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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Belize 1: Caye Caulker

In an amazing first, the optional rest period was not observed.  The team headed straight down the main street of Caye Caulker to find Raggamuffin tours, a provider that runs a three day, two night sailing, camping and snorkelling cruise through the Belizean Caribbean.

Heeding the calls to slow down, the team ambled their way through the town.  After a while they arrived at the Raggamuffin stand and quickly read the notice that said that they were closed until November!  Hugely disappointed, they were about to give up when they noticed some rasta types hanging around the back of the Raggamuffin stand.  Inquiries with the staff quickly revealed that while Raggamuffin was closed, they would be willing to run a tour provided eight able seadogs could be press-ganged into coming aboard.  The manager told the team that there were two other people interested already.

Ah drinking…

Energised with this additional challenge, the team set off to the nearby hostel of Bella’s.  There they were able to successfully locate the two Canadian dudes who had found a pair of Dutch girls who were also interested in the trip.  The team exchanged relevant details with the Canadians and set off to recruit others.

Four guard dogs cover all angles

Along with organising the sailing trip, the team’s task was to sample each of the dinner options and rate which is the best. Ignoring most of the touts, the team settled on a small ice cream/lobster joint.  This restaurant, like most on the island, had a big grill out the front.  Two lobster meals were ordered for $15 each.  Simon and Ang both scored their lobsters and the restaurant, 8/10.

Water cocktail

The next morning excellent progress was made on the additional passengers for the sailing trip.  Whilst at breakfast, Ang was able to sell the sailing trip to three Irish friends, who were travelling the Amazing Exclusive Race Ireland.  With the addition of the extra three, the quota had been met.  Contact was made with Raggamuffin tours and a briefing session organised for that afternoon.  To celebrate, the team swam at the split and ate banana bread, fresh from the cake man.  Simon was told to slow down when he went to pay the man, which was a hard thing to do as he was wading through chest high water at the time.

Golf cart parking

At the briefing session, the nine passengers gave their deposits and were given some information on the trip.  Charlie, the owner of Raggamuffin, was confident that the trip would go ahead, but she organised another meeting for the following day to confirm.  The only thing that could prevent the trip from going ahead was the weather.  If the forecast was ok, they would depart on the Friday.

With the meeting completed, team Australia along with team Ireland headed to the next restaurant on the list – Rosie’s.  The tout for this place had the advantage of a table full of lobster for the teams to pick from.  A discount was organised and the two teams from the two separate series sat down to eat dinner.  Despite the discount, the lobster and sides were disappointing at Rosie’s due to the tout hype and the cost.  Simon gave them 6/10 and Ang 7/10.

The next morning involved more going slow and general relaxing.  Rather ominously, James, an Australian electrian who team Australia had met on the water taxi from Mexico, randomly and somewhat like a storm bird, decided that the one cloud in the sky meant rain was on its way.  He promptly left the island, heading further south to Panama.  Later that afternoon, showers started…

Golf buggy mechanic

On their return from their lunchtime walk to the split, the team sampled the food of a guy known as Budget Man.  He had a simple set up of 4 huge pots on a table and served cheap tasty food.  The team sampled his tender chicken thighs and were hugely impressed, despite possible food hygiene issues.  Simon scored this food 9/10, even though it wasn’t lobster.

Ordering from the Budget Man

Then it was time for the meeting with Charlie from Reggamuffin.  The outlook for the trip was not good as the rain over Central America was swirling over Belize.  The passengers were given the option to pull out, but all elected to wait one more day in the hope of a clear forecast.  Rain continued to develop during the day, with many of the local streets slightly flooded.

Pier to nowhere Another pier to nowhere
Partially flooded street, Caye Caulker

That night, continuing with the food challenge for this leg continued with the team eating at La Bodgerdita Del Medeo, a Cuban run knock of the Cuban owned original version.  The tout out the front was very annoying and the lobster overhyped, possibly undercooked with miniature sides.  Simon rated this worst of the restaurants tried so far, scoring it 5/10.  Ang refused to provide a rating due to the highly annoying tout.  Ang would later say, “who cares if you are running for mayor, have 5 passports and are wanted for crimes in three Central American countries, I just wanted to eat in peace”.

