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crossing Darien Gap - most difficult border crossing ever

Season 6: Project Alaska

1 February 2022

In order to reach Alaska on my motorcycle, and enter Central America, I had to cross the Darien Gap. The Darien Gap is a remote area between Colombia and Panama that consists of mountainous jungle, filled with poisonous snakes and treacherous swamps. This is the only interruption of the Panamerican highway, the world's longest motorable road, which links almost all of the Pacific coastal countries of the Americas

For many centuries, the Darien Gap has attracted criminals, migrants, explorers, scientists, and other dubious characters. The area is dominated by narco-traffickers and anti-government guerrillas: the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) still controls the south-to-north route that is used to move weapons and cocaine. 

 

Biggest barrier for overlanders

This 70-kilometer strip of land is therefore the biggest barrier for overlanders traveling in between North- and South America.

There are stories of people who risked it all and crossed the Darien Gap on a motorcycle. Probably the most famous story is that of a team of 4 US army paratroopers. They crossed the jungle a few years back. But before they crossed it, they had prepared their journey for two years. They invested a lot of time in gaining the trust of the officials, border patrol agencies, guides, and fixers. Knowing their story, I decided that doing it this way on my own, would not become my story. 

By air or by sea? 

With the overlanding option out of the window, I was left with two other options to cross the Darien Gap, by air or by sea.

By now, I've got quite some experience with shipping my motorcycle by air. I have done it three times already. The first time was from Malaysia to Oman, something nobody had done before, according to the airport officials. The second time was from London to Buenos Aires, which is a well-known route. The third time I flew with my motorcycle from London to Quito in Ecuador, again a less common trajectory. I know from experience that shipping a motorcycle by airplane is not an easy task. It may look easy watching my videos, but it takes a lot of time and planning to pull it all off. And then I'm not even talking about the costs of such an operation. Needless to say, having my motorcycle shipped to Ecuador not too long ago, I did not want to go through that whole process again. 

That left me with the only remaining option: crossing the Darien Gap over sea. For many years, this route has been a popular option in the overland motorcycle community. Several options existed in which large sailing ships would hoist motorcycles onboard and after a few days of sailing via the gorgeous San Blas islands, you would arrive in Panama. Easy, enjoyable, and more affordable than flying. 

 

Finding my own boat to cross with

But then came the pandemic, and none of the larger sailing ships were running anymore. There was only one option left for me if I wanted to keep my motorcycle with me at all times. Organize my own crossing with a little boat that would take my bike and me all the way to Puerto Cartí in Panama. 

Given the size of these smaller boats, there were a lot more risks and unknowns. I had to put a lot of (financial) trust in people that I didn't really know. On top of that, I wasn't crossing the gap in the best of times. From December until March the sea in this part of the world is rough, choppy, and dangerous. The longer I waited, the worse it would become, the locals that sail this route told me. With that in mind, I rode through Colombia faster than originally intended, so to make the crossing as soon, and therefore, as safe as I could. Hopefully.

It took a lot of time and effort to find locals that would use their boats for legal trips. Besides crossing the Darien Gap on foot, thousands of migrants are also crossing the Darien Gap by boat. These crossings are illegal and when caught, the captain of the boat would go straight to prison. But the high demand for boats by migrants drives up the price, and captains can earn up to 5000 dollars for one crossing, making it tempting for some to get into this risky and illegal business. And well, for me as a solo traveler trying to cross legally, that price was way out of my budget, and in that case, it would be even cheaper to fly. Finding locals that I could trust was a very important and crucial step in the whole expedition to cross the Darien Gap over sea. Luckily, I came into contact with Juan Carlos and his family and friends, who make an earnest living with fishing and are not interested in doing anything illegal. 

