What to do in Chefchaouen Morocco’s Blue City

Chefchaouen is the famous “Blue City” in Morocco, hidden in the mountains located between Tanger and Fes. A laid back, peaceful and stunning place with friendly locals, and on top of that there is no harsh selling here!! Can’t get much better than that!!

Chefchaouen was by far one of my favourite places in Morocco, my expectations weren’t that high because most places that are as famous as Chefchaouen are normally quite disappointing when compared with all the amazing Instagram posts you see. I’m not saying that is less touristic than I expected, but it’s still a special place worth of a visit, that managed to keep a good vibe despite tourism.

Chefchaouen is one of the most visited places in Morocco, so don’t expect to be the only one there.

True to be told Chefchaouen is a stunning place and a photographer’s dream. It’s hard to leave the camera for a minute…  just remember while you are there that people actually live here, so be respectful. 

What to Do in Chefchaouen
Lose yourself

There isn’t a lot “to do” in this town, so wandering around is one of the top things to do. The city is really charming, so don’t rush and enjoy being present and being there.

It’s easy to wander here for hours and just be in awe the whole time. Try to find small details in the middle of the blueness of Chefchaouen like the stunning doors.

The Blue Souk

Although I didn’t do any shopping, I did walk around and look at the beautiful and colourful shops. The vibe is nothing like the one you get in other parts of Morocco. Vendors here are not pushy at all. You are completely free to walk around, observe locals’ daily life around the Medina and look at the shops without being pushed to buy anything. 

Chefchaouen Market

Chefchaouen Market is a Local Farmer’s Market that sells fresh locally grown produce. A great place to go for a walk first thing in the morning. All the colours and smells are the perfect combination for a memorable experience.

The market happens every Monday, Thursday and Saturday. The farmers of the Rif valley come down to Chefchaouen to sell their wares.

Kasbah Museum and Mosque

The Ethnographic Museum – Kasbah is located right in the middle of the main square and has a display of regional artefacts including pottery, instruments, and paintings, not really worth a visit in my opinion. The entry fee is 60MAD (~$6.50).

Next to the museum, you’ll see the Mosque that dates to the 15th century. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter.

Waterfall Ras el Maa

The waterfall is located outside of the medina at walking distance. Is a nice, quiet and cute stroll into nature only minutes away from the busy Medina. 

Spanish Mosque

There is a small walk (20 minutes uphill) that separates the town to the Spanish Mosque, a famous spot to visit for sunset. The mosque itself doesn’t have much interest, but the views are stunning.

Out and about
  • Doing a day trip into the mountains is a great option if you have time to spare in the region. There are a few nice hiking trails that you can explore.
  • The d’Akchour waterfall and God’s Bridge, are a beautiful place to go for a walk and swim. Only riched by car or taxi, it’s a 45-minute drive.
  • Visiting the hash fields are also an option.
How to get to Chefchaouen

You can easily get to Chefchaouen on your own. The CTM Bus line in Morocco travels to Chefchaouen. The company is safe, clean, comfortable, and reliable. You can travel from Tangier, Fes, or Rabat. If you are travelling during the high season and Moroccan holidays it’s better to book in advance.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Ouarzazate Morocco’s Hollywood

Ouarzazate (war-zazat) is located at the edge of the Sahara desert and for that reason called “The Doorway to the Desert”.  A city of palm trees, sandy streets, muddy brick houses, blocky, fort-like buildings and film sets.

 

This town is surprisingly calm for Morrocan standards located five hours south of Marrakech by bus. This town is in the Souss-Massa-Drâa of southern-central Morocco.

Ouarzazate has a connection with blockbuster cinema and two major film production studios are located here, a film school and even a museum of cinema. Many call Ouarzazate “Ouallywood”.

 

As a travel destination by itself, Ouarzazate doesn’t have that much to see or do. But because its location can be used as a base for day trips.

Day trips from Ouarzazate

You have the orange dunes in the east and some nice nearby villages and kasbahs to be explored.

The well-known Ait Ben Haddou is a beautiful ancient ksar about 30 minutes outside the city of Ouarzazate. A place used as a backdrop in countless movies and TV programs.

