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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Norway 2: Bergen, Seafood Capital of Viking Land

During the rest period, Ang and Simon relaxed and enjoyed the cold humid weather by going into the centre of town and for walks around Paradis.

Gamlehaugen, the Norwegian royal family’s residence in Bergen Quite the statement
Fantoft Stave Church (rebuilt after a fire in 1992 started by black metalers) Note the fence and camera to keep an eye out for metal mayhem
Bryggen in all their glory
View towards ferry dock

After a relaxing and enjoyable rest period, including a great salmon dinner with Ang’s support family, Gunnar and Cecilie, Ang and Simon readied themselves for the challenges of the leg ahead. They were handed their next clue at breakfast by the lovely Chilean cleaners who work for Ang’s host family. Both Simon and Ang were able to converse in Spanish, an oddly unexpected thing to be doing in Norway. Their first challenge for the Bergen’s leg of the race was to travel to Urkien for the Over Vidden walk, a spectacular hike high above Bergen town. Simon and Ang were kindly given a lift by the cleaners to the chairlift.

The ride up to the top of the mountain was fun. The team burst out of the lift and commenced walking. They made their way through snow covered high peaks and past more waterproof Norweigns. The team took many photos and enjoyed the length of the walk before they began to descend towards Fløyen, the end of the Over Vidden walk.

Bergen from Mt Ulriken
Over vidden
Chilly vidden trail
Lake on the vidden trail
Snow on the Vidden
Comm tower and old world war 2 bunker Old world war 2 viaduct
Even more spectular Vidden

Arriving at the visitors centre, the team were told that they needed to make their way back town to the Bergen waterfront to the offices of the Brygen Preservation Society, where they would receive their next clue. After briefly enjoying the view, the team jumped into the funicular and rode down the hill. At the base they raced along the waterfront and ran into the old trading buildings.

Looking down at Bergen from Mt Fløyen
Looking down on the historic harbour
The racers pose for a Bergen promotional shot Performance art or a wedding?
Ang enjoying Bergen street art Ang!
Downtown Bergen Delicious Groovy?

Once there, the team was greeted by Mamma, and were each given a Jorgen costume to try on for the 17 May celebrations. With the fitting completed, they thanked Mamma and raced back to Ang’s host family’s house. On the way back, Ang, who had previously lived in Norway was thrilled. She explained to Simon what the day represented for Norway. Simon was suitably excited.

Bergen waterfront
Bryggen passageway Historic walkways
Weatherboard constructions

The next day was spent enjoying the great company, relaxing and eating delicious seafood.

Syttende Mai (17 May) is the Norwegian national day, which celebrates the birth of modern Norway in 1814 wtih the signing of the Norwegian constitution. Simon and Ang woke, and dressed. Ang told Simon that it was important to say Gratulerer Med Dagen (literally Congratulations on this Day) to everyone, which Simon tried as best he could. Ang’s host family looked fantastic in their costumes – suits for the guys and bunads for the girls. These intricate costumes are custom made and represent different regions. Once everyone was ready they all piled into cars and headed off.

The first stop for the day was a family friend’s place. There they all enjoyed a delicious brunch. After the meal, the team along with Mamma quickly changed into their costume and raced into town. They ran to the Brygen, where they sorted out last minute costume details and props and joined the assembled Brygena Preservation Friends, ready to march in the parade. Ang was appointed a drunken Jorgen. Simon was tasked with carrying Torsk fisk, a really stinky dried cod on a big pole with a friendly quiet Norwegian guy.

Ang’s wonderful host family in their splendid national costumes Syttende Mai breakfast
Preparing to take part in the parade

With everything organised, the drummers started and the team marched out of the Brygen and onto the street along the waterfront.

Initially there wasn’t much happening, a few people took photos and the marchers smiled and waved. It soon became clear that it was still early, and that they were marching towards the main square. Arriving there they were marshalled into their appointed spot and waited. Soon they were joined by thousands of other Norwegians organised into community groups and societies in varying costumes that would take part in the parade.

Gents waiting to be released to parade on their velos Friends of Bryggen association’s waiting to march
The racers pose for a promotional photo The group’s drummers
More velos

At the appointed time, the Brygen Preservation Society were released from holding by the officials and they set off. The previously empty streets were lined with an estimated 150,000 spectators turning out despite the light rain (Simon believes Norwegians are inherently waterproof) along the 4km parade route. Simon stumped people by not being able to speak Norwegian, responding to their next question as to why are Australians marching in the parade with that they are in a race and this is an amazing challenge to complete. The team also hammed it up by Simon holding his nose due to the stinky dried Torsk fisk and for Ang fake chugging from the over sized booze mug (both actions perfectly in character).

