COVID-19 in Cusco: Quarantine Week 13

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June 13th 2020
Published: June 14th 2020
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Tawantinsuyu FlagTawantinsuyu FlagTawantinsuyu Flag

For hundreds of years, the rainbow has been the symbol of Cusco and the Inca Empire, which was ruled from here. They called their country Tawantinsuyu, named for the four parts of the empire.
Sunday, 7 June, 2020

85 days of quarantine down, 23 to go

Yesterday was an incredible success! Frustratingly, Travelblog is not uploading photos this weekend, so If you missed last week or want to see the photos of the second event of the Covid Relief Project, check here. Also, here's the link to the video about yesterday (which I don't finish until Friday of this week. Sneak peek of the future!).

Another Sunday means another day at home. This is the twelfth Sunday of quarantine, when nobody is allowed to leave their home except for emergency medical services. Only hospitals and clinics are open, no pharmacies, no grocery stores or any of the handful of other businesses that are allowed to be open. That leaves me with birdwatching, reading The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea, blogging and working on a video about yesterday.

I had asked a few friends for tips on fundraising and was advised to make a video of this second event. I took hundreds of photos of the first event on May 16th, but no video. It honestly didn’t occur to me. I’m so used to still photos for the blog and website that I hardly ever
Taking back the PlazaTaking back the PlazaTaking back the Plaza

These hand washing stations, all around town, usually have a big sign about how to properly wash your hands. This one used to have that sign, but it obviously impinged on the beauty of the plaza and was broken off. I do love the ingenuity of making fire hydrants into hand washing stations.
shoot video. As my first video, this will probably take me a while.

The same Blue and Yellow Tanagers, Black Throated Flower-Piercers, Sparkling Violetear hummingbirds, sparrows, thrushes, doves and pigeons are here to entertain me. They have been faithful companions these past thirteen weeks. I can still hardly believe that I’ve been sitting on this couch, watching these same birds, for thirteen weeks. Did any of us imagine that Peru’s quarantine could possibly go on this long? Anyone who’s not an epidemiologist, that is?

I am certainly not alone in spending so much time birdwatching out my window, even if most people around the world don’t have an all day Sunday curfew. This article from the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds starts with the sad tale of a birder stuck in his hotel room in Iquitos, Peru. He came here planning to add more than 100 birds to his life list in the Peruvian Amazon.

He and I are not the only ones doing all of our birding out our windows, the article notes that in many places “reporting rates doubled or even tripled for suburban species.” I am certainly learning a lot about the birds that I
Plaza de ArmasPlaza de ArmasPlaza de Armas

The Tawantinsuyu flag has flown at half-mast since the first Covid-19 deaths in Peru, back in March.
can see out my windows and I hope that if that birder is still in Iquitos, that he has trees out his windows.

It is quite unlikely that he is still in Peru. Commercial flights in and out of Peru stopped on March 15th, but many embassies worked hard to get permission for “humanitarian” flights to repatriate their citizens. That evacuated a lot of people from Peru, tourists and temporary residents like my friend Viviana who went home to Switzerland. However, those repatriation fights ended on April 20th.

Since then, I continue to get emails from the US Embassy in Lima about commercial companies who occasionally get permission from the Peruvian government to fly out of the Group 8 Airforce base near Lima. Commercial airports are all closed, but the US Embassy is still facilitating US citizens and permanent residents return to the US. These are still very restricted flights and there are only a few per month. They are always sold out.

My housemate Kerry is still here with me, sticking out the pandemic in Cusco because as a British citizen she wouldn’t be able to fly to the US, where she had a job waiting
Inca and SpanishInca and SpanishInca and Spanish

One thing I love about Cusco is the mix of Spanish and Inca architecture on every street. The stones along the roofline of the building on the left are very Inca, while the Santa Catalina convent on he right is about as Spanish as you can get.
for her that started June 1st. As long as she hasn’t found a job back in England, there’s no hurry to leave and Cusco is clearly a safer place during the pandemic anyway.

