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Sharm el-Sheikh

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Sharm el-Sheikh (Arabic: شرم الشيخ, also transliterated as Sharm ash Shaykh and popularly known simply as "Sharm") is a well-known port and resort town at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, popular with package holiday makers and divers.

Understand

Sharm el-Sheikh is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Arab world. But there are also some very good reasons to visit it if you are not the common tourist, who likes to lie on the beach all day. It is one of the finest diving spots in the world and a trip into the desert is an unforgettable adventure.

The Sinai Peninsula is a remote desert mountain range. The rocky mountains are parted from the deep-blue sea by a flat desert strip. This combination of desert and sea is an incredible sight and makes you believe you are on a different planet.

Sharm el-Sheikh used to be nothing but a small fishing village with about 100 Bedouin citizens. When Sinai was occupied by Israel in 1967, Sharm el-Sheikh started to develop as a tourist destination (like the rest of the peninsula). The Israelis evacuated Sinai between 1979 and 1982 following the signing of a peace agreement between the two countries. Since the 1980s, the Egyptians have been continuing the development of Sharm where the Israelis left off. Sharm's 100 grew into a bustling 10,000 population. There is now a nice promenade, a Hard Rock Cafe, one of the most modern hospitals in Egypt and so on.

Climate

See also: Egypt#Climate

The climate is very dry. Rainfall is very rare. The weather is very hot in summer days and moderately hot at summer nights. In winter, it is warm at days and has one of the warmest night temperatures in Egypt.

The most comfortable time to visit Sharm El-Sheikh are late summer and beginning of the fall. For example in September the air temperature is about 34 °C and water is about 29 °C.

Orientation

The Na'ama Bay part of the city is the center of nightlife and dining: most of Sharm's clubs, cafes, restaurants and shops are here. Na'ama Bay lies midway between Sharm Airport and Old City, nearly 10 minutes driving from each.

Microbuses can take you from downtown, but to reach Na’ama Bay from the airport, you will have to take a cab.

Sharm el Sheikh has grown into three distinct areas now, Nabq is a new area to the north of Na'ama, Old Market and Hadaba to the south of Na'amaa Bay.

Get in

See Sinai for information on the Sinai visit pass, which allows visa-free travel for up to 14 days.

By plane

  • 1 Sharm el-Sheikh Airport (SSH IATA). The largest airport in the Sinai, it receives plane-loads of charter tourists daily in the winter high season. The principal airline for local flights is EgyptAir. There are 2 terminals that are next to each other. Terminal 1 is the new one with Egypt Air and Easy Jet. You will need a visa only if you plan to go out of the Sharm area (such as Ras Mohammed bus or boat, Cairo, St Catherine's). It can be bought on arrival (price seems to vary day to day, make sure you have £15, US$15, or €15 handy.

For departures: timetable shows only nearest 1-2 hours, makes you watch over the row of check-in desks for your flight number.

Airport cafes

Cafes after security check are: Sbarro (overcrowded), Cafe Europa (on the back of the lounge, less crowded): sandwiches, coffee, Egyptian sweets; outlet of Caffè Ritazza international chain coming soon (also in Athens, Budapest, Madrid, Milan, London, Paris, New York, Stockholm, Zurich, Vienna).

Shops in the airport

After security check: Patisserie offers lucums, khalva and other Egyptian sweets.

By boat

Ferry services between Hurghada on the mainland Red Sea Coast and Sharm were suspended in 2018. The high-speed catamarans used to be run by La Pespes.

2 Sharm El Sheikh Marine Port is along the southern entry road, about 1 km southeast of the old market.

By car or bus

Sharm el-Sheikh can be reached by driving down the eastern coast from Eilat (Israel) via Nuweiba and Dahab, or via the western coast from Cairo. There are daily buses for both routes. From Cairo, East Delta buses take approximately 8 hr (LE80) while Superjet buses take 6 hr. When taking the bus from Cairo, keep your bus ticket and passport handy, as you will pass through a number of checkpoints, which require passengers to present identification and ticket. The drive is interesting with beautiful scenery, throughout the route.

