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.