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Published: April 5th 2020
On my last walk up to the Temple of the Moon, two of the dogs who hang out on the edge of town joined me.
Sunday, 29 March, 2020
My housemate from Switzerland is leaving today. She got a message last night from her embassy in Lima that she has a spot on a bus leaving Cusco tonight. It’s 25 hours on the bus to Lima. Usually the bus is 18 hours, but she showed me the list of stops at all the cities and towns of people who will be on her flight. She’ll get to Lima Monday evening, spend the night in a hotel arranged by the embassy, then fly home.
It seems so sudden. During the first few days of quarantine, when I started getting emails from the US Embassy about their efforts to repatriate people who want to go back to the US, I asked her if the Swiss embassy was doing something similar. She didn’t even know that embassies were doing that. I recommended that she put her name on the list, just to have the option. I told her that it’s better to have the option, and then decide if you want to go home or not, than to not have the option.
Last Tuesday there was a flight but her name wasn’t on the list. I
Away from town
From the top of the Temple of the Moon, we watched some horses heading higher up into the hills, as if they wanted to get out of town too.
asked her how she felt about it at the time and she said she was relieved. She wasn’t ready to go. She still wasn’t sure she wanted to go. Between last Tuesday and yesterday, she made up her mind. She definitely wants to go home. Her original plan was to be here, volunteering in an orphanage until May. If she had decided to stay, she would maybe get two more weeks at the orphanage after quarantine ends. That’s assuming that it will end on April 12th and that the orphanage would allow outsiders who weren’t quarantined with them to come to the orphanage. It makes sense to me and she seemed so much happier once she did make the decision to go home.
Last week I was feeling pretty smug about being so safe here in Peru. Especially following the news of what’s going on in Europe and the US. It sounds like chaos, with people not respecting even the principle of social distancing or quarantine. The US Embassy website says that as of 1pm yesterday, we are at 671 confirmed cases in Peru and 16 deaths. If we can keep the numbers that low, I think we will
They both kept an eye out, while I sat for a few minutes up at the top of the hill. There was nobody out there to protect me from, but it was comforting to have someone with me .
escape the nightmare that’s playing out in Italy and New York. It’s still too soon to know and I’m hoping that the tables don’t turn on us.
Today a friend sent me a map of Cusco with some areas in varying shades of red. The darker the red, the more dangerous that part of town. There are three hotels marked on the map in a deep brick red. One is where a Mexican tourist died, one is where a Chinese tourist died and the third is where another Mexican tourist had a confirmed case of COVID-19. The “contingency” hospital is also marked on the map, where they take confirmed cases. Thankfully, where I live isn’t even on the map. My home is just outside the margin. That makes me feel better, but the grocery store that I wanted to go to tomorrow morning is in the red zone. I might have to rethink that one.
Monday, 30 March, 2020
I did not go anywhere near the red zone on that map. I went to the San Blas market where I usually shop, which is only a few blocks from my house.
As we headed back down to Cusco, the sun started to peek through the clouds.
that, I went on my morning walk again. I left home at 5:30, in the dark, hurrying up the back stairs and paths to get out of town before it got light out. Today, as I left town, two dogs joined me. I’ve hiked with them before, although there is usually a bigger pack of four or five of them. Of the two who joined me today, one is super shy and skittish but looks too well cared for to be a street dog. He is always immaculately clean and perfectly groomed. His companion today is one of the dogs who looks like a street dog to me because he has some matted fur that I think any owner would clip off.
We crossed the road, then started up the section of Inca trail that leads to the Temple of the Moon. The horses weren’t along the trail like they were last week, but I saw them grazing closer to the hilltop that is the Temple of the Moon. We jogged up to the top of the hill and sat down for just a few minutes before heading back down. I got down to the road by 6:30. I’m
This is the spot that I usually find neighborhood dogs to accompany me on my hikes. They join me at this spot along the trail and stop here on the way back down.
only exposed for about 30 seconds, at most a minute, as I approach and then cross the road. The past two weeks, when I have gone for these early morning walks, I haven’t seen anybody, but today the cops drove by right before I was about to cross the road. There was nowhere to hide and they slowed and stared, but kept driving. They didn’t stop or say anything. I certainly didn’t get fined or arrested, but I could have.
