Darien gap – no cars go

Why they named the wildest stretch of the americas between Alaska and Tierra del fuego after some suburb in Connecticut is beyond me . But there you have it . Wild ? It’s the only place on the entire stretch of the american continents that can’t be driven across . No roads , from the atlantic to the pacific from panama to columbia -no roads . If you want to get from central america to south america you have to go by boat or plane . ( more about the backpacker boats in another post )Unless you want to walk some of the same trails as drake did when he freaked out the spaniards by attacking panama city overland in the 1500’s . Or balboa when he crossed the isthmus here ( after marrying the chiefs daughter )and became the first european to see the east coast of the pacific ocean .The kuna Indians have never been defeated or subjugated by Europeans so the Darien is a semi autonomous nation – kuna yala – under their control and they ( for the most part ) like their idyllic lifestyle just the way it is , Thank you . They grow food and get water from the mainland and live along the archipelago among the reefs just offshore . No insects , no reptiles , great fishing . Good cell phone reception . Less rain . Life’s a beach in kuna yala . You see a lot of solar panels amongst the houses . They go back and forth , here in achutupu , the mile or so to the mainland in their beautiful ulus – dugout canoes . Sometimes paddling , usually sailing . Men , women , children and dogs . Just like morning anywhere , but in canoes instead of cars . Headed for their crops and school or maybe fishing or going to visit a nearby island .Most often in pairs – with the person in the stern steering with a paddle .From sun up til sun down there are sails in sight in almost any direction . propellor planes come and go from an airstrip on the mainland a few times a day . Right now i am listening to a panama city radio station playing classic rock from the seventies and eighties – sting , doobies , eagles .comforting after nothing but Spanish in Columbia ..So all in all it is an interesting mix of cultures . Its a shock and a relief using american dollars again too . It is strange paddling along shore seeing the stick and thatch houses with the dugouts out front and the spectacularly traditionally dressed kuna women , with gold rings through their noses talking on cell phones . So how will digital technology change kuna culture . ? For now I have gotten all my many thoroughly useless articles of clothing ready to trade . I don’t want to just say – no tengo dinero – when they paddle out , and , they are by tradition traders and barterers . So I’d give a nice heavy cotton shirt for some coconuts or lobster . The one absolute rule in kuna yala is leave the coconuts alone . Its their major cash crop . So i don’t have room for all the crap I collected over the years . And I think they love fabric , even if they don’t need a pair of flannel lined carharts . Maybe to use in a mola ? I’d trade my plasma welder for some good lobster . Just kidding . But a little trading is always fun . They say Kunas have a good sense of humor so it’s worth a try . Officially , I am cleared out of Columbia with portobello panama my next port . Portobello is essentially unchanged from the days when the Spanish assembled their homeward bound treasure fleets here full of inca booty to sail home in protective convoy . It has recently been re-discovered by
European and gringo ex pats as a beautiful forgotten harbor perfect for yachts and it is now a port of entry where you can also do your paperwork for the canal . It has the reputation for being the easiest friendliest place to clear in . There is no cheap place ; I think it’s around$300 anywhere in panama . Almost as much as the Bahamas . It’s got great old forts and is where drake relieved the Spanish of a years worth of ill gotten treasure . The greatest thief in the universe , as queen Elizabeth called him before making him a knight . He knelt before her after returning from his outlaw circumnavigation , (including sailing into San Francisco bay ) pillaging the Spanish as he went , at a time when England and Spain were supposed to be friends . As she held a sword over his head which might well be used to cut his head off , she said , arise , Sir Francis , knighting him . The hometown
crowd loved it . Sir Francis got a fatal stomach ache and was dumped overboard in a lead coffin at portobello . I’ll see when I get there if there is a memorial to him or if he’s a best forgotten scoundrel in panama . Hopefully I won’t get a tummy ache while I’m there .

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