Australia 2: Finale

The final leg begins now…

Ang and Simon woke bursting with excitement that was twinged with sadness. They had been racing for 10 months, and it was all finally going to end. So while they were looking forward to seeing friends and family, they didn’t want the adventure to end. But this is the Amazing Exclusive Race, not the Neverending story. Team Australia was heading home.

They ate breakfast, packed their backpacks one last time and jumped in Paul’s waiting car for the drive through the early morning to Bergen airport. With no traffic to contend with, they were soon at the airport and checked in. An emotional goodbye was said to their fantastic hosts and they went through security, leaving Norway.

Leg one with the flight from Bergen to Copenhagen. This short flight gave them a great view of the Øresund bridge that connects Denmark with Sweden. Their plane landed smoothly, and they raced through the airport, stopping only to laugh at a ‘Big Corny’ chocolate bar in a vending machine.

Øresund bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden

Back on the plane the team headed north again back to Manchester. Another smooth flight was quickly completed with the team sharing the ride with commuters heading to work. Knowing that they had an eight hour layover, and this was the start of the ticket back to Australia, the team attempted to secure an earlier flight. They asked around several airlines, but had no success. Ang commented that “I hope this wait doesn’t cost us the lead”, to which Simon added “at least we can check out Manchester”.

Knowing that the train station was just outside of the airport from their previous trips to Hexham, the team left their luggage and ran over the pedestiran bridge to purchase tickets into town. They were soon on a train into the heart of Manchester. Arriving, they grabbed a tourist map and set out to check out some of the sights. These included a street that had been converted into a running track, the John Rylands library, and an authentic pub lunch (as recommended by a UK customs guy).

Manchester street running track event
John Rylands library pint holder Harry Potter hall
Readers in the reading room Catalogue cabinet
Simon self portrait Ang marvels at the architecture
Neogothic to the max Ghost hallway
Interesting stairway Racing appears over for the day
Classic pub for a classic pub lunch

After cramming in an action packed day, and noticing the sun was getting low, the team made their way back to the train station for their return trip to the airport. Arriving at the station, they briefly freaked out as they thought they may miss the flight. It was then they realised the station clock had not been changed to daylights savings time and relaxed.

Back at the Manchester Airport, the team jumped on the third last flight. They were the only team on the aircraft, and with no sign of any other teams, they were excited. They both knew that a lot could go wrong, so kept composed and strategised to see if they could speed up their return to Australia.

The short flight to Zurich was completed with the team landing there in the evening. They ran out of the aircraft and over to the airline counter, to yet again see if they could get a quicker flight back to Australia. Unfortunately as it was late in the evening, the ticketing staff had gone home for the day. Disappointed they hopped back on the second last plane through to Bangkok, after briefly pricing up some duty free perfume.

Zurich plane spotters So weird, they get a mound
Zurich airport caters for the well travelled tots

Through the long night the team travelled. Their plane winged its way across a large portion of the globe, depositing them in Thailand in the early morning. Their ticket had an eight hour layover before the final flight back to Australia, so the team once again set about trying to negotiate an earlier flight. After speaking to several airline staff, the team found that the flight they had booked for that evening was the quickest return with no other seats available

The team resigned themselves to having another eight hours to kill and decided to head into Bangkok city to check out the town. They went through security and stepping outside of the airport promptly decided the 30+, high humidity Thai air wasn’t what they wanted to experience after being acclimatised to 10 degree weather and 35 hours of travel they had so far endured. Wisely, they decided to head back into the airport for a shower and massage.

Back in the airport they occupied themselves by showering, shopping for perfume and relaxing. After a full day of wondering around the airport, walking the length and breadth of the terminal, at last boarding for their flight was called.

Waiting for the flight…. Waiting ……
Bangkok airport, lap 5 Walking…..
The final flight

A little over eight hours later, their plane began its final decent into Brisbane. Despite not seeing another team on the flight, Simon and Ang knew they still would need to push themselves all the way to the finish – in the Amazing Exclusive Race there are no guarantees, only surprises…

Arriving out of customs at Brisbane Airport (surprised by fans!)

The team was met by some Amazing Exclusive Race fans who had camped out waiting and hoping to see their favourite team as they finished. They were not disappointed. Simon and Ang raced past the screaming fans and collected the final directions. They were to drive themselves to Orleigh park, the finish line for the first ever Amazing Exclusive Race.

