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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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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Bolivia 2: La Paz and the World’s Most Dangerous Road

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two travelled to the Bolivian town of Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titiaca.  There they visited the Isla Del Sol where they received their next clue to travel to La Paz and soon after were on a bus bound for the high altitude city.

The bus ride climbed up away from Copacabana and soon arrived in the estrecho de tiquana (Tiquana Strait), a body of water that needed to be crossed to avoid having to re-enter Peru.  There they disembarked and the bus drove on to a waiting ferry.  Simon and Ang boarded a launch and followed the bus across the straight over to the other side.  The remainder of the bus journey passed without incident and the team soon found themselves in La Paz.

The ‘road’ to La Paz from Copacabana

After checking into accommodation next to the witches’ market, they received their next clue.  They were now required to ride the World’s Most Dangerous Road (WMDR) on downhill mountain bikes.  The vehicle of choice for this extreme event was two dual suspension disc brake down hilling monsters, full face helmets, thick jackets and pants, elbow and shin pads.  After this equipment was chosen, the team returned to their accommodation for the night.

The place for your dead llama fetus shopping needs (they “bring good luck to a new home”) Busy streets of La Paz
Jolly Bolivian guy who gives you real stuff if you give him miniature versions of what you want Ang inside some closter grounds
Bolivian guards being guarded by MPs Standard South American shoe shining
Rooster! ‘Splendid’  ice cream
Typical Bolivian bread street stalls
Panorama of the La Paz city skyline

Leaving early they, along with other exclusive race teams from Australia, Holland and Mexico, raced out of La Paz and to the start of the downhill course.  After a quick safety briefing, they set off on the asphalt road.  Hitting speeds of up to 90km, the team quickly completed the first stage of this challenge, the new road that had been built to replace the original WMDR.

The team is kitted out Ang is ready for some extreme downhilling
Simon’s might steed The downhilling racers stop for a moment to admire the view (Simon and Ang on right)
Ang hits 80km/h Simon breaks a personal MTB speed record
Ang hits 90km/h Cloudy moutains on the warm up section

After some snacks, the team again hit the road, which now had turned into the original dirt WMDR.  Flying down the bumpy and highly rocky road, around blind corners and over small jumps, both Simon and Ang, along with the other teams were able to pass many other riders.  Eventually after 40km of extremeness, they arrived at the base of the hill.  Simon was able to place third and Ang almost crashed on one corner, but high fives and other extreme hand gestures were given all around.  Top recorded speed on this dirt downhill stretch was 50km per hour.

The racers pause for a photo before the dirt road starts The old world’s most dangerous road
A drop off into the clouds Ang scouts out the next stretch
Simon blasts through a waterfall The riders pause to illustrate the position of the road
One of the many crosses on the side of the road
Panorama of the world’s most dangerous road
Simon is really enjoying this challenge
The racers pause for a promotional shot Simon and Ang enjoy the view
Third across the finish line, Simon is congratulated by the lead guide

After a quick lunch, the team was taken back to La Paz where they checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race.

Simon celebrates the conculsion of this leg in style… with ice cream Heading back up the world’s most dangerous road back to La Paz
Sunset on the road back to La Paz
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Peru 2: The Inca Trek

Waking early, Simon and Ang went out into the street.  There, the team waited at the appointed pick up time for the Peru Treks bus to arrive.  No transport showed, so the team returned to the warmth of their hostel lobby, and had just sat down when a bus sped past their building.  This would later turn out to be their pick up.

Cuzco, early morning. Only the dogs and racers are awake

One hour went past without any bus arriving at their accommodation.  As per the instruction sheet, the team telephoned the Peru Treks office.  Rapid directions were given and the bus soon arrived.  Unusually for a tour that was typically solely for gringos, the team were spoken to in Spanish by the guide.  It would later be revealed that the office had put Ang and Simon’s nationality as Argentine, so the guide had naturally defaulted to the national language.  With these mix ups resolved, the team along with other teams from Australia, France, America, Ireland and the UK were driven up into the hills around Cuzco.

After three hours, the bus arrived at the Village of Ollyambanto, where an average breakfast was had before the bus continued off road to Km 82, the starting point for four day Inca treks.  Here last minute supplies were purchased and the group of 15 walkers, 15 porters and two guides set off.

