By doing this website my goal is to share informations but mainly the orphanage project.

http://aideauxorphelinsdebirmanie.com/index.php/en/home/

Darien Gap / Jungle

 

 

I create this page because suprisingly there isn’t any valid information about the Darien Gap on internet.

The Darien gap is the area constituting the border between Panama and Columbia. It is the only place where the Panamerican stops. The Pan-American is the road linking North America and South America. Despite the jungle everywhere in this environment, it isn’t nature which prevented the construction of this small stretch of road. It is the Panamean government which is opposed to this project started numerous times, the reason, drug obvioulsy. As a result and because of fear, informations you can find on the Darien gap are only talking about drug, traffic, kidnapping, death, murder, the most dangerous place on the west, etc…

I’m far from being an expert about the place but I still spend about a month and a half there. Moving from small indian to small indian village by myself, I lost myself many times for reason explain below on about “indian path”. I was orientating with the sun (I don’t recommand it, buy a compass!) or by following rivers and when I had the chance to find one, paths known only by indians.

darien gap jungle (12)          darien gap jungle (13)          darien gap jungle (14)

By cumulating all the trips I did in the Panamean jungle, I spent more than 2 weeks alone in pure jungle and 3 weeks in indians villages. I had the occasion to encounter 3 panthers, countless snakes, insects, birds and a few monkey. The story of these adventures are on the main page of travelling and start on the chapter 22, when I entered the Darien. It is possible that it isn’t in line yet as setting the website took a lot more time than expected. Anyway, here is a few informations on the Darien.

 

1/ Geography

First of all, here is the most detailled map you can find of the Darien. As it makes about 2mx1m, I took it in picture and have more or less restored it. Having made ​​this picture after my trips into the jungle you will see it has many holes but, if you take the time it will be more than enough to give you an idea of the Darien’s geography.  Darien fragment map

 

2/ Drug ?

As evoked in the introduction, the Darien constitute the border area between Panama and Colombia. It isn’t a secret that Colombia is one of the largest drug producers in the world. This roadless area is supposed to be an effective barrier preventing the passage of drugs into Panama and North America. What results is simply that countless traffickers or Indian paid by them make this trip by foot or/and by boat. This is a verity and I met numerous people who practiced this traffic. Once the drug sent in civilized areas of Darien, as to say in areas where there are roads (see map), from there various people do there “shopping”. Many traffickers and their contacts but also everyman who want to earn a little more money, come from the “city” (Panama City) or another area of ​​the north to make some easy Dinero. I did not encounter large traffickers but one person who took me by hitch-hiking was going to pick drugs before returning to the North. It is only one person but taking in count the fact that most of them would probably not take an hitch-hiker or talk about it you can imagine how big is the traffic. There are checkpoints and passing through the main roads we can feel an ultra tight military control … That’s not counting all the little path that bypasses those barrier and are easy paths for all people having something to blame. There are still many moving patrols but they can not be everywhere at once. There is therefore a large drug trafficking in this region, despite the frequent success controls boasting impressive catch, this is not enough to discourage people lured by the opportunity to make “easy money”.

 

3/ Check point?

The main checkpoint in the Darien is located at Santa Fe, others are scattered at the entrance or implanted in most cities in the region. Therefore there is some at Metetil, at Yaviza, at La Palma, etc … They are scattered everywhere. Similarly in the Indian village, even the most isolated ones. There are many camps drug trafficker inside of Panama and it is common for shooting broke out between the army trying to gain ground and narcotrafficants wishing to preserve their main points of passages. The military group that is responsible for this is the SENAFRONT. Service Panamanian border. Officialy a written permission is needed for each checkpoints. It isn’t a written permission for all Darien, each district, city, village need one. You must ask at the capital, in the center of Senafront, you can probably find the address on their website http://www.senafront.gob.pa/, for my part I didn’t went there. I think you must have a guide and get an idea of the precise places where you want go etc … in order to receive this authorization. One of my contact there told me that it can be made in one a day. However, even with these authorizations it is possible that you are denied access to the places you have the written permission for. The Senafront has all the rights to allow or deny access to an area of ​​Darien. We must not forget that they are there for drug trafficking but also to protect the people of this conflict. They therefore refuse you any access to an area where there are or had been armed exchanges not a long time ago, or if there are drug traffickers assumed in the area.

darien gap jungle (15)          darien gap jungle (16)          darien gap jungle (17)

 

What of these checkpoints for a curious traveler?