Unauthorised Cuban rip-off avoids being sued by tilting some letters

The next day brought bad news. Heavy rains over night and no sign of clearing weather meant the Raggamuffin tour would not go ahead.  All teams were given a deviation.  A deviation occurs when circumstances outside of a team’s control mean they are unable to complete a challenge. In this instance bad weather prevented completion of the sailing trip, so an alternative challenge was provided.  Team Australia was to complete a one day snorkelling trip.  This was hastily organised for the next day.

Sunset panorama

For dinner that night, the teams finally gave into the ridiculous over the top touting (even for a Caye Caulker tout) that was embodied in the Lobster King.  He had been persistent with his outlandish claims (and so had been avoided up to now).  Simon’s favourite was ‘we’ve got it all tonight – two kinds of meats; lobster and chicken; lobster and beef; lobster and fish – together as one’ all accompanied with outrageous hand gestures illustrating the marriage of meats.  Simon reckoned that even if the food was not good, the experience should be entertaining.  A discount of 20% for the group was secured before both the Irish and Australian teams committed.

Soon the teams ordered and were provided with what was surprisingly good value.  They ate their meals and were not annoyed by any touts, including the King himself. Despite half the lobster missing from the whole lobster (probably used for the lobster curry), Simon and Ang rated the quality 8/10. This was equal to the first night, but the value for money was much better.

Buoyed by their meal, both teams headed to the Ocean Front bar where drinks were ordered.  Ang in particular took advantage of this to order big.  Outside, due to the rain during the day, Budget Man had set up shop for a rare dinner special.  This was much more interesting than the bar, as Budget Man had brought along a Garfiuna drum band to support his sales of food.

Team Ireland and Australia at the pub
Large cocktail Empty cocktail (Ang is sad)

Later, after a quick nightcap at the I and I bar, the team correctly identified the Budget Man as the best value for money food provider on the island (even though he didn’t do whole lobster).

With all tasks complete and the next morning’s rain meaning the snorkel trip was cancelled, the team (along with team Ireland), boarded a water taxi for Belize City.

Ya man, we are Rastas

…to be continued.

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Cuba Part 3: Trinidad to Varadero

With only a limited time in Cuba, the team set off to the Viazul bus station via taxi.  There they boarded a bus heading south to Trinidad on what would soon become a grocery run.  At each opportunity, the two drivers would stop the bus and one would disappear into a house only to return with the desired items.  These would range from breads through to single avocados. Other than the chance to see the Cuban country side, a highlight of the bus ride for Simon was passing by Australia, Cuba.

Later that day, the team were finally able to arrive at their destination.  There they were met by their booked casa host and after dumping their bags in the casa, they set off to explore the town.  The influence of the Spanish was clear in the cobbled streets and colonial buildings.  That evening, the team enjoyed the Cuban music on offer at the Music cafe and later during dinner at a little restaurant filled with antique furniture.

Old car Trinidad A tractor in Trinidad
We think it is under repair A surprisingly healthy horse
Exceptional value at 1.75 CUC for 500ml Sunset in Cuba’s Caribbean Capital
Classy dinner

The next morning, they were tasked with lazing on a nearby beach.  To reach Playa Acón, the team negotiated a 5km Coco taxi ride.  Coco taxis are a unique Cuban transport that is like a cross between a tuk-tuk and a carnival ride. Arriving at the Playa, the team did little else than swim, walk and eat ice cream until late that afternoon. With this challenge completed, the team returned to Trinidad for dinner and some more music.

Dudes on their velos heading to Playa Acón Towards Trinidad
Cuban crabs are tiny!
Simon enjoying the coco
Cuban dogs are cool Suburban Trinidad
Sitting and watching is a pastime Every house needs a lion on the roof
Warm nights in Trinidad Live music Trinidad style

The next morning the team once again boarded a Viazul bus north to the resort island of Varadero.  Once again this was a grocery run, with several stops being made on the indirect route that included Playa Girón and the Bay of Pigs.  Their scenic route included the hamlet of Australia.  Unfortunately the team were unable to get any photos as their bus raced through on its way to the next foodstuff pickup.

