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Martyn's Accessible Adventure in Catalan

03 July 2013

I'm Martyn: a wheelchair using, travel loving blogger. I also co-edit Disability Horizons, an inspiring and informing online portal, run by and for our online community. Today I wanted to share with you a story of 4 crazy and adventurous days in Spain!

In June the Catalan Tourist Board invited a group of disability travel agencies to check out their accessibility for disabled tourists. One of the agencies was Enable Holidays, who provide their customers with accessible hotels, adapted transfers, necessary equipment, and a great holiday - no matter what their needs are. They kindly invited me on the trip to test drive the facilities and share my thoughts back home.

After receiving the invite I was excited and intrigued about what the trip would entail. After seeing the schedule, I was apprehensive how full-on it was and how lucky I was to do such activities.

The night before flying I drove my Motability car to a Gatwick hotel and my girlfriend and I awoke the next day for our early flight. After the usual worries of getting me and my wheelchair safely through the airport procedure, we had a great flight. We were greeted by smiling Silvia and can-do Diego in Barcelona airport, before meeting Lusia from Enable.

Fully acquainted, we set off. It is impossible to give you in depth of every hotel, restaurant and activity we did, however here is my highlight reel...

Accommodation - every hotel had an accessible room, with a roll-in shower and room under the bed for my hoist. The hoist I require to go from wheelchair, to bed, to the shower etc was hired in by Silvia and the lovely Catalan Tourist Board.

Wining and Dining - We were treated to some of the best food and drink in Spain. Unfortunately I'm a rather fussy eater, but nonetheless even I enjoyed dishes I had not had before. The wine was never going to be a problem though :-)

Barcelona - With only one afternoon in the actual city of Barcelona we had to zoom about. My main observations here were how accessible the pavements and side streets were; plenty of dropped curbs and not at all cobbly. The visit to Gaudi's museum was extremely interesting, accessible and educational on many levels.

Other activities - For the other 3 days we tried an amphibian wheelchair (goes on sand and in the sea), hand biking, snorkeling, sailing, hot air ballooning and horse riding.

My level of disability meant the hand biking and riding were more tricky, however many other disabled people could manage. I still enjoyed going on the bike trail in my chair and stroking the horses.

Video from hot air balloon - http://martynsibley.com/video-accessible-catalan-balloon-ride

My favourite activity by far was the hot air ballooning. We drove out of the beautiful volcano surrounded hotel into the fog. Fortunately by 7am the fog had lifted, as we studied the balloons being inflated. I was concerned on the general adventure and how it would be adapted for me too.

I was relieved to see how much had been thought of. The basket opened, so no being thrown over the side and into the situation head first. There was a chair with full head support, straps and a system to raise me up to look out of the balloon more. We gently went up to 1100m, overlooked the beautiful Catalan scenery, drank Cava and enjoyed the tranquility.

The landing proved difficult. We struggled to find a suitable field, had to go higher a couple of times to avoid electricity cables and you could feel the suspense build. Upon landing I was firmly strapped in, whilst the others stood holding on to the side of the balloon. Suddenly the balloon thudded to the ground, dragged along, started tipping and with a blast of gas went up a touch. It then landed again and started to tip once more! Just as I thought we were going over, tossing everyone out, a guy appeared on the basket and pulled us back to earth. My heart was going very fast!

The activity with the best potential but need for accessibility tweaks was the snorkeling. Getting the wet suit on took a while, but getting onto the boat, on the adapted lift to the water and back again was quite stressful. With my feedback on ramps and hoists it’ll be perfect soon, and the views of sea, cliffs and and fishes is still imprinted in my mind.

I want to thank the Catalan Tourist Board, Enable Holidays and the team at Disability Horizons for making it possible for me to have this amazing experience. I would recommend getting more adventurous to everyone, no matter what your needs are and how tired you may feel.

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