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.
There’s a commonly held opinion that the French people actively dislike the English, and that this often affects English-language speakers from other countries. This general dislike is said to be especially so of the Parisiennes.
At least, that’s what I’d been told.
Yet, in the three weeks I was in France, that simply wasn’t my experience.
You don’t believe me? Let me share a few examples with you.
When we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport and were trying to find the commuter train to Paris, several people helped us, including a railway official. You might argue that, since he deals with lots of confused tourists, that his job requires him to be helpful. But a friend of mine had the opposite experience in the same environment.
Then, as we negotiated our way through a maze-like station to catch the Metro that would take us to the place we were staying, a young guy offered to carry our luggage so Craig could assist me. As South Africans we were naturally hesitant. So, with a typically Gallic shrug, he offered to assist me instead, leaving Craig to carry the bags. Which is what we did.
It seemed like there were always people willing to assist me off a train or a Metro. Serving staff in restaurants were hospitable and friendly. And the people we met as we visited the various tourist sites on our list were approachable and willing to assist. In fact, I can’t think of a single person on the trip who was less than friendly.
On one occasion we were helped by an elderly gentleman who couldn’t speak a word of English. He guided me through a Metro station onto a train, climbed on and travelled with us. He assisted me to the next train and again travelled with us for a few stops. Then he said goodbye in French, climbed off the train and headed back the way we’d come.
I don’t know whether it helped that Craig and I are able to say a few words in French – we try to do so for any country we visit. Or whether my blindness played a role in making people feel more welcoming and willing to assist.
But, whatever the reason, I certainly found the French people to be charming and hospitable – nothing like what we’d been led to believe. And I’ll be happy to say so anytime I hear someone mentioning how unfriendly the French people are.
There I was, guiding mom through the busy crowds at the V&A Waterfront when I got such a fright I almost tripped over my own paws. Which never happens… well, apart from that time I got startled by a bicycle changing gears right behind me and landed up splayed on the floor completely unintentionally.
The reason for my shock? Out of the corner of my eye I saw a lion…. Standing there in the middle of the Waterfront!
Now, I admit I don’t know a lot about lions. I’ve never met one, so I don’t know what counts as normal behavior for them. But it certainly looked like a lion, so I wasn’t going to get up close and personal in case it gobbled me up.
I was relieved when mom told me to walk past, though I did find myself checking over my shoulder a time or two, just in case the lion started to follow us. I wanted a little warning if we suddenly had to run for it!
Then, on our way back from our trip on the Cape Wheel, which mom told you about last time,
there were fewer people standing around the lion and mom obviously thought I might like to make friends. I’ll admit I was hesitant, but I do trust mom, so I thought I’d give it a try. But I was going to be really mad with mom if the lion gobbled me up, I assure you!
As I got closer to the lion I sniffed – I mean, if I did get out of this alive, at least I’d know what a lion smells like. But the lion didn’t smell like an animal at all – more like a wall, or a rock I recently found in the garden. Nor did the lion move so much as a muscle. It just stood there. And I began to think that maybe the lion wouldn’t gobble me up after all.
So, I decided to try and make friends. The photo shows me reaching up and sniffing the lion on the nose. Even though I was pretty sure it wasn’t a real lion by this stage, I still think that was very brave of me, don’t you?
But the lion didn’t seem to want to make friends. Even after I sniffed it on the nose it just stood there, as if petrified. And I know that’s the right word, because mom explained to me that petrified actually means to be turned to stone. She told me that when she explained that it was a stone statue of a lion and that I was never in any danger of being gobbled up.
So, I didn’t actually get to meet a lion. Or to learn how a lion smells. Or how they behave. And maybe stone lion’ statues just aren’t cut out to play. I just don’t know. But at least I didn’t get gobbled up!
Sometimes I’d love to be able to read Fiji’s mind. Like when we were 40 metres above the ground on the Cape Wheel carousel in the V&A Waterfront.
I wasn’t sure how Fiji would react to being sealed into a fairly small compartment and then seeing the world disappear from beneath her paws. To be completely honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to react to being sealed into a fairly small compartment and knowing the world was going to disappear from beneath my paws… um, feet. Especially since I don’t have a great head for heights.
