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Frankieboy's big journey

I fly this Saturday (1st March 2008) from Heathrow. I will see (in this order) : Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, South America. I plan to return February 2009 (unless I get horribly homesick!) Hope to upload lots of piccies for you along the way...

Diary Entries

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Location: Brazil

Sat 17th Jan 2009

I woke up and decided to get breakfast in the hope it would bring me round. I saw Ben and we discussed our different nights spent at Lapa and what a shame it was that we didn’t meet up. Ben was booked to go on the favela tour which was about to leave. The favela tour sounded terrifying but it was something (against my better judgment) that I wanted to witness. After all you can’t go to Rio and not see the favelas. I decided to ‘go for it’.

The minibus came to pick us up and we drove quite a long way to Rocinha, a very dodgy neighbourhood in Rio ‘the wrong side of the track’. We drove past various signs saying 37, 38 degrees centigrade. The sweat was pouring down onto my sunglasses.

We arrived in Rocinha where even the dogs walk in twos. The heat was horrendous. We would have to leave the relative safety of the minibus and begin the tour. Someone had told me that the tour started with a motorbike ride which I was not particularly looking forward to. The tour guide paid a few guys waiting there on motorbikes to take us to the top of the favela. We each got on the back of motorbike. Health and safety? Forget it. No helmets here.

The ride probably only lasted for about 2 minutes but it was probably the longest 2 minutes of my life. The road up the hill was steep and full of chicanes. The guy riding the bike took the hill at a hell of a speed. We were weaving around other motorbikes, cars and lorries. Some of the gaps we went through were so narrow I kept pulling my knees in to avoid hitting anything. Not wanting to put my arms around the guy (it’s a bit gay isn’t it?) I instead held on to the handle behind me which was totally ineffective. Going round corners leaning over I was convinced I was going to fall off. Perhaps the worst part was when the guy decided to overtake and drive on the opposite side and then pull back just before going in front of a lorry. I wanted to just close my eyes. Never mind being shot in the favela, I’d be dead well before.

Arriving at the top of the favela was, as you can imagine, somewhat of a relief. Unfortunately the guy had no idea where to drop me at the top. He dropped me outside a shop where he thought we started the tour. None of the others in the group could be seen anywhere. I thought for one horrible moment he was going to leave me there. Great. There I was in a very hostile favela, looking like a complete tourist, and the others were nowhere to be seen. I’d be walking home in my underpants if I was lucky. I tried to communicate “Where is everybody else?” to the guy and then mercifully I saw someone in the group drive past on the back of a motorbike. “Follow that bike!” I said and to my great relief soon met up with the others.

Being horribly hung over, in an insalubrious part of town I was really regretting not remaining in the comfort and safety provided by my hostel bed. (Actually ‘comfort’ is being rather generous. I don’t miss the rubber mattress and pillow.) Just to get us in the mood, the tour guide then went through a few trivial housekeeping issues such as to not be alarmed if we see guys with pistols, rifles, grenades or home made explosives and to not take photos going in or out of the favela. I remember thinking ‘What the hell am I doing?’ before having a minor panic attack.

The guide told us that there was only really one main entrance and exit to the favela. We were at the top of the favela and were about to go into the favela, then walk down the hill before leaving via the exit at the bottom of the hill. The favela is run by the drug organisation ‘Amigos Dos Amigos’ which has armed lookouts with walkie talkies keeping an eye on who is going in and out of the favela. They need to be on lookout in case the police or a rival gang decide to pay them a visit. Taking photos at these points is therefore strictly prohibited. The only comforting thought was that the tour company (www.bealocal.com) gives 60% of its profit to the local community. It would be unlikely that we would come to any harm (you would hope).

We walked into the favela through the main entrance. I was keeping my head down but did try and see if I could make out who the lookouts were. If they were armed they were certainly concealing their weapons well. Once inside the favela it felt surprisingly calm and quiet. The tour guide having worked there for the past 4 years seemed to know everyone and said hi and chatted about football to the locals. The fact that she was a stunner certainly seemed to oil the wheels.

