Bolivia 1: Puno to Copacabana

At breakfast, both Simon and Ang were excited.  With Puno’s proximity to the border with Bolivia, they knew they would soon be heading south.  Both thought that Bolivia, with its outdoor activities would be likely to provide great racing.

Stomachs full, the team prepared themselves for the challenges that lay ahead.  A clue was handed to them and they commenced racing, first to the bus station.  Arriving they quickly secured tickets, but they were then forced to wait three hours until two pm.  Annoyingly they were forced to listen to a bus tout screaming Arequipa Arequipa over and over again.  Ang got justifiably frustrated as the Arequipa bus wasn’t scheduled to depart until 4pm that afternoon and there is only so many times you can hear ‘ara ara ara areguipa’ and not go mad.

Thankfully, the team’s bus company finally organised a minivan to take the small number of passengers three hours south around Lake Titicaca to the border with Bolivia.  Driving out of Puno, both Simon and Ang were glad to leave as while there wasn’t really anything bad about the place, there was anything nice either.

The drive was relatively uneventful with the team taking in the beautiful lakeside scenery and listening to the remaining passengers, who were mostly Argentine, talk about everything from construction through to musica.

Arriving at the border, the team first had their departure card stamped and collected before they walked back to the passport control office in a separate building.  There they cleared immigration and walked back past the departure card office and up the hill towards an arch way.  Crossing into Bolivia, they completed customs formalities and were soon in a collectivo heading for the town of Copacabana.  Both Ang and Simon agreed that the whole experience was rather relaxed and laid back, and had the added advantage of pleasant scenery to look at while walking between control points.

Entry portal to another country

Arriving in Copacabana, the team walked up the hill and checked into their accommodation with wonderful water views.   Their clue required the team to visit the fabled birthplace of the Incas, the Isla Del Sol.  However, the ATM in Copacabana had issues accepting the team’s cards, meaning they would need to change USD (for a relatively bad rate).  After the day’s travelling and waiting, the team decided to have an early night and rest up.

Waking early, the team went down to the dock.  After a quick breakfast and a second attempt to withdraw money from the ATM, the team jumped onboard a super slow launch bound for the Isla Del Sol.  Simon was briefly concerned that the Island of the Sun would actually be the Island of the rain, as it showered for most of the journey north. The boat itself was so slow and potentially overloaded that it took an inordinate amount of time to reach the northern village.  When they finally did arrive, the team headed further north on foot as their clue required them to walk the island from north to south to receive their next clue.

Happy pig on the Isla del Sol
Dock panorama on the Isla Del Sol

After 20 minutes of walking, they arrived at a gate. There they were stopped by a guy wanting them to pay 10 sols for entry into a ruins site.  Both Ang and Simon agreed that while interesting, this was not part of the challenge and would only delay them.  Plus, they only had 14 sols with them after payment for breakfast and the boat so they could not afford to enter.  Instead, followed by a friendly Frenchman and Argentine girl, the team scrambled up a nearby escarpment and walked around the fenced area to the north.

After a further twenty minutes of walking, the group came to a junction.  There the lead Frenchman was asked to pay for entry to the ruins (which were directly ahead).  He politely refused, and along with the Argentine, Simon and Ang turned to walk south.  The rocky path followed the ridge line and was spectacular.

After about an hour of walking, the team spied a check point.  There two locals were manning a ticketing station alone on top of a hill.  They wanted to charge 15 sols for each person to walk along the path.  Simon and Ang didn’t have that amount of money due to their ATM and exchange issues and the guidebook making no mention of any fees other than boat transport.  After politely saying they had no funds, the two locals gave Simon and Ang entry tickets for five sols each (student rates) for the remaining 14 sols they had.

Simon and Ang continued, though annoyed they didn’t have the funds to pay, but grateful they were still able to do the walk.  They walked past a forest of introduced eucalyptus trees and covered the 10 kms to the next community in rapid time.  There they met the next check point, this time to enter the southern town on the island.  At first the lady didn’t seem to understand, but once Simon showed they didn’t have enough money on his person, she let them pass.  They walked through the southern village down to the dock in time to meet their return boat to Copacabana.

Inca statue to great travellers arriving at the Isla del Sol Temple of the Sun on the Island of the Sun

Racing back at less than 4 knots, the boat eventually returned them to the Copacabana dock.  There they received their next clue directing them to La Paz.  Unfortunately, after trying the second ATM in town, then reluctantly changing some dollars, they were only able to buy bus tickets for the next day, meaning they would need to spend the second night in Copacabana.  The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around town, enjoying a drink in the warm sun and then dinner.

