tv Locked Up Abroad MSNBC March 26, 2017 6:00pm-7:01pm PDT
>> they were going to take me into the jungle and put a bullet in my head. ♪ >> i was 21 when i went to the university of colorado. i really wasn't doing very well. i wanted to leave. i was thinking about what i was going to do next. i was from colombia. when i was very small, two months, i was adopted by an american couple. and it occurred to me that i should go back to colombia. i think it's important for people that have grown up somewhere else to go back. it would be an adventure. i figured i would grow as a person, and then everything would make sense.
i kind of road tripped down from colorado. that was an important part of the trip was to really get off the tourist track. i wanted to go back to colombia in a way that was meaningful to me. i can fly or take a boat. it was kung fu or something, this idea that i would be walking through central america. i felt there was some truth to this. you get on a road, and you can take it all the way south, but it ends in panama. that's it. but to cross into colombia, you have to cross the darien gap. the darien is kind of mythical. it's jungle for hundreds of miles. it was challenging, this idea to cross the darien. frightening. but why should it be easy? i bought a machete, a pair of tropical combat boots, small
military backpack. didn't really want to carry much. >> mosquitos? si, si. >> bought a baby blue mosquito net. it's almost comical. how does one shop for a jungle adventure? i was trying to shed my american appearance. i felt it would be easier for me to blend in. i don't know if i did a very good job. i look kind of like a bum, i think. >> hola. >> the last thing i needed before i left was a map. >> darien? >> not a lot of people ask for a map of the darien, obviously. and i'm looking at what kind of maps are there. and this guy walks in. he goes to the same counter. >> hola, senora. >> he asks about a map of the darien. >> si, darien. >> this is kind of strange. and i'm just all ears. i'm curious. >> that's a coincidence.
i was just looking for a map of the darien as well. >> he introduced himself. >> robert. >> why are you so interested in the darien? >> he said he was a journalist. the woman gave us a set of aerial photographs. they all looked the same. it was just green. just trees. >> it's going to be a big help. >> you couldn't distinguish one from the other. when were you thinking of going? >> the next day or two. >> i think both of us were trying to figure out if it was a good fit to go together. so we agreed to meet up at his hotel. already i was thinking about if we were going to travel together, how this would go. >> i brought some maps of my own. >> my plan was to kind of go unnoticed through the darien. but he was traveling with another woman who was my age. >> my friend, megan. >> i'm like, you know, she is blond and six feet tall. at this point i'm like, well, there is no way we're going to be sneaking through the darien. >> we're just trying to figure out the best route.
>> okay. >> i don't think meg was so sure about me coming along, which was funny because i kind of had my own concerns about them. i think we were all a little interested what we would encounter in the darien. >> we could run into some colombian guerrillas in this area. >> right, the farc. i knew about the farc. farc stands for the revolutionary armed force of colombia. i was interested in what they were trying to do. they were people that in my 21-year-old liberal arts mind were taking direct action. i thought that they would change the way things were in colombia -- poverty. it was romantic. freedom fighters. there was a discussion about the potential of us being kidnapped, but i had to get to colombia, and i was going to do it this way. >> so how do you feel about us all going together? >> i said yeah. let's do it.
we got in the boat, and there we were, headed into the darien. i didn't think there would be any real severe consequences. anything that i was going get into, i felt that i could get out of. i think we all felt that way. it would take all day to travel three or four miles. but we were definitely on our way. robert had a gps. but the gps was tough in that part of the world. we tried to get our maps to gel with the gps. we couldn't get the map to coordinate. it became very clear that this type of journey was impossible without a guide. we went up river all day, and we arrived at a native village, capati. at that time we met victor.
