COVID-19 in Cusco: Quarantine Week 11

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May 31st 2020
Published: May 31st 2020
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Mt. AusangateMt. AusangateMt. Ausangate

The highlight of walking up past the Temple of the Moon is this view of Ausangate. My favorite peak in the Peruvian Andes and one of the most sacred Apus in Quechua and Inca culture.
Sunday, 24 May

70 days down, 37 to go

Today, like the past nine Sundays, nobody is allowed to leave their home, except for emergency medical care. Friday President Vizcarra announced that there would be some modifications starting Monday, with more businesses allowed to open. But let’s be clear, Peru is still under a State of Emergency, with mandatory quarantine, restricted movement and curfew.

Tomorrow the rules of the game will change yet again and I am so very happy about the allowance for people to go outside for something other than food and pharmacy. Businesses like veterinarians and dentists will be allowed to open, as well as plumbing and hardware stores. People will now be allowed to drive their own cars to the grocery store. From what I hear, all of these are allowed in the US, even in states where people were under strict orders to stay home. I have no need for a veterinarian or dentist, but I will use any relaxation of the rules to find a way to go hiking in the hills above town.

For the past eight weeks, my ability to sit outside in the sun with a book has
The Inca RoadsThe Inca RoadsThe Inca Roads

This is part of the trail leading east from the Temple of the Moon. There is just no mistaking the ancient road system build during Inca times. The way they lead out of Cusco reminds me of the roads leaving from Pueblo Bonito in New Mexico.
been restricted to my roof. It should be ten weeks, but I was cheating the first two weeks by sneaking out of the house so early in the morning that it was still dark. My plan was always to go for a hike and get back home so early that nobody noticed. That worked for two weeks, until the police noticed me. Here’s hoping that tomorrow I can go for a walk after work, and that if the police see me, they won’t care.

Monday, 25 May, 2020

I haven’t been this anxious for 1pm to roll around in a very long time. All morning, while working, sitting on my couch as I have been the past ten weeks, I keep checking the time. It reminds me of every Calvin & Hobbes when Calvin is at school, watching the clock, waiting for the day to be over.

Leaving the house, I can’t help feeling that I’m doing something scandalous, dangerous even. However, only a few minutes from home I’m already seeing more people than usual. Apparently I’m not the only one who has had it with quarantine. I still take the back stairs and hidden paths behind
Hiking companionsHiking companionsHiking companions

These three dogs, napping in the shade, were often my hiking companions on my 6am hikes back in March. The black dog on the far right is in the previous photo, hiking with me on the previous day. They are the reason that I usually carry a small bag of dog food with me on my hikes around Cusco.
people’s homes, avoiding the roads. I am still only exposed to any passing vehicles of police or military at one road crossing, and I still can’t help standing behind a tree, listening to be sure that no vehicles are coming before I cross the road.

I soon realize that I really don’t have to be that cautious. The higher I climb into the hills, the more people I see. Some of them aren’t even wearing the required masks. (gasp!) I didn’t even consider inviting anybody to go hiking with me, assuming that being alone I would attract less attention. Only 20 minutes out of town, I see whole families picnicking and groups of teenagers walking with their dogs. I finally let my guard down and relax a bit.

Except for the families picnicking with small children, everybody is pretty spread out. The hills are probably the safest place I could be. It is very easy to be not only ten feet from the next person, it's easy to be over a hundred feet from them. The ancient Inca road that I follow is at least ten feet wide and everybody automatically walks as far as possible from anybody
Inca buildings everywhereInca buildings everywhereInca buildings everywhere

These are some of the foundations of ancient buildings that I've walked by dozens of times, usually intent in getting somewhere. One of the benefits of the quarantine freezing normal life is that I don't really have anywhere else to do or anything else to do.
they pass. The Inca trail leads me out of town, up into the hills, past the Temple of the Moon, over a stream, then farther east, following the ridge above Cusco towards Ausangate. I’ve only seen the great Apu from town for almost three months. It was always hidden by clouds during my early morning walks during the rainy month of March.