3 Sharm el-Sheikh bus station is removed, by about a kilometer, from the Peace road. If you should arrive during the evening hours your only option may be to take a taxi, as micro-bus service can be spotty. Since Sharm is a tourist-driven economy, you should be prepared to do some bargaining. If you are of the hiking type, the main road is, roughly, 20 minutes from main road. Just ask anyone to point you in the direction of Peace road. Once at Peace road you should have no problem hailing down a micro-bus.

When heading to the bus station via micro-bus along Peace Road, tell the driver that you are going to the bus station, and want to be left off at the gas station. This may take some work, given the limited English skills of the drivers. Once at the gas station, you should see micro-buses, which will take you on the final leg. Remember, transfers are not issued, you must pay another fee for the final leg.

About micro-bus fees If your journey is within a kilometer or two, the cost should be about (LE3-5). If your stop is further out, or if you are traveling during the late night hours, be prepared to get a demand for more money, in some cases drivers may demand up to (LE10-20). Demands for higher fees can also take place, if the driver feels he you have money! So, be prepared to negotiate. If the driver's fee is unreasonable, get out — this will often bring down the cost. When arriving, ask a local how much the bus costs before hailing one down. The information provided will give you a base-line price, from which you can bargain with.

Get around

By taxi

In Sharm the taxis are generally modern models, either Hyundai or Chevrolet. Don't bother with the meter in the taxi: it probably does not work anymore. They soon break due to the dust, and would work out more than the "fixed" prices anyway. Always note the driver's ID number. The tourist police are very helpful if you have a problem, or quickly realise you left something inside, but only with the taxi number.

Don't assume they have meters. Locals tell you they don't. Make sure you have transportation waiting for you as Sharm el Sheikh airport is the worst part of Egypt for getting a reasonably priced taxi. They will ask for LE150-400 for the 10-minute ride to Nabq. It is easy to make it to the main road, hail a cab and pay LE50-100. Otherwise you will walk away from the experience feeling violated.Check with your hotel if they have a pick-up service.

Check sure you have small notes to pay the fare and never pay before you reach your destination, making sure you only pay the pre-arranged price. Make sure that the driver knows that you are paying in Egyptian pounds and not British pounds. Taxis do not like to take coins.

By bus

There are also a fleet of blue and white tuk-tuks, which are basically small buses, of varying roadworthiness, which are used to ferry the locals around the resort of Sharm el Sheikh. These are a most economical method of transport compared to taxis, which are comparatively expensive. They run on a fixed route from north to south with a diversion to the expat/locals area of Hadaba. To hail a tuk-tuk, wait next to the side of the main street and raise your hand to flag one down as it approaches. When you take the bus, go inside and find a seat and simply pass your money forward to the driver (with the help of other passengers if you sit in the back). The fare should never be more than LE3. If you start asking for the price the driver may very well try to make you pay much more than needed. Do not try to pay in foreign currency. When you arrive at your destination call 'hinna quiis' (here is good). The main tourist center, Naama Bay, is known as Marina (and there is no marina!).

Make sure you have a stash of small coins and notes to pay your fare.

See

Sightseeing and excursions in/from Sharm El Sheikh

  • Sharm Old Town Hail a taxi or local bus to take you to the Sharm Old Town, ask the driver for the old market. This is a much different experience for tourists staying in the Na'ama Bay area. Most of Sharm was built after the Israeli invasion, so don't expect a Morrocan-style 'souk' experience! Ignoring the touts outside each shop make a better experience, unless you are serious about buying. Stay strong in you determination of what to pay.
  • Na'ama Bay is the tourist center of Sharm el-Sheikh, an unusual sight and a bit exotic for a westerner are huge fans pumping fresh air and water to street cafes and terraces near hotels. Na’ama Bay is basically a formation of a large number of hotels and spas, sharing the same beach line.
  • 1 Al-Mostafa Mosque, Al Rewaysat Rd. The largest mosque in Sharm el-Sheikh. Has a small shop with Islamic books, tours are offered from time to time.
  • 2 Al Sahaba Mosque (In Old market). After years of construction, this large mosque in old market has been completed. Built in an Ottoman architectural style, it could easily be mistaken for having been there for hundreds of years.
  • 3 El-Samaeyeen Cathedral. A Coptic church beautifully decorated with frescoes depicting bible verses. Most often, there will be a guide that can offer a tour.
  • A visit to the desert is highly recommended. Various trips to the Bedouins, the beautiful Colored Canyon, White Canyon, quad bike and buggy safari tours.

