Project Description





Highlights:  Early human ancestry / Geology of the great rift valley / Ethiopian coffee ceremony / Senkele Wildlife Sanctuary / Dorze tribal village /  Hamer tribal traditions / Tribal market of the Benna & Tsemai / Ari village & traditions / South Omo Museum / Mago National Park / Mursi culture & traditions / Konso World Heritage terraces / African wildlife / Natural & human history of Madagascar / Colonial history & architecture of Antananarivo / Merina & Benzanozano tribes / Lemurs / Andabe-Mantadia National Park / Vezo tribe

ETHIOPIA The Cradle of Mankind & The Weird & Wonderful World of MADAGASCAR


This amazingly off-the-beaten-path adventure explores two countries few people have ever seen. It will also be the 70th Birthday Celebration trip for Thom Henley, the founder of In Touch With Nature Education – the company that offers this one-in-a-lifetime experience.

Ethiopia is one of the most fascinating countries in the world with the richest history on the African continent. Old beyond imagination, it dates back to the very beginnings of mankind. Guests on this trip will see the fossil remains of world-famous “Lucy” – the most complete and oldest hominid skeleton ever found. They will view the bones of the oldest child and trace human development to the discovery of fire by Homo erectus over a million years ago.

The main destination of this off-the-beaten-path adventure will be the legendary Omo River Valley; a land lost in time that is home to over 200,000 of the some of the most traditional tribes remaining on Earth. The Omo not only boasts the largest diversity of tribal groups in the whole of Africa, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the place where the earliest and most extensive fossil fragments of Homo sapiens have been found. The lower Omo is also one of the continents last unspoiled wilderness regions supporting lions, leopards, cheetahs, buffalos, giraffes, elephants, zebras, hippos, crocodiles and over 400 species of birds.

This adventure will reveal Africa the way it used to be and immerse us in never-to-be-forgotten experiences.

Madagascar is a land like no other. The fourth largest island in the world also happens to be the oldest. Over 167 million years ago Madagascar was a land-locked plateau in the middle of Gondwana, the mega landmass from which all the world’s continents eventually broke away. Originally splitting away from the African continent still attached to India, Madagascar broke from the India subcontinent 65 million years ago to become the world’s first island.

With more time in isolation than any other land mass on earth, Madagascar evolved over 200,000 unique species of plants and animals including 8 entire plant families, over 1,000 species of orchids, 350 species of frogs, 370 reptiles, 5 families of birds and 200 mammal species unique in the world. There is simply no other place like it. The ‘Wow’ factor here is off the charts!

The island’s 104 species of lemurs scientifically referred to as “prosimians” (before monkeys), represent an entire branch of our human evolutionary tree that survived nowhere else but here. They are believed to have arrived on floating rafts of vegetation across the Madagascar Channel from Africa. The first humans did not arrive on the island until a mere 2,000-years ago, but their impact on the land has been massive.

Guests will not only delve deep into the nature of this extraordinary isle, but also the daily lives of some of the many different tribes. They say you come to Madagascar for the wildlife, but return because of the people. Those privileged to join in this experience will certainly understand that sentiment.

Thursday, Nov. 29
Highlights: National Museum – “Lucy” / geology of the Great Rift Valley / coffee ceremony

  • Guests arriving on early morning flights to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and the African Union, will be greeted on arrival and enjoy breakfast at La Parisienne before transferring to the National Museum to view the world’s oldest and most intact collection of human ancestry.
  • One of the highlights of the displays here is “Lucy” (Australopithecus afranses) – the most complete and oldest fossil of an upright ape ever found.
  • Following our museum visit, we begin our journey south through the Great Rift Valley in 4WD vehicles, stopping for lunch in Ziway.
  • Our destination this day will be in the cool green highlands of the Sedona tribes; people that weave dome-like houses from bamboo slats covered in thatch. The elegant Aregash Lodge is built in the same Sedona fashion and will provide a wonderful venue for our first night.
  • On arrival, we will be greeted with banana and guava smoothies made from lodge’s organic orchards before taking part in a lovely coffee ceremony overlooking a deep, forested ravine.
  • Coffee ceremonies are an important and ancient daily ritual in Ethiopia where the brew was first discovered. Long ago, a goat herder named Kaldi from the Kaffa region accidentally discovered coffee when he noticed his goats getting unusually frisky after eating the berries of a certain tree. Kaffe (coffee) is now the world’s most popular brew and most sought after commodity after oil.
  • What makes this sunset coffee ceremony different from all others in Ethiopia is the wildlife it draws in each night. Black & white colobus and vervet monkeys are commonly sighted throughout the lodge grounds, but flocks of vultures and spotted hyenas also congregate here each evening. This is as close as anyone is ever likely to get to a family of wild hyenas.
  • A special dinner and campfire this evening will commemorate our first night in the African wilds as hyenas call from the dark ravine.

