Hey Tony, where are you?
I’m at home in Teignmouth, Devon.
Oh okay, I thought you’d be in the Amazon or somewhere. Tell me about Antarctica?
Well, Antarctica was the final continent. I’ve been to all seven now. I flew into Argentina for the second time and headed down to Ushuaia at the bottom of Patagonia.
It was there that I took a last minute cruise to Antarctica. Most companies wouldn’t take me because of health & safety and all that rubbish, but eventually, I found a good deal.
It was summer so only around minus 5º celsius but extremely windy. We cruised the Drake Passage for two days eating loads and spotting birds. When you land on Antarctica, the first thing that hits you is the smell of penguin poo! Then you hear them. Absolutely incredible. One of the final wildernesses.
Are you planning on going back to Africa?
Yes, I’ve been to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique, but I had a kidney transplant about three years ago which means I can’t receive live vaccines. That means I’ve got about 50 countries to visit before the end of 2013 when the yellow fever runs out. How did you find the transport in West Africa Simon?
So do people think you’ve got a death wish?
Yeah. But we cooled the engine down and continued. No worries. People think it’s harder for me being blind, but it’s not. It’s just a different challenge and perspective. I ‘see the world my way’, the title of my book, with my ears, my nose and my hands. Many things are easier for me. Somebody sees me onto the train at Teignmouth, someone collects me at the other end. I get assistance on and off of the flight. Not seeing the chaos of the airport is nice. It’s the same as when I go bungee jumping. It doesn’t bother me as I can’t see the bottom!
In Vietnam, I didn’t see many disabled people and in fact received a funny reaction when I had my leg in plaster…what was peoples reaction to you there?
The Vietnamese were generally kind and did things for me. I wanted to fire a machine gun on one tour, but they wouldn’t let me. They said “you shoot guide”. I imagine I was stared at, but I don’t know. In Cambodia they’re more used to seeing disabled people because of the mines.
I did get into a situation when I came out of a bar at 1am and the motorcycle taxi driver set me up with a prostitute! That was interesting – they’re a bit too skinny for me, but I figured I’d better go along with it or else I could have ended up in the river!
Sometimes people are slightly patronising and over compensate, but normally people are fantastic. I am blind and putting myself out there, having a go, so most people think I’m amazing (laughs).
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt on your travels?
I was camping in the Yukon, Canada, in a field near a road. I returned from my day’s exploring, about 11pm and couldn’t find it. I flagged a car down and a surprised looking driver helped me – he confirmed everything was gone. He dropped me at the Salvation army. That taught me a great lesson. I could have been in the tent and could have been beaten up, hurt or killed. It taught me that possessions are just objects; it’s your health, family and friends that matter.
No, I’ll be travelling for life, it’s in my blood. I’ll probably slow down and my reasons for travel have certainly changed. It’s no longer about escapism or running away. I was running away from myself, issues of being blind. I lost my Dad and best friend when I was 17 so had issues with that, with responsibility, with being a teenager. Traveling allowed me to discover myself and solve those issues. Being deaf annoys me far more than being blind, but I’ve come to terms with the disability and understand it. Having a girlfriend helps.
Do you speak Greek or other languages?
How do your family feel about you going away?
|Tony in the Falklands|
New Zealand. Rugged terrain with the wind in my face, the sun on my back, walking up mountains, by the sea, no one around, the nature the birds, the space, the energy and the rocks.
What about the book? How long did that take to write?
The books is not about making money, it’s about getting the story out there.
And to inspire people?
I have a physical disability and simple things make life difficult for me sometimes, but 90% of it is in the mind. Some days I wake up thinking I don’t want to go anywhere today and other days I think where am I going, who am I meeting what’s the challenge? It’s the same for everyone.
People who haven’t travelled think it’s wonderful and fun, and it is obviously, but it can also be difficult, hard work and you’re looking over your shoulder most of the time. Problems can occur frequently, like foreign bank machines eating your credit cards and it can be very lonely on the road.
You mentioned about getting to 50 countries before your yellow fever runs out. What’s your ultimate goal?
My goal is to visit every country. That’s the challenge I’ve set myself but I don’t want to achieve it too quickly. What would I have then? It’s probably unlikely, what with countries like Somalia and Saudi Arabia, but you never know.
People always ask me how I arrived at a particular destination. I often reply, “by aeroplane”. I don’t think about being blind, but others can’t imagine what its like, so I understand the questions people will ask. Although you take in 80% through your eyes, when you go somewhere like Bangkok, you can’t escape the smells. In Rio de Janeiro or Salvador, Brazil, you can’t fail to notice the pounding of drums and the energy that is created. You don’t need to see to experience that. Only a dead person wouldn’t notice the energy in Brazil.
What do other blind people make of you?
I don’t know really. One guy has said I’ve inspired him. The danger is it can be taken the other way; Tony’s done so much I can’t possibly do what he’s done. I don’t want to go preaching to anyone and I understand many people wouldn’t want to travel like this, sighted or not. I’m just telling my story.
If it does inspire someone, that’s a bonus. A couple of people approached me after the Antarctica cruise – sighted people with no obvious physical disability, saying how I’d inspired them to reach their goals. People are often held back by what’s in their mind.
Finally, what’s next?
I’m just finishing my second book and then I’m off to the USA in September with my girlfriend for 3 weeks. I’ve already been to every state and this is more of a holiday. Then hopefully Ecuador and Peru in January. I plan to fly to Morocco and head down through West Africa in March. I need to go to French and British Guyana and into Venezuela; very dangerous borders, but a necessary challenge. South America is one of my favourite continents, amazing people.