iguana

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Small green iguana

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Iguanas are still caught for their meat!

Huatulco still hasn't been discovered by international visitors...we saw very few foreign tourists. Most were from the centre of Mexico and Mexico City. I hope it doesn't turn into a Cancun type of destination!

Posted by margaretm 07:41 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach waves surfing iguanas oaxaca Comments (0)

Lagoons, mangroves and crocodiles

Ventanilla, Oaxaca

Part 3 - Lagoons and mangroves

Early morning at Mermejita Beach

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Dawn colours appearing over the hills

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Deserted beach

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The frothy white breakers

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Pattern on the sand

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A well-camouflaged crab, blending in with the colours of the sand

The next village down the road was Ventanilla, an interesting local indigenous community involved in ecological and conservation projects. A kind of low-key ecotourism run by the locals and very commendable.

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Sign indicating where to turn off to the village

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Houses near the beach

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Boat rides on the lagoon to see the mangroves and visit the Island of Um

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Hand-painted information board

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Making our way down Ventanilla Beach for 10 minutes till we arrived at the lagoon.

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A lonely lifeguard's tower which has seen better days!

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Our guide Juan paddling the boat

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The first crocodile we saw. This endangered species is one of the largest in Mexico. This community is breeding them and introducing them into the mangroves.

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One of the many birds we saw

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The beautiful still waters of the lagoon

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Passing by the trees with their aerial roots in the so-called white mangroves... these are fairly new since the hurricanes in 1997 destroyed this area.

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Rows of shady palms on the island

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A crocodile basking in the sun

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"Don't approach the crocodiles"...

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There was also an animal rescue centre on the island... a spider monkey looks out at us from his cage.

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Nice fresh fruit

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This lady is using a molcajete (mortar and pestle) to prepare the ingredients for the salsa

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Like most molcajetes, this one is made of volcanic rock and has been shaped like a turtle

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Smoking chillies, an essential ingredient in Mexican dishes

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A peckish guinea fowl hoping to get a few tasty morsels

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A nice cool spot to have a refreshing coconut drink and some watermelon

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An iguana running for the safety of a tree

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Heading back to the boat

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Passing a local family on their way to the island

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The beach goes on like this for 40 km up to Puerto Escondido!

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Trekking back along the beach in the hot sun to reach the village

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Bright Mexican colours

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Cristina off to do a 3-hour horseback ride along the beach and to another lagoon

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Accompanied by a 16-year-old guide from the village who knows all the shortcuts

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Marc and I head back to Mazunte beach and watched some boys battling to get their small boat out past the waves

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The waves are really pounding the beach today

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Marc deciding whether to go in

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This is our last time on this beach... we're heading off to Huatulco tonight

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Back to the beach at Ventanilla to wait for Cristina to arrive. A microlight about to land on the beach.

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Cantering down the beach...

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... and back to the village

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Mexican-style saddle

Posted by margaretm 06:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach waves lagoon crocodiles horseriding oaxaca mangroves Comments (0)

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