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Countries Information & Lifestyle
 Ecuador Ecuador

Country Information & Lifestyle

 A Land Of Wonders and Diversity

A Land Of Wonders and Diversity

Ecuador, as the name suggests, is situated on the Equator in Ecuador Western South America and and gets its name from the fact that it is crossed by the Equatorial Line. To the north is Colombia, Peru is to the south and east, and to the west is the Pacific Ocean.

Right through the centre of the country running north to south is the Andean mountain range with the country's highest peak Chimborazo reaching 6310 m. The Ecuadorian Andes are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a broad geological region characterised by its clusters of volcanoes and its propensity for earthquakes.

After a lifetime of being off the global tourism radar screen Ecuador is poised to emerge from its incognito status. Every year more and more people are discovering Ecuador's exhilarating diversity as reflected in its landscape, biology, people and culture. Add this to the near perfect climate, the low cost of living and the peaceful nature of its politics and you have a world class destination.

In addition, mainland Ecuador's natural diversity is complemented by the famed Galapagos Islands. These volcanic islands are located in the Pacific Ocean 960 km off the coast and the unique fauna found on the archipelago inspired the British naturalist Charles Darwin to discover the Theory of Evolution.

Ecuador's cultural diversity stems principally from its many colourful indigenous tribes. Unlike other New World countries, Amerindians are an integral part of Ecuador's authenticity and political landscape.

Although the smallest of the Andean countries, the Republic of Ecuador holds historical, cultural and natural wonders befitting an entire continent. Straddling not only two hemispheres, but also two worlds the ancient and the modern this tiny republic, with its remnants of past civilisations and Spanish conquests, offers the traveller a striking blend of landscapes, peoples and cultures.

From ancient markets of the indigenous peoples, Amazon tributaries, Inca ruins, Andean peaks, 16th century churches, and the wildlife-rich Galapagos Islands, Ecuador boasts an incredible diversity which belies its diminutive size. Indigenous cultures, tropical forests, active volcanoes, and a wealth of animal and bird life are all highly accessible within a matter of hours in a country no bigger than the U.S. State of Colorado.

As a result of Ecuador's small size, only 283,560 square kilometres, all these regions can be readily visited in a short time giving rise to the adage that in Ecuador "you can see the sun rise over the Amazon, have lunch in the Andes and finish the day by watching the sun set over the Pacific."

So come with us to The Land of the Volcanoes and see just what this amazing country has to offer the visitor and newcomer alike.

The Andes mountain range crosses Ecuador smack down the middle d's region of the Andes consists of over 30 volcanic cones, almost a third still active. One of these is the snow-capped Cotopaxi, the world's highest active volcano and Cayambe, the only place with snow on the equator.

Numerous national parks and protected areas of wilderness feature a wide range of micro-climates and enormous bio-diversity, making the Sierra a paradise for bird watching in particular.

The highlands provide exciting hiking and trekking and there are excellent routes for mountain biking and horse riding. One of the world's greatest train journeys is between Riobamba and Alausi passing through the famous "Devil's Nose". A trip like none other in the world!

Many inhabitants of the Sierra are Indians and there are fascinating indigenous markets and craft centres throughout the highlands. In Chimborazo province the town of Cajabamba has colonial houses and temples.

Guamote is located one hour south from Riobamba on the Pan-American Highway and has one of the most authentic and colourful markets in the country with many Indians coming in their traditional clothes from nearby mountain villages.

Quito, a UNESCO city, is situated in a circle of mountainous peaks, nestling in an Andean valley at an elevation of 9,000 feet, and is the world's second highest capital. The city is literally surrounded by volcanoes some like Mt.Pichincha, very much alive. Quito is considered to be one of the most beautiful capitals in the world.

The historic centre, known as the Old City, is the oldest and best preserved colonial sector in South America, replete with narrow and winding cobblestone streets, magnificent churches and open squares. The Spanish influence is reflected in the colonial buildings with their red-tile roofs, thick columns, balconies and central patios.

For its artwork, Quito has been termed the "Florence of America." The modern part of Quito contrasts greatly with the colonial part. Here you will find parks, shopping centres, banks and offices. There are also several handicraft markets. There are excellent restaurants, bars and hotels.

