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I can smell it, I can feel it. I don’t need to see it

Western Daily Press
30 August 2007
By Paul Burton

Adventurous Tony Giles has back-packed his way around the globe climbing mountains, sky-diving, bungee jumping and white water rafting… not bad for someone who has been completely blind since birth and is hard of hearing to the point of being almost 80 per cent deaf.

The 28-year-old’s exploits have taken him all over the place, including South America, Australia, Asia and Africa.

“Travelling is hard enough when you can see and hear but when you’re disabled it can be twice as hard… and twice as easy.

“People just come up and ask me about being blind, unlike here. More often than not, they have opened their doors to me.

“I can feel my surroundings, I get a sense of space. If I go up a mountain I can feel the air squeeze. If I’m in a town, the energy and the space changes,” said Tony from Weston-super-Mare.

“I grew up by the seaside and I can smell the ocean, I can hear it, I can feel it. I don’t need to see it. I loved countries like New Zealand and Cuba where I was by the sea.

“What hearing I have is acute, even though I’ve lost 80 per cent of it. I’ve trained my hearing, and for me beauty is also the sound of the sea and the sound of the wind.

“I’ve been guided everywhere since I was a kid and I’ve got used to trusting people, and that’s what I do, I’ve just got to trust people.”

Tony, who now lives in Birmingham but still regularly visits his family in Weston-super-Mare, recounts one of his funniest moments as stumbling into a row of surfboards on a beach in Hawaii and knocking them over like a set of dominoes.

But travelling blind and partially deaf inevitably has its pitfalls as well. Along with several unfortunate encounters with pickpockets, he says his lowest point was returning to his padlocked tent one day in Canada, only to find all his possessions had been stolen, including his tent.

Such a fantastic achievement

A lesser man might have jumped on the next flight home. But the incident failed to dampen Tony’s enthusiasm and he ploughed on through Canada, at one point spontaneously walking up the side of a mountain.

“I remember standing at the foot of the mountain and a child looked up at me and saying, ‘are you going to do it?’

“So I did it. I followed the gradient of the slopes and I listened for the voices ahead of me.

“When I got to the top it was breathtaking. It was such a fantastic achievement. I was virtually alone and there was just silence and I could sense it was just plateau around me.”

Tony embarked on his first trip abroad to America during his course in American Studies at Northampton University.

While he was there, his friends decided to fly to Disney World for a short break, but Tony plumped for a week in New Orleans by himself instead.

After seven days in the city on his own he returned to England with not only a hangover, but with a severe case of itchy feet.

The following year he set off on his first big backpacking trip, and in five months visited Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Thailand.

While in Australia and New Zealand he fearlessly plunged into the world of adventure sports.

“The adventure sports were crazy, when I was white-water rafting I couldn’t anticipate when the bumps were going to come but I just learned to go with it,” he said.

“I’ve done three sky dives now and I can remember the first vividly. It was better than sex.

“We jumped from 14,000ft and I remember sweating like a pig when I was sitting in the plane.

“The adrenalin started pumping and I wondered what on earth was going to happen. I thought ‘this is now or never’ but then I was already dropping like a stone.

“I couldn’t get my breathing right and all of a sudden I felt the parachute pull me skywards again. We floated above the beaches and I could smell the sea and it was amazing, we just drifted along.”

Tony, who has now finished his masters degree, travelled around much of Latin America and Africa in 2004, and the following year he embarked on a six-week trip across Europe.

He has been to every state in America, his favourite being Alaska. He now plans to sell many of his belongings to fund a trip around Asia next year, kicking off with India, which likely to be his biggest challenge yet. Tony has chronicled his experiences in a series of three books but is still searching for a publisher.

The first of the trio is entitled Seeing The World My Way.

© Western Daily Press 2007