COVID-19 in Cusco: Quarantine Week 8

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May 9th 2020
Published: May 10th 2020
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Giant HummingbirdGiant HummingbirdGiant Hummingbird

This is the Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas) which I have been trying to get a good photo of for eight weeks now.
Sunday, 3 May, 2020

49 days down, 7 more to go (I hope)

Today I made my website live!

As with any piece of writing, I wouldn’t call it done, but I had to set myself a deadline to be done enough at some point. It’s been a good creative project to keep me busy and I’ll continue to work on it, especially since I have at least another week of sitting at home. This time, surely, they’ll relax some of the restrictions next Monday. I’ve thought that before. I hate getting my hopes up every time.

Back to the uplifting environmental news, in Peru we have recorded the biggest drop in air pollution. I try to focus on the Pachamama getting a fresh breath of air. I’m trying so hard to stay positive. Even trying to focus on the improvements in air quality doesn’t get me that far. Environmental mitigation efforts and endangered species tracking and reintroduction are on hold, which sets so many projects back months or years. I know I’m not the only person who is vacillating between trying to stay positive and going down the wormhole of all the tragic news of the terrible things happening around the
Hummingbird as RobinHummingbird as RobinHummingbird as Robin

I am only exaggerating a tiny bit that this hummingbird is the size of a robin. The first few times I saw it zoom past my windows I wondered if it could possibly be a hummingbird, since it's so big.

Coronavirus didn’t make the news focus on the negative. I understand that we had already gone there long before most of us had ever heard of Wuhan. Still, the endless articles about how the world is falling apart in the same way is a new phenomenon. We all used to be falling apart for wildly different reasons - usually to do with the disparity of wealth by country. Measles in the US because of rich, white, suburban anti-vaxxers but tuberculosis in India because of overcrowded living conditions in slums. Global warming causes ski resorts in the US to have to rely on summer activities like mountain biking for income, while it causes homelessness in the Maldives as their homes get swept away by rising sea levels.

Now the news is COVID in the US, India, the Maldives and every other country in the world.

I used to read about travel because I like to travel. Now I read everything I can about the predictions for travel because I want to know if I or my friends in Cusco will have any work anytime soon. From what I’ve read, the answer is no. Even Afar, which is

As I continue to look for the silver linings of quarantine in Peru, and the pandemic in general, I have found that staring out the same window into the top of the same pear tree, has given me a lot of opportunities to get photos of the birds who hang out there.
all about international travel, predicts that the future is road trips. The article is mostly focused on people who live in the US. Cusco isn’t very accessible by road. It only takes an hour to fly from Lima to Cusco, but about 18 hours to drive. One of my favorite things about Cusco, that it’s surrounded by mountains, makes it very impractical for any kind of road trip destination.

As I read about a proposed “travel bubble” between New Zealand and Australia, I wonder if maybe we could get tourists from Chile or Argentina before Peru will allow planes to land from North America, Europe or Asia. Why is it that the countries most of our tourists come from are the ones hit the worst? Maybe we’ll be able to get tourists from New Zealand and Australia ...

Monday, 4 May, 2020

Yesterday the government published their plan for reopening Peru in four stages and I’m still going through all of it. Of course, there are no firm dates on any of this, because getting to the next phase will depend on continued decreases in infection rates. In general, each phase is supposed to take about a month. So, Phase 1 is slated for May, which
Patagona gigusPatagona gigusPatagona gigus

I only wish the Sparkling Violet-ear who also hangs out next to my windows would sit on the wire next to the Giant, to get a real sense of how much larger the Giant is than any normal hummingbird.
should get us to Phase 4 in August. Of course, Phase 1 will only start on May 11th and even then not everything allowed in Phase 1 will actually start that day.

Phase 1 will permit a very few activities related to service and tourism. You can read more details (in Spanish) in this article published on

Nowhere in the list for activities permitted in Phase 1 is there anything that will help me, the company I work for, or any of the guides, cooks or porters that I know. May will have nothing for us. Phase 3 includes “transporte internaciónal aéreo” and Phase 4 includes “transporte naciónal e international en general.”