These checkpoints have been set in place to reduce drug trafficking, they have nothing to do with the fact of travelling in the region. Unless they take you for a drug trafficker, in which case you will have no chance of passing, a few possibilities are available to you. The first is to obtain these authorizations. The second is the one I used. Show that you are curious about the region, its fauna, its flora, its people and you have nothing to do with the drug trafficking. During interrogations that you will experience at each checkpoints, try to be as clear as possible about the length of your stay expected at this or this location. Show that you have an accurate plan for your visit of the region (for this just use my map to pick a few town).

To pass the main checkpoint of Santa Fe, simply say that you are going to Metetil for one or two days. Metetil being the city where takes place the bifuraction between Yaviza and La Palma. This city is very quiet and you do not need any written permission to go. Once past this barrier, each checkpoints will depend firstly of the problem of traffic in the area where you want to enter and secondly of your positive vibes! For my part I was able to pass all the checkpoints without problems and without authorization, living the examination as a way to retrieve information about the area and expose my way of traveling.

Senafront guy are really friendly and helpfull, you should not fear them.

the problem of the visa:

Amongst other problems I will explain below, crossing the Darien gap is supposed to make you move from one side to the other of a border. This generally requires a visa! The written permission for this visa must be taken to the senafront center at the capital, Panama City. Having met and spent time with many people working for Senafront I can say that this authoriaztion is very hard or even impossible to get. The reason is simple, each person killed or kidnapped in the region provides a very bad publicity for this country. The simple fact that you want to go to Colombia will make them stop you at the first checkpoin. Clearly, Senafront don’t want foreigner to come and die in the area they are trying to keep safe. Despite this, there is still this possibility, and as I did not try I can’t say anything more about it. If you get this authorization you can be stamp out of the country at Yaviza.

 

4 / Jungle

darien gap jungle (20)          darien gap jungle (18)          darien gap jungle (19)

The jungle of Panama is very wild since no road are crossing it. There are countless birds, snakes, insects, monkeys and other wild animals that roam in peace in the region. The same applies to trees, plants etc … I don’t known much about it so I can’t develop the subject but I can say it is possbile to meet a  wide variety of animals and plants there. Despite the fact that there is no roads arround, you should know that Darien is an area where the river is the main way of transportation. As a result it is possible to do pyrogue hitch-hiking which is a good way to meet Indians! This region host many Indian villages, mainly Embera but also a bit of Kuna which usually live in the Sun Blas.

darien gap jungle (21)          darien gap jungle (22)          darien gap jungle (23)

If you are interested you can download below some basics of Embera and kuna languages.

Kuna dictionary  1 2 3 and the other pages here 1 2 3. This link will allow you to download a kuna dictionnary, it was offered to me by an indian teacher and you can’t find it in any shop as it isn’t for sale…

Some Embera basics 1  2  3  4  5  6 7 8  9  10  11  12  13  14

darien gap jungle (24)          darien gap jungle (25)          darien gap jungle (26)

Apart from the rivers, there are many paths connecting Indian villages. I say path but a path in the jungle is far from being the type of path that we know. No marks on the ground, no indications, only that it does not have liana or trees on 50 cm wide should make you understand that someone went through and thus it is probably a path. The problem if like me you venture without a guide is that these paths do not have a specific route. One of the first problems that arises is the fact that the Indians have many places on the forest where they go only to cut trees or to fish or to hunt or etc … Therefore follow a path will take you most of the time at one of these places where the path stops. There is also the path made by people like me who are lost and going in circles. And there are paths create by temporary waterfall. And there is the fact that jungle trees are dropping like flies and they can hide a path or create a new or etc … Well, it is not so easy to get around in the jungle by yourself! That is why, for my part I followed the path untill losing me, which happened every time, then I went with my machete creating my own way.

darien gap jungle (27)          darien gap jungle (28)

 

5/ Cross the Darien gap

If you read the things I wrote previously you probably understand that by wishing to cross the Darien you choose to put yourself in a situation where you will have to avoid any contact with Senafront and drug traffickers. There is also the visa problem if you manage to succeed this “challenge”. The jungle problem and its danger are real but for my case I really enjoyed it. For the jungle I however recommend a few training trip and to go step by step deeper and deeper in the jungle depending on your feeling. The presence of snakes and other wild animals is a reality and you will have to prepare yourself to face them if you want to go there. I suppose that animals feel fear and therefore the first thing to do is to keep your calm. A machete is also unavoidable in this environment.

darien gap jungle (44)          darien gap jungle (2)          darien gap jungle (1)