 

It’s also within easy reach oasis valleys and ancient kasbahs. The Fint Oasis and the Tifoultoute Kasbah are perfect for a nice hike (15km and 8km from Ouarzazate respectively).

A bit further away you have the Todra Gorges, a series of stunning limestone river canyons that are also worth a visit.

What to Do in Ouarzazate

Ouarzazate is a great place to get lost in while you discover the Old District, with its muddy brick houses lining the old streets.

 

The Taourirt part of the Old District holds an ancient fortified village, still standing right in the heart of the city. Taourirt Kasbah Museum showcases the south Moroccan kasbah architecture.

 

At Ouarzazate city centre, you can walk around Al-Mouahidine Square and the market, and also stop at a pastry shop or café to take in the city’s lively evenings.

The Ouarzazate Center Market begins at 6pm. Here they sell all sort of goods, from clothes to handicraft. the market is located right in the city centre.

 

The local market located on the market road (6.00am) sells all kinds of items from clothes to crafts and spices. The market happens every Sunday is probably one of Ouarzazate less visited place by tourists.

Then you have lots of attractions related to cinema, from the Atlas Cinema Studios, the CLA Cinema Studios and the Cinema Museum. I didn’t visit any of these places but if you’re a cinephile I’m sure you will enjoy it.

How to get from Marrakech to Ouarzazate

Getting to Ouarzazate from Marrakech is quite easy. There are two companies that run bus services between these two cities, CTM and Supratours. The cost for both is 80 Dirhams (~$9.8), and the journey takes 5 hours.

 

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Fez Travel Guide

Fez (or Fes if you’re following Arabic spelling) is the third largest city in Morocco and part of the UNESCO. Fez is set in the lowlands between the Rif and Middle Atlas mountain ranges in northern Morocco. Located just over 300 miles from Marrakesh.

Fez is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco, alongside Rabat, Meknes, and Marrakesh.

The city has a distinct, traditional charm. High walls surrounding the Old Town medina, protecting one of the best preserved medieval cities in the world. Fez and its medina is a barrage on the senses.

Ancients mosques and medersas/madrassas (Islamic schools) are all around the city although non-muslims are not allowed inside, from the outside, you can have a glance of the splendour of the Islamic architecture.

In Fez, I loved the chaos, the smells, the markets and the food. Although it can be also overwhelming and mentally exhausting, especially during the hottest months. Fez is known as the country’s cultural, spiritual, and intellectual heartland.

The old Medina

Fez’s medina is a maze of narrow little streets lined with shops. The medina’s labyrinth can be fun to get lost in. Although the medina in Fez is not as hard to navigate as other medinas across Morocco. The medina has 2 main streets running in a loop, so if you stick to those, you’ll always find your way back to the Blue Gate.

The medina is a great place, though often crowded by locals and tourists, so stay on guard as pickpockets are pretty common.

Bab Boujeloud – Blue Gate

Bab Boujeloud (Bab Bou Jeloud), commonly known as the “Blue Gate,” serves as the principal entrance to the old Medina.

The Grande Porte Bab Boujloud is famous for its beautiful ornate blue mosaics and on the other side, it is decorated green.  The blue side of the gate represents the colour of the city Fes.  The green side of the gate, which faces the Medina is green to represent the colour of Islam.

Medina

There are 3 main areas, Fes el Bali (the oldest part and the world’s largest car-free urban space), Fes Jdid (“new” part of the city, which is still a few hundred years old), and the modern section of Ville Nouvelle with its palm-tree-lined boulevards, built in the French colonial era. The Ville Nouvelle is not a remarkable place at all means unless you want to grab a bite to eat somewhere a bit more modern.

Stroll the Talaa Kebeera

Talaa Kebeera is the largest “street” in Fez. It begins shortly after Bab Boujeloud (Blue Gate) and continues on through the much of the medina. Many different shops, souks and sights are located just off this main artery.

Medersa Al Attarine and Medersa Bou Inania

The Medersa al-Attarine (Islamic school) is located next to the Qarawiyyin mosque in the middle of the medina, next to the spice and perfume market. Is one of the most beautiful buildings in the Medina of Fez.

