It’s COVID-19 in Peru Day 3. And I’m feeling a bit salty.
Here’s why. I woke up to a couple of messages from someone I know from way back—I won’t call him a friend, but you know how it is with staying in touch with people you used to know—saying, “We’re going to Barbados! We have to escape the cold.”
I wrote back, “don’t go.” And sent him the link to my posts, even though I’d posted them to Facebook, which was how he contacted me. And which he obviously hadn’t seen or he wouldn’t have sent me such a clueless fucking message.
He wrote back, commenting on the picture of people outside Cusco airport, “Crowds. Not good.”
Oh, wait. It gets better.
The next message, “Don’t get sick down there. It’s going to be very hard to get treatment in Peru.”
I said, “I’m not going to get sick, because Peru is doing exactly what it needs to do, and what the US should have done from the beginning. Do not get on a plane. You will get your money back.”
“Barbados has 2 cases,” is the reply.
“Peru had 0 cases the day we got here,” is mine. “And you do not want to be on an island if they close the borders.”
This ends with him writing, “I feel a little bad, but we’re going. By the way, masks don’t work, and you need to stay 6 feet away from people.” This from a guy who is taking his family through an airport and onto a plane to an island.
He adds, “And don’t touch your face.”
Then, “But you probably know that.”
I reply, “yep.”
Just as a courtesy, I add “good luck.” It’s every bit as empty as the way the US puts “In God We Trust” on the money. I mean, if you have that little faith in the treasury department, what the hell are you doing issuing money in the first place?
Why so cranky, Nan le Chou?
In the days before Peru closed its borders, I kept up on my daily dose of COVID-19 info. It’s all just so weird, so surreal. Before my little adventure began, I was struck by this report that describes how Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan have had much more effective results in containing and shutting down the virus. They took extreme measures. Take it from me. They’re not fun.
But they do, apparently, work.
Now granted, the countries mentioned are all relatively small areas. But they’re also incredibly dense population wise, not unlike Lima, Peru, home to more than a third of the country’s citizens. (Peru’s population is around 30 million.)
So if COVID-19 starts where people are living literally on top of each other, and excuse the repeat because I wrote this on the first day, the Peruvians are truly in a terrible place.
I was initially stunned that the Peruvian government was not going to help us get out of the country. It seemed logical that they’d want non-nationals out, so as not to tax an already shaky and under-equipped health care system. But more and more, I’ve come to appreciate the terrible swift finality of the decision. Get out by midnight. And if you can’t, quarantine with us. But you don’t get special treatment just because you’re a foreigner.
So now, I’m all ready to settle into my office through tomorrow, when we relocate to an AirBnB.
The Agony of Choice
As I begin to write, Inka Corn Nuts at my behest, we find out that our plane to Buenos Aires has been rescheduled; apparently, Argentina is opening its borders back up. So we could, in theory, continue on our trip.
It’s weird that the decision is so stressful. It is a no-brainer to go home. So why am I weighing things out in my mind as if there’s even an argument in favor of staying?
But I quickly come to my senses. Opt to go through this uncertainty for the 3 weeks we have scheduled in Argentina when God only knows what will be happening 5 weeks from now (because we have 2 weeks left here)? Geez, I’m dumb. As is, I’m checking the news way more often than I should, even though I seriously need an information fast.
Being stuck here, I have no decision to make. It’s peaceful. Now, I’ve been given a little power of choice back. And I have to be a damn grown-up and do something that’s weirdly hard. Namely, go back to the US and face whatever disastrous music is playing on April 4th.
Cuz now that we’re going through some shit, I need to go through it at home.
(Later today, my friend Alberto in Argentina will say, “Absolutely do not come. Argentina es loco, loco.” Sold.)
And Now, Back to the Real World
I interrupt these first world agonies to bring you the latest update: As of midnight, all transportation—taxis, Ubers, buses, trains—will be suspended. Our AirBnB host contacts us and tells us it’s urgent we get to the flat a day early, as in today, and as soon as possible.
