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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Chile 2: Refugio Dickson to Campamento Los Guardas

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two set out on an epic hike around the Torres Del Paine national park.  After walking almost 35km, the team arrived at Refugio Dickson, a remote campsite on the fair side of the Torres Del Paine national park.

Waking early the next morning, the team quickly ate breakfast and broke camp. Because Ang’s feet were still sore from the previous day’s hike, the team decided to make their way to the next campsite and attempt the crossing of the pass the following day.

Paine plants Ang crosses the ranging torrent

They were once again joined by the solo members of Team America and Germany and set off up towards the campsite of Los Pinos. Walking, but still at a sound pace, the team marvelled at the spectacular scenery and almost complete isolation, as aside from their own company, they only saw the odd ranger.

Waterfall! Simon rests his bones
Vertical Torres Del Paine

Towards the evening, the team climbed upwards and at the top of a rock pile were greeted by a spectacular lake, glacier and mountain site. Then it was an easier walk along to the Campamento Los Pinos where they spent the night. Their camping neighbours in an enormous four person tent were a friendly pair representing Team Wales on their own Exclusive pedalling race around Patagonia. Both teams traded stories about their respective races and previous legs before it was time to cook dinner.  As the campsite was less nicer than the previous grassy Refugio Dickson and was permanently damp and without a warm refugio camp fire, the team headed for the tent straight after dinner.

Stunning lake An amazing exclusive coffee ad looking for a brand

Planning to make up time, and because they would have to summit the pass, they woke before sun rise. A quick breakfast was eaten and the team set off through the bog and fallen logs up into the top of the valley towards the top of the pass.  Ang and Simon were the first Exclusive race team to leave camp, but were over taken on the long climb by another team Australia and eventually team Wales.

Both Simon and Ang didn’t care at this point and were actually a day ahead on account of their mammoth first day. They instead enjoyed every moment of the views they had on the spectacular ascent.

Simon climbs up to the pass The view down onto Grey Glacier

Taking time to enjoy the view from the top of the pass, the team’s breaths were taken away.  Below them was the spectacularly enormous Grey Glacier, part of the massive Southern Patagonia Ice Field. For both Simon and Ang this section would be the least favourite part of the circuit as they entered the tree line and commenced a scramble down the steep slope. Simon had to brace himself with each step on account of his heavy pack and Ang’s feet were in agony on account of the ill fitting shoes. Eventually they arrived at the base of the slope and started the long but spectacular walk along the glacier edge from to Campamento Los Guardas.

Team Wales pauses to be part of a spectacular panorama of Grey Glacier

After stopping for lunch, Ang strategically suggested that Simon walk on ahead because the next campsite was a free site and slightly more accessible to people doing the regular ‘W’ walk.  Both racers were concerned that it may be packed.  Simon set off ahead and after a couple of hours of walking, that involved crossing hair raising ravines, he arrived at the site.  There he set up camp and waited for Ang to arrive.

Some racers stop for lunch in front of Grey Glacier The racers pose for a promotional photo in front of the Glacier
Another spectacular Torres panorama
Ladders on the circuit Ladders that have seen better days
Simon enjoys this panoramic view
The rough Torres trail Simon gives Grey Glacier the thumbs up

By this point, Ang’s feet were torture to her and she barely was able to walk the last bit into the camp, but was kindly supported by the friendly Team American and German girls.  Campamento Los Guardas was ideally located next to the tongue of Grey Glacier, so after dinner, Simon went to the nearby mirador and took some photos. Then Ang and Simon spent some time socialising with Team Wales, a Mixed Team UK and Australia and the other Exclusive racers at the small cosy campsite.

Sleep came quickly after three days of solid walking.

…To be continued.

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Bolivia 1: Puno to Copacabana

At breakfast, both Simon and Ang were excited.  With Puno’s proximity to the border with Bolivia, they knew they would soon be heading south.  Both thought that Bolivia, with its outdoor activities would be likely to provide great racing.

Stomachs full, the team prepared themselves for the challenges that lay ahead.  A clue was handed to them and they commenced racing, first to the bus station.  Arriving they quickly secured tickets, but they were then forced to wait three hours until two pm.  Annoyingly they were forced to listen to a bus tout screaming Arequipa Arequipa over and over again.  Ang got justifiably frustrated as the Arequipa bus wasn’t scheduled to depart until 4pm that afternoon and there is only so many times you can hear ‘ara ara ara areguipa’ and not go mad.