The Medersa Bou Inania is one of the greatest examples of the Merenid architecture in the 14th century and is one of the few religious places that non-Muslims can visit in Morocco.

Tanneries

You will probably hear people asking you if you want directions to the tannery. Just remember, that on warm days, you won’t need directions. I assure you can fell the smell from distance, so just follow your nose 🙂

If you want to have a look at the tanneries the only way to do it is through one of the shops, there’s no other way. That means you need to “handle” the vendors. (I personally didn’t have any problems I paid 10DHR and no one tried to sell me anything, I guess I was lucky).

Just a heads up in case you don’t know the tanneries is the place where workers transform animal skins into brightly-coloured leathers by soaking them in vats.

University of Al-Qarawiyyin

The Al-Qarawiyyin (al-Karaouine) Mosque and University are considered by some the oldest university in the world and is one of the largest mosques in Africa.

Fondouk el-Nejjarine, Museum

The Fondouk el-Nejjarine or “Wood Museum” is a museum where you can learn about the woodwork indigenous to Morocco, the tools used, as well as a collection of wood and cabinet work  (20dhs).

If you don’t want to visit the museum you can just contemplate the Nejjarine Square, a beautiful square dotted with Andalusian-style architecture from the 18th century.

Henna Souk

The Henna Souk is a nicely shaded souk cosied up beneath a couple of large trees. Here they sell pottery and traditional cosmetic products.

Merenid Tombs

The Merenid Tombs are located just outside the medina. To get there you can walk (15 minutes) or get a taxi.

The giant tombs sit on the hill above Fes and offer a fantastic view of the city.

The Mellah – Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter of Fez is the oldest in Morocco and has beautiful ornate balconies and wrought-iron windows lining the street.

Strolling around

You can visit the main attractions, but there is nothing better than losing yourself in the city. Strolling around alleys and narrow streets finding out the hidden magic of Fez.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Chefchaouen’s Local Farmer’s Market

Visiting the Local Farmer’s Market is truly a must when visiting Morocco’s Blue City, Chefchaouen.

Despite the blue city be hidden in the Rif Mountains, it’s charm is no secret to the world, and not much is nowadays off the beaten track over there.

I can’t understand why you don’t really see people recommending visiting the farmer’s market, it’s probably the best-kept secret in Chefchaouen… There were very few tourists when I was visiting.

Maybe is just because I can’t resist a market, while most people don’t give a damn about it… The only thing I know is that If there’s a farmer’s market close by, I’m there!

True to be told I’m the same at home, I like to buy good fresh produce that is locally grown, and support local farmers.

Local Farmer’s Market

Chefchaouen’s Farmer’s Market is full of fresh produce that is locally grown. Pure temptation to the eye and the stomach. A great place to go for a walk first thing in the morning. All the colours and smells are the perfect combination for a memorable experience.

The market happens three days a week, Monday, Thursday and Saturday. On these 3 days, the farmers of the Rif valley come down to the city to sell their wares.

Have you been to Chefchaouen?

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

The Fez Tanneries – Just hold your nose

Just hold your nose and get ready for a real hassle

Fez is famous for its leather goods, which are made in one of the three ancient tanneries inside the medina. The largest and oldest is the Chouara tannery, which is over a thousand years old.

You will definitely hear people asking you if you want directions to the tannery. Just remember, that on warm days, you won’t need directions, I assure you can fell the smell from distance.. and there is also the app maps.me and wall signs.

If you want to avoid the hassle make sure you don’t accept any unrequested help.

How to get to the tanneries

If you want to have a look at the tanneries the only way to do it is through one of the shops, there’s no other way. That means you need to “handle” the vendors.

I personally didn’t have any problems I paid 10DHR and no one tried to sell me anything but my partner does look a bit Morrocan, that might have helped a bit 😅.

We went inside the shop, looked at the tanneries, and left the shop without getting so much as a: “Would you like to look?”, let alone a hard sell.

What are the tanneries?

The tanneries are the place where workers transform animal skins into brightly-coloured leathers by soaking them in vats.

The tanneries spread out like a tray of watercolour paints, where cow, sheep, goat and camel hides are taken to be preserved, dyed, and turned into handbags, jackets and wallets that are sold in the surrounding souks.

