Chile 2: Refugio Dickson to Campamento Los Guardas

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two set out on an epic hike around the Torres Del Paine national park.  After walking almost 35km, the team arrived at Refugio Dickson, a remote campsite on the fair side of the Torres Del Paine national park.

Waking early the next morning, the team quickly ate breakfast and broke camp. Because Ang’s feet were still sore from the previous day’s hike, the team decided to make their way to the next campsite and attempt the crossing of the pass the following day.

Paine plants Ang crosses the ranging torrent

They were once again joined by the solo members of Team America and Germany and set off up towards the campsite of Los Pinos. Walking, but still at a sound pace, the team marvelled at the spectacular scenery and almost complete isolation, as aside from their own company, they only saw the odd ranger.

Waterfall! Simon rests his bones
Vertical Torres Del Paine

Towards the evening, the team climbed upwards and at the top of a rock pile were greeted by a spectacular lake, glacier and mountain site. Then it was an easier walk along to the Campamento Los Pinos where they spent the night. Their camping neighbours in an enormous four person tent were a friendly pair representing Team Wales on their own Exclusive pedalling race around Patagonia. Both teams traded stories about their respective races and previous legs before it was time to cook dinner.  As the campsite was less nicer than the previous grassy Refugio Dickson and was permanently damp and without a warm refugio camp fire, the team headed for the tent straight after dinner.

Stunning lake An amazing exclusive coffee ad looking for a brand

Planning to make up time, and because they would have to summit the pass, they woke before sun rise. A quick breakfast was eaten and the team set off through the bog and fallen logs up into the top of the valley towards the top of the pass.  Ang and Simon were the first Exclusive race team to leave camp, but were over taken on the long climb by another team Australia and eventually team Wales.

Both Simon and Ang didn’t care at this point and were actually a day ahead on account of their mammoth first day. They instead enjoyed every moment of the views they had on the spectacular ascent.

Simon climbs up to the pass The view down onto Grey Glacier

Taking time to enjoy the view from the top of the pass, the team’s breaths were taken away.  Below them was the spectacularly enormous Grey Glacier, part of the massive Southern Patagonia Ice Field. For both Simon and Ang this section would be the least favourite part of the circuit as they entered the tree line and commenced a scramble down the steep slope. Simon had to brace himself with each step on account of his heavy pack and Ang’s feet were in agony on account of the ill fitting shoes. Eventually they arrived at the base of the slope and started the long but spectacular walk along the glacier edge from to Campamento Los Guardas.

Team Wales pauses to be part of a spectacular panorama of Grey Glacier

After stopping for lunch, Ang strategically suggested that Simon walk on ahead because the next campsite was a free site and slightly more accessible to people doing the regular ‘W’ walk.  Both racers were concerned that it may be packed.  Simon set off ahead and after a couple of hours of walking, that involved crossing hair raising ravines, he arrived at the site.  There he set up camp and waited for Ang to arrive.

Some racers stop for lunch in front of Grey Glacier The racers pose for a promotional photo in front of the Glacier
Another spectacular Torres panorama
Ladders on the circuit Ladders that have seen better days
Simon enjoys this panoramic view
The rough Torres trail Simon gives Grey Glacier the thumbs up

By this point, Ang’s feet were torture to her and she barely was able to walk the last bit into the camp, but was kindly supported by the friendly Team American and German girls.  Campamento Los Guardas was ideally located next to the tongue of Grey Glacier, so after dinner, Simon went to the nearby mirador and took some photos. Then Ang and Simon spent some time socialising with Team Wales, a Mixed Team UK and Australia and the other Exclusive racers at the small cosy campsite.

Sleep came quickly after three days of solid walking.

…To be continued.

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Chile 1: Ushuaia to Torres Del Paine

After the mandatory rest period, the team collected their next clue and embarked on the next leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race.  They were to make their way to the world famous Torres Del Paine national park in Chile and complete a full circuit, after which they would receive their next clue.

Quickly they ran down to the bus stop and soon were making their way out of Ushuaia.  Their bus wound its way through the Tierra Del Fuego, an almost unspoilt wilderness.  Their route took them across the narrow stretch of water that took them onto the mainland then on to the border with Chile.

The team races to their early morning bus Waiting to enter Chile
Tierra Del Fuego Ferry panorama

After an uneventful trip through customs, they arrived at Punta Arenas, the stopover before their onward bus to Puerto Natales. The team joined a solo racer from France for a walk around town and a quick dinner before they were back on the bus heading to Puerto Natales. The remaining trip passed without incident.

Patagonian puppy Punta Arenas sky

They arrived into Natales after dark and weirdly saw a giant Mylodon on a round about as they made their way into town. With the bus trip over and there needing to be some preparation time before they would be allowed to embark on the 9 day continuous hike around the circuit, Simon and Ang checked into the Singing Lamb Backpackers for the night.

Waking the next morning to homemade bread and gourmet porridge, they quickly set about acquiring the necessary camping gear and buying enough supplies to last them the entire circuit. As they were racing, both Simon and Ang decided to deliberately only buy enough food and take enough cooking gas to last 6 days. Ang said “we always complete walks faster than the advertised times and we were full of confidence after the Inca trail, we knew we’d have enough food”. They also decided to only take Simon’s big backpack and a smaller day pack and leave the rest of their gear at the most hospitable Singing Lamb hostel.

Next morning the team boarded an early morning bus to the National park along with a variety of Teams from other countries on their own exclusive races. Simon and Ang were both excited as they had planned an aggressive walking schedule for the first day which they were confident in doing. They had joined up with two solo member teams from Germany and America. Their first day’s walking would be approximately 35 kms.

Arriving at the park at 11am on the shuttle bus, the teams set off from Laguna Amarguna to Refugio Dickson in an anticlockwise direction around the circuit as the Torres were shrouded in fog and clouds.  The hike started easily enough.  Simon handled the 20kg+ pack well, but unfortunately soon Ang’s feet were hurting in her recently purchased (from Ushuaia), slightly too small for her feet, shoes.  The teams arrived at the first campsite at the 12km mark and were allowed to continue on to the next campsite.

