This Jungle Is Notoriously Dangerous. Why People Enter It Anyway

Welcome to the Darien Gap, lure to migrants bound for US
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 20, 2016 11:45 AM CDT
Updated Jul 24, 2016 3:23 PM CDT
This Jungle Is Notoriously Dangerous. Why People Enter It Anyway
In this 2012 photo, people bathe in the river as the sun sets in the Darien province on the border with Colombia, in Union Choco, Panama.   (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

The Pan-American Highway runs about 19,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina and manages to connect the Americas in remarkable fashion through a network of roads. Well, almost: Even this highway can't penetrate the Darien Gap, a dangerous stretch of rainforest on the border of Panama and Colombia. As Jason Motlagh writes at Outside, it's dangerous for any number of reasons: poisonous snakes, bandits, paramilitary groups, drug smugglers, a dearth of fresh water, you name it. Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, the Gap has in recent years become a major draw for migrants from all over the world looking to get into the US. One typical path: They fly into Brazil or Ecuador because of lax visa rules, then start the long journey north, often in the company of human smugglers. The Gap is by far the most arduous part.

"The entire expanse, a roadless maze that travelers usually negotiate on foot and in boats, is dominated by narco traffickers and Cuba-backed guerrillas who’ve been waging war on the government of Colombia since 1964," writes Motlagh. "Hundreds of migrants enter each year; many never emerge, killed or abandoned by coyotes (migrant smugglers) on ghost trails." Motlagh doesn't just write about the Gap, however. He and a photographer and videographer actually cross it themselves, by foot and by boat, after gaining the trust of Marxist FARC rebels who control a 50-mile north-south route. Along the way, they meet Nepalis, Bangladeshis, even one man from Afghanistan hoping to ultimately reach Las Vegas. Click to read the full, harrowing story here. (More Colombia stories.)

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