Crossing Darien Gap 

Even though it turned out to be 3 nerve-wracking days on sea, with countless stops to retie my bike with more and more ropes because of the rain, wind and choppy seas, I felt safe in the company of my new friends. I even felt safe with them, when another speedboat with three masked men came speeding towards us waving around a huge machine gun. When I finally reached Puerto Cartí in Panama, I realized this was by far the longest, most challenging, and riskiest border crossing I'd ever done in my entire life. And I didn't even cross through the jungle of the Darien Gap! 

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Cudos to you, Juan Carlos and his family!!! Perhaps providing info on how you were able to find Mr. Carlos can help fellow adventure riders in crossing the gap. I understand not providing your cost to travel but I'm sure Mr. Carlos would appreciate the business and would be happy to provide his charge. They were indeed fast thinkers when approached by a waving gun. What a heart pounding few episodes, thank you for sharing the experience!
Panama also has an impressive police unit on smaller bikes, if you happen to get the chance to view a training demonstration of the skill in riding two up back to back while holding a gun, do it. There might even be a YouTube video of their skill in training. Aside from the wildlife in the country, they were the highlight for me! I witnessed them riding alongside a passenger bus with the rear police standing on the seat to look into the windows of the bus.
Looking forward to the next episodes, especially if you decide to go through Belize. Be sure to look up "Alternate adventures and motorbike rentals", Emma is a gem and a great place to visit if you need to work on your bike!
Until we meet, stay safe and enjoy the ride.
Cheers!!

Viv  | 

Hi Noraly,
well it was nerve wrecking just to watch, I can´t imagine how it was for real. But you did it! Thumbs up for your courage!
As spring is coming to I´m starting to think where will I go, if situation allows it. Romania is in play for some time and my friend who was there is encouraging me to go with him.
Enjoy your journey and stay safe
Greetings from Slovakia
Milos

Miloš  | 

Hi Noraly,
Why didn't you enjoy Colombia longer, until March or even longer? I always find it a pity, even questionable, when travelers hurry so much instead of travelling more slowly.

Yps  | 

Hello again Noraly....In the end are you able to share with us what it cost you to cross the gap? In an earlier video you mentioned something about $72. but I suspect it was substantially more than that. Thanks for your frequent updates on progress. It's really a shame you couldn't have explored more of Columbia and Venezuela before heading north again. Bonne Chance Mon ami.

Bunkmuffin  | 

Hi Bunkmuffin, I don't share the costs of my travels. It can be different for anybody, depending on your personal situation, the situation in the region, and the situation in the world. Think of prices for fuel, for instance.

Noraly  | 

I am new too your adventures, you are a very plucky lady to do these types of traveling .would have loved to do in my youth back in the early sixies but was not really possible then.my bit now with bikes is helping at the races on the isle of man where i live.


john cluley  | 

Thank you Noraly, for this detailed report of your crossing. I wondered how you managed to find this crew, goodwilling and reliable. And you say, it took much time, and I understand. This part of the world, as others, is where people are tempted to make a living on other people's distress, and "offer" (with high fees as you mention it) crossings to illegal immigrants. Maybe the gofast boat with three armed men aboard was a team who didn't want concurrents, or militia ? Anyway, your crew made it possible to cross without harm. We all thank them for this. I must say watching your videos, from S1 to now, is really teaching about relationship with local people. You find your own way, and get in touch with reliable people. Certainly avoiding the (few ?) others who would put you in more difficult situations. Thank you for your positive attitude that show in your reports. You really are a strong and willing lady ! Respect and courage !

GF12  | 

From a distant place like India, I could feel the adventurous risks that you take with a strong positive attitude. You are truly in a YOGIC state with travel and hence enjoy every bit! My prayers always with you.

Dr Suresh Narayanan  | 

Noraly you never fail to impress me. Been watching you from the beginning. Your riding skill as well as videographer skill is second to none. I have leg problems and can't ride now. Hopefully again someday. But I can enjoy the trip with you! Watching you is like taking a tour with the nicest [but also the smartest and most determined] rider ever. I also love the insight on the geology from a professional. You are so inspiring and always have that Lets Go attitude. Love you and wish safe travels.

old tbone  | 

I watched your videos since India and I thought what a crazy women. Well you are still a crazy women. Hopefully your journeys isn't as suspectfully as Lampa Peru. I was thinking they were going to do to you what they did to Joan of Arc! Journey on and be brave but safe, Noraly of Netherlands.