Overnight: Aregash Lodge, Yirgalem

Friday, Nov. 30
Highlights: local fish market / Senkele Wildlife Sanctuary /Dorze tribal village life

  • After some early morning wildlife viewing and a delicious buffet breakfast, we set off by 4WD vehicles to continue our drive past a string of beautiful lakes in the Great Rift Valley.
  • Our first stop of the day in the town of Awassa allows us to experience a traditional fish market. Here local kids strip the skin off tilapia fish with their teeth and large flocks of pelicans and marabou storks hang around the net boats waiting for any by-catch that might get tossed their way.
  • There’s a nice walkway along the lake edge where we will see large numbers of waterfowl: Egyptian geese, ibis, pelicans, cormorants, storks, egrets, herons, kingfishers, plovers, stilts, storks, coots and more species to add to our ever-expanding bird list.
  • Later in the day we may see the endemic Swayne’s Hartebeest in the Senkele Wildlife Sanctuary on our way to Chencha.
  • Stunning views of the Great Rift Valley will now reveal themselves as we climb 2,900 meters to the cool, green highlands of the Dorze’s mist-shrouded homeland.
  • The Dorze tribe are believed to have migrated here from the lower Omo River region about 500-years ago. They are noted for their distinctive beehive-shaped huts woven from bamboo that can stand two-stories high, and last up to a century.
  • We will be formally and warmly welcomed for a traditional Dorze lunch and a coffee ceremony on arrival. After lunch, guests will learn the ingenious technique for turning the trunks of false banana trees into nutritious bread.
  • There is strict gender role divisions in Dorze society so females in our group can spin cotton with Dorze women while men learn looming techniques from Dorze men who are renowned for their weaving skills.
  • A hike through the village, followed by curious Dorze children, will bring us to the home of a local potter where guests can try their hand at fashioning a traditional clay coffee pot or other utilitarian item.
  • In the late afternoon, we descend from the mountain to the shores of Lake Chamo where we will overnight in the beautiful setting of Paradise Lodge.

Overnight: Paradise Lodge, Arab Minch

Saturday, Dec. 1

  • Guests can relax and savor the beauty of the Great Rift Valley’s Lake Chamo from our dining deck this morning as we enjoy a sumptuous breakfast and prepare for a 11:30 am departure. We’ll return to this lovely lodge to explore the wildlife after our visit to the Omo Valley.
  • It’s a 5-hour drive from our lodge to our main destination – the remote Omo River Valley, but the scenery along the way is amazing and wildlife encounters with olive baboons, dik diks, yellow-billed hornbills and several species of guinea fowl will keep us entertained as we drive to the remote territory of the Hamer tribe.
  • A beautiful buffet dinner will be waiting for us at Buska Lodge near the small village of Turmi when we arrive.
  • A sharing circle around the fire and under the star-studded African sky will close our day.

Overnight: Buska Lodge, Lower Omo Valley

Sunday, Dec. 2
Highlights: birds of the Omo Valley / Hamer tribal traditions / Jumping of the Bulls

