Buenos Aires part 4

November 30, 2018

Our holiday was finished and now we would soon be on our way home. We left early in the morning to get our flight from Trelew to Buenos Aires; it was the only flight of the day because the Aeroparque airport was closed for the G20 summit. So the airport was almost empty, which seemed weird.

The plane left 20 minutes before its scheduled departure time, which has never ever happened to us before. But then we had to wait on the tarmac at Buenos Aires because they weren’t ready for our plane.

We had chosen a hotel near the Ezeiza airport, Hotel Central Plaza Canning, so the taxi ride wasn’t very long. But the taxi driver had trouble finding it because the entrance was at the back of a shopping mall, next to the loading bays. But it was a nice hotel. And the mall had several restaurants so we had lunch at one of them.

There wasn’t much to do within walking distance of the hotel—only a four-story mall—so we stayed in the room and didn’t do much for the afternoon. At 8 pm we went downstairs for dinner; there was an Italian restaurant and its food was very good. It was quite busy, too.

December 1, 2018

Finally we were heading home. Our taxi picked us up at 6 am so we said goodbye to Karen and headed to the airport. The flight to Toronto was fine but we missed our connection there because we had to clear customs. So that meant waiting for the next flight and then arriving home at 1 am the next day. In future we will be sure to leave plenty of connection time when we have to clear customs!

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Trelew

November 28, 2018

(later in the day)

It didn’t take long to get to Trelew but we passed on by, stopping at Gaiman. It’s the heartland of Welsh immigration in Argentina and a lot of their descendants still live there. But the Lonely Planet said the town “offers little diversion” and that was unfortunately true.

It was too early for Welsh tea so instead we had lunch in the best restaurant in Gaiman. The food and service were really excellent. The proprietor was a Welsh descendant and told us that he could speak Welsh and that many people in the town could. Unfortunately he didn’t take Visa, which meant that our cash was running dangerously low.

We headed back to Trelew to check into our B&B for the next two nights. La Casona del Rio was a few kilometers outside of the town; it was a big old house by the Rio Chubut, as its Spanish name says. Our room had a very pink bathroom with rather old-fashioned features.

After a while we went out, to Trelew town centre where the Paleontological Museum is. It was a new-looking building, right next to the park near the centre. But also in the centre was a street full of banks. So Karen headed over to the museum and we headed for the banks, hoping that one of them would accept our debit card and give us cash. The first three wouldn’t. But then we tried BBVA and it would! It wanted a service charge of 395 pesos for 2000 pesos cash—ouch! But at least we now had enough cash to get us to the end of the trip.

At the museum we first watched a movie, a BBC documentary by David Attenborough about the discovery and excavation of the world’s largest dinosaur (so far). The movie was pretty interesting and in the background we could hear some Rufous-collared Sparrows calling continuously! Then we met up with Karen and joined a group tour through the exhibits.

They were a fairly good set of exhibits but rather small. However everything, as far as we could tell, had been collected locally. That was a good feature. The world’s largest dinosaur, of course, wasn’t in the collection, but outside there was a big hole in the ground next door. Perhaps this was to be the building which would house the replica which the documentary had mentioned.

Our lunch in Gaiman had been quite large so we went to the museum café and bought sandwiches for our dinner. We took them back to the B&B and ate them there, along with some tea.

November 29, 2018

We had breakfast at 8 am, a nice breakfast with locally-made cherry and plum jam. Then we headed off down the road to Punta Tombo and its Magellanic penguin colony.

There was about an hour and a half of driving through featureless Patagonian steppe before we reached the entrance of the reserve. From there it was another 22 kilometers of gravel road to the visitor centre. The visitor centre was quite new-looking and it was very well organized. The displays could have used more English translations, though.

Penguin pair at their nest

Penguin pair at their nest

After going through the visitor centre and its gift shop we drove down to the shore, where the penguins live. We showed our tickets to the ranger and headed out onto the boardwalk through the penguin colony.

Penguin heading down to the beach

Penguin heading down to the beach

Unlike the Antarctic penguins, which breed on stony beaches and bare rock, the Magellanic Penguin digs a burrow and lays its eggs there. So you don’t get the impression of acres of penguins. And our path started in the good part of town, where each nest was under its own bush. Farther along there was a barren field with a lot more burrows.