Boating on Lake Titicaca
Panorama of the Copacabana foreshore

Waking, they witnessed the car blessing festival and enjoyed a leisurely brunch before they boarded the second of two buses bound for La Paz.

Square in the middle of Copacabana

…To be continued.


Peru 4: Puno and Lake Titicaca

Ang and Simon again woke early, pulled on their backpacks and went out to the street. They hailed a passing taxi and were driven to the Peru train rail station.

There, along with about 15 other Exclusive Race teams, they boarded the Andean Explorer, a luxury rail experience operated in partnership with the Orient Express company. This train journey takes passengers through the stunning Andean mountains to the city of Puno, high on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Classy interior of the Cuzco to Puno train

Simon and Ang’s tasks were to enjoy the luxury, eat delicious food, watch performances of traditional folk music and take photos of the countryside and people on and around the tracks.

The in-locomotion entertainment Mothers of all pan pipes

The train’s route passed through the suburbs of Cuzco and up the Andes to a 4300m high pass where they briefly stopped to take pictures and bargain for some locally spun llama wool handicrafts. Ang was able to net a fine baby llama wool scarf bargain. The train then descended slightly as it made its way through pastures filled with alpacas and llamas and the occasional busy market town.

The engine High altitude stop to shop and take in the thin air
Friendly Peruvian road workers Little wooly Llama
Markets, On train line! Stalls built right up to the carriage line
Two kids wave the train on Friendly Peruvian fisherman
Southern Peruvian landscape

During this journey, Simon was tasked with mixing the perfect Pisco Sour in front of all other passengers. This was not an easy task as the whole train rocked, making it hard to complete a steady pour. Simon persevered and after completing the mix was awarded the next clue by the bar tender and he also got to drink his handiwork.

Simon sampling the pisco sour he just made as part of the mix a drink on a moving train challenge The view from the open back of the train

The next clue required the team to visit the Uros Islands, artificial floating reed islands that lay off the coastline from Puno. However hours of operation were 9am to 5pm, so once they arrived in Puno they found suitable accommodation for the night and tried to stay dry during several mighty downpours.

That evening, Simon and Ang met up with another team from Australia who consisted of a Russian chick and Welsh guy, and had been on the Cuzco to Puno train journey. Maria and Tony had been given the same next challenge, so over dinner they hatched a plan to join forces for the next day to negotiate a boat to the floating islands.

Early the next afternoon the team boarded a classic lake cruiser for the 30 minute ride to the islands. Once there they were given a brief talk in Spanish about how the islands are constructed. The team walked around the spongy islands and were asked by the five families to view their wares.


Simon enjoying the sun on lake titicaca as the team head to the floating island challenge Simon and Ang lounge inside of their slow boat to the floating islands
The teams are shown how the islands are constructed The floating village

Both teams completed their short stay on the island and were given their next clue. They raced back to the Plaza de Armas, were both teams were first to arrive at the pit stop for this leg of the race.


Peru 3: The Inca Trek part 2

Warning:  The following race report contains material that will be distressing to some viewers.

Waking incredibly early at 3.45 am, the group quickly readied themselves and walked to the official control point, the last for the Inca trail.  There they waited until gates opened at 5.30am and then commenced their walk to the Intipunku (the Sun Gate), to complete the “watch the sun rise” challenge.  The fast and hurried pace of walking was a fun break from the previous enjoyable days of easy walking.  All teams, including those travelling with other tour companies were frantically trying to make the gate in time to see the sun rise.  Simon and Ang power walked over a bunch of landslides and past slower moving people before ascending a vertical staircase of steps and along a flat section to finally arrive at the Sun Gate.

Owing to the misty cloudy weather, view was completely obscured.  After taking a few photos to commemorate the event, the group continued on to their final destination, Machu Picchu by which time the rain started and looked set in.  Arriving there, still very early in the morning, they retreated to the cafe at the entry to wait until the rain, clouds and mist cleared.  Luckily the sun came out an hour or so later and Caesar, their guide, then took the various teams on a grand tour of the Machu Picchu site. Both Simon and Ang thoroughly enjoyed the tour and Caesar’s great performance.

The racers arrive at the sun gate, in time for sunrise, but mist prevents them seeing Machu Picchu Racers arrive at the Machu Picchu checkpoint and celebrate
Simon points out Huayna Picchu The various teams resting ahead of their respective next legs
Panorama of Machu Picchu

With the Inca Trail completed, Simon and Ang received their next clue.  They were to return by train to the city of Cuzco where they would receive their next clue.

