Wheeling Enable – Of Goa, Sun & Sand
Time slows down and I see the wave in slow-motion, then it hits me right smack in my face, brine up my nose, eyes stinging, mouth spitting out the salty water…then the second wave hits, and a third.
“Are you okay?” the volunteer pulling my amphibian chair asks me.
“I feel alive”, I shout in ecstasy.
Rewind a few days. A 12-hour road trip from Mumbai via the Belgavi (formerly Belgaum) route of the Mumbai-Bangalore highway in the WAV, then navigating the various infrastructure construction projects and arriving at my hotel in Panaji, I found this Goa to be lifetimes different than what I remembered as a young 7-year old in my family ambassador chugging across a ferry.
Following up the wonderful launch event in Delhi, an impromptu meet-up by the brains behind team Enable threw up some interesting plans of action for the year which lay ahead of us. Forts and palaces, transport and lodging in remote places, ideas put on the back-burner now brought forth and then someone mentions, Goa.
Divyanshu had been there, I said. It’s great for someone who is physically able to move around, so the deaf or blind traveler can get plenty of holiday sensory experiences, from the local food, drink, culture, heritage sites and of course, the beaches.
“When was the last time you went to an actual beach, Rustom?”
“Before I was on a wheelchair, around thirty years back?”
“Okay, let’s get you to a beach in Goa.”
“You suggested the amphibian, time to have it broken. We volunteer you.”
The local Goan newspapers had me, Deb and Divyanshu, featured in photographs from the press-event a couple of days later. Enable Travel was now officially planting its flag in Goa and I had to stay back and get to work the next few days.
Yes, all us experts do work. My tasks included reviewing the dozen or so lodging properties for wheelchair accessibility, shooting video reviews of the same and follow that up with activity, food and local infrastructure reviews.
While Goa is a small state, tackling this amount of tasks in a couple of days does take its toll, unless you don’t treat it like a task.
These were two of the best days any visitor could eke out from his or her visit to Goa, disability be damned. I visited some amazing hotel properties, both in the north and south. Explored roads and markets, gardens and forts, alleyways and paths. Feasted like a true Goan (being an omnivore helps) and did partake in the occasional drink, because, you know, work.
Goa and Goans are more than ready for the wheelchair traveller. Most buildings sport ramps and accessibility signs. Gardens have clearly defined pathways for wheeled folk and the streets are extremely friendly with the local Goan showing some of the best examples of friendliness and patience I’ve experienced anywhere in India.
Nowhere did all three aspects of food, local culture and accessibility culminate so well than at the world-famous Arpora Night Market. This is a true microcosm of Goa in itself. Gorgeous looking people from around the world, food finds from multiple continents, flea markets, spice bazaars, curio-stalls, liquor stalls, concerts, dancing…the works. I entered the market a bit daunted, but the ease of accessibility, the pretty, smiling ladies, music buzzing in the late evening sky, the smells of sizzling food and I was smitten till late night revelry.
Then in the early hours, with a day to go before my return to Mumbai, a phone call.
“So, the team will be at Candolim beach tomorrow morning for your sea adventure.”
“Sea? Adventure? Beach?”
Gulp! Wheelchairs and beaches don’t mix. But beaches and Goa, it’s geographically and travel wise always meant to be. The argument of whether visiting the beach in Goa should be a part of the disabled holiday experience, or to take it a step further, the wheelchair traveller’s experience, ends before it begins.
So, the second to last day, after the Arpora night experience, a couple of hundred feet away from the crashing surf I lay strapped on team Enable’s brand new amphibian ‘SOFAO’ wheelchair.
The beginnings of a terrible sunburn left unheeded, an expensive camera lost to sea because a wave swiped it from my hand, and sand in my shorts where sand shouldn’t be did nothing at all to deter me from checking my first sea dip off my bucket list and wipe the stupid grin from my face.
I’d do it again, albeit a bit more prepared (wait for that article dear reader) and in the company of a lot more of my wheelchair tribe.
Wheelchair and beaches do mix, you only need to come to Goa with Enable Travel to experience it for yourself.