“That jungle is hell”
Yuleidy Peña is 20 years old. On April 19, 2019, she remembers clearly, she left her home in Venezuela and travelled to Ipiales, Colombia, looking for a job to survive.
“I spent two years working in a restaurant with my husband and sending money to Venezuela,” she said. “In Ipiales I had a baby, who is now one year old. Unfortunately, the situation became complicated because they no longer wanted Venezuelans—they wouldn't rent to us, they wouldn't let us work—so we decided to cross to Panama and try to get to the US.”
With her baby strapped to her chest, Peña and her husband crossed the Darién Gap. It took them seven days. Going by boat to Carreto was not an option, as they did not have $800 US to pay for the tickets. So, they had to walk.
“I did not think it would be so hard,” said Peña. “In the jungle, we ran out of food, and at night we slept in fear on the banks of the river because there were so many animals. In the daytime, the fear was about other things: One woman in the group was about to be raped by some men, but fortunately, the group fought back and didn't allow it. The hardest thing for me was when my husband fell with our baby, trying to walk across some very big rocks. The baby was crying a lot. We decided to walk without stopping to see if we could find someone to look after him because we thought his ribs were broken.”
When they arrived in the Panamanian community of Canaán Mebrillo, Peña had a fever and her son wouldn't stop crying. There was no medical post nearby, so they were taken by Senafront—the Panamanian national border police—on the first boat to the San Vicente reception center.
“We were then transferred to the hospital in Metetí where they did tests. It seems that my haemoglobin was low because of the many blows I took in the jungle and not eating for four days. On the way, after running out of food, we only drank river water. To eat coconut in a village, for example, we had to clean or pay $5 US. Now, to go on to Costa Rica, we need $40 US per person, which we don't have. In the meantime, we are living here with my sick baby.”