Chile 5: Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt

After the optional rest period, the team received their next clue checked out of the pit stop.  They were directed to make their way by boat to the city of Puerto Montt. Simon and Ang wasted no time and set off through Puerto Natales to the port.  There they enquired about boat options and directed to the Navimag office.

Pier to nowhere Puppies!

Passage was negotiated and tickets purchased. Having heard good things about this trip, Simon and Ang were looking forward to cruising the Chilean fjords. They had also heard that BYO wine was allowed, so after buying a couple of Chilean reds, they checked their baggage in and had dinner at a local parradilla, along with Team Wales and the mixed Team Australia and England from the Torres Del Paine leg.

Intrepid racers pause for a cross promotional photo opportunity

Soon it was time to board.  The trip began well with the team enjoying the humorous multilingual guide’s briefing.  Once all the passengers had walked on board and the cargo was eventually loaded early the next morning, the ferry set sail.  Simon and Ang were provided with their one task for this leg of the race, to spot a blue whale.

The mighty Navimag hauling stuff

The next three days of sailing was spent doing very little other than chatting and sharing wine with friendly teams from England and America, that ever plucky team from Wales, and a Team Canada, last seen during the Antarctic leg of the race.  Highlights of the voyage included completing the blue whale sighting challenge, bingo and an epic 5 on 1 on-deck giant chess game. Low point for Ang was the overnight crossing through the Golfo De Penas (Golf of Pain – no prizes for guessing why).

Fjords panorama!
Glacier panorama!
Early version of the Navimag
High tech Navimag bridge equipment That wheel makes the boat go faster
Most likely a blue whale Strato volcano and chess!

After four days of sailing, the ship arrived at Puerto Montt early in the morning and the team received their next clue.

Sunset on the Navimag Early morning end of the cruise

… To be continued.

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Bolivia 3: Salar de Uyuni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…To be continued.

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Galapagos 7: Bartholme Island

Team Australia woke at dawn and quickly made their way to the agency shopfront where they were to be picked up.  After driving around Puerto Ayora collecting other passengers, the bus headed to the Itabaca canal across the island of Santa Cruz.

Along with teams from Italy, America, Argentina, Spain, Team Australia was deposited at the docks and soon shuttled quickly to a waiting 49 foot motorboat.  There they ate breakfast and watched the blue footed boobies dive bomb fish.

The crew of the boat attempted to start the engine, but were unable.  After 15 minutes of trying, they gave up and called the mechanics.  They would have to come from Puerto Ayora, which meant there would be an hour long wait.  Team Australia remained in good humour and chatted with the other passengers while they watched the blue footed boobies do their dive bomb thing.

After an hour, two mechanics with spanners arrived at the boat.  They opened the engine casing up and started it.  Instantly the engine roared to life.  With their work completed, the mechanics departed and the boat motored off to the island of Bartholme.  The boat then motored slowly out of the harbour.

Mechanics fix the boat

Eventually the boat arrived at spectacularly unique Bartholme Island.  The first challenge was to climb to the summit of Bartholme for a fantastic view of Pinnacle Rock.  Due to the earlier engine trouble, Simon and Ang commenced this climb just before midday.  Trying to stay cool and race was difficult for the team, but luckily they had Ang’s trusty umbrella to shade them on the bare slopes.  The hot climb was completed by Simon and Ang in record time, with breaks required only to listen to the novice guide talk about various aspects of the local environment.

Racing to Pinnacle Rock
Simon completes the lift a large rock with one mighty arm challenge Ang completes this challenge easier
Panorama of the Pinnacle Rock area

Racing back down from the summit, the team got their snorkelling gear on and swam straight off the beach around the huge Pinnacle Rock.  This snorkelling challenge required only one team member and due to the potentially sharky nature of this task, Simon nominated himself.  There were two tasks that needed to be completed before the next clue would be provided.