Kelp Gull patrolling the colony

Kelp Gull patrolling the colony

Karen didn’t want to walk the length of the boardwalk, so the two of us set off on our own. This was the time of year when the chicks had just hatched, so we could hear chicks peeping and we could see a few, nestled under a parent’s wing usually. Only in one nest did we see chicks standing up and looking out of the burrow.

Confrontation

Confrontation

It was slow going having to look in every burrow for chicks, and sometimes we had to stop to wait for penguins to cross the boardwalk. Penguins have the right of way! And they are so cute!

Parent and two chicks

Parent and two chicks

There weren’t many predators—a couple of Chimangos, a couple of Skuas, and a few Kelp Gulls. Maybe there will be more when the chicks start to come out of their burrows. We also found a White-headed Steamer-Duck, an endemic species we’d been hoping for, right at the end of the boardwalk.

White-headed Steamer-Duck

White-headed Steamer-Duck

Chilean Skuas supervising the colony

Chilean Skuas supervising the colony

There was a little café at the beach entry point so we had a choripán there for lunch before heading back.

Chimango

Chimango

Once back in Trelew we turned off towards Rawson and Playa Union, to see about boat trips for Commerson’s Dolphins. It was very windy and there were a lot of whitecaps out in the bay, but we didn’t see any dolphins from the shore. Not surprising really. At the other end of the beach was the port where the boat trips departed from, but anyway we didn’t want to go out in a boat with this much wind.

Scale-throated Earthcreeper

Scale-throated Earthcreeper

Back at the B&B the two of us went for a walk around the property before dinner. The river was immediately behind the house but it was running too rapidly for any birds to be found, and the rest of the property didn’t have anything out of the ordinary.

We had ordered dinner at the B&B tonight, to save having to drive into Trelew and back. It was a three-course meal featuring steak and potatoes and the price was very reasonable.

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Peninsula Valdés

November 25, 2018

We had planned to do a few things in Puerto Madryn, but it was Sunday and they weren’t open. So instead we headed directly to Peninsula Valdés for the next few days.

At the entrance station we paid our entry fee, plus an unexpected surcharge of 80 pesos for having a rental car. Just down the road was the interpretive centre, a new-looking building with a variety of good displays. We stayed there looking around for quite a while.

Puerto Pirámides view

Puerto Pirámides view

We arrived in Puerto Pirámides around noon, quite a bit ahead of plan. But we could check into our hotel, Del Nomade Eco Hotel, which was very comfortable. Our room was spacious and the staff was friendly. Paul was feeling tired and feverish so he slept for much of the afternoon after lunch. Rosemary and Karen went out to look around the town.

Whale-watching is a big industry in Puerto Pirámides, and we had planned to go on a trip at some point. The clerk at one of the operations told us that it would be windier tomorrow, so Rosemary scheduled a trip for later in the day.

Right Whale, spouting

Right Whale, spouting

Right Whale, diving

Right Whale, diving

Later in the afternoon Paul felt a bit better, so all three of us went out on the whale-watching trip. It was a great trip, the weather was calm, and we encountered several Right Whales at close range. Some of them were mothers with calves. And we saw a Kelp Gull fly down to try pecking the whales—apparently they actually pierce the skin of the whale rather than just picking off parasites.

Mother and calf

Mother and calf

Kelp Gull attacking

Kelp Gull attacking

Right Whale, waving goodbye

Right Whale, waving goodbye

Paul wasn’t hungry at all so he stayed at the hotel while Rosemary and Karen went out to dinner. They went to a restaurant overlooking the harbour and saw some whales come close in to the shore.

Sunset at the beach

Sunset at the beach

November 26, 2018

This was our first full day on the peninsula, another sunny day, and after breakfast we all set off to see some of the sights. The peninsula is rather large, so getting from one place to another usually involves driving 60 or 70 kilometers on gravel roads. For the most part, though, they are pretty good gravel roads.

