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Category: Destinations

Boquete, Panama Won My Heart

In many ways Boquete, Panama won my heart: from the stunning landscape of the highland forest; to the cool breezes arising from multiple creeks crisscrossing town; to the veritable feast of delicious and affordable food offered by home-based restaurants.

We planned to visit Panama as a way to renew our Costa Rican Visa for both ourselves and our vehicle, as we also enjoyed a weekend vacation to one of the two countries in Central America we had yet to visit.

Above all, Boquete was a short four hour drive from where we were staying in Costa Rica. Located in the mountains of Volcan Baru, in the province of Chiriquí, Boquete is nestled in a valley, 3,900 feet above sea level.  

town of Boquete Panama
flower garden with cornucopia in Boquete Panama
abandonded house in Boquete
river running through a neighborhood of Boquete

To Do:

Lost Waterfall Trails. A quick drive beyond the town limits brings you to the Lost Waterfalls Trails. Keep an eye out for the sign which will guide you across a wooden bridge to reach the home of the trail keepers. There a charming cabin overlooks the valley of Boquete, as scents of orchids and other flowers float through the crisp air. To enter the park there is a small fee that helps to pay for trail maintenance. The trail follows a path through the forest, surrounded by luscious plants on all sides, where orchids and bromeliads cling to lichen covered tree trunks. The trail boasts several waterfalls with three vista points from which to view it. Plan to spend a few hours exploring the park or bring a picnic and make it a full day.
bridge across creek to reach The Lost Waterfalls trail
cabin of the trail keepers
holding a leaf while standing on The Lost Waterfalls trail
waterfall

To Stay:

Hotel Rebequet: Opened since 1984, this small nine room hotel was home for our first night in Boquete. Located in a residential neighborhood just a short walk from main street, Hotel Rebequet offers a peaceful stay, plus a home cooked breakfast in the morning with fresh eggs as you like, toast, coffee and juice.  

Pensión Topas: For the rest of our time in Boquete we stayed at Pensión Topas, a hostel operated by a German expat. The spacious grounds of the property offer a pool, gardens, river, and reading nooks. The friendly owner has tips on all the best places to see in town, and can help you book any manor of diversion.

Pension Topas in Boquete
Pensión Topas

To Eat:

Black & White: Located on the main street in town, Black & White is a Spanish tapas restaurant with an excellent happy hour deal. Even though the power went out during dinner (not uncommon for Central America,) we ended the night with several sangrias and multiple little plates of delectable dishes all for the nice price of $20.

Sugar and Spice: This artisan bakery makes European style baked goods, plus the American favorite – cupcakes. A variety of delightful flavors await your selection at Sugar and Spice, with the option to dine in with a mug of coffee or take to-go.

Olgas: A quaint cafe that offers breakfast in an indoor/outdoor, alfresco dining room. Enjoy a cup of coffee from beans grown at one of the local coffee farms as you have breakfast.

Restaurante Las Orquideas: A small restaurant, operated out of the home of a local family, their $4 lunch will satisfy your hunger. Dine in their enclosed patio on a meal that comes with a choice of meat (we had tuna), potatoes, salad, and tea.

Other things to check out in Boquete:

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Moments Around Costa Rica

Beach Club
Beach Club

Moments from around Costa Rica taken on my iphone. Last year we lived in the region of the Southern Pacific Coast. A few weeks were spent in Dominical, a popular surf town, and the remainder of the six months in a small town called Tres Rios de Coronado. The town doesn’t exist on most maps, probably because there are only about fifteen homes, a small market, a school, and two restaurants. A lovely place, far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life.