The social deprivation and squalor was soon apparent. Kids and dogs were playing in the alleyways amongst litter and flowing dirty water. The stench in some places was overpowering. Disease is prevalent such as dengue fever. The houses looked very unsafe, some as if they were about to fall down. Apparently people sell their roof so that it can be built on, which in turn is built on and so on until you end up having a very structurally unsafe building.

We went to an artist’s house to have a look at his paintings (see pics). They were actually very good. Some were a bit unnerving – one for example the Brazilian flag with blood pouring out bullet holes. I was just keen to get the hell out of the favela as quickly as possible. I was afraid I was about to suffer another bout of atrial fibrillation. That would have been very unfortunate. They asked us to sign in the visitor’s book. I remember my right hand literally shaking almost uncontrollably. The view from the balcony was superb though (see pic). I just didn’t feel safe at any moment. I was sure that we were being watched at all times. There were men a couple of houses away on the roof probably keeping a look out for anything untoward.

We left the artist’s place and kept walking down the hill along this alleyway. Litter was strewn everywhere (see pic). When it rains heavily, litter is washed from off the hillside into the alleyways. Not very pleasant. We bumped into the main drug dealer of the favela who seemed fairly pleasant. The guide laughed and joked with him. They all knew her. This felt very reassuring! We might actually survive after all….

The remarkable thing was that the people in the favela, some of the poorest people in the world, all seemed very happy, smiling and joking. We stopped off at a bakery and afterwards a couple of kids played their home made drums (made from old oil cans) and sang for us.

I must say I was incredibly relieved to get back on the mini bus in one piece. An amazing experience but thank god it was over. The guide said that it can go from being peaceful to all out war in a split second. I don’t like the idea of being caught up in a gun battle between drugs gangs or the police.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Location: Brazil

Friday 16th Jan 2009

According to the Irish girls I proposed to both of them on the boat. It must have been a good night! They were obviously very flattered…

I think I spent most of the day in bed recovering. In the evening I hooked up with Ben and James (– another lad from the West Midlands unbelievably) and the plan was to go to the Lapa street party. Lapa is a neighbourhood in Rio which turns into one big street party every Friday. Hundreds of people show up. I was a bit worried about being mugged so I didn’t take my camera which was a real shame because I’d have loved to have captured it for posterity.

The hostel organized for a few taxis to take us there. I was going to go with Ben and James but as the there was no room in their taxi I caught the next one with some Swedish guys. I was under the impression that all the taxis would be meeting up at the same place so it wouldn’t matter.

Arriving at Lapa the traffic was horrendous, with hundreds of people lining the streets. There was no way we would be meeting up with the others. I was then going to be stuck with team Sweden who I didn’t know from Adam. I think they felt about as awkward about at as I did. We had a few beers together and we got along very well. We ended up in a club under the archways of the Lapa viaduct. It was so hot in there it was pretty much unbearable. The temperature outside must have been about 35 so in there – god only knows. The toilets in the club were fairly horrendous. I walked into the gents’ urinal only to find a girl in there standing over a urinal peeing into to it with quite an impressive trajectory! I was as shocked as I was embarrassed and made a hasty retreat apologising in a very British way. She didn’t care – there was a bloke peeing next to her. All very Bohemian!

All in all it was superb to witness Lapa – an incredible party atmosphere, just a shame that I ended up going with some complete randoms.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Location: Brazil

Thursday 15th Jan 2009

I decided to do the boat tour as advertised in the hostel. I’m sure the itinerary included the islands just off the coast of Rio which sounded good to me. Unfortunately the only guys I’d got to know in the hostel, Nick and Andrew and co, had buggered off so I was back to Billy no mates.

Waiting in the reception for the tour to start I was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing. It could have been a very long day if the people on board had not been OK. I got chatting in reception to a couple of nice Irish girls who were going and it turned out that they were flying back to Heathrow on the same flight. Bonus – cheap taxi!

