COVID-19 in Cusco: Quarantine Week 2


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South America » Peru » Cusco » Cusco
March 29th 2020
Published: March 29th 2020
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From the home officeFrom the home officeFrom the home office

I am so thankful to be able to see trees and birds out the window of my home office. This blue and yellow tanager is my favorite entertainment.
Sunday, 22 March, 2020

Today I slept in till 8, which is late for me. I made a pot of coffee and a fruit smoothie and sat down in my home office to watch the birds in the trees outside my second floor window. I posted a couple things on Instagram, checked my emails and Facebook and WhatsApp. I Facetimed with Mom. All of the technology that we rely on, that I hope will help keep me sane during the quarantine.

I’ve been watching live concerts on Instagram most evenings. Even that virtual connection, since it’s in real time, helps. They’re each home alone, isolated physically but playing music to keep the connection with their fans. Between songs, the main singer for the band Las Cafeteras from LA says that she is trying to reframe the term “social distancing” to “social deepening.” I like that idea a lot. It makes me think about all the people I have been in contact the past week who I hadn’t heard from in months. All of the technology that I have access to, that I can use to create my own version of social deepening.

I did answer some work emails
Too slow for the hummingbirdToo slow for the hummingbirdToo slow for the hummingbird

I was trying to catch a photo of a hummingbird at these flowers but it was just too fast for me. These little birds are good entertainment too, even though I haven't bothered to try to identify them.
today. I usually work four hours either Saturday or Sunday, but now that it’s just me, I kind of work all the time. I try to limit it to what used to be normal: 9am to 1pm, break for lunch, then work 3pm to 7pm. Happily, Gmail crashes and I can’t work anymore. I take my book and go across the street to sit on a bench in the park and read, with the sun warming my back. It feels so good to be outside, to feel the sun on me. It’s not just the vitamin D. Feeling the sun warm me cheers me up too.

President Vizcarra gave another address tonight. He announced that we have 363 confirmed cases in Peru, of which 31 are in critical condition in intensive care units. We have had five deaths in Peru from COVID-19. He also confirmed that in Cusco we are still at 4 cases and some regions of Peru don’t have any. He quickly followed that statement with a caution of how we do not have enough tests in Peru. There are probably patients with COVID-19 who have not been able to get tested yet. We have ordered a
The San Blas marketThe San Blas marketThe San Blas market

New this week are benches to keep people back from the produce. I now have to point to which tomatoes or onions I want, rather than getting to look though them and pick the ones I want.
million tests and are still waiting for them to be delivered. He warned us to expect the numbers to keep going up, especially as we will soon be able to test more people.

Besides Lima, the largest jump in cases is in the region of Piura, where I went on a beach vacation in January. I wouldn’t be surprised if people there were still going out and finding a way to avoid the quarantine enforcement. It’s like the Florida of Peru.

What surprised me most was that he said that just yesterday, Saturday, 11,000 Peruvians were arrested for breaking the quarantine or curfew restrictions. He also warned us to only call the hotline 113 if we really need help. So far 140 phone numbers have been suspended for making false calls and wasting the time of people working the hotlines. He continued, very publicly shaming whoever had called 32 times, telling us all to take this seriously.

I was so happy to hear him say that tomorrow the government will start sending financial relief directly to families. His current budget provides financial support for 2,750,000 families. It’s only 380 soles per family, but that will definitely make
Masks for allMasks for allMasks for all

Also new this week are masks on all of the vendors and the requirement that everybody who enters the market also wear a mask. The police are still at the door to the market, watching us count to twenty as we wash out hands and step in bleach as we enter the market.
a huge difference for many families. For families without bank accounts, who cannot receive a direct transfer, there will be a process to distribute cash without causing crowds or lines. How that will work will be explained later, but he said even more important than financial help is preventing contagion.