The team pose for a photo before starting the walk
Paine panorama
That way!

They all kept up a solid pace and ate into the remaining kms. Simon and Ang were both amazed at the awesome view along the back side of the circuit. At one point, two majestic enormous condors glided overhead. Later on they were stopped and quizzed by two park rangers, as apparently their aggressive walking plan was frowned upon. Simon and Ang shrugged this off as they knew they needed to keep up a quick pace to win this race.

25km into the walk climbing a small unexpected hill
Simon’s enormous pack Ang’s… eh pack
Despite shoe pain, Ang is enjoying this challenge

After hours of walking, the team arrived just before dusk at their first campsite for the night, the Refugio Dickson. There they made camp, cooked up the first of their rather plain food and dried out in the Refugio by the warm fire, preparing for the next day.  Ang’s feet were not in a good state, so the team adjusted their plan for the next leg of the hike.

…To be continued

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Antarctica 4: Paradise Bay to Ushuaia

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced all the way south to the mysterious continent of Antarctica.  There they embarked on a series of amazing ice bound challenges.  After receiving a surprise second camping challenge and spending a night under the stars, the team woke early the next morning.

Bivy bags were quickly packed and gear stowed in its carry bags.  With the camping area cleared, the various teams, including Simon and Ang, were given their next clues.  They all raced down to the landing point and jumped into a zodiac for the ride back to the Plancius. Simon enjoyed the night, but was glad to get back to the Plancius to empty the esky.

After a nice long warm shower, the team were treated to another great breakfast as anchors were raised. Yet another fantastic navigation was enjoyed with the team observing many small minke whales, larger humpbacks, lone ranger penguins and the occasional seal amongst the ice bergs and flows.

Iceberg cake! More iceberg cake!
Simon mucking around on deck

For their last challenge in Antarctic waters, Simon and Ang were given their final clue.  Ang was to complete a final zodiac cruise along side an enormous glacier whilst Simon was to paddle a kayak for the second and last time around Cierva Cove. The Plancius dropped anchor and the zodiacs and kayaks were deployed. There was a fair degree of excitement, sadness and dread in the air.  This would be the last chance to experience the Antarctic wilderness before the ship headed north and into the Drake once again. The sky was magic.

Kayaking gear on the railing ready to be put on Simon about to boat
Even more iceberg cake!

Simon’s first impression as he boarded the last zodiac to leave the ship that this was going to be an experience to remember.  In the distance, a huge snow covered sheet of ice slopped down into the sea with a massive rock massif jutting out of it, like a giant crashed alien spaceship.  The beams of sunlight and the haze gave the impression they were about to enter a special place.

Out of this world Antarctica An unknown Exclusive Race team about to start paddling

Simon’s zodiac raced over to the mother ship zodiac and the final group of kayakers boarded their boats for the last paddle. A nearby leopard seal kept its distance and the group set off into the frozen ice berg wasteland. Simon had started grinning earlier on the gangplank, and now could only grin more as he pushed his way through the brash ice and around the growlers, bergy bits and proper massive ice bergs.  At times he was leading the pack of paddlers, using the kayak’s strong bow to break a path through the ice for the rest.  At other times, he played the nudge the giant carving iceberg game and tried to take photos of the amazing flocks of swimming Gentoos racing by. Simon didn’t stop grinning and despite being in a race, he considered making a run for shore to stay longer when it was finally time to get back in the zodiac and return to the ship.

Plancius on the horizon Kayak covered in ice!
Ice mountain! Iceberg ice field… brrrrrr icy
Team France paddling to complete this fantastic challenge Kayak… iceberg… majestic bird…

Ang said “The zodiac cruise was breath taking. I was so glad to have shared it with a wonderful new friend Sue from Team Sydney. The lighting was magic and the great white continent was saying good bye in all its glory. I had a teary moment as we sat in silence. I got to see  a leopard seal right up close lazing in the sun and two orca playing around, it couldn’t have been a better good bye”

Leopard spots Leopard smile
Only thing more dangerous than a leopard seal… robo leopard seal Soft leopard fur
Pure wilderness and a zodiac Iceberg minty!
Slushy land

With this challenge completed, both Simon and Ang returned to the Plancius and were given their next clue. They were to return to Ushuaia, and on the return journey they were to enter a ship wide photography competition. Outside, all the boats zodiacs loaded, the boat weighed anchor and sadly embarked north.  The team spent until nightfall sipping drinks in the lounge, watching the amazing wilderness slip by and worked on their photos for the photography competition, the final task for this leg of the race.

Delicious iceberg cake Smooth iceberg cake

Sadly, the ship reached open ocean and once again the passengers were advised to ‘keep one hand for the ship and one hand for yourself’.  Simon finished the editing on the photos on behalf of Ang (who had returned to her Drake passage horizontal bed spot).  With entry made into the competition, Simon celebrated completing the challenge by enjoying a selection of surprisingly reasonably priced red wines and the company of the other non-sea sick team members.

Simon mucking around in the Drake

After two days of sailing, Simon and Ryan from Team Canada finished a mid Drake passage shaving challenge, the Plancius arrived into the calm waters of the Beagle channel. For this final night, cocktails were had, and the teams enjoyed the calm navigation back into Argentine waters.  The final task of for this leg of the race was then judged and Ang won the photography competition with her fantastic shot of the unreal Petermann landscape.

Solution to seasickness… pirate port! Plancius gps track almost at an end

Collecting her prize jacket and accolades from the other teams, Ang was emotional and teary. She was given the final clue, and the team was directed to return to the port of Ushuaia, the pit stop for this leg of the race. After a restful final night’s sleep, the team was woken early. They dressed and watched as the Plancius was edged into the docking position.

Ushuaia early morning panorama
Edging into the dock

Bags were collected and the team walked down the gangplank.  There they were met by their agent and checked into the pit stop.  Once again they were the first team to arrive.