The Amazing Exclusive Race teams pause for a photo at the start of the trail Porters getting their loads weighed

The walking initially was easy as the group got to know each other and the guide Caesar.  It was soon clear that Caesar’s extreme passion for all things Inca that this would be an enjoyable four days.  The group marvelled at the majesty of the countryside and walked their way up from Km82 to the small village of Wayllabamba twelve kilometres in the distance.

Ang with her fashionable walking poles

Arriving at the lunch stop, the team found out about the third office communication problem.  The trek staff had not been told about Simon’s dietary requirements, however surprisingly they quickly adapted.  Simon would later say “I was initially concerned because if you are walking for hours at a time you need a lot of food for energy.  Usually I have to go without on flights, buses, and often miss out on breakfasts.  But the Peru Trek cooking guys provided the best meals I’ve had yet in South America”.

Walking into Wayllabamba the team found their tent already set up and dinner near being served.  These three course meals were enjoyed and soon all teams went to sleep, to rest ahead of the next day, the hardest of the walk.

The racers’ tent

The group was woken by hot tea at the tent door.  Simon and Ang quickly readied themselves for the day ahead.  They would be climbing to the highest altitude of the trek, 4200m.  After a delicious breakfast, the group assembled for a coca ceremony.  Simon opted to not take part as the taste of the leaves was less than desirable.  Simon would complete the rest of the trek without coca assistance.  Ang completed the ceremony, but didn’t find the altitude a problem so didn’t try any more.  Others in the group seemed to almost be addicted to chewing the leaves, chewing many over the next three days.

With the ceremony completed, the group started walking up the long hill to Abra de Huarmihuañusca or Dead Woman’s Pass.  Soon one by one the porters raced by, with each carrying up to 25 kg on their backs.  Simon said at the time referring to the efforts of the porters that “they left us for dead.  Amazing”.  The altitude slowed Simon and Ang down and they enjoyed taking in the spectacular scenery, despite being in a race.

Inca trail stream On the way up to Dead Woman’s pass

Lunch was had in a meadow below the pass and it wasn’t long before the team finally reached the freezing top.  A couple of quick photographs were taken and then it was time to descend the wet slippery rock steps past waterfalls to the stunning second campsite of Pacamayo.  Oddly, the last and highest water sale point was the cheapest of all on way up the mountain to Dead Woman’s pass.  Other teams took advantage of this and also purchased some alcoholic beverages to celebrate summiting the pass.

The racers pause for a photo at the top of Dead Woman’s pass On the trail goes…
Another waterfall near the second night camp site

Once again a fantastic meal was had at the Pacamayo campsite and again the group was surprised at the high quality food being provided, including for a solo member of another team Australia, a birthday cake complete with piped “Happy Birthday” icing.  Rum was consumed in celebration, but owing to the increasing cold, the teams soon made their way to their tents.

Day three of the Inca Trek began similar to the first with Simon and Ang being woken and offered fresh hot tea at their tent door.  After quickly packing, and yet another delicious breakfast, the teams set off once again.  The passes for this day were lower than the previous, but there still was 15km to cover.

Packing a Peruvian backpack Note the pratical footware
Panorama showing the mountains above the campsite

Caesar enthusiastically explained each of the major run sites, detailing their significant and stressing the importance by saying things like “oh my god you guys have to know this.  This is amazing”.  He also liked to remind everyone that “you’re young, you’re on holidays. Why do you want to rush? Take your time and enjoy”. Simon and Ang liked the advice, and really enjoyed the trekking eah day. The walk continued through yet more spectacular scenery made even more so by the misty conditions.

The racers pause for a photo
Simon completes the Pachamama offering challenge Ang leaves her offering
An Inca outpost The dashing Caesar, points out a really interesting Inca artifact to the various Exclusive Race teams

As they reached the end of the day’s walk, after a three course lunch that included Alpaca, the weather closed in.  Not wanting to walk in order to keep warm, Simon and Ang raced down the famed “gringo killer” slippery and wet original Inca steps, past well preserved ruins before they walked into the valley next to Machu Picchu valley.

