May 23-May 27
Panama City (again)
May 27-May 30
How do you start a drive up the Pan-American highway? Obviously from the very beginning, or at least the beginning this side of the gap.
Yet again, on Friday May 27th, our paperwork was delayed. Surprise! Bet nobody expected that. We had waited all week wasting away in the heat and boredom of Panama City to be informed that bureaucracy moves at a snails pace in Panama. So Monday it would be.
Here is our Panama City crew, Sam, Chris, myself, Brett and a Venezuelan chica from the hostel.
If we had this extra time, why not do something most tourists never do? Why not really start our adventure at the very bottom of the highway. Travel to where the longest highway on earth literally ends for a section of impenetrable jungle. Approximately 60-100km of dense jungle separates the north and south portions of the Pan American highway, and we decided to start from mile 0 on the Northern section in a town called Yaviza.
Supposedly less then 300 kms from Panama city, we thought easy, lets do it in a day and drive back the next. But the highway was slightly problematic.
It immediately became clear from the lack of information online, or in any guidebook that nobody really drove this way. To properly travel into Darien province you need permission from SENAFRONT (Panama’s equivalent of the national guard), and we obviously didn’t have that (again that would take forever bureaucracy wise). After being failed yet again by Lonely Planet Panama (which we swear was written by an older bird-watching lady) we decided to start driving to see if/when we were turned around by the numerous police check points.
Turns out, after 4 check points, we can go the entire way. Look at us babes.
After reaching check point 3, we decided to spend the night. It was getting dark and rainy, so lets find a place to crash before we get into the really jungly territory. We read in the continuously terrible guide book that at some point called “Ipeti Embera”, an indigenous village ,you could camp. We found the village through no help from the book.
Mostly the village consisted of small huts, and homes, dogs and pigs. We drove to a small tienda and asked about camping options. I was told to ask la Presidente of the village for approval. So I did. She was delightful, and had a crew of other women clean out their communal hut for us to hammock in over night. We agreed to a price, and to a meal. Also we were asked if we wanted to look at any handy crafts, sure!
When the handy craft ladies showed up, it was literally every women in the village. We spent equal time at each blanket examining beautiful jewelry, baskets, and weaving but only had enough for a limited selection. We hope they were not all offended it was slightly intimidating to have an entire village show up to sell you something.
Dinner turned out to be absolutely delicious.
Next day, the road turned into ruins. Like 200km of construction on a dirt road in the jungle kind of ruins. It was sort of like building your own adventure through the pot holes, and unmanned construction obstacles. Exhilarating, this seemed really wild.
The scenery was some of the most beautiful we had seen throughout panama, mostly because the Darien province consists of Comarcas or tribal run lands which basically means the government ignores it completely (except when they want oil or resources obviously).
Eventually, we rolled into Yaviza. The wild border town at the edge of the gap. The town was actually pretty exciting for a Sunday morning, but we could see how it might be seedy at any other time of week. And yes, the road does literally end into a foot bridge across the river. We tentatively took pictures on the bridge, not entirely sure where the permission part of the Darien started.
On the way back we stayed a night at a developing Ecolodge we had heard about through friends, located in another Comarca (San Blas Hills). Pachamamma is going to be one spectacular hostel. Right now in a stage of construction, its wildly beautiful.
Finally, on our route back on Monday, May 30th for paperwork, we encountered a horrifying sight. A garbage pile on the side of the highway, a dog freaking out, and a kitten as the target. We drove for another 5 minutes contemplating the scenario…. until Brett realized I was slowly dying. So we turned around and saved her. She was cowering in a garbage dump, literally by the curb, 3 feet from moving traffic on the highway.
We didn’t want a kitten, really. But she chose us. And we saved her life 100%, someone had thrown her away in the trash.
This her her before photo:
This is her after glamour shot about 2 weeks later: