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  • Day76

    Izhcayluma Hostal in Vilcabamba

    March 19 in Ecuador ⋅ 🌧 64 °F

    Monday March 16, 2020

    We arrived at Izhcayluma (pr. ISH kai LOOM a) in Vilcabamba at about 6 pm after a 5 hour journey from Cuenca.  There were 11 passengers in their shuttle van, all foreigners, and we had an Ecuadorian driver. He wore latex gloves and a mask. We were all given alcohol sprays on our hands after we loaded our luggage and were seated.  An older gentleman in the front seat was coughing a lot and wiping his nose a lot with kleenex. I wasn’t the only one that noticed. Deanne gave me the only face mask we had. She found it buried in her stuff. I bought a package of these in Hong Kong 5 years ago because the exhaust was so bad and I had a bad cough from that. This was during the Ebola scare of 2015. Since I have asthma, I’m at an increased risk to have complications if I get Covid-19, so Deanne was being very thoughtful, even if there is conflicting info on the use and effectiveness of the face masks.

    At a bathroom break a group of us huddled and talked about that guy’s coughing. An Irishman named Colin said he had extra masks and I asked the coughing guy if he’d wear it. He said he had altitude sickness, not the flu or Corona Virus, but he wore it anyway.  A young couple next to me had just come through Guayaquil, along with Colin. That’s the hotspot here in Ecuador. Later, we started worrying about them, and whether they passed it on to everyone in the van.

    I had been in communication with Raik, one of the owners, via email and was thinking about canceling.  He gave me the truth and told me that our scheduled shuttle was the last one here because of a ban on all vehicles nationwide the next morning at 5 am.  Monday morning, we were torn. It was getting serious and we had to decide where to be hunkered down for up to several months. We spent a half hour looking into car rentals when we heard the buses were cancelled nationwide, along with taxis and shuttles. Then another announcement came out that no cars would be allowed to travel on the roads!  That did it, and we decided to stick with going here to Hostal Izhcayluma in Vilcabamba. It turned out that the ban was on alternating days, depending on your license plate, but we didn’t want a car and didn’t want to pay a lot while a car just sat in a driveway.

    Raik told me he had a few cancellatations, and I had asked for an upgrade to a private cabin because of that. We had a smaller room reserved.  We were given a great cabin for no extra charge. So, our first order of business was to order dinner at their amazing restaurant. They said there would be a meeting in the bar at 7 and about 30 foreigners huddled around for the updates. 

    Peter, the other German owner looked exhausted. He has been running around making accommodations for everyone and also meeting with the local police and health authorities. He gave us updates and assured us we wouldn’t be kicked out and that there was plenty of food.

    We were asked to not go into town for 3 days because the locals are getting wary of foreigners. Peter said he’s lived there for 22 years and he’s starting to get the “Gringo Eye” in town.  Everyone is OK with that. There are people from all over the world including several from the US, (and in an amazing coincidence a couple from Madison named Tim and Denise Gomez), an Estonian woman and her 2 year old, a German or 2, a New Zealander, an Aussie,, a few from England, and who knows where else. During the first group meeting, 2 naked two year olds ran around while Peter told us we could be here awhile. He started by quarantining those who had passed through Guayaquil, on police orders. The police happened to stop by during our meeting in the bar and about shit bricks. After that, they quarantined all of us for 14 days and had the health department visit to give recommendations. Those that passed through Guayaquil are stuck in their rooms and food is delivered, but the rest of us can go anywhere on the huge property.

    Each day the numbers of infected increase in Ecuador, like everywhere else. The bulk are in Guayas province, where Guayaquil is the biggest city.  We meet twice today for meetings in the restaurant in the morning and at the bar in the evening for updates and I wondered why we’re all meeting in the same room.  They are collecting cell numbers for What’s App texting, but haven’t used it yet. I downloaded the app begrudgingly since Facebook owns it and now they have all my contacts.  It’s a slight sacrifice, but I cringed while accepting those terms of service. But within 2 days, the meetings tapered off and we’re getting texts with info now.

    Peter and Raik are soooo kind. They are not charging the usual $4 for breakfast for anyone for some reason.  They have nearly emptied the dorms and upgraded as many people as they can to private rooms. They are not charging for yoga in the pm like normal. And they literally upgraded us twice to a much better room than even our first upgrade. We have a huge private cabin with 2 queen beds, a large, private patio with furniture and a hammock, and great wifi.  There’s a pool, a bar, a ping pong table, an amazing restaurant, amazing people, free yoga (they used to charge for the pm session but they are waiving it.) I haven't gone yet, but will probably start if the groups are small. Man, these guys are really amazing and kind. They are not at all worried about profit and just want to make sure we’re all taken care of. There is no place on earth we’d rather be right now. Just 3 days ago, I planned on buying all the rice and beans I could. Now it seems we will not be short of food or supplies. This could change, but they assure us we live in a breadbasket and the government is ensuring that food continues to flow and there are strict new laws banning price gouging. It’s nothing like what we are seeing in the media in the states. There’s no hoarding and no fighting in stores.