Assuming that we do have tourists by the first week of September, that will have been eight months without income for most porters and guides. I don’t even know if my boss can keep me on at half time through August. Even if I’m his only employee, will he be able to pay me for another four months before the tourists come back?

Tuesday, 5 May, 2020

I moved here the first week of August 2019, intending to be here for at least a few months,
Watching and waitingWatching and waitingWatching and waiting

These sparrows also keep me company every day, hopping around cheerfully.
but maybe up to a year. I still want to be here, but I also want the option to leave, if I need to. Considering current travel bans, leaving is not an option. The US Embassy in Lima repatriated over 8,000 Americans while the Peruvian government was allowing “humanitarian” flights through April 21st. After April 21st, repatriation is being considered on a case-by-case, emergency only basis.

I currently don’t qualify as any kind of emergency, but I finally have to face the fact that the supply of medications that I brought from the US is running out. I have tried going to pharmacies near my house, but none of them carry either of my medications. Today I gathered my courage and went to a clinic to try to get some more information. Clinica Pardo on Avenida la Cultura is the closest to home, so I decided to try there first.

At first there was some confusion with the receptionist when I tried to explain that I didn’t need an examination, just help finding medication that is already prescribed to me. She turned me over to an administrator who was very helpful and found me a doctor who not
The hills above CuscoThe hills above CuscoThe hills above Cusco

The view from my rooftop includes the hills across the valley. These are the hills that you fly so close to when your plan is landing in Cusco.
only wrote me prescriptions for free, but also took my phone to show me how to look up which pharmacies carry them.

Since I work until 1:00, by the time I got to the clinic, got the prescription and figured out where I can buy the meds, it was too late. I wouldn’t have had time to walk there and also get home before curfew at 6:00. I will have to try getting to the pharmacy tomorrow.

Wednesday, 6 May

I limit my news intake, since it’s so rarely good news. Still, sometimes I need a breather between answering emails from frustrated, angry and sad tourists who really had their hearts set on seeing Machu Picchu this year. So, I was looking for something positive on CNN and came across an interview about a “best case” scenario.

Best case sounded positive to me, but when I listened to Anderson Cooper interview Laurie Garrett, it did not sound at all like good news. She said that there are several “miraculous” events that have to happen in her best case scenario.
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Plaza de RecocijoPlaza de RecocijoPlaza de Recocijo

On my one weekly outing I went to the Casa Cusco ATM next to the Plaza Recocijo, which I used to walk through on my way to work every day.
font-variant-east-asian: normal; font-variant-position: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre;" dir="ltr">In the next ten months (by next February) we have found a vaccine that is safe and works. It would have to go into large scale clinical trials before the end of 2020.The vaccine must require only one dose, no booster, not require refrigeration, and it must not need to be injected. It needs to be a nasal spray, pill or patch so that it can be easily transported to remote communities all around the world without relying on trained medical professionals and a supply of syringes.Nobody files for a patent, so it can be globally produced, not by just one company. The recipe for making the vaccine must be free for any company, anywhere in the world.<li style="list-style-type: decimal; font-size: 11pt; font-family: Arial; color:� background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal;
Colonial CuscoColonial CuscoColonial Cusco

The steps up to the cathedral, the wooden balconies and the dome of the Monesterio de Santa Catalina, all are the colonial architecture built on Inca foundations.
font-variant-ligatures: normal; font-variant-caps: normal; font-variant-east-asian: normal; font-variant-position: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre;" dir="ltr">There is a global army of volunteers to administer the vaccine to all 7.5 billion people on the planet, even in the highest mountains and most remote areas of the Amazon.

If all of that transpires, we could wipe out Covid-19 in 36 months. If we miss any of these steps, it will take well over three years before we see the end of this virus.

This best case scenario doesn’t sound promising or likely. Maybe she’s wrong, but her CV is pretty impressive and she has done a lot of research and published books about this kind of pandemic. How we can get a vaccine of any kind to every human on this planet will be its own kind of miracle.

