You might have wondered if it's possible to drive between North and South America - for surely there must be a road between these two continents! Well, as it turns out, there is absolutely NO ROAD connecting them, and all travel advisories clearly say "Don't Go", even if you feel somewhat suicidal. I am talking about the wild and wildly dangerous Darien Gap.
If you ever wanted to drive from Chile to Alaska, you're clear out of luck. Here and there in the world, small gaps of wilderness hold out against the onslaught of rising populations, exploitation and bulldozers. One such area is found at the southern end of Panama, separating the North and Central Americas from South America.
This area is a forbidding mountainous jungle on the Panama side; full of swamps, guerrillas, drug traffikers and kidnappers on the Colombian side, making travel through the area not just a struggle against a hostile environment but also a maze of bribing the right people for passage and ducking bullets.
In case you missed the dangers we just enumerated, here is an easy list to remember:
- tough nasty jungle with plenty of disagreeable wildlife.
- impenetrable swamps
- crazed drug traffikers
- pissed-off guerrillas
- greedy kidnappers (all of the guys mentioned above)
- paranoid government police
- no marked trails
If you ever wondered what's like to be kidnapped in the Darien Gap by Colombian Death Squad, here is an account:
National Geographic Adventure contributing editor Robert Young Pelton and two American backpackers were kidnapped there in 2003 and held for 10 days; here is what he has to say (once they got out of there alive) -
"The Darien Gap is one of the last—not only unexplored—but one of the last places people really hesitate to venture to... It's also one of the most rugged places. The basic problem of the Darien Gap is that it's one of the toughest hikes there is. It's an absolute pristine jungle but it's got some nasty sections with thorns, wasps, snakes, thieves, criminals, you name it. Everything that's bad for you is in there."
Will the road be constructed? "Will the circle be unbroken?"
Construction of a road through the Darien is a touchy subject -- the area is among the world's highest for genetic diversity, the indigenous peoples in the area oppose the construction, local farmers oppose it, and though trade between the Americas will be facilitated, there is the probability that the drug trade will flourish as well. Two thirds of the bird species here are threatened along with many other plants and animals (more info)
Building the road itself will not destroy too much of the forest but the subsequent development of the area would irreparably destroy delicate ecosystems. An alternate plan has been proposed which would bring the road to the eastern coast of Panama and connect to Colombia via a ferry, thus leaving the national preserve completely untouched.
Historically, there was an abandoned railway built by the British for the gold miners of the early 1900s across part of the Darien Gap. Rusty locomotive shells and old mining equipment can be still found lying around in the jungle:
Click to view image: '230237-darien_gap.jpg'
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