Last week I received a notification from the tourist authorities in Peru that really surprised me: no one in a wheelchair has done the Inca Trail before. The most important hiking trail in the world, which is done daily by up to five hundred people and is the most spectacular way to get to the Inca Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.
Wheel the World has been responsible for many first-timers. The first inclusive tourism project making it possible for people with disabilities to explore the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, México. The first expedition of a wheelchair user completing the W Circuit in Torres del Paine, Patagonia. The first expedition of two wheelchair users reaching the 5,600 mts summit of Toco Volcano in the Atacama Desert, and the first wheelchair expedition completing the Wilderness Trail (85 kms) at the Eifel National Park in Germany. More important than creating first-timers, we have enabled these experiences to be available for others, and hundreds of people have repeated them already. As an organization, our purpose is to empower people with disabilities to explore the world without limits and allow them to find their next inclusive adventure at Wheel the World.
Three months ago we started planning our next project: enable a Wheel the World experience in the tourism and culture capital of Latin America: Cusco and Machu Picchu in wonderful Peru. It is a very special project for Wheel the World, because we are trying to consolidate our reputation as a global venture for inclusive tourism and to continue demonstrating that having a disability should not be a barrier to people enjoying the world.
The creation and delivery of adventure travel experiences require many hands and lots of talent and it is amazing to see how we can develop synergies with leading companies in tourism, such as PEAK DMC, with whom we have worked very hard to develop this project. Additionally, we have collaborated with important brands that believe in our purpose, like Columbia, Misiones de Rengo, Casa Andina Hotels, Jetsmart, Inca Rail, San Agustin Hotels and the Piuray Outdoor Center.
This project and trip are very meaningful for me. At 16 years old I had the opportunity of visiting Cusco and its surroundings on a family trip that left a mark on my life. It was one of my first trips outside Chile, and I got to understand how wonderful it is to go to a new place. Being in a new environment, connecting with locals, understanding their history, and enjoying their food. If you add this to the experience of traveling with the ones you love, even better! I realized that having travel experiences was much more than just having a good time, it was about empathizing with people and different cultures, learning, getting to know yourself deeper and living something that will remain with you forever. This was a five day trip where we visited the different attractions in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, such as Ollantaytambo, Pisac and Sacsayhuaman. Obviously, the greatest moment would be going to Machu Picchu.
I remember taking the train very early from Cusco to spend the whole day in Machu Picchu, but the unexpected happened. The train service had been interrupted by a riot, eventually delaying us for many hours, and because of this we just had one hour to walk around this magical place. It was enough for me to realize how unique this place is. I felt a special energy I had never experienced before. It was enough to understand why millions of people go there every year and why it is considered one of the marvels of the world. I did not complain about the train delay and the fact of having so little time to walk around Machu Picchu, for two main reasons. The first one is that I understood that unexpected events are part of traveling and the second one is that I committed myself to get back but in a more special way, by hiking the Inca Trail and having the reward of the amazing view of Machu Picchu.
Years went by, I became an adult and eventually saw the opportunity of fulfilling my dream of getting to Machu Picchu by trekking the Inca Trail. The plan was to complement work with college to finance the trip. But the most unexpected setback in my life happened: a car accident that left me with quadriplegia and needing a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I will leave the part of sharing thoughts around reinventing yourself and getting on with the trauma after an accident for another occasion, as it implies for sure a lot of words. What I would like to share the most in this blogpost are the feelings of realizing that you are about to accomplish something you thought for many years was impossible.
As years went by I assumed that fulfilling that dream in Peru was impossible. I thought that as a wheelchair user I was not going to be able to do many activities or travel to many places as they would not be accessible for me. This generated a lot of sorrow and anxiety within me. But little by little you start to understand that there are alternatives. When it comes to exploring remote places there is special equipment, like all-terrain wheelchairs or adaptive bikes, but most importantly, there is the willingness of people without disabilities who love to help and share a great adventure with you; this is one of our big discoveries at Wheel the World. We, as people with disabilities, can also have amazing adventurous travel experiences and can explore any place in the world with the help of special gear and good friends. This is what we are going to do this week: figure out how to explore Machu Picchu in a wheelchair and allow many others to repeat it in the future.
The coming days will be tough, with many things to do like identifying the most accessible hotels in Cusco, the most suitable transport services and understanding the best ways people with disabilities can enjoy different tourist attractions in the most important destination in Latin America. In addition, we will train tour guides on how to provide better services for disabled people and we will leave special equipment (an off-road wheelchair, trekking wheelchairs, hand-bikes, and adaptive kayak equipment) so that everyone can explore the Inca Empire without limits.
We will explore the area to find the best cultural, gastronomic and adventure activities in Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Maras, Moray, Aguas Calientes, Piuray Lake and obviously Machu Picchu. Through this, a new Wheel the World experience will be born.
The last few months have been a tremendous personal journey that I would not even have imagined a few years ago. It is so satisfactory to see that by working as a team we can touch so many lives in such special ways. When I see someone with a disability doing one of our adventures, with a huge smile, a sea of mixed and powerful feelings come to me. And well, that is how a very special week is just about to start in which I will be able to fulfill the dream of getting back to Cusco and doing the Inca Trail to get to Machu Picchu, this time in a wheelchair. One last and very important thing: by achieving this dream we will leave a legacy behind that will be available at our website so that in the future thousands of people can repeat it and enjoy it.