We got a taxi to the marina and boarded “Beethoven”. We were welcomed on board with deafeningly loud reggae music which seems to be ‘de rigeur’ for these sorts of things. I got chatting to Ben a nice lad also from the West Midlands (Wolverhampton) coincidentally. Being the pessimistic bastard that I am I was fully expecting to be Billy no mates talking to myself but ended up getting to know some good people.

Predictably, it followed the normal boat party pattern – everyone starts off very politely in the “How do you do?” fashion, usual trite conversations, and gradually descended into (in correlation with the consumption of capirinhas) silly leg dancing – or was that just me?

The route that the boat took was disappointing - not that it detracted from what turned out to be a bloody good laugh. We went no where near these beautiful islands. We did get to see some very nice oil tankers though. We anchored in a bay where everyone started to jump off the side and have a swim. The dirty water was not particularly inviting and the floating litter did not add to its appeal. It was very hot though so I thought sod it and dived head first off the top deck which was fairly terrifying. I was rewarded with a nice mouthful of very salty Rio sea water which I swallowed. I then started retching which must have looked super cool. I decided to jump again and on the second attempt cocked up the trajectory and did a rather impressive belly flop.

I was amused to see the same girl I’d tried to pull at the favela funk party on board the boat. At this favela funk party I’d been dancing with this girl at this party and thought I was doing well until she mysteriously buggered off without warning. I’m sure it had nothing to do with me I kept telling myself. I’d recounted this tale to the Irish girls and Ben who thought that I should go over to her and try my luck again as she was standing by herself looking at the view. I reluctantly gave in and went over and approached her. It went fairly well and I offered to buy her a drink and headed to the bar. By the time I’d got back from the bar some poxy bastard had already started chatting to her. I later found it was an Israeli guy staying at the hostel.

Back with Ben and the Irish girls we all watched this Isreali guy chat her up which concluded in him sickeningly getting off with her. I was tempted to hurl myself over the side of the boat but being uncharacteristically philosophical, I found the whole thing quite funny.

By about 6pm everyone on board was roaringly drunk. I was waving and dancing at other ships passing by and got many a wave back. It was only a matter of time before I started teaching everyone the LFLD (legendary Frank leg dance) which like the capirinhas, went down rather well. When “Stayin Alive” came on the PA someone had the brainwave of combining the LFLD with the standard John Travolta pointing dance and thus it evolved into something truly remarkable.

I got back to hostel somehow. I have a vague recollection of going on the internet (probably embarrassing myself horrendously) before passing out.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Decided to brave the heat and venture out of the hostel. Thought I'd go out and check out Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

The heat was oppressive. It reminded me of being back in Queensland if not worse. I'd brought my camera with me and was thus cruelly unable to jump in the sea which looked inviting to say the least.

I took a few pics of Copacabana then walked to Ipanema. It's quite a long walk - must be a couple of miles at least. By the time I'd reached Ipanema I was covered in sweat. I bought a coconut to rehydrate (see pic). Funny taste - quite sweet and doesn't really taste of anything. It's surprising how much liquid they contain. I was well and truly sick of it by the bottom. It certainly quenched my thirst though.

I was accosted by some annoying bloke who although said that he was my "friend" ;-) refused to bugger off so I gave him a couple of Real which seemed to do the trick. I was more concerned about the nice camera in my pocket. Back home chavscum would have assaulted you and taken your belongings so I was delighted! Despite this guy though I felt decidedly safe walking around. I'm sure the risks are blown out of all proportion....

With it being so hot and me being totally lazy I hailed a cab (despite Fran's word of warning!) which took me back to the hostel in air conditioned luxury.

There's a pool competition tonight at the hostel which I might as well enter. Let's see if I can win another one!


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Recent Messages

From Tony George
How the heck are you cobber?
Response: Back in Brum unfortunately! Will send you an e-mail
From Janet
Welcome back Frank, hope it hasn't been too much of a let-down. I have really enjoyed reading your blog and seeing the photos, the kids have been interested in where Frankieboy is at any given time. Can't wait until you clear off again (in the nicest possible way). Let us know if you are coming over this way at all to meet up with anyone.
Response: Thanks very much Janet. It's absolutely horrendous to be back for numerous reasons, one of which is going for an interview for a minimum wage job tomorrow!!!! Don't they know who I am???!!! Me? With my reputation?! How the mighty have fallen...

