I had slept wonderfully. We ate breakfast listening to Tommy Vance’s ‘Rock Salad’ on the BBC World Service and left before 8am into another cool morning. We had to wear our fleeces for the first few kilometres. It was a sluggish start on a slightly rising road for the first 28 kms after Bouarfa. Our peaceful but slow start was soon to come to an end.
I was cycling ahead of Dan by about 400 metres. A dirty, white Peugeot van came by and hooted its horn for too long, implying that I should get out of his way on the fairly wide road. The driver was about 100 metres behind me by now. I turned around when I heard his next hoot and pulled out further into the road giving him time to put on his brakes. For some reason, I was determined not to be treated like this but this shabby Moroccan driver.
Sure enough, he slammed on his brakes, the desired effect. I then pulled to the left of the road. The van driver pulled up next to me and gestured to me as though he was saying to me ‘What do you think you are doing?’ I shouted at him in English “Slow down, you idiot!” and waved my arm up and down indicating for him to slow down.
Then, stupidly, I went ahead of him and moved to the right of the road. Obviously, he was contemplating something because he slowed down behind me. The next thing I knew was that he was right beside me pushing me into the verge until I, eventually, lost control of the bike and went over the handlebars.
Fortunately, I landed fairly softly. As soon as I could, I stood up, grabbed some stones and threw them at the van and the men hanging out of the rear of the van as it sped away. I missed the beaten up old van, much to my irritation. I swore loudly as the cowards went over the brow of a hill.
I had a few cuts and bruises, and was a little shaken. I heard Dan coming up behind me shouting “You bastards! You f***ing bastards!” He came up next to me as I picked up my bike. The handlebars were twisted but there was no major damage. I was seething. Dan got out his tool kit and straightened my handlebars. It was nasty incident but, perhaps, I should have been more discrete in retrospect and just let the van pass without making such a fuss.
We carried on, thoughts of revenge going through my mind for a few kilometres but I soon calmed down. At one point, I saw a large sign with Arabic written all over it. I stopped to throw a stone at it to vent some of my anger.
The rest of the ride before lunch was fairly ordinary. After lunch, which, surprisingly, was quite chilly despite the bright sun, the road dropped down into a wide valley with steep mountains on its flanks with the road stretching out into the distance. It was quite a sight.
Half way along, four Swiss bikers overtook us, waving, and taking me by surprise! At just after 3 pm, we came into Figuig expecting to see a magnificent view like at other border crossings we had been through. But, no, there were pylons, cables and building sites on view.
We came into the town and stopped at a bank to see if they could sell us US dollars or French Francs. We would have to go back the next day. Next, we went to a camp site at the far end of town where we found the Swiss bikers. They smiled and said hello. Three of them were off to Ghana on their bikes.
We had a couple of drinks on the veranda of the bar at the site, where there was a good view, and then went to get showered. But, that was before we got hassled by the waiter to take the room he had rather than camp because it might be taken someone else. Someone else? He hardly had loads of trade coming his way. That was our first hot shower for four days and it felt great.
What a day. During the quiet moments on the bike I had started to day dream about roast pork and crackling, roast potatoes and apple sauce.
Distance 112.5 kms Average speed 15.3 kms Time 7 hours 13 minutes
I was up at 6.15am to find that a rodent had chewed several holes in one of my socks. Or, perhaps it was moths. Anyway, they must have liked dirty socks sitting outside our tent. Little buggers. I got breakfast going. It was quite cold before the sun came up.
We cycled into Bouanane to resupply ourselves. A few annoying kids constantly asked us for lighters, key rings and dirhams. We bought hot, fresh bread from a baker and ate half a loaf of the piping hot stuff before escaping the group of snotty kids.
We were late in getting going for the day because of this stop and the first 15 kms were no help to our target for the day. It was hard British Land Rovers passed us, probably on their way to Figuig. Just past Ain-Chair, we stopped for a roadside lunch. It was cloudy and cool with a few drops of rain coming down.
Coming the opposite way, three Italian motorcyclists came hammering up the road. We waved and they stopped. We chatted with them in broken English. They were very friendly and one had been to Tamanrasset in Algeria before and told us the road down to it was good. Good news! However, he went on to say that from there to Agadez in Niger it was bad. They screamed off and left us to our dull food.