The idea of looking at animal’s skins is pretty discussing for me as it is. And doesn’t get any better when you know the processes they use.

The skin is first soaked in a mixture of cow urine, pigeon poop, quicklime, salt and water. A method used for over a thousand years.

I’m not sure that nowadays the colours are still derived from natural products like poppy flowers, henna, indigo, or saffron.

What I do know is that the process is absolutely disgusting. Nowadays it’s so easy to find cruelty-free leathers, that doesn’t depend on animal abuse and exploitation.

Vegan leather it’s a leather alternative that doesn’t involve animal products. What this looks like in practice is a synthetic or natural fabric that’s structured and printed to perform a bit like leather.

If you still want to visit the tanneries, be aware that this is the place where most scams append.

How to Avoid the Tannery Scam

Be ready to encounter dozens and dozens of “helpful” locals giving you advice and tips, like: – “that street/place you want to go is closed”; “if you want to see the tannery you need a guide”; “I can show you the way, for free”; “I’ll help you get a good price”. None of these or any variations of it is true.

In order to avoid being scammed, you need to know that older teenagers and young adult men will be loitering in this area. They’re all working together on this scam.

When someone tries to give you unsolicited advise don’t take their offer. Just keep walking. If they are insistent and try to talk to you, just completely ignore them or just say no. If they keep following you, you can threaten to call the police (190 or 112).

Once at the shop, make sure you make it clear you want to view the views and you are not interested in buying anything. Talk with a smile on your face and a firm but polite tone in your voice.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Marrakech Travel Guide

Marrakech is a wonderful and fascinating city to travel to, but the hustle and bustle, noise, traffic, heat, and the crowds, take some time to get used to.

People have different feelings about the city, same love it others hate it. The intense heat in the Medina, the intimidating nature of some men, pollution, constant harassment, rubbish everywhere, and animal exploitation are between the main reasons,  I can definitely see both sides and no place is only good.

I personally had a great experience, most likely because most people thought my partner was Morrocan 🙂

Marrakech is one of the most visited Moroccan cities and is also called ‘’the red city’’ because of the colour of its walls.

Marrakech is a city of small paths, amazing crafts and colourful atmosphere, is known for its markets, food scene, riads (traditional accommodation around a courtyard) and medina, the heart of the city.

Lost and found in Marrakech, the medina and the souks

The Medina is the ancient walled city that dates from the 12th century, a place to get lost walking the winding streets. All Moroccan cities have an older part where the medinas are located.

Visit the medina first thing in the morning is great, just before everything opens, so you can feel the city waking up. Also, make sure you get off the main streets and explore the hundreds of alleys without shops.

The medina is a place for selling and buying all kinds of products, and their streets are packed with shops and street vendors. The Marrakesh medina is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

The souks of Marrakech are messy, chaotic, colourful, smelly but kind of fantastic at the same time. I loved walking around watching life going by. The souks sell a variety of items such as carpets and rugs, traditional Muslim attire, used clothes, livestock, and fresh produce. Haggling is still a very important part of the trade in the souks.

Unlike the medina, the souk is a temporary structure that goes up in the morning and down later in the day, located in an empty field.

When you walk around, leaving the more touristic routes, you can find markets where you will see locals buying fresh ingredients. 

The alleyways and narrow turns seem to go on and on, they are packed with the busyness of the city so as the streets are usually packed, it’s the perfect place for pickpockets. Don’t be too complacent.

The top tip here is, if you don’t wish to buy anything, don’t ask neither answer. Simply keep walking and smile.  Also knowing two simple Arabic words can get you a long way: La= No, Choukran=thank you. 

Jemaa el-Fnaa 

Somehow Jemaa el-Fnaa comes on top of most websites and guides as a must place to go in Marrakech.

Jemaa el-Fnaa it’s a very busy market in the main square packed with stalls selling local wares/food, musicians, acrobats, and storyteller. Is quite an aggressive place for tourists, in the way you can’t really walk around without being disturbed, the harassment is constant, so get ready to feel overwhelmed to start. 

There are also snake charmers and men with monkeys chained to them trying to get people to pay for a photo. The animal tourism here is cruel so please don’t encourage it by paying to take pictures with the animals. As you know we create the demand..

