Brazil 4: Sleepy Rio De Janeiro

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive race. After spending days relaxing on the beach in and around the seaside town of Trinadade, Team Australia traveled by bus to the Rio De Janeiro. There they took a cab up into the hills to the fashionable suburb of Santa Teresa.

Upon arrival at their accommodation, the team were given their challenge for this leg of the race. They were to undertake two tasks. First they were to locate a Churrascaria and sample Brazil’s take on asado. Their second task was to purchase as many Havaianas as they were able to carry. After they had finished reading the clue, the team set off down this hill into Centro.

Arriving in the centre of town, Simon and Ang immediately noticed the difference in Rio. As it was not carnival there were considerably fewer people about on the streets. There also were few businesses open, but there was almost a complete lack of shoe shops. After consulting the internet, Simon and Ang decided that they would need to head further south towards Copacabana beach.

Dead Rio center Rio central street

They made their way along the quiet Rio streets into the evening. Eventually it became clear that they would not have any luck as the only places now opened were restaurants. Simon and Ang decided that they would be better off completing the Churrascaria challenge and then starting early the next morning by heading to Copacabana to purchase the Havaianas to complete their second challenge.

Tasty Churras was eaten at a traditional Brazilian place nearby, and the team headed back up the hill to Santa Teresa and their accommodation. On the way back, they decided to check out a couple of the cool bars that had opened before calling it a night.

Funky rio mansion party street

Early the next morning the team woke and headed out. They raced down the hill and were soon on the metro to Copacabana beach. Arriving they ran around the streets until they found an open shop that had Havaianas. Simon and Ang were amazed at the cheap prices and bought as many as they could carry. With their purchase complete, the shop keeper gave them their next clue. They were to head to the beach and there, in honour of the Portuguese word for hello, the pending 2014 world cup and Olympics, complete the aussie aussie, oi, oi video challenge.

Abandoned thongs! Rio bar (non carnival)

Simon opted to do the yelling and making a fool of himself, much to the amusement of the Brazilians nearby. While they were filming, the team noticed the virtually empty beaches, a stark contrast from the hordes of people seen a few months earlier. With the video challenge completed, the team received their next clue.

Excited, Simon and Ang ripped open the envelope. They were to make their way to Manchester, England! The envelope included enclosed tickets and they read that they would need to be at the airport in two hours time in order to catch the flight! Without a moment to delay, the team raced back to the subway station. There they took the metro back to Centro and then a bus up to Santa Teresa and their accommodation. Their hosts called a cab for them and the team were quickly racing past the Sambadrome to the airport.

At the airport, the cab pulled into drop off bay. The team quickly paid their cab driver, and ran into the airport, where they checked into the flight, and queued to get through security. The first leg would take them back to São Paulo for a third time.

Rio airport

Their flight departed and they were able to see the Cidade Maravilhosa one last time from the air. A quick 30 minute hop later and their aircraft descended once more into the biggest city in the southern hemisphere. The team changed planes, confirmed their luggage had been transferred for the next leg to Zurich with the airline ground staff. Then it was a waiting game until the plane departed soon after sunset.

While they waited for their flight, Simon and Ang reflected on their time in South America. They were both sad to leave that magnificent continent, having thoroughly enjoyed each and every leg of the race there. They also knew that whilst it would be awesome, the Amazing Exclusive Race would have to come to an end at some point. But this reflection came to an end quickly as the final boarding call was announced and minutes later their plane was airborne and heading over the Atlantic north to Europe.

Overnight the plane flew, landing as the sun rose in Switzerland. There they changed planes and joined a small group of commuters heading to England. A short hour later and their plane descended into Manchester.

The team cleared customs and went out to collect their luggage. Simon’s bag had arrived but Ang’s had been left in Zurich! Simon and Ang laughed that out of all the flights through the supposedly disorganised Americas, they had not once lost their luggage. While it was bound to happen, it ironically was caused by the organised and efficient Swiss. Chuckling the team filled out the lost luggage paperwork. Once this had been completed, the luggage lady surprisingly gave the team their next clue. They were to head east to the small town of Hexham, the pitstop for this leg of the race.

Energised and lighter, the team raced out of the airport into the cold and boarded a train to Carlisle. There they changed to a regional rattler for the final stretch of their journey to Hexham, after 24 hours of travel. Simon and Ang ran the final meters to the door of the Janie and David’s, the pitstop for this leg of the race. There they were welcomed and congratulated on being the first team to arrive.

