COVID-19 in Cusco: Quarantine Week 6

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April 25th 2020
Published: April 26th 2020
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Sparkling Violet-Ear HummingbirdSparkling Violet-Ear HummingbirdSparkling Violet-Ear Hummingbird

Sitting on my roof with my book and camera, I was delighted when this guy landed in such an exposed spot where I could get a great photo of him. In my photos of him two weeks ago, he had white pollen on this face. Today he's obviously been in a flower with yellow pollen.
Sunday, 19 April, 2020

35 days down, 7 more to go

I’ve been looking forward to today all week! My housemates and I have been planning a picnic on the roof today. I chose Sunday because we’re not allowed to leave the house and I wanted to have something to look forward to. Yesterday and Friday it rained and hailed, so I was delighted to see bright sunshine this morning.

Both of my housemates went to the mall yesterday to buy picnic treats. They came home with a proper baguette, brie, olives, sparkling wine and a lot more. I bought focaccia from a neighbor who has been baking to supplement her income, beer and made a black bean and mango salad this morning. It wasn’t warm enough to put on swimsuits and pretend that we were at the beach, but we still brought our beach towels up to the roof and spread them out for the picnic. It was so nice! I think that we’ll do that again before quarantine ends. I keep telling myself, some day it will end.

Monday, 20 April, 2020

Today I feel excited to be here in Cusco in a way
Napping HummingbirdNapping HummingbirdNapping Hummingbird

Normally, when I see a hummingbird, I set the camera on continuous and get as many shots as I can as quickly as I can. I'm lucky if they're in a good spot for five or ten seconds. This guy actually sat with his eyes closed, soaking up the sun, for about ten minutes. Have even the hummingbirds noticed that life has slowed down during the pandemic?
I haven’t felt for a few months now. Last week my Mom told me that I will have the opportunity to see Cusco rebuild its tourism industry, post COVID. This morning, she sent me an NBC article about how international tourism and travel must change and how we now have the opportunity to do just that.

At the same time, and along the same line of thinking, a friend in Cusco sent me a short book, so short it’s almost a long essay. It’s by the researcher Juan Carlos Machicado Figueroa and was published this month, April 2020. The book is about what we can learn from ancient Andean philosophy and the way that their society was organized, from the perspective of what we can take from these teachings as we confront COVID and rebuild afterwards. “Rescatando la Filosofía Andina para una Nueva Conciencia” starts with an introduction explaining why Andean philosophy can help us create a better society, as we now have such a unique opportunity to make sweeping changes, emerging on the other side of quarantines and devastating outbreaks across the planet.

Later in the evening, my Mom sent another article, mostly about the disaster that is
Picnic on the roofPicnic on the roofPicnic on the roof

Lacking access to a beach, or even the park across the street, we had a picnic on the roof. It's been raining often this week, but it should be the end of the rainy season now, so I hope we can have more sunny picnics. What I really hope is that some of the quarantine restrictions will be lifted so we can have a picnic in the park, or the hills above town.
politics in the US, but it comes to a very similar conclusion as the book by Figueroa. The Atlantic article by George Packer, ends with “We can learn from these dreadful days that stupidity and injustice are lethal; that, in a democracy, being a citizen is essential work; that the alternative to solidarity is death.”

Maybe I can be not only a part of rebuilding the tourism industry in Cusco, maybe I can be part of an evolution of the tourism industry here. If people in Cusco are publishing books about this, and mainstream news sources like NBC and The Atlantic are discussing this, maybe it’s actually possible. Idealistic? Yes. Realistic? I hope so!

I call a friend here, so excited about the possibilities. What can we change? How can we change it? We can’t go back to doing exactly what we were doing before. We have such a great opportunity to change things, improve things, evolve.

Two other friends texted me tonight, saying that they are going to create their own trekking agencies, asking if I will help. One asked if I would be a partner in the business, the other asked if I would be part of
The roofThe roofThe roof

This is the outdoor space that I have access to. I go up there to read, take photos of birds, sunbathe and just escape being inside all the time. Our other outdoor space is my neighbor's patio and he's been out there a lot recently, leaving me the roof as the other option.
creating his company. Both are very experienced guides, who I think can be very successful. I told them both that when conditions permit, we should meet because I need to hear more about the plan before I can make any kind of commitment.

