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My, those are big orphans! Adventures of Joyce, Rod, Mark & Patty in Kenya

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Sep 18th, 2009, 08:32 AM
  #21
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I can't stop singing I Will Survive.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 12:30 PM
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Do Baby Elephants Have Teeth?

Back in Nairobi we did a little shopping at the Junction and had lunch at Mediterraneo. Joyce’s BIL had already done most of the food shopping but there were a few extra things we wanted to pick up. We also found out that due to last minute scheduling issues, they wouldn’t be joining us at Ithumba after all. We headed to the Sheldrick Nairobi nursery at 4:30pm so I could pay for Ithumba camp and stay afterwards to see the eles and rhinos return to the stockades. They’ve had so many new arrivals recently that they haven’t even been able to keep up with the email updates. One of the keepers let us put our fingers in a little ele’s mouth so it could “suckle”. For some reason, when it was Rod’s turn, the little ele bit his fingers. Rod said it felt like a vise clamping down but it didn’t look that bad to me With the traffic at that hour, it took us over an hour and a half to get back to Runda.

BTW the only mosquitoes we saw the entire trip were in Nairobi.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 01:51 PM
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I wonder what the leopard thought of Gloria Gaynor? Very nice pictures again Patty - "Butcher Rod" in the Ithumba set is wonderful.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 02:01 PM
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Wow, Patty - really nice photos.

I think you were at the orphanage a day or two before my wife got there - small world. She mentioned the baby rhino in an email.

Here are a couple of her pictures, taken in conjunction with a site visit to some AIDS and women's/children's health project venues in the Korogocho slum and in the western part of the country.

http://gardyloo.us/Kenya2%20037as.jpg
http://gardyloo.us/Kenya%20037as.jpg
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Sep 18th, 2009, 03:33 PM
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Thanks, kimburu.

Gardyloo,
Small world indeed. I just read another Fodorite was there on the 6th. Hope your trip was good.

Ithumba installment almost finished.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 03:57 PM
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Step Away From the Pineapple or I’m Going to Make You Eat That Pork Brawn

We loaded up the van until it looked like we were going away for 3 months and headed out shortly before 8:00am this morning. It took about an hour to get through Nairobi. The construction on the Mombasa Highway starts just past the airport but there’s a good parallel road and asphalt detours which was a huge improvement over last year. There’s only a brief stretch running approx between Salama and Sultan Hamud with rougher detours. After that, it’s smooth blacktop. It was a very pleasant surprise as we weren’t sure exactly what to expect having heard various accounts. Perhaps I’m being optimistic but I think by year end, it should be a nice, uneventful drive. Speaking of roads, I was told the road to Samburu has been redone up to Archer’s Post gate and the road to Narok (toward the Mara) is almost done. When they’re finished with that part, they’ll start on Narok to Sekenani which will probably take some time. However, if you’re going to the western part of the Mara, you can take a different road from Narok.

After 4 hours, we turned off the highway at Kibwezi (note: if you stay at Panari you could probably cut an hour off this drive). We refueled at Kibwezi and from there it was about 70 km of dirt road to the Kasala gate (approx 2 hours) and another 15 km to Ithumba Headquarters where you’re actually checked into the park (no smartcard reader at this gate). On the way to the gate we crossed the Athi and Tiva rivers. Between Athi and Tiva there was a small bridge which wasn’t on the map from Sheldrick but Tiva is a large paved bridge (just in case you get confused like we did). There were some sandy stretches of road and it’s probably not the greatest road to travel on after heavy rains. It’s well signed 40 km from HQ where you need to turn right (which happens to be the same place as the Barack Obama tree). Good thing because all of the towns we passed looked like the town pictured on the map where we needed to turn. There are more signs at 34 and 23 km before HQ. It was actually much easier to find than we anticipated. The last cell signal (both Safaricom and Zain) is at the town of Kasala 7 km before the gate.

We asked at HQ what would happen if someone mistakenly arrived without a preloaded smartcard and they said they’d take cash and not force you to detour to Voi (but don’t blame me if this doesn’t work ). From there we headed to Ithumba camp a few kilometers away. The northern section of Tsavo East is hillier and looks quite different than the southern end of the park and the camp is beautifully situated with the sun rising over the kopjes behind camp and setting over the Yatta Plateau. Joyce commented that she thought Elsa’s Kopje was the most superbly sited camp she’d ever seen until she came here.