Just being seen is enough to scare me. I will be doing jumping jacks or running the stairs in my house or something for the next two weeks, rather than go on a hike, no matter how early. I can’t go earlier than I have been because we are under curfew until 5am. Last week curfew started at 8pm but now it’s 6pm. Piura, where they had a huge jump in cases last week, which I called the Florida of Peru, has a curfew starting at 4pm.
My hiking companions stopped right where they picked me up on my way out of town. It’s a beautiful spot with a great view of all of Cusco. I paused there
Quarantine has not stopped the daily delivery of bread, or changed the baskets that are carried through the neighborhood. I got this shot while he was delivering to somebody's door. He usually wakes me up, calling out to people to come get bread. This time I was already back down from my hike when he got to my street.
with them for a minute, catching my breath. I hadn’t realized that we had been running since the cops saw me.
I feel so defeated. I thought I had found a safe way to get outside. Now I don’t think it’s worth it. No hike is worth getting arrested. I will find another way to get enough exercise.
On my quick trip to the San Blas market today, I thought about a CNN article I read: “Should or shouldn’t you wear a mask right now?” in which the author points out that considering the shortages, all masks should go to hospitals. Here, nobody is allowed to enter any market or shop without a mask. If you don’t have one, you can buy one at the door. Of course, these are not the N95 masks that are “worth their weight in gold” according to Dr. Sarosh Ashraf Janlua. However, I absolutely agree that they should be required to protect the people who work at the market. There are benches between shoppers and the vendors with their produce, but nobody is 6 feet away from the vendors. They are exposed to a lot of people every day. The least we
The bakery is open every morning until noon, as an essential service. The only change is that the door remains locked and only one person at a time can go up to the window to buy bread.
can do is wear masks, just in case one of us is sick. We also wash out hands and step in bleach every time we enter the market, but you know what I mean.
Work started out this morning with a message from my boss, Saul. We are canceling all tours and treks through May 15. We will not resume normal operations until May 16. I take to Whatsapp and Messenger to warn the guides. The earliest any of them could possibly get any work from us will be May 16th, if tourists come back to Peru in May.
That’s a pretty big “if”. Saul sends me an encouraging message: May will be fine.
Maybe. I think the problem in May will not be what is happening in Peru, but what is happening in other countries. If the US and Europe continue to be such disasters, it won’t matter how safe Peru is. Tourists will still not be traveling. Once we are allowed out of our houses in Peru, will we be allowing any international flights to even land here?
It’s a busy day, updating our COVID page on the website and answering the emails that
There is normally a woman who works full time at the park across the street. She's always weeding and trimming and planting new flowers. It's been three weeks since she was here to care for the park and it shows.
built up yesterday. At lunchtime, it’s actually sunny. The past three days it’s been raining too much to go out to the park. I grab my book and go sit on a bench in the sun, accompanied only by the pigeons and neighborhood dogs. At 3:00, when I get up to go back in, a neighbor sticks her head out of her window and tells me that I have to follow the rules of Peru. I reply that I’m not near anybody and that’s social isolation. She scolds me some more as I walk back to my house.
It’s so discouraging. No more walks up to the Temple of the Moon. Now I can’t even go to the park across the street? How inside do I really have to be these next two weeks?
Tuesday, 31 March, 2020
I have a new motivation for my morning workouts: it’s better than getting fined or arrested for going outside. During the workout I did this morning the instructor said several times to revisit our purpose for pressing play, our purpose for this workout. My motivation is to not have any interaction with the police, since yesterday’s
Avenida La Cultura is one of the busiest streets in Cusco. I crossed it on my way to the grocery store and was amazed by how completely empty it is.
sighting actually scared me.
