Hiking in the Amazon Rainforest as a Wheelchair User

Nature and I haven’t always gotten along very well. Sure, I love the great outdoors just as much as anyone else, but I have never been camping or even hiking. It’s not necessarily because I have not wanted to. It’s just that the woods tend to not be entirely accessible for a wheelchair.

I remember one time when I tried to go down a long muddy and gravel driveway with my nephew and my wheelchair got stuck. My nephew, who was only eight years old at the time, tried with all his might to pull me out, but eventually had to call his mom to rescue me. Another time, my family and I tried to drive to the top of a mountain for some good views. It was along a dirt road and about halfway up, the van broke down. My heavy powered wheelchair was thrown into the back of a truck and back home we came. As you can see, the outdoors and I have a rocky (sometimes literally) relationship.

When I was told that I was going to be hiking in the Amazon Rainforest while in Ecuador, I chuckled a bit. “Now how is that even possible for me?!”, I imagined. There was no way that my wheelchair would be able to roll over those gigantic anacondas… or so I thought.

In the days leading up to my time in the Amazon, I stressed over this adventure a little bit, wondering if I would get to participate. After all, visiting the Amazon was a huge reason why I even came to Ecuador. Would it really be accessible or would it be like that time in Germany, where I was repeatedly promised that the hotel was accessible over the phone, but it really had a step to get inside the lobby when I got there? “Accessible” can mean something totally different to you when there isn’t a 300 pound wheelchair attached to your butt. But there was only one way to find out…

amazon rainforest wheelchair accessible

 amazon rainforest wheelchair accessible

 

The day finally came and I was anxious to see how it would all work out. I rolled from my cabana at Huasquila Amazon Lodge, where I stayed during this trip, to the meeting area in the lobby. After enjoying a nice breakfast of fruit and hot cocoa, I chatted with the local guides for a bit and soon, an off-road wheelchair rounded the corner coming into full view.

 

We actually made this cocoa the previous day at a cacao plantation.

We actually made this cocoa the previous day at a cacao plantation.

 

The off-road wheelchair looked better than I imagined and I began to feel like this hike in the Amazon might actually happen. It was a manual chair and had long grab bars in the front and back, which made it easier to push and pull me with. The staff at Huasquila also put a long soft cushion on the seat of the chair. Not only was the cushion more comfortable to sit on, but since it was long it also covered the entire backrest. Since I have poor upper body and neck control, I was glad to have something to rest my head on so that it wouldn’t be getting tossed around in the jungle. The staff was happy to make any adjustments to the chair so that I would be safe and comfortable. They also added a chest strap so that I wouldn’t fall forward over any bumpy terrain, and wrapped my arms together with a scarf so they wouldn’t be dangling to the side of the chair the whole time. After these adjustments, the chair was perfect and I was ready for our adventure.

amazon rainforest wheelchair accessible

 amazon rainforest wheelchair accessible

 

From the lobby of Huasquila Amazon Lodge, where I got in the off-road wheelchair, to the entrance of the forest trail, it was only about a 10 minute stroll. It was extremely sunny and hot along the way, so our guide cut down a large leaf from a tree and attached it to the back of the wheelchair. This kept me shaded for the most part. Between this and having two guys pushing/carrying me in the chair, I truly felt like the King of the Amazon and was very thankful for everyone’s assistance. The people in Ecuador are some of the nicest people that I have ever met and this is merely one example. During my entire trip, they went out of their way to ensure that I was enjoying myself.

amazon rainforest wheelchair accessible

 

Once we reached the trail entrance, I became extremely excited. I couldn’t wait to see what plants and animals the Amazon had to show us, but I hoped that we would not see any anacondas. Trust me, I’ve seen the movie Anaconda multiple times and it never ends well. I asked our guide if there were any and he said that they were not in this part of the Amazon. There were vipers and coral snakes though, both of which are poisonous. He said that if we were lucky we would see one on our hike. I would consider that extremely unlucky, but I digress.

