Ecuador 4: Salinas to the Galapagos Islands

Taking advantage of their early, first place departure from the pit stop, Simon and Ang had a quick breakfast before they once again jumped in a collective taxi to head down from the mountains.  Ang had developed headaches from the altitude, so the timing was perfect.

The truck ride down the hill was along the winding Salinas road and caused Ang to be motion sick once they finally arrived in Guaranda.  There, after Ang recovered, the team raced to the bus terminal and boarded the first bus to Guayaquil.

The ride took the team through some spectacular mountain scenery and small quaint looking mountain villages.  The bus driver seemed adverse to any sort of speed, even when the road was clear of the thick fog. However, once the low plain was reached, the bus picked up speed, passing most traffic as it raced west to the coast to make up lost time.

Guayaquil suburb Stilt houses outside of Guayaquil
Roundabout art

Arriving in Guayaquil, a hot dusty and dangerous port city, Simon and Ang took a taxi to a hostel in the centre.  There, afer checking into their accommodation, they took a short walk along the boardwalk and had a dinner that included a big ball of plantain and cheese.   After completing this challenge, the team were given their next clue and were directed to make their way to the Galapagos Islands.

Iguanas escape people in a central park of Guayaquil A tall ship on the waterfront
Guayaquil firestation The reason why Guayaquil is dangerous – the kids learn young

Early the next morning the team raced out to the airport where they checked into the first available flight to the Galapagos Islands.  The flight was rapidly completed and the team’s plane landed at Baltra airport.  Strict entry formalities were completed and fees paid.  The team boarded the shuttle to the Itbacca channel where they then boarded a ferry for the short ride, complete with sea lions, across to Santa Cruz.  Once there, they were the first and only team on the first bus to depart for Puerto Ayora.

Arriving in Puerto Ayora in the hot early afternoon, the team were given the task of finding suitable accommodation.  After walking around, the team located Galapagos Dreams, a small boutique hostel run by the super friendly local upcoming business identity, Jonathon.  The team shared lunch with Jonathon and were then given their next clue.  They were to find and book a cruise with the Eden boat.

With the town of Puerto Ayora mostly closed as it was the day before New Year’s Eve, the team settled for the first open agency recommended by the guidebook.  They rapidly completed arrangements and agreed a payment plan as the ATMs on the island all had small withdrawal limits.

With this task completed, the team had drinks with four members of Team Canada.  They then all returned to Galapagos dreams where they climbed to the roof of the main building via a wonky homemade ladder and enjoyed the second last evening of the year.

On the roof of Galapagos Dreams

To be continued…


Ecuador 3: Salinas

As the first to arrive at 6pm, after an optional thirteen hour rest period, Simon and Ang left the pit stop at 9am.   Breakfast was had at an overpriced cafe run by an annoying and abrupt German lady who was afraid they would steal her wifi without buying something (which they didn’t), before they raced to the bus terminal and boarded a bus to Ambato.  There they changed to another bus to Guaranda and raced up into the Andes.

Roadside store selling paper mache cartoon characters

Climbing to a heady height of 4000 meters, the team drove past the even higher Chimborazo, the highest mountain on earth when distance is measured from the centre of earth, before they descended to the outskirts of Guaranda.  Their final change was into the back of a collectively owned shared pickup truck taxi which drove them back up to 3500 meters and the town of Salinas.

Mighty Chimborazo

Walking to their accommodation in the late afternoon was a difficult journey. Simon said that “you could really feel the altitude.  My head was spinning and I was short of breath by the time we had walked 200m”.  Ang was seemingly unaffected.

Misty Salinas

With accommodation found, the team received the list of sites they would be required to check out.  These included the local textile shop, salami factory, tannery, mushroom farm, cheese cooperative, dairy cooperative, soya product factory and importantly the chocolate factory.

Owing to the late afternoon arrival time in Salinas, the team was only able to locate the textile shop where a new beanie was purchased by Ang.  Returning to the nearby pizza place, they completed the first food challenge of this leg of the race with Ang eating a delicious mushroom pizza.  Simon of course could only look on, but was lucky enough to drink a thick tasty hot chocolate.  Also in the restaurant was a solo Team Germany racer.  He completed his pizza challenge and chatted with Team Australia about earlier legs of each other’s respective exclusive races.

A local donkey

The next day was spent walking around town locating the various challenge locations after a long walk into the countryside.  First on the list was the chocolate factory, where supplies for upcoming legs were purchased.  Next were the salami factory then the tannery and mushroom farm.  Last was the cheese cooperative where a sample platter of cheeses, olives and salamis were purchased.  A quick stop at the dairy cooperative and soya factory finished the challenge and the team was directed to their accommodation, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

A panorama of Salinas’main square
Who needs a pack horse when you have a pack Llama?
A panorama of Salinas town
Brothers from different mothers Storehouse of cheese!
Bird on a wire Dogs on a roof

Ecuador 2: Baños

Warning:  the following race report contains photography that may be distrubing to guinea pig fans.

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced from Quito, the capital of Ecuador to Baños, a pleasant mountain town in the Andes.  Travelling aboard a local intercity bus, the team arrived in Baños three hours after departure.

