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A Latin American Dilemma. watch

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    Hello all,

    I'm currently on a gap year and am considering travelling to South America next year for 5-6 months volunteering and travelling.

    There are two options I'm considering:

    Ecuador

    Volunteering in Ecuador for 5 months with a charity. Having looked into Ecuador the travelling aspect is limited. For example, if I wanted to enter the Amazon Rainforest (which I definitely would want to do) it would be unwise to enter it at Ecuador because I've heard that it's much better at Rurrenabaque in Bolivia, Iquitos in Peru or Manaus in Brazil.

    In addition, it is very expensive to climb Chimborazo or even Cotopaxi. I've also heard that it is much cheaper and more rewarding to climb in Huaraz in Peru. The other major feature of Ecuador is the Galapagos. Although undoubtedly incredible it it's prohibitively expensive (flights + entrance fee + transit fee = $510).

    The benefits include going with a reputable, established charitable company and staying with a host family as well as the volunteering work itself. However Ecuador has become much more violent recently according to the FO and State Department.

    Bolivia

    I have been repeatedly told that Bolivia is a ''bagpacker's haven'' due to low prices, lack of tourists and many unique destinations.

    As mentioned, I have heard Rurrenabaque is one of the best places to enter the Amazon. In Bolivia there is also the utterly unique Salar de Uyuni as well as La Paz, Sucre and Potosi.

    However, I do want to volunteer in Bolivia and the only placements are very expensive (e.g. Projects Abroad charge £1200 for a month excluding flights and they're not a charity).

    In addition I would ideally also like to travel to Peru (Nazca Lines, Inca Trail, Cuzco, Ica, Huaraz etc.). How easy (and costly) would it be to travel from Peru to Bolivia on bus?

    So, there are my options. Ecuador has a brilliant charity placement but limited opportunities to travel whilst Bolivia has many brilliant, unique travel destinations but expensive volunteering costs.

    So what would you suggest? Are there any cheap, reputable company with like minded students that offer volunteering in Bolivia?

    If you're read this far, thank you! Any help will be much appreciated and of course be rewarded with rep.

    Thanks hive mind!
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    You can see both in 5/6 months but if you want to spend the majority of the time volunteering go on the best placement for you. I know of a few places in Bolivia in the jungle where you can do some stuff, and any hostel in La Paz should be able to hook you up with something. (Let me have a look for the details and I'll PM you or post back tomorrow).

    Travel wise, I haven't been to Ecuador - have a friend who rates it highly though. Personally, I think Bolivia is awesome. La Paz is crazy - mostly dodgy, but it's so different to anything you would have ever seen here. Salar de Uyuni is out of this world, it's like being on the moon.

    Buses to Peru via Copacabana are pretty cheap and don't take long (Copacabana - Puno isn't more than 4 hours). Can't remember how much or how long exactly. Just hope that your bus won't break down. Peru is another awesome country, and I'd highly recommend all the places you've listed (except Nazca, I didn't go, but many say it's overrated).

    Lemme know if you have any specific questions - there's a couple others in the subforum who have been to S.Am (FormerlyHistoryStudent and brabzzz), no doubt they'll be here to impart their advice soon. A massive thread as well. Check out the blog/flickr in my sig if you want a bit on my experiences
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    I haven't been to Ecuador, but I've read some amazing things about it, and two friends of mine went there during a RTW trip and said it was their favourite country of the lot (joint with NZ...) - and they also went to Bolivia, Peru, some other S American countries, Japan, India, SE Asia and Australia! Lots of indigenous culture and markets (including the biggest indigenous market in S America, at Otavalo), active volcanoes & hot springs, stunning scenery, historic colonial towns, the capital city of Quito (has a really historic, interesting & pretty Old Town apparently, and is in a fabulous setting), and the Amazon rainforest - my friends went into the Amazon at Coca (I think) and went down the Rio Napa, an Amazon tributary, and loved it.

