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 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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Argentina 5: Mendoza Wineries

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced from the funky cultural town of Valparaiso to Santiago, the capital of Chile. Having received a clue to make their way to Argentina, they book a ticket on a fast Tica international bus over the Andes. While they waited over night for their bus to depart they checked out the city’s best eatery neighborhoods before they returned to their Plaza Del Armas hostel to rest ahead of the next day’s journey.

Waking late the next morning in true Latin American style, the team checked out of the hostel and raced to the bus station. They quickly boarded the midday bus to Mendoza and were soon heading east over the Andes towards Argentina. Their bus was virtually empty of passengers and made its way through vineyards and up the windy roads and switchbacks into the high Andes.

Bus station souvenirs? Climbing up into the Andes

At the integrated border control (Chilean and Argentine customs officials in the same booths side by side), they got their exit and entry stamps and were once again back in Argentina. The bus snaked its way down the valley towards Mendoza city where they arrived in the later afternoon at the bus station. The team raced to their accommodation and checked in. There they commenced their first Mendoza challenge, they were to wait until the morning when they would be given their next clue.

Snake road Decaying avalanche protection for a train line no longer functioning

Early the next morning, Simon and Ang were given their next task. They read the clue and couldn’t believe their luck. They were to set off with Trout and Wine tours on a trip around the wineries of Mendoza. Joining them on this challenge were teams from America, Paraguay, and England and New Zealand.

The first vineyard the teams visited was Mendel, a smallish place with limited production focusing on quality. There the team tasted a selection of wines and marveled at the wine making process, and the old adobe construction of the facility.

First winery of the tour Delicious Malbec
Mendel’s sorting room
Grapes ready for the next stage of wine making Picking out the twigs

Back in the van the teams all jumped and drove to the larger facility of Dante Robino. This vineyard produces about 100 times the production of the first. The group toured the architecturally designed facilities, then headed to the tasting room. Once again a range of great wines were drunk. For team Australia this was an education as they were able to try some varieties that were new for them. These included a glasses of Torrontés and Bonarda.

Late harvest grapes Old Dante truck
Vines! Argentine wine maker next to some barrels
Aging barrels with art works on display Barrel art
Wine bunker Dante’s tasting offerings
Dante Robino whites tasting… nice! Mighty Dante Malbecs

With tasting completed, the team raced back to the van and were driven to their next stop. Arriving at Topaz, they embarked on a quick tour and olive oil tasting before they entered the lunch room. There the team’s challenge was to eat a five course meal that, being in Argentina, involved a huge amount of meat and of course matching wines to suit each course. Simon remarked that “it was a ridiculous amount of meat, easily +800gs of prime Argentine beef, so while probably not good for your long term health, I could get used to doing this”. Sadly the challenge was over all too soon and the teams were allowed to leave the dining room.

Lunch at Topaz! Non beef entré
Beef based main (Argentina knows steak)

Despite wanting to have an afternoon nap, the team piled back into the van and drove to the last vineyard for the day, the historic Bodegas Lynch. Once again, the facility was of adobe construction, a large collection of historic gaucho ponchos and included a massive asado hall and the typical subterranean aging cavern. The final wine tasting was sublime. The team enjoyed the range of wines they tried and just wished that they could take time out from the race to arrange to ship some of the wines home.

HDR barrel bunker Final tasting stop for the day

With the final vineyard toured, the last glass sipped, Ang very merry and dancing around, the team received their next clue. They were to head back into the nearby Andes and on to Aconaguaga national park. Happy they had finished a great stage of the race, the team jumped back in the van and were driven back to their accommodation. There they enjoyed an involuntary rest period.

After waking, and because they had yet to have enough Malbec, the team headed out to dinner. They enjoyed another fine steak and with it more fine Malbec before returning once again to their accommodation for rest ahead of the next day’s challenges.

Pre dinner drinks Ang is still impressed by the Argentine Malbecs

….To be continued.

