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The Pan-American Gap: the skipped over barrier between the continents

June 23, 2016

Since in https://erictb.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/a-land-trip-to-the-north-pole-or-as-close-as-you-can-get/ I mentioned the other end of the Western Hemisphere, Tierra Del Fuego, and how it is on an island, creating a break in any drive to the top of South America, I just now happen to find out that there is another break, right in the middle of the journey, in the very section connecting the two continents, going from Panama to Colombia. I had been looking around on Google Maps, and decided to check out what the intercontinental boundary looked like. I had remembered on the old Rand McNally US road atlas, which also had a small page with Mexico and Central America, seeing a “Route {1}” running through the isthmus connecting to South America, that headed to the border (I think I remember it even crossing, and then just disappearing before the edge of the map).
So I figured it crossed, and reading on people’s “Pan American Highway” journeys “From Cape Horn to Alaska” (sometimes even by motorcycle), figured they skipped over that portion (usually flying) because of the human dangers, with all the drug gang warfare and political insurgency in those nations.

Steely Dan’s “Highway [that] runs from Paraguay” that the singer “just came all the way” on (“Turn that Heartbeat Over Again”, the song from the first album that sounds the closest to their later familiar style) playing in my head for months also had me thinking of the continuity.

But now I find that there is actually a dense jungle (or “rainforest”) that the road has never been bullt through. Called the Darién Gap (Sp. “el tapon del Darién“–the plug or stopper), it’s actually about 100 miles long, and the road was constructed as far down as the town of Yaviza, Panama, but then just ends there, and only foot paths continue through the remaining 60 or so miles (these were the local people´s walking trails interconnecting their traditional villages), and you have to cross rivers, marshes/swamps, mountains and valleys. People actually make the hike, but it’s very dangerous, and you can get kidnapped or shot, and even the law enforcment is corrupt or at least hypervigilant, and gives you trouble, and you have to pay them off! And then of course, the wildlife (the typical tropical variety; of spiders*, snakes, scorpions, lizards, wild boars, and a whole bunch of insects including malaria-carrying mosquitoes).
So the “highway from Paraguay”** or any other part of South America, includes narrow jungle paths that must be hacked through with machetes, and paths through water and bogs as well. (That part of the song was about the infamous drug trafficking through the area, so they have no problem braving all of that to do their shady business. The name may remind one of a town in Connecticut between Stamford and Norwalk, and it turns out, it was named after this region!)

One expedition using jeeps took two years (741 days) to get through (reading, you forget it’s a short stretch of land that would take only an hour to pass through in normal driving as the video below points out), and then other ones using other vehicles, generally took over a month to a few months (and starting out with several vehicles, at least one would end up being abandoned in the jungle). You see pictures of the big sport vehicles having to be pulled up hills with cables, or metal wheel tracks put down to tread on. They also have to drive across rivers, and one expedition used inflatable rafts to float the cars over. Hikers of course have to wade or swim through, and sometimes use canoes.

Here is a blog article on it: http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2008/09/darien-gap-most-dangerous-absence-of.html

This article, of a 1980’s walk through the jungle (gives me a Siteadvisor warning for some reason, but it’s just a pdf file) has a map showing the exact path through the Panama segment: http://www.saexplorers.org/system/files/magazine/sae-mag-19c-darien-gap.pdf (South American Explorer, “Making Ends Meet: Walking the Darien Gap”). They had to wrangle with one local to show them the right path, then he brings them to the one he says some jeeps had driven through a few years before (probably the 741 day CJ-5 trip).
On this path, at the border, there is a little clearing with a stone marking the boundary with the names of the respective countries on both sides. It’s called “Palo de la Letra” meaning “tree of the letters”. There was supposedly an actual tree there that people used to write on, but is since gone.
Once in Colombia, they go a little further and reach a place (not shown) called Puente América, which is in the vicinity of a village called Cuenca Cacarica, which is a row of small houses on the banks of the Atrato River (the largest river in the stretch, and also known as “cocaine highway”), and they then take a motorboat up the river to the eastern coast, and across a small Gulf of Uraba, to Turbo, Colombia, which is where the Pan American Highway picks up.

