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    15th January 2008

    On Being Disabled: Vacation (what happens in mexico… gets posted on the web)

    My family had the opportunity to go on vacation this past week. A real vacation with no other agenda. No weddings or funerals or graduations. We were in Cancun, Mexico at a fairly nice resort for a whole week. And when I say my family, I’m talking about my brother Eric and his wife Melissa and three kids, Josiah, Emmy, and Isabelle; my mom and little brother Mikey; my sister Carrie and her husband Loren; AND Melissa’s parents and three siblings, Micah, Kaitlyn, and Hannah. Fifteen of us.

    We played on the beach; swam in the ocean and in the pools at the resort; ate great food at the different restaurants; took a day trip to the off-shore island, Isla Mujeres, where we went snorkeling; and hit one of the outdoor markets to purchase things that they don’t sell here in Colorado (like fake-brand sunglasses and Cuban imports…). I brought my mandolin because I thought it would be easier to bring around to different places; and I played it poolside and on the beach and in the airport – my main goal was usually to play relaxing music that would put the people around me to sleep. (You can see some pictures of the family in Cancun at Eric’s blog)

    And I learned a lot about travelling with a wheelchair…

    Now, I’ve been all over the good ole’ U. S. of A. during the last three years, but this was my first time out of the country. Even at a nice resort in a modern city like Cancun, Mexico is a little bit less “wheelchair accessible” than northern Colorado. Not that I would have wanted them to change the place, but there were these steep bridges over the pool (I could make it over some of them without starting to flip backwards); many of the paths were built as ramps, but many of them still also had steps in them at different points; several of the restaurants had steps to get in and out; and the beach was down a steep hillside or long staircase from the main level of the resort. And when we first arrived, they had us in rooms in a building where there wasn’t an elevator until you went up a flight of steps! (Which I can do without that much difficulty, but I was still glad when they found me a room in a more accessible building…)

    So the whole place was for me a little bit like a skatepark is for a skateboarder: Fun challenges all over the place.

    You might not have ever thought of this, but sand is very difficult to navigate in a normal wheelchair. Folks who hit the beach a lot usually get extra fat balloon style wheels so they don’t sink into the sand pushing across. Most of the time when I was going someplace on the sand I would push my wheelchair like a walker and take little dragging steps, moving slowly to whatever spot I was trying to get to. A couple days we went to a beach where I didn’t have to go down stairs to get to the sand – and the waves were small so as to be better for the children with us. At this beach the depth of the water increased very slowly as you went out – and then right as if started to get deep, there was a sandbar. I would crawl into the water and swim a few strokes becore having to get on hands and knees and crawl over the sandbar before getting out into deeper water. I’m sure I looked rediculous, crawling over the sand, but it was worth getting into the water there.

    Carrie, Loren, Micah, and I rode the public bus down the Mercado 28. I would hop up and climb up into the bus and Loren and Micah would have to take the wheels off my chair just to fit it through the bus door. (All 15 of us also rode the bus to the ferry station, which was absolutely crazy.) At the market more than one seller of wares was impressed by my ability to bump up and down curbs.

    But the most trying wheelchair experience of all began when I realized on Tuesday night that one of my tires was going flat. Luckily I had brought a patch-kit (I had actually been thinking of my air-filled seat cushion); unfortunately I didn’t bring an air pump. The next morning I asked at the desk what they thought I should do and they suggested going to a gas station that had an air compressor. This was an ok plan, but I had to wait for some family members to show up before doing anything else. In waiting I decided to take off my tire and look at the tube to see if it was an obvious hole. It wasn’t. But while I was sitting there looking at it a hotel employee came and suggested we look for a pump in the activities shed, in which there are all kinds of volleyballs and basketbassl which might require a pump every once in a while. He came back a few minutes later with a pump and I was able to find and patch a small whole.

    My tire held air fairly well that whole day and most of the next. However, as we were getting ready to leave the beach on Wednesday afternoon, I realized that my tire was flat again – and on examination it was probably a new hole. Not only that, but I had somehow managed to lose my patch kit, and the next day we were planning on going on our day trip to Isla Mujeres. Ater dinner Loren and Mike and I brainstormed on what could be done and finally decided that those two would head downtown to Wal-Mart (yes, there’s a Wal-Mart even in Cancun…) to try to find 1) a new tube, or 2) a patch kit if that couldn’t be found; and 3) an air pump of some sort. So they took the public bus and headed out, leaving me at the hotel with a flat tire. (Loren and Mike’s trip to Wal-Mart was an adventure in itself, I think.)

    They were unable to find either a tube or a patchkit, but they did find a foot pump, which I proceded to use every hour or so for the next day and a half of the trip. In the meantime, I also discovered that one of my front casters (the little turning wheels in the front of a wheelchair) had become so loose that it had slipped into a position where it was angled slightly backwards. I asked the front desk if there was anyone from maintenance who might have the tools I needed (star wrenches to take the wheel out and a really big allen key to tighten the housing up). The guy came, looked at it, shook his head and pulled out a screwdriver. He jammed it into the hex bolt and tightened it as much as he could. This was a decent solution, though by two days later it was loose again, and so I pulled out my leatherman multi-tool and jammed the pliers into the bolt and did the same thing.

    Now there are only two more things that I’m going to say about bringing the wheelchair down to Cancun. The first is that there is one spot that I found that had good accessibility, and that spot was the bathrooms at the airport. There were these extra big stalls with their own sink inside of them with the universal handicap sign on them and the word “reservado”; it was wonderful to have the wheelchair accessible stalls actually be “reserved” for those who needed them.

    The other thing to say has to do with the air pump we bought. Going through airport security on the way back I had the pump in my backpack. They guy running the x-ray machine wanted to look inside my bag and asked me to open it for him, which I did. He called a coworker over. He pulled out the bright red foot pump and said, “Hablas espanol?” (Do you speak Spanish?)

    “Un pocito,” I replied (meaning, a little bit).

    “En espanol, esta es bomba,” he said, smiling.

    I had seen that on the label of the pump it had said bomba de aire de pie (pump of air of foot), but I certainly hadn’t expected an airport security person to make a joke to us and his coworkers about me having a bomb in my bag. The guy he called over rolled his eyes and gave an annoyed look and went back to his job. I grabbed my bag and headed off to join our small army of Holmlunds, Stovers, and Vervilles.


    2 Responses to “On Being Disabled: Vacation (what happens in mexico… gets posted on the web)”

    1. Clint Kirby says:

      Sounds like you a had a great trip. Of course, wheelchair accessibility is not top of my mind when I travel, so I learned a lot from your perspective.

    2. Loren says:

      Rock on Grande D \m/

      Yes, the trip to Wal-Mart was an adventure, mostly because the inner city busline closed while we scoured the store for equipment. A local speaking no English walked us close to a mile to a working bus stop. It was a very silent walk!

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    Copyright 2005 by Daryl Holmlund - All rights reserved.