Thankfully, the team’s bus company finally organised a minivan to take the small number of passengers three hours south around Lake Titicaca to the border with Bolivia.  Driving out of Puno, both Simon and Ang were glad to leave as while there wasn’t really anything bad about the place, there was anything nice either.

The drive was relatively uneventful with the team taking in the beautiful lakeside scenery and listening to the remaining passengers, who were mostly Argentine, talk about everything from construction through to musica.

Arriving at the border, the team first had their departure card stamped and collected before they walked back to the passport control office in a separate building.  There they cleared immigration and walked back past the departure card office and up the hill towards an arch way.  Crossing into Bolivia, they completed customs formalities and were soon in a collectivo heading for the town of Copacabana.  Both Ang and Simon agreed that the whole experience was rather relaxed and laid back, and had the added advantage of pleasant scenery to look at while walking between control points.

Entry portal to another country

Arriving in Copacabana, the team walked up the hill and checked into their accommodation with wonderful water views.   Their clue required the team to visit the fabled birthplace of the Incas, the Isla Del Sol.  However, the ATM in Copacabana had issues accepting the team’s cards, meaning they would need to change USD (for a relatively bad rate).  After the day’s travelling and waiting, the team decided to have an early night and rest up.

Waking early, the team went down to the dock.  After a quick breakfast and a second attempt to withdraw money from the ATM, the team jumped onboard a super slow launch bound for the Isla Del Sol.  Simon was briefly concerned that the Island of the Sun would actually be the Island of the rain, as it showered for most of the journey north. The boat itself was so slow and potentially overloaded that it took an inordinate amount of time to reach the northern village.  When they finally did arrive, the team headed further north on foot as their clue required them to walk the island from north to south to receive their next clue.

Happy pig on the Isla del Sol
Dock panorama on the Isla Del Sol

After 20 minutes of walking, they arrived at a gate. There they were stopped by a guy wanting them to pay 10 sols for entry into a ruins site.  Both Ang and Simon agreed that while interesting, this was not part of the challenge and would only delay them.  Plus, they only had 14 sols with them after payment for breakfast and the boat so they could not afford to enter.  Instead, followed by a friendly Frenchman and Argentine girl, the team scrambled up a nearby escarpment and walked around the fenced area to the north.

After a further twenty minutes of walking, the group came to a junction.  There the lead Frenchman was asked to pay for entry to the ruins (which were directly ahead).  He politely refused, and along with the Argentine, Simon and Ang turned to walk south.  The rocky path followed the ridge line and was spectacular.

After about an hour of walking, the team spied a check point.  There two locals were manning a ticketing station alone on top of a hill.  They wanted to charge 15 sols for each person to walk along the path.  Simon and Ang didn’t have that amount of money due to their ATM and exchange issues and the guidebook making no mention of any fees other than boat transport.  After politely saying they had no funds, the two locals gave Simon and Ang entry tickets for five sols each (student rates) for the remaining 14 sols they had.

Simon and Ang continued, though annoyed they didn’t have the funds to pay, but grateful they were still able to do the walk.  They walked past a forest of introduced eucalyptus trees and covered the 10 kms to the next community in rapid time.  There they met the next check point, this time to enter the southern town on the island.  At first the lady didn’t seem to understand, but once Simon showed they didn’t have enough money on his person, she let them pass.  They walked through the southern village down to the dock in time to meet their return boat to Copacabana.

Inca statue to great travellers arriving at the Isla del Sol Temple of the Sun on the Island of the Sun

Racing back at less than 4 knots, the boat eventually returned them to the Copacabana dock.  There they received their next clue directing them to La Paz.  Unfortunately, after trying the second ATM in town, then reluctantly changing some dollars, they were only able to buy bus tickets for the next day, meaning they would need to spend the second night in Copacabana.  The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around town, enjoying a drink in the warm sun and then dinner.

Boating on Lake Titicaca
Panorama of the Copacabana foreshore

Waking, they witnessed the car blessing festival and enjoyed a leisurely brunch before they boarded the second of two buses bound for La Paz.

Square in the middle of Copacabana

…To be continued.

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Peru 4: Puno and Lake Titicaca

Ang and Simon again woke early, pulled on their backpacks and went out to the street. They hailed a passing taxi and were driven to the Peru train rail station.

