From New York City to Maine to Miami to Nicaragua to Costa Rica to Colombia; a Covid-19 journey of boundless determination: An ineffable odyssey of the heart.

It was April and soon I would be off to Europe to live and also record the pilot episode of my adventure travel TV show: Wheels Up! Having just returned from living in Amsterdam, Holland before Covid-19, still viewing the world through rose colored glasses, the thought that international travel would come to a standstill was absurd. And then it did. Almost all travel came to a halt, resulting in me becoming a man without a home. Yet with adamant resolve, I was determined to persevere in finding my way to Europe.

After being denied entry to board the plane to Holland twice in New York, over a one month time span, it became clear I was going nowhere. After checking into a hotel in Queens, NY, not a minute passed before I was looking for a new foreign country to settle until this virus blew over. After two weeks in a hotel yielding no results, soon to be broke and homeless in NYC, the idea of moving to Europe was a distant wish.  Eventually, by way of love from Elaine, a friend from Maine, I landed myself in Portland.

One Maine winter and almost seven months later, with the world of international travel non-existent, having tried twelve different countries, stranded at another hotel, with expenses adding up as savings dwindled, desperation set in. With spring on the horizon, one night on a call with a representative from Amazon, who resided in Nicaragua, after connecting with him through my story, he said: “Why don’t you move to Nicaragua?” I replied: “Well, it never occurred to me to move to there, but I will look into it.”

Figuring Central America was a great place to lay low for a short time, it became clear I had to get to Miami in order to then fly further south. By this time it was determined that Colombia would be a better location to shoot the pilot episode. Nicaragua was meant to be a temporary layover until I was able to gain entry into South America. Before moving there I knew there was no possibility of filming while Ortega was still in office. Nicaragua is a police state where one must mind their political “Ps” n “Qs.”

Off to Miami Beach I went for some well deserved relaxation in the sun. Not many cities in the world can pale in comparison with the experience of Miami. It is truly an international hot spot, though mostly for the naive rich who are unaware of their responsibility of time and wealth, or those who wish they were of the inane class of the aforementioned. Every third car that passes by on the neon lit streets of Miami Beach is of some exotic luxury or custom foreign import – a pretentious display of grandiose ostentation.

Staying at The Claremont Hotel in the heart of the inferno proved prudent. Mitch and his team were angels in disguise, always attentive to my needs and requests. Much time was spent at their restaurant and bar, where I was met day-to-day with pleasurable conversation and gregarious guests. As often is the case when out-and-about, I was invited to join another table for drinks and to chew the fat. One night Dan (see photo) and Kim from MA invited me to join them. A night of tipsy revelry was had by all.

Dan had experience with a family member who was in a wheelchair and understood the daily challenges and difficulties I faced. He knew getting to the beach required special assistance with the wheelchair – so he invited me to join them the next day. It is not often when traveling the world that a Dan presents himself – what a serendipitous gift! It was so refreshing and invigorating to my soul to hear and feel the ocean again. Water makes me feel as if I am back in the womb. A day of fond memories; I am grateful.

And after one month in thus far another hotel, with airlines still a total disarray of misinformation and canceled flights with little or no notification, finally I found a fitting condominium to live in Granada, Nicaragua. After much searching, I was able to reserve a one-way seat on a private charter flight to Managua – at ‘only’ double the price. Flight now reserved, with necessary medical clearance tests and registration with airline and government completed, one week later I arrived in Managua, Nicaragua.

My plan was to live in colonial Granada for six months until I could move to Colombia in August. Things were not right from the beginning with the owner of my home. An utterly unscrupulous man, often he changed prices and rules – but I blindly looked past his shenanigans. To say he was nefarious would be an understatement. When, after three months of his games, he decided to bribe fourteen heavily armed para-military to beat down my door to evict me with ten minutes to depart, I knew it was time to leave.

