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 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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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 8: Valparaiso

Ang and Simon enjoyed a delicious paradilla asado to celebrate their very long winning streak. They enjoyed their rest stop in Santiago before returning to the check in mat to recommencing racing. Their next clue required them to travel by bus to the UNESCO world heritage listed city of Valparaiso. With the clue read, they ran to the metro and took the train to the central bus station. Tickets to Valparaiso were purchased and the team boarded the bus.

Before the construction of the Panama canal, Valparaiso was a significant stop over port for international sailing and freight. Significant investment from shipping companies helped build unique city set amongst spectacular and steep hills. Residents would travel to work from their homes via trolley elevators. With the opening of the Panama canal, the importance of this port declined. Today the city is Chile’s cultural heart and is experiencing a resurgence of visitors in the form of increased tourism.

Arriving in Valparaiso a short bus ride later, the team jumped in a waiting taxi and were drive to Cerro Concepción, a colourful suburb with buildings that follow the natural contour lines of the topography. After trying a hostel that was full, they found a great bed and breakfast and secured lodgings for the night. With this challenge completed, the team was given their next clue whilst they ate an awesome lunch. Their task was to complete the morning walking tour of the city of Valparaiso.

Se Prohibe Pescar (Fishing is Prohibited)
Funky graffiti

The next morning the team woke up and raced down to the main square in old Valparaiso. There they were met by Nancy from tour4tips and commenced their tour. Nancy led the team on a great tour of the most interesting sections of Valparaiso including the Muelle (wharf), Cero Concepción and Cero Bellavista. After a great three hours, the team arrived at their final stop for the tour, a fantastic artist gallery at the base of Bellavista. There they were given a celebratory Pisco Sour and their next clue. They were to climb up to the top of Bellavista and locate the house of Pablo Neruda, a Nobel prize winning poet.

Plaza del Armas
No boring art in Valparaiso More wall art
Yet another painted wall
And even more street art
Birdy
Antique elevator Remains of a building destroyed by a gas explosion
Riders jump through this at the end of this video of downhill mountain bike racing Arty stairs
El Pollo al Trebadore
Tiene Problemas (you have problems?)
Typical Valparaiso buildings
Clever Valparaisians Musical staircase

Simon and Ang rapidly made their way up the maze of streets, soon locating the stalls outside of the open air museum. As they raced towards the entrance, they met up with Peter and Zoe, who they had previously last seen during the Antarctic leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race. The teams caught up on the challenges they had completed since they last met and raced into the grounds of Pablo’s house.

Colourful Valparaiso
Reproduction of a masterpeice
Pablo’s house Huge billboard sized art
Yep, ’bout sums it up

Both teams were given their next clue. Simon and Ang were directed to make their way as rapidly as possible to the town of Mendoza Argentina. Simon and Ang were excited, said goodbye to Peter and Zoe and raced as quickly as they could back to their accommodation. They checked the bus times and determined that they would not be able to get on daily international bus until 10am the following morning.

Valparaiso harbour and antique elevator on right
Another Valparaiso harbour panorama
Rabbit teeth!

So they decided to head back to Santiago to see if they could get an earlier bus. They checked out of their Valparaiso accommodation, rode the elevator down the hill and raced to the main bus station. They jumped in the first bus to Santiago. Arriving there a short while later, they found they would indeed have to wait until tomorrow to get back to Argentina. So they bought tickets for the following day’s bus ride and raced back to Plaza Del Armas where they checked into a hostel for the night.

Santiago’s Plaza de Armas from the hostel room

That evening they checked out the suburb of Lastarria for a late 11pm dinner, before returning to the hostel to rest.

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 4: Los Cuernos to Puerto Natales

After a windy, but restful night, the team once again made breakfast and packed camp.  They set off early as they hoped to make their way all the through to high Torres camp.  There they would spend their final night and attempt to see the sunrise on the Torres the following morning, the final element of the Torres Del Paine challenge.

Simon tucking into the remaining snacks

Owing to the damage to Ang’s feet from her undersized shoes, her pace in Simon’s ‘hand me down shoes’ given to him by Stefan (the solo member of Team Germany, last seen in Ushuaia and previously the Sans Blas leg, was slow. Simon’s pace was also limited as his feet did not like Ang’s smaller shoes as well.

Despite their slower pace, and Ang changing into her thongs for the last hour of the walk, the team was able to make their way to the short cut and begin the ascent to the high Torres camp.  They arrived before the other Exclusive race teams from the circuit and set up camp.  Then it was another 45 minute climb to the summit mirador for a view of the famous Torres. The afternoon was spent looking at the spectacular view and taking photos before they returned back to the campsite to eat and sleep.