El Castillo Hotel
View of the ocean from El Castillo Hotel
Playa Uvita
Playa Uvita
Playa Tortuga
Playa Tortuga
Tres Rios de Coronado
View of the neighborhood
Puppies
Puppies from our adopted dog, Cool One, that lived at the home we rented
Pink flower tree
Taking a walk around the neighborhood
Tres Rios Waterfall
Waterfall in Tres Rios de Coronado
Mamon Chino Lychee
“Mamon Chino” Sweet and tart lychees
Playa Dominical
Playa Dominical
Dominical Surfer
Surfing at Playa Dominical
Danger Sign Peligro Cocodrilo
Peligro (Danger) Sign at Playa Dominical
Playa Dominical
Playa Dominical
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Learning About Trees – Barron Park Neighborhood

This past weekend I joined a tree walk in the Barron Park Neighborhood of Palo Alto. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to take photos of nature and learn something new, I made this my Saturday activity. The tree walk was well attended, led by a knowledgable local arborist who took us to twenty-two different trees in two hours.

White Birch
White Birch with skeleton
Douglas Fir
Douglas Fir
Douglas Fir Cone
Douglas Fir Cone

Strawberry Tree (Arbutus Marina):

Native to California and regions with a Mediterranean climate, the drought-tolerant Arbutus Marina has beautiful red bark, delicate flowers, and fruit. When I used to live in Santa Cruz I rented a back-house that was surrounded by these trees, which can grow up to thirty feet tall, dripping with small round fruit that are reminiscent of a raspberry. The fruit seemed to be there year round, constantly falling to the ground and feeding a rather large family of squirrels. On the tree walk we learned the fruit of the Marina is actually edible! So I tried one, it has a lightly sweet and earthy flavor. I wish I knew this before, I would have been the squirrels’ competition for the abundant fruit!

Arbutus Marina
Arbutus Marina

Victorian Box:

This tree stood out with its perfectly yellow leaves, ovalish in shape with undulating edges. Framed by a classic car the Victorian Box was an excellent photo opportunity. Part of the Eucalyptus family, this Australian native tree is well-known for its honey produced by bees. During the spring the tree produces fragrant white flowers that eventually turn into fruit that is orange and woody.

Victorian Box
Victorian Box

Canary Island Pine:

An evergreen tree named after its native home, the Canary Islands, this pine grows in subtropical environments with varying amounts of rainfall. As a drought-tolerant tree, it can live with less than eight inches of rain a year. Lush with pine needles, they absorbs mist from the air, allowing the trapped water to drip to the ground below and absorb into the earth.

Canary Island Pine
Canary Island Pine

Mosaic Tree:

Last on the walk, the mosaic tree is not an actual tree, but an art installment by the artist Christine Heegaard. The sculpture is called, “Lives,” representing a tree in all seasons. The sculpture is covered in mosaic tile with shapes of fruit and even a squirrel climbing on the trunk.

Mosaic Tree "Lives"
Mosaic Tree “Lives”
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2015 in Review

The year 2015 was full of travel, change, and growth, but I should also add – full of anxiety and uncertainty. Even though I finally pursued my dream of travel by taking a road trip down to Costa Rica and allowed myself to open to creativity along the way, I continued to face fears and struggled with opening up to others.

This year has taught me so much and I feel that I am in a better place than before. Remembering back to January, I was a complete stress ball, worried about driving through Mexico and Central America, expecting the worst. Yet here I am, the end of the year, back in the US.

I am grateful for the opportunity I had to travel with my partner and for all that has happened, all the places I visited, and for all those I met. But most importantly, I am incredibly grateful for the loved ones in my life – family and friends. Without them nothing would have been possible. Family and friends saw us off in the beginning of the year with words of well-wishes and they took me back in when I returned with nothing to my name but the three bags I carried. This year I learned how much family means to me and how amazing all the members of my family are. They cared for me, supported me, and took me in when I needed it most. And I can’t forget those friends who cheered me on, read my blog posts, and kept in touch even when I was thousands of miles away.

2015 was a life changing journey and that was because I allowed myself to follow my dream, faced fears, and embraced the support of family and friends.

On that journey I lived in many places. Embarking from Santa Cruz, to a month and a half in San Diego, to three weeks in Mexico, to a week traveling through Central America, a full six months of living in Costa Rica; back again to San Diego, then a month stint in Hollister and a few weeks in Boulder Creek before finding my way to my new home in the Bay Area. I can’t believe all the places I lived and the nomadic lifestyle I embodied.

