in Narrative

Dengue Fever

Costa Rica, “Aquí Se Cura Todo” (Everything heals here) :

It was the kind of morning that should’ve ended with a tourism minister’s summery execution: humid, deceptively hot and airless, with a few skeletal dogs dozing under the thatched roof of a run down bohio, and the smell of kinkajou burning on the wire.

To Ortiz ( our driver, friend and guide ) it was just another “dia tipico.” To a gringo like me it was just more proof the country had it in for me. And I couldn’t help wondering: What would happen if I really did snuff it?

After all, this was the place for it. Alive. Indifferent. Unchanging. A man could die out here. He could collapse into the soft red mud, and the jungle would take him, absorb him, obscure the dirty secrets of his life.

I remember that terrible scream, Ortiz jerking the wheel, my face hitting the hot dash. I opened my eyes. Lyle the iguana (Ortiz’s better half) looked back at me, shaking his dewlap, and tonguing the superheated air.

I groaned, thrust my head out the window and downloaded gallo pinto into the bush. I could feel pain howling through every joint in my body. The worst of it was behind my eyes. I wanted to scream.

But the van tipped, started nosing downhill at a sharp angle, jerking us all about like orphan boys on the bishop’s lap. Tree branches screeched down the side. One hit me in the face. Then another.

Ortiz started swearing in Spanish. Called me a red devil. I checked my battered reflection in the side-view. He was right. It looked like I’d been napping with my head in a microwave. The skin burned red. I had a weird rash on my chest. Even my legs were flushed and swollen.

With great effort I swiveled my head. Blood and what looked like hair covered the left front bumper, partially obscuring a sticker that read: “Yo freno por los animales.” But there appeared to be no structural damage. No broken glass. No twisted metal. No severed limbs.

There was beer. Huge sticky pools of Imperial covered the floor. A bottle rolled past our feet. Ortiz shot me an anxious glance.

“Como te sientes amigo?” He said.

“I think I’m dying.”

Ortiz shook his head, smirking at me from under his straw hat. I decided to ignore him. I glanced back at the lads.

They weren’t moving. They were still stupefied from last night’s guaro. They lay sprawled across the seats of our econoline of doom, their lean wave-toned bodies marinating in sweat and spf 45.

We were four gringos, one Latino (and one lizard), loosely federated along one drive-train. We’d spent the last several days bouncing through malarial filled holes, exploding though greenery like a plane crash landing in the jungle. Now our white van was red with dried mud and insect parts.

The antenna had gone missing. Africanized honey-bees had hounded us. Mosquitoes had drained our blood. Scorpions had crawled into our clothing. Howler monkeys had hectored us from above. Cameras, beach towels, t-shirts, and sandals had all gone missing.

We’d eaten tainted meat, experienced explosive diarrhea, even hallucinated after drinking from a bag of juice. At times it had felt like the whole country was trying to kill us. Kill me. Please, someone just kill me. I’d never felt pain like this. Like the bones were breaking under my skin.

The van forded a stream. Water poured in through the holes in the floor. My feet got wet and swollen and soon I was shivering violently, mumbling like a meth addict, phasing in and out of consciousness, until finally the van pulled off the muddy trail and cued up with a long line of cars waiting on the Nicoya Ferry.

The ferry was nowhere in sight. Nor was Alejandra; my reason for coming to this drug trafficking old coffee port. I looked over at Ortiz. “Ahora,” he’d finally said, with a shrug.

Annoyed, I grabbed my pack and stumbled stiffly into the street. Small orange butterflies floated past my head. Chickens darted about my feet, picking through empty juice boxes and candy wrappers. “Pura vida mother-fucker,” I grumbled to the hound licking my salty knuckles.

I shuffled on, stepping over a cockroach the size of a small house cat. The roach was dragging a half melted ice cream sandwich into the scrub. A small child followed warily. He was missing a finger.

I took refuge in the shade of a tree to write. But if that last paragraph was any indication, there was no chance of that. I’d become a writhing, raving, fetal ball of jungle fever. I pulled my cap down over my eyes and I promptly twitched back into a painful sleep.

-Cojito @ Panama After Dark.

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