My housemate from Switzerland called this morning to tell me that she made it back home today. The chartered bus to Lima and flight to Geneva was a collaboration of the Swiss, Austrian and Swedish embassies. I had wondered if there could possibly be enough Swiss tourists in Peru to charter their own bus and plane. Now I know the answer: no.
I dealt with emails and website edits till lunch. Instead of going to the park with my book I take a chair out behind my neighbor’s house, where there is a little patch of sun next to a pear tree and a monsterous pumpkin vine that has grown out across the whole back patio, up into the tree and across the shed roof. It feels good to have some sun on my back, even if I’m not in the park across the street.
I hope that it won’t be too hard for me to stay inside another twelve days. I’ve already done sixteen days and I’m getting used to it. I think. It was so much harder at first because I was so used to going outside, so used to walking
Distance and limits
At the grocery store, there were signs everywhere telling people to stay at least a meter from each other. Most people were following this, but the aisles are so narrow that it's almost impossible to be consistently a meter apart. The yellow sign says that the limit for buying any item is five. For those of you in the US, every store I've been to the past three weeks has plenty of toilet paper.
four miles every day. It also seemed more uncertain. We didn’t know how well this would work to keep the numbers down. I also didn't believe that the quarantine would end on March 31st, so there was the unknown of how long we would be told to stay home.
Now we know that the quarantine is working. Numbers of both confirmed cases and deaths are still low. I do believe that I’ll be able to leave home on April 13th, even though I am sure there will still be a lot of restrictions. Maybe I’ll be able to leave Cusco for a few days, to go stay in a smaller town that has better access to the mountains. I wonder if there’s anywhere I could stay in Ollantaytambo or Urubamba.
Tonight at 6:00 the police cars rolled through the neighborhood with their sirens on, I expect to remind us that curfew is now two hours earlier. Around the park, people applauded them out their windows. The applause was loud enough I could hear it despite the sirens.
I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not very close, but it’s
Trees give us oxygen, don't destroy them
I love these little signs in all the green spaces along the streets. The benefit of this crisis for people has been a break for the environment. How many tons of CO2 are not being pumped into the atmosphere with so many flights cancelled?
Wednesday, 1 April, 2020
Today is Day 17 in quarantine. 11 more days to go. Even though it’s getting easier to stay inside, the days are also dragging on slower. I vacillate between anxiety and apathy, not sure what to do with myself even though I still have a job and am still working 9-1 and 3-7.
Exactly a year ago I left Cusco, headed back to Seattle with the group of high school students that I had just taken on the Inca Trail. Last year on April 1st I had partly made up my mind to quit my job in Seattle and move here. It took a couple months to feel like I could make that happen, and then just a couple more to actually move. I was only back in the US four months before I picked up and moved to Cusco.
This is not the Cusco that I knew a year ago and certainly not the Cusco I knew a month ago. As with everywhere on the planet that is working to prevent or mitigate an outbreak of COIVD-19, Cusco is an empty shell of its normal self.
Walking as slowly as I can, to stretch out the time I can be outside, I'm noticing so many more monuments and little parks that I had never paid attention to before.
Today was the first time I went to a grocery store in over three weeks. I usually do most of my shopping at the San Blas Market or the Wanchaq Market, but some things like milk and olive oil are much cheaper at the grocery store. I wrote out a shopping list so it would be more believable that I was on my way to a grocery store, grabbed my backpack and walked downhill to the Orion on the Plaza Tupac Amaru.
Everybody I passed in the street had a mask on, but I didn’t put mine on until I got about a block from Orion because I cannot figure out how to stop it from fogging up my glasses. At the entrance they sprayed my hands with disinfectant then let me in. I found most of what I needed, but neither of the two things that one of my housemates had asked me to pick up for her. There was lots of toilet paper available, which I’ve heard from some is not the case in the US. Waiting in line to pay there were big signs overhead and on every cash register to keep 1 meter distance between
It's a tough job
Dogs have always rules the streets of Cusco, but I've noticed that they're even more territorial than usual lately. They also sleep on sidewalks that usually have high traffic, and even in the street.
us. There was also a sign that the limit for buying any item is five. That limit’s not an issue for me, but I don’t know how you shop for a family of ten. On the way out, I saw a line down the block. Apparently I had gotten there just in time, when there were few enough people in the store that I didn’t have to wait. They didn’t spray me with disinfectant on the way out, but I always have a bottle of hand sanitizer, so I could disinfect myself.