The next stage too us into the Plaine de Tamfelt, an enormous area of sand, scrub and masses of camels. The road was flat and good going. We had 65 kms of that lonely road with very little passing traffic. Soon, we could see Bouarfa in the distance below a small mountain.
We were tiring and our speed dropped away gradually until, 4 kms from the town, we were stopped at a police checkpoint. The friendly police man checked our passports and let us move on.
We found a hotel for 60 dirhams (£4.67) with no showers. Dan and I moved the bags in and then went out to buy some supper which, as usual, was rice with soup poured onto it, with pudding of vanilla flan and a cake (both of which Dan made from a packet).
It had been a long hard day during which I had spent some of the time thinking about home and how stiff my legs were getting. We took an antibacterial tablet each to sort out our guts. The following day we were aiming to get to Figuig which is the border town for Algeria.
Distance 134.23 kms Average speed 14.3 kmh Time 9 hours 21 minutes.
Back on track. We are now on our originally intended route. We left Er Rachidia in the cool morning air. After 18 kms, our route took us off to the east towards Boubib onto a road that was to be sparse of traffic. At an early stage, we saw ahead of us a water hole which was also marked on the map. We stopped to inspect it. There was a collection of buildings near to the wall of the well. The well was deep with what looked like oily, mucky water at the bottom. We dropped a couple of stones down and listened to the rush of the stone moving through the air, followed by a bang as it hit the water. Not much chance of getting any decent water out of there!
A Belgian four wheel drive vehicle went past hooting. We waved. For the rest of the morning, we cruised against a slight headwind and reached Boubib by lunchtime. We had a fizzy drink in a café and were joined by some friendly and relaxed Moroccans. They talked and mentioned two French or Swiss cyclists who had been past the day before. The barman put some excellent West African music on.
We pushed on, passing a couple of barracks and then stopped by a brick sign and sat in its shade to eat our lunch. Just before this, crossing a small bridge, a striped light and brown snake skitted across my path. While eating, a Moroccan on a Raleigh racer stopped to borrow a lighter to light the kif in his pipe! He said it was the only thing in this desert that kept him sane. He cracked some more jokes before moving on.
I had a stitch after lunch for a while as we ate up the kilometres towards Bouanane. Five kilometres short, we pulled off the road and set up camp behind a bush. The light went quickly (5.45pm) as we cooked up rice and onion soup. Pudding was bananas and evaporated milk.
We got into our sleeping bags early. But, we were soon up and out having heard the sound of rodents having a go at our panniers. We moved the bikes into a position where we could see them more easily and armed ourselves with the catapult, ready to strike the pests.
Our guts were bubbling away, giving us the foulest wind. We presumed it was some fiendish bacteria having a field day. I glided into sleep, tired after a long day in the saddle.
Distance 141.78 kms Average speed 15.5 kmh Time 9 hours 2 minutes.
What a kip. I felt as though my body had been in splints weeks and, suddenly, I was able to get out of them, stretch, scratch and, generally, enjoy the sensation of moving about in a warm bed. I got up and went out for breakfast.
I found the covered market and a small shop where I bought eggs, milk, bread and butter. I got back to the hotel room and found that the milk was sour. Dan went out to find fresh moo-juice. When he got back, I found that the eggs were already hard boiled when I went to put them into the pan. I was cursing the Moroccan nation at this point. I went back to the shop (where, yet again, I had had to add up the bill for the shopkeeper) and got him to swap the eggs for fresh ones.
After eating, we washed some clothes and then got to work servicing the bikes. We spent most of the day cleaning, greasing, scrubbing and adjusting them crouched on our haunches on the balcony of the hotel.
The proprietor came up once or twice to our room to nose around and saying nothing in particular. We'd learned to ignore these people in certain circumstances. Later on, he came into the room when we'd finished the bikes.
“Do you have an English souvenir?” he said.
“No”, I replied and shut the door on him. Pestering Moroccans, I thought.
A lot of them are trying to get work permits or 'invitations' from foreigners so they can work abroad. I know they are poor or relatively poor but they never tell you straightly about what they want. They often have a naïve story or excuse to ask you about how they can come and visit you in England.
