Darien gap part 3
The guide and I had covered 15 miles of walking on our first day on foot in the Darién Gap. Still, we hoped to have covered more ground that day to reduce as much time spent in this hostile jungle as possible. The longer you stay, the faster you begin to break down, as though the wilderness slowly eats you. We were no longer on fresh legs as we had been on day one. Now it all depended on willpower to push through on day two, where we made it into the most remote, mountainous and central region of the jungle between the start and end of this journey. We got off to a bad start; there was no signal in the area to contact the people we were supposed to meet passed the border into Panama. Making matters worse, my guide told me he wouldn’t go with me across the border due to being wanted for trafficking cases. I wouldn’t let this news deter me from completing this trip that had been five years in the making with countless setbacks—I told myself I was ready for whatever obstacle was thrown my way at that point.
After crossing the river that was too dangerous to cross the day before, the jungle was now teaming with deadly creatures in every direction. venemous spiders hanging from webs an ears length away from my face, venomous snakes just one step away from being stepped on and stinging bullet ants crawling on every tree. My limbs pinned tightly together while my eyes pinballed in every direction. Furthering the suffocating sensation was the 95% humidity of the jungle, and we now had mountains to climb and larger river crossings than last time. The biggest river we crossed was incredibly risky with how unpredictably deep it was and a true test of our nerves. I had often lost footing with my backpack submerging and potentially destroying my electronic equipment, but I had no time to check—we had to keep moving.
Signs of Human Activity
We reached the portion of the rainforest that was an infamous drug trafficking route where hostile interactions are expected and outsiders are deemed as threats or targets. It was not a place we could stop and rest, so all we could do was quickly collect water from a river with a single bottle that we had to share for several hours more until the next river crossing. First, we had our second and final mountain hike of the day. Upon reaching the top, I was treated to unique biodiversity compared to the lowlands. However, the bugs here were bothersome as they continually swarmed my face, and the GPS signal failed us due to the forest canopy—the chances of getting lost now increased. To our surprise, we found an abandoned camp the guide believed belonged to refugees. He found a Venezuelan ID card of a woman, and I couldn’t help picture where she was now and hope she achieved the dreams of many refugees that passed through here—perhaps lounging on a beach in Miami whilst I was drenched in sweat and dirt in the Darién. Close to the camp, we finally made dreaded contact with a group of suspicious people who looked to be guerrilla fighters based on their attire and guns. I kept my composure I showed no signs of interest and brief small talk as I continued. They vaguely told us they were on a job, then went on their way. We were close to the Panama border now, but there was no sense of relief. It was time to part ways with my guide, who grew incredibly nervous if border patrol (SENAFRONT) were scouting the area. Now it was all left into my hands to make it out alive with basic directions to go down a hill and follow a river.
The Last Stretch
On the way down the hill, I could feel nothing but pain and exhaustion and had no time to identify the damage, but what I said and felt at the time was that ‘I’m broken, cracked, blistered and tired’ It took me 2 hours to reach the bottom of the hill, where I finally found the river, which at least gave me a sense of security that my guide was right—that I was on the right path. I had walked 12 miles that day and estimated I had another 12 miles to reach my final destination of Jaqué in Panama. There was no way I would make it this day, so it was time to get some rest. Now I had to set up camp by myself and spend the night alone in the Darién Gap. Worst yet, dense jungle environments were infamous for deadfall, where trees and branches fell often and were known to drop on camps and kill people within them.