Day 282: Adjusting to the New Normal while #stuckinperu

Almost exactly 23 years ago I was making my way from Ecuador to Peru where my friend Pete and I would hike the breathtaking (literally and metaphorically), Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. 

With a sense of excitement, wonder and bit of trepidation we arrived to the bus station in Guayaquil for our pre-dawn departure to Lima, only to find out that all forms of transportation had been halted due to the severe flooding that was caused by El Nino unleashing deadly downpours that triggered severe landslides and raging rivers across the country. With stories coming in of entire roads slipping off the steep mountains, we realized that Machu Picchu would become a dream destination for another day. Last week as we traveled deeper into the Peruvian countryside, my hopes for reaching the fabled city were once again dashed.

Just two weeks ago, when we left Rio for Peru, Brazil was just reporting their first cases of the Corona Virus and Donald Trump was touting Spring weather as the magical cure all. After a few days of exploring and apartment hunting in Lima, Peru recorded its first 6 cases. Meanwhile, stories from back “home” were that of growing concern and I began to think that we should start to consider what impact this would have on the final two months of our trip. On the day that we arrived in Arequipa, just a week after arriving in Peru, we learned that the USA was banning all travel from Europe and fellow travelers began to see their tour companies cancelling their trips. That day we sought out information from local travel agencies, including our own, to see if there would be any issues with continuing our planned travels to Cusco and Machu Picchu and we were assured that everything was going ahead as scheduled. Late that night we found out that our flights into Colombia had been cancelled, so we decided that it was time to end this amazing journey and head home after nearly 10 months. After a few hours, we had cancelled all the bookings we could and went to bed dreaming about coming home. 

At 6:00 AM the next morning, we received a knock on our door telling us that our bus would be coming to pick us up to take us to Lima, which was a total surprise to us. From the time we went to bed on Sunday night to us scrambling out the door the next morning, we had found out that the president of Peru enacted a state of emergency and the entire country was going on lockdown at midnight, wherever we were at that time we would need to shelter in place for 15 days. In the few minutes we had before our bus came to pick us up, we tried to purchase tickets out of Arequipa so we could get to the airport in time to get a flight out of the country, but all flights were already full or cancelled for the day so our best bet was to hop on the bus and hope we got to Lima on time. 

Peru is famous for many things, including its cuisine, fine alpaca wools and deadly mountain roads. Our 17 hour  journey from Arequipa had us racing down the coastal foothills of the Andes, known as the Devil’s Spine, where narrow roads were carved into steep cliffs and I tried not to look out the window. Our bus driver was trying to get us all back to Lima before roadblocks were put in place, so we made only one quick stop to pick up snacks and we were back on our way.  Just before midnight, our bus rolled into Lima where we were met with empty streets and military roadblocks. After the crazy trip, we were feeling thankful that we made it to Lima and we weren’t stuck in some small mountain town in Peru.

Over the next few days, the reality of our situation began to unfold. In our haste to leave our hotel in Arequipa, we were not able to pick up the laundry we had sent out the day before, so we each had two pairs of underpants and Ava only had one outfit and a set of jammies. During the lockdown, the only stores that are open are pharmacies, banks and the grocery stores. One person from each family/household is allowed to go out to pick things up and then must return directly home. There are no private vehicles permitted and there is a strict curfew from 8:00 PM to 5:00 AM. We have seen various individuals trying to tout these restrictions, by walking their dog, going for a jog or walking with another person, and they are promptly sent home by the many police and military that are guarding the streets. Peru is not messing around.

After a few days in our Hotel the amazing staff of FDR, our new school, moved us into a two bedroom apartment. This was a welcome move, as it gave us a bit more space to shelter in place. I will tell you, it feels like we have spent the last 282 days preparing for this moment. We are already used to living together in tight spaces, on limited resources, far from our family all while homeschooling Ava and diligently washing our hands so that we don’t fall victim to travellers’ diarrhea. We got this.

Watering plants. One of the many routines keeping us occupied.

We are currently in day 9 of our lockdown here in Lima and we continue to wait for news about flights that will take us home. Until then, we continue to follow the rhythms of the day. This morning I was woken up by the singing of birds on our balcony and a peacefulness filled the air, not the norm in a city of 10 million people. I take a few minutes to listen for the waves crashing on the cliffs below and they guide my breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.  Exhale. I can hear the baby from the apartment across the hall, welcoming the day with her coos and cries, until the reassuring voice of her mom soothes her back to sleep.  After our breakfast, our upstairs neighbor sits on his balcony and serenades us with his acoustic guitar and butterscotch voice. He spends all day playing some of our favorites like he has sneaked a peek out our playlists, however I am not sure he has actually made it through an entire song. Yesterday, he sang well into the early evening hours and Ava commented on his endurance. I told her that this was a perfect time to get in those 10,000 hours of practice and she smiled. In the afternoons, one of us escapes into the outdoors to pick up staples for the day. This is our opportunity to soak in some sunshine and to spend a few minutes admiring the waves as they crash into the shore. With everyone cooking at home, dinner becomes a fusion of aromas between 6 and 8 pm in our apartment complex. The breeze brings in scents of fresh baked bread, slow cooked stews, grilled meats and baked treats. I imagine the tendrils of aroma greeting each other in the hallways, where we can not. Each evening at 8:00 the citizens of Peru stand on their balconies and cheer for the teams of doctors and nurses that are battling for those that are in the hospitals. They cheer for the delivery men and clerks, who are working endlessly to keep the markets stocked, so that we can feel secure that there will be food on the table the next day. They cheer the police and military men that are standing sentry hour after hour, isolated so that we can stay safe in our homes with our families.  

