What is this event about?
I'm branching off from what I have been speaking about recently, to focus on one of the legendary parties in Spain which can't be ignored, although it's already been a few weeks since it took place. I'm talking about the Carnival of Cadiz.
Where is the Carnival?
In the whole city and in the whole province in general. Although, the main part of the carnival is where thousands of people from all over Andalusia get together. It's a tradition which people have been celebrating for thousands of years and it dates back to Ancient Egypt, then to Greece, to the Romans which inspired the Carnival in Venice, to finally end up in Cadiz a few centuries later. Cadiz has one of the best carnivals on the planet in terms of how popular it is. Of course, the carnival in Rio de Janeiro or even in the Canary Islands have more international fame, but Cadiz isn't just simply a place where you find so many drunks, as some people would say; but the secret is in how you feel there, especially when you watch the chirigotas perform. It's a typical performance where people dress up in character and sing a funny story.
Here's the website for the Carnival of Cadiz, if you want to look something up from other years or from this year, and find out something new: http://www.carnavaldecadiz.com/
Cadiz in itself, for those who don't know where it is, is a small island in the province of Cadiz and is situated in the most southern part of Andalusia, the furthest south you can go, and for that matter, it's the most southern part of Spain. It's proud to be the place where the Constitution of 1812 was written, the first in Spanish history, and in addition it's the cradle of art, flamenco, humour and unfortunately of unemployment. It's the province which has the highest unemployment rate, with almost 40% of people without work. Among those include cities such as Jerez, Sanlucar or Chipiona which I'm sure you've heard of, as like I have said before, Cadiz is also the name of the province.
In terms of the city, it's about a five-minute drive from San Fernando, another main city in the province in terms of its population, and provincially it would be the third biggest city in the community after Seville and Malaga respectively. (There's not much difference in it though, since despite being the smallest of the three in terms of its surface area in square kilometres, the main thing is that its demography is very wide due to its great beaches and its intense tourism of all kinds which makes up the whole region). After a twenty-five-minute drive, you'll get to the most populated city, Jerez de la Frontera, and at a fifteen-minute drive away, the closest city is Chiclana with its annexed Conil de la Frontera. Both are beautiful cities which are really worth visiting if you come down to Cadiz, as there are lots of things to see and do.
If you're still not sure where Cadiz is, what better way than to give you a link so you can see it more clearly: https://www.google.es/maps/place/C%C3%A1dizfirstname.lastname@example.org,-6.2824671,13z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0xd0dd25724ec240f:0x40463fd8ca03b00
The simplest way of how to get there
The best way without a doubt is to use public transport it you're coming from outside of the city. The best form of public transport would be the train because of its speed and comfort compared to the bus. The price would be more or less the same for both of these options, therefore it's always much better to be comfortable while you travel, and not to have a random person sat next to you who accidentally touches your arm and because you're on a bus, you can't exactly move or change seats. Also, if someone vomits on the bus, you're completely stuck, whereas on the train there's always lots of space and seats where you could possibly move to with no problem. While the number of toilets throughout the carriages (and by the way there are always a few toilets, not just one), is always satisfying and they're normally clean, and the disabled toilets are normally on the third carriage for people with reduced mobility. So, you won't have any problems being able to use one, with the electronic security buttons which closes the door and the only person who can open it is the one inside. Well, with the exception of the security guard if they think you're doing something strange such as avoiding paying for your ticket or something else, but I'll leave that to your own imagination.
Oh, and I should mention that due to the influx of people, especially at weekends between Thursday and Sunday, if you use public transport, make sure you book your tickets as soon as possible so you're not left without a seat. The worst thing that could happen is that you can't go, and you've been dreaming of one of the best carnivals in the world for ages. Don't be a slacker and buy your ticket because you might find yourself in trouble if not, and how will you get out of that?
On the other hand, regarding the bus, I'd say that even if the connections and prices as a general rule are a standard rate, it doesn't make sense compared to catching the train and therefore, I'd say this would be the last resort; of course there are clear exceptions and there are always great offers for a same-day return ticket from other cities at an amazing price. But since this isn't the place to talk about prices, just because I'll talk about that later, there are disadvantages of taking this kind of bus. As always, companies contact so many people to earn as much money as possible from the carnival, depending on which number bus is yours (the number will depend on the order of reservations with respect to everyone else who is going as well), you'll have to wait a long time to embark on your journey.
