Five Reasons to Visit Findhorn, Scotland, the UK’s Largest Eco-Village

Findhorn is an eco-community located in the North of Scotland, next to the small village of Forres and just off the Findhorn Bay of Moray. After visiting this Winter I was amazed at the possibility of living a carbon neutral lifestyle on such a large scale. It is the largest single intentional community in the UK, an eco-village since 1985, and has an ecological footprint that is half the UK national average. The origin of the eco-village itself is a fascinating story, and although I won’t go into great detail, let me just say that it all started with a lady, a caravan and a field.

Here are five reasons that I think you should travel through the gorgeous Scottish countryside to take look for yourself:

1. The Community and the People

As we arrived to the community I felt that I’d stepped back in time – absolutely everyone that we met stopped us and said hello, asked where we were from, and thanked us for visiting – we hadn’t even reached our straw-bale house yet. Naturally, the people that you meet in an eco-village tend to be like-minded but the friendliness of these people was on a whole new level.

2. The Food

Within the community itself, everyone eats and prepares the food together. The food is wholesome, organic where possible, and absolutely delicious. Most of the vegetables are grown bio-dynamically on the 25 acre farm land which supplies 140 households within the village. Organic cheese, eggs and meat are produced by another local farm.

3. The Buildings

This is the main reason that I decided to visit the eco-village. After building a straw bale house next to my family home with the help of 20 or so volunteers camped in my back garden – I decided to check out the eco-homes on offer here. In fact, there’s quite a few to choose from! Findhorn currently has 61 ecological buildings, ranging from recycled car tires, straw, and natural non-toxic materials. The Findhorn Foundation has recently published ‘Simply Build Green‘, the UK’s first technical guide to ecological housing – the book has been positively received on an international level.

4. The Toilets

At last! An eco-toilet that looks like a normal toilet! After experiencing my fair share of outside sawdust loos, I was so excited by the toilets on offer at Findhorn. Here, the toilets flush like normal toilets but the sewage is actually dealt with by ‘the Living Machine ®’. To summarise, diverse communities of bacteria, algae, micro-organisms, plants and trees, snails, and fish decompose the seawage – at the end of the tanks the result is that the water is so pure it can be discharged into the sea.

5. To Learn

Whether you attend one of the courses at the eco-village, which range from permaculture to design for sustainability incorporating Transition Towns training, or opt to stay as a guest, you will no doubt learn a lot; not only about eco-village life, the possibility of alternative living, but also about yourself.

Charlotte Nicol is the co-founder of the UK based Tour company called Most Curious Tours. Recently launched, Most Curious Tours aims at showing tourists the hidden cultural hotspots of the UK, travelling in small groups by scenic railway routes, staying in independent accommodation, and attending local concerts and theatre productions in hand-picked destinations across the UK.

Go Overseas: Global Community of Volunteer Reviewers and Passionate Travelers

Many of our readers are interested in volunteer opportunities around the world, and are active supporters of travel experiences that help give back to local communities. We’re therefore very proud to collaborate with our blog partner Go Overseas, a leading review site for international study, volunteer, internship and teaching programs. We’ve interviewed Katie Boyer, Volunteer Abroad Director for Go Overseas, to learn more about their work and get to know the volunteer travel field better.

Interview with Katie Boyer, Go Overseas

TIES: Please explain what Go Overseas does and its mission. What do you do, what do you seek to achieve, and how do you approach it?

Katie: Go Overseas started because our founders, Mitch Gordon and Andrew Dunkle, were unhappy with the existing resources, or lack of resources, that listed and reviewed international programs. People have more resources and options for buying a new TV than for spending thousands of dollars on a long-term trip abroad. Our mission is to help travelers make the most informed and educated decisions possible about study, intern, teach, and volunteer abroad programs. We give anyone who wants to go abroad an online community to find reviews, articles, inspirational stories, photo essays, and share their own experiences.

TIES: What is the best advice to offer someone who wants to give back to the country they are visiting?

Katie: It’s important to be mindful and conscious of your impacts on your host country, no matter how big or small. Sometimes we forget the little things that matter, like supporting and buying goods from locals. Preparing as much as possible before your trip will help. Know what resources will be available to you and what the needs are for volunteers. You always want to keep your host community in mind to make sure you are doing more good than harm.

