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Police, Poison and Peace

Caldwell Fellow Saul Flores survived an encounter with a poison dart frog and an hour-long police interrogation before skirting the dangerous border region between Colombia and Panama along the coast and arriving in Costa Rica this week.

The NC State junior is walking and hitchhiking across Latin America this summer to raise money for a Mexican elementary school. Along the 4,558-mile route, he’s taking photos of the people and cultures of the region and offering them for sale on his photo blog,

What a Journey

“What a journey it has been,” he said in a Facebook post. “A one-day trip turned into a one-week hitchhike along the Archipelago de San Blas on a canoe, stopping at multiple Kuna communities along the Caribbean Sea.”

Kuna settlement
Saul Flores spent a week among the Kuna people of Panama.

Flores originally hired a local guide to lead him on foot across the Darien gap between Colombia and Panama. But Colombian soldiers stopped the men at a checkpoint about a mile into the journey and ordered them back to the border town of Lomas Aisiadas.

Walking through the jungle, Flores’s leg brushed up against a leaf where a blue florescent poison dart frog had been sitting. Flores’ leg and lip went numb for 12 hours.

“Luckily I did not make direct contact with the frog, otherwise the consequences could have been truly severe,” he said.

Picked Up by the Police

Two days later, Flores ventured to a second border town, Puerto Obaldia, to attempt a crossing there. But after he began taking photos of the town for his blog, border patrol agents took him into custody and held him for questioning.

“Turns out Puerto Obaldia is a high-security town and photographing was an indication of possible FARC (guerrilla) involvement,” Flores said. “This was not a good start in Panama.”

After he was released by police, Flores met a native Kuna villager who offered to shuttle him along the coast to Panama by canoe. Flores ended up spending a week with the Kuna, being ferried from island to island, making friends and learning some of the language and culture.

“The Kuna people welcomed me with open arms and open hearts,” he said. “This autonomous, independent community epitomized an indigenous culture living in a modern world successfully.”

Flores is majoring in design and marketing.

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  1. superb blog and photos, saul.
    look forward to welcoming you home at the end of this big adventure. . . though travels change how home looks, along with everything else.
    enjoy! paz y salud,


  2. Poison dart…numb lip? did you kiss her? hohoho.
    Tried to get hold of you while you were in Panama. Most of my family lives there. Unfortunately, my computer refused to cooperate. The Kuna Ayala are a unique group of people very fierce at one time, hence the autonomous, independent sobriquets.They are also socialists and quite successful ones at that. Did you get to see the artwork the women produce?
    Costa Rica is a beautiful country also and one overrun by turistas and surfers. The foto of the bow of the boat and the people on the horizon is excellent!
    Be safe y cuidate mucho especialmente de Costa Rica a la borde de esta pais.