he saw us pull in. >> hello. welcome. good morning. >> mark. i liked victor right off. he was really friendly. >> good morning, miss. >> hi. how is it going? >> i am single. >> older, earlier 50s. victor kind of took us on a tour. we walked through the village. he showed us his house. we told victor we were planning to cross the darien into colombia. and that didn't seem like too big an issue for him. he talked about his experience guiding in the past. and he claimed to have contact with the farc, which was another relief. that's one less of a reason to worry with a guy that has contacts with the farc. kind of won us over, you know. >> si, bien. >> leaving capati was phenomenal. it was happening. it was really happening. we had a young boy that was our
guide to the next village. we were on our way. the first couple of days were really rough for robert. he had like heat exhaustion. it was just really difficult keeping enough fluids in him. we were hiking between like 10 to 12 hours each day. portions of the trail really slow. we had to cut through brush. they weren't well traveled. we'd walk in riverbeds for an hour, and then suddenly our guide would skirt off on a very small almost like a game trail that you would never spot on your own. we walked for almost 12 hours coming into pucuro. it was dusk. and we startled the people there. it was just a really rare occurrence to have people coming
to the village. these young men came out. they had machetes. it felt really hostile. yeah, i'm scared. i'm scared. i have no idea what they're going to do. in the state of texas. ♪ ♪ you foundi'm a robot! cars.com rawr yeti and found a place to service it, too. ♪ jingle bells now when you're ready, you can sell your old car and find your new one all on cars.com you know us for shopping, and now we're there for every turn. cars.com could save money on car insurance.nce
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we're uninvited. we're in the darien. we've left the police outpost. and all we really have is victor. all i can think, stay with victor. stay with victor. if anyone is going to sort this out, victor is going to sort it out. victor kept his calm, and he walked directly to the chief's home. obviously they wanted to hear from us what we were doing there and what we were planning. victor negotiated with the tribe. >> i think we're okay. >> the next day, victor negotiated guides for us. the plan was for the guides to take us as far as paya, which was the last panamanian village.
in just a matter of days, we could be inside colombia. i certainly didn't think we put the most difficult part of the trek behind us. we had yet to enter the border region, the real heart of the jungle, if you will. we hiked all day through the jungle. i remember victor kind of laughing with the guides about the amount of water we were drinking. and then we did run out of water. at first it's like wow, i'm really thirsty. i would like some water. and then it's, i really don't feel well. i feel light-headed. we need to find water soon. eventually, we found a grove of green bamboo. >> bamboo. agua. >> they would hack off part of
the tree and cut off the top and you literally have six to eight ounces of water stored in the tree. it was like a tremendous relief. we hiked all afternoon, and that afternoon we arrived in paya. coming into paya was much different than pucuro because they were expecting us. we made it to the last stop before you cross the border into colombia. that evening, we attended this tribal meeting. i can remember there is a group of young men kind of dancing in circles, playing their music, enjoying themselves. we ate fish and then rice and some bush meat, iguana. you eat what is served. and it was good. it was good.
by that time, things were moving along pretty well, and we were able to negotiate with the chief for guides. i couldn't believe where i was. i felt incredibly fortunate. i felt like i was doing what i set out to do. we were there for a couple of days. victor told us that it would be safer if we made contact with the farc now rather than later. he told us that a local commander with the farc would meet with us. we spent a whole day. we just hung out. but they never showed up. if the farc had showed up, that would have been a huge relief, but that didn't happen. and the following day, we left. leaving paya, i knew we were close to colombia. we were probably about a day or day and a half from the border.
paya was our last village, and then beyond that, the really serious part began. hiking through the jungle is what you would expect. everything is sharp and pointy or trying to eat you. i had a compass, but you can't just pick a direction and walk east there is ravines and valleys. you could hike and bush whack and bleed all day a couple of miles and not really be any farther than where you started and there would be points where the guide would turn around and we would go back the same way we came, went off in another direction. you don't have any line of sight, and you're down under the canopy. and you really don't even have a sense what direction you're walking. what i notice more than anything
was this feeling that we were almost walking in circles. you'll pass a tree or some sort of feature of vegetation, and you'll swear you already walked by it. we camped at night and expected to be in colombia the following day. the next morning we woke up, we had breakfast. >> hey, robert, are you all packed? >> all packed. >> what about your hammock? >> and we continued. we knew that we were probably going to cross into colombia that day. right around noon, we decided to stop for lunch. and while we were eating, three men we knew from paya passed us. they were headed to the same village, and they were moving quite quickly. they had heavy bags, but they were moving much faster than we were. exchanged pleasantries and they were off. we knew we wouldn't see them again until we got there. so after lunch, we grabbed our
stuff and we got back underway, and slightly after that, we were up on a ridge line. it was open. there was a storm that had come in and had knocked down a lot of the trees. we were all kind of picking our way through. and it was at that point where we heard the gunshots. you'll see what a fair price is, and you can connect with a truecar certified dealer. now you're even smarter. this is truecar.