TIES: What is your favorite travel/voluntourism experience?

Katie: I have a fascination with Latin American culture and have volunteered in Peru and Mexico. This past fall, I volunteered in Oaxaca, Mexico with a women’s group and a bicycling/environmental organization called Mundo Ceiba. It was one of my best experiences abroad because I got to tailor my schedule and volunteer work to my interests.

TIES: What are some of the most popular destinations for people who want to travel with a purpose?

Katie: People wanting to travel and volunteering generally migrate towards developing countries where there is the most immediate need for volunteers. African countries (like Ghana and South Africa) and Latin American countries (like Peru, Costa Rica, and Ecuador) are popular choices. I’ve seen a rise in interest in lesser-known countries like Tanzania.

TIES: What types of trends have you seen among traveler’s who use Go Overseas?

Katie: Most of our users are in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia and are college-aged or recently graduated. This seems to be an easy time for people to take time to volunteer. However, boomer volunteering and teen volunteering is becoming more popular. Our diversity of users allows us to offer a wider range of content.

TIES: Have you seen a rise or decline in people wanting to volunteer abroad since the global financial crisis?

Katie: People may be spending less money, but the desire to help people and explore cultures is constantly growing. Today, we are more drawn to having meaningful experiences than luxury vacations.

TIES: Often people forget to discuss the re-entry process after extended stays abroad, what kind of advice can you offer to those coming back from teaching/studying abroad?

Katie: Great point! I definitely agree that culture shock can go both ways. The re-entry process can be extremely difficult, especially after a long-term travel experience. You get so used to your life abroad sometimes that you forget daily routines you had back home. Routines will help you get used “real life” again. One of the biggest things I learned from culture shock was appreciation. Instead of feeling sad or overwhelmed, try to appreciate your time abroad and continue to learn from it and share your experience. Help others learn from your experience as well by writing a review on Go Overseas!

TIES: Name one of the biggest misconceptions about volunteering abroad?

Katie: Many people see volunteering abroad as an expensive form of travel that only the well-off, educated can participate in. However, it’s more common to see a range of people from economic statuses giving back to communities. There are always cheaper options – from hostels to group homes to sponsorships to off the beaten track options – saving money abroad can be done if you get creative.

Australia is one of the world’s most diverse natural places!

The earth is a remarkable, exciting place, packed full of animals and plants. It is estimated that the world has 5,400+ mammals, 10.000+ species of birds, 10,000+ reptiles (and growing), 7,300+ amphibians, 950,000+ insects and around 310,000 species of higher plants.

But did you know that most of these can be found in 12 countries? These 12 are the Mega-diverse Nations (1).

12 megadiverse nations


Australia (where you can play online pokies at brands like Fair go casino), Brazil, China, Colombia, Congo (DR Congo), Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru together hold 60-70% of the world’s species.

Many of these nations are home to a host of endemic species – that is, species that occur nowhere else. Australia is home to 210 endemic mammals (5% of the world’s total), 355 endemic birds, 616+ endemic reptiles (nearly 10% of the world’s total reptiles) and 14,458 endemic plants.

Unfortunately, many of these countries are also on the UN list of the worst forest-clearing nations (2).

Worst nations for deforestation


The worst land-clearing nations on earth are, in order (in bold are the countries that are also the mega-diverse nations):

Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Zambia, Mexico, Australia, Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Peru, Cote d’Ivoire, Malaysia, Cameroon, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Angola.

Aussies, unlike most of these countries, we are a developed wealthy economy. Why are we still cutting down forest that is home to a world-class fauna and flora diversity?



BikeHike Adventures: Reasons Why Patagonia is A Must See

Patagonia: A Must for Active Explorers

Breaking away from the common aspiration to travel in a warm and tropical destination can be difficult – but Patagonia makes it EASY. Mixing immense natural beauty, rich wildlife and satisfying activities makes Patagonia a must for active travelers.

Patagonia is located at the southern end of South America and spans over parts of Chile and Argentina. Covering roughly one third of Argentina and close to half of Chile, there is a lot of Patagonia to go around. Combine that with its low low population density and you begin to understand the vast uninhabited grandeur of this beautiful region. It is the closest landmass to Antarctica, and shares elements of its spectacular icy landscape.