Being back in Brum has proved that I'd rather be down under if at all possible.Get me on that plane!

I have no wheels so a rendezvouz is a logistical nightmare! But it would be good to see the prison crew ;-)
From Fran
Hello Mr Wood,

Must confess to having been entertained by your blog, despite the unbelievably annoying "emoticon" things that you're apparently unable to complete a paragraph without ;-)

Will be nice to have you back safely - chances of that are much improved if you refrain from hailing taxis in the street, or so I'm told. Apparently lots of kidnappers use taxis (www.articlesbase.com/travel-articles/kidnapping-i
n-latin-america-the-basics-131528.html ), although the cost of feeding you would probably massively outweigh any ransom they might hope to get, so you're probably safe...

Take care and get home in one piece!

Fran XXX
Charming to the last... ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) (just to annoy you)

Don't spend too much on my coming home present...
From Carl
Frankus,

Glad to hear that you didn't go with those overland monkeys and sorry to hear that an otherwise fantastic holiday/travelling adventure has been slightly marred by this experience.

Hope you have a fabulous last few days before you come back to blighty.
It may be cold and wet back there but you should look forward to the things that you’ve missed over the last year; a damn good Indian curry, proper cold, tasty beer, a bed without a hint of Kraut fleas, and family and friends to captivate with tales of your adventures!

Looking forward to seeing you for some much needed dad dancing, Star Wars quotes (of which Jol has taken upon himself to unceremoniously murder) and misery!

Well maybe not so much of the latter :)

ML

Carl
Response: Carl, can't wait to see you in the Sundarbon my friend!

It will be good to see everyone again (I do hope the welcome home party preparations are going well...;-) ) and remind everyone how the legendary Frank leg dance is properly carried out.

As for the misery I'm afraid that is almost guaranteed - coming home to cold, wet Brum having no house, no car and no job (and no bird but then that's hardly out of the ordinary) However I will be my usual stoic self and you will not hear a word of complaint (much)
From Dad
Yes, I'm very relieved you decided not to go with them. Not many companies have generated websites like this one:
http://www.overlandwarning.com/
I'm very envious of you in Rio, it's absolutely freezing here, and dark most of the time. It would be great to be where all this started:

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=tSgvvbCQq9c

Enjoy and take care. X.
From Jezza
Frank. The email from the arsehole was a lie - they didn't meet up. He is trying to fool you in not trying to get your money back - don't be fooled again. Either way, I entirely agree with how you handled it, and it sounds like you are having a far better time than being starved in an armoured personnel carrier (which would get incredibly hot inside - no air con) waiting to fall of a cliff. Look forward to having a few beers. Orly's stag is now all organised and looks like it will be great fun. See you soon. J.
Response: Actually he sent me an e-mail today trying to persuade me to change my mind! Can you believe it?! The man needs a good birching at the very minimum.

See you soon...
From Janet
From reading some of the reports about this Overland Club outfit I think you may have had a lucky escape - it seems that the trucks were unroadworthy to say the least (tyres from scrapyards) and that many people had gone hungry because the food kitty money had been used for repairs or to buy alcohol for the drivers. I think it's only a matter of time before someone is injured on one of their trips. You will always read a few odd negative comments on internet forum sites posted by complete nitpickers for most service companies or travel operators however, this lot have an absolute avalanche of bad reports and even specific websites set up by aggrieved customers and former staff warning potential customers off. The moral of the story - Research! "Don't ask God ask Google" (paraphrasing Roy from the I.T. Crowd)
Response: Yep. Lucky escape I think.
From Jezza
Afterthought. Not sure when you booked it, but if you get on the phone quickly to your credit card company perhaps can they do something. Protection via the 'Consumer Credit Act' or something similar / didn't get the goods / services purchased. Maybe something Big D. can work on the case while you sun it up (if you ask nicely). J.
Response: To be fair, I believe (judging from an e-mail from this arsehole) they did meet up later in the day - even though the meet was at 10am.

