Brazil 3: São Paulo to Trindade

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang raced through the ultra relaxed country of Uruguay. They marveled at the huge volume of maté the locals consume, and completed a number of challenges in the very relaxed and laid back country. With all their Uruguayan tasks completed, they boarded a flight from Montevideo north to the Brazilian mega city of São Paulo..

The team’s Gol airways flight touched down in the early evening and the team raced out of the airport hunting for transport to their next destination, the colonial port town of Paraty. They jumped on the airport shuttle and just made it in time to the Tietê bus station. Once there and after the team found the right ticket window, they bought tickets on an overnight bus to Paraty that was departing moments later. Simon and Ang raced through the bus station for a second time to the right gate, just in time to board the overnight bus. Unlike their previous overnight ride in Brazil, this one was not too noisy, with only the last hour’s continuous speed bumps interrupting the team’s attempts at sleeping.

Arriving at Paraty, the team jumped off the bus at 3.40am along with a few locals at the deserted bus station. There they met a friendly Brazilian lady called Monica who had also just got off the bus. She surprised the team by telling them that their surprise destination was actually the nearby seaside small town of Trindade. Simon and Ang were excited as the town and importantly beaches sounded awesome. As the first local bus to Trindade wasn’t until 5.20am, the team occupied themselves by chatting with Monica and looking for a working ATM.

Soon the sky lightened and the first local bus of the day pulled in. Simon and Ang jumped on with Monica and immediately the driver shot off into the early pre-dawn light at hellish speed. Passing the outskirts of Paraty, the road entered the jungle and became more twisted than a curled twisty. The driver obviously enjoyed this part of the journey as he put the pedal to the metal, with the bus becoming airborne at one point. Ang rightly squealed, which only seemed to egg the driver on even more.

Minutes before sunrise proper, the bus crossed through a flooded creek and over some rocks and into the small town of Trindade. The team jumped out and raced to the Mairs Do Trindade, a pousada that Monica said was run by the ever friendly Lucas, an Argentine expat living the good life in Brazil. As it was a little after 6am at this point and Lucas was still fast asleep, so the team was unable to check in. They left their bags and went down to the spectacular beach to watch the day lighten properly and chat with Monica while they waited for Lucas to wake up and check them in to the finish of this leg of the race.

Main road into town
Brazilian sunrise

At a little after 8 am they returned to the Mairs Do Trindade. Lucas had just woken and he informed the team that they were the first to arrive. As the first team to arrive, they were given a reward, they were to spend the next four days enjoying the beach and surrounds that this part of Brazil could offer.

Ang and Simon were excited to win yet another race, and after a rest, set out to explore all the nearby awesome beaches.  They consumed a number of caipirinhas and enjoyed the relaxed pace of Brazilian small town beach life. They went on walks north and south of the town to stunning beaches the nearby Playa Brava. They also took a couple of day/night trips into Paraty for excellent food and to watch the old town flood for the month.

Beach time
Yo dog
Ang hits the beach
Paraty Red window trim, Paraty
Paraty twilight
Cobble streets Paraty
15th century church Flooding Paraty streets
Self cleaning streets
Paraty pony Paraty bike
oooh pretty street scape
Restaurant (with mandatory bike) Paraty Caipirinhas!
Delicious!

When they weren’t relaxing, one of the team’s favourite things to do was to watch the Trindade locals walk around with cafe umbrellas when it rained (as it did often in the late arvo given the tropical heat). They also enjoyed making friends with other holiday makers, all of whom were Brazilian tourists.

Lots of rain can only be stopped by cafe umbrellas Yellow giant umbrella and matching shirt
Sleepy cat
Long Paraty building
Townscape in Paraty
Relaxed dog Defaced legal tender
Another Paraty pony Street of Fire
Daytime unflooded street
Paraty bay Paraty party boats
No words Paraty bus station
More caipirinhas! Dessert deliciousness

On the final morning, after an enjoyable rest period, it was sadly time to check out of the pitstop. They were given their first clue for the upcoming leg of the race. Tearing open the envelope and reading the clue, the team found they were directed to make their way back to Rio De Janeiro for a second time!

