Foreword By Chris Hofstader
This relatively short article was written by my good friend of roughly three decades named Howard Minsky. In those days, we were both working at a really cool consulting shop called Turning Point Software where our little clique was notorious for pulling complex pranks on each other, five day long parties in Las Vegas and drinking to excess; we were also notorious for working 70+ hour weeks and for taking on projects for top clients like Microsoft, Lotus and IBM, too difficult for mere mortal software engineers. From TPS, Howard and I would both go on to do our own things, then do some contract stuff and we'd fall out of touch for a few years, then get back in touch and that cycle would continue for a few decades.
Thus, I was surprised when I answered a call from an unidentified number and found that it wasn't someone trying to sell me insurance for a car I don't own but, rather, it was Howie calling to catch up after quite a long period since the last time we had spoken. For the majority of those years, I remained in the technology field and then became a blogger and activist. Howie, on the other hand, made major changes in his life, he was no longer in the software world; he was in the wildlife safari business now.
Howie and I continued our conversation and talked about all sorts of things when it came to our minds that it might be interesting to do a wildlife safari for blind people. We discussed Africa, we talked about Central and South America and we even identified a few destinations here in the US where we could do such an adventure and, if successful, do more in the future. Howie and I have been looking for a project to work on together for a long time now and blind wildlife safari adventure travel may be coming from us in the not terribly distant future.
In his article below, Howard describes his safari business a little and then tries to take a description he had of a real life safari and remove visual information and replace it with what we believe a blind person would experience in the same situation. Both of us have written a lot over the years but neither of us have tried taking an sensual experience of a sighted person and trying to imagine how it would be for a blind person so please do consider this an experiment at something we hope to get good at in the future.
Introduction: Our Trips
Nature's beauty is meant for all to enjoy. Our wildlife safaris take us to distant lands and deliver the beauty of nature up-close and personal. Our guests, both blind and sighted, learn first-hand about successful wildlife conservation efforts in exotic lands. We meet and interact with leading conservation experts who dedicate their lives to protect our planet and the creatures living upon it. Our wildlife safaris are a powerful life-changing experience inspiring us to become better stewards of our planet.
We land in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, the first leg of this ten-day African safari. There are twelve in our group, six blind with six sighted partners they've personally selected. We are met in the airport by an excited man broadly smiling with the knowledge that we are embarking on a life changing journey of adventure.
He escorts the group to our air-conditioned mini-bus for the short transport to our lodge in Victoria Falls. Once checked-in and settled, we meet on the veranda in the early evening for cocktails and an overview of the days ahead.
The night air is still as we listen to the sound of Victoria Falls in the distance. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, this mile wide waterfall plunges three hundred and fifty feet with such ferocity that it can be heard more than twenty miles away. The waterfall's local indigenous name is known as (read phonetically) Mosi-oa-Tunya which means “the smoke that thunders.”
We are met on the veranda by our wildlife guide, a Zimbabwean with a slight Zimbabwean accent, who speaks six languages fluently. He jokes and laughs with us as he tells us of the coming days ahead. He describes our itinerary: Our safari will begin in Victoria Falls and venture through Hwange National Park for three days. We will then cross the Kazungula border into Botswana where we spend the next five days on safari through Chobe and Savuti National Parks before returning to Victoria Falls.
The following morning after breakfast, we begin our journey. Our first day on safari, we pass through the gates of Hwange National Park. This wildlife rich preserve has a long history of wildlife conservation. One can still enjoy some of the best wildlife encounters in sub-Saharan Africa including elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, lion, leopard, hippo, antelope, crocodile, ostrich, hyena, wild dog, and rhino.
The first leg of our safari follows a winding sandy road through rolling forested hills. Our two open air jeeps each seat six adventurers with blind adventurers sitting beside their sighted partners. Partners who share detailed conversations about the visual world surrounding us. Driving along the sandy roads our wildlife guide tells us how the road's soft sand comes from the windswept sands blown from the Kalahari Desert more than 500 miles to the south.
Less than ten minutes into the park our driver pulls to the side of the road and cuts the engine. Ellies ahead, says our wildlife guide. About ten meters (11 yards) to the right of our vehicle behind a thick stand of Zambezi Teak trees. The small herd of four young male elephants are feeding on the tree’s leaves and branches. It’s amazing that such a bulky animal can walk so silently through the forest. If it weren’t for their crunching and munching as they eat, we wouldn’t know they were there. As we listen, we catch the fresh lively aroma of the green leaves and the leather-like scent of the toppled teak tree drifting subtly in the air. Our wildlife guide passes around several teak leaves and some bark for us to feel. The leaf is somewhat smooth on the top with a hair-like underside and the bark feels rough and cracked. Our guide tells us how the leaves are used locally for tea which our cook will prepare upon our return to the lodge. We’re all excited to taste it. Our guide laughs and says not to drink too much as it’s used as a natural laxative.
After a few minutes of hearing them feed, and learning about elephant conservation, our guide tells us of the largest elephant pushing headlong into the base of a rather large tree. We soon hear the ellies grunting and snorting as the thick tree creaks, crackles, and pops from the immense pressure of the five-ton beast pushing against it. Moments later a loud “CRACK” startles us as the roots tear from the ground and the tree topples over.
The guide tells us that the tree's flat root system is now resting perpendicular to the ground like a thick spider web. As the Ellies encircle the fallen trees' rounded leafy crown, we hear the ripping and tearing of leaves being stripped from their branches by the elephants’ trunks. Content as they feed, we hear low deep rumbling sounds emanating from the Ellies as they stuff their mouths with piles of green leaves.
##Blind Safari Travel
In the example above, I describe part of an African safari I've been discussing with Chris. We have a lot of ideas for other destinations. The trip I describe is one we're considering as a prototype with only.A half dozen blind travelers but we have many more ideas for providing the adventurous blind person with an outdoor experience they'll remember for the rest of their lives.
Our initial discussions on this project have included allowing the blind traveler to bring along a personally chosen sighted guide on our adventures. Different blind people prefer different ways of hearing descriptions and we felt a hand picked companion would better accommodate the needs of the blind travelers. A blind person taking one of the trips we're considering can forego a sighted companion if they so choose but we don't recommend doing so as the professional guides will not be familiar with helping a blind person.
Exotic travel can be very expensive. Most blind people haven't the expendable income to take such a trip. In the coming months, Chris and I will be working to find sponsorships to bring blind people and a sighted companion (if they elect to have one along) to some very exciting locales.
The wild kingdom belongs to all of us. We are starting to work on a project that will hopefully bring blind people to places most people only see on television or read about in books. If you're interested in this project, please do write to Chris through the contact form on this site.