Australia 2: Finale

The final leg begins now…

Ang and Simon woke bursting with excitement that was twinged with sadness. They had been racing for 10 months, and it was all finally going to end. So while they were looking forward to seeing friends and family, they didn’t want the adventure to end. But this is the Amazing Exclusive Race, not the Neverending story. Team Australia was heading home.

They ate breakfast, packed their backpacks one last time and jumped in Paul’s waiting car for the drive through the early morning to Bergen airport. With no traffic to contend with, they were soon at the airport and checked in. An emotional goodbye was said to their fantastic hosts and they went through security, leaving Norway.

Leg one with the flight from Bergen to Copenhagen. This short flight gave them a great view of the Øresund bridge that connects Denmark with Sweden. Their plane landed smoothly, and they raced through the airport, stopping only to laugh at a ‘Big Corny’ chocolate bar in a vending machine.

Øresund bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden

Back on the plane the team headed north again back to Manchester. Another smooth flight was quickly completed with the team sharing the ride with commuters heading to work. Knowing that they had an eight hour layover, and this was the start of the ticket back to Australia, the team attempted to secure an earlier flight. They asked around several airlines, but had no success. Ang commented that “I hope this wait doesn’t cost us the lead”, to which Simon added “at least we can check out Manchester”.

Knowing that the train station was just outside of the airport from their previous trips to Hexham, the team left their luggage and ran over the pedestiran bridge to purchase tickets into town. They were soon on a train into the heart of Manchester. Arriving, they grabbed a tourist map and set out to check out some of the sights. These included a street that had been converted into a running track, the John Rylands library, and an authentic pub lunch (as recommended by a UK customs guy).

Manchester street running track event
John Rylands library pint holder Harry Potter hall
Readers in the reading room Catalogue cabinet
Simon self portrait Ang marvels at the architecture
Neogothic to the max Ghost hallway
Interesting stairway Racing appears over for the day
Classic pub for a classic pub lunch

After cramming in an action packed day, and noticing the sun was getting low, the team made their way back to the train station for their return trip to the airport. Arriving at the station, they briefly freaked out as they thought they may miss the flight. It was then they realised the station clock had not been changed to daylights savings time and relaxed.

Back at the Manchester Airport, the team jumped on the third last flight. They were the only team on the aircraft, and with no sign of any other teams, they were excited. They both knew that a lot could go wrong, so kept composed and strategised to see if they could speed up their return to Australia.

The short flight to Zurich was completed with the team landing there in the evening. They ran out of the aircraft and over to the airline counter, to yet again see if they could get a quicker flight back to Australia. Unfortunately as it was late in the evening, the ticketing staff had gone home for the day. Disappointed they hopped back on the second last plane through to Bangkok, after briefly pricing up some duty free perfume.

Zurich plane spotters So weird, they get a mound
Zurich airport caters for the well travelled tots

Through the long night the team travelled. Their plane winged its way across a large portion of the globe, depositing them in Thailand in the early morning. Their ticket had an eight hour layover before the final flight back to Australia, so the team once again set about trying to negotiate an earlier flight. After speaking to several airline staff, the team found that the flight they had booked for that evening was the quickest return with no other seats available

The team resigned themselves to having another eight hours to kill and decided to head into Bangkok city to check out the town. They went through security and stepping outside of the airport promptly decided the 30+, high humidity Thai air wasn’t what they wanted to experience after being acclimatised to 10 degree weather and 35 hours of travel they had so far endured. Wisely, they decided to head back into the airport for a shower and massage.

Back in the airport they occupied themselves by showering, shopping for perfume and relaxing. After a full day of wondering around the airport, walking the length and breadth of the terminal, at last boarding for their flight was called.

Waiting for the flight…. Waiting ……
Bangkok airport, lap 5 Walking…..
The final flight

A little over eight hours later, their plane began its final decent into Brisbane. Despite not seeing another team on the flight, Simon and Ang knew they still would need to push themselves all the way to the finish – in the Amazing Exclusive Race there are no guarantees, only surprises…

Arriving out of customs at Brisbane Airport (surprised by fans!)