When all’s said and done, both Fiji and I were absolutely fine with the experience. Fiji peered out the window with interest while the carousel made its first circle, then lay down and went to sleep. As for me, I found the entire experience wasn’t too bad, although I did have a moment when Craig and Fiji decided to exchange places and the compartment started swaying wildly. At least, I felt like it was swaying wildly – it was probably only moving gently. Anyway, to get over my stab of panic that we were about to plunge 40 metres to the ground and be crushed in the first ever Cape Wheel accident I grabbed for a handhold and held my breath. And everything was fine.
I was impressed at how well Fiji dealt with the experience – far better than I did – and she stepped off the ride wagging her tail happily. I still think she was more excited when coming face-to-face with a stone lion a short time later… but I’ll leave that story for her to share with you herself.
I did want to note that the Cape Wheel has several compartments that can accommodate people in wheelchairs – I was impressed with how well they’re accommodating the needs of travellers and sightseers with disabilities. And guide dogs, too. Though I would have liked there to be the option of an audio description of the view as the carousel rose and fell – after all, since there are 4 rotations in each ride there’s plenty time to describe the sights.
A few months ago I started writing for an e-newsletter called The Blind Perspective. What’s so great about this newsletter is that it’s written by visually impaired people for a visually impaired audience. My articles focus on why I love traveling to different places, and how I do so.
What’s interesting for me as a blogger and writer who has written extensively about travel is that I’ve had to really think about the fact I’m writing for a non-sighted audience. The way I write, and the stories I share, have a slightly different focus to them and it’s really making me think about what and how to bring my message across. At the same time, I hope my Blind Perspective articles can also be enjoyed by a sighted reader – so why not take a look and let me know?
Here’s a link to the first article, published in February 2018 – hope you enjoy it!
Just a brief note before you click on the link – you may feel the visual impact of the site is unusual. That’s because certain low vision conditions are more easily able to read print like this – remember I said the newsletter is by visually impaired people for visually impaired people, so it makes sense to present it in the most accessible form for that audience.
You can find out more about the Blind Perspective and read the most recent issue here:
Okay, so perhaps I didn’t go island hopping for 10 years like Odysseus did on his way home from the trojan War as described in Homer’s The Odyssey, but I felt my recent trip to Greece was no less of an an epic adventure than that great work!
Over the next few weeks I’m going to share some of my experiences from my trip, but I thought I would start off with a very brief overview of what I loved most about my extraordinary experience of being a blind tourist in Greece.
As someone who studied ancient history at university I’ve always been drawn to Greece because of it’s depth of history and myth. This time around I had the opportunity of visiting a number of ancient sites both in the Peloponnese and in Athens itself. The impression that remains with me is of how closely intertwined ancient and modern are in Greece – you can be driving down a modern highway and suddenly find a 5th or 6th century BCE (before common era) stone bridge right alongside the highway… or you can be following (fairly vague) signs to an ancient tomb and find yourself walking through a commercial farmer’s orange grove. At times it feels a little surreal – as if you’ve time travelled between one step and the next. But it’s also great that the sites are so accessible to those who are interested in taking the time to see them – and I’m not using the term accessible with reference to my blindness here.
Having said that, I found Greece very good generally from the perspective of disability accessibility. In all but one ancient site both Craig and I were admitted free of charge, in the archeological museum in Athens I was given a very special tour (more about that in a future post), and I was impressed to see that there was a well-constructed and easily accessible wheelchair ramp at the Temple of Poseidon (more on that in future as well).
I also loved the Greek culture. I found the people friendly and gregarious and felt very much at home with their way of life that is so outdoors based – food is often eaten outdoors or on balconies. And, talking of the food – wow! As a fussy vegetarian I sometimes struggle to find local culinary fare that I’ll eat… at times I’ve had to resort to hot chips or a plain cheese and tomato sandwich if I wanted to survive on an overseas trip… but not in Greece – there is an amazing array of delicious food, both meat and vegetarian, for any Greek visitor to choose from. In fact, there were times that my problems stemmed more from the overwhelming number of scrumptious options arrayed before me and my inability to settle on just one or two!
I’ll be sharing a lot more detail in the next few weeks, but hope this has given you just a taste of what an amazing experience my trip to Greece turned out to be… “stay tuned” for more photographs and stories of my trip!