Rolling Through Paradise: A Bali adventure on a wheelchair

Photo: Courtesy of Gerard Niubo.
Photo: Courtesy of Gerard Niubo.

Forget picture-perfect travel brochures and pre-planned tours – Gerard Niubo’s adventures are painted with the vibrant hues of spontaneity and the textured brushstrokes of real-life experiences. 

This charismatic Spaniard navigates the world on four wheels, and his recent Balinese escapade wasn’t about ticking off tourist traps, but about embracing the island’s soul from a unique perspective.

I contacted Gerard after a good friend of mine went on a date with him (thank you, Bumble!) and she told me about this good-looking fellow with a heart of gold who shared his experience of enjoying the Island of Gods despite his limitations.

“Bali has always been on my bucket list,” Gerard told me after agreeing to this interview.

His journey took an unexpected turn 14 years ago, when a car accident confined him to a wheelchair. But for Gerard, limitations are mere guidelines, not roadblocks. 

“It was then that I decided to see the world, one adventure at a time,” he says, determinedly.

Ubud, with its mystical Monkey Forest and emerald rice fields, became his first Balinese canvas. 

“It was accessible, besides one area,” he recounts. “But the people were amazing! They helped me navigate, always with a smile.”

Next came Nusa Penida, its turquoise waters and jaw-dropping cliffs etching themselves onto his memory. “Those views were worth every bump on the road.”

Uluwatu, with its fiery sunset and captivating dance, offered a different kind of magic. “I couldn’t access everything,” Gerard admits, a touch of pragmatism in his tone. “But watching the sunset and the dance was enough. The energy was electrifying!”

Canggu, with its trendy beach clubs and bustling markets, embraced him with open arms and endless possibilities. “My wheelchair-attachable bike was my chariot, zipping through the streets, feeling the sun and wind…it was pure bliss.”

But Gerard’s journey wasn’t a fairytale. Uneven sidewalks, a maze of scooters, and temples with unforgiving steps tested his resolve. 

“It wasn’t easy,” he acknowledges. “But the kindness of the people…that’s what made the difference.” A friendly hand here, a shoulder to lean on there, and shared smiles transformed every hurdle into a testament to human connection.

“Bali’s magic goes beyond accessibility,” Gerard insists. “It’s in the warmth of the people, the laughter in the streets, the way they make you feel welcome. It’s about finding the beauty in the unexpected, the joy in the connections you forge along the way.”

“The rice fields might not be fully accessible, but the view…that’s priceless,” he added.

His message to fellow adventurers with mobility challenges is a resounding call to action: “Don’t let limitations hold you back. Bali, with its irresistible charm and endless possibilities, awaits. Research, plan, pack a spirit of adventure, and let the island’s magic embrace you, just as it embraced me.”

Gerard’s Balinese chapter may have closed, but the ink on his travelog is far from dry. He dreams of returning, “with a bit more accessibility planning,” he adds with a smile.

Gerard’s Balinese adventure is a testament to the undeniable allure of the island and the indomitable spirit of travelers like him. But it also shines a light on the challenges faced by those with disabilities in navigating Bali’s beauty.

While the warmth of the people and the willingness to help are undeniable, there’s room for significant improvement in accessibility infrastructure and awareness.

Gerard’s experience highlights the need for more accessible transportation – reliable wheelchair-friendly taxis and public buses would be game-changers, offering greater independence and mobility. There’s also a clear need for improved accessibility at tourist sites: Ramps, wider doorways, and accessible restrooms in temples, restaurants, and other key destinations are crucial for inclusive tourism.

In addition, we need to continue to raise awareness and training, in that sensitizing tourism industry professionals and locals about disability needs can foster a more welcoming and supportive environment. We must also get behind accessibility initiatives, and organizations like the Bali Accessible Tourism Association deserve recognition and support for their efforts in promoting inclusivity.

By addressing these challenges, we can ensure that Bali’s magic is truly accessible to all, creating a destination where every traveler, regardless of ability, can roll forward with a smile – just like Gerard did.

)* All pictures provided by Gerard Niubo.


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