British vessels not allowed

In a post race interview, Simon and Ang both expressed their sheer amazement that they were the first team to visit the amazing Antarctic wilderness. Simon and Ang both agreed that “Antarctica exceeded our expectations in every way.  I definitely will be coming back.  Ang said “it’s such an incredible place that no words nor photos can ever describe the awe and sheer amazement and beauty of the place”. They both agreed that if they had the chance to get back on the Plancius and head back straight away (like one Team France did), they would in a heartbeat. They were both pleased to have won the first ever race leg to Antarctica. Knowing that they were in a race and that they would soon leave the pit stop for the next destination unknown, both Simon and Ang set about enjoying the optional rest period.

Still penguin mad during the optional rest period Penguin meringues
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Antarctica 3: Paradise Bay

The aptly name Paradise Bay was the Team’s icy anchorage overnight while they rested ahead of their eighth day of this first ever destination for the Amazing Exclusive Race. After their restful night’s sleep, the team was woken early the next morning. While they munched on yet another fantastic breakfast, the anchors were raised.

Ang and Simon, along with another Team Australia discuss the navigation Spectacular

The Plancius quickly got underway and steamed north around a spectacular headland and towards a distant bay.  Both Simon and Ang were amazed at the jaw dropping scenery as massive ice bergs and bergy bits floated by.  They marvelled at the lighting on the mountains and sea and enjoyed the whole navigation until the ship arrived in Neko Harbour.  There the anchor was lowered and Simon and Ang received their next clue.

Approaching Neko Harbour
Like a giant iced cake in the morning sun
Simply spectacular

Simon’s task for this challenge was to snowshoe mountaineer to the top of the hill overlooking the Harbour and take panoramas.  Ang’s was to get into a kayak and paddle around massive dying ice bergs that were stuck in the harbour.  Both team members joined the others in their respective challenges and set off.

Glacier up close Standard wind-swept ice formation

Ang said that “the kayak challenge was the most stunning ride I’d ever been on. The lighting was breathtaking and the birds were beautiful. At one point the winds picked up out of nowhere really rapidly and the group immediately turned in the opposite direction for safety and shelter”. Ang had a big grin from ear to ear when she paddled back to the beach at Neko harbour.

Simon found the climb easy, and took time to enjoy the view in the relatively warm temperatures.  He took the required photographs and joined the other hikeneers on the easy walk down the high hill.  On the return journey, Team Canada asked if Simon would be doing the swim challenge.  Having not yet received that clue, but keen to have a go, Simon said, “I will if you will…”.  Arriving at the bottom of the hill and at the beach, Simon watched as other Teams completed their polar dip challenge. Team Canada thought Simon had stitched them up. It wasn’t until Ang returned from her kayak leg that Simon and Ang were provided with their next task.

Hikeneers climb the hill
Panorama of Neko Harbour from the top of the hill
Simon tries to point to the ship (it’s so cold one of his hands are blue)

This challenge, a road block, required one team member to take a cool dip in the southern ocean.  Of course Simon said yes, and he quickly stripped down and changed into board shorts.  Putting on the Antarctica hat carried all the way from Brazil, he raced into the freezing water. Simon later said, “I had nothing to compare the temperature to, as the coldest water I’ve previously swam in was a barmy 16 degrees.  It burnt, but the worst bit was the cold sand afterwards on my feet!”. Ang was asked if she wanted to swim as well, just for the hell of it, but said “are you crazy!” in reply. With the challenge completed, the team was directed back the Plancius and given their next task.  They were to make their way back to Paradise Bay and go leopard seal spotting.

Simon completes the swimming challenge in style (photo courtesy Laurent Dick) Simon emerges from the water from another angle
Challenge completed, the next clue is provided

After yet another great lunch and an exciting navigation, the team arrived back in Paradise Bay.  The first activity was a zodiac cruise around the ice berg clogged bay.  After witnessing several carvings, some shy crab-eater seals, the team’s patience was rewarded by seeing not one but two leopard seals. Simon and Ang marvelled at these huge dinosaur like creatures.  They were stunned as one swam slowly around the zodiacs for a good half hour, almost sizing up the boat for potential meal or mating purposes.  With this challenge completed, the team were given their next clue by the boat driver.  They were to complete a bobsled challenge in Antarctica!

Iceberg volcano! More icebergs
Lone ranger penguin Plancius bow
Nose of the leopard Climbers at the peak

After being deposited at nearby Base Almirante Brown, the team climbed up the hill behind the base and Simon jumped onto a plastic bag for a bobsled by a friendly Team Ireland member.  He raced down the hill, hooting all the way, and quickly climbed back up again to give Ang the bag for her turn.  Ang shot down quickly and soon was running back up the hill.  They had completed the challenge, but since it was so fun, the team decided to do another run each! With the fun completed, the team headed back to the landing point and after a cool mini zodiac cruise, the team assisted Team France in the collection of a 30kg chunk of ice from the sea for delivery to the bar.

Base Brown and bobsled course behind
Simon jumps above base Brown Snow chicken!
Zodiac and ice Seal enjoying the hot Antarctic day
Rocket penguin! Icy!
Perfect for a cocktail The black sheep iceberg of the family
Simon lugging the ice for Team France Big hunk of ice in the bar

Following a delicious dinner while waiting for the next challenge, Ang, who was thoroughly  enjoying this leg of the race, organised a private zodiac cruise so she and Simon could experience five minutes of complete silence as promised in the welcome briefing. They would help drop off the campers then go for their cruise on the way back to the boat.

After dropping off one load, the team along with Jim, an expedition staff member, returned to the Plancius for the last of the campers. There they were given another surprise camping challenge by one of the Russian crew!  They were to spend another night sleeping outdoors, this time in Bivi bags.  Simon and Ang were ecstatic as this was completely unexpected. They quickly deposited the last of the campers at the landing site. Andrew, the Australia expedition camping staff member called the team ‘Silly Australians’ and accused Simon and Ang of planning this surprise camping challenge. The team was just as shocked, but were pumped at getting another chance to sleep al naturale in a polar region.  Plus, they still would be able to complete their private zodiac cruise, as Jim took them away from the camp landing site and into the dark.

Arriving in the middle of an ice field about a kilometre away from the Plancius and camp site, radios were switched off and the three humans floated and enjoyed the silence… of a huge amount of ice crunching and grinding against itself. Simon noticed fairly early that in the near distance an ice berg was floating towards their boat. He also noticed that this ice berg had a long black sausage like shape on it, suggesting a seal of some sort. Figuring that collision with the zodiac was likely, and probably on Ang’s side, Simon’s main concern was that the seal would be awoken by Ang’s scream of terror.