Within a week I found a way out of Nicaragua. It was not as easy as you might think at this time – travel was a total mess in this region. And with an impending election of a forty-year dictator, many airlines and companies no longer had an interest in doing business in Nicaragua. The day before I was to depart to Costa Rica, via land at Penas Blancas, my taxi driver canceled on me – surely connected to the owner. Thankfully my dear friend David from Madrid, Spain, decided to rent a car and drive me to the border.

Once safe and sound in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, I was able to relax and re-assess the whole situation. I spent my time in the land of Pura Vida sitting by the water, eating delectable far-off foods, recuperating. This was my first time to this part of the country. It is a land rich with an abundance of natural beauty, possessing no lack of verdant and liquid splendor. It was the respite I needed before traveling to my final destination: Colombia. Liberia airport has a quick and efficient Covid-19 testing center right on premise.  

Five days later, I found myself with an extended layover in Miami. After another week in Miami rollicking with friends and freshly energized from my nightmare in Nicaragua, in the fullness of time I departed to Cartagena, Colombia. A friend from Bogota had been helping me to find an apartment but none had come to fruition still before my departure. So it was decided I would stay at a hotel again until a more permanent residence could be established. That wish would prove much more difficult than anticipated.

As my reservation at the hotel in Cartagena was coming close to an end, a vital decision had to be made. There were no appropriate homes in the city limits fit for my requirements in searches at this time. I was forced to make a new reservation, at a higher rate. The Hilton at El Laguito is a dream for a wheelchair. The staff is immensely helpful. There are ramps and flat tile floors all about the property. And I had full access to the pool and outdoor bar and restaurant. But it was starting to break my already slim bank.

Amsterdam reappeared on the radar but it was soon fall in Europe and I was more hell-bent on staying in the tropical sun of South America. A friend from another city further up the Caribbean coast from Cartagena lives in “Qiami” AKA little Miami, Barranquilla. It is a newly developed city with state of the art roads, modern buildings and other large community projects. It is well known throughout Colombia for its seafood. The food there is spectacular. The amalgamation of people and culture is one of a kind.  

So one day a friend came to fetch me from the hotel, delivering me to Barranquilla. It was such a better solution than a taxi or the dreaded overcrowded bus. True, inevitably I ended up at another hotel. This time I made a reservation for three weeks, figuring that was adequate in order to locate proper housing. That initial three weeks turned into four months at the same hotel. Once again I was blessed with the most helpful and caring staff. Fifty-five apartments later, we still had yet to find a suitable apartment.

At this juncture, with the input of close trusted friends and mentors, it was decided that I would move to Mexico. Oddly, it was not a country that made it onto my possible “go-to” list. Adam, the producer of the TV show, has screamed since the start of this Covid-19 catastrophe that I should just blindly travel to Mexico and relax. As it turns out, it is also a country that qualifies for filming my adventure travel TV show, Wheels Up! The evidence was mounting for me to find my way somehow to Yucatan, Mexico.

Shakespeare postulated that life was a play and we are all actors on a grand stage. To go even one step further would be to entertain Musk’s belief in simulation theory. It is even possible we have lived this life already and presently are watching it play out as part of the ultimate virtual reality, one unimaginable in our current stage of human development and understanding. We are not suitably equipped with the required tools of profound intellect and spiritual know-how to answer the bigger questions of humanity. 

It is said that we need what we get and get what we need [in life]. Life is a river, and if one goes against the current, they are knocked down. In life we have our agenda, but life has its own. Guess whose wins? Not yours. Fall down seven; get back up eight. The journey continues when one looks within, taking the hero’s journey, slaying their inner dragons, thus entering their heart, in turn entering their soul: their inner God. You are a creation of God; you are a part of God. The chasmic quest of the heart is the way.

You are not from the universe; you are of the universe: you are the universe. All the answers you seek in life lie within you. One only needs to bridge the heart divide to start finding answers. Once in your heart it will bestow upon you the ride of your lifetime. Looking into my heart sent me down a road that today I am still in the process of trying to digest, understand. It practically left me broke and homeless abroad in a wheelchair, more than once. I would not change a thing. I am where I should be. The story continues.