There, along with about 15 other Exclusive Race teams, they boarded the Andean Explorer, a luxury rail experience operated in partnership with the Orient Express company. This train journey takes passengers through the stunning Andean mountains to the city of Puno, high on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Classy interior of the Cuzco to Puno train

Simon and Ang’s tasks were to enjoy the luxury, eat delicious food, watch performances of traditional folk music and take photos of the countryside and people on and around the tracks.

The in-locomotion entertainment Mothers of all pan pipes

The train’s route passed through the suburbs of Cuzco and up the Andes to a 4300m high pass where they briefly stopped to take pictures and bargain for some locally spun llama wool handicrafts. Ang was able to net a fine baby llama wool scarf bargain. The train then descended slightly as it made its way through pastures filled with alpacas and llamas and the occasional busy market town.

The engine High altitude stop to shop and take in the thin air
Friendly Peruvian road workers Little wooly Llama
Markets, On train line! Stalls built right up to the carriage line
Two kids wave the train on Friendly Peruvian fisherman
Southern Peruvian landscape

During this journey, Simon was tasked with mixing the perfect Pisco Sour in front of all other passengers. This was not an easy task as the whole train rocked, making it hard to complete a steady pour. Simon persevered and after completing the mix was awarded the next clue by the bar tender and he also got to drink his handiwork.

Simon sampling the pisco sour he just made as part of the mix a drink on a moving train challenge The view from the open back of the train

The next clue required the team to visit the Uros Islands, artificial floating reed islands that lay off the coastline from Puno. However hours of operation were 9am to 5pm, so once they arrived in Puno they found suitable accommodation for the night and tried to stay dry during several mighty downpours.

That evening, Simon and Ang met up with another team from Australia who consisted of a Russian chick and Welsh guy, and had been on the Cuzco to Puno train journey. Maria and Tony had been given the same next challenge, so over dinner they hatched a plan to join forces for the next day to negotiate a boat to the floating islands.

Early the next afternoon the team boarded a classic lake cruiser for the 30 minute ride to the islands. Once there they were given a brief talk in Spanish about how the islands are constructed. The team walked around the spongy islands and were asked by the five families to view their wares.

 

Simon enjoying the sun on lake titicaca as the team head to the floating island challenge Simon and Ang lounge inside of their slow boat to the floating islands
The teams are shown how the islands are constructed The floating village

Both teams completed their short stay on the island and were given their next clue. They raced back to the Plaza de Armas, were both teams were first to arrive at the pit stop for this leg of the race.

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Galapagos 4: Isabela and Fernandina

Waking early, Team Australia joined the other passengers and boarded the zodiacs for the morning wildlife spotting challenge.  The two boats motored out away from Eden out of Targus cove along the cliffs.  Henry, the slightly crazed skipper of one of the boats, spotted a pod of whales in the distance, so both zodiacs raced in their general direction.  After following the pod for a little while, the boats turned back to Targus cove.

Sunrise just outside of Targus cove Pelican and boobie at dawn
Hunting whales challenge Success! Whale spotted in front of Fernandina

Spotting a huge pod of dolphins, both zodiacs raced over to the northern entry to the cove.  After driving around for about ten minutes, Rubén came up with the idea of bringing the morning’s snorkel forward.  Both zodiacs raced back to the Eden, stopping briefly only to watch some mating turtles.  The team quickly had breakfast and changed into their snorkel gear and were soon ferried back to the entry of Targus cove.

Dolphin swimming with the zodiac Stunning fish or just mucking around?
Fornicating turtles Clumsy and awkward sea turtle sea sex Clumsy and awkward sea turtle sex

Jumping into the water, Ang and Simon, along with the rest of the group started swimming.  Galapagos dolphins squeal then flee when humans enter the water.  After thrashing their way for twenty metres or so in pursuit of the pod, the team stopped swimming and put their heads above water, realising the try and out swim dolphins challenge was too difficult to complete.

However, not wanting to give up, all teams climbed back into the zodiacs and attempted to try again.  This time they were dropped into the path of the oncoming pod.  This time, for those who entered the water first, the dolphins were very close.  Simon, as one of the first to enter the water, saw several dolphins swim towards him, then turn as they got close.  Afterwards Simon said “you could hear when everyone got into the water as the dolphins clicks and squeaks got louder, almost like they were saying ‘humans!  Run!.. I mean swim!’”.

