The Blind Tourist
Hosting a podcast on accessible travel, I often have the opportunity to chat with interesting people about a wide range of topics. My last few podcasts have been no exception.
I recently interviewed Michael Hingson on the topic of long-distance air travel with a guide dog. Michael has had extensive experience on the topic, having travelled not only for work but also following his experience escaping from the World Trade Centre during the attack on 9 September 2001.
Together Michael and his guide dog Roselle walked down 78 floors of the World Trade Centre and navigated their way to safety. Michael tells the story of that day in his book “Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero”
Michael and his guide dogs have subsequently travelled around the world sharing their story. So he was the perfect person to interview on the subject of air travel with a guide dog.
You can hear some of Michael’s experiences in the podcast – http://iono.fm/e/1103477
While you’re there, why not listen to a few more exciting travel stories. And subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. With 53 published episodes so far, there is plenty to enjoy!
With August being Women’s Month in South Africa, I decided to interview two women on my accessible travel podcast, A different Way of Travelling.
For those of you who don’t know about the podcast – where have you been? We now have 52 episodes featuring interviews with travellers with disabilities, or showcasing fun inclusive travel activities. Even if you don’t have a disability, or know anyone with a disability, I guarantee you will be fascinated by the adventures that my guests have undertaken.
Back to the point – my guests for August…
My first episode in August featured Praveena Sukhraj-Ely sharing wonderful stories of her travels and her insights into the realities of travelling as a woman who is blind. Like Praveena, I enjoy having someone with me to share the breathtaking and diverse experiences of travelling. I also found the challenges she mentioned very relatable.
To listen to Praveena’s interview, hop onto http://iono.fm/e/1080899
My second guest in August was Neha Arora, owner of Planet Abled, a travel agency focusing on inclusive travel experiences in India and the East. We spoke about her company and discussed her thoughts on the accessibility of tourist sites in India. During the episode I asked Neha what types of activities she would recommend for me if I were to contact Planet Abled. She outlined such amazing options that I found myself feeling excited about the possibility of travel for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Even though I’m not yet ready to consider travelling, it’s nice to be excited at the thought of doing so. That episode will be out any day now.
You can listen to Praveena and Neha’s interviews by searching for A Different Way of Travelling on your usual podcast player, or on our podcast feed at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715
While you’re there, why not take a quick tour through some of our other episodes to hear from previous guests…
I’ve recently discovered a love of reading travel memoirs. While it in no way replaces the experience of exploring different countries and cultures, it does at least give me a taste of the travel I used to be able to do, and will hopefully be able to return to in time to come.
A travel memoir I read recently was Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way, by Tony Giles – aka Tony the Traveller. It is the story of a trip Tony took to several countries in Southern Africa in 2004 and 2005. During that time he visited South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
As a blind and hearing impaired traveller, Tony describes his travels through his other senses, much as I do when I travel. Having said that, Tony is far more adventurous than I am and is always ready to bungee jump, go white river rafting or seek out other adventure activities, which he also describes with his customary sense of humour
There were a couple of things I found fascinating about reading about Tony’s time in Southern Africa. First, unlike me, Tony is happy to head out and explore the world totally on his own, trusting he will be able to find assistance should he need it. And, from what I read in his book, mostly he manages to do so.
Secondly, I found it fascinating seeing cities and countries that I’ve visited through the eyes of a stranger, and a tourist. I often find that tourists see a different side to a city than we do as residents. I found this especially true while reading Tony’s book. I felt a similar thing when my brother and sister-in-law visited Cape Town a few years ago and Craig and I got to see Cape Town through their eyes.
So, if you’re interested in discovering how a blind and hearing impaired man travels through several Southern African countries on his own, and experience the wonderous world of travel through senses other than sight, or if you simply want to get a taste of travel while we are still not really free to explore new destinations due to the global pandemic, I’d highly recommend reading Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way by Tony Giles. And, if you enjoy it, you can try the other two books in the series so far: Seeing the World My Way and Seeing the Americas My way. I know I’ll be reading them in the near future when I have the urge to travel again, at least by book.
I’ve been hosting a podcast on accessible travel for 2 ½ years and have recently been thinking about why someone with no connection to disability might gain value from listening to it.