They jumped into a random van that took them back to Paraty, where they bought tickets on the direct bus to Rio. Five hours later the team arrived once again at Rodoviária Novo Rio. They raced out and straight into a waiting cab, as this was non-carnival time and there were hardly any people around.

Marine Pirates!

To be continued…

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Panama 1: Bocas Del Toro

Exiting the pit stop early, Ang and Simon were joined by Simon, the remaining half of Team Belgium last seen in León, and another Team Israel.  Together they walked over to the bus station where they waited for the bus to the border.

Soon, all teams were on a bus travelling through kilometre after kilometre of banana plantation.  They arrived at the quiet northern border and completed Costa Rican formalities before crossing a rickety old rail bridge to the Panama side. Simon remarked “that it was coolest crossing in a while, mainly because it was so unsafe.  They crazily even drove a semi over it”.

On the Panama side, immigration was completed with no real difficulties, other than the staff wondering why Ang did not have a Panamaian flag on her backpack.  A shared taxi was negotiated for a 50% reduction in the fare and team raced into Panama.

After an hour long ride they were deposited at Almirante where the team boarded a water taxi for the ride to Bocas Town, the largest settlement in the Bocas Del Torro Islands.   Without having any accommodation booked, the team walked around town and checked out the accommodation options.  By doing this, they were able to discover that a hostel had recently opened on the Island of Bastimentos.  They quickly booked this accommodation and then purchased some supplies.  Team Belgium, also received this clue and joined Team Australia on the water taxi to Bastimentos.

At the ferry dock near Almirante Banana ship
A lot of crane for such a small island Main street, Bocas town

They arrived at the water taxi dock and walked into the centre of the island where they checked in and raced to the beach.  There the Simons and Ang completed the swim at Red Frog beach challenge then, after spotting Team Ireland in the back of the shuttle truck, they enjoyed drinks and snacks at the nearby Punta Lava beach bar and grill.

Wildlife outside of the dorm Red frog beach from the bar

Their next challenges were to survey the beaches of Bastimentos and to spot red frogs in the wild.  Once again both teams set off to Red Frog Beach, then headed north.  Soon they were in a muddy rainforest area where they spotted tens of red frogs.  After completing this part of the challenge, the teams continued working their way along the coast until they arrived at the spectacular Wizard beach.

Panorama of Wizard beach
Simon takes a break from racing on Wizard beach

Not wanting to retrace their steps, the team headed across the island to Old Bank town, where they negotiated a water taxi ride back to the hostel dock.

Old Bank town flower Old Bank town trike

The next day the team continued their survey of the beaches of Bestimentos by heading east.

Ang crosses a jungle stream Plantain flowers
Abandoned beach bar
Panorama of a little cove east of Red Frog beach
Simon from Team Belgium follows close behind
Rainbow panorama

With the Bocas Del Torro challenges completed, the team rested for the remainder of the evening, socialising with Team New Zealand and a combination Team from Canada and Sweden.

Waking early the next morning, along with Team New Zealand, Simon and Ang raced via water taxi back to Bocas Town.  They then said goodbye to Team New Zealand and walked to the airport.  There, twenty minutes before departure, they purchased tickets for a short flight to Panama City.  Again after removing excess weight from their check in luggage, they were on their way.

Flying into Panama City the team took in the view of the hundreds of ships waiting to enter the lock.  They took a taxi ride through the congested streets to their hostel in the old town.  There they met up with Team Ireland, and received their next clue to make their way to the Miraflores lock.

Ships waiting to enter the canal The view from the hostel towards Panama City

Owing to the previous accommodation requiring the air conditioning be on 24/7, both Simon and Ang were unwell.  Ang opted to remain at the hostel to rest while Simon set off to complete the task. After two bus rides, Simon, along with Teams Ireland and America 3 arrived at the locks.  Their timing was perfect and they were able to watch three ships transition the locks before they returned via taxi to the hostel.

Miraflores lock Ships in the lock
Miraflores lock panorama

There at the hostel Team Australia checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race.  Once again they arrived in first place. To celebrate, they had an excellent dinner of sushi and traditional deep fried Panama fare before returning to their accommodation for the optional rest period.