Tonight on El Sonido, Chilly did a shoutout to my friend Kelli’s birthday. No matter how much I love Cusco, or how excited I am to be here, it’s still nice to have this link to home.

Tuesday, 21 April

Today the president announced that he’s considering extending the quarantine past the previously announced April 26th. That’s not really news. Of course he’s considering extending. He’s been considering that since he announced it will end the 26th. One of my housemates declares that she couldn’t care less. The other is anxiously waiting for the internal travel ban to end so she can go see her brother in Lima.

We ditched our computers and phones and went back up on the roof today to get some sun. It’s getting much colder at night and the house is cold in the morning, though the sun is really intense on the roof. We all put on
The viewThe viewThe view

I love being able to see the hills from my roof. I also love how many of my neighbors' homes are still constructed with traditional materials. The walls are mud and straw adobe. The roofs are wood, adobe and tile. I think it's beautiful.
sunscreen because, even if you’re there to sunbathe, we’re still very close to the equator and up at over 11,000 feet.

It’s so nice up on the roof. It’s become my little escape. Even after I’d had enough sun, I stayed up on the roof and just moved to the shade with my book and my camera. Today I got the best photos I’ve taken so far of the green violet-ear hummingbird that I see every day. I’ve watched the birds in the pear tree for almost six weeks now and feel like I know each of them as individuals. It kind of reminds me of the guy who got to know each individual parrot in the (true) book The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

The roof is not just the only place that’s warm in the mornings, it’s also the only place we really hangout together. In the house, we’re either taking turns in the kitchen, since it’s not really big enough for more than one of us to cook at a time, or we’re in our rooms.

Tonight I called another friend here in Cusco to try out my idea of starting a revolution when
Melon VineMelon VineMelon Vine

What I initially thought was a pumpkin vine is some sort of melon. I'm still impressed with how well it has taken over the top branches of the pear tree. Judging by all the flowers, there are going to be a lot of melons growing high above the ground.
we’re out of quarantine. I decided I should make a list of all the things I want to change in the world, regardless of how far-fetched they are. I’ll worry about if they’re possible or practical later. I’m just in the brainstorming phase of how we can change things for the better as we emerge on the far side of the pandemic.

Wednesday, 22 April

Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day!

What an amazing time this is for our planet! I keep going back to the satellite images of the reduction in global air pollution, the lions napping in the road in South Africa, the jellyfish in the canals in Venice, the bears playing in the streets in Yosemite, the birds on the beaches in Lima and wild goats coming into town in Wales. This is horribly tragic for humanity, but a welcome break for so many other species on Earth.

I have absolutely no expertise that could help Cusco or anywhere else confront COVID, but I plan be of help in the rebuilding afterwards.

I’ve started my brainstorm list of things I want to change or improve afterwards. One centers around a huge difference I’ve seen comparing my travels in Costa Rica and Peru. In Costa Rica, everywhere I traveled with my Mom, the water
The Last BookThe Last BookThe Last Book

After I finish this book, I will be out of new reading material. I'm already trying to figure out who has books they will trade, after the quarantine restrictions allow us to move around town.
was safe to drink right out of the tap. Sure, people still bought bottled water, but they didn’t have to. People who couldn’t afford bottled water weren’t spending any time filtering it or boiling it and certainly not any money on filters or electricity or gas to boil water. In Cusco and the surrounding areas, the water is not safe to drink. People spend lots of time and money on making the tap water safe to drink. A friend I spoke to yesterday, who lives near Cusco, said that he was sick on Sunday because he drank some water the day before that he thinks wasn’t clean. If he had a job he could go to now, that would have impacted his work. How many people lose hours or days of work, and therefore income, because the tap water here is unsafe to drink?