The active volcano Pichincha literally towers over the city of Quito and tours are available to visit the mountains peaks and the craters. Only 15 minutes from the capital Calderon offers visitors elaborate handmade products made of dough.

Approximately 20 minutes north of Quito is Ciudad del Mitad (The Middle of the World City) straddling the Equator. Here you can place one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere, and yes you weigh less here at the Equator!!

The Intag Valley is almost entirely unheard of by the outside world, this stunning valley offers lush beauty, clean living and getting back to nature are all part of the daily life. Tucked into the western slopes of the Andes, 40 miles north of the capital Quito, the Intag Valley possess that rare kind of climate in which nearly any plant will thrive. You will find more species of orchids that you can count.

Surrounding the scattered tracks of farmland is a dense jungle of towering palms, broad-leafed ferns and twisting vines. Papayas to passion fruit carrots to corn, it is all harvested her in this valley.

This thick cover acts as one of the few remaining intact habitats for elusive pumas, jaguars, and other smaller felines. The endangered spectacled bear also calls the Intag home along with hundreds of varieties of exotic birds.

As the condor flies, this cloud forest valley is not far from the market town of Otavalo. In fact, it's only 35 miles away by road. But for years now that one-and-only road has been a narrow, mountain-hugging dirt track accessible only from the towns of Otavalo or Cotacachi. That's all about to change. Road improvement projects have been carried out from the Amazon to the Pacific and now they've arrived at the Intage. The upgrade will make for a more pleasant ride and it will open up the way for expanded tourism.

The Mindo-Nambillo Protected Cloud Forest is located 70 km northwest from Quito and is rich in bird species like hummingbirds and the Cock of the Rock, and an abundance of plant life. The town of Mindo has a colourful and varied atmosphere.

The enchanting private Maquipucuna Reserve consists of 4,500 hectares of cloud forest surrounded by 14,000 hectares of protected forest. It was home to pre-Inca tribes known as the Yumbos, the local people are now dedicated to farming crops and raising cattle.

Extending from the north of Quito to the Colombian border is Ecuador's colourful Northern Andes region. This mountainous region is made up of green valleys blanketed with patchwork farmland and sleepy villages, surrounded by majestic peaks.

The Northern Andes is known for its indigenous markets, spectacular scenery and historic haciendas. Some of the finest inns and ranch-resorts are to be found here, along with ecological reserves cloud forests and spectacular volcanic lakes that give the Northern Andes the name of The Lake District.

Otavalo is located on the Pan-American Highway, two hours north of Quito and hour south of Ibarra. Otavalenos sell their famous textiles, like sweaters, pants, wall hangings, blankets etc every day in the Plaza de Poncho and on Saturdays, the main market day; there are more stalls with masks, statues, paintings and carvings as well.

Also early in the morning is the animal market, just outside the town where natives from around the rural regions gather to buy or sell their horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens and other animals. Saquisili and Pujili are some 2 hours south from Quito, a little bit off the Pan-American Highway. Both towns have genuine markets, not as touristy as Quito.

In the Southern Andes ancient ceremonial temples tell the story of cultures that are more than alive. Colonial Cuenca near the Inca fortress ruins of Ingapirca is considered by many to be Ecuador's most beautiful city. It is a dream walking along its cobblestone streets among the historical architecture.

The beautiful Cuencan handicrafts come in many different styles, like embroidered blouses, wool sweaters, detailed jewellery bathed in gold and silver and ikati textiles. Cuenca has a strong tradition in ceramics. A leading industry in Cuenca and its surrounding areas is the making of Panama hats, originally from Montecristi.

Loja has many interesting sites like the entrance gates to the city, churches and in the historical centre colonial architecture. Loja recently received an award for being the most organised, cleanest and most ecological city in all of Ecuador. The colourful facades of the houses are part of the attraction.

Vilcabamba means Sacred Valley and is internationally known for the long lives of its inhabitants that live more than 100 years, it receives thousands of tourists and pilgrims every year attracted by the natural beauty of this town trapped in time.

On August 15th of every year, the faithful gather en masse in El Cisne, a small town in Ecuador's Southern Andes where they begin a 74 kilometre religious procession that will end in the city Loja. The centrepiece of the peregrination is a locally famous religious relic, the Virgin de El Cisne. For most of the year, the six-foot tall wooden statue resides inside the basilica of her namesake.

