If you want to drive from North America to South America, you'll have a hard time when you reach Panama's southernmost province, Darien. The Pan-American Highway ends just sixty miles short of Colombia. It's the only missing link in what would otherwise be uninterrupted highway from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. When Balboa marched through these jungles to cross the narrow isthmus in 1513, he was the first European to sight the Pacific from its eastern shores. For the next four centuries, countries fought to control the traffic and trade through Darien. Yet today, Darien has returned to its original state - road-less backwater between the two massive American continents, home to native communities, Colombian guerrillas, and the descendants of black slaves and Spanish colonists. For twenty years, Martin Mitchinson has travelled in Central and South America. Fascinated by tales of Darien, he arrived aboard Ishmael, his 36-foot sailboat, and spent 18 months there, navigating both physical challenges and native politics. Mitchinson learned to travel as the natives do, moving silently through the rainforest, gliding alone in a narrow dugout.
He found temporary shelter in native communities, not staying in any place for long since gringos are easy targets for kidnappers in Panama's Darien Gap. With two Kuna guides, he set off to follow the route Balboa took when he made his historic crossing to the Pacific. Drawing on first-hand accounts from Spanish explorers, pirates, Scottish colonists, and the US navy to illuminate the history of the region, and recounting his travels with extraordinary honesty and grace, Mitchinson has produced the first of what we hope will be many fine travel narratives.
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