The team was met by some Amazing Exclusive Race fans who had camped out waiting and hoping to see their favourite team as they finished. They were not disappointed. Simon and Ang raced past the screaming fans and collected the final directions. They were to drive themselves to Orleigh park, the finish line for the first ever Amazing Exclusive Race.

Simon and Ang drove out of the car park and headed in the direction of the city. They didn’t need a map being locals and soon crossed the river. Parking the car right next to the park they sprinted to the finishing mat.

The team races to the finish line

The host, Emily, welcomed the team “90,000km, 5 continents, 25 countries and 132 beds, Simon and Ang, you are the winners of the first ever Amazing Exclusive Race”. The assembled crowd of fans went wild and Simon and Ang embraced. Together they had completed an adventure of a life time.

First place!!!!

The team celebrated late into the afternoon with fans and friends ….. before jet lag took over and they slept happy ever after.

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Norway 2: Bergen, Seafood Capital of Viking Land

During the rest period, Ang and Simon relaxed and enjoyed the cold humid weather by going into the centre of town and for walks around Paradis.

Gamlehaugen, the Norwegian royal family’s residence in Bergen Quite the statement
Fantoft Stave Church (rebuilt after a fire in 1992 started by black metalers) Note the fence and camera to keep an eye out for metal mayhem
Bryggen in all their glory
View towards ferry dock

After a relaxing and enjoyable rest period, including a great salmon dinner with Ang’s support family, Gunnar and Cecilie, Ang and Simon readied themselves for the challenges of the leg ahead. They were handed their next clue at breakfast by the lovely Chilean cleaners who work for Ang’s host family. Both Simon and Ang were able to converse in Spanish, an oddly unexpected thing to be doing in Norway. Their first challenge for the Bergen’s leg of the race was to travel to Urkien for the Over Vidden walk, a spectacular hike high above Bergen town. Simon and Ang were kindly given a lift by the cleaners to the chairlift.

The ride up to the top of the mountain was fun. The team burst out of the lift and commenced walking. They made their way through snow covered high peaks and past more waterproof Norweigns. The team took many photos and enjoyed the length of the walk before they began to descend towards Fløyen, the end of the Over Vidden walk.

Bergen from Mt Ulriken
Over vidden
Chilly vidden trail
Lake on the vidden trail
Snow on the Vidden
Comm tower and old world war 2 bunker Old world war 2 viaduct
Even more spectular Vidden

Arriving at the visitors centre, the team were told that they needed to make their way back town to the Bergen waterfront to the offices of the Brygen Preservation Society, where they would receive their next clue. After briefly enjoying the view, the team jumped into the funicular and rode down the hill. At the base they raced along the waterfront and ran into the old trading buildings.

Looking down at Bergen from Mt Fløyen
Looking down on the historic harbour
The racers pose for a Bergen promotional shot Performance art or a wedding?
Ang enjoying Bergen street art Ang!
Downtown Bergen Delicious Groovy?

Once there, the team was greeted by Mamma, and were each given a Jorgen costume to try on for the 17 May celebrations. With the fitting completed, they thanked Mamma and raced back to Ang’s host family’s house. On the way back, Ang, who had previously lived in Norway was thrilled. She explained to Simon what the day represented for Norway. Simon was suitably excited.

Bergen waterfront
Bryggen passageway Historic walkways
Weatherboard constructions

The next day was spent enjoying the great company, relaxing and eating delicious seafood.

Syttende Mai (17 May) is the Norwegian national day, which celebrates the birth of modern Norway in 1814 wtih the signing of the Norwegian constitution. Simon and Ang woke, and dressed. Ang told Simon that it was important to say Gratulerer Med Dagen (literally Congratulations on this Day) to everyone, which Simon tried as best he could. Ang’s host family looked fantastic in their costumes – suits for the guys and bunads for the girls. These intricate costumes are custom made and represent different regions. Once everyone was ready they all piled into cars and headed off.