One more station to Hexham
Wintery Hexham

Simon and Ang promptly celebrated by having a hot shower and celebratory hot Milo drink with Janey and David, taking full advantage of the optional rest period.


Argentina 9 – Buenos Aires Porteño Party

Previously on the Amazing exclusive race, one team of two raced to the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires. After completing several tasks around the a city that could be the New York of Latin America, they returned to their hostel for a brief rest.

Up early, at 11 am, the team headed out and raced to a huge shopping center in the sprawl of BA. They ran around multistory mall, finding two other McDonald’s before they located their challenge location. Fearing they would be required to sample some of the food (both Simon and Ang had gone years without eating any McDonald’s), the team was relieved when they read that they were to make their way to the historic suburb of La Boca. Simon and Ang mused as to the novelty of the kosher McDonald’s as they bounded down the escalators and out into the street. They were on a bus soon after and were racing to through the streets of BA.

Argentine dog with stick
Palermo panorama
Kosher McDonald’s? Yep, in BA Obelisk

Changing in central BA, the team boarded a second bus to La Boca. La Boca is a famous working class neighborhood home to the Boca Juniors. The team’s task was to find Caminito and take some photos of the colourful buildings along the street.

La Boca Caminito (or calle turística) The racers pause for a moment to enjoy the local colour

After arriving they quickly made their way around the streets. Simon and Ang both thought the houses reminded them of Valparaiso except the terrain was flatter. Having completed the La Boca challenge, the team was directed back to the hostel. Simon and Ang decided that since they were so near to the home of the Boca Juniors, they would go and have a look at the Stadium, La Bombonera. They had a look at the stadium and all of the blue and yellow merchandise, before walking back to the bus stop, noticing the shutters and roller doors on all the houses that lined the nearby streets.

La puerto del Boca panorámica
Caminito, La Boca
Caminito panorama
Caminito vendors
Torre Monumental (formally English clock tower) Mas Helados – dos para uno todos las lunes

On the way back to the hostel, the team stopped off at Puerto Madero to walk along the waterfront and checked out the pink house, Argentina’s presidential palace. They then rode the subway the remaining distance back to the hostel. Arriving back on the red roof they were given their next challenge. They were given tickets to attend a Boca Junior game the next evening!

As they had some time to kill, they extended their stay at the hostel, then set out to meet up with Chris and Rita from team America for dinner and a modern tango show. The event was highly entertaining and after they had the mandatory helados, the team returned to their hostel for the night.

Homeless, but has a TV?
Modern tango Not a computer
Palermo Skyline

Waking the next morning, and with no great urgency, the team walked about Palermo and the local parks watching people slack line and enjoy the great weather. As the afternoon approached, the team left the hostel for the journey across the city back to La Boca and La Bombonera for the friendly Boca Junior versus Venezuela soccer match.

Palermo rose garden BA slackliners
The good flavour…Not sure if they served croc Tastey beef
Funky BA cafe BA street art
Bakery The bread… 20 pesos. Sexy eyes… free
Que rico postres! Yellow car

Thinking they would have plenty of time since the game didn’t start until 8pm, they change from the subway and waited for a bus with a bunch of Boca fans. Simon and Ang had no luck getting on board a bus, as they were either completely full of singing Boca fans or the drivers didn’t seem to want to pick up the crowd gathered at the stop. After waiting for thirty minutes, Simon and Ang decided to catch another bus that was going roughly in the right direction (along with some other fans), and then walked the remaining kilometers to the ground.

As they walked, they were joined by hundreds of mad Boca fans streaming in the direction of the ground. Many were signing various club songs, and their pace of walking quickened as it neared 6.30, an hour before game time. Simon and Ang also quicken their pace, not wanting to be left behind. They were soon at the southern end of the game and after asking a local for directions (“disculpa, donde es puerta ocho?”), they arrived at their gate. They made their way through the police check points and discarded their water (Bocas games are notorious for people throwing urine at other fans), reaching their section (no seats) just in time for kick off. Ang and Simon jumped and sang along with what they both agreed was the most energetic passionate crowd they had ever been part of. Ever. For the record, Junior won, two nil.

