Norway 1: Oslo, Capital of Viking Land

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

Prawns by the freezer load! Pretending to be a seal

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

Soldiers in lush Oslo
Royal palace panorama

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

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

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

Akershus Festning panorama
Tulips in front of a castle Arty tulips

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

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

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

Parkveien / Riksveg viewed from Cochs Pensjonat

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

Gridion, Norweigan style Goooooo Vikings!
Vigeland sculpture park

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

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

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

Majorstuen street scape

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

Momo gets in on a promo shot

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

Lewis, a friendly Norweigan staffy Oslo twilight

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

Datarock plays at their local

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

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

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

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

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United Kingdom 1: Hexham

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang of Team Australia raced from warm tropical lush Brazil all the way via Switzerland to cold lush Hexham England, the pitstop for that leg of the race. Simon and Ang were once again the first team to arrive.

Hexham green

After an optional rest period (and after Ang’s bags had arrived 24hrs later), the team were given their next clue. Leaving the pit stop, they read their tasks for this leg of the race. They were to complete a pub crawl, visit Bamburgh Castle and Hadrian’s wall, and finally, make ice cream and felt.

Pub that serves wine? Flower power
Ironic rabbit statue Beez!
Fantastic flowers Pretty

With the pub challenge complete, the team was joined by Janie and David in a drive through the pretty English countryside to the fantastic Bamburgh castle. A tour of the grounds was completed, along with a few walks along brisk nearby beaches before heading back to Hexham.

Fabulous pub lunch at the Rat
Resting after a pub feast
Sir Simon
Bamburgh sitting room
Coastal views
Mighty Bamburgh
The knights built this place for the beach views
Seaside England
‘Barmy’ seaside waterway
Mossy old England

A highlight for Simon and Ang was the chance to walk along Hadrian’s wall to Sycamore gap, where four years earlier Simon had proposed. Whilst the weather was not the same blue skies of that memorable day, the team had Northumberland’s iconic gap all to themselves. Simon and Ang enjoyed the brisk conditions and reminisced.

So pretty Northumberland farm along the wall
Sycamore gap!
Airborne racers next to the tree

The other challenges of ice cream making and felting were easily bested by the crafty team Australia over the next couple of days.

In and around completing the race challenges they even managed to squeeze in time to see a film, go for a run or two and help wrangle a bee hive whilst they enjoyed Janie and David’s wonderful hospitality at the pitstop. Simon and Ang both agreed that this time was excellent in its normality and a good reintroduction to post race life, which the producers had let slip would be in a little over 15 days away.

David and the hive
Tyne Green
River Tyne
Hexham church

With all challenges completed, the team returned to Janie and David’s house, the pitstop for this leg of the race. They were once again the first team to arrive and celebrated with delicious double chocolate ice cream that Simon made.

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

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

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

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

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

Recoleta Another tomb
Don’t cry for me Evita!

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

Subte panorama
Subte platform

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

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

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

Palermo pengiunl

To be continued…

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Argentina 6: Aconcagua and the Andes

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang raced to the town of Mendoza. There they embarked on a tour of four of Mendoza’s fantastic wineries. They ate and drank lots of delicious food and drink before falling into restful sleeps. Their next challenge would begin the next morning.

Once again the team was picked up early in the morning by Trout and Wine from their accommodation. For this leg, Simon and Ang were once again joined by Chris and Rita, two Amazing Exclusive Racers from America. The two teams were then driven out of Mendoza and up into the Andes.

Heading to the Andes Mirror Mirror on the Truck…
This dam supplies water to Mendoza
Like the surface of the moon Dióxido de carbono truck

Retracing their route from the Chilean border, the van stopped at the Puente del Inca before continuing on up to the enormous Aconcagua. There the teams were required to complete a little walk to a mirador that afforded an excellent view of Aconcagua mountain, the highest in the Andes and the western hemisphere. With this challenge completed, the team was directed to a nearby ski resort for lunch.

Puente Del Inca
The team pauses for a promotional shot in front of the bridge Museum piece building that is a museum
Looking up towards Chile Leave them ducks alone
Mighty Aconcagua
High Andean mountains
Abandoned bus Inside the abandoned bus (powered by internet explorer, which is probably why it was abandoned)

After another fantastic steak based meal, Simon and Ang were provided with their next clue. This viewer challenge had been sent in by Organic Hobo. For this task the Team were to find Florentino Bistro and ask what the in season salad is. Team America, received a different food related challenge to complete. Both teams raced out of the ski resort and back to Mendoza. They were soon dropped off at their respective accommodation. Simon and Ang took the opportunity to rest before they headed back into the centre of town.