Next to speak was Dr. Victor Zamora, Minister of Health, who started out by saying that we need to thank and care for those who care for us: healthcare workers. We should all be thankful and appreciative of the work they do, while helping them to stay safe and healthy. The government will immediately begin distribution of all of the stocked medical supplies, including protective equipment, to hospitals around the country. At the same time, we have ordered more supplies and are waiting for them to be delivered along with the tests we have ordered. Starting tomorrow the call centers will be able to handle 80,000 calls per day. This will not only help us identify cases of COVID-19 faster but will also allow people to get medical help for other conditions, preventing them from needing to go to the hospital or to a doctor’s office for advice. Mental
Shuttered stallsShuttered stallsShuttered stalls

Many of the stalls in the market are boarded up. Considering how many of the vendors look 50 or older, I'm not surprised that many of them want to stay home. They are exposed to a lot of people through the day, even if we are all wearing masks and washing out hands.
health professionals will also be available to answer calls about anxiety and depression.

Dr. Zamora continued: Peru already has 45 machines for genetic tests, which international tests have shown can be repurposed to rapid testing for COVID-19. These will be ready for testing later this week. On Wednesday the new medical center for intensive cases will be ready to receive patients. He finishes by saying that this week we will improve three steps: the protection of healthcare workers, the ability to test for COVID-19 and the ability to care for those who need intensive medical care.

President Vizcarra spoke next, thanking Dr. Zamora for immediately mobilizing all healthcare workers. He then acknowledged that Peru does not have enough healthcare workers to confront this kind of pandemic. We must take care of the ones we do have. His description of how these professionals were mobilized sounded to me like they would not take no for an answer from anybody with medical training. It sounded more like a forced draft and his description of how this was a national emergency that we had to confront with solidarity, underscored that impression for me. The president also acknowledged that while we have
Empty parkEmpty parkEmpty park

I know that it's a good sign that when I go across the street to the park, that nobody else is there. I know that I should be avoiding human contact. It's still hard. I wish there was somebody to talk to.
ordered more tests and medical supplies from China, every country in the world is doing the same. There is high competition for these supplies and Peru is working hard to get everything we need.

The minister of Social Development & Inclusion, Ariela Luna, spoke next to explain more about the 380 soles financial relief mentioned by the president at the beginning of the address. A carefully calculated system has been set up for families to get the money, without gathering in crowds and exacerbating existing contagion. For each family, a woman between the ages of 18 and 60 has been chosen to receive the money. For families without a woman that age, a man has been designated.Families with bank accounts will receive a direct deposit on Monday. Families without bank accounts will be notified of a designated time and place to pick up the cash. You can only go at that time and place. Do not go early because the number of people is calculated to prevent lines.

Minister Luna then announced that those over 65 who receive a pension from the government will now only receive the payment once per month, rather than every two weeks. This
Park companionsPark companionsPark companions

There might not be any people to talk to at the park, but there are always the neighborhood dogs to watch. People used to walk their dogs, now they just let them roam the streets. They don't have to worry about a car hitting them, since there are no cars in the streets.
will help them stay home and not require them to go out more than absolutely necessary. People over 80, and people with severe handicaps, will have that money delivered to their homes.

As I watch, I not only think that these are great ideas, I also think to myself, Peru has a Minister of Social Development and Inclusion? How fantastic is that?

President Vizcarra ended by imploring people to respect the restrictions of the quarantine, asking them to only go out to buy food or medicine when necessary, and to plan to buy everything at once in order to minimize the number of times you leave the house. He said that we must not let our guard down. The virus does not care what time or day it is, we cannot let our guard down at any point. He also said that some people had noticed that today is his birthday and he thanked all of those who had sent good wishes and kind words. He ended the broadcast by asking all Peruvians to send good wishes and kind words to each other. He said that all he wants for his birthday is for people to be kind
My new friendMy new friendMy new friend

One day, reading my book on a bench at the park, one of the neighborhood dogs came over to keep me company. Maybe he's as starved for human company as I am. The wooden door behind the blue bug goes to my house. I'm close enough to home that if the police come by I can run back inside.
to each other, stay home and to respect the quarantine.

I’m so proud of how Peru is handling this. The honesty about lack of testing and supplies is actually comforting. Compared to the denial about the gravity of the situation that I see on the news from the US, the Peruvian government is telling us what the challenges are and what they’re doing to fix the problems. The direct payments to families in need, the careful strategizing about how to distribute money without causing crowds, the consideration for those subsisting on a government pension, it all reassures me that the government is working to make this feasible for Peruvians. Sure, 380 soles is not enough to support a family for a month, but it’s so much better than nothing.