We unloaded and met Njagi and Kimwele who help out at the camp and showed us where everything was. There are 3 tents under makuti roof with an open air rock walled bathroom behind. The solar heated water warms quickly and can essentially be used like a bucket shower (turning it on and off between rinsing) to conserve water. Solar electricity is used to power the kitchen lights and charge batteries and kerosene, candles and portable solar lamps are used to light the common areas, pathways and tents. The camp is self catering so food, water for drinking/coffee making/cooking and toiletries need to be brought by guests. Water for dish washing, showering, etc is provided but it’s requested that guests use this sparingly as it’s an extremely dry area (even when there isn’t a drought) and the borehole water can’t be used for the camp due to the salinity (but apparently the eles are able to drink it). Gray water from the kitchen is used for the small waterhole at camp.

We were going to have sandwiches after getting settled in and that’s when we discovered that instead of ham, we’d been supplied with pork brawn (I have admit other than that, Henry did a pretty good shopping job). I had to google pork brawn when I returned home and apparently it’s called head cheese in our part of the world. Not that that helped me understand what it was, but I was able to find some pictures and realized I’d eaten it before but this stuff was a highly processed fushia pink product that resembled nothing like what I’d had before (not that I relish the idea of pork brawn even in it’s natural state). Joyce and I opted for regular cheese sandwiches.

We enjoyed our cheese sandwiches on the bean bags on the breezy upper deck watching the dik dik, warthogs, baboons, vervets and numerous hornbills, parrots, starlings, weavers and other birds around camp and at the waterhole. We loved the place already and hadn’t even seen the eles yet. The weather at this time of year was also very comfortable, only hot at mid day, and cooled off significantly at night unlike in February on our previous trips to Tsavo. Makes me wonder why we ever went in February

We headed to the stockades which are about 4 km away past HQ at 5:00pm for our first encounter with the orphans. We arrived to find 7 eles at the stockade waterhole and scratched our heads wondering how such big elephants could be bottle fed. A few seconds later the real orphans starting to arrive just in time for the to simultaneously go off in our heads. We met Benjamin the head keeper and learned that there were currently 12 keeper dependent orphans aged 4-6 with the 4 year olds still being bottle fed 3 times a day. Normally they would’ve weaned them by now but they’re waiting for the next rains. Then there are the independent ones in 2 groups led by Yatta and Wendy varying in age between 7-11 that are seen on a regular basis either at the stockade or mudbath. We also learned that when they established the Ithumba release site in 2004, no wild elephants were seen in this area and it wasn’t until 2007 that they had encounters with wild eles. Hyrax and vervets were scampering over mobile phone kopje (I know I said the last signal was in Kasala but there’s a serious risk of death trying to get to the top of this one) and a jackal came to drink. Of course I had to ask about dog sightings to which Benjamin replied “we don’t see them frequently, only once or twice a week”. Njagi also said he sees them at camp often but I was never at the right place at the right time.

Aside from the late afternoon visit, one can also bottle feed and visit at 6:00am at the stockade and at 11:00am at the mudbath. One morning we headed out with the eles and spent about an hour walking with them early in the morning. They prefer that you don’t stray too far from the stockade so the amount of time you spend walking depends on how fast the eles are traveling. During dry season they travel slowly.

You could also go on game drives but we were content to view whatever came to camp from the day beds in between ele visits (is there a market for a guidebook called “Game Viewing for the Lazy” cause I think I’d be exceptionally well qualified to write it? ). Mutomo the banana eating orphan duiker also paid us visits at the camp. On our short drives to and from camp, we did see a few kudu and on our last evening a leopard crossing the road or as Rod shouted out “a baboon” (we all took turns having equally moments later). Seeing the leopard was so totally unexpected.

The second day at the mudbath we were able to see all 30 orphans. Yatta’s group was already at the waterhole when we arrived. The keeper dependent group arrived shortly after and they greeted each other. Then Wendy’s group arrived. It was so overwhelming that I didn’t know where to look. As Joyce was feeding Loijuk a member of Wendy’s herd came over causing Loijuk to trumpet and protest loudly. Little eles make a lot of noise and you should’ve seen Joyce jump back!

