Interview with Maribel of Touching Landscapes
Writer – Blogger – Inspirational Speaker
Welcome to my Fellow Wanderers series.
Today I introduce a writer and a fellow wanderer I met and recently got a chance to speak with.
We discuss her home of Australia, her travels both at home and abroad, and how she sees the world as a visually impaired woman, along with her family who love to go exploring with her.
I was thrilled to be interviewed once before, on her website Touching Landscapes.
She gave me an opportunity to share my dream of starting a travel website.
Now that I have one I am pleased to be able to repay the favour.
What is your eye condition? Explain a little about your situation living with vision loss.
When I was thirteen, I was struggling to see the classroom blackboard. It seemed that I was only short sighted and wearing prescribed glasses would solve the problem. Within two years, my sight had dropped so dramatically, I underwent intensive tests until seventeen specialists could agree on the final diagnosis. I had a degenerative eye condition known as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).
Since then, my eyesight has declined considerably but a determined nature to persist and see this challenge as a stepping stone to better things has brought many beautiful insights. With the benefit of maturity, acceptance of my vision loss has shaped my view that there is an ART in being blind.
It is from this perspective that I have found a niche as a writer to help others see beyond our limitations to the horizon of possibility.
Where was the first place you travelled?
I was born in England and when I was six, my family emigrated to Australia. My father had accepted a position to teach Spanish at a University in Melbourne.
The first most memorable trip was an exciting adventure on an ocean liner five years later. My parents decided to spend nine months in Madrid, to absorb the flavours and culture of the country where my mother was born and where my father could research the Spanish language in depth for his first book.
My parents passed on their love of travel to their two children, my brother became a successful photographer trotting the globe and in more recent years, I too have had the opportunity to step out to distant shores.
Explain a little about Touching Landscapes. How did the idea come about?
I began a blog in 2011 called, At the Gateway to Blindness to share some of my short stories from my unpublished autobiography. As the months passed, I began to write a new series called ‘The ART of being blind’ which led to introducing bright images to match the stories. Sighted readers commented on how much they were enjoying the images as well as the stories so I looked ahead to compose a new series called ‘Touching the Sights of France’.
My blog was becoming a pot-pourri of stories and it dawned on me to create a second blog, Touching Landscapes, to divide the content and to give readers a perspective of seeing through all the senses to discover the world unseen.
This site is a family run endeavour, with your partner, your son, and your father. How does it work?
Yes, indeed! I call them my helper-elves! Once I have worked on a piece of writing and have combed through it until I am satisfied with my edits, I then send it via email to my father, a wonderful man, rich with talents as an author and linguist. Brian swiftly attends to the task by scanning it carefully with his keen editor’s eye, fixing up any humorous spelling errors and making suggestions to replace certain words. He marks them with an asterisk so my Jaws screen-reading software for the blind can alert me to the changes. Sometimes I accept them and in other cases I stay with my original thought. With the piece all cleaned up and ready to go, I feel confident to publish.
Publishing posts on my two blogs requires the special skills of helper-elf number two, my partner Harry. A mixture of devoted-elf, computer wizard, tireless problem solver and creative photographer, Harry adds his artistic talent to the mix. If we don’t have an image within our archives of thousands of photos, we will painstakingly set up a photographic shoot to capture the ‘right’ image.
Helper-elf number three is my teenage son, Mike. Not only is he our travel companion when we go on our adventures through France and Spain, and Harry’s extra camera person (as when we travelled to the UK to take footage for a special DVD project), Mike is my kind and patient sighted guide. My son and I have developed a silent hand language as he leads me safely through city streets or over boulders in the wilderness.
What we always take on our journeys together is our sense of humour. Without it, we wouldn’t get very far. Once set on a course of action, Mike is a real trooper and doesn’t give me the option to ever abandon our adventure!
What do you love about living in Melbourne?
We live in a leafy suburb of Melbourne which is a convenient twenty minute tram ride away from the heart of our vibrant city. Melbourne buzzes with artistic activity every weekend and I love exploring our city with Harry and Mike or with my girlfriends to be tourists in our own town.
The streets are easy to navigate, although they can get crowded on fine sunny days when everyone comes out to enjoy her many treats: art exhibitions, food and wine festivals, sport fun-runs, music performances and street buskers, the many leafy public gardens close by, multi-cultural cuisine and of course, the best retail shopping (therapy) in Australia!
It is the fragrance, the texture, the many sounds of Melbourne that make me feel at home.
If you are curious to know more, my article, Melbourne: the city on top in the land down under will bring you into the heart of our beautiful city.
You have travelled around your home country of Australia and around Europe. Where was your favourite place so far?
It is impossible to nominate only one favourite locale. Everywhere we have travelled has had something rich and beautiful to take home as a treasured memory.
That’s one reason why I write my travel blog. It allows me to reflect and relive those places and special moments on our travels. Even some adventures that seem a disaster at the time can turn into a lively cautionary tale for other keen adventurers.