Surely, that’s something we could fix here. I have no idea how, but I have plenty of time to try to find out.

This evening I got an email from the US Embassy about a new law in Peru that makes me uneasy. I have celebrated, or at least agreed in theory with, everything
Comfort FoodComfort FoodComfort Food

My third pie of quarantine was an improvement on the previous two. So far, my housemates have been happy to share, but one said I shouldn't make them so often. With so few exercise options, they don't want to be eating a lot of dessert.
else that the Peruvian government has done during this crisis. Cash for struggling families a month ago? Yes! Curfew to keep people out of the streets? I can get behind that. Closing all restaurants and bars? Great idea! Fines for not wearing a mask in public? It’s not a terrible idea.

However, I have now been notified by the US Embassy in Lima that “Health Minister Víctor Zamora announced the executive approval of a legislative decree that gives the Ministry of Health greater control in directing COVID-19 patients to both public and private hospitals. Please be aware that this decree is likely to limit your ability to choose where you receive medical treatment in Peru should you require treatment of any kind.”

The last three words give me pause. This is not just about COVID. Sure, it’s helpful for hospitals and local government to be able to move people around, so that COVID patients are not mixed in with people who have a broken leg. If one hospital is overflowing, they should be able to direct new patients elsewhere. Still, if I need medical treatment of any kind, I would like to be able to choose where that
Presidential AddressPresidential AddressPresidential Address

I was impressed with Vizcarra's demeanor in this broadcast. Not that it's any different from how he usually addresses the country, but because it's so different from the way the president of the US is speaking to the US. President Vizcarra expressed his condolences for the 572 families who have lost somebody to COVID and said the numbers are still rising in Peru. The end is not in sight.
will take place.

Thursday, 23 April, 2020

39 days down, 17 more to go

The president just announced two more weeks.

During the address today, President Vizcarra talked about one of the most dangerous aspects of this pandemic is the people who are asymptomatic, and who spread the virus without knowing it.

Below is my translation from listening, pausing and relistening to
">the president’s speech on YouTube. It’s long, but I include it because it’s what I wish my friends and family in the US were hearing from the White House. It’s the compassion, commitment and confidence that I wish was coming from D.C.

Today President Vizcarra announced that we have lost 572 people to COVID in Peru. He continued (my translation) “These are statistics that are hard, that hurt, and I send my condolences to each family. … The curve is still rising, we have not yet reached the peak of this rising curve. This pandemic means we cannot let down our guard. We must make all decisions thinking of the best for our country, for our people. The most important thing in this country are its people, the health of each Peruvian and the lives of
Families in NeedFamilies in NeedFamilies in Need

The Peruvian government has assessed that about 25% of Peruvian families have the same, or similar, income as before the quarantine. That leaves the Peruvian government 75% of families to support financially.
our population. Therefore, the recommendation that we take again, considering what is best for our people, we have decided to extend the state of emergency for two more weeks. These are sacrifices we each make, the strength we each show, to defeat this virus.

“This sickness obliges us to change our style of life, our customs, our habits. The extension of the state of emergency does not mean that afterwards, we can go back to how things were before. Improved hygiene, hand washing and wearing a mask when you leave home, a minimum of one meter distance between people when in public, will continue to be obligatory after the end of the state of emergency. This will be the case until we have a vaccine. Scientists around the world are working on this. Until we have a vaccine, we must continue to combat this virus. This is why the state of emergency is extended to include Sunday, May 10th, which is Mother’s Day. As we celebrate and thank our mothers, we must continue to protect them, be responsible and to do what is best for their health.

“Remember that if we had not taken the measures that we

My neighbor's dog Chico was out when I came home from the market on Friday. He is the only dog in the neighborhood who runs right for me as soon as he sees me. Considering the lack of human contact during the pandemic, it's so nice to be able to snuggle somebody's dog.
did, 39 days ago, we would have lost many more lives. We mourn the 572 people who we have lost. We see other countries, who have a health system much more advanced than our own, who have lost thousands of lives. If we did not have the quarantine restrictions in place, we would have lost tens of thousands of lives here in Peru. Our efforts are worth it.