The racers are introduced to the porters in the meal tent
Ang kitted out in her patented rain protection ready to take on the gringo killer An Inca cave
The valley next to the valley with Machu Pichu in it

Views here were spectacular. The last hour of walking was savoured, with exception of one section where Simon tried to race a fully loaded porter down a section of the trail (and failed).  This mostly original trail descended from 4000m to a sedate 3000m culminating in a spectacular view of mountains and Inca terrace ruins.  After multiple group photos, the group walked the last twenty minutes into the camp of Wiñay Wayna.  There they found their tents once again erected at the last campsite for the trek.

The two guides just love taking group photos with everyone’s cameras Ang and Simon complete the jumping photo challenge
Inca trail orchid

That night, after dinner, the porters and cooks and guides were thanked and a token of appreciation was given.  Simon and Ang were so impressed with the quality of the food and their accommodation of Simon’s dietary requirements given the difficult circumstances (there are no supermarkets on the trail) that they provided a little extra privately to the cook and his assistant.  Then all teams went to sleep to prepare for the next day.

… To be continued.

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Peru 1: Cuzco

Waking, the team was given their first task and set out to explore the city of Cuzco. This former capital of the ancient Inca Empire is located at 3800m above sea level and is the major base for exploring the Sacred Valley. The Team’s tasks for this leg were to sample local restaurants, explore shops and markets for handicrafts and jugos, and to find an ethical Inca Trek company to book with to complete the major task for this leg of the race.

Plaza Del Armas Peruvian Segway for the win!

Unfortunately whilst completing the delicious alpaca steak challenge, Simon contracted a stomach bug.  This caused the team to be delayed 3 days whilst Simon recovered.  During this time Ang was able to find a suitable Inka Trail provider and used her charm to negotiate a good price on a last minute booking.

Once Simon had recovered, and prior to the start of their trek, the team managed to complete one small day trip challenge to the nearby Pueblo of Pisac.  They also witnessed and briefly took part in one of the many festivals that occur in Cuzco each year with a small dance performance.

Dancers as part of Corpus of San Cristobal celebrations Dancers shaking it on Don Bosco
Second wave included guys ‘suffering from yellow fever’ Then drunks
Finally there was weighty San Cristobal himself (carried by a bunch of dudes)
Valley of corn, Pisac Snakes on a drain!

Whilst Simon did not enjoy the time in bed with the stomach bug, it did give the team valuable time to acclimatise to the high altitude and see the best of Cuzco.  This would prove useful in the next phase of this leg of the race.

An Inca wall Two photograph my llama girls

With the Cuzco challenges completed, the team placed their luggage in storage at their hostel and slept, ready for the coming days’ exertions.

…To be continued.

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Galapagos 2: San Cristóbal to Santa Cruz

Waking early for New Year’s Day, the team raced to the dock.  On their way they ran past a variety of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno citizens who were still revelling at 10am.

Sea lions sleeping off New Year’s excess

Once at the dock they waited for the Eden boat representatives and the rest of the passengers to arrive from the airport.  Simon went in search of an open shop for breakfast, a hard challenge for the first day of the New Year.  After much searching of the town, he found some breakfast yoghurt and raced back to the dock.  On his return he had to run as the rest of the passengers for the cruise had arrived and were in the dingy waiting, ready to be shuttled to the boat.

Ang and Simon joined teams from Holland, Canada and the US.  There was also another Australian team on their own exclusive race to complete the 11 initial passengers.  Introductions were made once onboard the Eden.

After the safety briefing was completed and cabins assigned, the Eden motored to the nearby Lobos Island and commenced an amazing eight day tour of the Galapagos.  Once the boat had arrived and the passengers were briefed, the team went ashore.  They walked amongst the large sea lion colony, spied blue footed boobies, land and marine iguanas.  Returning to the boat, the team donned snorkelling gear and entered the water.  The fantastic array and sheer volume of marine life astounded Simon and Ang as they snorkelled.  They saw huge green turtles, rays, lots of fish and sea lions.

Blue footed boobie Awwww
More awwww Baby chases mum, for more boobie
Marine iguana poses for the photo Boobie on a rock
Ang gives the Galapagos the thumbs up Marine iguana sunbaking
Check out these blue footed boobie booties

With the first snorkelling challenge completed, they returned to the Eden then back to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.  Simon and Ang joined the other passengers that night ashore for a drink, and then later returned to the Eden.  Whilst they slept the boat weighed anchor and motored overnight to Santa Fe Island.