The first stop for the day was a family friend’s place. There they all enjoyed a delicious brunch. After the meal, the team along with Mamma quickly changed into their costume and raced into town. They ran to the Brygen, where they sorted out last minute costume details and props and joined the assembled Brygena Preservation Friends, ready to march in the parade. Ang was appointed a drunken Jorgen. Simon was tasked with carrying Torsk fisk, a really stinky dried cod on a big pole with a friendly quiet Norwegian guy.

Ang’s wonderful host family in their splendid national costumes Syttende Mai breakfast
Preparing to take part in the parade

With everything organised, the drummers started and the team marched out of the Brygen and onto the street along the waterfront.

Initially there wasn’t much happening, a few people took photos and the marchers smiled and waved. It soon became clear that it was still early, and that they were marching towards the main square. Arriving there they were marshalled into their appointed spot and waited. Soon they were joined by thousands of other Norwegians organised into community groups and societies in varying costumes that would take part in the parade.

Gents waiting to be released to parade on their velos Friends of Bryggen association’s waiting to march
The racers pose for a promotional photo The group’s drummers
More velos

At the appointed time, the Brygen Preservation Society were released from holding by the officials and they set off. The previously empty streets were lined with an estimated 150,000 spectators turning out despite the light rain (Simon believes Norwegians are inherently waterproof) along the 4km parade route. Simon stumped people by not being able to speak Norwegian, responding to their next question as to why are Australians marching in the parade with that they are in a race and this is an amazing challenge to complete. The team also hammed it up by Simon holding his nose due to the stinky dried Torsk fisk and for Ang fake chugging from the over sized booze mug (both actions perfectly in character).

They walked back past the Brygen, turned and headed back along the parade route waving to the huge crowds. It was then they met the other paraders coming in the opposite direction. Simon noticed a cheeky Australian flag hanging out of the window of an apartment along the route. He decided to mess with their minds by mouthing the words “Aussie Aussie Aussie”, which drew points and exclamation from the Australian balcony spectators. The crowds loved the Torsk fisk, with hundreds pointing and laughing at the hanging stinky fish. Simon and Ang walked and played off the crowd, bringing their characters to life.

Ladies laughing in the parade Stinky fish frame spectators in their national costume
Happy Norwiegans wave to the parade Sneaky Australian ex-pats get in on the festivities

The steady stream of parade groups walking past the team seem to have no end. There seemed to be no end to the variety of groups walking in the left lane (such as the Buekorps https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buekorps). The scale of the celebrations was impressive.

Ang gets stuck into the good stuff Ang plays the cheery role well (photo Gunar)
Simon carries torskefiske proudly (photo Gunar)

Sadly, the drummers leading the group rounded the final corner and walked towards a Viking ship on the shores of a lake, the finish of their parade. The team joined together and along with Mamma, were met by Papa. He handed them their final clue.

Paul, Ang, Simon and Ragnhild pose seconds before the final clue is given Tasty Norwegian canapes
Gunnar and Cecilie enjoying the day

After 290 days of racing, they had reached the end. They were to make their way back to Brisbane! Their first flight of several would leave early the next morning.

The team headed back to Mamma and Papa’s house and spent the rest of the day and evening with Ang’s wonderful host family (Simon of course made celebration ice cream).

In a brief interview at the house, Simon and Ang were sad how their time in Bergen was so wonderful and far too short. They both were really grateful for the hospitality and the ability to spend their last leg staying with such fantastic folk. Simon and Ang both said “a big heartfelt thanks for having us stay”.

The team went to bed happy and content. Tomorrow would be Friday 18 May 2012, day 291 of the Amazing Exclusive Race.

