Trading in the rocky shoreline of Maine for the granite faces of New Hampshire; Live Free or Die!: My adventure to the White Mountains and Lakes Region.

As it was appearing my stay in Maine would be extended into autumn, due to the ever-continued international Covid-19 health and economic crisis, remaining here for yet another season, and possibly winter too, it was time to venture out-and-about further into the region to see what New England had to offer. Fall in New England, as the expression goes, is spectacular – an explosive vivid symphony of lucid supernatural wonder and beauty on display, nature’s finest fireworks.

A few months prior, while on the patio at my hotel, I met a nice Polish lady from upstate New York, Zuza. She is an interior designer for Hilton corporate brand. She also is an artist who creates the most stunning mosaics. At first, she thought I was a bit strange; not uncommon for people to think such at first. But after some time she and I became able friends. A few weeks later she rang me on my mobile to ask me if I would join her on a trip to New Hampshire.

It only took but a few seconds to figure a decision. “A trip to the Live Free or Die state, I am an emphatic yes,” I told her, as a massive smile grew on my face – my eyes swiftly welling with excitement. The time to get out of dodge had arrived, and with my new friend from New York, we were planning our White Mountains adventure.  She told me, “Steven, it will be a fun quest. We are both in need of some stress relief.” “Oh,” she said, as she was hanging up the call, “I hope you don’t mind my pup joining us.” “No, I love dogs – the more the merrier,” I stated.

Perhaps I should have taken some pause before responding in agreement. As it turns out, her “pup” is more like a small Siberian bear than a dog. Rowan is his name – a 140lb Leonberger show dog, a one-year-old puppy. She tells me, “He is well behaved and loves road trips. He is a rock-star everywhere I take him. You will see.” “Sure Zuza, it sounds as if soon Rowan and I will become good friends.” It was with frightful anticipation I expected meeting the “pup.”

As a few weeks remained before our trip, it was time to plan our mountain exploration. We planned to visit two regions of New Hampshire: Lakes Region in central and White Mountains in the north. As we would also be visiting an old classmate from my school days at BGU in Israel, Matthew, presently the owner of an outdoor style clothing company founded in NH, Lake Life Brand, for a photo shoot in the Lakes Region, our time and schedule were quickly filling up. As stated in my book, Unbreakable Mind: Life is meant to be lived, so go live it – Teeth to the wind!

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

— Mark Twain

Itinerary set, Zuza was to arrive on the following Wednesday, at my hotel in Portland, Maine, to commence our trip with Rowan. About noon, with clear blue azure skies, wispy clouds abound, a black extended Jeep wrangler pulled up in front of the hotel. Hanging out of the window was this over-sized hirsute ball of irascible beauty and beastly allure. He might be the size of a small bear but he has the heart of one too – it was obvious, “Ro” is a big love-bug-bear. Kisses all-round.

In a matter of minutes, bags packed into the back of the Jeep, wheelchair neatly stored away, and Rowan’s spot (substantial, I might add) clearly demarcated – we were finally off on our road trip. “Where shall we go, Steven?” Zuza, like me, loves getting into the car and just driving, driving with no destination in mind. “Ok, sounds fine to me. But please first tell me where we are sleeping tonight so I can plan our day.” Zuza reserved the same Hilton hotel Vernon, my hotel manager, recommended we stay, a sister Giri property where we would be well taken care of.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” 

— J.R.R. Tolkien

It was a bit out of the way but we decided to cross over into New Hampshire from Maine further north and immediately drive the famous Kancamagus Scenic Byway. But first we decided to stop off for lunch at the 302 West Smokehouse & Tavern in Fryeburg, with wondrous scenic views of nearby rolling farm pastures and vistas of the White Mountains far off in the background. After two hours in the sun, a few local delish IPAs consumed, it was time to venture to the mountains.

Once we passed over the line into the state of NH, it was only a short fifteen minute drive to the entrance of “The Kanc” – a 55 km scenic drive, climbing almost 1000 meters in elevation, along New Hampshire’s Rout 112, a carved path that winds itself through the White Mountain National Forest, with endless hairpin turns alongside the Swift River, with breathtaking views of the Sabbaday Falls, Lower Falls and Rocky Gorge. NH fall foliage was absolutely brilliant.

At one point on the drive we could see that the top twenty percent of Mount Washington was snow-covered. The cold arctic winds that blow in from Canada were already making their presence felt, if only atop high peaks. But it was still fall, with all its innocent aesthetic beauty at play in God’s cathedral. At the end of the drive we came into a small town with only two choices to eat. We chose to eat Mexican. Afterward, we both agreed to never again eat tacos in NH.

Late into the evening we had a long cold drive to our hotel in the Lakes Region of NH, two hours further south than us. With fall foliage in New England in full bloom, and Covid-19 travel and social distancing measures in place, there were more than the usual amounts of day or weekend trippers in that area. The next morning we were going to meet Matthew and Stacy for a photo shoot for his clothing company at a few local lakes: Silver, Winnisquam and Winnipesaukee.

The morning of my debut as a sexy wheelchair model was one of overcast skies with rain in the forecast – great muted colors for a successful photo shoot, and start to my GQ career. Stacy was a consummate professional; Matt a consummate goofball. It was splendid fun for all involved. Zuza and Rowan even got swept up into the fall photography shoot extravaganza, posing by the lake. Photos of NH and other travels can be seen on my website, Doing The Dirty Dishes.

With the photo shoot behind us, my fifteen minutes of fame fading fast, no longer puparazzi in tow, it was time to explore the Lakes Region. For the next three hours we drove aimlessly and endlessly down any roadway, paved or dirt, that we could enter with a 4×4 Jeep. We ended up in a small, quaint charming town, Meredith. We decided to stop for lunch at Twin Barns Brewing Company. There we would meet three retired professionals from Baston, MA. Never was more fun and laughter had on a brisk Saturday evening in fall than with Sheehan, McGuirk and GG. 

Craig AKA GG is a retired dentist with a penchant for being a considerate guy. He and his close friends all bought mountain homes in nearby Meredith – which has more of a village ambiance than small city. It is the entrance town for tourists wishing to enter the Lakes Region of NH. The town has an intimate and restful feel to it, the perfect place some R&R, especially during a pandemic. On our way of town we stopped at Kellerhaus for some German chocolate decadence.  

“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. “

— Gustave Flaubert

After three days of epic excitement in the lakes and mountains regions it was time to migrate more toward the ocean, where New Hampshire owns an immense sliver of beachfront real estate. The Atlantic Ocean coastline of NH is a whopping 28.9 km, the shortest of any state. We were not so interested in the over-stimulating rocky seacoast beaches as much as the port city on the Piscataqua River, Portsmouth. It is a historic seaport and popular summer tourist destination.

Portsmouth, with it noted 17th and 18th–century colorfully painted homes, delicious local seafood restaurants, astounding art and architecture, winding town roads and ways replete with a plethora of parks and outdoor recreation areas, is a romantic town surely worthy of a weekend trip. Since “Chowda” is a staple of New England, each state having their own version (clam, seafood or fish), it was time to sample some local fare. Sanders Fish Market has the best chowder soup and lobster roll in NH. Though the lobster roll was incredibly delicious, Maine still wins the award.    

