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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.

GETTING THERE

Air Canada flies from major Canadian airports to Quito via Bogota. Aerolineas Galapagos (www.aerogal.com.ec) connects from Quito to the Galapagos.

WHERE TO STAY

  • Refugio Amazonas Rainforest Expeditions
    www.perunature.com/pages/home_refugio.htm. From $295 for three days.

  • Sinchicuy Lodge www.paseosamazonicos.com/contact_us.htm; e-mail Danilo Pena, gerencia@paseosamazonicos.com.

WHAT TO DO

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

Ecuador Ecuador for All (www.ecuadorforall.com) offers accessible tourism.

MORE INFORMATION

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



by Lynn Atkinson-Boutette



"Hector will push you around for $15 day", said our B&B hostess Maricela. "He doesn't speak English, but if he manages to keep you on the narrow sidewalk and cobblestone streets and you learn Spanish for 'watch the ka ka', I'm sure you'll do fine." And our vacation was just that -- in fact more than fine.  


Our two weeks at the beginning of April were memorable.  Far from the troubled drug wars of northern Mexico, this Spanish colonial town is a mountain oasis inhabited by artists and a large ex-pat community. San Miguel, 4½ hours from Mexico City or 1½ hours from Leon on the east coast, is very affordable, and clean and with a wheelchair pusher it's definitely doable. Best of all, unlike other Mexican towns, the food and water is safe which is very important for me and my compromised constitution. I have multiple sclerosis.


Although I was wary of eating salads, fruits or iced drinks, our friend convinced us that while eating from street vendors may not be safe for western stomachs, restaurants in San Miguel are noted for their cleanliness.  Within a few days I was eating everything with no problems.  At El Pegaso, just off the main square, I was introduced to Chiles en Nogado plus excellent casual fare -- soups salads etc.  Restaurant walls, filled with folk art box niches, are by turns both poignant and hilarious. At Casa Maricela B&B we were also introduced to many Mexican dishes including enchiladas served with Mole, from the Aztec word molli, a rich sauce served with chicken or turkey, containing over 25 different ingredients the most famous of which are chocolate and chiles.  Chocolate contributes to the richness of the sauce without adding sweetness.  Sometimes  grated avocado seed is used to add a balancing bitterness.


San Miguel is a garden surrounded by walls, not unlike a European hill town, remarkable primarily for what's inside.  Behind the wooden doors lining the streets, are lush gardens, and fountains. The purple and blue jacaranda trees and vibrant pink bougainvillea were a balm to my soul as were the colorful handicrafts in the shops. My husband and Hector, at the mercy of my winter blahs, stopped at every shop filled with handicrafts, ceramica made in the nearby town of Dolores Hildalgo, silver jewelry, tapestries, woven baskets and Mexican clothes. Although locals complain Americans are driving up housing prices, this colonial town, declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2008, still retains its 16th century flavor.


We arrived in the middle of Semana Santa or holy week, celebrated throughout Mexico but particularly in San Miguel.  After unexpectedly bumping into an artist friend from Toronto, we attended the Good Friday procession where hundreds and hundreds of silent mourners dressed in black march to the sound of hollow drum beats. The next day I was shocked to see children playing with what I thought were real body parts -- an arm, a leg -- but were in fact were pieces of larger- than-life papier-mâché figures blown up during the firing of the Judases, a tradition with Biblical roots, but now a popular way of 'crucifying' politicians and other unpopular figures.


The highlight of my time in San Miguel where the unexpected moments such as coming upon a wedding party exiting the Parrochia church off the Jardin (pronounced Hardeen). The wedding procession made its way across the square to the tunes of mariachi bands dressed in white or black uniforms studded with gold buttons, followed by giant papier-mâché replicas of the bride and groom.  Another evening, a ballet folklorico flashed its color to odd Mexican rhythms.  And another, a large band outside of our restaurant passed around the wine of Sangre de Cristo to the largely Mexican crowd.  As it turned out April was the best time to go as by the end of March most gringos have ended their winter sojourns and left San Miguel.  




Things to do in San Miguel


--Buy Atencion, the English newspaper for events and happenings including music

-- Sit in beautiful Parque Juarez and read On Mexican Time by Tony Cohan, the quintessential book on San Miguel. Slow down and enjoy the perfect blue skies, friendly people, and the colors of the brilliant purple and blue jacaranda trees (full bloom in April)

-- Visit the orphanage Hogar de St. Julia (our friend was painting a mural on the building walls there.)

-- Sit in the Jardin and watch the 16th century Parroquia church change from pink, ocher, to red in the sunset.  Watch families and listen to mariachi bands, one each corner of the square !

-- Spend all day at the totally wheelchair accessible Fabrico la Aurora, a former turn-of-the-century textile mill converted to one of Mexico's finest art centers housing a myriad of artisan shops

-- Check out the San Miguel Bibliotecha for information on Spanish lessons, although with so many foreigners and shop staff speaking English you could be forgiven for thinking you can get by without learning Spanish.  

-- Take a taxi ride to the raucous Tuesday market where raw chickens and produce sit next to baby clothes, electronics and anything you care to think of.

-- Hike the El Charo del Ingenio Botanical Gardens, a bit dicey for a wheelchair but doable if you have a strong pusher

-- Have lunch or early dinner at Casa de Diezmo The sound of church bells (every 15 minutes it seems), and firecrackers (Mexicans are fond of loud noises) blend with a guitarist serenading diners in the garden

-- Taxi to Atotonilco, 10 minutes away from San Miguel, a religious world heritage site, and if you're lucky talk to the old woman in the square who will point out the six families in town, not including hers because she lives near the river.

