COVID-19 in Cusco: Quarantine Week 7


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May 3rd 2020
Published: May 3rd 2020
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La Plaza de ArmasLa Plaza de ArmasLa Plaza de Armas

In seven weeks, this is only the second time that I've walked across the main plaza. There's not much around there, so few justifiable reasons to go to that part of town. Luckily, my bank is on the far side from my part of town, so I was ready with my excuse to be in an area that is really just for tourists anymore. However, there are so few people in this part of the city that the cops never even stopped me.
Sunday, 26 April, 2020

42 days down, 14 to go

Today is my mother’s 71st birthday. I called her in the morning and was glad to hear that she has a beautiful sunny day in Boise and plans to go outside. Social distancing rules in Boise, and common sense, still allow her to go for a walk by the river by herself.

It’s hard to have any conversation without talking about COVID, even if my intent is to wish my mom a happy birthday. Yesterday, Mom went to get tested for antibodies, as part of a study from University of Washington. She said that they were very clear with people who sign up, that this is only contributing to a database. This is not for diagnosing people who are currently sick and this is not any kind of medical treatment. Still, I think it’s great that UW is starting to do as much testing as possible, to try to get an idea of who has antibodies and how many people have antibodies but didn’t have any symptoms. Hopefully they are able to extend this all over the country. The more data that we are able to produce, the
Santa CatalinaSanta CatalinaSanta Catalina

Walking down Las Ruinas, on my normal route to work, I love seeing the dome of the convent. It was weird to see two parked cars on the street there. Partly because they don't look like police vehicles and partly because normally there is no parking on this street.
better we can fight this.

With another two weeks of quarantine to go, I’m trying to recuperate some of the optimism and energy that I had last week. There are going to be a lot of things that we can change and improve when we are allowed to leave our homes and I do want to get back to brainstorming the changes I want to see. Mom sent me a great article about changes that are being proposed in Hawaii. Published by the Lily, the article starts with “Hawaii, the first state to propose a what it’s calling a “feminist economic recovery plan.” Rather than restoring the economy to the old normal, the state is looking to seize the opportunity “to build a system that is capable of delivering gender equality.” I can only hope that Hawaii will be leading the way, with lots of other states and countries copying their very detailed blueprint.

What can we do to promote gender equality in Peru, in Cusco and in tourism? There are so many things that need to change in that regard. It seems easier to tackle getting clean tap water in every home, than to build a system capable of delivering gender
Looking upLooking upLooking up

The deserted streets look anything but normal. It's only when I look up do things look familiar.
equality. Still, that is high on my wish list for the evolution I want to be a part of, as we begin recovery post-COVID.

Monday, 27 April, 2020

Today my boss told me that we are cancelling all tours and treks for all of May. The soonest any of our guides could get work is June 1st, assuming that the borders are open and international flights will be able to land again. I am very fortunate to know that I will still be employed in May, even if it’s half time.

A friend of mine called today from Lima to tell me that he had heard that people at high altitude have a lower mortality rate from COVID. This is the opposite of the speculation I had heard in March. Previously, we had assumed that bodies at higher elevation, which already have stress on the lungs due to having less oxygen available, would be at more risk of negative outcomes if infected with COVID. The abstract for this study suggests that we may be better off up here, based on research done on communities at high altitude in Tibet, Ecuador and Bolivia. I would like to think that
Empty streetsEmpty streetsEmpty streets

After seven weeks, it's not newsworthy. Streets that are normally full of traffic are empty all around the world. It's one of the most common sights these days.
Peru wasn’t included in the study because we do not have enough cases at altitude to even study.

I can’t even begin to express how relieved I was to read this study. I have been trying not to worry too much about the possibility of COVID spreading up to the more remote villages in Peru, where there are no medical facilities or even roads to quickly evacuate a person if necessary. This truly made me breathe a very deep sigh of relief: “In conclusion it appears that Covid-19 infection rates at high-altitude regions in Bolivia are approximately three-fold lower than lowlands. … The Bolivian data are totally in line with data reported in Ecuador, a Latin American country that is severely affected by the pandemic.”What is true in Bolivia and Ecuador, our next door neighbors, should hold true for Peru. I hope. In the study, high altitude is defined as 3,000 meters above sea level. Cusco is at 3,500. It seems that the virus itself is weakened by the altitude: “It is clear that, all together, these factors may dramatically reduce the “survival” capacity of the virus at high-altitude, and therefore its virulence.” Even better, the study also shows
Inca wallsInca wallsInca walls

There are usually so many people on this sidewalk that I've never taken a photo of this wall before. It's part of an old foundation that is currently sandwiched between a vegetarian restaurant and a hotel.
that the lungs of people who live at high altitude have fewer of the ACE2 cells that the virus binds to. This gives people better outcomes if infected, and let to one city in China having 0% mortality, though 29% of those infected already had cardiovascular or lung disease.