And when I say a long time, believe me, it really is a long time or no time at all. For example, that was the case for me and anyone else who had bus number 9. Well, we were going out in twos and only number 1 and 2 were there at the right time, waiting in the petrol station car park, near Neptuno in Granada. Of course, everyone there knew we would arrive later, or that maybe our bus had already left, and we had missed it, and we had already paid. But what's more upsetting than losing out on money would be to lose out on the carnival of Cadiz which we had heard so much about and really wanted to experience for ourselves.
People were rushing to get to the petrol station on time, and when you get there, you see dozens and dozens of people, hundreds of them, and see a few buses waiting for some sort of signal to leave. And while there's music playing, a rep which I still don't know what he was really doing there, and all the hype of the event, and buses etc, none of them were leaving. And of course, imagine that you had number 18 like my friends did, they had a long time to wait to leave. The key to an event like this is that all the buses had to arrive little by little, not too far apart and whether that's due to security, control or whatever you want to call it... well some of us had to wait two or more hours to leave, you can imagine how that went down.
Exactly. If the journey was normal, and with no stopping between Granada and Cadiz, it would take around three hours if you take the most direct route and drive more quickly (although it doesn't always work like that, of course). But the fact that we all had to arrive around the same time, with a few minutes difference, the ones who were in the middle had to stop, not just once as the Spanish regulations say is necessary for the driver to have a break and to go to the toilet, and for those at the back to stretch their legs; but twice so that the last bus would catch up and make sure we all did the same. And now think how long the journey took for the first set of people and in general, for everyone. Because if we were meant to arrive from 11 to 2 in the afternoon, it was easily 6p. m by the time we arrived, delayed by four hours, and that would have been seven really from when we were supposed to leave until the time we got there. That's why I recommend taking the train as first choice. You know the exact timetable, the time it will arrive and if it's going to be delayed, they always let you know by how long. And if it was delayed, you'd get your money back and everyone would be happy to arrive an hour later if it was all free, so looking on the positive side, that wouldn't be bad.
On the other hand, if you don't live in the country, it doesn't make much sense to catch the train or bus, your only option would be to fly. Ryanair would be the best option given that their prices are cheap, but I'll talk about that in the next part. The good thing about this company is that it has so many flights to so many different cities, one of them being Cadiz, or more specifically, the airport in this province is actually in Jerez de la Frontera, around twenty-five minutes from Cadiz, as I mentioned before in the earlier questions.
In the case that your city doesn't have a direct link to Jerez, I think that it only has flights to England, more specifically to London, there's no other option than plan B and the closest city to fly to is Seville. Seville is an hour and a half from Cadiz and around an hour from Jerez de la Frontera, and I know that once you're there, you'll have many options. Because even from Jerez, the best option would be to take the intercity train called "cercanías". At an affordable price, less than you think, you can get there in no time. In Seville you have the option to use "Blablacar" or "Amovens", which is a lot cheaper than the train and you'll get their directly and safely at a cheap price. You'll find a lot of drivers at a time that suits you, going from Seville to the carnival as it's an important date you're going of course.
Although it may not seem like it, there's nothing worse than parking in the capital of the province. With a surface area much smaller than other capitals, and for example Jerez, is ten times bigger than Cadiz, although it's in the same region, you can't even count on beginner's luck. If in a normal period, outside of parties and carnivals, it's already complicated enough to find parking spaces, and even worse if you don't want to pay, imagine what it's like in higher seasons, when more people go there. Adding to that, the number of people in the streets, won't exactly make the transition the smoothest in the world, theoretically speaking.
As you can probably see, it's better to leave your car parked in your city, wherever you live outside of Cadiz and come by one of the means of transport I've spoken about before. Simply because you'll get back no matter what, whenever you like, but just be aware that it'll be tricky since the train or bus will quickly fill up. So, it's worth booking it before to stop you from worrying about your return trip and losing out on precious time.
When is the best time to go to the carnival?