Fish! Pinnacle rock from up close
More undersea life

The first task was to swim around to the other side of the rock and witness some hilarious sea lion behaviour.  As Simon was the only snorkeler equipped with fins, he rapidly completed this task and witnessed a sea lion chase a white tip reef shark just for fun.  Simon said later “I was looking up out of the water at the big rock.  I put my head underwater and saw a sea lion swim towards me, like several had before.  This sea lion seemed to be a bit cheekier than the others before.  I followed him as he swam across my path and straight after the shark.  They swam in circles for a bit then off into the distance.  It was hilarious for everyone, except the shark”.  With this task complete, Simon joined the other snorkelers and swam back around Pinnacle Rock and across the small bay.

Across the bay they swam up to four penguins sunning themselves on a rock.  Two penguins decided that now that they had an audience they would start going at it like rabbits.   Simon captured this special moment in nature and then swam back to the beach.  There the team received their next clue and would now be required to make their way to the Island of Floreana.

Galapagos penguins

Returning to the motor yacht, the team sailed back to the Itabaca canal at Santa Cruz and then took the bus back to Puerto Ayora town for dinner and later to bed.

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Galapagos 4: Isabela and Fernandina

Waking early, Team Australia joined the other passengers and boarded the zodiacs for the morning wildlife spotting challenge.  The two boats motored out away from Eden out of Targus cove along the cliffs.  Henry, the slightly crazed skipper of one of the boats, spotted a pod of whales in the distance, so both zodiacs raced in their general direction.  After following the pod for a little while, the boats turned back to Targus cove.

Sunrise just outside of Targus cove Pelican and boobie at dawn
Hunting whales challenge Success! Whale spotted in front of Fernandina

Spotting a huge pod of dolphins, both zodiacs raced over to the northern entry to the cove.  After driving around for about ten minutes, Rubén came up with the idea of bringing the morning’s snorkel forward.  Both zodiacs raced back to the Eden, stopping briefly only to watch some mating turtles.  The team quickly had breakfast and changed into their snorkel gear and were soon ferried back to the entry of Targus cove.

Dolphin swimming with the zodiac Stunning fish or just mucking around?
Fornicating turtles Clumsy and awkward sea turtle sea sex Clumsy and awkward sea turtle sex

Jumping into the water, Ang and Simon, along with the rest of the group started swimming.  Galapagos dolphins squeal then flee when humans enter the water.  After thrashing their way for twenty metres or so in pursuit of the pod, the team stopped swimming and put their heads above water, realising the try and out swim dolphins challenge was too difficult to complete.

However, not wanting to give up, all teams climbed back into the zodiacs and attempted to try again.  This time they were dropped into the path of the oncoming pod.  This time, for those who entered the water first, the dolphins were very close.  Simon, as one of the first to enter the water, saw several dolphins swim towards him, then turn as they got close.  Afterwards Simon said “you could hear when everyone got into the water as the dolphins clicks and squeaks got louder, almost like they were saying ‘humans!  Run!.. I mean swim!’”.

With the dolphins fleeing the cove, the team received their next clue and set about snorkelling along the cliff wall.  This snorkel allowed them to see the usual huge numbers of turtles, sea lions and fish.  This time they also saw penguins and a cormorant from above and below the water.  Completing this challenge the team returned to the Eden and once again changed.

Another green turtle Galapagos starfish

Back into the zodiacs they went and were shuttled over to the shore where they went for a short walk to spectacular lookouts over a lagoons, and huge lava field.  Photographic tasks for this walk were to capture the elusive mocking birds.  The team also read some of the graffiti that various sailors had written on the walls over the previous centuries.   With time running short, Ang and Simon franticly tried to capture the mocking birds on the return to the zodiacs.  They were not successful and had to wait out a short time penalty.

View towards Targus cove and neighbouring lagoon Ghetto sea lions are legit
Little finchy, but sadly no mocking bird photo

After the time penalty was completed, they returned to Eden and anchor was weighed.  The boat headed north in the direction of the island of Fernandina.  This island is virtually untouched, volcanically active place and is the newest of all of the Galapagos Islands.  There is only one tourist landing site on this island and the Eden was steaming directly for it.   A delicious lunch was had en route.