As the ice berg came closer, Simon’s eyes darted between the seal and Ang.  Suddenly, Simon could see the whites of Ang’s eyes.  She didn’t scream, but was obviously frightened.  Moments later the berg with the sleeping seal crunched into the zodiac.  All the team could hear was a snoring seal!  With that amazing moment completed, and the five minutes up, Jim started the engines and motored the team back over to the camp site.  There they went ashore, grabbed their camp gear and joined the other happy campers on the snow.

Unpacking the bivy The team prepares to sleep out in the open

Sleep came quickly after the action packed day and was only interrupted by the occasional carving of the massive nearby glacier.

…To be continued.

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Antarctica 2: Port Lockroy to Paradise Bay

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Team Australia embarked an epic voyage south out of South America to Antarctica. After a turbulent and seasick mired trip across the infamous Drake Passage, the Plancius navigated the Neumayer channel and arrived in the calm waters around Goudier Island. There they embarked on a series of challenges including kayaking, hiking and finally an amazing night of camping.

Waking early the next morning, the team packed their bedding the set about enjoying the surrounding area. Many photographs were taken and, after Simon climbed to the top of the nearby hill, they returned to the zodiacs and the Plancius for bathrooms and breakfast. Receiving their next clue after eating, the team attended the photography workshop briefing.

Early morning at the camp site

Laurent, a French-American Associated Press contract photographer, provided the team with their next challenge. They were tasked with photographing wildlife in its natural environment focusing in on taking a strong photograph. With the briefing completed, Simon and Ang boarded a zodiac and were shuttled to shore at Dorian Bay. There they carefully made their way around the Gentoo penguin rookery and took the required photographs. Simon and Ang both agreed that they took too many photographs of Gentoos, that they poo a lot and they are completely awesome creatures.

Ice! Cool Gentoos in their cool home
A Gentoo takes time out of its busy schedule to pose for a photo Stretching Gentoo
The magical Antarctic landscape Malting Gentoo!
A penguin trying to re-evolve the capability to fly A Gentoo finishes its swim
Gentoo filth

Racing back to the Plancius, after a quick zodiac cruise to photograph some otherworldly icebergs clogging Dorian Bay, they had yet another delicious lunch and were given a road block. They were to complete a snowshoe hike to the top of a hill where one of the team members was required to build a snowman. As Simon had never built one before, he volunteered to complete the challenge. Reaching the top of the hill, Simon completed his snowman quickly, using algae smears for eyes, and the team was allowed to continue of the snowshoe hike. Half way up the next hill, another task was presented.

Swan ice berg
Rookery panorama
Simon and Ang celebrate completing the snow man challenge
Snow shoeing panorama

Three separate Amazing Exclusive race teams, Simon from Team Australia, Ray and Damo from another Team Australia and Ryan from Team Canada, were required to have a snowball fight. Each team fought valiantly and they were all given their respective next clues. After a quick visit to the old 1980s Damoy research hut and spotting of a lone chin strap penguin and random Chilean Navy ship, the team returned to the waiting zodiacs and headed back to the Plancius. Yet another delicious dinner was had along with great company and lots of wine, after which Simon and Ang retired for the night.

Moments later a snow ball fight erupted
Ang enjoying a moment on the rocks The Chilean navy arrives

In the morning, preparations were made for the Plancius’ departure. The previous nights camping had been cancelled due to dangerous winds so the crew was out early packing up the campsite and collecting the tents that had been blown off into the channel during the night. With one of the three missing tents recovered, the Plancius raised its anchor. A course was set for the spectacular Leimer channel and the team was tasked with enjoying this navigation in all its splendour. The weather was clear and the steep Antarctic mountains majestic. Most of the passengers were on deck and those who were not, were looking through one of the many windows so they could complete the Leimer Navigation challenge.

Ants in Antarctica! This photo completes Gail’s challenge More other worldly landscape
Recovery of one of the tents
Leimer channel panorama
Another amazing coastline
Layers of ice
Ice berg!
Blue ice berg with very little air in it

After this navigation was complete the Plancius continued on to the Argentine Islands. As the ship approached, the weather turned rainy. Simon and Ang were given two choices of challenges to complete. Simon elected to complete the hikeneering challenge and Ang went to complete another photography challenge by photographing the historic Wordie House.

Simon’s task was relatively straight forward and involved climbing a small hill that overlooked the Ukrainian Vernadsky Station, before walking down the hill to the station itself, whilst wearing snowshoes. This task was completed quickly by Simon, mainly because it was raining on and off and a little bit too cold this day. Simon said at the time that “this was a pretty easy walking challenge, but the landscape was still utterly spectacular due to the bleak weather. I just wish I had some way to keep the rain off the lens of the camera and a few more moments to make the snowman I made even more epic in size”.

Ang set out to complete her task and soon had taken some fantastic photographs of another historic British station, Wordie House. Unfortunately she was the last Exclusive Racer to leave the hut and was almost left behind on the little island. Ang luckily was able to hitch a ride on the zodiac that had come to close up the hut.

Classic Wordie House (as it was left) Wordie House pantry

Both Ang and Simon then completed separate guided tours of the working Vernadsky station. This base had been purchased from the British by the Ukrainians and includes a, until recently, working bar. Unlike the ice free Port Lockroy, Vernadsky had been isolated for most of the summer and so had only seen one other supply ship before the Plancius’ arrival. Simon and Ang both noticed the slightly scared and unusual way the Ukrainian scientists conducted their respective tours. Simon said that “I particularly liked the wall of over winter fame, with the crazy deranged types and one Ukrainian researcher who was doing an impersonation of a suave sea captain saying ‘hello ladies'”. After checking out the Faraday bar, the team completed this challenge. The damp team soon reunited back on the Plancius to trade stories.