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Costa Rica 3: Puerto Viejo

Early the next morning, the team received their next clue and departed the pit stop.  With a pre-purchased bus ticket, the team was driven down the mountain to San José.  Three hours later, the team arrived in capital of Costa Rica.  There they walked to another bus station where they changed to the twelve noon bus to Puerto Viejo De Talamanca.

The journey to Puerto Viejo began badly for the Australian team.  The team’s bus took one hour to leave San José due to excessive traffic.  Eventually the bus made its way through the central highlands and on to the banana plantations around Puerto Límon.  Being the banana growing capital of the world, home to brands such as Dole and Chiquita, there was excessive truck traffic that caused another major traffic jam.  This further delayed Simon and Ang.

San José traffic jam Armed San José carpark attendant
Sad Santa The banana plantation traffic jam

The bus eventually wove its way through the trucks and containers and plantations and arrived at the Límon bus station in time to see the later 2.30pm bus pull into the adjacent parking spot.  Team combined Belgium and New Zealand were on this bus.  They told Team Australia that they had been told the major delay was caused by a landslide.  Simon and Ang were not amused, and hoped that this disastrous day would not cause them to be eliminated when they finally got to the pit stop.

After the break at Límon, the bus continued the remaining 60km south to the small beach town of Puerto Viejo.  Ignoring the Rocking J’s guy, Simon and Ang located quieter accommodation and met up with half of Team Belgium.  That night they ate at Stashu’s fusion, a restaurant that was run by a friendly Guyanian called Stashu, where they had fantastic fare.  This completed the first eating challenge of this leg of the race.

Good fusion

Receiving their next clue, Ang and Simon hired some bikes and then rode to the Manzanillo national park and Punta Uva to search for the elusive toucan. Despite having a fun day on the beach they had no luck seeing a toucan, but did see a troop of monkeys.  On their return to Puerto Viejo, the team stopped off on the pretty ride back to drink some chocolate and then again to have fish tacos.  After returning the hire bikes and receiving their next clue, the team headed out to dinner for some typical Costa Rican casado and whole red snapper fare.

Dive panga near Punta Uva Barge, dog and birds near Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo beach
Panorama of a beach in the Manzanillo reserve
Panorama of the stormy sea and beach in the Manzanillo reserve
Racers pose for a photo Manzanillo beach, drying clothes
Tico beach goers View of beach through jungle
On a tree On a bike
Hot chocolate break Near Puerto Viejo
Monkey in the trees More monkeys
Jungle stream near Puerto Viejo

Completing these challenges, the team raced to the pit stop for this leg of the race where they were once again the first to arrive.

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Costa Rica 2: Monteverde

As the first team to arrive at the pit stop, Ang and Simon departed the next day at 4am.  They boarded a San José bus bound for La Irma.  Ang was annoyed that they had to keep changing seats, as other passengers had pre-booked, which until now had been unusual for Central America.

Two hours later, passing back through Nicoya, the team were deposited at La Irma, a petrol station and small restaurant located at a T junction on the Panamericana highway.  There the team ate a tipical local breakfast of rice, eggs and toasted cheese and awaited for three hours until their next bus came from San José to Monteverde.  Whilst the team was waiting they met Team Belgium/New Zealand, who were on their own exclusive race and who had previously met Team Ireland.

The team waits for the last bus of the day

Boarding the next bus, the team bumped its way up the hills, in and out of clouds to the small town of Monteverde.  The town of Monteverde is a mountain village located close to the Monteverde cloud forest preserve.  The preserve was established in the 1950s and is home to an array of plant and animal life, including toucans and sloths. This area would be the setting for this leg of the race.

Climbing to Monteverde

Arriving into the town the team was almost overwhelmed with sheer number of touts looking to get the team to their accommodation.  The team ignored all and said they were going to meet friends.  They then headed off to El Golfo Vista, where they checked in and meet the owner, who was one of the touts they previously had ignored.  Here, Simon and Ang once again met up with Team Ireland.