Arriving at the island, the team and other passengers quickly readied themselves for the landing.  As Fernandina is very remote, few cruise boats make this journey.  However, larger vessels with up to 100 passengers do visit this site.  One of these boats arrived at the anchorage soon after the Eden.  So, in order to beat the hordes ashore and complete the walking through the Imps of Darkness challenge, Simon and Ang and the rest of the passengers raced to the zodiacs and over to the landing site.  After a quick surprise ceremonial birthday dunking of another fellow Australian passenger by one of the crew, the group walked onto dry land. There they saw a huge number of marine iguanas, the usual assortment of sea lions, cormorants, and some rare hawksbill turtles.  As they were walking around more marine iguanas arrived having finished their afternoon feeding.

Ellie gets dunked
Lava cacti and associated iguana Chris from team Holland gets amongst the iguanas
Piles of iguanas in iguana town Co-habitation at its best
Simon enjoying this leg immensely Just like Godzilla, an iguana emerges from the sea

Their last task was to complete the Imps of Darkness challenge with Simon giving Ang a piggyback through a field of iguanas that had stationed themselves on and around the path to warm up. With this challenge completed, the teams returned to the Eden.

Simon later said “the marine iguanas are amazing.  They start the day by trying to warm up in the sun.  Once they are hot enough they swim out to sea where they eat algae and seaweed for up to thirty minutes then return to the beach to reheat and snort up sea salt.  It was a magical, somewhat gross evil sight to see”.

Only thing cooler than a marine iguana is a marine iguana with a lava lizard on its tail If nothing else, this says ‘metal’
Whiskers McWhiskers walks with an iguana Brothers from different mothers

Back on board the Eden, a course was set for the northern tip of Isabela.  Arriving at the dramatic location, the team once again changed into their snorkel gear and entered the water.  Snorkelling along the shoreline the team saw an excessive number of turtles.  There was that many that Ang lost count of the number and the team had to be careful not to swim into them as they snorkelled.   Their snorkel route continued around the shoreline past blue footed boobies, cormorants and penguins.  Rounding a headland, the team swam into a huge cave that was home to an angry bachelor sea lion. There they completed the challenge and received their next clue in the water.  Back into the zodiacs they climbed and returned to the Eden for well earned snacks and drinks.

Ang is freezing, but happy at completing the challenge

Soon the Eden left Isabela and was motoring north for an eleven hour overnight sail to their next location.

… To be continued.

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Galapagos 3: Isla Isabela

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two joined the Eden motor vessel for a cruise around the Galapagos Island.  After visiting fabulous islands such as Isla Lobos, Santa Fe and South Plazas, they motored to the mysterious Isla Isabela and the town of Puerto Ventimilla.

Delivering building supplies into Puerto Ventimilla

Waking early, racing resumed with the Simon and Ang being shuttled to the dock.  There they boarded a chiva for the drive to the Sierra Negro, a huge shield volcano with a 10km wide crater.  The chiva ride took the team past flamingos, lava flows and rural farmland.  At one point, Walter, a member of Team Holland spotted a red bird in the trees.  He excitedly called out to the driver to stop, and jumped out of the chiva and was soon snapping away.  He was quickly followed by the other passengers, once they had realised no one had fallen off the truck.

Galapagos flamingos on the way to Sierra Negra Crimson bird half way up Sierra Negra

Back in the chiva, the rest of the drive was quickly completed and the teams commenced the walk up the volcano to the mirador.  The hike was expected to take 45 minutes; however, as all teams were racing the humid walk was completed in half that time.  At the summit, they were treated to a spectacular view of the huge crater.  There, they had lunch, and fifteen minutes later the clouds arrived.  While they watched clouds obscure the crater, the other teams were entertained by Ang, who demonstrated her love for all things Mary Popins.

Ang, aka Merry Poppins, in front of the huge Sierra Negra crater

Returning to Puerto Ventimilla and to a beachside bar, Team Canada enjoyed a ceviche while Simon, the other team Australia and half of Team America 3 braved the cold Pacific waters and went for a swim.  With these challenges completed, all teams walked back to the dock and were soon back onboard the Eden.  There the final additional passenger, Adam of Team America 4, arrived and that evening. After the regular briefing on the next day’s activities, the Eden motored into the night for nine hours, bound for the remote western side of Isla Isabela.