The racers from the various teams come together for one last group photo

With some time before their train back to Cuzco departed, Simon and Ang spent hours taking photos of the Machu Picchu site  and enjoying the fantastic view. Both Ang and Simon were in awe of the place’s majestic beauty and did not want to leave. But they were racing, so in the late afternoon they made a quick dash to the Inca Bridge, and then returned to the site entry to catch a bus down to the small Pueblo of Aguas Caliente. There they enjoyed a fun, but expensive group meal before boarding randomly a half hour earlier train than all other teams back to Ollyambanto.

An Inca doorway An Inca window
An Inca bridge
Simon and Ang admire the view

The advantage of this was the team was able to see the valley they had walked above during daylight.  All other Exclusive race teams were forced to wait in Aguas until the later evening train.  The disadvantage was Simon and Ang would either have to make their own way back to Cuzco or wait until the rest of the group caught up. Arriving there, the Team opted to wait until the rest of the group caught up on the later train, strategically saving some funds for later legs of the race.

Having completed the Inca Trail and returned to Cuzco, the team received their next clue in the Cuzco markets.  This clue was for the second part of a viewer suggested road block provided by Jo and Alex.  One of the team would have to try the local delicacy, Cuy al Horno.  Simon opted to be the one who did as Ang’s sister had a guinea pig as a pet and she was not keen on eating another “Devine”.

Jugo stands in the Cuzco markets Simon is amazed at the delicious juice selection
Simon completes the wear a ridiculous hat challenge A working Singer
Lady selling beans wearing an Andean backpack

At lunch time, the day after finishing the Inca Trail, Simon and Ang raced to the local restaurant “La Chomba”.  There, meals were ordered with Simon getting the Cuy and a big glass of frutillada, a strawberry chicha (fermented corn), to drink.  Simon steadily worked his way through the fiddly cuy dish and drank most of the fruitllada.  Eventually the judge accepted that all the ‘tasty’ meat had been eaten and gave the team their next clue.  Simon said later that “it was one of the most disgusting combinations of food I’ve ever eaten.  If I have a choice, I will never eat another cuy again”.

Completing the drink fruitllada challenge Simon is shocked when the eat Cuy Al Horno (Roast guinea pig) is revealed
Horrid guinea pig! Simon gets over the initial shock and decides to eat
Simon completing the grizzly task

For their next task, the team would have to make their way to the city of Puno via train.  Unfortunately this train only left every second day, meaning they would need to wait until the next morning before departing.

Full of cuy (and in Ang’s case, fish), the team waited out the rest of the day before meeting up for drinks with the other teams from the Inca Trek.  They then packed and prepared for the journey ahead.

…To be continued.


Peru 2: The Inca Trek

Waking early, Simon and Ang went out into the street.  There, the team waited at the appointed pick up time for the Peru Treks bus to arrive.  No transport showed, so the team returned to the warmth of their hostel lobby, and had just sat down when a bus sped past their building.  This would later turn out to be their pick up.

Cuzco, early morning. Only the dogs and racers are awake

One hour went past without any bus arriving at their accommodation.  As per the instruction sheet, the team telephoned the Peru Treks office.  Rapid directions were given and the bus soon arrived.  Unusually for a tour that was typically solely for gringos, the team were spoken to in Spanish by the guide.  It would later be revealed that the office had put Ang and Simon’s nationality as Argentine, so the guide had naturally defaulted to the national language.  With these mix ups resolved, the team along with other teams from Australia, France, America, Ireland and the UK were driven up into the hills around Cuzco.

After three hours, the bus arrived at the Village of Ollyambanto, where an average breakfast was had before the bus continued off road to Km 82, the starting point for four day Inca treks.  Here last minute supplies were purchased and the group of 15 walkers, 15 porters and two guides set off.

The Amazing Exclusive Race teams pause for a photo at the start of the trail Porters getting their loads weighed

The walking initially was easy as the group got to know each other and the guide Caesar.  It was soon clear that Caesar’s extreme passion for all things Inca that this would be an enjoyable four days.  The group marvelled at the majesty of the countryside and walked their way up from Km82 to the small village of Wayllabamba twelve kilometres in the distance.

Ang with her fashionable walking poles

Arriving at the lunch stop, the team found out about the third office communication problem.  The trek staff had not been told about Simon’s dietary requirements, however surprisingly they quickly adapted.  Simon would later say “I was initially concerned because if you are walking for hours at a time you need a lot of food for energy.  Usually I have to go without on flights, buses, and often miss out on breakfasts.  But the Peru Trek cooking guys provided the best meals I’ve had yet in South America”.