Torres Del Paine watching in the afternoon (points for spotting Ang) Ang gazes at the towers
Looking towards the park entry Final night’s campsite

Excited and freezing (Simon only had a +5 degree sleeping bag) they tried to sleep.  Hand warmers were cracked in an attempt to get warm. Eventually they gave up and decided to get up and commence the final walk up to see the sun come up on the towers.

About 40 minutes later they arrived and were treated to a spectacular golden hour. There they watched the towers and took plenty of photos and tried to stay warm. With the sun fully up, they returned back to the campsite, broke camp and shouldered their packs for the walk back to the starting point to complete the circuit.

Dawn light, Torres Del Paine style The team keeps warm and watches the light change
Simon impersonates a cat burglar with a manly beard

Arriving back at the main lodge, the team received their next clue. With the completion of the full Torres Del Paine circuit, they were to make their way back to the Singing Lamb hostel in Puerto Natales, the pit stop for this leg of the race.  Excited, the team celebrated by drinking some wine that a friendly pair of impressed holidaying day walking tourists bought for them while they waited for the shuttle bus out of the park.

Simon and Ang both give the circuit the thumbs up and seconds later received their next clue

On the return bus ride, Ang expressed how she really enjoyed the whole hike, despite her shoe pain.  Simon was amazed at the tenacity of Ang, and agreed, it was a spectacular walk. They covered over 100km in six days according to this vaguely accurate map to complete the challenge. They chatted with Team Wales and another Team America as they made their way back to Natales.

Soon they arrived into the pretty township and raced back to the hostel dropping off hired gear on the way.  Once again, they were the first to arrive, winning this leg of the race.

Busy Puerto Natales
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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 2: Rio De Janiero and Carnival

Simon and Ang enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep but woke early.  Choosing to make an omelette, the team quickly realised that despite this being a tasty choice for breakfast, it was not the quickest thing to make when a new leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race was about to commence.

Food was scoffed and the team raced out of their accommodation with their first clue in hand.  They were to make their way to Rio De Janiero, but due to their breakfast choice, they had less than 30 minutes to travel across Sáo Paulo to make the first bus to Rio. They shot into the subway station, boarded the first train to arrive, and joined the commuter rush across town.  With nerves high and 15 stations to pass including one change, they arrived at Terminal Rodoviário Tietê , where they ran as fast as their legs could go through the crowds and straight onto the waiting bus which left within one minute of the team boarding.

The ride to Rio was relatively uneventful.  The team enjoyed the scenery and soon their bus arrived at the outskirts of Rio.  Both Simon and Ang were excited, but also apprehensive as they were aware of Rio’s reputation as being a dangerous, yet cinematically beautiful. Their bus made its way through traffic and arrived at the main bus terminal. Because Carnival was soon to happen, the area around the station was alive with people and jam packed with buses.  The team caught glimpses of the nearby Samba school warehouses and their enormous floats and started to get excited for the challenges ahead.  Getting off the bus, the team made their way to the information stand where they received their next clue.

They were to make their way to the favela babilônia where they would check into the Chill Hostel.  Deciding that the line for the taxi was too long, the team jumped on a bus heading to Copacabana and Leme.  Once there, they walked through the pleasant beachside streets and headed up into the favela.

Regular sight in Rio

Check in formalities were completed rapidly and the team received their next clue to find a local Copacabana Bloco.  A bloco is a street party that occurs during Carnival.  Revellers arrive at a meeting point and typically follow a large truck that has singers, dancers and serious amplification.  With this clue received, the team raced out of the hostel, past the drunk hostel manager who fell into the entrance door and to the ground and made their way down to Leme and into Copacabana.  Finding a quiet bloco truck, they worked out that they had some time to wait until the bloco would actually start, so they checked out the crowded beach and surrounding streets.  Later, after dinner, they made their way to the bloco starting point.  There they joined the party and after dancing for the required time, were given their next clue.  They were to meet up with some of the other Exclusive Race teams they had last seen on the Inca trail leg of the race the next night in Ipanema. There they were to complete the party like it’s Carnival challenge at the Ipanema bloco. The team raced back to their accommodation and on advice of the police officer permanently stationed at the entry to the favela, took motorcycle taxis up the long winding road.

Copacabana bloco

The next day, the team went to Leme beach and relaxed.  They knew they would not need to travel to Ipanema until later that afternoon, so strategically decided to chill.  Simon and Ang enjoyed the beach, but thought the water was surprisingly cold for a place so tropical.  Relaxed and ready to party, the team returned to their favela, changed, then headed to the nearby bus stop.

Leme beach

Soon they were in ipanema and amongst hundreds of thousands of Carnival revellers.  They raced to the designated meeting point, the number eight life guard tower, and were soon meet by the other Exclusive Race teams from the Peru leg.  These teams included those from France, Ireland, England and Australia.  As this challenge required all teams to party hard, everyone did just that.

