United Kingdom 1: Hexham

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang of Team Australia raced from warm tropical lush Brazil all the way via Switzerland to cold lush Hexham England, the pitstop for that leg of the race. Simon and Ang were once again the first team to arrive.

Hexham green

After an optional rest period (and after Ang’s bags had arrived 24hrs later), the team were given their next clue. Leaving the pit stop, they read their tasks for this leg of the race. They were to complete a pub crawl, visit Bamburgh Castle and Hadrian’s wall, and finally, make ice cream and felt.

Pub that serves wine? Flower power
Ironic rabbit statue Beez!
Fantastic flowers Pretty

With the pub challenge complete, the team was joined by Janie and David in a drive through the pretty English countryside to the fantastic Bamburgh castle. A tour of the grounds was completed, along with a few walks along brisk nearby beaches before heading back to Hexham.

Fabulous pub lunch at the Rat
Resting after a pub feast
Sir Simon
Bamburgh sitting room
Coastal views
Mighty Bamburgh
The knights built this place for the beach views
Seaside England
‘Barmy’ seaside waterway
Mossy old England

A highlight for Simon and Ang was the chance to walk along Hadrian’s wall to Sycamore gap, where four years earlier Simon had proposed. Whilst the weather was not the same blue skies of that memorable day, the team had Northumberland’s iconic gap all to themselves. Simon and Ang enjoyed the brisk conditions and reminisced.

So pretty Northumberland farm along the wall
Sycamore gap!
Airborne racers next to the tree

The other challenges of ice cream making and felting were easily bested by the crafty team Australia over the next couple of days.

In and around completing the race challenges they even managed to squeeze in time to see a film, go for a run or two and help wrangle a bee hive whilst they enjoyed Janie and David’s wonderful hospitality at the pitstop. Simon and Ang both agreed that this time was excellent in its normality and a good reintroduction to post race life, which the producers had let slip would be in a little over 15 days away.

David and the hive
Tyne Green
River Tyne
Hexham church

With all challenges completed, the team returned to Janie and David’s house, the pitstop for this leg of the race. They were once again the first team to arrive and celebrated with delicious double chocolate ice cream that Simon made.

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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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Brazil 3: São Paulo to Trindade

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang raced through the ultra relaxed country of Uruguay. They marveled at the huge volume of maté the locals consume, and completed a number of challenges in the very relaxed and laid back country. With all their Uruguayan tasks completed, they boarded a flight from Montevideo north to the Brazilian mega city of São Paulo..

The team’s Gol airways flight touched down in the early evening and the team raced out of the airport hunting for transport to their next destination, the colonial port town of Paraty. They jumped on the airport shuttle and just made it in time to the Tietê bus station. Once there and after the team found the right ticket window, they bought tickets on an overnight bus to Paraty that was departing moments later. Simon and Ang raced through the bus station for a second time to the right gate, just in time to board the overnight bus. Unlike their previous overnight ride in Brazil, this one was not too noisy, with only the last hour’s continuous speed bumps interrupting the team’s attempts at sleeping.

Arriving at Paraty, the team jumped off the bus at 3.40am along with a few locals at the deserted bus station. There they met a friendly Brazilian lady called Monica who had also just got off the bus. She surprised the team by telling them that their surprise destination was actually the nearby seaside small town of Trindade. Simon and Ang were excited as the town and importantly beaches sounded awesome. As the first local bus to Trindade wasn’t until 5.20am, the team occupied themselves by chatting with Monica and looking for a working ATM.

Soon the sky lightened and the first local bus of the day pulled in. Simon and Ang jumped on with Monica and immediately the driver shot off into the early pre-dawn light at hellish speed. Passing the outskirts of Paraty, the road entered the jungle and became more twisted than a curled twisty. The driver obviously enjoyed this part of the journey as he put the pedal to the metal, with the bus becoming airborne at one point. Ang rightly squealed, which only seemed to egg the driver on even more.

Minutes before sunrise proper, the bus crossed through a flooded creek and over some rocks and into the small town of Trindade. The team jumped out and raced to the Mairs Do Trindade, a pousada that Monica said was run by the ever friendly Lucas, an Argentine expat living the good life in Brazil. As it was a little after 6am at this point and Lucas was still fast asleep, so the team was unable to check in. They left their bags and went down to the spectacular beach to watch the day lighten properly and chat with Monica while they waited for Lucas to wake up and check them in to the finish of this leg of the race.

Main road into town
Brazilian sunrise

At a little after 8 am they returned to the Mairs Do Trindade. Lucas had just woken and he informed the team that they were the first to arrive. As the first team to arrive, they were given a reward, they were to spend the next four days enjoying the beach and surrounds that this part of Brazil could offer.

Ang and Simon were excited to win yet another race, and after a rest, set out to explore all the nearby awesome beaches.  They consumed a number of caipirinhas and enjoyed the relaxed pace of Brazilian small town beach life. They went on walks north and south of the town to stunning beaches the nearby Playa Brava. They also took a couple of day/night trips into Paraty for excellent food and to watch the old town flood for the month.

Beach time
Yo dog
Ang hits the beach
Paraty Red window trim, Paraty
Paraty twilight
Cobble streets Paraty
15th century church Flooding Paraty streets
Self cleaning streets
Paraty pony Paraty bike
oooh pretty street scape
Restaurant (with mandatory bike) Paraty Caipirinhas!
Delicious!

