Jun 06

The Amazing Race

by in Africa, South Africa

“Strap on your helmets…3..2..1…GO!”

Katherine and Russell, aka Team White, were off with a roar. Carter and I, Team Blue, had to wait 5 minutes before we could take off—in our super cool sidecar! We are about to embark on an Amazing Race through Cape Town. Each team would have to complete a series of challenges and manage to navigate the city. Drivers were expressly instructed to follow the team’s directions. Carter and I were in trouble because I’m positively inept with a map. However, we were allowed to ask people for help with directions, which potentially gave us the edge since Russ is genetically hard-wired to avoid this activity at all costs.

Navigational handicaps aside, our spirits were high. Carter and I had drawn the long straw and decided to leave second. Strategically, we thought this would give us more time to get organized; plus, we wouldn’t have the psychological pressure of looking over our shoulders to see if Russ and Katherine were on our tail. We were all in it to win it and no detail was too small to consider carefully.

The Race consisted of 8 challenges spread throughout the city. In order to advance, we would have to complete the challenge or gather the information required. Judges would meet us and evaluate our progress at each check-point. If we had not completed an assigned task, we could not advance to the next.

We began with a sculpting challenge: each team had to recreate the iconic Clock Tower in clay. Carter and I felt we had that one in the bag. Next, we had to gather facts about Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and many others were held as political prisoners. This should have been easy but none of the staff seemed to know the answers. Then, we were shocked when the one who did demanded coffee and donut in exchange for the information! We negotiated him down to a single stick of gum, but lost precious time in the process. We simultaneously cursed and praised Russ and Katherine for their cunning: they had been there first and clearly covered their tracks to make it as difficult as possible for us. Clearly, we were going to have to up our game. With their five-minute head start, we were always going to be trailing them and they intended to poison the information well as they went. Machiavelli would have been proud.

Next stop, the oldest structure in South Africa: the Castle of Good Hope, built by the one and only Dutch East India Company in 1666. Carter and I scored early and big by buying the sight map which held the answer to every question on our list. Within moments we were waving to Russ and Katherine as they tried to finish up the “torture” test, an ingenious challenge conducted in the fort’s actual torture chamber which required both partners to extricate themselves from intertwined string handcuffs. Our hubris proved to be our downfall as we took 13 minutes to free ourselves. It had taken Russ and Katherine less than 9. Argh.

It was off to the seat of government next, where we had to discover who designed the new House of Assembly. This was the hardest challenge of all since there was no plaque or information source. Ingenuity or brazen extroversion was required. Carter and I approached anyone and everyone who might be able to help: the security guard on patrol did not know and the staff at the nearby National Museum was at a loss (and weren’t willing to Google the answer for us). What to do? Answer: scout the area for the largest tour group you can find and go ask that tour guide. We found one! No matter that they were speaking German, we were on a mission. One minute later, we had our answer and raced off to the center of the park to tackle our next challenge.

This one required extreme teamwork and physical coordination. Uh-oh. We had to “tandem ski” on two-by-four planks as fast as we could across the park. Memories of attempting to tandem kayak with Carter in Halong Bay, Vietnam, flashed through my mind. I was no good at this sort of thing. We started off with Carter at the helm and quickly realized that, once again, I was incapable of following. We had to switch places and, with some effort and reasonable parenting behavior this time, we managed to get across the finish line. However, we lost another 20 seconds to Russ and Katherine.

The next stop hit the spot as we approached the Malay quarter of the city and pulled up at one of the oldest traditional restaurants. Our challenge here was to sample and correctly identify five different items on the menu. We were all up to the task.

Meanwhile, in the background of all these challenges, each team was supposed to be gathering materials along the way for a necklace. Points would be awarded based on creativity and cleverness. Carter and I had totally forgotten about this activity and hadn’t even started! It was only when Katherine asked us how our necklace was going that we remembered. Uh oh.

Fortunately, Russ and Katherine had to depart first in order to maintain the initial 5-minute spread so that we wouldn’t be on top of each other. Carter and I used the time to beg the restaurant owner for some innovative ingredients. We asked what the signature spice was in Malay cuisine, and when he told us that it was cardamom we asked for some. The whole pods were perfect for stringing, once we had borrowed a paper clip to poke some holes. And they smelled great.

The next stop literally towered above the city. We raced to the top of Table Mountain, elevation 1085 meters. The cable car ascended through a cloud (literally) and we could see nothing but grey mist. When we reached the top, each team had to pose for an original and clever photo.

    

In the end, the judges chose ours but I thought that Russ and Katherine deserved major points here.

After scaling the mountain, we sped along the coast and took in some of the most stunning coastal vistas of our trip. By this time, the sun had emerged and was shining brightly. We found our next challenge on the beach. Theoretically it was simple: blow up a giant yoga ball. In practice, not so much. I saw Carter’s competitive side emerge as he quickly ascertained that I was all thumbs. I was told to stand and touch nothing, which I did spectacularly well. His hands were a blur as he pumped and quickly brought the three-foot diameter ball to life. We made relatively good time but it wasn’t good enough: Russ and Katherine finished 9 seconds faster.

It wasn’t looking good for Team Blue. By the time we reached the last challenge, a coastline stroll interpreting a temporary sculptural installation, we figured we were so behind on time that there was no way we could win. So, we enjoyed the walk, sunshine, and art along the way. Team white, in sharp contrast, sprinted through the pain.

    

Each team had to provide an interpretation of the installation, which was a series of 18 sculptures depicting a young girl and a dragonfly. Carter’s is below:

“The young girl is South Africa. She dreams of Freedom. She knows there is a way to realize her dream. When a chance appears, instead of consulting with her peers and asking permission, she tries to take it by force. That is not democracy; it flies out of her reach. When a second chance presents itself, she joins instead of taking. It works. She and the dragonfly—South Africa and democracy—join together, and even when the moment has passed, they remain a part of each other. Forever.”

Wow. I was floored and so were the judges.

Lucky for us, and much to Team White’s consternation, time turned out to be only one component of the race. Accuracy on fact-finding and creativity in execution of the challenges were equally weighted and in a stunning turn of events, Team Blue took the lead! For a minute anyway. There was a mix-up in the recording and Team Blue had been inaccurately awarded the better time on the tandem skiing task. Oops.

    

The judges re-tallied our scores and furrowed their brows: it was a numerical tie! We demanded a re-count. Same outcome. Team White had finished a staggering nine minutes ahead of Team Blue, but they had incorrectly identified the designer of the new Assembly Hall (bless that German tour guide!). We would have to settle for a draw.

It was probably in the best interests of marital and familial harmony after all.


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