‘Ad­ven­tures are vi­tal, they make life worth liv­ing’

For years Maura Ward put off trav­el­ling, un­til a health di­ag­no­sis made her seize the mo­ment

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Real Women -

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.

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