The second day of the cruise began early.  Simon and Ang awoke to find the Eden anchored alone in the Santa Fe anchorage.  After a quick breakfast everyone went ashore for a short walk through the vegetation.  On this walk the team saw a different species of land iguana, giant Galapagos tree cacti, birds and of course more sea lions.  At one point, the team engaged in a rather serious discussion with other teams about the classification of one type of Darwin’s finches, the medium finch (when does it become a large finch?).  After completing this walk the team returned to the Eden, changed into snorkelling gear and entered the water.

Galapagos giant cacti tree Baby sea lions with their babysitter and number one predator

Once in the water, Simon and Ang were again amazed at the huge variety and carpets of fish, massive green turtles and the playful sea lions returning from their morning fishing.  With this task complete, the team returned to the Eden and were soon motoring to their next destination, South Plazas Island.

Arriving between the South and North Plazas, the team once again boarded the two zodiacs and went ashore to South Plaza.  This island is roughly rectangular in shape and rises on the southern side to an impressive cliff.  The walking tour of this island commenced amongst sea lions and marine and land iguanas (again from different sub-species) and then climbed to the southern side of the island.  The walk up to the top of the cliff was through a forest of giant cactuses and a carpet of red plants that Ang commented “It looks just like coral”.

Sea lions have the longest whiskers of all lions
South Plaza landscape panorama
A panorama of the waters between North and South Plazas

Arriving at the top of the cliff, the team took in a David Attenborough-esk sight of thousands of birds, frigate birds and tropic birds wheeling and flying around in the high winds.  After taking in the scene with awe, the team followed their guide, Rubén, along the top of the cliff face, past the bachelor male sea lions and back down to the shore on the northern side of the island.  Walking along the highly polished stones from thousands of years of sea lion use, the team returned to the rocky pier and on to the Eden.  The Eden then cruised to Puerto Ayora where they stayed overnight.

Racers pause for a photo Land iguana waiting for a cacti flower fall to eat
Cacti flower South Plaza vegetation
Land iguana, almost a dinosaur
Tropic birds Ballet dancers of the sky
Name of bird unknown Frigate bird getting a free ride on the Eden

Waking early the next morning, Simon and Ang, along with the other Exclusive race teams, went ashore and walked to the Darwin Centre.   The purpose of this visit was to see the giant tortoise breeding program and to say hello to Lonesome George and his two concubines.  They walked around the hot grounds, visited George and said hello and greeted many other giant tortoises and land iguanas.

Lonesome George gorging himself Little baby giant tortoises
Smooth bill anis

After a brief lunch back on the Eden, the passengers were joined by another Team, this time from Switzerland.  They then all boarded a mini bus and made their way into the highlands of Santa Cruz.  Arriving at the private rancho, the team first walked into a lava tube and then around the grounds where they saw many giant free-range tortoises. Ang said “ they are absolutely huge! just incredible, like ancient wrinkly weathered half soccer balls with heads”

Racers behind a giant tortoise Ang sneaks up on an unsuspecting tortoise
Tortoise and the tree Tortoise gorging on grass during lunch

With this task completed, the team returned once again to the Eden for dinner, then walked around town and used the free Redgal wifi from the aft mid level deck.  Soon the Eden weighed anchor and set sail for Isla Isabela as the team slept.

Eden’s dinning room

….To be continued.

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Ecuador 2: Baños

Warning:  the following race report contains photography that may be distrubing to guinea pig fans.

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced from Quito, the capital of Ecuador to Baños, a pleasant mountain town in the Andes.  Travelling aboard a local intercity bus, the team arrived in Baños three hours after departure.

Roadside BBQ pig stop

Baños de aqua santa or the bath of the water saint, is a mountain town set in a spectacular location along a deep canyon and surrounded by high hills and a volcano.  Their first stop was to check into their fantastic Australian/Kiwi run hostel, Casa Verde.  After this was completed, they made their way into town to explore and prepare for the upcoming challenges.

Baños panorama

The first task for Baños was to zip line or canopy.  For this task, the team made their way to the zip line in the cloud forests a short drive out of Baños.  There they joined another American team to complete a zip line course that included one stretch of 500m zip line upside down.  Rather unusually, this challenge was completed during a volcanic eruption, so the team’s faces were covered with volcanic ash and sand as they zipped through the cloud forest.  Successfully completing this challenge, the team moved on to their next activity.

