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Itinerary: Food & Music Tour of West Africa & Morocco

Trip details:

I would like to plan travel for myself and a friend (both males) to West & NW Africa. We are looking to experience the food, life and most importantly, music of the region. We would like to touch Dakar, Lagos, Accra, and a couple of places in Morocco.
In Dakar, I'd really like to see Youssuo N'Dour play at his club Thiossane, and would like to know of similar places in the other cities :-) Duration: 12-16 days; Date: November 2013; Budget: $4500, not including airfare to/from India, but should include travel between the recommended cities.

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Sunday morning:

Casablanca!


The shortest flights to Casablanca are early in the morning (leaving Dakar either at 3:00am or 6:40am). Either way you’ll be a bit sleep deprived. It’ll make sense to check into your hotel and take a short nap to refresh yourself. Start the day’s sightseeing at lunch time.

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Sunday afternoon and evening:

Have lunch at Cafe Maure. Here’s a review:


“Away from the hustle and bustle, and yet only a 10-minute walk from Casa-Port train station, this very pleasant indoor-outdoor restaurant is a great place to eat and drink at any time of day or night. It's set within the walls of an 18th-century fortification, or sqala, and is part of a small complex that includes a boutique -- a satellite shop to Stéphanie Bénetère's Kif Kif in Marrakech -- and a gallery housing temporary art exhibitions and fashion shows. The outdoor section is where you want to be -- mosaic tables, wrought-iron chairs, large linen umbrellas, and plenty of shade under a large trellis covered with bougainvillea. The menu is extensive and begins with a choice of breakfasts that are large enough to fill you for the whole day; the F'tor Sqala includes traditional breads, poached eggs, jams and amlou (argan spread), and freshly squeezed orange juice and tea or coffee. Dishes from midday onward include a delicious Kémia Mauresque salad of zaalouk, chakhchoukha, artichoke, olives, haricot beans, and tomato. More substantial dishes include a lotte et gambas (burbot and shrimp) tagine cooked in saffron. There's also a range of desserts and gâteaux, which can be enjoyed with a coffee, tea, or delicious fruit cocktail. The waitstaff are young and friendly, and the clientele range from businesspeople to travelers to city 20-somethings, who appreciate that cafe's Wi-Fi connection.”


After a leisurely lunch, stroll downtown (largely a French creation) to admire the many Art Deco buildings still standing. There isn’t much sightseeing to do in Casablanca other than soaking in the atmosphere of the city itself by hanging out in the many cafes and people watching.


An early evening aperitif at Rick's Café is highly recommended. If you don't wish to stay for dinner, head to the restaurant and bar strip opposite the central market. Note: Rick's requires appropriate attire, with no shorts or flip-flops.

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Sunday night:

I'm making a general note here of Casablanca's nightlife. You can wander as you're interested and return to this item on your next night in Casablanca on the way back to Mumbai.


Offerings are relatively limited, with the two most popular options being the beachside strip in Aïn Diab and a cluster of restaurant-bars in the city center, on rue Allal ben Abdellah.


Along the beachfront boulevard de la Corniche in Aïn Diab are the nightclubs Pulp Club, Mystic Garden, and Candy Bar. Pulp Club and Candy Bar are the least pretentious, while Mystic Garden attracts Casa's ultrahip. Some clubs will deny entrance on the basis of wearing jeans, though this policy seems to change nightly and on the whim of the doormen. Expect to pay around 100 dirham to get in, and at least half this again for your drinks.


Looking out over the Aïn Diab beachfront is the well-to-do suburb of Anfa, where you'll find the trendy lounge bar G Sound. The mix of soft lighting, plenty of cushions and lounges, a corner just for cigar smokers, and a lineup of resident DJs offering up the latest in Euro-electronica grooves has proven a hit for Casa's wealthy and beautiful. "Soiree Disco" replaces the hard sounds every Tuesday night, and attracts a far less pretentious crowd than the rest of the week. It's open every night from 7pm to 2am.