    I agree with Miml, Bolivia is brilliant. Salar de Uyuni has to be seen to be believed. There's the salt flats themselves (apparently the flattest place on Earth), and then in the area surrounding them there's geysers and hot springs and bubbling mud pools at 5000m altitude, different coloured lakes with flocks of flamingoes in, rocks in the red desert which have eroded into fantastic shapes, the sight of an active volcano across the border in Chile, and mountains which look like they've been coloured in with chalk pastels of different shades and colours. La Paz is also in a spectacular setting (you see this in its full glory if you fly in or out) and is full of street markets and locals in traditional dress. I also went to the other capital, Sucre, which is beautiful and very historic with lots to see and do (and I had the best steak I've had in my entire life there, too...:p: ), and also the town of Potosi, which has been known for silver mining for the past 5 centuries; you can go down the mines and see the primitive conditions there, and visit the big museum & cathedral in the town centre.

    Peru is also a great place to visit - as regards Nazca, my friends were a bit underwhelmed by the Nazca Lines, but I thought they were great! :confused: I also went to see some pre-Inca mummies in the desert nearby, which I thought was really interesting (I am a great history lover though, as you can tell by my username...) Cuzco is very touristy and you can't stop in the town centre for more than 5 seconds without people hassling you, trying to sell you stuff or get you into their bars/restaurants, but it is a beautiful place and very, very historical, and has loads of Inca and Catholic religious festivals on throughout the year. The Inca Trail is great, as is the sandboarding at Ica (tip - you go much faster if you lie down on your front, rather than if you stand up.) Arequipa & the Colca Canyon are really good places to visit as well, as is Lake Titicaca. It's easy to cross between Peru and Bolivia by bus, at Lake Titicaca, btw.
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    Hi,

    Although you said that you are looking to volunteer in Bolivia, rather than Peru, just thought I'd let you know about BUNAC's Volunteer Peru programme which offers volunteer work in Lima and Cusco through various community volunteering projects, giving you the chance to experience the culture, the people and improve your Spanish. Because BUNAC is a non-profit organisation, 70% of volunteer programme costs go straight to the developing world and our programmes are great value for money. Volunteer Peru starts from £133 per week including all food and accommodation as well as visa administration.
    Feel free to give us a call if you'd like to find out more about this placement on 020-7251-0662 or visit www.bunacvolunteer.org
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    (Original post by BUNAC)
    Hi,

    Although you said that you are looking to volunteer in Bolivia, rather than Peru, just thought I'd let you know about BUNAC's Volunteer Peru programme which offers volunteer work in Lima and Cusco through various community volunteering projects, giving you the chance to experience the culture, the people and improve your Spanish. Because BUNAC is a non-profit organisation, 70% of volunteer programme costs go straight to the developing world and our programmes are great value for money. Volunteer Peru starts from £133 per week including all food and accommodation as well as visa administration.
    Feel free to give us a call if you'd like to find out more about this placement on 020-7251-0662 or visit www.bunacvolunteer.org
    Hi,

    Thanks for replying!

    I have looked at the BUNAC placement and it does look good. However the Volunteer Peru programme seems a little more expensive (in the long term) compared to say Volunteer Ghana or Volunteer Cambodia. Is there any reason for this other than relative prices?

    In terms of living with a host family in Peru, are you with other volunteers? Is travelling to say Ica/Huaraz/Iquitos possible during the placement or does it have to occur afterwards?

    AS
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    (Original post by miml)
    You can see both in 5/6 months but if you want to spend the majority of the time volunteering go on the best placement for you. I know of a few places in Bolivia in the jungle where you can do some stuff, and any hostel in La Paz should be able to hook you up with something. (Let me have a look for the details and I'll PM you or post back tomorrow).

    Travel wise, I haven't been to Ecuador - have a friend who rates it highly though. Personally, I think Bolivia is awesome. La Paz is crazy - mostly dodgy, but it's so different to anything you would have ever seen here. Salar de Uyuni is out of this world, it's like being on the moon.

