The story below, is the basic outline of an interview I did for the Sunday News paper The People. The full story comes out in print on Sunday September 30th 2007 in their inside magazine. Check this story out and do a search online for Tony Giles for similar stories and articles.
The Sunday People
Deborah Doherty, Features Editor, Take it Easy Magazine.
Original journalist, Catherine Jones. South West news Services, Bristol.
Tony Giles’ Story:
Feeling the warm sun on my skin, I soaked up the unfamiliar smells and sounds around me. I’d come to America on a university exchange programme and had flown to New Orleans for a week’s holiday. It was the first time I’d travelled alone and I was loving every minute of it. Clutching my white stick, I couldn’t help but smile. I may not have been able to see New Orleans like everyone else, but every one of my senses was on overdrive, creating the perfect picture in my mind.
You see, I was born blind and have 80% deafness in both ears. But I’ve never let that stop me. I had one of the best weeks of my life in New Orleans – the travel bug had bitten me hard!
Back home, I couldn’t wait to plan my next trip. And it was an ambitious one. A backpacking trip around Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Thailand, lasting five months.
I sat my parents down. “You’ve always encouraged me to be independent,” I told them. “I really want to do this.” Of course they were worried, but they supported my decision.
“We’ll help you plan every last detail,” they told me. Together, we planned my route with the help of a Braille map. We even booked every hostel. “I can’t wait,” I told them.
Soon the day had come. “Be careful,” Mum said, kissing me goodbye.
The trip was fantastic – everything I’d dreamed of and more. And my blindness didn’t stop me doing anything. I white-water rafted, went on jetboats and even bungee-jumped off bridges.
One of my biggest challenges was doing a sky-dive. When the time came, I stood on the edge of the plane without being able to see a thing. As I fell, my body felt like it was exploding – it was better than sex!
I couldn’t see my instructor pulling the parachute and as I was jerked upwards I couldn’t breathe. But when I got my breath back it was exhilarating. I went twice more in other countries!
Back home, I was full of all the beautiful places I’d experienced. “How can you tell they were beautiful?” someone asked me. “For somebody who can’t see, beauty has a lot to do with what you smell and feel,” I explained. “I’ve learned to use all the senses of my body: my nerves, my touch, my sense of smell.”
Even though I’ve lost 80% of my hearing, what I have left is acute. I’ve trained it to be like that. I realised I could tell a lot about a place from the sound of the sea or the feel of the wind. If I go up a mountain I can feel the air squeeze. If I’m in a town, the energy and the space changes.
Since that first trip, I’ve been all over the place – Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Mozambique and South Africa to name a few. In total, I’ve visited 32 countries and every one of America’s 50 states.
I’ve had some amazing experiences from climbing mountains, hang-gliding and visiting ancient ruins to sailing, hiking and visiting African tribes. Because I grew up near the sea in Weston-super-Mare, I loved countries like New Zealand and Cuba where I could stand and feel the water in front of me.
But it’s not always easy. Crossing the road in countries like Thailand and Vietnam is particularly dangerous when you’re blind because the traffic never stops. I also have to rely on people a lot for directions which can prove hard with the language barrier.
One other thing that worries me is changing buses and not knowing whether my backpack has been transferred with me. I also found the water and steps of Venice and the cobbled streets of Prague quite difficult to negotiate too!
Once, while camping in Canada, I couldn’t find my tent. I wandered around the campsite prodding the ground with my white stick but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Then it dawned on me – the tent and all my belongings had been stolen. Close to tears, I hitched a lift to the local Salvation Army and they looked after me.
Funnily enough, I also had one of my best travel moments in Canada too. I finally made it to the Hudson Bay – the start of the Arctic Ocean. That meant that, under my own steam, I’d put my feet in every ocean of the world!
Looking back, my funniest moment was stumbling into a row of surfboards on a beach in Hawaii. They fell over like a set of dominoes!
One of the best things about travelling are the friends I’ve made and the people I’ve met. I’ve been guided everywhere since I was a kid and I’ve got used to trusting people. Time and time again, people restore my faith in human nature.
Now, I’ve written a book about my travels called “Seeing the World My Way” and am looking for a publisher. I’d love to be an author of travel books one day.
I’m currently planning trips to Iceland, Southern Europe and Australia. The world’s a fantastic place and I’m determined to experience as much of it as I can.
*For more information on Tony’s travels, log onto www.tonythetraveller.com