By Irene Escudero
Darien, Colombia, Oct 10 (EFE).- When Jose Juan told Steven he wanted to go to the United States through Darien, his seven-year-old son told him it was dangerous, that it was better to do it by plane.
Even so, he now energetically leads the group of migrants that begins their journey through this inhospitable jungle that separates Colombia from Panama.
It’s like a game for him, he walks kicking the empty bottles his companions throw along the way and climbs the slippery and steep hills as if he did it every day. But despite the fact that he has grown up in the field, in the Colombian department of Santander, it is the first time something like this has happened.
Jose Juan Luna, who has been taking care of Steven since his mother left them alone six years ago, told his son he wanted to look for a better future for him.
“I’m not leaving you alone, daddy, I’m coming with you,” Steven said.
He knew what awaited them on the road was going to be dangerous; he had seen it on social media and television. He hesitated, but finally the Colombian-Venezuelan father convinced him.
“Let’s go through the jungle, it’s going to be an adventure,” he said.
Like them, more than 150,000 people – 60 percent of them Venezuelans, pushed by a dying economy and because they claim the US is “letting them in” – have decided to cross so far this year through one of the most dangerous migrations in the world. It’s a journey that can last a week through a mountainous jungle where there is no law.
Although it is not a new phenomenon, it has exploded in the last two years. In recent weeks, more than 3,000 people entered the Darien Gap daily.
The entrance to the Darien has a “Welcome to Heaven” sign on one side and, on the other, an angel on a rock that watches over the groups of migrants that constantly pass by during the day.
They walk loaded with heavy backpacks lined with plastic bags, bottles of water, tents and luggage that on many occasions they discard along the way to lighten the march.
Miralis Simota goes with the middle of her daughters holding her hand, limping due to a sore knee, and with her husband carrying her youngest, just three years old and fresh burns on his bare chest.
The day before, when they were preparing everything to start the most difficult part of their trip to the US, she accompanied one of her daughters to the bathroom and the little one accidentally tripped over the water that was boiling in the improvised stove.
However, this family of Venezuelans decided to continue their route to Capurgana, the last Colombian town before the jungle. Now they move slowly through the foliage along the first hills where the little girls’ rubber boots threaten to get stuck in the mud.
They still have at least five more days left – depending on their pace – and the hardest part of the journey. Marlon Anaya, another Venezuelan who has just reached the US, achieving his “American dream” said that on that first day, they realized it was not a game.
He walked between six and 12 hours a day for a week, sleeping, if the rain allowed, in camps set up by locals with plastic to protect their tents, and getting up at dawn to continue the journey.
The worst day is the fourth, as once you pass Panama – at a border without authorities or customs – you arrive at “Banderas,” a hill with a climb of more than four hours, he said.
“At the top was where we saw the first dead body,” this young professional soccer player told EFE.
From there comes the descent, also dangerous due to the slippery mud, but faster, and the path by the river where Panamanian authorities and the United Nations have migrant reception posts, but there are still two or three more days and the danger of the river growing.