Part of me found all of that comforting. Limiting the number of people in the store, spraying us with disinfectant, requiring masks and space between people waiting in line to pay, all of that made me feel safer. It’s really the first time I’ve been in such an enclosed space with strangers in weeks. The San Blas Market is so big and open, it doesn’t feel like an enclosed space at all.
The other part of me was so relieved to get back outside. I felt a little panicky being inside with so many people. Even with the number of people in the store so limited,
Only the dogs are out to enjoy the parks.
there were many times I was less than a meter from other people.
The other thing that was unsettling was that none of the cops who passed me asked where I was going or why I was outside. I put all my groceries in my backpack for the trek back uphill to my neighborhood Lucrepata, so it wasn’t obvious that I had been buying food. There was definitely a big police presence, but none of them stopped me. I don’t know why that’s upsetting, since normally I would be terrified if a cop stopped me. Nothing feels normal these days and maybe even that little bit of human interaction, of a cop interrogating me about being out of my house, would be nice.
Tonight we had way more drama than I could deal with after my shopping experience, which provoked my first panic attack in years. I suppose that’s happening to a lot of people these days. What I was so panicked about was taking a taxi to help our last two guests get out of Cusco. I can hardly believe that they’re still here. They spent two weeks travelin in Peru, then were supposed to fly home
On my way back from the grocery store, it was hard to walk through the park across the street. Since I was scolded on Monday, I haven't had the nerve to go sit in the park with my book.
to Canada on March 17th. It’s like saying they had a flight on September 12, 2001.
The Canadian Embassy has a chartered bus picking up people tomorrow to take them to the airport. Where these two are staying is closer to the airport, but they have to register on the bus at 6am. They’re not allowed to go straight to the airport.
All yesterday and all today five people from my office were calling everybody they knew to try to find a taxi who would pick them up at 5:30 and take them to the bus. I heard from one after the other of my colleagues that once the drivers asked who they were transporting, and were told tourists, they just hung up. Nobody wants to get near a foreigner, much less have one in their car. The rumors going around town about tourists having COVID are out of control. Somebody from the company will have to go with them, to make sure that the taxi driver actually shows up and also to pay the driver, since we would not ask the guests to have to pay. It’s the least we can do, right? I got volunteered for
These dogs didn't bark at me, but they were definitely surprised to see me walking through their park.
this one, with the rationale that I am the only one who speaks English.
Eventually we gave up and called one of the company drivers to tell him that he had to get up at 5:00am and go out in the streets to get the company van and then drive to pick the Canadians up. I didn’t think that was possible because it’s so hard to get permission to drive. The fine in Lima for driving your car is s/6,300, which is about $2000. That’s A LOT of money here. Of course, the company vans are registered in the boss’s name and he has permission to drive for his hotel. I’m not sure what loophole lets one of our drivers take Canadians to their bus, but my colleagues seem convinced they have it sorted out.
This whole episode reminded me of last week’s Savage Lovecast podcast by Dan Savage. He was comparing the HIV crisis in the 80s and our current COVID pandemic. Similarly, people can be asymptomatic and contagious. Also similarly, you have to assume that people you have contact with have it and protect yourself. Sometimes, you have to assume that you have it and protect
The San Blas market has been closed on Sundays since quarantine started, but this is the first time I've seen it closed on a Saturday. This seems so unfair, since women can only leave the house now on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
others. The other big parallel is the importance of testing.
Dan said that one of the biggest differences is the stigma. The homophobia that exploded around the AIDS crisis was so damaging, for so many people. Dan said that stigma isn’t a problem with COVID. I actually wrote to him to disagree. I’ve heard that people from China or of Chinese descent or who just look like they could possibly be from China, have suffered terrible acts of racism. Then, there’s the foreigners in Cusco. Nobody wants to get near us and certainly no taxi drivers would want me in their car.