Monday 23 March, 2020

Today I got up at 6 and snuck out of the house to see if I could get up to the Temple of the Moon before anybody else got up. I know that I’m not doing what the president implored us to do and I do feel conflicted about it every time I go out for a morning walk. I know
Monotony Monotony Monotony

Staying home is wearing on me. I'm so bored at the park that I spend about fifteen minutes taking photos of a pigeon. Two more weeks quarantine to go.
I should be following the rules and try to justify this to myself with the fact that I don’t have any human contact on my walks. At least I’m following the spirit of the quarantine, if not the letter.

I didn’t see anybody walking up the stairs and little paths to the main trail. It really only takes 15 minutes to be completely out of town and another 15 to get up to the top of the temple. It’s a giant hilltop, a stone outcropping of limestone bedrock. There are carvings of stairs and other constructions all over the hilltop. It felt so good to be outside, to be up above town and be able to see across the valley, and down the valley towards Mount Ausangate. Sitting on the weathered limestone, surrounded by wildflowers, being outside was such a relief.

Back home the usual morning and work routine awaited me: the monotony of staying home.

Tonight I turned on KEXP.org to listen to my weekly favorite radio show: El Sonido. I listened to El Sonido religiously when I lived in Seattle. DJ Chilly gave me an escape from Seattle every Monday night, playing music from every
My morning escapeMy morning escapeMy morning escape

The highlight of my week is the times I get up early and go on a walk before anybody else gets up. This morning I was surprised to see horses right next to the trail. As most sections of Inca trail, there are little fountains along the way.
Spanish speaking country and the diaspora in other countries around the world. Now, it’s a connection to home. Something comforting, which I need so badly in the midst of so much uncertainty about what is ahead for Peru, and for the rest of the world.




Tuesday, 24 March, 2020

I got up early this morning and did a full hour workout and I feel so good! Maybe I just needed the endorphins from a longer workout than usual.

So, feeling cheerful, I sat down to work and answer emails, racking my brain with how to convince people to just postpone their trip so they don’t cancel and ask for a refund. My spirits were still high, the window open, my basil plant out on the windowsill to get a little extra sun, the birds singing a few feet from where I sat on the couch.

Then my friend Gaspar texted me from Lima. He wanted to know if I had seen the morning news. I hadn’t. This morning Cusco had its first COVID-19 death and also this morning a 38 year old Canadian died in Lima of COVID-19. Shit.

That Canadian was
Quiet, slow morningsQuiet, slow morningsQuiet, slow mornings

It's magical to watch the horses so early in the morning, relaxing without any concern that there could be people around.
my age. His only “pre-existing condition” was being overweight. He was a lot like me. I think a lot of people under 50 have been trying to reassure ourselves that statistically, we’ll probably be fine. The more research that comes out, however, the more I see that people my age, even those in good health, can also be gravely ill, hospitalized and killed by this virus.

Now I’m starting to feel scared. Before I was bored of quarantine, annoyed at how depressing my job had become, stir crazy from not going outside much. Now I’m actually scared.

I still feel safer here than in the US. I still feel like the country-wide quarantine is the right thing to do. I still think that President Vizcarra’s leadership has been great. I still feel safe in my own home. I have been quarantined at home with my housemates long enough to feel pretty secure that none of us have the virus. I am no longer worried about having been exposed at that wedding the Saturday before the quarantine was announced. Somehow, going through all those facts isn’t that reassuring.

I called my mom. She definitely heard me. She knows
Along the trailAlong the trailAlong the trail

It's so silent in the morning that the sound of the horses grazing is startlingly loud.
the statistics too. There are people my age, hospitalized and on ventilators. Statistically, I do have a better chance of not having to be hospitalized, or of surviving even if it does get bad enough that I have to be hospitalized. I'm healthy and I'm working hard to stay healthy.

Still. I’m in Cusco. I’ve been in a clinic here once, and I was not impressed. I do not want to be actually sick and have to go to a clinic here. I definitely don’t want to go to the public hospital in Cusco.

While Mom is always reassuring, I don’t feel much better after we hang up. I felt so great this morning. Why can’t I have just one full day of feeling great?