That was also the day that KWS brought in a bus load of staff family members so they could see the eles and visit the parks. After Ithumba, they’d head to Voi that night, then a game drive through Tsavo West before going home. All the kids wanted to shake our hands and I think we were as much of an attraction as anything else.

After 3 nights we were all very sad to leave “our” camp and could’ve happily stayed here the rest of the week.

BTW Joyce is queen of the kitchen. Don’t get in her way unless you want to hear things like “step away from the pineapple”. She means it too Seriously we had some great meals and were all very appreciative of her volunteering to cook for us.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 04:13 PM
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Wow. wish I could travel with you Patty; your trips, pics, and of course adventures are awesome.

I think one day Fodors will have a Patty& Mark page. Really, your travels are so well written and FUN!

Lucky Lucky you to have these experiences.But Lucky me to live vicariously.

FP
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Sep 18th, 2009, 04:22 PM
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When I saw the leopard in your photos I was going to ask if that was a rarity. It was! Pork brawn sounds so much better than head cheese. I could not do either pork brawn or head cheese, though.

Good fortune in Aberdare. I like the question of binoculars seeing through the mist.

All this ele activity is a rather recent development. They certainly have become comfortable since 2007.

Whether you wish to author a text on lazy viewing or not is something to consider, but ever so often the question of wildlife viewng from the lodge does come up. Ithumba is the place!

Was Eastern and Southern involved in any way in this trip?
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Sep 18th, 2009, 04:34 PM
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What is it about ABBA in Kenya? On a couple of visits ABBA was the continual soundtrack at my Nairobi Hotel.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 04:45 PM
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I completely forgot to mention that Eastern & Southern pretty much arranged everything except for Ithumba which I booked with Sheldrick. I'm sure they could've booked that as well as provisioned us which they've done that in the past when we stayed at El Karama back when it was still just self catering. Julius was our guide again. Mark & Rod gave him guitar lessons at Ithumba and Mark is now building him a travel sized guitar. It was even rumored he was singing after I fell asleep one night. I'm sorry I missed that.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 05:32 PM
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Flowerpower, you can not even begin to imagine how lucky we feel to have traveled with Mark and Patty. Patty really knows how to put a trip together. Not to mention how much fun we all had together. I'm just glad I had a skill that was needed on this trip.

When we got back to Nairobi, and asked Henry, "what is pork brawn?" his answer was "I don't know but I thought you might like something different than ham". But he really did a good job with my shopping list and I've saved the original list for anyone who is planning to make a trip to Ithumba in the future.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 11:11 PM
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Nice, nice trip so far. Ithumba sounds perfect and three days not enough. Thanks for the road update ..... and Julius singing!!!
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Sep 19th, 2009, 05:57 AM
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Joyce,
You're making me blush I'm so glad you guys were able to go and had a good time and more importantly, that we're all still talking to each other Now work on Rod for next year!

Paul,
It was No Woman No Cry. Did you know he was a Bob Marley fan?
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Sep 19th, 2009, 12:00 PM
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BTW I forgot to mention that you book Ithumba Camp on an exclusive basis for your party so it's totally private while you're there. There are no other accommodations nearby so unlike the Voi stockade in the southern end of Tsavo East you have to stay at their guest camp in order to visit. The cost this year is $450/night for up to 6 guests and $75pppn for any additional guests beyond 6 with the ability to put up an extra tent if necessary. The extra tent would be set up near (but not attached to) the extra stand alone bathroom which pretty much looks just like the other open air bathrooms attached to each guest tent. The extra tent would also not have a makuti roof, a consideration if you're going there in the summer months.
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Sep 19th, 2009, 02:49 PM
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Is That an Elephant or an Abandoned Air France Van?

From Ithumba it’s about 100 km to the Galana River which used to be the northern boundary for any tourist activities due to heavy poaching and security problems in the northern part of the park. We saw some lion tracks and a kudu but not much else on the drive south. The Tiva River where game might normally congregate was almost dry. There’s no bridge so we drove right across the river bottom. During the wet season, we might not have been able to cross at all. Halfway to the Galana, Joyce spots something and says “is that an elephant?” When we got closer we realized it was the abandoned Air France van from over 40 years ago. I’d seen a picture of it in Jan Goss’s trip report from 2006 and in fact we were just discussing it a few minutes ago wondering where exactly it was when there it appeared! We never found out much about it because hardly anyone seemed to even know of its existence.