Gooooooooooooooooool! Post match celebrations complete with riot police entertainment

With the game over, the team was directed to return to the hostel, but had to wait out the mandatory thirty minute holding period to allow Venezuelan fans a chance to escape. They then joined the singing throngs making their way back into the center of the city. They walked the entire distance to el Centro where they then jumped on a subway back to the hostel. As it was a little after midnight by this stage, and the team was hungry, they detoured into the heart of Palermo for some more asado, this time at the delightful Don Julio. Despite being seated at 12.30am, the restaurant was still filling up with many arriving after the team ate for their evening meal.

Both Simon and Ang decided that this was the life as they ate their steak and toasted malbec. Stomachs full and with Boca club songs still ringing in their ears, they made their way back to the hostel roof. On the way through reception they extended their stay once again (the receptionist just laughed). Once on the roof they were given their final BA challenge, this would be to check a range of cultural attractions.

The next day they visited the galleries of Eduardo Savior and Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba), checked out the Opera Pampa, raced into the city heart to visit El Ateneo, before racing on to La Cabera for some delicious paradilla meals along with teams from America. Their last stop for the night was the funky bar Magderlina’s Party. With these challenges complete, the team raced back to the roof of their hostel, the pitstop for this leg of the Race. Simon and Ang were once again the first to arrive.

Giant round about statue Organic seat in the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires
The racers stop for a refreshment in a 1950s inspired American diner cafe Palmero Funky light fixture
Ang drinking a ridiculous coffee
The world’s second most beautiful book shop El Ateneo
Palermo street nightscape Last to leave the restaurant

As both Simon and Ang had thoroughly enjoyed BA, they requested an extended rest period. The hostel reception staff were able to extend their stay, so the team could live the Porteño lifestyle a little longer.

By far the best helados ever – Cremolatti Classic out front of Don Jesus
Cool organic cafe Yet another classic
Metal school bus
BA blue sky Asado de bife – note the hand for comparison purposes
Just when you thought you’d left South America – shrine to Difunta Correa … and the ubiquitous party train

In a post race interview, both Simon and Ang were impressed with Buenos Aires. Simon called it the ‘Latin American New York’ and Ang said ‘it was downright awesome’!


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
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…


Chile 6: Santiago

Simon and Ang, who were the first to arrive at the Bariloche pit stop at 6pm, received their next clue at 6am.  They were to make their way back across the border to Puerto Montt via bus. After reading the clue, the team left their accommodation and jumped into a taxi. A quick ride to the bus terminal and they were soon on a bus heading back over the Andes and once more west.

The Argentine border crossing passed quickly and the team enjoyed the marvellous scenery on the bus ride between the Argentine and Chilean borders. Arriving at the Chilean side, they were lined up with the other passengers whilst the sniffer dog did its thing for illegal food and drugs on people and in bags. Unfortunately the Chilean customs official was not as thorough as his dog and while chatting to a traveller, missed the paw on one lady’s bag. Simon and Ang were forced to discard a carrot, but were lucky the dog didn’t get stuck into their enormous haul of chocolate.

Back on the bus and the rest of the trip to Puerto Montt passed without incident. At the bus station they were given their next clue. They were to make their way to Santiago where they were to check into the Bella Vista Hostel. The clue said that there was an interchange ahead.  An interchange is where two separate Amazing Exclusive Race teams join together to complete a challenge.

Simon and Ang were both excited at the prospect of meeting up with another Exclusive race team and were looking forward to visiting Santiago. They weren’t looking forward to a 36 hour bus ride, and knowing that they were racing to win they decided to purchase flights.  Running to a nearby Sky Airlines office, they picked up last minute flights for not much more than the cost of a bus trip for that evening.

While they waited out the time to head to the airport, they sat in a friendly karaoke bar and amazed the locals with their Australian accented Spanish. A few hours later it was time to leave Puerto Montt, so they collected their bags from the bus station and raced to the airport for a quick multiple stop milk run of a flight up Chile to Santiago.

Arriving in Santiago, they raced out of the airport and straight to a taxi for the quick ride into the city centre  and onto the suburb of Bella Vista. There they checked into the Bella Vista hostel and were given a room for the night as the interchange would not begin until the other team arrived later the next day.

Waking, they checked out Santiago on the free walking tour, and in the afternoon headed back to the accommodation to begin the interchange. There they were reunited with none other than Team Ireland. The teams had not seen each other since Colombia. After they had a chance to catch up, the two teams were provided with the interchange challenge. They both were to attend a BBQ party that evening with hostel-residing Chileans and party as they do.