The point is though that even if I had have joined the group I would have had to hand over US $630 straight away which would not have lasted me a week then I would have been stuck in the middle of nowewhere at the mercy of a total wanker. Did you read that this Ron guy actually went out of his way to remove a guy from the group - not only that he tried his best to get him thrown out of the camp site purely out of spite - mercifully he was unscuccessful.

I'm down £900 granted. However anyone in their right mind knows that if you can't even organise a rendez-vouz at the beginning of a trip (why didn't people turn up 2 days before like I did - or carry mobile phones??) then the whole thing is a complete catastrophe in waiting.

On a more serious note, I think that the ramifications of a badly managed trip could have been very dangerous. We're not talking about getting stuck on the M25....

Bad mistake. I f--ked up. All you can do is move on.

What i am glad about is that I'm having a great time in Rio (longer than I was going to get) and I'll be home soon to see my family and friends. in the grand scheme of things it's no biggie!

See you soon for a bloody good drink I hope ;-)
From Jezza
Frankie - sorry sorry to hear the story. What a ******. You've done the right thing. Seriously, this is a case for Nicky Campell and 'Watchdog'. I look forward to seeing you making your first TV appearance infront of 6 million viewers! See you soon and take care. Jezza, Bex, Henry and Nelson
From Janet
Noooooooooo!!!! You can't come home yet - I won't have anything to read and my life will be as empty as when Big Brother comes to an end.
Did that sound as sad as it looks written down??
Why not fly up to Orlando, get a job in 'Ye Jollye Olde Englande' part of Epcot's World Showcase as 'English bloke' ? You could whinge about the weather, complain about the state of the pound/interest rates/NHS waiting lists/ Labour government/ Typical British summers/Leaves on the line/Bank holiday traffic etc. while all the time joining the back of the queue and putting your Union Jack towel down on the sunbeds before Gerry gets up. That place needs a bit of authenticity and you would be just the man for the job. You may need to get several tattoos though.

Are you planning on doing the USA at all next time or will you head back down under?


Response: I think I could do a good job of that. There's no bigger moaner/misery than me.

I'm sorry to come back. Believe me it was not my intention. Thought I could draw it out for another six weeks. I'll soon be home.

I'm hopefully going to Melbourne in May for 10 months, maybe for good - who knows? There will no doubt be a Frankieboy's Big Journey Pt 2 so don't get too despondent ;-)
From Tessa
Hi Frank,
Well, I decided to 'delurk' at long last and post a message! I've really enjoyed reading your blog for the last 10 months - in fact I don't know what I'll do for entertainment at work when you're back! Great photos too. I'm sorry things didn't work out with your tour, but you definitely did the right thing. Hope you enjoy your time in Rio - it looks amazing!
Response: Glad you've enjoyed reading it - I've enjoyed writing it and it's been great to get messages of support. Nice that one of the lurkers has come out of the closet - in fact now that the journey has nearly come to an end all the others should ;-)

Rio is absolutely superb - love it. Haven't been shot yet so that's an added bonus.

I may be doing another blog when I go back to Oz so that may be of interest!
From Jason
Hi Frank, this is unbelievable! I was genuinely winding you up when you sent me the link to this company. It seems however that they are a complete disgrace, you did the right thing. Not sure about the flying home bit though.
Response: Yes I hope I made the right decision.

Well I'm not flying home just yet. I've got 9 days to explore all that Rio has to offer! So far so good - incredible place.
From Bex
Hi Frank,
Just did my weekly catch up... Hope that the pick up issue is resolved! Loved the final stages of the NZ adventure. The Waitomo caves are truly excellent. Keep safe and to coin the NZ phrase " go hard" meaning... go for it (truly the the only way to go!) Love Bex & the boys xxx
Response: Go for it! I did. I got the next plane to Rio! See you very soon...
From pigeon
Sorry to hear about your troubles.

