Adventurous friends head to Peru in support of women, girls

By Charlie Senack

They are on a mission to better themselves while celebrating milestones in their lives – all while raising money for a charity.

Two Kitchissippi friends, Meghan Maack and Astrid Nielsen, are among 14 Canadians participating in the ‘Cuso Challenge’, a nine-day trip to Cusco, Peru, which features a five-day hike in the Peruvian Andes.

Meghan and Astrid are being joined by one of their Ottawa friends, Josée Desrosiers, the manager of Thyme and Again in Westboro.

The trek will take the hikers past ancient Inca ruins and through traditional Andean villages. On the last day of their trip, the group will reach the lost city of Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate.

The hike will be difficult and grueling, but participants have the luxury of the trip being fully supported.

“It’s glamping of sorts,” says Meghan, who is also the manager of fundraising at Cuso. “All our tents are put up and we have food waiting for us at the end of the day.”

Cuso International works in 100 countries across four continents. The Canadian group hopes to raise $50,000, which will go towards helping women and girls gain the skills they need for lasting employment, promote sustainable economic development in their communities and strengthen their Andean way of life.

For Meghan, it’s also the first time she will see the work Cuso does on the ground. She is looking forward to learning more about the programs they offer – highlighting the day they will spend with their international partner, Cenro Bartolome de las Casas, a local tourism company.

“It is a time in my life where my kids are older and I am able to do this activity – both physically and I have the ability to do things on my own,” she said. “I get excited to be able to push myself physically and to see new surroundings while being part of a group where we get to do this together.”

For her part, Astrid was attracted to the trip after learning it was fully supported. She enjoys the thought of having coffee served to her tent in the morning and wanted to find a unique way to spend her 50th birthday.

“I love South American culture. I love learning about history and the archeology of the area, and I also love the physical challenge behind it,” said Astrid. “It is a great way to have a fantastic trip while doing some good at the same time for a community organization whose work I have known about for a long time and appreciate.”

Josée is an avid hiker who has woken up to sunsets all across the globe. She is looking forward to taking in the views, much like she did during a trip to Nepal.

“This is really what I need in my life right now and it is going to be breathtaking,” she said. “I am excited to be fully taken by this trip, live in the moment and just take it all in.”

All costs associated with the trip are being covered by the participants, with funds raised going directly to the charity. So far, they have raised a little over $23,000, a third of the way to their goal of $50,000.

The trip runs from March 27 to April 4.

The first day will offer participants the opportunity to acclimatize hemselves with a walking tour of the city. The second day, the group will visit with Cuso partners and on the third day they will go on another walking tour to learn more about the archaeological sites they will visit. All of this is to prepare them for their five-day hike, which will see them climb to an altitude of 11,400 feet.

The group from Ottawa has been finding unique ways to raise the funds, hosting dinners at their homes, having a sale at the Cuso headquarters and planning a Cuso curling tournament. A few spots for the trip are still available. To register or donate visit:

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