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Published: October 4th 2020
Chicken, vegetables, eggs, masksSunday, 27 September, 2020
Pandemic life: normal little shops now advertise masks along with the usual wares.
198 days since Covid officially arrived in Cusco
People in Cusco are so done with lockdown. Despite it officially being illegal to leave your home on Sundays, except for emergencies, there were a lot of people in the streets today. I stayed home, but out my window watched people strolling down the sidewalks and sitting in the park in the sun. It was definitely fewer people than a normal day, and there were no vendors in the streets, but it didn’t look at all like the past six months of Sundays. I didn’t see any cops drive by until almost 3pm and by then the streets were empty again.
We have been in lockdown for so long that people have just had it. In March and April, the cops would roll through the neighborhood when curfew started at 6pm. Driving through with lights flashing and sirens blaring, Cusqueñians were so supportive of the police back then that people would applaud out their windows loudly enough that I could hear them over the sound of the sirens. Six months later, we are all ignoring the police.
Case in point, last week I was waiting
We take care of our Pachamama
This sign in Urubamba reminds people that "Cuidemos nuestra Pachamama." Many people in the Sacred Valley still follow traditional Andean beliefs, especially respect and reverence for the Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the Apus (sacred mountain peaks.
in line at the bank until closing time at 4pm when the police arrived to clear us out. It wasn’t the normal city police, it was the Black Eagles
, a police force specialized in bank security, including bank robbery and money laundering. Apparently, part of their job is to also clear out people still waiting in line after the bank closes. I had stayed, just because nobody else in line left when the bank closed and I wanted to see what would happen. When the Black Eagles arrived and told us all to leave, nobody left. Instead, I was surprised to hear them all yelling at the police. They were upset that the bank closed at 4pm and wanted to be let in the bank because we had been waiting in line since 3pm.
I’ve just never seen people yell at the police like that.
published a video on Facebook
about how they are going to reactivate tourism in the Cusco region. Dircetur is the Peruvian government’s Dirección Regional de Comercio Exterior y Turismo, which regulates just about everything to do with tourism in the Cusco region. The video was full of statistics of how much money they will
Traces of colonialism
Even in the small town of Urubamba, there are still colonial buildings with ancient lintels. This is above the doorway to a veterinarian clinic and pet shop, where the stones around the door are carefully numbered so they can be reassembled after an earthquake.
invest to restart tourism, and how much money will go directly to unemployed guides and other tourism professionals. Of the guides I know, none of them have received anything from the government specifically because of how they are impacted by the government closing the borders and killing tourism.
Of course, some of the guides I know have received the Peruvian equivalent of the US government’s stimulus checks, though it was far less than what Americans received, even adjusted for the different currency. What Dircetur is promising then, is something much more interesting for guides and much more hopeful. Monday, 28 September, 2020
Today finally ended the saga of the package that my mom sent on August 14th. It arrived in Cusco and I went to the shipping company’s office to pick it up today. It is actually in my apartment, in my possession and I can hardly believe it. At several points during the past month I wondered if it would get here at all - and if I would have to try to get on an evacuation flight and leave Peru if it didn’t get here.
Among some thoughtful presents from my mother, this package
The clear air, due to both the altitude and the pandemic-induced lack of air pollution, makes for great moon photos.
contains medications that I can no longer get in Cusco. The medications that I normally take are not produced in Peru, only imported from Colombia. . When the country went into a strict quarantine lockdown on March 15th, international flights, as well as most international imports, ended. By May, it was clear to me that my medications were getting scarce in Cusco, with no end to the lockdown in sight.
I tried going to a doctor, thinking that if I couldn’t get my medication at a pharmacy, surely a doctor or hospital could get them. I tried to make appointments dozens of times throughout April, May, June and July. Each time I was told that the hospital was only taking Covid patients. I even went to the hospital, asking to see a doctor, I was turned away for not having Covid. Anytime I tried to get an appointment over the phone or in person, I was asked if I had been exposed to Covid, if I had a fever or a cough. Eventually I wanted to say yes, just to try to get into the hospital. I knew that as soon as
These parakeets are the most common parrot in the Sacred Valley and the area around Machu Picchu. They are incredibly loud and the easiest birds to find if you want to do some bird watching in the area.