The Avenue of the Volcanoes makes the Central Andes one of the most beautiful and impressive of Ecuador's regions. Travelling through by train on the original railroads from 1900 you can appreciate the beauty of the mountains and the warm people of the Andean highlands will welcome you with their ever ready smile.

Latacunga presents Spanish colonial architecture and has cobblestone streets and small houses with red tiles. The area is famous for the Mama Negra festival with the primary figure in the traditional parade being Mama Negra accompanied by bands, fireworks and flowers.

Cotacachi, in the Imbabura province, has become a favourite destination for retirees and expats alike. Nestled in the Andes mountains with picturesque volcanoes always in the distance, this quaint town of around 8,000 people is the perfect place to relax and settle in to a slow-paced life.

With perfect weather, beautiful scenery, low cost of living, and the small-town colonial charm, it's no wonder that almost everybody that comes to Cotacachi falls in love with it. The nature is astounding, and one popular destination is the crater lake of Cuicocha only 15 minutes away.

Cotacachi itself is known for it's leather artisan goods, and Otavalo being only 30 minutes away boasts the largest and most famous artisan market in all of South America. Cotacachi is just 2 hours away from Quito for all of your international flight connections. This gives Cotacachi the unique appeal of a quaint remote town that is still well connected for all of your needs.

Ambato is known as The City of Flowers due to the large amount of production of flowers and fruits in the fertile land surrounding it. Banos is famous for its hot baths, waterfalls and endless activities within a small territory. Lots of adventure sports like rafting, bungee jumping and the proximity to the Priente, through the Route of the Waterfalls to Puvo, is one of the most exciting adventures for your stay in this town.

The Amazon tropical jungle, the world's largest remaining rain forest, stretches from eastern Ecuador to the Atlantic Ocean and covers an area almost as large as the continental USA. Fully one-third of Ecuador consists of Amazon rain forest and is one of the most accessible and traveller-friendly areas of the upper Amazon basin.

Ecuador's eastern jungle is often referred to as the Orient by locals. The area is characterised by the endless sea of green and tropical wet climate. Wildlife such as monkeys, parrots, river dolphins and caimans are all relatively easy to view and the Ecuadorian Amazon offers activities ranging from canoe journeys to visits to local jungle communities. The Amazon has some of the finest white water rafting routes in the country.

There are small communities of Indians such as the Huaorani, Cofan, Shuar and Siona-Secoya who live in jungle villages and carry on with many of their ancient traditions. An unforgettable adventure is walking through these tropical forests, sleeping in rustic cabins and sharing a day with the native peoples of this mysterious region.

An important city of the northern Amazon zone is Francisco de Orellana located at the confluence of the Napo and Coca rivers. Historically, this small city carries the name of the discoverer of the Amazon River. The indigenous people native to the surrounding areas, the Tagaieris or Sachas, know it as Coca because historically they went to this site to carry out their curative rituals with chewed up coca leaves.

In the southern Amazon zone Zamora is surrounded by a variety of flora and fauna, including tapirs, capybaras, agoutis, pumas and birds. It is known as the capital of the mining country and is home to the gold mines of Nambija, China Pinza and Guayzimi.

Babahoyo is the capital of the province of Los Rios and visitors are amazed to see floating houses on the river Babahoyo. Vinces is known as Little Paris and is characterised by ancient buildings, constructed in wood, that belonged to the rich cacao plantation owners of yesteryear.

Zaruma is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador and has colonial architecture with rich decorative elements and a wonderful mixture of traditional materials and techniques. One of the most coveted products is coffee that is produced here in a constant spring climate that hovers around 17 degrees Celsius.

But what has made this place famous are the multiple gold mines. Some 7 km from Zaruma is Portovelo, known for having the oldest gold mines in the country.

In El Oro is the island of Jambeli. It is a small group of islands surrounded by mangroves from which extend Pacific beaches, clean and rich in vegetation. Access is from Puerto Bolivar by motorboat.

In the eastern part of the mouth of the Guayas river is the Manglares-Churute Ecological Reserve located 46 km from Guayaquil. This is an area of protected mangroves where several bird species and aquatic species live, along with howler monkeys, brown pelicans and sloth.

