I have had Parkinson’s for five years. After I was diagnosed, it took me about four months to adjust my outlook on life. During that time, I decided I had always enjoyed travelling, so what was stopping me? I still had dreams to fulfil – and a big one was visiting Victoria Falls at the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia in Africa. I knew as long as I was able to put the right help in place, nothing could stop me.
At the start of my holiday, my taxi driver dropped me off at Heathrow at a designated help point on the terminal forecourt. There, I could call for assistance to take me to check-in, and from there, through security and passport control. The good thing about this extra help is that it is no longer your responsibility to get to the right gate at the right time – so I could relax, as I knew the plane wasn’t leaving without me!
The staff completely understood that my Parkinson’s meant I could spend the first hour and a half walking, then be grateful to be pushed in a wheelchair for the second hour and a half.
From London, I flew to Johannesburg. Through the travel company I’d booked my trip with, I had arranged to be met at the airport and driven to my hotel in Pretoria, where I was staying for one night. There, I visited the Voortrekkers Monument, accompanied by the same driver who had picked me up from the airport. He provided a reassuring arm or pushed me in a wheelchair that had been arranged beforehand, which meant I was able to make the most of my time at the monument. The next day, I set off on a four-day, three-night rail journey to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
I was staying in a lodge on the edge of the Zambezi River, which the travel company recommended – and I am so glad I took their advice. Not only was it an incredible location, but the staff took great care of me and ensured I achieved way more than I had thought possible. They completely understood that my Parkinson’s meant I could spend the first hour and a half walking along the paths at the Falls and then be grateful to be pushed in a wheelchair, supplied by the lodge, for the second hour and a half. I mostly had my own guide, Presha, who always seemed to be there with a hand or arm, able to tell when I might be getting tired or feeling apprehensive. But all the staff went out of their way to give me excellent care and never missed an opportunity to adapt arrangements to ensure I was able to fit in as much as possible.
I have so many memorable moments from my trip – cruising on the river scanning the water for hippos and the river edges for crocodiles, a helicopter ride over the Falls, and an afternoon at an elephant camp where I walked with elephants and learnt how these rescued animals will be released back into the wild. But the abiding memory was the dramatic sun rise over the Falls, the noise of the water, and the gentle misty rain falling down around me as I looked on in awe surrounded by a rain forest! Wow.
I travelled home the same way I had on the journey out making 16 nights away in total. A slightly shorter trip than I had originally envisaged but I’m realising that attempting too long away can turn a great experience into a bit of endurance!
Getting to Victoria Falls really was a dream come true. I may have Parkinson’s but I am so glad that it did not stop me from making this trip. And I share my story to show not only is anything possible, but with the help of others, expectations may not just be met, but truly exceeded.