How did I get to sign up for a walking holiday with Traveleyes? Traveleyes is a travel company who brings sighted and visually impaired (VI) travellers together, the sighted travellers acting as the eyes of the VI people.
I am an optometrist with some experience of working with visual impairment. I have worked in hospitals and private practice enabling people to achieve their maximum vision. It has been a rewarding job but entails working in a dark room with no windows.
20 years ago I saw an advert for HF holidays, ‘Can you spare 2 weeks a year and do you enjoy walking?’ That was just perfect for me, so I applied and have been leading walking groups in the UK and Europe ever since.
That has given me a great life balance and I have brought both of those skills with me to Traveleyes. My other interest is yoga and I enjoy the combination of yoga and walking holidays.
A Traveleyes walking holiday to Tenerife came up, and I was invited to join my old friend and colleague, April who had some wonderful experiences in the recent past, skiing and guiding the VIs. Unfortunately, due to an accident she is no longer skiing, but was keen to try out a walking holiday, knowing that I was an experienced walker having lead groups. She assured me that I would really enjoy it, so with our joint experience and knowledge of eye conditions we joined up together.
Meeting as a group at the airport we were consisted of 7 VIs and 9 sighted travellers plus Suzie our tour manager. Introductions were made first by lightly tapping on the VI’s shoulder before introducing ourselves. Suzie organised pairings which would change daily. April and I were spare for the first day meaning we could offer assistance as extra pairs of hands. We checked in taking advantage of the special assistance at the airport and the staff indicating to each other we had VI passengers with us pointing at their own eyes 2 fingers in a (polite) V sign.
Suzie, our tour manager, was very energetic and smoothed the passage through the airport and onto the plane, which can be stressful even for sighted people. On landing, we waited on the plane for other passengers to disembark before guiding our travellers onto a waiting coach to take us to the north of the island to Hotel Masuru in Puerto de la Cruz.
We took the VIs to their rooms and gave assistance in orientation. We had a blind couple who were sharing, others preferred single rooms or shared with a sighted person. Supper each evening was a buffet, and we assisted our VI with food choices and described the food on the plate according to a clock face positions.
Each morning we had a meeting with Suzie who described the day’s route and assigned us our VI partner for the day. Each sighted person would be responsible for the VI for the whole day until they returned to their rooms to sleep. It was important to listen to the VI who indeed knew the best way of guiding and instructing them during the day.
Initially, I was paired with a young German girl with perfect English. She had been born blind, and she was married to a VI. She used a white cane and only needed to lightly hold my elbow and very quickly, she was completely in step with me. We were walking in the Oratava burnt forest high above Puerto de la Cruz. It was fairly easy walking along sandy tracks, and we made good progress. There were plenty of opportunities in the forest to touch trees, flowers and pine cones. I noticed how she used the very tips of her fingers to feel the shape of things. We had a lovely day together, hearing about her day-to-day life working, travelling and the challenges she faces every day.
The next day I was paired with a Welsh lady who had been blind from birth. She was married to a VI, who is also blind from birth, and they had met at blind school. She wanted to hold onto my arm and used her short white cane in a different way. She was very proficient on tricky terrain. The cane was another limb and sense for her, it was very strong and thin and folded away when she didn’t need it. Her cane was her crutch and she was fearful of being without it. She had never seen colours and had no idea of distances as her world only expanded to the size of a person. We were walking on the volcano Mount Teide, and it was an amazing landscape but so hard to describe without using colours as a reference point. In the end, she told me to talk naturally and use colour in my descriptions. She and her husband walk 6 miles together every day crossing several roads and their main concern was about electric cars as you cannot hear them at all, only a slight click on the ground after they have passed!
On another day, we walked along the coast, and I was partnered with a young woman who had recently become blind. She used a long white cane swinging in front of her whilst she held onto my left arm. We had to negotiate many flights of steps of varying depth height and length requiring constant guidance. At one point she stopped and smelt manure, I looked around and noticed we were beside a bush that was littered with toilet paper… ah ha not quite manure yet. There was a protruding rock on the path that she tripped on, no harm done, but it made me realise I needed to look down and all around. She loved shopping, so we finished the day in the shops buying presents for her to take home.
I learned so much from everyone in the group it made me look at the surroundings in a different way and tune in to other senses that I was not always in touch with. We also had lots of fun, sometimes swimming in the late afternoon in the hotel pool enabling a wonderful sense of freedom for a blind or visually impaired person.
Our final dinner in a local restaurant was great fun great, if not a little emotional. We met as strangers and definitely parted as friends. My only dismay was my VI had ordered prawns that needed shelling. All in the line of duty!
Would I go again on another Traveleyes holiday? Yes, without a doubt, this has been a new and very rewarding experience.