Mention Africa as a travel destination and the first word that springs to mind is "safari". It conjures up images of the grand visits to the Dark Continent at the turn of the 20th century by Theodore Rooseveldt and the then Prince of Wales. Visions of khaki tented camps in the bush, fireside meals, bushveld sunsets, gins and tonic, and an abundance of wildlife.
At this point most disabled travellers, however minimal or severe their impairments may be, begin to tune out. It is an experience few can imagine themselves doing. Wheelchairs, or crutches, and the bush do not mingle. Well, that has all changed.
Epic Enabled, a Cape Town - South Africa based company, have developed an African adventure package for all, from the most able-bodied tourist, to those of us who use a motorised wheelchair.
Read more about a Kruger Park Disabled Friendly Safari
Epic Enabled's overland tour is not for the pampered and spoiled. To try and experience Africa's bushveld in sanitised conditions is to miss the point. Africa is not "Disney". To travel into the African bush and live in a deep-pile carpeted, air-conditioned hotel is crazy! You need to feel the perspiration trickle down your back as you peer into the thick bush for a glimpse of the elusive
Leopard, to see the dust of thousands of Wildebeest hooves hanging in the trees, and to smell the campfire breakfasts as you emerge from your tent in the morning. It is an adventure. It brings people from all over the world together in an overland vehicle, sharing sightings of African game, helping out at the campsite kitchen, and learning about one another around the crackling logs after sunset. It provides us with a firsthand, close-up experience of the African bush and its fauna and flora.
What Epic Enabled have succeeded in doing is to bring all these senses to us, but still provide a level of comfort, convenience and enjoyment for those with special needs. It may be an adventure, but it is not an endurance! Accommodation consists of either pre-erected tented camps or bungalows. Regardless, one gets a solid bed to ensure a good night's rest before the early morning game drives. Each stop provides accessible ablution facilities.
I find the aspect of travelling with Epic Enabled that impresses me the most is that their tour provides for "all", both disabled and able-bodied sit side-by-side in the overlander. For those of us who require caregivers, they are fully integrated into the tour group. We all share the experience together on equal terms.
Three whole days are devoted to touring through the 2-million hectare Kruger National Park, one of the world's truly great parks, and home to Africa's Big-5. The tall Mercedes-Benz 1617 truck provides a perfect viewing platform over the grasslands.
Game viewing in a motorcar can be a frustrating exercise as there is always the sense that the wildlife is only yards away, but hidden behind the roadside grass. The tall truck eliminates that problem with ease, as does the hydraulic passenger lift in getting wheelchairs in and out, and all wheelchairs are securely tied down whilst driving.
Although the tour might bring you face to face with the Big-Five (Elephant, Black Rhino, Cape Buffalo, Lion and Leopard) it will also provide one with personal memories of unique encounters with Honey Badgers and Warthogs around the campsite and Dung Beetles and Hyena's on the road.
A further two days allows one to take in the Hoedspruit Breeding Centre for Endangered Species, the Nyani Tribal Village where one can return to our "roots" and savour the local food and culture, and the Tshukudu Lodge for close encounters with Cheetah, Leopard and Elephant. Perhaps one of the most amazing encounters will be experienced here when a fully grown African Elephant will often place his trunk into the vehicles viewing area to "touch and feel" these strange humans who visit "his" lodge.
En-route home a full day is devoted to the spectacular Panorama Route with sights such as the Blyde River Canyon, the historical gold mining village of Pilgrims Rest and the highland village of Dullstroom, famous for the trout fishing to be had in its icy fast flowing streams.
So what do fellow adventurers have to say about their Epic Enabled African Adventure? Comments such as "It made me stronger", "One great adventure", "An awe inspiring safari", and "I have a strong sense of achievement" pop up easily in conversation as we return to the Johannesburg International Airport for our departure flight, as does one of "I'm going to do it again!".