Readers, are viruses alive?

It is a subject of debate among biologists. They reproduce themselves, like living organisms, using all the usual biological machinery, including genes encoded in nucleic acids: DNA or RNA. Yet when outside of hosts, they are totally inert, nothing more than potential engines for gene replication, protein synthesis, and the rest…

I ask for the sake of cataloguing. I’m keeping a list of life forms that have harmed me here in Costa Rica – mosquitos, jellyfish, a cat, coral – and I want to know if SARS-CoV-2 should be included.

For, readers, I caught COVID.

Now, I’ve lasted longer than most. Two years and three months since March 2020, when I remember, as many do, being sent home and sealed away in the face of the novel coronavirus… Most people I know have gotten sick already. (I say “most”: have I crunched the numbers on all my acquaintances? No, readers. But one gets the impression.)

Yet COVID comes for us all, it would seem, and so I’ve been locked in my room since last Tuesday, when I tested positive.

My suspicions began, I believe, during my trip last weekend to Puerto Viejo, Limón. I was exhausted, and there was a little something in the back of my throat. But they were light suspicions, and I’m of the sort to always have suspicions, and they’ve never been confirmed before. (I had, up until Tuesday, run up quite the record of negative tests.) Monday I felt exhausted, but I’m of the sort to often feel tired, especially after five weeks and four weekends straight of intensive classes and excursions. (I have relished the rest my isolation has afforded me.) Tuesday I felt exhausted too – but awfully congested… On my walk home I purchased a rapid test kit from the pharmacy. I had bought one there before (see the aforementioned collection of negative tests), and administered it to myself with ease. A swab in each nostril, four droplets on the test strip, a wait of fifteen minutes… But within a minute my fate was already clear: two stripes appeared in the test window. Two stripes = positive.

“Shoot,” I said.

(Readers, I did not say “shoot,” but a word rather unfit for print.)

I feel entirely better now, but early on, I did feel sick, sick enough to agree with my test result, and feel it superfluous to go get another test from a laboratory, for the sake of being able to officially engage in online classes. (I didn’t get the extra test.) Monday and Tuesday especially, I felt absolutely fatigued, and my congestion ended up coming with a cough. Thankfully, I got better, and in truth I never felt bad enough to be incapable, say, of going out. (If I could’ve.)

But in truth, I haven’t wanted to go out. Maybe it’s the 17 months I spent at home from March 2020 to August 2021, which solidified (and complicated…) my existent homebody habits, but I’ve just never had the stamina for excitement that some people have. The past four weekends of action have worn me out; I’ve welcomed the excuse to spend this weekend, and a few days surrounding it, at home – and more than at home, relegated to my room. I confess that there’s a certain peace and restfulness to waking up and knowing that the day ahead of me – and the next one, and the next one… – will be contained entirely within this same room. (Well, and the bathroom. And the balcony. I permit myself the balcony.) I recall feeling similarly in past periods of cautionary quarantine. Maybe it works like this: my mind covers its own share of mileage on any given day; I am certainly one who lives more intensely in his mind than in the world.* (My readers draw a collective gasp of unsurprise.) So it can be a relief to cut out the spatial movement for a while, and give my mind, as it were, its own space to roam, and breathe.

* I would never endorse this habitation of the mind, as opposed in the world, if living in the mind and in the world didn’t, at least for practical epistemic purposes, come down to the same thing. But didn’t I mention something like this in the first post?

The isolation has certainly given me time to do things I’ve been meaning to do. I’ve been working on my application for a Fulbright grant. (Ich hoffe, Leser*innen, nächstes Jahr in Deutschland zu sein…) I’ve been ordering in lunch from some of the fast food restaurants I’ve been meaning to try, to see if they’re different. (Taco Bell tastes the same. Burger King, probably the same, but I don’t eat it enough in the States to have a good reference. Much less for KFC: I’m a Popeyes man, though the chicken here wasn’t so bad.) I’ve been making steady progress through Cien años de soledad… (Between that and the Quijote, plus my scrutiny of Borges for my English thesis, 2022 will ultimately have been quite the year for Spanish-language literature for me.) My first quarantine lunch, I ordered two burgers and a big empanada for about $6, including the delivery fee and a superfluous tip. (They don’t tip here.) Have I mentioned how wonderful the food prices are here, for an American? Today I ordered an expensive lunch… for $8. It was Caribbean chicken, with rice, beans, and banana ceviche. Plus a drink. The ceviche was quite good, though I splattered most of it on the floor. The Caribbean chicken – cooked with coconut, I think – wasn’t the best I’ve had. It was a better in Limón, as you might imagine.

And then there’s Limón. Shall I regale you with my exploits in Puerto Viejo? As I said, I was quite tired for most of the trip, but that didn’t stop me from hitting various beaches. (What other choice did I have, readers – everyone else was doing it!) That’s no hard task in Puerto Viejo, which consisted, as far as I could tell, of a lively, noisy pile of bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, hotels, and bike rental shops crowded next to an endless stretch of beaches. (I snapped the picture above on one such beach.) Its populace: one million tourists, street vendors, shopkeepers, drug dealers, and police officers. My favorite moment was exploring the town on my own and enjoying a chocolate frío and the bread of the day at “Bread and Chocolate,” a gorgeous café. I bought dark chocolate and chocolate en polvo, for drinking, that I hope we can enjoy in Utah, Abby and Story.

Or maybe my favorite moment was exploring yet another waterfall, one just as cool and refreshing as La Fortuna, but so positioned that we were able to swim and climb behind it. I couldn’t hear or see much back there, given the water pounding down above and in front of me, but something about that seclusion and sensory numbing was nice. (Another way to take a mental breather.)

I sketched the waterfall, and one of my trip-mates took a picture of me with my sketch in front of it.

That was kind of her – she had taken my picture three weekends before, insisting that guys never take pictures of themselves, to the annoyance of their families and friends. (Maybe she’s right.) She was also kind enough to give me antibiotic paste earlier in the day for the gashes I sustained snorkeling – this, readers, is why coral is on the list of harmful life forms. This snorkeling was better than last time: I saw countless fish, a gigantic stingray, and, of course, many diverse corals. But, readers, the corals are sharp, and staying afloat while adjusting a constantly foggy, waterlogged mask, and not touching them… this proved to be more than I was capable of. I bled.

The bus rides to and from Puerto Viejo, incidentally, took about seven hours. The main road, apparently, was closed, so we took the long way. This didn’t do wonders for my posterior, and exhausted me further – though maybe I already had COVID then. I did, however, get some amazing views of the Costa Rican landscape…

Staring out automobile windows: one of my favorite things to do, as I’ve said. But tomorrow my isolation ends, just in time for my service-learning work, the second half of my work here, to begin. I’ll be ready to stop staring out the window of my room, and get back out there into Costa Rica. There’s still so much left to do…

PS Here’s that sketch of the waterfall: