COVID in Cusco: Week 21
Published: August 9th 2020
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Most shops have something similar to this, showing you where to stand while you wait your turn. The spots are carefully spaced to follow this social distancing requirements during this global pandemic.
Sunday, 2 August, 2020
142 days since Covid arrived in Cusco
It was quiet this morning. For the first morning in fifteen straight days, the construction workers were not a few yards from my windows, cutting rebar, mixing cement and blasting their radio.
We are back in quarantine, with another all day Sunday curfew. Nobody leaves the house today, except for emergency medical care. No pharmacies are open, no grocery stores, only hospitals and clinics and even then for emergencies only.
Starting March 22nd, Sundays were a complete shutdown through the end of June. That was 15 weeks in a row when nobody went outside on a Sunday. Then, in July, we were allowed out on Sunday not only to buy food, but we also had the freedom to go for a walk, without a destination. The military vanished from my neighborhood at the end of June and I wasn’t afraid that I’d get arrested if I didn’t have a good story about being on my way to a pharmacy for something “necessary.” I even went camping a couple times in July.
Today, we’re back in quarantine and back to a total Sunday shutdown. To be
This is the part of the Qhapaq Ñan that leads from Cusco past the Temple of the Moon, and continues north. The Qhapaq Ñan is the system of roads the connected the Inca Empire from Ecuador down through Chile and from the Pacific Ocean up over the Andes and into the Amazon basin. I am so fortunate to live right next to where this road connects to the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, which allows me to easily go for a walk, now that quarantine restrictions allow for adults to exercise outside the home.
honest, I don’t mind. I had gotten used to quiet Sundays. During the first 15 weeks of real quarantine, I gradually adapted to staying home most of the time, only leaving the house once per week to buy food and going up on the roof when I needed sun and fresh air.
Plus, the four story apartment building going up about three yards from my bedroom and living room is so obnoxiously loud. With the all day Sunday curfew back, nobody can come to work on the construction site right outside my windows. Not only is it quiet in my bedroom, I can again hang out on the roof in the sun, without construction workers staring at me.
I wonder if anybody else in Cusco is as happy as I am to have the Sunday curfew back.
Monday, 3 August, 2020
Today I got a new student! My housemate Kerry has decided to see how well my teaching will work for her. Of the three women from England who hire me for Spanish classes, Kerry and Hannah are at about the same level, but Sonia is much more advanced. It seems like an odd coincidence that
These are some of the stairs carved into the bedrock the makes the Temple of the Moon. The whole hillside is made from limestone, which has been badly worn by the weather during the past five or six centuries, since it was carved.
all of my Spanish students are from the UK. There are so many more people from the US in Cusco, than from the UK. My only other two students are David, from Mexico, who is learning French and José, from Cusco, who is learning English.
I should invest some time in getting more students, but I already feel so busy every day that it’s easy to keep prioritizing something else. This might be a classic case of procrastination. How many other unemployed or underemployed people around the world are using the pandemic as an excuse to procrastinate job hunting? I know that I can’t be the only one.
Tonight is the full moon and I plan to go up to the Temple of the Moon to get some photos. It seems like this would be the most obvious thing to do, but honestly I have never gone up to the Temple of the Moon for the full moon. Partly this is because it was the rainy season when I first moved to this apartment, which is almost directly on the trail up to the temple. Partly this is because we’ve had a curfew since March 15th and going
Walking alone, especially on windy days, I really don’t have to worry about exposure to the Coronavirus. When I pass people on the path, I put on my mask, and I always wear it in town. Masks are required in public in all of Peru, but when it’s just me and the birds, I take off the mask and just enjoy breathing fresh air.
up there at night by myself is not only a bad idea, it could have gotten me arrested if I had come home after curfew.
Curfew now is 8pm and since the sun sets now before 6pm, so it really shouldn’t be that hard to get some photos and get home before curfew. Still, I haven’t seen the military come back to the streets and somehow arrest doesn’t seem as sure of a consequence of breaking curfew as it did in April and May. I actually was scared of getting arrested and thought that if I wasn’t always on an obvious trip to the pharmacy or to buy food that I would get arrested. Considering the anecdotes I heard and the constant stories on the news of how many people were arrested for breaking curfew, I think I was right to be scared.
Now though, I don’t worry about getting arrested. Not only have the military vanished from my neighborhood, I see the police so much less. The heavy police presence is gone, although in busy areas of town there are still quite a few police around. They are very obviously more relaxed now. Before they were all
Last month, I watched the full moon rise over the Inca ruins at Huchuy Qosqo. This month I walked up to the Temple of the Moon, to watch the moon rise over the Inca ruins closest to my home in Cusco.
just as obviously on edge.
It is such a huge relief to not worry about getting arrested every time I leave the house. (The parallel here with what Black American experience in their daily lives is not lost on me, even though there are no Black Lives Matter protests in Cusco.)
Tuesday, 4 August, 2020
Since I stopped working online, at the end of June, I have drastically cut down my news intake. This has had a very positive effect on my mood and general outlook on life. However, I did wallow in the news a bit today, stunned by not only the explosions in Beirut, but also by the political disaster in the US that just keeps getting worse.
I am registered to vote online, as an overseas voter from Washington State. I will vote this November but I don’t have any money to donate towards political campaigns. Besides voting, there’s not much else I can do from Peru. I can’t go knock on doors. I can’t distribute yard signs.
The news is so relentlessly negative, but there is a little positive effect I have gotten from looking at the news the past several
Periodically, I get emails like this from the US Embassy in Lima. Despite their warnings to “depart as soon as possible,” I still believe that I’m safer staying put, than trying to travel. Also, Cusco isn’t experiencing an outbreak anywhere close to the severity of what’s happening in the US right now.
months. I always pat myself on the back for being here, for staying in Cusco. I do feel safer here from Covid than I think I would if I had stayed in Seattle. I also am glad to not be in the US during this election cycle. It’s stressful enough to watch from a different continent. I would be so much more stressed if I were in the US now.
This afternoon my only class was teaching English to José, since Sonia and David had planned to take this week off and go to Urubamba. The return of quarantine and travel restrictions killed their vacation to Urubamba, but they still decided to take a few days off their usual routine.
This evening Kerry and I got in a texting spat with our landlord, Mariela. She was complaining to us about how much electricity we have been using. Electricity is included in our rent, so we never see the bill or have any idea how much she pays or even know when the bill goes up or down. Mariela lives in Lima, so even without the quarantine keeping people at home, she would never actually come to the house
Under the eucalyptus trees, every Friday I get to practice yoga, led by my friend Sonia. It never ceases to amaze me how surrounded Cusco is by Inca constructions, including the wall in the middle of this photo. This is another part of the road system that leads from Cusco to all parts of what used to be the Inca Empire.
to talk with us in person.
Mariela told us that the two of us are using as much electricity as six people. If that were true, I would expect her to send us photos of the bill. She never shows us the bills, which makes me a little suspicious about Kerry and I using such an extravagant amount of electricity. She also told us not to use our electric heaters, which seems odd. This is winter in the southern hemisphere and we live at over 11,000 feet of elevation. It is cold here. We are going to be using our heaters and I think that should be expected, at this time of year.
Wednesday, 5 August, 2020
Weeks 5-10 of quarantine I was having a lot of trouble with the pendulum of going back and forth between anxiety and apathy. Rollercoaster, yo-yo, see-saw, pick your favorite metaphor. It was hard, but back then this seemed like more of a short term problem. In March and April I thought that even if tourists don’t come back in June or July, surely August and September will be more normal. Surely we will have tourists in August and Machu Picchu
Everything except the sausages was done grilling, but we piled it all around the edges again to heat up again. It’s still winter in the southern hemisphere and even though Cusco isn’t that far from the equator, it’s cold up at 11,000 feet. It doesn’t take long for food to get cold when you take it off the grill.
will be open again. Surely there will be international flights landing in September, if not August.
Now I have accepted that this pandemic will be here much longer. There is no end in sight. We will not have tourists in August. Machu Picchu is not open, despite a promised opening date of July 1st. The Lares hot springs will not open again in 2020, if the townspeople of Lares have anything to say about it. So far, they are keeping tourists out of Lares just as well as the people of Aguas Calientes are keeping Machu Picchu closed.
Personally, I don’t see how the government can possibly open Machu Picchu before they build a clinic in Aguas Calientes. The place is too small to build a real hospital, but to open such an isolated place to international, or even national, tourism, is criminal. There are no roads to Aguas Calientes. Everything goes in and out by train. There are no ambulances in Aguas Calientes. Anybody who can’t be evacuated on the train has to go out in a helicopter. It is not a place that should be welcoming any tourists, national or international, during a global pandemic.
Now that supply chains are getting back to normal, the butter and flour shortages in Cusco are over. With all the speculation that next Monday Peru will go back into a more restrictive quarantine, I’m going back to some of my stress management strategies from April and May.
All of this general anxiety about the pandemic, unemployment, living off my savings and my ability or inability to buy my regular medications in Cusco has magnified all other things that can provoke anxiety. My biggest struggle right now is anxiety about the Covid Relief Project.