With the dolphins fleeing the cove, the team received their next clue and set about snorkelling along the cliff wall.  This snorkel allowed them to see the usual huge numbers of turtles, sea lions and fish.  This time they also saw penguins and a cormorant from above and below the water.  Completing this challenge the team returned to the Eden and once again changed.

Another green turtle Galapagos starfish

Back into the zodiacs they went and were shuttled over to the shore where they went for a short walk to spectacular lookouts over a lagoons, and huge lava field.  Photographic tasks for this walk were to capture the elusive mocking birds.  The team also read some of the graffiti that various sailors had written on the walls over the previous centuries.   With time running short, Ang and Simon franticly tried to capture the mocking birds on the return to the zodiacs.  They were not successful and had to wait out a short time penalty.

View towards Targus cove and neighbouring lagoon Ghetto sea lions are legit
Little finchy, but sadly no mocking bird photo

After the time penalty was completed, they returned to Eden and anchor was weighed.  The boat headed north in the direction of the island of Fernandina.  This island is virtually untouched, volcanically active place and is the newest of all of the Galapagos Islands.  There is only one tourist landing site on this island and the Eden was steaming directly for it.   A delicious lunch was had en route.

Arriving at the island, the team and other passengers quickly readied themselves for the landing.  As Fernandina is very remote, few cruise boats make this journey.  However, larger vessels with up to 100 passengers do visit this site.  One of these boats arrived at the anchorage soon after the Eden.  So, in order to beat the hordes ashore and complete the walking through the Imps of Darkness challenge, Simon and Ang and the rest of the passengers raced to the zodiacs and over to the landing site.  After a quick surprise ceremonial birthday dunking of another fellow Australian passenger by one of the crew, the group walked onto dry land. There they saw a huge number of marine iguanas, the usual assortment of sea lions, cormorants, and some rare hawksbill turtles.  As they were walking around more marine iguanas arrived having finished their afternoon feeding.

Ellie gets dunked
Lava cacti and associated iguana Chris from team Holland gets amongst the iguanas
Piles of iguanas in iguana town Co-habitation at its best
Simon enjoying this leg immensely Just like Godzilla, an iguana emerges from the sea

Their last task was to complete the Imps of Darkness challenge with Simon giving Ang a piggyback through a field of iguanas that had stationed themselves on and around the path to warm up. With this challenge completed, the teams returned to the Eden.

Simon later said “the marine iguanas are amazing.  They start the day by trying to warm up in the sun.  Once they are hot enough they swim out to sea where they eat algae and seaweed for up to thirty minutes then return to the beach to reheat and snort up sea salt.  It was a magical, somewhat gross evil sight to see”.

Only thing cooler than a marine iguana is a marine iguana with a lava lizard on its tail If nothing else, this says ‘metal’
Whiskers McWhiskers walks with an iguana Brothers from different mothers

Back on board the Eden, a course was set for the northern tip of Isabela.  Arriving at the dramatic location, the team once again changed into their snorkel gear and entered the water.  Snorkelling along the shoreline the team saw an excessive number of turtles.  There was that many that Ang lost count of the number and the team had to be careful not to swim into them as they snorkelled.   Their snorkel route continued around the shoreline past blue footed boobies, cormorants and penguins.  Rounding a headland, the team swam into a huge cave that was home to an angry bachelor sea lion. There they completed the challenge and received their next clue in the water.  Back into the zodiacs they climbed and returned to the Eden for well earned snacks and drinks.

Ang is freezing, but happy at completing the challenge

Soon the Eden left Isabela and was motoring north for an eleven hour overnight sail to their next location.

… To be continued.

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Costa Rica 1: Playa Sámara

Leaving the pit stop at 5.30 am, they boarded the first chicken bus and were soon squashed in with the other Ometepe commuters.  Racing around the island, the bus deposited them at San José del Sur, where the team boarded the largest ferry, the Rey del Cocibolca for the crossing back to the mainland.

Panorama of Ometepe Island

The ferry ride was again slow, but much more comfortable than the ride to over to Ometepe.  On the boat, the team received a delicious hot local Nicaraguan breakfast of gallo pinto, eggs, avocado, tortillas and coffee.  Ang was very impressed with the restaurant service on the boat and said “I wish you could get this  on ferries back home.  You’d be lucky to get a quality meat pie”.