Kee  | 

I just watched your most resent video today and wow what a ride. I had to agree with a lot of the comments that you have a lot of patience and determination. Guatemala is the only country besides Canada that I have been to outside the US. There is a lot to see there so I hope you will be able to take some of it in. God speed as you continue.

recumbentman  | 

Very well done Noraly. Unbelievable how you always manage to get through these obstacles. But then…your spirit and stubbornness are not to be reckoned with. You are such an inspiration and are admired tremendously by fellow you tubers. All your hard work does not go unnoticed. I kept expecting Jack Sparrow to show up on this crossing. Well done young lady!

Debbie R.  | 

Just watched the video of you slicing through the traffic in Medellin....your early experience and skill in leaving Delhi made this look 'easy peasy'. Go Superwoman!
Michae Smith Staffs UK

Michael Smith  | 

First, I liked that you grouped scientists in with the dangerous characters and misfits lurking among the snakes mesomorphs in the Darien Gap. Second, I actually had a convoluted nightmare after watching your video about the armed men trying to stop you at sea. I know you are an experienced, gutsy and resourceful adventurer, and the latest videos — navigating intense harbor towns, finding trustworthy fixers and guides, and braving days-long journeys in a tiny boat in choppy seas, with poor Alaska lashed like a repositioned figurehead on a pirate vessel— all demonstrated your true grit and resilience. Given the time lag, I can only imagine what new adventures you are experiencing now!

Bsmukler  | 

I was told by a guide who led adventures we have had walking amongst Polar Bears on the shore of Hudson Bay that there are three types of fun. Type 1 fun is fun while you are doing it, but only slightly interesting to talk about it later. Type 2 fun is not much fun while you are doing it, but interesting to talk about it later. Type 3 fun is awful to experience but make for a great story. The key to a great adventure is to survive the Type 3 fun!

Thanks for sharing lots of Type 3 fun with us, Noraly!

Ride safe!

Andy  | 

What an adventure!
Now I get it that a small motorcycle is the best - imagine trying to heave a 300kg Africa Twin into a little boat!
Continuing safe travels and God speed Norally.
Nick

Nick L  | 

Hello Noraly, from Derbyshire England.
I found your boat crossings quite nerve racking even from my armchair whilst sipping a cup of tea. Keep up these fantastic vlogs. Dave

Dave Marriott  | 

I liked your write up on what would be a stressful ocean trip. What an adventure!. I have to admit that I was waiting for the video and I had thoughts "I hope Noraly is ok". (Probably no different from my daughters getting concerned when I have ventured overseas on a motorcycle. I ease their stress as they have access to my satellite tracker). Love the videos and the information you supply and your presentation style. Thankyou very much

Mal  | 

It may only be a relief in hindsight, but the fact that the three scary chaps in the speedboat were accepting the objections about them stopping your boat on open see for security reasons is a strong indicator they were actual police. Baddies would happily have helped to increase the level of risk for you and your lot… 🙃
I can't overstate how much I loved these little islands there. Like straight out of a pirate novel. I never really cared to take a closer look at the region until now in Google Earth and was just blown away by the prettiness of the Panamaian islands, especially Isla Del Rey got me. I hope they will never allow big tourism to take hold there to preserve that jewel!
A big shout out to Juan-Carlos and his folks, thanks for providing that kind support and safety to our star! 🤗

Zweispurmopped  | 

That was a well written news letter Noraly. I did read about the four men you mentioned crossing the Gap and that read was a great refresher. Your calm demeanor and years of experience sure served you well with finding the group that transported you via boats to Panama. Only about eight hours till you Wednesday video is up and I cannot wait to watch the final hours of your crossing. I hope you were able to relax and enjoy a day or two after getting everything squared away with the paperwork for Alaska. All your journeys have been amazing and to share them even better.
Your awareness of you surroundings is spot on.