We headed out along Highway 2 towards Punta Delgada, our first destination. There wasn’t much to see while driving through the Patagonian scrub, so when we saw a Turkey Vulture on the ground we paid attention. It was accompanied by a Chimango and we could see that they were sitting next to a dead sheep. But the interesting thing was that something was throwing up dirt from a hole next to the sheep.

Armadillo chewing a dead sheep

Armadillo chewing a dead sheep

In just a moment an armadillo popped out of the hole! It was a Large Hairy Armadillo, which was indeed large and hairy. It continued digging for a while and then started to tear at the sheep. We thought it might be looking for worms in the carcass, but later we learned that they do sometimes eat carrion.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Mourning Sierra-Finch

Mourning Sierra-Finch

Just a bit farther on we came to Salina Chica, where the settlers used to harvest salt. Access was via a sketchy track but Rosemary steered the car down and back with no problem. The salt pans are dry at this time of year and there was a sign describing hiking trails across them. The trails were usable but they sure didn’t look very interesting!

Salina Chica

Salina Chica

Punta Delgada

Punta Delgada

At Punta Delgada there is a hotel and a colony of elephant seals. We had lunch there and then went to their overlook to see the elephant seals. At this time of year they just lie on the beach like giant slugs so we didn’t feel it necessary to take the guided tour to the beach for a closer look.

Elephant Seal colony

Elephant Seal colony

Farther up the coast was a small penguin colony right next to a parking lot—the penguins were so cute! And there was an outlook over Caleta Valdés, where there is a sea lion colony. This is the place which is famous for orcas snatching sea lion cubs off the beach, but there were no cubs now and no orcas. Although we were told there was a family of orcas in the area.

Magellanic Penguin

Magellanic Penguin

Kelp Gull

Kelp Gull

We headed back to Puerto Pirámides for a siesta and then at 7:30 pm we went out for dinner at a restaurant just down the street. Paul managed to eat most of his spaghetti but his stomach was still misbehaving.

November 27, 2018

Another day on Peninsula Valdés, this one with some clouds and with possible rain in the forecast. Our first stop was Caleta Valdés, but just before that we found out first rheas on the peninsula. There was a pair, then an adult leading about ten chicks.

At Caleta Valdés we watched for the orcas for quite a while, but none showed up. While we were there several heavy-duty German overland trucks showed up, also to look for orcas. We hadn’t seen them anywhere before.

Penguins heading out to sea

Penguins heading out to sea

We had ordered a packed lunch from the hotel, and it turned out to be chicken quiche. Finally, something without cheese!

Patagonian Mockingbird

Patagonian Mockingbird

Giving up on the orcas, we headed up the coast towards Punta Norte, where there are more sea lions and elephant seals. The German panzerwagens were already there but they left soon after we arrived.

Long-tailed Meadowlark

Long-tailed Meadowlark

The sea lions and elephant seals were just lying there and moulting, and there were no orcas to be seen offshore. We checked more closely and found some sandpipers and plovers along the shore, plus some other birds like a Black-crowned Night-Heron in a tree.

Liolaemus fitzingeri (probably)

Liolaemus fitzingeri (probably)

There was a little café at the point, so we had tea and coffee there before heading back to Puerto Pirámides. There were a surprising number of guanacos beside the road today, a lot more than yesterday.

Tame armadillo at Punta Norte

Tame armadillo at Punta Norte

For dinner we went to a restaurant overlooking the main street and the bay and sat on the outside terrace. Paul was feeling better now so he went for “salmon blanco” and so did Karen. It was a white fish which was probably totally unrelated to the salmon family but nevertheless it was excellent. And it was served with Salicornia, which we had never seen on a menu before. Rosemary had a steak and said it was one of the best she had ever had.

Downtown Puerto Pirámides

Downtown Puerto Pirámides

November 28, 2018

Today we were moving on to Trelew; spending two full days on Peninsula Valdés was a good idea. One day would have been far too rushed. But before leaving the park we took the short side trip to Isla de los Pájaros, Bird Island. It was low tide so shorebirds, if there were any, were far away. But in the garden by the Coast Guard station we found a Tufted Tit-Tyrant and a large number of cavies. There were even tiny baby cavies!