[ gunshots ] we heard the gunshots. they were very distinct. is that what i think it is? they were farther up the valley, maybe a mile or half mile away. they were just low bursts of fire. boop, boop, boop, boop. boop, boop, boop, boop. my heart is racing. i remember kind of having my own -- my own moment of anxiety, you know. at that point, our guides simply said that they weren't going to continue. and they dropped everything they
were carrying and they ran. there was no discussion. they were going back to paya. end of story. in moments, they were gone, and robert's gear and our food and everything were just on the trail. >> mark, are you okay? >> and now it was victor and meg and robert and myself. before we could really talk about what we wanted to do and what our plan was, two of the men who had passed us earlier in the day had showed up. one of them was bleeding, and they were completely terrified. apparently they had been cutting bamboo and people had just started shooting at them. that's all they could say. and then one of them sort of showed where the third man had been shot, that they had killed him. and they continued back to paya, where our guides had just run off to. i was trying to delay panic. i figured there would be time
to panic later on. but at this point we needed to figure out what we were going to do. i remember being quiet. i remember not really saying much. i just kind of went back into myself. this wasn't really my game. robert was the one that suggested -- >> i think we keep going. >> -- toward the ambush. >> it will be safer than to turn back. >> what about victor? >> we stay together. >> mark, are you happy with that? >> i'm scared. but this was something that i kind of hoped to encounter, a true, true, true test. >> okay. so we're all agreed. >> it was that important to me that i could deal with whatever it was down the trail. there was a lot of internal monologue. i was thinking about the fact
that maybe their first response was going to be to open fire. robert suggested that we speak loudly. >> louder. say anything. >> so they would have ample opportunity to hear us before they began shooting. i was kind of reaching a bit of a breaking point. >> i said mark, what kind of movies do you like? >> keep talking, louder. >> after maybe just 15 or 20 minutes, we made our way up to a bluff, and robert i think actually said -- >> this would be a really good place for an ambush. >> and four soldiers materialized. they just stood up. short hair, young, probably all in their early 20s. and i remember very distinctly that the soldier just in front of me had a green bandanna and a single blue feather right in the middle. it was striking.
they were all armed, pointed their guns at us. we had our hands up, and we took off our bags, and then we sat down. at that point, the soldiers were just meeting on their radios. [ speaking spanish ] >> we were thinking they were the farc. victor was the one with the farc contacts. and now we were going to fall back on victor's relationship, and also robert as a journalist. [ speaking spanish ] >> they wanted to kind of figure out who we were. >> tell them i'm a journalist. >> robert had articles, and he kind of wanted to demonstrate to them that he actually was a journalist. but they weren't too interested in our story. they started this casual conversation about tiger meat, tigre. and they asked victor if he had
ever had tigre. >> victor said yeah, yeah, it's very rich, very rich. and they said yeah, yeah, we really like tigers. tigers eat tigers. you know, predators eat predators. from there they went on to say that they had just seen a tiger. in fact, they had shot at one in the jungle. and they kind of hinted at whether or not we heard the gunfire. >> no, no, no. >> no. >> we said no. we all had the good sense to keep our mouth shut. after about an hour waiting around, another group of soldiers arrived. now there was maybe 30 or 40 soldiers, like right where we were. we don't know what the hell is going on. they separate us from victor. victor was nervous from the beginning, and i could kind of see it on his face.