I presented in person and they took my temperature, I would be turned away, so I never claimed to have Covid.
My doctor in the US kindly prescribed a 12 month supply, which I purchased May 13th and had sent to my family. Unfortunately, mail services were completely shut down also on March 15th and didn’t resume until August. The package left Boise on August 14th and went through Salt Lake City, Cincinnati and Panama City before landing in Lima on August 19th.
Then, it stayed in Lima for over a month.
On the tracking site for the company’s “Express Shipments” the package was marked with either a “clearance event” or a “customs status update” every day starting on August 19th. We heard nothing and had no idea what the problem was until the end of August. Then, between August 31st and September 24th I was very busy emailing back and forth with an employee in Lima named Julio. He took me through several loopholes and falsified documents that I am positive no employee of this particular shipping company in the US would have ever tried.
On August 31st, Julio first contacted me to ask if
These parakeets are eating the fruit from the Molle tree, native to the Peruvian Andes.
the contents of the package were purchased by me or if they were a gift. Not having any idea if one of these would be better than the other, I answered that I had purchased some of the contents but that most of it was a gift. After a few more emails with Julio, I realized that “gift” was the right answer. Inside the package was a receipt with my name on it from the pharmacy where I paid for my medications. Julio said that if we claimed the contents as items that I had purchased, then we would have to use the enclosed receipt, which had the actual value of the contents of the package. Julio also explained that because the amount listed is over $200, that I would have to pay import taxes and duty on the contents.
Once we settled on the contents being all gifts, with newly assigned “estimated” values that added up to exactly $200, Julio informed me that the Peruvian Customs would not allow the package to be delivered and that it would likely be sent back to the US or destroyed. That triggered some panic in me and I had several phone
Safety in numbers
Every time I see parrots in the Sacred Valley, they are in big flocks, noisily taking to each other constantly.
conversations with Julio, who incredibly answered my phone calls during the day and my emails between 10pm and 3am.
The loophole that Julio settled on was to call this “unaccompanied luggage.” When you arrive in Peru, your luggage gets only the most basic check. When I arrived in August, 2019 with three suitcases containing everything I thought I would need for a year, nobody bothered to open my bags or check what I might have brought with me. However, mailed packages get a very different kind of screening.
Classifying this package as unaccompanied luggage was a way to try to get the contents the same lack of inspection that most luggage gets at the airport. Unfortunately, you have only six months in which to receive unaccompanied luggage in Peru. The last time I exited and re-entered Peru was in December, when I went to Patagonia for Solstice. Clearly, there are more than six months between December 23rd and August 19th. Julio’s answer to this was that since there were three months during which all postal services in Peru, including DHL, were shut down, those three months shouldn’t count.
Magically, there were now less than six months between
December 23rd and August 19th. Julio also sent some documents to me in Cusco, which I went to their office to sign. One of them was a form, which looked a lot like a tax form. I was instructed to sign in boxes 7.2 and 11 but not to put a date by either signature. All of the other boxes on the form were blank and there was no explanation as to what the form was for. So, I signed as instructed and it was sent back to Lima, where Julio filled them out with all of the new information that he had decided on, including that the contents were a gift and that the estimated value was $200.
And it worked. I have the package, including a 12 month supply of medications. That gives me a full year for imports to return to normal, or for international flights to resume, or for doctors to see patients who don’t have Covid. Tuesday, 29 September, 2020
Today was just another routine day: work online for the trekking agency from 9am to 1pm, lunch, then off for three hours of teaching. On Tuesday I teach my friend David French
Red flags, or plastic bags, are a sign that the house is selling fresh chicha. Chicha is fermented from germinated corn for two to three days. If it is fermented longer, it's considered past its prime and not good anymore.
from 2-3, Sonia Spanish 3-4 and José English 4:30-5:30. Today I do all house calls, teaching David & Sonia at their place, then walking to José’s place for his lesson. My other students come to me or are on zoom. I keep going back and forth on which is a bigger risk for me, in terms of catching Covid. Is it safer for me to go to their homes, or for them to come to mine? Obviously, the zoom classes are safest, but I just hate staring at a screen anymore than absolutely necessary.
