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San Miguel de Allende best small city in the world 2018

Mexico

San Miguel de Allende in Mexico is acclaimed as the ‘Best Small City in the World for 2018’ at the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards. San Miguel is the only Latin American city in the top-ten cities alongside places like Salzburg, Florence and Edinburgh. The city boasts colourful streets, quality handicraft markets, colonial churches and vibrant nightlife. It’s a great place to explore street food. There is also a lush tropical park, Parque Juarez, right in the centre of the city. Further out is El Charco cactus park on the edge of town. My favourite activity was people watching in El Jardin, the main square.

San Miguel de Allende was also named the ‘American Culture Capital for 2019’. From January 2019, San Miguel will promote its cultural, artistic and foody offerings along with its rich history. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 for its architecture, but also for its role in Mexican Independence. The city has a cosmopolitan vibe due to the large number of foreign residents. It is a popular place for folks to retire due to the pleasant climate and low cost of living.

Select Latin America can design a self-drive or chauffeur-driven Colonial Cities itinerary. Start in Mexico City – including San Miguel de Allende and other colonial jewels.

Related: Interesting Facts about Mexico

6 THINGS TO DO IN URUGUAY

ENJOY MONTEVIDEO THE STRESS-FREE CITY

The nation’s capital is big enough to have plenty to see, but small enough to get around easily. Much of the city is along the seafront, where locals jog and families play ball games. The city is ranked as having the highest quality of life in Latin America and considering many offices don’t start until 10am it has a very relaxed ambience. I visited earlier this year and found the people friendly and happy. The Spanish historic centre is like walking back in time, and for those who like meat stop at the Mercado del Puerto for an asado, a mixed charcoal grill. For shopping an old prison at Punta Carretas is now a fashionable mall. Tango is also as popular here as in Buenos Aires. If you want some real peace and quiet go to La Baguela, a country hotel just 30 minutes away with its own deserted beach.

RIDE THE DUNES OF ROCHA

The department of Rocha in the East has some of the finest beaches and lagoons in the country. The sand dunes are sparsely inhabited, and you can even stay in a yurt or beach cabin at La Pedrera. This quiet area is great for bird-watching, horse-riding or as I chose, biking. There are amazing walks over the dunes to the old hippie colony of Cabo Polonia. Take plenty of water with you on any of these trips, as there are no refreshments on sale anywhere. You may stumble upon tiny fisherman’s villages, but the only living thing I came across was a donkey.

PLAY JAMES BOND AT JOSÉ IGNACIO

José Ignacio is a coastal point that attracts the wealthy jet-set. You can find ultra-modern architects dream hotels like the three glamourous Vik properties (Estancia, Bahia and Playa) each decorated with unique works of art or the Fasano hotel in nearby Punta del Este. The Awa boutique hotel also is in Punta del Este. The lagoon at Jose Ignacio is a fave spot for kite-boarders.

TASTE THE TANNAT

Uruguay has some great wines, with a heritage going back to Italian, Spanish and French immigrants. The grape that has been adopted here is Tannat, which produces a heady, strong and full-bodied wine suited to the harsh dry environment. It is only recently been discovered by importers and well worth trying with a good steak. Some of the bodegas or wineries are open to visitors and do tastings, (make sure that you are not the designated driver). A few of the estancias take in guests, I particularly liked Narbona, which was further to the west near Carmelo. We also stopped at the charming Aguaverde Wine Lodge near Punta del Este for lunch. The welcoming lodge has rooms and cottages for guests, a stunning infinity pool and a vineyard beyond the gardens.

WALK AROUND COLONIA DEL SACRAMENTO

Take a day trip to Colonia, a charming town steeped in Spanish and Portuguese historical monuments. Popular with trippers from Argentina too, as a 45-minute ferry connects with Buenos Aires. The town is dominated by the lighthouse and fortified walls, but there are many interesting museums, churches and art galleries. One of the main attractions for me are the old classic cars that can be seen dotted around the centre, some of which are no longer driven but make unique bar-rooms for a romantic drink. There are some nice boutique hotels such as El Charco, if you have time enough to linger a day or two.