The mysterious Galapagos bottle tree Simon completing the beach swim challenge
Puerto Ventimilla town Ellie and Ang from the two team Australias shelter from the rain

Waking after a restful night’s sleep, Simon and Ang found the Eden in a spectacular location called Punta Moreno.  They were once again dropped ashore by zodiac where they walked around a huge kilometres wide lava flow.  Their walk allowed them to see hundreds of sally lightfooted crabs, sea lions, blue footed boobies and other birds.  Their walk took them past a small sea lion colony where they sadly saw a sea lion with a large fishing hook in its flipper.  The flipper was infected and obviously was causing the sea lion great pain.  With no veterinary or park services in this remote location, there was little that could be done for the animal.

HDR image of a lava flow Galapagos thumbs up cactus
Ruben’s feet seemed imune to lava Sally lightfooted crabs also love lava
Lava cactus
Panorama of a huge lava flow
So sad, but there was nothing that could be done Another photo of a sally lightfooted crab loving lava
Cactus worthy of being a Windows desktop background

Continuing, the teams soon arrived at a lava tidal pool. There they saw many trapped fish and several large white tipped reef sharks.  Soon it was back to the Eden to change and once again into the cold Isla Isabela waters.  Here, they snorkelled right next to the lava flows and despite the waters being murky, saw sting rays, heaps of fish, kelp and by Ang’s count, at least ten turtles.

Ang poses for a photo before she begins the easy turtle spotting challenge One of many turtles spotted
Racers on Eden’s sister ship, Aida Maria, go for a swim

Back onboard the Eden, the boat once again motored north, this time bound for Elizabeth bay.  Here, they embarked into the zodiacs and travelled into a mangrove estuary, which unlike Australian mangroves, included mangrove trees as tall as gum trees.  On the ride in they saw lots of turtles, blue herons, cormorants and smooth bill anis. As required by national park regulations, motors were not used in certain parts of the estuary, meaning Ang, along with Adam from Team America 4, had to take up oars and row the dingy.  Soon it was time to leave the peaceful mangroves.  On the way out of the bay, they passed over tens of golden rays swimming in a school.

Flightless blue eyed cormorant Close up of a Heron

Reaching open water, the team’s dingy continued to a nearby rock island.  There, they motored around the island and observed a mixture of blue footed boobies, sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas and blue herons that were all living together on the island in perfect harmony.

Mixed use colony
Boobie on a rock Lots of boobies
Yawning boobie

Finally after this action packed day, they returned to the Eden and then cruised for four hours to Targus cove where they spent the night.

Sunset towards Fernandina

… To be continued.

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Ecuador 3: Salinas

As the first to arrive at 6pm, after an optional thirteen hour rest period, Simon and Ang left the pit stop at 9am.   Breakfast was had at an overpriced cafe run by an annoying and abrupt German lady who was afraid they would steal her wifi without buying something (which they didn’t), before they raced to the bus terminal and boarded a bus to Ambato.  There they changed to another bus to Guaranda and raced up into the Andes.

Roadside store selling paper mache cartoon characters

Climbing to a heady height of 4000 meters, the team drove past the even higher Chimborazo, the highest mountain on earth when distance is measured from the centre of earth, before they descended to the outskirts of Guaranda.  Their final change was into the back of a collectively owned shared pickup truck taxi which drove them back up to 3500 meters and the town of Salinas.

Mighty Chimborazo

Walking to their accommodation in the late afternoon was a difficult journey. Simon said that “you could really feel the altitude.  My head was spinning and I was short of breath by the time we had walked 200m”.  Ang was seemingly unaffected.

Misty Salinas

With accommodation found, the team received the list of sites they would be required to check out.  These included the local textile shop, salami factory, tannery, mushroom farm, cheese cooperative, dairy cooperative, soya product factory and importantly the chocolate factory.

Owing to the late afternoon arrival time in Salinas, the team was only able to locate the textile shop where a new beanie was purchased by Ang.  Returning to the nearby pizza place, they completed the first food challenge of this leg of the race with Ang eating a delicious mushroom pizza.  Simon of course could only look on, but was lucky enough to drink a thick tasty hot chocolate.  Also in the restaurant was a solo Team Germany racer.  He completed his pizza challenge and chatted with Team Australia about earlier legs of each other’s respective exclusive races.

