Cuenca Week 2March 15 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 68 °F
Wow. So much has changed in our 2nd week in Cuenca due to Covid 19, the Coronavirus outbreak. We've been watching and reading the news from other countries, especially Italy and have had a "wait and see" attitude. After finishing our 2nd and final week of Spanish school, we are looking to rent an apartment and hunker down with stocked food and supplies in a safe space. More on that later though.
While it seems lame to describe our adventures here during a world-wide pandemic, I want to do so just for the record. At the beginning of this week, the Ecuadorian government announced that there were a couple cases in Ecuador. They were brought in by an Ecuadorian National visiting from her home in Spain. The other seems to have been a Dutch National on vacation and was in the Oriente, or Amazon basin when he showed symptoms. Each day, the government took more and more precautions and we kept at our classes. By the other day, all schools were cancelled and groups of more than 500 were banned. By today, groups of over 100 are banned nationwide and the borders are closed to incoming people. That includes land borders. Everyone is ecouraged to stay at home. There are 31 testing centers available nation wide and 2 deaths to date, including the woman visiting from Spain. These tallies change daily, but it seems that the rate is about the same as in Wisconsin as of today, with the notable exception that there are 2 deaths here and none in Wisconsin as of today (March 15, 2020).
But we continued with business as usual and went to a hat museum the other day that showed how the unfortunately named "Panama" hat is made. They are made here in Ecuador and were misnamed when Teddy Roosevelt was seen sporting one in Panama, where they were popular. Anyway, it was quite intersting to see how they're made. The "super fino" hats can cost over $1,000!
By midweek, we were both getting tired of classes but stayed with it. I actually missed a day of class from stomach problems that came and went within a day. The water is safe to drink here but something got me. We had been buying water or using iodine treated water mostly and the day after I switched to tap, I got sick. But 3 days after that I switched back to tap and have been fine for a week, so go figure.
We continued to eat out at some good restaurants, alternating between cheap and good ones to expensive and good ones. And Deanne found out that a band from the Congo was giving a free concert at a mid-size concert hall. We went to that and had a great time but wondered if they would close this venue soon. Yep, 2 days later this and all venus holding 100 or more were closed. Also, as of yesterday, all museums were closed nation wide. It's getting real.
We see the fear and hoarding going on in the states, but it's not happening here, yet. I am actually happy I'm here. The Ecuadorian government health department is top-notch and seems to be much more organized than the states and seems to be in front of this. Oh, and speaking of health, there are all of these labs all over town where you can get your blood tested for just about anything for relatively cheap. Deanne and I went and just started checking boxes for tests we wanted, no doctors script needed! I asked my physician friend Mike for what tests I should get. Within a half hour we had our blood drawn and paid about $125 for 8 tests between us: lipid panel, PSA, cholesterol, thyroid, and many more. We could see the results online by 4:00 that day. And yes, this was a new, modern lab. Try getting that done in the states, and for anywhere near that price with no insurance. And the best part? The data is ours and not a health insurance company's. They could use these tests to deny us coverage in the future. Without getting into details, we're both healthy and there were no issues. Deanne was absolutely amazed at some of the tests we could take, including ones that tested for various types of cancer. You can't normally get those if you wanted in the US unless your physician had good reason to suspect. Good job, Ecuador!
The only problem we've seen is that handi-wipes are impossible to find. I set out one morning to get a haircut and maybe find some rubbing alcohol or handi-wipes. I found a grocery store that just opened up and they had a big selection of rubbing alcohol. I was considering buying a liter when a woman came up in front of me and grabbed 4. I decided I'd get 2 and some alcohol free baby wipes and just add the alcohol to it. The psychology of that purchase is so interesting. I was going to skip it until I saw her grab four. Should I grab 4? Or more? I settled on 2 since we're traveling and they're heavy.
I also found a couple gel dispensers, which are rare also. We''ve been trying to wash our hands or sanitize them hourly now and clean our phone several times a day. That's quite a change. Deanne has had over 30 years experiance as an eye doctor and never touches here eyes, nose, or mouth. Conjuntivitus is so easily spread in an eye doctor's office, and she is very disciplined. I need to learn to stop that bad habit, quick like!
But the main problem we seem to face in the future is food, and where to isolate. We booked 4 nights in a town called Vilcabamba south of here that is at lower altitude but considered a paradise. We're in an inexpensive boutique yoga hostel (yeah, I know....) that is highly recommended. But we are dailly changing our minds on what to do: find an apartment there and stock up on food? Our main concern is that if they close all restaurants (like in Italy) we'd be screwed pretty quick. The alternative for us is to head to a beach town and get a monthly rental and stock up there. Sea, sand, and sun are the enemy of a virus, right?
To hell with our return plans and scheduled flight on May 7 and planned visit to Colombia before that. We are in full survival mode now and are looking for the best place to wait this out. We have lots of ebooks and 2 eReaders and we can go anywhere. A plus for Vilcabamba is that they grow lots of veggies there and it's not too populated. We're torn, so tomorrow we will go to Vilcabamba and take the fear temperature and look at some apartments. And I'm concerned about runs on ATMS. We haven't seen any of that, but once panic sets in, all hell will break loose. We've started withdrawing the max amounts for 3 days now. Normally, we'd NEVER carry so much money, but Ecuador is very safe outside of main tourist areas and bus stations. We hired a van from the hostel, so there will only be 6 people max in it and we can avoid the bus station. Actually, I just heard from the hostel. Last week, we barely got a reservation and now they have lots of empty units! Maybe our shuttle will be just us and the driver? Not bad for $30 for two and a 5 hour drive that would take about 8 via taxi to the bus station, a wait, and then the bus that stops a few times on the way.
Speaking of which, we decided to take public buses to 3 villages today. It's Sunday, which is market day and this is when all the people come from surrounding small villages to the closest markets. We went to Gualaceao, Chordeleg, and Sigsig. It was fun and interesting and the views from the bus was amazing. Only a few people were wearing masks and we did find hand sanitizers at 2 markets that the health department put up. Deanne has this cool small hand pump for alcohol she got as swag at a conference years ago. On a whim, she packed it months ago and now we were using it every half hour on our buses and after walking through the markets. I'll be refilling it daily, I think. It was a great day and we feel like that might be the last time we're in crowds for some time.
As we hopped in a cab from the bus station to go home, I saw a sign on a hotel across from the bus station : Closed due to the Cornon Virus. I think we really need to find an apartment with a kitchen sooner rather than later. If people start dying here, they'll close all the restaurants.
In a couple hours, we leave our fun homestay. The Polos are a fun and loving family and seem to always have a good time. We feel so lucky to have been placed with them and to be in such a nice, new neighborhood with lots of restaurants and shops. Our first 2 nights in the old town got pretty bad because the bus and car exhaust went right into our room, even with doors and windows closed. We are also so lucky because this weekend our Spanish school closed its doors indefinitely. That happened 2 days after our last class.
I hope everyone reading this stays safe and practices good health habits. As my mom and dad used to always say, "This too shall pass."
All photos and vids are here. https://photos.app.goo.gl/uwwPrVxpRBnm2eJ37