After cleaning up, we went out and stocked up on items for the following few days. We tried a new method in the shops. We wrote down the price of the items they told us and then we totalled it up. Usually, we are much quicker at adding up these simple sums and this puts them off their guard and seems to make them nervous. However, to works and stops the opportunity for them to overcharge us.
We went back to the hotel and cooked supper. Tuna and rice by Dan. Pudding of Bananas and evaporated milk by me. After eating, we talked about Morocco. We'd overspent and we regretted our foolish naivety when we first arrived in the country. It cost us and we just hoped that we could reach South Africa. We were looking forward to getting out of the country and into Algeria. As the man had said a few days before in the Todra Gorge, “Morocco is for Moroccans!” Indeed.
The noise outside the hotel put a sharp end to a restful night. We could revving engines, muezzin's rallying their faithful, people shouting and spitting in the street. I woke in a bad mood. In addition to being in a bad mood, I realised I had lost the new bog paper we had bought the day before. Dan spilt half of our milk too, so the day was getting off to a bad start.
After porridge and scrambled eggs, we were off at 7.20am. The air was cold again but the sun was bright. We headed out to Tinerhir on a gently dropping road out in the barren landscape. It was a long run into the quickly rising sun. We shot along, speeding through villages, passing other local cyclists and kids on the roadside at a blur. We had covered 70 kms by 10am and stopped at café at the junction of the roads to Er Rachidia, Erfoud and Ouzazerte.
We had passed a group of local cycling in the small town before here they tried to keep up with us on their Chinese bikes. For a bit of fun, we cycle next to them and nudge them in the shoulder. Our greater momentum sends them off into the kerb but we soon tired of that activity.
At the café, two policemen had conveniently set up a check point and were taking it in turns to get up from their cups of coffee and cigarettes to check the papers of passing lorries and old men on mopeds. They looked pretty slovenly with their Sam Browne belts worn incorrectly which made them look very slack.
The music blaring from the café's system was Bob Marley. While sitting there basking in the sun, looking out over a flat, sandy plain with a few hills on its flanks, we noticed a man on a moped coming from the town. He looked a little odd and we soon realised why. He had his open-face helmet on back to front. We burst out laughing and he went past us looking bemused.
We soon moved on towards Goulmima across a sandy valley. I felt quite sluggish after our zippy morning and we crept into Goulmima. We cycled straight through, picking up some kids on bicycles as we left and began to climb a hill. The kids soon dropped away and we sweated up to the top, passing a man walking his mule with a 'simple' character walking ahead of him.
At the summit, we stopped, munched a couple of biscuits each, soaked up some water and admired the view. Mountains to the left; huge open nothingness with the road winding into the distance. We were passed by the two men and the mule but soon overtook them when we set off again.
When we reached 104 kms, we stopped by a ford for lunch where we ate bread, cheese, tomatoes, carrots, apples, oranges, biscuits and drinking yoghurts. Feeling bloated, we crashed out in the shade of our bikes for nearly 45 minutes. The sand I was lying was quite comfortable and my shemagh was wrapped around my head to keep the flies off. The silence, when there were no passing cars, was amazing. Only a slight breeze disrupted the silence. Despite the bright sunshine, the air was still cool.
I got up and had a drink of water and the refilled my bottles from the jerry cans on the back of my bike. Dan was soon up and moved off, limbs a little heavy. The road wound around a few small rises, past a derelict building, a water hole (which was marked on our map) and followed a line of telegraph poles, most of which were either fallen down or the wires had come away from them.
The distance on Dan's computer was reading differently to mine. While cycling, we fiddled with the buttons to see if there was a difference in the programs and, in doing so, I reset my computer to zero when I hit a bump. I swore, infuriated. Dan said “You've got to do it when its in the odometer mode”. I swore at him and set off in a rage like a spoilt child. I cycled until it hurt and came to a halt just inside the town we were heading for.
I looked up a hotel in our guidebook and we went into the town passing several army barracks and along the main street. In the first hotel I went into, the receptionist was lying on a sofa. Another man was lying asleep on a second sofa. I was in no mood for these lazy Moroccans.
I wanted a room for two people, I said. The receptionist got up from his sofa and gave me a key to look at the room. I went up some stairs and looked into the room. One of the beds was not made. I went back down and told him to go and take a look for himself.
