An insight into the world of travel

Snow Way December 26, 2009

Filed under: Home life — backpackerbird @ 1:40 pm
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When I woke to a light sprinkling of powder white, untouched snow, I couldn’t have imagined how the day ahead would turn out.

I had the usual 5.30 am freezing my ass of whilst I struggle to scrape the frost off my windscreen, and run up to Sheffield. This was to be my last trip, the final journey. No more commute up the monotonous M1, no more 50mile an hour speed restrictions, whoop.

The day panned out in the usual manner. A quick last-minute shop for forgotten christmas presents on my lunch and a meal at Homemade Burger Co. with Kay rounded off the working day nicely.

The doctors were waiting for me as I rolled up 5 minutes late to my appointment. I blamed it on the weather, little did they know that the roads where clear (for now). A consultation about missed jabs (too late now) and a prescription of two later and I was ready for the long sluggish drive home.

I had a change of mind. As my time here is limited and the car insurance runs out soon I decided to get in touch with an old flame.

3 hours later I was still nestled into my armchair toasting my feet in front of the crackling fire in the Phoenix. It wasnt untill we saw many a punter trudge through the door covered in pearly white snow that we thought it would probably be a wise idea to head home.

Problem… the snow had come down thick and fast whilst we had been putting the world to rights in th comfort of the pub. I didn’t even attempt to try to get my car out of the drift it had been encased in. Shaun braved it. The wheels span but the car did not budge. I got out, too scared of sliding into the hedge or worse still, another car. Thankfully there were many guys to get behind the car and push it to freedom. I jumped in and hoped the roads would be clear. Not so much….. they were as bad if not worse. A quick consultation into which route to take and we headed out on possibly the most treturous journey I’ve taken since the dreaded Bangkok to Siem Reap all those years ago.

I know very little of driving in such conditions. Traction? Wheel spins? ABS? I didn’t drive, I left that to Shaun. We crawled at no faster than 10 miles an hour. The hills around Sheffield were unforgiving. The moment we felt safe to put on the gas we would collide into the curb or skid across to the other side of the road. The junctions proved to be hazardous. There was no stopping the car, the breaks were redundant. Praying other cars would realise our fate and stop to let us by was our only hope. Thankfully on arrival to the junction at the bottom of one hill we were met by a 4X4, perfectly equipted with all the essential technology for these conditions, about the only time these Chelsea tractor drives have a purpose for their road beasts.

There was no way I was driving back to Nottingham on my own and no way Shaun could come with me. The only option was to say over in Sheffield.

Funny how things turn out. Fate is a mysterious thing.


Day Pack Essentials and Dodging Excess Baggage Fines December 9, 2009

Filed under: Rio,Travel — backpackerbird @ 4:55 pm
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I thought this day would never come. 6 long months I have been waiting patiently ’till the day when I can start packing. ‘You still have 3 weeks left until you hit the road’ I hear you say… 3 weeks of  trying to fit all my friends around the last few days of work. Many a boozy night is ahead of me now, I simply haven’t got time to wait any longer. Of cause I will probably pack, unpack, re pack and pack again. Im that kind of organised freak.

So I thought I would compile a detailed list of what I would call Day Pack Essentials. I will follow this blog up with Backpack Essentials. But for now here is all you will need in your day pack, all the things you will need to hand, a fool-proof guide to getting it right when travelling.

I must add, the day pack is an extension to your backpack. If you are anything like me you will be struggling to fit all you want to take in one rucksack. Things tend to overspill into the daypack particularly when you have been on the beaten track for a while. No matter how hard you try not to buy useless tack that at the time you thought would be a perfect gift for your mum, you inevitably end up carting around more than you set out with. Curbing spending money on such things is a skill I am yet to acquire.

I had been in South America for 3 months when I was due to fly from Rio to Lima. I had the mistake buy, my Roxy soft surf bag (mentioned in Getting the right backpack. (a follow up on what to take)), my day pack, additional hold all I had purchased in Argentina and a stiff cardboard tube containing a large (100cm x 30cm) panoramic photo of  Rio. Arriving at the check in desk I was asked the usual… ‘Has anyone helped you pack your bags to day?’ No… ‘Has anyone offered to carry your bags today?’ No… and ‘How many bags will you be checking in today?’ Ummm. Well I did try my hardest to check in just the one bag and sneek the rest on as hand luggage but of cause there is a weight restriction on this. And yes you guessed it, my bags were over that limit, even over the check in bag weight limit. I was carrying 45kg, 23kg over the limit.  Oooppps.