  • The acacia forest surrounding our camp comes alive with birdcalls at first light and birders in our group will want to set out with binoculars and field guides to spot and record as many species as possible.
  • After a delicious buffet breakfast, we will have a talk on the cultural traditions of the Hamer tribe before we set off to learn more about the lifestyles of these pastoral peoples.
  • The Hamer say that without their goats they would perish, as they are the one animal that can survive the longest with limited foraging in times of drought.
  • Hamer women wear soft goatskin skirts and tunics beautifully beaded and they grease their plated hair with butter and ochre powder to enhance their beauty.
  • Today we will look into Hamer family life as they follow their herds through the desert scrub brush. If our stay coincides with a “Jumping of the Bulls” coming of age ceremony, this will be the focus of our afternoon and our 4WD vehicles can help us get there should a location for this event be quite remote.
  • When a Hamer boy reaches sexual maturity he must perform a number of rituals before being considered a man fit to marry. The ‘Jumping of the Bulls’ ceremony is the most dramatic of these rituals. While the boy’s sisters and maternal relatives invite whippings to shed their blood in support of their kin, the fully naked initiate must run twice (in both directions) over the backs of the family bulls. A slip could mean being a bachelor for life.
  • Returning to our camp in the late afternoon, everyone can enjoy a shower and drinks before dinner. Some may choose a stroll along the riverbank where black and white colobus monkeys and a wealth of birds congregate near sunset.
  • After dinner, we will gather around a fire beside the river where Hamer children will demonstrate the distinctive Hamer dance style called “evangadi” that involves jumping much like the Masai of neighboring Kenya.

Overnight: Buska Lodge, Lower Omo Valley

Monday, Dec. 3
Study Focus: tribal market of the Benna & Tsemai / Ari village & traditions / South Omo Museum

  • After a big breakfast we depart for Jinka, traveling through the territory of the Bena tribe. If today is a market day in Key Afar we will witnessis one of the most colorful and fascinating tribal gatherings in the region.
  • There are 24 different tribes in the south Omo displaying extraordinary cultural integrity. Most are agro-pastoralists living in a psychic landscape little different from their nomadic ancestors. Some tribes number tens of thousands, others a mere 500, but all are culturally and linguistically distinct making the South Omo utterly unique.
  • As we drive through the wilderness/cultural landscape from Turmi to Jinka we will pass from Hamer territory into Bena and Ari homelands. Borderlines are often distinguished by a simple creek or river, but territories are deeply imprinted in the tribal psyche.
  • The Benna and Hamer people share not only a tribal border, but also many customs and they frequently intermarry. Bena women braid and grease their hair with red ochre like Hamer women, but they also like to wear a calabash (half gourd) like a helmet. Men distinguish themselves with collars and bracelets of turquoise beads and bright-colored wraps.
  • Arriving in Jinka we will enjoy a good lunch at a local restaurant that serves traditional Ethiopian fare served atop teff bread. Teff is an ancient grain and the only carbohydrate source that contains its own leavening agent.
  • After lunch we will visit an Ari village. The Ari are one of the largest tribal groups in the lower Omo River valley. Basically farmers, the Ari grow a variety of grains, fruit and coffee, as well as produce excellent honey.
  • During our village tour with an Ari guide, guests will learn how to mold a clay skillet for roasting coffee, how to distill alcohol from grain, how to forge farming tools using a goat skin bellows, and how to prepare Ethiopia’s iconic bread – “ingala” by grinding and fermenting “teff” – the world’s least known but most nutritious grain.
  • Guests will learn that Ethiopia is one of seven centers in the world where humans first domesticated crops. Sorghum, barley, millet, teff and coffee are among the food crops first discovered and cultivated here.
  • Before returning to our lodge for dinner, we will visit the South Omo Museum & Research Center high on a hill above Jinka to learn more about the 24 distinct tribes of this region. There’s also an excellent library of videos here depicting many aspects of tribal life.

Overnight: Jinka Resort, Jinka

Tuesday, Dec. 4
Highlights: Mago National Park / Mursi culture & traditions / Konso World Heritage terraces

