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The Darien Gap.

The Darien Gap remains the last gap in the Pan-American highway from North to South America. It was ever the major obstacle to one of the last epic car journeys to be achieved - the trip from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

Now, Patricia Upton has produced an Adventurer's Guide to Crossing the Darien Gap (details below). This 40 page guide includes a wealth of information for the expeditioner - getting there, shipping, embassies, paperwork, customs and legal matters, accommodation, health and medicine, contacts, sources of information, politics and guerrillas(!), and of course the route.

Patricia Upton is well qualified to write about the Darien Gap. Loren Upton has traversed the area (with others) in 1976, 1977 and 1979, and with Patricia and others in 1985 - 1987 and 1995. Between 1985 and 1987 they completed the first all land crossing of the gap in a 1966 Jeep CJ5 (earlier crossing included floating vehicles down rivers or through the Atrato Swamp). In 1995 the Uptons, with Juan Rivas, traversed the gap using a two wheel drive Rokon Trail-Breaker motorcycle.

The guide includes such sobering notes as

1976 One expedition member mysteriously shot and killed.
1977 Jeep lost in accident in Ecuador.
1979 Jeep lost to an unsavory encounter with a Columbian Park official.
This is plainly not a trip for the novice.

La Tortuga

When Frank and Helen Schreider were contemplating driving from the Arctic Circle in Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in South America in the early 1950's there were three main obstacles - southern Mexico, southern Costa Rica and eastern Panama (the Darien Gap) which required shipping by rail or sea. Consequently the Schreiders chose to use an Amphibious Jeep (Seep) so that they could take to the ocean and sail around these problems. It sounds simple but was very hazardous. (/Mil/Mil.html)

Early Darien Gap Expeditions

The first vehicular crossing of the Darien Gap was made in 1959 - 1960 using a Jeep and a Land-Rover. Upton records that the exact route from the Panamanian / Columbian border is unknown, possibly being by boat down the Atrato River.

Around 1962 an expedition sponsored by General Motors failed in an attempt to take three Corvairs, surely improbable vehicles, across the gap.

The British Trans-Americas Expedition drove two Range Rovers from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in 1972. This was partly to promote the recently released Range Rover. They had numerous mechanical problem, breaking differentials due to overloading and the use of over-size tyres on the Darien Gap section. That section was undertaken as a major expedition with British Army support.

Other Reading

1954-1956 amphibious Jeep sails around the Darien Gap en-route from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego:
  • Helen and Frank Schreider, La Tortuga, 1957.
    The Schreiders subsequently took an amphibious jeep around the islands of Indonesia, The Drums of Tonkin, 1963.

1960 a Land-Rover and a Jeep drive overland from Panama to Columbia:

  • Kip Ross, We Drove Panama's Darien Gap, National Geographic, V119 No3 368-389 March 1961.
  • Richard Bevis, Linking the Americas, The Autocar, 927-929, 1 Dec 1961.

1971-1972 British Trans-Americas expedition, led by Major John Blashford-Snell, drove two Range-Rovers from Alaska to Cape Horn. A SWB Land Rover SIIA also helped over the Darien Gap:

1996 Loren Lee Upton and Patricia Upton have made numerous trips to and through the Darien Gap and now publish an invaluable guide for this most challenging four wheel drive adventure:

  • P. E. Upton, Through the Darien Gap, an Adventurer's Guide for Crossing the Darien Gap of Panama and Columbia, pp40, 1996.
    USA: $13.00, overseas: $17, ($US)
    P. E. & L. L. Upton, P.O. Box 803, Salmon, Idaho 83467, USA

- L_A11ison

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