Mike - P.  | 

Wow nicely written. Happy to know that it went well.

Gautam Krishna R  | 

Noraly, My heart was in my mouth watching you cross to Panama, that must have been a scary moment when the masked gunmen in a speed boat turned up. You looked pretty anxious when Alaska was bouncing up and down due to the rough seas. I imagine the whole trip to bypass the Darien Gap has been stressful. Another great episode in your adventure though. As well as looking forward to seeing your videos I cant wait for you to write your autobiography and narrate it on Audible, no pressure, when you have a minute. Patrick.

PJR  | 

As a free member for years, I don't get to see your podcasts any more?

plattdujour  | 

I don't create podcasts, but you can find my videos on YouTube as always, free to watch for everybody :-)

Noraly  | 

Hi, Will you have any information regarding the Crew that you went with around the Darien Gap? I will be going from Panama to Colombia in September, do you think that way will be easier? Thanks for all you do, it is always a highlight of the week. Dale

Dale T  | 

The only thing I can say Dale is to do research and still only when you are there, you will know for sure if it is possible. These are still crazy times and things can change quickly. Wishing you a good and safe ride!

Noraly  | 

Noraly, after viewing your video, YouTube put up videos on the Darien Gap.
Two guys on dirt bikes went thru it, using ropes & pulleys and had to machete thru the jungle, 300 yards at a time. It took them 80 days, I think! They ran out of food, the first time.

The jungle was so thick it would be difficult on foot, let alone, having to pull your bikes up the countless jungle hills and jungle floor, using the long ropes & pulleys.

One said the worst thing was the ticks. At night they would pull off dozens of ticks, they were covered with them. They were wearings shorts, I guess because of the heat.

UPS DRIVERS; YOU ARE LUCKY !!!!

The only scenario that you would think, someone would put themselves through this is if they were in a plane crash, and had to, to get out of the jungle.
They did look like survivors of a plane crash! UNREAL....WHAT THEY WENT THROUGH.
*******************************************
LIFES LESSON...AVOID THE......
DARIEN GAP AT ALL COSTS!!!!
A DOZEN WAYS......TO DIE!!!
*******************************************

SJGUY  | 

Wow, let me say it again Wow. Amazing to experience thru your lens. I really do enjoy your product. Your interactions with the local people as well. Often seems magical. I would have extremely nervous about my bike. Let alone all your gear. And Noraly. Glad you're safe. Have a great ride in Panama.

Lawrence T.  | 

Having some trust in humanity is the best but you really have to be open minded and not have to pretend you are.
I'm not travelling full time like you but i do make big trips avoiding the touristic places and big city's as much as possible and people always ask me if i'm not afraid to get in trouble but all i experience is that people are friendly and helpful.
Good thing you took a smaller bike even though it is a tall bike over there. My 204kg (wet) T7 is a small bike compared to my Honda Crosstourer but i'm not sure if that one could be transported on that kind of boat.
Love you for doing all that (just like the bucket river crossing) and i totally understand why you do it.

Ray, ride4life.nl  | 

Rider and riding for almost 25 years, actually I'm not able to make long ride as usually I'm riding around 800 to 1600 km depends of the route...
Till April 2021 I'm suffering a cancer disease that don't let me enough time to ride as every 2 weeks I have to start chemotherapy sessions and makes me out for some days after..
So you can't imagine but following your adventures around season 6 makes me travel again in board with you, and it's like you have become my medication , and my target is to heal and be able to take my bike, and burn some miles without stopping till next petrol station...
One of my dream it's to cross all the american continent from Quebec to Ushuaïa.
So first of all thanks for all your awesome adventure you are sharing with us, and thanks to give me the opportunity to let my mind travelling with you that helps me to somehow forget about my disease...
A big hug from a French Rider..
Ride safe, peace out...
Teddy

Slicy  | 

I have been reading motorcycle adventure books since Jupiter's Travels back in 1980. I've always wanted to try an adventure but committments have always prevented it - following your story is my way of experiencing this kind of travel. Without a doubt your journey is up there with Ted Simon's and Elspeth Beard's. You are incredible, the journey is fantastic, and your videos are the best on YT. Thank you for keeping us entertained and on the edge of our seats.