Avalanche protection up close Lunch time equals more wine to try

After walking around for a little while searching for the restaurant, Simon asked inside a hotel for directions and they were able to locate Florentino Bistro. There they met the head chef, Sebastian and asked what the in season salad was. Completing this challenge, Simon and Ang were provided with their next clue at this point, but instead of racing off decided that the food at Florentino sounded too good not to eat. Reading their next clue, the team was tasked with completing another wine tour, this time to the Valle Ucon south of the city.  They enjoyed a delicious salad, risotto and excellent dessert before they raced out of the restaurant (making a booking for the next night on their way out).

Pre dinner drinks Ang is still impressed by the Argentine Malbecs

Excitedly, the team raced back to their accommodation to get ready for the next day’s challenge.

…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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Argentina 2: Mercedes to Puerto Iguazú

During the optional rest period, Simon and Ang enjoyed Sam and Nora’s hospitality.  They assisted with meals, Ang made beaded jewellery with Nora, hopping in and out of the welcoming pool and generally relaxed with wine in hand.  Trips into town were had to sample some of Argentina’s finest ice cream at Cremolatti and to visit a local bar with Nico, Sam and Nora’s son.

Sam’s farm pool Sam’s farm well
A cow next to Sam’s farm Nora inside Sam’s farm
The throne Racers at a bar in Mercedes along with Nico
Nico after time in the work shed

Ang really admired Nico’s gorgeous craftsmanship seen all around the house (carpentry and paintings) so Nico began making Ang two lovely timber bracelets and a painting. With the relaxing and hospitable time given by Sam, Nora and Nico the team said they would like to return sometime in the future when they weren’t in a race. Ang said “Mercedes is such a nice French colonial town and We have to go back to collect the Nico painting master piece someday”.

With the rest period over, and sadly too short, Simon and Ang once again packed their bags in preparation for the start of the next leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race.  Soon, they received their clue and were on their way to Puerto Iguazú.  The journey began with the team being driven to the Mercedes bus station where they boarded a bus to Corrientes.  There they purchased tickets for the fifteen hour overnight bus to Puerto Iguazú.  Once again this was a bearable, but less than comfortable journey.

Sunset outside of Mercedes

They arrived early the next morning in Iguazú and were given the task of finding suitable accommodation. Both Simon and Ang were confident that this would easily be achieved, but they soon realised that there was a big bubble of people heading towards Brazil. They walked around for a couple of hours in the intense heat before they were able to secure beds in a dorm room at a party hostel.

With this challenge completed, the team received their next clue.  They were to make their way to Iguazú falls, a massive watercourse that has flows three times greater than Niagara falls, a natural wonder previously visited by the team.  Once at Iguazú, Simon and Ang would be required to complete a grand tour of the Argentine side.  Racing back to the bus station, the team jumped on a Iquazú bound bus and arrived at the national park at two pm.

Iguazú falls

They entered and raced through the lower circuit, heading over to San Martin Island on the last ferry of the day.  Simon and Ang were impressed at the sheer majesty of the spectacular cascades.  Ang was disappointed that no one had mentioned you could swim, but had little time to wallow as the team still needed to see the other two sections of the extensive Argentine trail system.

Falls panorama
Iguazú from another angle is still spectacular

Racing out of the lower circuit, the team jumped on the train and were driven around to the Gargantra Del Diablo, the largest plunge of the falls. The team was impressed at the scale of the waterfall and took a number of photographs before they raced back to the train station for the last returning train of the day.

The main Iguazú falls plunge, Gargantra Del Diablo
Rock within Iguazú

They arrived back at the second train station soon after and instead of giving up and riding the final train back to the entry gate, set out to complete the last component of the race.  They headed back to the entry of the upper circuit where they jumped over the closed gate and raced along the boardwalk.  The upper circuit provided the final perspective of the falls and the team was able to enjoy the magical sunset light and take a few photographs before a nice park ranger gave them their final clue directing them to make their way to the pit stop and kicked them out.