The Pacific Coast or Littoral possesses the most fertile land in Ecuador. Characterised by coffee and tropical fruit plantations, secluded beaches and excellent seafood dishes, the coastal lowlands provide some of the finest white water rafting routes in the country.

Ecuador's coastline is famous for its pristine tropical beaches, unique wildlife and quaint fishing villages. West of the Andes lie the coastal lowlands, home to Guayaquil, the largest and economically most important city in the country and said to have the country's greatest nightlife.

The region contains Ecuador's only coastal national park, Machalilla, with its ecologically rare tropical dry forest and the Isla de la Plata, known as the Poor Man's Galapagos for the animal species present on the island. A favoured habitat for whale species including the Humpback, Sperm, Pilot and the False Killer, and in the summer months the towns along the coastline become takeoff points for whale watching.

To the north in the province of Esmeraldas, a lush tropical region where the Afro Ecuadorian influences is strong. Esmeraldas is awash in dance-able rhythms which are banged out on marimbas and drums. Esmeraldas is also known for its beach resorts and towns which are popular vacation getaways for the people of Ecuador's Sierra.

South of Esmeraldas the province of Manabi contains wide spectacular beaches and is known for its dry tropical forests (unique in the world), national parks and important thousands of years old archaeological sites.

The unique Galapagos Islands, in all their dramatic and desolate volcanic beauty, lie 600 miles west of Ecuador's Pacific coast. The Galapagos Islands consists of 13 large islands and 6 smaller ones plus 42 islets. The Galapagos Islands is an experience that enthrals all visitors as the blue footed boobies, iguanas and turtles of Galapagos seemingly have no fear!

One can only wonder what Charles Darwin was thinking as he walked about these peculiar islands, enchanted 170 years ago.

The Galapagos Islands are not considered to be part of the Ring of Fire. Rather, these islands are the top of gigantic underwater volcanoes that form over a "hot spot' where two tectonic plates are separating. These volcanoes are much younger than the Andes.

The islands are recognised for their unique endemic species which include reptiles, birds and marine mammals. The giant tortoises of Galapagos are unique on earth. The Galapagos Sea Lion looks like the California Sea Lion and is endemic to the islands.

Ecuador cuisine is diverse, varying with altitude and agricultural conditions. In the Highland Region pork, chicken, beef and guinea pig are popular, served with rice, corn or potatoes. On the Coastal region seafood is very popular, shrimp and lobster are key parts of the diet. Ceviche is made from shrimp, lemon and in some places they add tomato sauce.

Plantain and peanut based dishes are the basis of most coastal meals. Churrasco is a staple food of the region also, especially in Guayaquil, along with the traditional arroz con Menestra y carne asada, rice with beans and grilled beef.

In the rain forest (Amazon Region), a dietary staple is the yuca, elsewhere called cassava. Many fruits are available in this region, including bananas, tree grapes, and peach palms. They are a lead producer of bananas, cacao beans (to make chocolate), shrimp, tilapia, mango, passion fruit, among other products.

In the province of Esmeraldas the costa cuisine is exquisite and includes such dishes as encocado de pescado (fresh fish served with coconut) and delicious fresh crab.

After having travelled Ecuador and experienced the hospitality of the people, the beauty of the scenery, walked the historic cobblestone streets and enjoyed some of the delicious food, perhaps you have now decided that this is where you would like to live. For sure you will not be disappointed, as nowhere is there such a small country with so much to offer.

Purchasing a Property

The real estate buying process allows for the straightforward transfer of real property. From start to finish the entire process can be done in about 15 days or less.

The process is as safe as in any country in Latin America, with many built-in protections for both buyer and seller. However, you should be aware that there are no disclosure rules for the seller regarding property condition.

Your appointed attorney will verify clear title by reviewing the following documents.

Certificado De Registro De Propiedad Actualizado Confirms that the property is correctly registered with the local government.

Certificado Del Historial De La Propiedad (Certificate of the ownership history of the property) Complete transaction history of the property. This document is rarely used except in a case where the buyer's attorney or the buyer has reason to believe there may be a problem.

Both the notary and the register of deeds are highly paid attorneys who have the responsibility to determine that the person selling the property has the legal right to sell the property.

