Panama City, Panama – The Darién Gap: an impenetrable obstacle?

Why do we hang around in Panama? Why don’t we head to South America? Why do we want to take a ship instead of driving? The answer is Tapón del Darién. Darién is the name of a jungle area in the south-east of Panama and the north-west of Colombia, the only land connection between Central and South America. Unfortunately, there is no road. The Pan Americana stops in Panama and continues 110 km / 70 miles later in Colombia. In-between there is enemy, swampy, impenetrable jungle. Nobody wants to build a road for various reasons: ecology, deforestation, costs, Indigene interests, illegal migration, and drug transfer.

But is the Darién Gap really impenetrable? No. The first successful attempt to cross the wilderness was in the 1960s. Different expeditions with different means of locomotion tried their hand at the Darién: jeeps, dirt bikes or bicycles that had to be carried most of the way. There were even attempts on foot. The numerous rivers had to be crossed swimming or with boats of the local Indians (probably not suitable for a vehicle of Arminius’ size). Since 1997 the expedition tourism came to a standstill because guerrillas ply their dreadful trade and the Darién isn’t safe anymore, if ever have been.

Today, the only option is to take a ship (or an airplane for smaller transportation devices). Most ships leave Colón on the Atlantic side and head to Cartagena / Colombia (or other ports in other countries like Ecuador and Venezuela). There is the classic RoRo (roll-on-roll-off), a LoLo (lift-on-lift-off), or a container ship. Cheapest and safest option is the container, but too small for Arminius. Since there is nearly no price difference we prefer RoRo instead of craning this heavy vehicle, but ferries are rare and regularly re-scheduled. There is no way of passenger transportation on the ship due to insurance reasons. We will have to fly over. For the moment, our RoRo, that has already been delayed once, is re-scheduled again from October 2nd to 7th.

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