he was too far away to hear what he was saying, but he was talking to the squad commander. eventually victor came back and the squad commander launched into this speech about the revolutionary armed forces of colombia, the farc. they were members of the farc. they were there to protect the people of colombia. and we listened. when he was done speaking, victor started speaking to me in english. >> this man, i don't know. >> he was trying to appear casual, but he was struggling. he was really trying to pick his words carefully. >> say it again? >> this man is no good, no good. >> he told me he didn't trust them and he didn't know them, that he was worried. at that point i was really
confused. victor didn't know who they were. they claimed they were farc, but they were making up stories about shooting in the jungle. they hadn't killed us. that's good. but it was another story now. how were we going to get out of this? on their car insurance. any questions? -yeah. -how do you go to the bathroom? great. any insurance-related questions? -mm-hmm. -do you have a girlfriend? uh, i'm actually focusing on my career right now, saving people nearly $600 when they switch, so... where's your belly button? [ sighs ] i've got to start booking better gigs.
hi, richard lui with your top stories. speaker paul ryan called the president to clear the air after a fox news show ended up calling for ryan's resignation. the white house says they did not have fore warning of that. and the manhunt continues for multiple gunmen who fired shots inside an ohio nightclub. police say the nightclub has a history of gun violence. now back to "lockup."
they wanted to see our maps. and they had some questions about paya and who was there and what was there. they decided that they were going into panama for themselves, but they needed a guide to retrace our steps. >> what did he say? >> he says they want to take victor with them to panama. >> there was a brief argument. >> tell them there is no reason to take him to panama. >> we were pretty emphatic about it. but victor didn't really say much of anything on his behalf. i think at that point he realized that things were beyond his control. [ speaking spanish ] >> i mean, we really pleaded with them, but they assured us. they said it's not to worry. we're just going to secure the area. a situation that i put myself in, decision after decision led me to this point of running into the farc.
this is almost exactly what i thought might happen. did i not realize the seriousness of this? i was really worried. i was convinced victor was probably dead. we more or less stayed put right where we were. they put us right in the middle of this group of soldiers, maybe 20. so we slept surrounded. no one was going to sneak off in the middle of the night. and i don't remember sleeping a lot that night. the soldiers, they would pull guard duty all night. every couple of hours, four or five soldiers would get up and go in and take posts, and four or five more would come back. i don't know what they wanted. i don't know what we would do if we were permanently held. to be so foolish as to just
stumble across a border the way we did. our ability to make choices had ended once we walked down the trail. in the morning, they moved us. it was very warm, and there was a particular smell in the area. it could have been anything, but it smelled -- it smelled like death. that something had happened at this location. the two men that run back and the third that was killed, we saw their things. they were just kind of torn open, strewn apart. his body wasn't there. it was just the bags that the men had been carrying. but it felt like a body. their things felt like a body.
at that point, we were kind of with this small group of soldiers. kind of made a camp there in the jungle, and we just waited. so i'm thinking, okay. so this is the farc, the left wing, you know, the freedom fighters. they were young, really young, kids, really. 16, 17, 18 years old. i wasn't an expert about the farc, but i had some pretty pointed questions, kind of philosophical stuff. but any conversation that i tried to engage them with just didn't go anywhere. they were curious about robert's ipod. they wanted to talk about music. they wanted to talk about their families. >> mi madre. si. >> at night they were kind of jumpy. and i think that kind of comes with being in the jungle for as long as they had been.
it was just on the edge of darkness. it became more this distinct noise. and i asked if anyone else heard it. it was distant, but it was low. it kept building in intensity over the span of maybe four or five minutes. the soldiers started to become alarmed, because it continued to get louder and louder and louder. is that a helicopter? i was thinking maybe it was a helicopter, but the sound was becoming more complex. there was this kind of clicking, almost like a metallic sound. now the soldiers are totally spooked. and their little squad leader is telling them to take positions. and they don't want to go. we're all like what do you think it is?