    Buses to Peru via Copacabana are pretty cheap and don't take long (Copacabana - Puno isn't more than 4 hours). Can't remember how much or how long exactly. Just hope that your bus won't break down. Peru is another awesome country, and I'd highly recommend all the places you've listed (except Nazca, I didn't go, but many say it's overrated).

    Lemme know if you have any specific questions - there's a couple others in the subforum who have been to S.Am (FormerlyHistoryStudent and brabzzz), no doubt they'll be here to impart their advice soon. A massive thread as well. Check out the blog/flickr in my sig if you want a bit on my experiences
    Hi,

    Thanks for the reply!

    If you could give me some more information about jungle volunteering it would be great. I really do want to visit Bolivia and Peru. If I were to go to Ecuador I would be volunteering for 5 months and unable to travel outside the country during that time.

    It would be a shame if I didn't get to see Peru and Bolivia given that I'm going to Ecuador. Is there an established (and safe) route from Ecuador to Peru and then onto Bolivia by bus? Would you recommend travelling with a company or doing it independently?

    Thanks again for your help.
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    (Original post by aschweizter)
    Is there an established (and safe) route from Ecuador to Peru and then onto Bolivia by bus? Would you recommend travelling with a company or doing it independently?
    My friends travelled overland between Ecuador and Peru by bus with GAP Adventures and said it was slightly dodgy but they got through fine. I myself crossed the Peru & Bolivia border by bus at Lake Titicaca, again with GAP Adventures, and again with no problems. I'm pretty sure you'd be fine doing it independently though, so long as you took the same safety precautions as you would anywhere.
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    (Original post by FormerlyHistoryStudent)
    My friends travelled overland between Ecuador and Peru by bus with GAP Adventures and said it was slightly dodgy but they got through fine. I myself crossed the Peru & Bolivia border by bus at Lake Titicaca, again with GAP Adventures, and again with no problems. I'm pretty sure you'd be fine doing it independently though, so long as you took the same safety precautions as you would anywhere.
    Hi,

    Thanks for your replies!

    I was wondering what GAP Adventure you went on? It does seem a little expensive. Also, how long would you say it takes to see Peru and Bolivia properly i.e. see all the major destinations without rushing around like a headless chicken?

    Oh, and relating to Ecuador: uh-oh
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    (Original post by aschweizter)
    Hi,

    Thanks for the reply!

    If you could give me some more information about jungle volunteering it would be great. I really do want to visit Bolivia and Peru. If I were to go to Ecuador I would be volunteering for 5 months and unable to travel outside the country during that time.

    It would be a shame if I didn't get to see Peru and Bolivia given that I'm going to Ecuador. Is there an established (and safe) route from Ecuador to Peru and then onto Bolivia by bus? Would you recommend travelling with a company or doing it independently?

    Thanks again for your help.
    There's a couple places in Bolivia...
    La Senda Verde - http://www.sendaverde.com/pag/Volunteer_Program.html (not cheap by Bolivian standards, but $120 a week is probably cheaper than most other places and as far as I know the money goes to the right people)
    http://www.intiwarayassi.org - I met a girl who did this in Rurrenabaque and she absolutely couldn't stop going on about it so it must have been good. It was something like US$8.

    Farm in Ecuador - http://www.rhiannon-community.org/
    and the place I was considering a long time ago - http://www.skyecuador.org/ its a teaching role though (only $10 a week)

    Those are the places I have heard about.

    There's also Loki hostel (in Mancora, La Paz, Cuzco and Lima) that sets up a daily volunteer thing (at least the one in Lima did, and I've been told the one in Cuzco does to - don't stay at Loki Cuzco though). So yeah, there's tons of opportunities.