… to be continued

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Norway 1: Oslo, Capital of Viking Land

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

Prawns by the freezer load! Pretending to be a seal

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

Soldiers in lush Oslo
Royal palace panorama

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

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

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

Akershus Festning panorama
Tulips in front of a castle Arty tulips

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

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

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

Parkveien / Riksveg viewed from Cochs Pensjonat

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

Gridion, Norweigan style Goooooo Vikings!
Vigeland sculpture park

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

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

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

Majorstuen street scape

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

Momo gets in on a promo shot

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

Lewis, a friendly Norweigan staffy Oslo twilight

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

Datarock plays at their local

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

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

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

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

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United Kingdom 2: Hexham, England to Oslo, Norway

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang of Team Australia continued their massive unbroken run of victories by winning the Hexham leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race. Once again they were first to arrive, checking into the pitstop at 8pm.

After the optional 12 hour rest period, the team were the first to check out of the pitstop at 8am. The team were given their next clue. Tearing open the envelope the team quickly read the clue. They were going to Oslo, Norway!

The team grabbed their bags and raced off to the train station. They bought tickets on the first train heading to Newcastle, the nearby major northern English city. The team took advantage of the ride to borrow a commuter’s phone and determine the best flights. It appeared that by taking a train further north to the city of Edinburgh Scotland, they would be able to get on the fastest flight to Oslo in the evening.

Out of the commuter train they jumped at Newcastle where a station guard handed them a surprise clue. They would be required to complete some challenges in Edinburgh before boarding a plane to Norway. These challenges had been provided by Marguerite with Simon and Ang once again amazed that the producers of the Amazing Exclusive Race were able to keep the surprises coming after all these legs. Focusing once again, the team stepped onto the intercity train for the journey to their next destination. They sped north, through the lush northern English countryside into Scotland, hugging the coast for most of the journey. Simon and Ang enjoyed this train ride immensely. Ang mused that she hadn’t been to Norway for a number of years, and how excited she was to be heading back there.

Arriving in Edinburgh, the team dumped their bags in storage, and set off to complete the tasks and explore the medieval city. The first was to have a look at the Edinburgh castle. The team walked up to the top of the ridge line and checked it out. They then headed back down the Royal Mile and all of a sudden noticed the crowds that were milling about. They found out from some friendly paparazzi that Prince Charles and Camilla were going to watch some parade shortly. Simon decided he wanted to hang around outside of the Scottish parliament until the parade started. While they waited Simon kept Ang entertained by spotting the undercover security staff in the crowd and laughing at the guy on the velo who was peeved that his commute was interrupted.

Edingbrough’s Royal Mile Yes sar, standing guard sar
Royal lion
Waiting for something to happen
Security! Simon fails at being part of the paparazzi
Commuter security breach Dude was probably on a strava run

Shortly the royals wondered out of the castle, the parade started, the soldiers marched and the jets flew over. It was over in minutes. Ang laughed at Simon wanting to wait and watch, and Simon laughed at the absurdity of the parade. As the crowds dispersed, the team walked around the fence line of the stately home and joined the other plebs listening into the rousing music the band was playing for the royals as they went inside and probably had cucumber sandwiches. That distraction done, the team walked up to Arthur’s seat, the large hill that overlooked Edinburgh to complete the next task set by Marguerite.

Enter Charles Camilla cracks an inappropriate joke
Saluting the troops Queen’s guards chased by the airforce
Charlie meets a cross eyed fan Queen’s guard guarding the fountains

Hiking up to the top of the hill, the team was rewarded with a panoramic view of the town. They enjoyed the outlook then raced back town to the city. As it was lunch time, their final task was to eat a spud at Marguerite’s favourite veggie spud shop. Just before the final climb to Edinburgh castle they walked down a small side street and found the spud eatery. Simon and Ang both ordered a spud and ate the deliciousness, as they watched the Edinburghians walk by.

Edingbrough city scape
Edingbrough observatory
View from Arthur’s seat
Edingborugh from a slightly different perspective
castle and parliment

With this final clue completed, the team were given their boarding passes for the flight to Oslo Norway. The departure time was still a few hours away, so the team circumnavigated the castle, stumbled across a geocache, went into a pub for a drink before racing back to get their bags at the train station and boarding a bus to the airport. Dinner was had at a table in the top deck of the bus. Ang was particularly impressed.