Hasten to battle, men of Bayamo! The motherland looks proudly to you…
The Bay of Pigs Highway to no where
Monument to the velo

Hours after departure, the team arrived in Varadero and were met by their friendly casa host. They set off to complete the main tasks for this town.  In order to receive their next clue, the team needed to laze on the beach some more.  Having gained considerable skill at this type of challenge, the team was easily able to complete this task in the perfect amount of time and were awarded their next clue.

It isn’t the Caribbean, but it’s still very nice More Playa

The next challenge was to walk to the far end of the island or near enough to ‘see what was there’.  The team attempted this late one evening, but after some kms, decided to return to their casa.  The next morning, the team travelled by foot and negotiated cheap tourist bus to the Plaza Los Americas, where they then walked along the beach back to their accommodation in Centro Varadero.

A revolutionary golf course in Cuba
More classic things Un Perro en la Playa

Having completed these two tasks, the team checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race, a bar on the beach that served drinks and snacks.  There they celebrated their first place with fresh swordfish and mojitos, negotiated for 5 CUC each.

Cuban sunset Post check-in walk on the beach
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Canada 4: Montréal

After the optional rest period, the team set out to explore the city. Once again, the team’s preference for walking meant that a lot of kilometres were covered.  Their route included the happiest area of all of Montréal, downtown and the waterfront.

Rusty – Ang likes this Waterfront towards old Montréal
Towards the day spa near the rusty building
Lock and rusty building Old town street

The racers were challenged to prepare two home cooked meals.  The first was a fantastic lamb curry and the second, a little later, was Ang’s thyme, chicken, fetta, tomato and olive dish.  Merryl loved both dishes and presented the team with their next challenge.

Merryl asked the team to help her locate the base of the giant cross whilst completing a walking tour of Parc Royale.  This wild park in the centre of Montréal afforded the team a chance to reconnect with nature whilst observing native Montréalites going about their recreation.  The team successfully located the base of the giant metal cross on top of the highest peak in the park and received their next clue.

Racers and Merryl in Parc Royale

The next challenge was to sample some magnificent ice cream and dos Colombian empanadas.  This was followed by a Cuban salsa concert and of course, more empanadas.  Simon liked Montréal, calling it ‘a really cool city’.

Little ice cream shop in the park Cuban salsa night

Enjoying Montréal and time with Merryl, the team had planned to stay a little longer however they received a Clearway. A team that receives a Clearway must leave their current location as soon as possible.  A Clearway has hours of effect, that usually requires the team to complete their original tasks in a greatly reduced timeframe. The team had to be a little creative in how they would complete their planned tasks within the required timeframe.

Transportation was rapidly booked and the team packed, ready for departure the next morning.

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Canada 1: Vancouver

The Vancouver leg of the race commenced with the team hiring bikes and proceeding, along with Alissa, to circumnavigate Stanley Park. Once this had been completed, the team headed in to the internal forest where they came across a racoon. After this sighting, the team climbed to the summit of the highest point in the park where they received their next clue – “survive the annual shuffling migration”.  Zombies!

Vancouver skyline The Beach
Tour de Stanley Park Surprisingly not glued
Racoon! Three dogs!

Knowing zombies prefer commercial centres, in particular flat shopping streets, they proceeded back towards the centre of the city.  There they rendezvoused with an advanced party of zombie hunters that were running ahead of the horde.  Soon, the team was engulfed in the thousands of undead.  Simon remarked that “you could smell the fake blood long before you actually saw the fake horror” and commenced taking photos.  The team battled their way through and survived.  They received their next clue and were soon on their way.

