The Darién Gap

Self learns new things every day.

. . . on Panama’s far eastern edge, near the border with Colombia, the roads abruptly end. There’s a wide swath of untouched jungle, mountains, and swamps dripping with thick vegetation. Venomous snakes, prowling jaguars, and a maze of unmarked, mosquito-plagued trails lie within. The sultry tropical wilderness extends the entire width of the isthmus and spills over into Colombia. Because it forms the sole break in the nineteen-thousand-mile Pan-American Highway, which starts in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and ends in Ushuia, Argentina, on the southernmost tip of South America, it’s called the Darién Gap.

Navigating through it by vehicle is nearly impossible. Expeditions have tried. One of the first attempts, in 1959, enlisted eight mountaineers, four crewmen, and two custom-equipped Land Rovers. After 180 river crossings, the construction of 125 log bridges, three automobile rollovers, and several bouts of malaria, the intrepid explorers of the Trans-Darién pierced the gap. The journey of sixty-six miles took them four and a half months.

The Next Great Migration, Chapter 1 (“Exodus”)

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