Holidays with Chronic Illness - Malaga, Spain

Holidays with Chronic Illness – Malaga, Spain

Holidays. We all look forward to the summer vacation. Visions of sunny, warm days spent with loved ones. My partner and I had been looking forward to our holiday in Malaga since we booked it several months ago. We booked an apartment that advertised as less than a 10-minute walk from the town centre and the beach. Perfect.

However, over the last few months my mobility has suffered. Slower and slower, my right leg has decided walking is so last year. My leg had adopted a new fashion of extreme laziness. This new reality had started to bite, and the flights and apartment had been already booked. Cancelling an option unconsidered, as we needed the break, especially my partner. So I decided, about a month and a half before the trip to book a car. An extra expense, but it would give us a little more comfort. We could drive to the beach, or into town. Problem solved, or so we thought.

About two weeks before leaving I had a short walk, about 400 metres (1/4 mile) in total. I took 32 minutes. My Neurologist started me on Fampyra the following week and hoped that this would be the miracle cure, but after 2 week’s trial my walking had become worse. Now I was in panic mode. The holiday would be a disaster. Would I be stuck in the apartment looking out on blue skies, unable to enjoy it? 

Then I had a brain wave, not always easy when with chronic fatigue, and headaches. Maybe I could hire a mobility scooter. (See my post about using the tools). I trawled the net and found Mobility Abroad – Costa del Sol. Tony (the owner) replied, and he arranged a scooter I could put into the boot of the car and bring wherever we wanted. The service included delivery to our apartment, and collection when the holiday finished. Super. Problem solved.

The Flight

I had booked wheelchair help at Shannon Airport and Malaga. This is a necessity. The service in Shannon on the way out, fantastic. We got checked in, and passed through security with no problems, and they left us at the restaurant. This allowed us time to eat fantastic food before the flight. I had a fish platter with smoked salmon, chowder and prawns in garlic butter. For those of you who follow me on Instagram and Facebook you know that I am starting an Autoimmune Diet soon (September 17) and this holiday would be the last time I would eat many foods (dairy, potatoes and grains). The chowder – perfect. Flight delays ensured we were collected from the restaurant long after they had called everyone to the gate, and even still we had to wait to board the plane.

Sensitivity to noise is one problem and so for the flight I wore my wireless noise cancelling headphones. Bliss. The journey passed, and I even managed a nap. Things looked good.

Malaga Airport

On arrival to Malaga the air steward informed the PRM (People with Reduced Mobility) people that nobody on the flight needed a wheelchair. I had booked a bulkhead seat and overheard his comment. I then had to shout to say I needed a wheelchair. This airline has a problem with PRM passengers. Once I got down the stairs of the plane, I could get in the wheelchair and enjoy the blast of heat. We had arrived in Spain.

The PRM in Malaga brings you through passport control and then you must walk into the baggage area. It is only a few metres, and it is manageable. Then a buggy collected us, and we collected our bags. The driver know where the car hire minibus is located and brought us to the nearest exit. That helped as the walk would have killed me. I think the PRM service only goes as far as the terminal door in Malaga.

The attitude of the customer service representative in the car hire company was horrible. He was combative, discourteous and devious. They must have a hard sell approach in this company, and it was late, about 9:30 pm. We ended up purchasing something we did not need. We got the car, automatic, and headed to the apartment.

The apartment looked like the pictures in the Internet. Everything we expected, and a little more. My partner booked it through Airbnb, and the host was eager to help us in every way. My partner has fluent Spanish, and this went smoothly. We had arrived. We headed out to a nearby restaurant, had sushi, returned home, and slept.

The Scooter

The first day of the holiday we drove to Torremolinos to collect the scooter. Tony, the owner, showed it and made sure I understood how it operated. He has a great range of different sized devices and hoists and frames. He showed me how to dismantle it and stow it in the boot of the car. Now I was ready to see Malaga. Walking, or not being able to walk, wouldn’t be a problem.

Me and my scooter in Malaga, Spain
Me and my scooter in Malaga, Spain

I have not used a mobility scooter, and this was a strange new experience. Disconcerting, as my view of the world was much lower that I am accustomed. I am about 1.83 metres (6-foot) and be less than 1.4 metres (4-foot 6-inches) changes everything. People were obscuring my view, blocking me from passing, when before I could navigate the world. Plus my partner was taller than me, and it made me feel like a child. This was uncomfortable, and I have to admit took some adjusting. 