Simon pays homage Simon hangs out on a rampart
Edingbrough castle, seconds before finding a geocache hide

At the airport they checked in and were quickly on their way flying across the North Sea east into the early evening.

Their plane touched down and the team followed the Norwegian duty free shoppers, potentially trying to win a trip into space for buying their duty free alcohol, out to the airport train station. They boarded the Flytoget bullet train (Norway’s one bullet train line) and raced into the centre of Oslo. Arriving at the right station, the team walked past some Russefeiring, past the royal palace to the Cochs Pensjonat. There they checked in to the pitstop for this leg of the race.

Unsurprisingly the team was once again the first to arrive.

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United Kingdom 1: Hexham

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

Hexham green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David and the hive
Tyne Green
River Tyne
Hexham church

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

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Brazil 3: São Paulo to Trindade

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang raced through the ultra relaxed country of Uruguay. They marveled at the huge volume of maté the locals consume, and completed a number of challenges in the very relaxed and laid back country. With all their Uruguayan tasks completed, they boarded a flight from Montevideo north to the Brazilian mega city of São Paulo..

The team’s Gol airways flight touched down in the early evening and the team raced out of the airport hunting for transport to their next destination, the colonial port town of Paraty. They jumped on the airport shuttle and just made it in time to the Tietê bus station. Once there and after the team found the right ticket window, they bought tickets on an overnight bus to Paraty that was departing moments later. Simon and Ang raced through the bus station for a second time to the right gate, just in time to board the overnight bus. Unlike their previous overnight ride in Brazil, this one was not too noisy, with only the last hour’s continuous speed bumps interrupting the team’s attempts at sleeping.

Arriving at Paraty, the team jumped off the bus at 3.40am along with a few locals at the deserted bus station. There they met a friendly Brazilian lady called Monica who had also just got off the bus. She surprised the team by telling them that their surprise destination was actually the nearby seaside small town of Trindade. Simon and Ang were excited as the town and importantly beaches sounded awesome. As the first local bus to Trindade wasn’t until 5.20am, the team occupied themselves by chatting with Monica and looking for a working ATM.

Soon the sky lightened and the first local bus of the day pulled in. Simon and Ang jumped on with Monica and immediately the driver shot off into the early pre-dawn light at hellish speed. Passing the outskirts of Paraty, the road entered the jungle and became more twisted than a curled twisty. The driver obviously enjoyed this part of the journey as he put the pedal to the metal, with the bus becoming airborne at one point. Ang rightly squealed, which only seemed to egg the driver on even more.

Minutes before sunrise proper, the bus crossed through a flooded creek and over some rocks and into the small town of Trindade. The team jumped out and raced to the Mairs Do Trindade, a pousada that Monica said was run by the ever friendly Lucas, an Argentine expat living the good life in Brazil. As it was a little after 6am at this point and Lucas was still fast asleep, so the team was unable to check in. They left their bags and went down to the spectacular beach to watch the day lighten properly and chat with Monica while they waited for Lucas to wake up and check them in to the finish of this leg of the race.

Main road into town
Brazilian sunrise

At a little after 8 am they returned to the Mairs Do Trindade. Lucas had just woken and he informed the team that they were the first to arrive. As the first team to arrive, they were given a reward, they were to spend the next four days enjoying the beach and surrounds that this part of Brazil could offer.

Ang and Simon were excited to win yet another race, and after a rest, set out to explore all the nearby awesome beaches.  They consumed a number of caipirinhas and enjoyed the relaxed pace of Brazilian small town beach life. They went on walks north and south of the town to stunning beaches the nearby Playa Brava. They also took a couple of day/night trips into Paraty for excellent food and to watch the old town flood for the month.