Thursday, 2 April, 2020
Today will be the usual workout, shower, coffee, smoothie, work, lunch, work, dinner, Factime with friends and family and go to bed. Quarantine is such an exciting life.
When I opened up my computer this morning, I saw the office chat group had exploded while I had my phone on silent and my computer off. Apparently, the Canadians left their AirBnb before 5:30 without bothering to tell us and when the driver arrived he waited for them until 6:00 before the boss finally told him to just
These past three weeks, none of the cars in my neighborhood have moved. The fine for driving your car without a permit is steep, and it's hard to get a permit.
go home. All that trouble, and they decided to walk.
I got a message this morning from our former housemate, who is now safely quarantined in her parents’ basement, at home in Switzerland. She said it’s sad to see her home country in such a terrible state. She also said that the security, masks, disinfectant, gloves and temperature-taking in the airports were really intense. She was so glad that she had already been quarantined for more than two weeks, so she knows she didn’t leave Peru with COVID. Now she just has to hang out in the basement until she can be sure she didn’t pick it up in transit.
My housemate from Venezuela decided that if we can’t go outside tomorrow, she’s going to make a quick run to the store. She went to the same grocery store that I was at yesterday, which, of course, has new rules. She said that they took her temperature before she could go in. They had a thermometer that they held about a foot away from her forehead. New rule: nobody with a fever can enter the grocery store. That actually sounds like a good idea to me. Just like
Coming back from buying food, I walk slowly, stalling, trying to find anything to prolong my time outside. Once I go back through that wooden door, it will be a couple days before I'm allowed outside again.
the rules changing constantly, the line between paranoid and reasonable seems to move every day.
Today the president announced new “gender” rules for going outside. I feel like I’m playing Monopoly, except that every time I pass go, the rules change. Starting tomorrow, to go out to buy food or medicine, only women can go out Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Men can leave the house Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Nobody can go outside on Sunday. So, if I don’t go outside today, I can’t go out until Saturday. After my experience at the grocery store yesterday, I’d rather stay home. I can’t think of anything I need to buy at the pharmacy, and that’s the only other option for leaving the house.
I’m trying to find the good news in all of the bad news from the US. The best news I consistently see is the impact this pandemic is having on air quality. I feel like the planet is taking its first deep breath in decades. The Pachamama is finally able to breathe again. Jet fuel is horrendous for the environment and I wonder how many tons of CO2 are not being pumped into the air for
Link to the outside world
I walk between two other houses to get out to the street. With the new restrictions of gendered days, knowing that I'm only allowed outside Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, I feel so much more trapped.
each day that airlines are grounded. We are all confined to our homes, sent to our rooms. Mother Nature has grounded us, literally.
Friday, 3 April, 2020
Yesterday Governor Inslee extended Washington’s “Stay home, stay healthy” order to May 4th. They don’t have military in the streets, or a curfew, but I wonder if maybe they should. The state government has a website where you can report an open business that you suspect is not an “essential” business. Now we’re reporting on our neighbors? Is that a slippery slope?
Today is the first day of Peru’s gendered quarantine. Friday it is now literally a man’s world in Peru. It seems wrong to me that the phrase “man’s world” implies that men are in charge, while the phrase “women’s world” brings to mind a magazine about makeup and weight loss.
Sitting down in my home office, I notice that the pumpkin vine, which has been growing up into the pear tree, has a flower high up in the branches. I suspect that might be the most exciting thing that happens all day.
Opening up my messages, I see that one of the office
The new green space
Since the park is now off limits, the patio behind my neighbor's house is the only green space I have access to. I'm boxed in but I know that I should be thankful to at least have some outdoor space.
staff has sent what looks like fake news to our group chat which also includes about 30 guides. I thought fake news was a problem in the US and have been so sad to see it take hold here too. One of my colleageus told me that she believes that the CIA created this virus in a lab and sent it to infect China and Iran, to destroy them. I tried to share some real facts with her, but she wasn’t having it.