When Zuza said that Rowan was a rock-star, she was not kidding. Literally everywhere we went with him people stopped to ask about, pet and photograph him. If we were in the car, even at a red light, it made no difference – the “Ro-Bear” was a dog in high demand –people everywhere flocked to him like a reincarnated neon Elvis in Memphis. After my first and only model photo shoot and ethereal fifteen minutes of fame, I was more than willing to give up my throne to my new Ursidae Canis lupis familiaris friend. Thank you Zuza and Rowan for a memorable trip! 

Photo credit: Stacy Cusack Photography

Travel Blog: Click here.

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Thank you for your love and support.

Jettisoned layover in Maine during Covid-19 crisis; Surviving scarcely on lobster rolls, whoopee pies and IPA.

I am grateful the universe guided my way to Maine for summer. There are a lot of locations for jetsam to wash ashore but Portland sure resulted in as serendipitous a coast as any to land. A reserved melancholic state filled with boundless Subarus and massive white pine forest, where I could spend my summer frolicking about in nature, or so I thought. As I soon discovered je ne sais quoi, it was a state of ‘Maniacs’ who know much less about survival in the bush and much more about fine cuisine and craft beers. I was in the right place; there are no mistakes in life.

More on Maine in a minute, but first an update on the wags from Queens, NYC: Bart and his pious compatriots in Pennsylvania (owners of the Hilton Garden Inn at JFK, NYC) provided round two of comedic relief after their abhorrent treatment of me at their hotel while stranded poor and homeless in NYC. As if their first response to asking me to leave their hotel, under a discriminatory (non-existent) 14 day stay policy, was not humorous enough, the second reply through their attorney wins the ‘almost Darwin’ medal of honor, a world-class pisser.

In my second week at the hotel from hell, while attempting to transfer from the toilet to my wheelchair, the grab-bar I was using for support broke off from the wall, leaving me to find support on a hard tile floor. Their lawyer, in his greatest vomit of jester twaddle, attempting to make me look bad, as vacuous his basis and unsound his argument, however sophomoric and ill-prepared his research and statement, replied to the NY State AG’s complaint by insinuating: 1. It was a made-up story; 2. It was revenge against their ‘raved about’ General Manager, Tracy Kass; and 3. I intentionally caused the grab-bar to break off from the wall. Bartholomew, please send me a package of what your Lancaster crew feeds you for breakfast – evidently reality changing.

It is hard to believe such saints still exist in this world but notwithstanding their holiness, I will address these delusional saboteur swines who treat loyal Hilton customers like trash then cower and hide behind a half-assed inept lawyer who I would not hire to defend my trespass dog. Allow me to pull back the curtain for you: 1. Your hotel clearly partakes in discriminatory practices – easily verified through other guests; and 2. I could have called an ambulance, sued and definitely walked with a settlement, akin to your ilk – but I did not, I chose the high road. To what end?!

None of your attorney’s baseless accusations are worthy a reply except only to rebut: 1. Permit me take away the function and operation of your legs and see how well you can stand up to pull a screwed-in bar, almost one meter above the floor, from the wall and 2. You first could start off by complying with Federal ADA and NY State bathroom building code(s) – your grab-bar was not mounted to wall studs. It was anchored into sheetrock, unable to handle load – sure to get you multiple city infractions upon [further] inspection; and assuredly, possible future litigation.  

Hilton Honors has still yet to sufficiently address the situation or provide an adequate reply. They recently reported earnings to Wall Street, Q2 77% revenue decline. As well, Hilton has had to close 1000 hotels and has experienced a 56% decline in room revenue resulting from Covid-19. And this is how you respond to true-blue customers – silence? What are you so busy doing that customer service has fallen off the radar?  One might think they would choose to treat their Diamond members a teensy-weensy better – but do not hold your breath. J.W. awaits my return.

As I mentioned in my first blog concerning being stuck in NYC under Covid-19 crisis, it did not take long in the car before my attitude and energy were on the rise. As my good friend Elena drove out of NYC, up Interstate 95 towards Maine, the excitement of visiting The Pine Tree State was palpable. We arrived into Portland later than expected. George at the Black Elephant Hostel was gracious enough to provide me an emergency number I could call to be let in. Safely ensconced by the cozy fire, cup of tea in hand, I was where I needed to be. Puff, puff, pass.  

For the next eight days my home was the Black Elephant Hostel, a boutique hostel with a bohemian savoir-faire, owned and operated by a saucy local entrepreneur and former New Jersey native, previously in the horse business, Heather. George kindly reserved me a room that was ADA compliant. The bathroom in the room was exceptionally spacious, a real treat to a traveler in a wheelchair. As well, the kitchen was drafted by architects with the injured in mind; designed pragmatic and utilitarian, sunlight abound, a great place to congregate for mid-afternoon tea.

Aside from a superb kitchen you will also find a delightful general room with comfortable chairs, a table and a layout couch for a relaxing fireside chat or read and an outside patio and lawn area for joining other guests for a smoke or drink or chat. Marijuana is legal in Maine – becoming fully legal for retail sale in October, 2020. The outdoor garden seating area is a great place to meet with friends over a joint and discussion of transcendentalism. Albeit a cheeky owner, the staff, most especially George and Isabelle, was super helpful and caring, always willing to assist.

My over-confident exuberance was quickly replaced with worry and anxiety as summer housing was not panning out as originally thought. Housing is at a minimum in Portland. Real estate well over priced, is in a bubble. A few places did become available but then quickly turned south as one informed me the roommate no longer wanted me as a roommate (only after informed about my injury) and the other did not want my wheelchair banging up his thirty thousand dollars in new upgrades to his double-wide trailer. Anyway, probably prudent I do not appear on Springer.

Was coming to Maine the right choice? Of late, with housing options once again slipping out of reach, and money a wee bit short, it appeared inexorably I had placed myself in a worse off situation than in NYC. In spite of all successive otherwise invincible obstacles, I remained overly brimming with bold perseverance and infinite hope. What would I do now? Where would I go, sleep? Staying in a hostel was surely not the answer. It was expensive; not a long term solution.  

After receiving some unsolicited compassionate help from a few friends, I was able to get a room at the local Hilton in order to reassess the situation and come up with a new plan. It soon became clear that I was in need of additional assistance; I had just become poor and homeless in Maine. It is similar to being poor and homeless in NYC but surrounded with more congenial people and prettier scenery. After five torturous days of having no-where to sleep I was ready to give up.

However, something deep inside told me it would be ok, that this unfortunate situation too shall pass. As if the universe was testing me to make sure I truly had given up control of the wheel of life. The lesson(s) must always be worked through and understood before one can advance past the incessant hurdles of life onto increased mental capacity and psychological resolve. As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind: One first must pass through darkness before they can enter into the light; it is a journey, not something you can order up from the fast-food universe. There is no free ice cream in the world – all is well-earned, graced upon you – endowed by your higher-self.  

