Travels of a Blue-Arsed Fly – Part 2

There are certain considerations when it comes to travelling with a disability.

This continues the Blue Arsed Fly’s travel adventures. You can read his first instalment here.

We’d only been this way once before, around 10 years ago. I was driving relying on my memory.

For all you grey nomads who have been to Fremantle know it’s an old town with narrow roads and lots of one way streets. I missed the Rydges Hotel where we were staying by only one block. Inside the room was much like the one we had in Kalgoorlie and we were happy.

The following day I wanted to find the car storage place so I’d know where to go on the day we were to join the ship for our cruise. I had a map and it was another cook’s tour to get there and we ended up at the right address, which turned out to be a council depot and not the boat/car storage place. Luckily the map had a phone number and when I called to check I was advised that the storage place was no longer there. No kidding!? After another tour of Fremantle we finally found the place.

The day of our cruise arrived and I got the missus in to her new electric wheelchair, which we were using for the first time. We finally got onboard and the cabin is on deck eight and had single beds, which was good as it allowed more room to turn the wheelchair around.

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The bathroom is a proper wet room, big enough to get the wheelchair in and out and room for me to get mother in and out of the chair. We toured the ship and what it had to offer. I won’t bore you with the details but that first night we went to the restaurant, at night you have to wear strides and shirts and shoes, no thongs or shorts.

We arrived at the appointed time and for the first night a waiter shows you to your table, mother in the wheelchair, we follow. The waiter then stops and says there is a step and you’ll have to walk to the table. Here we go again.

My wife can’t walk and I explained that to the cruise line three times and they assured me there would be no problem. There was a problem because all the seats had been allocated. The waiter went off to get the head waiter for the evening. A good idea.

Meanwhile we’re blocking traffic as there was very little room to manoeuvre the wheelchair. The head waiter came up and immediately said please come with me, he took us to the other restaurant where he placed us at a table without any steps.

We set sail for Asia.

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The following day I went to the tour desk and about any tours that were disabled friendly, the answer was no. We were prepared for this. We would just have to go ashore when the ship was alongside and see what was around the ship.

The first port was Lombok Island where the ship anchored, as they were using tenders those that could not walk were not allowed to go ashore as they needed to walk onto the tenders. First port — nothing for us.

The next port was Port Kelang Malaysia, this port supplies Kuala Lumper about 60km away. We can’t go on the tours so we turned up to go ashore and the gangway had steps, so I asked how can my wife go ashore, they said we have that and pointed to a wheelchair that was on caterpillar tracks that was supposed to travel over the steps. I looked at the wife and we were both thinking of Ceduna, I asked how would they be able to get the electric wheelchair down the gangway. They said two men would carry it down and up. No way! We didn’t go ashore at Port Kelang.

The island of Penang was our next port, but the problem was the gangway so we don’t go ashore.

By now the missus was feeling sick, had a temperature and a bad cough. I take her to the medical centre and the nurse said, “I’ll just check to see if you have the flu.”

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She takes out a long thin needle with a tiny brush like thing at the end, she went to the missus and without saying anything shoved the brush high up her nose. The wife nearly jumped out of the wheelchair and said it hurt, the nurse said nothing but placed the thing into a small gadget and left. She returned 10 minutes later and confirmed that the wife didn’t have the flu. The doctor came in and said, “You have a very bad cold, I’ll give you Panadol, cough syrup and antibiotics.”

We left and when we finally got back to the cabin there was an envelope, inside was a $330 doctor’s bill.

Another man I was talking to was dehydrated and went to the medical clinic — the cost was $1,000. My advice if you go on a cruise — don’t get sick.

The next port was Phuket and lo and behold they had a ramp gangway, even though she was sick we went ashore to the wharf where there were quite a few stalls. It was hot and humid but we went through the stalls and bought a few things and then got back onboard to get out of the weather.

We were also able to get ashore at Singapore. We were going to China Town and Little India to shop. While we waited for a cab a Mercedes-Benz cab turned up and we got in. He didn’t start the meter but said it was a set fee of $55 to go to China Town. I only had $150 Singapore dollars so I paid the taxi and we went looking.