Ukrainian humour at Vernadsky Station Simon completes the pour a beer challenge behind the Faraday bar in Vernadsky
Cracking jokes with the other team Australias on board the Plancius Another delicious desert

Overnight, to escape the wind, the Plancius motored north. Waking, the team found themselves floating next to a high Antarctic fjord. The challenge for today was to walk around the other worldly Petermann Island, whilst other teams attempted to summit Mt Scott.

The view from the deck outside the team’s cabin

Owing to the high winds, Simon and Ang, along with the other exclusive race teams, were rapidly shuttled ashore. There they completed an excellent hike that included photographing a variety of wildlife and unexpected animal behaviours. They also took a large number of stunning landscape photographs.

Happy feet! Damo gets told off by a Gentoo
Green Antarctica on Petermann Penguin egg!

After summiting the small peak on the island and observing a Gentoo build a wind break for its feet with specially selected rocks, Simon reunited with Ang and they returned to the ship, having completed the challenge for the morning.

Gentoo building a wall Seals and Penguins living side by side in perfect harmony
Seal portrait

Soon the mountaineers returned and the ship steamed north. The afternoon’s activities included navigation up the Lemaire channel to Paradise Bay, a calm, spectacular anchorage, where they spent the night.

Twin peaks panorama
Ice berg floats by the window

…To be continued.

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Antarctica 1: Ushuaia to Port Lockroy

In a first ever, the Amazing Exclusive Race is the first race to travel to the white Continent.  With such a historic and momentous race leg, Simon and Ang were exceptionally excited in the lead up to departure aboard the Plancius.

Finally the evening of the 27th of February arrived.  The team was collected by their agent and driven to right to the gang plank.  They boarded the ship, after taking a few photos to mark this momentous occasion, and were shown their cabin.  Soon the other remaining exclusive race passengers had boarded and the Plancius weighed anchor and steamed south towards the bottom of the world as the sun set over Terre Del Feugro.

After being introduced to the highly qualified expedition staff and hilarious Russian captain, the team completed their first challenge, a lifeboat safety drill.  With this completed, the team was given some free time to enjoy the navigation of the Beagle channel and prepare for the upcoming dreaded Drake Passage as twilight fell.

Simon particularly enjoyed the crew introductions and the hilarious typically Russian way the Russian captain said they were probably not going to get smooth water crossing the Drake, but that he was still hopeful.  With the formalities completed, Simon and Ang settled into life aboard the ship, exploring and meeting some of the other exclusive race teams.  After dinner, they retired for the night as the Plancius headed out into open ocean, toward the white unknown.

The second day of this historic challenge commenced with the boat formally in the waters of the Drake Passage.  The waters are relatively calm, but Ang, true to form, was not feeling the best.  She retired to her bed in the cabin where she would spend the next 48 hours.  Simon was relatively unaffected and entertained himself talking with the few other exclusive race team members who were not seasick.

By the afternoon of the third day, team found themselves in the waters around the South Shetland islands.  This was the first glimpse of land in two days and Simon joined some of the other passengers on deck to photograph the islands as the ship rocked by. At this point Ang was feeling better, but still is not in any shape to leave her bed.

The next morning, the team found themselves arriving into the smooth waters of the Neumayer channel and on final approach to Port Lockroy on Goudier Island.  After the ship ploughed its way though some brash ice, the anchor was dropped and the team received their first challenge.  They were to complete a kayaking challenge along with other experienced kayakers in the first group of exclusive racers.  Simon and Ang attended the safety briefing and donned their neoprene wetsuits, decking, safety equipment and selected their tandem kayak.

The Plancius breaks its way to Port Lockroy
Plancius clears the ice and approaches Lockroy

The kayaks were then all lowered into the water and Simon and Ang joined the other racers in the first group aboard the mothership zodiacs.  Deployment followed soon after and all racers were paddling around the amazing bay.

Ang and Simon once again in a tandem kayak completing the paddle next to ice bergs challenge Ang takes it all in
The team on the freezing waters are all smiles

After about twenty minutes, one solo member of a team America rolled his kayak.  He was rapidly pulled back into the safety zodiac and soon resumed paddling.  Simon and Ang were amazed at this, but focused back on their main task for this challenge and set about getting themselves as close to wildlife and bergie bits as safely as possible.  With this challenge completed, Pete, the kayak guide gave them their next clue and directed them to visit the Port Lockroy station where they were to send post cards.

Port Lockroy is a British station that is operated on behalf of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.  The station sees approximately 150 cruise ship visits per year and helps raise funds for the restoration of a variety of historic Antarctic structures.  The station is an operating post office and is staffed by three specially selected volunteers.  For the last two years, these have all been ladies.

Racing ashore, Simon and Ang were met by hundreds of hilarious Gentoo penguins and the odd seal. The team quickly made their way into the station where they each wrote a post card. As the station was being closed for the winter and the next mail ship wasn’t due until November, the team’s postcards won’t be delivered until Christmas 2012.

Noble Port Lockroy Inside Port Lockroy, the team correctly located the perfect fried penguin breast receipe
The team pauses for a photo outside of Port Lockroy These are British penguins
Simon conversates with a penguin Ang amongst the penguins

With this challenge completed, the team explored the rest of the preserved station and then went outside to watch the penguins do their thing.  Both Simon and Ang agreed that it was hard not to photograph the funny little guys, but as they were racing they had to pull themselves away and return to the zodiacs for lunch onboard the Plancius.

Antarctic bobsled team! Penguin audience

After a delicious meal, the team was handed their next clue.  They were to complete a hike around Jougla Point near the Port Lockroy station.  Sadly Ang had to return to the ship earlier in a hurry as bathroom stops are not allowed on land, but Simon carried on alone and soon completed the spectacular circuit. Near the end of the walk, Simon was approached by two curious penguins.  They kept on shuffling forward and pausing to turn their heads sideways to look at Simon.  Eventually they arrived at his feet.  Simon thought they were going to present him with a medal or at least some krill. Instead they promptly commenced pecking his boots.  Simon said of this encounter that “until they started pecking my feet I thought they must’ve been thinking I was a giant penguin. Hilarious!”.

Jougla Point panorama towards Port Lockroy Even more penguins
Pile of Penguins!
Moments later they pecked Simon’s boots Hello penguin!
Whale bones!
Penguin rookery
Plancius in the ice Flying penguin!