Wednesday, 25 March, 2020

This was the most beautiful morning, which I needed so badly. I snuck out of the house early again, leaving at 6am to hike up to the Temple of the Moon. Just like the last two times, nobody was out. I didn’t see a single human being. Up past the houses, across the only road where the police might see me, up through a
Fairytale momentsFairytale momentsFairytale moments

Watching these two horses nuzzle each other reminds me that they are very social animals too. Are they as bored as I am with the quarantine?
grove of eucalyptus, the Inca trail flattens out and I can catch my breath. Hurrying uphill for about 20 minutes, jogging up stairs, without stopping at 11,000 feet above sea level makes me short of breath no matter how long I live here and how acclimated I think I am.

Right where the trail starts to flatten out, up at the top past the trees, I saw movement ahead on the trail and froze. I don’t know why I was so nervous. Anybody else hiking up there would be even more scared of me than I am of them. Plus, there is no way any police will ever be up here.

It was a horse. I always see horses grazing in the fields around the Temple of the Moon. Most of them are there to take tourists on rides starting at the archeological site of Sacsayhuaman. Now they are as unemployed as the rest of Cusco, although I bet unemployment suits them better than the rest of us.

I have never seen them on the trail. I walked slowly, quietly, not wanting to scare them. Most of them completely ignored me, so I kept walking up the
Just a head scratch, pleaseJust a head scratch, pleaseJust a head scratch, please

This horse came right up to me and nuzzled me until I gave him a scratch on the forehead. Sure, the horses have each other, but I wonder if they miss human contact, too. Behind the horse's head is the hill that is the Temple of the Moon.
trail until I was completely surrounded by horses. Some were on the trail around me and others were on the walls above, as this section of the Inca trail is terraced into the hillside. It was so quiet that the sound of them grazing was really loud. It felt magical, like being in a fairy tale. Two horses had crossed their necks and stood pressed together, nuzzling each other’s shoulders. A white horse near me on the trail reached its face up to another white horse on the wall above for an affectionate nose nuzzle. I was mesmerized. It was all so beautiful.

Wanting to be up on the top of the Temple of the Moon for sunrise, I tore myself away and kept walking. The birds are singing and the wildflowers are everywhere, now that nobody is here to pick them. There are tiny purple irises blooming, several varieties of yellow daisy, bright orange penstemon, and lots of tiny white flowers that I can’t begin to identify. Everything here is a dwarf version of what grows in Seattle, due to the altitude.

I walk up the remains of what were stairs up the side of the Temple
SunriseSunriseSunrise

It's been cloudy the past few days and sunrise is partly obscured behind the clouds. Still, I know the sun is coming up and I love the feeling of being on top of the Temple of the Moon for sunrise.
of the Moon. Since the whole hill is a giant outcropping of limestone, everything that was carved over 500 years ago is badly weathered. What were undoubtedly smooth stairs are now pocked and pitted from centuries of heavy rains. As any limestone hillside, there are caves underneath where the carvings have been more protected.

The rest of the day is work: emails and editing the website. I don’t know who made the original version of my company’s website, but the English on some parts is atrocious.




Thursday, 26 March, 2020

I did another workout inside this morning. I try not to think about how I want to go outside.

Feeling good with all the endorphins, I run through my usual morning routine of shower, coffee, fruit smoothie and emails. Nothing has changed with work. I’m still answering emails from people who want to cancel, who don’t want to cancel, who want to postpone, who don’t want to postpone, who want reassurance and the dreaded emails of those who want refunds. It’s less emotionally draining than last week, but still not fun.

I miss my walk to work. I miss walking down past
Carved bedrockCarved bedrockCarved bedrock

The giant limestone outcropping that is the Temple of the Moon, is covered with all kinds of steps and other carvings that are so weathered it's hard to tell what it used to be.
the Dayna chocolate shop where I’m always greeted by Lili as she opens up the shop. I miss getting to the office and turning on my music first, before anybody else gets there. I’m still listening to KEXP, as I did religiously when I lived in Seattle. It’s that little connection with home that helps me not be homesick. I miss saying good morning to everybody else as they trickled into the office a little after 9. I miss how if one person is going to run next door to buy a snack, they ask everybody else in the office if they can get anything for anyone else while they’re out.