Every evening grants us new hope as we awake the following morning by emails from our embassy assuring us that flights home are coming soon and we might just be on them. Our twitter feed of #stuckinperu just showed this morning a slew of people that flew out yesterday and were safely home in the US of A. Like the people in ‘Casablanca’, we all sit waiting, anxiously for any news, any opportunity and any hope that our number is called next. 

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Day 275: Stuck in Lima Peru with the Coronavirus Blues

Yesterday, the coronovirus finally caught up with us in Peru.

Since the virus started in Wuhan in China back in December, the pandemic seemed largely confined to east Asia. Our friends in China and South Korea reported local quarantine procedures, testing and self isolation. Schools that went on holiday back for the lunar new year took an extended holiday of a few extra weeks of distance learning hoping the lockdown would slow the spread of the virus. It appears to have worked and many of our friends who have left these countries have gone back in the hopes of going back to work soon. President Moon of South Korea wants to share how they slowed infections with aggressive testing.

Meanwhile, things in the West have gone batshit crazy. In the last 2 weeks, country after country have reported new cases which has had a cascading affect of denying entry to travelers from infected areas, shutting borders and hoarding supplies. Entire sports franchises are not in operation. Conferences and concerts have been postponed. A trillion dollars of wealth has evaporated from the stock market. Flights have been reduced and Trump’s travel ban from Europe has caused a deluge of incoming US passengers that have inundated airports and now risk infecting one another in these high density areas and taking the virus home to middle America. With layoffs and bankruptcies on the near horizon, coupled with the fact that most Americans have no or unaffordable healthcare and live paycheck to paycheck, economists are forecasting a recession that may decimate the world economy.

For us, these troubles seemed like a world away. Upon landing in Lima just over a week ago, we visited our new school to be while visiting potential apartments and casing our local neighborhood. Our school in Peru was in session as of Monday the 9th, but the edtech department was ramping up its professional development of distance learning tools. The next day, a local school closed in Lima with one infected person, by the end of the week, our school was shut down and would commence online learning. But life would continue as normal. So we thought.

On Wednesday, we took a series of ‘Peru hop’ busses that would take us south from Lima to Paracas, from Huacachina to Nazca and then hopefully from Arequipa to Cuzco to see the famed ruins of Machu Picchu. We thought that the rural setting and hand washing would keep us safe.

Upon boarding an overnight bus from Nazca to Arequipa, our guide, Christian told us that the Peruvian government was starting to set up checkpoints and administer random temperature checks at road side stops so we should be prepared for that. Villagers, normally embracing tourist busses whole hog are now shunning the crowds and their tourist dollars to keep their local communities safe. Upon arriving in Arequipa the next morning, our British traveling companions told us their tour company had cancelled their Machu Picchu tour and the window of getting a flight back to the UK before lockdown was rapidly shrinking. If they didn’t commit, they risked being stranded. That afternoon we got an email from LATAM saying our flights to Colombia had been cancelled and since our flights to the Caribbean were through Bogota, we’d have to conclude a year of travel a little early.

So It Begins for Us

Yesterday morning at 6:00 am, we had a knock at our door. The receptionist from ‘Casa De Avila’ in Arequipa said a representative from our tour company ‘Peru Hop’ was in the lobby asking us if we were ready to leave for Lima.

Not today.” I said. “We’re planning on going to Cusco tomorrow.”

All travel is shutting down today.” He told me. “This is the last bus back to Lima. If you don’t take it, you’ll have to stay here. Where you are at midnight tonight is where you’ll have to be quarantined for 2 weeks as said by the Peruvian government.

Rousing Lisa from her sleep, we had only a minute to debate (while half awake) whether or not to board a long haul bus back to Lima or risk getting stranded in the small mountain town of Arequipa. On top of that, we were battling a touch of food poisoning that gave us diarrhea for the past three days. (Luckily, no fever, cough or cold) In the end, we decided that being in the capital of Lima would offer better access to flights and other services need we be evacuated.

Ten minutes later, we were packed and out the door not even picking up our laundry and boarded a 17 hour bus for Lima with only two five minute stops. The food poisoning kept Ava vomiting all morning in the bus’s bathroom and the diarrhea kept Lisa and I visiting as well. We were hangry and tired when we pulled into Lima at 11:30 pm so we splurged on a nice hotel and booked a room for 3 nights. After some late night room service, we were fast asleep.

Lima Becomes a Ghost Town

This morning, we woke up to a very changed city and things were moving fast. Initially, our hotel told us we could walk the street if we had passports in hand, but by noon today, police were only allowing singles for pedestrian travel. Staff at our hotel have been keeping their distance and we’ve been self-quarantined to our room. On the street, all shops are closed with the exception of pharmacies and grocery stores and the streets are completely empty. It’s kind of creepy.

By mid day, or school in Lima had reached out to us and kindly offered to put us up in a school apartment for 2 weeks until the travel ban lifted and save us a ton of money on hotel fees. By mid-afternoon were getting updates from the embassy, enrolled in STEP and had news trickling in from Whatsapp groups and Twitter hashtags. Multiple nationalities were stranded all over the country with little to no heads up and no way to get to the capital. We were lucky.

Homeschooling Goes Free

One silver lining to this crisis is the number of homeschooling resources that have gone free. Since another casualty of this pandemic is public education and New York and California have joined the growing list of states that have shut down school for online learning, many companies have offered to share their resources.

  • Scholastic– Online catalog of literacy resources. Great books for students and teaching guides for parents.
  • Brainpop– Multiple topics to create a rigorous well-rounded curriculum.
  • RangerRick– This childhood classic goes free.
  • Khanacademy– Sal Khan’s platform for mathematics. Great use of formative assessments.
  • CK-12– Great content platform with readings, videos that you can tailor for any subject.

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