There are no mistakes in life; all roads lead to the same destination. Next preordained mooring: Mexico.  

Travel Blog: Click here.

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BookUnbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTuneinAmazon Alexa and Stitcher

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Colombia: Eres dulce, ardiente y picante, tentadora y seductora – tus besos me sedujeron.

Todo lo que puedo recordar es que yo estaba pensado “¿Wow, esto está realmente pasando? Eran finales de los 1990’s y yo había sido contratado como maestro para el Colegio en Bucarmanga, en el Departamento Santander, en el Norte-Central de Colombia, en un contrato de dos años. Resulta ser que al tiempo que recibía mi Visa de trabajo para Colombia, me estaban ofreciendo una posición en Tokio, Japón, con el gobierno japonés. Decidí moverme al Este en lugar del Sur, determinando que encontraría otro tiempo y oportunidad para regresar a Colombia. Usualmente la vida no nos da segundas oportunidades, pero, veinte años después, la vida me da la oportunidad. Desde ese entonces es como si Colombia me llamara, dijera mi nombre con un encanto ilimitado, me susurrara dulcemente al oído, la seductora de indias – una vez mordido ya no hay timidez. Estoy enamorado. Este es el cuento de mi aventura en Colombia, viajando lesionado en silla de ruedas, y de toda la maravilla y esplendor que resultó de la magia del tren.

Era un vuelo temprano a la tierra ardiente y picante desde Filadelfia: 06:00. Eso significaba despertarme a las 3:00 am, casi sin haber dormido. No era un comienzo prudente para un viaje largo con una escala de ida y otra de regreso. Poder descansar mi cuerpo en posición horizontal durante la noche le da a mi cuerpo y músculos el alivio necesario por un día de embestida de la presión a mi columna vertebral, siempre lo necesito con desesperación. La escala en Atlanta fue un regalo y una maldición por igual. Me permitió estirarme y tener un fácil acceso al baño, así mismo esto causo que se alargara el tiempo de mi viaje, causando innecesariamente estrés en mi cuerpo. Antes de cualquier viaje pienso en todas las variables posibles e imaginables: costos, tiempos de viaje, aeropuertos, retrasos y posibles escalas, comidas y el estado actual de mi recuperación. Cada aerolínea y/o aeropuertos tienen su propio personal que asiste todas estas necesidades. Cada año he notado que estos servicios no solo han crecido en cantidad, sino también y aun más importante en eficiencia. Son como un regalo celestial. Gracias a ustedes por toda su ayuda.

Tan pronto llegamos a Colombia, en ese instante supe que habíamos llegado al trópico. Aeropuertos de tipo retro, aeropuertos donde se despliegan escaleras de acero, estacionamientos de aviones en medio de la nada, verdes palmas alrededor, la sensación que te da su aire, es como si te golpeara una toalla caliente mojada, navegación requerida, son de lo mejor; sobre todo cuando un discapacitado necesita ser sacado del avión en una silla temblorosa de metal asistido por dos hombres delgados del personal de aeropuerto. Fue un viaje divertido, por lo menos no me tiraron, un punto para Stevo. (fotos de mi viaje las pueden ver aqui.) Como lo escriboen mi libro, en la vida, si uno quiere lograr algo importante o sustancial, debes entrar en la tómbola, presentarse, correr el riesgo y participar: Doing the Dirty Dishes [de vida].

