It’s COVID-19 in Peru Day 2!
Or, in other words, yes. They are pretty damn serious.
Steve got an email this morning that our flight on Friday had been cancelled. The earliest we could reschedule? April 4. Sold!
COVID-19 in Peru Day 2: Breakfast, More or Less
This happened right before breakfast. When we get to the lobby, people are milling all around the elevators, using the wifi terminals. Now, that area had been pretty crazy the previous night, and at the time I said to Steve, you know, I wonder how many people are just sort of camping out in the lobby. Maybe they don’t have rooms? Anyway, this morning, there seemed to be even more.
Meanwhile, the breakfast room is busy, but calm. The difference from the previous evening is that every single staff person is fully kitted out with bonnet, mask, and gloves.
We sit at an empty table, one of three; we are there toward the tail end of service.
A server comes up to us, looking stressed, obviously working hard, and still unfailingly courteous. “I’m sorry, we only have the American breakfast,” she says. It’s like she’s apologizing that she’d stepped on my foot really hard. Well, of course we can eat that. We’re Americans!
(Here’s a little cultural lesson: In Central and South America, if you are from US, you say, I’m from the US. You don’t say, “I’m American,” because Central and South Americans consider, rightly, that we are ALL Americans. Wow, what if we could remember that all the time? Because, well, we are.
Having said that, when it comes to American breakfast, we also know exactly what they mean.)
We see, peering out from above his mask, Diego, our waiter from last night. I wanted to describe Diego in the previous post, but, well, I was kinda tired. So here’s what we know about Diego.
A Little Background on Diego
First thing I did the previous night was order a Chardonnay. Diego squinted at me, looked a little sideways, then shook his head.
“Madam, I do not recommend this wine. I have a better one.”
“No Sauvignon Blanc,” I said. Because is it me, or does Sauvignon Blanc taste like an old sock?
(If you disagree, I have a lovely bottle from the National Geographic wine club that you are welcome to, if airplanes ever work again and you want to pick it up from my house. Seriously, use the contact form and email me and I will arrange a meeting point.)
“No, Madam, this is a blend of 3 grapes. You will love this wine.”
It’s not, however, listed by the glass. “I want 2 glasses, but I can’t drink a whole bottle.”
“No problem, Madam. We will label it and keep it behind the bar for you. Because I think you could be here a while.”
He then recommends a red for Steve; same thing, they’ll keep the bottle for him. “My previous job was as bartender in Ica,” he says. Ica is a small city south of Lima. It has an oasis and is close to Pisco, home of the wicked and delightful source of the eponymous booze.
“Peruvian wine is very fine.” This turns out to be true. #lovelocal
Diego brings me a pizza and Steve a piece of fish; the pizza’s good, the fish is great.
“My friends,” says Diego, “we are going to get to know each other very well.”
“We may end up adopting you,” I say.
Hearty laughter. Seriously, when you’ve had a day like the one we’ve all had, including and perhaps especially the one had by Diego, hearty laughter is the bomb.
And from him, we get a slightly more accurate sense of what’s going on. He and a core team of workers are all staying in rooms at a nearby hotel. He’s worked 13 hours today. He’ll go to the hotel, get some sleep, then come back in the morning. Meanwhile, his wife and child stay at home, under quarantine.
Steve asks about Central Market, where we’d done some food tasting approximately 1 million years ago. Is it open?
“It’s open, but only one person per family can go. It’s very strict. The police check the ID at the door. If a married couple tries to go in together, one will be turned away.”
Steve says that since he and I have different last names, we might be able to squeak in, but we get the impression from Diego that the “oh, him? The guy with an identical wedding ring to me? never saw him before” line will probably not fly.
COVID-19 in Peru Day 2: National Emergency
So back to breakfast: Before we realize Diego is there, a tall Peruvian policeman in full gear commands the room. Khaki uniform, gleaming boots, heat, and of course, a mask: This dude is the business. Next to him, a woman translates.
Peru, we learn, is in a state of national emergency. All gatherings of 30 or more people are now outlawed, and if you get caught in one, you are going to jail. He repeats this. The translator has difficulty with the word “delito,” so I prompt with “crime.” Another smile, from her, though not from the policeman. Also, why does this gringa immediately know how to translate that word? Hmmm……
We look around the room. Steve whispers, “We’re less than 30 in here,” aka the restaurant. “We’re ok.”
But Now, Back to Diego
When the cop leaves, we spot Diego. I wave to him and do that annoying thing where I make a heart with my hands, like ice skaters at the Olympics. Do people love that thing, or do they just want you to stop doing that annoying thing, so they wave to get you to stop? Anyway, he rushes over.
“My friends!” he says. I ask him for a picture, and he starts laughing, the high, drawn-out laughter that happens when you’re incredibly tired and right before you hit the point of no return and see time in a padded cell as Pure Paradise.
“I’m a mess!” he says. But he lets me take one anyway.
“Back already?” I say.
He and his valiant compatriots—can we take this moment to issue a huge shout-out to the heroes who are serving food and selling us groceries right about now?—have moved their HQ to our hotel. They are working fairly non-stop, grabbing a little sleep as they can, staying in touch with family by phone.
