Well, I thought that 17 flights taken to move around Indonesia, the year before, was extreme, but going through Panama, not that well connected by air, that was some other extreme even for me. My girlfriend and I, both avid travellers, decided that this year, rather than our usual 3 weeks “somewhere”, we would go crazy and (God knows why) invite some companions!
Wait, what? My Dear Girlfriend, I thought, we haven’t done this before. It should be exclusively for us. You know what they say, “you’re best friends until you travel together.” Luckily for me, all of our friends already had some plans, so, as you do, I casually shared our travel plans at work. I meant to just inform people that I will be gone for 3 weeks, but Suzie… Suzie’s eyes were almost blinking. I didn’t know why.
One eternity later, and here we are. Me and my girlfriend.
And Suzie’s bestie.
This will be so much fun. We ended up getting super-cheap Iberia flights from Madrid to Panama City. Here we are. An unexpected pack of people in a beautiful Panama City.
Suzie came up with the idea of visiting the “Darien Gap”, at the intersection of Panama and Colombia. Aside from its reputation of drug trafficking mayhem and the local army keeping it clean, it is a place of untouched wonder. It’s the only place in the Americas, where the PanAmerican Highway doesn’t penetrate. The local tribes called Kuna (or Guna) live like they always have lived, in the jungle and isolated. They are protected, and are not a tourist attraction, but you can arrange to meet them and stay with them for a few nights to experience their world.
Suzie arranged a permission. By permission, I mean THE PERMISSION; a formal agreement that you obtain from the government, explicitly stating you will be safe there because we (the government) know you’re there. At least, this is what we were told.
It’s quite a journey to get to Darien. At least from our starting point. We needed to take a few buses, with the last one taking 6 hours. Considering the climate, my sudden fever out of nowhere, the fact that I had to lie down on the bus floor trying to fight with it, open windows and just one fan in the roof of the bus, it was not a honeymoon. You get out of the bus tired, dirty and not that happy. But hey, we are here to meet the Kunas.
Kuna Woman, San Blas, Panama | Credits: imakjak
At one point the bus was stopped by SENAFRONT, known as a super-tough border military formation protecting Panama from drug and human trafficking. We were asked to get out of the bus, stay in line and hand over our passports. Yes, "white faces" from a European tribe, close to one of the most dangerous places in that part of the world, are asked by soldiers to step back. Just FYI, soldiers there are not trained to be friendly, they are trained to protect Panama and decide if you are trying to smuggle something, or if you are just happy tourists.
We were happy tourists!
But they didn't seem to share the happiness with us. Suzie, tell them. We got “the permission”, everything is fine. Sergeant X's eyebrows seem to exchange the feeling with my brain that he is surprised. Now I am getting surprised. Suzie?
“Oh, you got the papers?”, he asks.
Sure, we are not stupid. “Suzie, give him papers”, I say.
So, we are in the Meteti, in the full sun, surrounded by soldiers with our bags open and being checked. We are kind of smiling, but we just see as our bus that took us here just departs back to Panama City.
“What papers?” Suzie asks.
“Papers, permission, agreement, whatever they call it, now is the time to hand it over to Mr Soldier.
“I thought that we could just sneak in. We don't have any papers…”
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