Este iba a ser el primer viaje a un país industrializado donde sabía que los estándares no serían una especificación internacional, si es que existían. Desafíos abundantes, tantos como malezas en manantiales, estaban en todas partes. Apenas salí del aeropuerto fui acosado por una manada de taxistas. Pedro me pareció una buena opción, me gusto su currículo: un nombre bíblico en un país bastante católico. Buena elección. Puntuación doble para Stevo.   Solo el equipaje en el asiento trasero del taxi, la silla de ruedas iba en la cajuela. Cumbia la música a todo volumen hasta que llegamos al hotel. Fue un trayecto corto de tan solo 9 kilómetros, no me tomo mucho tiempo para darme cuenta que estaba en el lugar correcto. La energía de Colombia te abraza, yo lo podía sentir en mi corazón. Estaba donde se suponía que debía estar en el tiempo adecuado en mi vida. No hay errores. Aún estaba inseguro por que el universo me había mandado a Colombia justo en esta intersección, sin embargo, pronto encontraría la razón. Tan pronto entre a Boca Grande, Un camino largo y con curvas por la carretera mientras casi podría abrazar la playa y las olas, era 420 y “Peter el Papa” estaba más que feliz de compartir un poco de amor fraternal. Puntuación de bonificación para Stevo. Bienvenido a Colombia, era una grandiosa “Bienvenida” si tú me preguntaras.

Apenas baje del taxi y me enfrente con mi primer obstáculo real. La pendiente del camino de la entrada del hotel era demasiado empinada como para recorrerla yo solo en la silla de ruedas. Esta situación no ayudaba ya que el 90% de mi hotel estaba rodeado de la playa y no tenía banquetas para caminar, y cuando había algunas estas, eran demasiado difíciles ya que tenían piedras o escalones y algunos de los bordes eran de medio metro. Tener acceso a restaurantes o bares estaban fuera de mi alcance sin pedir ayuda o que el taxi me dejara en la entrada. Incluso tomar los elevadores del hotel requerían un empuje hacia arriba, era una pendiente pequeña pero empinada. No tenía baños accesibles excepto el de mi cuarto que era en el piso 29. No me era accesible elcafé del lobby del hotel, eso era un gran impedimento. El viajar mientras estás discapacitado o lesionado requiere una planificación impecable.

Me recordóde mis días en Magee Rehabilitation Hospital se “supone” que es uno de los mejores Hospitales de terapia física en Filadelfia, donde me querían correr por reusarme a aprender como saltar grandes bordos o banquetas en mi silla de ruedas. No le encontraba el punto. Por el contrario, pensé que era violento y peligroso. Mi respuesta a eso fue fácil: “Yo pediré por ayuda. (durante este viaje fui levantado en mi silla de ruedas en el aire, eran tantos los obstáculos y ocurrencias, más de lo que se puedan imaginar)” Cartagena fue verdaderamente un sinfín de obstáculos que recorrer en mi silla de ruedas. Mejor eso lo contare más adelante, pero nunca fue un problema. Este es un viaje de lesionado—Bienvenido al Club. En mi libro Unbreakable Mind hablo sobre la necesidad de levantarse y salir al mundo y vivir de nuevo. Todos los tropiezos no deben de contar, lo que cuenta es todas las veces que te levantaste. Esa es la mayor fuente de madurez y desarrollo en la vida, en vivirla, en ser feliz. “la Buena vida mi amiga”

Hotel Dubai Cartagena originalmente no sugería detalladamente las habitaciones accesibles para lesionados, en mi búsqueda inicial en línea en tres grandes sitios web de viajes. Yo quería saber más, así que me contacté directamente con el hotel. Lo bueno es que lo hice, ya que ellos querían, podían y estaban más que felices de tenerme como huésped. Usualmente encuentras información inadecuada o simplemente errónea en los sitios web de viajes, así que sé más inteligente y trata de buscar más información. Escribe correctamente tus preguntas, habla y has preguntas directas sobre tus necesidades para así poder estar seguro que estarán cubiertos tus requerimientos para lo que necesitas sobre como tener un viaje placentero para tus discapacidades en especial, antes de tomar cualquier decisión. Porque cuando de antemano piensas que todo estará bien pueda que fácilmente cambie y se vaya todo a la mierda. Este hotel me aseguró que reservaría para mí una habitación con regadera y baño accesible a mis necesidades incluyendo otros de mis requerimientos, era como escuchar fanfarrias y campanas para un huésped lesionado. Bueno, ¿puedes adivinar qué pasó? Entonces sean bienvenidos a un día en mi vida.