Talented local playing the piano in department/hardware store Arrmadillo for riding

The major task for this leg of the race was for the team to see a sloth and a tucan.  In order to complete this task, the team booked two tours.  The first was a guided night walk through primary forest.  The team’s group was joined by an energetic, over enthusiastic and strongly hypo active guide.  They were lead from a to b looking at a sloth and baby, racoons, various insects, an armadillos, glowing wood and a second sloth.  With Ren’s sloth challenge, completed the team was very excited and given their next clue.

A sloth Another sloth, with mold growing on its fur
The final sloth photograph to complete the challenge

Waking up at 8am, the team was driven to the privately owned Selvatura park adjacent to the Monteverde preserve.  Hoping to see a toucan, the team paid the $30 to walk through a rainforest over a series of suspension bridges.  Both Simon and Ang thought it was nice rainforest, but should have been less than $10 each to enter and complete the 3km walk as it was way overpriced.  They slowly walked around the loop, carefully scanning in the trees, but no toucans were spotted on account of the cold, raining weather.  The team raced back to the town and then to the pit stop.

Cloud forest Suspension bridge into the clouds
More cloud forest

Because they did not complete the spot a toucan challenge, the team was required to wait out a 30 minute time penalty.  The team used this time to prepare a delicious curry, enjoy a glass of red  and dry off from the wet dreary day.  With the penalty completed, the team checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race.

The view from the team’s accommodation
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Nicaragua 3: Little Corn Island

As the first team to arrive at the León pit stop at 2am, Simon and Ang were the first to depart seven and a half hours later at 9.30.  After a quick breakfast, they raced to the bus stop and were soon in a collectivo van, bound for the capital of Nicaragua, Managua.  They were to make their way to Little Corn Island via the quickest means possible.  Team Belgium who had received their own separate clue, left the pit stop 15 minutes later on the next collectivo.

Within 15 minutes of leaving León their van was directed to pull off the road by the Policia.  There they waited as a fleet of Nicaraguan government vehicles drove past.  Ang and Simon estimated that there were 200 Festivas and 50 Ladas.  All were without number plates, but all had big fleet numbers on their windscreens and appeared to be travelling in perfect numerical order and in alternate red then silver colours.

One of many fleet cars on the left Tail end of the convoy

Once all of the cars had finally driven past the police escort allowed traffic to move on again, however the team’s minivan resumed its journey directly behind the convoy.  The rolling traffic jam meant that the estimated time to drive to Managua would double.  This potentially meant team Australia would miss their flight to Little Corn Island.  The driver of the van soon became tired of the constant braking and accelerating of the excitable drivers ahead and decided to take an alternative route.  The delay caused by the convoy allowed Team Belgium to catch up and both minivans turned off the main road to Managua.

The alternative route they took was mostly dirt roads in very poor condition. This meant the average speed of 50km/h they were able to achieve on the chaotic main road fell to the 20km/h.  After an hour of bumping their way along the road, Ang communicated the team’s concerns to the driver when it became apparent the team would be late into Managua for their 2pm flight.  Rapid phone calls were made in Spanish to Managua and onward transport in a taxi was organised.

Arriving at the Managua bus terminal at 12:50pm, the team was met at the door of the van by the pre-organised taxi driver.  Seconds later they were in the cab heading away from the bus station for the airport.  Their taxi driver raced his under powered Honda through the gritty streets of Managua.  It was clear the team was not going to arrive at the airport in time.  Finally they arrived at the small domestic airport 20 minutes before scheduled flight departure.  Frantically the team grabbed their bags and paid the cab driver.

They ran into the terminal and found check in had only just started and that they had plenty of time.  Really relived, the team relaxed and completed check in formalities, which included removing all the heavy items from their check in luggage to meet weight restrictions.  With their arms full of dirty washing, shoes and toiletries, they crossed through security and there the team celebrated with the purchase of beer (for Ang) and yoghurt (for Simon) in the lounge.  Approximately 45 minutes later, well after the scheduled departure, their aircraft left Managua via Bluefields to Big Corn Island.

The uneventful flight was soon over and the team shared a taxi with Team America 2, two brothers called Tommy and Ben.  The short drive around the airport to the docks was completed and the Australian and American teams boarded a Panga to Little Corn Island.