It’s still fun to be able to teach all three of my languages in a row. I do miss teaching and hope to get back in the classroom next year. At the same time, I’m so glad I didn’t try to start a new job at a new school during the middle of a global pandemic. I’m being optimistic by thinking that this is the middle of the pandemic. The world has been dealing with Covid-19 for about nine months so far. In another nine months will we have a safe vaccine widely distributed? It seems like a stretch to me, but maybe by next
In the spot of sun on the hill, you can see the remains of an Inca house, called Inca Racay. The crop in the foreground is barley, which has mostly been harvested and sold already for food for guinea pigs.
June it will be close to over. Wednesday, 30 September, 2020
I took September off from the Covid Relief Project, after working on it pretty much every day since early May. Partly, Covid cases were on such a crazy spike at the end of August that I decided that we should lay low for a while. I didn’t want to be leaving the house more than absolutely necessary, much less taking any risk of spreading the virus from Cusco to any of the remote mountain villages that we have been taking food to.
Also, I was exhausted. Having never run a fundraiser before, constantly fundraising for about four months straight was a lot. We raised about $6,000 and took food to eight villages, if you count Perolniyoc and T’astayoc separately, though we visited both on June 27th, and Taray and Picol separately, though we visited those two on July 11th. It was a fantastic show of support from my friends and family, and some complete strangers, but it took a lot out of me.
Tomorrow I am going to start the campaign for Christmas. After conferring with Henry & Auqui, we decided that we will try
This is the tool shed for the chacra, which stores all of the tools that they use to farm by hand. Chacras are small fields and usually still harvested with scythes.
to visit five villages this December, to take them a chocolatada.
A chocolatada can be within a family, or between friends and is almost always held around Christmas and New Year. Often, it includes panettone, a sweet Italian bread that is more like cake than bread. It always involves making a big pot of hot chocolate with pure cacao paste, plus milk and sugar. Peruvian chocolate is increasingly popular around the world, and for good reason. Chocolate here is amazing!
Our idea for a Covid Relief Project Chocolatada is to take all of the supplies for a normal chocolatada: hot chocolate and panettone, plus warm socks for the kids and food for the families. After some math, I decide that if we can raise $800-$1,000 per village, we can take each family 5 kilos of rice and a liter of vegetable oil, along with the hot chocolate, panettone and socks. Thursday, 1 October, 2020
I love taking photos of the full moon and this month not only has the Harvest Moon, but will also have a second full moon, a Blue Moon! I’ve always enjoyed taking photos of the night sky, but since I moved to
The Sacred Valley is narrow, with high hills on each side that make it hard to see the glacier covered peaks just behind he hills. When you do get a glimpse of the mountains surrounding the valley, you realize how high you you are in the Andes, even if the valley is at a lower altitude than Cusco.
Cusco, my moon photos have vastly improved.
Living at over 11,000 feet, the air here is so thin that everything looks so much clearer. Add the pandemic effect of the reduction in air pollution, since the airport has been closed for six months and there is still very little traffic, compared to normal. It’s incredible. The stars that looked so close a year ago, look even closer now.
That means that the moon seems close enough to touch and my full moon photos are better than ever. Friday, 2 October, 2020
People in Cusco love dogs, which you’ve probably already noticed if you follow this blog. Auqui’s family, in Urubamba, has been looking to adopt a few dogs for a while now. Auqui used to live in Cusco, but since the pandemic ended tourism, and he no longer has work in Cusco, he spends more than half the time in Urubamba.
Like most places around the world, there is an overpopulation of dogs in Cusco. Recently some organizations have started spay & neuter campaigns, but it will take a while for the population to get down to a sustainable level. For now, a quick search
The peak of Chicon, also a sacred Apu, is visible from only a few spots in Urubamba. The closer peak of Saywa blocks the view of Chicon from most of town.
on Facebook will give you several organizations in Cusco that collect street dogs and cats to try to find homes for them. It was very easy to find more than one puppy to choose from.
Auqui picked out a fluffy little female, so young that she still has blue eyes. I worry a bit that she’s too young, though the woman giving her away assured Auqui that she is already 7 weeks old and that the rest of the litter has already been adopted. She is super cute, so it probably didn’t matter how young she is. Auqui wasn’t going to turn away something so adorable.