“We recognize that this virus has not only affected the health of Peruvians, but has affected our ability to continue our normal activities and this has impacted the income of every family in Peru. Therefore, we are increasing the number of families who receive financial assistance from the government. We are aware that this is still not enough. We have calculated that 25% of families in Peru have continued to have an adequate monthly income because they work in essential services: agriculture, markets, pharmacies and public services. This means that 75% of Peruvian families have lost part or all of their income. Many of these families have already received financial assistance, but we must immediately help those who have not received anything. We will support these families until we are able
The flowers are still bloomingThe flowers are still bloomingThe flowers are still blooming

Life has stopped so completely for most people that it seems strange to see life continue as normal around us. I feel like I've been on an airplane for six weeks, but the trees in the park are flowering as if nothing was amiss.
to resume our normal economic activities in Peru.

“We must continue this state of emergency two more weeks and we must all be responsible to combat this pandemic. We began our state of emergency at the right time and we must continue to follow the restrictions because the curve is still climbing. In May we will start to resume our economic activities, but it will be measured and calculated to prevent a second wave of infections. Starting tomorrow, there is a new council of representatives from all 25 regions of Peru and representatives from every sector of our economy and labor force. They will work together to assess how and when to open up economic activities in Peru. We are conscious that Lima is not Peru and while Lima is the most affected by the virus, what is necessary in Lima may not be the same in other parts of Peru.

“While schools have been closed, the Ministry of Education is evaluating how to support students who have the fewest resources to study at home. We are evaluating how to have support in place for every student to learn remotely before the schools open up again. We are
Empty ParkEmpty ParkEmpty Park

Walking home from the market, I go past my favorite bench in the park. I haven't seen anybody sitting in the park for over a month now.
evaluating how restaurants can open up for delivery, while still protecting the workers and the customers. What we are asking for, from each sector, each region, each Peruvian, is solidarity. We must help each other. At the beginning of this pandemic we asked for lots of support, and we received lots of support. The congress has approved many new laws during the state of emergency to help our population.

“As this pandemic goes on, it is getting harder for each of us. The people on the front lines need more support. If we think that we will win this war with only the front lines, we are wrong. This depends on every Peruvian. Every one of us must commit to fighting this pandemic. This is a marathon and we are in the stage when we need the most endurance, we need endurance from every Peruvian. We need support and solidarity. This is the stage when we need our deepest strength, our love for our country, our love for our family, our love for our society to preserve the country that we all want.

“This will pass. When it passes, we will have the best conditions to continue to work for our futures, but now is the moment when we need to take responsibility and we need the commitment of every Peruvian. I know that we can count on the solidarity of every Peruvian, as we always have in our most difficult moments.”

Again, I include this because it’s what I wish was coming from the White House. I feel very fortunate to be in Peru at this moment in history. Of all of the decades of terrible presidents that have held Peru back, I believe that we got lucky to have right now, an honest president, who began his presidency fighting hard against decades of entrenched corruption. When we need it most, Peru has a strong and compassionate leader who is working hard for the best possible outcome of every Peruvian family. Sadly, I feel that the US is in a very, very different situation.

Friday, 24 April, 2020

I feel like all the enthusiasm and optimism that I felt on Monday just drained out of me yesterday when I heard we have two more weeks. 8 weeks at home is a long time, even if the first two weeks I was cheating by going on walks at 5:30am.

Today I got a work email from somebody whose flights in September were cancelled by United Airlines. September? Really? In November the rains start again. I’m starting to wonder if the tourists will come back at all this year. Is tourism dead until 2021? Are we really losing a whole year? How in the world are people going to have enough money to eat?

In the meantime, I’m still reading about how COVID is being dealt with in other countries, and what researchers are finding. The longer this goes on, the more data there is to analyze. Unfortunately, some of that is downright scary. I read an article today on CNN that people my age, with no pre-existing conditions, are having strokes caused by COVID. Now the WHO is saying that having COVID once does not necessarily mean that you can’t get it again. I really need some good news today. Even the top funniest tweets complied on Huffington Post aren’t helping. The apathy is coming back.

