Australia 2: Finale

The final leg begins now…

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

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

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

Øresund bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The team races to the finish line

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

First place!!!!

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

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United Kingdom 2: Hexham, England to Oslo, Norway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsurprisingly the team was once again the first to arrive.

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Brazil 4: Sleepy Rio De Janeiro

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

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

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

Dead Rio center Rio central street

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

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

Funky rio mansion party street

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

Abandoned thongs! Rio bar (non carnival)

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

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

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

Rio airport

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

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

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

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

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

One more station to Hexham
Wintery Hexham

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

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Uruguay 1: Colonia, Montevideo and Punta Del Este

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic with fish? In need of some TLC

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

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

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

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

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

One man band! Random statue

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

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

Giant hand! Reach for the sky buried hand!

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

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

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

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

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

After all these flights, finally leg room!

To be continued…

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Argentina 5: Mendoza Wineries

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced from the funky cultural town of Valparaiso to Santiago, the capital of Chile. Having received a clue to make their way to Argentina, they book a ticket on a fast Tica international bus over the Andes. While they waited over night for their bus to depart they checked out the city’s best eatery neighborhoods before they returned to their Plaza Del Armas hostel to rest ahead of the next day’s journey.

Waking late the next morning in true Latin American style, the team checked out of the hostel and raced to the bus station. They quickly boarded the midday bus to Mendoza and were soon heading east over the Andes towards Argentina. Their bus was virtually empty of passengers and made its way through vineyards and up the windy roads and switchbacks into the high Andes.

Bus station souvenirs? Climbing up into the Andes

At the integrated border control (Chilean and Argentine customs officials in the same booths side by side), they got their exit and entry stamps and were once again back in Argentina. The bus snaked its way down the valley towards Mendoza city where they arrived in the later afternoon at the bus station. The team raced to their accommodation and checked in. There they commenced their first Mendoza challenge, they were to wait until the morning when they would be given their next clue.

Snake road Decaying avalanche protection for a train line no longer functioning

Early the next morning, Simon and Ang were given their next task. They read the clue and couldn’t believe their luck. They were to set off with Trout and Wine tours on a trip around the wineries of Mendoza. Joining them on this challenge were teams from America, Paraguay, and England and New Zealand.

The first vineyard the teams visited was Mendel, a smallish place with limited production focusing on quality. There the team tasted a selection of wines and marveled at the wine making process, and the old adobe construction of the facility.

First winery of the tour Delicious Malbec
Mendel’s sorting room
Grapes ready for the next stage of wine making Picking out the twigs

Back in the van the teams all jumped and drove to the larger facility of Dante Robino. This vineyard produces about 100 times the production of the first. The group toured the architecturally designed facilities, then headed to the tasting room. Once again a range of great wines were drunk. For team Australia this was an education as they were able to try some varieties that were new for them. These included a glasses of Torrontés and Bonarda.

Late harvest grapes Old Dante truck
Vines! Argentine wine maker next to some barrels
Aging barrels with art works on display Barrel art
Wine bunker Dante’s tasting offerings
Dante Robino whites tasting… nice! Mighty Dante Malbecs

With tasting completed, the team raced back to the van and were driven to their next stop. Arriving at Topaz, they embarked on a quick tour and olive oil tasting before they entered the lunch room. There the team’s challenge was to eat a five course meal that, being in Argentina, involved a huge amount of meat and of course matching wines to suit each course. Simon remarked that “it was a ridiculous amount of meat, easily +800gs of prime Argentine beef, so while probably not good for your long term health, I could get used to doing this”. Sadly the challenge was over all too soon and the teams were allowed to leave the dining room.

Lunch at Topaz! Non beef entré
Beef based main (Argentina knows steak)

Despite wanting to have an afternoon nap, the team piled back into the van and drove to the last vineyard for the day, the historic Bodegas Lynch. Once again, the facility was of adobe construction, a large collection of historic gaucho ponchos and included a massive asado hall and the typical subterranean aging cavern. The final wine tasting was sublime. The team enjoyed the range of wines they tried and just wished that they could take time out from the race to arrange to ship some of the wines home.

