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Panama: Excursion to Remote Jungle Indian Village

One adventurous summer, a student named Judah ventured into the green darkness of the lawless and guerrilla warfare drenched Darien Gap of Panama. The Darien Gap is the famed connection between Panama and Colombia, the bridge between Central and South America. There are no roads in this extensive jungle, only Native Indians, guerrilla fighters, and swarms of wildlife. Travel is on foot, plane, or small boat.

Judah became involved with the region as he was participating in a lone volunteer engineering internship with one American and a group of natives in a small village near Torti, bordering the Darien. One weekend, he met a Wounaan Indian who invited Judah to go camping in the jungles, the location was unknown. Three weeks later, Judah rendezvoused with the Indian and a few others and departed by small boat to the ocean and thereafter the river systems of the Darien. The purpose of this journey was to meet with three remote Indian tribes about the Colonos’ (native Panamanians) encroachment on the Indians’ land. Apparently the Colonos have been deforesting the lands and destroying the Indians’ trochas (river water supplies up in the mountains). The group was to help the Indians’ in devising a plan and to work with the Panamanian government in order to save their natural resources and thus, their native way of life.

After four days and visits to three native villages, hours apart by small boat through the rivers and oceans, we returned to the first village. When traveling to and from villages, departure and arrival times must be carefully planned before dawn or the late afternoon as to catch the tide, otherwise the boat would be stuck in the river and be unable to reach the village. At the first village, the chief informed the group that the Colonos had recently returned to clear more jungles for their grazing cows. Therefore, the group hiked up the jungle mountain in order to view the deforestation. Additionally, the natives were on the lookout for the Colonos destroying more land. At the top of the mountain, the land was barren of jungle – nutrient-rich land destroyed for the sake of a few cows. Fences we erected and consequently destroyed. We had seen the destruction, but no Colonos. It was now time to hike several hours to return to the village. Heavy rain and thunder accompanied our return journey on the steep downhill slopes of the mountain. As always, Judah’s rusty, yet razor sharp machete, purchased from a Panamanian grocery store, was drawn and utilized to clear a path through the thick vines and undergrowth. Unfortunately, Judah’s machete continued to be utilized throughout the water onslaught. One simple mis-calculated step and Judah slipped down the trail. He felt a sharp pain through his fingers and feared they were lost as a tough native Indian gawked at the blood! A used and sweaty bandana was hastily wrapped around the fingers as the group needed to continue the hike back to the village in order to get treatment. Fortunately, Judah did not fall into shock, as no one was trained in medical treatment and evacuation was only by foot. Of course, there was no method of radio communication in the depths of the jungle or at the village to call for outside assistance. After three hours of hiking through dense jungle and eleven small river crossings, the group arrived back to the village. Judah did not know if a native Shaman would attempt to repair the fingers or if advanced medical help would be sought back in the city. Because of the gruesome view of the wound, the group waited for the river tide in order to depart the village and venture to the ocean to seek advanced medical assistance.

After several hours, the group arrived at the river port of a small city. Unfortunately, it was late at night and all of the taxi cabs retired for the evening. With a bloodied hand covered in a now-thick bandana, the group hitch-hiked a ride to the emergency room. Upon arrival, Judah was seen immediately. After careful evaluation and testing, the doctor determined that the fingers could barely be salvaged. Several shots and stitches later, Judah hoped he had survived the worst. Unfortunately, Judah had $17.65 in his wallet and nothing else. Credit cards were figured useless in this remote area and no international travel insurance had been acquired. As Judah approached the counter, he pondered how such a potentially steep emergency room medical bill could be paid. Miraculously, the girl at the counter stated the cashier had gone home for the night; therefore the service was complementary! Thus, Judah’s $17.65 was just enough to purchase the necessary antibiotics and a bus ride back to the American partner near Torti.

A couple of days later, Judah visited a local hospital to get the wound cleaned and re-bandaged by the doctor. On this occasion, the cashier was in attendance. Once again, Judah had no insurance, only some cash. Therefore, the cashier charged the full fee, 50 cents (U.S.)! At a later time, Judah learned that he was in fact lucky to leave the Darien area with only a finger-flesh wound. One week after Judah’s adventure into the region disputed by the Colonos and the Indians, a major event transpired at the exact same location as the machete accident. The Indians told the Colonos to leave the native lands. The Colonos angrily responded with close-range shotgun bursts at the Indians. Unexpectedly, the Indians responded in full camouflage – armed with machetes. Therefore a battle ensued, leaving many Indians and Colonos mangled with machete and shotgun wounds.

Therefore, Judah had now learned his lesson about involving himself with Central American adventures and native disputes. So, on his next excursion, six months later, instead of venturing to Panama – he embarked upon the Amazonian region of Venezuela where an altercation with machetes, several bats, and a 12 gauge shotgun sized handgun nearly ensued – but that is a story for another day!