Antarctica China Indonesia Mongolia

Have Wheels Will Travel Handicapped

“How did you get up here?” I asked her. The lady replied, “They carried me.” As we continued our travels around Ethiopia, she was in the same places as we were, Lalibela, the Omo Valley and Addis Abba. 13-2I began speaking with her and learned this lady travels all over the world just like we do.pic7

But this lady travels in a wheelchair. Soon we became friends and I started asking how she makes it because I might need to know one day myself. And while we discussed all of her tips and ideas, I thought how many other people would like to know how she does it so successfully.

Even the cattle were wondering how she made it to many countries around the world HANDICAPPED.

Following is her story and photos of her various trips around the world to Austria, Japan, Mongolia, Namibia, Norway, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, China, Myanmar, Antarctica, Trans Siberian Express, Argentina, Bermuda and more.pic6

By Cynthia Henry

“Physically handicapped,” “disabled,” “physically challenged,” “differently abled”….. I have yet to find any term that feels comfortable for a life-changing condition that no one expects.  But, I no longer need to!  Thanks to Journeys International and API Tours of Indonesia (JI’s overseas operator), Focus Tours and more, I now use “World Traveler!”  What a thrill to return from two and a half weeks in Indonesia and say, “What a grand trip—and it was do-able!”pic1

Were there challenges? Well, sure.  Did they work out?  Yes, with the help of my traveling companions, Molly and Carolynne, and the operators, drivers, guides, boatmen and local people of Journeys/API and Focus Tours.  Were the challenges overwhelming?  NO!  Could I do every single activity that Molly and Carolynne did?  I never planned to and did sit out some, but was thrilled and amazed at what everyone made possible!pic5

I had done much traveling over the years and planned to continue as I eased into retirement in 2003.  I got in four overseas trips until… March 2005.  Who was to know that I would then topple off an exercise ball and suffer a spinal cord injury? As I lay paralyzed in rehab, thoughts of going to such remote places flowed out of my head while I instead worked on feeding myself a cheese sandwich. 

Does this look handicapped accessible? It is if you have several strong wonderful men helping you in every way.

Well, movement came back.  I eventually returned home, learned how to live from a wheelchair and soon “graduated” to a walker.  I continue to use the walker and always will; I take a wheelchair on trips, which I use as a walker when not being pushed.   I can go up and down steps, either with a railing or with support from two companions and someone hauling the wheelchair up.    I am slow, awkward and have a variety of physical issues, but…I can also travel around the world! 

My wheelchair was welcomed in all countries I visited and so was I. We both were treated with a “can do” attitude and they figured out every way to make the trip an enjoyable experience.

After I began experimenting with shorter and then longer excursions and finding out I could fly (get down the aisle and use the bathroom), a major life goal, I began thinking of the possibility of travel outside the country.  Since then, I have been on several overseas trips!  Five of my trips have been with Journeys International, that company rep providing the warmest and most hopeful and helpful response to my tentative query of  “….uh….what do you think?  Here’s what I can do.”   Pat’s response, in essence, were six magic words, “Our guides will get you up.”  And, they did!

Stairs were no problem. Several men just picked me up in my wheelchair and carried me right up the stairs perfectly. But many times I was able to climb a few stairs using handrails and a helper.

JI’s philosophy is that people with special needs have rights—the right to travel, the right to have “inaccessible” places made accessible, the freedom to go places they may have thought impossible… They then provide the support of so many staff to make this happen.  Each JI agent has been wonderful in working with me.  They assure me this will work and take every step necessary to see that it does.  Many thanks to them!

My traveling companions and good friends, Molly and Carolynne are always willing to travel with me and assist me

So, how did the staff on the ground make all this possible? First, the spirit of Journey’s International/API/Focus Tours was there.  I felt only support and no apprehension or dismay at the extra responsibilities that my situation meant for so many people. Every guide, driver (van or boat), hotel staff member and all others were kind, patient and helpful.Pic26.png

Bali, Indonesia had long been a goal, and so we finally booked it.  But, then, Molly called and said, “Guess what!!!  They have extensions to see the orangutans on Borneo and the Komodo dragons on Komodo Island!”  My immediate thought, was “Oh, no, extensive sitting in a van or on a boat or alongside the trail while my two friends go traipsing off on marvelous adventures.”  But, I weakly responded, “Uh, sure…take lots of pictures for me.”pic36

