Led by smugglers armed with knives and machetes, Mayra Reyes and 14 other Cubans sloshed through swamps and rivers and suffered hordes of mosquitoes as they struggled across the notorious Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia, the only north-south stretch of the Americas to defy road-builders.
After walking for three days, the group reached the foot of a steep, scrubby mountain. There, the smugglers peeled away and told the Cubans they would have to press ahead alone.
"I thought I was going to have a heart attack," the 32-year-old hairdresser from Havana told The Associated Press. "What the guides did was get us to the mountain, where we had to wait for nightfall while these green and black poisonous frogs got on top of us."
Perilous path to immigrate
Hundreds of Cubans, like Reyes, are taking that arduous new route towards the United States, trekking across the 85 miles (135 kilometres) of steamy tropical jungle that divides Colombia and Panama, through mountains, ravines, and muddy ground teeming with poisonous reptiles, jaguars, wild boars, guerrillas and drug traffickers,
And after that, they still face a journey across 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometres) and six countries to reach the United States.
Panamanian immigration authorities detained 800 Cubans near the border with Colombia from January through the first week in July, compared to 400 in all of 2011.