When Alison Allen put her best foot forward for a trek in Vietnam she knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime - and she grabbed it.
The trek this summer was a fund raiser in remembrance of a young Penwortham girl who had captured her heart.
Alison made the remarkable journey to fundraise for the Katy Holmes Trust and join her friend – Katy’s mum, Paula, on the trek.
Katy died in January 2012 just three months after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Paula and Alison’s Vietnam trip has so far raised almost £3,000 in sponsorship for research into childhood brain cancers.
Alison, who lives in Fulwood and is proprietor of Conway cards in Garstang, is sharing their story.
She said: “I got involved with the charity after Katy died I. began to follow her story on Facebook. After she died Paula was arranging a party in the park om what would have been her 11th birthday in May 2012. She was asking for volunteers to do various things and I offered to do a balloon release. My youngest son was 10 at the time and it just touched me because I couldn’t imagine what the family were going through.”
She explained the special reason for the choice of Vietnam as a fund-raising destination: “Paula picked Vietnam because when Katy was poorly Paula had her look through books and photos on the internet of the places she thought were the most beautiful and she would like to go to – Vietnam was one of them. So Paula is carrying out Katy’s bucket list if you like – she’s done Kilimanjaro and the Great Wall of China already.”
Describing the 10-day rainforest trek in Vietnam as “way out of my comfort zone” Alison said the trip repeatedly challenged them but also gave them a sense of triumph.
She said:” It was 70 per cent humidity and 36 degrees for most of the time in Vietnam. You just do cope. We carried plenty of water and drank water constantly. It’s not something you can really train for in this country to be honest.”
They stayed in remote locations and enjoyed magnificent views but had to take care on the rainforest paths where everything was predictably very lush and green.
Alison recalled: “There were huge bamboo poles and plants. The views were constant of tiered (rice) paddy fields up the side of the mountains. When in the rainforest you’re not completely overhung by trees. We still got views out. It was very mixed terrain – mud, shale, rocks.”
They negotiated log bridges and encountered two landslides: “There was one where the path was literally no wider than a foot with a big hole to the left of you. The second was a big hole that you had to climb into and back up out of with a very thin ledge.
“There were 12 of us including the guide and trek leader and everyone literally pulled together and helped each other. They were a brilliant group of people. We couldn’t have wished to meet a better crowd. They were all doing it for charity.”
“We could hear birds. We saw a snake. We encountered a very large spider and a stick insect. I was the only person of all 11 of us not to get bitten by mosquitoes.”
The pair flew to Singapore and then to Hanoi, before taking an overnight train to Sapa in North Vietnam.
Alison recalls the good advice given about wearing walking boots to travel on the plane – as these were the one essential for negotiating the trek without unnecessary blisters.
She said: "We were carrying our snacks and basic toiletries. We weren’t carrying tents or cooking utensils. We didn’t actually camp, we stayed in ‘homestays’ –in tiny villages in the mountains. It was a bit like a barn with beds with mosquito nets over each bed, a fridge in the corner with bottles of water and drinks and a table and a chair.”
The welcome given by local families was wonderful d: “The families were just amazing. They cooked dinner for us. We virtually lived on rice, noodles and cooked meat – chicken, pork, prawns and beef. The food was lovely, very fragrant and very flavoursome.”
One culinary novelty which Alison and Paula were introduced to was “sticky bricks”. Alison explained: “It was an energy bar they made from sticky rice and they filled it with fruit and nuts and wrap it in a banana leaf- they weren’t bad actually!”
As their photo albums shows the scenery encountered on their trip, which had been organised by the company Life Changing Challenges, captivated them.
Alison said: “It’s stunning, just absolutely stunning. There were mountain ranges like I’ve never seen in my life. At the end of the three solid days trekking we stayed in an eco-lodge on one of the highest summits. There was an infinity pool and every time you looked up new mountain peaks had popped up.”
They were motivated above all by the desire to remember Katy and raise funds for more research into brain cancer in childhood to spare other families the grief endured by the Holmes’ family.
Alison said: “Katy was on our mind all the time because she was the reason we were there. There’s just no way you can give up and not do it.”
Before Alison, 51, who has two sons, decided to go to Vietnam she asked her parents what they thought. She said: ‘My dad said if he was 20 years younger he would be doing it. He said it’s an opportunity of a lifetime – grab it with both hands – go and do it.”
And that’s just what Alison and Paula did.
* If you would like to donate to the Katy Holmes Trust see www. Justgiving.com/fundraising/alison-allen12 or www.justgiving.com//fundraising/khvietnam2018
* All monies raised for The Katy Holmes Trust are forwarded to The Brain Tumour Charity. See www.thebraintumourcharity.org