A moment later and a receipt was presented to me, the charge of my 3 month long over spend in South America… $200. £200? I can’t have had $50 to my name at this point of my travels, how was I going to pay for that. Jesus I’m in trouble. Panic set in, I had to battle with the tears that wanted so badly to steam down my embarrassed red cheeks. I took a huge gulp and asked to speak to someone about this matter. I quickly composed myself and put on my ‘I can talk myself out of anything’ head and walked towards the smartly dressed official who was coming my way, he had a look of purpose across his face. this wasnt going to be easy.

My Spanish wasnt the best let alone my Portuguese, I didnt have a hope of understanding this guy. I tested my charm on him, it didnt work. He soon got fed up of me begging in a language he didn’t understand and sent me to an office behind the check in desks. Here I was pleasantly greeted by a good looking petite girl, I’d say a reject air hostess who didn’t meet the hight restrictions to be a fully fledged hostess so had been shoved in an office. I sat in front of her and tried my very hardest to explain my situation. After a good old grovel and an animated shaking out of my purse to reveal only a $20 note and a few coins. we came to an agreement. I would slip her the $20 and she would work her magic. I couldnt believe it, I had got away with a $200 fine for a backhand $20. I went on my way. Result. Lets hope I don’t acquire too much excess baggage this time round!

So, a good place to start when deciding what to pack in your day pack would be to look in the bag you use on a day to day basis in your normal life. If you usually carry medication pack that, if you chew gum, throw that in. There are the additional seasonal indispensable, sun cream and mosquito repellant. This is what I plan to have in my day pack and why.

Camera – any one who knows me knows that I cannot leave home without my camera, capture every moment forever.

Sun cream – avoid looking like a lobster.

Passport – you wont be going anywhere without this.

Vaccination record – some countries can be funny about you entering without proof of vaccines.

i pod – helps ease the 17hr flights and 24hr bus journeys. (although mine has just decided to die, typical)

Phone – not only can you communicate but doubles up as a clock. I never wear a watch when travelling, the only time you really need to know the time is if you are catching a flight.

Purse/wallet – goes without saying or you’ll get nowhere.

Insect repellent (deet) – avoid being eaten alive in the tropics.

Lip balm spf 20 – to soften lips on the air conditioned planes and to avoid burning lips in scorching heat.

Condom – you never know when you might need one,always protect yourself.

Sunglasses – or you will be blinded by the lights

Lighter – dont get caught out when you fancy a little recreational drug use.

Antibacterial hand gel – get those hands clean before eating.

Deodorant – freshen up on a  long journey.

Toothbrush and paste – get rid of that travel breath after being asleep on the bus for hours.

Chewing gum – freshen your breath before liaising with the opposite sex.

Spare memory card – you dont want to run out of photo space before you have chance to download them.

Padlock – lock your bag when you are in crowded places or if you are leaving it to persue an activity like sky diving.

Penknife – Always useful, make sure the blades are less than 6” or you will run the risk of being interrogated for carrying an offencive weapon.

Medication – paracetamol, antihistamines etc

Guide book – always good to read up on where you are heading.

Journal – you never know when you might be inspired to write. Good for scrawling down contact details of people you meet.

Mac-in-a-sac – A good a place as any to keep your rain coat, at hand to whip out in a flash tropical storm.

As you become more comfortable with travel you will tailor your day pack to your individual needs. You will realise what you need regularly and can’t face digging deep down into the depths of your backpack for every time you require it. You may leave your backpack on the roof of an Asian mini bus or in the hold of a Boeing 747 but your day pack will by always by your side.


Glacier Hike Anyone? December 4, 2009

Filed under: New Zealand,Old Journal entries,Travel — backpackerbird @ 11:23 pm
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On the road again. We were only a mile from Barry Town when it happened. We crashed the bus. Stretch (the driver) collided with a clearly visible road sign. The side front window shattered on impact. It did however stay in the frame…. for about 100 yards! It feel straight through, the bitter outside air came gushing in. Brrrr. A quick stop at a rundown service station that looked like it had stood unchanged since the 60’s and we had patched the window up with clinging and duck tape.