I would still recommend you to go but lower your expectation…wasn’t my favourite part of Marrakech at all.  You can always go up to one of the bars and cafes overlooking the square and spend some time watching all of the antics going on below.

Some people say that if you skip Djemaa El-Fna you miss the soul of the city unless hardcore harassment is Marrakech’s souls it’s hard for me to agree with that statement.

Be aware of pickpocketers at Jemaa al-Fna square.

Enjoy the calm of the parks
Cyber Park Arsat Moulay Abdeslam

Just outside of the medina is the Cyber Park Arsat Moulay Abdeslam, that dates back from the 18th century,  a set of beautiful gardens with fountains and plants. A perfect place for a walk around and relax.

Jardin Majorelle (Majorelle garden)

The Majorelle gardens are located about 500 meters from the medina, behind the central bus station. It’s a charming place, wrapped by a water canal, with stunning cactus, exotic plants, palm trees, a lily pond, and a small bamboo forest.  Although this was not my favourite, I like the gardens to be tranquil and peaceful, and this one is usually pretty busy.

The entrance fee is 70 Dirhams (£5.50) per person plus an extra 30 Dirham to visit the Berber Museum.

Le Jardin secret

Le Jardin secret is a beautiful private medina garden revived for the 21st century that displays an exotic and traditional Islamic garden. (50Dirhams ~ £4.10)

Menara gardens

This isn’t really a garden, but acres of olive trees and an empty pavilion in the back. Not really worthy of 70 MAD entrance fee at all.

Bahia Palace

The Bahia Palace was built in the 19th Century, and it offers some quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the Medina. The palace has beautiful courtyards and rooms with magnificent ceilings. A must see if you like architecture as there’s lots of intricate tile, paint and woodwork.

The admission ticket is 70 Dirhams (£5.50) to go inside and walk around the grounds.

El Badi Palace

The Badi Palace is in bad shape nowadays but it offers fantastic views of Marrakech from the terrace where you can see the Atlas Mountains on a clear day.

It cost 70 Dirhams (£5.50) to visit the vast palace ruins, with its large pools and orange trees.

Koutoubia Mosque

Koutoubia Mosque is located right by Jemaa el-Fnaa and is the largest mosque in Marrakech. Unfortunately, you can also see it from outside and walk around the gardens unless you’re Muslim.  This place is quite beautiful after sunset when the light bouncing off the mosque.

There’s a public garden right behind Koutobia called Parc Lalla Hasna, is a great place to photograph the mosque and the minaret.

Ali Ben Youssef Medersa

(Closed for renovation works until 2020)

Ben Youssef Madrasa is a Quranic learning centre that was once the largest in North Africa and remains nowadays among the most splendid. The inscription over the entrance reads, “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded”.

Saadian Tombs

The Saadian Tombs, located in the south of the medina, contain the remains of the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur and members of his family. 

The structure dates from the late 16th century while interesting, the tombs can be very crowded with visitors. Some ornaments are quite impressive, reminding slightly Alhambra.

The tombs were built with marble imported from Italy and they have beautiful stucco work made with cedar wood.

Bab Agnaou

Bab Agnaou is a beautiful getaway to the old city built in the 12th century, right next to the Saadian Tombs.

The gateway used to have a stone that had a blueish hue in the beginning but that the desert sands turned into the reddish colour.

La Mamounia Hotel

My suggestions are not to stay at the La Mamounia Hotel, where the room price goes at £400 a night, but instead just to visit the most historic and famous hotel in Marrakesh.

Wondering around Marrakech

Walking around without a plan is wonderful, you will stumble on amazing markets where locals are buying fresh ingredients; stunning doors, alleys, and picturesque mosques. 

Landing in Marrakesh can be a bit overwhelming in the beginning, and tourist scams are far too common, be aware and enjoy. Find here the 15 essential tips for visiting Marrakesh  

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

15 essential tips for visiting Marrakesh  

Landing in Marrakech can be a shock and you are likely to feel somehow intimidated…. for many reasons. If you don’t know what to expect and how to get prepared you might see your experience ruined.