Monday, 8 June 2020

I am so thankful to all the donors who made last Saturday possible, but just like after the May 16th event, I feel a bit of a let down. Something I worked so hard for, for weeks, is over. I took yesterday off, and did very little besides birdwatching and blogging, but today I need to concentrate again.

I’m working on the video from Saturday and plan to also video interviews of both Henry and Auqui. Hopefully, with those on Facebook, Instagram and the website, we will get more donations for the next event. For May 16th, we had seven donors but for June 6th we had 21! My goal for the third event is 30 donors. If we can add another 10 donors to each event, it will make my ask of $10 or $20 more genuine. Of course, every person who donated $10 to last Saturday made a big difference, but I was honestly so relieved when a

This Spanish church was built on the foundations of the Inca Qorikancha, a temple with places to worship both the sun and the moon. The lawn out front is usually full of kids playing, but of course, all kids are confined to their homes during the pandemic.
few $100 donations came in. Even with a threefold increase in donors, $10 each would have been only $210. Saturday was wildly successful because we got a total of $1211 in donations.

With that much money, we were able to buy more than just the basics. The rice, sugar and vegetable oil are what people get from most charities. With so much in donations, we were also able to give expensive items like powdered milk, oatmeal and panettone. Panettone is very popular here over the holidays and a must from every employer at Christmas. Rice is a handout, but panettone is a gift. The event felt festive and celebratory, partly because we were bringing gifts, not just handouts.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

After work today I got to start my new job! Working part time for the trekking agency, from 9am to 1pm, has given me more time in the afternoon than I can fill with birdwatching and finding donors for the Covid Relief Project. I’ve been casting around for new work to both fill the time and supplement my income.

I’m barely breaking even each month, which isn’t too worrisome, since I do have some
Temple of the MoonTemple of the MoonTemple of the Moon

These are part of the carvings and caves that make the underneath part of the Temple of the Moon.
savings. Still, comfortably breaking even would be much better. I would like to not have to calculate whether or not I can afford the good coffee or if I have to go with the cheap coffee. The coffee in Peru is just too good to drink the cheap stuff.

I’ve put the word out to friends in Cusco that I’m available for one on one tutoring in French, English or Spanish. There are a few foreigners here who have expressed interest in Spanish tutoring, but my first lesson today was English, for the owner of a local coffee shop. He spent at least half an hour explaining about the different coffee brewing methods used in his shop, along with an explanation of the holy triangle of time, temperature and ground which can give you the “gold cup” as he said.

I learned a lot about coffee and got a good feel for what he needs to work on. We settled on one hour every Tuesday afternoon and I have a good list of topics for future lessons. His coffee shop, like all coffee shops in Cusco, is closed. He is still selling coffee as either whole bean or
Inca RoadsInca RoadsInca Roads

Leading from the Temple of the Moon are more than one ancient Inca Road. These roads radiate out from Cusco in all directions.
already ground, but nothing else.

Very few people in Cusco have any income anymore. Everybody I know used to work directly in tourism as guides, drivers, porters on the Inca Trail and in hotels and restaurants. Not one of them has had a job since March 15th.

Obviously, I can’t charge much per hour here and almost hesitated to ask for s/20 an hour. (s/ is the symbol for soles, the Peruvian currency).That’s less than $6. Last year, when I was living in Seattle, one on one tutoring in French or Spanish could easily go for $40 or $50 an hour. Nobody in Cusco could afford that, even when things were normal. The sky high unemployment in Cusco now makes me hesitate to ask for s/20, so we’ll see how many people take me up on the offer.

