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'Narco Jungle': My trek across the dangerous Darien Gap


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My first security briefing was harsh. The advice: Sleep with one eye open. Don’t trust anyone. Walk fast. And this: You can’t protect yourself from rape, so take condoms.

And so, when a group of women, deep in the jungle, told me they had just been robbed, humiliated and sexually violated by an armed gang, I was horrified, but not surprised.

For six days our crew documented an unfolding migrant crisis through the Darien Gap, an untamed stretch of jungle that connects Colombia to Panama.

(CTV W5)

In a one-week period, more than 100 women reported being sexually assaulted on the journey.

This is the route we took.

Route through the Darien Gap (CTV W5)

Long used as a cartel pipeline for smuggling cocaine and weapons, the 100 kilometres of jungle has become a highway of human misery.

In 2023, a staggering 520,000 migrants completed the trek through to Panama in their search for a better life in the U.S. or Canada. An even greater number is expected this year. Most are from Venezuela, Ecuador, and Haiti but increasingly they are coming from China.

No one on the Colombian side is keeping track of how many enter the jungle, so there’s no record of how many die trying to cross the Darien Gap.

Three separate times we came across the bodies of those who didn’t survive.

Three separate times, the W5 crew came across the bodies of those who didn’t survive the trek through the Darien Gap (CTV W5)

The Colombian side of the jungle is controlled by the Gulf Clan Cartel. In an interview before the trek, one of the cartel leaders in charge of the lucrative migrant business told me the rules are very strict.

Human smugglers, who call themselves guides, charge the migrants hundreds and even thousands of dollars for safe passage and give the cartel a cut of their earnings.

It’s an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars every year in Colombia. But the bulk of the trek is on the Panamanian side of the border, where there are no guides/traffickers and where armed groups of local criminals prey on migrants.

Our team includes director of photography Jerry Vienneau, producer Eric Szeto, producer/translator Maria Teresa Scotti, and former British soldier/paramedic Adam Creighton.

From left: W5 directory of photography Jerry Viennau, producer Eric Szeto and producer/translator Teresa Scotti (CTV W5)

We trekked for up to 10 hours every day through swamps, across rivers, over boulders and along rock cliffs. At night we slept in hammocks.

This is about halfway through the trek, gearing up for another harrowing day:

By our last night, most migrants had run out of food and didn’t have access to clean drinking water.

This is my final video diary (where you can faintly hear the snores of Jerry Vienneau, whose hammock was hanging right next to mine):

Watch W5’s 'Narco Jungle: The Darien Gap' in our video player at the top of this article Top Stories

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