I was shown another room on the third floor which, he said, was 68 dirhams (£5.29) a night. No chance! Fed up, we moved on towards the town square where the locals taxis were lined up. We found 'Hotel Les Oliviers'. I found a room I liked and had a second bed moved in for 50 dirhams (£3.90) a night. We piled our bikes and bags up into the room and settled in. We lounged about after paying the bill for two nights and leaving our passports with them.
Quite tired after a long day, we lay about for a couple of hours talking before cooking supper. I had a cold shower before going to bed.
Distance 139 kms Average speed 16.1 kmh Time 8 hours 35 minutes.
We were up at 6am after an adequate night’s sleep. Porridge for breakfast again (the milk was sour though) plus scrambled eggs and bread. The World Service woke us up with the news that Robert Maxwell had died due to natural causes. My arse. It was more like the fat sod fell overboard from his yacht because he could not see his feet. My left knee was aching in the way that my right knee had ached in France. I put the support on it.
We picked up our passports and were away by 7.35am. We climbed out of Boumaine Dades onto a long straight road onto a gently rising, barren plain. The air was cool enough almost to the point of being cold. But, the sun quickly overcame the nip in the air. The road was quiet with only occasional lorries passing by us but not much else.
A few crumbling Kasbahs lined the route and before long we rode into Tinerhir, a town which looked as though it was developing rapidly judging by the number of building sites in it. We stopped at a ‘Ziz’ garage and filled our fuel bottles with ‘Super’ petrol to see if this would stop our cookers blocking up with carbon, which had become a problem.
We found the town centre, had a cold drink and shopped around for lunch with people staring at us, as usual. Soon, we left, cycling towards the Todra Gorge some 14 kms away (we had not realised it was this far away when we set off). The ride up involved a couple of steep climbs, but otherwise the ascent into the gorge was steady.
Nevertheless, it was hot and sweaty work. In the villages on the way up, the kids were troublesome, throwing stones and waving sticks at us or swinging rope pretending to whip us. We adopted scare tactics with the catapult which had a temporary effect and enabled us to get by them without any direct hits.
The entrance to the gorge was well hidden. We rounded a bend as we came off the tarmac and, suddenly, we were in the depths of this beautiful gorge. It is spectacular with sheer, light red coloured rock on either side of you in the narrow opening. A small river flowed in the base of the gorge. We had to ford the river a few times on the way up, stopping to take photos of each other as we crossed. It was great fun and gave us a sense of adventure that we had not had for a few days.
There were two or three hotels at the entrance where the richer tourists stayed. We stopped just beyond these near to some women washing clothes and donkeys munching away on grass waiting to carry the washing away. One of the women thought we were taking photos of her and demanded 10 dirhams. But, she soon realised we were just stopping for lunch.
We saw a kid running down a track as we took out our food and our hearts sank. Here we go, we thought. He soon approached and started asking for food and performing some amateur dramatics in the process. “J’ai faim”, he said. “No”, we said, somewhat mean spiritedly. He pushed a little harder and we were not convinced he was genuine. I got up and chased him off.
A few minutes later, a man came up and tried the same thing, adding only a few more comments such as “It’s cold, isn’t it?”. We told him we didn’t want anything from him. He said we could come up to his village 20 kms away and stay. Dan and I were getting angry. We told him to go away and that he could not have any food and to leave us alone. He persisted more angrily. “This is my country! Morocco for Moroccans! Go back to your home! You are Jewish!”
At this point, I had had enough. I got and went up to him aggressively and threatened him with a good wallop.
Two more kids had joined him and I sat down again and he looked taken aback at my action towards him. I looked up again and he had taken out and opened up a tiny pen knife which he was gesturing towards us. Unfortunately, I did not have a machete on me because I could done a ‘Crocodile Dundee’ on him and said ‘That’s not a knife, mate. This is a knife’.
The man had a sinister look on his face. Was he actually now threatening me? Ok, it was no machete so I took out my Swiss Army knife and opened up the largest blade and showed it to him. He swore at us (it sounded like it, anyway) and walked off with his pride hurt, I expect. What a pathetic individual.
Dan noticed a scruffy white dog sidling up to us to cadge food too. He threw at stone at it and the poor thing sloped off a short distance and watched us.
We seem mean but we really had had enough of being hassled. You feel remarkably vulnerable when you are just you on your bikes and miles away from home.