The following photos are my memories of 2015, all the places I lived, traveled to, and had the privilege to explore. As the year comes to an end, I think back to where I’ve been as I also look forward to the new year and all the promise that is holds, new places to explore, and adventures waiting to happen.

South Park San Diego
San Diego

In the beginning of the year, from the end of January to mid March, we lived in the South Park neighborhood of San Diego as we prepared for our final departure. This picture was taken on a late afternoon walk, overlooking downtown San Diego.

Arizona desert
Arizona

Before officially crossing the border into Mexico we spent the night in an Arizona border town. While driving through the desert our van got a flat tire, setting us back three hours and delaying our departure out of the country.

Alamos Mexico
Alamos, Mexico

Our first night in Mexico was spent in the historic town of Alamos. A Friday night, we were kept up till the wee hours of the morning from sounds of music and revelers. With a long day of driving ahead of us we awoke at 7am to explore the town before continuing on our way.

Mazatlan Mexico
Mazatlan, Mexico

Next we stopped for the night in Mazatlan. Where we encountered El Diablo’s cave and our van was broken into in the middle of the night. Luckily only a bag containing shampoo and kleenex was stolen.

Guadalajara Mexico
Guadalajara, Mexico

Driving six to eight hours per day, we eventually made it to Guadalajara, a sprawling city that only a few weeks later hit the news headlines. Havoc in the city was released when a local crime group shot a police helicopter from the sky and created road blocks with burning trucks.

Metepec Mexico
Metepec, Mexico
Centro Historico
Mexico City
Teotihuacan Mexico
Teotihuacan

We stayed with family in Metepec for two weeks as our van window was repaired and we explored the surrounding area. A whirlwind tour commenced with day trips to Mexico City, caves, mountain resorts, and ancient pyramids.

Palenque Temple of Inscriptions
Palenque, Mexico

Ending our Mexico excursion in Palenque, we visited the ancient ruins and explored nearby Agua Azul and waterfalls. This stop was added to our itinerary last-minute when I learned my mom visited in the late 70s.

Santa Catalina Arch, 17th Century
Antigua, Guatemala

After leaving Mexico we spent three nights in Guatemala, staying the most time in Antigua, full of colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. However, leaving Guatemala ended up being a memorable experience. We got lost in Guatemala City for three hours, fruitlessly looking for the Panamerica Highway among a jumble of city streets with no names. Eventually we paid a taxi driver $10 to lead us out.

Honduras
Honduras

After Guatemala was a quick tour of Central America with the goal to get to the tropics of Costa Rica as soon as possible. We spent one night in San Salvador, El Salvador before a grueling twelve-hour drive through El Salvador and Honduras to reach Leon, Nicaragua. Exhausted we immediately went to sleep and took no time to take photos of this part of our trip except for a few shoots while driving. The drive through Honduras was only two hours, but here is where we encountered our first attempt at bribing. At a military stop point the guard spoke in perfect English, jokingly asking us for money, which we replied lightheartedly that we had none!

Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Road Warrior Toyota
Costa Rica

Arrival! We made it to Costa Rica after a full month of traveling. Our eyes and hearts soared with the lush jungle scenery. Costa Rica became our home for the next six months with several weeks in Manuel Antonio and Dominical before settling in Tres Rios de Coronado.

Shannon On the Road
Boquete, Panama

After three months in Costa Rica it was time to renew our Visa. We spent three days in Boquete, Panama, a magical and unexpected place. Breezes from the many rivers criss-crossing the town cooled the warm and floral scented air. Flowers were everywhere. We enjoyed hiking the surrounding mountain range and relished their inexpensive food.

This trip was everything and nothing that I expected. 2015 will forever remain the time of growth and challenge. The time when I followed my dreams and took big risks. Thank you 2015 for all that you have taught me.

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Beaches of Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific Coast

As anyone who has visited Costa Rica knows, the country is rich with beaches. This is due to Costa Rica being surrounded by the ocean, with the Pacific to the west and the Caribbean to the east. In fact, there is 1,290 kilometers (801 miles) of coastline offering a seemingly endless supply of beaches to visit.

During my time in Costa Rica I became acquainted in particular with the beaches of the Southern Pacific Coast, stretching from Manuel Antonio to Coronado. In previous posts I wrote about Manuel Antonio and Dominical, but now I would like to share a few of the beaches we frequented the most often.

Playa Ballena

Part of Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, this beach is located next to the Beach Club, a hotel and restaurant. The beach is open to visitors all week, except Tuesday when locals have private access. The Beach Club provides safe and secure parking as well as excellent food for lunch. Everytime I visited the beach it was virtually empty, truly giving the impression that you are at the end of the world, miles from civilization. Coconut trees, almond trees, and other jungle vegetation edge onto the beach where little hermit crabs can be seen scurrying across the sand. You may find a pretty shell, but most likely it is already inhabited. If you are lucky you will be at the beach when a family of local Capuchin monkeys travel on their way through a tree-top road network only known to them.

Playa Ballena Beach Club

Playa Tortuga

This vast expanse of beach gives a rather rugged impression with mangrove trees crowding onto the brown sand. When the tide is low the crashing waves seem to be almost a mile from the beach, with the sand covered in tide pools, waiting for the ocean to rise again. The beach is popular with local fisherman who spend hours standing on rocky outcroppings under the hot sun. There is not much shade on the beach, which becomes uncomfortable after a while. Do not be fooled by the pictures below, when we visited the sun felt like it was pummeling us with its hot rays, overwhelming our senses with heavy hot air.

Perhaps this beach is better left to the turtles that it is named for. Every July through December four different turtle species (including leatherback and hawksbill turtles) arrive during the night, when the moon is full, to lay the next generation of eggs. Reserva Playa Tortuga is a local nonprofit that studies the turtle habitat, maintains land, and provides education to volunteers and locals alike. If you are interested in protecting turtles, they happily accept volunteers year-long.

Playa Tortuga

Playa Tortuga

Playa Uvita

Known as the whale’s tail, this beach is the popular destination of the up and coming town also known as Uvita. The beach extends out into the ocean in the shape of a whale’s tail, which can be seen on a map or from an airplane when the tide is out. Or you can visit the beach at low tide to walk the entire tail which is covered in sand except for the very end which is made of rocks. Out in the open ocean beyond is coral reef popular with snorkelers. Because of the reef, the beach is covered with little pink, purple, and orange shells. We visited at low tide and enjoyed swimming in the ocean with gentle waves. The water is quite warm, but at least it keeps you refreshed from the hot sun and air. Because this beach is part of the national park there is a $5 fee to enter as well as cost for parking. But the sight of the tail is worth it for at least one visit.

Playa Uvita

Playa Ventanas

My absolutely favorite beach, Playa Ventanas, is known for its two caves that open from the beach out to the open ocean. When the tide is low you can walk into the caves, but watch out for the incoming tide. At high tide the ocean crashes through the caves with every swelling of the waves. Water bursts out as it funnels through with a loud rushing sound that brings to your attention the mighty power of the ocean. The beach offers a perfectly shaded area for picnics and bbqs. My favorite part of this beach was swimming out past the waves and floating in the water for as long as possible. The waves are not good for surfing, but perfect for swimming and playing. While floating in the ocean, there is a beautiful view of lush green hills covered in the vegetation of the jungle, usually with large billowing clouds gathering at the precipice.

Playa Ventana

Map of the Beaches

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Three Things I Learned from Living in Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Living in Costa Rica for six months was a unique experience. The country is completely different from the US and especially my home state of California. The lifestyle is different, priorities are different, and culture is different. Where people are constantly busy working and filling every bit of spare time with an activity in California, I found that to be in stark juxtaposition to the relaxed and unhurried life of Costa Rica. Instead families are close, there is plenty of time to enjoy the slow pace of life, and most importantly – the saying of “pura vida” is truly embraced.

As I ponder the life I led in Costa Rica and the effects it undoubtably had on me, I would like to take this time to share three important lessons I learned.