Back on the Plancius, the team settled in for a fantastic outdoor BBQ on the back deck.  This meal had been expertly cooked by hair dyer aided chefs. The meal had the added bonus of free wine and beer.  Simon and Ang mingled with the other racers, until they were suddenly handed a surprise challenge by Andrew Bishop, the Australian Geologist and Camping guide. This task required the team to camp overnight on snow at Damoy Point.

Easy BBQing with a hairdryer in the Antarctic Various smiling team Australias (and a snooty team America)
Non-local produce

After putting on more clothing, the team jumped into a zodiac and zoomed off into the night.  They were deposited at the campsite after zigzagging their way through bergy bits and growlers.  As other exclusive race teams had also been given this challenge, Simon and Ang had to walk around until they found a free tent.  There they assembled their bedding and helped another solo Team America racer assemble his. The two teams then fell asleep to the sound of howling Antarctic wind.  Ang had a great night’s sleep and said later that “it was exactly how i imagined Antarctica to be, with howling winds, I could imagine being an explorer. Such a truly memorable night”.  Simon, owing to the wine he had drunk at the BBQ, needed to pee in the night.  This challenge was just completed by filling an emergency pee bottle right to the top.  Simon later said that ”it was cold and I’m just glad the bottle I had was just the right volume, otherwise it would have been disastrous”.

The campsite Inside the party tent

…To be continued.

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Argentina 3: Ushuaia

After mandatory rest period and receiving their next destination, Simon and Ang left their favela hostel pit stop before dawn and jumped into a waiting taxi to the airport. Their driver whisked them through the quiet, traffic free post Carnival streets of Rio and they soon arrived at the airport. There they checked in to a twelve hour flight south to Ushuaia. The first scheduled stop for the aircraft was to be Puerto Iguarzú, a very small Argentine international airport.

Once landed, Simon and Ang disembarked and cleared customs. This meant that the flight would no longer be an international flight. For Simon and Ang this was fantastic news as they would not have to pay the $140 pp reciprocity entry charge when they later landed in Buenos Aires for the second stop on the milk run.

Two hours later, the plane touched down in BA. Simon and Ang checked their bags back in and went outside to have a quick look at the river Plate and stretch their legs. After completing the locate reasonably priced ice cream and eat it challenge, Simon and Ang walked back into the airport. There they boarded their flight south.

Buenos Aires airport operates on a 25 hour clock Simon completes the eat an ice cream by the River Plate challenge (note the hat is still safe)

After a third brief stop in Trelew, and 12 hours of travel, their plane landed in the world’s most southern city, Ushuaia. The team instantly noticed the change in temperature, having just come from Rio which was 36 degrees to a place that was only 4.5 degrees. After putting on all the clothes they could in their backpacks, they raced outside and jumped in a taxi. Fifteen minutes later they checked into their accommodation and were given their next task which was to make their way to Antarctica.

Panoramic view of Ushuaia from the hostel
Construction panorama, Ushuaia

Highly motivated, the team race out of the hostel and walked the streets and inquired about prices. Eventually they arrived at a great 50% off deal for a good boat, the Plancius. Checking directly with the boat’s owners, the agency’s price would not be beaten. So the team made their booking and spent the few days before the 27th of February departure celebrating in the Ushuaia style (with good food and wine) with Alison, the solo member of another Team America (who was also soon to race to Antarctica).

Pengiun and Beaver just hanging out in Ushuaia Grim sea captain Simon
Sunset near the hostel
Ushuaia town panorama taken from the waterfront
Panorama of a wreck near the main port
Another angle of the wreck
Panorama showing the mountains behind Ushuaia

….To be continued

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Brazil 2: Rio De Janiero and Carnival

Simon and Ang enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep but woke early.  Choosing to make an omelette, the team quickly realised that despite this being a tasty choice for breakfast, it was not the quickest thing to make when a new leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race was about to commence.

Food was scoffed and the team raced out of their accommodation with their first clue in hand.  They were to make their way to Rio De Janiero, but due to their breakfast choice, they had less than 30 minutes to travel across Sáo Paulo to make the first bus to Rio. They shot into the subway station, boarded the first train to arrive, and joined the commuter rush across town.  With nerves high and 15 stations to pass including one change, they arrived at Terminal Rodoviário Tietê , where they ran as fast as their legs could go through the crowds and straight onto the waiting bus which left within one minute of the team boarding.

The ride to Rio was relatively uneventful.  The team enjoyed the scenery and soon their bus arrived at the outskirts of Rio.  Both Simon and Ang were excited, but also apprehensive as they were aware of Rio’s reputation as being a dangerous, yet cinematically beautiful. Their bus made its way through traffic and arrived at the main bus terminal. Because Carnival was soon to happen, the area around the station was alive with people and jam packed with buses.  The team caught glimpses of the nearby Samba school warehouses and their enormous floats and started to get excited for the challenges ahead.  Getting off the bus, the team made their way to the information stand where they received their next clue.

They were to make their way to the favela babilônia where they would check into the Chill Hostel.  Deciding that the line for the taxi was too long, the team jumped on a bus heading to Copacabana and Leme.  Once there, they walked through the pleasant beachside streets and headed up into the favela.

Regular sight in Rio

Check in formalities were completed rapidly and the team received their next clue to find a local Copacabana Bloco.  A bloco is a street party that occurs during Carnival.  Revellers arrive at a meeting point and typically follow a large truck that has singers, dancers and serious amplification.  With this clue received, the team raced out of the hostel, past the drunk hostel manager who fell into the entrance door and to the ground and made their way down to Leme and into Copacabana.  Finding a quiet bloco truck, they worked out that they had some time to wait until the bloco would actually start, so they checked out the crowded beach and surrounding streets.  Later, after dinner, they made their way to the bloco starting point.  There they joined the party and after dancing for the required time, were given their next clue.  They were to meet up with some of the other Exclusive Race teams they had last seen on the Inca trail leg of the race the next night in Ipanema. There they were to complete the party like it’s Carnival challenge at the Ipanema bloco. The team raced back to their accommodation and on advice of the police officer permanently stationed at the entry to the favela, took motorcycle taxis up the long winding road.