Dead cake on the tarmac Rollers at work? Nice

A Panga is a reinforced speedboat with passenger capacity of 25 persons and a top speed of 65km/h. The crossing between Big and Little Corn Islands is typically rough and this crossing was no exception.  The captain throttled up and they commenced the thrill ride across the strait.  On the crest of each wave, the engines would be throttled down as the boat became airborne.  This was accompanied by vocal girly nervous screams by some of the other backpacker passengers.

Half way between Big and Little Corn Islands

Simon and Ang, who had unwisely sat at the very back, laughed at the craziness of this ride and unsuccessfully tried to stay dry.  After 25 minutes of constant bashing and near constant screams, the captain stopped the boat and in rapid and colourful Creole, basically told the passengers it wasn’t even that rough.  Screams were slightly less vocal for the rest of the passage and team Australia continued the journey eyes shut due the harsh saltiness of the Caribbean Sea which was burning their eyes with every wave.

On dusk, the panga pulled into the Little Corn dock, a freighter parked next to the dock itself.  The team alighted from the boat across the freighter and then walked across the island to the main accommodation area on the east of the island.  Checking a few of the cabañas, they eventually settled at the Casa Iguana.

Arriving there, they were given accommodation and were given challenges for this leg of the race.  These included to circumnavigate the island, locate prime fishing spots around the island, find missing shoes, climb to the highest point on the island, sample the food and drink of Little Corn, and to play “Ring Swing”.

Typical Little Corn street Inspiring fine print at the entry to Casa Iguana
Alien fruit Private beach near Iguana
Panorama of the main eastern beach on the island (from Iguana)

The circumnavigation challenge was completed over two consecutive days and involved a considerable amount of bush bashing in the rain and thick mud whilst wearing in appropriate footwear.  At one point Ang tragically had a plugger blowout, which Simon addressed by picking up a spare out of the flotsam on the beach.  On their journey around the island, the team was also able to locate a fishing spot that Shaun, and the sole member of Team American 1, was able to exploit to catch two large trigger fish.  This inadvertently seemed to spark a cold war fishing competition between Team Americas 1 & 2 which hilariously continued for the remainder of the week.

PVC pipe hammock Lighthouse contraption
Another beachside outhouse Exclusive Survivor
Art Boat storage
The only corn growing on the whole island Guard monkey
Garbage on the beach (sadly from the wider Caribbean) Clean beach
Looking south from Little Corn Shaun’s trigger fish haul

The sample the fare of Little Corn Island challenge was completed over the six days at the island and involved eating and drinking at Tranquillo, Rosie’s, Mango Pizza and Casa Iguana.  Several mornings involved the team scouring the Casa Iguana grounds for missing footwear, stolen by a resident loco pero suffering from kleptomania.  The climb to the highest point on the island was completed in one morning with the team ascending an old lighthouse tower.  Finally, accompanied by much drinking, the team played ring swing with Teams America 1 and 2.

Tranquillo Bar
Art, Little Corn style Ang sits on some more art
Random drop gecko during dinner Western side of the island
Ang climbing the lighthouse tower Simon climbs the tower
Ang demonstrates ring swing technique A successfully hooked ring
Sunrise from the casita

With all challenges completed, the team was met by Iguana Doug (one of two human Dougs on the island) and checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race, Casa Iguana’s casita 11 by the sea.

Casita 11, Casa Iguana, the pit stop for this leg of the race

In a post leg interview, Simon said “I really liked the island.  It was more laid back than Caye Caulker. Hilariously, the dogs were very territorial and would use backpackers to gang up with, to cross into other dog’s territories.  There were distinct personalities on the island, perhaps not to the same degree as Caye Caulker, but certainly as entertaining – there were three Dougs!  I found it odd that there was only one maize plant growing on the whole of Little Corn Island”.  Ang said when interviewed that ”it was a wonderful place to relax and explore the many secluded beaches but I am surprised at how many Norwegians visit the island. I struggle with my new learned Spanish and keep mixing Norwegian and English which is a laugh but terribly frustrating”.

