I have always had a passion for travelling and was doing so with a group of students from the University of Guelph when my life changed forever. On May 10, 2011 I suffered a spinal cord injury in Lima Peru on the last day of my humanitarian trip. I had the trip of a lifetime while I was there, helping in the shantytowns and doing both physical labour and dental health campaigns. On the last day of this trip I was in the ocean swimming when a large wave pulled me under and smashed my head off the ocean floor resulting in a fracture to my C4 vertebrae. The level of the injury has also left me ventilator dependent making life a little bit more difficult but I do not let it stop me.
In the fall of 2015 I decided that it was finally time for me to embark on my first trip since my accident. Three days prior to my accident I was at the Summit of Machu Picchu in Peru when I set a goal for myself to reach all seven wonders in the world. It was only fitting that for my first trip I would start working at this goal and chose Chichen Itza, Mexico as my second wonder.
With this being my first trip, I was not sure how to go about finding an accessible resort for me to stay in. I found a travel agent who is also a quadriplegic to help me navigate finding a resort that was accessible. He suggested a resort that he had been to before that he knew was wheelchair accessible, so we booked our rooms at the Occidental at Xcaret Destination, in the Riviera Maya, Mexico.
This was my first commercial flight and we did not know how to properly transfer me from my wheelchair to the plane seat. We flew with Air Transat who had a portable Hoyer lift that went up and down the aisle of the plane. This did not work for me as I am tall and the armrest of my seat did not move up and down resulting in a fireman lift over the armrest. Once seated, we used my chest strap to keep me in place so that I was secured in my seat. Once we arrived in Mexico, I had another troublesome time getting off the plane, they tried to carry me off and I was almost on the floor a couple times.
Once we were off the plane, we needed to find an outlet to charge my ventilator for a little while before being able to depart for our resort. Once we left the airport we had about an hour drive to the resort, the one thing I found out very quickly was how expensive accessible transportation is. The trip to and from the airport cost $250 US, to and from Chichen Itza $600 US, and to and from Cirque du Soleil $125 US, making accessible transportation totaling $1000 US. This is something that makes me very upset when it comes to travelling and trying to find solutions to reduce transportation costs.
Once we arrived to our hotel, the check-in process went very well with my attendants and I received adjoining rooms with ramp balcony access. The room was very accessible and one thing that I had to learn from a fellow quadriplegic is that there needs to be a 5 inch clearance under the bed in order to slide the Hoyer lift underneath. The hotel had longer legs for my bed to accommodate this which was very helpful. The staff at the hotel was very great at ensuring we had what we needed, and assisting with anything we were having issues with.
This trip was a huge learning experience, after realizing that some equipment was not with us in Mexico, we had to use our other equipment we had to charge the suction and with no chamber pot for the humidifier we were lucky that Mexico was very humid for the week. During our trip to Chichen Itza we had another issue arise, one of the front wheels on my wheelchair broke leaving my chair as a tricycle for the rest of the week. Luckily it did not ruin the trip as we were still able to use a wheelchair and just had to be careful and ensure I was tilted back or the chair would tip forward.
Another issue that arose during our first day was trying to find enough plugs in our hotel room for all of my equipment. The hotel room consisted of single outlet plugs with only a total of four in the room, so we had to make a trip to a nearby Walmart to pick up some extension cords and power bars in order to have all of the equipment charging. After experiencing how few plugs there were in our hotel room, I have added power bars and extension cords to my packing list.
When it comes to packing it is extremely important to have a packing list, we did not have a very good packing list for this trip which resulted in the few items not being with us in Mexico. When it comes to packing now, I always ensure I have extra supplies just in case.
Once we had the hotel room organized and set up in a way that it worked with my disability and equipment it was time to enjoy a week in the sun. The resort was very accessible, although a few of the ramps were pretty steep. The only area that was not accessible was their disco, which we had to carry me up a few steps to get in and then once inside there was a couple more steps down to the dance floor.
One day at the beginning of the trip, we were relaxing at the ocean water pool when I started up a conversation with a woman who ended up being the wife of the resort owner. It was a great connection to have while we were there and as a student who was finishing up hospitality and tourism degree, this connection allowed me the opportunity to speak with the owner about how their accessibility was and some of issues we had encountered. One morning we got to meet with the owner, the general manager and the manager of operations, at this point I was able to relay the issues we have encountered at the resort.
The resort itself had a great beach entry into their pool allowing for people with wheelchairs to access the pool. I myself did not go into the pool at all, but it would have been very easy to access with the wheelchair. The resort consisted of stamped concrete paths allowing for easy manoeuvring in the wheelchair, with ramps accessing a majority of the resort. The resort itself was attached to Xcaret Park Mexico, a charming tour of traditions and nature at Xcaret eco-archaeological Park. The park itself was fairly accessible although there were some areas that were not wheelchair friendly, the main part that we had some issues with was the bird in enclosure. As for myself, I am not able to partake in any of the activities involving water such as the river through the caves, swimming with dolphins and a very nice beach.
We had an amazing trip and we definitely learned quite a bit about how to travel with the disability. On our way home I learned how to properly transfer to and from my wheelchair to and isle chair and then into the plane seat allowing me not to land on the floor on our trip home. No matter what disability you have, travelling can be done it just takes a lot of organization and planning on your behalf and learning what works best for you.