Closer to home, I did manage to buy my medications at a pharmacy today. The doctor yesterday had warned me to expect them to be expensive, but they are still way more expensive here than I could have ever imagined. From the Kaiser mail order pharmacy in Seattle, I paid about $12 per month. Here the price is closer to

What would the Incas think now, of what humanity has been reduced to and of what we have done to their Pachamama? If we still had the mummies of all the past Incas, what would their caretakers tell us that they thought of our present situation. Would they tell us that we deserve everything that we're getting?
$200 per month.

My Mom always tells me that I have more options than I think I do, so I started casting around for more ideas. One odd aspect of the quarantine is that time seems to stop and I had to do a double take on the date. It’s May! My four month waiting period after becoming a permanent resident is now over. I received my permanent resident status (carnet de extranjeria) at the end of December, so my waiting period was through the end of April. Now I can go to the public hospital!

This is likely to be its own bureaucratic challenge, but I am positive that it will not cost me $200 per month to buy medications that I’m used to paying $12 for. And from a journalistic perspective, this is likely to be quite an experience.

Thursday, 7 May

Today, while I was replying to an email from a very frustrated traveler, who obviously can’t come to Peru this May, I got a message from a coworker with a letter attached. The letter is from “Econ. Jean Paul Benavente Garcia Gobernador Regional del Cusco.” It’s entitled “ASUNTO: Memo on the city
Cathedral doorsCathedral doorsCathedral doors

I love the doors in Cusco, and the doors of the cathedral are among my favorites.
of Cusco entering Phase 3 of the Pandemic of Covid-19.”

It’s not good news.

She circled this part: “Entering in Phase 3 means that we must implement an obligatory social isolation, for which we must extend for two (2) more weeks, the obligatory social isolation in the Region of Cusco (which includes curfew) with special attention in the cities of Cusco, Quillabamba, Yauri, Urcos, Urubamba, Calca, Pisac and Sicuani; the rest of the locations will follow the restrictions of the national social isolation restrictions.” (my translation)

So, I’m not expecting good news from President Vizcarra during his address tomorrow at 1:00pm. My enthusiasm for his leadership has waned as this drags on and the quarantine is extended every time I get my hopes up that the stated end date will be the actual end date.

I’m not saying that I would rather be in the US with the disastrous leadership vacuum in DC. I’m still happy to be in Peru and happier still to be in Cusco. I’m putting a lot of stock in the study I mentioned last week, published by the National Institutes of Health about how COVID is less contagious and less deadly at high altitude. I am still sharing this with
Ancient doorsAncient doorsAncient doors

Even if I prefer Inca architecture, I do love the solid doors that are clearly from the era when the Spanish ruled Cusco.
everybody I think might be able to read English. The results of the study are still making me optimistic about the odds that we continue to have low numbers of cases and no deaths in Cusco. (I am no longer counting the three tourists who arrived here sick in March and were unable to get home before they died. They didn’t catch the virus here and were not acclimatized to the altitude here). No Cusqueñians have died. For me, that is not only a huge relief, but also a positive sign for an optimistic future here in Cusco.

This afternoon was my weekly trip to the San Blas market to buy food. The same hand washing station is still there. There is still a police officer watching us count to 20 as we wash our hands and step through the bleach. And yet, with the results of that study constantly in my mind, I’m less neurotic about not touching tables and other surfaces at the market. I’m no longer afraid of the foil wrapper on the butter or of touching the bananas. The whole ordeal of shopping is much less nerve wracking than it was the first few weeks
Locked up tightLocked up tightLocked up tight

The doors of Cusco are all locked as tight as they can be. I was so used to walking by open shops, hotels and restaurants every day, it is eery to see them all closed.
of quarantine.

Friday, 8 May

All morning I tried not to think about it too much, but while I was working, I kept wondering what the president would announce today. His address was at 1:00, right when I got done with work.

As predicted yesterday in the letter from the Regional Governor of Cusco, we have another two weeks of quarantine. You can read the details and watch his address here.

