We haven’t really mentioned this lately, but a massive lynchpin of success is rapidly approaching our front bumper, that being the Darien Gap. A swampy divide between Panama and Colombia, it is considered effectively impassible by any vehicle, let alone a front-wheel drive 90-horsepower rig like El Burro Peligroso. Many decades ago some well-equipped teams were able to cross it using highly-modified Land Rovers and it took them weeks, but now it’s a haven for narco-guerillas and the only vehicles that get through it now are the canoes of the local tribes.
As far as we can tell, we have six options:
Option 1: Ferry
Until recently there hasn’t been a Darien Gap ferry, but a new service will be running between a small Panamanian port and Cartagena soon. From what we’ve gathered, soon means December. This would be super convenient but doesn’t fit our time schedule.
Option 2: Container ship
Container ships run between Panamanian and Colombian ports. We can load the car into one and have it shipped around. These ships don’t run terribly often and containers are 40′ long – the economical way to do this is to team up with other overlanders and share a container. It might be possible, but it will cost us at a minimum a couple thousand dollars and very possibly could require a delay that we can’t do. Plus, we can’t get on the ships. We still have to pay our own way around the gap, presumably by sail or puddle-jumper.
Option 3: Roll-On Roll-Off
Ships built to roll cars on and off also run between the two countries, but they’re also infrequent. They’re a bit more affordable, but you have to hand your keys over and apparently the belongings inside the car typically go missing, making it less affordable. Again, we have to find our own way around the gap.
Option 4: Barge
We don’t know of anyone who’s actually done this, but we figure it couldn’t be too hard to give someone with a barge a thousand bucks or so and just get them to drop us and the car off on a Colombian boat ramp. Might be illegal, but whatever. We’ll figure that out in Colombia.
Option 5: Ditch El-BP
This option sucks for several reasons, but we may just have to leave our car behind. It’s not terribly hard to dump a car in Panama as long as we don’t expect much money in return, and the car was purchased with this possibility in mind. We’d hate to leave it – it’s treated us well – but it might come to this. It also sucks because cars in Colombia are super expensive, roughly double what you’d pay for a vehicle in the US.
Option 6: Amphibious assault vehicle
Possibly the worst but definitely the most hilarious of the options. We fill the underside of the car with foam and attach pontoons and an outboard motor, then attempt to traverse the coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean or Caribbean Sea. Lots of pitfalls here, notably death by drowning, death by shark, coastal narco-guerillas and Johnny Law, but the boys from Top Gear seemed to do okay on a calm river, so how hard can it be?