Back in town is La Bodega which has serious doormen but no admission charge. The atmosphere inside this Spanish taverna is refreshingly vibrant and fun. The ground floor is both a tapas bar and a restaurant serving light meals. Downstairs is a cavernous nightclub with a dance floor and lounge section. It's the one place in Casa where the alcohol flows freely -- there's beer on tap and plenty of sangria. It's open Monday to Saturday 7pm to 1am.


For a quiet drink in classy surroundings, try Rick's Café or the Casablanca Bar in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, on place des Nations Unies; both are themed on the classic movie or try a fruit cocktail at Café Maure.


Live music: Armstrong Legend is a club known to have funky live performances.

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Monday:

Marrakesh


You can either drive (2.5 hours) or take a train (3 hours, leaves every hour) from Casablanca. Try and reach Marrakesh by early afternoon. Check in to your hotel, then head for lunch at Restaurant Al Bahja - one of the best places to have Moroccan food - cheap, busy, quick and tasty.


Although it sounds touristy, the hop-on hop-off City Sightseeing bus is a great way to get oriented in the city on the first day. Take the “Marrakech Monumental” circuit from Palais de la Bahia (a short walk from the restaurant). This will occupy most of your remaining day.


At night, get a taste of old Morocco at Jemaa el Fna. Arrive before evening to watch the sunset, followed by an array of musicians, storytellers, and dancers. After you've sampled the square, stroll along the adjoining rue Prince Moulay Rachid, or take a seat on Abd el Moumen Square (in front of the Koutoubia Mosque) and end the night with some prime people-watching. The picture below is a scene at Jemaa El Fna in the evening.


Place Jemaa el-Fna - Marrakech - Morocco - Maroc - Maroko - Μαρόκο - Fas - Marruecos - Marokko - Марокко


Then head to any of the nightclubs listed in detail below.


Marrakesh Nightlife:


Bars


Within the medina, choices are limited if you don't wish to have a meal with your drink. There are small stand-alone bars at Cafe Arabe and Narwama, while next to the Mellah is the Asian-chic Kosybar, which is hugely popular. This former riad offers something different on each of its three floors. The small ground-floor bar, decorated with a zebra-skin hide, is a great spot for an evening of drinking and dancing. The second level combines shades of ocher and olive with heavy, dark-wood furniture and the original zellij flooring. On the terrace you'll be rewarded with a superb view of the medina, the top of the El Badi Palace, and the resident flock of storks who regularly cruise by at eye level. The terrace has heaps of comfy lounges and is a great place to chill out with a cold beer or a bottle of wine. Kosybar is open daily from noon to midnight.


Also on the same street is Le Tanjia, which has a small and popular ground floor bar. Tucked away in a corner you'll encounter the in-house band, belting out mainly Moroccan and European music. The restaurant upstairs (one floor indoors plus the roof terrace) offers very good fare, mostly Moroccan, and most nights your meal is accompanied by a belly dancer or two. It's open from noon to midnight.


In Guéliz, the restaurants Le Grand Café de la Poste, Kechmara, and Café du Livre are great places to enjoy a drink. The compact Le Lounge, next to the Diwane Hotel is Daniel Guillard and Christian Hofer's affordable, unpretentious lounge bar that nightly attracts a loyal set of locals as well as a few stray tourists. The staff members are young, pretty, and friendly; drinks are served either in the downstairs lounge or the smoky upstairs mezzanine. The interior is sleek and modern, with black and red throughout. The music is largely dance, house, or funk, and widescreen TVs show the latest music videos. There's a reasonable menu, including tapas, available, and most diners prefer to take their meals under the covered alfresco terrace.