The Vedic astrology reading, a gift from Sunita, I had from Nepal in June was coming true: I was warned I would face four months of hardship, having to rely on others for my survival: Doing the Dirty Dishes of life – only to emerge into the shining light whence soon thereafter. So I was now in the thick of the fight, in the middle of battle. As it turned out I did not qualify for any general assistance in Maine. Apparently the $178 in my checking account was not broke enough. The YMCA manager was able to find me a room but sharing one bathroom with forty other men on one floor, with my injury’s requirements, and its high costs, would not have been feasible.

After two weeks of being bounced around Portland like a pachinko ball in a Tokyo parlor it was time to give in and stay at a hotel. Portland is not a cheap city for lodging – and already suffers from a housing shortage. The manager at the Hilton did not want me to leave to another Hilton branded property for an extended stay so he offered me an amazeballs daily rate [to stay at his location]. It ended up being cheaper to stay there per night than the local hostel. I gladly accepted the deal. Vernon, Tim, Gudrun, Stephanie, Les, Al, Seonye and all staff were absolutely first-rate.

Once settled in and feeling a bit of wanderlust, it was time to explore what Maine had to offer. The most northeastern U.S. State sated with stunning ocean and lakes, craggy rocky coastline, limitless verdant forest, winding mountains and rivers, marvelous lighthouses and ripe maritime history, it is an outdoor wonderland – loaded with supernatural beauty at every new rocky cove. Our day trip to Sebago Lake with Joe, our new friend from Park Slope, Brooklyn, whom we met in the local hostel, was a proper introduction to the outdoor allure and natural grandeur of Maine.

One day Elena decided to take me on a road trip, a magic trail replete with drinks, food and breathtaking panorama. We ventured north 160 km to Camden, famous for its high mountainous peek, scenic vistas and gorgeous views of the harbor and surrounding landscape. We had stopped on our way into town at a local oyster farm, and along with the healthy snacks, pita and hummus Elena packed, we had ourselves a smorgasbord atop the hill, whilst the sun set over the harbor. After some mouthwatering local seafood and delish beers in town, we were off back to Portland.

One weekend an old friend, Sunita, from Boston, visited with her daughter Hazel. It was a typical summer day in Maine, bright azure sky overflowing with cotton-ball clouds, awaiting outdoor exploration. We ventured to the Head Light Lighthouse, just across Casco Bay at Fort Williams Park. There was a local restaurant’s lobster roll stand just up the hill – wow. No doubt I agree that roadside stands serve the best rolls in Maine. On another day we visited Old Orchard Beach and all its tourist fanfare. On our way home we stopped at Bayley’s Seafood for their NE Clam Chowder and a shrimp roll; also stopping at Clambake Seafood Restaurant for locally fried Maine clams. The best “Clam Chowda” and tastiest fried clams I ever savored, respectively.

A new friend, Rita, from Brasil, the following weekend, invited me out for lobster rolls and oysters. We decided to spend the day at Pine Point, a breezy back-bay sand-grass filled marshy delight where delectable food and drink are served at any number of “famous” restaurants. We settled for the local empire of Bayley’s – this time visiting their Pound Shack, on the water. Social distancing in place, masks off, it was a splendid day of hoppy IPAs, freshly shucked oysters with briny liquor and spicy peel-n-eat shrimp. Next we plan to meet in Rio de Janeiro.

The list of out-of-this-world foodstuffs, pioneered by distinctive carpet-bagging restaurateurs with all the right ingredients to make your taste buds pop with excitement, is inexhaustible. The square pizza at Slab Sicilian Street Food is one of a kind, worthy of review. The Thirsty Pig has the most unique menu of house-made hot dogs [with toppings] and sausages, paired with local beers. After sampling lobster rolls at Red’s Eats in Camden, the lighthouse stand, High Roller, Bayley’s, and one upscale restaurant, Scales, the best was High Roller in downtown Portland.

The local bar scene is as bustling as the food scene, with many locations sharing both honors. The East Bayside district of Portland, with its old emptied-out capacious industrial warehouses and expansive lots, has been turned into an extensive neighborhood of eclectic flavorful micro-breweries. Kris and Marty AKA baby tiger (his 14 yr old Shiatsu) visited one Saturday from New Hampshire. We selected Austin Street Brewery – perfect for sitting outdoor with friends. We ended up pairing with Sarah and Gabe, on their second date, which were sitting at the table next to ours. Later we met Miguel at Rosie’s Restaurant and Pub, where food and drink is served late into the night. And in a town where most places close at 9pm, it is a refreshing godsend.

If ever there was a place to be stuck for the summer, Maine wins the award. Portland has quickly moved onto the top three list of my favorite small US cities for food and beer. A charming and enchanting town, filled with a mix of artistic and liberal personalities, a feeling of unrestricted freedom to expand inside & outside the self, packed with an endless number of satiated artisanal restaurants and drinking establishments, it is certainly a place to visit with an open stomach and heart – without fail, both will be better off after a short visit. They will thank you tremendously.

With Europe unquestionably now in the rearview mirror, as the world is mired in a continuing international health and economic crisis, it begets the million dollar question: where off to next?

Stay tuned!

CLICK HERE for PART I of Covid-19 story: Stranded in NYC, JFK.

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

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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Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.  

Thank you for your love and support.

Moving to Europe during Covid-19; Becoming poor and homeless in New York City.

After the success of my first book, Unbreakable Mind, endless projects were offered to me but none were a good match. There were many extremely attractive proposals. One was a second book, traveling to ten cities in the world, writing from an injured person’s perspective; an additional for NYT, to travel to 52 countries in 52 weeks, in a wheelchair; and, yet another, to create a travel TV show – but not any were the right fit, not one idea resonated with my soul.

Which avenue to further explore remained unclear until one fateful conversation in early May. I was on the phone with a friend from Amsterdam, a Norwegian-Dominican up-and-coming rap star, David AKA Big Mill, and he had an idea to share. “David,” I asked, “let me guess, another TV show idea.” He replied, “Yes, but this one is distinct.” Well, it was unlike all prior options – different to the point where I loved it. It made sense; it clicked with me – it felt right inside.

The other missing pieces to the puzzle would fall into place shortly thereafter. The morning of the 14th of May, my birthday, for some reason I was nudged to write an old classmate and friend, Adam, now living with his wife and four-year-old in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He was recently laid off as an AV Director, a high position in the non-profit world of museums, now in search of a project to develop. I shared my idea for a new travel TV show with him and the rest is history.

After a seven hour conversation, going over every detail possible for how the project could ostensibly work, determining key people and positions needed to make a production company and TV show successful, and agreeing on a pilot location abroad (Amsterdam), we were off to the races. Since Covid-19 has affected so many business-people and investors globally, we were unable to raise the necessary funds. All agreed, signing on to the project on a shoestring budget.

One week later, with all airplane tickets and hotels reserved, my wheelchair supercharged by Gary Gilberti and his amazing team at Numotion Mobility, we were set to start filming pilot footage in Amsterdam in July and August. As I already live part-time in Amsterdam, I was planning on moving to Europe for two to five years. With everything [assuredly] in place, and not being a fan of storing items that others less fortunate could better utilize, especially during a global pandemic, I decided to give away my home, car, all my belongings to those in dire need.