The truth is that everyone would tell you to come to the whole event. That Mondays are fantastic, Tuesdays are too, on Wednesdays the chirigotas are better, that on Thursdays people are hyped for the weekend, that on Fridays... no one can miss a Friday, that Saturday is always the best day, but Sundays people party harder and depending on how Saturday goes, it could become the best day. Anyway... anyone who isn't from Cadiz like me would tell you that the weekend is the best part because it's the end of the chirigotas, and that after it's not as exciting but still good. I'd say that it's better not to get too excited about the rest of the days if you go, because the people you'll see will only be people from the city, as the carnival can't really go on for a month without having to abide some rules. Therefore, the main days will always be Fridays and Saturdays, and everyone would agree that Sunday has its own charm, so that's why I would suggest Sunday too. Six hardcore days of partying and the rest will revert back to normal as time goes by and that weekend gets further away.
The carnival normally takes place in the middle of February depending on the year. You can work it out more simply. Look at when Semana Santa (Easter week) falls, take the first date of Easter and count back forty days, the time which in the past was for people to reflect, abstain from something, etc, and that's when the carnival will be. For those who don't know what day Semana Santa starts, it depends on when we have a full moon, and then it will be the first Sunday on a full moon after spring arrives. I'm sure that this year it's in March and not in April as we've been used to the last few times.
Now count back the days and voila, we have the solution to what we were talking about.
Could you describe the place to me?
The city of Cadiz, one which deserves a whole article on, not just this one about the carnival and its various parties, I must say has a wonderful personal charm that few other cities have. And it's not because of the large number of monuments it has, as I'm not really that type of person. Nor for the type of works of art is has. It's a city which counts on tourism as a survival method in the best way it can. I'm referring to summer tourism and also beach tourism and not the museums or things it has to offer.
So, now we've established that, I must equally say, the centre is full of those typical narrow streets intertwining with each other, with short buildings having just enough work done on them so that people don't notice everything is falling to pieces. It's also so that it doesn't lose that charm which those types of main buildings have in every city we like to appreciate.
The cathedral is similar to all cathedrals in Andalusia and in this part of Spain. It's big, light in colour, a browny organey colour with a dab of white to make it brighter. And on the other hand, it has the typical towers to make sure everyone knows it's a cathedral.
But forgetting about that, there are two main things in the city:
1st - The seafront: as it's an island which is connected via a bridge, it makes the seafront rather long and we have more to enjoy while we go for a walk whenever we like. You'll always feel welcome there, the weather is always great, it doesn't rain and it's not very windy and of course we see that as enough, anything else would be secondary to this and we'd get so bored. Put correctly, the beaches of Cadiz, which I'll talk a little about after, are very wide and they seem to go on for miles. Even from the seafront we can see them and taste that scent of salt, and we get a panorama of all the happy people sunbathing or playing ping pong, football or whatever.
It's well set out, with it's perfectly tarmacked pavements, and the rail which separates the beach area from the area you can go for a walk on, and of course the streets have so much to offer, especially bars and beach bars. So, we can never get bored of being immersed along this path I'm talking about. There are so many ice-cream parlours and again, if you fancy one, you can have one right away.
2nd - Beaches: I don't even have to remind you that the beaches of Cadiz, and in the whole province, are known as the best beaches in the country. Amongst these, the beach in Bolonia and Tarifa are some of the best beaches in the world, with many different opinions (as the one in Bolonia is a more natural area to take in and think about how a landscape can be so beautiful, while the one in Tarifa is more for those who like surfing and want to spend time doing sports), but you'll love them both either way.
The main thing about these beaches is that the sand is so fine, there are no stones like there are on the beaches in Malaga or in the North like in Galicia or part of the Basque Country. Here, everything shines, it's very clear and has crystal waters which surprises everyone who comes to visit the different beaches during the day, the week and the months in the year. There never seem to be any problems, it doesn't even get dirty, despite what you may have thought before, since it's always packed with people.
Because that's one thing for sure, a lot of people go to these beaches. Even with so many people there to fill up the beaches, the area it covers is big enough so that dirtiness is never a problem. You'll always find a space to put your umbrella, your towel, your fridge and everything you take to the beach with you to have an amazing time, alone or with somebody else.
Its beaches and its fantastic centre outweigh the disadvantage of being a small city. Not to mention La Caleta (a beach) which people are always speaking about or telling you that they've been there. My definition of the beaches of Cadiz is simply naming the most famous of its beaches and therefore I'm not going to repeat myself with the same old story.