HDR barrel bunker Final tasting stop for the day

With the final vineyard toured, the last glass sipped, Ang very merry and dancing around, the team received their next clue. They were to head back into the nearby Andes and on to Aconaguaga national park. Happy they had finished a great stage of the race, the team jumped back in the van and were driven back to their accommodation. There they enjoyed an involuntary rest period.

After waking, and because they had yet to have enough Malbec, the team headed out to dinner. They enjoyed another fine steak and with it more fine Malbec before returning once again to their accommodation for rest ahead of the next day’s challenges.

Pre dinner drinks Ang is still impressed by the Argentine Malbecs

….To be continued.

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Chile 6: Santiago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tired Plaza Del Armas residents

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

Mercardo Central

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

Santiago coyote style

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

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

…To be continued.

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Argentina 4: Bariloche

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two set out from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt, Chile aboard the Navimag ferry.  After travelling for four days the team arrived in Puerto Montt and received their next clue instructing them to make their way back into Argentina to the town of Bariloche.

With disembarkation formalities completed, the team raced to the main bus terminal in Puerto Montt.  There they booked passage on an afternoon bus to San Carlos de Bariloche.  With several hours to kill before the bus departed, the team decided to visit the little nearby town of Puerto Varas, the Chilean equivalent of Bariloche.  After a quick minibus ride, they arrived in the small village and met up again with Team Wales (after running into Team America and another Team Australia last seen on the Navimag). Lunch was had and Simon and Ang returned to Puerto Montt.

The bus ride over the Andes across the border into Bariloche was smooth and uneventful.  The team checked into their accommodation and set about completing the main task for this leg, to eat as much chocolate and ice cream as possible over the next two days. Simon elected to complete this challenge (although Ang did help), and sampled a variety of well known and artisanal chocolate and ice cream manufactures, including such giants as Rapi Nui and Helados Jauja (now with a store in Melbourne).

A church in Bariloche
Progressive Bariloche Great Scott!

With this challenge completed, and once again the first to arrive, the team decided to celebrate with another fantastic Argentina asado.

Delicious meat ¡Qué bien! Asado de Argentina es muy rico y muy sabroso!
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Chile 1: Ushuaia to Torres Del Paine

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

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

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

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

Patagonian puppy Punta Arenas sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…To be continued

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Brazil 1: São Paulo

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

Ang hiding in a tree at Foz do Iguaçu border

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sao Paulo tech street

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

Ham cheese and Tomato sandwiches come to Brazil

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

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Argentina 1: Tupiza to Mercedes

As the first team to arrive at the Tupiza pit stop, Simon and Ang were the first to depart at 9am the following day.  Their first clue required them to make their way as quickly as possible to the city of Salta in Argentina.  Racing out of the pit stop, they jumped into a shared taxi and raced to the border of Bolivia and Argentina at a town called Villazon.

Arriving at the dusty border town an hour later, the team changed the last of their Bolivianos and walked to immigration. As they walked down a long shop lined hill, they noticed a long line of people queuing for something. When they eventually arrived at the international bridge, and after asking a Bolivian border guard, the team reluctantly trudged back up the hill to the back of the queue. There they shuffled along with the crowd of Bolivians, Paraguayans and assorted backpacker types in the long procession to the immigration office. Having changed all their currency and planning to have breakfast across the border, the team was not impressed. They were even more unimpressed with the people who pushed their way to the front of the queue.

Villazon, a dusty border crossing town Even the vendors are bored
Completing Gail’s photograph a naturally red haired South American challenge. This guy is from Paraguay

After a marathon six hour wait without food or water, the team finally made it into the office.  There they discovered the entire passport control consisted of one guy and a computer.  He had to manually enter in everyone’s passport details, so the process was very slow, and given the large number of people, took a very long time.  Both Simon and Ang were concerned that with this delay they would be forced to arrive in Salta after dark and may be eliminated from the race.

