“Goodbye!” yelled a man from the boat company. “Have a good trip!”

Government officials are largely absent from the Darién. The area is controlled by a criminal group known as the Clan del Golfo, whose members view migrants much as they view drugs: goods they can tax and control.

Once the migrants step off the boats, they are met by smugglers — typically poor men in the area who offer to take them into the jungle, starting at $250 a person. For an extra $10 they will carry a backpack. For another $30, a child.

Farline and her family spent the night in a tent at the edge of the jungle. In the morning, they set out before sunrise, alongside hundreds of others.

“I carry bags,” smugglers shouted. “I carry children!”

Soon, a vast plain became a towering forest. Farline clambered between trees, following her parents. Vladensky slept on his mother’s chest. Other children cried, the first to show signs of exhaustion.

As the group crossed river after river, tired adults began to abandon their bags. They clambered up and then down a steep, muddy slope, only to stare up at the next one. Faces that were hopeful, even excited, that morning went slack with exhaustion.

A woman in a leopard-print dress fainted. A crowd formed. A man gave her water. Then they all rose, picked up their bags and began to walk.

Today, after all, was just day one in the Darién, and they had a long journey ahead.

Julie Turkewitz reported from Necoclí, Colombia; Natalie Kitroeff from Mexico City; and Sofía Villamil from Necoclí and Bajo Chiquito, Panama. Oscar Lopez contributed reporting from Mexico City, and Mary Triny Zea from Panama City.

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