An interesting result in the hard stop in tourism here has been the availability of AirBnbs as monthly rentals. Places that used to go for $50 a night are now offering monthly rates as low as s/200 (about $58). A friend of mine just moved into one, and my price estimates come from his house hunting. I would be
Sparkling Violetear in eucalyptus Sparkling Violetear in eucalyptus Sparkling Violetear in eucalyptus

All across the hillsides above Cusco, you'll see the same hummingbirds that I can see out my window. They are fiercely territorial and I watched this little one chase off several intruders.
very tempted, if I hadn’t signed a year lease, and if I actually wanted to move. For now, I’m content with my location so close to the San Blas market and with the birds I can see out my windows.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Today the presidential decree of an extended State of Emergency begins, for another 90 days. Reading the fine print, this does not extend the quarantine as it is now. However, it does give the president the power to reinstate the quarantine or curfews, as needed.

Currently, besides a 9pm curfew and all day Sunday curfew (is it a curfew if it’s all day?) I don’t feel very restricted in how I move around Cusco. Most businesses are still closed, but we are allowed to be outside for an hour to exercise, as long as we stay within 500 meters of our homes. The Temple of the Moon is about 2 kilometers away, but still worth the risk.

I always carry an empty ibuprofen box in my pocket, along with some cash and my ID and phone. Hopefully, the story of going to the pharmacy to buy ibuprofen is believable. My Peruvian permanent resident card doesn’t have my current address
The VioletearThe VioletearThe Violetear

In this shot you can see the violet ear that this species is named after.
on it, which could be a problem or could be an advantage. It all depends on the humor of the police or military who stop me in the street.

This afternoon, a guide I know came over for some help with a visa application for Canada. He was contacted by a company offering to facilitate applications for a 6 month guest worker visa. Thankfully, he was suspicious when they asked for over $2,000 up front, with another $2,000 when he arrived.

He showed me the emails they had sent and described his phone call with them last week. We looked at their website, which looked pretty normal to me. Then we checked the Canadian Better Business Bureau. The company was founded in 2015 and has been under investigation by the BBB since 2016, though never approved. That was enough for me to tell him that this doesn’t look like a good idea.

Next, we checked the Canadian government immigration website. On their fraud alert page, we read through the list of what to look for when suspecting a scam. On the lists of what they will write in emails and what they will say in phone calls,

Now that I know where to look, I see kestrels every time I hike up to the Temple of the Moon.
we checked every box.

I was sad, because people here need work so badly and the prospect of work in Canada, even for only six months, is so tempting. I was also relieved that he knew to come to me, when it started to seem odd to him. Mostly though, I was angry that there are people so willing to take advantage of Peruvians who are desperate and who don’t understand legalese in English.

All of the guides I know here dream of international travel. Temporary work visas are the easiest way to afford that travel. One of my friends here, Gaspar, has traveled to the US (including Seattle), England, France, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Ecuador and every region of Peru. He is one of the lucky few.

Most guides never have the opportunity to travel internationally, although they spend their days with people who come from all over the world. Tourists tell them about their homes, cities and countries. They also hear innumerable stories about the other countries that these tourists have visited. It’s like working in an ice cream shop but not being allowed to ever taste even one flavor.

Thursday, 11
El AusangateEl AusangateEl Ausangate

I am still waiting for the travel restrictions to life enough to be able to get out hiking and camping farther from Cusco. The quarantine continues, and for now it's still impossible to get there.
June, 2020

I am so proud of Seattle! The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (Chaz) has made national news! Seattle is in the news for more than the Twitter war between the Seattle Mayor, the Governor of Washington and Trump. They have created a new mini-society within the city where cops are prohibited, movies and food are free and those who have been there told me that it feels like a street fair. What a wonderful and constructive part of the Black Lives Matter movement!

Full of optimism, I walked up to the Temple of the Moon in the bright sunshine that we can count on for all of June, July and August. Cusco is emerging from our pandemic scare and every time I go outside, life looks a little more normal. Today I saw a couple with a slackline between two eucalyptus trees, several families picnicking and helped an elderly woman look for her keys, which had fallen from her apron pocket when she had taken her sheep out to graze.

