Keeping up with the group

The issue of accommodating handicapped or disabled persons on tours or cruises was raised in two readers’ letters (March ’06, pg. 35 & July ’05, pg. 27). The issue goes beyond handicapped or disabled persons to anyone who cannot meet the physical requirements of a trip. As I see it, there are various aspects to addressing the problem.

• Tour operators need to specify the physical requirements of a trip as clearly and realistically as possible. (Are there elevators? How much walking is involved? What kind of surface?)

• Tour operators must be willing to send home, or limit the participation of, people who cannot meet the requirements.

• Participants must pay attention to the requirements and realize that if they sign up for a trip they cannot handle, they either may be sent home or will place an undue burden on the other participants.

The incident cited in the July ’05 letter is unusual, in my experience, in that someone actually got sent home.

For example, one tour company clearly states that a requirement for its bike trip participants is the ability to ride for half an hour in a straight line at a speed of 12 miles per hour. I was on one of their trips where a woman could do none of this. She lurched along in a meandering trajectory at about half the speed of the group. The result was that we spent an inordinate amount of time waiting for her, time that could have been used in much more productive ways. The leader should have sent her home after the first half day but did not.

I was told about another bike trip on which a participant could not ride more than a few feet before falling over. This person was sent home, but you have to wonder what someone is thinking about if they sign up for a bike trip and cannot ride a bicycle.

I participated in a trek to Machu Picchu, Peru, run by an adventure tour company. After half a day, it was clear that one man was in real trouble. At a rest stop I asked him how much hiking he had done. He replied that he and his wife went for a walk every day after dinner (at sea level, yet).

Later I checked the tour company’s literature. It was very realistic regarding the difficulty of the trip — starting elevation of 8,000 feet; several thousand feet of up and down hiking each day; poor footing, etc. I am an experienced backpacker and I rated that trip as “moderately difficult.” If you don’t know what the words mean, however, the description is fairly useless.

The man should have been sent home, but he was not. He survived the trip but was thoroughly miserable, as were the people around him. If he had taken a trek appropriate to his abilities, and gotten into condition ahead of time, he might have enjoyed it.

On a trek around Nanda Devi, India, with the same adventure company, it was apparent after half a day that one woman could not handle the trip. Instead of sending her home, the guide arranged for her to rent a horse, even though she had no experience horseback riding. This eventually led to a serious accident which nearly cost the woman her life.

It seems to me that, particularly in third-world countries, guides are reluctant to confront patrons who cannot handle the trip. This can be a special problem with some handicapped persons who are used to having caregivers and do not realize that having the staff give them a lot of special treatment ends up shorting the other participants.

There are a couple of ways to deal with this problem. On a cruise I took to Antarctica, a 92-year-old gentleman brought along a paid companion so he did not have to ask for special help from the staff. On a cruise in the Mediterranean, my wife was having trouble walking, so she chose not to take shore excursions which involved walking.

Corvallis, OR