Roadside BBQ pig stop

Baños de aqua santa or the bath of the water saint, is a mountain town set in a spectacular location along a deep canyon and surrounded by high hills and a volcano.  Their first stop was to check into their fantastic Australian/Kiwi run hostel, Casa Verde.  After this was completed, they made their way into town to explore and prepare for the upcoming challenges.

Baños panorama

The first task for Baños was to zip line or canopy.  For this task, the team made their way to the zip line in the cloud forests a short drive out of Baños.  There they joined another American team to complete a zip line course that included one stretch of 500m zip line upside down.  Rather unusually, this challenge was completed during a volcanic eruption, so the team’s faces were covered with volcanic ash and sand as they zipped through the cloud forest.  Successfully completing this challenge, the team moved on to their next activity.

Extreme Ang on the zip line

For their next task, the team had dinner at a small cafe owned by a friendly Ecuadorian chef who had been trained in both New York and Paris.  The team worked their way through a fantastic meal and the best piña colada ever.  While they were eating, the team met a crowd of local volunteers and were invited to a variety of Christmas functions.   Once they had finished their meal, once again in first place, the team read the next clue which would require them to look for lava erupting from the nearby strato-volcano, Tungurahua.  This was accomplished with ease with the volcano erupting high in the night’s sky causing a line of red to be formed.

Street in Baños Roast Cuy (guinea pig) anyone?

Relocating to their next accommodation after a great homemade breakfast, including vegemite to Angela’s great delight and real enjoyment, the team received the next clue and headed off to the bike rental shop where they hired two bikes and set off on a 60km downhill ride from Baños to the town of Puyo.  The ride took Simon and Ang past a variety of waterfalls and spectacular miradors, however, they were unable to complete the full distance to Puyo town square.  Ang flagged down a Ecuadorian civil engineer who was commuting from work in a ute and he was nice enough to give the team a ride back to Baños.  Once there, Simon and Ang offered to pay the guy, but he refused.  The team returned the bikes and received their next challenges.

Ang chasing chickens on the downhill One of many Baños waterfalls

Simon and Ang attended a Christmas bonfire held at the Bibloteca volunteer centre.  The centre provides English lessons and encourages creativity with the children.  That evening, the team was allowed to contact family and friends back home.  They spent several hours on skype chatting and catching up with friends and family.  The next day, the team attended Christmas lunch.  This was a pot luck lunch and included macaroni and cheese, grilled meats and a variety of tasty salads.

Christmas day

Bellies full, the team returned to their accommodation and after a light dinner, slept off the day’s indulgences.

Christmas dinner

Relocating accommodation for a final time, the team moved into a hostel with a giant tortoise in the garden and two very friendly parrots, one who could say ‘hola’.  Simon completed the feed the parrots corn chips road block and the team received their next clue which required them to climb to the top of the Virgin Mirador, 200m above Baños’ 1820m altitude.  The climb proved to be surprisingly tough so once they team arrived at the top they snacked on corn chips and took in the view.  With this challenge completed, the team received the final task for Baños, to have a bath!

Feeding a bird Hostel roommates
Ang wants one as a pet
A panorama of Baños from the mirador
Racers pause for a photo overlooking Baños

For their bath in Baños, the team arrived at early at 6pm, right after opening.  They changed and went to the cooler of the two hot water pools.  This small swimming pool sized hot spring pool was at least 40 degrees centigrade and filled with a variety of local Baños residents. Steam rose from the water into the chilly night air.  There the team waited the requisite 15 minutes before they were allowed to get out and move to the hotter of the pools.  The smaller hot pool was at least 10 degrees warmer than the last.  Here they were required to get in the scorching hot water for at least one minute, and then enter one of the small freezing cold water plunge pools before returning again to the hot water pool.  With this challenge completed, the team received their final clue and made their way to the pit stop, where once again they were first to arrive.

Boxing day bath challenge

In a post race interview, Ang said that “I really enjoyed this leg of the race immensely due to the adrenaline from the activities and would like to take up downhilling and zip lining as new sports”.  Ang is keen to buy a zip line for her home after the race is over and will consider offers of sponsorship.


Ecuador 1: Quito

The team woke early and were surprised to see a random police officer on night duty greet them.  They received their next clue and the officer checked them out of the pit stop.  Simon and Ang took their bags out to the waiting car and were whisked to Bogotá airport.

Arriving at the airport at a little after 5:15 am, they entered the chaos of hundreds of Colombians travelling with no real organisation behind the epic queues for the check in counters.  Simon and Ang joined the back of the international queue and two hours later arrived at their gate.

They boarded their flight to Lima, Perú and were soon heading south.  Flying over Quito, the team landed in Lima, spent an hour waiting, and then boarded the flight back north to Quito.  They enjoyed the amazing final approach to Quito airport through suburbs that at times seemed to be higher than the aircraft was flying.  After rapidly completing customs formalities, the team jumped into a taxi.

Flying into Quito

Chatting to the driver, both Ang and Simon were impressed at how much easier his Spanish was to understand than previous race destinations.  Taking advantage of this, they were able find out useful information about the coming stage in Ecuador.  Soon they arrived at their destination and were given their tasks for this leg of the race.