We drove over the Yatta Plateau and started seeing our first carcasses. Game was concentrated along the Galana, the only green area around, such a difference from last year. We saw hippos, elephants, baboon, common waterbuck, impala, Grant’s gazelle, gerenuk, dik dik, lesser kudu and giraffe on our way to camp. For some reason we saw a lot more kudu this year. I don’t know if it’s because the lack of vegetation allowed us to see them more easily or because they can better adapt to the dry conditions than some of the other antelope or some other reason.

Arriving at camp 3 hours later we were surprised to see all of the elephants in camp. Last year it had rained in Jan just before our stay which BTW was the last rain they received. The park was green and we’d seen eles in the river and across the bank but not right in camp. None of the eles in camp was Tusker the resident elephant though who had not been seen in a while.

We stayed on the main camp side this time in tents 7 & 8 (tent 7 has a viewing platform adjacent) and the camp had about 14-16 guests total during our stay. Rod, Mark and I decided to take the afternoon off and enjoy the viewing from our tents while Joyce went to Lugard Falls and Crocodile Point. We watched waterbuck grazing on a dry island that had formed in the middle of the river and hippos across the river. There were sacred and hadada ibis, kingfishers and a pair of Egyptian geese with 5 goslings. The goslings could walk right across the river. That’s how low it was! A baby ele (I would guess no older than 2) and what looked to be an older sibling came right up and browsed next to our tent. Again the afternoon was very breezy and temps at night much cooler than in Feb. I slept comfortably inside the tent under the comforter. Lots of night sounds here as animals moved through camp.

The next morning we took an early morning game drive. We saw many of the same species as the day before plus 4 Somali ostrich, several bateleur eagles, great egret, spur winged plover, blue napped moosebird, African spoonbill and a Ruppell’s Griffon vulture. Mark and I decided again to spend the rest of the day at camp (more research for my book ) while Rod went with Joyce this time on an afternoon drive. We watched as gerenuk, impala and kudu came to drink at the river, the waterbuck were grazing on the island again, a pair of tawny eagle raided a plover nest and this time a bull ele browsed by the tent and had a good scratch on the platform. Too bad none of us were in it at the time However Rod did have some giraffe come by during the night when he slept out on the platform. We had another really enjoyable stay at Galdessa with the eles definitely being the highlight. At the same time, we knew this would not have been the case if not for the drought.
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Sep 19th, 2009, 03:07 PM
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One other thing I forgot to add is that I changed about 80 USD into shillings for camp staff at Galdessa. These were 1996 and 1999 series bills. Please remember if you're going to use USD that it's very difficult to exchange pre-2000 bills in Kenya or better yet tip in shillings and your recipient will have no exchange issues.
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Sep 19th, 2009, 11:27 PM
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"Paul,
It was No Woman No Cry. Did you know he was a Bob Marley fan?"

Yes, I did. But isn't just about everyone in Kenya? I think Mark and Rod should teach him some Marvin Gaye next time - that'd make the ladies' knees go weak. Ithumba has got to be the best value in Africa, right up there with the bandas in the Aberdares and Meru NPs.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 05:36 AM
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Dogs and Cats Only

Hard to believe our trip is almost over! We exited Tsavo East through Manyani gate this morning and up to Mtito Andei. We could’ve entered at Tsavo gate just a few km up the road but were told the road entering through Tsavo gate was very rutted plus we needed to refuel. We made a stop at Mzima Springs on our way to camp. The springs were still flowing, but they were down to about 9 hippos. Crocs, vervets, baboons, waterbuck, impala, warthog and cormorants were also seen around the springs. We headed to camp and again noticed how terribly dry the landscape was, the only green being around the Tsavo River and springs. The usual herds of impala and oryx in and near camp weren’t present, only a few here and there. Zebra were far fewer too. Other game we saw on the way were kudu (not as plentiful as Tsavo East), gerenuk, buffalo, Maasai giraffe including a baby with an umbilical cord still attached, Coke’s hartebeest, duiker, eland, dwarf mongoose and lots of lots of Maasai ostrich. Ostriches dotted the landscape. It was getting past lunch hour and the Mark and Rod finally declared “no more stopping for ostriches, dogs and cats only!” I asked if hyena count too

Arriving at Finch Hattons camp, we found out that they too had lost about half of the hippo population in their springs and are now down to 20. Many had left only to come back when they found there was no grazing elsewhere. Out of desperation, the camp had gotten permission from KWS to start putting out hay and vegetable scraps for the hippo 2 weeks ago. On the other hand, there were more and bigger crocs this time.