But now I’m here on the couch, answering emails by myself.

I’m trying to focus on the positives, which I hope will help me stay somewhat sane during quarantine. There are birds in the treetops outside my office windows. I have conversations going with friends and family throughout the day on Whatsapp and iMessage and Facebook messenger. I Facetime with my parents every day and usually with a friend or two also. I have lots of friends here in Cusco who text me to see how I’m
WildflowersWildflowersWildflowers

There are so many of this lobelia all over the Temple of the Moon. The purple irises and bright yellow daisies covering the hillside make me think it's the beginning of the rainy season, rather than the end.
doing too.

One of my friends in Cusco, Henry, asks me to translate a post he’s putting on Facebook about the impact this pandemic is having on guides here. All of the guides I know are free lance. Some work mostly for the company I work for, but all of them will take work when and where they can get it. Not only is the lack of income for March and April hitting them hard, the uncertainty of when tourists will come back is maddening. They will come back. We do have Machu Picchu, afterall.

When they’ll come back is the big question. Even if we manage to keep the outbreak in Peru small and even if we are able to open up in May, will anyone be able to leave their countries? No matter how well Peru handles this crisis, if the US handles it as badly as it looks to me, there will still be no tourists coming to Peru. We do get a lot of Europeans, Canadians, Australians and people from India, but the majority of our guests are from the US. If the US is in crisis and lockdown and some form of “social
Qhapaq ÑanQhapaq ÑanQhapaq Ñan

The Ministry of Culture puts these signs up on protected parts of Inca trails to show how each trail fits into the much larger system of trails that run throughout the extensive lands of the former Inca empire.
distancing” and there are no flights leaving the US, how will the guides get any work? Who will stay in the Cusco hotels and eat at the restaurants?

So much for focusing on the positives.

I get another email from the US Embassy in Lima about repatriation flights. They send me emails every few hours, usually four or five a day, detailing how many people they have flown back to the US and how many flights are scheduled for the following day. I feel so much safer here than I think I would in the US that I always feel incredulous when I see one. That many people really want to go back to the US now? There are articles about Americans trapped in Peru on the Washington Post and NPR. A friend in the US sends me a video she took with her phone of the news detailing how the US government was working with the Peruvian government to evacuate thousands of American tourists trapped in Peru. I wonder if any of those news outlets would be interested in the perspective of an American who would much, much rather stay in Peru. I wonder if any news
Back down to townBack down to townBack down to town

Leaving the horses, the path takes me downhill, back to the reality of quarantine.
outlets in Cusco would be interested in the perspective of an American who is happy to stay here. I message Henry to see if he has any contacts in the press.

In less than a minute the reply comes back, his uncle has a radio show. Could I record a three minute opinion piece on my phone and email it to him by 11am tomorrow morning so he can air it on his show tomorrow afternoon?

Why, yes I can. I have all sorts of opinions. Throughout the day, between work emails, meals and staring out the window, wishing it wasn’t raining, I work a little on what I want to record for the radio. I am going to write something, then just read it. This isn’t an interview, so there’s no need to try speaking without notes.

Tonight the president of Peru gives another speech, extending the quarantine through April 12th. I’m not surprised. I’m honestly relieved. I don’t think I would be ready to be around people yet on April 1st.

At the end of the day I’m too tired to watch any Netflix. How was I so busy all day? I go to bed early, planning to go on another walk tomorrow morning.




Friday, 27 March, 2020

I got up at 5am today to leave on my walk while it’s still dark, breaking quarantine again. I know that I shouldn’t go outside, since I’m not going to buy food or medicine, but honestly I believe that medicine for mental health is just as important as medicine for a fever. There are so many things we need as humans that can’t be bought in a grocery store or pharmacy. I need to be outside, to walk under trees and to exercise. I still feel conflicted about these walks but it’s just so hard for me to stay inside all day, every day, knowing that I have another two weeks of staying home.

At 5am the streets are still dark and the street lights are on. The roosters have started crowing and there are birds rustling around in the trees, starting to wake up. I manage to get out of town, up the stairs, along the paths behind people’s houses and across the one road where I would be seen, well before sunrise.

