A week ago my son and his family and my wife Lois and I were driving along the Panama Highway that runs through the center of the country, about 30 kilometers from Costa Rica. We were headed up into the mountains of northwestern Panama to check out the area where they grow coffee. It was about 6 p.m., very dark, and the rain was coming down in a huge waterfall, like water over the top of a crumbling dam. It’s rainy season in the rainforest, so what else could we expect?
Our headlights picked up movement on the left side of the highway, and we could barely see an Indian woman in colorful garb carrying something wrapped in a blanket on her shoulder. Then we were past and suddenly entering another one of the National Police inspection stations that were getting more frequent as we got closer to the Costa Rican border. The usually just wanted to see our passports and sometimes asked where we were going. This time it was different.
My son, who was driving, rolled down his window. The officer stuck in his head and asked if we could transport an Indian woman with a sick baby to a hospital that was 10 minutes down the road (in Panama, that usually means 10 kilometers). Now I knew what the woman on the side of the road had been carrying in her blanket. A baby! I thought it must be very sick for her to be carrying it along a road in the jungle at night in this tropical deluge.
Of course we would. Lois, who was in one of the back seats, opened her door and helped the woman in with her child. She had another blanket draped over her shoulders and head like a poncho and peered shyly out of its folds. The baby was ominously quiet. Jeff’s wife, Markela, tried to talk to the woman in Spanish, but she could only speak her native dialect so there was no communication other than our friendly smiles and her frightened looks when she glanced down at her baby.
We drove on for about 10 kilometers, spotted a sign, turned right down a little road and after a few more minutes spotted an ambulance backing into a small building on the left. Jeff pulled in right behind the ambulance and opened the door to let the woman and her baby out and she nodded her head in thanks and quickly walked into the building.
Two minutes later and we were once more creeping through the rainstorm on the way to Panama’s coffee country.
Travel through a tropical rainforest is always an adventure. I hope the baby was OK.