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.


United States 4: Monument Valley to Los Angeles

The lengthy drive to Bryce Canyon took the team north into southern Utah.  Soon after leaving Monument Valley, the team entered a landscape that could best be described as lunar or Mordor (take your pick).  Populated centres were few and far between with highlights including Mexican Hat and Hanksville (seemingly the wakeboarding capital of Utah due to its proximity to Lake Powell).  On board fuel reserves were also limited at this point, so the team made full use of cruise control.

Ang is happy to be there Monument Valley Road
Follow that RV! to Mordor

The stretch of drive through the Glen Canyon Reserve, including the crossing of the Colorado River and views of the upper reaches of Lake Powell was particularly harsh and alien.  So much so that Ang remarked soon after leaving Hanksville “not more spaceland!”, which Simon agreed with, as there is only so much barren waste land you can look at and still be interested.

Luckily, the terrain changed again as the team first entered the Capital Reef National Park and then climbed 9600 feet over the range to Boulder and on to Escalante.  There they spent the night in the Cowboy Country Inn. The highlight of Simon’s stay was the brief moment when “two local hoons blasted through town on what could only be described as a recreation of American Graffiti”.  Ang’s highlight was “the fishing themed room that had a bear on the bed that scared me”.

There is a bear in there… Workin’ on the land
Old School

But this was not a pit stop, so early-ish the next morning, the team set off to Bryce Canyon.  Arriving they commenced a survey of the park’s ‘scenic turn-outs’.  The main features of the park are a multitude of spires and eroded canyon gullies.  Ang said “it looks like Cappadocia
in Turkey”.  Simon thought that it kind of looked like those sand castles you make with wet sand.

There are a few walking tracks within the park, and the team set off to complete a circumnavigation of the area to receive the clue to their next destination. They were able to cover the 4 mile circuit in about half the national parks service allotted time and were soon on their way to Zion National Park.

Rock on at Byrce Crumble rocks at Byrce
ARRch at Bryce

Driving to Zion, the team stopped at the Thunderbird Cafe, Mt Carmel Junction, which was mainly notable for its ‘Ho-Made’ pies (which of course has an apparently innocent explanation).  After lunch Ang tried one of these pies, “delicious”, and the team was soon back on the road.

Getting briefly off track for the first time of this trip, the team entered Zion national park on dusk.  Spectacular is a word perhaps used a little too often, but both Ang and Simon agreed, the drive through the park in the fading light was spectacular. They spent the night near the exit to the park and were rewarded the next morning with views that Simon called “comparable to the Grampions, but much bigger”.

Zion at Dusk Zion, sponsored by Toyota

With the rental car return deadline fast approaching, the team down the Colorado Plateau and back to Vegas.  They then flew back to LA for an afternoon and evening in Hollywood and some much needed rest, completing this leg of the race.

New casino soon to open in Vegas – the Sesame Street Exprience Airport slots while you wait
Everything is better in Hollywood, but the signs are tiny

United States 1: Las Vegas

Receiving their first clue at Brisbane Airport, Ang and Simon boarded a 13 hour flight to Los Angeles. A slight delay at the airport was overcome in the air and the flight arrived on time at 7am. Clearing customs, the team transitioned to the domestic terminal for the wait for the Delta flight to Las Vegas.

Arriving at Vegas a few short hours later, the team checked into their hotel for a well earned rest. Strategically, they did not sleep straight away, instead heading to the strip on sun down to check out the lights and sights and complete the major task of this leg of the race, a grand survey of the major Vegas Casinos.

At the pool – Platinum The view from our room

The walking tour of the strip included reviews of the following (in order of visit):

  1. Bellagio (1st night – $1.6 billion construction cost)
  2. Bally’s (1st night – air con for part of the walk home)
  3. Paris (1st night)
  4. Planet Hollywood (1st night)
  5. Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon
  6. Flamingos
  7. Caesar’s Palace
  8. Bellagio (again cause it is pretty stunning for a hotel – think Ocean’s 11)
  9. Aria
  10. Crystals (not a casino, but a slick expansive mall)
  11. Mandarin Oriental
  12. Monte Carlo
  13. New York – New York
  14. Excalibur
  15. Luxor
  16. THEHotel
  17. Mandalay Bay
  18. MGM Grand
  19. Cosmopolitan
  20. M&Ms world (4 levels of chocolate candy fun – including a hilarious false fire alarm situation – staff had no clue and the alarm was quieter than the music)
  21. Coca cola world (strangely not as fun as M&Ms world)
  22. Planet Hollywood (Erotic dancing dealers = classy)
  23. Fremont Street Experience (not a casino, but an interesting bus ride there)
  24. Wynn & Encore (+$2 Billion per tower buys a lot of class! The team remarked that along with the Bellagio, this was their favourite. Ang said “if it wasn’t 1am by the time we reached the Wynn, we’d so would have taken a dip in their gorgeous pool”)
  25. The Palazzo
  26. The Venetian
Lobby ceiling flowers (Bellagio) Ang and I (Bellagio)
Mashmellow train! (Bellagio) Liberty bell garden (Bellagio)
A bike in the Bellagio Real flower painting (Bellagio)
Caesar’s Palace entry Best review ever (Caesar’s Palace)
New York Vegas style Cheesy streets of New York New York
Luxor on the outside Luxor Lobby
Extreme wine rack (Mandalay Bay)

The tour totalled approximately 6.5 km of straight line foot travel and a lot more when you consider casinos are built to keep you at gaming tables and not make it easy for you to walk about.

Over the course of their walk the team marvelled at the alternatively ornate and silly entries into each of the casinos, engaged in a few gaming related challenges (including a couple of rounds of a hilarious mechanical horse race game) and managed to get within 5cm of a pair of live casino tigers.

But, Vegas being the cruel money hungry mistress that she is, soon had to be left behind.  The next leg would take the team through to the Grand Canyon…