Guatemala 1: San Ignacio, Belize to Flores, Guatemala

Racing recommenced early with the team having a relaxing omelette breakfast at Flayva’s.  As this was a race, and there were unknown challenges ahead, the team quickly packed and readied themselves for the journey ahead.

They said goodbye to the only awake third of Team Ireland, and walked out to the street to hail a passing collectivo. Some friendly local Belize guys soon pointed out the clamped out corolla which the team then boarded.

Waiting for a shared taxi…

Driving with one other passenger, they arrived at the frontier and set about getting the last of their Belizian dollars changed, paid their departure taxes, completed their visitor survey and then walked to the other side.

There they completed passport formalities with no real difficulties, other than the Guatemala border official requesting 10 Quetzal illegally (Q7.5 to the dollar at the border rate) for the passport to be stamped.  Recognising this as an entry fee scam, the team refused politely, and had their passports stamped anyway.

Next they got a cab to the collectivo stop and were soon in a chicken collectivo (a lady brought her chicken with her) heading west to Flores.  The collectivo rapidly travelled the 100 km west through Petén towards the town of Saint Elena.  Having paid an extra 5Q, the driver continued to the island of Flores.

A speeding herd passes the chicken collectivo
Flores panorama

They soon arrived at their accommodation in Flores, dumped their bags and had a quick lunch.  Then it was back to Saint Elena to the bus station where they were told they had just missed the last direct collectivo to Tikal. Into another alternative collectivo they hopped and headed back east the town of El Ramate, which was part of the way to Tikal.

Their driver told them when the local bus would arrive and what colour it would be and soon sped off on his way.  Another collectivo passed by, but this unofficial van was charging more than the racers were willing to pay.  Plus their earlier driver had told them the local bus would be along at 3.00pm.  Asking other locals it was clear the local bus would be arriving later.  With no other options, the team then waited some more, fearing this costly delay could see them eliminated. Just when they were about to start back to Flores on foot, at roughly 3:30pm, the bus arrived.

Turkey on a chicken bus Turkey close up

Boarding the chicken bus, with no chickens, only a well-behaved turkey, they sped through the Guatemalan countryside.  It wasn’t long before they were deposited at the Tikal visitor centre in the heavy rain, about 1.5 hours before closing time.  Through some negotiation, they were able to secure a ticket for an hour (until the last collectivo left for Flores) and for all of the next day.  They raced into the ruins and randomly completed one isolated section before having to run (without slipping in the mud and mossy rocks) back to the car park.  They boarded their minibus and were soon deposited back in Flores for dinner, mojitos and ice cream.

Temple VI, Tikal on dusk Ice creamery with attached xylophone band

Having not fully completed the ‘visit the ruins’ task, the team decided to return the next morning to avoid facing a potential time penalty later at the pit stop. They soon were asleep.

They were woken early the next morning by the 7am tour bus, having been earlier woken by the 4am ‘sunrise’ tour bus.  Rather than travel to Saint Elena, they asked a waiting driver for a return ticket direct to the ruins.  This swiftly saw them at the Tikal ruin site by 8.30am.  Their tickets purchased the previous day were shown and soon they were racing to get to the top of Temple IV, the highest in the complex, leaving their fellow passengers in the company of the included guide.

After a brisk 20 minute walk with a slight stop in the grand plaza, the team arrived at the top of temple IV.  Simon exchanged basic pleasantries in Spanish with the national parks person, and the team sat to enjoy the view, which was the main challenge of this leg of the race.

Tikal ruins Starwars or the view from Temple IV, Tikal
Ang meditates on Temple IV Racers on Temple IV

About an hour or more later, Team Ireland climbed the stairs and both teams exchanged stories from the previous day whilst looking out for howler monkeys and trying to work out which of the temples were filmed in Star Wars.

Soon it was time for both teams to depart.  Team Ireland went off on their race route while the Amazing Exclusive Race Australia team, true to form, headed off into the jungle.  They were soon alone with nothing but Mayan ruins for company.  Moving quickly, they visited the Mundos Perdidos (Lost World), the six temples and the Grand plaza again before they raced back to the return bus to Flores.  They were the last team to arrive at the bus, so Simon was forced to sit on the floor.