Approaching the Temple of the Moon, I see a man with one of the official Ministry of Culture vests, just like those who monitor all archeological sites. Even though he waves me back to the trail, saying that the Temple is closed, I am happy to see him. Archeological sites, Machu Picchu included, are closed until July 1st. Sending somebody out to protect the Temple is proof to me that the Ministry of Culture is employing people again. Starting today, there are a lot more people back at work and therefore a lot more people with some income.

I wave back to him and happily continue on the trail, over the stream and up through groves of trees. I see an elderly woman with a herd that’s half lambs, cute and clumsy, tripping over each other
Temple of the MoonTemple of the MoonTemple of the Moon

From the northeast, you can't see all the stairs or carvings on the Temple of the Moon, but the cleft that goes down into the cave is quite obvious.
as they scamper after their mothers. At several points along the trail I see Sparkling Violetear hummingbirds. I can now hear them, before I see them. After ten weeks of sitting on the couch, typing on this computer or reading, I have learned to recognize the calls of the birds who pass by my windows. I don’t always look up when the tanagers or pigeons come through, but at the sound of a hummingbird I drop the book and grab my camera. There are two species who come by my windows every day and their calls sound as distinct to me as the voices of my housemates Kerry and Andrea. The call of the Sparkling Violetear is a sharp squeak, almost like a mouse. The Giant hummingbird (Patagona gigus) has a much louder and shriller squeak, bordering on a screech.

As much as I have enjoyed my little photo studio, which is the top of my neighbor’s pear tree, it is so wonderful to see them in the great outdoors again. No adobe walls in the background of the photo, just wildflowers and leaves starting to turn yellow with the arrival of the dry season.

Tuesday, 26 May,

Walking back down towards town, I pass through several areas of eucalyptus trees. I often see birds, high in the branches, but rarely are able to get decent shots of them. When I got home from this hike I learned the Spanish word Cernicalo and the Quechua Quilichu.

Damn. The media are on to us. I was hoping they would stick with Brazil. Yesterday this article was hidden on a back page, but today it’s front and center. Peru is a Covid-19 hotspot. This is really not what I want tourists to see. There are stats in this article that are totally valid, and explain a lot about why Peru has skyrocketing numbers of Covid: “only 49 percent of Peruvian households own a refrigerator or freezer ... only about 38 percent of adults have a bank account … more than 30 percent of households in Peru live in overcrowded conditions, with four or more people sleeping in the same room … more than 72 percent work in the informal economy.”

Basically, only 49 percent of Peruvians can buy food for more than two or three days at a time. Only 38 percent of adults can receive government assistance without bunching up at a bank and violating social distancing rules. More than 30 percent of Peruvians are completely unable to follow any social distancing rules. More than 72 percent cannot stay home for 11 weeks like I can, because they have to earn something every day, in order to be
Sparkling VioletearSparkling VioletearSparkling Violetear

These are the hummingbirds that I see most often out my windows at home. After eleven weeks of taking photos of them in the top of the same tree, it's beautiful to see them out in a more natural area.
able to buy any food.

What I really wish was in this article, was the percentage of Covid cases that are in Lima: 70 percent

Actually, what I really wish, was that this article started with a big disclaimer that the label “Covid-19 hotspot” applies to Lima, but not Cusco, and that tourists shouldn’t be worried about visiting Machu Picchu or flying into Cusco. And that they shouldn’t cancel any trek that they have scheduled with my company.

The problem in Peru is pretty similar to what I have been reading about New York City. People are too poor to follow the rules in several well documented zip codes in NYC. The people in the Bronx and certain low income communities have to leave home for work. Their homes are crowded. They just are not able to social distance like those in Manhattan.

