travel

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Mauritius 2022: Visiting the Global Rainbow Foundation

 

The image shows a dark-haired woman presenting

It feels somewhat strange to say this, but I’m travelling again. The reason it feels a little peculiar is that I’m still processing all that I experienced on my trip to Europe six weeks ago. Not to mention how odd it is for me to travel twice in such a short time after almost three years of hardly leaving my house.

This time I’m in Mauritius, visiting Global Rainbow Foundation, a disability-focused organisation. I’m sure I’ll soon be sharing more about Global Rainbow Foundation and the amazing work they do to assist persons living with disabilities in Mauritius, but for now all I’ll say is that I’m learning how the foundation operates and am speaking at the Enable Mauritius conference taking place later this week. So there’s plenty for me to do while I’m here.

Of course, it would be silly to go to the beautiful island of Mauritius and not take advantage of the time there to relax and enjoy the beaches, entertainment, and delicious food that’s on offer. So we’re taking an extra week to help us recover from what has turned out to be a particularly busy year.

Once I’m back I’ll continue sharing stories from my travels to Europe, and then probably dive straight into sharing a few of my experiences from this trip.

In the meantime, wish me success with my presentations at the Enable Mauritius conference. It’s going to be such fun to speak there!

Europe 2022: Empty Skies

the image is of a forest in Poland

I live in a quiet suburb of Cape Town, near a river estuary. The area is lush, green and we have lots of trees in the surrounding area. And an almost constant accompaniment of birdsong. Birds are so much a part of my everyday life that I hardly hear them when I’m concentrating. Still, every now and then I become aware of the sound around me and smile.
 
Which is why I was so aware of the lack of birdsong when I was in Europe. I found the smost silent skies unnerving and ominous, almost oppressive.
 
It’s not that the environment around me was silent. In most of the apartments where we stayed,  there was a backdrop of sound from the steady flow of traffic, planes crossing the sky, the rattle of trains, trams, busses or metros, the occasional bark of a dog, and the chatter of human voices. But very little birdsong.
 
I first became aware of the eerie quiet in Vienna, the first city we visited on our travels. The morning after we arrived, I was startled when the silence was shattered by the start cry of a crow. When I heard it, I became aware that I could hear no other birds. That was when I actively began listening to everything that was around me. And was flummoxed to notice the same lack of birdsong in the other cities we went to.
 
To be fair, most of our apartments were in the centre of cities, so perhaps the environment wasn’t ideal for birds. Perhaps the birds chose to live outside the city centres. I don’t know.
 
And, having said that, I did hear the familiar sound of birds on two distinct occasions. First, sitting outside a pub in the centre of Bratislava in Slovakia, which we visited one evening at dusk. It was reassuring to hear birds settling into the nearby trees  for the night. The second occasion was in the forest near the place we were staying in Poland, which is about 30 minutes outside Krakow. Again, it was lovely to hear birds chirping and chittering when we were there.
 
Even now, as I sit writing this blog, I can hear birds in the trees near our home. It is  a marked contrast to what I experienced in Europe.
 
PS After our trip I was chatting to my friend Avril about her recent cycling trip to Greece and, totally out of the blue, she mentioned how strange she had found it to hear so few birds there. So it seems I’m not the only one who found it curious…
 
Have you been aware of sounds like birdsong on your travels? I’d love to know what your experiences have been like on your own travels!
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Europe 2022: An Overview of my Recent Travels

Alt text: the image shows a street scene from Bratislava, Solvakia
 
I know, I know – the first blog of the month is meant to be a Fiji post. But seeing as she posted a few additional blogs while I was overseas, I think I’m justified in dognapping this spot from her, don’t you?
 
Besides, since I’ve just returned from an amazing, exhausting, fascinating, busy, invigorating, and challenging vacation in Central Europe, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my insights and experiences from the trip with you.
 
I was away for almost a month, which is the longest I’ve been away from home and dogs ever. The trip took us to four countries – six if you include South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which we flew through on our way to Europe, though we didn’t leave the airport this time around.
 
The countries and cities we actually stayed in were Austria (Vienna), Slovakia (Bratislava), Poland (Krakow) and Hungary (Budapest). Our trip  was organised around my sister-in-law’s 40th birthday in Poland.
 
While we were away we obviously experienced all sorts of interesting things, and ate far too much delicious food, but that’s not going to be the focus of my articles. Okay, there may be a little of that, because it’s part of travelling to a different place. But since you can find that sort of information on almost any travel blog, I’d prefer to focus on how I experienced our travels as a totally blind woman.
 
What I’ll be sharing with you is how I experienced different aspects of my recent vacation through the senses other than sight, hoping that you’ll find it interesting to compare against the way you travel. Having said that, since I know that travel doesn’t interest everyone, I’ll also add in a few articles on other subjects, to keep things interesting.
 
I hope you enjoy learning a little about my travels,  and would love to hear some of your travel stories if you feel like sharing them wherever you’re reading this.

Paws for Thought on Birthdays and Holidays

Yellow labrador
 
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji.
 
Today is my birthday. I’m not going to tell you how old I am because a lady never reveals her age. Well, to be honest, I’m still unsure if I should be counting in human or doggy years so I just thought I would ignore the whole thing. Except for the important fact that it’s my birthday and I’m getting spoilt!
 
The only thing that is not great about today is that Mom and Dad are getting ready to go away on holiday. Without us doggies. Admittedly they haven’t been travelling during the past three years because of COVID. It’s been wonderful having them spend so much time with us, so we can’t really complain that they’re going now. But us doggies still don’t like that they’re going away without us. Especially me, because I’m meant to go everywhere with my mom so I can guide her around.
 