Extreme Ang on the zip line

For their next task, the team had dinner at a small cafe owned by a friendly Ecuadorian chef who had been trained in both New York and Paris.  The team worked their way through a fantastic meal and the best piña colada ever.  While they were eating, the team met a crowd of local volunteers and were invited to a variety of Christmas functions.   Once they had finished their meal, once again in first place, the team read the next clue which would require them to look for lava erupting from the nearby strato-volcano, Tungurahua.  This was accomplished with ease with the volcano erupting high in the night’s sky causing a line of red to be formed.

Street in Baños Roast Cuy (guinea pig) anyone?

Relocating to their next accommodation after a great homemade breakfast, including vegemite to Angela’s great delight and real enjoyment, the team received the next clue and headed off to the bike rental shop where they hired two bikes and set off on a 60km downhill ride from Baños to the town of Puyo.  The ride took Simon and Ang past a variety of waterfalls and spectacular miradors, however, they were unable to complete the full distance to Puyo town square.  Ang flagged down a Ecuadorian civil engineer who was commuting from work in a ute and he was nice enough to give the team a ride back to Baños.  Once there, Simon and Ang offered to pay the guy, but he refused.  The team returned the bikes and received their next challenges.

Ang chasing chickens on the downhill One of many Baños waterfalls

Simon and Ang attended a Christmas bonfire held at the Bibloteca volunteer centre.  The centre provides English lessons and encourages creativity with the children.  That evening, the team was allowed to contact family and friends back home.  They spent several hours on skype chatting and catching up with friends and family.  The next day, the team attended Christmas lunch.  This was a pot luck lunch and included macaroni and cheese, grilled meats and a variety of tasty salads.

Christmas day

Bellies full, the team returned to their accommodation and after a light dinner, slept off the day’s indulgences.

Christmas dinner

Relocating accommodation for a final time, the team moved into a hostel with a giant tortoise in the garden and two very friendly parrots, one who could say ‘hola’.  Simon completed the feed the parrots corn chips road block and the team received their next clue which required them to climb to the top of the Virgin Mirador, 200m above Baños’ 1820m altitude.  The climb proved to be surprisingly tough so once they team arrived at the top they snacked on corn chips and took in the view.  With this challenge completed, the team received the final task for Baños, to have a bath!

Feeding a bird Hostel roommates
Ang wants one as a pet
A panorama of Baños from the mirador
Racers pause for a photo overlooking Baños

For their bath in Baños, the team arrived at early at 6pm, right after opening.  They changed and went to the cooler of the two hot water pools.  This small swimming pool sized hot spring pool was at least 40 degrees centigrade and filled with a variety of local Baños residents. Steam rose from the water into the chilly night air.  There the team waited the requisite 15 minutes before they were allowed to get out and move to the hotter of the pools.  The smaller hot pool was at least 10 degrees warmer than the last.  Here they were required to get in the scorching hot water for at least one minute, and then enter one of the small freezing cold water plunge pools before returning again to the hot water pool.  With this challenge completed, the team received their final clue and made their way to the pit stop, where once again they were first to arrive.

Boxing day bath challenge

In a post race interview, Ang said that “I really enjoyed this leg of the race immensely due to the adrenaline from the activities and would like to take up downhilling and zip lining as new sports”.  Ang is keen to buy a zip line for her home after the race is over and will consider offers of sponsorship.

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Colombia 4: Bogotá

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced from the busy city of Medellín to the small rural town of Salento.  There they embarked on a series of challenges that included a three hour hike, photographing hummingbirds and drinking sugar water.  Then all teams received clues and commenced the journey to Botogá.

Racing from Salento, Simon and Ang made their way back to Armenia.  There they purchased more empanadas and bus tickets, and they were soon onboard what Ang would call “a really stinky bus”.  Leaving Armenia, the team settled in for what they were informed would be a seven hour bus ride.  Within moments of leaving Armenia to cross the Andes, the team’s bus stopped at the back of an enormous traffic jam.  There they would stay for four hours while they waited along with hundreds of trucks, buses and cars for their turn to cross the mountains.