Anxiety brings catastrophizing: my worst nightmare is that we will accidentally take the virus from Cusco to one of these isolated villages and somebody will die.
All five of the rural communities to which we have taken food so far have been completely free of Covid. There haven’t even been any cases in the area. (If you have been reading all of these blogs and already know all about these villages, bear with me.) Also, none of these five communities have had access to a hospital, clinic or pharmacy. Many of the families in these communities don’t have any running water in their homes. A couple of the places we went didn’t even have a single well in the village: everybody used the same glacial stream for washing, drinking and cooking water.
If/when the virus gets to one of these communities, the effects will be devastating. They don’t have running water
As the pandemic continues, the doors all around the city remain shut. Restaurants and hotels are closed. Most people who worked in tourism have fled. Cusco is a shell if what it was seven months ago.
to wash their hands. They don’t have any way to get tested.
Are the precautions that we’re taking enough? Every time we go to a village, at some point they want to share food with us. It’s heartwarming and humanizing and such a genuine connection to share food with people. Whether they have boiled potatoes or boiled corn or something else, whatever they have to share, they are giving to us out of kindness, hospitality and gratitude. I don’t want to shut that down. However, it’s the only time we take our masks off.
We have nothing to fear from them. I am not worried about using their utensils or bowls or eating the food they give us. They should be worried about taking back anything that we have touched. Is it overkill to take with us a plastic tub and some bleach, to clean anything we touch before we give it back to them?
Is wearing masks enough? We are always outside, which is very reassuring to me. Still, how do we know that being outside and wearing masks is enough? I had Auqui buy gloves for our team for last Saturday, in Chahuay. Before Chahuay,
Thanks to my housemate Kerry for being my model. It’s not always so obvious in a photo just how small some of these ancient doors are.
we just used alcohol gel. Now we have masks, alcohol gel and gloves and we’re outside. We’re asking the villagers to wear masks, but we are not turning them away if they don’t have one. Could I actually refuse to give food to somebody who came to receive a donation without a mask?
How can I be sure? How can any of us be sure? Do I require everybody who is going with me to isolate completely for a week before we go? Can I isolate completely a week before we go to the next village, on August 22nd?
My mind keeps going back to my nightmare scenario: what if we take the virus with us and somebody dies? Is food worth causing an outbreak in a village with no access to any medical care?
People in the countryside in Peru will not starve to death. In their worst case scenario, they will eat boiled potatoes and boiled corn for the next eight to ten months – assuming that tourism will resume in 2021. They will not die of hunger. They will have to go without a lot of things: new clothes, more variety in their diets,
The larger doors all have a smaller door built into them. People usually come and go through the smaller door, rarely bothering to open the entire door.
electricity (if their village has electricity to begin with). But as long as nobody takes Covid to their village, they won’t be another statistic in a global pandemic.
Thursday, 6 August, 2020
I feel a lot better today. Yesterday my brain went down the rabbit hole of catastrophizing and it definitely sent me into a tailspin. Today I went back and read Nicholas Kristof’s article in the New York Times “This has been the best year ever.” He writes something similar every year and Mom always sends it to me. The 2019 article was published on December 28, 2019, but it’s the sort of thing I can always go back to for comfort. It’s like randomly opening Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince” to any page. There’s always something comforting to read again.
Every year, the gist of the article is that global poverty is going down, literacy rates are going up, famines are less common and less likely, fewer children die of malnutrition and disease, et cétera. I am not going to let myself imagine what he could possibly write about 2020, but I did go back to the 2019 article to find this quote:
“I worry that deep pessimism about the state of the world is paralyzing rather
This is one of the historic buildings which has each stone numbered, so it can be more easily rebuilt after an earthquake. Major earthquakes hit Cusco every now and then, though it’s the Spanish construction that is in danger of collapse. Inca construction is too solid to fall, even in the strongest earthquakes that have hit in the past 500 years.
than empowering; excessive pessimism can leave people feeling not just hopeless but also helpless.”
That’s what I’m really fighting against. Catastrophizing leaves me deeply pessimistic, which leaves me feeling both hopeless and helpless.
Nobody will starve to death if the Covid Relief Project doesn’t bring them food. However, what we’re doing does help. We’re bringing some variety to people’s diets and it’s bringing them some hope. So many have told us that they feel forgotten, high up in the mountains. The psychological effect of isolation is not only for those in a studio apartment in Tokyo or New York. Even villages that have had to completely isolate from larger towns are feeling the emotional toll. We are such social creatures. Isolation, however necessary, is so hard on us. The food we take to these communities is much appreciated, but so is the excuse for the community to come together. They thank us for the food, but also for coming to them, for bringing contact with the outside world.