WHALE WATCHING

Southern Right Whales head along the coastlines of South America. They mate and raise their calves before migrating towards Antarctica, where their main feeding grounds are. Uruguay has some prime spots for whale watching. The season stretches from June to December, depending on the weather. The best time to observe these graceful giants and their offspring is between August and October. The Atlantic coast has good vantage points at Rocha and Punta del Este. Boat tours should be approved by the Organization for the Conservation of Whales (OCC-Uruguay) to make sure that the whales are not disturbed. It is even possible to observe them from the beach, with a binoculars. Watch out for water sprays, churning water and flocks of sea gulls – these are sure indicators that whales are near. Chances are even better in the early morning or late afternoon. For more details about visiting Uruguay do contact us.
All pictures except whale are copyright David Horwell.

RELATED: 6 Things to do in Uruguay

9 REASONS TO VISIT QUITO

Quito is not just a stop en-route to the Galapagos Islands but one of the leading cities of South America,. Voted one of the Best Destinations to Discover, according to National Geographic Traveler magazine. Here are 9 reasons:

Quito is at the middle of the world

Quito is the capital city closest to the sun in both altitude and latitude. At a lofty 2,850 meters above sea level and is also near a place where you can straddle both Northern and Southern Hemispheres. A visitor site has sprung up at the “Centre of the World” where the equatorial line is drawn at Latitude 0 ° 0’0 ”. Despite the altitude Quito enjoys a spring-like climate, all year round.

An Unsurpassed Historical Centre

Quito was declared the first World Cultural Heritage site, with one of the best-preserved colonial centres in the Americas. Wander around restored gems such as La Compañía de Jesús, a baroque masterpiece; or the Plaza Grande, the main square surrounded by historical monuments; tour the religious complex of San Francisco. Ramble through La Ronda, a charming street that keeps traditional trades still alive. The historical centre is not just a museum, it is dynamic living place where inhabitants, religious devotees, public officials and merchants get on with their lives.

Quito’s Cuisine

Quito’s cuisine is one of the best kept secrets. Try traditional mestizo dishes that mix the pre-Columbian and colonial. A fusion of Andean and Iberian culture. Try locro: potato & avocado soup, fritada: fried pork, empanadas: tasty pasties, home-made chilli sauces, paila fruit ice cream, the list goes on. Other dishes are influenced from the Pacific with fish and prawns and coconut. Taste the gourmet chocolates made with finest cacao and the high-altitude coffee. Enjoy fresh fruits throughout the year: such as the tree tomato, naranjilla, cherimoya, granadilla and taxo, babaco and much more.

Handicrafts and art

Quito was an important cultural and artistic centre during colonial times. These skills have been passed down through the ages. You can still see artisans plying their trades in their workshops: drapers, hatters, tailors, goldsmiths and jewellers. Colonial Quito fostered religious art, its well-known Quiteña School, produced some of the most important colonial artists including the sculptors Bernardo de Legarda and Manuel Chili and the painter Miguel de Santiago; discover their works in the many museums and churches.

A Bit of Culture

Quito has many places with permanent and temporary exhibitions, theatre, music or film. Highlights are The Museum of the City, the Museum of El Alabado (with pre-Columbian treasures), a Wax Museum, the Sucre Theatre, the Centre of Contemporary Art and Music to name a few. For archaeology buffs, take a trip to the site museums in Tulipe, Rumipamba or La Florida. Children also have their spaces in the Yaku Park Museum, the Interactive Science Museum and the Train Museum.

Nightlife

Ask our local guide to recommend one of the many restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs in the sectors of La Mariscal, La Floresta, Guápulo and La Carolina. There you will find music, local and international cuisine and, above all meet the locals having fun.

Take a Train

From the district of Chimbacalle, in Quito, you can embark on a journey in “the most difficult railroad in the world”. An ambitious work of engineering linking the coast with the Andes, built the beginning of twentieth century. Now it has become a heritage tourist train, including the famous Devil’s Nose zig-zag through the Andes. Today you can take upscale pullman on a four-day journey or take the local one-day train. The slow pace better to appreciate the Andean scenery.