Some Land Rovers and other visitors walked past us. Most walked up a few hundred metres into the gorge and soon came back. We finished off and rode up the track. It was hard work with our heavily laden bikes crossing several fords, most of which I came off in. I was not concentrating.
The gorge continued to be stunning as we climbed up it with great strata of rock curving here and there, the peaks looming above us. A few kilometres up, we stopped, took some more pictures and turned back. The descent was far more enjoyable.
Back at the entrance, we stopped for a drink at a café. The waiter came up and started to talk with us about alcohol, religion and women. That was an unusual bit of service! The ride back to the main road was quick, only slowed by those shitty kids throwing stones at us and who received a couple of stinging volleys from the catapult by Dan.
We found a hotel, Hotel Salaam, in Tinerhir and got a room for 40 dirhams (£3.10) with free hot showers. We went straight out into the town and bought supplies, having to add up the bill for one shopkeeper who had muddled around for ages in a very complicated, haphazard method of addition only to appear as though he just came up with a number which came off the top of his head.
We showered and cooked up back at the hotel. Tomorrow, we are heading towards Er Rachidia which was 133 kms away so we needed an early start.
We were up, fed, washed and out by 7.35am. We felt a little guilty because we had said we would drop by and say goodbye to Hussein, but we really were not in the mood for heaps of bonhomie so early in the morning. We pushed off.
The morning air was cool nearly to the point of being cold. The sun was coming up and the sky had the odd cloud floating around. We soon reached the edge of town and were out in the dry, desert terrain. It was amazingly quiet when there was no traffic. I could hear my tyres humming on the tarmac as we glided towards Skoura.
Skoura is an oasis in the middle of all the barren but beautiful land with palm trees scattered everywhere. We pulled into a café for a coke after a couple of hours on the bikes where we met an Englishman on a year out from university doing a medical project locally. He seemed alright but was a little cocky towards us. He kept saying “Ten weeks to here is about right”. How would you know? You came here by Land Rover. You haven’t had to wait for two weeks for visas and haven’t been in hospital. Twat. We chatted to this pretender for a bit and pushed off.
Dan had been wearing his turban to keep the sun off and it had left a blue mark on his head. He looked comic. Instead, he wore his shemagh for the first time. We sped along. After that coke, I felt dizzy. It was great to be cycling again. I felt as though I had released a lot of pent up energy and tension. I also had an overwhelming sense of freedom.
To the north of us was the High Atlas. To the south of us were further mountains and around us were dry wadis, brush land, stony desert and groups of camels and goats. Huge strata of sedimentary rock appeared in the mountains, red, brown green and white in colour. It was all mixed into this amazing area. The air was cool but the sun was hot.
After lunch, I wore my shemagh for the first time too. We stopped in El Kalaa for a drink. From here, the road was through a long conurbation through to Boumaine Dades. Kids constantly cried “Bonjour, Monsiuer” or similar, which we kept ignoring. It’s either the prelude to taunting us for asking for a dirham. A few of the little shits threw stones at us but when we skidded to a halt and threw stones or pretended to throw stones back at them they all ran off. A couple of European Land Rovers went past, their occupants waving at us.
At 4pm, we arrived in Boumaine Dades and got a room at Hotel Abrar. 70 dirhams (£5.45) plus free hot water. We washed and showered before going down to pay and fill in the forms. We then ate in our room, but not before the creepy receptionist came up and asked for our passports again. This really annoyed because of the memories of our brush with the police after we left Casablanca.
I felt very uncomfortable without my passport. A little piece of me was missing. The receptionist said he had to take them to the police to see and that we could have them back in the morning. I calmed down a bit and thought back to earlier in the day when we had seen another cavalcade of cars and motorcycle police whizz past us. There was a helicopter flying above too. This was probably why they were paranoid about us .
Distance 117.5 kms Average speed 13.9 kmh Time 8 hrs 52 mins.
I woke up early dying to get to the bog. Bad guts again and shocking wind. It must have been our fry-up the night before.
It turned out to be another slack day of clothes washing, sleeping; buying supplies (the Quaker oats were great energy for cycling) such as four, tinned meat and fish) for the next few days. We were looking forward to moving on. We had decided to take it easy while Dan was still recovering.
