TRAVEL & LIFESTYLE
21st June – 5th July 2017
Simone Illger, disabled traveller
28 July 2017
When it comes to a holiday, my idea of heaven is: somewhere fairly private and quiet, a short distance from a beach and other resort amenities, plenty of sunshine, a nearby swimming pool, comfortable sunbed and my fully charged Kindle.
If this conjured up an image of a fairly inactive holiday – that’s my perfect kind of holiday! Myself and my husband may stretch ourselves to participating in a boat trip or hiring a car to explore a little further afield.
I have a physical disability that severely impacts on my mobility and ability to manage outside of my home environment. My arms and legs are both shortened and I have difficulty in walking and standing. Inevitably, my husband is required to do much more to assist me then when we are at home.
Planning any sort of holiday involves lots of research; asking lots of questions to ensure that I can get a wheelchair into the accommodation, that the steps to the pool are such that I can access it, that there is somewhere close by to park a hire car and that our airport transfer is accessible for both wheelchair and luggage.
Photograph by Simone Illger
On top of that, I have to alert the airway that we use that I am taking a wheelchair with me – (usually a powered wheelchair) and they’ll require all sorts of information relating to the batteries, weight and dimensions.
I am able to walk short distances. In recent years through weight loss and exercise I have been able to considerably improve my general fitness levels and walking ability. I will always need a wheelchair for any distance, but having lost over 4 stone (25kg) I am able to endure standing, walking and fare better in the heat.
Our main holiday of 2017 was going to be something slightly different. We decided that whilst my health was as good as it is and my pain levels allow, we’d consider something a little more adventurous. There will be many more opportunities to have those lazy sunbathing holidays in years to come.
After considering several long haul destinations and attempting to find two destinations that we might visit (Galapagos Islands and Madagascar), I realised that trying to find a holiday further afield than Europe to suit my needs may not be as straight forward as those I’ve enjoyed previously!
Somehow during my various meanderings around the internet, I came across Botswana. The idea of a safari holiday surfaced. I have a good friend who’s a wheelchair user and who’d recently been to Kenya on safari. She absolutely loved the experience and I therefore knew it would be possible.
This would be a holiday we’d need a little support to arrange – and so we found Tribes! I sent a short email to Tribes outlining the sort of holiday we were looking for. We’d need to factor in plenty of time to recover between travelling and game drives.
I explained that I was able to walk but would need to bring a wheelchair with me, as I would need it for some activities. Sinead at Tribes came back to me quickly with a suggested itinerary – which as it happened was spot on in terms of the accommodation and locations planned for us to visit.
“If this conjured up an image of a fairly inactive holiday – that’s my perfect kind of holiday!”
From Victoria Falls (3 nights) we moved on to Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane. This was around two hours drive in a minibus, with a stop to get through the border formalities (Zimbabwe to Botswana). Chobe Safari Lodge was a 4 star hotel with around 50 rooms. The beauty of its location was that it was right on the edge of Chobe National Park and on the banks of the Chobe river. We therefore had a choice of river safari trips or road safari trips. I’d never considered being able to see so many animals up close from a boat – but I loved the boat safaris and they enabled us to see all kinds of creatures. A highlight had to be watching a herd of around 10 elephants cross over the river, swimming and playing in the water. We did both early morning and afternoon game drives as well as a private boat safari. The joy of the private boat trip was being able to learn so much about the animals and birds that we spotted and the tranquillity of having a boat to ourselves. I also indulgeded in a 30 minute neck, back and shoulder massage one evening, which helped with my aching body. The tracks through the park are quite lumpy and bumpy and we were often driving for 3 4 hours at a time.
From Chobe, we took a further two private charter flights to get us to our next destination. These flights are aboard a tiny single propeller light aircraft, between 5 and 12 seats. It is only when you see the size of these “flying taxis” that you understand the requirement to pack light and use small soft holdall style bags. There isn’t a lot of room! We were flying at low altitudes and so the view was incredible, as was the experience of landing on a tiny landing strip in the middle of… nowhere!
Little Machabe in the Otavango Delta was…. quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. It came as a peaceful haven after the hustle and bustle of Chobe. Our jeep collected us from our flight and we were immediately transported along a muddy track with the strong smell of sage wafting past our nostrils arriving at our camp in 20 minutes. Little Machabe has just 4 tented rooms. They may have canvas walls, but these palatial tents are really something else!
The pace here was relaxed and luxurious, starting with high tea! Our guide “BT” was exceptionally knowledgeable and hugely talented at spotting animal prints as we sped along in our jeep. Highlights of this camp were seeing a pack of wild dogs just after a kill and spotting a mama leopard walking across the track straight in front of us taking a dead bird to her hungry cub.
One of the less enjoyable experiences was witnessing the death of a bull elephant. This unfortunate giant beast had been involved in a fight and had suffered a broken shoulder. He’d stumbled into a waterhole and was unable to get back up. We watched as the sun set and he struggled to lift his trunk clear of the water to draw his final breath. It is all nature at work. Animals are born and animals die. There are no human interventions here.
Our time at Little Machabe was all too soon at an end. It was time to leave for our final destination, the Kalahari Plains. Another two light aircraft flights transported us to an arid place devoid of any water. This was the Kalahari. That any person or animal is able to survive in such an environment is incredible. Our camp here was, quite literally, on the edge of a desert, three hours drive from the next closest camp. Whilst here, my husband Andy took advantage of a walk with the local bush men, learning about their way of life and how it is that they manage to forge an existence in the dry heat.
Our final day both started and ended well. We were treated to seeing two large male lions (brothers) walking right past our jeep as the Kalahari sun rose behind them. In the evening, we had a farewell party hosted by the staff of the camp with singing and dancing before a meal besides the campfire all wrapped in our blankets. Once the sun sets, the temperature plummets.
And so our journey home began. I wasn’t looking forward to the long flight, but all good things have to come to an end.
So what did I take away from my Botswana adventure? I astonished myself at just how much I managed to do in such a short space of time. How my body withstood it, I’m not sure! Our idea of a holiday as being lots of sunbathing and relaxing was most certainly not what we got here – but what we did get was the opportunity to travel thousands of miles to see some amazing things that I will never forget. Seeing large animals up close in their natural habitat is really something rather special.
This holiday has left me wanting more. Whilst I have the ability and the stamina and my health allows, I’d like some more adventuring! Using a specialist travel company certainly made this work for us. There wasn’t a single point where I worried that I couldn’t manage what was required. Tribes ensured that we were well catered for, including looking after my wheelchair whilst we undertook the Kalahari leg of our trip. A wheelchair and sand dunes don’t really work well together.
This isn’t a holiday I’d have wanted to try and organise on my own. It involved two long haul flights, two short haul flights and five internal light aircraft flights. The accommodation needed to be exactly as it was – intimate without too much walking to get about
And so, where to next with this new-found confidence and my abilities to travel further afield well and truly tested to their limits? Our thoughts are already turning to our next trip – Costa Rica perhaps? Hope you’re all geared up for my call Tribes!