From Panama To ColombiaPietro Buzzanca recalls his crazy experiences in Latin America
It was the summer of 2005 when I got to Panama City with $400 to my name.
My first solo trip from Mexico to Peru had been smooth that far, but making my way south, crossing between Panama and Colombia, was not going to be easy since the only strip of land connecting the two countries was the Darién National Park, a thick jungle controlled by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).
I spent the first week in the city “investing” $20 a day on blackjack tables, trying to make the money for the airplane fare, but after bleeding one hundred of my precious dollars I was persuaded that the only way to make my return flight from Lima was to find cheaper transport.
At the time I was affected by teenage delusions of grandeur and crossing by boat seemed like a good idea so, to be closer to the piers, I checked into a hotel in Casco Viejo, Panama’s commercial harbor.
Days went by as prostitutes climaxing through the paper thin walls of my room, police raiding brothels and sailors rocking hooks for hands made me feel as if I was stuck in the pages of book by Stevenson.
But finally my negotiations on the piers paid off.
For $30 I was promised transport to Jaqué, a small settlement in the Darién, under the guarantee of a road connection to Medellin, Colombia, and assured that another “gringo” was chancing the crossing on the same decrepit ship. Unable to check the information I was provided, I trusted the sailor. Never trust a sailor on dry land.
The feeling of safety that the other “gringo” inspired faded as soon as I met him. The nutcase was a night-watchman in a morgue back in Oregon and had a machete strapped to his belt on the day we set sail.
We navigated for a day and a night surrounded by goods and passengers of dubious nature, and when we arrived to Jaqué we found out that there were no roads connecting the jungle outpost to Colombia.
Stranded in the settlement, the villagers extorted us a dollar for each breath we exhaled, until the day we convinced Justino, the one eyed settlement’s chief, to take us with his boat to Juradò, another village that we thought was connected by road to Medellin.
The eight hours journey spent bucketing water overboard, did not alter the situation at all: Juradò was the Colombian, slightly bigger, crammed with cocaine dealers, version of Jaquè.
We spent several days on the beach trying to figure a way out, until one morning we heard the sound of an airplane engine and we saw it losing altitude for landing. We run after that plane like dogs chasing cars and for an exorbitant sum I managed to buy my ticket out of hell.
My travel companion instead decided to stay and wait for another boat. I have not heard from him ever since.
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