Sendero Group Travel Blog

Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Japan, Osaka and Kyoto

Since the United flights to Bangkok route through Japan, it only made sense to stop over on the way home for a couple days. It is about a 6 hour flight to Osaka and then another 10 hours flying to San Francisco from there.

We were in for a bit of an unpleasant shock when entering immigration in Osaka. I passed through with no problem but then Gena was held up. Her passport was flagged so they took us into a holding room while they sorted it out. Being a holiday in the US as well as in Japan, everyone was concerned that no officials could be reached to figure out the problem. Because of the language barrier, it was a very upsetting interchange with us having no clue when and if anything would be done.

In case we were not allowed into Japan, we started looking into flights back to the US but the last one was gone for the day.  There was only a flight to Guam, about 4 hours from Japan that was leaving an hour and a half hence.

Finally, Gena was called to the phone and got an earful from Mr. Brown at the US embassy in Osaka,  telling her she was in big trouble. Once she explained she was blind he lightened up. Turns out that Gena was using a passport she thought was active but was in fact one she thought was lost and replaced. Hard to figure out why she had been through 6 passport checkpoints prior to Osaka without issue. Finally, after being detained for 2 hours, we were hugely relieved to be allowed into Japan although I was a bit disappointed not to be going to Guam.
Toilet control with Braille labels 
Our time in Osaka was mostly around the two hotels where we stayed, the Ritz Carlton and Swissotel. We were duly impressed by the heated toilet seats in both hotels. One even had a push-button panel with Braille labels.

Mike and Gena in front of the Osaka CastleOutside the hotel, there was not much English Spoken; I did not have GPS maps so navigating was a challenge. A lovely young woman in the Ritz, who was from Kyoto, wrote down directions to the train and to various places to visit in Kyoto. We used this and the points of interest aspect of the GPS to find our way to Kyoto and back on the train as well as going to the castle inOsaka. The train stations were huge and packed with lots of people. It wasn’t easy but we managed between all our alternative tools and techniques to get where we wanted to go.

view of Osaka buildings from the CastleOn our return trip, we came out of the wrong exit and found ourselves taking a very long way around. We made it in time to check out and catch our shuttle back to the airport.
 Gena, Mutsuki and Mike at bus station

I have always said that “the people make the places” and that was true of Japan. Our favorite was our friend Mutsuki from the Ritz. Our waiter at the Italian Cantina was wonderful, not to mention another waiter, Tomach, who was actually Hungarian. We had fun with a few folks who didn’t speak a word of English like one of the guards at the Osaka Castle, who ran up 6 flights of stairs in search of us. He really wanted us to take the elevator. We enjoyed the ladies in a women’s clothing store called Scream. They even let us feel the super high heels and leggings they were wearing.
Restaurant in Japan 
We had a good time despite the problem entering the country because of the warmth of the people. Next time, we will make sure we don’t go there on a holiday, which made a very crowded place even crazier.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


World Blind Union in Bangkok Thailand, 2012

The purpose for attending the WBU, held every 4 years, was to keep Sendero on the international stage and to emphasize, even in developing countries, the importance of independent wayfinding using GPS and other alternative tools and techniques. Cheng Hock Kua from Singapore and I walked around the Imperial Queen’s Park hotel to establish points of interest because the Thailand maps were quite sparse. There was a beautiful park with playgrounds, a stage and jogging path. We were close to a major shopping mall and to a train station. Sukhumvit Road was a very busy artery stuffed with shops and massage parlors. There was no shortage of places to establish as user Points of Interest.
Mike and Cheng marking User points of interestThe interesting thing about a WBU verses most conferences we attend, is that it is dominated by developing countries. There was a strong contingent of blind Africans from Togo to Mozambique, from Malawi to Ghana. It was fascinating to talk with these blind folks over breakfast or a drink. Most had little interest in let alone the resources to acquire a GPS system. Hence, we had few takers for our GPS tours around the hotel. We did have a decent turn-out for our formal presentation.

There were about 1000 people registered for the conference. I would guess half were blind. There were 300 volunteers omnipresent in their orange shirts, easy to find for low vision folks. With almost one-to-one sighted assistance around the hotel and even to walk to nearby restaurants or massage parlors, it was a rather unreal situation for navigation. We don’t typically have cheery college age volunteers in our lives at our every beck and call. I couldn’t help but be a bit philosophical about this form of accommodation at a conference of the world’s blind leaders. Sure it was convenient and very hospitable. However, what kind of message does it say about independence with full time sighted assistance?

Mike driving a Tuc Tuc with help from his caneWe did take one day to get outside the hotel area of Bangkok, well other than my two specific taxi trips to and from James Tailor, where I had some custom suits and shirts made. Gena and I visited the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. We took the train, then a boat and then walked to the Temple. We had a guide for the day that explained everything to us and showed us her favorite lunch spot. From there, we took a 3-wheeled vehicle called a Tuc Tuc to a flower mart and a pedestrian shopping street. There are copious sidewalk food stands. People, scooters and Tuc Tucs were everywhere. We wrapped up with a taxi ride back to the hotel and capped off the day with Italian food for a change from Thai food.

view of gardens and elephant sculptures made out of woodAfter researching various side trips, we opted for a private guided 3 day 2 night tour to Pattaya, about 100 miles from Bangkok. We stayed at a hotel called Birds and Bees, Cabbage and Condoms resort. The highlight of Pattaya was an afternoon at the botanical gardens featuring an elephant show and rides. There is nothing quite as unique as being picked up by an elephant trunk. The elephants danced, bowled and shot basketballs at a hoop at least a full court away. They were such amazing creatures up close. There was various other Thai dancing and rituals as well.

Thai dancers on stagepeople lying down in a line for the elephant to step overGena with her arm around an elephant

I could not get over the price of a full hour massage for under $10. So, I had one a day while in Thailand including at the airport as we waited for our flight to Japan.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012


exploring Kyoto Japan without the benefit of GPS maps

Mike May is making the most of exploring Kyoto Japan without the benefit of GPS maps.

He recorded an audio file from the Yasaka Shrine.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


using GPS even when maps aren't present

Happy Thanksgiving back home.
We just arrived in Osaka Japan from Bangkok. I had maps in Thailand but not here in Japan.

However, I still had the Braille Sense OnHand fired up and helping out.

I had no clue how far our hotel in Osaka was from the Airport. Even when there are no maps, the World.poi and the City.POI files come in handy. I found the city of Osaka, which was about 40 Kilometers from the airport. I could then gauge that the taxi driver wasn't taking the long way around.

I also had the Nav Aids file loaded and could see buoys and lighthouses a click to our left.

I of course recorded the hotel as a POI which will go into the collective World POI file for all to share. I'll add lots more over the next 3 days of touring Osaka, Kyoto and Nara.

Boy are the prices here a shock after Thailand and the weather is 40 degrees cooler.

I can definitely give thanks for accessible GPS, just one more alternative tool in my travel bag of tricks.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


more forms of transportation

It seems a bit incongruous using GPS while being transported by an elephant in Pattaya Thailand.
 Mike and Gena on an elephant ride
Elephant tipping Mike Nothing like being swept off your feet by an elephant.
Elephant holding Mike in his trunk

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Tuk Tuk in Bangkok

Mike using cane to drive the Tuk Tuk in Bangkok

Mike and Gina waiting to take off in the Tuk Tuk, Mike is in the drivers seat
Getting through Bangkok traffic is difficult almost anytime of day. In fact, the traffic is so slow, a blind guy could easily drive a popular form of transportation, the Tuk Tuk, kind of a 3-wheel golf cart.


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