Returning to Puerto Iguazú, the team checked into their accommodation, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

That evening, they enjoyed the rest period by walking around town, eating exceptional steak and finally more Cremolatti ice cream.  Both Simon and Ang knew that from this point on the race would be turned up a notch so they both took advantage of the rest.

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Bolivia 4: Tupiza

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced into the unearthly high Bolivian desert.  They left the town of Uyuni aboard a 4WD and spent four days, three nights travelling through some of the world’s most spectacular desert scenery before racing back to Uyuni.

Arriving in Uyuni late that afternoon, the team raced to the nearby bus office and bought a ticket on that evening’s 8pm overnight bus to the town of Tupiza.  After a quick farewell dinner with Team Organic Hobo, they were aboard, heading out of town.  Owing to the heavy afternoon rain, their bus soon stopped 45 min out of town at a swollen river crossing.  Their driver informed the passengers that they could not pass but would wait for the river to go down. Simon left the bus and visually checked the depth of the water, but could hardly see much in the evening gloom.  Returning to the bus Simon and Ang settled in to wait.

After what turned out to be a restless night that included a twelve piece impromptu Argentine bus band forming, to complete their own Exclusive Race challenge, and playing until two am, the bus driver finally consulted with the passengers at 9am the next morning as the river still was impassable.  Consensus was reached and it was decided to return to Uyuni for breakfast and long awaited use of a bathroom.  They would attempt to cross again in the early afternoon before any later afternoon storms could flood the road again.

Back in Uyuni, Simon and Ang quickly located a bathroom then ate breakfast before jumping back on the bus with the rest of the mostly Argentine passengers.  As their bus approached the blockage, it was clear that the water level had fallen, however it was unclear by how much.  The team was hopeful they would be able to get through otherwise they feared they would be eliminated.

Their bus arrived at the back of a queue that consisted of more trucks, cars and buses than earlier that morning.  The road remained impassable, so once again they settled into wait.  Simon commenced looking at alternative routes.  He managed to work out there was a chance to take a six hour detour north to the town of Potasi, change buses then head six hours south.  But in discussions with Ang, they realised this was probably a silly way to go.

Yep, that road is closed Watching flood water with the locals

About two and a half hours later, a particularly loud, hoarse speaking Argentine guy screamed out “una mapa de Bolivia por favour” (a map of Bolivia please).  He was quickly provided one and about twenty minutes later had worked out the same route that Simon had, and began chanting ‘Po-tasi! Po-tasi! Po-tasi!’, to drum up support for his detour.  He then started negotiating with the driver to get him to turn the bus around.  It was about at this point another double decker bus decided it could make the crossing (without anyone physically checking water depths in the raging current) and ploughed into the flood waters.

Blasting through, the double decker bus proved the way and soon others, including the team’s bus followed.  Hoarse Argentine guy remained quiet for a little while, then got back into the music jam session with the other Argentinean folk.  While they were almost fifteen hours delayed, by driving now during the day, the team was treated to more spectacular scenery, which they would have missed had the bus passed during the night bus.

Just like a chocolate milkshake, only flooding Everyone celebrates the crossing
Putting backpacks back under the bus Empty, but flooded Bolivia
Bolivian landscape at its best Like a matte painting!

Eventually after travelling through mind blowing canyons and countryside, the team arrived in Tupiza on dusk after almost twenty-two hours of travel.  They were given their next clue and owing to opening hours being 9-5pm, decided to find accommodation.

Tupiza building Velo shop, Tupiza
Local bike seat Andean sandals made of car/truck tyres
Dried chillies, Tupiza (oddly missing from restaurant menus) Dried pasta (present on all menus)
Small Bolivian market

Waking the next morning they were picked up and set off to complete the Tupiza Triathlon along with another Team Australia.  This event was a combination of a jeep tour, horseback riding and a downhill mountain bike.  Ang was excited by the prospect of more downhill mountain biking, but was fearful as she previously had bad experiences with horses.  Their jeep driver took them on a tour of the surrounding countryside that included spectacular rock formations and canyons.  They soon arrived at a ranch where they were put on horses for a three hour ride around some canyons.  Ang was informed she would be been given the most placid, friendly calm and slow horse, given her history of being thrown off a few, but this soon proved to be quite the opposite.