Shopping

Quito is ideal for retail therapy, you will find a variety of choice for all tastes and budgets. From modern shopping centres such as Quicentro Shopping or Mall El Jardín, or stores of Ecuadorian contemporary design in La Floresta district or La Mariscal; likewise in the Historical Centre you can look at handicraft shops such as El Quinde, with Andean alpaca clothing, gold, silver, filigree jewellery, leather goods and weavings. Unique products are vegetable ivory (tagua) from the Amazon and the famous straw hats (misnamed Panama Hats). In Quito you will find paintings, sculptures in street markets and in La Mariscal there are galleries and antique shops.

The Paramo and the Cloud Forest

Just an hour or two away from Quito, you can enjoy two different environments. Firstly, the haciendas located in the Andean moorland. Enjoy thermal waters, horseback riding, hiking, mountaineering, flower plantations and more. Alternatively head to the Northwest, you can discover the subtropical cloud forest, a paradise for bird watching, with more than 500 species. One of the best places to see dozens of species of hummingbirds and butterflies. Two completely opposite worlds, one warm and one cold.
To visit Quito as part of a tailor-made tour please see our journey ideas at Select Latin America.

RELATED: Top 10 places to visit in Ecuador

 

CITY OF THE MONTH MONTEVIDEO: AN ANTIQUE SHOPPER’s DREAM

Browsing flea markets of Montevideo

Montevideo is a great city to wander. Much of the centre takes you back to a bygone era when people took the time to slow down. The neoclassical and Art Nouveau architecture recalls those times. The leafy plazas, and riverside walkways, invite you to ramble. The streets are dotted with cafes, bookstores, and a large collection of antique stores. Auction houses like Bavastro or Castells are packed with fine vintage treasures. Montevideo also features a popular flea market on Tristán Narvaja Street, where every Sunday morning visitors may find first-edition books, 1900s Leicas and other hidden gems. The markets are also great places to eat scrumptious grilled meats and other local delicacies. If you would like to discover Montevideo and its secrets, please contact us for Uruguay travel ideas.

RELATED: 6 Things to do in Uruguay

WIN a fabulous 8-day holiday for two to Nicaragua

The Colonial city of Granada

We have teamed up with The Travel Magazine to have the chance to enjoy a holiday of a lifetime touring Nicaragua. Known for its colonial cities, volcanoes and unspoilt beaches, Nicaragua is one of the region’s best kept secrets. Enjoy beautiful lakes, active volcanoes, nature reserves, inviting beaches and friendly locals.

Your tour (see full itinerary here) starts in the capital city of Managua where you can rub shoulders with locals in the street markets, then on to the beautiful colonial city of Leon Nicaragua’s historical, cultural and religious capital. You could even go boarding at the Cerro Negro volcano if you have the stomach for this exciting ride down the volcano. Then take the ferry to the Isla de Ometepe, situated on Lake Nicaragua, with two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas. Spend the night on a nature reserve by one of the most beautiful beaches in the country.

Then on to the vibrant colonial city of Granada believed to be the second oldest in Latin America and attacked many times by pirates. You will visit the city by horse-drawn carriage. Climb the bell tower of Merced church and enjoy spectacular views over Lake Nicaragua and Mombacho Volcano. The trip is for two and includes flights, hotels some meals and activities. Select Latin America has been offering quality trips to the Central America for over three decades.

To enter the competition, click here. Winner will be chosen at random on May 16th 2017.

RELATED: Top 8 things to do in Nicaragua

The underground Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira in Colombia is simply awesome

There is something awe inspiring about this underground church – the simply carved naves lit with a neon blue light and decorated with marble sculptures, makes it look like a scene from a futuristic movie.

Although this is a popular tourist attraction and somewhat of a pilgrimage for Catholics in Colombia, it is a functioning church, receiving hundreds, if not thousands of visitors on Sundays. Interestingly though, Zipaquira has not bishop, and is therefore not recognised as a cathedral in Catholicism.

Flickr: Mario Chavez

Flickr: Mario Chavez

Nevertheless, this place of worship has been heralded as one of the finest achievements in modern Colombian architecture, with some describing it a ‘jewel of modern architecture’. Most of the architectural details and the icons located in the naves are hand carved in the halite rock, although there are a few marble sculptures which compliment them.