Simon and Ang drove out of the car park and headed in the direction of the city. They didn’t need a map being locals and soon crossed the river. Parking the car right next to the park they sprinted to the finishing mat.

The team races to the finish line

The host, Emily, welcomed the team “90,000km, 5 continents, 25 countries and 132 beds, Simon and Ang, you are the winners of the first ever Amazing Exclusive Race”. The assembled crowd of fans went wild and Simon and Ang embraced. Together they had completed an adventure of a life time.

First place!!!!

The team celebrated late into the afternoon with fans and friends ….. before jet lag took over and they slept happy ever after.

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United Kingdom 2: Hexham, England to Oslo, Norway

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang of Team Australia continued their massive unbroken run of victories by winning the Hexham leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race. Once again they were first to arrive, checking into the pitstop at 8pm.

After the optional 12 hour rest period, the team were the first to check out of the pitstop at 8am. The team were given their next clue. Tearing open the envelope the team quickly read the clue. They were going to Oslo, Norway!

The team grabbed their bags and raced off to the train station. They bought tickets on the first train heading to Newcastle, the nearby major northern English city. The team took advantage of the ride to borrow a commuter’s phone and determine the best flights. It appeared that by taking a train further north to the city of Edinburgh Scotland, they would be able to get on the fastest flight to Oslo in the evening.

Out of the commuter train they jumped at Newcastle where a station guard handed them a surprise clue. They would be required to complete some challenges in Edinburgh before boarding a plane to Norway. These challenges had been provided by Marguerite with Simon and Ang once again amazed that the producers of the Amazing Exclusive Race were able to keep the surprises coming after all these legs. Focusing once again, the team stepped onto the intercity train for the journey to their next destination. They sped north, through the lush northern English countryside into Scotland, hugging the coast for most of the journey. Simon and Ang enjoyed this train ride immensely. Ang mused that she hadn’t been to Norway for a number of years, and how excited she was to be heading back there.

Arriving in Edinburgh, the team dumped their bags in storage, and set off to complete the tasks and explore the medieval city. The first was to have a look at the Edinburgh castle. The team walked up to the top of the ridge line and checked it out. They then headed back down the Royal Mile and all of a sudden noticed the crowds that were milling about. They found out from some friendly paparazzi that Prince Charles and Camilla were going to watch some parade shortly. Simon decided he wanted to hang around outside of the Scottish parliament until the parade started. While they waited Simon kept Ang entertained by spotting the undercover security staff in the crowd and laughing at the guy on the velo who was peeved that his commute was interrupted.

Edingbrough’s Royal Mile Yes sar, standing guard sar
Royal lion
Waiting for something to happen
Security! Simon fails at being part of the paparazzi
Commuter security breach Dude was probably on a strava run

Shortly the royals wondered out of the castle, the parade started, the soldiers marched and the jets flew over. It was over in minutes. Ang laughed at Simon wanting to wait and watch, and Simon laughed at the absurdity of the parade. As the crowds dispersed, the team walked around the fence line of the stately home and joined the other plebs listening into the rousing music the band was playing for the royals as they went inside and probably had cucumber sandwiches. That distraction done, the team walked up to Arthur’s seat, the large hill that overlooked Edinburgh to complete the next task set by Marguerite.

Enter Charles Camilla cracks an inappropriate joke
Saluting the troops Queen’s guards chased by the airforce
Charlie meets a cross eyed fan Queen’s guard guarding the fountains

Hiking up to the top of the hill, the team was rewarded with a panoramic view of the town. They enjoyed the outlook then raced back town to the city. As it was lunch time, their final task was to eat a spud at Marguerite’s favourite veggie spud shop. Just before the final climb to Edinburgh castle they walked down a small side street and found the spud eatery. Simon and Ang both ordered a spud and ate the deliciousness, as they watched the Edinburghians walk by.

Edingbrough city scape
Edingbrough observatory
View from Arthur’s seat
Edingborugh from a slightly different perspective
castle and parliment

With this final clue completed, the team were given their boarding passes for the flight to Oslo Norway. The departure time was still a few hours away, so the team circumnavigated the castle, stumbled across a geocache, went into a pub for a drink before racing back to get their bags at the train station and boarding a bus to the airport. Dinner was had at a table in the top deck of the bus. Ang was particularly impressed.