It’s so disheartening. It’s hard to not worry about when the tourists will come back, when the guides and porters will have any work. I understand that news is not the best place to look for something to cheer me up, but today I did find some fantastic news to help me forget that CNN has labeled Peru a Covid hotspot: Costa Rica legalized same sex marriage! That is some good news that I can get excited about! I remember arriving in the Chicago airport (from either Turkey or Bangladesh) and seeing the newspaper headlines that the US Supreme Court had finally ruled in favor of marriage equality. The image on the front page was a drawing of the blindfolded Lady Justice, holding a document reading DOMA Ruling, jumping into the arms of a smiling Statue of Liberty. (Google tells me that this was drawn by Paul Ingraham). Arriving back in the US on that day, June 27th, 2015, that headline made me so proud to be an American. I hope that Costa Ricans are equally proud today to be the first country in Central America to have marriage equality.

Wednesday, 27 May, 2020

Today I got some bad news about my father’s health. He’s stable and has great care, with a team led by a doctor that has worked with him before. The rational part of my brain knows that he’ll be fine, but the irrational part immediately started catastrophizing. This quickly brought the realization that I probably couldn’t go home, even if I wanted to, even if I was
Black-throated Flower-piercerBlack-throated Flower-piercerBlack-throated Flower-piercer

Back home, the same birds I've been photographing for the past eleven weeks are still there to keep me company.
needed there.

If I wanted to go be with my parents now, I would have to get on a list with the US Embassy in Lima. Regular repatriation flights ended April 20th, but they are still able to help people in emergencies, on a case by case basis. Today I got an email from the Embassy stating: “The U.S. Embassy is working diligently to confirm additional repatriation flight options. As of today, we have not received flight permissions for next week. We will share new and pertinent information as soon as it becomes available.”

Assuming that I could get on a flight in the next week or two, I would still have to figure out how to get to Lima. My housemate Andrea has been trying to get to Lima for two months, without any success. This was included in the same email from the Embassy quoted above: “The U.S. Embassy provides transit letters to the organizing airline or travel agency for use by ticket holders in the Lima area. Ticketed passengers in Lima should contact the airline or travel provider to receive a transit letter. Travelers coming from outside Lima should complete our Transit Letter Request Form ( after purchasing
Crowned Chat-TyrantCrowned Chat-TyrantCrowned Chat-Tyrant

This little guy has been the hardest to photograph but after eleven weeks, I'm finally getting some good shots. I feel like he's almost feeling sorry for my hundreds of blurry shots of his back and finally decided to pose for the camera.
a ticket on a repatriation flight. Please submit your request at least 24 hours prior to traveling to Lima. For additional information, email” Transit letters are key, since it’s illegal to travel. Without official permission, I would be arrested.

Assuming that I could get to Lima, the flights are very expensive and would only get me as far as Miami. I would have to piece together flights from Miami to somewhere like Chicago or Denver or Salt Lake City, for a connecting flight to Boise. That would that be both complicated and expensive, considering how few flights are currently operating.

Assuming I could get flights all the way to Boise, I would have gone through three major airports on the way: Lima, Miami and at least one other, if not two. All that exposure to people and their germs would make me very cautious who I got near upon arrival to Boise. I might have to isolate myself in a hotel room for two weeks and find a way to get tested for Covid, before I got to actually hug my Mom in person.

That is probably a month or so, all told. So,
Life coming back to the Plaza de ArmasLife coming back to the Plaza de ArmasLife coming back to the Plaza de Armas

The few times I have to cross the plaza to go to the bank, it is usually deserted. This is the first time I've gotten a shot of a civilian in the plaza, since in the past eleven weeks it's mostly police and military.
if today I wanted to go to Boise to be with my parents, I might be able to get there by mid-June and perhaps be able to actually see my parents in late June.

That not only sounds like it would take so long as to not be worth it, also, the expense and risk of exposure to the virus makes it even less worth it.

Thursday, 28 May, 2020

I went for another walk today. My housemates asked if I was going to walk anywhere different, since I already went up to the Temple of the Moon on Monday and Tuesday this week. There are other places I could go, but they’re not such a direct route up to the hills from my house. If you go almost directly uphill, and a bit to the right, from my house, you will get to the Temple of the Moon. Any other hike would require me to walk along roads or through other neighborhoods.