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Chile 8: Valparaiso

Ang and Simon enjoyed a delicious paradilla asado to celebrate their very long winning streak. They enjoyed their rest stop in Santiago before returning to the check in mat to recommencing racing. Their next clue required them to travel by bus to the UNESCO world heritage listed city of Valparaiso. With the clue read, they ran to the metro and took the train to the central bus station. Tickets to Valparaiso were purchased and the team boarded the bus.

Before the construction of the Panama canal, Valparaiso was a significant stop over port for international sailing and freight. Significant investment from shipping companies helped build unique city set amongst spectacular and steep hills. Residents would travel to work from their homes via trolley elevators. With the opening of the Panama canal, the importance of this port declined. Today the city is Chile’s cultural heart and is experiencing a resurgence of visitors in the form of increased tourism.

Arriving in Valparaiso a short bus ride later, the team jumped in a waiting taxi and were drive to Cerro Concepción, a colourful suburb with buildings that follow the natural contour lines of the topography. After trying a hostel that was full, they found a great bed and breakfast and secured lodgings for the night. With this challenge completed, the team was given their next clue whilst they ate an awesome lunch. Their task was to complete the morning walking tour of the city of Valparaiso.

Se Prohibe Pescar (Fishing is Prohibited)
Funky graffiti

The next morning the team woke up and raced down to the main square in old Valparaiso. There they were met by Nancy from tour4tips and commenced their tour. Nancy led the team on a great tour of the most interesting sections of Valparaiso including the Muelle (wharf), Cero Concepción and Cero Bellavista. After a great three hours, the team arrived at their final stop for the tour, a fantastic artist gallery at the base of Bellavista. There they were given a celebratory Pisco Sour and their next clue. They were to climb up to the top of Bellavista and locate the house of Pablo Neruda, a Nobel prize winning poet.

Plaza del Armas
No boring art in Valparaiso More wall art
Yet another painted wall
And even more street art
Birdy
Antique elevator Remains of a building destroyed by a gas explosion
Riders jump through this at the end of this video of downhill mountain bike racing Arty stairs
El Pollo al Trebadore
Tiene Problemas (you have problems?)
Typical Valparaiso buildings
Clever Valparaisians Musical staircase

Simon and Ang rapidly made their way up the maze of streets, soon locating the stalls outside of the open air museum. As they raced towards the entrance, they met up with Peter and Zoe, who they had previously last seen during the Antarctic leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race. The teams caught up on the challenges they had completed since they last met and raced into the grounds of Pablo’s house.

Colourful Valparaiso
Reproduction of a masterpeice
Pablo’s house Huge billboard sized art
Yep, ’bout sums it up

Both teams were given their next clue. Simon and Ang were directed to make their way as rapidly as possible to the town of Mendoza Argentina. Simon and Ang were excited, said goodbye to Peter and Zoe and raced as quickly as they could back to their accommodation. They checked the bus times and determined that they would not be able to get on daily international bus until 10am the following morning.

Valparaiso harbour and antique elevator on right
Another Valparaiso harbour panorama
Rabbit teeth!

So they decided to head back to Santiago to see if they could get an earlier bus. They checked out of their Valparaiso accommodation, rode the elevator down the hill and raced to the main bus station. They jumped in the first bus to Santiago. Arriving there a short while later, they found they would indeed have to wait until tomorrow to get back to Argentina. So they bought tickets for the following day’s bus ride and raced back to Plaza Del Armas where they checked into a hostel for the night.

Santiago’s Plaza de Armas from the hostel room

That evening they checked out the suburb of Lastarria for a late 11pm dinner, before returning to the hostel to rest.

To be continued…

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Chile 7: Easter Island

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang raced to the Chilean city of Santiago. After completing a challenge that required much partying (and next day suffering), they were given their next clue and boarded a flight to Easter Island. Once there, they expected to check into the pit stop, but were surprised when they were told they were still racing.

Racing away from what they thought was the check in mat, Simon and Ang read their next clue as they headed into town. They were tasked with attending a traditional Easter Island dance performance, called Kari Kari. Ang was excited about this challenge as she had been looking forward to this since reading about it in an in-flight magazine a few legs earlier.