Soon after the accident Stretch was feeling guilty for the sub-zero temperatures in the bus so stopped to buy us a hearty breakfast. We stopped at the Pancake Rocks, these were rock formations jutting out from the sea. They get their name from the layers or stone they are made from, pretty spectacular really. I got snap happy.

A few hours down the road and many a game of I spy we arrived at a beautiful powder blue glacier fed river. Ice cold and running furiously. The beach was made up of enormous stones and gigantic drift wood. The snow-capped mountains as a backdrop. Perfect for a photo.

Arriving at Franz Josef by nightfall gave me just enough time to whip up a tasty feast or myself and the others. We had become accustomed to cooking in a group. Much more economic and social. A quick shower and down to the bar for a night of travel bingo and poker. Im getting good, play dumb, and hope for the best. I dont have a clue what I’m doing but I find this helps. I have a killer poker face. It’s a look of confusion that wins me the game. Im sure my winning streak wont last long.

The beer was flowing and the company was 1st class.

Up early with a slightly hazy head but this wasnt going to hold me back. I had decided to treat myself and booked onto a Heli Hike up the Franz Josef glacier. There were actually 3 ways to ascend the glacier, the Half Day Hike (for the seriously unfit and the skint), the Full Day Hike (for the seriously fit and the adventurous) and the Heli Hike ( for the lazy and rich) I was not rich but didn’t fancy a half-hearted half day and definitely didn’t think I was fit enough for the Full Day. 9 months into a travellers lifestyle of boozing nearly every night and not hitting the gym once had started to take its toll. So $300 bought me a ticket to ride.

Kitted out in boots and spikes and equipped with a pick axe I border the helicopter. This was to be the first of many heli flights. I made sure I got a good seat by the window. Lift off, vertical at 1st the swooping towards the glacier. sowing meters away from the ice, dropping in altitude down sheer cliff faces and waterfalls. It was an awesome feeling. nothing like a plane more like free falling and hovering in mid air.

Once we had landed on the ice I attached my spikes to my boots and started the exploration of the glacier. I was not easy, ice is slippy. There we massive crevasse’s, huge blue formations of ice to navigate around. We squeezed into an ice cave. It was surprisingly tight and I panicked. Not like me at all. The girl in front of me calmed me down and I was soon a natural on the ice. We had to lay down and slide on our stomaches for some parts, the cracks were that small. Not good if you are claustrophobic.

Our guide Tim was a bit of a dish. He would walk in front and hack chunks out of the ice to form steps for us to follow. This was ment to ease our journey, I still lost my footing often.

The 3 hours we had on the ice seemed to fly, just not long enough. The helicopter was eagerly waiting ur return. The flight back to base was as equally exhilarating as the outward journey. One of my favourite days so far. Highly recommended even if your purse strings are tight.


Rio: Fully Loaded. Part 3 December 3, 2009

Filed under: Old Journal entries,Rio,Travel — backpackerbird @ 9:59 pm
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The big game: That night it was the Brazilian cup final. Flamengos v’s Vasco. What was so special about this game is the finalists were both teams from Rio, it would divide the city.We had tickets. We had purchased them earlier in the week through the hostel in Copacabana. The owner was an avid Flamengo fan so we said we would go and cheer on his team.

2 hours before the game we were picked up from the hostel and escorted to the Maracana Studium across town by our body guards. They carried guns. They did not joke about, they were there to protect us. As we drove to the stadium we passed hundreds of street vendors selling flags, beer and horns. I bought a beer and a huge flamengo flag. On arrival we were ushered out of the mini busses and congregated around a statue outside the Maracana stadium. The scene was awesome, thousands of fans gathered in the streets, some with flares and most with flags. Some even had fire crackers which when let off sounded rather like bombs, quite scary really. Everyone was wearing a Flamengo shirt. We were definitely on the right side of the ground. It was all heating up.

As we walked up the steps to the stadium past all the chanting crowds I felt a rush of adrenaline. The Pitch appeared, lit by flood lights, it was colossal. I have been to many football grounds but not anything like this one. The Maracana has 2 huge tiers that circle the pitch. It holds 17o,ooo people. Massive. The fans were going crazy, chanting, singing banging their feet. All 50 of us joined in. The atmosphere was electric. I waved my fag along with everybody else. There was one flag the size of the whole stand we were in, we helped it along its way by passing it over our heads. Flares were still being let off and the singing didn’t stop. Flamengos 2, Vasco 0. Super.