The name Patagonia was coined by the great explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 to describe the large stature of the Patagonian people. At that time, the native tribesmen of Patagonia (the Tehuelche people) are believed to have been 5’11”, quite large compared to the then average Spaniard male of 5’1”. Magellan thought he had found “giants.”

Today Patagonia is still characterized by “the gigantic” in its larger than life terrain. Traveling throughout Patagonia results in boundless vantage points of ice-tipped mountains, granite cliffs, and icebergs. Turquoise tinted glaciers, river valleys, tangled pine forests, and spongy grassland plains reward all who visit.

If you’re not already convinced, here are some more reasons why Patagonia Is A Must See.

Outdoor Activities

BikeHike Adventures Patagonia Outdoor Patagonia is the perfect cold weather playground. With the wide range of terrain offered between Argentina and Chile, your multi-sport options are many. Hike throughout semi-arid plateaus, deep valleys and canyons. Ice trek across expanded ice fields and immense snow-covered mountain ranges. Take to the water in kayaks and canoes exploring the many blue-coloured icebergs. Biking is also an option from certain locations.

AnimalsBikeHike Adventures Patagonia Animals
Patagonia has noticeably diverse fauna. See rich wildlife from foxes, condors and penguins to pink flamingos, rabbits, and ashy-headed geese. Guanacos, a species of lama is indigenous to the land. Unique birds include the buff-necked ibis and rheas.

BikeHike Adventures Patagonia EcocampAlthough some outdoor enthusiasts are dedicated enough to see Patagonia independently, many opt for the assistance of a seasoned tour operator. One such offering BikeHike Adventures is proud to provide is accommodation at the Eco-camp, a one-of-a-kind lodge with cozy dome shaped shelters. Due to the way it was constructed, the environmental impact of the Eco-camp’s huts is virtually none-existent. Staying here is a restful and relaxing experience in an otherwise relatively inhospitable environment.

Family Friendly
BikeHike Adventures Patagonia Family-FriendlyPatagonia is an ideal family vacation. Since there are no snakes or other dangerous wild animals (pumas exist, but are rarely seen), it is safe for a wide array of outdoor activities. The large and unspoiled wilderness is the perfect place for kids to build an appreciation for outdoor life and learn about the natural world.

About BikeHike Adventures
BikeHike Adventures is an adventure travel company that offers guided tours to over 30 destinations worldwide. Specializing in multi-sport vacations, BikeHike unites humans in their love for outdoor activities around the world. Catering to outdoor enthusiasts with a passion to go a little deeper, BikeHike exclusively uses highly experienced local guides who facilitate the wonder and pride of exploration. BikeHike’s passion for fostering meaningful relationships abroad is reflected in its commitment to sustainability, both environmentally and socially. If exploration is your lifestyle, BikeHike Adventures is your mentor! Follow them on twitter @bikehiketravel

BikeHike Adventures’ Most Popular Trip in Patagonia
Join BikeHike for The Best of Patagonia, an extended trek through both Chile and Argentina. See all the intoxicating natural beauty Patagonia has to offer by hiking and ice trekking on this 12-day tour. Overnight accommodations include family-run hosterias, log cabins, tents and a luxurious and sustainable Eco-Camp.

Short-Term Voluntours – Can You Really Make A Difference?

Voluntourism has generated a new wave in travel, the growing feel good factor creating opportunities for the everyday traveller and not just the career minded charity worker. But the question remains, can you make a difference when you’re a short-term tourist? The debate appears to be ongoing, however, it’s not essential to be on a three-month sabbatical or longer stint if you want to give something back to the country you are visiting.

The African continent is a good place to start, adventurers in search of the Big Five also helping out on more practical projects.

Building and painting local schools in Uganda is valuable input. Of course, you might be visiting the project for just one day, but you’re still a much needed pair of hands, and non-profit projects with little in the way of budgets will welcome that kind of practical assistance with open arms.