The region has been mined since the pre-Columbian Muisca culture in the 5th century BC. Fast forward a couple of thousand years, and miners built a simple sanctuary and cross where they could pray and ask for protection each day before work. In 1950, the construction of a large cathedral began and inaugurated in 1954. It was dedicated to Our Lady of Rosary, the patron saint of miners. Comprising of three naves, some of which were originally carved out by the Muisca people, the large complex cost over $285 million to build and could house over 8,000 worshippers.

Flickr: Ben Bowes

Flickr: Ben Bowes

Unfortunately, due to safety concerns, the cathedral was shut in 1990, and the construction of a new cathedral began in 1991, 200 feet below the original. Opened in 1995, the new cathedral is part of a larger complex which houses the Parque de la Sal (Salt Park) and a museum of mining and geology. Although the project was far from simple, it was achieved by making changes and additions to the corridors and cavernous areas created by the mining operations.

There are three main features to the new cathedral. The first is the Station of the Crosses, a series of 14 small chapels which illustrate Jesus’ last journey. The next is the dome located at the end of the entrance ramp and from which visitors descend into the chambers. Lastly, there are three naves which are interconnected via a crack which symbolizes the birth and death of Christ. The main alter has a large lit cross above it, and behind an angel sculpture can be seen blowing a trumpet.

Also on offer is the Salt Park, a 79-acre area which include the Brine Museum, the Salt Auditorium, the Sacred Axis (a square 4-metre-high cross) and depictions of the mining process.

The cathedral is located in the town of Zipaquira, around 30 miles from Bogota. It can be reached either on the Tren Turistico de la Sabana or via car. We recommend visiting the cathedral en route to Villa de Leyva. To start planning your trip to Zipaquira, get in touch today, or see our suggested tours to Colombia.

RELATED: A guide to the best street food in Colombia

The 7 best train rides in Latin America

Compared to most continents, railways in Latin America are few and far between. Most have been left to fall into disrepair or abandoned completely. There is however a resurgence in train travel, particularly in Ecuador where old lines are being repaired and services resumed. Here’s a list of the best train trips you can take in Latin America.

Andean Explorer – Peru

Operated by Belmond (originally the Orient Express), the beautiful Andean Explorer runs between Cuzco and Puno (Lake Titicaca) in Peru three times a week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. It is arguably the most luxurious train ride in South America – think three course meals and classic 1920s style Pullman carriages. The journey through spectacular scenery best seen from the picture windows in the viewing carriage, takes around ten hours.

Jose Cuevo Express – Mexico

primera

One of the newest editions to the train travel in Latin America. Owned by the tequila giant Jose Cuevo, this short journey through the UNESCO World Heritage agave fields from Guadalajara to the Tequila Pueblo Magico in Mexico. Each carriage has a bar where you can taste a variety of premium tequilas. The train departs each Saturday throughout the year.

Old Patagonian Express – Argentina

Flickr: Jorge Gobbi

Flickr: Jorge Gobbi

Known as La Trochita in Spanish, this impressive journey through the rugged scenery of Patagonia is a must. Although this is now used just by tourists, the steam train which still have locomotives from the 1920s gives you an idea of what the longer journeys would have been like all those years ago. The train departs at ten and takes around three hours to complete the round trip from Esquel to Nahuel Pan.

Train Crucero – Ecuador

The Tren Crucero is a magnificent trip beginning in the capital Quito and passing through the Andean highlands to the coastal plains of Guayaquil. In 2013 it one a number of awards including being recognized as the best train trip in the world by Lonely Planet. The full trip takes four days including daily excursions to view Ecuador’s snow-capped mountains, villages and interesting sights such as the Devil’s Nose switchback through the Andes.

Copper Canyon Railway – Mexico

Flickr: Adam Singer

Flickr: Adam Singer

This 400 mile train trip from Chihuahua to Los Mochis runs daily and takes around fifteen hours. Pass through rugged scenery as well as 20 twenty canyons in the Mexican wild west. It is recommended that you split the journey with stops and meet the Tarahumara community that inhabit this northern region of Mexico.