Another hiker was Andrew Egan, who wrote about it in Crossing the Darien Gap (2008). Both of these explorers say the trail ends at a riverside ranger station (at Cristales), and then describe riding down a river they are calling the Cacarica, to the Atrato. They’re probably referring to what the map is calling the Quebrada Timarcuati, which then becomes labeled as a branch of the Atrato before they merge, with the village of Cacaricas on the peninsula of the confluence. He describes the stretch on this river connecting the Palo de la Letra area to the bigger river as “a slender vein of murky water meandering through a mystical sunken forest — a dense bog permanently soaking under a warm waist deep soup” with as far as you can see, “wide trees sprouting from a glassy wet floor. In fact, I don’t feel like we’re traveling along a river at all: I feel more like we’re traveling atop a watery pathway through a ghostly ancient forest.” (p.201-2) It then narrows to where they have to get out and push or pull the dugout canoe through. (according to him, “Puente América” was so named [i.e. “Bridge America”], because it is where the highway is supposed to pass through. He also went out up the Atrato and to Turbo.

Obsessions Die Hard: Motorcycling the Pan American Highway’s Jungle Gap Paperback (1996) is by Ed Culberson, who motorcycled the whole PanAmerican Highway, including the gap. He also has a shorter article on it on South American Explorer, “The
Ever-Dangerous Darien”: http://www.saexplorers.org/system/files/magazine/sae-mag-40d-darien.pdf which has even better map of both portions of the trail
He followed the jeeps to a point, and then veered off another way (on what was the proposed highway route), following his own hired guides. He sheds light on why the jeeps, of the Loren Upton-Pat Merrier expedition of 1985-1988, took 741 days. They, avoiding the Los Katíos National Park, ran into worse terrain, and actually had to abandon the jeep until after the rainy season, then return to make repairs and continue on.

Here is a 1961 video, made to advertize the Chevy Cordair, showing them driving through. https://youtu.be/7EnZKOu4fV4 This is part 2, from Yaviza and beyond; part 1 is getting to Yaviza before the road was constructed that far.
Once at the Palo de la Letra, that’s the end of the trek, and it is not revealed which way they went after that. (in fact, this is the case for most of the expeditions. This site http://www.4wdonline.com/Places/CentralAmerica/Darien.html says they “failed” the attempt to take the three Corvairs across, but that probably refers to only two of them making it).

To continue all by land, the most direct path would likely continue, crossing the Atrato around Cacarica, as the hikers did, and then into Chigorodó, where the PanAm highway passes through as [national] route {62}, a bit further down. This is a really pretty two lane road (the street view was filmed on a nice sunny morning)*** passing through serene looking farmland (and fields with a few trees interspersed, a few of them palms), and occasional houses or businesses, resembling US coutrysides, like the Eastern Shore. (In some places, you can see the start of the Andes, in the distance to the east). The towns however, are rather poor-looking, with dense rows of stores (a typical urban mix of groceries, salons, electronics, etc.) in a mix of older two story commercial buildings with a few taller newly built (and sometimes not finished) ones stuck in among them. The neighborhoods off to the side also dense and poor looking. The setting overall greatly resembles Brooklyn’s East New York, and the smaller older buildings kind of evoke those scenes of antebellum Five Points structures, but in modern color photography (and without all the wooden construction). Most of the houses in the town are the little tin-roofed concrete block bungalows. (Or you see a lot of that red-orange grooved clay “tile” sort of block, with sloppy mortaring, you only see in some early  20th century “false-walls” constructed in pre-war basements here. Many walls are stuccoed as well, of course. Wood I imagine would rot in the moist and rainy tropical atmosphere).

And then, continuing on the journey all on main roads, and with intercity buses available, you come to the somewhat more familiarly named city Medellin, which I always heard in conjuction with “drug cartels”. But it seems the cities of Colombia are safer now, as the gangs are all taking refuge in the jungle, but they still say you should not walk around the streets at night. And from there, the rest of Colombia and South America lies ahead. The capital, Bogota is not too far off to the southeast, with an alternate PanAm route, as the main one, picking up route {25} after Medellin, stays closer to the Pacific, and passes near the city of Cali).