The more adventurous should try to find a private guide, who takes them for a few days into the mountain desert with a camel. You will walk through hidden valleys, rest at secret oasis and during the night you sleep under a breathtaking firmament.

  • Boat and snorkeling trips to the beautiful snorkeling sites in Ras Mohammed National Park and Tiran Island. For non-swimmers, the submarine or glass-bottom boat is an ideal alternative to discover the underwater world of the Red Sea.
  • Cultural excursions in Sinai like Saint Catherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai, where, according to tradition, the God spoke to the prophet Moses. Excursions from Sharm el-Sheikh to Cairo, where the famous three pyramids, the Sphinx and the Egyptian National Museum, or to Luxor, the famous capital of ancient Egypt. Other sightseeing excursions include those to neighboring countries to visit sites such as Petra or Jerusalem.
  • Day visit to Dahab Lovely relaxing trip - a totally different vibe to Sharm. One hour away through a mountainous road, best not attempted at night. Taxis should be LE150 each way or LE20 each way from the bus station then a Dahab 'taxi' (pick-up) for LE5-10 into town. Take the number of your driver if you want to leave at a different time. The bridge is in the centre of town with a promenade in each direction.
  • Enjoy the sight and sound experience and the live show at Alf Lela w Lela (A Thousand and One Nights) everyday. the live show is amazing, with different shows featuring other belly dancers. Also some Egyptians weddings, tanourra dance and shows. A bit down at heel but worth a look around.
  • Short trips to Aqua Park, the largest water park in Sharm el-Sheikh, Dolphinella where dolphin shows and dolphin swim takes place and crocodile show.

Do

Diving

Diving is the main activity in Sharm el-Sheikh. When you dive into the warm water of the Red Sea and leave the remote desert behind, you will enter a world full of life and colours. Divers, especially photographers, should be confident with their buoyancy to avoid damaging the fragile coral reef system. Some hotels in Na'ama Bay have cleared the coral reef from their section of beach for tourists to use the water.

  • The reefs of Tiran and Ras Mohammed are known as two of the best diving spots in the world. They can be reached by boat from Sharm within two hours. Ras Mohammed is the southern most point of the Sinai peninsula. There, the current of the Gulf of Aqaba meets the Gulf of Suez. Due to the increase of plankton in the water the amount of fish is incredible. Huge schools of barracudas, sharks and murrays can be seen there every day.
The disadvantage of its popularity is that you may find up to 20 boats at the same reef. If you take a daily boat you may enjoy your dive in the company of fifty other dive guides and about 10 divers in each group.
  • The wreck of the SS Thistlegorm is generally regarded as one of the finest wreck dives in the world. However, it can also become very crowded with divers and definitely is an advanced dive due to strong currents and part of the dive is usually in an overhead environment.
  • Smarter divers book a diving safari. This way you avoid the crowds at the popular spots and have the possibility to dive beautiful reefs way beyond the reach of any daytripping boats. The overall costs of a diving safari does not exceed daily diving and it saves you a lot of stress. Check out your chosen boat online and make sure the photos are current!

Operators include

  • Oonas Dive Center. A small, friendly dive centre at the quieter end of Na'ama Bay offering daily diving and all PADI courses - discounts for internet bookings.
  • Sinai Divers Naama Bay.
  • Camel Dive Club.
  • Colona Divers.
  • Emperor Divers.
  • Enigma Charters.
  • Ocean College.
  • RedSea Diving College.
  • Diving Ocean.
  • Ultimate Diving Holidays.
  • Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village.
  • Dolphin Diving Center.
  • Divers International, Sofitel Hotel (North end of Na'ama Bay), ☏ +20 106770462. 9AM-6PM. PADI five star diving centres offering daily diving trips, PADI courses, and liveaboard safaris.

Horseback riding

  • Stables at Sofitel Hotel. Helpful personnel. Require helmets (provided); several pairs of riding boots available. After the ride, offer you to give showers to your horse. Bambi and Kelly are declared as the fastest horses. Too far from the desert: in a 2-hour route, only 40 minutes is actual ride in desert, the remaining time is spent to get there and to return back. For 2 hours, it is better to choose stables at the edge of desert. €45 (2 hr).

