COVID in Cusco: Week 28

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September 26th 2020
Published: September 27th 2020
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The Plaza de Armas is still closedThe Plaza de Armas is still closedThe Plaza de Armas is still closed

The Policía Nacional de Perú still has the main square in Cusco cordoned off. Many public places are still closed, even six months after Peru's quarantine/lockdown started.
Sunday, 20 September, 2020

191 days since the first Covid-19 case was officially diagnosed in Cusco

In some parts of Peru, this is the last day of full day Sunday curfew. In Cusco, the current outbreak is so bad that none of the restrictions will be lifted here. We still have an 8pm curfew and are not allowed to leave the house on Sunday, except for emergencies. Our numbers for new Covid cases have plateaued and even started to go down a bit, but I’m still staying home as much as possible.

This weekend would have been the Canoe Island French Camp board retreat, which we are now doing by zoom. I stepped down from the board when I moved to Cusco, but asked to remain on a couple committees so that I can stay involved in camp. My maternal grandmother was one of the first directors at Canoe Island, in the 70s and 80s and I have always felt at home on the island. I was only a few months old on my first trip to Canoe Island and I was also able to be a camper there for three summers when I was old enough.

Being on the
Some smaller parks are openSome smaller parks are openSome smaller parks are open

A very few smaller plazas are open, though they are still mostly deserted. Walking around town is allowed, as long as you are wearing a mask. This is a big improvement over March through the end of May, when the only time you could legally leave your home was to buy food or get medical attention.
board has been wonderful and I was so happy to see everybody this weekend, but it was also bittersweet. I loved seeing the other board members, but listening to their small talk between meetings I realized just how different the pandemic situation is here in Peru. They can get in their cars and drive anywhere they want. Airports are open in the US, even if there are new restrictions for Covid. Most businesses and even some restaurants are open. They have never had a curfew for Covid.

I miss normalcy so much! I miss in-person meetings. I miss being able to travel when and where I want. I miss being able to visit friends and family. There are definitely days that I feel homesick for both Seattle and Boise.

Plus, it’s just sad that there was no camp this year. Not one child got to visit the island and all French activities and lessons were on zoom. That’s not camp. It’s just so sad how many things the pandemic ruined for kids. No camp. No birthday parties. No normal school.

The board retreat usually includes lots of eating and drinking and catching up on Friday, committee meetings
No dronesNo dronesNo drones

Since we can now go for walks, I can visit archeological sites again. Officially, they aren't open, but as long as you're not causing problems, nobody complains. I'm sure that having an illegal drone would be a quick way to get picked up by the police.
on Saturday and a full board meeting on Sunday. This year, I attended the cocktail hour, committee meetings and today’s board meeting on zoom. It’s just really not the same.

Monday, 21 September, 2020

Today I packed a picnic lunch and walked up to the Temple of the Moon after work. It was sunny and windy and the air was clear. I haven’t smelled smoke in the air in several days and I’m hoping that wildfire season is dying down. The hike was beautiful, until I actually got up to the Temple of the Moon.

On the week 24 blog I posted a photo of an area of trees that had been cut down. Today I was shocked to see that many, many more trees have been cut down in the past few days. I hadn’t realized that it had been almost a week since I'd hiked up there. The difference is startling. It’s probably private land, and therefore legal to clearcut. Still, land so close to important archeological sites should have some kind of protection. Best case scenario, I am hoping that the area will be replanted with native trees, since it was invasive trees that
Clear cutting at the Temple of the MoonClear cutting at the Temple of the MoonClear cutting at the Temple of the Moon

This is one of the hillsides that was clearcut by the Temple. It's probably private land, so maybe legal but I still don't understand how this can be done so close to important Inca archeological sites.
were all cut down.

Angela gave me an update on Fabián at the beginning of our lesson today. He is still in the hospital and his father is still there with him. Fabian gets fed hospital food, but hospital food is only for patients. His father, who is not allowed to come and go from the hospital due to the pandemic, has to have food brought to him each day by the family. Fabián is getting both immunology therapy and corticosteroid therapy and they are hoping that next week he will be discharged from the hospital. Steroids are often used to control inflammation and auto-immune responses, which could be an after effect of Fabián having Covid about a month ago. Angela was still unclear if there was a diagnosis yet, but apparently he’s been responding to treatment, which is great!