RichardP  | 

You have taken adventure to another level! Never knew about the Darian Gap. Your video was very informative and how you deal with "adversity" is remarkable. Safe travels!

Johnny Compean  | 

What can I say not many people would even try to do what you do! So congratulations on making your journeys the most entertaining of anything I have watched. Keep up the great work and safe journeys to come!

Telg1  | 

I can feel the conflict between the fear and the trust ! You would make an incredible business person :) If your not already that in addition the most addictive travel channels of late! Go Girl, you got this..

Crocadaryl  | 

As mentioned on your YT channel, you are a legend!
Nicely done, this notch on your belt will be remembered for a long time.
Thank you for being YOU.
cheers

Neehooya  | 

Bravo Noraly!!! You are one amazing woman. Couldn’t hardly wait for each new episode of the gap crossing. You continue to inspire, entertain and amaze. Stay safe. We are all behind you waiting in anticipation for your next post on this remarkable journey

Grandma Mac  | 

Noraly,
You are crazy - in the best way possible.
When I saw the size of the boat Alaska was being loaded on, I said (out loud), "No way!" But, you and Alaska made it intact and, with an amazing tale to tell!
What an inspiration you are to all of us watching!
THANK YOU!

BetteOfTheCleve  | 

so exciting to watch your boat trip from columbia to panama you are such a brave person
stay safe
ML

marklyman  | 

Noraly - I tip my hat to you. I wondered as you were travelling through Columbia how you would conquer the Gap. It takes a lot of confidence in one's abilities to plan and pull off a difficult task in a difficult environment - you amaze. Season 6 has so far been very interesting and I will continue to follow your adventures as you move North. Good luck and please take care.

Drider  | 

I have sent you a bullet prove vest for your travels. Have just finished watching two guys take a motorcycle across the gap - there was no riding - just back breaking work trying winch that bike through the jungle. You have more determination that most of the people that I know. Good luck on your continued travels. ps - Just watched a fellow take and African Twin on your same route - he dropped the bike and had to have help in picking it up. You made a wish choice on picking a lighter bike.

autochrome  | 

Dear Noraly, this was a true adventure with cliffhangers at the end of each episode.... This weekend we could not wait for the Monday video to appear. Having seen that, we are very happy that you reached your destination safely. It is a miracle how you organize your day to day trips, video editing and the logistics of your trip. Finding the right people for the Darien gap crossing must have been an true challenge. Looking forward to the continuing story.

KeM  | 

Very interesting stuff! I'm curious as to the cost of doing it your way. Is this an option for anyone? Or was it a 'one-off'? Thanks for all the great content. I'll do my "In the Tire Tracks of Itchy Boots" journey one day.

EZ-D  | 

Stirring stuff! I was looking forward to seeing how you'd negotiate the infamous Darien Gap, and wow, it didn't disappoint! Thankfully you and Alaska arrived in central America safe and well, even though this armchair traveller was gripping the sides of his seat watching the crossing in that wee boat. Kudos to your companions too, they got you there, your faith and judgement proven. Good luck with the next stage in the journey, Noraly.

MacSver  | 

Noraly, the videos (so far, as of writing) are engaging viewing, this account makes them more so. You are brave and your faith in the ferrymen was well founded, especially as to the way they protected you and beat of the thugs. Enjoy Panama!

CJS  | 

Heya,

Glad to see that both you and Alaska are safely through / around the Darien Gap. Certainly some great arm chair viewing as apposed to what you had to deal with.

Looking forward to your on going adventure and a big thank you for sharing so much with us so far.

Regards

Shaun Glass  | 
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