Meet Alessandro. Hailing from Italy, he is currently several months into his world circumnavigating trip, being almost done with his African segment, from Morocco to Ethiopia via South Africa, flying only to skip Nigeria, the D.R.Congo and Angola, logistical nightmares that beat many overlanders to submission. From then on, he’ll be heading off all across Eurasia, from the Balkans to Indonesia overland, before tackling Australia, New Zealand, and all of America, from Vancouver to Argentina and then back on the Atlantic coast side.
Alessandro is blind.
THIS is what sets Alessandro apart from the (after all, somewhat substantial) hordes of RTW travelers. It would be a massive understatement to say that there are not many blind backpackers, much less blind long-term RTW travelers!
He lost his eyesight completely four years ago, after a skydiving accident damaged his optical nerves. A long bed-ridden period ensued, before he could resume working for his family business, with the aid of special software that reads out loud text on a computer.
Technology sure improves lives of visually disabled people; he even manages to send and reply to text messages, write blog articles, and upload videos documenting his very, very unusual trip.
“At first, of course I was devastated. For over a year I couldn’t do anything. But then, life goes on.” And when told about the hope for optical nerve transplants and the significant progress that medical technology makes in our era, he replies candidly “Sure, it’s possible one day I might get cured. But right now, I accept my condition.” And throughout all our little chat, not once did he give off the impression of being a sad or pitiful guy. He smiles a lot, looks completely relaxed, as he tells us travel stories and misadventures.
His trip is definitely unusual, not just directly because of his condition, but also the way he does things. Alessandro doesn’t merely cross countries; he rushes through them. I woke up early to see him off at the Bujumbura (Burundi) bus park. He was heading to Kigali, Rwanda, and two days later to Uganda. From there, Kenya. Then Ethiopia. Most African countries requiring costly and sometimes hard to get visas, the costs sure add up.
So even though he transgresses one of the first rules of long-term traveling, which is to take it very slow and absorb as much possible, Alessandro is enjoying himself and says he’s not tired. “I average five days per country. Less if it’s a very small one, more if it’s large, or if I enjoy the vibe of the place. I also took two short sedentary breaks, one volunteering in Mozambique in a school for blind children ran by a girl I know, and recently, holidaying on the beaches of Zanzibar for 10 days. But now, it’s back on the open road!”
And I thought I was the powertourist.
“I can’t see the scenery or the architecture, obviously, but I like talking to people.”
And as he speaks fluent English and French (the language we conversed in throughout all this time), the latter being an invaluable tool to get in the minds of many West and Central Africans, in a way he does experience more of some of those countries that many visually-able, camera-happy, unilingual English-speaking tourists might manage to. Sue me if that opinion offends you.
It’s also pretty obvious that aside from the freedom of the road, cultural interactions and other reasons, he does it to show he can. As a way to prove himself and the world that life doesn’t end with the lost of eyesight or other life-changing disability, that dreams can still come true if one goes to fetch them. Alessandro is the backpacker version of that guy who completed an Ironman triathlon paralyzed from the waist down, or that woman with only a few fingers on each hand who toured the world as a concert violonist. And I have to say it’s pretty inspiring.
You can find Alessandro online at www.lightheplanet.net. The frontpage header is in Italian, but he mostly writes short blog posts in English.