  • We get an early start this morning, leaving Jinka Resort right after breakfast and driving to Mago National Park. With a protected area of over 2,000 square kilometers and no tourism inroads at all, this is truly one of Africa’s last great wilderness areas.
  • Driving down into the Omo River Valley we will have stunning vistas of the park. Dense acacia woodlands are interspersed with small areas of open savannah and riparian forest along the Mago River providing sanctuary to over 100 species of mammals including: lion, leopard, cheetah, jackals elephant, giraffe, zebra, buffalo and gazelles. While most wildlife here is difficult to spot due to heavy brush, baboons and monkeys are common and huge African elephants do cross the road at times.
  • Crossing the Mago River we enter the territory of the Mursi, one of Ethiopia’s most enigmatic tribes and one of the endemic Omotic speakers. Until quite recently, the Mursi did not know that Ethiopia existed as a state; they lived in a true cultural Garden of Eden.
  • The Mursi are the most celebrated of the lower Omo group due to the quirky items they use to adorn themselves (including wild fruits, crops and warthog tusks), extensive scarification and the women’s custom of wearing plates of forged clay in their lower lips.
  • Some early explorers and anthropologists thought that removing the lower teeth and stretching the lower lip to hold large clay plates was a deliberate attempt to make Mursi women unattractive to adulterers and slave traders. The truth is, it symbolizes a woman’s status and a woman that can stretch her lower lip completely over her head is said to be worth a small fortune in cows.
  • There are only about 5,000 Mursi who are semi-nomadic pastoralists that measure their wealth in cattle. We will see how the Mursi can tap the blood from a living cow for fluid and nourishment during their travels, much like the ancient Mongols. This disturbs the cow no more than a human donating blood at a blood bank.
  • Departing the Mursi village late in the morning, we will drive back to Jinka for lunch and then head into the homeland of the Konso tribe. These mixed agriculturalists inhabit an isolated region of basalt hills rising to 2,000 meters that are flanked on two sides by deserts.
  • To create farmlands from this challenging environment, the Konso have constructed the largest stone-terraced landscape in the world, a landscape so unique it has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
  • Our lodge tonight is constructed in the same fashion as a Konso village, but with all the amenities of a modern resort. Our “tukul” huts are beautifully crafted and have private porches with stunning views across the valley.
  • After an excellent dinner on the patio restaurant, we will have a candle-sharing circle under the moonlight and stars of the African night.

Overnight: Kanta Lodge, Konso

Wednesday, Dec. 5
Highlights: Konso village life & social structure / Rift Valley Lakes

  • We wake early and enjoy the beauty of sunrise over the valley while eating breakfast. Not far from our lodge, we will visit a Konso village; distinctively different from everything we have seen thus far.
  • The Konso build their settlements atop hills with 2-meter high stonewall to guard against enemies and dangerous animals like lions, leopards and hyenas from attacking their goats, cows and sheep.
  • Each village is made up of a number of sub communities each with its own meetinghouse – a tall thatched-roof building decorated with ostrich eggs on top. Here all young men sleep each night, as well as married men on a rotating basis, so warriors can be mobilized quickly in case of attack.
  • The Konso are distinct from other south Omo tribes in carving wood “waga” figures to honor the gravesites of warriors that have killed wild animals or enemies attacking the village. We will visit an excellent museum near our lodge to see a collection of “wagas” and learn more about Konso culture.
  • We depart to Arab Minch and return to Paradise Lodge overlooking Lakes Abaya and Chamo, part of the string of beautiful lakes that make up the Great Rift Valley.
  • It may feel a bit like coming home tonight as we return to the friendly staff at the lodge and all the creature comforts it has to offer.

Overnight: Paradise Lodge, Arab Minch

Thursday, Dec. 6
Study Focus: hippos, crocodiles & waterfowl / Ethiopian cultural dancing & music

  • No one will want to miss the sunrise over Lake Chamo as we rise early with the birds and enjoy a delicious buffet breakfast.
  • After a leisurely morning soaking in the ambience of our luxury lodge and surveying the birdlife, we transfer by vehicle a short distance to the shores of Lake Chamo where we board sturdy boats for a morning wildlife-viewing safari.
  • Hippos and huge crocodiles lounging on the banks of the lake and back channels will be the highlights of our 2-hour safari boat trip, but there is also an abundance of bird life here. Pelicans, herons, ibis, stilts, plovers, fish eagles and kingfishers are all easy to spot and the wilderness scenery around this crater-formed lake is lovely.
  • Returning to shore, we will learn how the locals weave beehives from bamboo strips, coat them with cow dung and sweeten them with incense before placing them in trees to attract bees for honey production.
  • We now bid farewell to our drivers and 4WD vehicles as we board a one-hour flight from Arab Minch back to Addis Ababa.
  • Flying over the Great Rift Valley will reveal a string of seven lakes of different colors surrounded by scrub acacia forest and savannah – all part of the oldest human habitation sites on Earth.
  • We end our Ethiopian adventure with a closing dinner in Addis Abbaba featuring foods and dancing from all regions of the country.