Please don’t worry that we might be lonely because we always have people who come and stay with us and keep us entertained. And give us food, of course. But we love having Mom and Dad around and we miss them when they go away.
 
Yesterday I asked Mom where they’re going. Not that it matters, because her answer made no sense to me. But they’re going to Europe – wherever that is – specifically to Austria, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary.
 
I wasn’t all that interested in the details until my mom mentioned Hungary. because I get that way a lot – hungry, I mean. Though I don’t know why it’s spelled differently. Anyway, I think I might like to go to Hungary, because I imagine it must be filled with mountains of yummy food just waiting to be eaten. Because why else would they call it Hungary?
 
I’m sure Mom and Dad are going to have lots of fun on their holiday. And me and my doggy siblings will wait eagerly for their return. When we’re not busy dreaming of, and consequently being,  Hungary.
 
I’ll pop in and chat to you here on Mom’s blog every now and then, since Mom will probably be too busy having adventures to sit down and write. So, for now, I’m in charge of the Beyond Sight blog… What fun!

Seeing with Your Ears – Echo Location with Brian Bushway

Brian in  Iceland holding a huge block of ice
I’m sure I’m not the only one who grabs for her phone whenever I hear a notification. Or who hunts around to find it when the phone alerts me that I have an incoming call. Or dash into the kitchen to check on supper when I hear the oven buzzer. In all of these cases we are making use of our hearing to gain useful information.

I rely on sound to help me navigate the world because I can’t use my eyes to tell me what is happening around me. It’s the only way I know what’s beyond the range of my hands or white cane. When I’m travelling around with my guide dog I use sound to help me orientate myself. I know the houses where dogs usually bark at us. I listen to the direction of traffic, to the sound of trains passing – anything that can help me pinpoint my location.

Have you ever consciously paid attention to the information you’re gathering with your hearing?

How often are you aware of the sound of the traffic that surrounds you? Have you ever realized it sounds different when you drive into a tunnel? Have you ever wondered whether your reactions are informed by sounds like these, even if you’re not consciously aware of them?

I’ve been thinking about the ways I use sound as a blind person. And how much being more aware of sound could add to a sighted person’s perceptions if they could tap into it more often. And that’s what I spoke to Brian Bushway, of Acoustic Athletics about in my latest podcast.

Brian, who is himself blind, travels the world training people, both with and without sight, about ways that using input from the sounds around them can add to their lives. It’s a skill called echo location.

Brian and I discussed what echo location is, how it can be used, and the neuroscience of how the brain interprets both sight and sound. I found it a fascinating conversation.

We even chatted about how Brian uses echo location to ride a mountain bike independently, rather than with a sighted pilot on a tandem as most blind and partially sighted mountain-bikers do.

If you’d like to learn a little more about ways you could be using sound to add a different dimension to your world, give my conversation with Brian a listen at http://iono.fm/e/1160293

Or search for A Different Way of Seeing on your usual podcast player to listen to the conversation. Oh, and while you’re there, why not follow the podcast. That way you’ll have our episodes drop into your feed automatically.

Podcast on Long-Distance Air Travel with a Guide Dog.

The image shows a man sitting on a park bench with a yellow Labrador beside him.

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!

Two Phenomenal Women I Interviewed in August

Accessible South Africa Logo  Full

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…

Paws for Thought on Trains

the image shows a wet Fiji on the beach, with Lois kneeling beside her.

I don’t like trains.

I think train travel must be important, because I hear lots of trains whistling and screaming past my house from early morning to late at night.

Clearly lots of people travel on trains. Which means that some guide dogs must also go on them with their humans. But I don’t think I’d like to take Mom on a train unless I had no other choice.

I see trains often when Mom and I are walking on the road that is next to the trainline. To me, trains look like giant snake monsters that want to gobble me up. And they make a dreadful rumbling and moaning sound. They shake and shudder as they go from one place to another and their wheels scream and shriek as they go by. And their horrible unearthly whistles try to shatter my poor eardrums. Sometimes their doors whoosh open and sometimes they don’t, which is also intimidating. Is it any wonder trains make me a little nervous?

Admittedly I’ve only travelled by train once, back when I first met Mom and had to help teach her how to work with me. All of us guide dogs took our new humans to the train station and caught a train to Fish Hoek beach. While I loved having the chance to run, wrestle and play with my guide dog friends on the beach, while the trainers made sure our humans didn’t misbehave, I honestly would have preferred to travel there by car.

I know my guide dog sister-aunts Leila and Eccles used to take Mom to work on the train before I was her guide dog, so I know it must be possible for us to go on a train and not get gobbled up by the nasty snake monster-type thing. I’m sure I would probably also get used to it if I had no other choice. But I honestly think it would be far better to go by car or by Uber. Or simply to walk there, provided it’s not too far. But since Mom now works from home, it’s all hypothetical anyway.

So, while I know trains are good and are important to help humans and some guide dogs get to where they need to go, I’m just as happy that I don’t have to use them. Unless it’s the only way to travel to the beach. In which case I might be willing to consider taking Mom on a train again.

My Thoughts on Why You Might Want to Listen to My Accessible Travel Podcast

Alt text: The image shows a styalised image of the African continent that resembles a bare foot

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!

A True Spirit of Adventure

Normie Eckard on his handcycle on a road with a Namibian flag

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:

http://iono.fm/e/1020502

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.

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