Almost immediately, our guide started pointing out different plants and telling us about them. It turns out that almost everything in the Amazon has a purpose. Some plants can cure diabetes, some can restore hair growth, and some can even help with menstrual cramps.

 

 amazon rainforest wheelchair accessible

These red-tipped leaves can help with menstrual cramps.

These red-tipped leaves can help with menstrual cramps.

 

What I learned is that the Amazon is basically just one giant pharmacy. As an American, we’re so often told to take pills for every ailment, and while pills can help, they also have about a million side effects. You’ve seen the commercials with the happy couple frolicking around while a voiceover tells us about the pills, right?

“Possible side effects include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, and a tortuously painful DEATH!”

I have always thought that there must be a cure for everything without all the crazy side effects, and it turns out that the Amazon has the answers. No wonder 99% of Ecuadorians that I saw during my trip were healthy and in good shape. They literally have a medicine for almost anything in their backyard. It was fascinating.

After viewing some more plants, our guide spotted a chontacuro worm. He placed it on a leaf to show us up close and said that it is considered somewhat of a delicacy to many of Ecuador’s indigenous people. Supposedly, this worm can burn calories, help with asthma, improve arthritis, and more. Jokingly, and stupidly, I asked if I could eat it. He said “Of course!” and everyone in our group started chanting “Do it! Do it! Do it”. I’ll admit that I easily give in to peer pressure, so I said that I would eat it. Our guide grabbed the worm’s head (so that it wouldn’t bite me as it went in my mouth) and I bit off its body. As I bit into it and started chewing, I could feel the worm’s insides burst all over my tongue. It was an interesting sensation, but didn’t taste all that bad compared to other things that I have eaten around the world; fermented shark in Iceland, kangaroo in Australia, and just a couple days before chowing down on this worm I ate guinea pig in Quito. I’m an adventurous eater, but this was the first living thing that I had ever eaten. The chontacuro worm was fat, juicy, and squirming, but when in the Amazon, do as the Amazonians do.

Here is a video of me eating the chontacuro worm –

Now that I had done the unthinkable, we rolled further and stopped for some photos. Our guide made my mom a hat from leaves, and he later made me one as well.

 

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 amazon rainforest wheelchair accessible

 

Once we reached the end of our hike, he told us to stop and appreciate what was around us. We closed our eyes, listened to the sounds of nature, and our guide soon began playing a beautiful tune on an instrument made from the wood of the Amazon. As I sat there listening, I became overwhelmed with gratitude for this experience. I was in the Amazon Rainforest, a place that many never get the opportunity to explore. I thought, “Who am I to deserve such incredible experiences such as this?”. These few minutes of listening and meditating truly made me appreciate where I was and how I got there.

Over the course of my travels, I frequently forget how lucky I am to have this as my job. I get to travel the world, see unbelievable sights, and try different foods (even worms), and for that, and this experience, I am eternally grateful. I will never forget this hike in the Amazon Rainforest.

amazon rainforest wheelchair accessible

 amazon rainforest wheelchair accessible

 

*Thank you to Ecuador for All and Huasquila Amazon Lodge for making this hike in the Amazon possible.


*A Note from Curb Free with Cory Lee: This post includes affiliate links. When you click on a link, I may receive a small compensation, which will help this blog grow into a better resource for disabled travelers.

amazon rainforest wheelchair accessible

amazon rainforest wheelchair accessible

 

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3 Comments

  • Bob says:

    Looks like had a great adventure. Isn’t it funny we tell kids not to eat worms then we travel around the world and eat all kinds of bugs and critters?

  • Cory, I just recently found your blog. Im not the first and I wont be the last to call you an inspiration. Thanks for sharing your perspectives and experiences.

    That being said, it looks like you had one hell of a trip! glad it went well. thanks for sharing the pictures too

  • Bianca says:

    What an adventure and an inspiration, thank you for sharing!

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