Simon pays homage Simon hangs out on a rampart
Edingbrough castle, seconds before finding a geocache hide

At the airport they checked in and were quickly on their way flying across the North Sea east into the early evening.

Their plane touched down and the team followed the Norwegian duty free shoppers, potentially trying to win a trip into space for buying their duty free alcohol, out to the airport train station. They boarded the Flytoget bullet train (Norway’s one bullet train line) and raced into the centre of Oslo. Arriving at the right station, the team walked past some Russefeiring, past the royal palace to the Cochs Pensjonat. There they checked in to the pitstop for this leg of the race.

Unsurprisingly the team was once again the first to arrive.

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Brazil 4: Sleepy Rio De Janeiro

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive race. After spending days relaxing on the beach in and around the seaside town of Trinadade, Team Australia traveled by bus to the Rio De Janeiro. There they took a cab up into the hills to the fashionable suburb of Santa Teresa.

Upon arrival at their accommodation, the team were given their challenge for this leg of the race. They were to undertake two tasks. First they were to locate a Churrascaria and sample Brazil’s take on asado. Their second task was to purchase as many Havaianas as they were able to carry. After they had finished reading the clue, the team set off down this hill into Centro.

Arriving in the centre of town, Simon and Ang immediately noticed the difference in Rio. As it was not carnival there were considerably fewer people about on the streets. There also were few businesses open, but there was almost a complete lack of shoe shops. After consulting the internet, Simon and Ang decided that they would need to head further south towards Copacabana beach.

Dead Rio center Rio central street

They made their way along the quiet Rio streets into the evening. Eventually it became clear that they would not have any luck as the only places now opened were restaurants. Simon and Ang decided that they would be better off completing the Churrascaria challenge and then starting early the next morning by heading to Copacabana to purchase the Havaianas to complete their second challenge.

Tasty Churras was eaten at a traditional Brazilian place nearby, and the team headed back up the hill to Santa Teresa and their accommodation. On the way back, they decided to check out a couple of the cool bars that had opened before calling it a night.

Funky rio mansion party street

Early the next morning the team woke and headed out. They raced down the hill and were soon on the metro to Copacabana beach. Arriving they ran around the streets until they found an open shop that had Havaianas. Simon and Ang were amazed at the cheap prices and bought as many as they could carry. With their purchase complete, the shop keeper gave them their next clue. They were to head to the beach and there, in honour of the Portuguese word for hello, the pending 2014 world cup and Olympics, complete the aussie aussie, oi, oi video challenge.

Abandoned thongs! Rio bar (non carnival)

Simon opted to do the yelling and making a fool of himself, much to the amusement of the Brazilians nearby. While they were filming, the team noticed the virtually empty beaches, a stark contrast from the hordes of people seen a few months earlier. With the video challenge completed, the team received their next clue.

Excited, Simon and Ang ripped open the envelope. They were to make their way to Manchester, England! The envelope included enclosed tickets and they read that they would need to be at the airport in two hours time in order to catch the flight! Without a moment to delay, the team raced back to the subway station. There they took the metro back to Centro and then a bus up to Santa Teresa and their accommodation. Their hosts called a cab for them and the team were quickly racing past the Sambadrome to the airport.

At the airport, the cab pulled into drop off bay. The team quickly paid their cab driver, and ran into the airport, where they checked into the flight, and queued to get through security. The first leg would take them back to São Paulo for a third time.

Rio airport

Their flight departed and they were able to see the Cidade Maravilhosa one last time from the air. A quick 30 minute hop later and their aircraft descended once more into the biggest city in the southern hemisphere. The team changed planes, confirmed their luggage had been transferred for the next leg to Zurich with the airline ground staff. Then it was a waiting game until the plane departed soon after sunset.

While they waited for their flight, Simon and Ang reflected on their time in South America. They were both sad to leave that magnificent continent, having thoroughly enjoyed each and every leg of the race there. They also knew that whilst it would be awesome, the Amazing Exclusive Race would have to come to an end at some point. But this reflection came to an end quickly as the final boarding call was announced and minutes later their plane was airborne and heading over the Atlantic north to Europe.