Simon and Ang walked along the pleasant island streets. As they were rounding a corner they were spotted by none other than Dave and Lara from Team Britain in a 4wd.  The two teams had previously met each other on the 5th Chilean leg, Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt.

The two teams caught up with each other and worked out they were both tasked with attending the same Kari Kari challenge. So since they had some time to kill before the show started, both teams did the obvious thing and went and had drinks.

A few cocktails later, they found themselves in a traditional Easter Island theatre (a shed). The performance of Kari Kari started and after the teams watched some of the great Polynesian dance, they were both given road blocks to complete.  Simon and Dave volunteered to complete the Easter Island dance challenge and were both independently brought on stage. Luckily for both of them, there was no need to have any actual dance skill, they just had to spend the required time on the stage, roughly stomping feet in time with the music.

With that challenge completed the teams received their next clues.  Simon and Ang were tasked with hiking up to Orongo crater.  The next morning they completed the hike through the eucalyptus forest and up to the spectacular crater.  Fighting their way into the wind, they raced around the village on top of the cliff and found the next clue.  They were to join with three other Amazing Exclusive Race teams and complete a survey of some of the 880+ big giant moai heads scattered around the island.

Looking towards Hanga Roa through the gum trees
Rano Kau Volcano crater
Volcano floor
Pacific vista

Early the next morning before dawn, Team Australia joined teams from Scotland, Canada and Singapore in a hired 4wd. They raced out of Hanga Roa and headed to the north east of the island. There they watched as the sun rose behind 15 big giant Moai heads. Simon and Ang took a bunch of photos and enjoyed the sight by sitting and taking it all in.

Big giant heads!
HDR moai heads Head and quarry mountain

After the sun had risen, they rejoined the other teams back in the jeep and headed off on extensive tour of the major sights around the island including Anakena beach and birth place of the moai, the Rano Raraku quarry. After a packed day, they returned the car, having seen about 60% of the major sights. To celebrate, they enjoyed sunset drinks over the ocean in the company of several big giant heads.

Anakena beach
Don’t fall off the big giant head Don’t dance on fallen moai
Scratching the big giant head’s head
Easter Island coastline from the quarry
Hugging the big giant head Leaning big giant head
Keep watching the skies! Horses and heads

The next day, they again met up with Dave and Lara. Team Britain had hired a car for a couple of hours to complete their visit of all the sights on the island challenge, and were flying out to Tahiti that afternoon. With time remaining on their hire, they kindly gave Simon and Ang use of the vehicle, which would allow them to complete the tour of Easter Island.

Waking early the next morning, the team set out along with the teams from Scotland, Canada and Singapore that they had driven with the previous day. The last remaining sights were seen and the team arrived at the final location, a cave system on the north western coast. They explored the cave and after an extensive search Simon located their next clue. Simon and Ang’s task was to return once again to the Anakena beach. Since it was Easter, they were to complete an Easter Egg hunt.

15 big giant heads
That way to the big giant heads
Crater lake
Where’s Simon? Simon emerges from the lava tube
Sunset heads

Simon and Ang raced amongst the giant heads and the palm trees, hunting for the little delicious chocolate eggs. They were soon rewarded with their next clue, they were to make their way back to Santiago and the Bella Vista, the pit stop for this leg of the race. They raced back to town, dropped the hire car off and checked out the flights back to mainland Chile. The next returning flight would leave the day after the next. So the team decided to spend one final day getting some more beach time in the company of the giant moai heads.

The next day, rather than hiring another car, the team decided to hitchhike over to Anakena beach. Walking out of town, the team stood under the shade of a gum tree with thumbs out. It took them two car rides with friendly local Easter Islanders (both originally from Santiago, one in a taxi) to reach the beach. Before swimming, they walked along the coast for a bit before deciding to return to the best beach on the island. There they enjoyed the warm sunshine and floated around in the Pacific until it was time to head back to town. They walked into the car park and managed to get a lift with a pair of local chicas back to town.

