Treks to Gorilla National Parks


Introduction

Gorilla Highlands Trails take you to the edge of gorilla national parks; photo by Alexandra Elderfield

Gorilla Highlands Trails take you to the edge of gorilla national parks; photo by Alexandra Elderfield

 

Overview of Treks to Gorilla National Parks


GH Trails Map 2015 web

Would you like to trek deep into remote areas, to camp and dine with rural families? Or do you maybe prefer the comfort of luxurious lodges? The Gorilla Highlands Trails, a system of guided trips throughout southwestern Uganda and right to the Rwandan border, can offer both.

But whatever option you choose, you will spend as much time as possible with local people, basking in their warm hospitality and easy-going nature. Giving them a source of income and pride is the most significant aspect of these treks.

Experienced guides will take you through breath-takingly beautiful valleys and across mysterious lakes, over heavily cultivated slopes and deep into ancient rainforests. They come from all the three tribes of the region – Bafumbira, Batwa “Pygmies” and Bakiga – assuring you will get a cultural insight like no other.

Overnight stays are usually spent in spacious tents on family compounds, however, accommodation upgrades are possible; there are tourist facilities in most of the areas.

Trips (for more see Canoe Trekking on Lake Bunyonyi):

• 2-day Valley of No Living (from USD 190) takes you between Lake Bunyonyi and Rushaga (Bwindi) through the remotest, least spoiled areas.

3-day Volcano Quest and Parks Reunited (from USD 250) link up Lake Bunyonyi and Mgahinga and connect Mgahinga to Bwindi. They can be combined into the one-week Ultimate Hike.

4-day Three Upland Lakes (from USD 250) shows you Lakes Bunyonyi, Kayumbu and Mutanda as it leads you to Rushaga (Bwindi).

5-day Rainforest Ramble (from USD 420) starts like Three Upland Lakes but includes Bwindi crossing.


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2 days




Valley of No Living (2-Day Trek)


Walk where no tourists walk! No other Gorilla Highlands Trail is as unspoilt as this one: from Lake Bunyonyi into an extraordinary valley, to Lake Mutanda and then to the very edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Camp at a model mountain health centre, in fully-equipped tents. Pay a visit to a Batwa “Pygmy” community.

HighlightsValley of No Living trekking map

• three lakes, fantastic views
• most untouched areas
• hike through the Valley of No Living
• Batwa “Pygmies” visit
• exquisite lunch at Mutanda Lake Resort
• impressive beauty of Bwindi

Facts

length: 2 days; difficulty: 3
starting point: Lake Bunyonyi or Rushaga
area: Lake Bunyonyi – the Valley of No Living – Lake Mutanda – Rushaga
departuresdaily at 9am

Price

• five people or more: USD 190 per person
• four people: USD 230 pp
• three people: USD 290 pp
• two people: USD 390 pp
• one person: USD 550

Includes everything during the trek (guiding, boats, activities, tented accommodation, meals, snacks and water) and 1 night at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi. It does not include transport back from Rushaga or accommodation there.

Lake Bunyonyi – Rushaga Itinerary (can be reversed)

DAY 1

Hardworking ladies and the valley; photo by Dejan Praper

Hardworking ladies and the valley; photo by Dejan Praper

If you have taken up our offer of a free night before the trek, you will wake up at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi and be treated to a substantial breakfast at 8am. If you have opted for a less basic accommodation elsewhere, we will collect you by boat and bring you to Edirisa in time for breakfast (if you wish to take it with us of course).

You will take an engine boat to the northern tip of the lake called Muko. After about an hour on the peaceful waters, you will enjoy some hot coffee or tea at the lakeside campsite before you embark on the journey.

There will be some uphill sections but the terrain is mostly pleasantly flat. However, you do need to cross the Valley of No Living if you are to leave Kabale district and enter Kisoro…

Camping at Kateretere Health Centre; photo by Dejan Praper

Camping at Kateretere Health Centre; photo by Dejan Praper

The locals gave it such a name because it is steep and remote but it is also strikingly beautiful. At the bottom of the valley flows a cool stream and that is where we take our picnic lunch.