I believe one of the biggest barriers to the inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and the workplace is a lack of understanding of how we (persons with disabilities) live our lives. Because people don’t understand how we do things, they usually default to imagining that those tasks are not possible for us.
I understand why that barrier exists. On a fundamental level, why should someone with no link to disability know how we operate? It’s rather like expecting everyone in the world to know how a nuclear power station operates, how an orthopedic surgeon does their work, or knowing the intricacies of a retail store stock management system. For the most part we do not need to know and, unless nuclear power stations, retail store stock management or orthopedic surgery impacts directly on our lives, we simply accept that it does what it needs to do. Without needing us to know anything more than that.
Sadly, since many people have no direct contact with a person with a disability, the same appears to hold true. Except that statistics tell us that around 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Which means that for every eight people we encounter, one will have a disability, whether visible or not.
In the past few years we have seen a growing awareness of the need to understand the realities of those whose experiences have been different from our own, to be more open to diversity of race, culture, gender, age. Yet somehow the question of ability seldom gets mentioned when the question of diversity is raised. I believe it should be part of that conversation as well.
Which brings us back to why someone with no contact with disability might gain value from listening to my podcast about accessible travel.
- To learn a little about the barriers the world sets up for persons with disabilities,
- To learn about the tools and techniques we have at our disposal that allow us to overcome the obstacles we face,
- To see the strength, resilience, skills and talents that help us achieve what we are passionate about,
- To understand that we are just the same as persons without disabilities in terms of what we love to do,
- how we want to live our lives, and experience the world – it is just the way we may do it that may differ
I love having the opportunity of chatting to people about their travel experiences. I learn new things in every single episode. However, I believe the greatest take-away I have gained while interviewing people is the knowledge that, though we may do things in a different way, our experiences and our love for travel are exactly the same.
If you are someone who loves to travel to new places and experience different things, you may discover that the guests on my podcast have much in common with you as well.
Why not dip into the library of episodes of A Different Way of Travelling and see if I’m correct… You can find them at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715
Or on your usual podcast player.
Go on, give it a try!
Every time I interview someone for my accessible travel podcast, A Different Way of Travelling, I learn new ways in which people with disabilities engage with the travel and hospitality industries. This was especially true for the most recent episode we published.
Normie Eckard has been a wheelchair user since a motor accident when he was 18 years old. But that hasn’t stopped him from participating in a number of adventures that he uses to fundraise to assist children with disabilities. In the podcast we broke down a few of the adventures he’s done and explored how these were adapted to accommodate his own disability.
If you’re interested to know how Normie was able to skydive, paraglide, go scuba diving and shark cage diving, and ride a quadbike, amongst other things, and about his adventure cycling from Luderitz to Cape Agulhas on a handcycle, you can find out by listening to the episode at the following link:
While you’re there, it would be great if you could subscribe to the podcast to join me as I continue to learn from each new guest I have the honour to interview.
You wouldn’t believe how often people ask me if my blindness has given me extra sensory abilities – whether I can hear, scent, and taste better than a sighted person, and have a more sensitive sense of touch.
My honest answer? I don’t think so.
I don’t believe my other senses have improved since losing my sight. But I do believe that I pay them more attention than I did when I was able to rely on my sight. Which means they may appear to be better than they were.
When I was sighted I relied most on my sense of sight to give me input. I believe most sighted people do the same thing. Since losing my sight, I have used the input I gain from my other senses to fill in the gap caused by my visual impairment. My ability to interpret the world around me is dependent on what I can feel, hear, and smell. So I pay far more attention to the input I gain from my other senses than I used to.
When I’m walking to our local train station I use my other senses to help me identify where on my route I am – whether it be the scent of a particular plant, or the sound of a specific dog who always barks at Fiji and myself as we pass. Whether it’s a patch of gravel that helps me realize I am approaching the station itself, or a dip in the road that identifies the spot where we need to turn and cross the road we’ve been travelling for the past 10 minutes. My other senses compensate for my lack of sight and help me navigate the world.
