Thursday, March 20, 2008

Seeing the world...

Sometime last year, I happened upon an ad for Traveleyes
which really grabbed my attention. Briefly, it's a company that was founded by a blind Glaswegian (someone from Glasgow) and it was his mission to see the world. Of course, if you have limited or no sight, this is impossible. Unless, you organize holidays pairing the blind and the sighted and offer the sighted folks a substantial discount. And voila, that was how Traveleyes was born. The founder, Amar, had a dream, and with determination, luck and some funding, his dream, and that of so many others, was realized. I really admire people who, when having found something was lacking out there, have the balls to fill that gap.

Having found myself with my own gap (February without travel plans), I contacted the Traveleyes people and signed up for their one week trip to Fuerteventura of the Canary Islands from 27 February to 5 March. The short of it is for a discount on the total price of the trip (flights and accommodations), I was expected to accompany visually impaired (VIs for short) on outings and describe the things, people and places they couldn't see. It sounded like a bit of a challenge (I'm not the most eloquent of speakers) and it gave me a chance to meet new people while helping them out AND seeing a part of the world I probably wouldn't have seen on my own. So, how was it?

Ok, first, the good. It was fantastic meeting so many people who didn't let their disabilities stop them from doing what they wanted. Sometimes, they moved me to tears. I heard stories about losing a child to cancer, going to Atlanta for the Summer Paralympics and competing in the judo competition, creating a long-distance relationship through the internet (and subsequently moving to the UK), and taking walking holidays all over the world. The VIs that I spent time with (we were assigned a different partner every day) were remarkable in their desire to live life without boundaries. It gave me such a sense of usefulness when I had to lead people around, read menus to them and describe the world through my own eyes. At first, it was a little nerve-racking, but it got comfortable really quickly. There were a few in particular that I got quite close to quite quickly. The lady in the pic above, Champa, and her husband, David, were a couple that gave me lumps in my throat a few times, as well as made me laugh.

The bad:
I have come to the conclusion that I'm totally not into organized fun. This is totally a case of "it's not you, it's me". I'm really not a group person, which I was a little surprised about, but I was a bit stifled about having an agenda everyday. I'm all for planning, but I think I like to just go where the wind takes me when I'm travelling. I'm so not an itinerary chick, and it was totally my bad for not feeling the schedule aspect of the holiday.

The ugly: Fuerteventura itself. The island was nothing more than a big, volcanic rock with some nice beaches surrounding it. There wasn't much to the interior of the island and my search for the "real Canary Islands" was in vain. Development of the island began some 30 years ago, but you wouldn't know it with all the scaffolding, plows and the signs for land for sale. Oh, and it was overrun with Brits and Germans to the point where you could get Fish and Chips everywhere, chips was the side dish of choice, and there were German channels on the tube. I saw way too many white, naked bodies on the beach (one was too many), and if I never see a "German sausage" again, it would be too soon.

In all, I was disappointed about this trip and even regretted it a bit (moi, qui ne regrette rien), but Traveleyes was NOT to blame. I admire what Amar is doing and give him mad props, even though he constantly ripped the piss out of my accent. I fully recommend it for people who are interested in helping and meeting new people and like their travel planned and surprise-free. They have some excellent trips coming up, including Cuba, Italy, Vancouver, Iceland, South Africa and the Greek Islands, and they promise to be unforgettable for the VIs and the sighted alike.

If you have any questions, you can ask me them in the comment section, visit the web site, or check out this news report which features yours truly.