Simon gives the thumbs up to the beach Ang walking along Easter Island coast
Anakena beach from the sea

They spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the relaxed island life and packed their bags in preparation for the flight the next day. Simon and Ang watched the sun set one more time into the western Pacific over the moai heads, having completely enjoyed their time on Rapi Nui.

Even German shepherds like watching sunsets Mystical sunset heads
Another spectacular sunset Chocolate Easter Head

The next morning the checked out and headed to the airport. Five hours later their plane landed in Santiago and the team raced back to the Bella Vista hostel. They checked in, and were once again first to arrive, continuing their winning streak.

Easter Island rainbow

In a post race interview, both Simon and Ang said that they were glad to have gone to Easter Island as it was a really cool and relaxing place. They commented that the race had been going on for months now, and despite winning each leg they were not tired of racing, and looked forward to the coming challenges.

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Bolivia 3: Salar de Uyuni

Simon and Ang who were the first to arrive at the pit stop at 8pm, were the first to depart, after the optional 21 hour rest period, at 5pm in the next day.  They proceeded on foot up to the nearest main road where they hailed a cab for the bus station.

Soon, they found themselves in the late afternoon commuter traffic jam.  Talking with the taxi driver it became clear to the team that the best option was to walk.  Paying the driver and taking their bags, they set off up the hill, walking the short distance remaining to the bus station.  Moments later they were waiting with the rest of the passengers in the chaos of the La Paz bus station for the double decker overnight bus to Uyuni.  It was here they met Bruce and Harry from Team Organic Hobo.

Initially, the bus ride wasn’t that bad.  Both Simon and Ang agreed they had been on much worse in the past.  Once they travelled past Oruro, the bus left the sealed road and bounced along the dirt road.  During this sleepless bus ride, the team chatted with Bruce and Harry and found out that their exclusive race around the world involved filming the various organic and tasty foodstuffs to make into an accessible travel show.  Both teams were required to complete a tour of the Salar de Uyuni, so they agreed to form a temporary race alliance once they arrived in Uyuni.

Almost 10 hours after it started, the bus finally bounced its way along the dirt road into Uyuni. Both Simon and Ang were relieved they had survived the trip that included at one point the bus almost rolling over.  They collected their bags from the hold and raced into town, somewhat energised to locate a good value tour and not stick around unmemorable Uyuni.  Team Organic Hobo was also similarly motivated.

Walking towards the train station, the two teams delegated the negotiation task and asked several companies for prices and itineraries.  They ended up selecting Expediciones Lipez and a professional guide Lewis, who agreed to a discounted tour rate for the two teams.  With only an hour to spare before departure, payment was made and the teams set off to purchase last minute snacks.

Returning to Expediciones Lipez’s offices, bags were loaded into the land cruiser and they all drove off, joined by another pair, Team France.   The first stop on the tour was a surprisingly interesting train graveyard on the outskirts of Uyuni.  There Simon and Ang amused themselves climbing over the rusting hulks and taking photos of the industrial wastage.  Team Organic Hobo did their piece to camera and soon all teams were back in the 4WD, heading towards the Salar De Uyuni.

Simon workin’ out and gettin’huge Ang on the train swing
Graveyard of the trains The racers pose for a photo

After a quick drive through town, their driving guide Lewis took them out onto the partly flooded Salar De Uyuni.  The Salar is a 10,582 km2 salt plain that was formed 13,000 years ago and contains between 50% and 70% of the world’s lithium reserves.  Home to flamingos and the Bolivian salt mining industry, the site has become a major tourist attraction and the place to take interesting perspective shots.  Simon and Ang were provided with a challenge that required them to take photos that took advantage of the flat terrain to change the perspective of scale.

This truck really needed to be treated for rust Piles and piles of salt on the flats
Miniature Ang! Super Shrunk Simon!
Simon flying over the salt flats Simon on a mountain of salt
Salar de Uyuni

With these photos taken, the team had lunch in a building built entirely of salt before they visited a working salt factory and were given their next clue.  They were to proceed to the Valle De Rocas (Valley of Rocks) and find the highest point.  With the clue received their 4WD raced across the bleak landscape and headed south.