Escritura De Propieded Del Inmueble Property deed

Pago de Impuesto Predial - Receipt of the seller's recent property tax payment.

Certificado De Gravamenes A document from the Registro de Propiedades. Lists any liens, debts, claims, or restrictions on the property. This document is required by the notary before finalising the contract. A lien or debt must be notarised and registered to have any legal validity.

Permiso De Propiedad Horizontal (Horizontal property permission) This document only applies to the purchase of new condos or multi-family projects, and represents municipal approval of the project. For pre-construction projects it is common to enter sales contracts after approval of the anti-projecto, but before final government approval. Your attorney can perform due diligence regarding the status of this approval. Pre-construction condo sales offer great value.

Proyecto De Lotizacion Aprobado (Approval of the lot plan) This document applies to the purchase of lots in new housing developments and represents municipal approval to subdivide land. If the project has more than 11 lots, then it must have a horizontal plan.

The horizontal plan outlines the formation of the home owners association and deed restrictions, among other things. It's common to enter sales contracts before final approval. Your attorney can perform due diligence regarding the status of this approval.

Negotiated Agreement
The Ecuador real estate buying process is flexible and may allow a buyer significant time to complete payment. Your negotiated deal should be incorporated into one of the following documents:

Convenio de Reservacion This is a private contract between the Buyer & Seller and must be signed by an Ecuadorian Notary. This contract is often used to reduce costs associated with the Promesa de Compra-Venta. (Promise to buy/sell).

Promesa de Compra-Venta This contract differs from the Convenio de Reservacion in that it can be registered at the Regristo de Propiedades (local property registry). This document can add as much $500 to $750 to the closing costs when registered.

To reduce costs this document is often used as a private contract and not registered. However, if there is a problem between the buyer and seller, then the document must immediately be registered at the property registers office. A promesa is typically used when entering into a contract for construction of a house.

To conclude the transaction the buyer's attorney will prepare a document called the Minuta. This document will be used by the Notary to prepare the Escritura De Propiedad Del Inmueble (deed).

The selling price listed on the Minuta will be the property's assessed tax value and not the purchase price. For this reason make sure to have a Convenio de Reservacion, Promesa de Compra-Venta, or private contract to clearly set forth details of the transaction even if you are going to buy the property with only one payment.

With information from the Minuta the Notary will prepare an Aviso de Alcabala. This document instructs the local government (EL Municipo) how much tax to charge. It is generally 1% of the assessed tax value of the property.

Alcabalas / Plusvalia:

Alcabalas is a transaction tax paid by the buyer and Plusvalia is the capital gains tax paid by the seller. Plusvalia taxes are paid to the Municipio based upon 10% of the increase of the property's assessed value between the time of purchase and the time of sale.

Escritura De Propiedad Del Inmueble (deed):

Your attorney will arrange tax payments and the notary will use information from the Minuta to generate the Escritura De Propiedad Del Inmueble. This is your property deed. Before signing this document the Buyer will transfer any final payments to the Seller.

Property Registration:

Your attorney will register the Escritura De Propiedad Del Inmueble at the local Registro de Propiedades (property registry). This step is required to officially transfer title of the Ecuador real estate from the seller to the buyer, and is entirely the Buyer's responsibility.

If you cannot be in Ecuador to close the transaction you can provide a power of attorney to your lawyer or agent or you can simply assign one of them as a proxy to sign for you without a power of attorney. The signer has no possibility of gain from signing the document for you, and the seller will not sign unless he has received his money.

If you hold assets in Ecuador it is a good idea to have an Ecuadorian attorney create a will in Spanish & English. Ecuadorian law states that if a spouse dies, his or her share of the property is automatically divided up among the children, and cannot be sold by the surviving spouse without the children's' signatures.

You can make arrangements for your attorney in Ecuador to process your will on behalf of your heirs. Both spouses must sign a sales contract, or both provide powers of attorney to sell a property. One spouse may sign for a property purchase.

If you are planning to purchase property valued over $500,000 USD, you may consider holding this property as a company. The government of Ecuador may implement hefty estate tax penalties for "high value property" so it would be a good idea to avoid this issue altogether.

Fees & Taxes

The following are estimated closing costs for property that has a tax valuation of $50,000: Typically the assessed tax valuation of an urban property with a house or building is approximately 1/2 of the purchase price, or lower. If it is a rural piece of land, the tax valuation can be as little as 10% of the sales price.

