Saturday 4 February 2017

Antiguan Review

Travelling to the Caribbean island of Antigua on my Genny Mobility wheelchair was a fantastic experience. Using it gave me independence and the freedom to do what I wanted

There was an amount of planning required like needing to ensure accommodation was suitable and I had to organise travel to and from the airports but these are things everyone has to do

I had 2 weeks in a ground floor AirBNB apartment that had improvised ramps made to mount the one step access required. I had a garden, terrace, kitchen/lounge area, bedroom and a jetty out onto the Caribbean. With a boat I would have had it all

It was easy to navigate to shops, caf├ęs, beaches and many tourist attractions. Generally I needed to leave my wheels at the door but that works for me. People were delighted to interact with me cruising around on my funky wheels and I was the centre of attention with the local children and many others

The roads and pavements were generally poor so on occasion I needed to backtrack as there was no way off a pavement end. The tropical weather means mega-downpours require storm drains, deep channels and gutters by the sides of the roads. Nights were trickier as judging step heights and avoiding potholes was harder and in addition I felt more vulnerable in the traffic. The local rum consumption, both mine and others probably didn't help

The whole trip was relatively easy right the way from Jersey through to Antigua. My journey started carrying a backpack hooked to the back of the chair seat and a small but heavy suitcase on my lap. I need to cross a short rough track to where the taxi collected me - destination airport

Leaving Genny at the airport gate I can board the plane and recover my chair in Gatwick for the next leg. I had arranged a lift at Antigua airport involving a pickup truck (see earlier post) but I could have managed with a local taxi although I would have needed to rally some strong assistance and done some tipping

Genny met all of the challenges I gave it including soft sand, seriously steep hills, rough tracks and load carrying - shopping, beach trips etc. I had no breakages, flat tyres, or mechanical faults, my only issues were loosing a wheel-nut and the allen screws on the seat back coming loose. Both of these issues I was able to sort locally

I will retain many treasured memories of this trip particularly swimming with the turtles, the beautiful scenery and hanging out with my children and other friends

The airports need convincing that Genny is air-worthy and I have developed a travel kit that include: laminated printed instructions; a pair of inserts that stop the legs from deploying accidentally and a small see-through box that protects the switches from being tampered with (see following image)

I am in discussions with Genny UK about reducing the period of time the switches take to turn off as loading crews will not put anything ‘live' in an aircraft hold. This has previously resulted in me delaying a flight and I see no advantage to these lights staying on for the quoted 7 mins. I imagine a firmware update could do the trick to everyone's advantage

Using this machine in a culture where disability is more apparent (less oppressed) was extremely enlightening for me. Everyone was interested in both me and my funky wheels and within 24 hours I was on first name basis with many ‘less able’ people, various street vendors and all the local characters. In Antigua I am less of an invalid just someone else coping with the issues of life, at least with the Antiguans. I was brave to do this trip but bigger and bolder because of it