NHS Social Innovation in Salford Competition


Before leaving to go on my trip I entered a competition being run by the NHS called “Social Innovation in Salford“. The intention of the competition is to find people with ideas for how to solve some issues currently facing the NHS in the Manchester region.

The competition is split into several parts with the brief for the first part being:

How to give older people greater control and enable them to have more meaningful and fulfilling lives and in so doing reduce demand on the health and social care system

Its a really nice idea and a clever way to try to bring in new ideas to solve challenging problems that the NHS currently faces.

To enter you had two write a short (300) word proposal. If your proposal was short listed and you participated in the subsequent meetings you would win £1000.

My proposal was predictably related to technology and games. I suggested that mobile devices with games loaded on could be given to the elderly so they could keep their minds active by playing games. I also suggested that if tablets were used then other apps could be installed such as Skype that allowed the elderly to keep in contact with relatives.

During the early part of my trip I received an email announcing that I was short listed and invited to attend the meetings in Salford. Unfortunately because I was in North Carolina at the time I couldnt attend physically, instead they asked me to attend via Skype and create a video which details my proposal in more detail:

As a follow up, I was asked to create another video that answered some questions:

The leaders of the competition now have the option to select mine or one of the other proposals to take further and potentially develop it into an actual scheme.

The Trip 2013 – Oaxaca to Chichen Itza


Note: This is a condensed version of the pictures I took with some added narrative. The rest of the pics can be viewed in the album The Trip 2013 – Oaxaca to Chichen Itza. Each picture can be clicked to see a larger version and comment / like

The next stop after leaving Mexico city was the town of Oaxaca. This town has a much different feel to the rest of the destinations we have visited so far. Gone is the dusty desert, instead it has been replaced by lush tree covered hills.

The first day there we spent some time exploring the city checking out the local grub



The following day we took a tour around the local Aztec ruins at Monte Alban


We saw the court where they used to play a ball game. Apparently the looser (or winner) would then be decapitated and have his heart offered to the gods.


I decided that I needed to test the gravity in the region, see if it was any stronger:


On the way out we saw a broken rainbow


That afternoon we went for some traditional Mexican BBQ in the market.


I was dubious at first after looking at the flies buzzing around the racks of raw meat:


Once it gets nuked on the bbq and served with jalepenos salsa and tortillas however it tasted great



Next up was a small city called San Cristóbal de las Casas


There our guide Suzanne taught us how to drink Mescal


Mescal is derived from the Agave plant, the same plant as Tequila but a different variety. Worms that live in the plants are often included in the bottle. If your glass ends up with the worm then everyone has to buy you drinks all night:


The stuff can also be phenomenally cheap. I found this stuff in the super market, almost half a litre for 35p!!


The next day we drove (and I strove not to puke) the windy road to Palenque. Along the way we stopped at the beautiful Agua Azul (blue water) waterfalls:




We were taken on a guided tour around the myriad of falls before given the opportunity to take a dip:


As usual I got a little exited around the water and went scampering off up the falls without telling anyone where I was going. Whoops!

Palenque the following day was excellent.


What I found fascinating about this vast Mayan city is that barely 1% of it has been uncovered and explored by Archaeologists. The vast majority of it is still buried under dense jungle. It makes you wonder what other wonders are waiting to be discovered just a few meteres away.


Our guide for the whole thing was a cute little Mexican named Viktor who claimed to have guided the president of Germany and Margret Thatcher’s daughter around the ruins over his 30 years there


Victor had some strange opinions on things. He believed that everything the Archaeologists had discovered was false and only he knew the true history of the place. He told us how he believed that Palenque had been visited and invaded by many different peoples over its history such as the Chinese, Greeks and Egyptians. He claimed that Tutankhamun himself visited the site. He bases this belief on a statue found at the site that he believes bears a similarity to the Egyptian emperor:


Regardless I had a good time running up and down the ruins and generally messing about.



The following day we found ourselfs at a small town called Meridia. We spent just a single night at this small colonial town. We didnt do a whole lot, though our hotel did have an inside jungle..


.. and apparently it had a possum somewhere ..


The next day we hit the very wet Chicken Pizza (Chichen Itza)


Despite the rain we tried to keep spirits up in front of one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world


We were all kind of wet and miserable after Chicken Pizza but all was not lost as we knew that the next stop on our adventure was going to be the sun, sand and fiesta at Playa del Carma!

The Trip 2013 – Guadalajara to Mexico City


Note: This is a condensed version of the pictures I took with some added narrative. The rest of the pics can be viewed in the album The Trip 2013 – Guadalajara to Mexico City. Each picture can be clicked to see a larger version and comment / like

Following on from the LA to Mazatlan, we began to head into mainland Mexico. The next stop on our journey was second largest city in Mexico Guadalajara. The first night there we hopped on the ‘party bus’ bound for the ever popular Mexican wrestling.


Im not usually one for WWE but I totally loved this. It could have had something to do with the incredible energy in the place or the extra large beers I was chugging, either way I totally loved every second of it. I joined in the chanting even though I had no idea what I was shouting at the people on the other side of the stadium.