View towards the grand plaza from Temple IV Mundos Perdidos
More ruins Big tree, Tikal
Grand plaza, looking south Grand plaza, looking north

Soon they were back in Flores, the pit stop for this leg of the race.  There they enjoyed a long late lunch, a short break and then a tasty dinner during the rest period.


Belize 2: Belize City to San Ignacio

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, due to the bad weather, the team was not required to complete the main tasks whilst at Caye Caulker. Instead they boarded a water taxi and raced to Belize City. They were provided with a new clue on the water taxi that required them to leave Belize and head to Guatemala by the fastest way possible.

Arriving in Belize City, they avoided the touts and walked straight to the bus terminal, about 2 kms away. The team were accompanied by team Ireland on this walk. Once they arrived there, they were told conflicting information that seemed to indicate there were no express buses leaving from the station. And they discovered that the cost of a taxi ride to the border was expensive. Remembering there were signs for direct transfers to Flores from the water taxi back at the dock, both Simon and Tarun walked back to the water taxi terminal.

Belize City Marina

Walking back to the dock, without their bags, Simon and Tarun soon arrived at the terminal and found out they had just missed the only shuttle bus for the day. This meant their options were solely local bus or a taxi. They returned to the other team members and given the late hour, decided to pay for a taxi heading west.

The drive was quickly completed with only a few moments of terror in the heavy rain. As the light was quickly fading, the teams decided to take the clue’s suggested option to overnight just before the border in San Ignacio and cross in the morning. The two teams were dropped in the town of San Ignacio where they quickly found accommodation in the Tropicool.

Dat classic from Cantinental Catt… Wah Be Mi Friend?

After returning to main road into town to watch the new bridge go under water, the teams enquired about tours to nearby Cayo attractions. Unfortunately these were closed due to flooding, so the teams headed up the hill in town to check out the view and to have a drink. Returning to the centre of town, the Australian Team had Sri Lankan curry and changed most of their remaining Belize cash into USD.

The road into town… Shopping for breakfast
The view of town

The team retired for the night, to get ready for another day of racing…

… to be continued


Belize 1: Caye Caulker

In an amazing first, the optional rest period was not observed.  The team headed straight down the main street of Caye Caulker to find Raggamuffin tours, a provider that runs a three day, two night sailing, camping and snorkelling cruise through the Belizean Caribbean.

Heeding the calls to slow down, the team ambled their way through the town.  After a while they arrived at the Raggamuffin stand and quickly read the notice that said that they were closed until November!  Hugely disappointed, they were about to give up when they noticed some rasta types hanging around the back of the Raggamuffin stand.  Inquiries with the staff quickly revealed that while Raggamuffin was closed, they would be willing to run a tour provided eight able seadogs could be press-ganged into coming aboard.  The manager told the team that there were two other people interested already.

Ah drinking…

Energised with this additional challenge, the team set off to the nearby hostel of Bella’s.  There they were able to successfully locate the two Canadian dudes who had found a pair of Dutch girls who were also interested in the trip.  The team exchanged relevant details with the Canadians and set off to recruit others.

Four guard dogs cover all angles

Along with organising the sailing trip, the team’s task was to sample each of the dinner options and rate which is the best. Ignoring most of the touts, the team settled on a small ice cream/lobster joint.  This restaurant, like most on the island, had a big grill out the front.  Two lobster meals were ordered for $15 each.  Simon and Ang both scored their lobsters and the restaurant, 8/10.

Water cocktail

The next morning excellent progress was made on the additional passengers for the sailing trip.  Whilst at breakfast, Ang was able to sell the sailing trip to three Irish friends, who were travelling the Amazing Exclusive Race Ireland.  With the addition of the extra three, the quota had been met.  Contact was made with Raggamuffin tours and a briefing session organised for that afternoon.  To celebrate, the team swam at the split and ate banana bread, fresh from the cake man.  Simon was told to slow down when he went to pay the man, which was a hard thing to do as he was wading through chest high water at the time.

