In a world that often presents obstacles for people with disabilities, it is imperative that we learn to accommodate impairments, especially in the tourism sector. Christina Ernst, who navigates the world with a visual impairment, recently embarked on a journey seeking an adventure that would accommodate her needs and she did so with the guidance of AWOL Tours. Her Cape Town adventure stands as a testament to the power of determination and the joy of exploration, even in the face of physical limitations.

Christina’s desire for adventure and connection led her to travel solo to Cape Town to reunite with friends. She hoped to engage in outdoor activities that would allow her to fully immerse herself in the culture, history, and nature of her surroundings. However, she quickly encountered the challenge of finding options that were tailored to individuals with impairments or that could accommodate her. Little did she know that her quest for exploration would lead her down a unique road of discovery.

Christina discovered AWOL Tours, renowned for their commitment to inclusivity and accessible tourism. Learning about their Outasight Blind Art Tour led by South Africa’s first Blind Tour Guide, Winston Fani, piqued her interest. Thus, Christina saw this as an opportunity to embark on a journey that would redefine her notions of possibility and discover a whole new world of inclusive tourism with AWOL.

Together with Winston, Christina explored the vibrant streets adorned with awe-inspiring street art murals, visited local art studios, and delved deep into the rich fabric of Cape Town’s artistic landscape through what Winston eloquently termed “unsighted eyes.” With Winston’s expert guidance, Christina ventured into the heart of Cape Town’s cultural kaleidoscope, setting the stage for an extraordinary series of journeys to come. Most consider this tour to be an oxymoron, posing the question “But how does a blind man guide an art tour?”. Winston does not only explain the essence of the murals adorning the street but also paints a perfect picture for those unable to visually encapsulate the art. His words describe the magnitude of each piece with precision and often create a more accurate feeling of the art than the art itself.

Enthralled by the prospect of delving deeper into Cape Town’s treasures, Christina eagerly sought out additional adventures with AWOL. She soon discovered the possibility of doing a City Cycle Tour by tandem bike, a seamless fusion of exploration, history, and gastronomic delights. Undeterred by her visual impairment, Christina embraced the challenge with open arms, pedalling through the bustling city streets alongside her guide, Gareth.

During their journey, Gareth explored a new way of showing the city off, through sound, taste, and touch, making each moment unfold as a symphony of sensory experiences. From the pulsating rhythms of the CBD to the tranquil embrace of the Sea Point Promenade, Christina felt the liberation of gliding through the city streets, synchronised with the pulse of the city. Gareth also took Christina to the unique Bo-Kaap, where they tasted an array of traditional Cape Malay cuisine. The taste, sound, smell and feeling all came together to create the equivalent of life’s umami (known as the fifth core tastes and meaning “essence of deliciousness”).

However, Christina’s audacious dream of conquering Table Mountain epitomised her indomitable spirit. Remembering cherished childhood memories of ascending the iconic landmark via cable car, she yearned to conquer its towering peaks through her own strength and resilience. With the unwavering support of AWOL’s guides, including the remarkable Andy and interpreter Sophie, Christina’s dream metamorphosed into a resounding triumph.

Sophie aided Christina as an interpreter along her journey as Christina’s visual impairment wasn’t the only barrier along her journey. Christina is prominently German speaking which of course could create further difficulty, however as AWOL caters to people from various countries speaking an array of languages, this was quickly solved. Guided by the reassuring voices of her companions, Christina embarked on the exhilarating ascent of Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge with grace and fortitude. Andy presented a description of each view along the way and provided interesting facts about the history of the mountain and the fauna and flora that they spotted along the way. Each step was a testament to Christina’s unwavering spirit and the boundless possibilities that lie within. As she ascended to new heights, she not only conquered a mountain but shattered preconceived notions surrounding disability and adventure.

“It has been such an honour to meet Christina and witness the joy and fearlessness with which she approaches life. Climbing Table Mountain is by no means an easy task, even with the privilege of sight, and yet she demonstrated remarkable determination, continuing to appreciate the experience the whole way up. What struck me even more profoundly was her sweet and empathetic nature, radiating kindness in every interaction. Her ability to navigate the world with such grace and positivity served as a powerful reminder that strength comes in various forms.” – Sophie, Language Interpreter

Yet, one ascent of Table Mountain seemed insufficient for this intrepid adventurer as she boldly requested a second hike via Skeleton Gorge. Amidst the verdant splendour of Kirstenbosch Gardens, Andy unveiled the park’s exquisite art sculptures, guiding Christina’s hands along the intricate contours while vividly describing each masterpiece. As they embarked on the hike, Christina persevered through rugged terrain, her unwavering guide by her side offering words of encouragement in Afrikaans: “stadig maar seker,” meaning slowly but surely. Despite adverse weather conditions forcing a premature halt to the expedition, Christina remained resolute, her spirit undimmed by the challenge.

“The light you cannot see would succinctly describe what you miss when you have lost your sight, but heightened smell, sound, and touch come to the fore. Christina’s core and stability are remarkable, along with her bravery to step out in absolute trust will remain with me forever.” – Andy, AWOL Tour Guide

Christina’s saga stands as a poignant reminder that disabilities need not define our limitations but rather serve as catalysts for igniting the flames of possibility within us. AWOL Tours, with their unwavering commitment to inclusivity, embody the ethos that no one gets left behind. Through tailored experiences and heartfelt support, they hope to not only enrich Christina’s journey but also open doors for countless others to embark on their own transformative adventures.

As we traverse life’s diverse landscapes, let us draw inspiration from Christina’s remarkable journey. Let us embrace the unknown with courage, celebrate our differences, and forge ahead with unwavering determination. In the tapestry of life, it is our unique experiences and shared triumphs that unite us all.

So, dare to dream, dare to explore, and let AWOL Tours be your trusted guide as you embark on a journey of discovery, where the only limit is the boundless expanse of the sky itself.

AWOL Tours – Where dreams become reality, and every adventure is a celebration of the human spirit!