First, they set off for an early dinner at a fantastic local Indian restaurant.  Simon and Ang performed well and were able to polish off their delicious authentic curry dinner before any other team.  Receiving their next clue, they returned to their accommodation to wait until morning.

Waking early, they set off on foot to the nearby metro bus line where they rode a bus to the northern terminal.  There they changed buses and soon were on the road to the Mitad Del Mundo or Middle of the World attraction.

The Mitad Del Mundo is a monument that was built to highlight Ecuador’s claim to fame as a country named after the equator that has the equator run through it.  The monument is over the top and only just manages to avoid being cheesy.  Still, Ang was not impressed.  The team raced around the moment, took photos on the equatorial line and then raced out of there, ice creams in hand.  Soon they were on a bus back into the centre of town.

Middle of the world

The bus drove back to town and deposited the team approximately 1.5km away from the old quarter.  This distance while not significant, did give Simon and Ang a chance to get some exercise at altitude.  Within twenty minutes they were at the outskirts of the old town area of Quito.  The team walked around this area and after completing the food challenge at a sleepy and grubby local seafood restaurant, the team were given their next clue.  They were to make their way via bus to Baños where they would spend Christmas in the bathroom.

Old Quito street
Panorama of old Quito
Panorama of a plaza in old Quito

Excitedly they raced back via a packed Trolle bus to their accommodation.  That evening they had more fantastic Indian and along with Team Britain, planned the next day.

Waking early, they set off to the bus station and caught the first bus to Baños

…. to be continued.


Colombia 4: Bogotá

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced from the busy city of Medellín to the small rural town of Salento.  There they embarked on a series of challenges that included a three hour hike, photographing hummingbirds and drinking sugar water.  Then all teams received clues and commenced the journey to Botogá.

Racing from Salento, Simon and Ang made their way back to Armenia.  There they purchased more empanadas and bus tickets, and they were soon onboard what Ang would call “a really stinky bus”.  Leaving Armenia, the team settled in for what they were informed would be a seven hour bus ride.  Within moments of leaving Armenia to cross the Andes, the team’s bus stopped at the back of an enormous traffic jam.  There they would stay for four hours while they waited along with hundreds of trucks, buses and cars for their turn to cross the mountains.

Waiting for traffic to move

While they waited, Ang and Simon chatted with the friendly Colombians, including one on his own exclusive race to Bogotá.  The team enjoyed the carnival atmosphere as the usual vendors arrived to sell snacks, but disliked the long wait.  Eventually traffic began flowing and after two false alarms, the traffic began moving and the bus drove off as the sunset.  Team Australia chatted with Team Colombia in Spanish and English to pass the time and joked that if the bus travelled any slower they probably could walk faster to Bogotá.

That night there were two more stops for traffic jams and a free sandwich before the team fell asleep.  Waking four hours later, their bus drove into Bogotá station, arriving ten hours late.  There they had a quick breakfast and took the first bus after dawn to their hostel in La Candeleria.

Paved street in Bogotá
Panorama of the plaza Simón Bolívar
University bar hub in La Candeleria

They had a quick nap, lunch then went out to see the cool funky town.  Walking around Ang noticed the strong police presence.  As night fell, the team completed the walk along Carrera 7 challenge and took in the sights of the weekly Friday night event where the main street in town is partly closed to traffic with people coming out busk, sell their wares, stroll, eat street food and socialise.

Carrera 7 packed with people
Panorama of Plaza Simón Bolívar by night
Barney the dinosaur Star Wars themed busking
A soft, limp, burger anyone?

Simon and Ang enjoyed this considerably, and strolled the entire length of the closed section of street checking out the wide array of buskers.  On this walk, the team completed Jo and Alex’s pat a Guinea pig challenge by Simon patting one they saw.  They then placed bets on which numbered upturned bowl the guinea pig would run into, but lost.

Patting a guinea pig

With this challenge completed, the team received their next clue and continued down Carrera 7 stopping at a nice paradilla, where they completed the eat a huge plate of delicious tender meats challenge.  With these challenges completed, the team continued racing along to the end of the closed section and received their next clue.

Mmmm meat

The next morning, after relocating to new accommodation, was spent trying to locate a travel gear shop.  Unfortunately the team forgot to write down previously Googled addresses, so set off to the suggested major shopping complex, Gran Estacion.  Once there, after surveying three shops, they were unable to locate the required items (a new waterproof jacket, waterproof hiking pants and a pack cover).  Asking some friendly information people, they were given a trio of commercial centres to try.  The team raced out of Gran Estacion , bought some empanadas, and then jumped in a taxi for the short drive through the heavy rain to the nearest of the trio of commercial centres.

Bogotá. Home of the bog. Instant bog, just add water

Each centre was checked bar one, and without any luck the team used google translator at the security desk to receive directions to a nearby camping and hiking store. This store was checked and despite the staff’s enthusiasm for their products, only a pack cover and rain jacket were purchased.  With only two of the three items purchased, the team received a small time penalty that was sat out while they rode the bus back to the centre of town.

Why do ducks need raincoats? Raincoat in bag

The team raced to plazoleta dell Chorro de Quevedo, the oldest in all of Bogotá.  Their next clue sent them to a funky bar in the laneway connected to the square.  There they tried Chicha a drink made from fermented maize and chatted with some friendly Colombian civil engineering students.  Simon thought this was odd as “they should have been drinking beer.  Still it was interesting to hear their thoughts on Andean road construction and differences in español across South America”.

Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo Art on a wall in the Plazoleta

The next day at 7.30pm in a well lit street in La Candeleria, heading in the direction of a stir-fry and sushi restaurant, the team was approached by three to four youths.  Quickly realising this was an attempted mugging, Ang ran, but Simon, who was slower to notice the danger, had his jumper grabbed by one of the kids.  After inhaling on glue or paint, the kid said “mi gustaria money (I would like money)”.  “As I turned to break free from his grip, I noticed the sniffer fumbling with a flick knife.  It was pretty scary” said Simon.   At this point the Amazing Exclusive Race’s security protocols kicked in and the team engaged their evasion plan, successfully avoiding personal injury or loss of property.  Team Australia ran as fast as their legs could take them back to the hostel. After calming down from the shock and getting the courage to venture out, the team set out for dinner.

The mean streets of La Candeleria

Due to the attempted mugging, Ang lost sleep that night and Simon was glad they only had one more day in Bogotá. The next day the team were on constant alert and nerves were high as they walked the streets dodging shifty characters who followed them.  But the race had to go on, so the team set about completing the final challenges of this leg of the race.

Another La Candeleria streetscape

Their first destination for their last day in Bogotá was the Muesu de Oro (Gold Museum).  They were joined by Team Colombia, who they had previously met on the Salento to Bogotá bus, and walked around the museum, marvelling at the sheer quantity of gold.  With this museum completed, the team walked to the Muesu de Botero.  Similar to the art they saw in Medellín, Botero’s work was on display for free.  Both teams enjoyed the comical paintings and sculptures.  With these challenges complete, both teams received their final clues and made their ways to their respective pit stops.

Gold inka pin Museum vault
The two teams stop for coffee
Feliz Navidad parade Botero horse
Another La Candeleria street

Colombia 3: Salento

For this next leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race, teams were given clues that required them to make their way by bus to the small mountain town of Salento.  Simon and Ang, as the first to arrive, departed the pit stop and rapidly made their way by taxi to Medellín’s southern bus terminal.  There they bought a ticket on the first bus for Salento via Armenia.

The trip south to Armenia took six hours with the team’s bus stopping once at a roadside restaurant to allow passengers to feast on empanadas and chorizo.  Later that afternoon, after a windy and nauseous journey, the bus arrived at the Armenian terminal.  There Simon purchased more empanadas to snack on and the team boarded the mini bus to Salento.

Ang finds it harder to stay awake than she did when the transport was chicken buses

While waiting for the bus to depart, Simon and Ang munched on their empanadas and chatted with a friendly Korean who was competing in the Amazing Exclusive Race Korea.  Both teams soon worked out they were heading to the same accommodation and traded stories on the ride up into the mountains.

Checking into the accommodation, Simon and Ang were given their next clue.  They were required to complete a hike to a hummingbird sanctuary high in the hills of the Valle de Cocora.   Cocora is a protected national park that looks a little like Switzerland but contains fantastic ancient palms (ceroxylon quindiuense) as well as a variety of interesting rainforest flora and fauna.

Unfortunately they would need to wait until the next morning, as the first jeep to the Cocora would depart at 9am.  Not wanting to waste the opportunity to explore, Ang and Simon walked around the cute little town and had a vegetable filled dinner at a local restaurant before returning to their accommodation.

Waking at a reasonable hour, Ang and Simon had breakfast, grabbed a pair of gumboots each and made their way into the centre of town where they boarded a jeep for the short 10km ride into the Cocora Valley.  As Colombia is still technically in a state of civil war, their jeep passed a foot patrol of soldiers on the way up.  There they disembarked from the jeep and set off on the hike, with rain gear on.

The path they followed through the lush green countryside was muddier than a pig sty.  Both Simon and Ang were glad to be wearing gumboots as the mud was very thick. Over the next three hours they climbed up into the reserve to almost 2700m and soon arrived at a finca set in the rainforest.  There they paid their entry fee, drank their sweet water and ate their cheese.

The muddy walk into the valley Ang pauses to admire some of the dinosaur palms
Racing along the muddy path Heading into the rainforest
Another stream crossed Delicious cheese and sugar water
Racers pose with the friendly kid who was working at the finca

Completing the food challenge, their next clue called for them to get a photo of a hummingbird.  In the afternoon light this was surprising difficult as different varieties of hummingbirds were moving rapidly and fighting amongst themselves.  After much trying, a suitable photograph was taken and the team were given their next clue.

Hummingbirds at the feeder More hummingbirds

Racing from the hummingbird reserve, the team made their way 1km further then up 300m to another finca through the rain.  There they turned and headed back down the road.  On this road the team met a friendly Colombian who had finished work for the day.  They chatted over the 5km walk and nearing the bottom of the hill their new Colombian amigo told them about the flooded section of road and led them through a short cut.  Ang thought this section was particularly stunning and would have liked to have been there on a clear day.