An hour of a steep climb will await you after the meal, but it will be worth it. The area’s topography is fascinating, and if you stop to catch a breath you always claim you are just admiring the views!

As you exit the valley you will be greeted by primary school kids and know that you have less than an hour left to the health centre in Kateretere. The tents will be erected on a nice patch of grass at 5pm and afterwards you will dine in the trading centre.

DAY 2

Loaded canoe on Lake Mutanda; photo by Wim Kok

Loaded canoe on Lake Mutanda; photo by Wim Kok

The plan for the day includes reaching Mutanda Lake Resort by lunch time, so your guide will make sure you finish your breakfast and packing by 8am.

You will pay a visit to the Biraara Batwa “Pygmy” community and admire their superb dancing, then descend towards Lake Mulehe and continue towards Lake Mutanda.

Your lunch will be superb, and after a short break you will continue trekking towards Rubuguri, a rural town. By 5pm you should be on the ridge overlooking Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and before the day ends you will reach Rushaga on the edge of the park.


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3 days/6 days

Volcano Quest and Parks Reunited (3-Day Treks)


There are two 3-day trekking options on the Gorilla Highlands Trails: Volcano Quest from Lake Bunyonyi to Mgahinga NP and Parks Reunited from Mgahinga to Bwindi NP. A combination of both treks, with some Mgahinga Gorilla National Park days in the middle, makes for an impressive one-week Ultimate Hike.

Volcano Quest

Hike from Lake Bunyonyi to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and let a Batwa “Pygmy” leader guide you through the wilderness of Echuya Forest. You will spend both nights on the way at lake campsites far away from any tourism, hosted by local families and sleeping in fully-equipped tents.


HighlightsVolcano Quest trekking map

• all cultures of southwestern Uganda (Bafumbira, Bakiga and Batwa “Pygmies”)
• spectacular views, volcano and island stories
• traditional healer visit
• session with a craftmaker
• Tom’s Homestay island experience
• Echuya Forest crossing led by a Batwa “Pygmy” leader
• night on the shore of Lake Kayumbu
• caldera picnic


Facts

length: 3 days; difficulty: 3
starting point: Lake Bunyonyi or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
area: Lake Bunyonyi – Echuya Forest – Lake Kayumbu – Cyanika – Mgahinga
departuresdaily at 9am

Price

• five people or more: USD 250 per person
• four people: USD 290 pp
• three people: USD 360 pp
• two people: USD 470 pp
• one person: USD 810

Includes everything during the trek (guiding, activities, tented accommodation, meals, snacks and water) and 1 night at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi. It does not include transport back from Mgahinga, accommodation there, or gorilla tracking.

Lake Bunyonyi – Mgahinga Itinerary (can be reversed)

DAY 1

In the middle of Echuya; photo by Philippe Vandorpe

In the middle of Echuya; photo by Philippe Vandorpe

If you have taken up our offer of a free night before the trek, you will wake up at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi and be treated to a substantial breakfast at 9am. If you have opted for a less basic accommodation elsewhere, we will collect you by boat and bring you to Edirisa in time for breakfast (if you wish to take it with us of course).

The paddling will begin at 10 in the morning, following a detailed briefing. The first program item on the Kyabahinga peninsula will be a dancing and singing presentation by the pupils of Edirisa Nursery School. At a trading centre above the school you will be invited to a cup of the local brew, obushera. The prize for your next activity, a relatively intense climb of about 30 minutes, will be pretty lake vistas and our guide’s stories about culture and nature.

Descending towards Lake Kayumbu; photo by Henriette Faye-Schjøll

Descending towards Lake Kayumbu; photo by Henriette Faye-Schjøll

On the ridge of the peninsula you will meet Omugurusi Jeremiah, a traditional healer, and Mrs Annah, a craftmaker. By 1pm Annah will have prepared lunch for her family – and you. Beans, sweet and Irish potatoes, ground nuts and dodo (local spinach) will make for a filling meal.

