Revelatory experiences come in all shapes and sizes and mine came in the form of a five-day stay on one of Australia’s tropical treasures – Hamilton Island. The peaceful, palm-filled hilly mound is a tiny part of the island enclave known as the Whitsundays in North Queensland.
Gaz was attending a work conference and as I have done in the past, I tagged along. As if you would give up visiting this lush piece of paradise at the beginning of a Melbourne winter! This was always going to be a compromised trip in a few ways but I had high hopes that the good would outweigh the bad.
I rolled into our fabulously designed accessible hotel room and took in the view of clear blue sky and glorious beach…and then felt a palpable blow to my very substance suddenly and unexpectedly.
My epiphany was:
‘I am – undeniably – physically disabled.’
Although I had set myself up with activities knowing I would be room-bound for most of my stay, simply being so close and yet so far from the beach, the nature walks, the lush outdoors freedom came with a tangible sense of loss that I was not expecting.
Internally I really find it hard to think of myself as diminished in any way. The last time I felt a shock like this was the ‘Day I Could No Longer Transfer’. Read about it here.
Being disabled I am reliant on many supports to live the life I love. I have those supports working beautifully at home: the privilege of adjusting my space to work for me, having an exceptional man in Gaz, a tremendous family, wonderful friends and caring PA’s (Personal Assistants). Their help, company and attitudes have meant that I am able to retain a keen sense of innate normality.
Beware the comfort of familiarity.
Pre-trip research informed me that Hamilton Island is not the ideal place for those less-mobile solo adventurers but I was blissfully confident that simply being part of the temperate, summery atmosphere would be enough to make me feel as though I was truly holidaying.
So back in the hotel room after my unwelcome epiphany I shrugged off my inner turmoil and checked out the equipment that I had hired, a stand hoist and a wheeled shower/commode. Unfortunately, despite my research they were not suitable for me and did not adjust as I thought they would, leaving me considerably sore for the next week and a few days after. This is another hurdle – not all equipment is created equal, just as none of us are created the same. The reality of travelling was really sinking in.
With the initial afternoon ours we hired a golf buggy, the island vehicle of choice, and after loading me into the passenger seat with only a little bump to the head we set off to check out the terrain.
One should never be in the tropics without at least one cocktail so after our tour we headed for the hotel bar. A bar that was accessed at all three entrances by STEPS with no ramp in place at all. Seriously? There was ramped access to concierge and the dining area but the arguably more enjoyable part of the hotel went without. After an ungraceful but gratefully accepted Frida Karlo style carry down the entrance with the fewest steps by my two companions I did enjoy my holiday cocktail enormously. The first afternoon had quite the holiday vibe.
Each of the conference days was similar in structure. After waking at 6.30am before Gaz left to shower and breakfast, Gaz would zip from the marina a couple of times a day to assist with my more personal requirements and me organising lunch and dinner room service.
On the first of the four full days of Gaz conferencing I initially tried to enjoy the view from the wide balcony but woke feeling very flat about life, the inability to self-propel in my manual chair even around the hotel grounds, the prospect of sitting on the shower/commode, but mostly my contrary muscles – or lack of them. I couldn’t shake the melancholy so I decided to do something about it.
I arranged a fabulous pity party for one and enjoyed my room service lunch and dinner while viewing such delights as Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Ram Dass ‘Going Home’ and End Game – I think you get the vibe I was going for. I needed to wallow and boy did I wallow good.
With my dark side indulged, day two had me organising to attend an adult art class held each afternoon at the art gallery on the marina. I soon found out that the art gallery was located up twenty-odd steps but within fifteen minutes the lovely Jill had organised a splendid outdoor class in ‘The Hesperance’, a gazebo-type structure. All participants could enjoy the sparkling water and equally sparkling docked vessels in the warm Queensland sunshine. I took the ‘green bus’ to the marina by way of a folding ramp with the hotel concierge pushing me into the bus. After acquainting quite delightfully with my art class participants I had a willing companion to assist with the trip back to the hotel. Day two was a day that gave me pause to reflect just how willing people are to help and how much richer my life is now that I’ve learnt to accept that help. I felt energised.
apologies for iPhone res photos
The last two days became more social with dinners and conversations with others in lovely venues with more stunning scenery and sunsets to view. Change of routine is good for the soul.
People have been happy for me as I would be for them after finding out they had had a tropical break. They have remarked with such comments as “so how beautiful was your holiday?” “I bet it was hard to come back to this cold.” “I bet you had a great time.” To be honest, I felt the need to start being honest – it wasn’t what I would have normally called a holiday in days gone by but it was an achievement.
I accomplished the pre-trip research into equipment including gaining advantage on the pricing of transportation on the barge. Gaz and I, with the help of seriously terrific QANTAS staff, successfully navigated the airport with a manual wheelchair, a large suitcase, two carry-on cases, and a satchel, embarking, disembarking and seat transfers. I have gained more confidence asking for help from strangers. I can now call myself an artist –of sorts. Resilience is slowly overcoming my natural trepidation and fear of the untested.
The moral of this story is that we should never stop having experiences – never stop squeezing what juice you can out of the orange that I’ll call life for the purposes of this metaphor. Our experiences may be seedy at times, a bit rough and pithy, some less juicy and sweet but they are all part of what keeps us alive and engaged and available to ourselves and each other.
Overseas adventures coming soon!!!!
Take care ‘til next time.