Traveling is not easy when you are living with a spinal cord injury or paralysis of any kind. Today I am going to share with you our recent experience traveling outside of our comfort zone. We have traveled a few places by airplane within the United States since my husband was injured including Washington D.C., Washington State, Hawaii and Florida. We have also taken a few driving trips to Las Vegas, NV, Desert Hot Springs, CA, Lake Havasu and Phoenix, AZ. I hope to take the time to sit down and write a post highlighting some of the good and bad parts of each of those adventures in a future blog post, but today I am going to share our most recent travel experience. We traveled out of the country to Cabo San Lucas Mexico and it was hands down the craziest travel adventure that we have had to date.
It started out like a typical airport trip. We made our way through security and checked in at the terminal desk to let them know we were there and reminded them that Bill would need an isle chair to board the airplane. Thankfully, that information was in the computer and they were ready for us. We got Bill into the isle chair and then into his seat on the airplane with minimal issues and sent his wheelchair off to ride beneath the plane with all our luggage. The flight was uneventful and we enjoyed ourselves by watching movie together on Bill’s iPad. (Suggestion: remember to download your movies while you still have Wi-Fi so you have things to do on the airplane). The pilot announced that we were getting ready to start our departure and we looked out the window to see the beautiful clear blue water of Mexico down below. As we got closer to the airport we got further away from the ocean and soon all we could see was dry desert below. I honestly didn’t see any sign of civilization until we were just about to land. The pilots landed successfully and started to taxi towards to the gate where passengers would deplane. I started to notice that every plane I saw was parked on the black top and had a set of rolling stairs propped up against their door to let passengers off. I started to be a little concerned. A few minutes later we were coming to a stop…on the black top…no where near a terminal or jetway. I definitely started to panic at that point.
To say that Mexico is not wheelchair accessible would be a gross understatement, at least from the experience that we had on our vacation. However, what they lacked in actual accessibility, the people more than made up for with hospitality and willingness to help in any circumstance. Our first opportunity to see this in action was when it was time to get us off the plane. We asked the flight attendants if there was going to be a ramp or maybe a lift that they would bring to get Bill off the plane. They didn’t seem to know but assured me is must be something like that. Apparently, this was the first time either of our flight attendants had landed in Mexico with someone in a wheelchair. About 5 men boarded the plane after all the other passengers were off. They brought with them the aisle chair which Bill would need to get off the plane. I helped them get Bill from his seat to the aisle chair and asked the flight attendant again where the lift or ramp was. One of them spoke Spanish so she was able to communicate with the men and she looked at me and said in a solemn voice, “they are going to carry him down the steps in the aisle chair”. All I could say is “what?” I could not wrap my head around the idea that they were going to carry my quadriplegic husband down a flight of stairs while he is strapped into this aisle chair and completely at their mercy. I started to cry. Before I knew it, the men had swooped in and scooped Bill up and they were at the door of the airplane ready to head down the stairs. My crying turned to sobs and all I could was close my eyes and pray that Bill would make it safely to the bottom of those stairs. The flight attendants consoled me the entire time updating me on his progress.
(Here is a video of him on his way back up, by the time we left my heart had enough time to prepare for this so I was able to take a video and not panic)
Finally, he reached the ground and I let out a sigh of relief and thanked the flight attendants for their kindness. They wished us well on our vacation and I exited the plane. Waiting for us on the ground were several men to help us transfer Bill from the aisle chair to his wheelchair. It was so hot, about 95° which is way too hot for Bill as he overheats very easily. So, I moved quickly to get him situated in his own chair and on our way off the hot blacktop. Once inside the airport there was wonderful cool air to help Bill begin to cool down. A gentleman came with us from the black top and escorted us through every step we had to take in order to get out of the airport. He guided us to customs and because Bill was in a wheelchair, we bypassed the hour-long line and went right through (one of the hidden blessings of traveling in a wheelchair). Then he stayed with us to baggage claim and proceeded to collect all our bags for us and put them on a cart. Next he guided us to the taxi area and tried to help us find a wheelchair accessible taxi.