This evening I was a little down, still sad about how much Covid has impacted Canoe Island, at least in terms of camp and the board retreat. It was also sad to see such a huge swath of my favorite hillsides clearcut. I really needed a pick me up and thankfully, KEXP delivered a fantastic show on El
Direct Inca-Quechua linkDirect Inca-Quechua linkDirect Inca-Quechua link

Guinea pigs have been an important food source since Inca times through to modern Quechua culture. Before you judge them for eating something cute that you may have had for a pet, remember that cows can be cute and pigs are much smarter than guinea pigs.
Sonido tonight. Cheerful, upbeat and energetic music is always good for me, especially when there are songs that I can sing along to from bands like the Mexican Institute of Sound and Bomba Estereo.

Tuesday, 22 September, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still on my mind a lot this week. It’s hard to believe that she’s gone. It’s also hard to believe that we lost her at a time like this. We really needed her to hang on just a few more months. Pancreatic cancer is vicious though and it’s a miracle she survived her first bout of it. So RBG’s sudden death may not have been surprising, though it’s certainly a shock.

I am so nervous about when she’ll be replaced, and who will be appointing that new Supreme Court Justice. With all of that on my mind, I decided to look into what the equivalent of the Supreme Court would be in Peru. It’s called the Constitutional Tribunal, not the Supreme Court, and Justices are not appointed for life. They have a 10 year term and are directly appointed by the president. At least in the US, they have to be approved by Congress. Not
Traditional kitchensTraditional kitchensTraditional kitchens

Many modern houses have both traditional outdoor cooking spaces and also gas stoves and ovens inside. Especially when you're cooking for a big family, why get rid of the old kitchen just because you also got a new kitchen?
so in Peru.

This is another one of those examples of how the president in Peru has a lot of unchecked power. This is probably also one of the reasons why corruption is such an issue here. The presidency seems designed to attract corruption. Most articles about presidents in Peru will tell you that “the last five former Peruvian presidents have either served jail time for corruption (Alberto Fujimori) or are under investigation for it (Alan García, Alejandro Toledo, Ollanta Humala and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski).”

It just so happens that today the Constitutional Tribunal is deciding about a case brought by the Peruvian government against 158 companies who owe taxes in Peru, including Scotiabank, Latam, several cell phone companies and Toyota. Together, they owe about s/11,000 million Peruvian Soles. (That’s about $3,081 million USD). They will decide whether to make these companies pay their taxes or not. This seems like such a bizarre case to me. Why would any court decide that any company shouldn’t pay their taxes? Why is this even a case?

It turns out that since many companies are used to paying bribes to both the president and the Constitutional Tribunal justices appointed by said president, they are

Along with the collection of plants, the family also has space for a little chicken farm. These chickens are only a few weeks old and when they're bigger they'll be sold for meat.
used to paying bribes instead of taxes. In a turn of events that actually surprised many of my Peruvian friends and many newscasters here, the court decided that these companies should pay their taxes.

This next part takes me back to my description of politics in Peru as being magical realism (see the blog from week 23). Though the Constitutional Tribunal is the highest court in Peru, and though all appeals will eventually lead you there, and though this court is supposed to have the final say, there is a way to appeal this decision.

The appeal will have to go to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in Costa Rica. I can’t imagine how the lawyers for these 158 companies can call this a human rights case, but maybe they’re just so used to getting their way in Peru that they figure that eventually some court will rule in their favor. I hope the case gets struck down quickly and the companies are forced to pay their taxes soon. If an effective and safe vaccine for Covid comes along, I would like the Peruvian government to have enough cash on hand to buy it.

Wednesday, 23 September, 2020
New chicksNew chicksNew chicks

In the US you can order chicks by mail and apparently the same is true in Peru. The Saturday I was visiting, the family received ten boxes, containing a total of 500 chicks.

Today is the Day of the Student in Peru! Every September 23rd, we celebrate students here. It’s a good opportunity for me to do a little more research about education in Peru. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve read about my horror at discovering that public education here is neither free nor mandatory. As I’ve been trying to learn about the state of the educational system here, I’ve heard several people tell me that there is a proposal to make all public education here private. I can hardly think of a worse decision that a country could make. Could they really abolish the already un-funded public school and make all of them private schools? Thankfully, I found a recent article that called this idea a myth.

The Ministry of Education (Minedu) assures us that schools will “continue to be free” but also notes that there are new ways for non-profit organizations to “guarantee improvements in learning.” (All translations are mine). Some of the descriptions of these non-profit organizations makes them sound like the Peruvian equivalent to the US charter schools. “The Director of School Management Quality for Minedu, Mariela Zapata, affirmed that schools which are managed by non-profits will continue

The boxes of chicks left Lima Friday morning and arrived in Urubamba on Saturday afternoon. Most of them were pretty active, scrabbling in their boxes and picking at the feed under their feet, but some looked exhausted from the journey and were cuddled up together napping.
to be public and free and the government will continue to finance teacher salaries, preventative maintenance and all that is required to continue functioning.” Her proclamation that public schools are free confuses me.