If I really had to choose my favourite place so far, it would be the countryside of southern France. I delighted in seeing the villages up close as we passed through the narrow cobbled streets of the Massif Central. We touched the ancient stones of ruined Cathar castles and breathed in the scent of history overlooking the majestic purple haze of the Pyrenees. When we peeked inside an empty church along the way, Harry and I couldn’t help but burst into improvised singing. Just ask Mike how embarrassing parents can be…!
What was your worst experience travelling blind?
Kerry, the answer to this question can be found in the story I wrote on Touching Landscapes when Harry and I travelled to Queensland. It’s not so much about being blind as being unprepared for three days with a tour guide from hell! There is a moral to the story – if you can brace yourself for the challenge, you find the strength and humour to enjoy it anyway!
Fraser Island: a race against the tide
What do you think people with a visual impairment get out of travel that people with sight might not necessarily experience?
A wonderful benefit when travelling as a visually-impaired tourist is using the language of the white cane. It speaks so eloquently in many countries, where one is treated like royalty. It can bring me to the heart of a culture, to the heart of people I have never met when they greet my special needs with many acts of genuine kindness.
Observant people notice my cane or I may ask for assistance and with their generous reaction, I am often taken to the front of a queue or let in for free at many exhibitions.
My sighted companions are treated with the same kindness and beam as they follow smartly behind in the royal entourage.
What tips have you discovered that you could offer someone with a visual impairment who is hoping to travel more?
The following four tips can apply to travelling solo or with a friend. It is about being practical and sensible, looking ahead to ease your passage.
Tip 1: Being organised will be your number one travel buddy. It’s vitally important to do your homework and make a list of contacts, website addresses and keep them on a USB stick or a laptop, iPhone or other device and have the details printed out so anyone else can look at them too. A well researched trip will save you a lot of time, ease anxiety and keep you to a budget by knowing what to expect with all sorts of costs.
Tip 2: Be well prepared and travel light. It is so easy to pack too many things into an empty suitcase. The trick is to be as sparing as possible but also be well prepared – for rain, hail and sunshine. The lighter you can travel, the easier it will be to get around. I’ve learned to do a preliminary pack at least one week before departure which allows me to think clearly and remove certain items I can live without.
Tip3: Pack lots of patience & humour; don’t be caught without them! When you travel as a vision-impaired person, many unexpected challenges will rise to meet you on your adventure. It will require patience on your part to think clearly to find a solution, and humour to keep you company while you are waiting to see the funny side of this setback. Observe the irony and jot it down. You will either never do THAT again or you may come up with a terrific travel story for the Huffington Post!
Tip 4: Manage time. I need more time than my sighted family to gather up my belongings to put them into place, more time to check through my wallet and read through my researched notes for the next leg of our adventure. I require that our travel plans always include extra breathing space when moving from A to B because I don’t fly very well by the seat of my pants. A corridor of time is drawn into our busy touring schedule to give us all a day off to catch up with writing or washing or having a sleep in!
What do you think you have taught your son about the world, from traveling with his mother?
When we have toured as a family in the UK, France and Spain, or taken time to visit our home country (Western Australia, for example), I know my son has gained a wider view of the world. Together we have seen Mike’s understanding expand as he takes in the customs and cultures of other lands.
I have sat silently crying by his side, overwhelmed with gratitude as he looked out over the Pyrenees like a little prince in awe of his vast kingdom. Again the tears rose when we shared a sacred moment listening to the voice of a heavenly choir in the church of Notre Dame. We have laughed like excited children while peddling furiously on a four wheel bike built for three through the streets of Brittany and have argued like a mob of sailors planning mutiny while sailing down the southern waterways of France in the pouring rain.
Harry has enriched Mike’s knowledge of the history behind the various landscapes we have toured, and I have felt a heart connection with Mike in bringing the world into his view. Travelling together has been the best education we could have ever given him, and it’s not over yet.
In 2015, this travelling trio are making plans to set off once more to experience touching landscapes and inhaling history of medieval Europe. Maybe we will see you there…
* Writer * Inspirational Speaker: Mastering Blindness *
Maribel is a writer, blogger, speaker and peer advisor for VisionAware (AFB). She has Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and lives in Melbourne, Australia with her travel buddies, Harry and Mike, her sighted guides and muses, who enjoy touching landscapes together. She embraces travelling to distant shores and shares the journey towards blindness – as she learns to trust her other senses: to hear, to touch, to smell, to intuit, to love and to laugh.
Maribel shares her stories about life, travel and everything in-between at:
PHOTO: Grabbing adventure (me on a canal boat in France helping pull the boat in at a lock)
PHOTO: My team = from left to right: Harry, Maribel, Mike, Brian
PHOTO: My son Mike taking a photo in the grand Hall of Mirrors in the Palace at Versailles
PHOTO: Maribel and Mike a few years ago in a turret at St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall (UK), way above the water showing Mike the world!
Great stories and some wonderful tips you have offered here. Thank you for talking to me today and maybe I will see you out there somewhere.