Once again, we became very aware of how inaccessible Mexico is for people in a wheelchair when we tried to find a taxi. The first desk we stopped at we explained to the man behind the counter that we needed a taxi that had a ramp or lift that would allow Bill to get in while remaining in his wheelchair. He assured us they had such a vehicle and we purchased the tickets to take us to our resort. Our trusty helper stayed with us to the taxi and helped load our luggage into the van. However, when we went to the side of the van, we noticed it was just a regular passenger van with no ramp. I explained to the taxi driver that Bill needed to stay in his wheelchair and would not be able to ride in this van. So, we got our luggage out and went back to the taxi sales desk. They refunded our money and tried to help us find a solution. It didn’t take long for me to finally realize that there were absolutely no vehicles equipped to load a wheelchair onto them with the wheelchair user still in it. They suggested we get a small private SUV taxi and have men lift Bill into the passenger seat. I was in shock that this was the solution, but they did manage to carry him down a flight of stairs successfully and since there was literally no other option, we decided that we would give it a try. They were very kind and only charged us for the group taxi price instead of the private SUV price, as I am sure they felt bad for all we had been through. Our taxi driver was very nice even though he only spoke a little bit of English which he told us he learned from Google translate! You have got to love technology. I asked him if there would be people at the resort to help us get out and he assured us there would be. I was finally able to sit back and relax after a very stressful airport experience. Here are some pictures of our SUV adventure. I had to take Bill’s wheel’s off and ride with is wheelchair frame next to me in the back seat. All of our stuff barely fit, but we made it work.
Sure enough, when we arrived at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos All-Inclusive Resort, there were plenty of men there to help get Bill out of the SUV. We were so thankful to arrive at our resort and immediately went to check in. We had arrived a little early so our room wasn’t ready but they gave us our wristbands and told us we could go and find a bite to eat at any of the restaurants on the property. We were tired and hot from traveling so we were hoping to find a nice air-conditioned restaurant to get a cold drink and some good food. We headed down to the buffet that was nearby. It was then that we discovered how tiny the elevators were on the property. This was a huge challenge for me because I am a bit claustrophobic and just not a fan of elevators in general. The sign read “4-person capacity”! Well when you put a wheelchair in there it barely held two people comfortably.
We made it off the elevator thankfully and headed towards the buffet. They took us in to help us find a table and we discovered that not one table in the entire restaurant was accessible for Bill to sit under. His foot plate could not get over the pedestal stands under all of the tables. The restaurant manager was very sweet and tried to find something that would work. He promised to have a table set up that would work for us the next time we came in and we decided to find the pizza place that was near the beach. It was beautiful and we found a shady spot where we could hear the ocean crashing on the shore as we enjoyed our yummy flatbread pizzas and cold beverages. The table were not accessible there either but Bill decided to just sit sideways and make it work because we were too hungry to look anywhere else. Unfortunately, we found the same problem at every restaurant on the property except the Asian food restaurant which we only ate at one time because the food was our least favorite of all the other places we had eaten. We wished they had at least one accessible table at each restaurant, but most of the time we just dealt with it.
Our room was the most accessible part of the property with all tile floors and a large roll in shower and lots of space to move around in a wheelchair. There was a desk in our room just under the TV that was actually accessible for Bill so we ended up ordering room service for breakfast each day so he could eat at least one meal a day in comfort. We had a balcony that overlooked the main two pools and even had a view of the ocean that was also accessible for Bill to enjoy. We watched a few of the night time shows from there which were performed on a stage set up in front of the largest pool.
The pools were not accessible so Bill was unable to get in and cool off. We ended up dipping his shirt in the water and putting it on him to keep him cool while he sat in the shade. The poolside service was great as we were able to get drinks and even yummy tacos served right to where we were relaxing by the pool. We ate all our lunches poolside because it was easier for Bill to eat on a plate in his lap than at a table where he was 12 inches away from the edge.
Overall, we had a very nice stay and enjoyed our time at the Hyatt Ziva. We did not go on any excursions or leave the property during our stay and I am so glad we didn’t because it was wonderful to just have time to relax, plus I don’t think I could have handled anymore stressful travel adventures than we had. I was able to take more pictures at the airport when we left because I knew what to expect and was much more calm. I share our story in hopes that it will inspire others to be willing to travel outside their comfort zone, you truly don’t know what you might be missing if you aren’t willing to at least give it a try.
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