Last Monday, when I started the week with so much hope for how tourism can evolve and improve as we emerge on the other side of COVID. Today I am filled with hope that Cusco will not see a large outbreak like we are seeing in other similar cities around the world, which are at lower altitude. We have not had any deaths in April and the only deaths in March were tourists who arrived here sick and were unable to leave before they died. No Cusqueñians have died of COVID in the whole Cusco region. After reading that study, I don’t think it’s a fluke. High altitude is a safer place to be!

Tonight Chilly somehow got all my favorite songs in the first half hour of his show. There’s nothing that will get me up and dancing in my living room like Soy Yo by Bomba Estereo.
Colonial architectureColonial architectureColonial architecture

Without any people to watch or cars in the way, I have more time to enjoy the architecture in Cusco.
I got to see Bomba Estereo twice in Seattle, once at Neumos in Capitol Hill and once at the ShowBox SoDo. I hope we can find a way to do concerts so I can see live music again. If in Peru we have to wear masks and continue social distancing until there is a vaccine, how are we going to be able to watch live music? For now, I’m enjoying the streaming living room concerts on Instagram and YouTube.

Tuesday 28 April, 2020

Today, after work, I decided to unplug for the rest of the day. I took my book and camera up on the roof to join both Andrea and Kerry. We sunbathed, read our books in the shade and planned to make pizzas together on Friday.

After the sun goes down, it gets cold very quickly here, which drove us into the kitchen as soon as the roof was in shade. We each cook separately, which means that there is almost always one of us in the kitchen. Tonight after our dinners, we made a big pot of popcorn and settled on the couch together to watch Jaws. I really wanted a classic that I
A person!A person!A person!

This was the only person that I saw on the plaza today. After all the photos of empty streets, I thought this is actually more noteworthy.
had already seen, both Andrea and Kerry wanted action.

Kerry and I complained goodnaturedly the whole way through how inaccurate the portrayal of sharks was and how this film tainted popular knowledge about sharks. It was great to be able to complain about something besides quarantine and COVID.

Wednesday, 29 April, 2020

Just like Sunday, Monday and Tuesday this week, I’ve decided to put off going to the market for one more day. I always thought I was good at stretching whatever was in the cupboard or fridge to just a couple more meals, but I’ve made it an art during quarantine. That also means that I haven’t left the house since last Friday.

The great news today is that we may be allowed to leave the house next Monday, although most businesses will remain closed. For me, that means that I might be able to resume my walks in the hills above town. I haven’t been up to the Temple of the Moon in more than a month.

I was so happy today to be able to get photos of two birds that I have seen almost daily. They both come through so fast
Empty benchesEmpty benchesEmpty benches

All year round, these benches are full. Even during the rainy season, there are still people in the plaza all day long. What I wouldn't give for the tourists to come back!
that I only see a flash, or they fly right into the center of the tree where they are completely hidden by branches, or they come by as it’s starting to get dark and I can’t see more than their movement in and out of the tree top. Today I finally got a great shot of a Crowned Chat-Tyrant, which I had previously thought was an Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch. It’s definitely the chat, since the bill is way too small to be the finch. My second mystery bird turned out to be the Golden-billed Saltator. I got a few shots of a Black-throated Flower-piercer, but they weren’t great. Both the Saltator and Flower-piercer come through just as it’s getting dark and my camera isn’t great with low light and fast birds.

Thursday, 30 April, 2020

Last night I got to speak with my aunt Laura for over an hour. Besides getting caught up on family news, she told me about a New Yorker article that she had read about the differences between how Seattle and New York handled the initial stages of the COVID outbreak. As the first city to hit the news with an outbreak of COVID, Seattle took it very seriously
Double rainbowDouble rainbowDouble rainbow

This is the best double rainbow I've ever seen from the roof of my house.
and did so very quickly.

Something in the article made me question why the American version of democracy is so different from other democracies. “We’re not China—we can’t order people to stay inside,” Besser said. “Democracy is a great thing, but it means, for something like covid-19, we have to persuade people to coöperate if we want to save their lives.”

Peru is a democracy. President Vizcarra was democratically elected. The current congress was democratically elected in January and includes members of nine different political parties, five of which were new in 2019.

However, on Sunday, March 15, President Vizcarra, sitting with the members of congress, announced to the country that he was declaring a State of Emergency. He was very explicit about this State of Emergency giving the government the power to temporarily take away some constitutional rights. Peru would suspend the right to assemble and enact a curfew starting immediately. All borders were sealed immediately and all airports closed.

The military and police were already in the streets that Sunday night. I didn’t go out, but my colleague Sofia was picked up by the police when she went out to buy rice. They took
Cusco is goldCusco is goldCusco is gold

There are so many rainbows here! No wonder that the rainbow has been the symbol of Cusco for hundreds of years - or that the Spanish found such an amazing pot of gold when they first arrived here.
her home in their patrol vehicle and told her to stay home. I was shocked. I thought they should at least give people a day to get settled, before stopping people from going out to buy food.

