Peter Gray Smith is a senior at the George Washington University double majoring in International Affairs (Honors) and Geography with a minor in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). He is a cadet in Georgetown University’s Army ROTC program. During his final semester, Peter is interning for National Geographic Education Programs and the District of Columbia Geographic Alliance.
Adam Mack is a senior at the George Washington University majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Conflict and Security. He is a midshipman in GWU’s Navy ROTC program. Shortly after graduation, Adam will be attending flight school in Pensacola, Florida.
The two friends spent their senior year spring break traveling through the jungles of Darién province in eastern Panama. There are four installments to this blog. In each we tell of our travels, the people, and the geography. This blog is more than a chance for us to write of our explorations. It hopefully inspires you to take a chance at your next opportunity and do something most others fear to do.
POST 1 Getting to Darién was no easy feat, but with the help of nice people and an adequate understanding of the language, Adam and Peter made their journey deep into the jungle.
Our journey into the heart of Darién began at 3 AM at the Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City. Completely disoriented, we received help from a security guard carrying a .357 Magnum. To say the least, it was an intriguing first experience with Panamanian security forces. He put us on a rickety bus filled with darienitas (Darién natives) returning home after a weekend in the city.
The passengers seemed not to mind the early morning hours. The loud accordion-driven music inspired a boisterous atmosphere that made the seven-hour trip to Metetí seem like a short outing.
Do not let the dots on the map fool you: Towns like Metití have no more than a taxi stand, gas station, and a small, relatively concentrated neighborhood of about five houses. From the stand, we took a collective cab with nine other passengers to Puerto Quimba. Again, we were deceived by the size of the map dot. There was a dusty parking lot, a boat launch, and a rudimentary police checkpoint. When we registered with the police, we were given a sobering dose of reality. Behind the desk hung a poster of the most-wanted Colombian rebels that were known to lawlessly roam the jungles. Though we would never encounter these rebels, the imminent threat would linger in our thoughts for the remainder of the trip.
From Puerto Quimba, we rode our first of many botes (boats) into La Palma, the provincial capital of Darién. La Palma is a fishing town, the inhabitants of which have a profound curiosity for foreigners. Even the few machete-wielding seamen were gracious hosts.