Galapagos 1: San Cristóbal

Early the next morning the team boarded a fast 600hp speed boat for the journey to San Cristóbal.  They arrived in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno two hours later after a rapid thrill ride.  Quickly they sourced accommodation and then headed out to walk around town.  As this was the last day of the year, many people were letting off fireworks, so it gave the place a warzone carnival atmosphere.

Panorama of Pelican Bay, Puerto Ayora
Depressed bird
Random papier-mâché creature Yellow bird
Where is Mario?

After reading their next clue, the team set off on foot to Playa Mann.  There they watched the sunset and sea lions playing.  Whilst they sat on the sand, they were approached by two inquisitive baby sea lions.  In keeping with the two metre rule, the team backed away, but the sea lions gave chase.  The team watched the sea lions frolicking until the sun set.  This completed this challenge and the team were given the next task and returned to the centre of town.

Baby sea lion and mother on Playa Mann Another yellow bird

On the way back to the centre of town, the team were stopped by two cross-dressed Ecuadorians.  It was unclear why they were cross dressed, but as is normal for this part of the world, from midday 31 December to midday 1 January, children and adults are traditionally allowed to stop pedestrians in the street with passage only given once a contaminación toll is paid.  The amount is any coins, so it is necessary to carry enough small change to get where you need to go.  The team was lucky to have a few 5c pieces and good humour, so were able to pass by the many tolls without much issue.

The Team is still not entirely sure what Contaminacion means

Another Ecuadorian tradition is to write two long posters. One outlines the good things that you hope will pass in the future and the other outlines the bad things that have happened in the past.  Ecuadorians also make a papier mache character to accompany the messages that represent all the bad things that have happened in the previous year.   All around the town there were many such characters waiting for the New Year.

Ecuadorians lover their papier-mâché Yogi says ‘hola’
Ecuadorians love smurfs More smurfs and this time Taca airlines
Another display, this time with a garden theme A diver ready to dive into a fire
A ship with end of year messages ready to be set alight Yogi bear on car (this guy would escape getting burned for some reason)
Smurfs and African animals live together perfect harmony in Ecuador

The team had a nice meal then joined the crowds of locals walking along the waterfront and the streets watching buskers and socialising, and reading the New Year’s messages.   As midnight approached, the intensity of the fireworks increased.  Soon semi-professional fireworks were being released in the town square, into the sky and occasionally into the crowd.  Then, at midnight and without any countdown, locals set fire to their characters to ring in the New Year all across town.

A semi professional Ecuadorian fireworks display One minute after middnight
Bonfires in the street to see in the New Year

The team’s challenge was to photograph as much of this as possible, avoid being injured by the explosives that were thrown into the burning piles and help burn any blown away parts of remaining characters.  Much feliz años nuevo was said and with these challenges completed the team made their way to their accommodation to rest ahead of the next part of this leg.

… To Be Continued


Canada 3: Rocky Mountains – South from Jasper

Waking early, the team drove south back along the Icefield Parkway.  On the earlier north bound journey, in the race to get accommodation in Jasper, a number of points of interest were strategically skipped.  These were visited on the return trip and included:

  • Mount Edith Cavell (the team met an Australian retired couple who had driven more than 10k km in their hire car that they picked up in Vegas.  Inspired!)
  • Athabasca Falls
  • Mistaya Canyon
  • Parker’s Ridge
Icebergs at Mount Edith Cavell Athabasca Falls
Glacier behind Parker’s ridge

Just before the Columbia Icefield, Ang, had gone from not wanting to come across a bear to being disappointed with the numbers seen thus far.  She said to Simon ‘I really want to see some bears , keep looking into the forest as we drive as we don’t have much time left’.  Banff and Jasper National parks were soon to deliver.

Standard Canadian flood plain
Yet another Standard Canadian lake

The first animal the team came across was a Caribou.  It had run into the middle of a freezing stream to avoid being eaten by a wolf.  The Caribou jam it caused had the usual assortment of high powered camera and lens assemblies.  One ‘imager’ was kind enough to let the team have a look through her scope.  The Caribou didn’t seem too happy and the wolf was nowhere to be seen.  An earlier photograph taken by the ‘imager’ allowed the team to see the wolf. After seeing the picture, Simon remarked that “the Caribou seems to have the right idea”.

Swim buddy!

About 2 km further down the road, the team spotted the next jam.  This one was for a juvenile grizzly bear that was feeding on berries.  The bear attracted about 30-40 cars and twice as many people.  The team observed the bear for a good 40 minutes as it came progressively closer to the road.  At one point the safer option was the back of a nearby pickup truck when the bear came within 30m of the road (recommended distance is 100m plus).  The team stayed amongst the crowd until the bear decided it was time to go eat a salmon, or that thing bears do in the woods.

Large bear jam
Close enough to see the whites of the grizzly’s eyes Right on, maul that bush

Back in the car, the team stopped briefly at the Athabasca glacier, then soon after spotted the next bear jam up ahead.  This time, there were two black bears, munching on the roadside berries.  The advantage for the team was little time was lost as the convenient roadside location allowed photos to be taken from the car.  Fading light meant the team was soon driving again. The Icefields Parkway came to an end and the team arrived at Banff.  There they slept before the short drive the next day back to Calgary.

Bears want berries eh? Black bear random berry walk

Racing into Calgary, the team attempted to complete an ongoing challenge of the exclusive race – find and purchase unique cowgirl boots for Ang.  By the time they had arrived in the city centre and checked the location of western shops, less than 2 hours remained to return the hire car to the airport.  Racing through the city streets, shop after shop was checked by the team, but with no success.

Back to the car and then out of the city and on to the airport they went.  At this point heavy rain made driving conditions difficult, but the team managed to navigate their way to the hire car drop off.  Then it was onto the red eye flight to Montreal, some 3028 kms to the east.