Panorama of Santiago city
The presidential palace, Santiago
Conquistador founder of Santiago

Both teams were excited by the challenge and decided to have some pre drinks and get some additional supplies for the evening. The actual party was a blur and at around 4am the team found themselves in back in their room and were soon sleeping.

Waking at 10:30 am for checkout at 11:00, it was clear that this would be an enforced rest day. Ang was not capable of moving and Simon was just as seedy. Meeting Tarun from Team Ireland, the two teams waited in the reception foyer until it became clear that Ang could not move away from the bucket. With Ang checked back in to the hostel, only this time being forced to serve out a penalt, being a single bed in a 16 bed dorm for the team to share, Simon tucked Ang in, and went and saw Tarun off to Valparaiso. Both Teams were supposed to head here for the next race challenge so it was a disappointing day for team Australia to be left behind, but happy they were happy that Tarun could continue.

Tired Plaza Del Armas residents

The next morning, after serving out the enforced rest break, they woke early and were given their next clue. They were directed to find the Mercardo central to eat a fantastic seafood meal. They raced through the metro and found their way to the small, not touted, locally frequented restaurant where they ordered a hearty seafood meal. Ang ate what she called the “best freak’n seafood of the whole trip”, and said “it was cooked to perfection”. With this challenge passed, they were given their next clue.  They were to make their way to Easter Island!

Mercardo Central

Simon and Ang were pumped about heading to the famous Easter Island. They were booked on a six hour flight the next morning. For their last night in Santiago, they ate a delicious paradilla and went to bed early, sharing a single mattress on a bunk bed yet again as the hostel was completely full.

Santiago coyote style

Waking early they raced to the airport and boarded their flight to Rapi Nui. Five hours later after flying across half of the Pacific, they landed, bought their national park tickets, and were met and driven in the back of a ute to their accommodation, a seaside hostel, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

There they expected to be checked in, but were told they were still racing…

…To be continued.


Argentina 3: Ushuaia

After mandatory rest period and receiving their next destination, Simon and Ang left their favela hostel pit stop before dawn and jumped into a waiting taxi to the airport. Their driver whisked them through the quiet, traffic free post Carnival streets of Rio and they soon arrived at the airport. There they checked in to a twelve hour flight south to Ushuaia. The first scheduled stop for the aircraft was to be Puerto Iguarzú, a very small Argentine international airport.

Once landed, Simon and Ang disembarked and cleared customs. This meant that the flight would no longer be an international flight. For Simon and Ang this was fantastic news as they would not have to pay the $140 pp reciprocity entry charge when they later landed in Buenos Aires for the second stop on the milk run.

Two hours later, the plane touched down in BA. Simon and Ang checked their bags back in and went outside to have a quick look at the river Plate and stretch their legs. After completing the locate reasonably priced ice cream and eat it challenge, Simon and Ang walked back into the airport. There they boarded their flight south.

Buenos Aires airport operates on a 25 hour clock Simon completes the eat an ice cream by the River Plate challenge (note the hat is still safe)

After a third brief stop in Trelew, and 12 hours of travel, their plane landed in the world’s most southern city, Ushuaia. The team instantly noticed the change in temperature, having just come from Rio which was 36 degrees to a place that was only 4.5 degrees. After putting on all the clothes they could in their backpacks, they raced outside and jumped in a taxi. Fifteen minutes later they checked into their accommodation and were given their next task which was to make their way to Antarctica.

Panoramic view of Ushuaia from the hostel
Construction panorama, Ushuaia

Highly motivated, the team race out of the hostel and walked the streets and inquired about prices. Eventually they arrived at a great 50% off deal for a good boat, the Plancius. Checking directly with the boat’s owners, the agency’s price would not be beaten. So the team made their booking and spent the few days before the 27th of February departure celebrating in the Ushuaia style (with good food and wine) with Alison, the solo member of another Team America (who was also soon to race to Antarctica).

Pengiun and Beaver just hanging out in Ushuaia Grim sea captain Simon
Sunset near the hostel
Ushuaia town panorama taken from the waterfront
Panorama of a wreck near the main port
Another angle of the wreck
Panorama showing the mountains behind Ushuaia

….To be continued


Ecuador 2: Baños

Warning:  the following race report contains photography that may be distrubing to guinea pig fans.

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced from Quito, the capital of Ecuador to Baños, a pleasant mountain town in the Andes.  Travelling aboard a local intercity bus, the team arrived in Baños three hours after departure.