And the truth is Marrakech is a wonderful and fascinating city that you can enjoy fully despite the hustle and bustle, noise, traffic, heat, crowds, pollution, constant harassment, rubbish everywhere, and animal exploitation… 

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed in the first few minutes, but you will find out that this is all part of Marrakech charm.

Here are my best 15 tips for Marrakech, as well as advice that I consider important to know before landing here.

15 tips for Marrakech
  1. If you don’t wish to buy anything, don’t answer. Simply keep walking and smile.
  2. Hustlers and touts are part of the medina experience, ignore it.
  3. Respect the culture and dress appropriately (to avoid unwanted attention)
  4. The App Maps Me works better than google maps when offline…and you can also download the free Marrakech Riad Travel Guide app to use as an offline GPS but still expect to get lost.
  5. Stay alert. Be aware of pickpocketers and scams (around photos, fossils, carpets, leather goods and the most common one is the “follow me” scam where a young guy says he can lead you to your hotel/destination and then he wants an insane amount of money for leading you) Always be vigilant! Don´t keep your money or important documents in places of easy access.
  6. If you want to buy something try to know the prices and bargain hard.. but politely. 
  7. Don’t trust anyone that offers advice without being asked, and ignore anyone saying that the road/place you are going is closed, just walk.
  8. Don’t explore the medina at night by yourself, unless you know your way around it really well.
  9. Avoid the hottest months (July, August) and Ramadan
  10. Use a water bottle with a filter to avoid buying plastic bottles. 
  11. Avoid the tanneries.
  12. Have cash with you, it’s cash, not the card that reigns supreme. But its relatively easy to find an ATMs (to get an idea of how much things cost in Morocco, take a look at this post).  Carrying small notes is also helpful, it’s common to hear them saying that they don’t have change.
  13. The officially spoken language of Marrakech is Arabic. But French is widespread so work on your french. Also knowing two simple Arabic words can get you a long way: La= No, Choukran=thank you. 
  14. Eat, where locals do, because they know where to get the best food from. 
  15. The vast majority of hotels/riads have internet. But if you’re interested in having internet all the time buy a SIM card at the airport. I paid €10 for 7GB unlimited calls and texts.

Tourist scams are far too common in Marrakesh, there will always be people who see tourists as easy cash-laden targets to be taken advantage of. So just learn about the scams to avoid them.

So, now you should be well prepared for your Marrakech trip!

Find here the full travel guide to Marrakech.

Do you have any other tips or questions? Have you been to Marrakech? What other tips would you add? Simply leave a comment, I would love to hear from you 🙂

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Self-driving in Africa – Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe

Self-driving in Africa through Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe

We landed in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, prepared for everything knowing that we would have 5000 km in front of us and we would cross 3 countries in Southern Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

We rented a  4X4 with rooftop tents for our journey and despite all the trouble we get into with the car, I don’t regret the option, because gives you enormous independence, it’s very versatile, and allows you to travel independently and discover with time these magnificent countries.

Visit these countries is not cheap but you can save the money for the room by camping. There are many campsites and some lodges also have campsites. The price of a 4×4 with rooftop tents depends on the time of the year you travel, and which borders you are going to cross.

Self-driving throughout the wilderness in Africa was one of the most exciting, adventurous and rewarding things I did so far – you just disconnect entirely and emerge yourself into one of the most beautiful natural sceneries on earth.

ostrich desert africaCheetah safari africazebra safari africaelephants africavegan traveller africaDead Valley Deadvlei. Namibiasafari self driving africagirafe travel africaDead Valley Deadvlei Namibiaelephants wild africa

4×4 self drive adventures

Now you are asking about what kind of troubles I got into.. some are obvious and you are probably guessing it right.. but just to give some excuses first  .. 🙂 we did some challenging routes and drove miles and miles through isolated areas 🙂

So here it comes.. during our journey our 4×4 broke down and got stuck a couple of times (sand, mud, water), we got a window broke and some values stolen…  and there is more.. one of the tents broke… we got fined and towed twice.. so I can say it it was an eventful journey.

To do a trip like this you need to have a sense of adventure, and be prepared to have busy days and to change your plans constantly.

be safe 🙂

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha 

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