Overnight the plane flew, landing as the sun rose in Switzerland. There they changed planes and joined a small group of commuters heading to England. A short hour later and their plane descended into Manchester.

The team cleared customs and went out to collect their luggage. Simon’s bag had arrived but Ang’s had been left in Zurich! Simon and Ang laughed that out of all the flights through the supposedly disorganised Americas, they had not once lost their luggage. While it was bound to happen, it ironically was caused by the organised and efficient Swiss. Chuckling the team filled out the lost luggage paperwork. Once this had been completed, the luggage lady surprisingly gave the team their next clue. They were to head east to the small town of Hexham, the pitstop for this leg of the race.

Energised and lighter, the team raced out of the airport into the cold and boarded a train to Carlisle. There they changed to a regional rattler for the final stretch of their journey to Hexham, after 24 hours of travel. Simon and Ang ran the final meters to the door of the Janie and David’s, the pitstop for this leg of the race. There they were welcomed and congratulated on being the first team to arrive.

One more station to Hexham
Wintery Hexham

Simon and Ang promptly celebrated by having a hot shower and celebratory hot Milo drink with Janey and David, taking full advantage of the optional rest period.

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Uruguay 1: Colonia, Montevideo and Punta Del Este

The start of this leg marked the 265th day of the Amazing Exclusive Race. The producers, whilst not telling the teams waiting at the pitstop where they were going next, did tell them this leg would start the final 30 days of racing. Simon and Ang were super excited to hear the news. They had won every leg since the beginning many months ago and they could almost taste the scent of sweet victory at the final finishing check in mat. But they knew that with a race as unpredictable as the Amazing Exclusive Race, it would require them to give it their all to be that first team over the finishing line on the final leg. So they packed their bags and readied themselves for the challenges ahead.

As the first team to arrive at 2am at the end of the previous leg, after an optional 12 hours rest period, Simon and Ang were the first to check out of the pitstop at 2pm. They were excited as their clue directed them to make their way to Colonia, Uruguay across the Rio de la Plata. With start formalities completed, they raced out of the hostel and over to the subway. A quick ride later they arrived at the Buquebus terminal.

Tickets were purchased and the team set about going through the shared customs post, receiving an officious Argentine stamp followed by a super ultra laid back Uruguay entry stamp. They walked around to the waiting concourse and sat. Thirty minutes passed quickly and the team headed to the gangplank to board the catamaran. As they headed along the walk way, Ang spied none other than Team Ireland! They were on a mandatory rest period and had come down to the boat to see team Australia off, having just checked into a pitstop themselves. Both Simon and Ang were pleased and had a yelling conversation across the concourse to the jovial fellow Amazing Exclusive Race team until the final departure was called.

The Buquebus is a large catamaran that plies the Rio de la Plata between Colonia and Buenos Aires. The ferry mostly transports cars, but does have a passenger section with a rather impressive duty free shop. Simon immediately began singing ‘the love boat’. Ang tolerated this, but got annoyed after the tenth repetition as Simon only knew those three words and nothing else of the song. Aside from awesomely bad singing by Simon, the crossing was smooth and they arrived at the Uruguayan docks.

Entering the country was straight forward, as they had already cleared customs and so the team was quickly on its way. The team mingled with runners in a road race as they headed straight to the bus terminal. There they left their luggage, then raced into the center of Colonia town. The team roved around the quaint old settlement and had a great lunch with outstanding customer service, easily the best random lunch stop service in South America. This surprised and pleased the team immensely. After they had surveyed the old town and found an ATM that would accept their travel card, the team received their next clue. They were to make their way to the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, as quickly as possible.

Cheap bank! Relaxed Colonia street
Colonia lighthouse Ah, a good stretch!
The River Plate

Simon and Ang raced back to the main street and headed back towards the bus station. On the way back they ran into couple that they had previously seen on the Antarctic leg of the Amazing Exclusive race. They chatted briefly and found out that the couple were on an indefinite race around the world. Knowing that time was the essence given the clearly sleepy nature of Uruguay, Ang and Simon bid the other team good luck and fair well and continued their run back to the bus station. They soon arrived, and after collecting bags they were just in time to purchase tickets for the evening bus to the capital.