When I get up to the top of the hill, where the trail finally flattens out, I can slow down and breathe deeply. The horses are there again, clearly taking over a trail once frequented by people. It is magical to see them in the early morning mist. When before I had seen them only grazing, today they are playful, chasing each other around, galloping short bursts, nipping and snorting at each other. I keep going, knowing that they’ll still be there on my way back down. I’m trying to get up to the temple and back down quicker today, to get home earlier and have less of a chance of seeing people.

I make it up to the top of the temple before the sun comes up from behind the hills on the east side of town. There’s something special about being on top of the Temple of the Moon at sunrise. It reminds me of the characters in the book The Milagro Beanfield War who go out to greet the sun every morning. I face the east, but not standing where I am visible 360 around. I have a favorite little set of stairs that I sit at the base of, leaning back against the bottom step, well hidden from all but the hillside directly across. The limestone here is still smooth, the steps not as weathered as most of the rest of the carved hilltop.

On Wednesday I sat here for about half an hour, watching the sun come up. Today I sit for about five minutes, then start back down. I pause to take some photos of the horses with my phone, then jog down to where the stairs start. I rained hard again last night, so the grass is slippery and so are the stone stairs. It’s full light out now. Down through the trees, across the road, down the stairs and little pathways, I get back to the house without seeing a soul.

The usual shower, coffee, smoothie, emails awaits. I get through everything in the inbox, then open up what I wrote yesterday and try recording myself. It’s always weird listening to my voice recorded and it’s the first time I’ve recorded myself speaking Spanish. I record a few times, then email Henry’s uncle the last two recordings, not sure which one is better.

Back to work emails: my exciting life in quarantine. I’m trying so hard to not let apathy take over.

At 1:00 I stop for lunch and open the link Henry sent to his uncle’s radio show. You can listen on an AM radio station, or on facebook. I don’t have a real radio, so I’m left with Facebook. I am speechless as I find myself listening to a Christian radio station. Never in my life did I expect to be listening to Christian talk radio, or to be on Christian talk radio.

After a brief introduction, the dj plays last night’s speech by President Martín Vizcarra. He stops the recording now and then to translate salient parts into Quechua. After the president, he says that he has an opinion piece by an American living in Cusco. He pronounces my name with a normal Spanish accent, which butchers Heather and leaves Jasper sounding like Hasper. I’m used to it. It takes away nothing from how cool it sounds to hear myself on the radio, talking to Cusco and the surrounding communities about what it’s like to live here and get news from friends and family around the world. I compare the stats of the city of Seattle to the whole country of Peru. The first death in Seattle was February 29th and they didn’t close the schools in the city for almost two weeks, until March 12th. In Peru we closed the schools in the whole country five days before our first death. The numbers in Seattle are bad. I end with a plea for people to comply with the quarantine restrictions and stay home so that we don’t end up like Italy.

It’s raining, so I don’t go across the street to the park to read for the rest of my lunch break. I don’t care. It feels good to be on the radio here. It makes me feel like I’m really part of the community. Yes, I have a great circle of friends at Healing House. Yes, I have friends through work. But this feels like a much bigger connection to the community at large. After Henry’s uncle translates my Spanish into Quechua, he ends by promising his listeners that they’ll hear from me again. My three minutes of fame - on Christian talk radio. It seems truly bizarre, but anything that can break the monotony is welcome.

The rest of my evening is work emails, editing the company website and dinner. I manage to finish my book tonight before I fall asleep, tired from getting up at 5am.




Saturday, 28 March, 2020

I do another workout video today on the Barre3 website and have coffee while I ponder how I can possibly answer the first email that I open, which is a person asking for a refund. It’s Saturday, but I’m still spending the morning in my home office.

I manage to get through all the emails by 1:00 and my boss messages me to take the rest of the weekend off and not open the emails again until Monday. That sounds good to me. I have lunch, then settle in with Netflix to forget what is happening in the world for a few hours.

It’s raining as I go to bed and I really hope the weather is better tomorrow. I didn’t leave the house all day today. I want to be able to walk across the street and read in the sun tomorrow.

This blog is also available on www.heatherjasper.com

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