Beach time
Yo dog
Ang hits the beach
Paraty Red window trim, Paraty
Paraty twilight
Cobble streets Paraty
15th century church Flooding Paraty streets
Self cleaning streets
Paraty pony Paraty bike
oooh pretty street scape
Restaurant (with mandatory bike) Paraty Caipirinhas!
Delicious!

When they weren’t relaxing, one of the team’s favourite things to do was to watch the Trindade locals walk around with cafe umbrellas when it rained (as it did often in the late arvo given the tropical heat). They also enjoyed making friends with other holiday makers, all of whom were Brazilian tourists.

Lots of rain can only be stopped by cafe umbrellas Yellow giant umbrella and matching shirt
Sleepy cat
Long Paraty building
Townscape in Paraty
Relaxed dog Defaced legal tender
Another Paraty pony Street of Fire
Daytime unflooded street
Paraty bay Paraty party boats
No words Paraty bus station
More caipirinhas! Dessert deliciousness

On the final morning, after an enjoyable rest period, it was sadly time to check out of the pitstop. They were given their first clue for the upcoming leg of the race. Tearing open the envelope and reading the clue, the team found they were directed to make their way back to Rio De Janeiro for a second time!

They jumped into a random van that took them back to Paraty, where they bought tickets on the direct bus to Rio. Five hours later the team arrived once again at Rodoviária Novo Rio. They raced out and straight into a waiting cab, as this was non-carnival time and there were hardly any people around.

Marine Pirates!

To be continued…

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Uruguay 1: Colonia, Montevideo and Punta Del Este

The start of this leg marked the 265th day of the Amazing Exclusive Race. The producers, whilst not telling the teams waiting at the pitstop where they were going next, did tell them this leg would start the final 30 days of racing. Simon and Ang were super excited to hear the news. They had won every leg since the beginning many months ago and they could almost taste the scent of sweet victory at the final finishing check in mat. But they knew that with a race as unpredictable as the Amazing Exclusive Race, it would require them to give it their all to be that first team over the finishing line on the final leg. So they packed their bags and readied themselves for the challenges ahead.

As the first team to arrive at 2am at the end of the previous leg, after an optional 12 hours rest period, Simon and Ang were the first to check out of the pitstop at 2pm. They were excited as their clue directed them to make their way to Colonia, Uruguay across the Rio de la Plata. With start formalities completed, they raced out of the hostel and over to the subway. A quick ride later they arrived at the Buquebus terminal.

Tickets were purchased and the team set about going through the shared customs post, receiving an officious Argentine stamp followed by a super ultra laid back Uruguay entry stamp. They walked around to the waiting concourse and sat. Thirty minutes passed quickly and the team headed to the gangplank to board the catamaran. As they headed along the walk way, Ang spied none other than Team Ireland! They were on a mandatory rest period and had come down to the boat to see team Australia off, having just checked into a pitstop themselves. Both Simon and Ang were pleased and had a yelling conversation across the concourse to the jovial fellow Amazing Exclusive Race team until the final departure was called.

The Buquebus is a large catamaran that plies the Rio de la Plata between Colonia and Buenos Aires. The ferry mostly transports cars, but does have a passenger section with a rather impressive duty free shop. Simon immediately began singing ‘the love boat’. Ang tolerated this, but got annoyed after the tenth repetition as Simon only knew those three words and nothing else of the song. Aside from awesomely bad singing by Simon, the crossing was smooth and they arrived at the Uruguayan docks.

Entering the country was straight forward, as they had already cleared customs and so the team was quickly on its way. The team mingled with runners in a road race as they headed straight to the bus terminal. There they left their luggage, then raced into the center of Colonia town. The team roved around the quaint old settlement and had a great lunch with outstanding customer service, easily the best random lunch stop service in South America. This surprised and pleased the team immensely. After they had surveyed the old town and found an ATM that would accept their travel card, the team received their next clue. They were to make their way to the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, as quickly as possible.