We had lunch and got settled into our tents, 5 & 6 the first night, then Mark and I moved to 7 for our second night. Tent 7 is just getting way too popular! We opted for a little walk around camp and decided that tent 3 was another excellent location. While you’re farther from where the hippo congregate during the day, you do get lots of other game wandering by in the morning and afternoon. Other species seen at camp this afternoon – vervets, baboon, banded mongoose, warthog, impala, a young giraffe, a male bushbuck, and many kingfishers, herons, crakes and thick knees. In the evening we saw a lone young hippo swim across the springs and exit on the tent 3 side. We were told that the mom’s carcass was removed from that end of the springs and that’s why he heads that direction each evening.

An early morning game drive the next day took us to a little swampy area by camp with nice heron and egret viewing. We then headed to the Tsavo River where we were happy to find some hippo still resident. Here we had a mini “traffic jam” on the bridge consisting of 3 vehicles, the most we’d seen at any given time in Tsavo. The clouds were cooperating and we got a view of a giraffe in front of the peaks of Kili. We did see more carcasses including a zebra with what looked like a brown snake eagle feeding on it and woolly necked storks scavenging on a giraffe carcass. We came upon some high pitched barking and watched as a black backed jackal chased off 2 other jackals. He continued barking and kicking up dust and looked very pleased with himself afterwards (just like our dogs at home). Other game that rounded out the morning were waterbuck, warthog, kudu, wildebeest, oryx, false hartebeest (it was a male impala doing his best impression of a hartebeest, I lost all credibility after that one ), real hartebeest (that’s what Julius started calling them), gerenuk, eles, a monitor lizard and 5 vultures in a tree.

We had another Game Sit™ this afternoon watching a pair of water thick knees defending their nest against a monitor lizard, the sunbirds drinking nectar and 2 different color variations of the African paradise flycatchers (they’re gorgeous) along with the usual suspects in camp plus a couple of dwarf mongoose. We dined outside this evening under the stars watching the hippos. It was a perfect last day and we didn’t want to leave.

The following morning, we said goodbye to Julius until next time at the airstrip. Our Safarilink Caravan arrived on time and we were even able to get the guitar and two coolers on board. The pilot simply asked if the coolers were full and told us to hurry up and get our butts and all of our stuff on board so we could get going. We had nice views of Kili and stopped at Amboseli for pick ups/drop offs before continuing to Wilson. Amboseli looked even worse than Tsavo. There were a few swampy areas but the rest of the park looked like a salt pan. We could only hope that it starts raining soon.

We got to spend one last evening together with Pam, Henry and Reggie before Joyce and Rod headed home and Mark and I headed to Amsterdam. We had such a wonderful time traveling with Joyce and Rod this trip and are hoping we can all return to Ithumba again soon.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 04:30 PM
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Hi Patty! I'm finally back here and catching up on your wonderful report. I've always loved reading about your trips, but it's even more fun since we met.

"Game Sit"(TM)!! I love it. I would buy your book (although I haven't been to Africa enough times yet to voluntarily sit out an opportunity for a game drive).

Beautiful pictures, too. Thanks for posting all of this so fast! I'm impressed. We've been home 3 weeks and are just now getting around to sorting through the thousands of photos we took (never mind the video). It's nice that you posted photos at the start so that we can immediately look at them while reading through your adventure.

Your Ithumba notes have got us brewing up another future Kenya plan. I've already mentioned it to our elephant-loving pals at the zoo (since almost all of us already have orphans at Sheldrick's), in the hopes that we can someday plan a group trip there. So, thank you! Hopefully we can eventually return to Kenya and make it happen.

And finally, how nice to be able to say goodbye to your guide "until next time." I hope I can someday have that experience, too.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 05:30 PM
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Patty--what a great report. Makena is our niece's ele and it's great to see the change in the three years since we were there. Thanks!
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