Eighty-four-year-old Leo Duffy has spent most of his life venturing to places not many people have visited.
Leo, of Adlington, has taken on exciting trips most years since he was 24, balancing his wanderlust with fatherhood and running his own hardware store.
These include trekking across the Sahara desert, exploring Cambodia and following in Alexander the Great’s footsteps through Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Asia.
Following his retirement, the 84-year-old trained in computer studies and began volunteering in six-monthly stints in places such as Cambodia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Malawi and Azerbaijan, alongside his wife, Angela, 80, teaching IT to journalism students.
Leo has now returned home after completing his final one-month stretch of Marco Polo’s journey from Venice to Anatolia, Iran, and China with his son, Marc, 42, and daughter Colette, 56.
Leo, a father-of-five, with 11 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren, says: “I’ve been travelling all my life. I started when I was 24, crossing the Sahara, climbing the Hoggar Mountains and walking across Tassili Plato towards Niger back through Libya.
“There are thousands of paintings drawn on the rocks as you go across Tassili Plato. There are three periods: pinhead; hunting and herdsman. There are drawings of animals you would find in the jungle on the rock faces, such as giraffes, hippos and elephants. The nearest animals today are 2,000 miles away
“You never hear of anybody going out there. I like the adventure and I want to do things and go where nobody else goes.”
Leo did his early expeditions on his own, travelling for up to four weeks once a year, as his wife of 58 years, Angela, took care of their family business - Duffy’s Hardware, in Adlington - and looked after their five children.
Leo explains: “I travelled most years for three or four weeks. I have been lucky that I have a wonderful wife who lets me do what I want to.
“Angela had previously spent time with the Chorley YHA, backpacking across Europe, so she said ‘go for it.’”
Leo continues running Duffy’s Hardware for 40 years until he retired in 1981.
Inspired by his wife’s career as a supply teacher, working in primary schools across Wigan, and her desire to teach in third world countries, Leo enrolled in computer studies at Wigan Mining and Technical College a year later.
He also studied at Runshaw College, in Leyland.
When Angela fully retired from teaching in 2003, aged 70, she travelled to Ethiopia on her own to work with Don Bosco Volunteers.
Leo adds: “Angela had always wanted to teach deprived children in African countries so she went to Ethiopia. She enjoyed it so much, she wanted to do it again the following year and she went to Cambodia.
“She volunteered in a school in Phnom Penh and somebody gave her a load of computers in bits to assemble, so she asked me to come over to help her. I flew out and set the computers up in the classroom and connected them to the network.
“The nun in charge asked if we wanted to teach computers and she left me with 120 20-year-old girls who could not speak English but I managed to teach them about computer databases and my wife taught them English. They picked it up really quickly. I spent another six months there teaching databases.
“I taught all the Office programmes and Photoshop where journalists can make magazines and newspapers and use colourful images.
“We did this for 12 years and we went all over - Cambodia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Malawi, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, etc
“I taught IT and I also taught accountants in Malawi.
“I wrote databases for a hospital in Ethiopia. It was a small hospital and it would take 30 minutes to find a patient’s details. Now, with my database staff can find names in 10 seconds.
“I have created a few databases in different countries. We would stay for six months. It was quite challenging doing everything we need to do but we both enjoyed it.”
The couple stopped volunteering four years ago as Angela had an operation on her knees so she was not able to carry on.
Undeterred, Leo went travelling with his two daughters Colette and Monique.
He then completed his final big trip with his son, Marc and daughter Colette, following the Marco Polo route to China together.
Leo adds: “That was my last trip, as I have done everything I want to.
“The Marco Polo was a very big one, covering 8,500km. Marco Polo did this journey in 24 years, but I did it in four one-month stints over four years.
“My son and I did the whole route, from Venice across the Western Dessert, Jordan, climbing the high route in Petra and the low route the following day, Syria, Iran, and all the seven Stans ending up in China where Marco Polo, spent most of his time.
“Collete joined us for the final stretch, covering Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and China.
“It was such a vast distance, but we stopped off at different points along the way. We used everything: walking, trains, planes.
“We had a problem getting into China via Kyrgystan as officials wanted to know why we were coming in that way, right at the back, as most people fly to Peking.
“We were searched about 20 times as we crossed China, by plane and train. Security guards also took our aerosols off us as they were scared we would make a flame by putting a lighter under it.
“We travelled in two small minibuses across the top of China which is mainly mountains and pebbly deserts and we crossed the
Taklamakan Desert and the Gobi desert.
“The Taklamakan Desert had the highest road in the world, which was 10,000 to 12,000 feet. It was very dangerous but my son wanted to do it.
“We got a 17-hour train from the Karakoram Highway in Kashgar, China, to Turpan, in China, and then had a three hour trip to Gunghang.
“We travelled along what is known as China’s death valley as it is the second lowest depression in the world and the hottest spot in China. Luckily, the minibus had air condition.”
Leo has lost count of how many countries he has visited, but he certainly has plenty of tales to tell.
He has self published two books depicting his travels, which is for the use of his family and friends only.
He recalls: “My most enjoyable trip was to Kep in Cambodia with Angela in 2004. We were based half a mile from Vietnam on the shore and it was such a nice little bay.
“There was a new school being built to teach journalists and I was the first one to go out and teach there.
“The second time we visited, it must have been the hottest place in the world, as it was never below 50 degrees.
“There was an active volcano both sides of the valley, with sulphur spilling out all the time.
“My other favourite place is Iran, where my son and I visited during the Marco Polo trek. The people are the friendliest I have ever met.
“Because I was dressed as a westerner, people used to stop us and ask where we were from, When I told them England, they would invite us to go back to their home for a meal.
“We decided to fly across the Iranian desert and an air steward asked if we wanted to sit in the VIP area and the captain even made me a coffee.
“Crossing Iran was the best as the civilized ruins are amazing as they are 3,000 years old, compared with other ruins that are 2,000 years old.”
Leo is now ready to pack away the suitcase, knowing he has seen the wonders of the world and achieved his goals.
He says: “I love teaching and volunteer work. It’s more enjoyable being active and doing things, rather than sitting in, watching TV.
“I feel very lucky to be able to do this. I am still quite fit and have no problem doing it.”
“Each year I come back saying that’s last one I am going to do but at 84 I think my legs will tell me no more but we will see.”