Your first step into the world of vouluntourism – On an overlanding tour you’ll have the opportunity to visit seven or eight countries in Africa, and along the way there are usually various community and conservation based programmes on offer. Whether you decide to participate in an ethical project or simply gain some understanding from the local scheme on a guided tour, you’ll bring back some relevant insight that might help you decide on a more focused voluntour next time you visit. Remember, even on a two-week experience it’s a real commitment, and it’s important to invest your time in something you believe in, making prior hands on knowledge invaluable.

More specific voluntour itineraries will enable you to gain a deeper understanding of the project’s aims and build closer relationships with your fellow travellers and members of the local community who also help to make it happen.

Where to Head?

Zanzibar is often seen as a sun sea and sand destination, but it’s now home to an exciting educational project. Illiteracy affects over 40% of the Spice Island’s population, then again you don’t need to have a teaching qualification to get involved. The activities range from assisting with the education of with primary school classes to adult education, and you will also have the opportunity to be involved in recycling and tree planting programmes; the scheme endeavouring to engineer a more well-rounded approach to the needs of the community, whether its education or conservation.

With the Big Five being central to almost any itinerary in Africa there’s the option to combine game viewing and volunteering on many tours. Undoubtedly, the wildlife is still the main draw for anyone choosing to travel on the continent so organisations involved in the protection of endangered animals are becoming part and parcel of the whole voluntour industry. And, what better place to start than the Masai Mara, host of the annual migration. Volunteers coming on board from July to October will certainly be assured of a little more excitement, and a two-way ethical scheme, there is the opportunity to learn from the Masai tribe, ethical travellers assisting on conflict management programmes and helping to improve educational facilities in the area.

Your Checklist to Voluntouring
* If you’re not sure how to make the best of your skills, look out for one day voluntour experiences within a tour, you’ll gain much needed insight when it comes to taking a longer commitment

* There are plenty of voluntour experiences out there, but quiz the company you are booking with. If the travel advisor is able to give you a detailed description of what’s on offer, it will speak volumes about their involvement

* Check out the options in Africa, as you may well be able to combine a voluntour holiday with some additional sight seeing and game viewing

* Ask about the ratio of local and tourist involvement. In general, voluntour projects that show a strong concern for local labour are rated more highly when it comes to their values and ethics

Get a Step Ahead: Student-Professional Networking Session

Student-Professional Networking Session

Student-Professional Networking SessionAt this year’s ESTC, we are offering an interactive student-professional networking session “Get A Step Ahead” (Tuesday, September 20th, 2011, 15:30 – 17:30, Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa), which will connect industry leaders working in the fields of ecotourism and sustainable tourism with students – aspiring tourism professionals and future leaders of the industry.

This session is open to public (free), and we encourage students from the local areas to join, as well as any of the ESTC attendees who are:

  • Students and Young Professionals: University and graduate-level students engaged in various tourism and sustainability-related programs.
  • Industry Professionals: Tourism industry professionals working in the fields of ecotourism and sustainable tourism and those who would benefit from input from students regarding product development ideas and market trends.

Interview with Frances Figart

Frances FigartFrances Figart, who serves on the ESTC Advisory Committee and is a passionate advocate for education and networking in the field of sustainable tourism, is one of the industry experts who will share their insights at the “Get A Step Ahead” session. See our interview with Frances below to get a glimpse of what you will discuss and learn at the ESTC!

(Interview conducted by Ayako Ezaki, TIES Director of Communications)

TIES: What do you enjoy most about your career?
Frances: The type of writing I do to support responsible forms of tourism, much of it being marketing oriented, is enjoyable because it allows me to make a difference not only to the consumer choosing to travel responsibly, but also to the ecosystems and local peoples benefiting from their visits.

TIES: What advice would you give someone just starting in this career/business/major?
Frances: To those going into any aspect of ecotourism business, I say: Find a truly unique niche or destination to focus on so your product will appeal to special interest groups, and not be lost in the ever growing number of businesses who are marketing to would-be ecotourists. To those who aspire to freelance write for a living in support of responsible travel, as I have, I say: Spend time studying the business of ecotourism from every angle and know as much as you can about the business of tourism, the psychology of marketing and the science of ecology.

TIES: What professional skills might separate a potential employee from other interviewees?
Frances: Impeccable communication skills including foreign language, and demonstrable cross-cultural sensitivity, awareness and literacy.

