Exploring Our World - Alone in Cancun

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2017

I had been planning it for months, and the timing was perfect. I was leaving cold, dreary weather and meeting my good friend, Dawn, to play in the sun.

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Alone in Cancun

As 12-plus inches of late-spring snow was still melting from my yard in Washington, I was thrilled to be boarding a plane, starting my trip to tropical, sunny Cancun, Mexico. I had been planning it for months, and the timing was perfect. I was leaving cold, dreary weather and meeting my good friend, Dawn, to play in the sun. I safely arrived in San Francisco, found my gate, then boarded the next plane in my journey. I settled in for the long haul to Cancun. Then, I got Dawn’s text.

“My passport is expired!” it read, “I can’t meet you in Mexico! Don’t go!”

As the last few passengers straggled on board and doors were closing, I made a quick phone call.

“You need to make them let you off that plane!” Dawn exclaimed, panicked.

I thought a minute and said, “No, I’m going. Everything is arranged there and nothing is here. Besides, I don’t want to go to San Francisco. I want to go to Cancun!”

So there it was. I was going by myself.

Helping Hands

I’m a C5-6 quadriplegic but have regained enough mobility that I can push my manual chair, and I can even walk short distances with crutches. My life is further complicated, though, by an inherited retina disease, which has caused me significant vision loss. These two issues together hinder my independence, but I never know what’s possible until I try. This trip would be revealing. Lucky for me, I had lived in South America during my early 20s, and I could speak Spanish, albeit rusty. I like the Hispanic culture. My experiences in Latin America have always been positive. I find Latinos to be generally very patient and helpful people. Knowing this, I figured I’d be fine.

Besides, I was going to a resort. Surely there would be other vacationers who would be friendly and willing to help me. If I was dead-wrong about everything and became completely miserable, I could come home early. So, I already had plans A and B. I got to Ocean Spa Hotel ( without a hitch. My wheelchair-accessible room was truly accessible, except that the configuration of the shower was tricky for transfers. But I had space to navigate around the room, and I had a nice patio, TV and free Wi-Fi. I slept like a baby in the comfy bed.

Resort staff eagerly served me drinks anytime I cruised near one of the three bars, and they helped me retrieve food from the buffet-style dining room. If I needed an extra push up the steep ramps or help in and out of the pool, many helping hands were there. I swam in the pool, got foofy drinks at the bars and sunned in a lounge chair. I sat at the edge of the beach to enjoy the view and tropical breeze. I even pampered myself with a massage at the hotel spa, something Dawn insisted I do at her expense. Then I decided I needed to explore outside the resort and spread my figurative wings.

Ancient Ruins

I wanted to visit the notorious Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, one of the Travel Channel’s “New Seven Wonders of the World.” From photos, I saw it had reasonably flat terrain, but I knew I would need help. My arms would fatigue pushing in grass and dirt. I explained my needs to the lady at the excursion desk. She suggested I hire a resort security guard named Mary, who was available the day of the outing. I needed the help and Mary needed the extra money, so we were a perfect match. I paid for our tickets, plus an extra $25 to Mary for her time and effort, and we were off. I boarded the luxury coach by using sturdy hand-holds as crutches, and the tour employees stowed my wheelchair securely under the bus. 

We stopped at Mérida, the capital city of Yucatán, Mexico, to view the beautiful historic cathedral and town plaza. We took a break at a completely wheelchair-accessible rest stop. And we perused an awesome gift shop off the beaten path in a small Mayan Indian community. There, I bought my husband a bottle of mezcal, complete with the worm in the bottom. We dined at an authentic restaurant outside the gates of Chichén Itzá while being entertained by a children’s group performing a traditional dance.

Next, we arrived at Chichén Itzá. Mary and I rolled down the path, up a steep ramp and into the gates of the national park. At first sight of the giant pyramid, we both gasped at its grandeur. “Just like on TV!” I told Mary. She was standing, breathless, with eyes wide open. She lived all her life just hours from this site and never dreamed she would have the chance to visit this national treasure. It was my honor to provide her with this opportunity. In return, she graciously and patiently helped me with absolutely everything I needed, including taking photos. She also ignored my numerous grammatical errors as I stumbled through my half-forgotten Spanish. It was a long, tiring day but so worth it.

At the end of my stay in Cancun, I was exhausted. But I was satisfied with how much I had accomplished on my own. I have learned what I can do independently and when to ask for help — my key to successful travel.

For more information about Cancun, including Chichén Itzá, visit

Lilly Longshore is a regular contributor of travel articles for PN magazine.


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Exploring Our World - Alone in Cancun


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