  1. How to live with less and actually be happy for it. In Costa Rica there are beaches, jungles, volcanoes, and wildlife. What there is not is online shopping, shopping malls, the latest trends, or access to any little thing you think you want. Being away from the temptation of stuff, away from materialism and consumerism was liberating. I felt free from the constant want of things allowing myself to embrace a full life with less.
  2. Life is enjoying the simple pleasures. With all the noise of a busy life shed away, I was left with the tranquility of nature. The beauty of the forests and beaches, the sounds of wildlife fully alive and thriving, and the peace of not needing to be somewhere. Without all the clamor of city life, the pull of technology, and the constant movement of traffic I was able to cherish the simple aspects of life. I was able to truly appreciate nature and our place within it.
  3. Living in the moment. Without the distraction of media in all its many forms, the constant chatter of the world melted away. From there I learned to reconnect with the moment. To let my thoughts rein back in from constantly living in the future. To embrace each day a new.

Costa Rica

Those lessons I now hold dear as I slip back into my life in California. I will always cherish my time in Costa Rica and how it has made me grow as a person. Even though I still feel the same, I know that there are some aspects of myself irreversibly changed and in my opinion it is for the better.

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Kayaking Among the Mangroves

Mangroves

The white heron elegantly swooped past on its way to a higher branch on the mangrove tree. Sounds of scuttling legs betrayed the bright red crabs climbing over spindly roots half submerged in water. In the dense mangrove forest, with the hum of insects as a back drop, we gently paddled our kayaks, hesitantly at first before becoming accustomed to the movement as we glided downstream.

Mangrove forest

Kayaking the Mangroves

Our guide explained that the mangroves are the most efficient producers of oxygen, better than even the rain forests of the Amazon. Because of that the mangroves are a protected habitat in Costa Rica, with laws to keep the trees from being chopped down for development.

Kayaking the Mangroves

As we paddled on I was astounded by the absolute quiet and stillness of the mangrove forest. There were no sounds of vehicles, voices, industrial machines, construction, or any other sound typical of human life. The only sounds were those of birds, crabs, and insects.

Dominical Surf Adventures kayaking trip

At one point the guide pulled from the water what looked to be a fig, but was actually the seed of a mangrove tree. The seeds are dropped to the water where they float until the seed pod opens up with a baby tree inside. The beginning of the mangrove’s life is spent floating along the river, growing until the roots reach the muddy earth below and anchor in.

Dominical Surf Adventures van

After kayaking, we were given a little time to explore nearby Playa Barú, a stunning expanse of yellow sand beach edged by almond and coconut trees. There we stayed to watch the sun make its decent down, the only people on the beach for miles.

Playa Baru

Playa Baru

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El Silencio Cooperative

El Silencio Cooperative

What I love about traveling is coming across places I would never back home in the US. While on a white water rafting trip with Dominical Surf Adventures we stopped in El Silencio, a town only accessed by a rock strewn dirt road thirty minutes from the main highway.

There I learned that El Silencio is a co-operative town residing on a former banana plantation that once belonged to the United Fruit Company (now known as Chiquita). When the plantation was ruined by flooding in 1955, local farmers took over and began to work the vacated land until it was sold to them by the government.

The farmers and their families created Coopsilencio, which has grown to 80 families since the 1970s. Now the co-op farms African Palms for the oil that is processed from the palm’s fruit. They also run a dairy farm, reforestation project and wildlife rescue program.

The co-operative even has their own money, the UDIS, which is valued the same as the Costa Rican colón. Workers of the co-op receive 20% of their pay in UDIS, which can be used to purchase goods and services in the town.

According to International Co-operative Alliance a co-operative is “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

In the case of El Silencio, the co-operative encompasses the town and plantation. I have come across co-op grocery stores, apartments, banks, and businesses, but this is my first community.

If you are interested in traveling to Costa Rica or would like to check out the co-operative lifestyle then make sure to visit El Silencio. They have a volunteer program offering a chance to experience life living and working with the community.

What are your thoughts on cooperatives, whether a business, housing, or community?