Tufted Tit-Tyrant

Tufted Tit-Tyrant

Baby cavy

Baby cavy

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Puerto Madryn

November 23, 2018

(Later in the day)

The flight to Trelew was uneventful; in Trelew we got our rental car and drove north to Puerto Madryn, a town on the coast of Patagonia. Our hotel, Hotel Bahia Nueva, was right across from the beach so after checking in we went for a walk out the pier and then along the beach.

Puerto Madryn beach

Puerto Madryn beach

We don’t know what this game is

We don’t know what this game is

We found a restaurant on the beach which looked good and despite the fact that it was only 6:15 pm we went in and ordered dinner. Rosemary really liked her salmon dish and said she would order it again if we went back there.

Great Grebe

Great Grebe

November 24, 2018

When we checked into the hotel, the desk clerk said “Don’t miss the breakfast.” And that was good advice! They had the best breakfast we’d had anywhere on the trip! But we had booked a guide for an all-day birding trip, so we had to eat quickly. Our guide Agustín picked us up just after 7:30 am and we headed out.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

House Wren

House Wren

The scrubby bushes of the area look lifeless but there are actually birds there. First we went to a place where Magellanic Horned Owls regularly roost, but we couldn’t find them today. But in the scrub there we found mockingbirds and canasteros and earthcreepers. And there were several Elegant Crested Tinamous crossing the road and slipping into the bushes.

Burrowing Parrot

Burrowing Parrot

Greater Wagtail-Tyrant

Greater Wagtail-Tyrant

Common Diuca-finch

Common Diuca-finch

We saw birds on the coastline, including a pair of Steamer-Ducks. Then we visited the Trelew sewage ponds, which had a lot of waterbirds. We had planned to go there later when we stay in Trelew, so now that box was checked off.

Flying Steamer-Ducks

Flying Steamer-Ducks

Imperial Cormorant

Imperial Cormorant

Flamingos in the Trelew sewage ponds

Flamingos in the Trelew sewage ponds

We spent the whole day visiting different spots, and the best bird was near the end. Agustín showed us a Many-coloured Rush-tyrant in a little marsh in a future housing development. It was a very pretty bird and we could see it and photograph it very well as it hopped around in the reeds.

Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant

Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant

It was after 8 pm when we got back to Puerto Madryn. We had dinner next door to the hotel in the craft beer restaurant; the food was good but annoyingly their credit card machine didn’t work.

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Buenos Aires part 3

November 22, 2018

(Later in the day)

Our flight to Buenos Aires had no problems and the two of us and Karen arrived at our hotel, the Merit San Telmo, late in the afternoon. Rosemary asked the man at the desk for restaurant recommendations, and he suggested the little place across the street. It did turn out to have very good food.

November 23, 2018

In the morning the three of us had breakfast at the little place across the street. We were a bit early and they were still mopping the tables. And then the beer delivery man came and swapped several cases of beer for a huge wad of cash. But we were not in any hurry.

We caught a taxi to the airport, leaving plenty of time. When we got to the head of the check-in line the agent looked a bit confused. Rosemary’s ticket was fine but Paul’s was visible but couldn’t be used. So she sent us over to the ticket sales office for them to sort it out. The agent there also looked confused, and then she went into the back room. After a long while she came back out; the ticket was fixed up and we could finally check in.

We were off to Patagonia for the last part of our trip!

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Iguazú Falls

November 20, 2018

(Later in the day)

We moved on to our last destination for the tour, Iguazú Falls. We arrived there in the early afternoon and checked into our lodge, Luces de la Selva. The two of us had a large suite with two bedrooms and a kitchen with fridge and microwave and cooking equipment, which was very comfortable. The lodge didn’t serve breakfast, so the kitchen was a handy feature.

Plumbeous Kite

Plumbeous Kite

After getting settled in, the group went out for lunch at a very fancy restaurant named Aqva. It was Paul’s birthday today so his dessert (chocolate mousse and candied tangerine) came with a candle and singing of Happy Birthday.

Our lodge was at the edge of the forest, rather than in the town, so we went out for a walk along the nearby forest trail. There were no birds there but next to the street leading back to the lodge there were some, including new species again.