Basically, it just means that nothing changes for me. I am still required to be in my home unless I need to buy food or go to a pharmacy or bank. The police or military who patrol the streets can send me home or fine me or arrest me if I leave the house for anything other than those three reasons. We still have a curfew and nobody is allowed to leave their houses at all on Sunday, except for medical emergencies.

Apparently, they haven’t read the study that had me so optimistic about Cusco being more or less okay throughout the pandemic.

Thankfully, my friend Henry came over to meet me in the park, regardless of the legality of us sitting in
Looking towards the futureLooking towards the futureLooking towards the future

Like the wheat on this door, there are many symbols of good luck and a bright future that people put on the doors here. If I thought that wheat would bring back the Cusco I miss, I would happily nail some to every door in town.
a park, ten feet away from each other.

We initially had agreed to talk business. He is considering starting his own business and wanted to talk through some of it with me. We did that for about an hour, after which he had a long list of things to do and research before our next conversation. I then turned the conversation to something that I’ve been turning over in my head for the past eight weeks: How can we help the porters who have not worked for months are not likely to get any work at all in 2020?

Two hours later, we had agreed to start a charity organization and Henry and I each had a list of things to accomplish before our next meeting. His list includes things like finding where in Cusco we can get large quantities of basic non-perishable food at bulk prices, which village we will start with and how we will get there. My list includes creating a Facebook page, Instagram account and gmail address. I created the Facebook page for the Covid Relief Project, an Instagram with the same name and the email

I’m also in charge
Historic architectureHistoric architectureHistoric architecture

Due to the continuous earthquakes here, many historic buildings have each stone labeled so that it can be correctly reassembled after it's destroyed. Look carefully at the white letters and numbers on each stone.
of drumming up donations. I raced through those first three online tasks in about an hour. Now I have to focus on how to get donations. That will be a much more time consuming part of the project. Maybe it’s good that I have another two weeks stuck at home.

Saturday, 9 May

55 days of quarantine down, 15 more to go

The resetting of those numbers would be so depressing if I wasn’t so excited about the Covid Relief Project. It’s finally a sunny morning, after a week of cloudy and rainy weather. Kerry and I took our beach towels up to the roof to read our books in the sun.

I’m constantly jotting down ideas in the notebook that Henry and I were working with yesterday. I’m trying not to add more tasks for each of us, but instead focus on how to accomplish the ones we already agreed on yesterday. Still, I always like having a new project and this one has the potential to be really fantastic. If we can use this first donation that we have to make a real difference for a community or village, then I can take lots

Even in the center of a busy city like Cusco, there are abandoned homes, with just the doors left, leading to a vacant lot behind them.
of photos and write about the experience, which will hopefully bring in more donations. Since Henry and I still have other sources of income, we can spend all of the money donated on buying food and the transportation to get it there.

The sun feels good and I still haven’t finished the Hemingway book that Steve lent me last week. I will go back to my Isabel Allende book when I’ve finished Hemingway, but I don’t want to read too fast until I know that I can find another book to read after these two.

Andrea and Kerry have planned another popcorn and movie night tonight, so I even have something to look forward to after the sun goes down.

If I can fill these next two weeks with the Covid Relief Project, reading a book in the sun on the roof and watching movies with my housemates, I’ll be okay. Earlier this week I was doubting my ability to stay sane during the quarantine, but I’m more confident now that not only can I keep from going crazy, I can actually do something that will help people.

Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


Predicting adding two more weeks of quarantinePredicting adding two more weeks of quarantine
Predicting adding two more weeks of quarantine

This letter, dated before President Vizcarra announced that we are adding on weeks 9 and 10 to our quarantine, declared that in the region of Cusco, regardless of the rest of the country, we are going to continue to stay home.
Predictions for tourismPredictions for tourism
Predictions for tourism

Honestly, I don't see tourists going far past their neighborhood or city this spring. Maybe later in the summer they'll venture out into their state, province or region. When will they come back to Peru?

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