Archive for May, 2015

Helicopter flight above Sri Lanka

Sunday, May 31st, 2015


Sri Lanka, all that green and no apple trees

We were suitably picked up by a driver named “Amigo”, sporting aviator mirror sunglasses, in a silver-colored Hummer (as labeled on the hood, yet with a Honda logo at the steering wheel) and brought to the military airport in Colombo.

We were greeted by a welcome committee ready with a wheelchair, in which Lieutenant Dan probably sat already. Fortunately, they let me use my own.

We were the only tourists at the entire airport. The security chief himself took care of us right away. Our tour guide did honor to his name when he was suddenly back in the security area before us, because the security chief happened to be an old classmate of his.

Meanwhile the four bored immigration attendants were waiting in their turquoise blue saris for the end of their work day.

A golf cart pulled up equipped with mountings for flags, so strictly speaking a diplomat’s car. I started to feel like celebrity ;-) After some negotiation I was allowed to make the 100 meters to the launch site in my chair. For that I was accompanied by one of the turquoise wrapped ladies as a personal umbrella holder and also by two of my very own security guards. In my entourage puttered the golf cart with the three other passengers, one more sari-lady and even more security. Did I have a sign “Follow Me” on my vest?!

Arriving at the helicopter we were greeted by the pilot while another three men came from the hangar. I guess, I was the highlight of the day, perhaps even month, and everybody wanted to be there when the crazy white wheelchair man boarded the helicopter.

Approx. twelve men stood around me and waited for a command, how to best get me up and in there (seat height was about 1.40 m). The well proven safety grip did not work in this case.

As a result my old dream of a palanquin wheelchair was almost met, when four men lifted my wheelchair up to entrance height, from where I could with the help of my slide board comfortably slide on to the seat. This way my slide board literally turned in to a flight board ;-) The ground troops were thrilled! For a short while I felt like sitting on a throne, since everybody else was still down on the ground. I was tempted to wave to my people like the Queen, but then rather decided on a shy thumbs-up. What an uplifting feeling! It is indeed very special for someone who sits in a wheelchair, to suddenly be the tallest person around ;-)

We were flying towards the middle of the island to Kandy, and the pilot managed nicely to stay ahead of the looming monsoon rains.

The view of the island was, particularly of the highlands, comparable with the landscapes that one knows from films like Platoon and Forrest Gump. Everything is green, tea plantations and more palm trees than I have ever seen in 1 1/2 hours (and no apple trees – no apple trees, just pineapples!)

Shortly before landing, the pilot radioed that he needed more time to get ground clearance, since he had a wheelchair on board. To us this seemed a little exaggerated, because there was certainly not any more traffic than at the airport Kassel-Calden at rush-hour, (one plane the day). But everything must have its order ;-)

Back on the ground we already saw two men, who pushed my wheelchair from the hangar. One of them examined my sliding board from all sides in sheer fascination. I suspect he started that evening to work the jigsaw ; -) He must have been quite disappointed when it wasn’t used again for the transfer back from the helicopter…

Instead, the classical safety grip/throwing technique came to use, so that after the roundtrip the departure happened by a wheelchair spot landing. The Pilot was obviously impressed, because he said: “I know my game”.

On the way back the same welcome committee was awaiting us including umbrella holder, security guards and golf cart. The weather god was also gracious and only changed his mind after I was safe in my wheelchair again. Then the sky opened and the monsoon season greeted us. My personal umbrella holder kept walking next to me, unmoved by the fact that she got drenched, but she probably was used to this kind of downpour – her only comment was “It’s just rain”.

I would have liked to show you more evidence, but since we are talking about a military airport and members of the military, we held back a little on the photo shooting. A checkup of the accessibility of the local military jail was not part of the itinerary…

To read the complede “Sri Lanka- serial” , click here.

Translator BW

Wheelchair expedition Sri Lanka Part IV

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Sorry, this entry is only available in Deutsch.

Wheelchair expedition Sri Lanka Part III

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Sorry, this entry is only available in Deutsch.