Cheap bank! Relaxed Colonia street
Colonia lighthouse Ah, a good stretch!
The River Plate

Simon and Ang raced back to the main street and headed back towards the bus station. On the way back they ran into couple that they had previously seen on the Antarctic leg of the Amazing Exclusive race. They chatted briefly and found out that the couple were on an indefinite race around the world. Knowing that time was the essence given the clearly sleepy nature of Uruguay, Ang and Simon bid the other team good luck and fair well and continued their run back to the bus station. They soon arrived, and after collecting bags they were just in time to purchase tickets for the evening bus to the capital.

Classic with fish? In need of some TLC

A relaxing couple of hours later the team’s bus pulled into Tres Cruces terminal, the main bus station in Montevideo. They were then handed their next clue. Their challenge was to complete a tour of the old town of Montevideo to work out why Uruguayan businesses don’t seem to open early. With the rest of the evening free, the team set out to get another feed of steak at a Uruguayan paradilla, before calling it a night sometime in the early hours.

Waking the next morning, the team checked out of their accommodation at 11am and set out for a long walk around the quiet streets of Montevideo. Ang was amazed at the complete lack of open shops and banks for what anywhere else would be a busy Monday morning. Nothing seems to be open for some reason. The team were certain it wasn’t a public holiday after their previous issues on the first Nicaraguan leg, and would have asked someone if there was someone to ask. After walking for about an hour the team suddenly worked it out. Either Uruguayans are naturally so laid back they don’t get moving about until mid afternoon or after they’ve had enough maté. After they completed the walk, both Ang and Simon agreed it was a slow wake up with maté.

Montevideo shoreline
Old style Uruguay ride
Classically sleepy Uruguay building (with confused Uruguay dude)
Uruguayan crowds
Packed Uruguyan street Ang’s red scarf
Street art Bookstores are better in Uruguay
Trippy Uruguayan book shop

With their walk complete and the correct answer determined, the team received their next clue. They were to make their way up the coast to the seaside town of Punta Del Este and find the giant hand. Not sure where they would find the hand, but knowing Punta Del Este is about an hour north of Montevideo, the team collected their bags from the hostel then raced to a nearby bus station to take the trip to the main terminal.

Whilst they waited for their bus to arrive, they got to see a Rip Van Dike one man band play Mary Poppins inspired tunes to entertain the emerging Uruguayans. Simon and Ang were so thoroughly entertained by the performance and the huge volumes of maté that was being drunk by people passing by that before they knew it they were on the bus to the terminal.

One man band! Random statue

Arriving at the terminal they quickly secured tickets on an intercity bus to Punta Del Este. A relaxed ride later through pretty countryside, their bus pulled into the bus station. The town of Punta Del Este by the beach in peak season is probably pumping, with huge high rises packed with people. As it was cold, the place was a ghost town. Simon and Ang however did not care as the sky was amazing and they were racing to find a giant hand. A chilled bus dude pointed them to the beach, so the team raced off with backpacks on.

There in the fading twilight the team saw the huge half buried hand statue. Having successfully found the hand, the team were given their next clue. They were to make their way north by bus to the small seaside town Paraty, Brazil. Excited to be heading back to the land of Portuguese and that their destination sounded kind of like Party, the team raced back to the bus station.

Giant hand! Reach for the sky buried hand!

There they found that the earliest bus wouldn’t leave to travel north into Brazil until 11.30pm, and that it wouldn’t take them far into the country. By Simon’s estimate there was at least 30 hours of bus travel needed to get to Paraty. With the news the team considered their options and hefted their backpacks in the early evening around the quiet Punta streets till they found a heladería with wifi. There they ate ice cream, searched for and booked a flight from Montevideo airport the next morning to São Paulo on Gol airlines. Simon and Ang knew they probably would be facing a time penalty, but after their previous overnight bus experience in Brazil, thought it was a risk worth taking.

With the rest of the evening free to enjoy Punta’s quiet night life, the team checked into a hostel, had one more asado meal and went to sleep.