Coopsilencio Palm Plantation
Coopsilencio Palm Plantation
African Palm Trees
African Palm Trees
Poster of the UDIS
Poster of the UDIS

 

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Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge

Hacienda Barú, a national wildlife refuge, is located on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, bordering Dominical to the south. The 830 acres of private reserve covers a range of ecosystems including tropical forest, swamp, mangrove, and beach.

Between the 1940s and 1979 the property served as a cattle ranch and pasture, with much of the forest either slashed and burned to provide open space or selectively harvested for timber.

In 1979 one of the new owners, Jack Ewing, decided to allow the property to return to jungle. After a few unsuccessful attempts at crop farming and a failed proposal for the development of a hotel in the 1980s, the owners began to give jungle tours. With the success of the tours the property was transitioned to status as a National Wildlife Refuge and the property opened to ecotourism.

The refuge is part of the “Path of the Tapir” Biological Zone that extends from Savegre River to Terraba River and protects the unique ecosystem of the area. The biological zone protects habitat and ensures uninterrupted movement through the corridor.

Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge

Mango tree
Mango tree
Trail through the wildlife refuge
Trail through the wildlife refuge
Mangrove tree
Mangrove tree

There are several trails that wind through the refuge. The one we took led us to Playa Barú, a beautiful and wild beach. There was no one about except for vultures huddled around the corpse of large turtle they were making a feast of. The beach is one of the many in the area used by nesting sea turtles to lay their eggs. Due to this, the beach is protected by the national government and a turtle research and protection office is headquartered nearby.

"We protect the turtles, we maintain cleanliness"
“We protect the turtles, we maintain cleanliness”
Trail to Playa Baru
Trail to Playa Baru
Playa Baru
Playa Baru

The refuge also has a butterfly garden with about 6-7 local species fluttering around the enclosure. Admittedly, this was my favorite part, we spent way too long (over an hour) capturing these images of the butterflies.

Tiger-striped long wing
Tiger-striped Longwing
Doris Longwing
Doris Longwing
Morpho
Morpho

Blue Bug

Owl Eye
Owl Eye
Tiger-striped Longwing
Tiger-striped Longwing
Doris Longwing
Doris Longwing
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Two Weeks in Dominical

Two Weeks in Dominical

For two weeks we called Dominical home. A rustic surfer town south of popular Jaco and our last destination, Manuel Antonio. Ten years ago the town was just a speck on the map with a few houses and businesses made up of locals and determined surfers from around the world. Over the years the location has become better known amongst travelers from the US and Canada, growing into a popular surfer town that is now a one-lane dusty road with various restaurants, souvenir stores, and surf rental shops. A mix of locally and expat owned businesses give an interesting flair, for a distinctly Costa Rican culture with hints of US vibes.

Dominical
Main Street
Dominical
Costa Rican surfer

Compared to the beaches of Manuel Antonio, Dominical’s is a little underwhelming. The beach is rocky and the waves are constant with a strong riptide, better for surfers. But the coconut and almond trees provide a well shaded area out of the hot.

Dominical
Path to the beach
Dominical
Playa Dominical
Dominical
Shaded from the heat under an almond tree

We rented a bungalow from Posada del Sol, a locally owned hotel. With half of the bungalow open to the outside and nothing but a screen to shield against the elements, a subtle boundary between inside and out contributed to a feeling of living closely with nature. Birds made nests in lamps shades, lizards scurried across the ceiling, and a multitude of bugs called the indoors home.

Posada del Sol
Our bungalow at Posada del Sol
Posada del Sol
Outdoor shower
Posado del Sol
Bird’s nest in the lamp shade

Among the restaurants two became our stand-out favorites: Mono Congo and Arena y Sol. Mono Congo is an expat owned cafe that serves coffee drinks, smoothies, breakfast, and lunch. Besides the great coffee, my favorite menu item was the passion fruit chocolate tart, a delicious dairy and wheat free concoction of smooth dark chocolate in a sesame seed crust. Arena y Sol was our go to spot for lunch, where we enjoyed their $6 wrap and smoothie special.

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