A couple of hours later, the team arrived in more unworldly valley.  Both Simon and Ang raced into the rocky playground.  The three teams set about completing their respective challenges.  Simon spotted a rocky outcrop in the near distance and soon climbed on top.  With this completed, the team were provided with the next clue and set off to visit a ‘Surreal Rock’.

Valle de Rocas Flamingos and mountains
Harry, from Team Organic Hobo summits a rock Bolivian rabbit
Green lichen on tan ground
Panorama of the unreal Bolivian landscape

After spending the night in a small village they continued south through increasingly alien landscape (if that could even be possible).  A brief toilet stop allowed the teams a chance to chat with an Irish guy who had ridden his motorcycle from Alaska (and was lost).  Back on the road and after a few hours of driving, they arrived at the Salvador Dali Rock, an ancient weathered rock formation.  There photographs were taken and the next clue provided to the team.  Once again their 4WD continued south and the team entered the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve at Largo Colorado.  The night was spent at a sprawling tourist 4WD complex.

Lunch spot panorama
Flamingo portrait Ang mocks the important signage
Panorama of a lake
Flowers and Lake Colorado Simon doing his bit to help green the desert
Salvador Dali rock The three teams meeting for a meal
Hotel workers building another wing on the complex

Early the next morning they continued heading south firstly to a field of active geysers and to hot springs and onto the spectacular Salvador Desert and then on to the beautiful Largo Verde.  More photographs were taken and presented to the park wardens who approved and gave the next clue directing the team to return to Uyuni and to make their way by bus to the town of Tupiza.

Sun rise at best hot springs ever The three teams in the hot springs
Simon and Ang share a special moment Testing the force of the geyser
Ang walking through the geyser zone The earth vents
Ang reprising her fist pump jump from the Monument Valley leg of the race Simon punches it in the Salvador Dali Desert
Ang helping the Organic Hobo guys complete their hand stand photography challenge
Rich Bolivian mountain range

Apart from the spectacular scenery, the return trip to Uyuni was uneventful, with exception of a huge thunderstorm and at one point the 4WD almost bogged in a ditch as a semi trailer passed by.

Abandoned car on the hill Simon goofing around and driving the car
Coca Cola in Bolivia Lewis demonstrating his skill at driving a 4wd

Here is a short video Organic Hobo shot as part of their Exclusive Race:

…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 3: The Inca Trek part 2

Warning:  The following race report contains material that will be distressing to some viewers.

Waking incredibly early at 3.45 am, the group quickly readied themselves and walked to the official control point, the last for the Inca trail.  There they waited until gates opened at 5.30am and then commenced their walk to the Intipunku (the Sun Gate), to complete the “watch the sun rise” challenge.  The fast and hurried pace of walking was a fun break from the previous enjoyable days of easy walking.  All teams, including those travelling with other tour companies were frantically trying to make the gate in time to see the sun rise.  Simon and Ang power walked over a bunch of landslides and past slower moving people before ascending a vertical staircase of steps and along a flat section to finally arrive at the Sun Gate.

Owing to the misty cloudy weather, view was completely obscured.  After taking a few photos to commemorate the event, the group continued on to their final destination, Machu Picchu by which time the rain started and looked set in.  Arriving there, still very early in the morning, they retreated to the cafe at the entry to wait until the rain, clouds and mist cleared.  Luckily the sun came out an hour or so later and Caesar, their guide, then took the various teams on a grand tour of the Machu Picchu site. Both Simon and Ang thoroughly enjoyed the tour and Caesar’s great performance.

The racers arrive at the sun gate, in time for sunrise, but mist prevents them seeing Machu Picchu Racers arrive at the Machu Picchu checkpoint and celebrate
Simon points out Huayna Picchu The various teams resting ahead of their respective next legs
Panorama of Machu Picchu

With the Inca Trail completed, Simon and Ang received their next clue.  They were to return by train to the city of Cuzco where they would receive their next clue.