Roadside BBQ pig stop

Baños de aqua santa or the bath of the water saint, is a mountain town set in a spectacular location along a deep canyon and surrounded by high hills and a volcano.  Their first stop was to check into their fantastic Australian/Kiwi run hostel, Casa Verde.  After this was completed, they made their way into town to explore and prepare for the upcoming challenges.

Baños panorama

The first task for Baños was to zip line or canopy.  For this task, the team made their way to the zip line in the cloud forests a short drive out of Baños.  There they joined another American team to complete a zip line course that included one stretch of 500m zip line upside down.  Rather unusually, this challenge was completed during a volcanic eruption, so the team’s faces were covered with volcanic ash and sand as they zipped through the cloud forest.  Successfully completing this challenge, the team moved on to their next activity.

Extreme Ang on the zip line

For their next task, the team had dinner at a small cafe owned by a friendly Ecuadorian chef who had been trained in both New York and Paris.  The team worked their way through a fantastic meal and the best piña colada ever.  While they were eating, the team met a crowd of local volunteers and were invited to a variety of Christmas functions.   Once they had finished their meal, once again in first place, the team read the next clue which would require them to look for lava erupting from the nearby strato-volcano, Tungurahua.  This was accomplished with ease with the volcano erupting high in the night’s sky causing a line of red to be formed.

Street in Baños Roast Cuy (guinea pig) anyone?

Relocating to their next accommodation after a great homemade breakfast, including vegemite to Angela’s great delight and real enjoyment, the team received the next clue and headed off to the bike rental shop where they hired two bikes and set off on a 60km downhill ride from Baños to the town of Puyo.  The ride took Simon and Ang past a variety of waterfalls and spectacular miradors, however, they were unable to complete the full distance to Puyo town square.  Ang flagged down a Ecuadorian civil engineer who was commuting from work in a ute and he was nice enough to give the team a ride back to Baños.  Once there, Simon and Ang offered to pay the guy, but he refused.  The team returned the bikes and received their next challenges.

Ang chasing chickens on the downhill One of many Baños waterfalls

Simon and Ang attended a Christmas bonfire held at the Bibloteca volunteer centre.  The centre provides English lessons and encourages creativity with the children.  That evening, the team was allowed to contact family and friends back home.  They spent several hours on skype chatting and catching up with friends and family.  The next day, the team attended Christmas lunch.  This was a pot luck lunch and included macaroni and cheese, grilled meats and a variety of tasty salads.

Christmas day

Bellies full, the team returned to their accommodation and after a light dinner, slept off the day’s indulgences.

Christmas dinner

Relocating accommodation for a final time, the team moved into a hostel with a giant tortoise in the garden and two very friendly parrots, one who could say ‘hola’.  Simon completed the feed the parrots corn chips road block and the team received their next clue which required them to climb to the top of the Virgin Mirador, 200m above Baños’ 1820m altitude.  The climb proved to be surprisingly tough so once they team arrived at the top they snacked on corn chips and took in the view.  With this challenge completed, the team received the final task for Baños, to have a bath!

Feeding a bird Hostel roommates
Ang wants one as a pet
A panorama of Baños from the mirador
Racers pause for a photo overlooking Baños

For their bath in Baños, the team arrived at early at 6pm, right after opening.  They changed and went to the cooler of the two hot water pools.  This small swimming pool sized hot spring pool was at least 40 degrees centigrade and filled with a variety of local Baños residents. Steam rose from the water into the chilly night air.  There the team waited the requisite 15 minutes before they were allowed to get out and move to the hotter of the pools.  The smaller hot pool was at least 10 degrees warmer than the last.  Here they were required to get in the scorching hot water for at least one minute, and then enter one of the small freezing cold water plunge pools before returning again to the hot water pool.  With this challenge completed, the team received their final clue and made their way to the pit stop, where once again they were first to arrive.

Boxing day bath challenge

In a post race interview, Ang said that “I really enjoyed this leg of the race immensely due to the adrenaline from the activities and would like to take up downhilling and zip lining as new sports”.  Ang is keen to buy a zip line for her home after the race is over and will consider offers of sponsorship.


Ecuador 1: Quito

The team woke early and were surprised to see a random police officer on night duty greet them.  They received their next clue and the officer checked them out of the pit stop.  Simon and Ang took their bags out to the waiting car and were whisked to Bogotá airport.

Arriving at the airport at a little after 5:15 am, they entered the chaos of hundreds of Colombians travelling with no real organisation behind the epic queues for the check in counters.  Simon and Ang joined the back of the international queue and two hours later arrived at their gate.