Out in well-to-do Hivernage is the icon of Marrakech nightlife, Comptoir Darna. The two-level former villa is renowned for its sexy Franco-Asian groove and is one of the places to see and be seen. Low lighting, scented candles, and Moroccan lamps are strategically placed in the ground-floor restaurant. Diners can choose from low-lying tables under the Berber tent, or inside the charcoal and ocher restaurant proper. Head out to the small garden where you can lounge on the lime, orange, and red cushions and heavy Berber carpets. A wide, central staircase leads up to the real reason to come here: the haremlike bar decked out in charcoal, orange, and burgundy veils where resident and guest DJs spin the latest in Euro-Arabian dance music accompanied by exotic dancers.


Dance Clubs


Most classy clubs are located in Hivernage or farther out in a new zone hôtelière on boulevard Mohammed VI. They usually don't get busy until after midnight and may charge admission ranging from 150dh to 300dh, which includes your first drink. Alcohol is generally available at exorbitant prices. The dance clubs are mainly the domain of European residents, seasonal visitors, and young well-to-do Marrakchis.


Consistently one of the hottest places in town is Theatro, inside the Marrakech Casino at the Hotel es Saadi in Hivernage. Converted from an old theater and with the original stage still intact, this place, at times, rivals Europe with its unabashed on-stage hedonism. At other times, it's simply a high-end techno dance club and a good place to show off your best moves.


Out past Hivernage is Pacha Marrakech, which bills itself as the biggest club in Africa (and possibly the loudest). This kasbah-style club, an outpost of the clubbing giant Pacha in Ibiza, pumps out 50,000 watts of DJ-mixed music that pulses through your body. It boasts two formal restaurants and a huge swimming pool in addition to its neon cavelike nightclub, with its large open spaces decked out with exotic rugs, high ceiling, and low-lying sitting areas. There is also the tented dance floor that often looks like a giant circus ring complete with shirtless Europeans, while those hankering for more lounge than thump gravitate to the separate chill-out lounge.


Farther out, on the Ourika road, is Bô & Zin, which can be a bit hit-and-miss with its cuisine (mainly French and Thai), served within the various rooms inside. However, it definitely hosts a pretty good late-night party, with both a resident DJ and guest musicians out in the garden. It's definitely pretentious but go there to have fun, dance to last year's hit pop tunes.


Live music:


In Guéliz there's Montecristo with the shedlike Bar Latino and the even smaller Bar Africaine, where two to three times a week live music generally pumps out from late evening until the early hours.


Irregular offerings of live reggae music can sometimes be found at the earthy Mama Afrika Café, off avenue Mohammed V on rue Oum Errabii. Only nonalcoholic drinks such as milkshakes, fruit cocktails, and tea are served, as well as a small selection of sandwiches, salads, and ice cream. It's open Monday to Saturday from 8am to midnight, and Sunday from noon to midnight.


For a somewhat touristy live entertainment show, check out Chez Ali, a very popular nightlife activity in Marrakech. It is a place where you will get to see the culture of the land in all its splendor. This Equestrian dinner and Moroccan music show in the Palmerie of Marrakech, Morocco an homage and replication of the traditional Meknes Fantasia. A Moroccan dinner is served with a traditional starter of Harira, with a main course of Mechoui and couscous, all under caidal “tents”. The dinner is complimented by Berber folklore and a wide range of musical styles from Berber groups, Chabbi musicians, Moroccan Rap and Gnaoua. Attendees will see jugglers. the flying carpet, belly dancing and finally the Fantasia show.

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Tuesday:

Today's the day to enter the fray and discover Marrakesh's heart and soul - the Medina. Hire a guide for a morning walking tour, taking in one or two historical sights, a visit to a herboriste (herbalist) and some of the souks, and a stop along the way for a mint tea. You'll no doubt be led to a few shops along the way, so make the most of the situation by taking mental notes of each item's general price and quality, preparing yourself for a return visit should you be seriously interested in buying something.