Hiram Bingham – Peru

Perhaps the most famous of train journeys in Latin America, this luxury service runs from just outside Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, the town a few minutes away from the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. It runs every day other than Sundays and takes around three hours leaving you plenty of time in the afternoon to explore Machu Picchu. Named after the American explorer who supposedly discovered the ruins, this vintage style train feels like a mode of transport used from that era. Take some time to enjoy a pisco sour from the bar as you slowly pass the lush Andean scenery.

Panama Canal Railway – Panama

Flickr: Roger W

Flickr: Roger W

Take this historical route from Panama City to Colón, a journey which takes around an hour. Pass through the jungle and along the edge of the famous Panama Canal. The course was finished in 1855 and acquired by the French Panama Canala Company in 1880. In the early 20th century is was purchased along with the canal and continued operating until 1979. It wasn’t until 1998 when Panama privatized the railway that it opened as a tourist attraction in 2001.

To begin planning your train trip through Latin America get in touch today.

RELATED: The 7 best train rides in Latin America

A Quick 5 Minute Guide to Brasilia

A little history…

Brasilia is the capital of Brazil. It is located inland and is somewhat unique in the country and is was fully planned and created from scratch in the 1960s. Behind the city’s design is urban planner Lucio Costa and the architect Oscar Niemeyer and the artist Athos Bulcão. It’s often overshadowed by the more touristy coastal cities of Rio de Janeiro and Recife, but those who decide to visit find a wealth of attractions, restaurants, nightlife and culture.

Fast facts

– The city was founded on the 21st April 1960
– The population is 2.5 million
– It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage city in 1987
– It played host to the world cup in 2014
– It is the fourth most populous city in Brazil
– If looked at from above, the city is shaped like a bird

Getting there

Due to the city’s relative isolation from other parts of the country, the only practical way to get there is by flight. Flights from Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Salvador take roughly two hours.

103meliabrasil21-lobby

Where to stay

Try the Melia Brasil 21, probably the finest hotel in the city. Located between the Television Tower and City Park, it’s also in the best location for exploring Brasilia. All the rooms at this 5* property are spacious and include all the features of a luxury modern hotel. The Norton Grill serves up delicious grilled meats and international cuisine and the Churchill lobby bar serves a wide range of wines and cigars. Other on-site amenities include a fitness centre, sauna and a stunning rooftop swimming pool with incredible views over the city.

Feitico Mineiro

Where to eat

The restaurant Feitiço Mineiro celebrates the cuisine of Minas Gerais. The food here is delicious. Think suckling pig with creamy spiced beans and farofa or grilled chicken accompanied by okra and corn mash. The restaurant was created by Jorge Ferreira in the late 80s. His passion for culture, music and literature shows in the restaurants décor. Although Ferreira sadly passed away in 2013, the restaurant continues the traditional of live shows and music concerts at the venue.

What to do

There are plenty of things to do in Brasilia. Tours can be organized by bike, car or by foot. One of the best ways to see the city is on an architectural masterpieces circuit tour with a local English speaking guide, photographer or artist. During the tour you can explore the avenues, gardens and buildings that make this city so fascinating. Brasilia is located next to the Chapada dos Veadeiros, an amazing landscape to explore. Try taking a scenic flight over the national park in a hot air balloon.

Bar Brasilia

Nightlife

The Bar Brasilia is a favourite amongst locals. Known for having the best draft beer in town, it’s the perfect meeting point after a day of exploration. Although (like everything in the city), the bar is relatively new, it’s traditional wooden bar and tiled floor will transport you back to a bygone era. If you’re feeling hungry try the delicious cod cakes.

To begin your adventure to Brasilia get in touch.

RELATED: Top 5 holidays in Brazil

Our Top 25 Most Unique Hotels In Latin America

From floating hotels on a Uruguayan lake to an aircraft nestled amongst trees in Costa Rica’s rainforest, we’ve searched high and low for Latin America’s most unusual and unique places to stay. Surprisingly Chile comes out on top with an impressive total of eleven.