They boarded their flight to Lima, Perú and were soon heading south.  Flying over Quito, the team landed in Lima, spent an hour waiting, and then boarded the flight back north to Quito.  They enjoyed the amazing final approach to Quito airport through suburbs that at times seemed to be higher than the aircraft was flying.  After rapidly completing customs formalities, the team jumped into a taxi.

Flying into Quito

Chatting to the driver, both Ang and Simon were impressed at how much easier his Spanish was to understand than previous race destinations.  Taking advantage of this, they were able find out useful information about the coming stage in Ecuador.  Soon they arrived at their destination and were given their tasks for this leg of the race.

First, they set off for an early dinner at a fantastic local Indian restaurant.  Simon and Ang performed well and were able to polish off their delicious authentic curry dinner before any other team.  Receiving their next clue, they returned to their accommodation to wait until morning.

Waking early, they set off on foot to the nearby metro bus line where they rode a bus to the northern terminal.  There they changed buses and soon were on the road to the Mitad Del Mundo or Middle of the World attraction.

The Mitad Del Mundo is a monument that was built to highlight Ecuador’s claim to fame as a country named after the equator that has the equator run through it.  The monument is over the top and only just manages to avoid being cheesy.  Still, Ang was not impressed.  The team raced around the moment, took photos on the equatorial line and then raced out of there, ice creams in hand.  Soon they were on a bus back into the centre of town.

Middle of the world

The bus drove back to town and deposited the team approximately 1.5km away from the old quarter.  This distance while not significant, did give Simon and Ang a chance to get some exercise at altitude.  Within twenty minutes they were at the outskirts of the old town area of Quito.  The team walked around this area and after completing the food challenge at a sleepy and grubby local seafood restaurant, the team were given their next clue.  They were to make their way via bus to Baños where they would spend Christmas in the bathroom.

Old Quito street
Panorama of old Quito
Panorama of a plaza in old Quito

Excitedly they raced back via a packed Trolle bus to their accommodation.  That evening they had more fantastic Indian and along with Team Britain, planned the next day.

Waking early, they set off to the bus station and caught the first bus to Baños

…. to be continued.


Colombia 4: Bogotá

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced from the busy city of Medellín to the small rural town of Salento.  There they embarked on a series of challenges that included a three hour hike, photographing hummingbirds and drinking sugar water.  Then all teams received clues and commenced the journey to Botogá.

Racing from Salento, Simon and Ang made their way back to Armenia.  There they purchased more empanadas and bus tickets, and they were soon onboard what Ang would call “a really stinky bus”.  Leaving Armenia, the team settled in for what they were informed would be a seven hour bus ride.  Within moments of leaving Armenia to cross the Andes, the team’s bus stopped at the back of an enormous traffic jam.  There they would stay for four hours while they waited along with hundreds of trucks, buses and cars for their turn to cross the mountains.

Waiting for traffic to move

While they waited, Ang and Simon chatted with the friendly Colombians, including one on his own exclusive race to Bogotá.  The team enjoyed the carnival atmosphere as the usual vendors arrived to sell snacks, but disliked the long wait.  Eventually traffic began flowing and after two false alarms, the traffic began moving and the bus drove off as the sunset.  Team Australia chatted with Team Colombia in Spanish and English to pass the time and joked that if the bus travelled any slower they probably could walk faster to Bogotá.

That night there were two more stops for traffic jams and a free sandwich before the team fell asleep.  Waking four hours later, their bus drove into Bogotá station, arriving ten hours late.  There they had a quick breakfast and took the first bus after dawn to their hostel in La Candeleria.

Paved street in Bogotá
Panorama of the plaza Simón Bolívar
University bar hub in La Candeleria

They had a quick nap, lunch then went out to see the cool funky town.  Walking around Ang noticed the strong police presence.  As night fell, the team completed the walk along Carrera 7 challenge and took in the sights of the weekly Friday night event where the main street in town is partly closed to traffic with people coming out busk, sell their wares, stroll, eat street food and socialise.

Carrera 7 packed with people
Panorama of Plaza Simón Bolívar by night
Barney the dinosaur Star Wars themed busking
A soft, limp, burger anyone?

Simon and Ang enjoyed this considerably, and strolled the entire length of the closed section of street checking out the wide array of buskers.  On this walk, the team completed Jo and Alex’s pat a Guinea pig challenge by Simon patting one they saw.  They then placed bets on which numbered upturned bowl the guinea pig would run into, but lost.