robert looks at us and says -- >> it sounds like a column of men coming towards us. >> yeah, of course. it's a massive amount of soldiers coming towards us through the forest. and then the noise just rose to a level where the soldiers just opened up. robert's like get as far away from the muzzle blasts as possible. i have a real clear memory of trying to, like, bury my head in the jungle. and it ceased firing, and there was just silence. just complete silence. and then someone says --
[ speaking spanish ] >> it's pigs, wild pigs. and that's exactly what it was. we hear helicopters, black hawks have a really distinct sound to them. kind of real low, throaty. we would all kind of look at it, but it's impossible for them to see us. we were certainly kind of under guard, but we weren't restrained. our hands were never bound. we also really didn't talk about escaping. that was a step that i don't think we were prepared to even think about. there was opportunities. they were kind of careless with their weapons. they would just leave them around. sometimes they would forget them. but then once you escape, where do you go? we didn't have provisions on us. then we really would have been on our own. frankly, we didn't have a lot of
our own survival skills. then that evening another group of soldiers arrived. >> you recognize those men? >> they were the soldiers that went into panama. they had heavier mortars, russian squad machine guns. the commander that originally took victor reassures us that victor is going to be coming along any minute, and they demand all of our electronic equipment. they took our media, our passports, everything we had. the level of anxiety, it's gradually building. >> rapido. >> it was like grab your bag, get your stuff. we need to leave. as we are climbing out of this ridge line, robert and i began this conversation which was basically how do we really know these people are who they say they are.
we thought if we were going to run into somebody, it would be the farc, but i remember victor was nervous from the beginning that he didn't really know who they were. when he left, he was really quiet. i'm certain he feared for his life. it's possible he was thinking they were sworn enemy of the farc, paramilitaries. i knew that there were rumors about them using chainsaws on people. g new cars. you're smart. you already knew that. but it's also great for finding the perfect used car.
i was familiar with the paramilitaries, the right wing, the death squads. i was realized that their tactics were horrifying. they wanted support in the rural areas, and they were willing to do anything to get that. it was pretty rare that the paramilitaries would take people and then release them. now i have no idea what was
going to happen next. we hiked all night. moving at night, you just follow the soldier in front of you. you can't see anything. just pitch-black dark. nobody can use a flashlight, because there was potential to run into other groups. it just feels like it's never going to end. finally, we arrived at the village that was kind of our original destination in colombia. we come out on to this really large soccer field, and there is dozens of soldiers already sacked out on the field. and we just crashed.
we were all beyond words just so fatigued. i don't remember sleeping. i must have. but just a couple of hours later, 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, the soldier woke me up. there was about six soldiers. i didn't recognize any of them. these guys were older. they meant business, and they told us to get up. of course, at that point it's just like are you kidding me? we hiked all night. we have only slept for a couple of hours and we're moving again. i'm waking up now and i'm realizing this probably isn't the best situation. i don't know these guys. they're not the soldiers that we kind of had a relationship with. just becomes apparent for whatever reason, they don't want us to be seen by anybody in the village. at this point, i'm consciously
fearful for my life. they take us to a graveyard, to a kuna burial site. it's outside the village. i look at megan, and what do you think? and meg has this kind of way of putting things. she is like, i don't know. >> i think they are going to do us. >> i'm like, really? i think you're right. that's exactly how i feel. is this it? is this how it's going go down? and she is i don't know. that's what it feels like. now i know what's going to happen. they're going kill us. they kept telling us they were going to release us, and they never did. we had been in the jungle days. and now we're in a graveyard. they took our media. so there is no evidence now. they have everything. they have us. we're going to be shot. so we waited.
and four or five soldiers showed up. and they took me by myself. meg was just like -- she just said goodbye to me. >> goodbye. >> they both said goodbye to me. >> see you. >> it was -- it was -- i went with them. i left. now i know what's going to happen. they're going to kill us. i don't know why, but they're going to kill us. i kind of gave up at that point.
i feel kind of ready in a weird way. i mean, maybe this is how it should have been. i mean, i'm back in colombia, right? things have kind of come around, you know. you always think you try to run, grab a weapon or something. but oddly enough, that wasn't on my mind. i just figured that they were going to take me into the jungle and put me on my knees and put a bullet in my head. our senses awake, our hearts racing as one. i know this is sudden, but they say: if you love something... set it free. see you around, giulia ♪
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not appropriate. now i'm mashing these potatoes with my stick of butter... why don't you sit over here. something for everyone is awesome. find your awesome with the xfinity stream app. more to stream to every screen. they took me out onto the river bank. and most of the entire gorilla detachment was right there. and another superior had shown up. and they sat me down like right in the middle. now it's just like, well, what's going to happen next? the commander offered me a cigarette. and we started this conversation about politics.