Kerry pulled me out of my funk and said she had to go buy food. I realized that I haven’t left the house since last week. I’m not entirely out of food, but since the market is closed on weekends, I should probably go now. At least it was sunny as we walked the few blocks to the San Blas market. I got almost everything on my list, but none of the vendors had tarwi today. We’re getting plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, but there are a few products that aren’t making it to Cusco anymore.

In the afternoon, Kerry offered to give me a haircut on the roof. She and I have both been complaining about how we were going to get a haircut right before the quarantine started. That was six weeks ago, so I was relieved to get a bit of a trim.

Saturday, 25 April, 2020

There are only three emails in the company inbox today. It’s hard to pretend that I’m working four hours a day but I really don’t want to be working any less than half time. I go through the website and edit a few things, improving descriptions of hikes and archeological sites. There’s just not much to do anymore. Despite my boss’s optimism in March that May would be fine, I’m starting to wonder what month he thinks will be fine again. I doubt that international flights will be allowed to land in Peru anytime in May. There’s no point in opening any hotels, restaurants, trains or archeological sites until tourists are allowed back in Peru. We’re not going to face famine or some of the other disasters looming around the world, but we are all going to burn through our savings this year.

My mind keeps going back to the terrible timing of this pandemic, in particular for Cusco. The Inca Trail is always closed in February, but was shut down a week early this January, because of a devastating landslide that killed three people. Then, the rains in February were worse than usual and the government announced that they were going to open the Inca Trail two weeks late, on March 16th, rather than the usual March 1st. Bring in the pandemic, and the state of emergency that was announced on March 15th. We are now at the end of April and it has been four to six months since some guides and porters have had steady work. This pandemic shut down Peru right when Cusco needed tourists to come back, right when many families were getting to the end of their savings, as they do at the end of every rainy season. Now they all have to prepare to stretch what little they have for an unknown number of months, until the tourists come back. There are no other employment opportunities in Cusco. We all rely on tourists.

We will not run out of food in Peru, but I don’t know how families in Cusco will be able to buy it.

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26th April 2020

Keep On the Sunny Side
The sunshine is good for so many reasons. You are lucky you have a rooftop to escape to. Undoubtedly life here in Boise is much easier, so who am I to bestow any views about life in your world or anywhere else. We have our impatient, oblivious, noncompliant people who won't have anyone telling them their liberties are restricted (wear a mask please, at least). We just keep plodding along, getting to know ourselves better, and learning something different from within or restrictive spaces, hoping that life will become more free and safe soon. Keep up the good blogging.
26th April 2020

I so enjoy your blogs
Hi Heather. I have been following your blogs for a while now. This one has been a great pleasure. We have been lucky, so far, in Australia with few deaths and not many infections because we started physical distancing long before most other countries. (It probably helps that we are also a long way away from most other countries!)
11th May 2020

Thank you!
Hello John and Silvia! It's so nice to hear that you enjoy my blog. It's so easy to feel isolated during this pandemic and I really appreciate your message. We will get through this. I hope sooner rather than later! Take care and stay safe!
27th April 2020

Hang in there Heather
I’m thinking of my own times in Cusco and I think you are doing well for this many days quarantined. The picnic on the roof, awesome way to deal. Stay in the moment and it will be something you like back on fondly in the future.
11th May 2020

Hi Andrea! Thanks for the encouragement! I really appreciate hearing from you. In creating my website I was uploading my blog from La Paz and wondering when I'll be able to go back to Baja Sur. I hope that you are safe where you are and able to enjoy these days at home.
27th May 2020
The view

How will travel and the world change?
I enjoyed this blog and your excitement about how we can use this disaster as an opportunity for change. We've been making list of things we'd like to do differently in life, work and travel - but it remains to be seen if we just slump back to the old 'normal' or we chose to learn from this. I have my fingers crossed for the latter :) Cheers, Ren

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