Diego apologizes that there’s no orange juice, knowing that we US folks love our O.J. He brings us coffee, papaya juice, fruit salad, and a plate of scrambled eggs with ham. Oh, and 3 slices of chocolate cake. He sees me slide the eggs to Steve, and he says, “Oh, you need another one? What do you want in the eggs?”
“No ham. Maybe….cheese?” I say, uncertainly. More than anything, in this moment, I do not want to put anyone out.
“Only for you. I have a connection,” he says. “By the way, you have to be out of here at 10:30. You have 10 minutes, please, relax! Enjoy your coffee.”
As we leave, we get more smiles over masks. People are starting to recognize us, purely based on the height combo. And near the elevator, the throng has thinned considerably. So maybe a) I was right and they were squatting, and/or b) that cop was so serious because that throng was bigger than 30.
Quarantine. Blah blah blah.
So the next part of day is spent like everyone else who’s quarantining, whether imposed by selves or governments. We read, we do crosswords. Steve deals with emails and does Sudoko, I write and do Sporcle movie quizzes. I text more than I ever have in my life: family, kids, a new friend in Peru (Claudia from this post) and our friend in Buenos Aires. At one point, Claudia says, “I think we will be ok with power, water, and food.”
I feel vague dread. Shit. Why did she say that?
What if there is a blackout? a water shortage? What if stores can’t get food?
This is starting to get scary.
It gets a teeny bit more pronounced when Alberto, my friend in Buenos Aires, tells me that in Argentina, where the lockdown has been going on longer, people are being pretty rude to the tourists. I mean, guys, not only are we stuck here, we stick out like sore thumbs, or whatever it is that sticks out in your local idiom. We’re freakishly tall, quite fair and intensely blue-eyed gringos. Will people see us and think, what the hell are you doing here, buying stuff and using resources we desperately need?
And I don’t blame them. This is SO strange, so scary, and things keep changing. You know how, when you’re really sick, your one hope is that things get better? The scariest part about this is, what if it doesn’t?
Oh, shit. Stop that, I tell myself, now, as I write.
Around 5 we head down to the restaurant; we figure if we eat early, we’ll beat the rush. As in, the other 28 people that make us eligible for Peruvian jail.
The menu is down by half; there’s a burger, a steak, and chicken. We choose the chicken, but it won’t be ready until 7. By the way, Diego is not there; hopefully, he’s getting some sleep.
“Can we take a walk?” we ask our new waiter, Luis.
“You can go on the street in front. But don’t go too far. No one is supposed to be walking around.”
“But we see people walking from our window.”
“Yeah, but people need to stay off the streets.”
We go outside. This Holiday Inn is a lot like hotels in the US. There’s a gate that a van comes through to make a little U-turn in order to drop you right in front of the door with your bags. It’s nicely landscaped. But it’s an airport hotel. It’s on a freeway. And even with the infamous Lima traffic down to a trickle, there are still enough cars going by that I don’t really feel the need to walk on the sidewalk.
Steve feels this need.
He walks on the sidewalk.
It’s a sidewalk.
Inside, the stress on the workers is starting to show. How could it not? They’re polite, but less smiley. Fortunately, we’ve snagged an AirBnB, not that difficult, actually. The tourist dollar is a big deal and a whole bunch of flights just got nixed. People are happy to have us. We can move to ours in one more day.
I try to quell the nagging voice that says, yeah, it’s all swell now. But what about in a week?
One Big Family
And then I spend the afternoon alternating conversations between a friend in Argentina, one in England, and my sibs (3 sisters, one brother, plus Steve’s sister and brother. I freaking LOVE the fact that I have a giant family). At times, it’s confusing, and I start typing in the wrong language.
The most important exchange may be from my buddy in Argentina. The following happened in Spanish.
“I’m starting to worry we’ll run out of food.” That was me.
“No, no, we’ll be ok. That’s not a problem here.” That was Buenos Aires, on lockdown since last week.
“But we saw a bunch of ships just sitting in the harbor.”
Friend sends Munch-esque emoji that looks scary.
We go back and forth, but after a couple of minutes, Alberto has convinced me that we don’t have to worry about running out of food.
Well. Sort of. I’m kind of convinced. Not completely.
Steve and I head back for dinner. This time, Riccardo is our man. He gets our bottles of wine. We sit alone in a corner of the empty restaurant.
He brings us chicken, mashed potatoes, and elderberry sauce. Damn, Peruvians can BURN in the kitchen. It is insanely delicious.
Steve and I kill the wine, both bottles, getting progressively giggly. I tell him that I have seen this list from my friends at Pinch of Yum, about preparing for lockdowns. We agree that he will be the designated shopper. I’m happy to work out indoors, but my man needs his daily dose of sunshine.
Next, we decide that, seriously, we need a movie night. The Criterion Channel‘s Rita Hayworth festival includes The Lady from Shanghai, one of my all-time faves. If we’re not too out of it, we’ll do Contagion next on Netflix, because what the hell? Who isn’t doing Contagion?
Gang o’ mine, I feel pretty overwhelmed right now, to be safe and comfy. It may not last. So God DAMN, as Tennessee Williams used to say, I’m going to appreciate the hell out of this.
See ya soon.