The racers from the various teams come together for one last group photo

With some time before their train back to Cuzco departed, Simon and Ang spent hours taking photos of the Machu Picchu site  and enjoying the fantastic view. Both Ang and Simon were in awe of the place’s majestic beauty and did not want to leave. But they were racing, so in the late afternoon they made a quick dash to the Inca Bridge, and then returned to the site entry to catch a bus down to the small Pueblo of Aguas Caliente. There they enjoyed a fun, but expensive group meal before boarding randomly a half hour earlier train than all other teams back to Ollyambanto.

An Inca doorway An Inca window
An Inca bridge
Simon and Ang admire the view

The advantage of this was the team was able to see the valley they had walked above during daylight.  All other Exclusive race teams were forced to wait in Aguas until the later evening train.  The disadvantage was Simon and Ang would either have to make their own way back to Cuzco or wait until the rest of the group caught up. Arriving there, the Team opted to wait until the rest of the group caught up on the later train, strategically saving some funds for later legs of the race.

Having completed the Inca Trail and returned to Cuzco, the team received their next clue in the Cuzco markets.  This clue was for the second part of a viewer suggested road block provided by Jo and Alex.  One of the team would have to try the local delicacy, Cuy al Horno.  Simon opted to be the one who did as Ang’s sister had a guinea pig as a pet and she was not keen on eating another “Devine”.

Jugo stands in the Cuzco markets Simon is amazed at the delicious juice selection
Simon completes the wear a ridiculous hat challenge A working Singer
Lady selling beans wearing an Andean backpack

At lunch time, the day after finishing the Inca Trail, Simon and Ang raced to the local restaurant “La Chomba”.  There, meals were ordered with Simon getting the Cuy and a big glass of frutillada, a strawberry chicha (fermented corn), to drink.  Simon steadily worked his way through the fiddly cuy dish and drank most of the fruitllada.  Eventually the judge accepted that all the ‘tasty’ meat had been eaten and gave the team their next clue.  Simon said later that “it was one of the most disgusting combinations of food I’ve ever eaten.  If I have a choice, I will never eat another cuy again”.

Completing the drink fruitllada challenge Simon is shocked when the eat Cuy Al Horno (Roast guinea pig) is revealed
Horrid guinea pig! Simon gets over the initial shock and decides to eat
Simon completing the grizzly task

For their next task, the team would have to make their way to the city of Puno via train.  Unfortunately this train only left every second day, meaning they would need to wait until the next morning before departing.

Full of cuy (and in Ang’s case, fish), the team waited out the rest of the day before meeting up for drinks with the other teams from the Inca Trek.  They then packed and prepared for the journey ahead.

…To be continued.

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Peru 2: The Inca Trek

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ang with her fashionable walking poles

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

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

The racers’ tent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… To be continued.

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Galapagos 8: Floreana Island

Once again, the team woke early and raced to the port.  There they boarded a fast speedboat and were soon bouncing across the waves to the island of Floreana.  The island of Floreana is a small island that is famous for its historical past that included pirates, buccaneers, sailors and crazy baronesses.  The journey past quickly and after a brief stop to check out a pod of dolphins, the team arrived at the small settlement of Floreana.

Floreana seems to have red marine iguanas

To explore the island, the team boarded a chiva.  They were driven inland to a tortoise breading enclosure before they walked to the only source of fresh water on the island and a pirate cave.

A gang of land tortoises
Pirate stone head! Pirate passageway

After lunch they raced back town and on to Black Beach or Playa Negra before they returned to the speedboat to head to the snorkelling spot.  Because this was a day trip, the team was taken to a less than ideal spot as national park fees are prohibitively expensive for day tour operators to visit the prime Galapagos sites.  Ang decided against snorkelling and opted to swim instead while Simon completed the survey the shoreline challenge and managed to spot very few fish and several frightened green turtles.

Sally lightfoot crab emerging from its lair

Completing this challenge, the team was raced back to Puerto Ayora aboard their fast speedboat.  Arriving in town they completed the final task for this phase of the race by ordering a delicious plate of $15 lobster from William’s kiosk.

…To be continued.

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