On the way back down I shared the trail with a few people with obvious American accents. It’s a small enough community of expats that I was a little surprised to find people I hadn't
The dogs of CuscoThe dogs of CuscoThe dogs of Cusco

Every time I go for a hike, I am either joined by a few random dogs, or I see packs of them roaming the hills. Most of these dogs have collars and a home to go to at night. They just obviously prefer to spend the day together, hiking in the sun like I do.
met before. One is just waiting for flights to resume so that she can leave, but the other has plans to live here, even after travel is allowed again. We swapped numbers and I went home even more full of optimism.

Friday, 12 June, 2020

Today I am trying to finish the video about last Saturday. (Check out the finished version here.) One difficulty to recording sound for a video is how noisy my neighborhood is. It’s normally one of the quietest neighborhoods in the city, but the whole town has recently been flooded with people selling things from their cars. Home delivery is now allowed, which means that people are selling just about anything you can imagine from their cars. Food is by far the most common and people have megaphones, calling out what they’re selling. It would be convenient, if I didn’t find it so annoying. They start early in the morning, selling fresh trout and eggs, fruit, vegetables, cheese, milk and more. Those selling milk have an incredibly annoying recording of a cow mooing, as loud as you could get with a cheap car stereo.

I waited till night, went in my housemate’s room, which has fewer windows than my own, and sat with my computer under the blankets, hoping that her down comforter would muffle any dogs barking, fireworks and people selling milk. In the evening there are fewer sellers, as most have a long way to get home before the 9pm curfew.

Rewatching video clips, as I tried to splice them together into something that makes sense, I kept going back to the clips of the older women in the group. When we were leaving, at the end of the day, several of them came up to give me a hug before we left. It was so heartwarming and reminded me how much we need human touch. There is a great article on how we need physical touch, which is another thing that has made this pandemic so difficult for everybody. When we’re stressed out from all of the uncertainty and danger of a pandemic, we’re not supposed to turn to hugs for any kind of reassurance or comfort. I was so thankful that these grandmothers were not afraid of us bringing the virus from Cusco. They clearly were happy to meet us and sad to see us go.

In the afternoon, when I had done all I could for the video before nightfall, Kerry and I went back to Jorge, who runs the wholesale store where we bought all of the food for the families of Sut’uc-Pacchaq. He had been so generous in lowering prices for us, and so interested in the project, that I wanted to show him photos of the event. We also wanted to buy some wine. He was very enthusiastic about the photos and even gave us one of the bottles of wine for free. We will definitely go back to him for the next event!

Saturday, 13 June, 2020

Today after work I met two friends at the park across the street and we walked to a neighbor's who had organized a rooftop party! Sure, we were breaking all kinds of Covid rules. There were about 30 of us up on the roof, eating and drinking and smoking. We had a live band and somebody was selling ceviche and somebody else had beer and somebody else had made the most delicious lemon pie, all for sale at neighborly prices. It felt so wonderfully normal!

The musicians mostly sang covers, but they were great. One had a guitar, the other had a beatbox and a microphone. It just felt like the most normal thing.

People from the buildings nearby all gathered on their rooftops and listened over the edge. We waved them over, inviting everybody to join. Like most concerts I’ve been to the past couple years, the musicians turned their backs to us at one point for a selfie with the crowd behind them. I’ve been in these photos at a lot of concerts in Seattle (the best one was Las Cafeteras!) but this was the first time that the musicians turned back around to us and said “this is for the police.” They were joking, of course.

I asked somebody if they were worried about troubles with the police, but they brushed it off. Apparently on Friday there were celebrations for Corpus Christi in several places around Cusco. The cops didn’t break any of those up, so we’re following suit.

In March I would never have dared go. Or in April, for that matter. By May, I had read enough about Covid at high altitude, and was so encouraged by there being not a single death in Cusco in all of April or May. By the end of May I was feeling very done with quarantine. I am still scared of the police, but not scared of getting Covid anymore. I’m ready to start getting back to normal and my neighbors obviously are too.

This blog and more photos are available on


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