Walking into Wayllabamba the team found their tent already set up and dinner near being served.  These three course meals were enjoyed and soon all teams went to sleep, to rest ahead of the next day, the hardest of the walk.

The racers’ tent

The group was woken by hot tea at the tent door.  Simon and Ang quickly readied themselves for the day ahead.  They would be climbing to the highest altitude of the trek, 4200m.  After a delicious breakfast, the group assembled for a coca ceremony.  Simon opted to not take part as the taste of the leaves was less than desirable.  Simon would complete the rest of the trek without coca assistance.  Ang completed the ceremony, but didn’t find the altitude a problem so didn’t try any more.  Others in the group seemed to almost be addicted to chewing the leaves, chewing many over the next three days.

With the ceremony completed, the group started walking up the long hill to Abra de Huarmihuañusca or Dead Woman’s Pass.  Soon one by one the porters raced by, with each carrying up to 25 kg on their backs.  Simon said at the time referring to the efforts of the porters that “they left us for dead.  Amazing”.  The altitude slowed Simon and Ang down and they enjoyed taking in the spectacular scenery, despite being in a race.

Inca trail stream On the way up to Dead Woman’s pass

Lunch was had in a meadow below the pass and it wasn’t long before the team finally reached the freezing top.  A couple of quick photographs were taken and then it was time to descend the wet slippery rock steps past waterfalls to the stunning second campsite of Pacamayo.  Oddly, the last and highest water sale point was the cheapest of all on way up the mountain to Dead Woman’s pass.  Other teams took advantage of this and also purchased some alcoholic beverages to celebrate summiting the pass.

The racers pause for a photo at the top of Dead Woman’s pass On the trail goes…
Another waterfall near the second night camp site

Once again a fantastic meal was had at the Pacamayo campsite and again the group was surprised at the high quality food being provided, including for a solo member of another team Australia, a birthday cake complete with piped “Happy Birthday” icing.  Rum was consumed in celebration, but owing to the increasing cold, the teams soon made their way to their tents.

Day three of the Inca Trek began similar to the first with Simon and Ang being woken and offered fresh hot tea at their tent door.  After quickly packing, and yet another delicious breakfast, the teams set off once again.  The passes for this day were lower than the previous, but there still was 15km to cover.

Packing a Peruvian backpack Note the pratical footware
Panorama showing the mountains above the campsite

Caesar enthusiastically explained each of the major run sites, detailing their significant and stressing the importance by saying things like “oh my god you guys have to know this.  This is amazing”.  He also liked to remind everyone that “you’re young, you’re on holidays. Why do you want to rush? Take your time and enjoy”. Simon and Ang liked the advice, and really enjoyed the trekking eah day. The walk continued through yet more spectacular scenery made even more so by the misty conditions.

The racers pause for a photo
Simon completes the Pachamama offering challenge Ang leaves her offering
An Inca outpost The dashing Caesar, points out a really interesting Inca artifact to the various Exclusive Race teams

As they reached the end of the day’s walk, after a three course lunch that included Alpaca, the weather closed in.  Not wanting to walk in order to keep warm, Simon and Ang raced down the famed “gringo killer” slippery and wet original Inca steps, past well preserved ruins before they walked into the valley next to Machu Picchu valley.

The racers are introduced to the porters in the meal tent
Ang kitted out in her patented rain protection ready to take on the gringo killer An Inca cave
The valley next to the valley with Machu Pichu in it

Views here were spectacular. The last hour of walking was savoured, with exception of one section where Simon tried to race a fully loaded porter down a section of the trail (and failed).  This mostly original trail descended from 4000m to a sedate 3000m culminating in a spectacular view of mountains and Inca terrace ruins.  After multiple group photos, the group walked the last twenty minutes into the camp of Wiñay Wayna.  There they found their tents once again erected at the last campsite for the trek.

The two guides just love taking group photos with everyone’s cameras Ang and Simon complete the jumping photo challenge
Inca trail orchid

That night, after dinner, the porters and cooks and guides were thanked and a token of appreciation was given.  Simon and Ang were so impressed with the quality of the food and their accommodation of Simon’s dietary requirements given the difficult circumstances (there are no supermarkets on the trail) that they provided a little extra privately to the cook and his assistant.  Then all teams went to sleep to prepare for the next day.

… To be continued.


Peru 1: Cuzco

Waking, the team was given their first task and set out to explore the city of Cuzco. This former capital of the ancient Inca Empire is located at 3800m above sea level and is the major base for exploring the Sacred Valley. The Team’s tasks for this leg were to sample local restaurants, explore shops and markets for handicrafts and jugos, and to find an ethical Inca Trek company to book with to complete the major task for this leg of the race.