Classic with fish? In need of some TLC

A relaxing couple of hours later the team’s bus pulled into Tres Cruces terminal, the main bus station in Montevideo. They were then handed their next clue. Their challenge was to complete a tour of the old town of Montevideo to work out why Uruguayan businesses don’t seem to open early. With the rest of the evening free, the team set out to get another feed of steak at a Uruguayan paradilla, before calling it a night sometime in the early hours.

Waking the next morning, the team checked out of their accommodation at 11am and set out for a long walk around the quiet streets of Montevideo. Ang was amazed at the complete lack of open shops and banks for what anywhere else would be a busy Monday morning. Nothing seems to be open for some reason. The team were certain it wasn’t a public holiday after their previous issues on the first Nicaraguan leg, and would have asked someone if there was someone to ask. After walking for about an hour the team suddenly worked it out. Either Uruguayans are naturally so laid back they don’t get moving about until mid afternoon or after they’ve had enough maté. After they completed the walk, both Ang and Simon agreed it was a slow wake up with maté.

Montevideo shoreline
Old style Uruguay ride
Classically sleepy Uruguay building (with confused Uruguay dude)
Uruguayan crowds
Packed Uruguyan street Ang’s red scarf
Street art Bookstores are better in Uruguay
Trippy Uruguayan book shop

With their walk complete and the correct answer determined, the team received their next clue. They were to make their way up the coast to the seaside town of Punta Del Este and find the giant hand. Not sure where they would find the hand, but knowing Punta Del Este is about an hour north of Montevideo, the team collected their bags from the hostel then raced to a nearby bus station to take the trip to the main terminal.

Whilst they waited for their bus to arrive, they got to see a Rip Van Dike one man band play Mary Poppins inspired tunes to entertain the emerging Uruguayans. Simon and Ang were so thoroughly entertained by the performance and the huge volumes of maté that was being drunk by people passing by that before they knew it they were on the bus to the terminal.

One man band! Random statue

Arriving at the terminal they quickly secured tickets on an intercity bus to Punta Del Este. A relaxed ride later through pretty countryside, their bus pulled into the bus station. The town of Punta Del Este by the beach in peak season is probably pumping, with huge high rises packed with people. As it was cold, the place was a ghost town. Simon and Ang however did not care as the sky was amazing and they were racing to find a giant hand. A chilled bus dude pointed them to the beach, so the team raced off with backpacks on.

There in the fading twilight the team saw the huge half buried hand statue. Having successfully found the hand, the team were given their next clue. They were to make their way north by bus to the small seaside town Paraty, Brazil. Excited to be heading back to the land of Portuguese and that their destination sounded kind of like Party, the team raced back to the bus station.

Giant hand! Reach for the sky buried hand!

There they found that the earliest bus wouldn’t leave to travel north into Brazil until 11.30pm, and that it wouldn’t take them far into the country. By Simon’s estimate there was at least 30 hours of bus travel needed to get to Paraty. With the news the team considered their options and hefted their backpacks in the early evening around the quiet Punta streets till they found a heladería with wifi. There they ate ice cream, searched for and booked a flight from Montevideo airport the next morning to São Paulo on Gol airlines. Simon and Ang knew they probably would be facing a time penalty, but after their previous overnight bus experience in Brazil, thought it was a risk worth taking.

With the rest of the evening free to enjoy Punta’s quiet night life, the team checked into a hostel, had one more asado meal and went to sleep.

Waking the next morning they checked out of their hostel, raced to the bus station and bought tickets on the first bus back to Montevideo. Their friendly driver dropped them right at the front door of the ultra modern terminal and the team soon cleared customs.

As they waited for their flight to take off, Simon mused that he really enjoyed the brief time they spent in the country, saying “it was an ultra short and rushed four day stay, but we saw most of the coast line and oddly I feel really relaxed. I’d be very surprised if Uruguay has a blood pressure problem. If they did, it would probably be low blood pressure”. To which Ang added “it’s the maté”.

Their flight was called and they boarded the flight and bid Uruguay goodbye.

After all these flights, finally leg room!