We waited a while after the game had finished before we headed out of the stand. Our body guards were concerned for our safety as the crowds had started to brawl. As soon as we left our seats and walked down to the outskirts of the stadium we were pushed flat against the wall by our guards. They had heard something over their radios. Riot. Suddenly out of nowhere a herd of hooligans chanting and swearing ran past us. Hot on their heal were the police, battons at the ready. Then back again, police still behind until one guy, slower than the rest was caught. Battered, The police were brutal. Blood splattered up the walls. All we could do is watch.

After such a packed day we all decided to say in the hostel bar, The Majito was flowing and the singing carried on. A truly awesome day in Rio de Janeiro.


Rio: Fully Loaded. Part 2.

Filed under: Old Journal entries,Rio,Travel — backpackerbird @ 6:44 pm
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Paragliding…. We arrived at the beach and met a sporty looking well tanned guy who was to be our instructor. We hopped into an air-conditioned leather seated saloon and driven to the top of what seemed like a mountain by a guy who clearly loved driving. He weaved in and out of traffic at 60-70 miles an hour throwing us round corners we would be on 2 wheels at times. He was clearly an adrenaline junky. Before long we had reached the top. We walked up a few steps and to the top of the mountain. The views were breathtaking. The whole of Rio could be seen. All that was up there was a wooden slope. It soon dawned on me what it was. The runway! This is when I got a little nervous.

1 practice run and we were ready. Harnessed in and ready to leap. I was told to run, fast. The faster the better. Gulp. 1,2,3, and I was running. What happens if we just fall. Faster faster. 10 steps across the wooden runway and the wind took the wings. We were flying. The sensation was out of this world, I felt like a bird. We soared across thick forests and over an expensive looking part of town, all the houses had swimming pools and tennis courts. I could see The Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ Redeemer in the distance. Magical.

It wasnt long before I found myself preparing for touch down on the beach. We hit the sand running. Perfect. 10 minutes just isn’t long enough.


Whale watching in Kaikoura, New Zealand.

Filed under: New Zealand,Old Journal entries,Travel — backpackerbird @ 6:16 pm
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Starting in Christchurch, along with Liz and Chris was picked up from the hostel by what was going to be my transport for the near future, the stray bus. Kerry was to be our guide. He had a dry sense of humour and made practical jokes. He was a Jack the lad type of bloke, extremely likeable. I made sure I sat within the main crowd that was forming on the bus so as to ensure I was sure to get to know more people.
1st stop Kaikoura. The weather was pretty miserable but we didn’t let that stop us having a blast. There were snow-capped mountains behind the town, not that they were anywhere to be seen for the thick cloud that lingered. Once we had checked into the lovely quaint and cosy hostel that had traditional fire places in each room, ornate wallpaper and plenty of old photos or Maori culture hanging in the many corridors, we walked down to the sea front. We were heading for the whale watching depot. $120 bought me a ticket to jet out to one of the deepest underwater canyons in the world. The ideal place to spot a sperm whale. A short wait in the gift shop ( a ploy to get us to purchase) and out to the boat.
I was truly expecting a boat rather like a sea trawler , the kind you see in fishing programmes in the north sea. An old battered tin can. I couldn’t believe how wrong I was. We were escorted onto a swanky Catamaran with large comfortable leather seats and foot rests to match. I was suitably impressed. Off we went, out to see in search of the giant sperm whale. It took about half an hour to reach the canyon, which I am told is as deep as 5 Auckland sky towers are tall. The Maori skipper has a whale tracking device so was positive we would see a whale. Whilst we were on the hunt an other guy gave us some useful information about the sperm whale and the area we were in. It wasn’t long before we were hot on the tail of our first whale. Once it surfaced we all sped out to catch a glimpse. This whale was apparently called Big Nick…He remained on the surface for about five minutes, blowing air from his hole giving us all a good view, before arching his back and plunging deep down into the depths of the canyon flicking his tail as he subsided. He cave us a classic whale pose. Perfect photo opportunity.
There were five whales out that day, the skipper said we were extremely lucky. On the way back to the marina we saw a seal having a fight with an octopus. Clearly lunch.
Fish and chips was on the menu when we got back on dry land. I opted for sweet potato chips, an interesting flavour, an acquired taste.
The rugby was on that night so we headed to the local bar. I sat drinking with the guys, We played cards which soon turned into drinking games. Bates were placed and money was lost. That’s what I call a day in the life of a traveller.