    As for safety, I didn't encounter anymany problems. I wasn't the most sensible traveller though, but I didn't lose money or get a gun to my head. I know people who had problems with drug dealers in Colombia, and someone who got stabbed in Quito, a girl got raped in Bolivia and someone lost their credit card in Argentina. So yeah, it can be pretty unsafe anywhere, but all these times (except for the Colombia story, that was a case of wrong place wrong time from what I've been told) the people involved were being stupid and not taking the necessary precautions. They were either drunk, high or just plain dumb. As long as you keep your wits about you, there shouldn't be any problems.

    No idea about the route from Ecuador - I think Cruz del Sur does a direct 24hr bus from Guayquil to Lima. There's a whole load of stuff in the north (of Peru) you'll want to check out though, so plan it when you get there.
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    (Original post by aschweizter)
    I was wondering what GAP Adventure you went on? It does seem a little expensive. Also, how long would you say it takes to see Peru and Bolivia properly i.e. see all the major destinations without rushing around like a headless chicken?[/URL]
    I went on the Reverse Southern Cross tour. Looking back, it was expensive, and you can definitely do it for cheaper independently - though it did include the Inca Trail and a 3 day Salar de Uyuni tour (both of which are expensive for everyone). The trip started in Rio on 15th May and finished on 25th June, and in that time we went to places in Brazil as well as Bolivia and Peru. Ideally I'd have liked to have spent much longer at nearly every place, but what we got was sufficient to see the main parts/attractions. So if 6 weeks were enough to get a good taste of these three countries, you should easily have enough time in two or three months to see the most major destinations in just Bolivia & Peru.

    If I were to go back to S America (which I fully intend to), I'd go independently instead. We'd been round Asia & Australasia independently just prior to S America, and were in Rio for 3 weeks before we met up with our tour group, so I know how great independent travel is in general. Cheaper, more freedom, more spontaneous, more serendipity etc.

    EDIT (after seeing Miml's post above): Crime can happen anywhere in S America - a girl I met on the GAP tour had her backpack (with camera, cards etc. in) replaced with one full of cardboard in a street scam in Buenos Aires later on when she was travelling by herself; a guy in Loki Hostel in Lima had his passport, bank cards, camera and possibly mobile phone all stolen during the night, while we were there; there's tons of drug dealers in Cuzco who offer tourists drugs in broad daylight in the town centre (we heard they are in league with the local police, as well...); in Rio I had a shopping bag snatched whilst walking through a tunnel (I ran after him and got it back, but that's not the point)... These things happen in nearly every part of the world, so take the same precautions as you would anywhere when travelling.
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    BUNAC maybe non-profit but 133 a week is still fecking expensive.

    - If you're into 'that' kind of thing, www.rhiannon-community.org in Ecuador is free (and great fun...i spent 2.5 months there). They're building increasing tie to local permaculture farmers and teaching at the local school too.

    - www.intiwarayassi.org in Bolivia costs less than $10 a day and, even at $133 a week, i doubt BUNAC has anything hat comes even remotely close :-)
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    (Original post by brabzzz)
    BUNAC maybe non-profit but 133 a week is still fecking expensive.

    - If you're into 'that' kind of thing, www.rhiannon-community.org in Ecuador is free (and great fun...i spent 2.5 months there). They're building increasing tie to local permaculture farmers and teaching at the local school too.

    - www.intiwarayassi.org in Bolivia costs less than $10 a day and, even at $133 a week, i doubt BUNAC has anything hat comes even remotely close :-)
    Hey,

    Thanks for the info!

    It seems less and less likely that I'll be going to Ecuador given the turbulent political situation there at the moment. Also, I agree completely that BUNAC are massively overcharging on a ''volunteer'' programme and I mentioned this in my reply to the representative on here. The Inti Wara Yassi project seems good though.

    Your blog is turning out to be really useful! Did you plan much of your trip or was it done where and when you arrived? Oh, and before I was considering S. America I was considering SE Asia - to the people who've been to both, which one did you prefer and why?
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    I knew i wanted to travel in South America, but apart from booking a one-way flight to Toronto and a tour, 2 week USA tour with Green Tortoise, i did not pre-book or plan anything. Almost a year and a half later i found myself at the very bottom of SAm :-) Glad you like the blog.