Kyabahinga is uniquely located to give you an outlook over most of Lake Bunyonyi, its 29 islands and the distant Muhavura volcano where you are heading. You will hear some of the colourful tales, legends and historical facts related to the islands.

In the afternoon you will descend to the water and enter the dugouts. Our canoe boys will paddle you to Habukomi, the island of pelicans, where you will enjoy Tom’s Homestay. By night a traditional musician will make your campfire very special.

DAY 2

Campsite at Lake Kayumbu; photo by Henriette Faye-Schjøll

Campsite at Lake Kayumbu; photo by Henriette Faye-Schjøll

By 8am you will be on the way to the other side of the lake and ascend towards the Echuya Forest Reserve, reaching it at midday. In Echuya you will be part of something unique: a Batwa “Pygmy” guided nature trail. John Kanusu is an experienced guide who will tell you how Echuya used to be his people’s home and is now a source of all kinds of natural materials. He will show you different herbs, plants that make rain, gold digging sites and more.

There is a swamp in the middle of Echuya that calls for rubber boots. Do not worry, our team will pack some for you.

The crossing of the forest will take about two hours. Your picnic lunch will happen above Lakes Kayumbu and Chahafi. The latter was once a colonial military outpost. In 1914 the English used 100 porters to carry a giant canoe from Chahafi to Lake Bunyonyi to attack the rebel leader Katuregye – perhaps using the trail you are taking? Still, your destination will be the closer lake, Kayumbu, where we camp on the shore.

DAY 3

Bafumbira lady; photo by Marcus Westberg

Bafumbira lady; photo by Marcus Westberg

Following lakeshore breakfast you will walk towards Cyanika on the Rwanda border. Feel like some No Man’s Land experience?

Your picnic lunch location will be in the middle of calderas on the edge of Mgahinga. To reach the national park’s main gate, Ntebeko, you will hike next to the park’s border, through a spectacular and lovingly cultivated landscape.

Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp lies a couple of steps away from the park gate, and that is where your dinner will be served, completing the trek.

Parks Reunited

How about reconnecting Bwindi and Mgahinga, two parts of an ancient forest, as you camp on a gorgeous tiny island on Lake Mutanda? You will experience a famous caldera, visit a coffee producer and get served fantastic restaurant meals.


HighlightsParks Reunited trekking map

• Sagitwe caldera climbing
 taste of the local coffee culture
• sleeping at Mutanda Island Lodge
• relaxing motorboat ride on Lake Mutanda
• hiking through the rainforest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
• exceptional restaurant meals

Facts

length: 3 days; difficulty: 3
starting point: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park or Buhoma (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park)
area: Mgahinga NP – Kisoro – Lake Mutanda – Nkuringo – Bwindi NP
departuresdaily at 9am

Price

• five people or more: USD 250 per person
• four people: USD 290 pp
• three people: USD 360 pp
• two people: USD 470 pp
• one person: USD 810

Includes everything during the trek (guiding, activities, tented accommodation, meals, snacks and water). It does not include Bwindi park fees (up to USD 70 pp), transport from Buhoma or accommodation there.

Mgahinga – Bwindi Itinerary (can be reversed)

DAY 1

Sagitwe caldera; photo by Josh Hamby

Sagitwe caldera; photo by Josh Hamby

We will begin at your Mgahinga lodge and hike down to Kisoro Town through volcanic rural areas, climb the Sagitwe caldera and walk past the first settlement of the church missionaries at Mabungo Hill.

Coffee Pot Cafe in the middle of Kisoro is owned by a German lady who makes excellent food. After lunch you will take about three hours to reach Lake Mutanda, visiting a coffee farmer on the way. A short boat ride will bring you to Mutanda Island Lodge on a small island in the south of the lake; pregnant unmarried girls were traditionally left here as a punishment. With loads of rabbits on the island, you won’t be surprised by comes to you on the plate. (Vegetarian options available too, of course.)

DAY 2

Mutanda Island Lodge is so pleasant that you will appreciate a slow morning after a camping night. By

Relaxation at Mutanda Island Lodge; photo by Miha Logar

Relaxation at Mutanda Island Lodge; photo by Miha Logar

midday the lodge motorboat will start moving towards Chameleon Hill Lodge, your impressive lunch break place.