Zombie rights

Collecting a hire car early on the Sunday morning, the team, along with Nathan, Sarah and Alissa, drove north toward the Chef.  There they were joined by Shelly.  The challenge was to climb the Chef and eat cherries once on top.  The climb was at times steep, but relatively easy, until they had to make use of chains.  Soon, the team, along with the other Australian types, had reached the top.  Both Simon and Ang were impressed with the scene, with Ang equating to Norway.  Many cherries were sampled.

Racers on the Chef with Shelly Racers on the Chef with Alissa
Ang getting ready to go back down

Completing the hike, the team dropped the festival goers at Live at Squamish and continued to Whistler.  There the team spent the afternoon experiencing the resort town vibe by first spying a brown bear, then eating lupper (lunch and supper) before watching Barenaked Ladies perform.  As the Whistler challenge was now complete, the team headed to a conveniently located fast food car park and waited for the festival goers to emerge from the woods.  This wait was accompanied by the sounds of Major Lazer, last heard in San Fran.

Waiting for the Barenakeds to start Olympic seating
Cow hugger!

Back to Vancouver they headed and the team enjoyed a rest day.  The race recommenced the next day with the team boarding a flight to Calgary.

After 10pm late night op shopping

… to be continued.

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United States 6: San Francisco

Waking after a restful night’s sleep, the team set out to explore metropolitan San Francisco. Challenges included riding a cable car, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge (from a far) and locating the elusive Buba Gump restaurant at Pier 39. Angela was pleased to have finally had the chance to have a beer at the restaurant bar, fulfilling a childhood dream (by being in the restaurant, not drinking the beer). Later, the team was particularly impressed with the showboating and snoting of the harbour seals.

Abandoned dogs! Success!
Fortune cookie manufacturing (all fortunes were excellent)

Returning to Sarah’s cool apartment for an optional 12 hour rest period, the team set off for Golden Gate park. Their main task was to complete the Generic Festival Clothing Outside Lands challenge. To complete this challenge, the team was required to collect tickets from the Will Call and spend the next three days at the Outside Lands festival. As a bonus, the team would also attempt to work out why a band called Phish (who basically just jam for 4 hours straight) were so popular.

Festival art Slack waste removal or more festival art?
The sun is smiling, the weather is fine.

Most of the three days of Outside Lands involved checking out the bands and sampling a variety of foods including what Simon termed “grade A awesome strawberry gelato”. Following the second day, the team were given and completed a surprise detour to China Beach. There they again attempted to see the Golden Gate up close. But it was a bridge to far…

Golden gate by night China beach

The multifaceted event that was Outside Lands also included viewing art and a rather expensive wine tasting. The team correctly identified Seven Deadly Sins as the best Napa wine on offer at the festival.

Demonstrating the hand signal (easy to spot in a crowd) Generic ground shot
Muse turn it up to 11

At the end of the challenge, both team members gave their top three music highlights. For Simon these were OK Go, Muse and Deadmau5. For Angela, hers were Arcade Fire, Muse and ‘some New York band’. Unfortunately, they were unable to complete the bonus challenge as they were no closer to understanding why Phish was so popular. Simon’s best theory was that Phish is some sort of cult.

Another day of festival racing

With the Generic Festival Clothing Outside Lands challenge completed, the team resumed normal sightseeing racing. They continued to walk most of the city, visiting the Mission, Painted Ladies and the most crooked street. They finally managed to see the Golden Gate up close. Simon continued his invented Prius game, much to Ang’s annoyance, and managed to spot 4 Prius in 30 seconds. The team also discovered Sarah’s aversion to brunch.

Golden gate by day Windy but clear
Mission mural alley Lenin appreciates the mural irony
Silly crooked garden street

Soon it was day six of this leg of the race, the last day. Keen to get as much value out of their remaining hours in San Francisco as possible, the team visited some art galleries, Haight street and rode the cable cars couple of more times before they raced back to the T line and back to Sarah’s. Then Sarah kindly drove them to the airport, where they boarded the flight to Seattle.

SF streetscape Near Haight
Please keep your body outside the moving vehicle Better than walking up the hill

The pit stop for this leg of the race was the city hostel in Belltown. The team was the first to check in, winning this stage of the race.

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