What type spiritual person or leader would I be if I did not practice what I preached, helping others in life anytime one is able, truly living out the words I guide and ask of others to live, if I cannot do so myself? There was no need for me to store away furniture, clothing and other household items while others in my immediate presence were suffering from the current health and economic catastrophe. For two weeks friends and strangers came and took what they wanted.

Everything was going fine, just as planned. My home was donated, flights ready, bags packed and ride to airport sorted. Before flying out to Europe I planned to spend four days in NYC with an old friend, Georgie-boy, who lives across the Hudson River in Jersey City. George is an old and dear classmate from my irascible undergraduate days at Rutgers College; also the General Counsel for our production company. He has a thriving law practice in nearby Newark, NJ.

It was great to be back in NYC, my old stomping grounds in the late 1990s. There is nothing like “The City” – one of a kind, no other place like it on the planet.  We spent an afternoon sunning on the spacious waterfront in Hoboken, NJ, a nice day playing Frisbee in Central Park West, eating amazing Mamouns Falafel and Prince St. Pizza in Greenwich Village. Though it was expected to see murals and damage from prior fortnight’s rioting, it was eerily strange in person.

It was Sunday, a day of respite before flying to Europe on Monday. George and I spent the day having a relaxing lunch at Iberia outdoor café in the Little Portugal section of Newark, NJ. The next morning we were up bright and early, soon off to the airport. When we arrived at Newark International Airport it was nearly empty. There was not but one person at the check-in counter – moi. The Delta terminal was empty. It was June 15th and Covid-19 was in full effect. Wow!

Having never seen such a normally super busy airport terminal this empty in my life, it did not give me pause. George, on the other hand, had a different feeling, and decided to stay with me until I was ticketed to board. After finding a way to get my heavy bags checked in with no fees I thought we were on plan. Then a hiccup: “Sorry Mr. Quigley, you are unable to board the flight to Amsterdam. Dutch Immigration in Holland is denying you entry without proper permission.”

Well, that was a first, and not only a huge surprise but a major setback to a monumental project.  Oh shit! What do I do now? Thank goodness Georgie stayed with me; and thank goodness he was able to put me up at his place until this mess was all sussed out. It was an absolutely horrid situation; and to add salt to the wound, I was right smack in the middle of a Covid-19 USA EU political Visa predicament; whereas the EU would review country entry list every two weeks.

George was gracious enough to see me through the immediate emergency until it began looking like my delay would be a bit longer than originally anticipated. The EU placed a travel ban on Americans’ travel to Europe. And it would not be reviewed again until July 1st.  My new ticket was issued for a direct flight from JFK, NY to Amsterdam, Holland, July 1st. This being the case, and since George had a life to live, I moved to a Hilton close by to JFK airport in Queens.

What started as a journey by giving away all my belongings in order to chase a dream project and move to Europe was swiftly turning into a situation that could easily result in me becoming poor and homeless in NYC. Hotels are not cheap in NYC – nothing is inexpensive in the Big Apple – you pay through the nose. The costs were quickly adding up and what small financial safety net I had set aside was speedily disappearing. I could not last long in a hotel in Queens.

The hotel itself was of no help to my stress and anxiety levels. They had me on the sixth floor, all the way down the hall, in the far corner, in a room that was a very tight fit for a wheelchair, and could only be reached after struggling down one hundred twenty feet of carpet. As if that was not enough, one week into my stay the GM, Tracy Kass, awoke me early in the morning to inform me I would reach my 14 day hotel stay limit after this registration renewal, and she was calling to inform me they could not extend it any further. I was astounded, appalled. Unbelievable!

Miss Kass, later when challenged, changed her story, informing me I did not let her finish, she had more to say on the call – that there was, in fact, no 14 day limit. Three days and three voicemails later, and no reply arrived from the normally overly pugilistic General Manager. Only once it was elevated to Hilton Honors corporate office level did she return my call. This was after numerous emails asking her to send me a copy of the policy. She refused. It does not exist.

Upon complaint to NY State AG, their attorney replied that I did not let her finish, that it was actually a 28 day limit. That is total utter bullshit! Firstly, then why call me only after seven days? Secondly, I met two people outside the hotel who received the same inhuman treatment. Thirdly, all her staff, including her Director of Operations, apologized profusely to me in person for her insensitive, cruel call. It should be noted that all other staff were caring and supportive.

Later that week, while in the bathroom, the grab-bar broke off from the wall while attempting a toilet transfer, sending me straight onto the hard tile ground, injuring my neck and back. Do you think the hotel or GM did anything to help address the issue, let alone make some changes to mitigate a more comfortable stay? No! The room was a disaster for a wheelchair user. My stay in Queens was quickly morphing into its own mini crisis. I was stuck in a cement jungle without any stores. I had only one friend to assist me – Sunita in Boston. Hilton corporate has yet to reply.

With every door opening but quickly closing, I was running out of viable options, rapidly. The immediate future looked grim.  Running out of money (and patience), with no home to move to, with no home to return to, life was proving overly difficult. It allowed my mind to get the better of my heart, lulling it into anxiety, sadness and no hope for the future. Life was grim; I was not a happy camper. After nine years of struggle, I figured this project would run smoothly. Silly me!

After time searching deep inside, meditation and prayer, chats with mentors, close inner-circle friends and spiritual advisors, I decided that I would face the universe’s tests head on. It was time to truly practice my words – taking my hands off the wheel of life, as the universe has it under control. It was another example of ‘Doing The Dirty Dishes’ of life – the Buddhist principle that if you want to get anything done in life you first must put in your effort, getting your hands dirty.

In May, when the project began coming together, one night while deep in meditation, an angel came to me and told me: “Steven, after 46 years of white-knuckling the wheel of life, you can now finally remove your hands [from the wheel], let go, give up control of life (as if you ever had any in the first place) – the hardest lesson for most to learn, aside from reaction and attitude, or living through love – I am now at the wheel, in full control. Wake up each morning and relax.  Forget about your past; do not worry for your future; live in the present moment – the now.”

It all sounded great until I awoke on June 15th, only to be denied entry to a plane that represented my life’s work and dreams. Or did it!? What was the universe trying to tell me through stranding me in NYC? What was the lesson? It did not come at first, but it did not take long to figure it out. The universe was sending me bigger struggles to overcome. Why? 1.To truly test if my hands were off the wheel of life, wholly trusting in the universe 100% ; and 2. At length, it still had to break and broke me before my dream could be realized. I am grateful to both my teachers, the universe.

Three days later a friend from Portland Maine came down to NYC to rescue me. As soon as I stepped into her car I felt an immense 800 lb gorilla freed from my back. Off to Maine.

To be continued….Click here to read part II.

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

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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Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

My three day adventure to New York City via Greyhound: Next time, I will think twice on transport.

It has been over twenty years since I lived and worked in the “Big Apple,” AKA New York City (NYC). After a couple years, the twenty-four/seven non-stop lifestyle wore on me and eventually I moved back to the Philadelphia area to start a company during the .com boom. “The City,“ as locals call it, had not yet seen the wheels of my chair; unsure if I would ever experience her special embrace again. Many years have passed since my last visit; all these years she has been slowly whispering sweet words of taunt to me, alluring me back into her arms. She is one-of-a-kind, energy unmatched the world over. It would take the invite of an old friend for me to consider dancing with her once again. Dance, we would.