I knocked up a couple of letters; one to Simon Ekin (a mate of mine from the Army who cycled in the opposite direction to us with his girlfriend about a year after Dan and I returned home) and one to Penny.
We ate some cauliflower cheese for supper that we made in the room. I washed it down with a beer and then I washed the vegetable and fruit we had bought for the next day. Strangely, I felt whacked after a hard day of doing nothing.
I woke up feeling pretty unenthusiastic about another day in Ouzazerte. I was up and going of the hotel when I saw Brian and Sarah packing up. Sarah had had a nose bleed and was sitting on her bed with a tissue under her nose. I helped them downstairs with their kit.
While they packed their bikes up, I went out to get breakfast. On returning, I talked with them for a while before wishing them luck and saying goodbye. I was sad to see them go. They were a very nice couple.
Back in the room, I made porridge and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Afterwards, I sat on my bed feeling pretty fed up and frustrated. I was keen to get on the road but faced another day waiting for Dan to get better. It felt as though our money was draining away.
At 10am, we went to the hospital to pick up Dan’s bill and his passport. We were feeling pretty glum. They charged us 126 dirhams for two nights in the hospital. The man billing us had put charges of three times 42 dirhams rather than two times 42 dirhams. I questioned him about this but he was adamant about not changing it. Git. This added fuel to our poor feelings about many of the Moroccans we had met and our feelings about them dropped to a new low.
We met Hussein and went to his room. We swapped addresses, looked at some of his photos of him and his fiancée and left, saying that we would drop back in before we left. Not all Moroccans are bad. Hussein was a decent bloke. He was not on the take like many of the others we had met so far.
We walked back into the town centre to buy Dan a new hat because his had been stolen at some time since he had collapsed off his bike. Not finding one, we looked into a couple of carpet shops and a hotel to see if they had any but we finally resorted to buying him a turban for 15 dirhams in one of the carpet shops.
After that, we had a lazy afternoon after lunch. Dan cooked up ‘bubble and squeak’ in the evening and we listened to several music programmes on the BBC World Service. The shows were ‘The Vintage Chart Show’, ‘Multitrack’ and ‘Tommy Vance’s Rock Salad’ which was about great rock guitarists [Twenty years later, I have just started to learn to play the guitar].It was excellent stuff and a tonic to a fairly frustrating day.
I got up at 7am and went out to get egg, milk and bread for breakfast. The local shop had Quaker Oats so I bought some too. The presence of these British foods felt like a luxury. We had porridge, scrambled eggs and cowboy coffee (made in a saucepan).
I slept after breakfast and Dan went up onto the roof. Brian came in for a while to see if Dan could mend his speedometer for his bike. I went out into town to buy lunch and walked a long way to find the fruit and vegetable market.
I returned to find Brian’s front wheel off and his rack undone with the two of them fiddling with the components of the speedometer. But, they couldn’t fix it. Sarah was still in bed recovering from their trip the day before. Brian and Sarah went out for lunch while Dan and I ate children’s tinned spaghetti, corned beef and yoghurts (I had not found the market). They had left us their room key so we could use their hot shower. I took advantage of this wonderful offer.
In the afternoon, Brian and Sarah returned with a bagful of dates (of which I was a bit suspicious of their fitness to eat!) and shared them with us. We talked for a couple of hours about Morocco and what we were going to do when we got home. Brian and Sally were very nice and easy going. We got along with them very well. Dan started to look tired and they left.
We cooked up some food we had bought that afternoon and Brian and Sarah dropped off their key again so we could use the shower. We were about to eat when Hussein knocked on the door twenty minutes early. He came in and chatted with us while we ate. We showed him pictures of our family.
Hussein and I then walked up to the Hotel Azghor for a coffee. It was another expensive hotel, quite modern with its bar half full of Moroccans drinking beer. Some of them were rolling around after what seemed like only a couple of beers. We sat outside in the cool air next to the pool overlooking the town.
We talked for over two hours about his fiancée, Penny, British colonial influence, the relations between the French and the English and travelling. It was interesting but tiring trying to think and speak in French for all that time.
I went back to our room after saying good night to Hussein and found Dan lying on his bed. Brain and Sarah had given us a Mars Bar each, plus some soap powder and their address. Despite no cycling for a couple of days, I was shattered.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family, works in a technology company in London and does as many micro-adventures as he can.
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