    For me, SAm pisses all over SEA. It has everything - mountains, beaches, jungle, deserts, fjords and cities. Everything. Only one language to get to grips with (ignoring Brazil... ;-), a great hostel network and good transport. I could go back there for another 1.5 years, tomorrow.

    I'd almost argue that, unless the booze and drugs and 18 year old backpackers are a star attraction to you, it is an easier destination. The hostel (rather than guesthouse) network means you meet lots of people to do things with.

    The only other place i have found that comes close is India (here at the moment), there's a dozen trip's worth of travel here, but is very different (not better or worse, just different). SEA has zero return value for me, other than for a couple of weeks on a beach or to get some suits made :-)
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    I went to Peru this summer and it was incredible. I met some people as well who had just been travelling in Bolivia and they said some of it was incredible. I'd have to warn against doing the Nazca Lines though.. it was great, and it's cheap for what it is, but the safety record is terrible and just got worse (3 Brits killed yesterday). Do Machu Picchu instead!
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    (Original post by sentiment)
    I went to Peru this summer and it was incredible. I met some people as well who had just been travelling in Bolivia and they said some of it was incredible. I'd have to warn against doing the Nazca Lines though.. it was great, and it's cheap for what it is, but the safety record is terrible and just got worse (3 Brits killed yesterday). Do Machu Picchu instead!
    Hi,

    Thanks for your reply and information!

    I'm probably going to be travelling alone, how easy is it to meet and travel with other people? Did you go alone as well? I agree about the Nazca Lines, it does seem to have an awful safety record.

    In terms of Machu Picchu, I definitely would want to do it but I was wondering which trek to go on. The Inca Trail seems to be almost too popular with a plethora of American tourists rather than bagpackers? Would you recommend it?

    The other options are the Lares Trek (which goes through an indigenous community before heading to MP and the Salkantay Trek which is more of a trek and is also a day longer than the Inca Trail. I'd love to hear your feedback.
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    (Original post by aschweizter)
    before I was considering S. America I was considering SE Asia - to the people who've been to both, which one did you prefer and why?
    Hmmm, based on where I've been to in each, I'd say that S America pips SEA. That's not to say that I didn't think SEA was good, because I genuinely thought it was brilliant - but S America was even more brilliant. Yet I hesitate to say this for certain, simply because I still have so much of each still to explore. I haven't been to some of the most unspoilt, adventurous and fascinating parts of SEA - Burma, the 'unknown' Thai islands, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia. Non-Bali Indonesia and Burma, in particular, I have heard some absolutely fabulous things about.

    There are some extremely touristy places in both continents, filled with touts and tat and inflated prices and bars full of drunken backpackers/other tourists - though I would say that Thai islands like Phuket have rather more of that than places in S America do.

    Both places have very different cultures; some people are more attracted to one, some to the other. Both places have some fabulous natural wonders, though S America has the most variety (SEA has no glaciers or desert or salt flats...); both places have lovely food, though the countries of SEA are better known for their cuisines; both SEA and S America have very interesting histories, IMO anyway.

    Lol, I've spent ages writing this reply, simply because I keep thinking of all the pros of each place - it makes it so hard to choose! But if I were forced to pick one, then I would still say S America. As much as I love the different cultures and landscapes and history and experiences of SEA, there's something about Latin (and Brazilian) America which I just fell in love with at first sight. I find it very hard to explain what exactly this 'something' is though!
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    (Original post by aschweizter)
    Hi,

    Thanks for your reply and information!

    I'm probably going to be travelling alone, how easy is it to meet and travel with other people? Did you go alone as well? I agree about the Nazca Lines, it does seem to have an awful safety record.

    In terms of Machu Picchu, I definitely would want to do it but I was wondering which trek to go on. The Inca Trail seems to be almost too popular with a plethora of American tourists rather than bagpackers? Would you recommend it?

