A trek that changes lives — Mission accomplished

Cuso International trekkers reach Sun Gate at Machu Picchu.

By Eileen Melnick-McCarthy
Director, Communications and Marketing
Cuso International

My first thoughts ranged from, “I’m too old for this,” to “I’m not really that adventurous,” and, “I should have done this when I was twenty or at least, twenty years younger.” And then, I did it anyway. Peru has been on my bucket list forever. So, my excuses paled when I learned the opportunity was going to raise awareness for a cause I care about. I had an opportunity to participate in a trek of a lifetime. Along with 11 other hardy souls who hailed from across Canada, I just completed the Cuso International Machu Picchu Trek. We were also joined by a group of Charity Challenge participants from the UK who were all taking part in their own fundraising missions. The 46KM trail, over four days, took us through the most breathtaking vistas and scenery that I have ever seen.

Thanks to the generosity of hundreds of donors and the hard work of my fellow hikers, we were able to reach one important goal, before we even laced up our hiking books. We raised over $35,000 to support Cuso International programming and helped advance the organization’s mission to eradicate poverty.

Cuso International hikers visit a small village called Pongobamba where a women’s ecotourism cooperative is doing amazing things including weaving beautiful textiles.

We hiked to raise funds and awareness for an organization that’s done much good for people in this part of the world. For close to 60 years, Cuso International has sought to address inequality through action. We have a long history in South America, and over these five plus decades, our programs have been guided by the thoughtful leadership of our local partners. Together, we have helped thousands upon thousands of individuals. Our hiking group had an opportunity to meet with some of the people who are benefiting from our programs, including Centro de Bartolome de las Casas. Cuso International provides technical assistance to strengthen the work of Centro de Bartolome de las Casas (CBC) in the area of sustainable tourism. We learned how their efforts are changing attitudes towards sustainable travel to enhance the social and economic well-being of indigenous communities in the area.

After our time with CBC, we spent the day getting acclimated to the high-altitude touring and walking around Cusco. Once the capital of the Inca Empire, it is now known for its archaeological remains and Spanish colonial architecture. It is home to close to 350,000.

Our first day on the trail began in the remote and rarely visited Lares Valley. We were lucky. This unique alternative to the extremely busy Inca Trail is far off the beaten track, and we saw diverse and spectacular scenery and a Peruvian life that has remained untouched for centuries. We walked through stunning valleys, and met with Andean farmers dressed in their traditional brightly coloured ponchos tending herds of Llamas and Alpacas.

The region is home to the Lares hot springs and the water was a refreshing way to get ourselves into hike mode. That first day’s four- and half-hour hike took us to the small village of Cuncani, where we camped overnight. The next day, as we continued along our route, there was always another “oh/ah” moment vying for our attention. Dotting the landscape below we were treated to the sight of spectacular glacial blue lakes. Each day, we put in a minimum of six hours of hiking, always stopping for lunch, and of course to rest our weary feet.

Cuso International trekkers taking in the breathtaking view at Lares Valley.

Our sleeping accommodation was comfortable, and frankly I would have slept anywhere by the end of each day.

Together we reached the ancient lost city of Machu Picchu on day 4, November 1.

It is spectacular, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the original architects would think. The original inhabitants may have sought refuge and privacy in this remote Andes location, but the beauty could not be contained. Millions just like me and my Cuso International trekkers are now part of the club. Yes, it truly is one of the most beautiful and enigmatic ancient sites in the world.

Thank you to everyone who helped propel me on this once in a lifetime journey. Your support, moral and financial — was the fuel that kept me focused. I couldn’t have done it without you.

-Eileen

P.S. Feeling inspired? You can join our 2020 Trek! Learn how at https://cusointernational.org/cusochallenge/