A local donkey

The next day was spent walking around town locating the various challenge locations after a long walk into the countryside.  First on the list was the chocolate factory, where supplies for upcoming legs were purchased.  Next were the salami factory then the tannery and mushroom farm.  Last was the cheese cooperative where a sample platter of cheeses, olives and salamis were purchased.  A quick stop at the dairy cooperative and soya factory finished the challenge and the team was directed to their accommodation, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

A panorama of Salinas’main square
Who needs a pack horse when you have a pack Llama?
A panorama of Salinas town
Brothers from different mothers Storehouse of cheese!
Bird on a wire Dogs on a roof
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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.

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Costa Rica 1: Playa Sámara

Leaving the pit stop at 5.30 am, they boarded the first chicken bus and were soon squashed in with the other Ometepe commuters.  Racing around the island, the bus deposited them at San José del Sur, where the team boarded the largest ferry, the Rey del Cocibolca for the crossing back to the mainland.

Panorama of Ometepe Island

The ferry ride was again slow, but much more comfortable than the ride to over to Ometepe.  On the boat, the team received a delicious hot local Nicaraguan breakfast of gallo pinto, eggs, avocado, tortillas and coffee.  Ang was very impressed with the restaurant service on the boat and said “I wish you could get this  on ferries back home.  You’d be lucky to get a quality meat pie”.

Soon the ferry arrived in San Jorge, where they joined some volunteers to share a taxi to back to Rivas.  Ignoring other taxi drivers persuit for the teams business, they jumped onto a waiting chicken bus and sped to the frontier.  The drive to the border was interesting for Simon and Ang as the road hugs the lake, making for some spectacular views of Ometepe Island.  After the 45 minute ride, the team arrived at what Ang called “a hell of a messy border”.

They paid their $1 to the local municipality to enter the border area then completed customs formalities and paid their $2 to exit Nicaragua.  Racing out of the departures kiosk, they were briefly confused as to which direction to head in as the large numbers of parked trucks all over the place like a dogs breakfast made seeing which way to walk difficult.  A helpful map was quickly located and the team set off through the muddy truck lot, along with two Americans who were also making the crossing.

Showing their passports a few more times to Nicaragua authorities, they walked down what looked like, minus the parked trucks, a normal road for this part of the world.  Eventually they arrived at a construction site and noticed a large queue.  There was no signage, but it was obviously Costa Rian immigration.

Passports were soon stamped and the team headed once again into a muddy carpark.  They eventually located the most local looking bus and were soon on their way to Liberia.

After almost two hours of driving, including a stop for Costa Rican authorities to check passports, the team arrived at the Liberia bus station.  Tickets were purchased for the next leg and the team joined the queue of people waiting. Unfortunately the front part of the queue completely filled the first bus so the team had to wait another 20 minutes for the second.

The advantage of this was the team was able to get a seat and were soon on their way 90 km further south.  Simon said halfway through this 2 hour bus ride that he thought that he ‘would never say that he missed chicken buses’ as while the bus was relatively modern, the seats were hard plastic benches. The other advantage to taking the second bus was that it stopped fewer times, which meant towards the end of the journey they caught up with the first bus.  After a painful 2 hours the bus arrived in Nicoya.

Getting some directions from the driver before getting off, the team walked over to the next bus station and waited for their final bus to Playa Sámara.  Some supplies were purchased and the team were soon on the final bus of the day. This bus was the most ultra modern that they had taken yet on the Amazing Exclusive Race and was even air-conditioned.  Both Ang and Simon were amazed.

The drive to Playa Sámara was incredibly beautiful, particularly the stretch through Valle Verde, and was very comfortable for the team.  They pulled into Sámara after an epic 12 hours of travel and there the team found their accommodation, the pit stop for this leg of the race.

During the day long rest period the team took advantage of the spectacular surrounds to explore the beaches and headlands.  Refreshed, they had an early night ready for the next day’s travel.

