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Getting to Morti

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The Mortí community is located nearly 30 km off the Pan-American Highway in the headwaters of the Chucunaque River, in one of the least developed areas of Panama. There are no roads into the community, and the only access to the village is through the jungle, by river, or by spur roads bulldozed back into the jungle by timber companies. These roads are only passable for a couple of months each year, during the dry season period between December and March.

Each one way trip to or from the village takes at least a full day from Panama City, even though the direct distance to the community is not that far. The road trip back to the point in the Darien Province where one ventures off of the highway, takes from 3 to 5 hours. The time range depends on whether one can manage a ride in a 4X4 Toyota pickup, or whether one has to take public transportation - likely to be an old recycled school bus shipped down from the United States. Once back in the Darien, there are a couple of options for proceeding to the village. In the height of rainy season, most people go by dugout canoe equipped with an outboard motor of 15 to 30 hp.

The river "port," most commonly used is called Puerto Limon, and is located about an hour down a dirt road off of the Panamanian Highway near the frontier town of Metetí. From the port, there is a 7-12 hour boat ride up the winding Chucunaque River to the mouth of the Mortí River, where the community is located. As the crow flies, the distance from the Pan-American Highway to Mortí is less than 30km, yet the indirect approach and countless loops of the river, stretch the river trip out to 85km. The large window of time estimated for this trip is due to the variations in traveling conditions such as the size of the outboard motor used, the flood stage of the river, and whether or not one runs into debris jams along the river. The jams are created by logs and trees that have been uprooted or dislodged by the torrential floods that frequently overwhelm the river in the rainy season.

The other travel option involves taking a dirt road from the highway community of Zapallal, near Agua Fria. This road is taken for an hour or so by off-road 4x4 pickup taxi through the cattle pastures, agricultural areas, and tree farms that now occupy the land around the Pan-American Highway. If the trails are not flooded or too muddy, there awaits another 1-2 hour hike through humid, sunbaked pastures and tree plantations and finally into the shaded and cooler forests that begin at the edge of the indigenous territory. Another hour hiking along the narrow, winding, thorn adorned trail; jumping over streams or shimmying across on fallen logs will bring one to the same Chucunaque River, but much further upstream. From here the boat ride is only about an hour to the Mortí community. The village of Mortí is a rustic village with no electricity or running water.


Morti, Darien
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