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.




Balloons Over Bagan, Myanmar


It was cold and dark as we rode to the launching grounds at 5 am for my third balloon ride in the world. This was the hot air balloon ride over Bagan, Myanmar and it was glorious.DSC06880

With 5 other balloons going up around the launching grounds, we watched them all come to life as each one filled with hot air from the fire blower. It was magical watching them as we sipped hot coffee and hot tea.

Then the time came for us to board our balloon basket and we climbed into it and waited for the moment we would take off. Our basket was full of 8 excited people. To keep our balloon from taking off before it was ready, the workers tied the balloon to the bus we rode in to get to the site. And it worked. The balloon couldn’t take off because the bus was too heavy.DSC06885

Soon the ropes were untied from the bus and the balloon rose slowly and majestically as it was our turn to go up. Several other balloons already were in the air and as we ascended, we could see them and the ones yet to fly.DSC06893

It was a thrilling experience as we had a bird’s eye view that allowed us to appreciate the scale of magical Bagan with its thousand year old pagodas and temples that dotted the shores of the mighty (Ayeyarwady) Irrawaddy River.

Photo by Joy Burleson
Photo by Joy Burleson

There were large, medium and small pagodas and temples made of red sandstone everywhere we looked. DSC06963The many ancient kings and leaders each had many built when they were ruling. DSC06970Earthquakes have claimed many of them but several thousand are still standing today.DSC06933

We floated up, down and around the flat plains by the river and could look straight down into the pagodas and temples. The sun continued to rise and so did the rest of the balloons. DSC06949

But all beautiful, fun and glorious balloon rides must end and it was our time. DSC06990To my amazement, we landed perfectly and standing up in the basket. And as I watched the others land, they did the same.

The local children were waiting for us to buy their photos as a souvenir as we landed early in the morning.
The local children were waiting for us to buy their photos as a souvenir as we landed early in the morning.

It was a wonderful ride that we enjoyed so much, even though we had to get up at 5 a.m. in the cold and dark.

Joy Burleson celebrates her first balloon ride that went perfect.
Joy Burleson celebrates her first balloon ride that was perfect.

This dream ride was worth it all and we celebrated with champagne and snacks.

Photo Copy ©  2015 

Photo by Joy Burleson
Photo by Joy Burleson

The Parade To Monkhood in Myanmar

Children 5-10 years old dressed like royalty for a day and riding in gilded carriages in a half mile parade through their village of Mingun, Myanmar, were bidding farewell to the lifestyle as they know it. For the next day, their lives would change dramatically.DSC06372

This was the 2-day Novice Initiation Ceremony for Monkhood-Nunnery, where gilded and decorated chariots and wagons carrying the young princes and princesses, both wearing makeup and lipstick, were being pulled by elaborately decorated Brahma cows and horses led in procession by a regally caparisoned elephant. An elephant always leads a parade as they are the largest animal in the world and were used since ancient times to lead parades. Gold, red, green, purple, blue, white and yellow were the dominant colors on the highly adorned children, animals and carriages in the parade. Each child had flowers and a brightly colored umbrella for protection and good luck.DSC06369

It is an honorable deed for parents to let their young children go to the monastery-nunnery where Buddhism is practiced by 89% of the people in Myanmar. By sending their young children to the monastery-nunnery, they receive great merits to obtain a favorable rebirth and it is the most important duty a parent can do for a child to become immersed in the teachings of Buddha. Being a novice is the most auspicious day in a child’s life and the novice parade begins it. The other most important day in their life is becoming a monk at age 20.DSC06367

Another reason parents will send their children to the monastery-nunnery is because they are unable to feed and educate them and the monastery-nunnery does it all. If parents do not have a boy to send to the monastery, they will adopt one or adopt one from a poor family. It brings great merits for the act of sending a child to the monastery-nunnery in Theravada Buddhism. It is a very meritorious act to send a boy to a monastery.DSC06371 (2)