High finca in the clouds
Cloud forest panorama

This short cut took the team past the prehistoric palm trees that were growing on the side of the hill.  The path soon turned very muddy and the team slipped and slid as they tried to keep up with the sure footed Campanero.  They walked through the fields and muddy stock yards and arrived back at the waiting jeeps.  There they took the first position on the first returning jeep back to Salento.

Walking below giant palms Racing along a mysterious short cut
Palm panorama

In the main central plaza, the team were given their next clue that requirement them to make their way to Bogotá in the morning.  The team took advantage of the down time to say farewell to team Korea and then returned to their accommodation for the evening to rest.

Salento’s famed neon panada Gato grande!
A campanero stops to watch some soccer Church in the main plaza in Salento

Early the next morning, soon after breakfast, they departed on the first shuttle bus back to Armenia.

…To be continued


Colombia 2: Medellín

Ang and Simon tore open the first clue of this leg of the race and departed the pit stop at 11am for the short taxi ride to the airport.  There the check in formalities was completed rapidly and the team commenced their wait in Cartagena airport.  After joining the queue to register that they were waiting at the boarding gate, the team returned to their seats.  Moments later passengers were again called and the team queued to commence boarding.

After a mostly uneventful flight, as the team’s aircraft was on final approach to Bogotá, Ang commented that “it really is boggy here isn’t it”?  This caused Simon to laugh as recent rains gave the area around the airport the appearance of marshland.  Once inside the airport they waited and then boarded the next plane that was an hour late for Medellín.

In the past, Medellín was the stronghold of Pablo Escobar and at one time, the murder capital of the world.  Violence was a regular part of city life with Pablo Escobar paying up to$1000 USD for people to kill policia.  Pablo himself was gunned down on a roof top trying to escape the Policia in 1993. The city and the country of Colombia has instituted a number of key initiatives (including killing Pablo) over the past 20 years that have helped to contribute improved security. However, despite these initiatives, Colombia is no Switzerland, so Ang and Simon were nervous to be arriving after dark.

Their plane touched down and they headed out to ground transportation.  There they met a nice American, who was heading to the same area.  They chatted on the bus into town where they changed to a share a taxi to Pobaldo (where Pablo was gunned down).  The team rapidly found their hostel and went out to Parque Lleras where they had what Simon and Ang agreed was a great meal.

Parque Lleras christmas decorations

Receiving their next clue the next morning, the team raced to the Botero exhibit.  There they viewed the impressively paintings and scultures.  Ang was particularly pleased as “Botero’s work makes me laugh”.  Completing this challenge they were given their next clue and the next morning travelled to one of three cable car lines on Medellín’s metro system.

Panorama of a Medellín park (complete with Chrismas theming)
Busy Medellín street Medellín skyline
Medellín church
Guy looks at the Botero statue of a guy on a horse Another pair of Botero statues
Trumpet art in the Botero museum Kind of like a phone box, but with a real person and a mobile

Transferring from the metro line, without paying extra, the team stepped into the cable car cabin and commenced the ride.  As part of the regular transportation system in Medellín, the team shared the car with other tourists and locals.  The spectacular ride took the team high into the hills around Medellín.  Ang and Simon received their next clue and then headed back down to the metro station.

Racers pose for a photo in a cable car Integrated cable car transport

Travelling once again by Metro line and then on foot, the team headed to their next destination, the Museo of Modern Art.  Owing to this being a Monday, the museum was closed.  The team opted to forego this challenge rather than wait for 24 hours for it to open.  After serving out a 30 minute time penalty, they were given their next clue.

On foot they raced back towards town and along the Rio Medellín.  This stretch of the river side had been transformed into a carnival of Christmas.  Simon christened the 2kms of semi wasteland Navidad Street.  Unfortunately, despite the lights being on in the fantastic decorations, none of the stalls were open.  The team walked the entire length and decided to return later that evening.  At the end of Navidad Street, they received their next clue.

Ang next to the christmas display, Navidad street

Walking over a still being constructed footbridge, the team headed to a nearby park.  The park offers a tactile experience for the feet.  Unfortunately, owing to gardening, this park was also closed and it was not clear when or even if the construction work would be finished.  Again the team opted for a time penalty instead of returning the next day.  Waiting out the time penalty with icecreams in hand, the team received their next clue.

They walked back into the centre of town and boarded the metro line, heading for the Jardín Botánico de Medellín.  Upon arrival they were informed by a helpful printed sign and some laid back guitarists that the park was closed.  Once again a time penalty was taken and the team opted to walk around the park to fill in the time.  After witnessing more of the contrast between Medellín’s modernisation development and shanty favela suburbs, the team returned to the Metro line where they were given their next clue.

Panorama of a plaza in the city centre

Racing to almost the end of the northern line, the team arrived at the station for line J, another cable car.  This particular car took the team high above the barrios providing fantastic and interesting views of Medellín and the Biblioteca Español.  As they approached the summit, they noticed that line M was closed.  This meant they would be unable to complete this challenge and again would need to take a time penalty.  After a short wait, the team once again boarded the Metro line as the sun set.

The view from the cable car Biblioteca Español
Favelas, Medellín style
Panorama looking up the metro cable line

For their final task, the team travelled by Metro then foot back to Navidad street.  There they were able to walk the entire length of the festive street, which was unusually open.  They took in the sights of the decorations and the people and soon reached the end of the street.  There they were told to make their way to the pit stop.

