Argentina 6: Aconcagua and the Andes

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang raced to the town of Mendoza. There they embarked on a tour of four of Mendoza’s fantastic wineries. They ate and drank lots of delicious food and drink before falling into restful sleeps. Their next challenge would begin the next morning.

Once again the team was picked up early in the morning by Trout and Wine from their accommodation. For this leg, Simon and Ang were once again joined by Chris and Rita, two Amazing Exclusive Racers from America. The two teams were then driven out of Mendoza and up into the Andes.

Heading to the Andes Mirror Mirror on the Truck…
This dam supplies water to Mendoza
Like the surface of the moon Dióxido de carbono truck

Retracing their route from the Chilean border, the van stopped at the Puente del Inca before continuing on up to the enormous Aconcagua. There the teams were required to complete a little walk to a mirador that afforded an excellent view of Aconcagua mountain, the highest in the Andes and the western hemisphere. With this challenge completed, the team was directed to a nearby ski resort for lunch.

Puente Del Inca
The team pauses for a promotional shot in front of the bridge Museum piece building that is a museum
Looking up towards Chile Leave them ducks alone
Mighty Aconcagua
High Andean mountains
Abandoned bus Inside the abandoned bus (powered by internet explorer, which is probably why it was abandoned)

After another fantastic steak based meal, Simon and Ang were provided with their next clue. This viewer challenge had been sent in by Organic Hobo. For this task the Team were to find Florentino Bistro and ask what the in season salad is. Team America, received a different food related challenge to complete. Both teams raced out of the ski resort and back to Mendoza. They were soon dropped off at their respective accommodation. Simon and Ang took the opportunity to rest before they headed back into the centre of town.

Avalanche protection up close Lunch time equals more wine to try

After walking around for a little while searching for the restaurant, Simon asked inside a hotel for directions and they were able to locate Florentino Bistro. There they met the head chef, Sebastian and asked what the in season salad was. Completing this challenge, Simon and Ang were provided with their next clue at this point, but instead of racing off decided that the food at Florentino sounded too good not to eat. Reading their next clue, the team was tasked with completing another wine tour, this time to the Valle Ucon south of the city.  They enjoyed a delicious salad, risotto and excellent dessert before they raced out of the restaurant (making a booking for the next night on their way out).

Pre dinner drinks Ang is still impressed by the Argentine Malbecs

Excitedly, the team raced back to their accommodation to get ready for the next day’s challenge.

…To be continued.

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Antarctica 4: Paradise Bay to Ushuaia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delicious iceberg cake Smooth iceberg cake

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

Simon mucking around in the Drake

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

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

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

Ushuaia early morning panorama
Edging into the dock

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

British vessels not allowed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glacier up close Standard wind-swept ice formation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…To be continued.

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Antarctica 2: Port Lockroy to Paradise Bay

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

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

Early morning at the camp site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from the deck outside the team’s cabin

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

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

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

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

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

Twin peaks panorama
Ice berg floats by the window

…To be continued.

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Antarctica 1: Ushuaia to Port Lockroy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antarctic bobsled team! Penguin audience

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

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

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

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

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

The campsite Inside the party tent

…To be continued.

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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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Galapagos 6: North Seymore Island

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two joined the Eden for a fantastic eight day cruise of the Galapagos Islands.  They spent their final night anchored next to North Seymore Island, surrounded by sharks.

Just before dawn the team woke to the sound of waves gently lapping on the hull.  They had a quick breakfast and jumped into waiting zodiacs for the short trip ashore to the island of North Seymore.  As normal, many sea lions, blue footed boobies and marine iguanas were awaiting their arrival on shore.  The new animal for this island was lots of nesting frigate birds, the pirates of the skies.

On the walking tour of the island, the team was able to spot male frigate birds attempting to attract a mate.  Once they had witnessed this interesting and unique display that occurs year round, the team was given their next clue.

The racers take a moment to rest next to a local Sea lion waiting for the sun to come up
One more time… mega awwwww Male frigate bird looking for a lady
Frigate bird planning the next big heist Female marine iguanas warming up

Returning to the boat, breakfast was had and bags packed.  The Eden motored to the nearby Harbour at Baltra Island where they transferred to zodiacs for a final time and were delivered ashore.  Boarding a bus they travelled back to Baltra airport and said good bye to the departing teams who were flying out that day.  Simon and Ang along with Adam from Team America and Karin from Team Swiss transferred to another bus and were soon crossing the narrow channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz islands on a government run ferry.  A taxi ride later, they were back in Puerto Ayora.