Covid has made me just a bit of an anthrophobic, which I expect is a pretty common experience around the world these days. I would rather go on the same hike every day,
Apu AusangateApu AusangateApu Ausangate

The higher I climb in the hills above town, the more amazing of a view I find.
if I know that I will be going by as few houses, streets and people as possible.

Today, the black dog that joined me on my Tuesday hike wasn’t in his usual spot. I usually carry a little bag of dog food in my pocket, to reward whichever dog sticks with me to the end of the hike. Today, nobody was there, but I found them higher up the trail, napping in the shade. Perhaps they have been hiking with other people, since there are now more people out on the trails. I pour a little pile of dog food by each one’s head as I walk by. There’s no sense carrying it around, even if these guys aren’t hiking with me. They all seemed happy to wake up from their siesta to a snack right under their muzzle.

The other highlight of this hike was the kestrel. I saw it glide down and grab something out of the tall grass, then fly up to the top of a eucalyptus tree. I assumed it was a mouse and managed to follow it with my eyes up to the perch, where it promptly turned its back to me so
Chico and MacaChico and MacaChico and Maca

As people start to emerge with "modifications" of the quarantine rules, I start to see more people out in the hills. On this hike I ran into my friend Juanita who was walking her dog Chico and Chico's friend Maca.
I couldn’t see exactly what it was eating. After a bit, it turned around and I got a few great photos of it. Just as I was about to finish my walk back home, a family with four small children walked by, heading uphill. I showed the children the photos on my camera, but couldn’t for the life of me remember the word for kestrel in either Spanish or Quechua.

I have been intending to spend more time learning Quechua, but after almost eleven weeks I have probably only learned about a dozen more words than I knew before quarantine. Today’s word of the day, Quilichu, is embarrassingly more than I learned all last week. So much for making the most of quarantine.

Friday, 29 May, 2020

Today I actually went to a grocery store. I’ve managed to do this only once per month, since most things I can get at the market. However, the grocery store is better for olive oil, vinegar, milk and shampoo - basically the heavy stuff. I take a backpack for the grocery store trips because it’s almost a mile and very much downhill - which makes coming home with a heavy
76th Anniversary!76th Anniversary!76th Anniversary!

Kerry bought us roses and a pink sparkling wine to celebrate the 76th day of being quarantined together.
backpack all uphill.

There wasn’t a line at the grocery store, which was really nice. Like most countries around the world, all stores in Peru have to minimize the number of people inside at any given time. So, no line means that the store really doesn’t have many people in it.

The past two months I have had to wear a mask, get my hands sprayed with alcohol and get my temperature taken with one of those laser thermometers that they can hold about a foot away from my forehead. Every time they say my temperature out loud and for some reason it’s always just a little under normal. Maybe because it’s now winter and I’m cold almost all the time. (As I write, sitting on the couch, I am wearing fleece pants over my pajama pants, a fleece jacket over my pajama top and a down vest, with a wool poncho as a lap blanket.)

A couple weeks ago, they added the requirement to wear gloves. I happened to already have some, which I bought expecting that to become a requirement at the San Blas market. The market still has a handwashing station with liquid soap and a police officer watching that you count to 20 while you wash your hands. Before I entered the grocery store to get my temperature taken, I put on the gloves, which they sprayed with alcohol. I figured that was protocol, so I didn’t bother saying that they were new and therefore already clean.

Cusco has had a butter shortage for the past week or two, so when I saw a box of butter I figured that I could stock up for the three of us at home. I might be the only one who uses butter in apple pie crust, but we all use it on popcorn and toast. Unfortunately, I didn’t bother to read the box until I got home: 84 units of 10 grams each. I brought home a box of 84 of the little butter pats that you find on restaurant tables, in little plastic tubs. All three of us were dismayed by the massive waste in packaging, but it really was the only option. I suppose that products made for restaurants will be more available than the usual products made for consumers. We can have butter packaged for restaurants, or no butter.