Golf cart parking

At the briefing session, the nine passengers gave their deposits and were given some information on the trip.  Charlie, the owner of Raggamuffin, was confident that the trip would go ahead, but she organised another meeting for the following day to confirm.  The only thing that could prevent the trip from going ahead was the weather.  If the forecast was ok, they would depart on the Friday.

With the meeting completed, team Australia along with team Ireland headed to the next restaurant on the list – Rosie’s.  The tout for this place had the advantage of a table full of lobster for the teams to pick from.  A discount was organised and the two teams from the two separate series sat down to eat dinner.  Despite the discount, the lobster and sides were disappointing at Rosie’s due to the tout hype and the cost.  Simon gave them 6/10 and Ang 7/10.

The next morning involved more going slow and general relaxing.  Rather ominously, James, an Australian electrian who team Australia had met on the water taxi from Mexico, randomly and somewhat like a storm bird, decided that the one cloud in the sky meant rain was on its way.  He promptly left the island, heading further south to Panama.  Later that afternoon, showers started…

Golf buggy mechanic

On their return from their lunchtime walk to the split, the team sampled the food of a guy known as Budget Man.  He had a simple set up of 4 huge pots on a table and served cheap tasty food.  The team sampled his tender chicken thighs and were hugely impressed, despite possible food hygiene issues.  Simon scored this food 9/10, even though it wasn’t lobster.

Ordering from the Budget Man

Then it was time for the meeting with Charlie from Reggamuffin.  The outlook for the trip was not good as the rain over Central America was swirling over Belize.  The passengers were given the option to pull out, but all elected to wait one more day in the hope of a clear forecast.  Rain continued to develop during the day, with many of the local streets slightly flooded.

Pier to nowhere Another pier to nowhere
Partially flooded street, Caye Caulker

That night, continuing with the food challenge for this leg continued with the team eating at La Bodgerdita Del Medeo, a Cuban run knock of the Cuban owned original version.  The tout out the front was very annoying and the lobster overhyped, possibly undercooked with miniature sides.  Simon rated this worst of the restaurants tried so far, scoring it 5/10.  Ang refused to provide a rating due to the highly annoying tout.  Ang would later say, “who cares if you are running for mayor, have 5 passports and are wanted for crimes in three Central American countries, I just wanted to eat in peace”.

Unauthorised Cuban rip-off avoids being sued by tilting some letters

The next day brought bad news. Heavy rains over night and no sign of clearing weather meant the Raggamuffin tour would not go ahead.  All teams were given a deviation.  A deviation occurs when circumstances outside of a team’s control mean they are unable to complete a challenge. In this instance bad weather prevented completion of the sailing trip, so an alternative challenge was provided.  Team Australia was to complete a one day snorkelling trip.  This was hastily organised for the next day.

Sunset panorama

For dinner that night, the teams finally gave into the ridiculous over the top touting (even for a Caye Caulker tout) that was embodied in the Lobster King.  He had been persistent with his outlandish claims (and so had been avoided up to now).  Simon’s favourite was ‘we’ve got it all tonight – two kinds of meats; lobster and chicken; lobster and beef; lobster and fish – together as one’ all accompanied with outrageous hand gestures illustrating the marriage of meats.  Simon reckoned that even if the food was not good, the experience should be entertaining.  A discount of 20% for the group was secured before both the Irish and Australian teams committed.

Soon the teams ordered and were provided with what was surprisingly good value.  They ate their meals and were not annoyed by any touts, including the King himself. Despite half the lobster missing from the whole lobster (probably used for the lobster curry), Simon and Ang rated the quality 8/10. This was equal to the first night, but the value for money was much better.

Buoyed by their meal, both teams headed to the Ocean Front bar where drinks were ordered.  Ang in particular took advantage of this to order big.  Outside, due to the rain during the day, Budget Man had set up shop for a rare dinner special.  This was much more interesting than the bar, as Budget Man had brought along a Garfiuna drum band to support his sales of food.