Souk Scene


Lunch at Cafe Restaurant l’Etoile, on the busy rue Prince Moulay Rachid just off Jemaa el Fna, for pretty good Moroccan fare.


Be sure to head to Jemaa el Fna for the late afternoon and evening show.


Have dinner at one of the medina's ambience-filled restaurants such as Cafe Arabe or Narwama, or try Al Fassia in Guéliz if you prefer to "go local."

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Flights from Mumbai to Accra By Aashish Gupta
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Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Wednesday flights are significantly cheaper than Saturday - by about Rs. 14.5k. Does that matter to you?

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Do note that the 36k flight (Saturday) is only 11:15 in duration, versus 32:35 for the 22k flight. The other advantage of taking the Saturday morning flight is that you arrive in Accra on Saturday by 11:25am, letting you take advantage of the Saturday night nightlife.

Anonymous wrote:  

Lets do the shorter flight. 32 hours in a plane is not worth the 14k in savings.


Azonto By Anonymous
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Anonymous wrote:  

Any idea about how I can get to see that popular dance called Azonto in Accra? It's not a very upmarket thing so you will need to dig a bit.

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Let me do some research and get back to you on this in a couple of days.

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Ok, so below is the information on Azonto that you had asked for. There are no scheduled performances as such, but heading to some of these places will improve your chances of catching one:

If you want to see where the dance originated, go to the rough neighborhoods of fishing villages in coastal Accra such as in Jamestown. There you will find kids on the street breaking out into dance at the sound of speakers, football club members swinging into dance mode after a practice game and friendly locals obliging on the beach. Wander around these areas, greet a friendly (young) local, and you are bound to find a group of young people willing to show you how they do azonto.

In these places, it's more a way of life than a dance, as the people originally used it to communicate their occupations with each other. It was the youth of the streets that took up the form of communication and turned it into the dynamic contemporary dance form that it is today.

You may also find some performances in the clubs of Accra. There used to be a divide (with economic roots) between those that danced azonto and those that didn't (who danced to American hip-hop and other European styles) but that seems to be changing with the local youth discovering pride in this dance form they created. So head to some hip hop bars around town in Accra and you may hit jackpot on a weekend. 

I've picked some places for you to catch the real thing. Read on to find out. But bear in mind that Ghanaians are always willing to dance if you just ask them about Azonto.

1. Jamestown

Head to the fishing town of Jamestown, the oldest part of Ghana. It's an active fishing center but it's not on typical tourist itineraries because it's not been restored for tourism. Find a local guide (the people are friendly and will be happy to guide you or point you to a guide) and have him take you around the neighborhood, to the beach where the catch comes in early in the morning, the old stone houses, and then to local community halls where the youth have azonto battles. Ask the locals if you can watch live, and you may find yourself invited to a party where there will be azonto on the menu. The chances of this happening on a weekend are greater.  

2. Hiplife Clubs

Head to one of Accra's many hiplife clubs and pubs and you're likely to find the big azonto numbers playing and the locals dancing away to them. You can join in of course, and there's no better way to experience the dance than being a part of it. Check out the video above and you'll see that live music spills out onto the streets and if it's azonto, you'll find people dancing for sure.

Check out any of the pubs which have live music and dance floors; most of these are around Oxford Street, Osu or the Nkrumah circle. Also try Boomerang nightclub, full of middle class Ghanaians, no ex-pats. Here's a review:

Boomerang Night Club: Situated in the Caprice building in Kpehe not far from Kwame Nkrumah Circle. Packs a good crowd on Fridays and Saturdays with a good mix of Accra's affluent youth. Music style is a mix of R&B & Hip life for Friday and Saturday and Francophone mix on Thursday.

Another option is:

Paddy's Niteclub: Located at Botwe, in the East Legon neighbourhood. It has a large complex that serves various classes of people. It has a main hall, a VIP room and a private room (Zero Room) which provides a lot of exclusivity for patrons. Check out the open house on Saturday. Local artist pass through every now and then to perform.