El portero me acompañó a mi habitación. Al ver una cama en cual podría recostarme para estirarme y descansar mi cuerpo, lo eché a un lado, realicé un chequeo del baño, me lavé la cara con agua y jabón, cuando apenas estaba postrado en mi cama estilo King California me di cuenta de que no estaba en una habitación para discapacitados. Ramón, Gerente de Operaciones, llegó unos minutos después de mi llamado. Después de visitar diez habitaciones del hotel, todas con diseños diferentes, determinamos que se debían hacer algunas modificaciones en la ducha y el inodoro para hacerla accesible. Hubo que quitar tres grandes paneles de vidrio para permitir el acceso de mi silla de ruedas al área del inodoro y la ducha sin tener que pasar por una serie de obstáculos casi imposibles; Los que podrían causar problemas en una situación de emergencia, si fuera necesario. Juan, el gerente del hotel, era la persona más atenta y complaciente que una persona lesionada podría desear, me preparó la mejor calabaza y bombilla de Argentinean mate. Fabio y su equipo de cocina hicieron todo lo posible para preparar la comida más deliciosa. Al final, me pasaron a una suite en el último piso. Recibí un pase de cortesía de $ 200.

Cartagena, fundada en el siglo XVI, en la costa colombiana, repleta de plazas, calles empedradas y arquitectura colonial de colores brillantes, es mágica. La gente es tan interesante y ecléctica como los interminables edificios pintados en colores pastel en la Ciudad Vieja. Donde quiera que vayas te encontrarás con amigos colombianos, desde taxistas hasta vendedores ambulantes y camareros; solo una pequeña parte del telar que une a esta fenomenal gente y la ciudad de El Caribe. El marisco es uno de los mejores que he probado en el planeta. Y la muy establecida Diáspora libanesa, que emigró a Colombia del Imperio Otomano en los siglos XVIII y XIX por razones religiosas y económicas, también tiene comidas deliciosas fuera de este planeta. Todos los mejores lugares turísticos locales están cerca y son fácilmente visitados en automóvil o autobús público. Desde que me lesioné, opté por un conductor privado para el día. Y ya que estaría tomando fotos con mi nuevo Sony Alpha 6300, la ventana del auto serviría como mi apertura creativa.

No había pasado una semana y dos de mis escenarios de viajeros lesionados más temidos fructificaron. En mi lista de los acontecimientos más temidos y ansiosos mientras viajaba por el mundo en una silla de ruedas, dos de los tres primeros son tener un estómago enfermo y un resfrío. Bueno, el tiempo había llegado; por supuesto, cuando llueve, se vierten, ambos me llegaron por la espalda, sin darme cuenta.Después de ser cuidado y atendido por Simon y mis amigos, decidí explorar la Ciudad Vieja en taxi por la noche. Fue justo lo que ordenó el médico, permitiéndome visitar la ciudad en su magnífica gloria nocturna.Por la noche, hay un “sentimiento” diferente para la gente y la ciudad, como si se presionara un botón y la energía se relajará aún más. Durante las próximas dos semanas tomé muchos viajes en taxi con mi cámara lista para filmar todo, desde el Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, la Plaza de Las Bóvedas, Getsemaní y muchos otros barrios culturales locales, algunos con arte callejero de renombre mundial. Cartagena es una ciudad rica en historia y cultura, con una belleza infinita, una verdadera delicia. ¡Ve y visítala!

