It’s amazing what you learn in less than 2 weeks

I didn’t decide to go travelling for a bit of a jolly. Though I admit lounging on tropical beaches and climbing volcanoes certainly isn’t without its charms!

Travel has its charms.

Part of the reason for choosing Latin America was to learn Spanish and it’s going relatively well. Less than 2 weeks ago my Spanish was pretty much limited to “Dos cervezas por favor” following spending time in English speaking Belize and the formerly British Bay Islands in Honduras. Now however, I’m relatively confident to attempt a conversation with local Guatemalans about last night’s match vs. the USA as well as the ongoing Euro 2012 tournament while getting a pretty decent hair cut this afternoon!

I’ve not been in the learning mode for a while, probably since University or a few CIMA exams until I decided accountancy wasn’t for me. I expected it to be tough to get back into the discipline of learning but it’s been relatively easy.

I’m currently in Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala, which is a bit of a hub for those wishing to learn Spanish. For $100 a week I’m receiving one on one tuition 8am to noon from Rolando at the Antigüeña Spanish Academy and I couldn’t make a better investment. I can now pretty much converse in the present (and some basic future) tense with a small Spanish vocabulary which is growing with time. By the end of the week I should be able to use the past tense as well.

Time to hit the books.

I’ve long been embarrassed that my foreign language skills have been limited to some basic French and a few words of Mandarin.Following my crash course in Español in Guatemala I’m not only feeling confident about the rest of my trip from here to Chile but also (fingers crossed) utilising what I’ve learnt in the future.

Gracias Guatemala, yo estoy aprendiendo mucho aquí!

I Forgive You Honduras

I’ve been pretty grumpy a lot of the time in Honduras. It was a long journey by boat and bus to get to La Ceiba from Belize and there were a few attempts to rip me off on the way. The places we’ve stayed in have been pretty crap so I’ve been short of sleep. I’ve been eaten alive by mosquitos to the extent I had 52 bites on one leg in one night. It’s also rained a lot here during the so called ‘dry season’.

But that I can live with. The worst part has been Katrina getting really ill and having to be sedated while an only Spanish speaking doctor shoved an endoscope down her throat. Not fun for her but it wasn’t great for me to worry about either. To top that off, I’ve had my wallet stolen and had to bribe a policeman to get some kinda of report to make an insurance claim.

That’s enough to make me fall out with a country, but Honduras has had a couple of redeeming features. Notably it’s total lack of Health and Safety meaning we’ve been zip lining and climbing around waterfalls. Epic fun!

First the zip lining. This was at Sambo Creek, near La Ceiba and involved taking a bent up pick up truck along a steep mountain track to then clip ourselves to a wire and throw ourselves back down the mountain. Incredible! There were 16 zip lines and with the help of two guides we were launched down them with a clip to hold us on and a pair of gardening gloves for brakes. On one line about 500m long they jumped up and down on the steel rope to make us bounce up and down. Katrina screamed many, many a profanity!

After this excitement the fun wasn’t over. Underneath our monkey antics were hot springs bursting boiling hot water down streams where it would meet cooler tributaries to form bath like pools. Bliss. After a soak in these was a massage and a rub down in sticky orange mud to leave us looking like a cast member of TOWIE. Katrina came away looking like Tony the Tiger. I’m not sure about me, make your own mind up.

Tony the Tiger?

Looking like a right prat!

Then there’s the other ridiculous thing we’ve done here – climbing behind a waterfall nearly has high as Niagara Falls. We’d made our way down to a microbrewery in the middle of Honduras, Kat’s find when researching the trip. Sadly due to her ongoing throat problems she can’t drink the beer, all the more for me (he says quietly). Near said brewery is a waterfall called Pulapanzak (say then when you’re pished) which was frankly, incredible.

Pulapanzak Waterfalls

With the help of a guide, you go through a barbed wire gate and start wading through pools of water beneath the falls. These gradually become deeper and the spray becomes heavier until the point when you can barely see where you’re going. With the guide you climb over a couple more boulders and dive into a cave underneath the falls with the roar of the falls above your head. I’m struggling to describe the noise and feeling of having made it to this point, so here’s a picture.

On the way back is the chance to leap off places you’ve already climbed into pools beneath. Suddenly the enthusiasm for travel that had waned from illness and bad experiences is racing back and you’re ready for the world again.

I’m sorry I held the grudge Honduras, all is forgiven. Cheers!

