Weston Daily Press, December 2008
Written by Laura Powell
A backpacker has sky-dived in Australia, bungee-jumped 12 times, travelled to every US state and visited all six populated continents.
But adrenaline junkie Tony Giles is blind, 80 per cent deaf and has only 11 per cent kidney function – and still he has itchy feet.
The 30-year-old traveller from Weston-super-Mare said his disabilities give him greater insight into countries he visits, which this year include Morocco, Gibraltar, Venezuela, Estonia, Denmark, and Norway.
“I can feel different textures underfoot and the gradients really give me a feel of the place,” he said.
“I could smell smoke from fires and feel the movement of people around me in Estonia. Then when I went to other streets, I could tell it was a ghost town.”
He stopped travelling between May and August to move from Birmingham to Teignmouth, Devon – but managed to squeeze in his twelfth bungee jump first. “It’s like flying – absolute and total freedom,” he said.
“At the bottom you feel as if you’re hitting a wall and your whole body explodes. The fear is different for me. I can’t see how they’ve tied the rope [and] you have to trust people more.”
It’s like flying – absolute and total freedom Tony on doing a bungee jump
Mr Giles moved from his family home in Weston-super-Mare to boarding school in Coventry aged 10. “It got me used to communal living.
“When I was 14, Mum and I went on holidays and slep in a field when we arrived because there were no hotel rooms.”
He spent five months in South Carolina during his degree in American Studies at Northampton University which fuelled his travel bug. “There was a lot of drinking, drugs and partying but I’m not into that any more.”
Instead he immerses himself into culture by walking and sampling local delicacies. “I ate arepas in Venezuela – big, doughy rolls with loads of meat, cheese and vegetables and in Finland I tried reindeer meat with pepper sauce.”
He has water-skied, grass-skied, climbed mountains and had a few flings en route. “In Venezuela, I sat in a hot pool and ladies poured hot water all over me. They couldn’t speak English and I know 60 words in Spanish – it was interesting.”
But lone travelling comes with peril. Mr Giles was short-changed by a receptionist in Colorado; in Spain he was a victim of credit card fraud and cheated out of £1,500; and he returned from sightseeing in Canada to find two backpacks and a tent stolen from the field where he had pitched camp.
He added: “It doesn’t affect my trust in people.”
“People help direct me. My walking stick snapped in a crowded Moroccan market and a local stall-holder fixed it for free. I couch-surfed at a guy called Darwin’s house in Caracas [Venezuela]. He took me to dinner and his friend bought me a pineapple!”
But Mr Giles has been forced to abandon his travels until he has a kidney transplant. “My back and kidneys ache and skin itches. It’s frustrating.”
He passes time listening to audio books and writing his third travel book.
He is itching to go to Antarctica to “talk to penguins” and put his feet in the Antarctic – he has dipped them in every other ocean. “I want to visit Russia – I love travelling by train, and the Solomon Islands because they have lots to do with World War Two…”
He pauses then adds: “Really, I want all the freedom I can get.”