Lynn Atkinson-Boutette: Peru & Galapagos by Wheelchair

Off-roading in the jungle by wheelchair

Lynn Atkinson Boutette indulges her love of the wild in the Galapagos and Peru's Amazon in the specially designed TrailRider

With my wheelchair perched on the deck of a boat taking us to Santa Cruz, I watch a giant marine turtle swimming in the crystal water just below my feet. Pelicans wheel overhead and sea lions lounge on buoys. But these are not the lush tropical isles I've been expecting. Though the Galapagos Islands are near the equator, 23 C in late October, prickly pear cacti on a volcanic landscape give the place a desert-like feel.

Tiny geckos scurry away from my wheels as I roll to a waiting minivan, where I am pushed up portable ramps — only to crunch my head on the ceiling. Thankfully our guide, Pepe Lopez, is used to solving the problems faced by travelling "wheelies," and he quickly pops the tires off my Quickie wheelchair so I can get in the van. I soon forget about any bruises as we stop to marvel at a 400-pound tortoise crossing the road. I have arrived at one of Earth's last unique ecosystems: more than 13 islands, 1,000 kilometres from the coast of Ecuador.


At lunch, we meet the people who will push and pull me for the next six days in the Trail-Rider — essentially a two-wheeled off-road wheelchair — we brought from Ontario. Developed by the British Columbia Mobility Opportunities Society, founded by former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan to allow people with disabilities to gain access to the outdoors, it proves invaluable on the rough terrain of Santa Cruz and Isabela islands.

Because I cannot walk, we have decided to do a land-based tour rather than the usual boat cruise — which would necessitate climbing in and out of boats. Thanks to the TrailRider, I see flamingos, albatross, penguins, prehistoric marine iguanas, funny-looking sea lions galumphing across the sand, reef sharks and more tortoises than I've seen in a lifetime.

Arriving in Puerta Ayora, we are booked into a hotel that suits my purpose once the bathroom door is removed. For dinner, wahoo fish is cooked at our table on hot lava rocks. As we eat, we plan a kayak trip. I'm leery of the waves, but the next day, in the hands of a skilled kayaker, I glory in my new-found freedom. I am continually amazed at the brazenness of birds and animals. Tiny finches, whose different beaks on each island helped Darwin develop his theory of evolution, light on trees within inches of our heads.

Later, back in Lima, we prepare for one of the flights we will take to Puerto Maldonado in southeastern Peru. From there we take a three-hour boat ride up Rio Tambopata to stay at Refugio Amazonas Lodge in the Amazon rain forest. Guides carry my wheelchair up the slippery clay bank, onto a two-wheeled cart and then on to a supply cart, which is winched up the hill. After a meal of dorado in an open-air dining room, it's lights out at 9 p.m. Our bedroom is also open to the jungle, and under mosquito netting I listen as each new voice adds to the chorus of insect, bird and animal sounds.

The next morning, a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call by kerosene lamp (no electricity here) sets the pace for the next three days. I'm out in the TrailRider for hours at a time while my husband tries to keep up with the young men who push and pull me over the roots and deadfall on the forest floor. Although I am prevented from climbing a 35-metre canopy tower above the treetops, we spot wild capybaras, macaws and howler monkeys, and one night we see a sloth in the trees only 15 metres away.

I feel fortunate to have seen all this before a highway between Brazil and Peru is built through Puerto Maldonado, destroying more of the local rain forest. This is already happening near the next lodge we fly to, three hours upriver from Iquitos in northern Peru. Development has made it more accessible for me and my wheelchair, for which I am grateful, but the perennial dilemma — the wilds versus civilization — is not lost on me. As a quadriplegic, I need civilization, but it's the wilds that I really desire.

In the 30 years since Sinchicuy Lodge was built, co-owner Danilo Pena admits, increased prosperity has led to a clash of expectations for tourists who don't anticipate finding two all-night discos in a village of 750 people. However, I find that after Refugio Amazonas, Sinchicuy is remote enough for me. There's no electricity, but with temperatures approaching 35 C, I welcome cool showers. We even have a room with a wheel-in shower!

And Pena and his staff have done everything possible to make my stay accessible with "todos los rampas." The Trail-Rider stays in its bag and I use my comfortable manual wheelchair. I can't believe my good fortune when I am wheeled through the jungle on government-built concrete sidewalks, which allow natives to transport produce to the river.

Our guide takes us piranha fishing and to a village shaman, and then on the last night, while sitting in a flat-bottom boat in my wheelchair feeling like the Amazon Queen, magic happens: Suddenly I am face to face with a pink dolphin — encantado, the enchanted one — which in native myth nudges dugout canoes with his long pink snout and abducts women he falls in love with. My Peruvian adventure has entered the supernatural.


Air Canada flies from major Canadian airports to Quito via Bogota. Aerolineas Galapagos ( connects from Quito to the Galapagos.


  • Refugio Amazonas Rainforest Expeditions From $295 for three days.

  • Sinchicuy Lodge; e-mail Danilo Pena,


Peru Apumayo Expediciones S.A.C. ( specializes in taking "wheelies" up Machu Picchu.

Ecuador Ecuador for All ( offers accessible tourism.


To find out about the TrailRider wheelchair, visit For locations of TrailRider trails in Canada and the U.S.:

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