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El Salvador 2: El Zonte to Alergría

While at the pit stop, the team took advantage of the pool as the surf was huge.  They ate at a local comedor which served cheap tasty food while playing surf movies all evening.  They marvelled at the lax planning laws that allowed construction right on the rocky beach, metres away from the surf.  The friendly, laid back Californian surf vibe was great and the team briefly considered using the rest period to learn how to surf.  But as this is a race and surfing was not one of the challenges, the team used the rest period to enjoy the vista and prepare for the next leg.

The next morning the team checked out of the pit stop and was provided with their next clue.  They were to make their way to the mountain town of Alegría where they would receive their next clue.  Out they went to the main road where they boarded another party chicken bus for the ride to El Tunco.  Once there they were deposited on the side of the road and soon were in the second bus of the day, an express mini bus to San Salvador.

The ride passed quickly and arriving at the bus station, they received the first challenge for this leg of the race.  Their task was to find the post office and send the handicrafts that had previously been purchased on the Guatemalan and Mexican legs of the race.

Setting off on foot through the hot streets of San Salvador, the team was edgy as this city does have a dangerous reputation, but aside from an individual who may or may not have been an undercover cop flashing a badge and asking if they would like a lift, the team was able to locate the post office without incident.  Ang and Simon both found that it was best to ask directions of the guys holding the shotguns or AK47, as these security staff seemed to have the best direction sense.

Posting of the package was straight forward (and much cheaper than Guatemala) and the team took a taxi for the short ride to the eastern bus station.  Once there they were ushered onto a long distance bus to San Miguel (bus X for the day) for $2.5 each, after a nice El Salvadorian lady challenged the bus assistant for the team, saving them being ripped off $0.50.  Ang disliked this bus as the passenger section was sealed behind a curtain, so that you were unable to see out of the front windscreen.

1.5 hours later, after the usual stops to allow people off and food vendors on, the team arrived at Valla El Triunfo.  There they boarded a mini bus and raced up into the hills to Santiago de Maria.  Once there a further change to a final chicken bus delivered them to their destination, Alegría.

Guy painting some walls More murals

The team secured nice accommodation at the Entre Piedras Hotel and set about walking around town.  Both Simon and Ang really enjoyed this beautiful town, with Simon in particular likening it to Montville, complete with friendly chatty locals, but unfortunately no fudge.

Hinterland cows and laptops

Originally planning to spend one night, they were given a challenge to complete a 5 hour hike of a nearby volcano.  That night, the team also discovered pupusas, a maize based savoury food that is kind of like a stuffed pancake.  They were also given the task of inventing a new national food for El Salvador.   Ang came up with the perfect dish, pupusas with bananas.  From this point on, the local Alegríans thought the team was crazy.

The next morning, the team along with their machete wielding guide walked up the hill behind town.  The going was fairly easy until they reached the quarter way mark.  At this point their speed slowed as their guide macheted a path through the thick scrub.  This process took some time and allowed the team a chance to admire the view.  After some hours, the team along with their guide, descended to the extinct volcano’s crater lake, La Laguna de Alegría.  The final task was for one team member to swim in this sulphur rich lake.  This was completed by Simon.

Crater lake Racers pause for a quick photo opportunity
Crater lake from above Guide makes the path
The lake from the shore
Completing the swim in the sulphur lake challenge Note the melting Billabong print

In order to receive the final clue for this leg of the race, the team first purchased a banana then went to the local pupusaria, where they were able to successfully convince the staff to cook a pupusas with banana.  Ang assisted in this moment of culinary history by helping pat the pupusas into shape.  After 20 minutes there were 4 plain banana and 3 banana and cheese (a last minute addition for the savoury El Salvadorian palate) pupusas.  The team ate their fill and shared most with everyone in the restaurant.  Ang and Simon both agreed, pupusas con banano were fantastic, equal or better than crepes.  The locals seemed to still think they were loco.

Pupusas are on their way Success!

With this challenge completed, the chef handed them their final clue for this leg and the team rapidly made their way back across the small town square to the Entre Piedras Hotel, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

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