Looking for another weekend getaway, I joined him for the trip to take the puppy, which he christened Maya, to Urubamba. It is so nice to spend the weekend in a smaller town, which is also much warmer than Cusco, since it’s at lower altitude. I say lower, but it’s still at over 9,400 feet and definitely not tropical, regardless of how close we are to the equator. Urubamba has about 3,000 inhabitants and feels very much like a small town. There are a surprising number of foreign immigrants in Urubamba and
Mass in the times of pandemic
Traditional Catholic mass now includes mandatory masks, parishioners sitting in every other pew and now only the priest gets to take communion.
I suspect that there are more now than before the pandemic, since so many expats have fled Cusco to move to smaller towns in the Sacred Valley. Some people think that it’s safer, since it’s more rural. Also, after several months in quarantine, barely able to leave our homes, lots of people just went stir crazy and needed a change of scenery. I can certainly relate with that and though I love Cusco, I am also so grateful for any opportunity to leave the city. Saturday, 3 October, 2020
Today I got the full Peruvian family experience: a Catholic mass and visiting the fields where the family grows crops for both their own consumption and for sale. I have only been to church a handful of times, and none of those was for a Catholic mass. I had been warned that it would be long, but I think that this was more of an abbreviated mass. Peru has been under an all-day curfew on Sunday since March 15th, so when they were allowed again, starting in July, church services were moved to Saturday,.
The church was mostly empty, and the few people who did attend were following Covid protocols. We were all wearing masks and the normal greetings with hugs are now a quick fist bump, standing far apart. Every other pew was empty, and the pews with people only had two, each sitting at the ends of the pew, as far away from each other as possible. There was no communion, except that we all watched the priest drink water and eat a cracker.
It was an interesting experience and a completely different one than I would have had this time last year. Several times the priest mentioned the pandemic, praying for those who are sick, both those at home and those in the hospital. He also prayed for the safety of those who work in hospitals and as necessary workers, putting themselves at risk every day.
The strangest part for me was that the local tv station filmed the whole thing. Before the mass, and again at the end, somebody stood on the steps below the altar, thanking those watching at home for staying home. The service was broadcast on local tv and radio stations, as well as being streamed online.
Not knowing much about Catholic services, I was a little surprised that there was a young guy with a guitar, singing songs between the priest's sermons. Even more interesting was that over half of them were in Quechua. The whole service was in Spanish and the first song that wasn’t in Spanish I had to think for a split second if I was hearing Latin or not. I had always associated Catholicism with Latin and would have assumed that anything not in Spanish would be in Latin. Nope. I know enough Quechua to catch about one word in twenty in the songs I heard at church today. I asked afterwards and found out that the Urubamba church and one church in Cusco are the last ones who still celebrate part of the service in Quechua.
After church and a big family brunch, I got a tour of the family chacra. A chacra is like a little farm, but is often just a field or two, outside of town. People don’t really live on their chacras, but most have some sort of shed to store tools. The most recent crop, barley, is done growing and most of it has been harvested, threshed by hand with sythes.
Around here, barley is not used for beer or bread. Fermented drinks are made with corn or quinoa and bread if made with wheat. Barley is the preferred food for cuy, (guinea pigs) and cuy is the preferred food of Peruvians. Special occasions, like holidays and family celebrations, call for roast cuy. Traditionally, the fur is removed, the body emptied and cleaned, then stuffed with fresh herbs and skewered. They are cooked in a wood fired oven, kind of baked but also kind of roasted. As a pescatarian, I have been spared the experience of eating a guinea pig.
On the way back to town we walked under several molle trees along the road, each full of parrots. Molle trees are also called Peruvian peppertrees
and they produce a fruit that looks nothing like pepper to me. I’ve seen regular black pepper growing on vines in Vietnam, in tiny bunches that look like miniature grapes to me. Most bird watching is about being patient and stealthy, but parrots are so loud that you just have to be able to follow your ears.
These were Red-masked parakeets
, the most common parrot in the Sacred Valley and area around Machu Picchu. They were a lot of fun to watch, but eventually we kept walking down the dusty road back to town. The valley is very dry and I hope that the rains start soon.
All of my blogs and lots more photos are on my website https://heatherjasper.com
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