After my travels in Panama, I came across this unsolved story of two Dutch women that went missing under uncertain circumstances in Boquete, Panama in 2014 (one year before my trip to Panama). It’s a scary and eye-opening story. Perhaps the scariest part was that their camera was found with eerie photos in their camera that certainly give an unsettling feeling.
In summary, Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon, both in their early 20’s, went missing while on a 6 week vacation in Panama. They went on an unguided hike and after being reported missing, their body remains were found along with personal items. Their cell phone logs recorded some activity and their camera had some pictures. Example picture from their phone:
Nobody knows what truly happened to them and there are so many missing pieces to the stories. The investigations were poorly handled, photos were missing, forensics evidence was poorly captured and tested, and the list continues. Ugg.
For me, it was a little bizarre for me to read their story. Without realizing it, I was no more than 20 kilometers from where they died, when I was one my trip to Panama. I was driving down the narrow roads after the town of David, driving through the rainforest with Lilly, which had the exact same terrain conditions in which those two girls died. Canyons, ravines, rivers, dense forests, unruly trails, etc. I certainly had an incredible time on my trip, but this sobering story showed me how a little bit of fun can easily turn into a nightmare. I feel terrible to imagine what they went through.
Personally, I think they were killed and the government tried to cover it up. The bones of Kris were bleached using a chemical like lime, which is not natural to that area. Additionally, very few bones were found, whereas with other lost hikers in the past, their entire body was found in tact in similar conditions. There are too many suspicious parts to this story for foul-play to not be involved.
The purpose of this blog post isn’t for me to get into the details of their tragic case or fear-mongering. If you want to read more about the story, here are some great links:
- The Unexplained Disappearance Of Kris Kremers And Lisanne Froon
- Wikipedia – Deaths of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon
- Reddit – The Mysterious Disappearance of two Dutch tourists, Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon
I want to talk more about the very real differences of life and safety in Central America.
I can say two things for certain:
- The rainforest and nature in general in Central America doesn’t care about your wellbeing.
- Crime is often unreported, people going missing is not uncommon and police are often unavailable for serious help.
Panama, like most Latin countries, is not developed. Yes, there is a big urban area in the capital city, Panama City, but once you head into the rural areas, you’re looking at long highways, dense rainforests, occasional farms, and an occasional small town. Three steps into nature and you are immediately engulfed by large dinosaur-era-like plants and vegitation. These places are unforgiving conditions. Injury? It’s probably best to go back to your home country ASAP. Cell phone battery dead? You better hope you have a backup battery supply and a phone charger (especially if you rely on it for maps or language translation). Lost in the woods? Good luck. Victim of crime? Document everything, take photos of everything, and be careful of who you trust. Heavy rain? Don’t expect it to end anytime soon.
Crime investigation and forensics don’t really exist in these lesser-developed countries. Hospitals are known lack basic supplies, do you really think they’re going to run fingerprint or DNA analysis? Most public places don’t have security cameras, and good luck getting the footage if they do…that’ll take two weeks. The police are more worried about gang-violence than finding the guy that stole your purse (lol, seriously).
The point is…avoid situations of vulnerability in the first place. There are a lot of incredible people, locals, indigenous tribes and travelers when you’re backpacking Central America. Most people are wonderful with interesting stories, helpful advice and a few laughs over a beer or two. The problem is, that 1 out of 100 people that you come across might be an opportunist. Wages in these countries are low. Money is scarce. A cell phone might be worth a month of wages to a potential thief. Therefore, opportunists exist.
It’s a lot easier to prevent something bad from happening than to recover from a bad event. Once a victim of theft, assault, or anything, you will have a very difficult time recovering from it. The police can be helpful, but they probably won’t recover your things for you and sometimes the police are untrustworthy. Other travelers might help you, but definitely not with financial needs. If you need medical services, you’ll have trouble finding fast service and it will be lower quality service than a developed nation.
I don’t want to sound like a downer. Traveling offers so many incredible experiences. I will have travel adventures for the rest of my life. But problems can spiral out of control quickly and seriously if you aren’t cautious. You must be sharp and aware of your surroundings. Always have a backup plan for your backup plan.
In the story of Kris and Lisanne, they obviously made some big mistakes. They went on a dangerous hike without a guide, with poor communication with friends/locals/family about their plans, they went off the path, they didn’t have enough water, they weren’t careful on their hike and they didn’t document the events well. Granted, they were probably injured, dehydrated and literally starving (possibly with hysteria set in), but if you look at the photos they took…they didn’t take their situation serious enough. They didn’t think to take any photos of their injuries, leave a trail or markings of their whereabouts, they left no goodbye messages to their families, and didn’t take photos of anyone else (possible third parties) involved in the events that unfolded.
In nature, it only takes one wrong decision, one mis-step on the trail, one small injury, drinking the wrong water, or one poorly planned moment to create a life threatening circumstance. You learn how valuable life is when it’s on the line. Be careful!
Later update to this (from future me): I have moved to the country of El Salvador. I now know significantly more about the potential dangers in nature and in public. Please feel free to read my story through blogs, which I’ve laid out in chronological order according to my travel timeline.