The Darien Gap: Travels In The Rainforest Of Panama by Martin MitchinsonThe Darien Gap: Travels In The Rainforest Of Panama by Martin Mitchinson

The Darien Gap: Travels In The Rainforest Of Panama

byMartin Mitchinson

Paperback | April 16, 2008

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Finalist for the 2009 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction

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 Darien's 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, pirates, gold miners, rebels, and political schemers all gravitated to Darien. Scotland failed miserably in its attempt to establish a colony. An American Navy expedition wandered lost in its jungle for two months with seven men dying, and countries fought to control the region's traffic and trade. Yet today, Darien is best known as a roadless backwater, 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 his 36-foot sailboat Ishmael, and spent the next 18 months navigating physical challenges, native politics and the constant risk of kidnapping. Mitchinson found temporary shelter in native communities while he followed footpaths through the rainforest, and paddled a dugout canoe along Darien's rivers. With two Kuna guides, he set off to follow Balboa's historic route across the continental divide to the Pacific.

Drawing on firsthand accounts and personal interviews 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.
Martin Mitchinson has been a travel writer and photographer for the past ten years. He was born in Saskatoon and raised in northern Alberta, where he later worked in the oil fields to support his travels to Central and South America. He now lives outside Powell River, BC. The Darien Gap is his first book.
Title:The Darien Gap: Travels In The Rainforest Of PanamaFormat:PaperbackDimensions:284 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.75 inPublished:April 16, 2008Publisher:Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1550174215

ISBN - 13:9781550174212

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from darien gap As someone interested in the rain forest's flora and fauna I really enjoyed also learning about the area's history , challenges, and the issues of its native communities. A great adventure.
Date published: 2016-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Shortlisted for award He's just been notified his book, "The Darien Gap" has been shortlisted along with three other books for the 2009 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction, administered by Wilfred Laurier University. The full press release is at
Date published: 2009-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of a kind adventure A writer's travelogue from one of the most dangerous places in the Western Hemisphere- the jungle gap between Panama & Columbia- the only gap in the entire TransAmerica Highway, the densest jungle in Central America, drug traffikers, guerrila forces, & tribesfolk. A tale of living in the 'gap' for 14 months.
Date published: 2008-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A brilliantly unique portrayal of The Darién Gap Martin Mitchinson's "The Darien Gap" is a wonderful book, a great collection of histories, mythologies, and personal adventures and reflections. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in traveling in Central America, as well as for anyone who loves good, and thoughtful travel writing. In a place that is infamous for kidnappings, Colombian Guerrillas, and thick jungles, Mitchinson performs the unthinkable act of remaining in the region for a year and a half to gather together Darien's many stories into a book that is a pleasure to read. In a series of wonderfully-crafted vignettes, Mitchinson writes with a very personal voice to bring Darien's jungle to the reader - from the 65 million years of ancient geological formation, to native histories, pirates, eccentrics, and ridiculous canal schemes that are part of Darien's past and present. This book has just been released, but I've found a handful of early reviews: "What Mitchinson has produced, with bugs, mud, graces, dangers, superstitions and all... is a wonderfully entertaining book full of close observation and flourishes of poetry." - Garry Geddes, poet and author of "Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things" _____________________ "... impressive and compelling..." "... threading the history of the area, with accounts of its indigenous peoples and early explorations, into a dramatic and involving tapestry. There is much humor here,... passages of genuine suspense, including a harrowing account of a near-drowning in a jungle river..." - The Vancouver Sun _____________________ "... the summer's best read." - The North Island Midweek _____________________ "...hairy enough to scare even the most intrepid armchair traveler. But the stories that he tells of this wild barrier make his book come doubly alive. Combining one part history with one part travelogue... escape reading at its best." -The Sun Times _____________________ "... personal anecdotes are lush with honesty and sparse with reservation... it sucks you from your reading chair only to plant you in the mangrove swamps of the Darien Gap." "...intriguing tale connects the reader to Mitchinson, the people of Darien and the Darien province itself." - Comox Valley Record
Date published: 2008-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Arguably one of Summer '08's best reads! There are those among us who have journeyed to some of planet Earth’s wildest, most untamed areas and survived to tell the tale. Martin Mitchinson of Powell River is one of them, and his new book ‘The Darien Gap: Travels in the Rainforest of Panama’ could be the summer’s best read. Travelling by foot and dugout canoe, Martin crossed the continental divide from the Caribbean side of Panama to Pacific tidal waters, along the physically challenging and historic route used by Spanish explorer Balboa. The 50-km wide, 160-km long Darien Gap is a missing link in what would otherwise be uninterrupted highway from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Few would even consider traveling through this swath of undeveloped swampland and forest separating Panama and Colombia, but although Central American guidebooks warned against going there, Martin persevered. Martin speaks fondly of the Darien people who fed, sheltered, guided and befriended him during his rainforest adventures, but the book details a labyrinth of hellish primitive situations better read than endured. Lured by its exotic geography and eccentric history, Martin spent 18 months overcoming challenges in this strange and extraordinary landmass – a stubborn barrier between the American continents. He endured life-threatening and spine-chilling physical and political challenges and emerged as one of few travelers to survive this primitive, roadless disease-infested terrain. Challenges and perils were numerous and daunting. At times, he survived on small fish and rice for weeks while burnt corn kernels sufficed as ‘coffee beans’. Red-headed sardines nipped at his skin when he swam, and a swarm of stinging Africanized bees invaded his termite-weakened beach hut. No three-day “gringo sprint across the land,” the lengthy adventure gave Martin a good sense of the land and its people, as well as time to fully explore and experience what he terms “a bountiful land, providing (the natives) more than they need.” On one occasion, traveling at night in a dugout canoe with a basket of food, a machete and a mosquito net for sleeping, Martin swamped his boat but struggled to shore, where he set up a makeshift camp to dry out. Asked about this experience, Martin says: “When a difficult physical disaster happens, people just dig in and solve it.” He felt clarity, he says, in knowing what to do, but sans the panic and screaming employed on the big screen. Still culturally simple, the Darien people chose village life only recently (1950s and 1960s) but, Martin says “it’s not a natural thing for them to live so close together.” They share the same struggles faced by indigenous groups the world over, including exploitation by outsiders. Indeed, some parallels exist with West Coast First Nation cultures. In compelling prose, he writes of “the morning half-light in the mangroves,” and the lush evening green of Colombian mountains. Towards the end, Martin felt the experience “was complete enough” while musing that possibly, the worst facet of this strange land was “fear of your own shadow.”
Date published: 2008-05-16