Quad bikes

There are dozens of operators who seem to use just the same route, length and sequence of stops: when you drive, you meet many groups who follow just the same route as yours. There are several really shaky pieces of the route, very much like a washboard.

Wear a long-sleeved shirt; shoes are safer than sandals. Always wear a helmet and make sure your travel insurance covers this activity. Expect all your wear (and skin) to be covered with gray dust.

2 hours of riding is just enough for a non-professional rider; expect several stops along the way. It's ideal to start your ride at 4PM or later--to catch a sunset and ride back when air is not that hot.

At departure point, choose a bike in the beginning of the motorcade: being one of the first allows to drive faster, and results in less dust.

  • Tiba Safari/Tiba Trip. Sold by many agencies. Groups are 10-15 bikes; two persons per bike is allowed (although bikes were designed for a single person). Tasting Berber tea is very risky for your stomach--proven several times. Group is accompanied by a car with camcorder--video is not worth buying, and the car generates much extra dust (you can't do much about it unless your whole group ask in advance to not make video at all). US$20 single person per bike for 2 hr; $25 for two people sharing the same bike for 2 hr.

Make sure you stay on the path and follow your guide, as Egypt has one quarter of the world's landmines buried in its deserts, some of them surprisingly close to Sharm el-Sheikh.

Para sailing

Para sailing is very enjoyable. But, for a ride that is less than 5 minutes, they charge LE260 for 2 persons and LE220 for one person.

Camel trekking

The best place to do this is in the Sinai desert on a tour on camels. After this you can look up at the desert stars at midnight after having a homemade meal cooked by the Sinai people.

Buy

Water in shops cost around LE3-5. Bring your sunscreen, because they cost LE80-200 anywhere in town, if you are without tan, shopkeeper will sell you one at very bad price - welcome to Egypt.

Na'ama Bay has very forceful sellers and caution should taken by the naive tourist who accepts a "free gift" (nothing in Egypt is free) or falls for the "come and sign my guest book" in a shop, only to be locked in. When shopping, it is best not to speak to any sellers who engage you unless you are sure that you are going to buy something. This allows you some degree of hassle-free walking (as they do not know what language you speak).

Opening hours are variable, but most shops are open in the early to late afternoon and in the evening. If you are looking for a reprieve from the hassle and haggling, there's a Carrefour Express supermarket with fixed prices. Coming from the bay, it's hidden behind one of the Malls, at Golden Pyramid Mall – on Peace Road. The selection is limited, but all the staples are available without hassle. You just have to make it through the crowds of vendor touts to get there.

  • Carrefour Express, Marina, one street west of 'main disco street' (one street off from the main shopping/nagging street in Marina part). One of the classic European shops with price tags, option to pay with credit card without disadvantages, exchange machine and ATM inside. They do have a lot of local spices and even some souvenir items, like small papyrus just for LE2.

Eat

If you need a break from resort food try one of the local places below. If you're looking for a taste of home, Il Mercato houses a McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Costa and a Starbucks. Manchow Wok has nice Chinese food and is opposite Stella, the only place to drink in El Mercato.

Na'ama Bay is amusing, especially at night, where lights of Bedouin-style and modern restaurants, café shops, and other 'bazaars' are glittering. Pork is not sold, even when it is advertised on a menu (it is actually a salted beef). A 10-15% service charge will be added to any bill.

Budget

  • El Masrien, Old Market (next to the market exit), ☏ +20 (69) 366 2904. Noon–4AM. Offering Egyptian barbeque cuisine including Kabab, Kofta, Reyash, Nefa, Tarab & liver, all types of oriental dishes including veal shank, stuffed pigeon & stuffed duck, all types of pasta & rice & different types of stuffed vegetables. Alcohol free. Enjoy all types of grills. Also worth is GAD a few more doors down, look for the big red sign. Both are full of locals.