Aparte de los contratiempos de un viaje normal, ocasionales salidas equivocadas, ser robado a ciegas por un cambista de la calle, luchar contra los vendedores ambulantes de playa y la lucha perpetua con los taxistas por tarifas excesivas, mi aventura en Colombia fue un gran éxito. No se podría haber hecho sin el cariño y el apoyo de otros, los amigos y extraños por igual. Michael, un amigo de Alemania, a quien conocí mientras vivía en Ámsterdam, vino de visita por una semana. Fue tan bueno tenerlo allí; siendo parte de su viaje interior, igual como yo había comenzado. Simón, mi vecino y un capitán de yate noruego, con base en Miami, Florida, eran mis brazos y piernas muchos días cuando estaba acostado en la cama luchando contra un resfriadovicioso o los horrendos problemas estomacales que experimentaba, los cuales requirieron antibióticos, pro-bióticos y Algunos TLC internacionales. El personal del hotel fueron muy amables y serviciales. Siempre estaré muy agradecido por todo el amor y la ayuda que recibí.

Como resultado de mi accidente, no pude viajar internacionalmente durante seis años. Mi voluntad y mi espíritu fueron quebrantados. Pero ahora mientras viajo por el mundo me siento más cómodo: estar en el flujo cotidiano, vivir la vida. Fue la última parte de mi libertad recuperada y estaba más que extasiado de viajar y experimentar el mundo nuevamente. Es la misma razón por la que inicié este blog: para ayudar a inspirar a otros lesionados a viajar de nuevo, a abrir los ojos a las posibilidades que existen, cuando uno abandona la seguridad de su hogar. Cada viaje empujo mis límites un poco más lejos que el anterior. Esto me ha brindado un crecimiento interno ilimitado y la experiencia más maravillosa al conocer personas extraordinarias y visitar lugares sobrenaturales, ese tipo que solo se encuentra cuando tus ojos y tu corazón están bien abiertos; aceptar y enfrentar nuevos desafíos de cada reto, formando recuerdos indelebles, al mismo tiempo que se forjan relaciones profundas y significativas que duraran toda la vida. Colombia cumplió con todo lo anterior. Tomé sus aguas frescas y ahora me siento con ganas de escucharla para que vuelva a llamar mi nombre, Colombia está para siempre en mi corazón. ¡Besitos, mi amor!

Traducción por: Araceli Arroyos  Contacto:

Travel Blog: Click here.

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Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

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Thank you for your love and support.

Colombia: You sweet, hot and spicy, beguiling temptress – your kiss seduced me.

All I can remember is thinking, “Wow, is this really happening?”  It was late 1990s and I had just been hired as a teacher at a collegio in Bucaramanga, Santander Department, north-central Colombia, for a two year contract. As it turns out, at the time I had received my work Visa for Colombia, I was also offered a position in Tokyo Japan, with the Japanese government.  I chose to move east instead of south, determined I would find another time and opportunity to get back to Colombia. Well, usually life does not provide us a second opportunity but, twenty years on, finally she did.  Colombia has been calling my name ever since, with boundless allure, whispering to me softly, the seductress de Indias – once bitten, not shy; I’m in love. This is the tale of my adventure to Colombia, traveling injured in a wheelchair, and all the wonder and splendor that resulted from the magic of the trail.

It was an early flight to the land of piccante y caliente from Philadelphia: 06:00. That meant a 03:00 wake-up call with little to no sleep. Not a prudent start to a long trip with a stopover each way.  Being able to rest my body in horizontal position at night gives my body and muscles the relief from the daily onslaught of spinal pressure it so desperately needs. The stopover in Atlanta was a gift and a curse, all the same – it allowed me to stretch and easily access a bathroom but also lengthened my travel time, thus unnecessarily stressing my body. Before any trip I weigh all viable and imaginable variables: cost, total time of travel, airports, layovers and possible stopovers, food, and current recovery status.  Each airline and/or airport has their own staff to assist those in need. Every year I notice these services not only increasing in their sheer numbers but also, most importantly, efficiency. They are a godsend – thank you for your assistance.