These costs may vary depending on the location of your property and the complexity of the transaction. To avoid surprises ask your lawyer which costs are included in their fee. Income Tax: Charged at progressive rates from 5% (on annual incomes of $6,800 and higher) to 25% (on incomes of $54,400 and up).

Sales Tax: Standard VAT is 12% on most goods and services. Real estate transfer is exempt.

Transfer Tax: 1% of the assessed commercial or municipal value of the property.

Capital Gains: Gains on the sale of property are subject to CGT (25% maximum) on the net gain in municipal value. If you sold a $170,000 house (municipal value of $4,250), for $270,000 (municipal value of $6,250), you pay tax on only the difference in the municipal value ($2,000).

Rental Income Tax: Subject to regular income tax rates from 0% to 25%.

Property Tax: Amount depends on the province and cantonin in which the property is located. A $170,000 property currently pays $110 in annual property tax. A $34,000 rural property pays $7.50 per annum.

Exportation taxes of teak wood: Zero, it is tax free.

July 31, 2010: A new rule establishing a tax rural land has a new decree of President of the Ecuador Republic, which left from payment taxes exempt to forestry activities.

According to the Ecuadorian Internal Revenue Service (SRI), the owners of more than 25 hectares of land should pay USD $ 8.9 for each hectare or fraction of a hectare excess. Those with more than one farm must add hectares of all its properties and the result is subtracts the 25 hectares exempt.

This value will begin to be collected from 30 November day that the deadline for owners land register as resident property.

According to the president, the exemption is intended encourage forest plantation in the country, with goal of developing this sector. And also find that private investment is directed towards an activity that contributes to the oxygenation of planet.

Costs for notaries, register of deeds, and attorneys vary widely from canton to canton or city to city. Typically big city attorneys charge more than small town attorneys. The above costs are approximations.

Ecuador real estate is often sold directly by property owners. If you use a buyer's agent the industry standard fee is 5 - 6% of the purchase price.

The Seller's only cost is a capital gains tax (Plusvalia) payable to the local government (El Municipio).

Capital gains are calculated based on the change in assessed value during the period of ownership. Local governments never know the actual transaction value because only the assessed value is included on the property deed.

Annual property taxes on Ecuador real estate are called Predio Urbano for property within city limits or Predio Rustico for property located outside of city limits. City property taxes vary but average about 0.1% of the property's assessed value, per year. Rural taxes can be much lower.


All nationalities entering Ecuador require a valid passport and must produce evidence of return or onward journey. Visas are not needed for a stay of 90 days or less. Longer stays require a visa obtained in advance.

An exit tax must be paid at the airport when departing Ecuador.

Having to re-apply and constantly extend tourist visas can be a hassle. If you are planning on staying in Ecuador for more than 3 months a year, a residency visa is your choice.

There are many different ways to get your residency in Ecuador. The easiest two ways to get a resident visa in Ecuador are by investing in real estate or by proving you have a steady pension.

Pensioner's visa. Prove a permanent monthly income of $800 (plus $100 for each dependent).

Investment visa. Buy a CD worth $25,000 (plus $500 for each dependent) from a lending institution approved by the Ecuadorian government.

Real estate visa. Buy a home with a tax value of at least $25,000 (plus $500 for each dependent).

To live in Ecuador full-time, expats must obtain a residence visa, so getting your paperwork in order before arriving in Ecuador is a must. For all visas you'll need a police report and, when applicable, a marriage license or common law certificate.

All required documents must be apostatised, this is a certification, issued by the Secretary of State (in the U.S.) where your document originates, proving its authenticity with a public official's signature and seal. They must also be translated into Spanish, but wait until you arrive in Ecuador to get this done to avoid the additional hassle of having to get those apostatised as well.

The visa application costs only $30, and the fee for each individual is $320. There will of course be additional fees should you choose to use an attorney highly recommended since the rules and regulations change often.

If you are 65 or older you are eligible for phenomenal extra benefits free medical care and medications, half-price bus transportation anywhere in the country, half-price tickets to movies plus sporting and cultural events, discounted airfare, a free landline telephone, and refund of your 12% IVA (VAT) tax.

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