What I’m trying to achieve …

I’ve wanted to take a big trip for a very long time, since before University, then after University, then after my first job. Now I’ve got a good bit of experience working in two very different companies I feel confident in getting myself a job on my return (or maybe even while I’m away). My current employer has also kindly left a potential opening for me to return to depending on workload, very much appreciated.

Despite this I still want this gap year / trip to be stay relevant and give me something to stand out and help me get a job either on my return or while I’m abroad. That’s partly why I’m writing this blog (if I can entertain the readers and say something insightful, then hopefully it bodes well for getting employed.) I’ve got a few things in mind that I want to do while I’m away that I think will be good for the CV as well as my enjoyment.

The first of these is to learn a language! I get incredibly irritated when I can’t speak another language, then I realise I didn’t make the most of the opportunities for French or German at school and my ability to speak these languages (albeit moderately) has died away a little. This is why I hope to take Spanish lessons in Central America and immerse myself in a language dominant across almost an entire continent. I know languages are desirable to employers but it would make me feel pretty good if I’m speaking like a local in a Madrid meeting!

Next up in volunteering. I’ve always been quite fortunate and somewhat spoilt so I want to try and do something that will help people less well off than myself. I’m looking for the right project, somewhere I can really offer something rather than just show up look silly and leave a few weeks later. Watch this space. I’d like to think that by doing something a bit out of my comfort zone I’m going to learn new skills, many people will know I’m not exactly the most practical person.

Point 3. Business. It might be a bit of a bus man’s holiday but I’m fascinated by different ways of doing business. I intend to write about this from time to time and see how economies I’m less aware of are developing. I’ve heard so many things about the entrepreneurship in countries like Chile and Costa Rica I’d like to see that and share it. You never know, I might find a job there or it could be useful in the future. It’s good to know about these things 😉

From here the ideas get a little less relevant to helping me get a job, it’s more about life experience and having a bit of fun. I’m in love with Scuba Diving thanks to my Mum making me try it on a holiday to Greece. Since then I’ve got my PADI Advanced Open Water Qualification and have dived in Egypt. Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Indonesia & Cape Verde. I intend doing an awful lot more of this, including diving the world’s best dive site at the Blue Hole in Belize. It’s also time for my girlfriend, Kat, to learn how to dive. I’d love to be able to work with this passion so I might keep my eye out for somewhere to get to the level of Divemaster. Anyone with tips about good places for this or looking to train people up, give me a shout!

I’ve got a bit of a thirst for trying new activities and sports. I’ve learnt fencing (awesome) and snowboarding (painful) in the past year, now I’ve got surfing in El Salvador in my mind too.

Photography has been another new addiction of mine over the past year or so, it used to be something I thought was a bit poncy but now I’m finding myself spending a lot of time on Flickr but I’ll post some of the better ones on here.

Apart from that, I’m here to make the rest of you incredibly jealous 😛

So here we go …

The first blog post is always a fun place to start, all those things I had in mind to say and now I come to write them …… oh bugger.

The reason I’m doing this is 2012 is the year I say ‘Sod it’ and bugger off around the world. As a kid I watched an unhealthy amount of Michael Palin and Alan Whicker travel programmes which has given me an unstoppable desire to travel the globe. It’s plauged me through University where I filled up an entire passport in 3 years in places like Malaysia (great place to go to study, or not actually get down to the studying in my case), all around Europe, China (courtesy of the British Government – see, South Africa and many, many other places.

I’ve spent the last two and a half years working away as an accountant for BAE Systems and latterly as a Strategy Consultant for a firm nobody has ever heard of when you tell them ( They have kindly let me escape in a few weeks time to travel the length of Central and South America from Cancun in Mexico down to Santiago in Chile. Between now and then I have to squeeze in trips to Cuba and Ireland as well as a hop to Canada on my way to Latin America.

Hopefully I’ll fill these spaces with a range on interesting and insightful bits and pieces of commentary and photography that will keep you all interested or at the very least jealous.

I hope during my time away I’ll learn Spanish, volunteer with some worthwhile causes, spend a large amount of time being a beach bum as well as scuba diving and get a whole heap of life experience.

As I go along I’m sure more will become clear ….

In the meantime you can follow me on Twitter (@nihaoxiongmao), check out my Flickr or LinkedIn pages etc. and get in touch however you like.

Much love on this Happy Valentine’s Day. x