Thursday June 12: 4 am – Rio de Janiero
The opening day of the 2014 World Cup. I’ve been away from home in Scarborough for a fortnight already, what with England’s warm up games in Miami prior to Brazil.
We are flying up to Manaus today ahead of England’s first group match versus Italy.
Our local driver Gustavo has been superb so far, dodging us though the murderous Rio traffic (I will never complain about the queues on Seamer Road again).
Today he oversleeps. We cannot miss the four-hour flight to the middle of the Amazon rainforest, so tension is high.
Gustavo finally arrives, unshaven and dishevelled. The poor chap is almost in tears.
But he gets us there in time, skirting a demonstration in the road near the International airport (a 24-hour strike was announced a few hours before).
So, a bleary-eyed check-in and a final scan of the bag. Broadcasting kit, clothes and most importantly anti-malaria tablets and super-strength anti-mosquito spray – we are going to the jungle after all.
Manaus is every bit as humid as we were promised – the humidity was 94 per cent the day before in Rio. If anything, it feels heavier here.
We were warned to wear long sleeves and long trousers in Manaus because of the particular brand of mosquito which bites in the day and can give you Dengue Fever – not nice.
I do a report from the pitch side at the Arena Amazonia for Five Live’s Drivetime programme and have to tell the listeners – too much detail I am sure – that my shirt is wet though with sweat.
It turns out to be a 16-hour day because we then have to go to the England team hotel to interview Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson.
I fell into deep sleep the minute my head hit the pillow.
Saturday June 14:
England 1-2 Italy. England played reasonably well but lost. The mood in our camp – deeply disappointed.
Sunday June 15:
Back in Rio after a 6am check-in at Manaus Airport.
Journalists don’t look pretty at the best of times. At that hour in the morning, it’s worse, believe me.
We are staying in the same hotel as the England team while they are in Rio.
Security is tight – in fact it’s impressive to watch the police operation when the team comes back from training.
Helicopter overhead, six outriders flanking the coach, armed police keeping a close watch on proceedings.
There’s even a gunboat patrolling out in the bay, presumably in case of terrorist attacks.
That’s not to say the players are imprisoned in their rooms.
Early in the trip, five of them, including Daniel Sturridge and Jack Wilshere, made a goodwill visit to the sports centre at the Rochina favela not far from the hotel.
Favelas – I suppose they would be classed as slums – are widespread in the poorer areas of the country and crime levels are high.
Rochina is the biggest in Rio with 70,000 inhabitants.
But the sports centre provides free facilities for youngsters wanting to box, swim and, of course, play football.
It was an education and the England players behaved with kindness and dignity during the visit.
I am barely a third of the way through my Brazilian odyssey. The final at the iconic Maracana stadium is almost a month away.
It’s a privilege to be here but I am sure I will long for the green, green grass of Scarborough some time before then.