Michael's Dispatches

Darien Gap: Tale of Airplane Dogfight Crash in Jungle, Stealing wild meat from a Jaguar, Boating While Drunk, and Losing the Boat...More

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Panama

Mind-Dump, sans edit — Stream of consciousness -- written in snippets since Saturday

This is a mess-of no edit. I beg forgiveness, but I guarantee you will learn a lot. Am afraid this is too large. If you don’t have time, just push through images. Have a great weekend!

Begin:

Never get so drunk that you lose your canoe on a crocodile river at night. Man and canoe swept downriver, deeper into the dark jungle. As if he could get any deeper. He started in a remote village, and there was no civilization downstream.

Tipped the canoe and drunk man too. Dark. No light. Into the jungle wild. Crocodiles. Save that story further down.

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Did you know about the island dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua? While tracking a midnight flight of a small airplane on FlightRadar24.com, from Bogota to San Andres, I looked up San Andres and read about their island dispute.

If you check FlightRadar24.com now, you’ll probably find no airplanes flying over the Darien Gap area. This corner is forgotten even for overflight.

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Did you know that the Panama Canal is East of Florida. But the time zone is one hour behind Eastern Time. Six in the morning in Florida is five in the morning here.

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And like Florida, when many gators get up and walk during April and May, a few nights ago we came across this caiman crossing the PanAm highway during a great lightning storm.

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There is only so much a handheld phone camera can do with lightning through a wet windshield on a bumpy road. I was videoing the truck with no taillights, much like moonshiners in Appalachia. The whiskey runners installed switches to turn off taillights, making harder for law to chase through the mountains and country roads.

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Last Saturday, I was with Embera Indian friends. Many of those who have been to America seem to prefer to return to Darien.

We drove from Meteti area to Yaviza. The end of the PanAm highway. The beginning of the infamous Darien Gap. A jungle so filled with ghosts they scare the fog onto the rivers.

Large numbers of seekers and runners have been daring to cross Darien since the California Gold Rush in the 1850s. When the sparkle was found in 1848, the rush was on. Like today.

Human Osmotic Pressure: HOP.

Three main routes from Eastern United States to San Francisco:

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The Plains across America — brought adventures such as Comanche.

The Horn around South America included joys such as vanishing forever. Well, all three routes brought the “vanishment” prospect.

Or Panama. Bringing new adventures such as Chagres fever found on the Chagres River.

When a Navy mission including 27 men, under leadership of Lieutenant Isaac Strain set off to cross Darien Isthmus — well, you know what they say about Lieutenants and navigation. He got lost.

But he did make it.

Forty-nine days later.

Weighing 75 pounds.

Only seven died, and some of the surviving apparently went at least temporarily insane.

And Lieutenant Isaac Strain died later at the age of 35, presumably as result of navigational error that included not listening to Indians who told him the Chucunaque River was the wrong direction. Strain thought the Indians were lying.

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But they told him the truth. Strain thought the river took a direct route to the South Sea — the Pacific. The map above reveals that Strain was just going deeper into darkness. Strain would eventually get to the Pacific if he had an extra cat-life or two, but this was no route for a canal.

The Indians who tried to help Strain are, possibly, progenitors of Embera Indians who have been taking me safely all over Darien. You should see the places we have been. Wild as ever, but mapped at least. Mapped wild is still wild.

Back in the 1850s, those seeking the gold of the Sierra Nevada kept coming through, much as today. And many still heading to the same place: California:

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Not much different now. The cows are still there. The pole,man is still on the front. Only now there are outboard motors on the same boats. I probably ate part of a descendent of these cows last week.

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Painting from Charles Nahl in 1850 on Chagres River. The piragua boats are but slightly different from those today. Today, they still use poles, but also motors. I made this photograph a couple weeks ago in an area where migrants were emerging and bathing in the river.

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But last Saturday, before reaching Yaviza on the Chucunaque River, we visited a hot-water spring closer to Meteti.

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