Rio: Fully Loaded. Part 1.

Filed under: Old Journal entries,Rio — backpackerbird @ 5:58 pm
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So many people ask me to tell them tails of my travels. I could spend hours on end recalling my experiences. There really isn’t enough time for all the colourful stories so I have decided to recite some of my old journal entries from past travels.

I will however be writing current journal entries once I am on the road again but here is a little to wet your whistle.

 Nicole and I woke early, excited for our day ahead. We had an awesome 3 part, fully loaded 24hrs planned. It was just the two of today as the rest of the guys had had a rather large night previous and couldnt face getting up early. More fool them!

Part 1: We thought we would go and experience the other side to Rio. We had been staying in Copacabana a fully developed part of town. Mc Donalds on the corner and a shopping Mall down the road. We thought we should visit a favelas and learn a bit about the drug scene.

We arranged a tour through the hostel we we re staying in, Mellow Yellow ( a great place to stay, well recommended). 65 R, pretty expensive but later proved to be well worth it. We were picked up at 10am and were driven by our guide Daniella to the foot of Hasianda, the largest favelas in South America. And possibly the biggest in the world. As we drew near the surroundings changed drastically from plush tree lines boulevards to run down shack lines dusty, over populated streets.

We were met buy a motorbike and a driver each. No helmets provided, we hopped onto the back of our bikes and sped up the hillside dodging dogs and kid as we went. A few minutes later we arrived at the entrance to the favelas. A quick head count and we were passing the checkpoint into a different world. The checkpoint was guarded by an intimidating man who was sporting possibly the buffest muscles I have seen in a long time. Everyone who enters Hasianda is monitored and checked. If Mr Muscle didnt like the look of you, you were not permitted to enter. Simple as that.

We walked deep in to the favelas, down winding, dusty un-named streets, too narrow for cars. Houses were piled on top of each other and sewerage was running the pathways. At 1st I thought this was a truly terrible way to exist, but as I looked closer and learnt more my perceptions changed.

Every house hold seemed to have a huge TV bigger than mine, a Hi-Fi which was often heard blasting out music from the Brazilian rap and R & B scene, and everyone was dressed in the latest gear. All the kids had football shirts.There were many shops, even a Mc Donalds (they get everywhere).

The adults all have regular jobs, granted not professional but a job never the less. Many of them earn a decent wage in the city sweeping roads, driving taxi’s and cleaning. The average wage is 700R ( £175) per month.  This doesnt sound like much to live on. However: they all cheat the system… All electricity cables are plugged straight into the pylon, bypassing the meters and water is stolen from nearby systems and piped into huge blue tankers. The only money anyone in a favelas needs to spend is on food. They pay no rent or tax. If you can find a space, build on it and it’s yours.

Daniella was very informative and told us about the hierarchy of Hasianda. It was under the management of ADA (a drug mafia). Their tag was sprayed on every available wall throughout the favelas. These managers can earn millions or Reals a week on drug trafficking. They sell their drugs at the foot of the favela to people living in Rio, often to professional, well suited and booted people. The police are around but there is an unwritten agreement… The police turn a blind eye and receive coke as payment. Everyone is corrupt. Little is done about it.

On 25th October 2005 ( the previous year to my visit), the main man about town was killed by an undercover police man who had been living and breathing the favelas life for 3 months undetected. The man who rented the house out to the policeman was quickly seen hanged. He had been butchered by the boss men. (He was unaware of the policeman’s identity)

We visited a daycare centre for young children. teetering on the hill-side it looked rather like any nursery you would find in england. A diningroom was set out with tiny places ready for dinner, bedrooms were tastefully decorated but the playroom had very few toys. The children were sleeping so we didnt stay long.

Further down the sewer lines paths after passing a guy with a pistol strapped to his leg, we stumbles across a cake shop. The smell of home cooked,fresh cakes was an inviting one. We stopped for a while and got chatting to the local teenagers who were all looking forward to tonight’s football game Flamengo’s v’s Vasco.

Soon we were at the foot of the favelas and passing the notorious drug exchange. Over weight police men were sat basking in the sun playing checkers, not battering an eyelash at what was going on right under their noses. Very surreal.