Copacabana bloco

The next day, the team went to Leme beach and relaxed.  They knew they would not need to travel to Ipanema until later that afternoon, so strategically decided to chill.  Simon and Ang enjoyed the beach, but thought the water was surprisingly cold for a place so tropical.  Relaxed and ready to party, the team returned to their favela, changed, then headed to the nearby bus stop.

Leme beach

Soon they were in ipanema and amongst hundreds of thousands of Carnival revellers.  They raced to the designated meeting point, the number eight life guard tower, and were soon meet by the other Exclusive Race teams from the Peru leg.  These teams included those from France, Ireland, England and Australia.  As this challenge required all teams to party hard, everyone did just that.

Ipanema beach at sunset Ang with members of Teams Brazil (partially nude) and team Ireland
Welcome to the carnival!

They were also tasked with finding the actual Ipanema bloco.  This involved making their way through the huge crowds down streets packed with people, and some of which were surprisingly happy.  Simon said later, “it was just like going to schoolies where ten years worth of people all finish high school at once”, to which Ang added, “but with lots more guys kissing guys”.

With all teams unable to locate the Ipanema bloco, they were forced to take a one hour time penalty.  All teams took advantage of this time to drink more caipirinhas.  With the penalty completed, the teams were given their next challenge and were directed to make their way to the maze of streets around Lapa.

Some of the action in the streets

A short collectivo ride later saw them in the centre of a huge crowd.  More caipirinhas were consumed.  Simon said later that “at this point, things become a little hazy for me.  There was such a strong party atmosphere that I probably tried to complete the party challenge a little too enthusiastically”.  Ang added that “Simon was pretty much out of control. Lucky I was able to get us on a collectivo and back to our favela hostel in the morning without any trouble, once we had been told we had passed the party hard challenge”.

Caaaaipirinhas! in Lapa

The next afternoon, Simon and Ang woke and headed to the beach to wait until they were given their next clue.  Soon a beach vendor provided them with the challenge.  They were to return to Ipanema and party hard some more.

Whilst tamer than the previous night, this involved drinking yet more caipirinhas.  The team was given an ‘Antarctica’ band hat to keep safe. They were then directed to party on the beach.  There they stayed and listened to the terrible beach DJ that suffered from ADHD until the rapid changes (no mixing at all) of the music drove them back to their favela hostel.  This time Simon and Ang were able to take motorcycle taxis up and were given their next clue upon arrival.

Teams completing the Glittery Carnival Ladies challenge Team Australia is ready to roam the streets

After another days sleep they continued the routine afternoon laze on the beach, where the team was given their next task. They would be required to attend a samba parade at the Sambadrome.  This huge km long street stadium complex is the site where tens of samba schools duke it out to be crowned the best samba school of carnival. Each spends millions of dollars on creating the most outlandish floats for a parade performance that lasts ninety minutes.  Simon and Ang were tasked with watching four performances.

A guy selling his balls on the beach One of the many beach bands

Racing to the Sambadrome, the team arrived early at 7.30pm to secure good spots on the benches.  After an hour and a half, the popular bleachers were filled and the parades started.  What followed was four over the top performances involving hundreds of people, tens of floats and the same beats played over and over again for ninety minutes during that schools parade.

Sambadrome float Mermaids did samba?
Velo samba Giant inflatable samba girl
Sambadrome panorama
The team at the Sambadrome

The performances were back to back, and after a marathon seven and a half hours of watching and waiting time, the team observed the Samba in Space (including giant Martian rover samba float) themed performance and finally completed the challenge.

With this task completed, the team were given their next clue and set about the marathon journey back to their favela.  Simon said of the Sambadrome challenge that “it was perhaps one of the more ridiculous things I’ve seen.  Each samba school went over the top, but the crowd loved every minute.  The Brazilians really get passionate about samba”. Ang enjoyed the experience however was disappointed at the huge amount of waste and said “they just piled the costumes high after each parade and then men just filled up rubbish trucks headed straight to land fill!”. This night marked the end of the formal Carnival period.

The hostel lounge each morning during carnival…. less beds than people

Waking later that afternoon, the team as usual went to the beach until sunset approached when they were handed their next clue. Their task was to travel to Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) and watch the sun set.  Ang in particular enjoyed the awesome view, but regretted not bringing cheese and wine to enjoy. With this task completed, the team was then given the challenge to travel up to the base of the big giant Jesus.

The best place for wine and cheese
Sugarloaf mountain dusk panorama

For their final full day in Rio, Simon and Ang were first climbed to the summit of the big giant Jesus hill. They took the funicular up and then marvelled at the slightly hilarious sight of a heap of people taking funny perspective photos involving the big JC. With this challenge completed it was back down the funicular, then straight to the Escadaria Selaró, a crazy mosaic set of steps all done by a forgotten mad Mario Brother, Selaró. After a challenge which required the team to locate and photograph the kangaroo tile, the team were given their final task for the Rio leg. They were to enjoy one last afternoon laze on the lovely Leme/Copacabana beach they had become so accustom too enjoying.

Giant Jesus! Ang holding Big JC’s hand
Panorama from Christ the Redeemer hill
Ang racing to the top of Escadaria Selarón The Kangaroo tile on Escadaria Selaró
Mad Selaró himself

With this challenge completed, the team finished the Rio leg in style and checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race, their favela hostel. Celebrating this victory, the team ate a delicious typical “by weight meal” at a nearby Brazilian restaurant.

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Brazil 1: São Paulo

Both Simon and Ang were up early, checked out of their accommodation and then received their next clue. They were required to make their way by bus to the mega city of Sáo Paulo. Once again they headed back to Puerto Iguazú where they jumped on a regular local bus for the trip across the border to the Brazilian town of Foz do Iguaçu.

Ang hiding in a tree at Foz do Iguaçu border

The border crossing was unremarkable and the team raced into Brazil. Unfortunately while the bus connects the two towns, it doesn’t connect the two bus stations. So after being dropped off in the middle of Foz, Simon and Ang decided to take a taxi rather than skate like some of the other teams did, mainly owing to the heat and humidity.