My lack of sight means I experience travel very differently. Of course I miss out on the sightseeing that a sighted tourist would be able to do. But I regularly pick up things that a sighted person, who relies primarily on their sense of sight, might miss. For me, travel is a multi-sensory experience that incorporates every sense I have at my disposal. Which gives me a vastly different, but no less rich, experience of a destination.
When was the last time you focused on the input you could gain from your other senses? Why not take a moment to notice what you hear? Smell? Touch? And see what an extra dimension your world gains. Now, imagine doing the same when you are next in a new city or country.
There is so much that I wasn’t aware of because I was able to use my eyes to interpret the world around me. I’m not saying that my other senses completely fill in what I used to be able to see, but they certainly give me an alternate way to explore the world.
Here’s a link to a great travel podcast with tips on travel blogging. Actually, I’d say the tips can be used by any blogger to help them get started.
The podcast is the brainchild of travel writer and podcaster Alexa Meisler, from the Break into travel Writing blog and podcast. I was fortunate enough to be a guest blogger on her Aspiring Travel Bloggers feature a few months ago. In this podcast episode she gathers together a tip from the first 25 bloggers in the series, including one from me.
You’ll probably find a few themes running through the various tips. And I’m sure they will either teach you something to help you grow your blog or reinforce some of the things you’re already doing. Either way, they’re well worth a listen.
And, if you’re a travel blogger who hasn’t heard Alexa’s podcast before, this is one you’ll probably want to subscribe to – she shares some fantastic interviews and content.
I love visiting countries where English isn’t the primary language spoken – language is so much a part of a culture and a national identity. But, as someone who speaks only a smattering of other languages, communicating in these countries can sometimes pose a bit of a problem.
I usually find that people in the larger cities speak at least a little English. In smaller centres it may not be quite so simple. Interestingly, Bayeux was the exception to this rule.
At times I felt like I heard more English than French when we were there. I suppose this was mainly because of the close links between Normandy and the Allied landings in WWII – the town was full of tourists from UK, Canada and the USA exploring sites related to the June 1944 landings. So we heard a lot of English in restaurants, tourist sites, and wandering the streets of the town.
The high number of English-speaking tourists meant that most locals spoke good English. Which makes a certain amount of sense. But I found it somewhat unsettling after spending a week in Paris, where I was surrounded by the poetry of the French language.
In Bayeux, Craig and I were in the minority when we stumbled along in our broken French when speaking to locals, whether visiting sites or ordering food. In a few cases our attempts were met with polite acknowledgement and a response in English. But, far more often, the people we spoke to smiled warmly and answered in French.
The one area we encountered very little English was in the local produce market. And that was fine – we managed to communicate well enough to buy what we were looking for.
In some ways, the high level of English made our trip to Bayeux easier. We could always fall back on English if our limited French wasn’t enough to make our needs understood, whether trying to find out information we needed. But, like I said, it just felt a little odd to me to be in such a historic French town and yet hearing so much English being spoken. At least, that was my impression.
Apart from the language issue, which I never really adjusted to, I found my time in Bayeux and Normandy a real pleasure – Time seemed to flow just a little bit slower there. I found it both peaceful and restful – something I was in desperate need of after a busy few months in Cape Town and a chaotic week in Paris.
I’d definitely recommend Normandy if you’re planning time in France and looking for a quieter area to spend a few days. And Bayeux is a great base from which to explore the region.
Sadly, our trip – like all good things – had to come to an end and it’s now time for us to pack our bags and head back home to Cape Town. I hope you’ve enjoyed spending a little time with me in France, both in Paris and Normandy.
I’m sure it won’t be long before the travel bug bites again, and I’ll be sharing plans for our next trip…
I’m probably your worst nightmare as a dinner guest – I’m vegetarian. And also don’t eat spinach, mushrooms, olives or blue cheese…. Which automatically seems to rule out most of the dishes most people serve vegetarian guests.
It’s also why I’m generally a little nervous when I travel. There’s always the risk that I’m going to struggle to find something I can, or rather will, eat. I’m usually fine in major cities, which tend to have a broad range of food options. But sometimes I struggle when visiting smaller towns.
So I was delighted to discover that Normandy had such a rich and varied selection of food for me to choose from. Sure, there were a few restaurants where my choices were limited, but I never went to a restaurant in Normandy where my only option was a plate of fries.