At 2pm you will start following village trails. Beautiful views of the lake, the Virunga Volcanoes and the rugged ridges of the western arm of the Western Rift Valley can be admired on a clear day. You will end your day at about 5:30pm, with a night at Albertine Campsite. Despite the name you are likely to get a room there, however, the facilities are very basic here so you might wish to consider an upgrade to Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge or Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge.

DAY 3

Lake Mutanda; photo by Blasio Byekwaso

Lake Mutanda; photo by Blasio Byekwaso

Accompanied by a park ranger, your guide will take you down the steep slope to Kashasha River, already within the rainforest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This is a narrow trekking path with interesting bridges, a gorgeous river junction and natural obstacles that will entertain you for an hour or two. Afterwards the route is wide and flat. Plenty of birds are guaranteed, and other wildlife if you are lucky. Unless you are too exhausted, you will take a side trip to a trio of waterfalls in the middle of Bwindi. You will be at Buhoma in roughly 5 hours in total.


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4 days

View of Lake Bunyonyi from Kyabahinga peninsula; photo by Georg Schaumberger

 

Three Upland Lakes (4-Day Trek)


Lakes Bunyonyi, Kayumbu Lake Mutanda are probably the most beautiful lakes in the Gorilla Highlands region, and this trek covers them all, connecting to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Between a camping homestay on a remote Bunyonyi island and the picturesque Kayumbu shore, you will experience a Batwa “Pygmy”-led crossing of Echuya Forest.

Highlights

• all cultures of southwestern Uganda (Bafumbira, Bakiga and Batwa “Pygmies”)
• spectacular views, volcano and island stories
• traditional healer visit
• session with a craftmaker
• Tom’s Homestay island experience
• Echuya Forest crossing led by a Batwa “Pygmy” leader
• night on the shore of Lake Kayumbu
• great lunch at Coffee Pot in Kisoro
• sleeping at Mutanda Island Lodge
• relaxing motorboat ride on Lake Mutanda
• tasty lunch at Chameleon Hill Lodge
• impressive beauty of Bwindi

Facts

length: 4 days; difficulty: 3
starting point: Lake Bunyonyi or Rushaga (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park)
area: Lake Bunyonyi – Echuya Forest – Lake Kayumbu – Kisoro – Lake Mutanda – Rushaga
departuresdaily at 9am

Price

• five people or more: USD 340 per person
• four people: USD 390 pp
• three people: USD 470 pp
• two people: USD 610 pp
• one person: USD 980

Includes everything during the trek (guiding, activities, tented accommodation, meals, snacks and water) and 1 night at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi. It does not include transport back from Rushaga or accommodation there.

Lake Bunyonyi – Rushaga Itinerary (can be reversed)

DAY 1

Traditional healer at work; photo by Marcus Westberg

Traditional healer at work; photo by Marcus Westberg

If you have taken up our offer of a free night before the trek, you will wake up at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi and be treated to a substantial breakfast at 9am. If you have opted for a less basic accommodation elsewhere, we will collect you by boat and bring you to Edirisa in time for breakfast (if you wish to take it with us of course).

The paddling will begin at 10 in the morning, following a detailed briefing. The first program item on the Kyabahinga peninsula will be a dancing and singing presentation by the pupils of Edirisa Nursery School. At a trading centre above the school you will be invited to a cup of the local brew, obushera. The prize for your next activity, a relatively intense climb of about 30 minutes, will be pretty lake vistas and our guide’s stories about culture and nature.

On the ridge of the peninsula you will meet Omugurusi Jeremiah, a traditional healerand Mrs Annah, a craftmaker. By 1pm Annah will have prepared lunch for her family – and you. Beans, sweet and Irish potatoes, ground nuts and dodo (local spinach) will make for a filling meal.

Kyabahinga is uniquely located to give you an outlook over most of Lake Bunyonyi, its 29 islands and the distant Muhavura volcano where you are heading. You will hear some of the colourful tales, legends and historical facts related to the islands.

