By Bejay Browne
A DREAM holiday in Paphos turned into a nightmare for a British man and his wheelchair-bound, disabled girlfriend after access issues left her vowing never to return.
Ill equipped public transport, uneven pavements, a lack of dropped kerbs and vehicles parked on pavements were just a few of the problems the couple encountered.
John Hughes, 29, spent eight years living in Paphos before moving back to the UK in October last year. He started a relationship with Zoe Bannister, 29, a friend from his schooldays and the pair planned a trip to Paphos where Hughes’ parents still live.
“It’s been a nightmare here. My girlfriend arrived on October 1 for a two week holiday and massive problems with access and simply trying to get her around have left us both distraught and upset,” said Hughes.
Hughes’ girlfriend was run over by a car when she was nine years old; the accident left her disabled and reliant on a wheelchair to get around.
She currently lives in Bolton in the UK with a carer, although two care givers accompanied her on her trip to Cyprus.
Hughes said that his girlfriend has previously visited a number of holiday spots in Europe, including Benidorm and has always had a good experience. However, this wasn’t the case in Cyprus.
“It was important to me that we all had a good time, and I especially wanted Zoe to have a great experience and enjoy the culture but that just wasn’t possible.”
Bannister and her carers stayed at the Avanti holiday village in Kato Paphos in a ground floor apartment.
Hughes, who stayed with his parents, said this part of the holiday was fine but the rest of her trip was awful, he said.
The catalogue of disasters included a frustrating and upsetting experience with Paphos’ public and private transport system. Hughes was unable to hire a car as he suffers from Hydrocephalus or water on the brain and has a cerebral shunt fitted to help drain any excess fluid. The condition affects his motor skills and he is unable to drive.
On one of her first days in Paphos, Bannister and her carers decided to catch a bus to meet up with Hughes at Coral Bay, the busy tourist spot outside Paphos.
It took four buses before the three could get on a bus equipped for wheelchair users. The first two buses had no ramps while the ramp on third bus was broken. The fourth bus had a working ramp and they were finally able to start their journey.
They then missed the stop on the main strip and were dropped off further along the road. The group had to make their way back to the tourist strip – about 2km uphill. Broken and uneven pavements, pot holes and very few slopes on and off the kerbs to push a wheelchair meant they had no choice but to push Bannister along the busy road.
“The access is terrible, you can get on some of the pavements but there is no access to get off. The trees are in the middle of the pavement so you can’t push a wheelchair around them. Zoe was in the road, it was very dangerous,” said Hughes.
Even the trip back to the hotel was a disaster.
“Buses will only allow for one child’s pushchair or a wheelchair. We tried to get on a bus but it had a child in a pushchair. He was old enough to sit on his mother’s knee and fold the pushchair up so that Zoe would be allowed on. But the woman refused, we all asked her, even the driver. It was terrible. We had to get off and the bus left without us.”
At this point Hughes said his girlfriend felt guilty and upset, blaming herself for the numerous disasters.
Operations manager Andreas Rodosthenous for bus operator OSYPA said all new city busses have ramps fitted and promised the company would investigate the incident.
Hughes said that a day trip to Latsi with his girlfriend, her care givers and his parents didn’t fare much better. “The access to the shops at Latsi harbour consisted of ramps up to one level and then steps up to the next. It makes no sense.”
“One man had parked his 4×4 across the pavement and refused to move when we asked him. He just shrugged his shoulders and turned away, it was very upsetting.”
Rodosthenous said that OSYPA is experiencing huge problems with vehicles illegally parking, especially at bus stops. This is preventing the busses from pulling up to the pavement, which they need to do in order to use the ramp.
“We report these parked cars to the police but they don’t do much. If they issued fines as they are supposed to do, it would act as a deterrent for people to keep doing it.”
But it wasn’t just public transport and selfish car owners that made Bannister’s trip so stressful. She had access difficulties in all areas of Cyprus she visited, including Limassol and other day trips.
Hughes said he was even unable to take his girlfriend to a traditional taverna in the old town as it is accessed only by steps.
Even places where ramps have been fitted aren’t necessarily wheelchair friendly, Hughes says. A visit to an exhibition at En Plo on the harbour was impossible, even though there is a ramp at the entrance. It’s highly polished and at an angle so steep, that it’s impossible for an electric wheelchair to go up it. “It was so disappointing,“ he said.
Hughes said that as Zoe had been put off public transport, the next time she wanted to visit Paphos harbour, she decided to take a taxi. She was charged 20 euros to travel the short distance – about a five minute drive – between the Avanti hotel village to the harbour. The usual price is around seven euros.
“Something has to be done to improve access and attitudes towards wheelchair users in Cyprus,” said Hughes. “It’s a member of the EU and should follow all of the laws and directives. She won’t be coming back.”
Nasos Hadjigeorgiou, head of the Paphos regional board of tourism admitted that there is big room for improvement, but said that town planning should ensure that the region is as wheel chair friendly as possible.
“Hotels have tried to improve facilities in the last few years and these are positive steps forward; there have also some adjustments to pavements but there is vast room for improvement,” he conceded.
Hadjigeorgiou said that there is a need for a campaign to educate the public and professionals about many connected concerns, such as illegally using allocated disabled spaces.
“There are also issues with accessing places of interest, archaeological sites and beaches.”
Hughes said that spending time with his girlfriend in Cyprus has made him aware of how difficult it is for those in wheelchairs to get around the island, especially compared with the UK, which he said is “pretty sorted”.
“Zoe left feeling very upset and as if she was letting everyone down and holding us back.”