The month of May in Cuenca, Ecuador was lovely; hot sunny mornings, rainy afternoons, chilly nights. During the COVID-19 lockdown, cabin fever hit toward the end of May. Star, our dog, took me on even longer walks, needing to expand her horizons.
Grass grew taller in our local park. Dog walkers had difficulty picking up after their pooches in the high grass, so I assigned myself to clean up after others. Confinement had reached its tolerable limits; more dog walkers emerged.
Surprisingly, new street dogs appeared. Speculation was that hungry families could no longer afford to feed their pets. One handsome newcomer won the hearts of our neighborhood, visiting everyone daily for food and petting.
We named him Harley. Whenever Star and I walked, Harley appeared and cheerily accompanied us. Other neighbors tell the same story of Harley prancing alongside on their errands.
A car repair garage that provided income for four families sat idle during the lockdown. One May day, they invited an indigenous family of farmers to bring their fruits and vegetables to a table in their driveway. The bustling new Mercado was an instant hit!
It created an ambiance of relaxation. People gathered to chat, glad to have a spot to socialize. Their dog and Star became buddies when I shopped.
A quarantined family in a 3rd-floor apartment nearby lowered a bucket containing money and a list. The Mercado folks filled the bucket with the requested produce and they hauled the bucket back up on its rope.
To our relief, the local laundromat owners came to our house to announce that they were open again. Hooray, no more hand-washing all our laundry! During the first week, the employees wore full-body plastic suits. Soon those disappeared, replaced by masks, gloves, and a strict cleaning regimen. I developed a new dog walking routine: go to the laundromat to drop off our laundry, continue down to the Tomebamba River, pass a daycare center, monitor the progress of the grass gradually enveloping the tiny tables and chairs on their lawn.
Other days, we walked the opposite direction along the river, heading to the bakery for fresh gluten-free sweet potato bread and coconut cake! In that direction, Star finds dog pals to trot along with and explore the wildly overgrown paths along the unusually clear river.
Without humans, nature has recovered its vitality and cleanliness. Gary often joined us on the bakery walks. Our bakery shortened their hours to honor the 2 pm curfew, so we went early.
Under curfew, all businesses, except restaurant deliveries, closed at 2 pm. It was a challenge to get all our errands completed early.
Open businesses had long lines up the sidewalk with masked people standing 6′ apart. Space-suited greeters stood in the doorways, aiming a spray bottle and thermometer at each customer. Such an odd sight!
I often wondered what the dogs, cats, and birds thought of humans’ bizarre behavior.
Did the rats even notice what humans do? With so many restaurants closed, rats had to go farther afield to find food, becoming more visible during COVID-19. Our neighbor’s dog proudly killed one on the sidewalk near a restaurant that was closed for lockdown.
In May and June, delivery motorcycles buzzed around more often. They delivered anything from any store, so people could stay home safely. Families with frail members didn’t leave their houses. Shopping services became a new cottage industry.
Simultaneously, other people started ignoring the curfew, craving free movement under the stunningly clear blue sky. Stores opened in early June, against the rules. The need to feed their families and serve their neighbors rendered store owners willing to take their chance. There was a growing sense of shedding fear, yet most people were taking personal responsibility with masks and distancing.
When Cuenca city parks started being landscaped again, we knew the end of the curfew was near. We moved from “red light” status (total lockdown) to “yellow light” in June. Businesses opened at partial capacity, with strict health protocols enacted. Overnight, the parks filled with children swarming and laughing on the playground and twice as many dogs romping. It felt good to see the populace joyfully reappear. We greeted our long-lost neighbors, hoping the virus would taper off, and soon, we all would emerge permanently.
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by: Bonnie Willow