    Each day, the Ecuadorian government responds to the numbers and tightens up restrictions as the cases go up. I’m in full agreement. Here’s a rundown, more or less. This may be kinda boring, so skip over it if you want. But I am seriously impressed and can’t believe the US isn’t doing more at this point. It’s much easier to do this kind of thing in a smaller country and sometimes I feel like the US is 50 countries. It’s times like this that our demand for independence is a hindrance. (Damn, I’m old. I never would have thought that when I was younger, but I’ve seen too much in 63 countries).  Anyhoo, here are quick notes I jotted down. I’m reading the largest papers in Cuenca, Guayaquil, and Quito each day to get my info. (El Comercio, El Universo, and El Mercurio). Google automatically translates them, which is super convenient because my Spanish didn’t increase that much in 9 days of classes.

    Nationwide Public Schools close on about March 11 or 12.

    No gatherings of over 500, concerts cancelled March 11

    No gatherings of over 250 March 12, museums and public spaces close.

    Public and National Parks close March 14

    No gatherings of 100 (March 14)

    March 15 - All borders closed! This was a big one and not even EU countries or the US did this. Ecuador did this before neighboring countries, Panama, and most other SA countries. This includes flights, buses, and land crossings. Nobody is getting in now. Flights out will continue.

    No public bus travel as of March 15. We came to Vilcabamba on the last shuttle and our hostel, Izhcayluma is closed to the public now and nobody else can check in. There are about 30 of us, including many in a dorm.

    Since Guyaquil is the epicenter here, on March 17, they don’t allow anyone in or out of the province of Guayas!

    Peter and Raik are moving people from the dorms to private cabins that are now available since a few people left.  We were bumped into an even better, larger cabin with 2 queen beds and private balcony.

    The Dutch couple that passed through Guayaquil and changed buses at the Terminal Terrestre are put in voluntary quarantine here by the police on March 17. So was Colin, the Irishman, who also transferred via Guayquil. We also passed through Quayaquil from the Galapagos, but it was 2 weeks earlier and we’re not being isolated.

    March 16 - People can only drive every other day, depending on the last digit of the license plate. Exceptions are made for deliveries of food, medicine, EMTs, police, etc.

    Fines are implemented for price gouging in stores.

    March 16 there is a nationwide curfew from 9 pm to 5 am. Our staff here need to leave by 8:30, so dinner schedules are being changed.

    On March 17, the first person is convicted of driving on the wrong day. He’s sentenced to 4 months in prison. The possible fines are $6,000 and/or 1-3 years in prison!  Can you imagine that happening in the US, let alone so fast? $6K is about ⅓ the average annual income here. The man pleaded guilty so he only got 4 months. 

    March 17 - nobody over 65 in Quito can go out of their houses!  Wow.

    As of March 18, there are 3 deaths and 168 contaminated, with about 500 more in mandatory quarantine.

    March 18-  none of the staff or guests at Izhcayluma are showing any symptoms. They have been taking amazing precautions here: multiple cleanings of handles, no house cleaning, we clean our own dishes quickly in a tub first before staff touches them, no more than 2 at a dinner table, we take pictures of the menus instead of touching them, and also they ripped out pages and taped them to a table. No more sharing a pen to sign for our food/drinks. Here, we will pay one large bill when we leave instead of dealing with money at each transaction. We’re not being the best at isolation since this type of guest is pretty open and sharing. The bar is still open too!  I played pool with fellow Madisonian Tim last night but wouldn’t share my cue and first wiped it down with alcohol (the rubbing kind, c’mon, gimme a break), along with the table.

    Wednesday March 18, 2020

    A woman at the hostal left to get a private apt. In town. She thought she’d be better off alone and with her own kitchen. Two days later she asked to come back and was refused. We’re so happy we didn’t pass back through Guayaquil to go to Salinas or Playas, big beach towns near Quayaquil. We’d have been stuck in a soulless place and probably quarantined longer. And we’d be using a shared elevator in a big highrise rental condo most likely.

    Thursday March 19, 2020

    199 cases in Ecuador, 3 deaths. But 157, or 79% are in Guayas Province.  None in Loja province, where we are.

    The mayor of Guayaquil is confirmed to have Covid-19. Just before she announced this, she illegally prevented a plane from landing in Guayaquil. An empty Iberian airlines plane that was to evacuate foreigners out of Guayaquil was blocked from landing when the mayor ordered vehicles to block the runway. The plane was diverted to Quito and landed safely and took on 170 evacuees there instead.

    As of yesterday, the curfew in Guayas province was changed to 4 pm to 5 am.

    I feel guilty for being in such a nice place while so many people are hurting. But we feel like we were pulled here. Deanne found a pamphlet for this place at our Spanish School and we booked the reservation a few days later. They don’t use credit cards here and we could easily have cancelled our reservation with no recourse.  Each time we talked about going somewhere else (a beach in Guayas province!), we kept deciding to come here. When I was ready to book a car to drive to the beach (through Guayaquil), moments later I read a newspaper that said all transport would be banned. Fuck it. We are destined to go to Vilcabamba I guess.

    All photos and vids are here.
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