In the afternoon you will descend to the water and enter the dugouts. Our canoe boys will paddle you to Habukomi, the island of pelicans, where you will enjoy Tom’s Homestay. By night a traditional musician will make your campfire very special.

DAY 2

Echuya Forest moment; photo by Marcus Westberg

Echuya Forest moment; photo by Marcus Westberg

By 8am you will be on the way to the other side of the lake and ascend towards the Echuya Forest Reserve, reaching it at midday. In Echuya you will be part of something unique: a Batwa “Pygmy” guided nature trail. John Kanusu is an experienced guide who will tell you how Echuya used to be his people’s home and is now a source of all kinds of natural materials. He will show you different herbs, plants that make rain, gold digging sites and more.

There is a swamp in the middle of Echuya that calls for rubber boots. Do not worry, our team will pack some for you.

Lake Kayumbu view; photo by Marcus Westberg

Lake Kayumbu view; photo by Marcus Westberg

The crossing of the forest will take about two hours. Your picnic lunch will happen above Lakes Kayumbu and Chahafi. The latter was once a colonial military outpost. In 1914 the English used 100 porters to carry a giant canoe from Chahafi to Lake Bunyonyi to attack the rebel leader Katuregye – perhaps using the trail you are taking? Still, your destination will be the closer lake, Kayumbu, where we camp on the shore.

DAY 3

Following a lakeshore breakfast you will start hiking towards Kisoro Town, through villages on fertile volcanic soils. Compared to the rest of the itinerary, this section is strikingly flat.

Lake Mutanda from a drone; photo by Josh Hamby

Lake Mutanda from a drone; photo by Josh Hamby

Coffee Pot Cafe in the middle of Kisoro is owned by a German lady who makes excellent food. After lunch you will take another two hours to reach Lake Mutanda, where the boat from Mutanda Island Lodge will be awaiting you. This is a very special camping destination on an exclusive small island.

DAY 4

Following a relaxing morning you will make it to other side of the lake by motorboat; your lunch place is Chameleon Hill Lodge, a place with truly breathtaking views. In the afternoon you will do the last few hours of your trek, through Rubuguri Town to Rushaga on the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.


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5 days

Bwindi Triple Waterfalls; photo courtesy of Georg Schaumberger

Rainforest Ramble (5-Day Trek)


You will trek through two rainforests, Bwindi and  Echuya, and camp at three lakes as you link up Lake Bunyonyi with Buhoma. Do not miss the Triple Waterfalls in the middle of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park! [First 3 days identical to Three Upland Lakes]

Highlights

• all cultures of southwestern Uganda (Bafumbira, Bakiga and Batwa “Pygmies”)
• spectacular views, volcano and island stories
• traditional healer visit
• session with a craftmaker
• Tom’s Homestay island experience
• Echuya Forest crossing led by a Batwa “Pygmy” leader
• night on the shore of Lake Kayumbu
• sleeping at Mutanda Island Lodge
• relaxing motorboat ride on Lake Mutanda
• hiking through the rainforest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
• great local and restaurant meals

Facts

length: 5 days; difficulty: 4
starting point: Lake Bunyonyi or Buhoma
area: Lake Bunyonyi – Echuya Forest – Lake Kayumbu – Kisoro – Lake Mutanda – Nkuringo – Bwindi NP
departuresdaily at 9am

Price

• five people or more: USD 420 per person
• four people: USD 480 pp
• three people: USD 590 pp
• two people: USD 770 pp
• one person: USD 1270

Includes everything during the trek (guiding, activities, tented accommodation, meals, snacks and water) and 1 night at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi. It does not include Bwindi park fees (up to USD 70 pp), transport from Buhoma or accommodation in Buhoma.

Lake Bunyonyi – Buhoma Itinerary (can be reversed)

DAY 1

Lake Bunyonyi vista; photo by Marcus Westberg

Lake Bunyonyi vista; photo by Marcus Westberg

If you have taken up our offer of a free night before the trek, you will wake up at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi and be treated to a substantial breakfast at 9am. If you have opted for a less basic accommodation elsewhere, we will collect you by boat and bring you to Edirisa in time for breakfast (if you wish to take it with us of course).