TIES: What would you do differently if you were starting over in your field?
Frances: Learn more languages as early as possible; travel globally as extensively as possible; pursue specific study in sustainability and tourism. When I was in college, these subjects were not as accessible as they are in today’s curricula.

TIES: What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession since you chose it?
Frances: While it was rare to hear talk of sustainability or ecotourism in the mainstream travel industry a couple of decades ago, now this language is fairly commonplace. That is indicative of both a paradigm shift in mainstream travel moving to more green thinking and also a general adaptation of greener marketing terminology where actual sustainable practices that take into account the triple bottom line may not yet exist. Simultaneously, we have more and more focus on sustainability in learning institutions, and more young people graduating with degrees in sustainable and responsible forms of tourism. These future leaders are charged with helping to make the entire industry accountable and to ferret out and dispel the green-washing that still exists.

TIES: What trends do you foresee in your area of expertise?
Frances: I recently did some research for Sustainable Travel International and studied the Sustainable Tourism Ministers Briefing 2010/2011, which created a Sustainable Tourist Report that says the coming green economy is likely to be characterized by the following facets:

  • A dramatically aging population supported by few workers pro-rata
  • A focus on happiness rather than wealth
  • A focus on health rather than consumption
  • A focus on renewability rather than obsolescence
  • Parsimoniousness regarding waste and energy use
  • A movement of global power eastwards and southwards

The report goes on to show that, in this coming environment, tourism is bound to change to reflect these realities:

  • BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] countries become major top 10 tourism source markets
  • Domestic and regional tourism takes (even more) center stage
  • Carbon neutral (and carbon reduced) destinations become star destinations
  • Destination transportation options become more choice-critical
  • Long haul travel becomes longer duration too
  • Fewer trips per tourist, more destinations
  • Health becomes a major constituent of travel offerings

Once again, the future leaders of the sustainable travel industry need to be ready to accept the torch being passed to them and to rise to the challenges inherent in these trends, predicted by the travel futurists.

TIES: Thank you and I am looking forward to seeing you and working together in Hilton Head.
Frances: I appreciate the opportunity to serve as advisor and speaker this year, as in the past. This has been fun. See you soon!

Island Tourism and Sustainable Development: Interview with Richard Butler, Strathclyde University

Island Tourism – Sustainable Perspectives

Islands are the most vulnerable and fragile of tourism destinations and will experience even more pressure as the combined impacts of economic, social and environmental change accelerate in the future. In order to understand the process of island tourism development, response to change and challenges and their journey to sustainability, the 2011 CABI book “Island Tourism – Sustainable Perspectives” (Edited by J Carlsen, Professor of Sustainable Tourism, Curtin University of Technology, Australia, R W Butler, Professor of International Tourism, Strathclyde University, Glasgow, UK) provides insights and instruction on topics including social, cultural, environmental and economic aspects of island tourism. It contains essential information for policymakers, planners, researchers, managers and operators within the tourism industry. Learn more & order this book from CABI.

*Through TIES partnership with CABI, special discounts (20~% off) are available to TIES members on all online purchases of CABI publications. Please go to Member Center to access the discount codes, or contact for information on this and other TIES member benefits.

Interview with Professor Butler
TIES: What makes island destinations particularly vulnerable to environmental changes, as compared to other types of tourism destinations?

Prof. Butler: In one sense, they are no more vulnerable than any other area, but often because their physical environment is relatively or absolutely small, they may have little margin for absorbing significant impacts – environmental as well as social and economic (because of small populations and economies). Additionally, some isolated destinations such as the Galapagos may have developed unique ecosystems which would be highly vulnerable to insertions of exotic species, or which may have populations not used to human contact (actions, diseases etc). There is also the issue that while many tourists and others anticipate islands – particularly remote ones – to be “untouched,” any changes are perceived as problematic. As with any ecosystem that has a limited range of species present (high arctic, for example), a loss or significant change in any single element can have a drastic effect on all other elements in the ecosystem. Some islands fall into such a category, even those not in extreme latitudes.

TIES: How can visitors and local operators act to mitigate the impacts of economic, social and environmental changes on island destinations?