Blue-naped Chlorophonia

Blue-naped Chlorophonia

November 21, 2018

Iguazú Falls was our destination today, with birding mostly on the back burner. We got to the entrance a bit after 8 am, along with a lot of tour groups, and caught the train right up to the top.

Park train to the upper falls

Park train to the upper falls

The top of the train was near La Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat. Everybody wanted to see that and so it was very crowded. It was very impressive too, with the water thundering down a narrow channel and the Great Dusky Swifts swooping back and forth through the spray. You could get your picture taken in front of the falls by official photographers, but we didn’t do that.

Walkways leading to the falls

Walkways leading to the falls

Upper falls view

Upper falls view

Great Dusky Swifts

Great Dusky Swifts

From there we walked back down, in theory looking for birds but in practice there really weren’t many. However there were a lot of coatis and capuchin monkeys, which were very entertaining. There was a loop trail past many of the smaller falls so we walked around that loop before going to the all-you-can-eat barbecue place for lunch. It was really all-you-can-eat and Paul enjoyed the dessert table.

Anhinga

Anhinga

Toco Toucan

Toco Toucan

After lunch we walked around part of the lower trail loop, but we had really seen enough waterfalls so we walked back down to the entrance area. We could have taken the train down, but we would have had to wait for 20 minutes and it was only a 700-meter walk!

Muscovy Ducks

Muscovy Ducks

Battling coatis

Battling coatis

Tom had been talking to a local guide who had told him there was a Common Potoo roosting next to one of the gift shops. It must have been a regular roosting spot because the people in the gift shop knew all about it. We looked in the tree for a long time, several of us, but eventually one of the gift shop people had to come out and point it out for us!

Common Potoo roosting

Common Potoo roosting

For dinner we went to the Aqva restaurant again; it had really good food.

November 22, 2018

Our flight back to Buenos Aires wasn’t until the afternoon so, at Rosemary’s suggestion, the group went over to the little park which overlooks the confluence of the Paraná and Iguazú rivers. This is where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay all meet and we were a bit surprised that all three countries had monuments with flags there.

Rio Paraná, Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina

Rio Paraná, Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina

All three countries

All three countries

We looked hard at the Paraguay side of the river to see if we could identify any birds over there, in order to start our Paraguay life lists. But no luck.

Paraguay’s border monument

Paraguay’s border monument

Surprisingly we found one more new bird for the tour at the little park, the Thrush-like Wren. Several of them were hopping around in the trees and calling loudly.

Thrush-like Wrens

Thrush-like Wrens

Rosemary had been looking for a bag to replace the one she had bought in Chile fifteen years ago. The vendors here didn’t have an exact match but she found one which was the right size and which looked good.

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San Sebastián Lodge

November 17, 2018

After an early-morning walk around the grounds of the lodge we headed north in the van again. Our next destination was San Sebastián de la Selva. Our first stop en route was San Pedro, where we would visit Parque Provincial Araucaria.

Black-tailed Tityra

Black-tailed Tityra

But as we drove through the streets of the town a warning light came on in the van. One of the headlights was not working. And this was a problem because in Argentina you are supposed to drive with your headlights on at all times. We had already been stopped by the police once when Dylan forgot that.

Fortunately we drove past a car-repair shop. The leaders asked the man to come out to look at the light. Sure, he had a replacement bulb, he installed the bulb, and it worked. Problem solved in ten minutes.

The park was a very small one off a side street in the town. It had a lot of araucaria trees, but they were a different species than the “monkey puzzle” trees we had seen in the Andes. It was noon so the birding wasn’t ideal, but nevertheless we walked the forest loop trail and managed to see a few.

Araucaria angustifolia

Araucaria angustifolia

We had lunch in a nice little restaurant in San Pablo before heading north again. The road went through hilly forested areas and it was surprising to see a couple of towns which straddled the border with Brazil.

Red-rumped Cacique

Red-rumped Cacique

It was nearly 7 pm when we arrived at the San Sebastián Lodge. There were birds on the lawn and in the lake outside, but nothing unusual, and flocks of egrets were flying over to their nearby roost. The lodge itself was rustic and our upstairs room was hot, even with the window open. But we managed to get a fan to circulate the air.

