The end goal was Santiago de Compostela

Donnerstag, 26. Oktober 2023

"So you can't do that - it's far too uncertain in your situation!"

A travelogue by Birger Ullstad

800 km on the Camino on a handicap scooter

The trip, which went from Biaritz in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, lasted one month. I completed the trip alone, probably the first on an electric scooter.

In 2014 I suffered a brain hemorrhage which resulted in paralysis of the entire right side and no language. A lot of training and stubbornness have helped me, however, and then the idea of completing the trip on the French Camino arose.

The reaction of my wife and children was clear: "So you can't do that - it's far too uncertain in your situation!" But again, my stubbornness came to my aid, and gradually the idea matured with the family. A meeting in Odense with some who had experience of the trip reassured my wife in particular, as several described the helpfulness that prevails among the hikers. So, I wonder if there would be help available for a 74-year-old disabled man if it were necessary?

The first test was the Hærvejen from Frederikshavn to Sønderborg last summer, where my wife drove along as a companion car. It went smoothly, was a nice trip, which really boosted the dream of the real pilgrimage.
Most of a year has been spent preparing the trip. The route was laid out quite quickly, but then the day intervals were laid out according to the number of km in relation to terrain, heights, accommodation options, etc.

As a disabled person, I had challenges with the language. I don't speak any foreign languages but understand English and German. Furthermore, the brain hemorrhage has erased my spelling and partly my reading skills, but Google has help functions, so with spoken and translated fixed sentences you get a long way.

A significant part of the preparation concerned the electric scooter, and Medema has been an invaluable help here. The mini crosser has been serviced and prepared in the best way, so I had the best conditions to complete.

The journey

I started from Copenhagen airport on 24 August and flew to Biaritz, where I had booked a hotel for the first night. The trip was with a shift in London, where on that particular day there was a storm, which delayed the trip considerably. First at At 02.30 I reached the hotel, but without luggage. So the next day I had to go back to the airport to find the luggage, which was not an easy task. However, I managed to get the luggage to the hotel later in the day, but before then, I had discovered damage to the charger for the electric scooter's battery. Without power on the battery, I couldn't drive - and therefore couldn't move outside the hotel either. Oops an unfortunate discovery on a Friday afternoon – stranded at an airport hotel in France! On Monday morning, I immediately called Medema, who was again exceptionally helpful and understanding. A new charger was sent to me with express speed already the same day. On Wednesday afternoon I received the new charger, and on Thursday morning I finally started the trip. From home, the first 4 nights were booked, but due to due to the delay, these reservations had to be cancelled, so I was "alone in the wilderness" without back-up.

The trip over the Pyrenees gave a foretaste of the route's roads and paths - 1300 meters of altitude with stony paths Bad gravel roads due to a lot of rain characterized part of the route, so I often chose the country road rather than the paths. Elsewhere there was 1600 meters of elevation and the scooter really had to work as there was also a 10% climb within 4km. After 16 km I had used almost all the power and I had only driven 3 km. It was a cold pleasure -13 degrees and dense fog. Other days the weather was warm, but there were also rain showers. Kind people gave me a pair of gloves because I was unprepared for the cold.

As a starting point, I had looked for hostels suitable for the disabled, but it turned out not to be necessary. Private, public hostels or monasteries were excellent accommodations, naturally of different standards and at varying prices. And luckily I didn't find the bed bugs that we had heard about from home anywhere.

One of the accommodations was a monastery with room for 700 pilgrims, where dinner was served. In other places you could get breakfast, but I usually chose to start the day's route early - approx. at 7 and then only eat a combined breakfast and lunch later. The daily rhythm was quickly found. Leave early to reach the destination before 1pm when the hostels open. It was a matter of arriving on time to get a seat, and there was often a queue in front of the good places.

Once I had found accommodation, I often had a midday nap and then went sightseeing in the small towns in the late afternoon. Between 9pm and 10pm there should be quiet in the dormitories. I got to see many small and large towns, and in the most interesting I stayed a few days. It was, for example, Leun, where there was a beautiful religious procession. In another place, there was singing and folk dancing in the street - also an exciting experience.

Once I was late and the monastery was fully booked. The priest took pity on this old disabled man from Denmark, so he left his bed to me and also came in to make sure everything was okay. In the same place, a service was held for the pilgrims in the evening. Very atmospheric with subsequent round talk about the various reasons for embarking on the trip. It was special and touching with the many life stories.

You greet each other on the route, and I have regularly met the same people several times and had a little chat. As I mentioned in the introduction, I seem to be the first to complete the route on a disabled scooter, and this has been noticed in many places where I have posed for photos. There were many people on the route of many nationalities - Australia, China, Japan, the USA and of course from Europe, so I came into contact with many people from foreign countries. Everywhere I experienced incredible helpfulness and kindness. With only one working arm, it's difficult to cut food and close zippers, so I've often asked for help with this, as many strangers have zipped my fleece on the trip.

The final goal was Santiago de Compostela, where the Camino ends.

Saturday 23.9 at At 14.16 I drove into the town and was greeted by a throng of other pilgrims with noise and the atmosphere of relief at successful walks - short or long. To complete a pilgrimage, 100 km of walking is required, and many choose to settle for this stretch. A pilgrimage is documented by stamps in a pilgrimage book. These stamps are available in the churches, in the hostels and at selected places on the route. In Santiago there is an office where you can hand in your stamp book and get a proof of completion with km.

Part of the conclusion is a service in the great cathedral. Lots of pilgrims come every day – 200,000 per year. year, so that the service is repeated several times a day. It's very atmospheric, despite the fact that I didn't understand the Spanish, but a Catholic devotional with all the mass singing and incense that goes with it. The censer is huge and is swung by 6 men in a pendulum back and forth by 180 degrees, which gives an impressive effect. Prayers are said for the travelers, and it ends with communion. It calls for reflection and gives peace of mind.

I stayed in the city for 3 days to soak up the atmosphere, to digest all the many impressions and mentally finish a fantastic journey.

On Tuesday 26 September I landed in Kbh. airport late at night and was met by my wife who was relieved to get me home safe and sound.


Birger Ullstad

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