One late morning while stretching in bed my phone rang. George Solano, a close friend from university, was calling. With a growing Law Practice in Newark, NJ, he is an extremely busy man.  What could my crazy irascible friend possibly want today? George recently returned from a one month trip to Ecuador, a trip he invited me on but I was unable to attend as I was in Spain at the same time. So often we tried matching our schedules, making weekends tough and anything longer even tougher. Alas, Georgie had some free time. He invited me to his home in Jersey City for a weekend of pre-holiday cheer. A trip to NYC will take some planning, “Let me get back to you, Georgie.” Two days later I answered, “Yes.”

In my final attempts to be freed of owning a car, I stumble here or there how to get certain places. It is no secret that public transportation in the United States does not compare to other industrialized nations, especially Europe, where I also live. And now that I must travel in a wheelchair, more meticulous planning than usual is required. Auto is the best way from Delaware to New York City – straight up the ‘world famous’ New Jersey Turnpike.  Auto no longer an option, other ways would have to be considered. There are only two other viable options: bus or train. Both go to and from the exact same stations. The train is much more expensive, costing up to three times normal fair on an off day.

Knowing the travel-ways would be busy the week before Thanksgiving I decided to plan ahead. Having established Amtrak was too expensive, Greyhound won out as the chosen type transportation.  Being that George lives in Jersey City, it would be more convenient for both, and a closer pick-up/drop-off, If I traveled via bus return trip through Newark’s Penn Station. Greyhound’s website is [still] not the easiest site to navigate. Once able to locate available trip information online I quickly found two convenient departure and arrival segments. As they had a special area to designate, I checked the box for injured travel, with wheelchair as transportation mode. All planned, including wheelchair reservation, I smiled.

My bus departed on a Friday mid-afternoon.  Forty-five minutes before departure I rode an Uber to the Wilmington bus station. The bus arrives and slowly one by one it loads almost full. There, outside in the blustery cold raw elements, I sat and froze. After a few minutes it quickly became clear the bus driver did not have the key required to open the door to the lift so I could properly board.  The driver, from Alabama, was kind and thoughtful, as she sat on hold with dispatch to see how best to proceed with the situation. I requested to get some passers-by to help me onto the bus but the driver declined due to liability. Eventually relenting, one strong fellow passenger, Miguel, lifted me into the first seat. I was on.

As if that was not a peculiar enough start to a trip, it was about to get a bit more interesting. The first omen of many to arrive, once on the bus, appeared when the driver was unsure how to exit downtown Wilmington for the highway to the bridge to New Jersey. She was also unsure which direction on i95 to take, North or South. One goes to Florida, the other to New York, on its way to Maine. Big difference! She entered the entrance to go towards Philadelphia, the wrong way. After directing her through city-center we eventually made it onto the correct highway. After more wrong turns in Newark, getting the bus stuck on tight one-way streets, two and half hours late, we finally arrived at Penn Station, Newark.

George was parked just across the street from the bus station. Upon entering his jeep, he exclaimed he had a long week, was tired of waiting and needed a drink. I concurred. Off to La Fortaleza Mexican restaurant to meet friends we went.  Twenty minutes later, two naked lime margaritas arrived as we awaited our table at the bar.  Ahh, it was time to relax in the company of a long-time close friend. Soon after, other friends joined us for a memorable night out. Their guacamole is luscious; with a nice twist. I ordered beef tacos. After trading two beef for two shrimp tacos I was in taco heaven. Their chocolate covered churros and fried ice cream are highly recommended for dessert. Their food is delicious.

Saturday morning Bikram Yoga comes early. As George’s neighbor was visiting Vietnam, he was dog-sitting Herman, a French Bulldog with an impish grin.  I awoke to my jacket on the floor, covered in slobber. Hermanator swears it was not he who was mischievous in the night. And George thinks perhaps there is more to the story. Ask Herman. Deciding to sleep through Yoga (great session) gave me an extra two hours stretching and preparing before departing to NYC. We had ferry tickets reserved for a 14:00 departure. The ride from Jersey City to NYC midtown takes approx. 12 minutes. Once parked, we met up with Tim, a SAP Software Engineer, who incessantly travels the world implementing software solutions.

The ferry dumps you out on the West Side of Manhattan, midtown section, which now is predominantly taken up with the ever expanding growth of real estate project Hudson Yards. It is the largest private real estate development in the United States, including Chelsea and Hudson Yards neighborhoods of Manhattan. At $25 Billion one would expect some wow factor. It delivers, NY style: in your face. It has an outdoor courtyard with beautifully light-lined trees and various landscapes for walking or sitting to watch people. It is anchored on one end by The Vessel, an eclectic structure and landmark that offers great vistas of lower Manhattan from its lookout deck. The shopping, food and drink are world-class.

The fact Georgie is a foodie, and one of the friends we were meeting out, Steve, is a local NYC hotspot and food critic blogger, was sure to make for a gastro-oenophile connoisseur’s experience of a lifetime.  Not five minutes passed before George arrived with a round of fresh Sangria. Every person circled Mercado Little Spain over and over, each time returning with new exotic and delicious tapas. Mike and Tim also ventured into the unknown abyss for food. Each attempt took a bit longer; the queues were long.  Mike was mistreated by a chef. Steve returned with rabbit-chicken over rice. Then Mike with tasty succulent octopus and paprika potatoes; George with chorizo sausage and tomato bread, and on and on.

Bellies filled, we decided to see Tim’s friend’s jam band play in the West Village. The band did not come on for a few hours and so we headed to Washington Square via Uber. As the area has many obstacles for a wheelchair, and for obvious safety reasons, I am grateful to George and friends for their selfless assistance.  This square, always filled with interesting and unique characters, served as my balcony view when living on 9th St. during my Wall Street days, with clear views of Arc de Triomphe, NYU Library and the [prior] World Trade Center.  As stated in my book, Unbreakable Mind: Doing the Dirty Dishes of life is the truest path to real growth. The night’s participants were out in full effect. The night was young.

Only in Washington Square can you find a virtuoso opera singer singing aloud atop a $85K Steinway Grand Piano, sand artist (Joe Mangrum) constructing a Mandela about three meters across, tourists busy snapping photos in front of the Washington Sq. Arch and drug dealers every fifteen feet – “The City,” a class its own, unrivaled on this planet. We left there to take a stroll down Bleecker Street, a street replete with the most delicious of foods, endless comedy show cabarets (hawkers too) and innumerable supply of the odd variety. Oh, and plenty of homeless too, mixed within misfits and unusual people lining the Village streets late into night. The West Village is known for being strange. It always delivers.

The show was at The Red Lion sports bar on Bleecker Street at 21:00. They host rock and blues bands, all while international futbol is broadcast via satellite to TVs throughout the bar. On the way we stopped at Olive Tree, an Israeli restaurant, comedy show below, for hummus and mint tea. Wheeling through the Village streets can be challenging but easily done with some effort. If crowds bother you, better to have someone guide or watch for you. To me, as in life, it is all about our energy. Mine is good, thus those surrounding me are affected in extra-special ways, allowing for pleasant exchanges of acknowledgement and synchronicity of love with complete strangers. The West Village is a people-watcher’s wet dream.