The other teams on the bus to the airport, racing to the next legs of their respective races

Arriving in town the team was given a multiple route choice challenge.  They could either get themselves on another boat or they could do two day trips.  Simon and Ang, having thoroughly enjoyed their time on Eden opted to attempt to get themselves on another boat.  However, there was a small problem as there were few open agencies owing to it being a Sunday.  Asking another friendly Team Australia that raced by them on their way to a taxi, Simon and Ang found out that there was a boat, called the Monserat, leaving in a few hours for a great last minute deal for five days.  Unfortunately the agency they had raced from and booked with was closed for lunch.  Simon and Ang went into three other agencies but were unable to get the phone number of the boat.  This meant they would have to wait until the first agency opened after lunch, leaving them scant minutes to get to the north of the island.

After collecting laundry, the team raced into the agency in contact with the Monserat boat. There, the team rapidly negotiated a $150pp discount on even the special last minute rate, but was unable to negotiate a lower enough fare for the budget the producers had given the team for this leg of the race.  Considering they had one hour to get from Puerto Ayora to the canal and onto the boat, the price was great, but not fantastic enough as they would need to change flights and the itinerary only had two new locations over the five days so, Simon and Ang decided to switch tasks and complete the day tours.  These were rapidly booked for the next two days.

Marine iguana hits the resort pool

Adam from Team America who was on the Eden with Simon and Ang, kindly offered his spare studio apartment for the team to stay in.  Both Ang and Simon were very grateful to Adam and Ruth, his wife, as this great pad allowed them time to organise themselves for the upcoming race challenges.

Casa de Adam y Ruth

That afternoon the team walked to Tortuga bay for a sunset swim and dip.  Dinner that evening was a great lobster dinner at William’s kiosk.  Then the team retired for the night, as the first day trip would commence at 6am

Panorama of a Cacti forest at the end of Tortuga bay
Another of Darwin’s finches Marine iguanas are not the best with directions
Galapagos flowers

…To be continued.

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Galapagos 5: Santiago Island to North Seymore Island

Upon waking, the team found themselves in yet another stunning Galapagos location, James Bay on Santiago Island. They were once again ferried ashore. They walked along the trail and saw lots of birds, including finches that were friendly enough to land on cameras. Ang through these birds were very vain, but enjoyed the experience immensely.

Early morning Galapagos dew
One of Darwin’s friendly finches These finches are not camera shy

After the short walk they arrived at a lava rock grotto and headlands. There they were able to see the usual assortment of lots of marine iguanas, sea lions and birds. For the first time they saw fur seals, which unlike the staffy like sea lions, which to Simon thought looked a little like sea rats.

Ang and Simon complete the Val Halen challenge HDR marine iguana
Even more awwwwwww Sleepy sea lion

With this challenge completed, the team made their way back to the landing beach. There they changed into their snorkel gear and wetsuits and entered the water. Snorkelling along the beach they saw the usual huge numbers of fish, swimming marine iguanas, sea lions, turtles, a ray and a huge friendly white tipped shark.

Surprisingly, the swim with marine iguana challenge is just as hard as the previous dolphin challenge

With the shark challenge completed, the team returned to the Eden and cruised to Rabida Island. Once again they were required to change in their snorkelling gear and enter the water at a location that Rubén called “a special place”. It definitely was special with the team seeing the usual huge assortment of sea lions, turtles, rays and fish. With this snorkelling completed, the team climbed back into the zodiac and were driving around a headland. There they entered the water and swam back towards the beach, hugging the coastline they saw blue footed boobies, heaps of fish and sea lions. Once they arrived at the beach the challenge was completed and they returned to the Eden.

Mighty frigate bird
Undersea community Underwater racers!

Anchor was weighed and the Eden motored to North Seymore Island. Dolphins were seen on the way and Simon, along with some other passengers, sat on the roof to watch the sunset. Several frigate birds landed on the roof to catch a free ride back to their colony on North Seymore.

Another mighty frigate bird Lazy pirate frigate birds hitch a ride

Soon the Eden arrived at the anchorage. White tipped sharks circled the boat as the team ate dinner and then spent the night.

…To be continued.

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Galapagos 4: Isabela and Fernandina

Waking early, Team Australia joined the other passengers and boarded the zodiacs for the morning wildlife spotting challenge.  The two boats motored out away from Eden out of Targus cove along the cliffs.  Henry, the slightly crazed skipper of one of the boats, spotted a pod of whales in the distance, so both zodiacs raced in their general direction.  After following the pod for a little while, the boats turned back to Targus cove.

