An epic journey – travelling the world in a wheelchair and a Sprinter
Jozef Balemans is in a wheelchair. And yet in his entire life he has never been as mobile as he is now – thanks to a Sprinter that bears his name.
The best wheelchair in the world
In the past, when Jozef Balemans went to work, he would be offered an outstanding view most of the time. The Dutchman used to be a roofer; he founded his own company many years ago but still climbed roofs afterwards. Until in 1998 he fell from a house. And from then on nothing was like it had been before. When Balemans woke up in hospital he was paralyzed from the waist down. He would never be able to climb a roof again. Almost twenty years have passed since the accident. Jozef Balemans has learnt to live with his disability. He has a beautiful life. And this has a lot to do with the fact that the roofer can once again enjoy breathtaking views. ”One day I bought myself a motorhome and opted for a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4“, recounts Balemans. He dedicated many working hours to designing a vehicle adapted to the needs of the disabled, with a lift on the side.
At night, when we are sitting in front of our Mercedes-Benz Sprinter overlooking a river, a mountain or the sea, we keep saying to each other: A more beautiful view than this one is not possible.
Sold his company, bought a Sprinter
Their daughter’s honeymoon trip across North and South America in 2007 was the perfect occasion for the Balemanns to set off on their first major adventure on the road. The Dutch couple was planning to travel around Argentina with their Sprinter ”Josmobiel“ for six weeks, but on the day of departure they made a decision. „We flew back and sold our company. For the next three and a half years, we travelled the length and breadth of South America.” Life on the road had cast its spell on Jozef Balemans and his wife. ”We love the simple life, all the adventures, the many new interpersonal encounters, the peace and quiet. At night, when we are sitting in front of our Mercedes-Benz Sprinter overlooking a river, a mountain or the sea, we keep saying to each other: A more beautiful view than this one is not possible. Not even on the roof.”
New friends from the Mercedes-Benz subsidiary
Amongst other reasons, says Balemans, he chose Mercedes-Benz because ”it is a global brand and and you can get spare parts anywhere in the world“. Just like a few years ago during a tour through Peru, when the Josmobiel packed up near Ilave not far from Lake Titicaca, – and three employees from the Mercedes-Benz subsidiary in Cusco five hundred kilometres away were sent on their way to pick up the Sprinter. ”During the two-day return journey, my wife cooked for the men; one of them slept with us in the van“, recalls Balemans. „Those two days on the road were not put down to our account. We were told that friends did not have to pay for something like that“, he explains enthusiastically.
He needs loneliness for his art, says Peter Kitchell. The American finds this isolation surrounded by nature. His converted Freightliner Sprinter T1N serves as his mobile home.
> Read more about Peter Kitchell and his Sprinter
Another trip took the couple across Bolivia. One of many travelling acquaintances was the Argentinian Gustavo, a mechanic who lives in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz with his family. ”If there is anything you need”, Gustavo said, ”then please contact me.” Weeks later, Gustavo’s acquaintance proved to be invaluable. The Josmobiel urgently required experienced hands, so Jozef Balemans dialled Gustavo’s number, received an invitation immediately, and ultimately he and his wife stayed with the friendly mechanic who made the Sprinter ready for operation again within two weeks. His family turned a room on the ground floor into a a guest room specifically so that wheelchair user Jozef could stay the night without any problems. „Gustavo and his Gabi are probably the nicest people we have ever met “, recalls Balemans and asks: „Where else do you find people like that?” He already knows the answer: On the road, maybe even during his next adventure. Where even a wheelchair cannot prevent you from flying high/following your dreams.