    The other options are the Lares Trek (which goes through an indigenous community before heading to MP and the Salkantay Trek which is more of a trek and is also a day longer than the Inca Trail. I'd love to hear your feedback.
    I wouldn't say I passed too many American tourists on the Inca Trail - they mainly get the train to Agua Calientes and just go to Machu Picchu on day trips! (That's why you should get there early - I got there at sunrise and within the next couple of hours managed to get loads of pictures without anybody else in, whilst if I'd left it until later on then that wouldn't have been possible.)There were lots of other backpackers on the Inca Trail. The Lares trek doesn't have any Inca ruins, or so I've heard anyway, but is quieter than the classic Inca Trail. I personally loved the Inca Trail, because I thought the scenery was amazing and I saw lots of hummingbirds and I liked the Inca ruins, but there again I haven't done the Lares or Salkantay treks, so I can't really compare.
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    Another question if I may,

    I'm just thinking about what the most expensive outings would be in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil.

    Peru

    Inca Trail (about $400-420 with a valid ISIC card)
    Huaraz (I would want to go above say 5000m on a trekking expedition, maybe 4 days? Any recommendations? Ideas about cost?)
    Ica (I assume this is reasonably cheap)

    Bolivia

    Salar de Uyuni (this is probably the most expensive, around $120 for 4d/3n, is that about right?)
    Sucre, La Paz, Potosi (reasonably cheap I assume, bus travel major cost)
    Huayna Potosi (6000m+ worth it?)
    Rurrenabaque (I've heard this is the cheapest way to enter the Amazon, if anyone's been here what price would constitute a reasonable tour of say Las Pampas?)

    Brazil

    Pantanal
    Ilha Grande
    Iguazu
    Rio de Janerio, Sao Paulo

    Anything I've missed off? Is that a reasonable itinerary? I'm thinking of volunteering in Peru for 2 months and then travelling Bolivia (one month) and Brazil (one month). What budget should I be looking at?

    Thanks again!
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    (Original post by aschweizter)
    Hi,

    Thanks for your reply and information!

    I'm probably going to be travelling alone, how easy is it to meet and travel with other people? Did you go alone as well? I agree about the Nazca Lines, it does seem to have an awful safety record.

    In terms of Machu Picchu, I definitely would want to do it but I was wondering which trek to go on. The Inca Trail seems to be almost too popular with a plethora of American tourists rather than bagpackers? Would you recommend it?

    The other options are the Lares Trek (which goes through an indigenous community before heading to MP and the Salkantay Trek which is more of a trek and is also a day longer than the Inca Trail. I'd love to hear your feedback.
    Well obviously I can't really compare the 'original' Inca Trail with the others but I didn't have a problem with tourists. I went with a group (12 of us trekking altogether) and you can walk ALL day without crossing paths with anyone else, perhaps with the exception of the places you stop for lunch. Most of our campsites were for just our group - on the second morning I woke up, opened my tent and had a view of snow-capped mountains and the river and not a single soul in sight, it was incredible. It was also seriously challenging without being scary or making you think you weren't going to make it. And the best thing is that, by midday in peak season, Machu Picchu can have 3000 visitors at a time...only about 200 tourists start the Inca Trail every day and arrive at sunrise - the vast majority of other visitors who get the train don't arrive until an hour or so later, so you get a lot of time with the site to yourself. Seeing it absolutely deserted is reeeeally something else.
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    Huaraz - a peak over 5500m will cost you $150 to 200 for the 2 or 3 days. Maybe another 50 or 100 more to get past the magic 6000m...well worth it though. You can do the 4 day Santa Cruz trek for under $100 all in, and the 2 week Huayhuash would be a simiar price per day.

    Huayna Potosi can be done for $130-160. spend an extra day and do it in 3. It's a nice climb on the new route.

    Iguazu falls - 50m left or right of the enterance you can hop in for free.

    Machu Picchu - I'll give my usual controversial recommendation and say don't bother :-)
 
 
 
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