Panoramic rock formation during the jeep leg
Cutting in the rock wall Ouchy catcus!
We’re on horses! Bolivia’s wild central plains

Ang’s horse, sensing they were racing, took the lead of the herd.  It cantered on and off as it pleased and made sure no other horse would pass.  Simon tried to spur his horse on, but unfortunately it seemed broken, only cantering once during the ride out.  On the ride back, Ang’s horse was attacked by a rouge juvenile horse, which scared her and almost threw her off as her horse was buck kicking the juvenile.  But thankfully they were all able to canter on the downhill and returned to the corral with the only casualties being one of the other Team Australia’s iPhones being thrown from the horse (it sustained minor scratches only).  With this leg of the triathlon completed they all jumped back into the jeep and headed to the next task.

Unique rock formations Ang in the lead
Simon playing cowboy Racers on horses

Their final task of the Tupiza Triathlon was to complete the downhill mountain bike leg.  They were driven to the top of a long dusty dirt road.  After picking bikes the group set off.  Simon and a member of the other Team Australia took an early lead.  Unfortunately, the rough gravelly road caused the other guy to get a flat tire.  This left Simon alone to complete the final stretch.  Eventually the other team and Ang caught up.  Ang was particularly displeased as the standard of the provided bikes was less than those provided as part of the World’s Most Dangerous Road.  Simon thought later that single shocks should be banned from downhill off road riding, after the jarring but fun ride.

Traffic on the Bolivian downhill road Simon gets ready to ride
Giant Ang gets ready to ride
Fantastic Bolivian canyon panorama
Another canyon panorama
Bolivian downhill road panorama
Ang flys past and on to the finish line

Once all team members had rendezvoused at the bottom of the hill, they rode back through town.  There they received their final clue directing them to the pit stop for this leg of the race.  Arriving tired but happy, Ang and Simon were the first to check into the pit stop for this leg of the race.

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Ecuador 4: Salinas to the Galapagos Islands

Taking advantage of their early, first place departure from the pit stop, Simon and Ang had a quick breakfast before they once again jumped in a collective taxi to head down from the mountains.  Ang had developed headaches from the altitude, so the timing was perfect.

The truck ride down the hill was along the winding Salinas road and caused Ang to be motion sick once they finally arrived in Guaranda.  There, after Ang recovered, the team raced to the bus terminal and boarded the first bus to Guayaquil.

The ride took the team through some spectacular mountain scenery and small quaint looking mountain villages.  The bus driver seemed adverse to any sort of speed, even when the road was clear of the thick fog. However, once the low plain was reached, the bus picked up speed, passing most traffic as it raced west to the coast to make up lost time.

Guayaquil suburb Stilt houses outside of Guayaquil
Roundabout art

Arriving in Guayaquil, a hot dusty and dangerous port city, Simon and Ang took a taxi to a hostel in the centre.  There, afer checking into their accommodation, they took a short walk along the boardwalk and had a dinner that included a big ball of plantain and cheese.   After completing this challenge, the team were given their next clue and were directed to make their way to the Galapagos Islands.

Iguanas escape people in a central park of Guayaquil A tall ship on the waterfront
Guayaquil firestation The reason why Guayaquil is dangerous – the kids learn young

Early the next morning the team raced out to the airport where they checked into the first available flight to the Galapagos Islands.  The flight was rapidly completed and the team’s plane landed at Baltra airport.  Strict entry formalities were completed and fees paid.  The team boarded the shuttle to the Itbacca channel where they then boarded a ferry for the short ride, complete with sea lions, across to Santa Cruz.  Once there, they were the first and only team on the first bus to depart for Puerto Ayora.

Arriving in Puerto Ayora in the hot early afternoon, the team were given the task of finding suitable accommodation.  After walking around, the team located Galapagos Dreams, a small boutique hostel run by the super friendly local upcoming business identity, Jonathon.  The team shared lunch with Jonathon and were then given their next clue.  They were to find and book a cruise with the Eden boat.

With the town of Puerto Ayora mostly closed as it was the day before New Year’s Eve, the team settled for the first open agency recommended by the guidebook.  They rapidly completed arrangements and agreed a payment plan as the ATMs on the island all had small withdrawal limits.

With this task completed, the team had drinks with four members of Team Canada.  They then all returned to Galapagos dreams where they climbed to the roof of the main building via a wonky homemade ladder and enjoyed the second last evening of the year.

On the roof of Galapagos Dreams

To be continued…

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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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Guatemala 3: Semuc Champey to Antigua

Prior to departing the pit stop, the team had breakfast with a friendly Puerto Rican named Carlos.  Carlos was the solo competitor in the Puerto Rican exclusive race.  He was first Puerto Rican team to check into the pit stop at midnight and was preparing for another day of gruelling racing.