Man on a horse, Playa Sámara Two horses and a beach
Ang climbing around the headland
Panorama of Playa Sámara
Towards the setting sun HDR image taken near Playa Sámara
Life is indeed awesome
Sunset Horses on Playa Sámara
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Nicaragua 5: Ometepe Island

Simon and Ang left the pit stop early and made their way three blocks south to the bus terminal, which once again was in the centre of a crowded market.  Acting on three pieces of separate timetable information, the team arrived with plenty of time.  Unusually for Central America, they then had to wait for 45 minutes before their bus departed for the town of Rivas.

Chickens in the Granada markets

The ride to Rivas was a standard chicken bus ride and soon they were in town.  There they jumped into a taxi and were deposited at the ferry terminal in San Jorge.  After an hour’s wait, they boarded an old weathered ferry with chicken bus seats for the ride to the Island of Ometepe.

Chicken boat

The island of Ometepe is a unique volcanic formation located in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.  It was formed by two large active volcanoes (Concepción and Maderas). Simon commented that “they would be just like two fried eggs when viewed from space”.  The island is connected by private and government run ferries.

The team rode on the old private chicken boat ferry across the rough lake.  The crew was engaged fully in the transit, regularly pumping the bilge by hand and acting on bell messages from the captain.  The slow hour long crossing was competed without sinking and the team arrived at Moyogalpa.  They then jumped on an ancient chicken bus to Altagracia on the eastern side of the island.  Just before Altagracia they jumped off the bus at El Quito and commenced walking towards Santo Domingo.   They soon gained a ride in a tourist van to their destination.

Concepción making clouds

In Santo Domingo, the team found accommodation and later met up with Team Ireland.  Whilst they waited for the next phase of the race, they spent the afternoon and evening socialising.  They also tried to avoid being bitten by sand flies and attempted to find out where the party was at in the super quiet town.  They received their next clue early the next morning and set off on foot to the town of Santa Cruz a few kilometres away to the south, walking along a road that in parts was only sandy.

Helpful evacuation signage Bird on a hut as the storm approaches

After a 45 minute march with their gear, the team checked into their next hostel in the small community of Santa Cruz.  Their new accommodation had slightly fewer sand flies and a fantastic view of Concepción volcano to the north.

Ometepe goats heading towards Santo Domingo

After checking in, the team attempted to locate Team Ireland.  They checked several accommodations, but were unsuccessful.  They did however manage to negotiate a free ride in a tourist van to the Ojo de Agua.  The afternoon was spent swimming and rope swinging into the cool water.  Completing this task the team set off with Simone from Team Switzerland for an early meal of Tostones con Queso.  Completing this challenge the team travelled by bus back to Santa Cruz and made a final attempt to locate Team Ireland at a nearby Irish run bar and hostel.  Unfortunately they were unsuccessful, so they returned along the dark sandy road to their accommodation where they checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race.

Panorama of the Ojo de Agua
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Nicaragua 2: León

León is a Nicaraguan spanish colonial city surrounded by unique volcanic formation.  The city is perhaps most famous for the extreme activities and hikes that can be undertaken nearby.  León was also the pit stop in an exclusive race around the world.

As the team were first to arrive, Simon and Ang were the first to depart the pit stop.  They raced to the nearby Quetzaltrekkers, a great non-profit tour organisation.  There they were fitted and measured for two yet unknown major challenges for this leg of the race.

After this, the team set out to explore the town of León and took care of travel chores such as clothes washing until it was late enough for them to join Team Belgium (now a whole team of two complete with theme song – Black Eyed Peas “I’ve got a feeling” ) and others for drinks.

Early the next morning, Simon and Ang, along with half of Team Belgium (Walter was not required to go boarding) and others, they boarded the Quetzaltrekkers flatbed truck for the hour drive to Cerro Negro.  The drive began on paved roads but quickly transitioned to black sandy tracks through fields of corn and sugar cane.

Farmers on the road to Cerro Negro

Soon they arrived at the entry to the national park and then the base of the volcán where they were kitted up with their water, volcano boards, gloves, overalls and goggles.  The racers then hiked up the side of the still active black volcano.  Cerro Negro is a young volcano that first erupted in 1850 and since then it has erupted 23 times with the most recent occurring in 1999.  If the rate of eruptions and growth continues, it is predicted to be the highest volcán in Nicaragua.  The sides of the volcano are black basalt that look remarkable like asphalt.  One side in particular has the perfect slope to allow boarding.

