Crossing the Darian Gap or Travels with Pero (Perro)


Between Alaska and Chile runs the Pan American highway, the longest stretch of drivable roads, except for the 100km break known as the Darien Gap. While you could potentially take a car and hope to find your way throught the forest, it would be short of a suicide mission considering the terrain and human activities in the area. This however was never the plan when we considered crossing into South America. Ours consisted of a ferry crossing that would take both the car and us, and safely deposit us on the other end. Considering the ferry was short lived, the only other option was a cargo ship for the car. After much research, paperwork and running around the car was left at the port to hopefully board the shipping container and meet us in Columbia in a week. However this still left us in Panama. So we considered our options, which soon narrowed themselves down to one that would include a plane, two boats and two busses.  Information was limited and it would take us getting there to figure out how they felt about taking dogs on.

Waiting to get checked in at the airport

First was a flight on a 12 seater plane that was to take us to a border town in Panama. We booked the flight a week in advance, found the crate for Ella and were set to go Feb 3rd. However, shortly after we were checked in for the flight, our baggage was returned, stickers taken off and we were told the dog create was too big for the plane and good luck. Personally I was more than happy to walk away from the tiny plane, however Brett contested with some convincing points and soon enough it was up to the pilot to make the decision.  He approved.  So we got check in again, however this time they asked both Brett and I to step on the baggage scale which was slightly confusing. Just before boarding, when Ella was cooking on the tarmac in her crate getting ready to board the plane, we were told that she would actually go with the cargo plane. Once again we through a stink and once again the pilot approved her flying with us. So the cargo plane left with the luggage and the passenger plane left with us and Ella included.

Panama City
Brett trying to get the create out after it rolled during the landing to leave Ella sideways.

We landed in Puerto Obedia, a tiny seaside village.  A local model had returned with the same plane and the atmosphere was festive. People sang and danced as the speakers were rolled around in a wheel barrel from the airport all through the town.

Wandering the town looking for the immigration office.
Puerto Obedia port
At the port ready for the boat launch

With immigration under our belt, we found a boat to take us to Columbia.  This was a 30 minute ride to Capurgena, a small village without banks or cars, only accessible by boat.  It was also a good preview of the boat ride that would take us from Capurgana to the mainland. The swells were big, very big and the boats, well they were small but fast, dropping off the waves crest to send all its passengers into the air and back down against the wooden seats . In 30 minutes we were relived to be on land as we hobbled off the boats wet and spitting out salt water.  Not ready to get back into the next boat and curios about this little remote village we stayed two nights.


With Colombian immigration on their lunch break and no formal border restricting our movements, we decided to do the same.
Happy to be on land?!
When a cat runs the store (what would you like to puurrrchase)-Brett’s addition

However, there was no other way around it and we had to get back into a boat. Except for four Colombians that howled and screamed every time the boat dropped from the waves the general mood was quite serious. People stared at their feet, whether to avoid seeing the swells or getting water directly into their face I was not sure. In two hours we reached Colombian mainland, found a change room to get rid of the soaked clothes and sat down for a well deserved beer. From there it would take a total of 8 hours of two bus rides and a cab to get us into Cartagena.   We arrived just after 10pm, exhausted and excited to have reached the destination quite smoothly, except for the whirlwind of emotions that ranged from an adrenaline induced excitement to anxiety and fear.


Ella takes a break from sitting between and under the seats as she sneaks on the seat when the passengers start leaving the bus






  • Tyson

    February 9, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    Great Story Una! I’m glad to see your Journey continues!

    • bpainter

      February 9, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      Thanx Tyson!

  • Mom

    February 9, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Glad you made it to Colombia safely. Probably want to skip boat rides for awhile. Love Mom

    • bpainter

      February 9, 2016 at 5:43 pm

      Thanks Fran, yes boats, planes and busses, looking forward to the return of the van.