Prof. Butler: Some management actions are fairly obvious, such as those practiced in the Galapagos and some national parks elsewhere. For example, no food allowed with visitors, no fires or smoking, no litter left behind, restrictions on access (normally restricted to designated trails only), no physical contact with animals or plants, no collecting, no removal of items. Numbers are generally the major issue but almost no place is willing to limit capacities when it comes down to the crunch; instead, so called “capacity levels” are raised regularly in order to allow more visitors. Limits on numbers and the size of cruise boats at any one time (as Bermuda has done) is one step. Limits on accommodation development, airport capacity, and harbor capacity are somewhat easy options to make polices for.

However, the real question is whether policy will be implemented. Islands have great possibilities of limiting numbers, and controlling actions and movement if they wish to do so. Most seem to wish to do so but never do because of alternative viewpoints relating to more senior levels of government and the private sector. Bear in mind, however, that many small islands also seem to want as many tourists as they can get, so local control is not necessarily the answer. In the case of national parks, it is quite often a senior “absent” government that might institute such arrangements, sometimes in the face of local opposition to restrictions on tourist numbers.

TIES: What advice do you have for tourism stakeholders (planners, researchers, operators etc.) in island destinations for areas to focus on in regards to education and program development (ie: critical issues)?

Prof. Butler: Decide what is really important, both for local people and for outsiders. If priorities can be established, then these can be focused on, people can be informed of what is important and why (key species, key habitats, etc.) and how they may be safeguarded. People need to be informed of potential or actual threats and what results could be, as well as how threats might be neutralized. Information is key – both to local people and from them, and to and from all other stakeholders. Trust is important. Without it, evidence is likely to be disregarded in favor of traditional biases and beliefs. Some of these traditional beliefs might be true, but some of which could be terribly wrong and inappropriate.

For example, overfishing or overuse of resources which might have been acceptable in the context of a much reduced population with less frequent use technology half a century ago, but which are not longer suitable although there may be longstanding support for such actions. Care needs to be taken in putting forward new approaches so that they can gain local support. This requires a clear understanding of what is being proposed, why it is being proposed, and how it will work. All of this is education after a fashion.

Above all, stakeholders must sort out the really key issues, problems, and processes and concentrate on these without getting sidetracked by almost irrelevant but highly publicized media issues. For example, it is easy to get worked up about a hotel keeping its lights on on a beach at night where turtles are hatching and might get confused, although a more serious issue might be a harbor extension for local fishermen which could result in changed erosion patterns and total disappearance of the beach at issue.

TIES: Please share case studies and examples that you find particularly interesting and are reflective of the changes occurring in island tourism today.

Prof. Butler: Probably cruise tourism, as this is bringing large numbers of tourists to islands that had not previously experience such numbers ever before. In some cases this seems an easy option; few infrastructure facilities need to be provided, and boats can anchor off shore and transport visitors to the location. Pressures can be very high for very short periods of time with limited returns in terms of employment, expenditure, and lasting benefits, and every port of call is vulnerable because they have little or no role in decision making about whether the cruise ship should return another year or another voyage. This is not to say that cruise tourism is a bad thing, but I think it is symptomatic of a number of issues including vulnerability, lack of control, concentration of pressure and impacts, intensity of effects, minimal per capita expenditure, and a false impression of visitor numbers being maintained.

Although not specifically a tourist issue, increasing numbers of islands are becoming the focus of development (oil and gas, defense etc.). This has implications for tourism by increasing the visibility of islands through reference in the media, and by provision of infrastructure. For example, the Falkland Islands are much easier to visit now, following the post 1980 increased defense presence there. Similarly, the Shetland Islands have benefited enormously from oil infrastructure developments in terms of access and communication improvements, which have had a positive impact on tourism development.

Interview conducted by Lindsay Milich, July 2011

Prof Richard ButlerProfessor Richard Butler was educated at Nottingham University and the University of Glasgow (PhD Geography 1973), and spent thirty years at the University of Western Ontario in Canada as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Geography, and then the University of Surrey, where he was Professor of Tourism from 1997 to 2005. He is currently Emeritus Professor of International Tourism in the Strathclyde Business School, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. He has published a large number of journal articles, fourteen books on tourism and many chapters in other books. His fields of interest are the development process of tourist destinations the impacts of tourism, carrying capacity and sustainability, and tourism in remote areas and islands.

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