This particular post looks like a screenshot of a Facebook mime. It actually says: “Alarming data that Vizcarra is hiding to not cause alarm. THIS IS VERY CONFIDENTIAL” and goes on to list nine Peruvian cities with an alarmingly high number of cases. The total of this “confidential” note is 9245 cases for March 31, when Peru was still under a thousand, according to the US Embassy in Lima and several other credible sources I checked. I actually posted the links to several credible sources on the group chat, determined to combat fake news with real information. Nobody commented.
If history ultimately judges Trump to be responsible for the slow reaction in the US to
The little things
I'm working on appreciating what I do have in my neighbor's patio space: birds, a pear tree, geraniums and a giant pumpkin vine that is taking over the entire patio.
COVID, not only is he responsible for thousands of preventable deaths, I will also hold him responsible for the economic crash of places like Cusco, which rely on so many tourists from the US. Of course, people come from around the world to see Machu Picchu, but the US, with its proximity and wealth, contributes to a lot of the tourism in Cusco. If Americans are unable to travel because the country is such a disaster, both economically and in terms of public health, that has a direct impact on the ability of people in Cusco to pay rent and buy food. That affects not only guides, cooks and porters, but also everybody who works in hotels and restaurants. If the guides are broke, they can’t pay for English lessons from my housemate from England. If nobody comes to the restaurants, there’s no work for my housemate from Venezuela, who works in one of the most upscale restaurants in Cusco. It’s not a place locals can afford to go. Her employer depends on foreign tourists.
The ripple effects of Trump’s incompetence are so far reaching. Like the families of many Sherpa porters who work the trails of Mount Everest, most of the Inca Trail porters here live in small, isolated communities high in the Andes. They can protect themselves from COVID by staying isolated and the government can send them food and money to help them through, but until the tourists come back, they will be unemployed. How long can the government support them? So far, the government has sent 380 soles to each family deemed vulnerable. Can they repeat that? How many times? How long will it take? Sure, the porters can go back to being subsistence farmers, but how does that get them anything besides food? How can they fund a family member to live down in town so their kids can go to high school? How can they send their kids to college?
Saturday, 4 April, 2020
20 days of quarantine down, 8 more to go. I think it actually helps to have a countdown. Otherwise every day seems like every other day. It’s like driving across Kansas. It all looks the same and only the miles ticking by on the odometer give you any indication that you’re getting anywhere.
I ventured out to the market this morning, only to find it closed. Apparently it’s closed both Saturday and Sunday now. This strikes me as very unfair, since women are only allowed to leave the house Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Since all shops are closed on Sunday, and everybody is supposed to stay home, anything I can’t find today will have to wait for Tuesday.
I went to four different shops and managed to find most of what was on my list. For those of you in the US, all four shops had plenty of toilet paper.
I was wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer before and after each shop. Still, we are all so much more exposed to each other in little shops than in the big, open market. Two of the shops were so little that they only let in one person at a time, a larger one was allowing in five people at a time and the smallest one I went to wasn’t letting anybody in. You had to just stand at the door and make your request, just like the bakery is now. This is only mildly annoying for me, but it’s absolutely debilitating for my housemate who doesn’t speak Spanish. That’s why she usually shops at Plaza Vea at the mall, which is a lot like Target or Fred Meyer.
My most exciting find was granny smith apples, which are not easy to find, even under normal circumstances. Now I can make an apple pie this weekend! I haven’t baked an apple pie since Thanksgiving, but I have plenty of time this weekend.
I’m only working four hours on Saturday and not at all on Sunday anymore. The chaos of March has settled down, now that everybody has a better idea of what we’re dealing with and how long it will probably go on. When people try to cancel June and later, I ask them to hold off unless they are absolutely positive that they won’t be able to come. We still don’t have any money to give refunds, so unless they want to reschedule, they have nothing to lose to wait until closer to the date anyway.
It was sunny this afternoon, so I had lunch under my neighbor’s pear tree. I’m going to have to learn to appreciate this back patio space, since I’m not allowed outside until Tuesday.
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