Waiting for traffic to move

While they waited, Ang and Simon chatted with the friendly Colombians, including one on his own exclusive race to Bogotá.  The team enjoyed the carnival atmosphere as the usual vendors arrived to sell snacks, but disliked the long wait.  Eventually traffic began flowing and after two false alarms, the traffic began moving and the bus drove off as the sunset.  Team Australia chatted with Team Colombia in Spanish and English to pass the time and joked that if the bus travelled any slower they probably could walk faster to Bogotá.

That night there were two more stops for traffic jams and a free sandwich before the team fell asleep.  Waking four hours later, their bus drove into Bogotá station, arriving ten hours late.  There they had a quick breakfast and took the first bus after dawn to their hostel in La Candeleria.

Paved street in Bogotá
Panorama of the plaza Simón Bolívar
University bar hub in La Candeleria

They had a quick nap, lunch then went out to see the cool funky town.  Walking around Ang noticed the strong police presence.  As night fell, the team completed the walk along Carrera 7 challenge and took in the sights of the weekly Friday night event where the main street in town is partly closed to traffic with people coming out busk, sell their wares, stroll, eat street food and socialise.

Carrera 7 packed with people
Panorama of Plaza Simón Bolívar by night
Barney the dinosaur Star Wars themed busking
A soft, limp, burger anyone?

Simon and Ang enjoyed this considerably, and strolled the entire length of the closed section of street checking out the wide array of buskers.  On this walk, the team completed Jo and Alex’s pat a Guinea pig challenge by Simon patting one they saw.  They then placed bets on which numbered upturned bowl the guinea pig would run into, but lost.

Patting a guinea pig

With this challenge completed, the team received their next clue and continued down Carrera 7 stopping at a nice paradilla, where they completed the eat a huge plate of delicious tender meats challenge.  With these challenges completed, the team continued racing along to the end of the closed section and received their next clue.

Mmmm meat

The next morning, after relocating to new accommodation, was spent trying to locate a travel gear shop.  Unfortunately the team forgot to write down previously Googled addresses, so set off to the suggested major shopping complex, Gran Estacion.  Once there, after surveying three shops, they were unable to locate the required items (a new waterproof jacket, waterproof hiking pants and a pack cover).  Asking some friendly information people, they were given a trio of commercial centres to try.  The team raced out of Gran Estacion , bought some empanadas, and then jumped in a taxi for the short drive through the heavy rain to the nearest of the trio of commercial centres.

Bogotá. Home of the bog. Instant bog, just add water

Each centre was checked bar one, and without any luck the team used google translator at the security desk to receive directions to a nearby camping and hiking store. This store was checked and despite the staff’s enthusiasm for their products, only a pack cover and rain jacket were purchased.  With only two of the three items purchased, the team received a small time penalty that was sat out while they rode the bus back to the centre of town.

Why do ducks need raincoats? Raincoat in bag

The team raced to plazoleta dell Chorro de Quevedo, the oldest in all of Bogotá.  Their next clue sent them to a funky bar in the laneway connected to the square.  There they tried Chicha a drink made from fermented maize and chatted with some friendly Colombian civil engineering students.  Simon thought this was odd as “they should have been drinking beer.  Still it was interesting to hear their thoughts on Andean road construction and differences in español across South America”.

Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo Art on a wall in the Plazoleta

The next day at 7.30pm in a well lit street in La Candeleria, heading in the direction of a stir-fry and sushi restaurant, the team was approached by three to four youths.  Quickly realising this was an attempted mugging, Ang ran, but Simon, who was slower to notice the danger, had his jumper grabbed by one of the kids.  After inhaling on glue or paint, the kid said “mi gustaria money (I would like money)”.  “As I turned to break free from his grip, I noticed the sniffer fumbling with a flick knife.  It was pretty scary” said Simon.   At this point the Amazing Exclusive Race’s security protocols kicked in and the team engaged their evasion plan, successfully avoiding personal injury or loss of property.  Team Australia ran as fast as their legs could take them back to the hostel. After calming down from the shock and getting the courage to venture out, the team set out for dinner.

The mean streets of La Candeleria

Due to the attempted mugging, Ang lost sleep that night and Simon was glad they only had one more day in Bogotá. The next day the team were on constant alert and nerves were high as they walked the streets dodging shifty characters who followed them.  But the race had to go on, so the team set about completing the final challenges of this leg of the race.