Wheelchair expedition Sri Lanka Part II

Thursday, May 28th, 2015


Next we needed to select the airline. Since Sri Lankan Airlines is the only one that offers direct flights from Frankfurt and also because our friend is a flight attendant with them (a few connections can’t hurt – see older Blog: food on wings), this was our choice. Various airlines from the Gulf States also offer flights to Sri Lanka, but of course not direct.

Sri Lankan Airlines allows 30 kg free baggage per person plus carry-on; my wheelchair plus a second one if needed, would also be free.

However, I had to make some phone calls (my “favorite activity” ), until I got the confirmation that both my bathroom chair “Artosy”, which can be folded to fit in a hard case, as well as other medical aids would be carried for free, even without prior notification.

(Up to then I only knew that all expedients must be declared in advance. This info is as always without guarantee.)

In addition Sri Lankan Airlines still wanted some a kind of a medical form signed by my family doctor. Always something new…

The “International Medical Information Form” was what felt like the eighth fax copy of a micro script in English, which was hard to decipher before translation.

For a readable PDF-version of the questionnaire of Air Berlin click here.

Medizinisches Informationsformular (deutsch): Teil I und Teil II

Medical Information Form (englisch): Part II and Part II

Since I needed some additional vaccinations for precaution, and also a certificate for my meds, my Doc got to see me quite often during the weeks before the vacation.

At the end our luggage pile equaled that of an emigration! Between the 4 of us we hauled 5 suitcases incl. bathroom chair, 3 carry-ons, 1 XL-Wheelchair Backpack and 2 oversized women’s purses. Had there been a film crew from VOX, it wouldn’t have surprised me. However, despite shower chair and other tools we still had 30 kg unused capacity. We only declared my Rolli as special baggage.

Yay, 30kg free luggage for Souvenirs on the return flight – … the creditcard might get hot!

To be continued…

Click here to go to older blogs on the subject of “flying with a wheelchair”

To read all parts of the “Sri Lanka-Series” click here.

Translator BL

Wheelchair expedition Sri Lanka Part I

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015


For as long as I have been confined to a wheelchair I’ve been on air travel for vacation for more than 10 times, but to rather close destinations (Mediterranean or Canary Islands, see earlier articles).

Up to now I didn’t dare to go on a long-haul flight. My concerns were not even about being able to get to the lavatories throughout the entire flight (there are other solutions), but rather the question as to whether my bum and back will hold up.

However, friends of ours immigrated to Sri Lanka about 5 years ago. Sri Lanka? Tropical climate, hot, high humidity – a climatic challenge for someone who can’t sweat anymore. How accessible actually is the infrastructure? Do they know the word barrier-free at all? We were there about 15 years ago (when I was still a pedestrian), therefore my doubts.

Well, common friends have convinced us, to venture out on that trip together. Now began the search for a suitable hotel. My preferred travel agent Runa-Reisen who specializes in travel in a wheelchair, does not offer Sri Lanka in his program (why not?). However, they asked for a travel report after my trip ;-)

So off to the travel agency, to one of the “big” ones (the one with the three letters)! Of course, the travel agent had no experience with travel in a wheelchair, but he really did his best. They, too wanted a travel report after the trip.

Fortunately, we have local friends as mentioned before. The Blue Water Hotel Wadduwa, seemed reasonably suitable and is only a half hour drive from their house.

Therefore, I provided my friend with a checklist created by me for wheelchair accessible accommodations – bed, space in the bathroom, tub or shower, steps, etc. – and instructed him to look at the rooms and to take photos.

PDF download of the checklist: German version , English version

It turned out that the standard rooms would have been okay space wise, the bathrooms however unsuitable for me. They had tubs instead of showers and too little space for a wheelchair anyway. Nevertheless, there were two Club Suites with fully handicapped accessible bathrooms incl. floor-level showers! This was worth the extra cost; and since we travelled off-season, availability was not a problem.

The Shower-wheelchair “Artosy” fits into a suitcase and is my own.

The floor-leveled shower only caused medium-sized floods lol …

If the beds are pushed together, even a balcony visit is possible ;-)

To be continued..

To read the complede “Sri Lanka- serial”, click here.

Translator BW