TRAVEL

Machu Picchu in a Wheelchair

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Philip Stephens

Friends make your dreams come true! 🌴

My name is Philip Stephens, I’m Australian, and at the age of 18 I broke my neck at the C4 – 5 level in a surfing accident at one of Sydney’s northern beaches. Since that time I have been fortune enough to do a lot of travelling, and I am writing this from La Havana, Cuba, which is the thirty-second country that I have visited. A few days ago, while travelling around Peru with my two Argentinian friends, Emiliano Bisson @chocobisson and Marcos Peluffo @marcospeluffo , I achieved one of my dreams and something that most people would consider impossible for a quadriplegic guy. This was to reach the summit of Machu Pichu, the ancient ruins of the Inca Empire. After lots of planning, and a couple of medical setback in Lima, we arrived at the bus stop in Aguas Calientes for the 20-minute trip to the base of the ruins.

Obviously the bus was not designed for a guy in a wheelchair, and with all of the other tourists looking on, all wondering how this could be achieved and what we were doing, my friends carried me on to the front seat of the bus, putting my wheelchair into the luggage hold at the back. The road from Aguas Calientes to the ruins is long, narrow, incredibly windy, and very rough. There was a lot of bouncing around, so my friends took turns to hold me in the bus seat. Once we arrived at the ruins, we met our guide, Victor. He was clearly surprised when we told him that our plan was to get to the top, and not just a 100 metres along the “easy” track.

We had been allocated two and a half hours to explore the ruins, but it eventually took us six hours, with my two friends carrying me approximately 80% of the time, and the guide running along with the wheelchair in his hands. Obviously there were a crazy number of stairs, but they are not the stairs that you would normally find in your home; they are centuries old rocks that have all moved, are extremely uneven and no two are the same size. Even the pathways that are relatively level, all with a slight incline, are rough and uneven, to the point where I had to be carried along a number of these as well. At one point, I needed to be carried down 60 stairs in one movement. This was in the arms of my carer, and not in the wheelchair.

It was both an incredibly physically and psychologically demanding day for all of us, but in the end we were all amazed at what we had achieved. When I think back, I can remember the three of us sitting and looking at the ruins. We could not stop smiling at each other, and the realisation of what we had achieved. Even Victor, our amazing tour guide, could not stop smiling. I still look back on it with disbelief, and quite often become emotionally moved when looking at the photos. For me, this is the greatest achievement of all my adventures, and only proves what can be done with the right attitude, and friends, to support you through life.

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