The team is ready to climb the volcán Boarders high up on Cerro Negro

After an hour long hike that included a stop in the crater for photos, the team arrived at the summit. There they donned their protective equipment and slid down the side of the volcano.  The ride down lasted approximately 2 minutes with Ang the fastest in the group for this first run.

High up on Cerro Negro The team completes the sulphur steam bath challenge
Panorama of Cerro’s crater
Kitted out for the first run At the bottom of Cerro Negro’s long boarding slope

Once at the bottom, snacks and Tang were had and the group started back up the volcano again.  The second climb was completed somewhat faster than the first.  Once at the top the team again dressed and moved to the launch point.  The team shot down the side of the volcano once more, this time with much less concern for safety and more for speed.  At the bottom of the volcano the team received their next clue and were soon speeding back to León.

Ang touches a cloud Ready for the next run
Free range iguana farm

Ang was particularly thrilled to have completed this challenge and said “I wish I could do it again, but next time on a bike”.

The next day the team checked out of their accommodation and spent the day walking around the old town before they once again returned to Quetzaltrekkers for their next clue.  Their task was to summit the Volcán Telica overnight as part of the full moon hike.

Apparently the largest church in Central America is in León Another, smaller church in León
Unfortunately the team missed Gustavo and his dancing girl’s performance Chilling in the hostel between challenges

After a few pre-hike drinks with team Belgium (both halves and once again accompanied by “I’ve got a feeling”), the team once returned to Quetzaltrekkers.  Dinner was had and then at 11pm, they climbed into a truck and drove off into the night.  Arriving at start of the hike, the team marched through moonlit maize fields and down dark rocky country roads.  At one rest stop, the team entertained the other hikers with an interruptive dance as they attempt to light paint the mango tree they had stopped under.  Ang said, when asked what the hell she was doing, “I’m trying to add fairy lights”.

Light painting of the mango tree rest stop

The walk itself was fairly easy.  The team chatted with the other hikers including Team America 1 and kept an eye on their foot placement over the uneven terrain.  At times the moon was bright enough to see the way by.  At other times, they needed their head torches to see the path.  They walked for a total of 6 hours (26km return) before they arrived at the hellish Telica summit, just before dawn.

There the team was required to approach the unstable crater edge.  With Telica venting sulphur and there being a light mist, it was difficult to see to the bottom of the crater and so the team was unable to see the lava.

Desending from the Telica crater edge

Retreating down into an older crater, the team along with the other hikers enjoyed an early morning breakfast.  They then raced back up the escarpment to watch the spectacular sunrise.  They once again attempted to view the lava and succeeded and were over joyed and awed at the sight and roar of it through the sulphur clouds.  They then started the long walk back down the volcano.

Early morning breakfast spot near Telica Early morning Telica under a full moon
Telica panorama
The racers pose for a photo with Telica Simon next to the crater edge
Ang next to the crater edge Ang looks over the crater edge (130m straight down)
HDR image of sunrise Telica just after dawn
Another panorama of Telica showing the crater
Parts of teams Australia, France and Israel watch the sunrise
Sunrise Telica panorama
Returning to León in the Quetzal truck

Back to León they raced. They checked into accommodation and then along with Team Belgium, headed out for a night of drinking and dancing.  This included a visitation to “After Party”, which Walter of Team Belgium had been excited about ever since he had completed his first León challenge for the Amazing Exclusive Race Belgium.   They danced until 2am when they were given their final clue for the León leg of the race.

Random Nicaraguan festival dude Inside the legendary After Party

Racing back along the calle towards Quetzaltrekkers, the team successful convinced other racers to take part in their full moon challenge.  Teams from Holland, Israel and Belgium joined and together they completed the full moon outside of Quetzaltrekkers.

Full moon challenge completed at 2am (censored)

Successfully completing this final challenge, the team raced back to their accommodation, the pit stop for this leg of the race. Ang commented “After an awesome 43 hours of racing this leg, I am pumped to still be in the amazing race but so glad to be finally hitting the hay”.

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