To be continued…

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Argentina 7: Valle De Uco Wineries

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced into the city of Mendoza. There they set out to complete a winery tour challenge. After an enjoyable day, with lots of great wines tasted and excellent food eaten, they were the given the task of climbing into the high Andes. After glimpsing the mighty Aconcagua Mountain, the team was given their next clue and raced to the Florentino Bistro. Once there they answered the question provided by Organic Hobo and ate a tasty meal. They were then given another wine tour task. Ang and Simon were obviously super excited at the prospect of sampling more of Argentina’s best, and quickly fell asleep in the early hours of the morning.

Waking early for the third morning in a row, the team was picked up once again by Trout and Wine. They were joined by a team from Germany, another from England and the ever enthusiastic Chris and Rita of Team America. All four teams were then driven south to Valle De Uco.

The first stop was a new winery called Pulenta. There the teams were treated to a complete tour and great tasting experience. Then it was back in the van to the next destination, a tiny winery called La Azul.  There more wine was consumed, whilst the workers flushed a fermentation tank. After trying their range, the teams boarded the van for the short drive to the final destination, Salentein.

This is where Malbec gets made Barrels on their way to deliciousness
Pulenta’s tasting room Training the palate
An exceptional drop indeed Working through the reds
The racers pause for a moment during the tour Wine making art vs science!
The view towards the Andes Happiest Chateau in all the land
La Azul day beds La Azul tasting and fermenting room
Ang poses with the teams fantastic guide Virginia Ang has just been told they have Malbec
Steampunk wine making device

After walking through the expansive grounds, Simon and Ang received their next clue in the underground aging facility, a veritable temple of wine. Simon was amazed at the sheer scale of the wine cave. Ang was too, but knew just being amazed doesn’t win races, so she quickly read the clue. They were to fly to the city of Buenos Aires. Excited, the team raced back to the entry of the winery, but decided to sit down and eat one more fantastic Argentine asado before they were driven back to Mendoza.

The imposing entry to Salentein
Entry art More entry art
Main foyer of Salentein
Water feature sculpture
Welcome to the vineyard
View of the reception building and underground manufacturing facility
Vines! Emptying a vat
Wine making technology
Temple of wine (note the tiny grand piano)
Amazing wine cellar

Back at their hostel they checked the flights on the internet and found the earliest flight was at 7am the next morning. With nothing more to do, the team decided to head back to Florentino once again for dinner. While they waited for their meal, Simon and Ang both agreed that this leg was the tastiest leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race yet. Simon said “I don’t think I have every eaten that much steak ever in my life”. Ang was particularly fond of a variety of wine they got to try for the first time and said “Torrentes rekindled my love for white wines. I wish we could buy it in Australia”. They soon tucked into a great meal and headed back to their accommodation to sleep.

Early the next morning the team raced from their accommodation to the Mendoza airport (which even has its own vineyard). They boarded their flight to Buenos Aires and arrived soon after. Sharing a cab with an Australian American mixed team, the team was deposited into the heart of Palermo and checked into their hostel, the pit stop for this leg of the race. They were once again the first to arrive, continuing their unbroken winning streak.

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Chile 7: Easter Island

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang raced to the Chilean city of Santiago. After completing a challenge that required much partying (and next day suffering), they were given their next clue and boarded a flight to Easter Island. Once there, they expected to check into the pit stop, but were surprised when they were told they were still racing.

Racing away from what they thought was the check in mat, Simon and Ang read their next clue as they headed into town. They were tasked with attending a traditional Easter Island dance performance, called Kari Kari. Ang was excited about this challenge as she had been looking forward to this since reading about it in an in-flight magazine a few legs earlier.

Simon and Ang walked along the pleasant island streets. As they were rounding a corner they were spotted by none other than Dave and Lara from Team Britain in a 4wd.  The two teams had previously met each other on the 5th Chilean leg, Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt.

The two teams caught up with each other and worked out they were both tasked with attending the same Kari Kari challenge. So since they had some time to kill before the show started, both teams did the obvious thing and went and had drinks.

A few cocktails later, they found themselves in a traditional Easter Island theatre (a shed). The performance of Kari Kari started and after the teams watched some of the great Polynesian dance, they were both given road blocks to complete.  Simon and Dave volunteered to complete the Easter Island dance challenge and were both independently brought on stage. Luckily for both of them, there was no need to have any actual dance skill, they just had to spend the required time on the stage, roughly stomping feet in time with the music.