3. Big Six Tour

There are several hiplife singers and musicians who have put Azonto on the global dance floor and are constantly belting out new numbers. You may just be lucky enough to catch a concert by any one of them when you visit. Follow news for the Big Six Tour (http://www.ghanacelebrities.com/2012/04/02/the-big-six-d-black-sarkodie-edem-kwaw-kese-dr-cryme-el) which will be a series the concerts that will run from September to November and will feature E.L, Sarkodie and other hiplife artists among the performers.


Lagos By Anonymous
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Anonymous wrote:  

Can you please check about Lagos? Basically there is this place called the NEW Afrika Shrine, and the great afrobeat musician Femi Kuti plays there Fri/ Sat, when in town. He's actually having a BIG celebration in Oct. Check the FB page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/THE-NEW-AFRIKA-SHRINE/113890378637826

While I do know that Lagos is 'unsafe', there may be a way to stay safe - hotel-wise go a bit upmarket, and arrange transport to and from the shrine on a Fri/ Sat, assuming Femi is in town.

Hence I land in Lagos, just do a 1N stay and leave for Accra next afternoon.

This has been a dream of mine, so it's been on my mind, and I'm ok with a bit of risk if it's been accounted/ planned for.

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Here is a detailed assessment of the security situation there: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/sub-saharan-africa/nigeria

Of course, this is written with British travellers in mind and they are at a greater risk for kidnappings, etc. than us brown-skinned folks. But it's still worth assessing the risks for yourself. Let me know once you've decided and then I'll go ahead and do the research. Also, if you do decide to do Lagos, will that be within the same 2 weeks (in which case we'll need to skip something else to make room for it) or will it be an additional day?

Anonymous wrote:  

Well, they also have similar warnings for India, so I'm not sure how seriously to take them.

Anonymous wrote:  

Are there other sources?


Flight schedules By Aashish Gupta
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Aashish Gupta wrote:  

I've updated the Transport tab with a table of all the internal flights. We can use that to draw up the whole plan.


Safety issues in Lagos By Aashish Gupta
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Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Coming back to the Lagos discussion, the level of the warnings for India isn't quite the same. Also, from some of the guidebooks I'm reading about Nigeria, it appears that armed robberies and carjackings are common at night in Lagos. Even a TripAdvisor search for hotels shows a big red sign at the top saying "TRAVEL ALERT: SECURITY CONCERNS" - http://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotels-g304026-Lagos_Lagos_State-Hotels.html

Here is another discussion thread, though about 5 years old:http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1465890

Of course, most of the time you'll hear from folks who had safe and uneventful stays. As a professional, I have to advise you against going, but the decision is of course yours.

If you go, here are some things to keep in mind:

- keep time on the road to a minimum at night and do not go around the city alone.
- avoid the following neighbourhoods: Alimosho, areas close to the border with Ogun State, Ikeja (actually the New Afrika Shrine nightclub is in Ikeja - it is a semi-upmarket area but with frequent crime), Alausa, Fadeyi, Onipanu, Somolu, Mushin (do look these up on Google Maps).
- After dark stick to the upmarket Victoria Island or Ikoyi neighbourhoods in Central Lagos, if venturing outdoors.
- Arrange for airport pickup and drop with your hotel.
- If stopped by "Area Boys" (mugger gangs), do not object or put up any resistance. PS: it is rare for them to mug or attack foreigners as it invites unwanted attention by the authorities. Tourists need to be more wary of terror outfits looking to kidnap or petty "unorganized" criminals looking to snatch a camera or a wallet.
- Inform a close friend/relative of your contact information so that in case you can't be reached, they can raise an alarm with the Indian High Commission at these numbers :-
    High Commission of India, Abuja (Nigeria)
    (i)         Mr Suresh K. Makhijani          E-mail: couns.abuja@mea.gov.in
    Counsellor                               Mobile: 08128308701        
    (ii)        Mr S. Mahesh                          E-mail: cons.abuja@mea.gov.in
                Attache                                    Mobile: 08128308708
 