[speaking spanish ] >> he wants to know what i think about the paramilitaries. pretty sure they are not the farc anymore. i told them what i thought about them. if they wanted to shoot me, they could shoot me. i told him the paramilitary was probably the biggest problem in colombia at that time. and i talked about the assassinations and the murders and the massacres. i just sort of gave him a piece of my mind. i think i probably was ranting. and partway through the rant this commander kind of interrupts me. [ speaking spanish ] >> and pulls off his t-shirt. and like, there it is. we're paramilitary. the skull and cross bones is kinds of their little tag. what do you think about that? i said, i'd take the cigarette now.
[ laughter ] i had just run my mouth off. it was a big joke. it became clear they had instructions to play along with this farc storyline. and the joke really was on me, but i laughed too. once everybody kinds of laughed at me, i kind of became convinced that they thought we were completely harmless. robert and meg were down the river bank when they saw me. they were surprised to see me alive. [ speaking spanish ] >> telling us that we could go. i almost couldn't believe it. the next day, there were some people here to pick us up. we thought it was going to be the red cross, but it was a colombian priest, and a nun from
a convent. i hadn't really gotten time to really think about what had happened. i was still wound up. just a huge continuum of emotion. and it was like dread, and then relief. i felt like there was going to be a point where i would have to kind of dump all of the stress and anxiety i was feeling. but at that point i was hanging in there, i think. i was hanging in there. we were out of the jungle. and we were definitely in colombia. the u.s. embassy sent this jet for us. and then, same day, they fly us to bogota. >> straight down the hallway, please. >> they sit us right down in an office. and they are just all ears.
>> so we need to go through all the details of your trip. >> they want to know everything. >> all the details that you can remember. >> at that point, the cracks are starting. i was starting to feel burn out. >> i want to know more about your guide. >> there were a lot of questions about victor. >> where did you meet him? >> there were questions about how we had met him, what he had done in certain situations. >> is he okay? >> you haven't heard what happened? >> it was then that we got the full story of what had happened after victor left with the paramilitaries. they got victor to lead them back into panama. and when they got to paille, there was kind of a celebration underway. for whatever reason, they didn't like the cooperation they were getting. the chief was killed by the paramilitaries. his son was left for dead. from there, they left paille and
they went even deeper into panama, all the way to pukuru. i'm guessing if victor wasn't convinced before that he was a convinced now. so, victor escapes somewhere between paille and pukuru. this is like a 50-year-old man trying to outrun an entire squad of hardened trained paramilitary soldiers in the jungle. and he outruns them. warns the village. and by the time the paramilitary show up, the village is empty. they looted, burned a couple of the buildings to the ground and left. >> they burned a couple of buildings to the ground and left. they took what they wanted, burned a couple -- >> when i heard about what happened, i blamed myself. this was an act of terrorism. it was the first paramilitary inversion into panama.
our guides were from paille. there had been people killed. i mean, everything kind of fell away. the room started spinning. i just felt suddenly really horrible. i could just feel a fever coming on. and they asked me -- >> are you okay? >> i'm like, no. i need to lie down. >> sure. right this way. >> they sat me down and this nurse came in. she just said, what happened to you? i completely lost it. i just cried. it felt really good. i couldn't explain to her what had happened to me because i -- i -- i didn't know what had happened to me. but i'd made to it where i wanted to be. i was back in colombia. that in itself was kind of overwhelming. literally, i just had this day in bogota, and that was it. i got a cab and i went to central park in the middle of the city.
i walked, sat on a bench. i had more questions sitting on that bench than when i left. there had been people killed, and maybe it was our fault. whether or not the paramilitaries would have gone into panama without us is up for argument. but i felt responsible for what happened. even eight years later i still think about it. i still think about the choices i made, to -- to take that trip. i had gotten this idea in my head that i would personally pay any cost to cross the darien. but in the end, i didn't have to pay it, really. other people paid for it.
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