Soon the ferry arrived in San Jorge, where they joined some volunteers to share a taxi to back to Rivas.  Ignoring other taxi drivers persuit for the teams business, they jumped onto a waiting chicken bus and sped to the frontier.  The drive to the border was interesting for Simon and Ang as the road hugs the lake, making for some spectacular views of Ometepe Island.  After the 45 minute ride, the team arrived at what Ang called “a hell of a messy border”.

They paid their $1 to the local municipality to enter the border area then completed customs formalities and paid their $2 to exit Nicaragua.  Racing out of the departures kiosk, they were briefly confused as to which direction to head in as the large numbers of parked trucks all over the place like a dogs breakfast made seeing which way to walk difficult.  A helpful map was quickly located and the team set off through the muddy truck lot, along with two Americans who were also making the crossing.

Showing their passports a few more times to Nicaragua authorities, they walked down what looked like, minus the parked trucks, a normal road for this part of the world.  Eventually they arrived at a construction site and noticed a large queue.  There was no signage, but it was obviously Costa Rian immigration.

Passports were soon stamped and the team headed once again into a muddy carpark.  They eventually located the most local looking bus and were soon on their way to Liberia.

After almost two hours of driving, including a stop for Costa Rican authorities to check passports, the team arrived at the Liberia bus station.  Tickets were purchased for the next leg and the team joined the queue of people waiting. Unfortunately the front part of the queue completely filled the first bus so the team had to wait another 20 minutes for the second.

The advantage of this was the team was able to get a seat and were soon on their way 90 km further south.  Simon said halfway through this 2 hour bus ride that he thought that he ‘would never say that he missed chicken buses’ as while the bus was relatively modern, the seats were hard plastic benches. The other advantage to taking the second bus was that it stopped fewer times, which meant towards the end of the journey they caught up with the first bus.  After a painful 2 hours the bus arrived in Nicoya.

Getting some directions from the driver before getting off, the team walked over to the next bus station and waited for their final bus to Playa Sámara.  Some supplies were purchased and the team were soon on the final bus of the day. This bus was the most ultra modern that they had taken yet on the Amazing Exclusive Race and was even air-conditioned.  Both Ang and Simon were amazed.

The drive to Playa Sámara was incredibly beautiful, particularly the stretch through Valle Verde, and was very comfortable for the team.  They pulled into Sámara after an epic 12 hours of travel and there the team found their accommodation, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

During the day long rest period the team took advantage of the spectacular surrounds to explore the beaches and headlands.  Refreshed, they had an early night ready for the next day’s travel.

Man on a horse, Playa Sámara Two horses and a beach
Ang climbing around the headland
Panorama of Playa Sámara
Towards the setting sun HDR image taken near Playa Sámara
Life is indeed awesome
Sunset Horses on Playa Sámara
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Nicaragua 4: Granada

Once again Simon and Ang were the first to depart from the pit stop.  They travelled on foot back to the dock on the western side of the island.  Their they joined the mostly backpacker crowd waiting for the panga.  Schedule departure time passed without the boat being seen.  Twenty minutes later an engine roared into life from around the headland.  The boat was speedily loaded and it disembarked from the dock.

An early start to this leg of the Race Many pangas, few drivers
Panga filled with gringos, while locals are still asleep

This crossing was a nearly flat easy ride across the strait back to Big Corn.  The team once again shared a cab to the airport, this time with Team Ireland 2 and once again almost emptied their backpack contents to meet weight limits which they carried as carry on.

Big Corn Island from the air

After another uneventful flight the team arrived back in Managua and negotiated a good deal for a 100Q cab ride back to the bus station.   There they boarded a bus south to Granada.

Granada is perhaps the most touristy of all the towns in Nicaragua.  The colonial streets and restored buildings are set around a flat tourist core.  There the team arrived in the centre of town and made their way to their accommodation.  There they met up with the original Team Ireland, who they had last seen in Tikal, Guatemala.

Sus pies or potentially sexist subtitling as the giant monkey king looks on

Challenges for this leg of the race included repairing damaged/worn clothing, climbing to the top of La Mercer Church for scenic views, eating in the top eating spots in the city, walking to the nearby shores of lake Nicaragua and swimming with beer in hand at the hostel pool.  Lastly, the team completed the personal grooming challenge where Simon had a haircut and Ang a pedicure, at a local beauty salon with the combined costing less than $5.