What's the atmosphere like at the party, in terms of how many people are there and what they're like?
Well, the atmosphere is extra crazy, as everyone goes there and there's triple the amount of people on the main day. It's like when you go to the end of Falla (the Falla is a theatre in Cadiz). And as I've said before, the main days would be the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the weekend of the end of chirigotas and then the following weekend.
On other days like Monday or Tuesday, you notice it being a lot quieter as they're after a big party weekend, full of alcohol and things. And of course, that's when fewer people from outside of the city go, so you'll pretty much find yourself with only the people who live there.
Surprisingly for me, Sunday is one of the busiest days, and even this year when I was there, everyone said that it was better than Saturday which was when we went by bus as I explained before. Also, it has something to do with the weather, because it rained on Friday and Saturday and of course, on Sunday it was the first day free from the horrible rain. People say that the rain is a burden on the carnival (a coincidence, fate, or call it a biological process which depends on the full moon which comes forty days later, in other words). Also, they say that normally it's worse because there's a strong wind which is the most annoying, even more annoying than the rain, but at least you know you're not going to be that hot, which is always nice.
In terms of the type of people who go, clearly as anyone would imagine, it's mainly full of young people. And as you know the score of alcohol, people, the beach and the chirigotas shows, it's difficult not to imagine thousands of people in the same place with all the bottles, glasses, ice and other things they need to get even drunker than they already are, which surely isn't a lot.
Because of all the above, the average age of people at the carnival, excluding people who live there, is around 21, as the older you are, you'll have done all that before and you won't fancy doing it all again with youngsters. You'll certainly notice the age gap. Even people under 20 are there, so it really puts you off doing that sort of thing.
What does the carnival have to offer and what's the best thing to do?
In general terms, it's clear that the carnival of Cadiz is really based on drinking, drinking, drinking and more drinking with the incentive of meeting someone you like, getting with them and going home with them. Of course, all of that, covered up with the main point of having a good time, you won't really notice that your true intentions are to get drunk and why not get with someone if you can.
On more than one occasion, I've seen very wasted girls on the beach, lying on the sand, while guys get close to them to take advantage. All that without using protection as it seems logical and it's clear they don't have their consent, nor do they even realise what's going on. It's pure rape, really sad on their part, disgusting and revolting. It should be avoided for the girls too, not getting to the stage where you can't control yourself and you don't know what you're doing. Only a part of you stands out, and you get dragged along by everyone, not knowing where you're going and not having any friends by the looks of it. Sad.
In terms of the more special things to see, which is how I think of the carnival of Cadiz and not what I mentioned in the previous point, I would say these following four points are key:
1st - Chirigotas: they're harmonic and rhyming lyrics and are written with the intention of making people happy, searching for their smile and surprise. And mixed with the happiness of the people from Cadiz (called los gaditanos), and with the harmony of a simple melody or even with a special whistle which you blow, and it makes a very high-pitched sound.
The good thing about all that is that it's kind of a competition, in the main theatre called el Falla, more well-known for its direct name, and it makes everything, and everyone vibrate. From the outside you can hear some sort of chorus, whilst inside, you're experiencing it 101%. It's worth it. Or even on the television, they show the best parts of each day so we can tune in to it in our homes. No matter the time of the day, they also upload bits onto YouTube, where everyone will see it. Not only people in the city, but people from all over the world who don't want to miss these famous songs. To give you an example of a chirigota, here's a link to one from this year, 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fpULO0IIyo
It's from the group called "superpop" and you should pay attention to the lyrics throughout the whole song, because it's what really attracts people to a chirigota. Or just watch it, as the music in itself isn't essential, it's what makes us laugh or makes us criticise it.
2nd - Happiness: it doesn't matter if you go or not, because when the carnival arrives, it's enough of an excuse to be happier than normal and therefore, spread it to everyone around you. Whether it's at work, in the street, in the pharmacy and in general everywhere you go, if it's carnival time, you can really tell. Even someone who you wouldn't normally get on with, you'll see in a different light, they will also see you differently and who knows if you will have gotten over all the sourness you once had.
3rd - Having everything near you: the city isn't very big and that makes it a lot easier to visit the difference places or simply to find your friends. The places where it's all happening are in the centre, and although the bus station or whichever transport you took to come here is further away, it's no more than a twenty-minute walk to the cathedral, or to the area where they put on concerts, where it's full of people, as well as the two squares next to the cathedral and of course the Falla theatre.