They walked back past the Brygen, turned and headed back along the parade route waving to the huge crowds. It was then they met the other paraders coming in the opposite direction. Simon noticed a cheeky Australian flag hanging out of the window of an apartment along the route. He decided to mess with their minds by mouthing the words “Aussie Aussie Aussie”, which drew points and exclamation from the Australian balcony spectators. The crowds loved the Torsk fisk, with hundreds pointing and laughing at the hanging stinky fish. Simon and Ang walked and played off the crowd, bringing their characters to life.

Ladies laughing in the parade Stinky fish frame spectators in their national costume
Happy Norwiegans wave to the parade Sneaky Australian ex-pats get in on the festivities

The steady stream of parade groups walking past the team seem to have no end. There seemed to be no end to the variety of groups walking in the left lane (such as the Buekorps https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buekorps). The scale of the celebrations was impressive.

Ang gets stuck into the good stuff Ang plays the cheery role well (photo Gunar)
Simon carries torskefiske proudly (photo Gunar)

Sadly, the drummers leading the group rounded the final corner and walked towards a Viking ship on the shores of a lake, the finish of their parade. The team joined together and along with Mamma, were met by Papa. He handed them their final clue.

Paul, Ang, Simon and Ragnhild pose seconds before the final clue is given Tasty Norwegian canapes
Gunnar and Cecilie enjoying the day

After 290 days of racing, they had reached the end. They were to make their way back to Brisbane! Their first flight of several would leave early the next morning.

The team headed back to Mamma and Papa’s house and spent the rest of the day and evening with Ang’s wonderful host family (Simon of course made celebration ice cream).

In a brief interview at the house, Simon and Ang were sad how their time in Bergen was so wonderful and far too short. They both were really grateful for the hospitality and the ability to spend their last leg staying with such fantastic folk. Simon and Ang both said “a big heartfelt thanks for having us stay”.

The team went to bed happy and content. Tomorrow would be Friday 18 May 2012, day 291 of the Amazing Exclusive Race.

… to be continued

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Norway 1: Oslo, Capital of Viking Land

As the first team to arrive at 12pm, Team Australia were the first team to depart at 8 am. Simon and Ang read their clue and set out. Their first task was to relocate accommodation to Nini’s place. Once there to off load backpacks, they were given their next clue. They were to return to the centre of Oslo and visit the Slottsparken. With Ang’s helpful understanding of Norwegian, she worked out quickly that this was the Royal Palace park.

Prawns by the freezer load! Pretending to be a seal

Racing on the train back into the town, the team observed the Norwegian city folk going about their business. For Ang this was a little different (she had previously lived in Norway over 15 years ago and a lot had changed). For Simon, as this was the first visit, he noticed the obviously progressive nature of the society and the large number of Russ wondering about. With the journey into town complete, the team made their way quickly to the Slotteparken.

Soldiers in lush Oslo
Royal palace panorama

Running through the pretty park, they headed straight up to the palace building. There they noted the complete lack of fences around the front part of the building, allowing anyone to walk within metres of the wall. They took some photos of the guards and were given their next clue (after a guard raced over to make sure that what they were doing wasn’t for commercial purposes). Their next clue required them to watch a tattoo. Initially thinking they would need to find a parlour, the team remembered that they had seen posters for a military tattoo that would be passing through the central business district on the waterfront that afternoon. So they raced back into the nearby centre of town.

When your normal bank is unavailable, make sure you have an account with these guys

Arriving soon after on the parade route, the team knew they were there just in time, but there was no military tattoo. Ang ran over and asked a roadie who was packing up speakers what the deal was. He told them that on account of so much continual rain the parade had been cancelled. He gave the team their alternative challenge. They were to complete a tour of Akershus Slott. Once again, Ang’s knowledge of Norwegian was invaluable and they set off to the nearby historic castle that protected the town of Oslo from invaders during much of its history.