I wonder if Ms. Zapata has ever spoken to the families in villages like T’astayoc or Mayubamba. Those families have told me that they cannot afford to send their children to public schools because they are asked to pay for things like light bulbs and paper and chairs. They also say that they have to pay yearly tuition for public schools. Maybe her definition of free is different from mine.

Thursday, 24 September, 2020

A quick check of the numbers this morning brought me some good news: our daily count of new cases in the Cusco region was down to 328 yesterday! We also now have two ICU beds available, an improvement over last week’s one available ICU bed. However, the city of Cusco continues to have the vast majority of cases in the region. Of the 52,644 regional cases, 33,644 have been in Cusco. Interestingly, the percentages of cases have gone up for people under 30 years old and down for those over
Natural dyesNatural dyesNatural dyes

When you go to a weaving cooperative in Chinchero, you are always treated to an explanation of the natural dyes they use. The red yarn at the very bottom of the photo is dyed with cochineal. What looks like little grains in the dish with the yarn are the dried cochineal bugs.

Last week I was surprised to see such a small number of cases for people under 30, only 20 percent. This week it’s up to 26 percent. That’s a big jump for just one week. I wonder if we are starting to see the wave that’s hitting Europe and the US. As restrictions relax, are more young people here getting Covid than before? The numbers here do hold with the general observation that younger people don’t die as often from Covid. We have only one recorded death of a child under 9 years old and only one person in the 10 to 19 age category but we have lost 706 of our elders over 60 years old.

Now that I have found a good source of stats, I’ll have an easier time tracking how the pandemic is changing and progressing here. Looking at the statistics, getting information from real numbers, is so much better than trying to read the sensationalized articles in the press.

Friday, 25 September, 2020

Today after work I braved public transportation and took a taxi to Urubamba. It was just a quick getaway from Cusco, a short weekend vacation staying with
The greenhouseThe greenhouseThe greenhouse

The family I visit in Urubamba has a lot of space, some of which is taken up by an impressive collection of cacti, succulents and other flowering plants.
a family I know. Since Sunday is still a full day quarantine/lockdown, without any transportation, I will have to go back to Cusco on Saturday evening. Trying to get back to Cusco before 9am Monday so I can be online for work would be too rushed.

Transportation is mostly normal now. There was absolutely no legal transportation between towns from March 15th through the end of June. In July, transportation started up again, with lots of new Covid regulations. Between Cusco and Urubamba, the most common ways to get back and forth are taxis or vans. Prices have gone up, since neither can be at full capacity anymore. A taxi can now have only two people in the back seat and everybody in the car must wear masks and face shields. Vans are running at about half capacity, with some seats marked off with a big red X, so nobody is sitting directly next to another person.

Taxis are s/15 and vans are s/10, which is only a little more expensive than usual. Today, I took a taxi, sitting in the back with my window open and fresh air blowing on my face shield. I was definitely not
Cactus No. 1Cactus No. 1Cactus No. 1

Among the plants are a number of beautiful cacti. I love the pink points on each of the leaves.
breathing any of the exhalations of the driver or other two passengers in the car. The route from Cusco to Urubamba goes up and over a plateau and through the town of Chinchero at the trop.

Chinchero is famous for its textiles, especially the intricate weavings of alpaca wool, the yarn dyed with natural dyes made from leaves, purple corn and the cochineal bug, whose body is 80% carmine. Chinchero is a ghost town without tourists. The weaving cooperatives, where tourists can learn about both the process of spinning yarn and weaving textiles, and also the process of dying the yarn. Several times, I have accompanied groups who go to see demonstrations of how natural dyes are used and how the weavings are made. My favorite part is always when we see how the cochineal is used. The demonstration is definitely done in a way to surprise or even shock tourists. Not only does the woman doing the demonstration squish a bug between her fingers to show how red the bug juice is, she also jokes about it being Quechua lipstick and smears some of the dye on her lips.

Even more than the tourist side of Chinchero,
Mixed mediaMixed mediaMixed media

Many of the cacti and succulents have other flowers planted with them, which is a fun contrast.
I love the spectacular views of glacier-covered Andean peaks from Chinchero. On sunny days, you can see a whole range of incredibly rugged peaks. On cloudy days, at least the closer peaks of Chicon and San Juan peek through the clouds. The town is at 3,762m./ 12,343 ft. above sea level, which makes it even higher than Cusco. The city of Cusco is in a valley, surrounded by high hills, but with only a view of the glacier-covered Ausangate to the south. Chinchero is on a high plateau, with 360 degree views of Andean peaks.