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Old China Town isn’t what it used to be, one narrow one way street, with several laneways. Eighty per cent of the shops are $2 shops selling trashy souvenirs, with clothes stores and of course eateries.

It was 30C, 90 per cent humidity and I was sweating like a pig pushing the wheelchair. When I looked in my wallet I only had $40 left and we needed $55 to get back, so I asked a store worker where the nearest ATM was and when we got there it was the underground railway station, so we weren’t going down there.

I pushed the wheelchair out to a main road and looked around, a man came up and asked if he could help. When I said I was looking for an ATN he pointed to one down the road a little. I got $50 out and went around the corner to the taxi rank. Did I mention it was 30C, 90 per cent humidity and I was sweating like a pig pushing the wheelchair?

The first two cabs took one look at mother in the wheelchair and said “No”, I thought “pricks”. The third taxi said “Yes” and by this time there was a couple from the ship waiting for a cab and I asked if they would like to share the cab, thinking it would defray the cost. The cabbie started the meter. When we got back to the terminal it cost $8, talk about seen off, so folks if you’re on a cruise in Singapore watch out for Mercedes-Benz cabs and take a common taxi instead.

Back on the cruise we headed for Phu My, the port for Ho Chi Minh city, and I woke up with every bone and joint in my aching, a temperature and a cough. Mother had kindly shared her malady with me. There was no way I was seeing the doctor. We weren’t the only ones who were sick with the same ailment.

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The ship was alongside but alas the gangway problem was back, there were a stall or two on the wharf but they were selling cheap clothes that were brand names, yeah right.

Cambodia was the next port, but again there was nothing worth going ashore to see.

The third day was Bangkok, which was 60-80km away, and we could have taken the manual wheelchair in a taxi but the cost was A$180 each way. There were shops in the terminal and as the gangway were ramps we went ashore and again bought clothes for the family including Thai silk shirts for about A$30.

Next stop? Koh Samui Thailand near Malaya. We didn’t go ashore.

Our final shore stop was Bali, and again tender time so we didn’t go ashore.

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By this time all we wanted was to get back to Perth — 26 days was far too long — as we had spent all but Singapore onboard the ship.

After catching up with some Navy mates, and going through the same rigmarole as our initial journey when it came to the adequateness of accommodation, we started back home. We knew we could stay at Kalgoorlie, Norseman and Border Village (we hoped) with disabled rooms, so we bypassed Kalgoorlie and spend the first night of our return trip in Norseman. We drove 800km to Norseman and checked into the motel and — you guessed it — the supposed disabled room with wet room was no existent.

No hand rails anywhere, the shower had a step and I could just get the wheelchair into the bathroom. It had a towel rail near the toilet and the wife had to hold onto it and of course it broke. As far as I was concerned it was justice for the lie about the room.

The following day we drove more than 700km to Border Village and with trepidation I asked about the booking of their disabled room, expecting once more to be disappointed.

The unit was not bad inside two single beds but the surprise was the bathroom, indeed it was a wet room, hand rails both sides of the toilet, in the open shower, which had a fold down seat. It was big enough to get the wheelchair in and move around.

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It was a gem stuck out in the middle of nowhere and put all those places west of Ceduna up to Kalgoorlie to shame.

Overall it was an eventful seven weeks away, and we learnt a few things. A 26-day cruise was far too long when you could not go on tours or indeed ashore if you were disabled (can’t walk).

If you are disabled and driving to Perth across the Nullarbor there are only three stops that have disabled rooms. Foreshore Hotel Ceduna (especially if they connect their emergency generator to the lift), Border Village Motel on the WA-SA border 500km from Ceduna and the Rydges Hotel Kalgoorlie, 900km from Border Village.

Do not get sick onboard ship as it could cost thousands of dollars so make sure you have travel insurance, which we did. Watch out for hidden costs, most countries we went to charge entry fees even if you stay onboard and Princess cruises charge a handling fee each time. I estimate that for the countries we went to and handling fees it cost us an extra $800 so be aware.

Have you face challenges when you’ve been travelling? What advice do you have for the Blue Arsed Fly before his next adventure?

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