Upon arrival in Colombia one instantly knows one has arrived in the tropics. Old school airports where they roll out steel stairs, plane parks in the middle of nowhere, verdant palms abound, as the air hits you like a heated wet towel, navigation required, are the best; especially when in a wheelchair and need to be carried off the plane in a shaky old metal aisle chair by two slender ground-crew members. It was a fun ride. They did not drop me.  One point for Stevo.  (Photos of my travels can be seen here.) As I authored in my book, in life, if one wants to get anything grand or substantial accomplished, one must get in the mix, show up, take a risk, live and participate in: Doing the Dirty Dishes [of life]. This was to be my first trip to an industrialized country where I knew the standards would not be up to international specification, if they existed at all. Challenges abundant – like weeds in spring, they were everywhere.

No sooner I walked out of the airport and was accosted by a gaggle of local taxi drivers.  Peter seemed like a nice choice. I liked his resume: biblical name in a very Catholic country. Good pick. Score two for Stevo.  Solo bag in the backseat, wheelchair in the trunk, Cumbia music blaring, we were off to the hotel. It was a short drive, only 9 kilometers.  It did not take long to know I was at the right place; the energy in Colombia was all encompassing; I could feel it in my heart. I was where I was supposed to be at that time, in life. There are no mistakes. I was still unsure why the universe had sent me to Colombia at this juncture but I was soon to find out.  As we entered Boca Grande, meandering down the highway as it hugged the beach and waves, it was 420 and ‘Peter the Pope’ was more than happy to share some brotherly love. Bonus score for Stevo. Welcome to Colombia – a mighty nice Bienvenido, if you ask me.

Not a moment out of the taxi and my first real serious obstacle appeared.  The slope of the driveway of the hotel was too steep to get up in the wheelchair on my own. That situation was not helped by the fact there were no sidewalks for 90% of the beach area surrounding my hotel. And when they had some form of sidewalk or stepping stones made of broken uneven pieces of jagged concrete, the curbs were almost a half meter high. Access to local eateries and bars was out of the question without assistance or a taxi ride. Even getting to the elevators of the hotel required a push up a small but steep incline. There were no accessible bathrooms except in my room on the 29th floor.  I could not access the café in the lobby as it had a large step as an impediment.  Travel while injured requires impeccable planning.

It reminded me of my days at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, a “supposed” top physical therapy hospital  in Philadelphia, where they wanted to kick me out of in-patient therapy for refusing to agree to learn how to jump my wheelchair up large curbs.  I saw no point; I found it violent and dangerous. My answer to them was easy: “I’ll ask for help (throughout this trip I would be carried in my chair in the air, over more obstacles and occurrences than I could count).” Cartagena was a never-ending veritable obstacle course in a wheelchair; best left to the advanced; but never an issue. This is injured travel – welcome to the club. In my book, Unbreakable Mind, I speak of the need to get out into the world to live again, that it is not falling down that counts, it is how many times you get up that counts – that is the greatest source of maturity and development in life – in living – happiness.  La Buena vida, mi amiga.

Hotel Dubai Cartagena did not originally come up as having accessible rooms in my initial search online with the big three travel websites. I knew better and so contacted the hotel direct. Good thing I did as they were willing and able and more than happy to have me as a guest. Most often you will find the information on travel websites to be inaccurate or flat out wrong.  Be smart and seek out more information – write the property, ask the appropriate required questions and make sure all concerns for your injury or special requirements are addressed beforehand. Because even when you think you have it all worked out beforehand, it can easily go to shit, quick. This hotel assured me they would reserve a room with accessible shower and all the other required whistles and bells for an injured guest.  Well, can you guess what happened?  Welcome to a day in my life.