Sunrise just outside of Targus cove Pelican and boobie at dawn
Hunting whales challenge Success! Whale spotted in front of Fernandina

Spotting a huge pod of dolphins, both zodiacs raced over to the northern entry to the cove.  After driving around for about ten minutes, Rubén came up with the idea of bringing the morning’s snorkel forward.  Both zodiacs raced back to the Eden, stopping briefly only to watch some mating turtles.  The team quickly had breakfast and changed into their snorkel gear and were soon ferried back to the entry of Targus cove.

Dolphin swimming with the zodiac Stunning fish or just mucking around?
Fornicating turtles Clumsy and awkward sea turtle sea sex Clumsy and awkward sea turtle sex

Jumping into the water, Ang and Simon, along with the rest of the group started swimming.  Galapagos dolphins squeal then flee when humans enter the water.  After thrashing their way for twenty metres or so in pursuit of the pod, the team stopped swimming and put their heads above water, realising the try and out swim dolphins challenge was too difficult to complete.

However, not wanting to give up, all teams climbed back into the zodiacs and attempted to try again.  This time they were dropped into the path of the oncoming pod.  This time, for those who entered the water first, the dolphins were very close.  Simon, as one of the first to enter the water, saw several dolphins swim towards him, then turn as they got close.  Afterwards Simon said “you could hear when everyone got into the water as the dolphins clicks and squeaks got louder, almost like they were saying ‘humans!  Run!.. I mean swim!’”.

With the dolphins fleeing the cove, the team received their next clue and set about snorkelling along the cliff wall.  This snorkel allowed them to see the usual huge numbers of turtles, sea lions and fish.  This time they also saw penguins and a cormorant from above and below the water.  Completing this challenge the team returned to the Eden and once again changed.

Another green turtle Galapagos starfish

Back into the zodiacs they went and were shuttled over to the shore where they went for a short walk to spectacular lookouts over a lagoons, and huge lava field.  Photographic tasks for this walk were to capture the elusive mocking birds.  The team also read some of the graffiti that various sailors had written on the walls over the previous centuries.   With time running short, Ang and Simon franticly tried to capture the mocking birds on the return to the zodiacs.  They were not successful and had to wait out a short time penalty.

View towards Targus cove and neighbouring lagoon Ghetto sea lions are legit
Little finchy, but sadly no mocking bird photo

After the time penalty was completed, they returned to Eden and anchor was weighed.  The boat headed north in the direction of the island of Fernandina.  This island is virtually untouched, volcanically active place and is the newest of all of the Galapagos Islands.  There is only one tourist landing site on this island and the Eden was steaming directly for it.   A delicious lunch was had en route.

Arriving at the island, the team and other passengers quickly readied themselves for the landing.  As Fernandina is very remote, few cruise boats make this journey.  However, larger vessels with up to 100 passengers do visit this site.  One of these boats arrived at the anchorage soon after the Eden.  So, in order to beat the hordes ashore and complete the walking through the Imps of Darkness challenge, Simon and Ang and the rest of the passengers raced to the zodiacs and over to the landing site.  After a quick surprise ceremonial birthday dunking of another fellow Australian passenger by one of the crew, the group walked onto dry land. There they saw a huge number of marine iguanas, the usual assortment of sea lions, cormorants, and some rare hawksbill turtles.  As they were walking around more marine iguanas arrived having finished their afternoon feeding.

Ellie gets dunked
Lava cacti and associated iguana Chris from team Holland gets amongst the iguanas
Piles of iguanas in iguana town Co-habitation at its best
Simon enjoying this leg immensely Just like Godzilla, an iguana emerges from the sea

Their last task was to complete the Imps of Darkness challenge with Simon giving Ang a piggyback through a field of iguanas that had stationed themselves on and around the path to warm up. With this challenge completed, the teams returned to the Eden.

Simon later said “the marine iguanas are amazing.  They start the day by trying to warm up in the sun.  Once they are hot enough they swim out to sea where they eat algae and seaweed for up to thirty minutes then return to the beach to reheat and snort up sea salt.  It was a magical, somewhat gross evil sight to see”.

Only thing cooler than a marine iguana is a marine iguana with a lava lizard on its tail If nothing else, this says ‘metal’
Whiskers McWhiskers walks with an iguana Brothers from different mothers

Back on board the Eden, a course was set for the northern tip of Isabela.  Arriving at the dramatic location, the team once again changed into their snorkel gear and entered the water.  Snorkelling along the shoreline the team saw an excessive number of turtles.  There was that many that Ang lost count of the number and the team had to be careful not to swim into them as they snorkelled.   Their snorkel route continued around the shoreline past blue footed boobies, cormorants and penguins.  Rounding a headland, the team swam into a huge cave that was home to an angry bachelor sea lion. There they completed the challenge and received their next clue in the water.  Back into the zodiacs they climbed and returned to the Eden for well earned snacks and drinks.