The band performed their original music as well as some covers. They were astounding. Our friend’s friend played the electric violin like no one’s business. This guy could give the devil in Georgia a run for his fiddle.  They were a jam band and jam they did – the whole place was rocking, a good time had by all. After a few hours we decided to try some local eats. It did not take all but two minutes for a consensus: Joe’s Pizza on Carmine Street is the best ‘pie’ in the West Village. The line for slices some nights can go on for hundreds of feet, especially when all the bars let out. We were there early. Eighteen minutes and $26 dollars later, we were in an Uber dreaming of eating the large pepperoni pizza steaming in the box.

As is the case with most those who live and commute in the tri-state (NJ, NY, and CT) area, I spent most of my trip on different sides of the Hudson River, which separates NJ and NYC. The ferry between NYC and NJ is easy and convenient for a wheelchair, with parking close by and flat walkways and docks. A one way ticket during the weekday, $9; discounts on weekends. Once in the city you can expect the normal obstacles, with some neighborhoods’ buildings harder to access than others. Do your research, first. Accessible subways in NYC are hit and miss, many MTA stations have no lift access, or the station is under construction – which seems like the whole system some days. Rider beware (rats inclusive)!

Sunday we decided to stay in NJ. With countless options, as a cold damp rain fell outside, we decided on a football game at home, movie in later afternoon and then some food from the old days. Being in the NY TV market the only two games on were the Giants and Jets. I was forced to watch the Jets – it was tough. Afterward we headed off to see the new movie starring Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which was much better than I had expected. Bow Tie Cinemas in downtown Hoboken is easily accessible, with limited handicap street parking however. Hungry from theater treats, we headed to Mamoun’s for their renowned falafel. It is as delectable as it was twenty-five years ago. Wow!

After delicious Lebanese food in NJ, original location on Bleeker in West Village in NYC, we were off to Newark’s Penn Station for part II of the Greyhound debacle. Life is a journey but sometimes we have smaller unforgettable fiascos along the way. This was one of those strange times. If I didn’t know better I might think there was some LSD in my system. Hmm, maybe some was leftover – sure felt like it. Would that make this Gonzo Journalism?  The weekend was one of those trips in which you are never quite sure which dimension or plane you are living on. It makes way for fresh growth, allowing sun to shine on your garden of life. It is only through struggle, facing our fears, which we truly grow and prosper in life.

Was it my first choice to take Greyhound to the NYC area for a weekend? No, not exactly. I preferred a different mode of transportation. But that was not in my cards. And so the bus it was. It was quite the experience, no doubt expanding my horizons, branches of tree of life and  forming indelible memories. Being that I had lived in NYC many years previous I had no interest in a weekend of the standard tourist hot-spots. It was meant to be a weekend with cherished friends in the Jersey City/NYC area but also turned into a story. It was a most delightful weekend.  The bus was late. I had to be carried on and off again by kind passengers. Such was my experience taking Greyhound.  Next time I will opt for Amtrak!

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

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.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

Dublin, Ireland: I visited, had tons of craic, and immense fun – I’m addicted.

As with most times I travel, I make sure to take advantage of national airlines and their home hub cities. My flight was destined for Amsterdam, Holland but I wished to visit Ireland on my way.  So I decided to fly Aer Lingus from PHL to AMS, knowing they would first fly to Dublin for a stopover, require a plane swap, and then depart to mainland Europe. Well, one can choose to continue on at the stopover city, paying only country taxes to exit airport; thus getting two trips in one. Each country has a limit as to how many days you can remain there, and so it pays to check first.  I had not arrived in Ireland yet and could already tell this country was going to be imbued with enjoyment. The flight was filled with craic.

Dublin was already having an effect on me and I had not even departed the airport. The feeling in the air was quaint and charming, just like the Irish people.  There is no subway or underground transportation system in Dublin, so coach is the best option for public transport. Uber is not allowed to operate in Ireland. The best bus service, Airlink, an express coach with the fewest stops, departs the airport every 15-20 minutes – so it is never a long wait to get to center of town. They are handicap accessible. The buses end up at Busaras Central Station before heading off to O’Connell Street in city centre, finally ending up at Heuston, one of Dublin’s main train stations.  I opted for a taxi. It was time to get my green groove on!

The distance from the airport to my hotel, located in Smithfield section, was approximately 12km. The bus fare was 7 Euro single, 12 Euro return – and a taxi, door-to-door, was between 25-30 Euro. Every taxi company is metered by law but also has other differences that can affect each individual fare. Do your homework beforehand. Being new to this city I opted to take a taxi ride, knowing this would also afford me a common gem of past globetrotting journeys: no one knows a city and its secrets better than taxi drivers. They tend to be a salty group; replete with enough stories to turns one’s head, in or out. As it would happen with my luck, my driver, Seammus McCafferty, was of the extremely colorful sort.

Taxi service paid, his business card with cellular phone contact in hand, convenient for future excitement and adventure reference, it was time to see what another Generator Hostel and new city had in store for me to boot.  As humans we tend to be creatures of habit – as well, having traveled all over the planet – I have learned a few tricks here or there. One invaluable lesson for travel and also life: When you find something that works, do not make any unnecessary changes – no need to reinvent the wheel. I had stayed at many Generator Hostels throughout Europe in the past and they always served me and my injury needs adequately.  The bar was set high for this location (pun intended).

Upon entering the hostel I was taken aback by how stylish it was. It looked very elegantly fashionable, very chic – my kind of place. There was a refined unassuming contemporary counter for check-in, plush chairs abound to relax and view any street walkers-by, with an eclectic and trendy colorful bar and restaurant in the background, with a Jameson bottle chandelier as the centerpiece. To the far right corner, with a clear view of the drunken shenanigans taking place at the bar, sat a beautiful pool table. To the back left was a veranda with sitting area for live entertainment and additional tables for more hobnobbing with newly made friends. The hostel was clearly setup to induce traveler interaction.

After getting my room sussed out, I decided to explore the hostel further.  I reserved a dormitory style room that slept twelve, although when I arrived I only saw four other bodies – all fast asleep at 15:00. I had a short distance to wheel over thick carpet but once out of my floor wing the floors were smooth. There was a dedicated handicapped toilet and sink room, but most times it was occupied by someone too lazy to walk the extra two meters to the common room. The showers were in a separate space. Both areas were very large, with enough sinks and showers to clean a small army. There was also a dedicated shower stall for those needing assistance, including a bench and low water controls. Splendid!

It was time for an obligatory pint of Guinness.  As the saying goes, when in Rome…. I headed to the bar and was immediately met with a set of stairs.  Two meters to the left was a dedicated lift to bring me down one level. I picked a table, ordered a pint, and within minutes was talking with some fellow voyagers. Sean Kennedy from Ottawa, Canada was the first, followed by Erika from Rotterdam, Holland, and then came Jacob from Perth, Australia.  Did I say just one Guinness? Oops, a Catholic white lie. A few beers later, minding our “Ps” and “Qs,” the group comfortable with one another, travel stories and laughter only increased round after round. We all decided to meet for breakfast the next morning.

