#5 Where to next (part 1)?

Now that I knew how I was going to start my trip I needed to think about how to fill the remaining two months. When requesting the break I had told my boss that I wanted to “broaden my horizons” and do something worthwhile, and I figured one way to achieve that was by doing some volunteering. I had naively thought that while you wouldn’t get paid for volunteering you would at least get bed and board, how wrong I was! You actually have to pay to do it, and it’s not cheap.

I hoped by then I would have passed my TEFL course, and while I wouldn’t be able to do paid work (as this is against the career break rules) it would stand me in good stead to do some sort of teaching placement. I had to decide where I wanted to volunteer, and what I wanted to do, but where do you start looking when the whole world is your oyster? Well, Nepal isn’t going to be the warmest of places so it had to be somewhere hot!

Ten years ago I had visited Costa Rica; my first dalliance in the Americas. The island is one of the most diverse in terms of habitat and wildlife that I’ve visited, and I was fascinated by the different types of terrain – 6 different types of forest, volcanos, hot springs and the coast – and the wildlife. What I liked about it was that it was not very touristy at that time, and there were plenty of opportunities to experience that slightly ‘seat of your pants’ thrill when you know you’re doing something that’s a bit risky.

One of my most striking memories of this was when a group of us went to what was billed as a natural spa afternoon (aka dangerous volcanic mud pool experience). On arrival there was a makeshift tent to change in and then we literally walked out onto the volcano, gingerly side stepping around the roped off areas that you must not under any circumstances step in (due to the boiling hot mud that bubbled within), to sit in a largish crater containing warm oozing mud. To get between two different ‘mud baths’ you had to traverse a plank about a foot wide, serving as a makeshift bridge, with a set of vertical posts with barbed wire strung between them on one side. The reason for the barrier on that particular side was that there was a vertical drop of about 6ft into a pool of water which was at least 100 degrees Celsius.

I feel partly responsible for what happened next. I started on one end of the plank as someone else started the other end, however we were so preoccupied in not falling off that we didn’t notice each other until we had traversed some way across. As we realised we wouldn’t be able to pass each other, we stopped and for some reason the other girl lost her balance and ended up braced against the barbed wire a bit like a boxer on the ropes – the only thing between her and possible death was two strands of barbed wire held up by a few dodgy posts, which were straining under the weight and beginning to come away from the posts. I tried to pull her up to no avail and luckily there were a couple of strong men close by who saved her. The poor girl probably still bears the scars from the barbed wire puncture wounds …

Not being content to narrowly escape a fatal incident, I cheerfully opted to go on a day trip to Nicaragua as a visit to the Masaya Volcano was promised. This is an active volcano and it was awesome to stand at the top of the crater looking down at the mysterious misty depths. Our time was cut short as suddenly the wind picked up and changed direction and since sulphur dioxide is best not to be breathed, in even in small doses, we quickly made our escape! The rest of the days visit was really enjoyable and ever since then Nicaragua has held a fascination for me. I believe you can’t say you’ve been to a country if you’ve only visited for one day, so I was resolved to fit it in somewhere on the trip.

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