Laguna Garzón Lodge – José Ignacio, Uruguay

Laguna Garzon

Explora Patagonia – Torres del Paine, Chile

Explora Patagonia

Ecohabs – Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Ecohabs

Montaña Magica – Huilo Huilo, Chile

Magic Mountain

Eco Camp – Torres del Paine, Chile

Ecocamp

Cristal Samaña – Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Cristal Samana

Home Hotel – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Home Hotel

Arrebol Patagonia – Puerto Varas, Chile

Arrebol

Inkaterra Canopy Treehouse – Amazon, Peru

Canopy Treehouse

Morerava Cottages – Easter Island, Chile

Morerava Cottages

Quinta Real Zacatecas – Zacatecas, Mexico

Quinta Real Zacatacas

Hotel Unique – São Paulo, Brazil

hotel_unique (5)

Awasi Patagonia – Torres del Paine, Chile

awasi_patagonia

Espejo de Luna – Chiloé, Chile

Espejo de Luna

Canopy Tower – Soberanía National Park, Panama

Canopy Tower

Pueblo Barrancas Ecolodge – Pedrera, Uruguay

Pueblo Barrancas

Hotel Costa Verde 727 Fuselage – Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

727 Fuselage

Canopy Village – Huilo Huilo, Chile

Canopy Village

Cristalino Jungle Lodge – Alta Floresta, Brazil

Cristalino Jungle Lodge

Nothofagus Hotel & Spa – Huilo Huilo, Chile

Nothofungus

Aqua Amazon – Amazon, Peru

Aqua Amazon

Entre Cielos – Mendoza, Argentina

Entre Cielos

Reino Fungi Lodge – Huilo Huilo, Chile

Reina Fungi

Hotel Endemico – Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

Hotel Endemico

Nidos de Pucón Tree Lodge – Pucón, Chile

Nidos de Pucon Tree Lodge

To start booking your unique stay in Latin America contact the experts.

RELATED: 10 off grid hotels in Latin America

10 ancient South American wonders you absolutely need to visit

1. Machu Picchu
Machu PicchuPedro Szekely/Flickr

Where: Cuzco, Peru
What: Extremely well preserved (and restored) 15th century Inca settlement located in stunning mountainous surroundings.
How: In the Footsteps of Incas

2. Tiwanaku
TiwanakuFrançois Bianco/Flickr

Where: Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
What: Capital of a pre-Inca civilization which dominated a swathe of the southern Andes between 500 AD and 900 AD
How: Tiwanaku & Beyond

3. Kuelap Fortress
KuelapMihai/Flickr

Where: Chachapoyas, Peru
What: The remains of a vast walled complex that contained over 400 buildings dating back to the 6th century and occupied until the Spanish Invasion.
How: Warriors of the Clouds

4. Chan Chan
Chan ChanCarlos Adampol Galindo/Flickr

Where: Trujillo, Peru
What: Covering an area of over twenty 20 km², Chan Chan is biggest Pre-Columbian archaeological site in Latin America.
How: Warriors of the Clouds

5. Tierradentro
Tierradentroinyucho/Flickr

Where: Cauca, Colombia
What: Underground tombs and burial chambers decorated with motifs dating back to the 6th century.
How: In Search of El Dorado

6. Chavín de Huántar
Chavininyucho/Flickr

Where: Ancash Region, Peru
What: A place of worship and one of the oldest pre-Columbian sites dating back to 1500 BC located in the high Andes.
How: Contact us

7. Ingapirca
SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAJulia Rubini/Flickr

Where: Cañar Province, Ecuador
What: One of the only and largest Inca complexes built in southern Ecuador and used as a military outpost.
How: Cotopaxi & the Devil’s Nose

8. Ciudad Perdida
Ciudad PerdidaSarah Tz/Flickr

Where: Sierra Nevada, Colombia
What: The ‘Lost City’ founded around 800 AD and rediscovered in the early 70s by a group of local treasure looters.
How: Contact us

9. Nazca Lines
Nazca LinesVéronique Debord-Lazaro/Flickr

Where: Nasca, Peru
What: Gigantic geoglyphs etched into the desert between 500 BC and 500 AD and still a mystery to archaeologists.
How: Contact us

10. Moai Statues
MaoiArian Zwegers/Flickr

Where: Easter Island, Chile
What: Human statues created by the Rapa Nui people between the 13th and 16th century some of which weigh up to 82 tons.
How: Origins of Chile

RELATED: 38 Outrageously Luxurious Hotels In Brazil

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