Akershus Festning panorama
Tulips in front of a castle Arty tulips

They raced around the castle and then were given their next challenge. They were to visit two museums, the Mueseet for Samtidskunst (museum of contemporary art) and the Arkitekturmuseet  (architecture museum). The team raced around these two buildings, checked out the exhibits then received their next challenge. They were to relocate in the morning back to the Cochs. So with no further challenges that evening they returned to Nini’s house where they spent the rest of the evening hanging with Nini, George and Marie over a delicious meal catching up.

Museum of contemporary art hair
Suburban Oslo’s olympic ski jump Biggest cinema in all of the land
Electric car and one of the many charging stations

Waking early, the team raced back into town. Once there they checked into their accommodation and were given their next clue by a cool Norwegian guy who had shoes that had Viking wings. The team quickly read the clue and found that they were to find the Vigelands Sculpture park in the Frogner parken and take some photos.

Parkveien / Riksveg viewed from Cochs Pensjonat

Ang had a bit of a chuckle at this point. She had been there years before and remembered what the sculptures were of. Simon had not so he was in the dark until they eventually found the sculptures after randomly watching some NFL. This again confirmed the progressive nature of Norwegian society. Once they had taken the requisite photos the team were given their next challenges. They were to visit Momo (Ang’s host grandmother) and they were also to complete a viewer task they had received from the Geocacher they had met in Edinburgh to ‘kiss a Viking’.

Gridion, Norweigan style Goooooo Vikings!
Vigeland sculpture park

Racing out of the park the team followed the course of a fun run and were stopped by a Norwegian Amazing Exclusive Race team. The other team asked Simon and Ang as members of the public if they would mind posing for a photo with them showing the clue envelope to allow them to complete a challenge. Team Australia was happy and both teams had a laugh posing with their respective envelopes. Wishing the other team good luck, Simon and Ang ran on.

Bunch of Norweigan dudes on their own exclusive race pose with Ang

Following the fun run route into town, the team ran into a flower shop and bought some flowers for Momo. They then continued into town looking for a Viking. Suddenly Simon had a brain wave. The clue did not say the Viking had to have a beard and a helmet with horns, and remembering the earlier dude with the viking wing shoes, led Ang into a shoe store. Inside they found the Norwegian Viking brand of shoes. Simon completed the kissing task by kissing the shoe.

Majorstuen street scape

Out of the store they raced and onto public transport. They headed over to Marie’s work, Marie drove the team to Momo’s place where they had tea, picklets. Angela was over joyed to see Momo again. Simon just smiled and had his conversation translated by Ang.

Momo gets in on a promo shot

With these tasks complete, the team were given their final task. They were to meet Louis and go for a walk. Away from Momo’s house Marie drove the team back to her place. There they went inside and met the big guy himself, a brindle staffy called Louis. Simon mused that the dog spoke Norwegian only so there was some communication difficulties, but otherwise was a typical awesome staffy. So Simon, Ang and Marie walked around the neighbourhood and were given their final task. They were to leave Oslo the next morning to the western city of Bergen, travelling via Marie’s car at 10am the next day to the pitstop for this leg of the race.

Lewis, a friendly Norweigan staffy Oslo twilight

To celebrate completing all tasks, the team had dinner at a good pizza place (waited on by a ‘party Swede’) then went to a nearby bar where Marie’s boyfriend Erik worked. Simon and Ang enjoyed the fun evening immensely before heading back to their accommodation in the early hours of the morning.

Datarock plays at their local

Up some hours later the team checked out and returned to Marie’s place. They all jumped in the car, waving goodbye to Louis and Erik and drove out of Oslo.

Heading west they drove into the mountains and stopped at a small ski village before continuing over the high pass through the snow. Down mountains they drove through Vos and across fjords. The party of three didn’t stop talking the whole way and before they new it arrived at their destination Bergen at Ragnhild and Paul’s (aka Mama and Papa – Ang’s host family) house, the pitstop for this leg of the race.

Somewhere on the Riksvei 7
Thanks google for the cheesy snow Waterfalls to the fjords
Classic Fjord
Waiting for a boat

Once again they were the first team to arrive. Simon and Ang celebrated with family and enjoyed their wonderful welcoming company.

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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 9 – Buenos Aires Porteño Party

Previously on the Amazing exclusive race, one team of two raced to the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires. After completing several tasks around the a city that could be the New York of Latin America, they returned to their hostel for a brief rest.