With that challenge completed the teams received their next clues.  Simon and Ang were tasked with hiking up to Orongo crater.  The next morning they completed the hike through the eucalyptus forest and up to the spectacular crater.  Fighting their way into the wind, they raced around the village on top of the cliff and found the next clue.  They were to join with three other Amazing Exclusive Race teams and complete a survey of some of the 880+ big giant moai heads scattered around the island.

Looking towards Hanga Roa through the gum trees
Rano Kau Volcano crater
Volcano floor
Pacific vista

Early the next morning before dawn, Team Australia joined teams from Scotland, Canada and Singapore in a hired 4wd. They raced out of Hanga Roa and headed to the north east of the island. There they watched as the sun rose behind 15 big giant Moai heads. Simon and Ang took a bunch of photos and enjoyed the sight by sitting and taking it all in.

Big giant heads!
HDR moai heads Head and quarry mountain

After the sun had risen, they rejoined the other teams back in the jeep and headed off on extensive tour of the major sights around the island including Anakena beach and birth place of the moai, the Rano Raraku quarry. After a packed day, they returned the car, having seen about 60% of the major sights. To celebrate, they enjoyed sunset drinks over the ocean in the company of several big giant heads.

Anakena beach
Don’t fall off the big giant head Don’t dance on fallen moai
Scratching the big giant head’s head
Easter Island coastline from the quarry
Hugging the big giant head Leaning big giant head
Keep watching the skies! Horses and heads

The next day, they again met up with Dave and Lara. Team Britain had hired a car for a couple of hours to complete their visit of all the sights on the island challenge, and were flying out to Tahiti that afternoon. With time remaining on their hire, they kindly gave Simon and Ang use of the vehicle, which would allow them to complete the tour of Easter Island.

Waking early the next morning, the team set out along with the teams from Scotland, Canada and Singapore that they had driven with the previous day. The last remaining sights were seen and the team arrived at the final location, a cave system on the north western coast. They explored the cave and after an extensive search Simon located their next clue. Simon and Ang’s task was to return once again to the Anakena beach. Since it was Easter, they were to complete an Easter Egg hunt.

15 big giant heads
That way to the big giant heads
Crater lake
Where’s Simon? Simon emerges from the lava tube
Sunset heads

Simon and Ang raced amongst the giant heads and the palm trees, hunting for the little delicious chocolate eggs. They were soon rewarded with their next clue, they were to make their way back to Santiago and the Bella Vista, the pit stop for this leg of the race. They raced back to town, dropped the hire car off and checked out the flights back to mainland Chile. The next returning flight would leave the day after the next. So the team decided to spend one final day getting some more beach time in the company of the giant moai heads.

The next day, rather than hiring another car, the team decided to hitchhike over to Anakena beach. Walking out of town, the team stood under the shade of a gum tree with thumbs out. It took them two car rides with friendly local Easter Islanders (both originally from Santiago, one in a taxi) to reach the beach. Before swimming, they walked along the coast for a bit before deciding to return to the best beach on the island. There they enjoyed the warm sunshine and floated around in the Pacific until it was time to head back to town. They walked into the car park and managed to get a lift with a pair of local chicas back to town.

Simon gives the thumbs up to the beach Ang walking along Easter Island coast
Anakena beach from the sea

They spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the relaxed island life and packed their bags in preparation for the flight the next day. Simon and Ang watched the sun set one more time into the western Pacific over the moai heads, having completely enjoyed their time on Rapi Nui.

Even German shepherds like watching sunsets Mystical sunset heads
Another spectacular sunset Chocolate Easter Head

The next morning the checked out and headed to the airport. Five hours later their plane landed in Santiago and the team raced back to the Bella Vista hostel. They checked in, and were once again first to arrive, continuing their winning streak.

Easter Island rainbow

In a post race interview, both Simon and Ang said that they were glad to have gone to Easter Island as it was a really cool and relaxing place. They commented that the race had been going on for months now, and despite winning each leg they were not tired of racing, and looked forward to the coming challenges.

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Chile 6: Santiago

Simon and Ang, who were the first to arrive at the Bariloche pit stop at 6pm, received their next clue at 6am.  They were to make their way back across the border to Puerto Montt via bus. After reading the clue, the team left their accommodation and jumped into a taxi. A quick ride to the bus terminal and they were soon on a bus heading back over the Andes and once more west.

