From the Alps to the Andes – a journey of a lifetime
In the past twelve months I've lost two very special, long-standing friends of over 20 years to cancer. I’ve felt a deep sense of loss since their passing. The most recent of these was my friend Iztok who was the same age as me and passed away just a few weeks ago in March this year.
I got to know both of them during my time in Slovenia, a beautiful country in Central Europe where I worked as a language teacher and which ultimately became my spiritual home. I met Iztok in 1994 in the alpine town of Bled in Slovenia where I first lived. He was my age and, with his wife Ksenija, had four lovely children, two of whom are my godchildren.
Iztok was a true friend, a person of great strength, kindness, wisdom and a fellow global soul. He was diagnosed with ‘incurable' cancer over eight years ago after being given just six months to live by the doctors. But with his wife expecting their fourth child at the time of the diagnosis he decided he had a lot longer than six months ahead of him. How he achieved this is a story in itself.
I first met Breda in 1994 in Sunderland where we met for my teaching job interview for a post at her language school in Slovenia. Happily I was offered the job and flew to Slovenia on my 22nd birthday. Wise, generous and with an empowering 'anything is possible' attitude she was an extraordinary life force.
Iztok and Breda were a huge influence on me and did so much to shape my love of culture, languages, internationalism, mountains and nature.
I know it's a cliché, but life's too short. Traumatic events tend to make us reassess things and remind us of the relatively short time we have to make our mark in the world. I’ve set my mind on achieving a more than twenty-year ambition to travel to South America and trek to Machu Picchu. I want to honour my friends by doing something which really stretches me and raising money to help prevent cancer. More on that in a moment.
Why Machu Picchu? It all started in 1993 in Wencelas Square in Prague, an unlikely place, perhaps, to start a journey to Peru. El Condor Pasa brought the mysticism of the Andes to Eastern Europe in the form of panpipe performances by Inca heritage groups that drew crowds of backpackers to the square, including me and a couple of Slovenes who became lifetime friends. I was mesmerised by the music - curiously it was that same music that ultimately led me to live and work in Slovenia (not to be confused with Slovakia) and set me on a career path to connect people across borders. I now work as an international trade adviser and although it figures significantly in my work, South America is one of the regions of the world I have yet to visit.
Hill walking is my hobby and it's time to step it up - the hills and 'mountains' of North West England and Wales are my training ground. The trek and my preparation for it have purpose and deep significance for me on many levels. I hope to push the boundaries of what's possible by completing this challenge – raise money to help prevent cancer in memory of my friends, improve my physical and mental strength and even my Spanish!
I'm raising funds for World Cancer Research Fund, a charity working internationally that supports research into cancer prevention through lifestyle changes such as nutrition, exercise and the environment. My target is to raise at least £4000 before departing for Peru in September.
• Are you a seasoned walker? I'll be trekking 6-8 hours per day over 5 days at high altitude (up to 4600 m above sea level and training for this over the coming weeks. New walking companions, training advice and boosts to morale are much appreciated.
• Can you provide information or advice on
Peru, Machu Picchu / Inca culture? - Any books etc gathering dust on your shelves or experience/insight you have from your travels there or perhaps people with connections there who you can introduce me to.