It's such a delight to walk for five or ten minutes and see your long-lost friend you haven't seen for weeks or months, but you know will be there. And you finally find a time and a place to see them. If you don't know the city, it doesn't matter because the other person will know it and if not, that also doesn't matter because you'll find that wherever you go, the great parties continue and you're going to see lots of different faces.
4th - Parade: because not everything turns into drinking, listening to chirigotas and finding your friends, however all that adds up to the fact that there are numerous parades. For those who don't know what they are, they're parades with floats driven by one person and a big stage or platform on the trailer where there are enormous plastic dolls dressed up (for example, as the three Wise Men, or as a footballer from Cadiz), or you'll find trailers with people standing in them, throwing out streets and livening everybody up.
It really cheers everybody up, especially the children, even if it's just music played by the town hall band and the characters you see passing by, the truth is that it's at least worth taking a look at.
But do you think that I was going to forget the fifth point, which even though I still hadn't counted it, I couldn't leave it out? Clearly not, that's why here is the most important point:
5th - Costumes: the carnival is nothing without the costumes, because practically everyone takes advantage of the occasion to change out of the everyday clothes and dress up as whatever they like. Here, it doesn't matter what you come as, on the contrary. The more people dressed up the better because it makes it more original, forget about the typical bullfighters, bulls, penises, catwomen, batmen, and I could go on with the list of people who always have the same idea. It's better to have a little imagination and not to repeat the same costume every year. It's okay if you don't like to dress up, it's okay if you haven't thought about it, but the truth is, going to the carnival and not dressing up makes your experience so different. Because when you meet so many groups all dressed up and who knows what, with a theme that's always interesting, you never get tired of looking around and seeing costumes which make you laugh, cry or simply have no effect on you.
Hey, but... what about the price of everything?
Now it's time to talk about the prices I was previously leaving out before in order to talk about it in more detail now. I spoke about many different types of transport and it's worth numbering them and making it clear how much you would need to spend on each one:
1st - Flying: on the basis of you living outside of Spain, you're going to spend a few days here and you're thinking about coming to Cadiz as the date is perfect to go to the carnival. Well, I would say that with Ryanair, if you're from a country which works with this company, paying around 30-40 euros for a direct flight to Jerez if that's possible (only from London though), or even to Seville, means you're doing something wrong.
The key here is the time you buy your ticket. I'm not talking about booking it months in advance, neither just a few days before, because although you may think that by lowering the price they may sell more seats, it's true that for them it's more profitable to sell one seat for one hundred and fifty euros, rather than ten seats for six euros each, and surely they have seats, so you would think that you're going to pay the same no matter what and it's going to cost you an arm and leg.
However, from Italy for example, from Milan-Bergamo to Seville you could easily buy a single ticket for 15 euros and maybe the return would cost 15 too. So, get the idea that going abroad is extremely expensive out of your head because it depends on where you're flying from and of course, the date of your flights and how far in advance you book them. Another example would be from Paris to Seville. You can get a return for 20 euros, which isn't bad either. And if you go from Brussels, you can find flights for roughly 40 euros, which is also cheap. I don't think anyone could complain about that, knowing how far the plane must fly.
Refrain from those who think that going abroad by car is going to be cheaper, except if you use applications like Amovens or Blablacar of course. These applications make everything easier and cheaper, and you can even earn a bit of money if you do it well (mind you, it takes hours to plan everything and make sure that everyone shows up, and also that everyone is on time to make the journey run smoothly).
2nd - Train: imagine that you want to fly but unfortunately your city doesn't have any direct flights to the Cadiz region, and your second option was to fly to Seville. Now all you have to do is get to Cadiz, the most southern city. The train would take around an hour and a half, and would cost you around twenty euros, that's without a discount. So, it's not that cheap, but a bus ticket would cost roughly the same, but you'd have all the disadvantages I mentioned before.
If you have a young person's card (European or Spanish) it's important to take it with you because under 30s can get a 20% discount, which will make it a lot cheaper so the journey is better. I would always take the train over the bus, just because it's more comfortable and you won't have any problems with the timetable or seats. Despite the fact that I'm going to write about taking the bus as the third option, it's just to tell you about the companies I mentioned earlier which organise bus routes, but this time I'll tell you about the price.