The Argentine border crossing passed quickly and the team enjoyed the marvellous scenery on the bus ride between the Argentine and Chilean borders. Arriving at the Chilean side, they were lined up with the other passengers whilst the sniffer dog did its thing for illegal food and drugs on people and in bags. Unfortunately the Chilean customs official was not as thorough as his dog and while chatting to a traveller, missed the paw on one lady’s bag. Simon and Ang were forced to discard a carrot, but were lucky the dog didn’t get stuck into their enormous haul of chocolate.

Back on the bus and the rest of the trip to Puerto Montt passed without incident. At the bus station they were given their next clue. They were to make their way to Santiago where they were to check into the Bella Vista Hostel. The clue said that there was an interchange ahead.  An interchange is where two separate Amazing Exclusive Race teams join together to complete a challenge.

Simon and Ang were both excited at the prospect of meeting up with another Exclusive race team and were looking forward to visiting Santiago. They weren’t looking forward to a 36 hour bus ride, and knowing that they were racing to win they decided to purchase flights.  Running to a nearby Sky Airlines office, they picked up last minute flights for not much more than the cost of a bus trip for that evening.

While they waited out the time to head to the airport, they sat in a friendly karaoke bar and amazed the locals with their Australian accented Spanish. A few hours later it was time to leave Puerto Montt, so they collected their bags from the bus station and raced to the airport for a quick multiple stop milk run of a flight up Chile to Santiago.

Arriving in Santiago, they raced out of the airport and straight to a taxi for the quick ride into the city centre  and onto the suburb of Bella Vista. There they checked into the Bella Vista hostel and were given a room for the night as the interchange would not begin until the other team arrived later the next day.

Waking, they checked out Santiago on the free walking tour, and in the afternoon headed back to the accommodation to begin the interchange. There they were reunited with none other than Team Ireland. The teams had not seen each other since Colombia. After they had a chance to catch up, the two teams were provided with the interchange challenge. They both were to attend a BBQ party that evening with hostel-residing Chileans and party as they do.

Panorama of Santiago city
The presidential palace, Santiago
Conquistador founder of Santiago

Both teams were excited by the challenge and decided to have some pre drinks and get some additional supplies for the evening. The actual party was a blur and at around 4am the team found themselves in back in their room and were soon sleeping.

Waking at 10:30 am for checkout at 11:00, it was clear that this would be an enforced rest day. Ang was not capable of moving and Simon was just as seedy. Meeting Tarun from Team Ireland, the two teams waited in the reception foyer until it became clear that Ang could not move away from the bucket. With Ang checked back in to the hostel, only this time being forced to serve out a penalt, being a single bed in a 16 bed dorm for the team to share, Simon tucked Ang in, and went and saw Tarun off to Valparaiso. Both Teams were supposed to head here for the next race challenge so it was a disappointing day for team Australia to be left behind, but happy they were happy that Tarun could continue.

Tired Plaza Del Armas residents

The next morning, after serving out the enforced rest break, they woke early and were given their next clue. They were directed to find the Mercardo central to eat a fantastic seafood meal. They raced through the metro and found their way to the small, not touted, locally frequented restaurant where they ordered a hearty seafood meal. Ang ate what she called the “best freak’n seafood of the whole trip”, and said “it was cooked to perfection”. With this challenge passed, they were given their next clue.  They were to make their way to Easter Island!

Mercardo Central

Simon and Ang were pumped about heading to the famous Easter Island. They were booked on a six hour flight the next morning. For their last night in Santiago, they ate a delicious paradilla and went to bed early, sharing a single mattress on a bunk bed yet again as the hostel was completely full.

Santiago coyote style

Waking early they raced to the airport and boarded their flight to Rapi Nui. Five hours later after flying across half of the Pacific, they landed, bought their national park tickets, and were met and driven in the back of a ute to their accommodation, a seaside hostel, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

There they expected to be checked in, but were told they were still racing…

…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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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
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Ecuador 4: Salinas to the Galapagos Islands

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

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

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

Guayaquil suburb Stilt houses outside of Guayaquil
Roundabout art

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the roof of Galapagos Dreams

To be continued…

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