Up early, at 11 am, the team headed out and raced to a huge shopping center in the sprawl of BA. They ran around multistory mall, finding two other McDonald’s before they located their challenge location. Fearing they would be required to sample some of the food (both Simon and Ang had gone years without eating any McDonald’s), the team was relieved when they read that they were to make their way to the historic suburb of La Boca. Simon and Ang mused as to the novelty of the kosher McDonald’s as they bounded down the escalators and out into the street. They were on a bus soon after and were racing to through the streets of BA.

Argentine dog with stick
Palermo panorama
Kosher McDonald’s? Yep, in BA Obelisk

Changing in central BA, the team boarded a second bus to La Boca. La Boca is a famous working class neighborhood home to the Boca Juniors. The team’s task was to find Caminito and take some photos of the colourful buildings along the street.

La Boca Caminito (or calle turística) The racers pause for a moment to enjoy the local colour

After arriving they quickly made their way around the streets. Simon and Ang both thought the houses reminded them of Valparaiso except the terrain was flatter. Having completed the La Boca challenge, the team was directed back to the hostel. Simon and Ang decided that since they were so near to the home of the Boca Juniors, they would go and have a look at the Stadium, La Bombonera. They had a look at the stadium and all of the blue and yellow merchandise, before walking back to the bus stop, noticing the shutters and roller doors on all the houses that lined the nearby streets.

La puerto del Boca panorámica
Caminito, La Boca
Caminito panorama
Caminito vendors
Torre Monumental (formally English clock tower) Mas Helados – dos para uno todos las lunes

On the way back to the hostel, the team stopped off at Puerto Madero to walk along the waterfront and checked out the pink house, Argentina’s presidential palace. They then rode the subway the remaining distance back to the hostel. Arriving back on the red roof they were given their next challenge. They were given tickets to attend a Boca Junior game the next evening!

As they had some time to kill, they extended their stay at the hostel, then set out to meet up with Chris and Rita from team America for dinner and a modern tango show. The event was highly entertaining and after they had the mandatory helados, the team returned to their hostel for the night.

Homeless, but has a TV?
Modern tango Not a computer
Palermo Skyline

Waking the next morning, and with no great urgency, the team walked about Palermo and the local parks watching people slack line and enjoy the great weather. As the afternoon approached, the team left the hostel for the journey across the city back to La Boca and La Bombonera for the friendly Boca Junior versus Venezuela soccer match.

Palermo rose garden BA slackliners
The good flavour…Not sure if they served croc Tastey beef
Funky BA cafe BA street art
Bakery The bread… 20 pesos. Sexy eyes… free
Que rico postres! Yellow car

Thinking they would have plenty of time since the game didn’t start until 8pm, they change from the subway and waited for a bus with a bunch of Boca fans. Simon and Ang had no luck getting on board a bus, as they were either completely full of singing Boca fans or the drivers didn’t seem to want to pick up the crowd gathered at the stop. After waiting for thirty minutes, Simon and Ang decided to catch another bus that was going roughly in the right direction (along with some other fans), and then walked the remaining kilometers to the ground.

As they walked, they were joined by hundreds of mad Boca fans streaming in the direction of the ground. Many were signing various club songs, and their pace of walking quickened as it neared 6.30, an hour before game time. Simon and Ang also quicken their pace, not wanting to be left behind. They were soon at the southern end of the game and after asking a local for directions (“disculpa, donde es puerta ocho?”), they arrived at their gate. They made their way through the police check points and discarded their water (Bocas games are notorious for people throwing urine at other fans), reaching their section (no seats) just in time for kick off. Ang and Simon jumped and sang along with what they both agreed was the most energetic passionate crowd they had ever been part of. Ever. For the record, Junior won, two nil.

Gooooooooooooooooool! Post match celebrations complete with riot police entertainment

With the game over, the team was directed to return to the hostel, but had to wait out the mandatory thirty minute holding period to allow Venezuelan fans a chance to escape. They then joined the singing throngs making their way back into the center of the city. They walked the entire distance to el Centro where they then jumped on a subway back to the hostel. As it was a little after midnight by this stage, and the team was hungry, they detoured into the heart of Palermo for some more asado, this time at the delightful Don Julio. Despite being seated at 12.30am, the restaurant was still filling up with many arriving after the team ate for their evening meal.

Both Simon and Ang decided that this was the life as they ate their steak and toasted malbec. Stomachs full and with Boca club songs still ringing in their ears, they made their way back to the hostel roof. On the way through reception they extended their stay once again (the receptionist just laughed). Once on the roof they were given their final BA challenge, this would be to check a range of cultural attractions.