    Office of High Commission of India, Lagos (Nigeria)
    (i)         Mrs. Rani Malick                    E-mail: fs1@hcilagos.org
    First Secretary  (Consular)    Mobile: 08128308751
    (ii)        Mr R.K. Sharma                      E-mail: hoc.lagos@mea.gov.in
    Second Secretary                    Mobile: 08128308752


Now, given that you want to minimize time on the road, it makes sense to stay in Ikeja - close to the nightclub (and the airport). But you must know that it isn't as safe an area as Victoria Island and Ikoyi.The Lagos Airport Hotel (http://www.lagosairporthotelltd.com), though a bit run down is the closest decent place to New Afrika Shrine (2.8 km). The hotel has an in-house car rental service - ask the hotel reception staff to recommend a reliable driver, negotiate a per-hour rate and pay only after they drop you back to the hotel at night.

Also, in the guidebook I have, it says that Femi Kuti plays at the Shrine on Sundays. So it might be worth checking with them when he's likely to play.

About the rest of the itinerary, it may make sense to drop Gambia since the flight schedules are making it hard to fit in.

Anonymous wrote:  

Thanks. This is handy.


Femi Kuti's performance schedule By Anonymous
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Anonymous wrote:  

Can you check when he is likely to perform at the venue in Lagos?

Anonymous wrote:  

Never mind. I found out from their site.

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Cool.


Cape Verde By Anonymous
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Anonymous wrote:  

Is it worth going here? If it's mostly beaches and folk music, I'm not very interested. I'm more interested in pop music scene and live music.

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Yes, it is mostly that. So in that case we can skip it and add The Gambia instead - you'll find that place a lot more interesting.


Accra hotels:

Osu is easily the most happening area in Accra and I strongly recommend staying in a hotel here, even though the prices they command are a bit higher than the rest of Accra. The two best choices Byblos (rooms starting at $65) and Frankie’s (starting at $59) for good combination of location, budget and comfort (mainly location closest to the best nightlife).


If being centrally located isn’t a primary concern, then I recommend staying at the Afia African Village. It has a beachfront location, spectacular views and a pretty garden. Rates start at $35.

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Kokrobite Beach:

Any of the beachside hotels will work. If you're picky, Big Milly’s is a good budget option.

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The Gambia:

For a great combination of comfort and budget, choose Luigi’s in Kololi. It is a stunning complex with three restaurants and attractive lodgings set around a pool and jacuzzi. Room rates start at about $48. If this doesn’t appeal to your taste/budget, I can recommend a few other places as well.

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Dakar hotels:

Auberge Marie-Lucienne is about 1.2 km away from Thiossane and is a good choice. Here’s what Lonely Planet West Africa has to say about it:


“A bit slow and a bit grumpy, this large guest house doesn’t really try to charm its guests but yet it’s usually full. Rooms are much prettier than the dark corridors would have you expect, the unfussiness turns out to be quite pleasant, and proximity to the university and music clubs means that you often bump into interesting guests - from visiting lecturers to jazz bands on tour.”


Rooms start at about $57.

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Casablanca:

Hotel Maamoura has rooms starting at around $53 and is one of Casablanca’s best value hotels.

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Marrakech hotels:

Although the nice hotels in Guéliz and Hivernage offer more facilities and are sometimes better value for money and closer to the nightlife, it's only by staying in the medina that you can truly experience this ancient and exotic city. I recommend Dar Vedra. In mid-season (Nov) you will pay 60 Euros for a single room, with breakfast included. If you prefer staying closer to the nightlife, then Hotel le Caspien in Gueliz is a good choice for about 42 Euros, breakfast not included.

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Fez:

Dar El Hana is quite simply the best value in town. Rooms start at 66 Euros.

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