Plaza Del Armas Peruvian Segway for the win!

Unfortunately whilst completing the delicious alpaca steak challenge, Simon contracted a stomach bug.  This caused the team to be delayed 3 days whilst Simon recovered.  During this time Ang was able to find a suitable Inka Trail provider and used her charm to negotiate a good price on a last minute booking.

Once Simon had recovered, and prior to the start of their trek, the team managed to complete one small day trip challenge to the nearby Pueblo of Pisac.  They also witnessed and briefly took part in one of the many festivals that occur in Cuzco each year with a small dance performance.

Dancers as part of Corpus of San Cristobal celebrations Dancers shaking it on Don Bosco
Second wave included guys ‘suffering from yellow fever’ Then drunks
Finally there was weighty San Cristobal himself (carried by a bunch of dudes)
Valley of corn, Pisac Snakes on a drain!

Whilst Simon did not enjoy the time in bed with the stomach bug, it did give the team valuable time to acclimatise to the high altitude and see the best of Cuzco.  This would prove useful in the next phase of this leg of the race.

An Inca wall Two photograph my llama girls

With the Cuzco challenges completed, the team placed their luggage in storage at their hostel and slept, ready for the coming days’ exertions.

…To be continued.


Ecuador 5: Galapagos to Piura, Peru

The team woke early and prepared for the recommencement of racing by quickly packing.  Racing out to the street they hailed a cab and were driven to Puerto Ayora’s terminal Terrestre, an oddly large structure for an island that has only one bus route.

Riding the morning bus service to the Canal took the normal hour. There the team completed the short ferry ride across the water and rode the free bus to the airport terminal.  After checking in and some last minute souvenir shopping they boarded their flight to Guayaquil.

The uneventful flight soon deposited the team back at Guayaquil airport where they took a cab over to the massive bus station.  Tickets were bought for the afternoon bus to Cuenca. Simon and Ang were pleased at how the morning had gone and were glad to still be leading the race.

The bus arrived in Cuenca without incident and the team stayed overnight in a quaint colonial hospedaje.  The next morning, after a walk around the city and an attempt to sell one of the team’s cameras to a camera shop, the team returned to the bus station.  Tickets were purchased and the team boarded another bus heading south for the border town of Loja, close to the Peruvian boarder.

Cuenca town Mary Poppins is now sadly without a working umbrella
Happiest windmill in all Ecuador on the road to Loja Roadside roasted pig stand

Arriving in Loja, they once again found accommodation and walked around the surprisingly pleasant town.  On their walk, the team observed a protest march by some Ecuadorian union types.  Later, an eating challenge was completed with the team consuming a large quantity of tamales.  With this challenge completed, the team received their next clue, and early the next morning boarded an international bus to the Peruvian town of Piura.

Union protest, Loja style Lots of roja flags in Loja
The start of the Tamale challenge

The bus ride into Peru and border crossing was straight forward.  Arriving in Piura, the team was confronted with a huge number of tuk tuks and market chaos.  Ang commented that “it feels like India, especially after the Galapagos”.   Once again accommodation was found and the team enjoyed a fantastic meal at a Peruvian fusion restaurant before receiving their next clue to fly to the town of Cuzco.

Interesting southern Ecuadorian trees
Fruit pickers in transit Friendly Peruvian fruit farmers

Waking early, the team took a taxi to the airport where their boarded a flight south to Cuzco via Lima.  The Taca flight was delayed leaving, so upon arrival in Lima the team only had moments to spare to make the connection.  Racing through the airport the team soon arrived at the boarding gate and were met by a Taca representative.  Unfortunately they were too late for the connecting flight, arriving at the gate at 11am, minutes after boarding had closed.

Initially told by the ground staff that the team would have to spend the night in Lima, Simon and Ang negotiated to be put on another flight.  They were transferred to a LAN flight at 2pm.  Due to all the time taken to arrange this transfer, Simon and Ang had less than one hour left to locate their bags and check in to the LAN operated flight to Cuzco and go back through security.

They raced back out past baggage claim, urged the TACA staff to locate their bags, waited while these were found, raced to the enormous LAN queue and just made check in with minutes to spare.  They raced through security and straight onto the plane.  Both Simon and Ang were relieved they didn’t have to spend a night in Lima and glad they had managed to avoid a delay that could have cost them the race.

Arriving in Cuzco the team took a taxi to the main Plaza De Armas and located accommodation.  There, out of breath on account of the high altitude, they checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race, a lovely hostel with private rooms overlooking gorgeous Cuzco.

Ang finds it difficult to climb the hill at this altitude