Mid-range

  • 1 Fares Seafood (In Horus Mall), ☏ +20 115 933 3735. All kinds of seafood fresh from the Red Sea.
  • Fawanes Cafe, Naama Bay. Lebanese cuisine. Good place for waterpipes; order a smaller one (Fawanes); apple one is ideal.
  • Onions (In Iberotel IL Mercato). Fusion food, good services and reasonable prices.
  • Safsafa, Naama Bay, ☏ +20 69 3660474. Probably one of the best fish cafes in the town. A rare place where grilled calmaras are really good. However, the lobster included in the mixed seafood plate is dry.
  • Tempo Cafe. Features some percentage of locals. Waiters are uniformed in distinctive orange-and-green. Waterpipe is good, but when served for several people (with many hoses), the menu price may be multiplied by number of people--ask in advance; maybe it's just a scam.
  • Indian restaurants. There are 3 Indian restaurants in Sharm. One is Maharaja, on the beach pathway. Other two are India House Restaurants, of Thai Chain hotels. One is the old market and another one, opposite little Buddha, on the road near the taxi stand. Can get Indian menus.

Drink

For nightlife, Na'ama Bay offers several clubs: The Pacha, Little Buddha and Hard Rock Cafe. (Yes, the latter is one of the chain.) There are countless bars and the pedestrian walkways offer many coffee houses where you may also enjoy a shisha along with some people watching.

Alcohol (including beer) is available in restaurants and street cafes. Travellers must be aware that taxes are now levied on alcoholic drinks that are purchased in cafes or bars that are not associated with the hotels. Please also be aware of drink prices in general as they can be relatively expensive, compared to other European destinations. Always ask to see a drinks menu before ordering a drink. Check in the Naama Bay cafes that you will not be charged 'entrance' and to watch the 'floor show' (bad dancing). Tea and coffee is around LE15-25, make sure you are paying sensible prices.

Fresh Guava juice is a must-try, excellent in any cafe, along with Bedouin or Mint tea.

  • Black House. Second famous venue after Pacha club. Presumably owned by Russians and avoided by everyone.
  • Bus Stop, Nabq Bay.
  • Hard Rock Cafe, El Soultan Qabous St., Nabq. Daily noon-4AM.
  • Little Buddha, Naama Bay Hotel, ☏ +20 69 350 1030. Good music and cocktails. Not the cheapest place in town.
  • Ministry of Sound Red Sea, Pacha/Sanafir hotel, ☏ +20 31624930603. 11PM-3:45AM.
  • Pacha club, Sanafir hotel, Naama Bay, ☏ +20 69 360-0197-8. One of the most famous dancing clubs.
  • TGI Fridays, Naama Bay.
  • 1 Space Sharm, ☏ +20 69 3603883. An affiliate of the Ibiza nightclub with the same name.

Sleep

Most hotels in Sharm, particularly in the Na'ama Bay area cater for package tourists. There are mostly 3-6 star all-inclusive hotels and there are very few (if any) budget options. Generally it is best to knock a star off the official rating to avoid disappointment. Renting privately owned apartments is economical, but they vary in facilities.

Nabq or Montaza area it is quite a distance to the north (12 km) from Na'ama Bay and Old Market, so you either are tied to their all-included ration, or need to pay for taxi for every dinner in Na'ama (although taxi is inexpensive from most of hotels, or take the hotel courtesy bus). You do have Soho Square and the 'Mall Strip' of Nabq area of all inclusive Hotels.

For hotels in Na'ama Bay, their territory is frequently crossed by a pedestrian street, so the beach may appear across the street from the hotel building--obviously affecting privacy even when using a hotel's pool. The Zebra crossings on the main roads are best ignored as the drivers have no idea what they are for! Remember to check your choice out on Google maps to see if it is really near a beach as some are set back from the water some distance, although they do have shuttle buses (some of which incur local fees).