They finally got their passports stamped and exited Bolivia.  They raced across to the Argentine migration control and waited in line for a hour and a half (two people were working in immigration) before entering the country proper.  By this stage it was just after five pm in the afternoon.  The team ran over to the taxi stand and took a taxi to the nearby bus station.  There they bought tickets to Salta, with a transfer in Salvador de Jujury, for a journey time estimated to be six hours long.

The bus trip was relatively uneventful, and they changed with little issue.  By the time they reached Salta it was one am.  The team was exhausted but still needed to find accommodation.  They took a taxi into the centre of the city and found a hostel.  They slept for a few hours before checking out in the morning and then into a better hostel.

Still tired and hungry, the team walked through the rain back into town.  For the first time during their trip since the US, they were able to withdraw a respectable sum of money from a Citibank branch.  This meant they would be able to save on bank fees and would not need to visit the ATM again until at least a week later.  Happy with this and the modernity of Argentina (particularly when contrast with Bolivia), the team had their first steak lunch.

Upon exiting the restaurant, within moments, someone pick pocketed Simon.  After asking back at the restaurant in case anyone had seen something, they returned to the hostel to lock the card, then returned to the police station where they completed a police report.  With this unfortunate development, and after dealing with the insurance paperwork, the team were issued with a new clue and set off to the bus station.

Ang and Simon enjoy a delicious Argentina steak lunch

Their new clue provided by Mary was a detour that required them to make their way as rapidly as possible into the heart of Argentine Gaucho land to Sam’s farm.  To do this they would take an evening bus to the town of Resistencia and continue on to nearby Corrientes.  Tickets were purchased and after dinner, the team returned to their hostel to spend the night.  There they chatted with a Team Argentina and they were told that Salta is a hotspot for pick pockets.  Simon and Ang were sad that this information had been provided too late.

Happy gas

The next day was low key and after eating some Argentine empanadas and Tamales, the team raced to the bus station for the overnight bus to Resistencia.  This semi-cama (semi bed) ride was not totally uncomfortable, but the team was glad to arrive in Resistencia early in the next morning.  They quickly changed to another bus going on to Corrientes.  Arriving there, they raced out of the bus station and rapidly found a taxi.

Completing the eat empanadas challenge at the Patio de la Empanada

They explained they wanted to go to Sam’s farm and gave the directions provided in the clue, but were told while they were in the right province, they were in the wrong town!  Corrientes city, the capital of the Corrientes province is located approximately 300km north of the town of Mercedes (which, by using the directions that included reference to the local football club, the taxi driver and friendly fly fishing guide said was the actual destination).  With this new information, and given they were in South America, the team set about confirming the actual location of Sam’s farm.

Both Simon and Ang were once again worried they would be eliminated due to this costly delay as if the information was correct, their best option would be another five hour bus ride, which wasn’t leaving until later in the day around midday.   Thanks to a friendly information desk lady, the team was able to get in contact with Sam and confirm the town he actually lived was indeed Mercedes and that he would meet the team when their bus arrived a little after five pm, approximately 24 hours after they left Salta.

The bus ride to Mercedes was long and boring.  Simon and Ang both marvelled at the similarities of the Corrientes cattle country with the farm land back in Australia and tried to nap.  Eventually their bus pulled into the Mercedes bus station where they met Sam and were driven to Sam’s farm, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

Ang with Sam in the car speeding to his farm and the pit stop
Car parked in Mercedes Classic car for sale (cause it has a bottle on it)
Panorama of Sam’s farm house

In a post race interview Simon and Ang once again expressed their anger at the pick pocketing incident and but were glad neither was hurt.  They both vowed to be smarter with their decisions in the future to get better cheaper accommodation and activities to help recoup the lost money. They laughed at the mix up with destination, but were glad that this mistake didn’t cost them the race.

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