Waking the next morning they checked out of their hostel, raced to the bus station and bought tickets on the first bus back to Montevideo. Their friendly driver dropped them right at the front door of the ultra modern terminal and the team soon cleared customs.

As they waited for their flight to take off, Simon mused that he really enjoyed the brief time they spent in the country, saying “it was an ultra short and rushed four day stay, but we saw most of the coast line and oddly I feel really relaxed. I’d be very surprised if Uruguay has a blood pressure problem. If they did, it would probably be low blood pressure”. To which Ang added “it’s the maté”.

Their flight was called and they boarded the flight and bid Uruguay goodbye.

After all these flights, finally leg room!

To be continued…

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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’!

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

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

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

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

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

Recoleta Another tomb
Don’t cry for me Evita!

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

Subte panorama
Subte platform

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

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

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

Palermo pengiunl

To be continued…

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Argentina 7: Valle De Uco Wineries

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two raced into the city of Mendoza. There they set out to complete a winery tour challenge. After an enjoyable day, with lots of great wines tasted and excellent food eaten, they were the given the task of climbing into the high Andes. After glimpsing the mighty Aconcagua Mountain, the team was given their next clue and raced to the Florentino Bistro. Once there they answered the question provided by Organic Hobo and ate a tasty meal. They were then given another wine tour task. Ang and Simon were obviously super excited at the prospect of sampling more of Argentina’s best, and quickly fell asleep in the early hours of the morning.

Waking early for the third morning in a row, the team was picked up once again by Trout and Wine. They were joined by a team from Germany, another from England and the ever enthusiastic Chris and Rita of Team America. All four teams were then driven south to Valle De Uco.

The first stop was a new winery called Pulenta. There the teams were treated to a complete tour and great tasting experience. Then it was back in the van to the next destination, a tiny winery called La Azul.  There more wine was consumed, whilst the workers flushed a fermentation tank. After trying their range, the teams boarded the van for the short drive to the final destination, Salentein.

This is where Malbec gets made Barrels on their way to deliciousness
Pulenta’s tasting room Training the palate
An exceptional drop indeed Working through the reds
The racers pause for a moment during the tour Wine making art vs science!
The view towards the Andes Happiest Chateau in all the land
La Azul day beds La Azul tasting and fermenting room
Ang poses with the teams fantastic guide Virginia Ang has just been told they have Malbec
Steampunk wine making device

After walking through the expansive grounds, Simon and Ang received their next clue in the underground aging facility, a veritable temple of wine. Simon was amazed at the sheer scale of the wine cave. Ang was too, but knew just being amazed doesn’t win races, so she quickly read the clue. They were to fly to the city of Buenos Aires. Excited, the team raced back to the entry of the winery, but decided to sit down and eat one more fantastic Argentine asado before they were driven back to Mendoza.

The imposing entry to Salentein
Entry art More entry art
Main foyer of Salentein
Water feature sculpture
Welcome to the vineyard
View of the reception building and underground manufacturing facility
Vines! Emptying a vat
Wine making technology
Temple of wine (note the tiny grand piano)
Amazing wine cellar

Back at their hostel they checked the flights on the internet and found the earliest flight was at 7am the next morning. With nothing more to do, the team decided to head back to Florentino once again for dinner. While they waited for their meal, Simon and Ang both agreed that this leg was the tastiest leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race yet. Simon said “I don’t think I have every eaten that much steak ever in my life”. Ang was particularly fond of a variety of wine they got to try for the first time and said “Torrentes rekindled my love for white wines. I wish we could buy it in Australia”. They soon tucked into a great meal and headed back to their accommodation to sleep.

Early the next morning the team raced from their accommodation to the Mendoza airport (which even has its own vineyard). They boarded their flight to Buenos Aires and arrived soon after. Sharing a cab with an Australian American mixed team, the team was deposited into the heart of Palermo and checked into their hostel, the pit stop for this leg of the race. They were once again the first to arrive, continuing their unbroken winning streak.

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