Mid-range

  • 1 Maritim Jolie Ville Golf & Resort, ☏ +20 2 269 014 65, ✉ monika.elbadramany@jolieville-hotels.com. The hotel has the only 18-hole PGA international championship golf course in the area (Winner of the Platinum MENA Travel Award for Best Golf Club in the Middle East & Africa in 2006).
  • Oonas Dive Club, Na'ama Bay, ☏ +20693600581. Small, independent hotel situated right on the beach at the quieter end of Na'ama Bay. With integrated restaurant and bar facilities, roof bar and on-site Dive Centre. Friendly staff and personal service.
  • Savoy. Extremely spacious and modern rooms.
  • Sierra. Very small territory for its number of visitors. Airport is very close, and planes fly over the hotel's territory.
  • Sofitel. Large territory is isolated and private, but still within walking distance from Naama Bay--allowing pleasant promenades through a flower alley for a dinner in Naama. Moroccan-style interior and territory decoration; territory smothered in flowers. Very courteous staff--compared to many other resorts of this grade in Sharm. Built around late 80s-early 90s, as bathrooms equipment suggests; plastic chairs on most private terraces. Large swimming pool, tennis court (pay for electric light only?), gym, horse stables available. 3 private beaches, each with a private piece of a coral reef right near the beach. Breakfast is from 6:30AM-10:30AM; buffet is not refilled after 10AM. Good choice of traditional breakfast meals; custom-made omlettes and fried eggs; coffee is American only; cocoa is made of instant. Whole fruits are not served, but all components for fruit salad are. The Horizon Bar overlooks the sea; terraces next to the pool both serve dishes from the main restaurant where the breakfast is served. Caesar salad is fine; lentil soup is not spicy and pretty good (if you like lentil soup). Pizzas are quite rubbery. Cucumber soup cold and strange. There's also an Indian restaurant.

Splurge

  • Domina Oasis Hotel & Resort (near Sharm El Sheikh Golf Resort).
  • Grand Rotana Resort & Spa. About ten minutes from the airport.
  • Hilton Sharm Dreams Resort, Nabq (near Nabq Bay). Guestrooms have balconies, air conditioning, and sofa beds. Rooms also include minibars and handheld showers.
  • Hilton Fayrouz Resort Sharm El Sheikh (near Naama Bay Beach).
  • Hilton Sharks Bay Sharm El Sheikh (near Sharks Bay).
  • Hyatt Regency Sharm El Sheikh, Gardens Bay, South Sinai, ☏ +20 69 360 1234, ✉ sharm@hyattintl.com. 5 star resort style hotel with 439 rooms and suites, a watersports centre and a spa.
  • Marriott Sharm El Sheikh Resort (near Naama Bay Beach).
  • Noria Resort (near Naama Bay Beach). It has been built in traditional Roman Style. It is not on the beach but has a free shuttle bus. They charge €3 per hour for wifi.
  • 2 Sheraton Sharm Hotel, Resort, Villas & Spa (near Sharm El Sheikh Golf Resort), ☏ +20 69 3602070.

The only Five Stars Plus resorts are:

  • 3 Four Seasons Resort Sharm El Sheikh, 1 Four Seasons Boulevard, ☏ +20 69 3603555.
  • Ritz Carlton. Spa, diving and snorkelling from the hotel.
  • 4 The Cleopatra Luxury Resort Collection, ☏ +20 69 37 10 850, fax: +20 69 37 10 851. Spa, diving and snorkelling from the hotel. EGP 444 HB.
  • 5 Jaz Belvedere Resort Hotel, El Montaza, ☏ +20 69 367 04 41, ✉ reservation@jazbelvedere.com.
  • 6 Jaz Mirabel Beach (Sharm El Sheikh Hotel), Nabq Bay, ☏ +20 69 371 03 71, ✉ reservation@mirabelresort.net. az Mirabel Beach offers stunning views of the Red Sea in a luxurious but relaxed family-friendly setting for the perfect Egypt holidays package. Jaz Mirabel Beach lies on the shores of a lagoon in Nabq Bay, a ten-minute drive from Sharm El-Sheikh International Airport.

Go next

  • Mount Sinai — a holy mountain known for the ancient Monastery of St. Catherine, and thought to be the mountain where Moses received the 10 commandments. A taxi for the days that waits for you can be found if you want to go during the day. If you want to go for the sunset or sunrise you can book a trip through one of the local operators. Mark that the cafeteria in the Monastery does not always have food, but rather chips and snacks. It can be wise to bring some food if it is not set up for you as part of your trip.
  • Dahab — a small and relaxing resort town 90 km north from Sharm El Sheikh, just over one hour away, offers a wide range of wind water sports as well as the famous Blue Hole.
  • Taba Heights — a purpose built resort town 225 km north, just over 2 hours' drive, which offers a wide range of wind water sports as well as the opportunity to see frog fish and sea horses.


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