You should also know that despite drug traffickers, senafront army and the jungle dangers, there is a lot of people who cross the gap. I met one Africans group who did it, however, for them it have nothing to do with a challenge, it is just the only way for them to reach North America, to find a work there and send money to their family stayed behind. The group I met paid Colombian which rob them everyhing they had but still took them to the targetted destination. You should know that there is a lot of guide etc… unofficial obviously, which offer to cross the Darien gap by various paths. Those paths are the same ones as the one taken by drug traffickers and look on by the army. There is also numerous paths which are creates every weak to get around these paths which became to frequented. For my case I’m interested by jungle and meeting indian tribes. By gathering informations and going around the region during one moth and a half I finally realized that the gap wasn’t the challenge I expected. The reason is simple, there is numerous path to do it, at any moment you can meet a drug trafficker or a child wanting to prove that he is able to be a drug traffickers, or an indian looking for money, all of them armed with kalashnikov with the order to shoot on any person they could meet on the way. This path isn’t impossible at all as numerous persons do it everyday, immigrants, drug traffickers, etc… However it comport a true danger.

If the challenge you are looking for is to face nature, survive in an hostile environment and meet indian tribes, differents traditions, cultures, etc… Then what you are looking for is jungle adventure, the Darien jungle but also any wild jungle. despite its rich  fauna and flora, the particularity making the Darien gap more dangerous than others American region is the presence of these drug traffickers.

By choosing to make the gap you expose yourself to a situation where it is more likely that you will meet one of these armed groups. A situation of kill or being killed.

 

6/ Various paths

If despite everything you read until now you still want to cross the gap, here are a few way you could take as well as other alternatives:

The easiest one (in term of orientation) because quite taken, is the one going from Yaviza, in three days you could be in Colombia. However, it also constitute the path where you will meet the more drug traffickers and military. It is also possible to leave by various path from the North, like Sinai. Or by the South by taking a boat or other and going around Garachine. Anyway, the best way to do it is to go to an indian village in the Darien area and ask them the path to Colombia. There are numerous differents ones going from differents village and indians know them pretty well, that is also why they are paid by drug traffickers to carry drugs or to guide them. Despite the fact that there is numerous paths, keep in mind that it is indian “paths” and they are really hard or even impossible to follow without knowing them (for example a path could stop at a river and its following would be a few kilometers later on the right or the left of this river).

The San Blas alternative

darien gap jungle (4)          darien gap jungle (5)          darien gap jungle (6)

If your goal is only to reach Colombia or Panama and the gap isn’t of your interest but is on your way, know that there is another alternative. The path by the San Blas is quite easy and you will be able to meet the Kuna. You can access to the San Blas by leaving from Panama city, 4 hours of car and you will arrive to a place on the coast from wher you will be able to reach the first island which I don’t remember the name. From there you can take speedboats to go down South (about 150$), pass the border officialy at Puerto oblidad (to be checked out) then La miel and to Capurgana (to be checked in) in Colombia from where you can take a speed boat for 25$ to go to Turbo, from this town there is numerous road to go wherever you want in the country.

If you don’t have the budget  for speedboats or you are interested in going around the San Blas and meet the Kuna, which was my case, you can hitch hike boats, there is commercial ones going island to island in the San Blas. Apart from speedboat and a few sailingboat, there is only two types of boat which do this way. The first one is a commercial boat more or less nromal, it has things to sell and when you arrive to an island, indians make their command and you dishcarge the product (this is the type of boat which took me by hitch-hiking). This kind of boat take about 2 weeks to go down the coast till the border and generally till Turbo. The other type of boat is the coconut one, it makes a system of barter with the Indians. It charges coconuts given by indians who exchange them against various product. This type of boat take more time to go till the border and Turbo as it stays about  three days at every islands waiting for indians to gather coconuts etc…

darien gap jungle (7)          darien gap jungle (8)          darien gap jungle (9)

To start the boat hitch-hiking I would say that the easiest is to start at Colon as most of the commercial boats leave from there (on the other way they start from Turbo). But you can hitch-hike from any island.

If you where in the Darien and you wish to go by the San Blas there is a path between Santa Fe and Torti (20 minutes by car before Torti) where you can head North, first to the indian village of Nura and Uala. Up till there there is big path across the jungle as trucks take back wood cut from the jungle to other big towns. From Nura there is a “path”, that is to say an indian path as describe above which lead to Ustupu one of the San Blas island. This walk can take 1 day for trained indian, 2 for the others, for me, going by machete way it took 5 days… For my case I did everything by walk or hitch-hiking and was quite happy of my decision to go by the San Blas. I will have met the Embera in the Darien and the Kuna in the San Blas!

darien gap jungle (10)          darien gap jungle (11)

 

 

This website has been developped to share informations but mainly to allow the orphanage expansion.

http://aideauxorphelinsdebirmanie.com/index.php/en/home/

 

Share This:

This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work!

Please upgrade today!