Ang is freezing, but happy at completing the challenge

Soon the Eden left Isabela and was motoring north for an eleven hour overnight sail to their next location.

… To be continued.

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Galapagos 3: Isla Isabela

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two joined the Eden motor vessel for a cruise around the Galapagos Island.  After visiting fabulous islands such as Isla Lobos, Santa Fe and South Plazas, they motored to the mysterious Isla Isabela and the town of Puerto Ventimilla.

Delivering building supplies into Puerto Ventimilla

Waking early, racing resumed with the Simon and Ang being shuttled to the dock.  There they boarded a chiva for the drive to the Sierra Negro, a huge shield volcano with a 10km wide crater.  The chiva ride took the team past flamingos, lava flows and rural farmland.  At one point, Walter, a member of Team Holland spotted a red bird in the trees.  He excitedly called out to the driver to stop, and jumped out of the chiva and was soon snapping away.  He was quickly followed by the other passengers, once they had realised no one had fallen off the truck.

Galapagos flamingos on the way to Sierra Negra Crimson bird half way up Sierra Negra

Back in the chiva, the rest of the drive was quickly completed and the teams commenced the walk up the volcano to the mirador.  The hike was expected to take 45 minutes; however, as all teams were racing the humid walk was completed in half that time.  At the summit, they were treated to a spectacular view of the huge crater.  There, they had lunch, and fifteen minutes later the clouds arrived.  While they watched clouds obscure the crater, the other teams were entertained by Ang, who demonstrated her love for all things Mary Popins.

Ang, aka Merry Poppins, in front of the huge Sierra Negra crater

Returning to Puerto Ventimilla and to a beachside bar, Team Canada enjoyed a ceviche while Simon, the other team Australia and half of Team America 3 braved the cold Pacific waters and went for a swim.  With these challenges completed, all teams walked back to the dock and were soon back onboard the Eden.  There the final additional passenger, Adam of Team America 4, arrived and that evening. After the regular briefing on the next day’s activities, the Eden motored into the night for nine hours, bound for the remote western side of Isla Isabela.

The mysterious Galapagos bottle tree Simon completing the beach swim challenge
Puerto Ventimilla town Ellie and Ang from the two team Australias shelter from the rain

Waking after a restful night’s sleep, Simon and Ang found the Eden in a spectacular location called Punta Moreno.  They were once again dropped ashore by zodiac where they walked around a huge kilometres wide lava flow.  Their walk allowed them to see hundreds of sally lightfooted crabs, sea lions, blue footed boobies and other birds.  Their walk took them past a small sea lion colony where they sadly saw a sea lion with a large fishing hook in its flipper.  The flipper was infected and obviously was causing the sea lion great pain.  With no veterinary or park services in this remote location, there was little that could be done for the animal.

HDR image of a lava flow Galapagos thumbs up cactus
Ruben’s feet seemed imune to lava Sally lightfooted crabs also love lava
Lava cactus
Panorama of a huge lava flow
So sad, but there was nothing that could be done Another photo of a sally lightfooted crab loving lava
Cactus worthy of being a Windows desktop background

Continuing, the teams soon arrived at a lava tidal pool. There they saw many trapped fish and several large white tipped reef sharks.  Soon it was back to the Eden to change and once again into the cold Isla Isabela waters.  Here, they snorkelled right next to the lava flows and despite the waters being murky, saw sting rays, heaps of fish, kelp and by Ang’s count, at least ten turtles.

Ang poses for a photo before she begins the easy turtle spotting challenge One of many turtles spotted
Racers on Eden’s sister ship, Aida Maria, go for a swim

Back onboard the Eden, the boat once again motored north, this time bound for Elizabeth bay.  Here, they embarked into the zodiacs and travelled into a mangrove estuary, which unlike Australian mangroves, included mangrove trees as tall as gum trees.  On the ride in they saw lots of turtles, blue herons, cormorants and smooth bill anis. As required by national park regulations, motors were not used in certain parts of the estuary, meaning Ang, along with Adam from Team America 4, had to take up oars and row the dingy.  Soon it was time to leave the peaceful mangroves.  On the way out of the bay, they passed over tens of golden rays swimming in a school.

Flightless blue eyed cormorant Close up of a Heron

Reaching open water, the team’s dingy continued to a nearby rock island.  There, they motored around the island and observed a mixture of blue footed boobies, sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas and blue herons that were all living together on the island in perfect harmony.

Mixed use colony
Boobie on a rock Lots of boobies
Yawning boobie

Finally after this action packed day, they returned to the Eden and then cruised for four hours to Targus cove where they spent the night.

Sunset towards Fernandina

… To be continued.

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