‘Adventures are vital, they make life worth living’
For years Maura Ward put off travelling, until a health diagnosis made her seize the moment
As the plane touched down in Thailand, I felt relief and trepidation. Relief that, after a long delay and a missed connection, I had finally reached my destination; trepidation as it was the first time I’d left Europe alone and I didn’t know what to expect. That moment marked the start of a new chapter for me – full of travel, adventures, new friends and life-changing experiences.
Ever since I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago, I’ve been on a mission to see the world. I’ve visited Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, China and Afghanistan, among others, and I have no intention of stopping any time soon.
When I first noticed a weakness on my left side and a shaking arm, I thought it was age or a trapped nerve. Discovering it was Parkinson’s was terrifying. The disease progressively destroys the nerve cells in the brain, which, in turn, affects movement. There is no cure – I would only deteriorate.
Travelling was something I’d always planned to do, but it had never happened. Now I worried that, with Parkinson’s, it never will. My son Johnny was travelling the world, so we decided to meet up in Thailand.
Arriving in Chiang Mai was unforgettable. From the intense green of the trees to the tantalising aromas of the food stalls, it was a world far away from the one I knew. I’ve been a school social worker for many years and I enjoy being around young people, so we stayed in hostels. It was a great way to get suggestions for sights to see and places to eat.
Back home, I started thinking about my next trip. I’d wanted to visit South America for years, so when Johnny ended up there a few months later, I decided to join him. It was as wild and colourful as I’d hoped it would be. I zip lined along a river in Ecuador and went canoeing in the Amazon. Once, when I was getting a bit shaky after a long day in the rainforest, a guide gave me a branch to use as a walking stick. It was typical of the kindness I’ve encountered on my travels.
So far I’ve visited 50 countries. Some trips I take alone, others with family or friends. I conquered a precarious mountain trail climbing Machu Picchu in Peru; travelled by train from Western China to Tibet, taking in the most spectacular scenery; in Afghanistan I saw a beautiful country decimated by war, and ate the most delicious mutton stew ever. For my next trip I want to see the Komodo dragons in Indonesia. I’ve started chronicling my trips on a blog, too, which I’ve called the Geriatric Traveller.
I work part time between trips and save money on plane tickets by not flying direct. It means being stuck in airports for hours at a time, but to me it’s a great opportunity to strike up conversations with strangers and people-watch.
For me, adventures are vital. They make life worth living. Sometimes people say to me: ‘I wish I could do that.’ I tell them they can – anyone can. Your comfort zone is elastic, you just have to have the courage to stretch it.