Arriving in the middle of the night, the team took a crazy taxi ride through countless construction sites to Merryl’s place, checking into the pitstop for this leg of the race.


Canada 2: Rocky Mountains – North from Calgary

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two flew over 700km from Vancouver to Calgary. There they picked up a hire car, and after a brief monster nachos lunch at Loco Lulu’s, they commenced the drive to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Their first stop was Banff. There they hiked around the town, check out the hot Springs and looked for bears. Simon mused at the sheer number of Australians living in the town. Ang remarked that she liked the town for its picturesque setting and that it was not overly touristy, even though it is a resort town. Later, a brief side trip was taken to Johnston Canyon and on to the Ink Pots.

Johnston Canyon falls

The hike to the Ink Pots, while more remote, was still on a well travelled path. Heels were cooled in the mountain stream before the team, in typical Exclusive Race fashion, took an alternative, less trodden track back to the car. This soon led to concerns about bears, particularly due to the team being without a map, the lack of signage on the trails and the many tasty berry bushes in the moose meadows. After a tense solitary hour long walk, the team returned to their car, successfully avoiding any potentially nearby bears.

Next, the racers departed for Lake Louise. The lake is a stunning body of water set below a mountain range and is fed from glacier melt water. The team’s task at this destination was to complete a hike around the area. This hike included Lake Louise, Lake Agnes and the Plain of Six Glaciers. Racing up the 400m elevation the team sampled some of the treats at the Lake Agnes teahouse, climbed the Big Beehive and witnessed the sanitation helicopter in action. The team then continued along and up to the Plain of Six Glaciers and its associated teahouse.

Lake Louise through the trees Ang contemplates the Lake
Even more of the Lake
Plain of the Six Glaciers

The last hot weather of summer was causing significant melting (and avalanches), so the team did not progress all the way to the top of the trail. They returned to Lake Louise, having completed the 15 km hike with no bear sightings. The night was spent at Lake Louise.

Second day Lake Louise

Leaving Lake Louise town the next morning, the racers headed briefly to Moraine Lake for some log walking. The next clue sent the team to Emerald Lake before they headed north to the Icefields Parkway, one of the most spectacular drives in the world. Their route took them past a variety of aqua lakes, precariously perched glaciers and vaulted peaks.

Emerald Lake, might as well go ahead and jump! Emerald Lake complete with Canadian paddelling a Canadian
Natural Bridge
Moraine Lake Noice lumperjack

Visited attractions on the drive north included:

  • Crowfoot Glacier
  • Bow Lake and Bow Glacier
  • Waterfowl Lakes
  • Mistaya Canyon
Driving the parkway Dramatic random mountain range

With accommodation not yet sourced and the sun beginning to set, the racers pushed north to Jasper. Both Ang and Simon briefly considered sleeping in the car, but with the high probability of Grizzly bears coming to investigate, they had to find proper digs. Right on dark they were able to find beds in a large dorm room (40+ persons) just below the Whistlers.

The town of Jasper, while not as pretty as Banff, seemed to be more true to the Canadian Rocky experience. Receiving a challenge from a friendly shop assistant, the team planned their next couple of days.

The first activity was to visit Maligne Lake.  There they saw deer and looked out over the 25km long lake. On the drive back to Jasper, they came across a Bear Jam, with traffic stopped in both directions, watching a lone brown bear eat berries. Then it was on to Miette hot springs, an area surrounded by Cougar warnings. Not wanting to squeeze into a pool that was dangerously overloaded, the team set off to find the source of the hot springs. These were located soon after, with the team deciding not to swim in the smelly water and that bears are probably more friendly than cougars. A retreat to the car was quickly completed.

A deer with no fear Mmm tasty pavement
Bighorn sheep Ang says hello to Mr Sheep
Lake Jasper, away from Mr Sheep Mmm tasty salty road

Back the team headed to Jasper and sampled some great gluten free pizza, then drove out of the town, out of Alberta and on Mt Robson. The mountain is the highest in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and was the northern most point the team travelled to in North America.  The team spent the night at a ranch that overlooks Mt Robson. Their host at the Ranch was an eccentric Japanese man called Rocky, who apparently had an ‘understanding’ with a local black bear.

Mt Robson on dusk Mt Robson sunset drinks (Winelands plastic ‘glasses’in hand)

The core challenge provided by the shop assistant was to hike to Emperor Falls in a day. Knowing that by accepting this challenge it would take most of the day, the team set off on the 32 km hike at a cracking pace. Lots of multiday back country campers were quickly passed by as the racers had the luxury of carrying much less gear. The team was also sans bear bangers (bear mace that is 6x stronger than human mace) and bear bells. This helped keep the per kilometre average high.

Standard Canadian lake

The track led the racers past aqua marine coloured lakes, through forests and up scree slopes. The valley of a Thousand Waterfalls was for Simon a highlight, although it would be much more impressive in early spring. Climbing the steepest portion of the track, the team arrived at Emperor Falls. There they received their next clue – make their way to Montreal by the fastest means possible.

Mt Robson and Emperor falls
Simon has an audience The Emperor and Ang

Then it was back 16 km to the car, passing the same groups with their Nordic walking poles and huge backpacks. The team was passed by a runner who had continued to Berg Lake (a ~42km round trip that seemed to be taking everyone else multiple days). No bears were sighted on the return journey.

Rest stop Another rest stop where the marathon trail runner caught up to us
Another standard Canadian lake Rapids!

The day’s racing continued with the team driving back to Jasper to spend the night in the mega dorm. Just before entering Jasper, a random posing elk stag was spotted.

Ang found a bear! Mr Elk

… to be continued