For some odd reason no one made it to breakfast the next morning – must have been the Dubliner air. I enjoyed a delicious traditional Irish breakfast: eggs, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans and grilled tomatoes. Stomach overly filled, I decided to venture out and take my chances seeing the city on one of the many hop-on-hop-off bus tours. I chose the red line as they had a pickup only 30 meters from the hostel entrance. The bus pulled up, a foldable pull-out ramp appeared, I rolled on, paid my 20 Euro fare (unlimited rides for 48 hours), and off we went. Though it is a great bargain, as you get to see most the city’s best sites, it is only for the strong and fit – even with breaks on, the chair was thrown all over.

Being an exceptionally seasoned world traveler, having lived all over the planet for almost a decade of my life, international travel mostly comes easily to me – even the constant hiccups and curveballs the world throws my way are met head-on, and overcome with grace and laughter. No doubt travelling in a wheelchair is a much different experience, though mostly logistical, hence my injured traveler blog. But there is another element to what I do, one that requires that my wheelchair and its parts are all in the best possible working order. I am forever indebted to the people at NuMotion Mobility Company, especially Gary Gilberti and his amazing crew at my local office, including Christie, Jim and John.

By the time I returned to the hostel, sea-sick and bruised, the rest of the crew was already at the bar, and many pints ahead of me. By this juncture, a French doctor, Pierre, and Wouter, a quiet and witty Dutchman, had joined the bouquet – making for quite the assorted international motley bunch.  We decided to go out for dinner that evening – Kennedy had heard the food at Kingfisher’s was the best in town.  It was agreed the four of us would meet at 19:00 and taxi to O’Connell section of town. All taxi drivers, with one honorable mention later, were more than happy to get out and assist with the wheelchair breakdown and storage. I had the classic dish: fish-n-chips. It was amazing. Legendary!

By this time I had already made friends with the bartender, Milo, from Greenland – a country of 56,170 people – a fjord-lined Danish territory.  All the staff was very friendly.  As stated in my book, Unbreakable Mind, one must participate in life by Doing The Dirty Dishes: If meeting new friends or socializing with strangers is an issue, go where others are seeking the same: new friends and experiences. You are guaranteed both if you stay at a hostel.  I choose to stay at Generator Hostels when in Europe because even though they are the cost of a cheap hotel, they have better clientele. I have never once placed a lock on my storage bin. If in need of purple underwear – please, by all means!

The next few days friends went various directions and so I decided to venture out into the city where ‘streets have names’ alone.  The walkways and sidewalks upon first inspection looked smooth, until in the chair wheeling around town – they surely gave my kidneys a workout.  There are curb ramps but definitely careful attention to detail must be paid if one wants to stay in the chair. Drivers are not so quick to slam on their brakes for you when crossing the road. Also, Luas, the tram/light rail system, which began operating in 2004, extends throughout the city with Red and Green lines, thus providing many places for your caster wheels to get stuck, or dumped by not wheeling over the bumps properly.

That next morning I was up early so I could visit St. Stephens Green, a historic park and great inner-city escape with 15 statues and memorials of famous figures and events, a favorite of James Joyce. Soon after, I found myself at the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland’s most famous beer, with a guided tour that ended on a rooftop bar with free tastings. Best to reserve a ticket online as the queue can be a bit long. Just around the corner from the St. James Gate Brewery is the 200 year old Jameson Distillery Bow Street, the world renowned home to Irish Whiskey – even though Jameson was in fact a Scottish lawyer. Needless to say after such a day, finding stable ground key – the chair was wobbly for some odd reason.

The following day I decided to bugger off to Dublin Castle and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, just a short distance from Smithfield, the district where my hostel was located. The castle, former seat of the British government’s administration in Ireland, played a lead role in the Easter Rising of 1916.  It helped set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, fought from 1919 to 1921, between the Irish Republican Army and British forces. It had a small incline and some cobblestones about but was surprisingly easy to navigate in a wheelchair. The Cathedral’s layout was expansive, including long verdant lawns and brick pavers, thus making for a smooth visit. Both buildings, heavily steeped in history, will leave you in awe.

My second to final day a few of us decided to visit the Dublin Zoo.  Kennedy and Wouter rounded out a threesome – our troop was complete. Before we even had a chance to observe the local animals, we had one of own for a taxi driver. We had inadvertently stepped into the wrong taxi and the driver, quite rattled and angry, Patrick Donegal, of Belfast, continued slagging us incessantly. He kept repeating in a deep Ulster accent, “You don’t understand!” It made for some fun local taking the piss before we were on our way to be accosted by apes and monkeys – two mainstays of the zoo, located in Phoenix Park, with 707 hectares of land, making it one of Europe’s largest parks. It was a roaring day. Classic!

My last night in Dublin I decided to head out to the famous party zone of Dublin’s Temple Bar District with some of my new friends. We all had flights out of Ireland the next day. They all headed home and were asleep by midnight. But to me, that is just when the rapture began.  Four hours later, a few locally sourced prescribed pints of Guinness down the gullet, it was time to find my way home to sleep before catching my 07:00 flight. Dublin is so rich in history, cultural delight and overall fun, with so much to see and on such a short visit, no doubt I will return to the Emerald Isle for another dose of some additional Ol, Craic Agus Ceol. You left me wanting more; I shall return, old friend.  Slán leatCéad mile fáilte!

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

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.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

Sweden: To my delight, your fika, lingonberries and balls tickled me bright.

From the time I arrived at Arlanda airport I could already tell it was going to be a great trip. I had been to Sverige once before, many years ago, to see a friend, Jonaton Tillander, graduate from high school. He lived on the West Coast, in a beautiful coastal city, Goteborg.  At the time, I was in Danmark visiting friends in Kobenhavn, and boarded the ferry across the Kattegat (Danish: “Cat’s Throat”) strait, forming a link between the Baltic Sea and North Sea. In 1995 they built the Oresund Bridge, attaching Danmark and Sweden.  It is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe, including a 4 kilometer tunnel, connecting two major metropolitan areas, Kobenhavn, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden.

However, this would be my first time to the spectacular East Coast city of Stockholm.  To say I was elated would be to lessen my true excitement. It was always on my bucket list and now it would become a blog entry to inform other travelers. But this time in Sweden would be very different: I would be seeing it as an injured traveler, in a wheelchair.  Like any new place one goes while injured, I wondered how they would treat me, the condition of the streets, would I be able to access all or some of the astonishing tourist attractions, could I use public transport, would I be able to enter my hotel room, toilet and shower, and so many other concerns – too long a list to index here.  Game-on!

As with any new country I arrive at in a wheelchair, I immediately assessed my transport concerns. The city was a twenty minute drive by taxi or a bit further and complicated if I attempted public transport.  As is the case with most European cities but especially Scandinavia, public transportation is reliable, efficient and safe.  Trains departed  twice an hour from the airport’s Arlanda Central Station, between terminals 4 and 5, dropping you at Stockholm’s Central Station. The train ride is 38 minutes. Coach was also an option, with Flygbussarna buses departing the airport every 10-15 minutes.  They also dropped you in city-center at Stockholm’s Central Station.  I opted for the easiest option: taxi.