In various restaurants I was able to enjoy delicious omlettes, quiches, salads and gourmet sandwiches. I even found a few restaurants that served tasty vegetarian burgers. And, of course, there was always the option of pizza or pasta.
It was also a wonderful surprise to discover that one of my favourite cheeses – Camembert is a specialty of Normandy. So we kept a good stock of it in our fridge while we were in Bayeux.
Another seasonal favourite that I was delighted to find in France was artichoke. But not artichoke as we’d find them in Cape Town, which are usually the size of a large apple. Rather, these artichokes were the size of a football – a soccer ball for my American friends. And they were delicious. Which we discovered when we cooked some in our apartments, both in Paris and Bayeux.
If you, like me, are a fussy vegetarian, I can absolutely recommend Normandy as a place to visit. I can guarantee you won’t go hungry! And I’d be happy to join you if you decide to make that your next travel destination!
I wasn’t certain what to expect as we boarded the bus for the short trip across the causeway to Mont-San-Michel. Yes, I knew it was an island with only one point of entry across the causeway. Yes, I knew there was an abandoned medieval monastery soaring above the tiny piece of land. But beyond that, I really had no idea what to expect when we clambered off the bus along with the rest of the tourists visiting the site.
Mont-Saint-Michel has been at various times a trading post, the site of a medieval monastery, a place of pilgrimage, and a prison. The first religious house was built during the 8th Century BCE, and the garrisoned island successfully fended off attacks from English forces during the 100 Years War between England and France in the 15th Century BCE. The prestige of the abbey had declined by the time of the French Revolution and it was converted into a prison. The prison was finally closed in 1863, and it was declared a historic monument in 1874. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site that is visited by almost 3 million tourists a year.
While it’s possible to cross from the mainland to the island at low tide, you may only do so with a guide due to the extensive quicksand that serves as a natural defence for the island. Generally visitors are carried across the causeway by bus or horse carriage. From the point where you disembark from the transport, you start to climb as you enter the cobbled streets of the village that supported the abbey, monastery and the garrison. Right from the start you’re aware of the way the abbey buildings tower high above the village, almost appearing to defy gravity as they cling to the summit of this tiny island. Nowadays the town has mostly been converted into shops and restaurants catering to the visitors, much as they would have done to those who came to the abbey on pilgrimage. I was amazed at how small and crowded the buildings in the village seem, but that may just have been due to the large numbers of tourist and school groups.
From the town you start climbing stone stairs up to the monastery and abbey. I suppose it’s not such a long climb but, as we climbed higher, I began to feel exposed and my vertigo began to set in in a bad way. It felt like an eternity before we finally arrived at the office where we could buy tickets to see the ruins of the monastery and abbey and by that time, I was a nervous wreck. I know it may seem strange that a person without sight can suffer from vertigo but, for me, it feels like I am constantly standing on a precipice and that I’m likely to overbalance at any moment. I decided to rather find a secure place to wait and let Craig carry on with the tour without either of us having to worry that I was going to have a panic attack. Or that I was about to fall off the side of the mountain.
I found a stone ledge where I could sit and spent the next half hour watching the people coming out of the site. I was frankly amazed at how nonchalantly the throngs of school children, both French and English, leapt down the uneven stone stairs that had caused me such stress. But I was probably filtering what I was hearing through my own anxiety. At least I was far from the only person who decided to wait there. Several others did so too. And they weren’t blind!
Was the trip to Mont-Saint-Michel a waste of my time? By no means – I may not have managed to experience the entire site, but the ambiance of the parts that I was able to experience made it worthwhile. Perhaps I would have felt more able to go further if the weather had been clear rather than the intermittent gentle rain that made the stones somewhat slippery and added to my anxiety. I enjoyed being able to visit various buildings in the town and imagining what they might have been like in medieval times. I also enjoyed the feeling of antiquity that seems to permeate every stone. And I found the story of the site interesting as I always do.
A note to travellers in wheelchairs: I’d suggest contacting the site ahead of time to see if your needs can be accommodated. I didn’t see an easy way to access the site, but there may have been options of which I wasn’t aware.