The next day they visited the galleries of Eduardo Savior and Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba), checked out the Opera Pampa, raced into the city heart to visit El Ateneo, before racing on to La Cabera for some delicious paradilla meals along with teams from America. Their last stop for the night was the funky bar Magderlina’s Party. With these challenges complete, the team raced back to the roof of their hostel, the pitstop for this leg of the Race. Simon and Ang were once again the first to arrive.

Giant round about statue Organic seat in the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires
The racers stop for a refreshment in a 1950s inspired American diner cafe Palmero Funky light fixture
Ang drinking a ridiculous coffee
The world’s second most beautiful book shop El Ateneo
Palermo street nightscape Last to leave the restaurant

As both Simon and Ang had thoroughly enjoyed BA, they requested an extended rest period. The hostel reception staff were able to extend their stay, so the team could live the Porteño lifestyle a little longer.

By far the best helados ever – Cremolatti Classic out front of Don Jesus
Cool organic cafe Yet another classic
Metal school bus
BA blue sky Asado de bife – note the hand for comparison purposes
Just when you thought you’d left South America – shrine to Difunta Correa … and the ubiquitous party train

In a post race interview, both Simon and Ang were impressed with Buenos Aires. Simon called it the ‘Latin American New York’ and Ang said ‘it was downright awesome’!

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Argentina 8: Don’t Cry For Me, Buenos Aires

Despite having just arrived at the pit stop, the team was only given a one hour rest before they climbed to the red roof of the hostel. There they received their first clue for the Buenos Aires leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race.

Their first task was to make their way to the suburb of Recoleta.  After a short bus ride they arrived. Ang was given the task to visit all the market stalls and purchase a ‘special item’. Not knowing what this item was, Ang set off to find it. Simon took advantage of this time to sleep on a patch of comfortable grass in the middle of the park, resting for the challenges ahead.

Ang soon located the special item, a ballerina doll. With this item purchased, the team was given their next clue and they raced into the Recoleta cemetery to locate the grave site of Juan Felix Levie and find out what he was. Their only clue as to the location of this mausoleum was that it was near the grave of Eva Peron.

In their haste to find Juan, the team unfortunately missed the helpful map near the entry and set off in the wrong direction. While this cost them time, it allowed them to see much of the amazing monuments to the dead around the cemetery as they raced up and down the streets of the necropolis. Eventually they stumbled across the crowds beside Evita’s grave and they found Juan’s tomb nearby. Reading the inscription they determined his former occupation was a doctor.

Recoleta Another tomb
Don’t cry for me Evita!

Back to the hostel they raced as evening fell. Once there and on top of the roof, they handed over the ballerina doll and advised of the occupation, they received their next clue. They were to head to the San Telmo markets and eat a choripán. The markets were only open the next morning, so the team decided they would take advantage of this rest time to go to a nearby fantastic eatery called Social Paraiso. There they had a delicious meal in typical late evening (11pm) BA style before heading back to their hostel and bed.

Subte panorama
Subte platform

Waking in the mid morning, the team made their way over to the San Telmo area. There they walked through the long crowded market street, searching the stalls looking for one Choripan store in particular, “El Rey De Choripan”. Soon their noses led them to the delicious smells of sausages being barbequed. Ang opted to complete this challenge with Simon not able to eat gluten. She tucked into a delicious Chorizo sausage in bread and listened to the throaty singer sing throaty Argentine ballads. Ang scoffed, and once the judges were satisfied that the Choripan had been completely eaten, the team was directed to return to the hostel to receive their next clue. On the way back, Simon stopped in for a quick Argentine-Indian meal followed by some amazing helados.

Evita on a building Ang checking out some antiques
Antique matchboxes Library Tank
Tango next to the tank Jolly fat pasta dude
Is that Moby?
Old port crane
Tango 1 Tango 2 Tango 3
Ship panorama
Argentina’s pink house

Back at the hostel, the team were given their next clue. This challenge had been provided by Chris, previously seen during the Mendoza legs, and required the team to locate the only Kosher McDonalds outside of Israel. Once again, as it was late in the day, and hours of operation were limited for the McDonalds challenge so the team decided to wait until morning. They headed out once again into the heart of Palermo and found a delicious asado restaurant for another late night (11.30pm) meaty malbec fueled dinner.

Palermo pengiunl

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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