The paddling will begin at 10 in the morning, following a detailed briefing. The first program item on the Kyabahinga peninsula will be a dancing and singing presentation by the pupils of Edirisa Nursery School. At a trading centre above the school you will be invited to a cup of the local brew, obushera. The prize for your next activity, a relatively intense climb of about 30 minutes, will be pretty lake vistas and our guide’s stories about culture and nature.

On the ridge of the peninsula you will meet Omugurusi Jeremiah, a traditional healerand Mrs Annah, a craftmaker. By 1pm Annah will have prepared lunch for her family – and you. Beans, sweet and Irish potatoes, ground nuts and dodo (local spinach) will make for a filling meal.

Kyabahinga is uniquely located to give you an outlook over most of Lake Bunyonyi, its 29 islands and the distant Muhavura volcano where you are heading. You will hear some of the colourful tales, legends and historical facts related to the islands.

In the afternoon you will descend to the water and enter the dugouts. Our canoe boys will paddle you to Habukomi, the island of pelicans, where you will enjoy Tom’s Homestay. By night a traditional musician will make your campfire very special.

DAY 2

Rolling hills after Echuya Forest Reserve; photo by Goran Gaber

Rolling hills after Echuya Forest Reserve; photo by Goran Gaber

By 8am you will be on the way to the other side of the lake and ascend towards the Echuya Forest Reserve, reaching it at midday. In Echuya you will be part of something unique: a Batwa “Pygmy” guided nature trail. John Kanusu is an experienced guide who will tell you how Echuya used to be his people’s home and is now a source of all kinds of natural materials. He will show you different herbs, plants that make rain, gold digging sites and more.

There is a swamp in the middle of Echuya that calls for rubber boots. Do not worry, our team will pack some for you.

The crossing of the forest will take about two hours. Your picnic lunch will happen above Lakes Kayumbu and Chahafi. The latter was once a colonial military outpost. In 1914 the English used 100 porters to carry a giant canoe from Chahafi to Lake Bunyonyi to attack the rebel leader Katuregye – perhaps using the trail you are taking? Still, your destination will be the closer lake, Kayumbu, where we camp on the shore.

DAY 3

Boat transport on Lake Mutanda; photo by Naomi Richards

Boat transport on Lake Mutanda; photo by Naomi Richards

Following a lakeshore breakfast you will start hiking towards Kisoro Town, through villages on fertile volcanic soils. Compared to the rest of the itinerary, this section is strikingly flat.

Coffee Pot Cafe in the middle of Kisoro is owned by a German lady who makes excellent food. After lunch you will take another two hours to reach Lake Mutanda. A short boat ride will bring you to Mutanda Island Lodge on a small island in the south of the lake where pregnant unmarried girls were traditionally left as a punishment. We will pitch our tents, relax and have a tasty buffet dinner.

DAY 4

Mutanda Island Lodge is so pleasant that you will appreciate a slow morning there. By midday the lodge motorboat will start moving towards Chameleon Hill Lodge, your lunch break place.

At 2pm you will start following village trails. Beautiful views of the lake, the Virunga Volcanoes and the rugged ridges of the western arm of the Western Rift Valley can be admired on a clear day. You will end your day at about 5:30pm, with a night at Albertine Campsite. Despite the name you are likely to get a room there, however, the facilities are very basic here so you might wish to consider an upgrade to Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge or Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge.

DAY 5

Bwindi stream; photo by Georg Schaumberger

Bwindi stream; photo by Georg Schaumberger

Accompanied by a park ranger, your guide will take you down the steep slope to Kashasha River, already within the rainforest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This is a narrow trekking path with interesting bridges, a gorgeous river junction and natural obstacles that will entertain you for an hour or two. Afterwards the route is wide and flat. Plenty of birds are guaranteed, and other wildlife if you are lucky. Unless you are too exhausted, you will take a side trip to a trio of waterfalls in the middle of Bwindi. You will be at Buhoma in roughly 5 hours in total.


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