Dropping down into the Sacred Valley to Urubamba, you lose the views of all but Chicon. The town is on the main road through the Sacred Valley that stretches from Pisac in the southeast to Ollantaytambo in the northwest. Ollantaytambo is the western end of the Sacred Valley, but the beginning of the narrower Vilcanota Canyon which takes you to the town of Aguas Calientes, directly below the famous Machu Picchu. This canyon is so narrow that there is no space for a road, just one set of train tracks on the edge of the river.

Arriving in Urubamba, I went directly to
Sea creaturesSea creaturesSea creatures

Many cacti look to me like plants that belong underwater.
the family’s home. It is only a couple blocks from the main road, and very much in the center of town, but still very old fashioned and even rustic. The house is a two story adobe and each room has a door to the outside, facing east for the morning sun. Urubamba is at a much lower altitude than Cusco and it is noticeably warmer there. After over a year in Cusco, I also really notice how much more oxygen is in the air there. After so much time trapped in lockdown, it’s a relief to have a change of scenery.

Saturday, 26 September, 2020

It was lovely to wake this morning to a warm sun, in a much quieter neighborhood than my own. Even though this family lives almost in the center of Urubamba, the streets are quiet. In Cusco, the closure of markets and people’s fear of contagion has given rise to a whole new world of shopping: people selling from their cars. On the one hand I really like it because I don’t have to go anywhere that might have a line or a crowd and the food I want to buy comes right to
Desert plantsDesert plantsDesert plants

I've always loved desert plants and how they can make such beautiful flowers while also having super wicked thorns.
my door. On the other hand, it has made the streets obnoxiously loud. Everybody selling something has a loudspeaker announcing what they have, trying to entice people to come out of their homes to buy and also playing annoying music to get our attention. Even worse, the people who are selling fresh milk have soundtracks of cows mooing. It got old really fast.

The quiet morning in Urubamba was a much needed break from noisy Cusco. After breakfast, I got a tour of the property from Auqui. One of his brothers raises chickens and I got to see where they have the half-grown chickens and also another building that they got ready for this afternoon’s arrival of another 500 little fluffy yellow chicks. Chicks are cute, but what I really loved was the massive collection of plants, most of them cacti and desert succulents.

These past six months, all of us who work in tourism have been scrambling to try to get by financially. Most of us have had to find some other industry to work in. I’ve gone back to doing some teaching, though it’s only hourly private lessons, not a full time job. Some others I
Cactus arrangementsCactus arrangementsCactus arrangements

One of my favorite things about this collection of plants is how many of them are planted together. It's a fun mix of different shapes and colors.
know have found work in factories sewing masks, in the mines or even harvesting in the fields. Looking at the hundreds of plants, I asked Auqui if he had ever thought of selling some of them. He laughed. Of course he has sold plants in the past, but now doesn't know where or how he could sell during the current lockdown situation. I suggested that he start with Facebook and offered to help.

This would be a great project for me. Before I moved to Cusco, I had a fantastic garden in Seattle and loved planting and harvesting. Working with plants and playing in the dirt is wonderful for my mental health. With all of the stress of the pandemic the past few months, I’ve really missed the relaxation therapy that I used to get from my garden.

Most of these plants are in random containers, not real clay pots. As much as I find admirable the reduce/reuse way of gardening, plants in milk cartons and tin cans wouldn’t sell well. All we need to invest in are some decorative pots and the time to transplant them and take photos of them. Of course, then there’s the work
Translucent leavesTranslucent leavesTranslucent leaves

This one reminds me of a plant that my mother has. She has always loved desert plants and many of the cactus I saw this weekend are similar to ones that she has at home.
of marketing what we have and actually selling them, but the up front investment is really just time and decorative pots. We have plenty of time on our hands, so now we just have to find somebody who will sell us a large quantity of pots at a wholesale price.

With the Covid Relief Project on hold until the current outbreak dies down, I’m happy with the prospect of a new project to distract me from the pandemic.

All of my blogs and lots more photos are on my website


30th September 2020

Coucou Heather, je sens à la lecture de ce dernier post que tu sembles avoir besoin d'un petit "remontant". Alors nous t'envoyons plein de pensées positives (c'est bien tout ce que nous pouvons faire en ce moment, mais si cela peut t'aider, nous t'en envoyons des milliers chaque jour...). Nous vivons tous très différemment cette pandémie et je suis certaine qu'après cette épreuve, nous serons encore plus forts. Toi la première ! J'ai moi aussi hâte de te revoir et les filles grandissant, je me dis que notre projet de nous retrouver aux Etats-Unis pour une aventure en pleine nature se rapproche (Blandine aura 12 ans dans seulement 5 ans maintenant !!). Nous t'embrassons très fort

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