I generally have a “rule” of no pictures of me in the wheelchair, but the ingenuity, the creativity, the physical strength, the dedication of everyone, the incongruousness of it all—well, no choice this time around!  And, thank goodness, we did document, so that when our final guide, Yansur, asked that I do a report as a traveler with a disability, we were ready to say, “You bet!”    He hoped it would inspire more people with special needs to venture to the far corners of the globe.  I hope that will be the case.pic37

Now to my report on this specific trip, especially the parts that I had no expectations of seeing–the orangutans and the Komodo dragons…. Bali was lovely, fairly routine sightseeing , and we enjoyed the ease of driving around and staying at marvelous hotels.  Budi was our outstanding guide.  I did have to stay in the van for a few off-the-road surprises, but, am used to that.pic24 The main help provided that made a huge difference was our wonderful driver coming up with a step to make my way into the van without such massive bottom boosts.  Some vans are easier than others, and our driver throughout Bali converted this one into the “easy” category.  He and all drivers were so kind to wrestle that wheelchair in and out of the back area so I could enjoy the monkey forest near Ubud and a Rhesus monkey on my head.pic33

We flew to Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo, for our orangutan experience  Again, I did not expect to see any, except possibly swinging through the jungle trees during the boat journeys or from the boat at the get-in site, both of which actually did happen.  Pic27.png

However, while still in Bali, my hopes were raised with a message from our wonderful companies that they were confident they had a plan to make it work!!! The word “palanquin” does not often come up in my vocabulary, but the written description brought it forth.  Sure enough…oh, my…  and my dream was accomplished well beyond anything I imagined.

Momma and Baby at eating station in Camp Leakey. Photo by Carolyn



With my usual awkwardness and trepidation (all this isn’t emotionally stress-free), and with many hands helping many body parts, I am loaded bit by bit onto the boat, get comfy in my chair—and ponder my latest wheelchair riding in first class… rigged up with a rope loop handle attached to each of the four corners.pic34

After two hours, with a couple of orangutans along the way, we reach delightful Rimba Lodge and enough adventures for us all!  First by my just getting there…!   We begin with a nice boardwalk and board-carrying me in my wheelchair. And, off we go—some bare feet, tree roots, bumps, streams, slippery slopes…hard work, indeed!pic35

Success!   It can be handy to bring your own ringside seat for watching orangutans at a feeding station or mother and baby right in front of you.

Dr. Birute Galdikas is the number one orangutan expert in the world and the creator of Camp Leakey. Photo by Carolyn

I had long wanted to see where Birute Galdikas, one of the three Leakey women primate researchers, did her thing, along with Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall doing theirs in Africa.  And, here I am at Camp Leakey, thanks to my “four strong men” as Erwin reassured me!pic42

On to the Komodo dragons on Rinca Island, Indonesia…another “impossible” feat to get me to these remarkable creatures..pic41

My wheelchair and a vegetable cart are loaded onto the boat. The cart was unloaded, and then fitted with a lounge chair so that I could follow the path of this prehistoric reptile waddling ahead of me. We made it to the ranger station for some fun viewing while the others trekked through the wilderness, seeing six in the wild.pic44

The four men from API Tours who met with us in the lobby of our hotel in Santur, at the end of our Indonesia journey emphasized that dealing with my specials needs, and working along with staff on the ground to solve the issues required was not a burden, but an exhilarating challenge to be creative and to work out plans for me to see the animals.a-196

And then there was Harbin, China and the world famous Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival where my wheelchair was fitted with skis that I was told to bring with me so my helper could just push me on ice around the awesomely incredible illuminated sculptures in below freezing temperature.2017-wheelchair-skis-closeup



And then there was Antarctica where I thought I would just see it. But, no. The ship crew saw to it that I would experience and stand on THE island and even enjoy a glass of champagne to celebrate making it.cynthia-on-cont

Our experience in Mongolia was another great experience. Several times, I left the wheelchair and one time I would be surprised when I returned to it, like the time a precious Mongolian boy taking a nap or working on a game. mongolia-2009

And in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, an iguana was resting on the chair’s arm and a chameleon sat on my arm.pic23

In Myanmar/Burma, we watched an ox harvest peanut oil while walking around and around. Afterwards, we could buy it and sample it. What an experience that was.burma-2013-3

Asaro Mudmen

And in Papua New Guinea, we were so fortunate to experience the Asaro Mudmen. Amazing! I am so grateful for all who made feasible these incredible experiences that I never imagined would happen.