-- Drink margaritas at one of the classic watering holes, La Frugas, Harry's or Ten-Ten Pie

-- Take a walking tour of historic Centro Mon-Wed-Fri 10 a.m. leaving from the Jardin in front of the Parroquia

-- Have coffee in the little café at Bellas Artes and enjoy the serenity of the quiet courtyard

-- Hike around town (remember there are lots of hills and cobblestones but with a young Mexican pushing the wheelchair it's doable)


B&Bs close to the main square including breakfast and lunch, the main meal of the day)


Casa Maricela (not accessible but you can stay next-door at her sister's and eat meals at Maricela's). Www.casa-maricela.com


Posada Corazon (more or less accessible) approx. $176  www.posadacorezon.com.mx


Casa Carmen (your best bet - wheelchair accessible and close to the center) $126 a night double occupancy www.casacarmenhotel.com


Driver

Francisco Marin will pick you up at either Mexico City or Leon for very reasonable rate franciscomexicoxxi@yahoo.com.mx cell 415-113-4796



A Look at Europe in 2012

The text of the Destinations pour tous summit on Inclusive Tourism in anticipation of several multi-year United Nations projects promoting Inclusive Tourism as a development strategy.



  #D4All2014

Both funny and intelligent - this article by Bill Forrester is a great read for anyone implementing Inclusive Tourism.



 

Below is the European report "Mapping of Skills and Training needs to improve accessible tourism services". 


The report includes all findings of the research and data collection, the full analysis of results and a set of conclusions and recommendations. To facilitate dissemination, all country level data and the 20 case study reports my be downloaded here:http://www.accessibletourism.org/?i=enat.en.reports.1620 

 Authored for the European Commission by Pierre Hausemer, Ivor Ambrose, Kei Ito and Monika Auzinger. 

The study is downloadable as PDF here: http://www.t-guide.eu/resources/study-c-final-report_skills_ec_mastercopy_for-printing_final.pdf?i=t-guide

A major part of the Research Study commissioned in 2013 by the European Commission and awarded to VVAENAT and3s Research, involved the preparation of 20 Case Studies, examining accessible tourism training programmes and projects in Europe and abroad.

The selected Case Studies can be regarded as examples of good practice in vocational education and training, although certain weaknesses are also identified, where appropriate.

On the ENAT website the following case studies may be downloaded:

List of Skills and Training Case Studies

  1. ABTA, United Kingdom

  2. ETCAATS, EU Training Project, Sweden
  3. Perfil - Psicologia e Trabalho, Portugal
  4. SCANDIC Hotels, Sweden
  5. Kéroul
 Welcoming Ways, Canada
  6. ATHENA EU Training Project, Czech Republic
  7. Via Libre, Spain
  8. VisitEngland, United Kingdom
  9. People 1st, Welcome All. United Kingdom 

  10. PEOPLECERT, Greece
  11. COIN, Italy
  12. HERMES Airports, Cyprus
  13. Cluster for Accessible Tourism, Bulgaria
  14. Lousã, Accessible Tourism Destination, Portugal
  15. TACTALL EU Training Project, Spain
  16. Ministry of Tourism, Ontario, Canada

  17. Disney Corporation, France
  18. VisitFlanders' Accessibility Training, Belgium
  19. Barrier-Free Destinations, Germany
  20. EU Funded Training Projects
Source:

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From Martin Heng:

Travelling has always been in my blood. Perhaps I inherited it from my father, who was born in Singapore, travelled the world with the British Merchant Navy and finally settled in the UK, where I was born. I've lived and worked in half a dozen countries and travelled to more than 40. In the 80s and 90s I spent the best part of 10 years on the road, pausing only long enough to make enough money for the next trip.

Imagine my euphoria in 1999 when I landed a job with Lonely Planet, whose books had been my constant companion across three continents over the previous decade! I've been with the company ever since in several different roles, including Trade Publishing Manager and Editorial Manager, overseeing the production of the entire range of printed books.

Accessible Oklahoma

Tour an A.D.A. accessible cabin at Roman Nose State Park with Shel Wagner. You'll see this cabin accomodates guests with any sort of disability. And Crazy Snake Trail at Lake Eufaula State Park is also A.D.A. accessible. The interpretive signs and educational elements at wheelchair level make for a perfect "hike" through dense forest on a winding paved trail.


 

By Michele Simões :


A little over a year I rediscovered what it was like to feel like myself, traveling the streets, meeting people and making the world my own on wheels. It changed my outlook on disability. 

Each new happiness was shared on Wheelchair Travelers' Guide (Guia do Viajante Cadeirante), where through messages and "likes" I could gain strength and move ahead

How could it not be so? Through the site where I've met so many cool people a new invitation came.

October 4 my travel destination will be Montreal in Canada where I will study more and explore a place totally unknown to me.

The butterflies in my stomach and anxiety are part of the baggage I'll carry but the desire for unforgettable stories makes this all even more exciting. 

So, follow me to Canada?

PhotoAbility Sampler

Clips from a presentation on Inclusion tourism with news commentary in Nepali.


 

Rogélia Heriberta.jpg
In 2011 my friend, Brazilian psychologist Marta Alencar, visited Nepal.She has a project that introduces people to mobility impairments in a unique way. She created an imaginary character named Tina Descolada who is a doll in a wheelchair. (http://www.tinadescolada.blogspot.com.br/) Marta created a heartfelt slideshow for me to include in some of my presentations next week. You will find it here: 
 http://www.slideshare.net/srains/imagining-a-wheelchairaccessible-nepal-with-tina-descolada

Soft Wheels

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