Time and place; place and time. Events happen in sequence. But when we look at the sequence in reverse, it all takes on a whole new meaning. Where do we go from here? What happened? Snippets of memory flash through my brain but I can’t hold on to them. I can’t stitch enough together to make a story… A whole story… It was the Fall of 1992, a long time ago. I was traveling through Central America. My first ever journey. I was a novice backpacker. How did I get from there to here?
Fever dreams on Mount Chirripo… For me, at least, that’s when the apocalypse started. That’s when the crazy vivid dreams began. I had been wandering through Mexico and Central America for over two months. Which means, I had been taking regular doses of the anti-malarial pill called Lariam for over two months. Did the drug cause the dreams or the fever cause the dreams? Or a strange combination of both? I was staying the night in the Refugio at the base of Chirripo peak. It had been an exceptionally long hard hike to get there during the day because I was not feeling very well. My body ached way more than usual for such a medium difficulty trek and I was sweating intensely as I walked. I remember joking with the German guy I met on the trail that I felt like I was “hiking with malaria.” Indeed, I had felt similar symptoms to a lesser extent for several days before. Excessively sweaty with a minor headache, I stumbled around the capital city of San Jose’ in a daze. I attributed my discomfort to side effects from my anti-malarial drug- Lariam. But I had no sleep issues, high fevers or intense headaches so I didn’t think I was really ill. And I was not about to let a few minor side effects from a medication stop me from hiking to the top of Central America’s highest peak.
When I finally arrived at the camp/shelter on the side of the mountain, I felt like absolute shit. I was soaked through with sweat and aching all over. Costa Rica is tropical. Chirripo is a fairly hot mountain and it was a long hike. But that wasn’t the source of the discomfort that was crawling through my body. I was very ill. I clearly had a virus of some kind… maybe malaria. Nevertheless, I did not want to admit it. I was determined to climb to the top of the mountain. I refused to give up. I remember stumbling around the camp/shelter in the early evening with my macho American individualist persona on complete and full display. I made my packet of noodle dinner on the camp stove, rolled out my sleeping bag in a comfortable spot and tried to pretend nothing was wrong. The German guy I met on the trail was in the shelter and he kept pestering me about my physical condition as I arranged my spot in the corner for sleeping. “Are you okay,” he said, “you don’t look so good; maybe you should go back down in morning. Wait and climb Chirripo another day.”
“I’m fine,” I said, as sweat dripped from my forehead, “I just got the woozies from my malaria meds. No big deal. I’ll get a good night sleep and bag the peak in the am.” I took off my boots, stripped to my shorts and climbed into my sleeping bag.
“If you say so. I don’t want to tell you what to do. But mountain not more important than health. You should go back down if you are sick.”
“I’m not sick,” I insisted, “it’s just the medication. I’ll bet I beat you to the top in the morning.” I pulled the sleeping bag up over my head and closed my eyes in an attempt to sleep. But I didn’t sleep right away. My head ached intensely. I could feel the sweat beading up on my skin. I worried. Was I really sick? I couldn’t have malaria because I was taking the pills but maybe I had something else. I felt chills. My body ached. I heard the group of French hikers arrive at the shelter but I didn’t emerge from my sleeping bag cocoon to greet them. I stayed hidden quietly in the corner suffering with my chills and sweats and aches until I finally lost consciousness. And that’s when the crazy dream began… Continue reading