San Sebastián Lodge

San Sebastián Lodge

Dinner was very good tonight; it’s nice to not have to choose from a menu sometimes. The weather forecast for tomorrow is for rain, so we’ll see what happens.

November 18, 2018

We were up at 5:30 am this morning to go for a birding walk at 6 am. It was cloudy and not too hot, but before we were all gathered together and ready to go, a few drops of rain started to fall. Within minutes it was raining hard.

Violet-capped Woodnymph

Violet-capped Woodnymph

So we all returned to our rooms and met for an extended breakfast at 8 am. It rained all morning, so at lunch we scheduled a walk for 4 pm. It rained all afternoon, finally stopping just before 4 pm.

Giant Wood-Rail

Giant Wood-Rail

So off we went for our walk. Today we had a guide from the lodge named Juan. He knew the local birds well but he didn’t speak English too well. But we all had the same bird book, so we could look up Argentinian Spanish bird names and find the birds in the book.

Saffron Finch

Saffron Finch

We walked through the nearby marsh and then up into the forest. Juan led us up to a place where Swallow-tailed Manakins dance, but the manakins weren’t dancing. Not too surprising, said Juan, the dance in the morning and usually finish before 4 pm.

Variable Antshrike

Variable Antshrike

Back at the lodge, we walked a bit down the other side of the lake to see the hanging nests of the Red-rumped Caciques. There was a Piratic Flycatcher there and Juan told us that it chased the caciques away and stole their nests.

We called this the “Honeymoon Cottage”

We called this the “Honeymoon Cottage”

Dinner was very good, as usual. We had an excellent piece of chicken with rice and pumpkin. Afterwards we went out behind the lodge to an area where potoos are known to roost, but we didn’t find any. However at 10 pm we heard one calling outside!

November 19, 2018

We had an early breakfast today and then headed out into the forest with local guide Juan. Luckily there was no rain this morning. First stop was at the Swallow-tailed Manakin lek, where we sat down and waited while Juan called the birds. Eventually an immature male bird dropped in for a moment, but that was it.

Our view of the Red-ruffed Fruitcrow

Our view of the Red-ruffed Fruitcrow

The next task was to find the Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, a very large black bird with a bright red throat. There was one calling and we headed towards it. But instead of playing a recording until the bird got annoyed and flew towards us, Juan’s technique was to use a machete to cut a trail through the forest to a place where the bird could be seen from. The technique worked well, and no doubt the tropical forest would grow back quickly.

Spot-backed Antshrike

Spot-backed Antshrike

Olivaceous Woodcreeper

Olivaceous Woodcreeper

On the way back we looked for forest birds and found quite a few species. There were quite a few deadfalls which were blocking the trail, so Juan used his machete to cut new trails around them. Many of them were too big to be cut with a machete!

Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher

Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher

Guira Cuckoo

Guira Cuckoo

For some reason we were both very tired in the afternoon. Rosemary had a nap and Paul had a shower. Later on we walked around the paths around the lodge, still finding a variety of species. Dinner tonight was gnocchi made with manioc instead of potatoes. An interesting idea but even more tasteless than regular gnocchi.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

November 20, 2018

We were up very early today so that we could leave at 6 am to drive to Parque Provincial Urugua-í. The purpose of the trip was to see the Black-fronted Piping-Guans, which come down early in the morning to drink at the stream.

Black-fronted Piping-Guan

Black-fronted Piping-Guan

Nests of Red-rumped Caciques

Nests of Red-rumped Caciques

They are spectacular birds and they are globally threatened. And when we arrived there were three of them right by the stream. We were very lucky; it’s not always easy to find them even if you get there early. We also walked around the forest trails there, which were pretty quiet. Although we did find a few more interesting birds.

Ochre-collared Piculet

Ochre-collared Piculet

Back at San Sebastián we had our breakfast and then did a half-hour walk around the local paths. We were looking for Blond-crested Woodpecker, which looks the way you would imagine; we didn’t find one but we did find a few more new species.

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