Most of us are familiar with the Pan-American Highway. It is a series of roads that stretch from the tip of Alaska (Fairbanks) to very bottom point of Argentina (Ushuaia). When it’s completed, it will be over 20,000 miles long. But the part that I didn’t know is that the highway isn’t complete. There’s this thing called the Darién Gap. What is the Darién Gap? I’m glad you asked! I’ll tell you the story of how we found out.

So we were driving south in Panama, following the map the travel agent at the hotel gave us, and we approached a village called Yaviza. This is a tribal village, and the people are blissfully out of touch with modern society. I wanted to stop and take pictures and talk to the people, but it seemed like the others didn’t want to, so I snapped pictures from the window. Now, I was starting to notice that the dirt road we were traveling on was looking less and less like a road. Then we approached a military checkpoint that was blocking the way. I was thinking to myself, “Dude, are we going the wrong way?”

Tribal hut at Yaviza village in Panama

We pulled up to the gate and got out of the car. One military guy told us that we couldn’t go any further unless we had a permit from La Palma. Another military guy asked where we were going and why we were going there. A third military guy starts looking through the windows of the van. This was all happening so fast, and I was feeling a little nervous. Nobody else spoke up, so I explained that we were from the United States and we travel around the Spanish-speaking world performing challenges and getting to know about the different cultures and places the Spanish-speaking world has to offer. The first two military guys walked away as I was talking, but the third stayed to explain the Darién Gap.

Darién Gap jungle view

Apparently, the roadway is incomplete. There is one small part that is all swamp and marshland on the Panama-Colombia border. You need a permit to cross it, and only a few people in history have ever crossed it by land…and survived. It’s only 99 miles long, but it’s very dangerous. The military guy was saying that most people will put their car on a ship that goes around the Gap and will either fly or take a boat to meet the car on the other side. I started talking to myself again. I said “Self, why would that travel agent send us on the road without a warning about the Darién Gap?” At that point we thanked the guy, got back into the car, and went back to the village. It’s time to plan a new way around this obstacle! Anyone up for an airplane ride?