They’re the ones running the risk of exposure to the virus when we come from Cusco. Is it patronizing for me to worry so much about their risk? They
Many of the colonial woodwork has been lost to neglect, but some people have restored or replaced the original carved balconies and doors.
are all perfectly capable of weighing the risk and choosing whether or not to come to meet us. We give the donations to any representative of the family on the list. They can choose anybody they feel comfortable sending to meet the group from Cusco. This is not all on me.
Tonight I got an email from the US Embassy in Ankara, telling me to reconsider travel to Turkey. I got on a STEP list from the embassy when I lived in Istanbul a few years ago. Apparently I neglected to get off the list when I left Istanbul. Today the email says “Exercise increased caution when traveling to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions.”
Again, my pessimism is checked. Yes, Peru is dealing with Covid outbreaks. However, terrorism and arbitrary detentions are not something I have to worry about. I really do feel safe here.
Friday, 7 August, 2020
This morning was my usual 10:30 yoga class up at the Temple of the Moon. We practice in a grove of giant eucalyptus trees, near the Monkey Temple, which you pass on the way to the Temple of the Moon. The Monkey Temple is very
Is the cement around the doorway a repair job of a very old door frame, or is that a newly installed door that didn’t quite fit the hole left by the previous door?
pre-Inca and there is little left. It’s mostly a pile of massive stones, rubble with carvings on them.
After yoga, I talked with Sonia, who teaches the class and her boyfriend David. They would be a fun addition to the Covid Relief Project donation day on August 22nd. Sonia has offered to teach a yoga class as a fundraiser with all donations going to buying food on the 22nd. She is also spreading the word about our virtual Inca Trail trek, which is currently the only way to do the Inca Trail.
The trail was closed on January 23rd due to a landslide, which killed two porters. It was supposed to reopen, after a lot of maintenance, on March 15th. Unfortunately, that’s the day quarantine began and not only were all archeological sites closed, so were all airports in Peru. The only people who have done the Inca Trail in 2020 are those who braved the rains of January. In theory they might open the trail again later this year. However, with us going back into some kind of quarantine/lockdown on Monday, I have my doubts that it will reopen at all this year.
If you are
Nothing says Cusco like walls with the stone foundations exposed, old tile roofs and stray dogs.
interested in hiking the virtual Inca Trail with us, all proceeds will go to the Covid Relief Project! https://www.myvirtualmission.com/missions/56777/the-inca-trail-for-the-covid-relief-project-cusco
Saturday, 8 August, 2020
The construction outside my windows has progressed to now being on the same level as my bedroom and living room. It is so bizarre to see construction workers only three yards from my windows, up at the height of what used to be the roof of the shed that is being replaced by a four story apartment building. This is even more motivation for me to look for a new apartment.
Yesterday I invited Sonia and David over for a bbq today. The first two times I used my DIY grill it took almost three hours to get the coals really hot, so I started the fire today at around 11am. I spent the morning baking an apple pie, my first in weeks. I was stress-baking a lot in March, April and May. Then Cusco hit a butter shortage, then a flour shortage, and I stopped baking. Supply chains are working better now, so I made the pie and got it in the oven before I started the fire this morning.
Since I made the grill, I have been collecting sticks every time I go up to the Temple of the Moon. August tends to be the windiest month, so there are a lot of sticks to pick up under the eucalyptus trees where we practice yoga. I can buy charcoal at the San Blas market for less than a dollar per kilo, but it is not the self-lighting briquettes that you can buy in the US. It is large chunks of wood charcoal that take a long time to get hot. By a long time I mean two to three hours.
My bbq grill is made from random stuff I found on my roof: three cinder blocks, a brick, two broken tiles, a piece of corrugated metal and some rocks. I piled the charcoal on the rocks, with the leftover charcoal from the last bbq a couple weeks ago, and started piling the eucalyptus stick on top. After about an hour of keeping the fire going, I let it die down, with plenty of hot ashes covering the charcoal.
The construction workers are obnoxiously loud, cutting rebar and mixing cement. Still, once you get used to it you can block it out somewhat. Sonia and David arrived with more to add to my pile of food to grill and David also brought an amazing guacamole, made with his family recipe. It is nice to have these little social moments, when we can do something as normal as a Saturday afternoon bbq and all try to forget the global pandemic killing thousands in our home countries: the US, Mexico and the UK.
We sat in the sun on the roof, eating chips and guacamole, drinking beer and watching the food cook on the grill. I need these moments of carefully engineered normalcy. Even if we go back into a more restrictive quarantine/lockdown on Monday, it’s these bits of time with friends that help me believe that life will go back to normal, eventually.
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