This fall, both Stephanie Cutaia with EarthFresh and Nancy Pickersgill with Sunset/Mastronardi took a break from their busy Marketing jobs and traveled to Peru to hike the Inca trail. Nancy and Stephanie became friends through their work in the produce industry and although they didn’t travel to Peru at the same time, they feel fortunate to both have experienced this magical part of the Andes.
“It was great to lean on each other prior to our journeys,” said Nancy Pickersgill. “We shared stories with each other along the way in our excitement of our trips, shopping, workouts, eating, etc.” Pickersgill left for her two-week trip to Peru on September 17 while Cutaia’s trip started October 18. In this article, they share their experience and the challenges they overcame.
After initially being denied a hiking permit, Pickersgill was fortunate to receive the permit for her party of three including her husband and sister-in-law who had this trip on their bucket list. Cutaia traveled with a group of girlfriends celebrating the 50th birthday of one of them. The destination was picked based on a long list of criteria: physically challenging, nature environment, outside of the comfort zone, not ‘fancy’ and culturally enticing. With a direct flight from Toronto to Lima and a 1-hour time change, Cusco Peru was the ideal destination.
Hiking the Inca trail can’t be done without preparations. Cutaia climbed lots of stairs and visited the Chedoke Stairs in Hamilton, ON (300 stairs) a few times a week in the months leading up to her trip. She also did a lot of cardio training and leg workout. Pickersgill left her glass of wine in the bottle and practiced yoga which helped with deep breathing at higher altitude. All trekkers had to be in Cusco three days prior to the hike to get the much-needed acclimation to altitude. One of Pickersgill’s eyes got swollen because of the altitude and her husband had a terrible headache, but an oxygen tank offered relief and they were all able to start the hike as planned.
Nancy Pickersgill at the highest point.
Both Cutaia and Pickersgill shared that hiking the Inca trail was magical. “The four-day trek truly was a journey facing the challenges of altitude (highest peak was 13,828 feet), varying weather conditions, physical challenges of the actual climb and camping in very basic conditions,” said Cutaia. Pickersgill mentioned that the hike itself was tough, magical and life changing. “We experienced several weather elements on our hike, from hot sunny days to below 0⁰C nights where I wore everything that was in my backpack to keep myself as warm as possible. There were points along the trail where the continuous hike upwards was daunting, then we turned a corner to find more steps. At times we climbed in the clouds….it was amazing and the views along the trail were spectacular,” she said.
The hike itself was life changing
After four days of hiking, both Pickersgill and Cutaia reached their end destination Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca site. “Experiencing Machu Picchu is great, but the four-day journey of hiking and living along the trail was a life-changing experience,” said Pickersgill. “A great crew took care of us. They set up our camps, cooked for us and shared stories along the way. It brought us together as a group and we all worked hard to reach out destination.” Cutaia hiked with a group of 16 people from all over the world. “We spent four days encouraging each other, overcoming challenges together and sharing the stunning backdrop and panoramic views. As excited as I was to reach our end destination, I found I missed the actual hike itself. Machu Picchu is a World Wonder, but the journey of our hike was the highlight of our trip.”
Potatoes key part of Peruvian diet
The Inca Indians in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes around 8,000 BC to 5,000 BC. Being responsible for the Marketing of a potato company, Cutaia was happy to see potatoes are a huge part of the Peruvian diet. Pickersgill added that the food was fantastic, and she learned about the benefits of growing produce in rich soils and at high altitude.
Cutaia highly recommends anyone to take a mindful travel break. She is already looking forward to her next trip in 2021 with the destination being Nepal. Pickersgill is thinking the next destination on her bucket list will be Australia or Africa where she wants to do something equally adventurous, yet mindful and in touch with nature.