The taxi pulled up to the Generator Hostel, I paid, departed, and was on my way – let the enjoyment begin. As I entered the hostel, a chain throughout Europe (now with one in Miami), I was immediately welcomed by the warm and affable staff at the counter. I knew I had picked the right hotel. A few minutes later they had me sorted out and I was off to my room. The hostel had an elevator to reach the upper floors, lucky me. As is the case with many hotels I book while traveling, there is a process of elimination to find a room that actually is best suited to my injury needs. Not the case with Generator – all was perfect. The door had an automated option, though it was in repair during my visit.

Generator Hostels are my favorite places to stay in Europe. In the past year I have stayed at Dublin, Ireland and Amsterdam, Holland. The staff is friendly and welcoming, always willing to accommodate the injured traveler – they make your stay comfortable. Otherwise from experience, while journeying throughout Europe, I can tell you it can be a nightmare in a wheelchair.  For me it is very convenient to have everything I need on a bad day within feet of my hostel door: restaurant for food, bar for drinks, meeting area(s) for friends, handicapped accessible bathroom(s) and general area for shared enjoyment. Stockholm even has a mini ping-pong table. Beat Boris and get a free breakfast. I ate free for a week.

The room had four bunks but I was the only one there at that time. I settled in, unpacked, took a shower and then stole a short nap to recharge my batteries. I had flown to Sweden direct from Iceland, a three hour flight, and so was not very knackered. Usually my first day in a new city I take some time to relax and understand the lay of the land – I’ll look at maps, do some research and plan accordingly.  Since it was a hostel with a large shared space for eating and fun, I headed downstairs to the communal lobby/bar/restaurant area. As with most my life, not ten minutes had passed and I was already meeting other world travelers – making new friends.  Molly from Canada was the first.  Let the good times roll!

Map of the city understood, obligatory first drink with new friends finished, planning aside, it was time to dig in to the local eats. The hostel also had a club attached to it which served as a business meeting venue during the day, replete with a full chef’s menu and all the accoutrements.  Word in the hostel halls was the food was extremely tasty, and also well priced.  I would not be a true tourist if I did not make my first order Kottbullar (Swedish meatballs), served with lingonberries, mashed potatoes and pickled cucumber slices.  The tiny pork and beef meatballs were served in a nutmeg and cardamom flavored gravy, which suited the mashed potatoes just fine. They were mouthwatering. I was in love.

Dreams of meatballs and berries aside, the next morning I awoke to a phone call from a friend from United Kingdom, Lawrence, who had just arrived at the airport, was on a bus and would soon arrive at the hostel. He had flown into Vasteras, an alternate and cheaper airport for flights from Europe, located 100km from Stockholm – so though his flight, return London for 60 quid (pounds), was cheaper – he ended up paying for the inconvenience and time. Being an injured traveler I opt for convenience over cost savings anytime practical and pragmatic; though could be my age too. Sure enough, twenty minutes later there was a knock at my door. It was beer time – Brits would have it no other way on holiday.

That night we did not venture far, deciding to check out Bar Hilma, the club that was a part of the hostel. There I met Tahir from Kashmir, in Scandinavia selling the highest quality Kashmir and Pashmina scarves.  Shortly after, Nick from Texas, US joined the group, Ajay from London, England and Monica from Oslo, Norway, moments later.  Not long after, abound with a smorgasbord of personalities and stories from all over the globe alike, new life-long relationships were in the process of being formed. To date, I still speak with all the unique people from all parts of the world I met on my trip to Stockholm. The club and hostel catered to my injured needs swimmingly – Stockholm was delivering on her promise: fun for all.

Before departing each others’ company that night, some had agreed to spend the next day together sightseeing the local neighborhood. Being that it would be my first day out-and-about in the city in a wheelchair, it was most welcome to have some of my new friends along with me for the ride.  The next morning I had the most appetizing breakfast with Lawrence – scrambled eggs and soft bacon with fresh warm baked bread and newly harvested fruits. I then relaxed and did some reading and journal writing before meeting the others to explore the city. The hostel is centrally located downtown; everything you would want to visit is only a short distance away.  All attractions are a close walk, taxi or bus ride.

Over the next few days I spent time with different friends going various places. Everyone had their own interests and, as long as I was able to do so in a wheelchair, and they were willing to have me along, I joined. One sunny afternoon with Nick, Ajay and Lawrence we visited Skansen Island, world’s oldest open-air museum, where there is a small zoo, traditional Scandinavian sod roof homes, windmills, restaurants and historic enactments. After lunch, at a historic hotel, we had drinks at a WWII torpedo factory. The Raksmorgas (prawn sandwich) was delicious. A day spent with Joel, a nurse from France I met at the hostel, in his car to see more of the city and gardens otherwise inaccessible, was splendid.

What one immediately takes notice of, once past the small lip at the entrance of the hostel, is just how friendly the sidewalks of Stockholm are for the injured – blind included. The sidewalks are smooth, with cement ramp entrances and exits wherever a curb could be seen. The streets and walks were orderly, well lit and properly marked, reminiscent of a walk through any IKEA store – buses, trains and their stations, the same. There was ample parking for handicapped persons, almost always located right at the front entrance. Museums throughout the city had reserved parking spots very close to the entrance. Public buildings all had ramps as well.  I was overly impressed by the convenience provided for injured.

Stockholm is known as the ‘Venice of the North,’ also commonly referred to as the capital of Scandinavia. It is a city of old buildings and unique design, surrounded by water, dating from 1250s to 1600s – as the city was sparred being leveled by bombs in WWII, with the exception of a few ‘accidental’ Soviet bombs – though some say it was the German or Finnish Air Force intending to provoke the Soviets. The modern city is a lovely mix of old and new, apparent everywhere you looked. There is a lovely waterfront promenade where one can enjoy its famous multi-colored buildings and remarkable architecture, while having a drink or lunch with friends – or simply just taking in the breathtaking vista.

Their museum and art installations are world class. My favorite was Fotografiska centre, filled with contemporary photography, conveniently discovered in the Sodermalm district, with gorgeous views of the Stockholm harbor. Vasa Maritime Museum, located on Djurgarden Island, with its almost fully intact, 64-gun warship, that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628, never making it out of the harbor, was stunning.  A city of fine art – a ‘street art’ tour in Ragsved neighborhood, as well their subway stations, is one-of-a-kind – with over 160 street artists’ graffiti showcased – a must see.  Stadsbiblioteket, Stockholm Public Library, designed by Gunnar Asplund, is one of the city’s most distinctive structures.

Stockholm, hub of Scandinavia, alive and electric, is also filled with great shopping, endless culture and exciting entertainment and nightlife. The food, not just their fika, the almighty Swedish coffee break, with over 1000 restaurants, located in close-by districts of Norrmalm and Vasastaden, was affordable and most delectable. Ferries are also available to sail you to other exotic locations like Helsinki, Finland or St. Petersburg, Russia. As I mentioned in my book, Unbreakable Mind, life is best lived when Doing The Dirty Dishes, getting out-and-about, traveling the world, experiencing life, living – getting your hands dirty.  Stockholm should be on everyone’s bucket list – your fika dishes await – Nu gar vi!

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

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.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

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: 25arroyos@gmail.com

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

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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Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

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!

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

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.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.