Here Debbie gives her own personal account of the trip of a lifetime.
It was the best of times.
The opening words of Charles Dickens’ historic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, sum up perfectly how I felt as we reached the summit of Hatun Paso in Peru.
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At 4,617 metres up, emotions ran high.
Since leaving St John’s Hospice, Lancaster, on a coach bound for Heathrow airport five days before we’d hardly had time to catch breath.
And it wasn’t just the altitude that was to blame.
We’d arrived in Cusco, Peru, more than 24 hours after we’d set off with a six-hour bus journey under our belts plus two plane rides.
At 3,300 metres high, grappling with the altitude was an immediate challenge.
Walking left you breathless but over the coming days, that’s pretty much all we did – one foot in front of the other as we climbed higher and higher with the summit of Hatun Paso in our sights.
To say the scenery was breathtaking would be an understatement.
The Andean mountains provided a dramatic backdrop wherever we walked.
The off-the-beaten-track Lares Trail we followed was tourist free.
Just us and the odd Peruvian farmer tending his llamas and alpacas.
The farmers’ children were sometimes playing in the mountains as we passed and would shyly approach us for gifts of toys and sweets it had been suggested we could carry in our backpacks for that very reason.
Keeping up any walking speed at altitude was nigh on impossible.
If you attempted to move at anything like normal pace, your lungs felt like they were going to burst.
Slow and steady was the mantra, and slowly and steadily, the hours passed.
Although set up in the middle of nowhere with none of the creature comforts of home, camp was a welcome sight at the end of each trekking day where a warm drink of coca tea prescribed by the locals for altitude sickness awaited us – when in Rome and all that – along with a satisfying three-course meal cooked up by our Peruvian chefs.
Early to bed and early to rise then for another day of walking, another day of stunning scenery and another day of making sure we earned every penny of the collective £200,000 sponsorship raised for the hospice by everyone taking part in the trek.
We were a unified bunch, drawn together by a common goal, partners in adversity in some ways.
New friendships were forged along the way and some old friendships strengthened.
It was hard going and some of us had to draw on our inner strengths to make it to the summit.
A combination of relief, exhaustion, pride and thoughts of loved ones who had inspired the journey brought tears as we exchanged hugs at the top.
The fact that we’d got an arduous 1,500 metre descent still to come was momentarily forgotten.
But it wasn’t all uphill and down dale.
Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, was a train ride away the following day and definitely didn’t disappont.
A wonder to behold.
We were also rewarded with a final night out on the town in Cusco when a few alcoholic beverages might just have been sunk with time to reflect on the adventure of a lifetime.
I had been lifted completely out of my comfort zone – no showers, toilets or hair straighteners.
I’d not camped since I was a Girl Guide many moons ago and most of the walking I’ve ever done has been to the pub and back.
But with the help of a fantastic bunch of fellow trekkers and a can-do attitude, I survived to tell the tale.
And what a tale it is to tell.
The best of times.
And so finally to the moral of this story – never be afraid to step out of your comfort zone because you just might have the time of your life.
Youtube video by Tony Clare.