Decoration in Navidad street Navidad street by night
El Tren de Navidad Another decoration
Navidad decorations over a smelly canal

Travelling by Metro once more the team returned to their hostel in Pobaldo and checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race.

In a post race interview both Ang and Simon were annoyed at the number of challenges they were unable to complete, but still enjoyed this leg of the race.  Simon liked the metro cable system saying “where else in the world can you ride a cable car that is part of integrated public transport.  It makes a lot of sense for a place with hills to do this”.  Ang was particularly pleased that she was able to see Botero’s work, saying that “his art makes me laugh, there is something about the way he paints and sculpts that is great.  I thoroughly enjoy the visit”.


Colombia 1: Cartagena

After the necessary rest period, Simon and Ang were once again the first to depart the pit stop.  Their first challenge was to explore the city of Cartagena.  They walked around the old bright and colourful town, photographing the various old colonial buildings.

Colonial Cartagena Cartagena street
Renovations Cartagena style

Later that evening, they met up with a mixed team of three Brits and an Aussie and swapped notes on the previously leg’s cruise from Panama.  It was clear that Team Australia had been lucky enough to get the better boat and crew as the stories from the other team were a tad concerning.  After an average meal, both teams received their next clue.

With the food challenge complete, both teams were set a challenge to have cocktails in Colombia.  To complete this, both teams went for two for the price of one happy hour drinks at a nearby bar.  Strangely, these turned out to be two for one per person drinks.  After twenty minutes of concern, Simon was successfully able to negotiate to have this misunderstanding reversed.

Completing the food and drink challenges, the teams were given their next clue and headed across the road to the Hostel Media Luna to take part in the Noche de Velas celebration.  There they were joined by the original Team Ireland and some members of the One World crew on the roof top terrace bar.  The next drink challenge at this point of the race was for Simon to try aguardiente.  This drink is a a local alcoholic spirit made from sugar cane and flavoured with aniseed and which apparently comes with “a hangover that will make you lose the will to live”.  Team Australia reluctantly drank the cup of foul liqueur and received their next clue.  Clem from Team Ireland bizarrely enjoyed the drink and went back to the bar to get a second glass.

Cartagena plaza panorama

Team Australia’s next clue called for Simon and Ang to take a day trip to nearby Playa Blanca.  They consulted with reception at the hostel and were booked on a ferry ride to the Playa.  This unfortunately included a stop at the Isla De Rosas, where the main attraction is a crappy 1970s era aquarium.  After a lengthy disorganised wait, the team boarded the last launch to leave the docks. They sped out of the harbour and around the headland to their first stop, the Isla de Rosas.  There they were deposited at the aquarium without explanation as to when pick up would be.  Thinking they would only have 20-30 minutes, they amused themselves taking photos of the Christmas decorated fibreglass marine life and chatting with other tourists.  An hour and a half later, they finally located their boat, which had randomly and more interestingly gone off snorkelling at a nearby reef.

Cartagena fort panorama

Twenty minutes later the team was back in the speedboat and flying over the ways towards Playa Blanca.  A delicious fried fish lunch was quickly consumed and the team set off to walk the length of the stunning Caribbean beach.  Simon and Ang spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and lazing on the sand before they were given their final clue for this leg of the race.

Playa Blanca

They quickly made their way back to their watertaxi and were soon back in Cartagena.  That evening they had a fantastic dinner at a local seafood restaurant then they headed back to the hostel for the final roadblock for this leg of the race, to complete a salsa class.

Simon was nominated to complete this task and was soon learning the rather complicated moves of what turned out to be an advanced salsa class.  Over the next hour and a half a 2 minute routine was learnt and Simon finally completed the challenge.

Simon completes the salsa challenge

With this final task completed, Team Australia were given their final clue and made their way to the pit stop for this leg of the race, Old Town Cartagena.


Panama 3: Sans Blas Cruise

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive race, one team of two raced to the town of Portobelo, Panama.  There they spent the night before racing resumed in the morning.

On waking, Teams Australia and Ireland walked around Portobelo then were shuttled by Jeff from One World in their dingy to the third fort on the other side of the harbour.  They climbed to the top of the hill and investigated the ruins.  Then it was off to the hidden beach around the other side of the headland for a quick dip.  That evening, along with the addition of Teams from Germany and Switzerland, all passengers made their way onto the One World.  Luggage was stowed, safety briefing given and to apocalyptic music, they set sail.

Panorama of the lower level of the eastern Portobelo fort
Panorama of the upper level of the eastern Portobelo fort
Hidden cove just outside of Portobelo harbour

The One World is a 64 foot schooner that was purchased by three Americans for the purpose of sailing around the world as part of their own Amazing Exclusive Race.  The boat is a newcomer to the Panama-Colombia backpacker route, but brings professionalism seen on few other boats.

Leaving Portobelo port, the passengers and crew chatted as the ship made its way through the night.  Sail was set once they cleared the headlands and about one hour into the night Ang became seasick and would remain so until the vessel dropped anchor the next morning in the calm waters of the Sans Blas.  Simon would later call this “part one of Ang’s all night and all day puke-a-thon”.

