Tourism Abroad - Disabled Accessibility

Brazil, Argentina and Peru

July - August 2011

 Story by Callum Russell


Organising a trip like this is a challenge. To do this, I enlisted the support of Jo Osmond from a company called Travel Counsellors. She had booked a family holiday for us last summer. Therefore, I knew she was good, but I didn't realise how good.

The most difficult thing was booking the Inca Trail, which we did first. Companies refused to take me on, due to health and safety concerns. It took a day and a half of persistence, before Journey Latin America agreed to organise everything. I must admit that there were times when I thought it wouldn't happen. But Jo refused to give up and once the Inca trail had been booked, the rest of the trip was organised.

I left on the 8th July 2011 and returned on the 29th August 2011. In the main, the trip was unbelievable. I started in Rio, where I visited Christ the Redeemer statue, the Tijuca Forest, the Botanical Gardens and Sugarloaf Mountain. However, this was a two day appetiser for a visit to a traditional Brazilian barbecue followed by a Samba show, which included dancing and the most amazing drumming.

Then I headed off to the Iguazú Falls, where I had the best guide I could wish for. He wanted me to have the best time possible. When I arrived, instead of taking me straight to my hotel, he took me to the Brazilian side of the falls and a bird sanctuary. The following day at the Argentine falls, he took me on the boat ride, which goes into the falls themselves. It was like having a massive shower. This was then followed by an All You Can Eat Argentine barbecue and a night on the town. I was only meant to have done the walking tour of the Argentine falls.

Like all of these things, your luck doesn't last forever. When I arrived in Buenos Aires, I was met by the most unpleasant guide imaginable. During the course of those two days, I tried everything, but the ice wouldn't break down. On excursions, she would rush around, as though she wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. Therefore, going out with her wasn't very enjoyable. Even taking her arm to walk from my hotel to the car, a journey of about thirty yards was painful.

The ice eventually broke at the international airport when she was putting me on the plane to Lima. It only broke, because the airport official stated over the radio that I needed assistance and that I was standing there with my mother. But the most upsetting part was when she hugged me and told me how great it was to have me in the city, because it felt totally disingenuous. Needless to say, I have never celebrated seeing the back of somebody so much, until that day.

Then it was the project in Lima. The children were great to work with. The charity bought me a drum kit, on which I gave drum lessons. Four of the children performed in the last family show that we organised, something which I'm very proud, as it showed how hard they had worked.

You don't have a lot in your favour there. Awareness is very poor and this isn't helped by very poor organisation. I did some work in the school there and found some of the teachers unwilling to do anything. They wouldn't even say "Hello". If they had had more awareness that I was coming, I believe the situation would have been better, as they would have had time to prepare themselves. But overall, the project was a success and I'm glad I played my part.

After the project had finished, I was headed for the jungle. It was stunning. There were so many sounds at the same time that I can't begin to explain what they were. I had a great time there, until I fell ill on the last night. I had a raging stomach bug, which culminated in me waking up unable to feel my hands, feet, or face. After having my hands manipulated for a few minutes, feeling started to return and I was able to make the journey back to the town without a problem. This journey consisted of two boats and a three kilometer trek. However, upon arrival at the town's airport, the problem started returning and it became apparent that I wasn't fit to fly and headed for a doctor.

After an injection, I felt instantly better and could have travelled on. But I'd missed the last plane and so stayed the night in a hotel.

Upon arrival in Cusco, I had no idea whether I could start the Inca trail two days later. But with the cooler climate, I went from fifty percent to eighty percent in four hours and then felt hungry, which told me that I was fine. This meant that I could start the Inca Trail, the thing that I'd wanted to do all trip.

We completed it in three days, a day ahead of schedule, something that is done rarely. I will never forget my time there and it was very hard to leave.

The hotels that I stayed in were very supportive. This was crucial, as guides didn't stay with me at night, with the exception of the Inca Trail and the jungle. If I needed anything, I would ring reception and someone would come, usually very quickly. In the restaurants, waiters were always happy to read the menu and would describe where things were. If I had to nominate a hotel for being the most helpful, it would be the hotel in Buenos Aires, as assistance would arrive almost instantly and they always wanted to do their best.

The airlines used during this trip were TAM Linhas Aereas and LAN. TAM were much the better of the two, with cabin crew always being helpful. One was particularly outstanding on the flight between London and Rio. It was an exemplar performance in how to help a blind person on board an aircraft. She could always anticipate the difficulties, for example, trying to cut food up that's in a plastic box with a plastic knife and fork. So she would come and serve me five minutes early, so she could help me without delaying the service of others. She would always make sure I knew she was there, usually by laying her hand on my left shoulder, which I thought showed great intelligence. As an aside, TAM also have braille safety cards, something I've never seen before on other airlines.

LAN showed less awareness and willingness to be helpful. I often relied on fellow passengers for help. For example, I had to ask the passenger next to me to help me fill in my Peruvian immigration form, because the crew member was apparently "too busy to help me."

Airport assistance was generally very good. I found special assistance in Brazil to be the the best, because they knew how best to support the needs of a blind person. Peru was similar in this regard. the assistance in Argentina was okay, although very slow to arrive, especially in Buenos Aires at both the domestic and international airports. In Britain, we are too focused on wheelchairs, staff don't know what to do when someone like me comes along.

Having praised the Brazilians, I flew home via Sao Paolo. The problem there was that nobody spoke English. I speak French, Italian and Spanish and so was able to understand enough of their Portuguese. When you're trusting airport staff to get you on to a plane, being unable to communicate properly can be a problem. I do think this could make life very difficult for disabled people, especially if they don't have some knowledge of a romance language.

Awareness in the tourism could be improved. It needs more blind and visually impaired people to travel for this to happen. But if you have the support of other people, trips like this are possible. Therefore, I hope that more of you are considering travelling, having read this article.