Overnight:   Hotel, Addis Ababa

Friday, Dec. 7
Highlights: Mt. Kilimanjaro / natural & human history of Madagascar

  • Our flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi to connect with our flight to Madagascar will take us over the vast Serengeti Plains of East Africa and close to Africa’s largest mountain – Kilimanjaro. If the clouds part, it’s a stunning sight!
  • After a short layover in Nairobi, we connect with a flight to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. After clearing Immigration, guests will be transferred to a charming hotel in the heart of the historic quarter with stunning vistas overlooking the city.
  • After a welcome meal, we will have an overview of the natural and human history of Madagascar – the world’s fourth largest and oldest island.

Overnight: Belvedere, Hotel de Charm, Antananarivo

Saturday, Dec. 8
Highlights: colonial history & architecture of Antananarivo / Merina & Bezanozano tribes / lemurs & night walk

  • After enjoying breakfast at our hotel, we will take a stroll through the cobblestone streets of the old town, learning about the many ethnic mixes of people and foreign influences reflected in the architecture of this historic city.
  • After lunch, we will board air con mini vans and drive east for 3-hours through the beautiful countryside of rice fields, mountains and small farming villages of the Merina and Bezanozano tribes people.
  • Our destination is Madagascar’s most popular national park – Anabe-Mantadia.
  • This moist montane forest at 1,000m elevation supports rainforest flora and fauna including the world’s largest lemur – Indri indri. There are 11 species of lemurs at Andabe-Mantadia as well as a wealth of birds and reptiles.
  • Arriving at our lodge at 4:00 pm, we will have time to visit a nearby lemur island where everyone will have close encounters with several species of lemurs we may not get to view close in the wild.
  • Nearby is a lake supporting Nile crocodile and interesting cultural artifacts of the Bezanozano tribe, one of the first peoples to establish in Madagascar 2,000 years ago.
  • Our lodge for the night is named “Fean’ny aha” – “voice of the forest” because the melodic calls of the world’s largest lemurs can be heard from our bungalows perched out over a creek ravine that forms the boundary of the national park. We may even see these cute teddy-bear-like lemurs feeding in trees across the ravine.
  • At 7:30 pm we will set off on a 1-hour Night Walk through a forest reserve protected by villagers as part of a conservation & eco-tourism venture
  • Walking with our expert Bezanozano guides, we should see several species of dwarf and mouse lemurs, colorful chameleons, tree frogs, ground and tree boas, tenrecs and mongoose.
  • One animal our guides will not want to see are the 1-meter high spirit people that the Bezanozano believe inhabit this forest living on honey, grubs and roots.

Overnight: “Fean’ny aha” Lodge, Andabe-Mantadia National Park

Sunday, Dec. 9
Highlights: hiking through Andabe-Mantadia National Park

  • We wake at first light this morning to a riot of bird song and the haunting calls of Indri lemurs proclaiming their territory.
  • After an early breakfast we travel a short distance to the entrance of Andabe-Mantadia National Park and commence a 2-3-hour trek to discover the park’s amazing flora and fauna.
  • Sightings should include: totally bizarre giraffe weevils, several species of bamboo lemurs; brown lemurs as well as the spectacular Indri that can leap 10 meters performing a 180-degree turn in mid-air, before landing gently on a distant tree.
  • At 11:30 am, we end our hike and return to our lodge to shower and enjoy a good lunch before returning to Antananarivo.
  • Guests will have a free late afternoon to explore more of this captivating city that looks like New Orleans set on San Francisco’s hills.