Both teams chatted and soon it was time to depart from the pit stop.  Receiving their clues, the teams set off to the main attractions in Semuc Chempey.  Their first challenge was to complete a tour of the nearby caves.

The view from the race route to Semuc Chempey What a turkey

They raced the 3 km from the lodge down to the river where they soon arrived at the cave entry.  Receiving their candles and after changing into appropriate swimwear, the teams entered the water.  They swam through the long sections and managed to keep their candles alight.  They clambered over rocks, past guano and soon arrived at a waterfall deep within the cave.  Both teams wanted to proceed further into the cave, but their guide decided not to continue for safety reasons.

The team in the caves Carlos, Mayan guide and Simon at the entry to the caves
The team celebrates successully completing the challenge

Returning to daylight, the teams boarded inner tubes and soon, as a human raft, were racing down the river.  They travelled a good km in very little time before reaching returning to the bank. With this task completed, both teams received their next clue and were soon on their way to the reserve of Semuc Chempey.

Post tubing celebrations Crossing the jungle bridge

Semuc Chempey is an amazing natural feature formed where the river travels below the surface through a series of nature caves only to emerge on downstream in a thunderous waterfall.  On the upstream side the tremendous flow of water over time has deposited minerals forming spectacular pools.  Arriving at the entry to the natural park, the teams climbed to the mirador (lookout) where photos were taken before they descended to the pools themselves for a swim.  Ang was a little disappointed as the pools were cloudy and not blue due to the heavy rain, but was still amazed by their beauty.

Semuc from above
Another panorama of Semuc
The racers pause to take in the view of Semuc The thunder that is Semuc
Panorama looking upstream
Semuc waterfalls panorama
Further downstream, Semuc whitewater

After the swim, they rapidly returned to the lodge and due to being too tired from the morning’s activities, negotiated a reduction in the tour and a refund of the unused proportion. The remainder of the afternoon was spent relaxing with Team Ireland.

Power was cut to the whole valley that evening and the team was treated to a spectacular firefly show as they played cards with Team Ireland.  Team Puerto Rico returned later that night, and said that the additional portion of the tour to a second cave was not worth it.

Receiving their next clues, team Australia and Puerto Rico set early alarms and went to bed.  Team Ireland received their clue separately and would be departing the following day for the next leg of their race.

Waking before dawn the next morning, Simon, Ang and Carlos waited, then after almost 20 minutes set about trying to locate and then wake the driver.  He said their was plenty of time before the shuttle, but then proceeded to race at top speed back to Lanquín, where the transport to Antigua was set to depart from.  After a bone jarring 20 minutes they raced into Lanquín and sped up to the van.  There they waited a good hour while other passengers slowly trickled in to the van.

The ride to Antigua with a change in Cobán was relatively uneventful.  They drove past numerous landslides, met a friendly peace corp volunteer and generally enjoyed the scenery.  Soon they arrived in the pretty colonial town of Antigua and both teams located suitable accommodation.

Guy sells food to cars in the mudslide traffic jam Church with rosary and ice cream guy
Antiguan street Antiguan dogs
Antiguan horse and cart Teams Australia and Puerto Rico successfully summit Cerro de la Cruz without being robbed
Guatemalan Bob the builders Carlos races for Pepsi

Receiving their next clue, Simon, Ang and Carlos, along with the peace corp volunteer, Christine, set off to Café No Se, where Simon and Carlos drank much Illegal Mezcal. Completing this challenge, both teams were given their next clue.

Having not completed the salsa lesson challenge in Cuba, the clue called for teams to dance salsa.  If the general public gave their apparoval, the teams would get their next clue.  In another amazing first, Teams from two different series came together to complete a challenge with Team Puerto Rico giving Team Australia a lesson in street Salsa. This belatedly completed the Cuban salsa class challenge provided by Callan.

Both teams then headed off on a pub crawl that included some of the prime Antigua hotspots, but unfortunately did not include the Jungle Party Hostel as there was no party on offer there.

Jungle party suffering from a distinct lack of party

Somewhat merry, both teams returned to their accommodation in the early hours, the pit stop for this leg of the race.  As a prize for their first place, Team Australia won three nights worth of rest and relaxation at Earth Lodge.

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