Patting a guinea pig

With this challenge completed, the team received their next clue and continued down Carrera 7 stopping at a nice paradilla, where they completed the eat a huge plate of delicious tender meats challenge.  With these challenges completed, the team continued racing along to the end of the closed section and received their next clue.

Mmmm meat

The next morning, after relocating to new accommodation, was spent trying to locate a travel gear shop.  Unfortunately the team forgot to write down previously Googled addresses, so set off to the suggested major shopping complex, Gran Estacion.  Once there, after surveying three shops, they were unable to locate the required items (a new waterproof jacket, waterproof hiking pants and a pack cover).  Asking some friendly information people, they were given a trio of commercial centres to try.  The team raced out of Gran Estacion , bought some empanadas, and then jumped in a taxi for the short drive through the heavy rain to the nearest of the trio of commercial centres.

Bogotá. Home of the bog. Instant bog, just add water

Each centre was checked bar one, and without any luck the team used google translator at the security desk to receive directions to a nearby camping and hiking store. This store was checked and despite the staff’s enthusiasm for their products, only a pack cover and rain jacket were purchased.  With only two of the three items purchased, the team received a small time penalty that was sat out while they rode the bus back to the centre of town.

Why do ducks need raincoats? Raincoat in bag

The team raced to plazoleta dell Chorro de Quevedo, the oldest in all of Bogotá.  Their next clue sent them to a funky bar in the laneway connected to the square.  There they tried Chicha a drink made from fermented maize and chatted with some friendly Colombian civil engineering students.  Simon thought this was odd as “they should have been drinking beer.  Still it was interesting to hear their thoughts on Andean road construction and differences in español across South America”.

Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo Art on a wall in the Plazoleta

The next day at 7.30pm in a well lit street in La Candeleria, heading in the direction of a stir-fry and sushi restaurant, the team was approached by three to four youths.  Quickly realising this was an attempted mugging, Ang ran, but Simon, who was slower to notice the danger, had his jumper grabbed by one of the kids.  After inhaling on glue or paint, the kid said “mi gustaria money (I would like money)”.  “As I turned to break free from his grip, I noticed the sniffer fumbling with a flick knife.  It was pretty scary” said Simon.   At this point the Amazing Exclusive Race’s security protocols kicked in and the team engaged their evasion plan, successfully avoiding personal injury or loss of property.  Team Australia ran as fast as their legs could take them back to the hostel. After calming down from the shock and getting the courage to venture out, the team set out for dinner.

The mean streets of La Candeleria

Due to the attempted mugging, Ang lost sleep that night and Simon was glad they only had one more day in Bogotá. The next day the team were on constant alert and nerves were high as they walked the streets dodging shifty characters who followed them.  But the race had to go on, so the team set about completing the final challenges of this leg of the race.

Another La Candeleria streetscape

Their first destination for their last day in Bogotá was the Muesu de Oro (Gold Museum).  They were joined by Team Colombia, who they had previously met on the Salento to Bogotá bus, and walked around the museum, marvelling at the sheer quantity of gold.  With this museum completed, the team walked to the Muesu de Botero.  Similar to the art they saw in Medellín, Botero’s work was on display for free.  Both teams enjoyed the comical paintings and sculptures.  With these challenges complete, both teams received their final clues and made their ways to their respective pit stops.

Gold inka pin Museum vault
The two teams stop for coffee
Feliz Navidad parade Botero horse
Another La Candeleria street

Colombia 2: Medellín

Ang and Simon tore open the first clue of this leg of the race and departed the pit stop at 11am for the short taxi ride to the airport.  There the check in formalities was completed rapidly and the team commenced their wait in Cartagena airport.  After joining the queue to register that they were waiting at the boarding gate, the team returned to their seats.  Moments later passengers were again called and the team queued to commence boarding.

After a mostly uneventful flight, as the team’s aircraft was on final approach to Bogotá, Ang commented that “it really is boggy here isn’t it”?  This caused Simon to laugh as recent rains gave the area around the airport the appearance of marshland.  Once inside the airport they waited and then boarded the next plane that was an hour late for Medellín.

In the past, Medellín was the stronghold of Pablo Escobar and at one time, the murder capital of the world.  Violence was a regular part of city life with Pablo Escobar paying up to$1000 USD for people to kill policia.  Pablo himself was gunned down on a roof top trying to escape the Policia in 1993. The city and the country of Colombia has instituted a number of key initiatives (including killing Pablo) over the past 20 years that have helped to contribute improved security. However, despite these initiatives, Colombia is no Switzerland, so Ang and Simon were nervous to be arriving after dark.