Once they arrived at the station, the team bought tickets to Sáo Paulo on the cheaper overnight bus. This once again was a long bus ride, made all the more challenging for the Team by the switch from Spanish to Portuguese. During the course of the long ride the bus was stopped three times at police check points, one woman kept collecting five reais from approximately 80 percent of the passengers for some unknown purpose and an elderly lady who liked to talk didn’t stop until two am (she had a captive audience and received many barrels of laughter). Because of all this action, the team got very little sleep. And once again, due to all the stops, a fifteen hour bus journey became a twenty hour journey with the bus arriving in Sáo Paulo five hours late. With the bus edging its way through early morning traffic, both Simon and Ang regretted the decision to purchase tickets on the cheaper bus as they now ran the risk of elimination.

Arriving at the Terminal Rodoviário da Barra Funda, the team was given a clue that required them to purchase onward tickets to Rio De Janeiro. They quickly enquired at the ticket windows, but found out that the bus service they wanted departed from another bus station, the Terminal Rodoviário do Tietê, the second largest bus terminal in the world and eight metro stops away.  Racing down into the metro, Simon and Ang quickly pulled ahead of another Team Australia on their own exclusive race, but with the same clue.

After 30 minutes, they raced into Tietê.  There they purchased tickets on the moderately premium bus service to Rio, mindful that they would be travelling their along with a huge number of people and keen not to have a repeat experience of their earlier bus ride in Brazil. Simon and Ang then were given their next clue and made their way to their accommodation. After checking in the hostel, they set off to explore the large, but surprisingly accessible city in search of a suitable upgrade to Ang’s ancient SLR.

Busy Sao Paulo street Graffiti all the way to the roof. A Pro for sure.

The team raced around the centre, from shop to shop before the stumbled on a large collection of small electronic and computer equipment retailers over several blocks. There they were able to negotiate a price that was approximately similar to what would be paid back in Australia for the same camera type.  Due to the bad experiences of previous races, the team had no credit cards on them, so they raced back to the metro and their accommodation, hoping to meet the six pm close time, the only opportunity to purchase before their early departure to Rio the next morning.

Sao Paulo tech street

Once they had a chance to think about the potential purchase, the team decided to not go ahead and instead took a time penalty.  Simon said “while the deal was good and the new camera would have been useful for upcoming legs of the race, I think we were tired and the prospect of heading out into the centre of Sáo Paulo on dusk was not appealing”.

Ham cheese and Tomato sandwiches come to Brazil

With the time penalty completed, the team remained at their accommodation, the pit stop for this leg of the race. Once again they were the first to arrive. After a great celebratory sushi meal, they went to sleep.

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Argentina 2: Mercedes to Puerto Iguazú

During the optional rest period, Simon and Ang enjoyed Sam and Nora’s hospitality.  They assisted with meals, Ang made beaded jewellery with Nora, hopping in and out of the welcoming pool and generally relaxed with wine in hand.  Trips into town were had to sample some of Argentina’s finest ice cream at Cremolatti and to visit a local bar with Nico, Sam and Nora’s son.

Sam’s farm pool Sam’s farm well
A cow next to Sam’s farm Nora inside Sam’s farm
The throne Racers at a bar in Mercedes along with Nico
Nico after time in the work shed

Ang really admired Nico’s gorgeous craftsmanship seen all around the house (carpentry and paintings) so Nico began making Ang two lovely timber bracelets and a painting. With the relaxing and hospitable time given by Sam, Nora and Nico the team said they would like to return sometime in the future when they weren’t in a race. Ang said “Mercedes is such a nice French colonial town and We have to go back to collect the Nico painting master piece someday”.

With the rest period over, and sadly too short, Simon and Ang once again packed their bags in preparation for the start of the next leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race.  Soon, they received their clue and were on their way to Puerto Iguazú.  The journey began with the team being driven to the Mercedes bus station where they boarded a bus to Corrientes.  There they purchased tickets for the fifteen hour overnight bus to Puerto Iguazú.  Once again this was a bearable, but less than comfortable journey.

Sunset outside of Mercedes

They arrived early the next morning in Iguazú and were given the task of finding suitable accommodation. Both Simon and Ang were confident that this would easily be achieved, but they soon realised that there was a big bubble of people heading towards Brazil. They walked around for a couple of hours in the intense heat before they were able to secure beds in a dorm room at a party hostel.

With this challenge completed, the team received their next clue.  They were to make their way to Iguazú falls, a massive watercourse that has flows three times greater than Niagara falls, a natural wonder previously visited by the team.  Once at Iguazú, Simon and Ang would be required to complete a grand tour of the Argentine side.  Racing back to the bus station, the team jumped on a Iquazú bound bus and arrived at the national park at two pm.

Iguazú falls

They entered and raced through the lower circuit, heading over to San Martin Island on the last ferry of the day.  Simon and Ang were impressed at the sheer majesty of the spectacular cascades.  Ang was disappointed that no one had mentioned you could swim, but had little time to wallow as the team still needed to see the other two sections of the extensive Argentine trail system.

Falls panorama
Iguazú from another angle is still spectacular

Racing out of the lower circuit, the team jumped on the train and were driven around to the Gargantra Del Diablo, the largest plunge of the falls. The team was impressed at the scale of the waterfall and took a number of photographs before they raced back to the train station for the last returning train of the day.

The main Iguazú falls plunge, Gargantra Del Diablo
Rock within Iguazú

They arrived back at the second train station soon after and instead of giving up and riding the final train back to the entry gate, set out to complete the last component of the race.  They headed back to the entry of the upper circuit where they jumped over the closed gate and raced along the boardwalk.  The upper circuit provided the final perspective of the falls and the team was able to enjoy the magical sunset light and take a few photographs before a nice park ranger gave them their final clue directing them to make their way to the pit stop and kicked them out.

Returning to Puerto Iguazú, the team checked into their accommodation, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

That evening, they enjoyed the rest period by walking around town, eating exceptional steak and finally more Cremolatti ice cream.  Both Simon and Ang knew that from this point on the race would be turned up a notch so they both took advantage of the rest.

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