Panorama looking towards Lake Nicaragua
Clock tower towards Lake Nicaragua Music and cycling
Ang is part way through the pedicure challenge Simon (looking like Christian Bale) part way through the haircut challenge
Haircut challenge complete
Central plaza looking south east Central plaza looking north east
Kind of like the Blues Brothers, but not as cool Moss covered footpath near the lake
Ang completes the “photograph a Nicaragua vendor” challenge with this picture A building near the shop where the clothing was repaired
Not as good as After Party, but it is on wheels!

Completing these tasks, the team, still in first place, checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race.

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Guatemala 5: San Marcos, Largo Atitlán

Racing recommenced the next morning with Simon and Ang departing Earth Lodge at 10am standing in the back of a pickup truck. On the 5km ride into town, they chatted with Drew, one of the owners of Earth Lodge and tried to hold on.  Arriving back in the cobbled streets of Antigua, they were stared at by tourist gringos who, as Drew pointed out, probably wanted to ‘get on the tour that those guys were on’.

To avoid four changes of chicken buses, and the need to travel through one dodgy prison city, the team made their way to a local travel agency where they booked passage on a shuttle to Lake Atitlán.  The first shuttle would depart at 2pm, so the team set out on foot to negotiate a good deal for a couple of small Guatemalan handicraft items from a nearby market.

After making their purchases and a quick cheap delicious lunch at a locals only joint, the team boarded the shuttle and headed north to the lake. The driver of the shuttle was terrible, having great difficulty with the concepts of smooth acceleration and braking, gears and speed bumps.  For Simon, this guy was the worst driver in all of Central America.  After almost 2 trying hours, Ang called out ‘seriously!!” as she was about to be ill.

Perhaps as revenge for Ang’s understandable outburst to which others were grateful for or because the driver was too lazy to go all the way to San Marcos, the team was dumped in San Pablo, a small town 15 minutes away from San Marcos.  The excuse given by the driver at the time was that the remaining distance was impassable in the van and that the team would need to take a tuk tuk.  Angry, and after a failed attempting to blockade the van, Simon and Ang jumped into a tuk tuk and travelled the remaining 5km for 10Q.  While the cost was small, both Ang and Simon were annoyed with this on principle and decided to take action to get a refund later for this additional expense.

The tuk tuk ride deposited them in San Marcos, and there following the clue provided by a volunteer at Earth Lodge, the team, along with the local children who greeted them on arrival, walked down to Paco Real and found Frank.  There they were given their next clue.

This challenge would require Ang and Simon to both enrol in a week’s one on one Spanish lessons. With the paperwork completed, they soon went to sleep as the first of 20 hours worth of Spanish would begin at 2pm the next day.

Atitlán panorama
Panorama of the San Pedro end of Atitlán

The next five days consisted of exploring San Marcos, trips in the morning to various other Atitlán villages such as San Pedro, Panajachel and Santiago.  In the afternoons, the team learnt Spanish from David and Lucas and then in the evenings, they tried a different restaurant in San Marcos. Highlights for the team included Ganesh cooking cooperative, La Fé, Moonfish, Tul y Sol and a small Japanese place hidden down a laneway behind a football field.

Women in traditional dress in San Pedro
View from the team’s favourite breaky spot “Tul y Sol” in San Marcos Neo new age types meditating near the Pyramids in San Marcos
San Marcos dock Water taxi bow
San Pedro’s Pana dock (somewhat under water) Cunningly disguised mobile tower
Ang completing the fringe cut challenge. Locals enjoyed watching from the window Standard latin American church in Pana
Hour four of a graduation, San Marcos style Chickens for sale, San Pedro
Santiago dock, San Pedro The mighty Titanic departs Pana dock
Traditional Santiago woman’s hand embroidery Santiago de Atitlán market
Buying vegetables in Santiago Pantalones de Santiago
View from Santiago to San Pedro Another Volcán

Both Ang and Simon found the town of San Marcos to be surprisingly large, and even right up until their last day of Spanish they were still discovering new restaurants and places to eat breakfast.  Simon liked the community that had been established in San Marcos, with lots of friendly, personable people which helped to make this leg of the race all the more enjoyable. The team was also lucky to meet Leigh, a trustworthy British gent who they were able to trade their Cuba guidebook for a later edition of the South American guidebook.

A busy San Marcos street Spanish homework

Having completed all the tasks for this leg of the race, the team were given the final clue and they raced to back to Paco Real, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

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