President Vizcarra took Peru from 95 to 0 in just a few hours. He had already closed schools four days before, but otherwise had made no other restrictions, before announcing the State of Emergency.

Obviously, the culture of Peru and the culture of the US, along with our history, are very different. Still, you can’t say that because the US is a democracy, the only option is to “persuade people to cooperate.” Democracies can enforce a quarantine, as Peru has now for forty-six long days.

The real difference is the culture. Here, when the police roll through the neighborhood at 6pm, sirens wailing, to enforce the curfew, people open their windows and applaud. In the US, there are protests against the most basic common sense advice to stay home.

Friday, 1 May, 2020

This morning the fireworks started as I was making coffee. The first few months I lived here I was annoyed by the constant fireworks. Every day
Rain + SunRain + SunRain + Sun

It really is spectacular to watch the rain showers and patches of sun move across the valley.
there was a neighborhood or school or church celebrating their patron saint with fireworks. They start early in the morning, go all day and well into the night. It was so obnoxious, and yet hearing the fireworks this morning made me smile. It seems like Cusco is starting to get back to normal.

I bet in our desperation for normalcy, many people around the world are missing things that they used to wish would stop. Annoying habits of colleagues that we would happily tolerate again, if it meant that we could get back to work. Exasperating parts of our commutes that we would happily go back to, if it meant that we could leave our homes. I suspect that today, as most countries around the world would be celebrating Labor Day, people feel very differently about work. Even in countries where May 1st is a national holiday, not everybody gets the day off. Around the world, I expect that so many people are forced to stay home today when they would give just about anything to have a normal working day.

Tonight we made the pizzas that we have been planning all week. Kerry made the dough, Andrea
Giant HummingbirdGiant HummingbirdGiant Hummingbird

That really is its name: Patagona gigas peruviana and they're about 8 inches long.
made the tomato sauce and I got some toppings together, including fresh basil from my very pampered basil plant. I’m still taking it outside in the morning and moving it around as sun spots and shadows shift throughout the day.

We turned the music up and got out some red wine and had the loudest party we’ve had in months. After the pizza, Kerry taught us several card games and we started planning the real parties that we’ll be able to have, after quarantine restrictions are relaxed.

Saturday, 2 May, 2020

48 days down, 8 more to go

This was a dark and dreary day. It was raining when I woke up and rained straight through till about 4pm, when the sun peeked through just enough that I knew there must be a rainbow out there somewhere. There are a lot of things I love about Cusco, but the rainbows here are very high on that list. They are just spectacular here and so often are double rainbows. I went up on the roof several times, checking for rainbows, before I finally saw one. Actually, it was two. A full half circle double rainbow across the
My usual shotsMy usual shotsMy usual shots

Until now, all of my photos of the Giant Hummingbird were blurry. At least in this one his eye is in focus.
whole valley. I took several photos and videos, then decided that nobody would notice if I climbed up the hill just behind my neighborhood, the first little bit of my old hike up to the Temple of the Moon. If they noticed, I was hoping they wouldn’t care. It felt so good to be running uphill again, racing to get up to the spot I had in mind before the rainbow disappeared.

I didn't make it. By the time I got up there, the rainbow was gone. I stood there for a while anyway, waiting to see if another rainbow would appear. Honestly, I was just so happy to be outside. It smelled fantastic, that fresh smell that you only get right after a heavy rain.

The next miracle was a giant hummingbird, right below me. There is one that comes by outside my windows, but it never holds still for a photo like the Sparkling Violetear. In the past seven weeks, I have only gotten a handfull of blurry photos of it. Even without a clear picture to use for identification, it really can only be the Giant Hummingbird. Yes, that is the official name: Giant Hummingbird,
Crowned Chat-TyrantCrowned Chat-TyrantCrowned Chat-Tyrant

This little guy evaded my camera for six weeks, but I finally got him!
Patagona gigas. It is so clearly more than twice the size of the Sparkling Violetear.

I stood up there a while, watching the hummingbird swoop around above me, clearly catching bugs, the heading down to some flowers below me. It stopped a few times, long enough for me to get some great photos. It’s not as colorful as most hummingbirds, but I am just so happy to finally have some good shots of a bird that I see daily, which had so far eluded me.

I was so happy I wanted to skip home, but settled for carefully walking down the slippery stone stairs that lead back down to my neighborhood.

This blog is also posted on my website: www.heatherjasper.com


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Golden-billed SaltatorGolden-billed Saltator
Golden-billed Saltator

Of the few shots I've finally managed to get of the Saltator, this one is the least bad.
The rainThe rain
The rain

These trees are on the hillside above my house. I shot this from standing on my roof, under the shelter of an umbrella during a very heavy rain.


7th May 2020
La Plaza de Armas

La Plaza de Armas, Cusco
A great pic of this iconic town square, Heather. To see the garden in flower in front of Church La Compania de Jesus without the crowds...wow! It amazes me I see so many pics of this church titled Cusco Cathedral, which it is not.

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