Watching the tango being danced in Buenos Aires, Argentina was one highlight of our trip there. Photo by Carolyn.

I encourage anyone to contact me should you have questions or need additional information. Perhaps by knowing as much as possible about my physical situation and adaptations, this will help you judge your ability to travel to “far away places with strange sounding names!” If anyone can get you there, Journeys International/API Tours, Focus Tours and others can if you ask!

Cynthia Henry

Here we are going into Camp Leakey to see those orangutans up close and personal.


When I visited the wild mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, I learned they are equipped with a chair to carry handicapped persons up the mountain to be with the gorillas. So, I hired a crew of 8-12 men to carry me up the mountain for a one-hour trek. Four men rotated every 10 minutes. The experience was unbelievable and the scenery up and back was so beautiful and interesting. With those men carrying me, we crossed a creek like it wasn’t there in Uganda. Waiting for us was a family of gorillas going about their daily life for us to enjoy. It was worth every penny and a once in a lifetime experience I will treasure always. Emmy Maseruka ( of Afrikan Wildlife Safaris, was our guide for the entire safari and visit to the gorillas. He did an A+ job for us. Emmy will take 2 persons or more to see the gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda for 10 days for $4851.00 per person, (plus government gorilla permits in Uganda and Rwanda are separate). Carolyn
Here I am in Lhasa, Tibet enjoying my favorite chocolate ice cream while riding in a wheelchair the entire 3 days because of my broken foot. My 2 helpers took me all over the nearly 11,500 feet high city. It was a wonderful experience.
While sitting in a wheelchair, this beautiful lady in Saudi Arabia put henna on my hands. It was at one of the booths at an entertainment park during a special festival for the families around Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. June Landrum, my adventurous travel companion and I were honored to attend this special festival. The people were as happy to meet us as we were to meet them and we took photos of each other on our cell phones! I was in a wheelchair for this event because I could not walk for 4 hours non-stop due to my chronic arthritic back pain.
And yes, June Landrum and I had to have an ice cream like we do in every country we visit in the world. And everyone is delicious! Of, course, we are stared at everywhere we go and we become friends with them all. This Saudi Arabia tour with Spiekermann Tours (  was a delightful, fun experience with the incredible country and we were welcomed everywhere we went.


Photo Copy ©  2017

Photos taken for Cynthia’s story were by Molly.




Ger Hopping in Mongolia

Driving down the road, we saw a ger with a herd of yaks grazing beside it, another with 30 camels resting nearby and a third with yaks, horses, goats and sheep. When asked if we could visit, “Come on in,” was the answer from each nomad.ImageImageImage And, what a truly special education and a one-of-a kind experience we received from our new friends in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia.

Entering each yurt, called a “ger” in Mongolia, we were escorted to the left side of the round structure where guests are seated in the most honored location, on the bed farthest from the door.Image

The nomad family sat on the rightmost bed farthest from the door near the kitchen. Between the two groups were a religious display, a cow-patty-fueled stove, and a small table. All basic, sturdy furniture was painted bright orange, signifying long life, power and positivity, with multi-colored colors of green, blue, yellow, white and red used in the traditional Mongolian designs and patterns.Image

The traditional drink of Mongolia, tea served in a bowl, was offered immediately. Served with two hands showing respect, each family offered us the delicious tea concoction poured from a thermos jug. The tea was made of milk from a cow, yak or camel, with salt and tea added, then cooked to boiling in a large metal cauldron on that stove in the middle of the ger.Image


The head of the household officially greeted each one of us by passing his prized snuff bottle to us using the right hand with the left hand supporting that arm at the elbow. We took the snuff bottle, unscrewed the lid and either smelled the snuff or put some in each nostril. Each family had a bottle made of jade.

