The mention of "Darién" whether in english or spanish evokes images of the deepest, darkest jungle. Dense forest, untamable and shrouded in mystery.
Darién is the Eastern-most Province in Panamá. It is also the largest province in Panamá. It is hot, humid, heavily forested, and sparsely populated.
Europeans first discovered the region in 1501, and Christopher Columbus sighted it on his fourth voyage in 1503. Formerly the name was frequently used to mean the entire isthmus of Panamá. The Spanish established the first European colony in South America, Santa Marta la Antigua del Darién, in Darién in 1510. From this town Vasco Núñez de Balboa made his march to the Pacific in 1513 and became the first European to view the Pacific Ocean from the New World.
In 1698, the Scots launched another attempt to colonize Darién: the Darién scheme. It too ended in failure and led to the Acts of Union 1707 which joined the parliaments of Scotland and England (with Wales) into the United Kingdom.
Today the chief town in Darién is La Palma, located where the Tuira River empties into the Bay of San Miguel.
The last town that can be reached via the unfinished Pan-American Highway project is Yaviza. Here the dirt and river-rock "highway" vanishes into thick forbidding jungle. The nearly 60 mile wide swath seperating the Southern and Northern termini of the Pan-American Highway system is known as "The Darién Gap".
The Darien Gap is the only gap in the Pan-American Highway along the entire length of North, Central, and South America. The barrier of the gap is partly natural due the dense rainforest that covers the region and over more recent years the significant safety concerns from Guerilla activity have further reinforced this. The only overland link to Colombia has meant that it has become a route in for arms and a route out for the drug cartels, which makes it a violently contested region.
One writer who recently visited the area described it as follows:
Panama's mythic Darién Gap-a 10,000-square-mile swath of jungle on the border of Central and South America-has swallowed explorers for centuries. Today, guerrillas, drug smugglers, poachers, and jaguars rule this vast no-man's-land. Yaviza, a town of bootleggers, barefoot prostitutes, and drunken men fighting in the streets with machetes and broken bottles is famous for lawlessness-it's a magnet for fugitives, poachers, and bootleggers.
(We would add "and missionaries intent on winning them all over to Christ).
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