After he died, I missed him terribly and wondered if I could ever feel happiness again. Over a year had passed since his death and I still had not experienced happiness.
I wanted to travel again but had no one to go with. When I was wandering around the internet looking for accessible tours I connected with a travel agent named Deborah who also uses a wheelchair. She got back to me with a few suggestions and one of them was an accessible safari trip in South Africa. I loved the idea. I planned a year in advance for the trip, zealously preparing things like vaccinations, getting proper clothing and other essential equipment. On September 12, 2018, I boarded my flight and began my much-anticipated trip.
My first leg of the flight was to Dubai. I stayed there overnight and flew to Durban in South Africa the next day. I spent a total of 22 hours in the air keeping myself entertained by watching a lot of movies. Fortunately, the flight attendants, the airport staff and the shuttle bus driver were very accommodating. Staff at the hotel where I stayed overnight were always hovering around me, ready to help whether I needed it or not.
After landing in South Africa, I found someone with the sign Access2AfricaSafaris waiting for me. It was a representative from the local accessible tour company. There were 20 people on our safari. Some people brought their own attendants. The tour company did have a staff person who provided some assistance but not attendant care for different group members. Most of the group came from England. They were with an organization that works with people who have had brain injuries. There was an Australian woman who used a scooter, but I was the lone person from Canada. After everyone finally arrived, we got loaded onto two accessible vans and headed to the Makaranga Lodge. I admit that I was nervous before I met everyone but they were really friendly and welcoming, and I knew right away it was going to be a good trip.
Makaranga Lodge was beautiful, surrounded by a stunning garden with a collection of sculptures. The day after we arrived was a day to rest and recover. Many folks took advantage of the spa and wandered around the grounds. The following day, our itinerary consisted of a visit to Ushaka Marine. Later in the trip we visited the Kulani Special Needs School where we met many students and teachers.
The real adventure did not start until we were off to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve on Day 4. My accommodation was a hut that was modern, neat and cozy. I had my own private unit which was connected to another person’s unit on our safari. In the morning, two monkeys were outside my window grooming each other. We were warned not to let the monkeys into our room no matter how temptingly cute they were.
Each day, we would get up early in the morning and go out on a three-hour drive on the reserve. The vehicle was accessible and open to the elements. Our guide was very knowledgeable about wild animals. When we spotted them, he would educate us on their behaviour and tell us all sorts of fun facts about them. We were all in awe when we saw our first elephants. Then came the rhinos, zebras, warthogs, and many other animals whose names I cannot remember. A lot of time was given to taking photos.
We went to visit three orphaned elephants at Bayeta. These elephants had been raised by people. We were able to hand feed and touch them. Their trainers were always beside them and helping us. It was an amazing experience I will never forget. Another highlight was visiting a Cat and Cheetah Rehabilitation Centre. We met small wild cats and were allowed to pet and interact with them. We got close to a cheetah and the handler let us pose for pictures behind this big, beautiful cat.
Our stay at St. Lucia was equally amazing. It is home to the largest number of hippos in Africa. We went on a boat ride and got to view the hippos in the water. They looked like large rocks until they moved. Staff on the boat opened a door at the front of the boat and let me go out on the front of the boat to get a closer view. A young teenager from South Africa quietly sat beside me and we had a great conversation about his country, the animals and what life is like in Canada. After the boat docked, he came up to me and shook my hand and thanked me for the conversation. His mom was in the background smiling at us. What a great ambassador he was for his country.
One night, Dave who worked for Access2africasafari was cooking a meal for all of us. He suddenly came and announced there were two hippos across the street slowly walking around. We all quietly went out and there they were – two large hippos a few feet from us calmly eating the grass. Wow – I can’t even describe how amazing that was. Apparently, it was very common for hippos to walk around St. Lucia at night. As long as you don’t get too close to them and bother them, they are pretty calm. But they can flip very quickly and chase you with a speed up to 40 miles per hour.
We had time to shop at markets and stores in St. Lucia before driving to our next destination on the itinerary. It was a spot along the coastline. The path down was long and inaccessible. But my friends from England stepped up and assisted me down the steep rocky path. Safari staff helped me get up back up. Our guide also helped another woman dip her feet in the water. It was a beautiful conclusion to this unforgettable trip.
This trip was one of the best experiences in my life. I travelled in a country I had never been to before. I got to meet South Africans who love their country and the animals that live there. I got to feed and touch elephants. I got to see many other wild animals close up. I made new friends who shared this wonderful experience with me. We talked, we laughed, and we sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight loudly on our vehicle as we were driven around. We exchanged emails and connected on Facebook. I now even play Pokémon with someone from England. This year, I went on a two-week vacation to England visiting my newfound friends. Finally, I want to tell you that I experienced happiness again.
For more information about Pat’s trip, questions about accessibility features, cost of the trip and other tips and tricks, please send an email to [email protected].