Interview with El Definido, Chile, June 2018

El Definido, Chile, 25th June 2018
Written by María José Valdés
Link to the original article

“Tony the traveller”: the blind and deaf man who has travelled 130
countries through the 7 continents

Tony Giles is an Englishman who, at 39, has travelled through 130
countries. His blindness and deafness have not been a problem for him
and today he knows a lot of our culture. In El Definido we talk to him
and tell his story.

Tony Giles is an ordinary man who, like many of us, has the dream and
passion to travel the world. He lives in Teignmouth, England and is 39
years old. But unlike many, he has already travelled through 130
countries, has visited each of the seven continents and has published
two books about his travels. And even more impressive: he has visited
the 52 states of the United States, crossed the Arctic Circle, visited
each of the countries of South America, as well as the ten Canadian
provinces. Anybody’s dream, right?

But there is something that makes his story and adventures even more
exceptional: he is blind and has 80% deafness in both ears. In El
Definido we talk to him and we want to tell you his inspiring story.

The decision to start travelling: to know the new and the different

“My dad, who was in the merchant navy before I was born, told me about
all his travel adventures and that excited me,” Giles told us. “That’s
why I wanted to start travelling. Besides being a boy, I spent a lot of
time away from my family and that motivated me to move to visit them.”

His first adventure began with a trip he made to Boston, United States,
with his school, when he was 16 years old. There he toured the city, ate
a lot and entertained himself with his friends. He was very impressed to
know a new place and a different culture. “I was beginning to discover
the world and different places through my education,” he told us.

“After that trip came others around England, where I toured and went to
rock concerts with a friend who only had sight in one eye. I stayed
in hostels and met other young people with ideas similar to ours. That
increased my appetite for adventure,” the traveller told us.

Now he travels alone (which is how he likes to do it most), nine months
a year. The other three are at home in England. His passion, he tells
us, is to travel and travel the world.

His visual and auditory condition

Tony was born with two unusual visual conditions, called Cone Dystrophy
and Photophobia, which simply means that he does not have the nerves
that allow him to see colours and that his eyes are extremely sensitive
to bright light.

He can feel, but not see, the bright light. “When I was a kid I could
see and feel black and white objects, like balls on a pool table, and I
was able to read and write using very large black letters on white
paper, because I could see the contrast. But my sensitivity to light
began to change as I got older and, by the time I was 9-10 years old, it
was hard for me to see and learn.”

That’s why Tony was sent to a special boarding school for children with
visual disabilities, far from home. “At the boarding school in Coventry, I
was with children who had different disabilities. This made me realize
that being blind and partially deaf were not the worst disabilities in
life. Some of my friends had difficulty walking, they had speech
impediments, asthma, seizures and several other problems. I considered
myself lucky.”

There he learned braille, to write, studied the different school subjects and
also to move, using a cane to find objects and get from one place to
another, safely. “I learned to cross streets, go to shops, get on buses
and trains. At 14-15 years old I was already travelling alone by train,
to visit my family, who lived more than 400 kilometres away.”

On the other hand, when he was six years old, they discovered that he
was partially deaf in both ears, and started using analogue hearing aids.
“My hearing has progressively worsened over the years and I am currently
80% deaf without my hearing aids. But now I use digital hearing aids,
which are fantastic and give me approximately 80% hearing ability in a
one-on-one conversation in a quiet room, “he explains in his biography.

Your most outstanding adventures

Of the 130 countries that he has visited so far, New Zealand is one of
the ones he likes the most. “I like the people; They are friendly, but
relaxed; Less intense than the Australians, but just as fun. The climate
and nature reminds me of England, but without the same amount of people.
” There, according to him, “you can do any crazy sport, like
bungee jumping or parachuting! I did both, doing six bungees on
my first trip. I love adrenaline, anything that allows me to feel with
my whole body! ”

He also likes Iceland, for its extreme climate and pools of thermal
waters. He visited Argentina and southern Chile and noted them for their
isolation and beautiful places, such as lakes, mountains and glaciers.
“There I could feel nature through my skin and body, its open spaces,
and the cold wind that came from the glaciers.”

Tony also highlights the good experiences he usually has with people in
different countries. On issues of accessibility for people with
disabilities, Tony told us that the most friendly countries were the
United Kingdom, some parts of the United States (such as New York),
Japan, Germany and Finland.

“The people are very kind to me; It is remarkable and very overwhelming.
Particularly in South America, my favourite continent.”

I remember once I was waiting for a bus in Venezuela, which was late,
and people came to me all the time asking me if I was okay or needed
something. “They were complete strangers and they spoke to me in
Spanish, so I did not understand them much, but they moved me deeply. I
was left with the impression that they were very kind people.”

He adds that he feels very welcome when he travels, he has had
experiences where people have accompanied him to visit places, buy
him drinks and food, or even have lodged him in their homes. “I’m very
lucky,” he says.

Chile is one of your favourites

He has come to Chile three times and he likes it so much, that it is one
of his favourite countries. In fact, he tells us that he would like to
return to know the north, because he already knows the south.

Especially Patagonia and the hundreds of fjords stand out. “Puerto
Williams, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt are wonderful.
Santiago, despite being vast, I found interesting. Isla Negra is
magical. The lady who ran the hostel refused to take my money and let
me stay for free, with great love and hospitality,” says the Englishman.

“I love the kindness of the Chileans, even though I can not understand
the quick Spanish they speak!”

It may interest you: Chile took the 1st place of the unmissable
destinations of Lonely Planet 2018!

A man full of adventures, who has managed to know much of our culture
and teach us part of it here.