The hotel, with whom we booked an extra day this morning, allows us to unbook that extra day and check out. I call for an Uber, and one is confirmed. They are 6 minutes away. We wait outside because, hey, 6 minutes in blistering sun we can handle.
Then all of a sudden…well, what the hell is happening with Uber? Because my confirmation screen, the one that shows you the little map of where your driver is, has been replaced. They’re back to connecting me to my driver. The driver is 9 minutes away.
20 minutes away.
9 minutes away.
20 minutes away.
6 minutes away.
2 minutes away.
I’m so confused, I shut the app completely and open it again. Uber asks me where I’m going.
After another 10 minutes of this, while I know it’s getting harder and harder to get a cab, I go to the hotel desk. The clerk’s happy to order me a taxi, and the price is about the same as usual; a little higher, understandably, but I’m not being gouged. Not that it would matter.
Then he looks at his screen and makes a sound that universally translates as Uh-Oh.
What fresh hell is this?
“I’m very sorry, madam,” he says—in Spanish and I understand! Somewhat incongruously, I allow myself a little woot—”but the cab cannot be here for….20 minutes.”
I literally heave a sigh of relief. “No problema.”
Taxi through a Quiet City
Our driver does indeed get there in about 20 minutes, maybe even a little less. We drive through the eerily empty streets of Lima. For reference, this is Lima traffic on a normal day.
This is it today.
At the first police checkpoint, we drive on through. At the second, we have to show our passports.
“Do you have masks?” ask the policewoman. She’s still very nice. She could be asking us if we have a comfortable taxi.
Steve is fortunately prepared. He and I usually put masks on when we’re on long flights; we put a little lavender in them and the masks keeps out the dry air, while the lavender helps relax you. Great tip if you ever fly again, which you may not.
He gets the masks out of wherever they are in a bag in the trunk, and we continue.
2 more checkpoints, maybe 3. It’s a blur. Every time, the driver is required to show that he has the legal documentation that allows him on the street.
We drive down the long Malecon, the road on the Pacific ocean. It’s breathtaking. We realize we’re some of the few people who are ever going to see it like this, completely empty. We pass one person, an unmasked young man, furiously boxing the air.
Dude, if you’ve found the key to beating this virus, then I say, punch on.
Our Lima Home
And then we arrive. We head up to our apartment for the next 18 days. I am not allowed to leave. I’m ok with this.
The cleaner, Monica, is here. She is lovely and warm and speaks very, very fast Spanish. We get her to slow down a little, find out where we can get supplies, and she offers to take Steve there when she’s done with the cleaning. He has to put on gloves and a mask before he can go out.
He comes home without incident, laden with tangerines, potatoes, rice, bananas, avocados. There were no onions, and the store’s shelves were starting to get somewhat depleted. But we’ve got enough to eat for a while.
Best of all, Steve said there was no sense of panic. People were nice, patient. When Steve couldn’t find eggs, one woman gave him hers, telling him they were too expensive (about 3 bucks for a dozen).
As for the “one person” rule, Steve said he didn’t see it being observed all that closely. Still, I don’t think it makes tons of sense to go out if we don’t need to. So I’ll stay in unless I really start to go nuts. And, I mean, tonight I had this. That’s unretouched.
Below, the city is quiet. Amazing how peaceful things are when you cut out the cars and the planes. Sometimes, I think COVID-19 is in league with the planet. You won’t cut back on emissions voluntarily? Ok….
And at 8 p.m., something gorgeous happens.
Steve and I are watching Jane the Virgin—episode 96, we’re almost done—when I hear something that sounds like hard rain beginning to pelt down. As I get closer to the balcony, I realized people are clapping, cheering, waving lights. It goes on for a good five minutes.
We can’t figure it out, then I can remember my new friend Claudia. I text her. “What’s happening?”
“Oh, people are just going out to thank the doctors and nurses and health care workers.”
It’s enough to make you cry. Happy cry, not ugly cry.
Friends, if I don’t post tomorrow, it’s because nothing much has changed. Believe me, when things do, I’ll let you know.
And if you’re smart? Don’t tell me about how excited you are about your travel plans. Because seriously, I will cut a bitch if I hear that again.