3rd - Bus: I'm not talking about a standard bus with its timetables and all that, just like with a train, I'm talking about the organised routes with private companies and the offers they have during the time of the carnival, going from a city which isn't Cadiz of course. For example, from Granada it cost us 18 euros for a return ticket, which is a bargain in itself, not to mention everything you get with your ticket. They give you a condom (yes, that's right), a burger to eat, a milkshake, many glasses of wine or beer, a cake, a bottle of alcohol (a spirit) of your choice and then chocolates and sweets. Not to mention that if you're a big enough group, instead of just one bottle, they give you more. Beforehand, they used to give a leg of ham as a prize for the most original costume, but that wasn't done in the end, so they were being a bit dishonest. It sounds great but it's not true.
4th - Blablacar: when I say blablacar, I mean any company of that kind, in which the driver and passengers agree a time and place to meet and the drop-off point. Also, they agree on a price so that both parties save money, and everyone can benefit from it. It's slowly becoming more popular in other countries but in Spain it's well-established, and because there are so many journeys to choose from, prices are normally lower for the most popular journeys. It's even better if you can take luggage too. Before, drivers had to pay for the journey out of their own pocket. Now they can share the cost, although it's only a part and the price is always better for the passenger than the driver because of the insurance and risk you have to pay, being the owner of the vehicle. You pay for the risk of taking strangers with you, and the fact that you don't know them means they could have illegal substances on board like drugs. Equally, everyone wins here because you'll only have to pay 10 euros or even less from Seville to Cadiz during carnival because there are so many journeys to choose from.
Would you recommend going another time?
Nobody can doubt that the answer depends on what you're looking to do at the carnival. If you're the type of person who simply wants to get as drunk as you can, forgetting about everything going on around you and only concentrating on drinking, drinking and hooking up with someone, well it's clear that the carnival is definitely for you. Although I must say that there's a limit to all that, because if you're getting older and the average age of people at the event is around 20, maybe a little older, it wouldn't be that fun if you're 35 and you're still doing the same thing, with people who are 15 years younger than you and looking for someone who isn't you.
Equally, age is just a number and if you feel like doing something, what's the problem? Of course, there is no problem, so just keep doing what you're doing and have fun.
On the other hand, if you're into the chirigotas, parades, seeing everyone dressed up and you want to have fun or go to the beach if it's nice weather, and dive into the water, well there's nothing better than to keep going to Cadiz for the carnival, who cares about everything else. You'll be able to go to the amazing beach bars, with your lifelong friends or whoever, you'll keep doing the same things as before, 100%.
Who is this popular Spanish event for?
Without a doubt, it's for people in their twenties, although the chirigotas attract people of all ages, because the way they criticise political parties, music groups, companies, etc, you'll only understand if you're up to date with the news, and if you like culture.
And as I've already described the type of people who go and who you may find, it will depend on how you see yourself and what you're looking for. Therefore, I stick to what I said before, and I put up with everyone else to enjoy it.
And after having been... would you recommend it to me?
There's no doubt that if the weather was nice, I would escape and go to the beautiful beaches you can find in Conil and Chiclana de la Frontera. If you like surfing, Tarifa is the place for you, and if you want to get out of the sun and away from the beaches and nudist beaches, Sierra de Grazalema is for you, where it rains the most in all of Spain. You can go for a walk through the forest and come across lakes and spectacular views.
If you're more into wine and horses, Jerez is the place for you, and if you want to get away from all of that, remember that Morocco isn't that far away and a ferry from there doesn't cost much or take that long to get there.
How would you rate it from one to ten and why?
I would rate this event a 7. Because the main thing you can do here is get drunk and people get too drunk to even remember what happened the day before. It makes me a bit bitter about things. If I were to rate it higher, it would be because of all the good things you can do there which I've mentioned in other points.
You should go to Cadiz to see the carnival at least once in your life. Because stories people tell you lose a bit of meaning and you won't know what it truly feels like to be in such a fantastic city, unless you see it for yourself. It's not the same by word of mouth, they could exaggerate certain experiences, or not. You'll only know if they're true if you're the one who actually experiences it. Try it.
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