Overnight: Belvedere, Hotel de Charm, Antananarivo

December 10 / Monday
Highlights: Masoala Peninsula / Masoala Forest Lodge

  • After a good breakfast at our hotel, we will transfer to Antananarivo Domestic Airport for the Monday morning scheduled flight to Maroantsetra.
  • Arriving an hour later at a small rural landing strip, guests will know right away they are well off the beaten path.
  • We now transfer to the town pier and continue our journey by speedboat across Antongil Bay to Madagascar’s Masoala peninsula, stopping along the way to see a colony of flying fruit bats on a remote island.
  • Masoala literally translates as “the eyes of the forest” and there are a lot of them here with 12 known species of lemurs. Masoala is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – one of the largest and most diverse rainforests in Madagascar that probably harbors the greatest number of unclassified species.
  • Created in 1997, the park protects 2,300 square km of rainforest and 100 sq. km of marine park. The Masoala peninsula is exceptionally diverse due to its huge size and variety of habitats, including: rainforest, coastal forest, flooded forest, marsh, mangrove and coral reefs that support a dazzling array of marine life.
  • This spectacular rainforest covered peninsula on Madagascar’s northeast coast forms the backdrop for Masoala Forest Lodge – a luxurious outpost lost in time and nature… A place to relax, explore and connect with the natural world in all its primordial splendor.
  • After checking into our lodge we will set off on a kayaking trip along the coast to Tampolo Beach where a spectacular stretch of golden sand beach fronts an idyllic fresh water lagoon. Tampolo beach is widely hailed as the most beautiful in the country, but we are likely to have it to ourselves.
  • Sightings of hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles are quite common here, especially in the fair weather months of October to December when females come ashore to lay their eggs.
  • In the late afternoon we will paddle our kayaks up the lagoon and river to view several species of Madagascar kingfishers, paradise flycatchers, weaver-birds, blue coucals, herons and many other endemic Madagascar species.
  • Paddling back to our resort in the late afternoon, we may sight marine mammals along the way. Each year from July to early September, hundreds of humpback whales visit Antongil Bay during their long migration. The warm protected waters of the bay provide an ideal breeding and calving ground for these magnificent marine mammals.
  • At any time of year it is possible to see dugong, bottle-nosed porpoise and spinner dolphins in the waters of Antongil Bay.
  • Masoala Forest Lodge provides safari-style accommodations in beautiful, elevated platforms that are wonderfully secluded from one another. The resort will be exclusively ours.
  • There will be a special dinner served tonight and an open bar starting at sunset to celebrate Thom Henley’s 70th revolution around the sun. Nearby villagers will arrive for a traditional dance presentation accompanied by rhythmic singing, drums and rattles made of pebbles in crushed tin cans. We can all join them to dance the night away.

Overnight: Masoala Forest Lodge, Masoala peninsula

December 11 / Tuesday
Highlights: Masoala National Park endemic species / village school visit / closing ceremony

  • We’ll all gather this morning to enjoy a beautiful breakfast served at a pavilion on stilts set out on the headland of two secluded beaches.
  • Our destination today is Masoala National Park, home to 12 species of lemurs including the endemic red-ruffed lemur – found on this peninsula and nowhere else.
  • Masoala harbors many other novelties, including the Madagascar day gecko, leaf-tailed gecko, chameleons of all sizes, spectacular birds such as the helmet vanga, and rare species such as the red owl and tomato frog.
  • The Madagascar serpent-eagle was recently discovered here and exists in healthy populations only on this remote peninsula.
  • Our trek takes us along the coast for 45-minutes, through lovely forest trails and along unspoiled beaches before we enter the park proper. The mountainous nature of the trails makes for slow going, but the rewards are many.
  • Guests will certainly see one of the world’s most beautiful rainforests during our 2-3-hour forest trek even if the dense vegetation shields the view of wildlife at times
  • Returning back down to the beach from the park trails we will enjoy a picnic lunch and a swim in a private cove before visiting Ambodiforaha village school.
  • Here we will have an opportunity to visit and support the school with supplies and offer a geography lessons. Presenting a map of the world to the school each guest will introduce themselves (in the local tongue) while putting a mark on the map of where they come from.
  • The children in this small village of less than 200 will be asked to share some songs with us; they get especially animated when they hear their traditional music.
  • Returning to our lodge in time to watch a spectacular sunset, we will have time to swim in the sea and enjoy sundowners before dinner.
  • As darkness descends we will gather for our final feast… closing out the night with a beautiful candle lighting ceremony where each guest has a private moment to share thoughts on their trip.

Overnight: Masoala Forest Lodge, Masoala peninsula

December 12 / Wednesday

  • After breakfast this morning, we bid farewell to the Masoala peninsula and cruise back to Marontsetra where we catch a charter flight back to the capital of Antananarivo.
  • As most international flights depart Madagascar late in the day, there will be plenty of time to check in for return flights home, or consider staying an extra day.
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