Another La Candeleria streetscape

Their first destination for their last day in Bogotá was the Muesu de Oro (Gold Museum).  They were joined by Team Colombia, who they had previously met on the Salento to Bogotá bus, and walked around the museum, marvelling at the sheer quantity of gold.  With this museum completed, the team walked to the Muesu de Botero.  Similar to the art they saw in Medellín, Botero’s work was on display for free.  Both teams enjoyed the comical paintings and sculptures.  With these challenges complete, both teams received their final clues and made their ways to their respective pit stops.

Gold inka pin Museum vault
The two teams stop for coffee
Feliz Navidad parade Botero horse
Another La Candeleria street
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Colombia 1: Cartagena

After the necessary rest period, Simon and Ang were once again the first to depart the pit stop.  Their first challenge was to explore the city of Cartagena.  They walked around the old bright and colourful town, photographing the various old colonial buildings.

Colonial Cartagena Cartagena street
Renovations Cartagena style

Later that evening, they met up with a mixed team of three Brits and an Aussie and swapped notes on the previously leg’s cruise from Panama.  It was clear that Team Australia had been lucky enough to get the better boat and crew as the stories from the other team were a tad concerning.  After an average meal, both teams received their next clue.

With the food challenge complete, both teams were set a challenge to have cocktails in Colombia.  To complete this, both teams went for two for the price of one happy hour drinks at a nearby bar.  Strangely, these turned out to be two for one per person drinks.  After twenty minutes of concern, Simon was successfully able to negotiate to have this misunderstanding reversed.

Completing the food and drink challenges, the teams were given their next clue and headed across the road to the Hostel Media Luna to take part in the Noche de Velas celebration.  There they were joined by the original Team Ireland and some members of the One World crew on the roof top terrace bar.  The next drink challenge at this point of the race was for Simon to try aguardiente.  This drink is a a local alcoholic spirit made from sugar cane and flavoured with aniseed and which apparently comes with “a hangover that will make you lose the will to live”.  Team Australia reluctantly drank the cup of foul liqueur and received their next clue.  Clem from Team Ireland bizarrely enjoyed the drink and went back to the bar to get a second glass.

Cartagena plaza panorama

Team Australia’s next clue called for Simon and Ang to take a day trip to nearby Playa Blanca.  They consulted with reception at the hostel and were booked on a ferry ride to the Playa.  This unfortunately included a stop at the Isla De Rosas, where the main attraction is a crappy 1970s era aquarium.  After a lengthy disorganised wait, the team boarded the last launch to leave the docks. They sped out of the harbour and around the headland to their first stop, the Isla de Rosas.  There they were deposited at the aquarium without explanation as to when pick up would be.  Thinking they would only have 20-30 minutes, they amused themselves taking photos of the Christmas decorated fibreglass marine life and chatting with other tourists.  An hour and a half later, they finally located their boat, which had randomly and more interestingly gone off snorkelling at a nearby reef.

Cartagena fort panorama

Twenty minutes later the team was back in the speedboat and flying over the ways towards Playa Blanca.  A delicious fried fish lunch was quickly consumed and the team set off to walk the length of the stunning Caribbean beach.  Simon and Ang spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and lazing on the sand before they were given their final clue for this leg of the race.

Playa Blanca

They quickly made their way back to their watertaxi and were soon back in Cartagena.  That evening they had a fantastic dinner at a local seafood restaurant then they headed back to the hostel for the final roadblock for this leg of the race, to complete a salsa class.

Simon was nominated to complete this task and was soon learning the rather complicated moves of what turned out to be an advanced salsa class.  Over the next hour and a half a 2 minute routine was learnt and Simon finally completed the challenge.

Simon completes the salsa challenge

With this final task completed, Team Australia were given their final clue and made their way to the pit stop for this leg of the race, Old Town Cartagena.

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Guatemala 6: Antigua to Juayúa, El Salvador

Once again, as the first to arrive at the pit stop, Simon and Ang were the first to depart at 8am.  For this leg, they had to make their way to El Salvador by the most rapid means possible.

To do this, they first booked passage on a shuttle from San Marcos to Antigua. Their shuttle would pick them up from San Marcos, so the team was required to wait at the municipal basketball court.  As normal in this part of the world, the micro bus was late arriving, so the team entertained themselves by talking to some of the locals and wondering what prices the other shuttle passengers had paid (the team had negotiated tickets for 40Q each, which turned out to be a bargain).