I don't want to add to your concerns, BUT do a quick google search and the first site you get is www.overlandwarning.com

The site has is a litany of people's terrible experiences. This includes terrible organisation, huge hidden costs, appalling safety, buses not turning up, 'groups' meaning 2 or 3 people. Many people appear to be pursuing legal action! There were concerns that they were no longer operating- given that they were not answering emails or phone calls.

To be fair, most of the flack is directed towards their Middle East and Africa trips- but It seems they are indeed a chimpanzee outfit. I strongly advise you think carefully before even getting on a bus if it even turns up.

Apart from that, good luck!
Response: I'm already in Copacabana Pidge! The only bad news is that I'm one flight away from home. See you very shortly indeed!
From doug
errm, discard last message, just seen your facebook status! maybe didnt work out ok?? hope you are alright doug
Response: Decided against it. I'm now in Rio!
From doug
hi frank

looks like an english truck looking at the numberplate! so if it can get from here to there i am sure it will get you around where you need to go. looks like a cool trip see you soon
From Maria
Hey Frankieboy! Gidday from WA. Glad to hear you have arrived in SA in one piece, after your NZ experience experience..what an amazing journey you have had, and I'm sure SA offers the same extreme thrills & spills... Perth is currently gripped in a heat wave..we have had temperatures of 30C for 2 weeks now..no sign of letting up...now that's extreme. Take care & hasta la vista (i think) Cheers!!
Response: Maria! Hi! Nice to hear from you. Bit apprehensive about 6 weeks of travelling across S. America in an armoured personnel carrier and camping in extreme conditions! Kind of wish I was on a plane home but I'm sure I will be glad to have done it...

it's pretty warm here too but nothing compared to Queensland.

Pass on my regards to everyone...

x
From Doug
Hi Frank,
Glad you got to S.America ok, prop a wise idea to get some spanish learnt quickly, Cerveza is a key word from memory! hope you have a good one speak soon. Doug
Response: I had to look up the word for "washing machine" earlier! It's getting embarrassing...Yes I know "cerveza"!

See you soon - not long now.
From Jeremy
Frankie - glad you and the boys have had a cracking holiday in NZ. Really pleased for you all. Enjoy the next stage of your adventure and see you on Orly's stag. Jezza
Response: Greetings from Santiago Jez. I think we did NZ justice! Hope I survive S. America and manage to bring my valuables home!

Indeed, look forward to the stag do.

As you were...
From pigeon
Happy New Year!

Nice to speak to you and Jol last night- hope you enjoyed the evening's celebrations!

Hopefully speak soon...

Pigeon and Anna
Response: Likewise Pidge. Say hi to Anna from me.
From Annabel and Cressida
Merry Christmas Jolyon! Have been looking at your photos here in Surbiton with your Mum and Dad! Amazing - guess you're having a fantastic time. We're sorry you're not here but expect you're not!! Looking forward to hearing more when you get back. Lots of love from your cousins and your parents too! xxx
Response: Will pass on the message!
From Janet
Happy Christmas Frank although yours is nearly over and I've only just had breakfast consisting of trifle, After Eights, peanuts and roast ham. Westlife concert on the telly and trying to wire up a Nintendo Wii.
Living the dream.
Still time to check ebay though ;-)
Seasons greetings xxx
Response: And to you Janet! Tis the season to be gluttonous....That sounds like a bloody good breakfast to me!
From doug
happy christmas Frank, say hi to Joel for me. i hope you are still living the dream!
good work on the skydrive, disappointed joel bottled it!
take care
Doug
Response: Cheers Dougyboy! Merry xmas to you and Jill.
From Dad
Gripping stuff, Frank. To be honest it's probably a better way to go than trapped under an inflatable... I'm sure it's a fantastic thrill and I'd do it myself if I had the nerve... X
Response: It was superb. Glad I did it!
From Bex
So sorry Francis, thought you were travelling as Mr & Mrs Hoare.. Enjoy Queenstown and Milford Sound. Glad you are having a ball. Have you thought of thermal underwear? More later...
Bex and the boys xxx
Response: Thermal underwear sounds eminently sensible - I might invest in some if this cold spell persists!