Between 2010 and 2013, Dylan Wickrama was on a world trip on his motorcycle. He left with no plans and he had a tight budget. On his trip he covered 210,000 km and road through 80 countries, starting in Switzerland and ending in Argentina. His RTW trip wasn’t about speed, distance or setting records, but it was about exploring the world, meeting people and discovering places.
After 3 years on the road, he reached the Darien Gap in Panama. Considering his options, Dylan came up with a plan to get around the Darien Gap to continue his trip. And that plan involved water, his motorcycle, some oil drums and bamboo poles.
Dylan wrote a book about his adventure called When the Road Ends. It’s available on his website and on Amazon.
Darien Gap - Jungles, Snakes & Geurillas
Where is the DARIEN GAP?
The Darien Gap is also know as the DARIEN ISTHMUS, an isthmus being a narrow strip of land connecting two larger areas with water on either side. You will find the Darien Gap on the Pan American Highway, nown as the “longest motorable road in the world” in the Guiness Book of Records, a popular route for many motorcyclists. The Pan American Highway can be as long as 48,000 km depending what route you choose to take through Canada and the US, with the most popular routes averaging about 30,000 km. Adventurers often start in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and end in Ushuaia, Argentina, or the reverse. There is no official route in Canada or the United States, but all Interstate Highways in the US have been declared as part of the Pan American Highway. The official Pan American Highway spans from Laredo, Mexico to Buenos Aires in Argentina. Between Panama and Colombia, on the border of Central and South America, you come to the Darien Gap, just over 160 km (99 miles) long and about 50 km (31 miles) wide of jungle, mountains, swamps and rivers. The only sensible options are to go over it by plane or around it by ship
A Few Basic Facts About Darien Gap:
There are no roads, only foot paths or trails, no street signs. Exotic wildlife abounds, the likes of which most of have never known, such as jaguars, wild boars and venomous snakes. It's hot, muggy, the forest is thick and the mosquitos atrocious. Dangers are everywhere, there are risks of encountering drug smugglers, poachers, guerrillas and paramilitaries in the Darien Gap, which is also a refuge for murderous outlaws. The Darien Gap is home to indigenous peoples known as the Embera-Wounaan and the Kuna.
Why Not Build a Road?
In 1971 and 1992 efforts were made to allow a road to be put through the Darien Gap, but both were stopped due to environmental concerns, of which there are many. There is evidence that the Gap has prevented diseased cattle, which cause foot and mouth disease, from spreading in to Central and North America. The indigenous people are concerned that a road may destroy their cultures. There is the threat of making the Darien Gap more accessible for drug trafficking and the resulting violence. And there is also the need to protect the rainforest. The Darien Gap has been said to be a natural barrier which protects North America.
Crossing the Gap
For centuries, the Darien Gap has been a destination and challenge for many explorers and adventurers, and the exploration of it has usually been met with disaster. However, there have been many successful attempts at crossing through the Darien Gap, by two wheel drive and four wheel drive vehicles, rocons, motorcycles, bicycles and by foot.
There have been several notable “first of it’s kind” crossings. The first successful crossing in a vehicle was in 1960 in a Land Rover and Jeep. An arduous journey moving an average of only 200 metres or about 650 feet in an hour. It took them nearly 5 months to cross the Gap, as they made their way through the jungle clearing the bush by hand, crossing streams and rivers, making bridges as they went.
The first crossing in a two wheel drive vehicle was in 1961, by a team using three Chevrolet Corvairs, which took 109 days. They completed the expedition having abandoned one of the cars.
Between 1971 and 1973, the first fully overland crossing was by Ian Hibell by bicycle.
In 1975, Robert L. Webb made the first motorcycle crossing.
Between 1985 and 1987, the first vehicle crossing by land only was made in a Jeep by Loren Upton and Patty Mercier in 741 days, they would return in 1995 to cross the Darien Gap again, this time on Rocons.
Since then there have been more notable crossings made by motorcycle, on foot or by river boats. To this day, any inland routes remain extremely dangerous.
For example, National Geographic Adventure contributing editor Robert Young Pelton and two American backpackers were kidnapped there in 2003 and held for 10 days.
In an National Geographic Adventure interview by Nicole Davis, Robert Young Pelton had this to say:
"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.” and “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."
A Couple of Options for Crossing the Darien Gap by Motorcycle
FLYING PANAMA TO COLUMBIA
- cargo shipping is available with Air Cargo Pack (www.aircargopack.com)
- there are details on their website about shipping the motorcycle and what the required paperwork is
- cargo shipping is also available with Servicarga (www.servicarga.com.pa)
- you will have to arrange a flight for yourself from Panama to Bogota with Avianca (www.avianca.com), Copa Airlines (www.copaair.com) or Viva Colombia (www.vivacolombia.co)
- return ticket required - Colombian law
- often talked about in motorcycling circles
- built in 1903 in Holland, the SV STahlratte, a sailing ship, is not a commercial vessel, it is owned by a foundation which was set up in 1984 as a commune
- the purpose of the Stahlratte is as a “traveling platform for group life/experience"
- it is a non profit venture supported by volunteers
- it's a 4 day trip around the Darien Gap, bikes are dropped off the night before the voyage and bike are retrieved the day after arrival
- includes food and beverages, one night hotel before the journey and a bed on board
- more information at www.stahlratte.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/prices-discription-pana-carta-biker.pdf
Horizons Unlimited - www.horizonsunlimited.com
Horizons Unlimited’s forums have good information where some adventurers have taken cheaper routes, shipping the bikes in containers and then meeting up with the bikes through a kaleidoscope of boats and buses. Although cheaper to go this route, it also takes longer and requires some good bit of organization. You need to check your sources out carefully though, as there are some stories of robbery, problems with customs when using smaller boats, etc.