Rush hour, San Marcos Tuk Tuk rank in San Marcos

Soon the shuttle arrived.  It was the exact same one that the team had the issue with eight days earlier (Casa Verde Tours), but thankfully with a more capable driver.  Unlike previously, the ride back to Antigua was uneventful and soon the team had secured accommodation for one night.

San Marcos church The offending shuttle

After a quick detour to the travel agency where they received a 10Q reimbursement (for extra tuk tuk payment), the team set about enquiring about pricing for transport to near Juayúa, El Salvador from a selection of local ticket agencies.  Various routes were proposed and pricing offered.  The team decided the price of a shuttle and first class bus, whilst more costly, would be better value (and safer) than navigating through Guatemala City.

With transport organised, the team changed their focus to completing the final Antigua challenges.  Ang purchased some more handicrafts, after an entertaining and lengthy negotiation process.  Receiving their next clue, the team went in search of Hector’s, a hidden gem of a tiny restaurant that had no external advertising and serves modern fusion fare to no more than twenty people on five tables at a time.  This challenge was completed and the team enjoyed a fantastic meal.  While they ate, they were entertained by the dozens of kids in Halloween costume, who were either walking past the entry or directly through the restaurant to request and occasionally demand candy.

Antigua once again Another Antigua street photograph
Dogs don’t need to drink the water Jungle Party, this time with a little bit more party

Waking early the next morning, their next challenge was to locate an awesome coffee.  This required the team to find Refuge Coffee, a small coffee shop that was the highest rated on Trip Advisor.  Again, the team was able to locate this shop with ease and had two coffees.  Ang was very impressed and went as far as thanking the barista for providing ‘the best coffee thus far of the trip’.

Red hulk is angry The team was sad they missed this fight

With the Antiguan challenges completed, the team boarded the shuttle to Guatemala City.  An hour later, after dropping most of the passengers off at the airport, the team was deposited at the King Quality international bus station.  There they waited for 1.5 hours for their next bus.  This part of Guatemala City was particularly unsettling with Simon being approached by a drunken Guatemalan guy who demanded cerveza.  Simon later said that this made it very difficult to choose which juice to purchase with the team’s remaining quetzal.  Tactfully disengaging from the creepy drunk, Simon quickly returned to the bus station waiting room and the remainder of the wait passed without further incident

The team boarded the bus and soon they were driving through the streets of the city, with only a dozen stops for other passengers to board and vendors sell their food as they made their way to the border.  For Ang, the highlight was the chicas that brought pollo campo (kind of like KFC) onto the bus to onsell to passengers.

Driving into the border town, Simon was surprised to read that it was Valle Nuevo as he was expecting the more northern crossing of San Cristóbal, due to the travel agency telling them that the two southern border crossings were closed due to recent flooding.  Because of this information, when they booked their tickets, the team had decided to make their way to Santa Ana and then backtrack to the Ruta De Las Flores (Route of the Flowers) as required by their clue.  Seeing this chance to speed up, the team changed their plans, and while they were waiting for El Salvadorian authorities to complete their immigration inspection, and sucessfully negotiated in spanish with the bus driver for a new drop off point.

The team also noticed a number of passengers who had gotten onto the bus in Guatemala City (but not in the terminal, so not on the official manifest) had crossed the border on foot.  Oddly, their positions on the bus had been replaced by vendors while the El Salvadorian authorities were inspecting passports. Once immigration formalities were completed, these passengers re-boarded the bus up the road one km.  Ang thought this was very fishy.  The best explanation Simon could come up with was that perhaps the bus driver and assistant were moonlighting as people smugglers.

The bus continued into El Salvador and the team were deposited at a junction just outside of Ahuachapán.  Boarding a chicken bus, they sped into town.  On the ride in, the team passed the celebrations for the day of the dead.  Once at the packed market, they pushed their way through on foot to their next chicken bus, number 249 to Juayúa.  After the pretty hour long ride, they arrived in the friendly town of Juayúa and soon found their hostel, Casa Mazeta, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

Shared bus station/market in Ahuachapán A Ruta de las Flores town
Juayúa at sun down
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