The children go to the monastery-nunnery when there is an opening and most ceremonies occur around their New Year in April. The girls may also have their ears pierced with a gold needle at the same ceremony.  Children from several neighborhoods gathered together to form the long parade. Before the parade, the parents watch their children closely to make sure they are not injured in any way to prevent them from the process of novitation, also called shinbyu.DSC06368

Sending their children to the monastery-nunnery costs the parents a lot of money. Many go into debt to do this for their children. The gilded chariots, animals, elaborate prince-princess ensembles, animal decorations and all other things needed could be rented for the parade. Most of the animals in this parade were obtained from the fields where they were working as they were somewhat dirty. Formal invitations are set out to the entire village inviting them to participate in the ceremonies.DSC06362

The parade starts in the morning and goes into the early afternoon and that is when we saw it. We had sailed down the (Ayeyarwady) Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to Mingun to ride a taxi cart pulled by a cow on the bank of the river through the village. Waiting for us was a little man who would help us into his cart. But the cart was at a 40 degree angle and we couldn’t get into the cart without sliding out. After 3 attempts, I gave up and let Joy try to get in and she kept sliding out also.

Not being able to stay in the cart without sliding out, we saw a Novice parade in progress to send young children to the monastery-nunnery in Mingun, Myanmar

As she was trying to get into the cart, I looked toward the village and saw an elephant walking about 2 blocks away. I told my Abercrombie and Kent guide who said we had just seen a rare event, called the Novice Initiation Parade. So we walked and ran as fast as we could and when we caught up with it, we saw the parade. Continuing to run and fast walk, we were able to see some of the fast moving parade.DSC06365

The parade proceeds around the village pagoda several times for hours. Finally, the parade stops at the temple so the people can pray and rest. Then the children go to the monastery-nunnery in the afternoon where their life as they know it changes for one week or a lifetime. A child may leave at any time after one week and can re-enter the monastery-nunnery several times but at age 20, each becomes a monk or nun. Our A&K guide had entered and left 4 times.DSC06371

The young novices in white in line to eat one of their 2 meals a day provided by volunteers wanting to earn merits for a good deed.

Upon entering the monastery-nunnery, the child surrenders to having the head shaved. As the hair is being cut, the child and parents kneel and the child recites on body defilements to increase self detachment from the hair for it symbolizes impurity.  The hair falls into a white cloth which then is presented to the parents. After head shaving, the child changes into a white robe, kneels and recites the 10 Precepts of Buddhism. The parents watch all proceedings and present their child with their alm bowl for food, their monastic robe, maroon for boys and pink for girls, and a palm leaf fan for hot days. Then, a child changes into the robe and receives smiles of joy and tears from the parents.

This novice nun in the nunnery we visited was going to a class.
This nunnery we visited was beautiful, just fitting for a new novice nun.

Next, the child changes to a new Dharma name in the Pali language that is based on the astrology-based naming system. And each must abide by the many rules and regulations of the monastery-nunnery including rising at 5 a.m. to meditate.  Then they can go out into the village, barefooted and wearing only their robe, to collect donated food in their alm bowl. They must line up in single file and proceed by the line of people donating food in an assembly line process. Buddhism followers provide rice, spices, meat, fruits and vegetables for each alm bowl to receive merits for doing a good act. The last meal of the day is at 11:30 a.m. and is obtained the same way as earlier. Then the next meal will be at 5:30a.m. the next day.DSC06271

The parents return to Mingun village of 50,000 people and the last celebration occurs that night to honor success of the children entering the monastery or nunnery. The 2-day celebration began with  the community sending well wishes to the child.

The royal clothes, makeup, flowers and grand celebration now has ended and the child’s life has changed. The horses, cows and elephant have gone back to their normal lives  and so have the parents. And everyone is honored and proud to have participated in a glorious celebration of novitation.

Photo Copy ©  2015