At times I couldnt work out what to look at, what was going on in the ring or what was going on in the crowd. Talking about the ring, there were some really strange things going on in there. There were men dressed as Predator, there was a bloke mincing around grabbing the other competitors asses, there was a huge fat guy wearing fairy wings, there was a midget / child that was was thrown around the ring at the other competitors. Unfortunately I didnt take my camera so couldnt get any pictures to prove any of this so you will have to just take my word for it.

Of all the competitors my favourite (and incidently the only one I could catch the name of because the crowd kept chanting his name) was Mistico.


He was incredibly acrobatic jumping and flipping about all over the place. After the fight I felt that I just had to get a souvenir:


After the fight the energy levels were high, we drove around in the party bus dancing and drinking while DJ Fantashtic (not his real name) spun out the marimba tunes


The next day we hopped on a bus bound for Tequila (the place not the drinl). We took a tour around a distillery and learnt how the drink goes from the heart of the Agave plant..


.. gets fermented…


.. then distilled into pure Tequila


After the tour we had a little tasting session and learnt about the different types of Tequila. Tequila Blanco comes straight from the distillery, gets watered down a little to bring it in the 38-40% range and sold. This stuff tastes most like the Agave plant and has a very strong pure taste to it.

The usual stuff you see in England is the gold Tequila that just the white Tequila but aged in oak casks for a number of years. The longer you age it the softer tasting Tequila you get as the drink absorbs colours and flavours from the oak. I personally preferred the softer aged stuff much more.


On the way back to the hostel we stopped off in an Agave field for a group photo, these plants were much bigger and sharper than I expected, particularly when they are digging into your back:


That evening a few of us took a trip to downtown Guadalajara.


Many of the buildings have a very European / French feel to them, this apparently is largely due to the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz in the late 1800′s who had a thing for everything French.

We also met up with Suzanne’s (our trek leader) friend Nerio..


.. who was kind enough to donate me his Mistico keyring ..


.. which is now attached to my backpack :)

The following day we found ourselfs in the incredibly picturesque town of Guanajato. Set onto the side of a hill with small streets winding chaotically between colourful buildings you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Italy or the south of France.


While there we soaked up the atmosphere around the central Plaza or Zocaro..


.. ate some great food ..


.. and drank some cold beers


In the evening we went on a tour around the city with a traditional band / theatre company. At the start they gave us small pewter containers that we had no clue to their purpose until near the end when they were filled with orange juice and we were told to long-arm them into our mouth as part of a ceremony.


Kelsie and I decided to wake up a little earlier the next morning and go and try to get some good photos from the hillside of the beautiful city. Im glad we made the effort as the view was spectacular:




Our final stop before Mexico city was a small colonial town called San Miguel. This place was like a lesser version of Guanajuato, a beautiful central plaza and colourful buildings but not quite meeting up to the same level as the previous destination.


It did have some nice bars however in particular there was one on the top of a building near the plaza that had a braizier, good cocktails and house music, definitely my cup of tea


The final destination for this part of our journey was the capital of Mexico, Mexico City. Here we said goodbye to two members of our group Madeline and Colette..


.. and said hello to two new members Simon and Emma.

While there I had one of the best sandwiches I have ever had


It was called the Milanesa Torta and was stuffed with crumbley beef that just melted in your mouth. Throw a few pickels, jalepenos and mustard on the top and it didnt last long. Infact it was so good we went back and had it again the next day.


Before leaving for this trip I read a few lists of things that you should definitely take with you. One of those things was duct-tape. I was a little dubious at first but im glad I took it as it has come in handy from repairing sandals to securing loose plugs:


While there we visited some of the Aztec ruins right in the centre of the city.



The last evening of Mexico city we decided to go shopping in the biggest shopping mall in the city. After shopping we grabbed some food in TGI’s in the mall, all was going well until disaster strook


A few weeks before leaving for this trip Kelsie had had a bad allergic reaction to something she ate. She was rushed to the hospital, the doctors had to induce a coma so they could get oxygen into her. She almost died as a result. They did a whole battery of tests but couldnt work out what had caused the reaction. The best idea was it was a sudden rection to the fish in the fish and chips she had eaten. She decided that rather than cancel her whole trip she was going to continue on but avoid any fish.

All was going well until she had a chicken salad in TGI’s (no fish) when the alergic reaction struck again. This time she was carrying an epi-pen with her so immediately jabbed it in her thigh before legging it into the nearest taxi and we motored at top speed to the hospital. Fortunately this time either the reaction wasnt as strong or the epi-pen lessened the effects but she made it to the hospital still able to breathe.


It was and still is seriously scary though as we have no idea what could have triggered it this time, perhaps the salad dressing? She has bravely decided to continue on with the trip but is being very careful about what she eats. Rice and beans seems to be safe so far.

An interesting end to the first 14 days in Mexico. I have experienced so much already, I cant believe I have another 6 months to go!