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When I returned my worn out Osprey backpack to the place where I bought it to get it repaired, it never occurred to me that I wouldn't see it again. I casually handed my inanimate traveling companion over the counter to the sales clerk, signed the papers and meandered off to look at more stuff. Little did I know how the Osprey lifetime guarantee would affect me.

I originally bought the bag with my 16-year-old son. We went together and purchased "his-and-mom's" bags (I say that because his was a travel backpack, but I chose the same backpack with wheels, because I suspected they would come in handy).

Off we went on our first trip to South America. We flew with a group of high school students and a teacher to Cusco to see Machu Picchu, then took another flight to Cajamarca to participate in a service project. The memories of our visit to Machu Picchu were extraordinary, but that's not what made this an epic trip.

The short version is that my son came down with a fever at the end of the first week of travel - which happened to be the exact moment we left Cusco, the city with many doctors and hospitals, and flew to Cajamarca in northern Peru, a place that just recruited three volunteer nurses from London, who arrived exactly three days before we did. This is where the "real" trip began.

(I'm skipping over the search for a thermometer and the lengthy discussions with the very nice nurses when they diagnosed altitude sickness - the photo is my son on our last day in Cusco, when he first admitted he wasn't feeling well).

Our group traveled eight hours from Cajamarca by bus over a 15,000-foot mountain pass and arrived in the small village of Chota, where my sluggish, feverish son and I were met with a jeep, a driver and an incredibly compassionate Peruvian guide - who spoke no English - to accompany us to the local emergency room.  Only mildly worried about this sudden turn of events, my son and I, accompanied by two Peruvian guides and my Spanish/English dictionary tucked in my backpack, went to the ER, while the rest of the student group with the teacher continued in four-by-fours over 12 kilometers of kidney-pounding dirt roads to their lodge.

When we arrived at the hospital, I saw two people pull open giant gates so we could enter and drive around to the ER on the side. There was no sign of life and no light whatsoever except the sign "EMERGENCIA." The doctor was waiting for us and after a lot of fast talking in Spanish, poking and examining, me flipping madly through the dictionary, the doc offered to admit my son to the hospital and administer an IV. For what, I had no idea...

to be continued...