Their plane touched down and they headed out to ground transportation.  There they met a nice American, who was heading to the same area.  They chatted on the bus into town where they changed to a share a taxi to Pobaldo (where Pablo was gunned down).  The team rapidly found their hostel and went out to Parque Lleras where they had what Simon and Ang agreed was a great meal.

Parque Lleras christmas decorations

Receiving their next clue the next morning, the team raced to the Botero exhibit.  There they viewed the impressively paintings and scultures.  Ang was particularly pleased as “Botero’s work makes me laugh”.  Completing this challenge they were given their next clue and the next morning travelled to one of three cable car lines on Medellín’s metro system.

Panorama of a Medellín park (complete with Chrismas theming)
Busy Medellín street Medellín skyline
Medellín church
Guy looks at the Botero statue of a guy on a horse Another pair of Botero statues
Trumpet art in the Botero museum Kind of like a phone box, but with a real person and a mobile

Transferring from the metro line, without paying extra, the team stepped into the cable car cabin and commenced the ride.  As part of the regular transportation system in Medellín, the team shared the car with other tourists and locals.  The spectacular ride took the team high into the hills around Medellín.  Ang and Simon received their next clue and then headed back down to the metro station.

Racers pose for a photo in a cable car Integrated cable car transport

Travelling once again by Metro line and then on foot, the team headed to their next destination, the Museo of Modern Art.  Owing to this being a Monday, the museum was closed.  The team opted to forego this challenge rather than wait for 24 hours for it to open.  After serving out a 30 minute time penalty, they were given their next clue.

On foot they raced back towards town and along the Rio Medellín.  This stretch of the river side had been transformed into a carnival of Christmas.  Simon christened the 2kms of semi wasteland Navidad Street.  Unfortunately, despite the lights being on in the fantastic decorations, none of the stalls were open.  The team walked the entire length and decided to return later that evening.  At the end of Navidad Street, they received their next clue.

Ang next to the christmas display, Navidad street

Walking over a still being constructed footbridge, the team headed to a nearby park.  The park offers a tactile experience for the feet.  Unfortunately, owing to gardening, this park was also closed and it was not clear when or even if the construction work would be finished.  Again the team opted for a time penalty instead of returning the next day.  Waiting out the time penalty with icecreams in hand, the team received their next clue.

They walked back into the centre of town and boarded the metro line, heading for the Jardín Botánico de Medellín.  Upon arrival they were informed by a helpful printed sign and some laid back guitarists that the park was closed.  Once again a time penalty was taken and the team opted to walk around the park to fill in the time.  After witnessing more of the contrast between Medellín’s modernisation development and shanty favela suburbs, the team returned to the Metro line where they were given their next clue.

Panorama of a plaza in the city centre

Racing to almost the end of the northern line, the team arrived at the station for line J, another cable car.  This particular car took the team high above the barrios providing fantastic and interesting views of Medellín and the Biblioteca Español.  As they approached the summit, they noticed that line M was closed.  This meant they would be unable to complete this challenge and again would need to take a time penalty.  After a short wait, the team once again boarded the Metro line as the sun set.

The view from the cable car Biblioteca Español
Favelas, Medellín style
Panorama looking up the metro cable line

For their final task, the team travelled by Metro then foot back to Navidad street.  There they were able to walk the entire length of the festive street, which was unusually open.  They took in the sights of the decorations and the people and soon reached the end of the street.  There they were told to make their way to the pit stop.

Decoration in Navidad street Navidad street by night
El Tren de Navidad Another decoration
Navidad decorations over a smelly canal

Travelling by Metro once more the team returned to their hostel in Pobaldo and checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race.

In a post race interview both Ang and Simon were annoyed at the number of challenges they were unable to complete, but still enjoyed this leg of the race.  Simon liked the metro cable system saying “where else in the world can you ride a cable car that is part of integrated public transport.  It makes a lot of sense for a place with hills to do this”.  Ang was particularly pleased that she was able to see Botero’s work, saying that “his art makes me laugh, there is something about the way he paints and sculpts that is great.  I thoroughly enjoy the visit”.


Nicaragua 4: Granada

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

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

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

Big Corn Island from the air

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

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

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

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

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

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