Early the next morning One World arrived at a calm anchorage between two stunning Sans Blas islands.  Receiving their clue, Simon, along with members of the other teams set off with local Kuna personality Raul to complete the spear fishing task.  Ang wisely opted to rest, swim and walk around the Island owned by the President of Panama and inhabited by a local well known Kuna Drag Queen.

Panorama of paradise, Sans Blas

The first stop on the spear fishing challenge was a tiny cliché of a tropical island.  There Simon, along with the other teams, entered the water and looked for fish large enough to spear and eat.  Raul, being an island resident and potentially part fish, was able to acquire conch and a small reef fish.  After 30 minutes, Raul, somewhat hyperactively decided the spot was no good and drove the dingy to the next location.  There everyone once again entered the water and commenced looking for fish.

Another Sans Blas island Panorama

Simon had one shot at medium sided reef fish, and missed, before being co-opted into helping Raul hunt barracuda.  Despite two attempts, including one where Raul jumped back in the water to chase after and wing a barracuda that Simon had spotted on his swim back to the dingy, the only fish speared was Raul’s earlier reef fish.   Later in the afternoon, after lunch, they attempted again.  This time Raul was able to shoot a trigger fish and corner a grouper, but unable to land.   Simon had his second shot at a suitable sized reef fish, but was unable to spear it.  However, Raul seemed happy to have had the support to hunt the grouper, and provided Simon with the next clue.  This would require Simon and Ang to attend a beach BBQ by the water in front of Raul’s grass hut.

Kuna vendors
All the Sans Blas islands look the same… stunning
Another clichéd tropical Sans Blas island

Returning to the One World, all passengers and crew went across to Raul’s island for a BBQ on the beach. There they ate reef fish stew and Simon was provided with a whole fresh reef fish. Raul was true to form and provided a hyperactive dinner service wearing only his underwear and a head torch.  Teams were able to purchase various drinks from the scatted huts in the dark with most enjoying a propane chilled beer or Don (Mr) Simon tetra packed wine provided by the resourceful Raul.

Ang suffers from sea sickness at the beach BBQ The teams enjoy the Kuna beach BBQ

With most teams nearing the finish of their meals, Raul decided there needed to be a bonfire, so he rustled up a bunch of dry palm leaves and set them alight while the passengers and crew of One World stood around and watched.  Being dried palm leaves, they were quickly immolated.  Perhaps out of a bizarre need to entertain or simply due to the Kuna’s incredible enthusiasm for all things hammock, Raul’s last bit of entertainment was showing the passengers and crew his dog in a hammock.

Palm inferno The team drinks some Don Simon

With the beach barbeque challenge completed, the racers received their next clue and the next morning after a couple of swings from the yard arm, were on their way to their next destination, the Kuna Town of Cali.  On this stretch of sailing, the task of helming the boat was given to Simon to complete.  After roughly an hour, Simon was able to steer the One World on the correct heading to Cali, successfully avoiding any reefs.  There the professional sailors took over and brought the ship to anchor.

The view from the cabin aboard the One World Captain Simon takes the helm of the One World for a bit

Receiving their next clue, Teams Australia, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland, along with Jeff from the crew were shuttled to the Kuna Island.  There they made their way down one of two main streets to the Kuna museum.  Unfortunately the interpretation guide was out of town on a fiesta, so the limited Spanish of the teams was used to read the displays before everyone set out for the second challenge of this visit.  This challenge was to circumnavigate the island looking for souvenirs, photographic subjects, internet or bread, depending on which exclusive race each team was on.  Team Australia was tasked with taking photographs, which they completed rapidly.

Kuna lady Kuna hut
Kuna washing Kuna gato
Kuna braclets
Ang with Catherine from Team Ireland Ang enjoys the tropical vibe

With all teams completing their respective race tasks, the One World departed for the next location, another stunning Island in the Sans Blas.  This island had, for reasons not entirely clear initially been abandoned by the Kuna as while huts were visible from the boat at anchor, no people were.  Team Australia received their next clue and set off swimming to investigate the abandoned huts.  After swimming the 200m to shore, the team along with representatives from Ireland, Switzerland and Germany, walked around the cluster of empty huts and the stunning shoreline.  Many photographs were taken before they all returned to the boat for yard arm swings, showers and yet another fantastic dinner onboard the One World.

Another cliché of a Sans Blas island View of a Sans Blas hut from the water
Hermit crab on the beach Simon, along with other races enjoys the late afternoon sun
Ang yard arm swings off the boat Simon has a turn on the yard arm
Sunset from next to the One World

For the last day of cruising in the Sans Blas, the One World was sailed a short distance to yet another gorgeous trio of Sans Blas islands.  These islands, to paraphrase the Panama Cruising Guide, all looked the same… stunning.  With Ang at the helm for her turn at driving, the One World soon arrived at the cluster. The professional sailors once again guided the boat into anchorage located at the centre of these three typical stunning Sans Blas islands.

Ang poses for a during race photo whilst driving Another pirate ship in Sans Blas
a classy knot in the Sans Blas Kuna gardening

Once again, teams swam from the One World the short distance to shore to a Kuna souvenir hut, where a bartering challenge was completed.  Others set off to circumnavigate the short distance around the island and simply enjoy the setting.   This was One World’s first visit to these particular islands and the teams agreed that these were particularly attractive.  The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming, yard arm swinging, showering on deck and relaxing to prepare for the next challenge.