When they weren’t relaxing, one of the team’s favourite things to do was to watch the Trindade locals walk around with cafe umbrellas when it rained (as it did often in the late arvo given the tropical heat). They also enjoyed making friends with other holiday makers, all of whom were Brazilian tourists.

Lots of rain can only be stopped by cafe umbrellas Yellow giant umbrella and matching shirt
Sleepy cat
Long Paraty building
Townscape in Paraty
Relaxed dog Defaced legal tender
Another Paraty pony Street of Fire
Daytime unflooded street
Paraty bay Paraty party boats
No words Paraty bus station
More caipirinhas! Dessert deliciousness

On the final morning, after an enjoyable rest period, it was sadly time to check out of the pitstop. They were given their first clue for the upcoming leg of the race. Tearing open the envelope and reading the clue, the team found they were directed to make their way back to Rio De Janeiro for a second time!

They jumped into a random van that took them back to Paraty, where they bought tickets on the direct bus to Rio. Five hours later the team arrived once again at Rodoviária Novo Rio. They raced out and straight into a waiting cab, as this was non-carnival time and there were hardly any people around.

Marine Pirates!

To be continued…

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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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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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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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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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Galapagos 8: Floreana Island

Once again, the team woke early and raced to the port.  There they boarded a fast speedboat and were soon bouncing across the waves to the island of Floreana.  The island of Floreana is a small island that is famous for its historical past that included pirates, buccaneers, sailors and crazy baronesses.  The journey past quickly and after a brief stop to check out a pod of dolphins, the team arrived at the small settlement of Floreana.

Floreana seems to have red marine iguanas

To explore the island, the team boarded a chiva.  They were driven inland to a tortoise breading enclosure before they walked to the only source of fresh water on the island and a pirate cave.

A gang of land tortoises
Pirate stone head! Pirate passageway

After lunch they raced back town and on to Black Beach or Playa Negra before they returned to the speedboat to head to the snorkelling spot.  Because this was a day trip, the team was taken to a less than ideal spot as national park fees are prohibitively expensive for day tour operators to visit the prime Galapagos sites.  Ang decided against snorkelling and opted to swim instead while Simon completed the survey the shoreline challenge and managed to spot very few fish and several frightened green turtles.

Sally lightfoot crab emerging from its lair

Completing this challenge, the team was raced back to Puerto Ayora aboard their fast speedboat.  Arriving in town they completed the final task for this phase of the race by ordering a delicious plate of $15 lobster from William’s kiosk.

…To be continued.

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Galapagos 7: Bartholme Island

Team Australia woke at dawn and quickly made their way to the agency shopfront where they were to be picked up.  After driving around Puerto Ayora collecting other passengers, the bus headed to the Itabaca canal across the island of Santa Cruz.

Along with teams from Italy, America, Argentina, Spain, Team Australia was deposited at the docks and soon shuttled quickly to a waiting 49 foot motorboat.  There they ate breakfast and watched the blue footed boobies dive bomb fish.

The crew of the boat attempted to start the engine, but were unable.  After 15 minutes of trying, they gave up and called the mechanics.  They would have to come from Puerto Ayora, which meant there would be an hour long wait.  Team Australia remained in good humour and chatted with the other passengers while they watched the blue footed boobies do their dive bomb thing.

After an hour, two mechanics with spanners arrived at the boat.  They opened the engine casing up and started it.  Instantly the engine roared to life.  With their work completed, the mechanics departed and the boat motored off to the island of Bartholme.  The boat then motored slowly out of the harbour.

Mechanics fix the boat

Eventually the boat arrived at spectacularly unique Bartholme Island.  The first challenge was to climb to the summit of Bartholme for a fantastic view of Pinnacle Rock.  Due to the earlier engine trouble, Simon and Ang commenced this climb just before midday.  Trying to stay cool and race was difficult for the team, but luckily they had Ang’s trusty umbrella to shade them on the bare slopes.  The hot climb was completed by Simon and Ang in record time, with breaks required only to listen to the novice guide talk about various aspects of the local environment.

Racing to Pinnacle Rock
Simon completes the lift a large rock with one mighty arm challenge Ang completes this challenge easier
Panorama of the Pinnacle Rock area

Racing back down from the summit, the team got their snorkelling gear on and swam straight off the beach around the huge Pinnacle Rock.  This snorkelling challenge required only one team member and due to the potentially sharky nature of this task, Simon nominated himself.  There were two tasks that needed to be completed before the next clue would be provided.

Fish! Pinnacle rock from up close
More undersea life

The first task was to swim around to the other side of the rock and witness some hilarious sea lion behaviour.  As Simon was the only snorkeler equipped with fins, he rapidly completed this task and witnessed a sea lion chase a white tip reef shark just for fun.  Simon said later “I was looking up out of the water at the big rock.  I put my head underwater and saw a sea lion swim towards me, like several had before.  This sea lion seemed to be a bit cheekier than the others before.  I followed him as he swam across my path and straight after the shark.  They swam in circles for a bit then off into the distance.  It was hilarious for everyone, except the shark”.  With this task complete, Simon joined the other snorkelers and swam back around Pinnacle Rock and across the small bay.

Across the bay they swam up to four penguins sunning themselves on a rock.  Two penguins decided that now that they had an audience they would start going at it like rabbits.   Simon captured this special moment in nature and then swam back to the beach.  There the team received their next clue and would now be required to make their way to the Island of Floreana.

Galapagos penguins

Returning to the motor yacht, the team sailed back to the Itabaca canal at Santa Cruz and then took the bus back to Puerto Ayora town for dinner and later to bed.

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