Team Ireland and Australia at the pub
Large cocktail Empty cocktail (Ang is sad)

Later, after a quick nightcap at the I and I bar, the team correctly identified the Budget Man as the best value for money food provider on the island (even though he didn’t do whole lobster).

With all tasks complete and the next morning’s rain meaning the snorkel trip was cancelled, the team (along with team Ireland), boarded a water taxi for Belize City.

Ya man, we are Rastas

…to be continued.


Mexico 2: Playa Del Carmen and Tulum

With the Cuban leg of the race completed, the team spent two nights in Playa getting their clothes washed and getting back in touch with capitalism.

They visited the local discount warehouse supermarkets where the reduced choice over the previous two weeks was replaced with seemingly infinite options. Supplies were purchased and they prepared for the upcoming tasks of this leg of the race.

Travelling by bus to Tulum, the team dumped their backpacks in their accommodation and set off to Akumal for the afternoon travelling via collectivo. Akumal is a sheltered bay area that is favoured by green and leatherback turtles. Once there, the team rented snorkel gear and took turns to complete “the swim with turtles” challenge.

Akumal beach
Ang off to swim with the turtles

Ang was able to spot one leatherback and 2 green turtles.  Simon had slightly more luck, swimming with one leatherback and three green turtles.  Simon remarked that unlike elsewhere, “these turtles were virtually tame, so you could get within 1 metre of them without them swimming off”.  Gear was returned and nachos and mojitos were consumed.

Post snorkel mojitos

Back to Tulum they raced.  There they had dinner which included for Simon Mole del Poblano (basically a chocolate sauce on chicken) and for Ang “the biggest seafood marinara EVER” which she was unable to finish. Oddly, since it was a Monday night, there was a local festival being held.  The team walked through the market and festival area before they were given the next challenge of this leg – ride the double decker doof doof party truck.

Boarding the customised neon truck, the team set off with a crowd of locals to do a hot lap of Tulum town.  Oddly, they were the only ones who actually danced on the truck as everyone else just enjoyed the ride.  After the hilarious ride and a couple of close calls with power lines, the team arrived back at the start point, which was conveniently just outside of their hostel.

Completely awesome Too much partying on the party truck

Returning to their accommodation to sleep before their bus the next morning, the team realised it was not going to be a quiet night.  The party bus continued doing laps until 11, when most of the festival punters went home.  That was also when the Mexican techno gypsytron band started. Simon would later say “the earplugs did nothing”.

The band would eventually say “Adios Amigos” at 5am the next morning after a marathon 6 hour set without any breaks!  The team ‘woke’ with Ang saying “I’m ruined before seeing any ruins!”. And they set off again by collectivo to the Tulum ruins.

As the first visitors to arrive, and with hours of operation between 8am and 6pm, the team was not allowed entry and had to wait until the site opened.  They waited the 20 minutes before they paid and rushed into the site.  Heading through the pretty manicured park-like setting, they headed for the beach where they completed the early morning swim challenge.

Tulum ruins Best Mayan ruin by the sea
Tulum ruin panorama
A current resident of Tulum This lizard just wants to be famous

Receiving their next clue, the team raced back through the ruins, over the high security fence and back to Tulum.  There they collected bags and boarded the bus to Chetumal.

Escaping from Tulum

Arriving in Chetumal a few hours later, they raced on to the customs pier where they waited a while before they boarded a water taxi to San Pedro.  Entering Belize at this point, they changed boats and sped off to Caye Caulker.

A fast boat to Belize Frigate!
Arriving at Caye Caulker

At Caye Caulker they headed to the south of the island, a few hundred metres from the water taxi dock and along the way were told to slow down and that people in the cemetery were ‘just relax’N’. Ignoring the requests to slow down, the team checked into the Tropical Paradise, where they had their own beach cabin over looking the sea, the pit stop for this leg of the race.