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When the big rains come each afternoon this town battens down like a ship in heavy seas.The safari outfitters and souvenir stalls close early, since there are no clients anyway, while street vendors race to pack their trinkets in the downpour.
Van de Goot cites the rugged, geographic features in the region as the most likely culprit:“You can scream and shout what you will, the jungle absorbs everything.
“If they’d just written one sentence or sent somebody a text—everything might have been different.”After a 10-day search using dogs, helicopters, and ground teams failed to turn up any leads, SINAPROC curtailed its efforts.
A Dutch team brought in its own trained dogs near the end of May, but efforts were stifled by heavy rains, and the team went home empty handed. A couple of months after the searches had ended, in mid-June of 2014, a Ngobe woman from a village called Alto Romero walked into the local police station with Lisanne Froon’s backpack.
But when I start asking around Boquete—a town where I’ve spent time before—other participants in the search disagree.“We were out looking for the girls three or four days before SINAPROC even got involved,” says John Tornblom, 32, a guide with more than 10 years of experience in the surrounding cloud forests.“The first 24 hours are key for a search and rescue operation,” but the authorities hesitated because they “thought the girls were out on a party somewhere, instead of really missing,” Tornblom tells me, when we meet at his outfitter shop downtown. A few off-season tourists sit on a couch wrapped in their slickers, waiting for the next jeep ride up to the sierra.
Once the government did get involved, Tornblom says, volunteers like himself were ordered to stand down while SINAPROC conducted its own searches.“We’re the ones who know the area, but they cut us out,” says Tornblom, who describes SINAPROC as “top-heavy” and weighed down by bureaucracy.“That rescue operation was a total clusterfuck.”When I visit Boquete’s SINAPROC office, Security Director Lecia Espinoza admits that the first phase of the search was hindered because “nobody knew where to look” for the missing women.“There are dozens of trails in the sierra,” says Espinoza, whose position was created in the wake of the Kremers-Froon tragedy.
During that meeting, he offered them a full-package tour, including a guided hike up to the nearby Continental Divide, and an overnight stop at his ranch, deep in the jungle on the far side of the mountains. Early the next morning, Kris and Lisanne set out to climb up to the Continental Divide on their own. A few scattered remains and personal articles were eventually found several miles away, on the other side of the Divide—and just a couple of hours by foot from the guide’s ranch property.