Preparing for the Darien Gap in Panama

I recently (over a month or so ago) began both physical and logistical preparations for my Darien Gap jungle adventure in Panama.

The physical comes in two parts: conditioning and inoculation. The conditioning is in large part brisk walking, some jogging and weight lifting. The walking is somewhat obvious, but the weight lifting, especially for shoulders that will be taking the brunt of roughly 40-45 lb. of gear, is less obvious but equally essential. (Side note after the journey: Looking back, living in Florida I was not worried about the humidity nor the heat. I did, however, learn a vital lesson: I should have found a way to prepare for the hill climbs. While in good strength and condition, my inexperience and lack of preparation for hill climbs resulted in two to three days of grueling exhaustion that I could have avoided.)

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Dense Jungle Foilage in the Mysterious Darien Gap, Panama

To be honest, it is more preparation than I have bothered with in the past. Sure, there was the football camp run by Naval Academy coaches before High School football seasons back in the day. And, I did train hard for the Marine Corps Marathon. However, I feel that mostly, in the past, I rode on the back of youthful vigor enhanced by good genetics. My previous Middle Eastern adventure probably suggested the need for physical preparation in advance, but the reality is that for the most part I got into shape during my assignment as opposed to actually getting ready for it.

Then there is the shielding oneself from unwanted diseases; aka inoculations. I have a lifetime of travel-related needle pokes, and injections enough to survive a zombie invasion! My doctor assured me that the only remaining vaccine I’ve not yet taken is for Japanese Encephalitis, which I don’t need for this adventure in Panama.

 

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Deep in the heart of the dense jungle on the Darien Jungle Trek in Panama

Rabies. I will have three injections. This equals two more shots than my cat gets annually. The result of this particular inoculation is that if a rabid animal happens to bite me, or any animal for that matter, I will be ready to receive a long series of more shots to save my life.  If three vaccine shots prepare me for many more shots, I shutter to think what would happen if bitten without this vaccine protection.

Typhoid. I did actually get this one previously, but of course its usefulness has expired. This time I will take a series of four pills (little capsules more or less filled with the dreaded virus which my body will use to protect me) over a seven-day period. Trust me when I tell you that the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term discomfort. I am not complaining as I have not felt many of the potential side effects that you are able to feel. Still this feeling of nausea and lethargy is not my norm. “You are now ready to beat the virus for five years,” explained the doctor. My last go at this was a barely noticeable injection with barely noticeable side effects, but only protected me for two years. “You might feel poorly,” as the doctor further explained, and I did.

Malaria.  “You mean to tell me that you went to the jungles of the Amazon and have traveled all over the world and this is your first time taking malaria meds?” , the doctor asked. Sheepishly I replied, “Yes.”

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Into the Jungle, Darien Province, Panama

Well, for the warding of malaria I was disappointed to learn that Gin & Tonics do not help. I did insist that my father once noted that he had kept malaria at bay for years by drinking Gin & Tonics. The nurse more or less told me to shut up. In reality this, the malaria protection not me shutting up part, is done by taking a regiment of pills just before, during and after the trip. I will be protected from the dreaded night flying mosquito that might carry malaria. Unfortunately, I will not be protected from the day flying little beast that might transmit dengue fever.  I was assured that I do not want to get dengue fever, “especially the second time!” The good news is that I have been all but promised “vivid dreams” while taking the malaria meds; apparently “…not nightmares, just vivid dreams”, I can hardly wait!

The logistics for preparing for the Darien Gap are a bit more expensive than I would have preferred. Again, not complaining. First and foremost I am now in possession of quite the set of survival gear (aka camping equipment) that should not only help me through the Panamanian jungle, but also help me survive both the ever imminent zombie invasion and the perennial end of the world (which is so frequently scheduled but never seems to arrive). In addition, I am putting back into service some military clothing & equipment and my somewhat ancient “external frame” backpack (recently re-stitched in some places). More to follow…

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