Malaga – Access

This city is very accessible on a scooter, and the kerbs all had access points. Sidewalks all have grooves in them, and so I felt like I was being bounced around. The promenade on the sea front has three paths. One bumpy (with a grid cut into the tiles), one for bikes and roller skates, and a blissful third that was smooth. It has been a long time since I have been able to go on a walk with my partner, and it was great. Holding hands was difficult, and I was guilty of going too fast often. I blame the exuberance of having a new toy. 

Entry into shops and restaurants is difficult when you have a scooter. Unless you are eating outside, don’t even try to find a restaurant that has access for a scooter, or wheelchair. If, and it is a big if, there is a ramp it is, usually, at a 45-degree angle, with a table or some other obstacle blocking the top of the ramp. We were on the promenade in Torremolinos one rainy afternoon (yes it rains in Spain) and of the 15 Chiringuitos (beach restaurants) that we tried to get into, only 1 was accessible. In this one the toilet was down stairs I found easy to descend, put getting back up was a challenge. 

Malaga -Parking

This was a big issue throughout the trip. Before travelling I researched the rules in Spain, and in Andalucia, for Disabled Drivers with a Blue Disabled Parking Permit. On an official website it states that:

The availability of this card enables:

Park in areas reserved for people with reduced mobility.

Park the vehicle free of charge and without limitation of time in the green areas, blue areas and loading / unloading areas, as long as it does not affect the traffic and parking limitations of the pedestrian areas and in accordance with the Ordinances of the Local Corporations.  

Access to parking spaces reserved and authorised by the City Councils for vehicles that transport people with reduced mobility and who hold a parking card.

Parking in public parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities, distributed in the areas considered of interest, in the urban centres.

Park anywhere in the public road, during the essential time, as long as it does not impede the circulation of vehicles or pedestrians.

https://www.juntadeandalucia.es/organismos/igualdadypoliticassociales/areas/discapacidad/paginas/tarjeta-aparcamiento.html
Disabled Parking in Malaga, Spain
Disabled Parking in Malaga, Spain

Disabled parking spaces are difficult to find as they don’t always paint the parking space blue with a wheelchair symbol. They also have two different signs. Spanish also have a slight disregard for rules and so it isn’t unusual to find a Vespa type scooter parked blocking a disabled space. 

I took the rule above as true, but when my partner asked a parking warden, he said I had to pay for parking, unless I was in a disabled space. Did I take the risk of parking is a normal space? Yes, I did, and, fortunately, I did not get a parking ticket. When I was parking in the centre of town, I didn’t take the risk, and I stayed in the car parks that charge for every driver. This was an unexpected cost on the holiday.

Malaga – Beaches

Follow the blue line to find the disabled access beach
Follow the blue line to find the disabled access beach

A surprise was the access on the beaches. At several points along the beach they make a hard path down to the sea. This will allow a wheelchair close to the waves. Even more exciting was that there is a few points where they have complete facilities for disabled people. Changing rooms with hoists and tables, disabled toilets, a covered area with tables, loungers and chairs. These areas are manned by volunteers that can help. They also have special wheelchairs that can carry someone into the sea. This is all free, and can give someone who has limited mobility a chance to feel what it is like in the water. I have to admit this impressed me. 

The Trip Home

After 10 days in the sun we had to return home. We had become accustomed to the temperature, and the siesta in the afternoon. But the thought of getting back home to all our own creature comforts had become strong. We brought the mobility scooter back and headed to the airport and left the car back. Of course, I left my sunglasses in the car and only noticed when we got to the airport. The driver of the car hire minibus kindly went back and collected them for me. This was all completed with a smile.

Malaga Airport has a dedicated PRM team that brought us to the gate, passing through security and passport control with no issues. They did not ask if we wanted to stay in the main Duty Free, or has something to eat. They wanted us to stay by the gate for 2 hours. I would suggest that you inform them what you want before you start. Based on this experience, they won’t ask you what you require, unlike the PRM service in Shannon.

The flight was as expected. When we arrived in Shannon, the attitude of the flight attendant was appalling. She was not friendly and when I asked if a wheelchair was available she was rude. I ended up walking part of way from the plane to the airport terminal. Someone arrived with a wheelchair to help me. It seems like there was no communication between the fight crew and the PRM service. Once seated in the wheelchair everything went smoothly. 

As the flight was a late arrival (23:50) we stayed at an airport hotel that night, as the drive home would take at least two-and-a-half hours. The hotel was acceptable, and we made it back home the following afternoon, disappointed to leave Spain, but delighted to be home.

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