The doorman accompanied me to my room.   Relieved to see a bed to lay down on to stretch my body, I shooed him off, performed a bathroom check, washed my face with soap and water, when no sooner was I prostrated across the California king duvet I realized I was not in an accessible room.  Ramone, Operations Manager, arrived a few minutes later. After visiting ten different hotel rooms, all with unalike room layouts, we determined that some modifications had to be made to the shower and toilet to make one accessible.  Three large glass panels had to be removed in order to allow access for my wheelchair to the toilet and shower area without having to go through a near impossible set of hurdles; ones that would cause trouble in an emergency situation, if required urgency. Juan, the hotel manager, was the most caring and accommodative person an injured person could wish for. He prepared the best calabaza y bombilla of Argentinean mate.  Fabio and his kitchen crew went above and beyond to make the most delicious food. In the end, they upgraded me to a top floor suite.  Pass GO, collect $200.

Cartagena, founded in 16th century, on the Colombian coast, replete with squares, cobblestone streets and brightly colored colonial architecture, is magical. The people are just as interesting and eclectic as the endless pastel painted buildings in the Old City. Everywhere you go you come across friendly Colombians, from taxi driver to street vendor to waiter; only a small tatter of the fabric that binds together this phenomenal El Caribe people and city. The seafood is some of the best I have tasted on the planet.  And the very established Lebanese Diaspora, immigrating to Colombia from the Ottoman Empire in the 18th & 19th centuries for religious and economic reasons, also has out-of-this-world delectable eats.  All the best local tourist spots are close-by and are easily visited by car or public bus. Since injured, I opted for a private driver for the day. And since I would be shooting photos with my new Sony Alpha 6300, the car’s window would serve as my creative aperture.

Not a week had gone by and two of my most feared injured traveler scenarios fructified.  On my list of most feared anxious happenings while traveling the world in a wheelchair, two of the top three, are getting a sick stomach and a bad cold. Well, the time had arrived; of course, when it rains, it pours – both arrived back-to-back.  After being nursed back to health by Simon and friends I decided to explore the Old City by taxi at night. It was just what the doctor ordered – allowing me to take in the city at its magnificent nocturnal glory. At night there is a different ‘feel’ to the people and city – as if a button is pushed and the energy becomes even freakier relaxed. Over the next two weeks I would take many taxi trips with my camera on the ready to shoot everything from Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, Plaza de Las Bovedas, Getsemani and many other local cultural barrios, some with world renown street artCartagena is a city rich in history and culture, with infinite beauty, sure to delight. Go visit.

Other than your standard travel mishaps, occasional cultural faux-pas in Espanol, being robbed blind by a street money changer, fighting off beach hawkers and the perpetual fight with taxi drivers over padded fares , my adventure to Colombia was a huge success.  It could not have been done without the loving care and support of others, friend and stranger alike. Michael, a friend from Germany, whom I met while living in Amsterdam, came to visit for a week. It was so great having him there; being a part of his inner-self journey as it commenced.  Simon, my neighbor and a Norwegian yacht captain, based in Majami, Florida, was my arms and legs many a day when laid up in bed fighting a vicious cold or the horrendous stomach issues I experienced, requiring anti-biotics, pro-biotics and some international TLC. The hotel staff was so friendly and helpful. I am forever grateful for all the love and help I received.

As a result of my accident I was unable to travel internationally for six years. My will and spirit were broken.  While traveling the globe I am most comfortable – being in the flow of life, living life.  It was the last part of my freedom recovered and I was beyond ecstatic to travel and experience the world again. It is the same reason I started this blog: to help inspire other injured to travel again, to open their eyes to the possibilities that exist when one leaves the safety of their home. Each trip I push my boundaries a bit further than the last. This has provided me limitless inner growth and the most wonderful of experiences meeting extraordinary people and visiting supernatural places, the type only found when your eyes and heart are wide open; accepting and tackling new challenges at every curve, forming indelible memories – all while forging life-lasting deep and meaningful relationships.  Colombia delivered on all the above. I drank her Kool-Aid and now find myself pining to hear her to call my name again – she is forever in my heart. Besitos, mi amor!

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