Ipanema beach at sunset Ang with members of Teams Brazil (partially nude) and team Ireland
Welcome to the carnival!

They were also tasked with finding the actual Ipanema bloco.  This involved making their way through the huge crowds down streets packed with people, and some of which were surprisingly happy.  Simon said later, “it was just like going to schoolies where ten years worth of people all finish high school at once”, to which Ang added, “but with lots more guys kissing guys”.

With all teams unable to locate the Ipanema bloco, they were forced to take a one hour time penalty.  All teams took advantage of this time to drink more caipirinhas.  With the penalty completed, the teams were given their next challenge and were directed to make their way to the maze of streets around Lapa.

Some of the action in the streets

A short collectivo ride later saw them in the centre of a huge crowd.  More caipirinhas were consumed.  Simon said later that “at this point, things become a little hazy for me.  There was such a strong party atmosphere that I probably tried to complete the party challenge a little too enthusiastically”.  Ang added that “Simon was pretty much out of control. Lucky I was able to get us on a collectivo and back to our favela hostel in the morning without any trouble, once we had been told we had passed the party hard challenge”.

Caaaaipirinhas! in Lapa

The next afternoon, Simon and Ang woke and headed to the beach to wait until they were given their next clue.  Soon a beach vendor provided them with the challenge.  They were to return to Ipanema and party hard some more.

Whilst tamer than the previous night, this involved drinking yet more caipirinhas.  The team was given an ‘Antarctica’ band hat to keep safe. They were then directed to party on the beach.  There they stayed and listened to the terrible beach DJ that suffered from ADHD until the rapid changes (no mixing at all) of the music drove them back to their favela hostel.  This time Simon and Ang were able to take motorcycle taxis up and were given their next clue upon arrival.

Teams completing the Glittery Carnival Ladies challenge Team Australia is ready to roam the streets

After another days sleep they continued the routine afternoon laze on the beach, where the team was given their next task. They would be required to attend a samba parade at the Sambadrome.  This huge km long street stadium complex is the site where tens of samba schools duke it out to be crowned the best samba school of carnival. Each spends millions of dollars on creating the most outlandish floats for a parade performance that lasts ninety minutes.  Simon and Ang were tasked with watching four performances.

A guy selling his balls on the beach One of the many beach bands

Racing to the Sambadrome, the team arrived early at 7.30pm to secure good spots on the benches.  After an hour and a half, the popular bleachers were filled and the parades started.  What followed was four over the top performances involving hundreds of people, tens of floats and the same beats played over and over again for ninety minutes during that schools parade.

Sambadrome float Mermaids did samba?
Velo samba Giant inflatable samba girl
Sambadrome panorama
The team at the Sambadrome

The performances were back to back, and after a marathon seven and a half hours of watching and waiting time, the team observed the Samba in Space (including giant Martian rover samba float) themed performance and finally completed the challenge.

With this task completed, the team were given their next clue and set about the marathon journey back to their favela.  Simon said of the Sambadrome challenge that “it was perhaps one of the more ridiculous things I’ve seen.  Each samba school went over the top, but the crowd loved every minute.  The Brazilians really get passionate about samba”. Ang enjoyed the experience however was disappointed at the huge amount of waste and said “they just piled the costumes high after each parade and then men just filled up rubbish trucks headed straight to land fill!”. This night marked the end of the formal Carnival period.

The hostel lounge each morning during carnival…. less beds than people

Waking later that afternoon, the team as usual went to the beach until sunset approached when they were handed their next clue. Their task was to travel to Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) and watch the sun set.  Ang in particular enjoyed the awesome view, but regretted not bringing cheese and wine to enjoy. With this task completed, the team was then given the challenge to travel up to the base of the big giant Jesus.

The best place for wine and cheese
Sugarloaf mountain dusk panorama

For their final full day in Rio, Simon and Ang were first climbed to the summit of the big giant Jesus hill. They took the funicular up and then marvelled at the slightly hilarious sight of a heap of people taking funny perspective photos involving the big JC. With this challenge completed it was back down the funicular, then straight to the Escadaria Selaró, a crazy mosaic set of steps all done by a forgotten mad Mario Brother, Selaró. After a challenge which required the team to locate and photograph the kangaroo tile, the team were given their final task for the Rio leg. They were to enjoy one last afternoon laze on the lovely Leme/Copacabana beach they had become so accustom too enjoying.

Giant Jesus! Ang holding Big JC’s hand
Panorama from Christ the Redeemer hill
Ang racing to the top of Escadaria Selarón The Kangaroo tile on Escadaria Selaró
Mad Selaró himself

With this challenge completed, the team finished the Rio leg in style and checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race, their favela hostel. Celebrating this victory, the team ate a delicious typical “by weight meal” at a nearby Brazilian restaurant.

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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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