Afterwards, each one returned the bottle to the household head, which then passed it to another guest. Now, we had been officially greeted and welcomed by each nomadic family. This prized bottle was placed on the religious display for safekeeping. The heavy snuff bottle indicated a nomadic family’s wealth or standing. The cap and bottle could  be made of coral, jade, gold, silver, or a semi-precious stone. Any other materials indicated lesser importance and wealth.Image

Offerings of the 30 various products made from milk followed, including yogurt, butter and bread that tasted like a donut. And all were really good and allow the nomad to live independently as possible in the desert.

Finally, it was time to officially meet the family. Image

At the first ger, the family of four included the two children, four-year-old Somomjamts and six-year-old Bumbuuleai, who enjoyed running, playing and posing for guests’ photos. Their mother was 36-years old. Their father, 34-years old, was spending the summer in the high mountains tending their animals in the high grass. Every three weeks, he would return to the ger to stock up on more supplies before returning to the high grass. The mother’s father, 66-year-old Tsunga, came to meet us also.

Tsunga said it takes 1-2 hours to build their felt ger. They are planning to build an adjacent ger for storage.

During our visit, the phone rang and the mother answered it, talked, finished, and placed it back between the rafter and the thick felt ger roof covering. It seems the phone only worked in that area so she could not move it. Image

A blue satin bag with blue ties full of multi-colored ribbons hung from another rafter. This is the Mongolian good luck charm, with the colored ribbons representing the blue sky, the green grass, the white milk, the red in fire, the yellow of the sun and the gold of good fortune.

ImageDriving to our next ger, we saw several six-foot-tall piles of stones with blue strips of fabric attached to a pole protruding from the top of the pile. These are “ovoos” (pronounced oh wahs) used in worship of mountains and sky in Buddhist ceremonies. To wish a safe journey, a person walked around the pile of rocks three times clockwise and placed more stones on the pile. These monuments also serve as landmarks.

Bactrian Camels in the Gobi Desert

At the second ger, 30 Bactrian camels were resting on the ground just waiting for us to visit.Image The babies were especially cute and were naturally losing their winter long thick hair while the adults had just been sheered and their hair sold at market.Image

As we were visiting the camels, the nomad family’s beautiful young daughter greeted us and invited us into their ger for the official greeting with her parents and brother.

“Could we ride a camel?” we asked and the next thing we knew we were on a camel’s back for a unique up-down ride and dismount.Image

We were laughing and howling it was so much fun! Sitting between the two humps was ideal as it kept us from sliding forward or backward.Image

After the camel ride, it was time for the official of the official nomad greeting when they offered us vodka they called nermel, which they make after fermented camel’s milk (called Khoomag)  and yogurt.Image

By boiling the remains of milk products nomads produce, the condensing drops that occur fall into a small wood bucket under the big cauldron using a basic distillation process.Image “Now, we have vodka with 10-12% alcohol, which is more than beer but less than vodka and it is so good,” our host said. “And it takes 10 liters of milk to get 1 liter of vodka.”

Daily Life at a Ger

Approaching the third ger, the nomads met us with three yaks and invited us to ride them the 300 meters to their



At the ger, more nomads in their traditional native dress greeted us and showed us several of their nomadic traditions.Image

Goat milking was first, with four nomads each selecting a goat to milk.Image Next, came demonstrations of making felt from sheep’s wool,Image shooting a bow and arrow,Image

and softening strips of leather by attaching them to a heavy rock and rubbing them up and down many times.Image

Our final exhibit was how the nomads make yogurt from milk.Image Mare or camel’s milk is put in an enclosed cow skin sack. And with a paddle, the milk is stirred 5-10,000 times for 3 days and fermenting occurs during the process, resulting in fermented mare’s milk (airag) or fermented camel’s milk (khoormog), another nomad-prized drink.

Now it was time to go into the ger for the official nomadic snuff bottle greeting and milk product snacks,Image

plus a game of shagai, better known as the “sheep-ankle-bones” game. With these bones, we played games of horseracing and fortune telling.

But the official of the official greeting came when the nomads offered us vodka, they called nermel, which they made after fermented camel’s milk.Image

After letting us examine their heavy sheep skin winter coats, they demonstrated how the yaks and carts are loaded with all their possessions as they move their entire ger settlement to a better grazing area.Image This goes on year after year for the only remaining true nomadic people left in the world — Mongolian nomads. And the Yaks continue grazing at all locations.Image