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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac: Darien Gap

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about the first automobile crossing of the Darien Gap. In 1960, fourteen explorers ventured to cross the last unconquered stretch of the Pan-American Highway.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Esquivel, "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams", MUSIC FOR A SPARKLING PLANET (Bar None - 1995)]

CURWOOD: On February 3rd, 1960, a group of 14 adventurers and a Land Rover nick-named "The Affectionate Cockroach" set off to blaze the first automobile trail to connect the last gap the Pan-American Highway. With machetes, winches and chutzpa they ventured where vehicles had never before left tread-marks. The expedition lasted 101 days, and covered 271 miles of dense jungles, deep ravines, and winding rivers. The crew repeatedly had to pull their truck up 60 degree ridges and make their own bridges out of palm logs to get it over waterways. They did all of this in 100 degree heat and humidity, surrounded by ticks, chiggers, spiders, and ants.

The journey began where the highway construction had stopped, in Chepo, Panama. The destination: the town of Palo de las Letras, just over the Colombian border. The area in-between is called the Darien Gap. And to this day, there remains a 56 mile missing link in a highway that stretches 16,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina. But don't count on closing that gap any time soon. Panamanian officials would rather not link Colombia and Panama to keep things harder for drug traffickers. Some indigenous people have also staged protests against timber logging in the area, and nobody seems eager to pay for the road. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.




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