Just for the record, today, like every day since we went into lockdown on March 16th, there was plenty of toilet paper at the store. Every little shop, market and grocery store I have seen in the past three months has plenty of toilet paper. If travel wasn’t so impossible, I would tell my friends and family in the US to do their shopping here. I will trade toilet paper for butter!

Another result of quarantine is that I’ve definitely learned to run all my errands at the same time, minimizing the number of times I have to be around people. So, today I went by some wholesalers, conveniently located right on the road I walk from my house to the grocery store.

I was comparing prices for next week’s big purchase of supplies for the Covid Relief Project. We will be delivering food to families in the community of Sut’uc, which is located about a two hour walk from the nearest road. The families are all farmers, so they have corn and quinoa and potatoes, but that’s about it.

The only people in Sut’uc who used to have jobs outside of the community were porters on the Inca Trail. As I’ve explained in previous blogs, the last time most porters had any work was the holiday season. Tourism normally picks back up in early March and porters can expect to work back to back trips throughout May and June, sometimes also in July and August. They have not worked in about five months, and the way things are going, might not work at all in 2020.

They can survive on corn, quinoa and potatoes, but can’t we do better than just survive? Even in the midst of a global pandemic? I want to bring 5 kilos of rice and a bottle of cooking oil, like we did on May 16th, but also a kilo of powdered milk and 5 kilos of oatmeal for the kids. Oatmeal fortified with calcium, iron and vitamins is a very common meal for little kids here, and it’s obviously even better if you add powdered milk. The best price I got for those quantities of rice, oats, oil and milk is s/63.97. (s/ stands for Peruvian Soles, the way that $ stands for US dollars). Rounded up to s/64, that comes to $19 with our current exchange rate and I need to raise $950 for 50 families.

We only have a week, so I deleted the powdered milk from the list, just in case we don’t make $950. Without the milk it’s s/39.37. Round that up to s/40 and that’s $12 and I need to raise $600 to bring rice, oats and oil to 50 families. That seems like a good back up, in case we don’t get to $950 by next Friday.

Just like last time, the community has promised to provide transportation. So, just like last time, we should be able to spend all of the money donated on food, without any being spent on transportation or other expenses.

I am elated! This is all so exciting! The day before yesterday I was crying over realizing that I couldn’t actually get to Boise if my parents needed me. Yesterday, when I asked Mom what I could do to help, she replied “Help some villages in the mountains who don’t have enough food.” So, here I am, throwing all my energy back into the Covid Relief Project.

Saturday, 30 May, 2020

76 days down, 31 to go

People shouldn't get the lowest quality, just because they’re getting a free handout. The rice and oil are medium quality. The milk and oats on my list are the most popular brands. It would be nice if I could take some sugar too. I know how comforting my stress-baking is. They deserve to be able to make something sweet just as much as I do. Maybe more.

The village itself is a two hour walk from the nearest road. They will provide transportation for us to a spot on the road where one representative of each family will meet us. They don't want us coming up to the village and rightly so. There are no Covid cases in their village. They shouldn't take any risk of us bringing the virus from Cusco.

I wonder, how much would they be earning each week if this had been a normal May? During May and June, they should be able to get work every day, if they want it. Guides and porters sometimes take off only two or three days a month from May through August. They rarely get more than two or three days of work a month from November through February, so it all evens out. Well, it would even out, if 2020 was remotely normal. Unfortunately, that is not the reality that we all are facing right now.

Any yet - people used to say “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Now it’s something like “Don’t let the virus grind us down.” So, at my house we decided to throw another 3 person party tonight. Kerry bought roses and a pink sparkling wine. We ordered burgers to be delivered, since delivery is now legal. We watched a comedy and celebrated our 76th anniversary of being locked up together, and still getting along!

This blog and information about the Covid Relief Project is at


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