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Tour du monde en autostop - Jeremy Marie

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 Travel Diary : From North America to South America (2nd part)

Colombia, I had it in front of me but I couldn't reach it. However, it wasn't very far, I could almost touch it, but it was there, unbearable and uncrossable.

The ''Darien Gap'', this part of the Panamerican Highway that doesn't exist. From the top of Alaska to the southern city in the world in Argentina, this road stops only there, between Panama and Colombia.

When I arrived in Panama, I had to find a solution to go around or to go through. How to go over it?

It wasn't many option when I get in Panama, but I had to find a solution.

From my research about the Darien to my arrival in Colombia, so in North America, follow me for the second and last part of the article explaining how I went from one continent to an other.

 

The research

When I went back to Panama City, I already knew a little about what would be the biggest difficulty because I investigated on it last year, when I arrive on the american continent with the catamaran.

When I went back to Panama City, the city was still growing vertically

At the time, I was already looking for a way to reach South America from Panama. I invite you to read again or to discover this article about the ''Darien Gap'' crossing.

Link of the article of the past year

The biggest problem in this area is that there is no road. I have to find a way around. So I started my research.

First, I went to the marinas Balboa and Flamenco, the two main marinas of the city.

On the Balboa Yacht Club

As usual, I let a message on the board. I come back often to try to meet the captains. I won't find anybody going in my direction from this place. However, I noticed that many of them were going to Australia... Which is a useful information to remember for the future.

I leave Panama City, a captain told me that I would have chances to find something in the marina ''Shelter Bay'' on the caribbean coast. I go there and from the beginning of my research, I find an italian boat. Those ones aren't neither going the same way but are offering to host me until they leave for their destination, which is Europe.

The italian couple

I stay 5 days in this marina, trying to meet all the captains. I even do a list of every boat and their answers about my request.

The list of the boats in the Shelter Bay Marina and their answers

I can't find anything. Only two boats are leaving to Ecuador but they don't need a crew.

I am trying something else. Back in Panama City, I get a list of every freight cargos crossing the Panama Canal for the month I am interested in. I contact every ship-owners by sending them a request... No answer at all...

The list of the freight cargos crossing the Panama Canal

I contact the airplanes companies, as I did in Miami... I start to be hopeless and consider to cross the Darien Gap by foot. The Darien is a jungle at the border between Panama and Colombia. There are many difficulties. If you succeed to cross the natural gap, which is 150 kilometers with your machete, with uncrossable rivers in the rainy season (which was while my research) and also some cliffs; you will still have the chance to meet some FARC, who are a Revolutionary Army in Colombia, but very centralized on drug traffic and kidnapping... Here is the deal, and maybe what made me think two times before to try anything in this direction.

The Darien Gap, seen from far

Finally, I try something else. My italian friends told me to have a look on another part of the caribbean coast, in Portobelo.

I go there and I find a new mean of transportation: the colombia cargo. This kind of boat is carrying coconuts or other more or less legal products between the panamean and colombian coasts. I give a try with the captain but one more time... It starts to become a custom...

But no, finally, I find what I was looking for, which will make me leave this very americanized country of central america and go to Colombia... I can't be more happy.

My salvation is coming from a lancha, otherwise known as a powerboat. This one is newly built, made by three people: Marco from Quebec, Adam from New-Zealand and Jack from the United States. They start in their business, which is to carry travelers from Panama to Colombia, going through San Blas.

I offer to help them to promote their touristical product, having studied in this area, in exchange of a free crossing.

I offer to promote the touristical product which is the lancha. I realize posters, brochures, business cards and booklets about the journey.

We have to know that if it has been so difficult to find a boat, it means that we are in a very touristical area for this mean of transportation. Indeed, many of the captains see there a huge opportunity to make money by offering this crossing on their sailing boat, for a price of 400 dollars for 4 or 5 days, going to Panama or Colombia passing by the San Blas Islands.

I have seen them last year and it was around twenty sailing boats doing this journey. Today, you can find forty of them! You can imagine how bad is the competition and I have to say that I felt it by meeting some of the captains...

However, I found a team. Some travelers who accept me, who like my project and what I can offer. I will leave for Colombia, and across the San Blas Island, aboard the ''Darien Gapster''!

Me and Adam in front of the Darien Gapster in Coco Banderas, in the San Blas Islands


 

Crossing the San Blas

San Blas is this area of Panama that succeeded to keep its culture. The San Blas Islands are mainly inhabited by the native Kunas.

The women are known to have a unique clothing. They are wearing very colorful dresses with a ''Mola'' on it. The Mola is a piece of tissue that the Kuna women are putting on their dresses.

The Kunas women and their Mola

 

The Kunas succeeded to get some independancy and to partly separate themselves from the panamean government. It has been very interesting to meet them.

The Kunas are living in huts that they build with the wood that they can find on their islands. At the end, it seems that they are almost only using their own ressources and live in complete autonomy.

The huts of the Kunas

The Kunas are moving with their boats, made out of wood. Needless to say that in this kind of environment, it is quite useful to use this mean of transportation. It can be for fishing, for shopping or for visiting a friend from the island next door. This kind of boat seems to be the best way to move around in San Blas.

The Kunas on their boat

Dowm to the youngest age, where by the way it doesn't seem necessary to wear clothes

The water is extremly clear. I found that San Blas was a part of this world that succeeded pretty well to protect itself against the problems of pollution. With water up to your belly, you still can admire you own toes...

An underwater view of the transparent sea of San Blas

There is no corporation that are putting trashes in this transparent water. Almost no cans or plastic bags. Here, we live simply, we are eating the daily catch, so only the fishbones are going underwater. And, for the toilets, it will also finish in the water... But isn't it biodegradable? Ask to BP (British Petroleum), they know about it.


The Kunas toilets, on top of the ocean

Those islands are really wonderful and I know it isn't the first time I am saying it. To know more about the Kunas, it would be necessary to live and to study them, but the positive and negative point is that it would be extremly difficult to get accepted there. Positive because it helps them to keep their culture. It already saved them many times in the past. Negative because it is difficult for us, travelers, to be able to help our curiosity... But, it is better than having a deculturation! The Kunas wouldn't be so unique if they were so easy to access and to influence.

The paradise of San Blas, with islands mostly non-inhabited

We went through islands with names that fit so well to them: Lamunega, Coco Banderas or even Mamitupu. Finally, we arrived in Colombia, safely on our lancha.

Aboard our lancha

From there, I went to Cartagena. To be honest, I feel like starting a new adventure. I am very happy to finally be there, in South America. My next moves will lead me through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina... Before to go up again, on the east coast through Brazil and Venezuela.

Tierra del Fuego, Machu Pichu, Valparaiso and Patagonia... Some names that makes us dreaming, some places I can't wait to visit.

From the Kunas to the Incas, I hope to learn with you about new civilizations very soon. Waiting for this, let's discover the first country that I am experiencing on this new continent: Colombia!

Welcome to Colombia!

See you soon,

Jeremy

 

Info For more informations about the Darien Gapster, that I thank for his honest deal, please contact:

Adam Riley

www.thedariengapster.com

thedariengapster@live.com



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