Kuna taking the family yacht for a spin The Kuna leave lobster like this as a warning to others

After the heavy seas of the first overnight journey, Ang and Simon were not looking forward to the crossing from Sans Blas to Cartagena.  Sea sickness medication was taken and in the evening the One World weighed anchor and departed the Sans Blas.  Course was set to cross to Colombia, and was expected to take approximately 36 hours.

Ang isn’t enjoying the crossing

The next 36 hours of racing were the worst seas seen yet.  The first night saw Team Australia separate as Ang was unable to go below deck to sleep.  She opted to stay up on deck with another Angela from team Switzerland who also was suffering from seasickness, in support. Simon, who was slightly less affected by seasickness, was able to get a few short hours of sleep before returning to find Ang on deck, though now shivering, soaking wet and still spewing.

Many times during this arduous journey the One World was joined by dolphins and hundreds of flying fish.  While Ang didn’t eat, Simon was able to enjoy the tasty meals cooked under what could only be described as difficult cooking conditions as for stability, the One World was permanently keeled thirty degrees over to one side.

For the final night Ang was finally able go below deck and aft, to sleep in the bed given up graciously by Stefan.  Both Simon and Ang tried to sleep as much as they could. Ang still felt seasick and Simon was slightly as well, but needed to sleep while holding onto the wall on account of the tilted angle of the boat. Otherwise he would roll on top Ang. Eventually daylight came on the final morning.

Unfortunately, owing to the wind and an inconveniently located island, they were four hours later than estimated coming into Cartagena.  Seas by this stage had smoothed out and Ang was able to eat for the first time in a day and a half.  They entered Cartagena harbour and soon the One World arrived at the Yacht club.  Luggage was collected from the hold and the teams then travelled by dingy then taxi to a hostel in the Old Town of Cartagena.

Cartagena panorama
The crew and passengers of the One World

There they checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race and earned a much needed rest.

In the post leg interview, a tired Ang and Simon gave their thoughts.  Ang said “I’m so glad that’s behind me and to be on dry land! That was the worst time of my life and stomach acid is so painful. Despite the agony and tears I’m so glad to have seen the stunning Sans Blas. It’s heavenly!  I just never want to do an open sea crossing again!”  Simon commented that “while the weather was not the best during the crossing, we lucked out with our time in the Sans Blas as it was completely magic and our boat, the One World and crew were great.  Those guys [the crew of the One World] made the crossing much more bearable. We’ve spoken to other teams on their own exclusive races who are also here in Cartagena and the horror stories they told us about their crossings and in particular the quality of their boats and captains (or lack thereof), made us glad we picked the right one”.


Panama 2: Panama City to Portobelo

Once again as the first to arrive, Team Australia departed the pit stop by taxi to Panama City’s Gran Terminal.  Their clue required the team to make their way to Captain Jack’s, Portobelo, where they would receive their next clue.  Arriving at the terminal, they boarded a bus north to Colón.  The drive initially started well, but as they approached Colón, their bus hit traffic.  Unfortunately, their bus took an hour longer to arrive in Colón.

For some reason, the bus did not drive to the terminal and instead deposited the team outside of one of the massive free trade zone complexes. This meant that they had to walk back along the road south to get their next bus.  While few people were about, this area did not seem particularly safe.  This was soon emphasised by two men in khaki on a motorcycle speeding into an intersection ahead of the team as they walked.  The man on the back of the motorcycle held an MP5 up to get the traffic to stop to allow two unmarked SUVs to speed through. Needless to say, both Ang and Simon raced down the road as fast as they could and along the way grabbed a terrible Nescafe coffee shot before arriving at the bus terminal.

That’s how you spell Gourmet? Here in Colón

Simon said later,”by this point we had realised we had made a mistake coming all the way into Colón.  We could have changed earlier at an earlier junction to the Portobelo bus.  Colón isn’t a particularly safe city and out of all the places in Central America, it had probably most had a hyper commercial war zone feel”.  To which Ang added “dirty, smelly.  I’m just glad we were able to get to the right bus out of there”.

As is common in Central America, touts funnelled the team to the correct chicken bus and the team were soon speeding along the coast to reach Portobelo. Shortly after having reached Portobelo, the team made their way to Captain Jack’s hostel where they received their next clue from Captain Jack himself.  Portobelo was at one time the key point where gold from South America was transhipped back to Spain.   However, even through this town was highly important to the conquistadors as the gold transhipment point for all of South America, it has not significantly changed since.

Angela’s chicken bus collection

The clue tasked the team to sail via the Sans Blas Archipelago to Colombia.  To do this, the team would travel aboard the One World, a mini pirate ship.  A meeting was held with the One World crew and other passengers, including Team Ireland, and passports were collected.  Unfortunately, the port master was unavailable and out of town, necessitating that the departure be pushed back a day.

The team occupied their time by visiting the church famous for the black Jesus, checking out the two forts and the four supermarkets for the best wine money could buy for the voyage before spending the night at Captain Jack’s.

The famous black Jesus Captain Jack’s pirate hangout

…to be continued.