There is no Street View between Mexico and Colombia. In Chigorodó, right where the PanAm veers right (east) to go around the gulf, toward Turbo, Calle 97 (97th Street. And the town begins in the 70’s, not from Calle 1) hangs west. Take it several blocks, to where it ends, then one block over to Calle 96 (whch ended before it could intersect with {26}), which after a rather American looking new public-style housing development on the corner (which was apparently not even built when the satellite view was taken), then heads out of the city, toward the wilderness in the distance. Street View only goes a few hundred feet past there (where the landscape already turns into rural farmland and parkland right behind the housing complex) and then ends. (In several places like this at the edges of the town, the scenery abruptly changes from this urban atmosphere to country road. You just turn a corner, and you’re in farm land!) But the road continues for miles (it soon becomes wooded, apparently, with more farmland interspersed), and branches out into several roads, all shown on the map as ending, in a completely rural locality called Tierra Santa. One branch is slightly longer, and ends in Puerto Amore, a bit further to the south.
Carrera 105 (roughly, “105th Course”), a gravel road ending at {62} a bit further north, on the other side of a small river and which passes the town’s tiny airfield) does the same, ending at a place across the river from Tierra Santa, called Veracruz Li. (There’s no Street View on this road at all).

Puerto Amor is about a third or quarter of the way to the river at Cacaricas, and it’s still lower greenery even around to the river and the village, given the shadows cast by the few bigger trees sticking out. The thicker [darker on the map] greenery begins just west of there. In fact, according to the photo on the Wikipedia article on the river https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atrato_River, it seems the lighter greenery surrounding the river in this entire area looks like grassland! (though from what I’m reading, it’s probably really part of the Atrato marshland or patano, though I thought this was closer to the inlet at the gulf. It’s described as being waters choked with “lettuce-like vegetation” http://travelswithmitzi.blogspot.com/2015/07/lost-in-darien-gap.html Looking at the map, it’s hard to tell where the solid grounds become marsh, but obviously, the roads are on land. There’s also more forests along the river the other direction, further south).
Calle 93 and 94 merge at the end of town, and head out to a place a bit to the south called Bohio, which appears to be flat farmland. (The marked road on the map ends, but in satellite you can see it continues, up to the river that runs to Puerte Amor).

Even closer to the river, is a pair of place names, El Cuarenta and Lomas Aisladas, which has a pretty straight road (25B) leading right to {62} at El Tigre, to the south of Chigorodó! (Culberson calls this “the junction at Guapá”, but I don’t see that name on the map). The end is about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way to Cacarica, at the edge of the Los Katíos park! This road is harder to see in satellite the further out you go, and thus may be a path through grass, or something. At it’s “wye” intersection with {62}, it’s gravel, and likewise has no Street View itself. Though the bridge over Rio Leon at Barranqillita has a photo, and is paved, at least. Found out about this one from this video: https://youtu.be/KAubuZYpmOY which shows it as part of a proposal for a road to Palo de la Letra (and several others around the country).

These are the logical roads a complete connection would connect to. It seems the Cuarenta path is the one planners are looking at.
The radial distances:
Chigorodó/El Tigre—Cuarenta: 20 mi
Cuarenta—Rio Atrato and Cacaricas: 12 mi.
Cacaricas—Palo del la Letra: 14 mi.
Palo del la Letra—Yaviza: 35 miles
All of this drama, over these small distances!
(Basically, the gap in the “Pan Am Highway” from the closest overland point is 80 miles, but we can subract the 20 miles that is covered by another road. So the problem area needing to have a road built is 60 miles, nearly evenly divided by the national border. 30+ miles from the Panama highway to the border, and then 30- miles from the border to the nearest Colombia road. The Panama portion is the Darién rainforest. Most of the Colombia portion is the Atrato wetlands, which itself is nearly evenly divided by the river, with the “sunken forest” on one side, and smaller greenery on the other. This is likely the hardest to construct through. Might have to be an extra long “causeway”, or, perhaps a tunnel, but that might be more disruptive to construct).

So the travelers, having exited the jungle by the time they reached the river, were actually very close to the mainland Colombia roads and thus a completely overland trip! (They may have gone toward Turbo to pick up the Pan Am highway at it’s current end, even though this is actually out of the most direct way, and is across the Gulf of Uraba that ends before Chigorodó. So people are perhaps thinking you have to go into Turbo in order to “travel the ‘whole length’ of the highway”. I would skip the section from Turbo to Chigorodó or El Tigre for the sake it it being on land as much as possible. Culberson had also seemed to indicate heading toward Turbo, but on the map in his article, he shows his route as heading up the Atrato a bit, but then entering land again on the other side, and swinging back down to Cuarenta, which was a big detour as again, that village and Cacaricas are so close! It’s just more of the same low greenery inbetween. BTW, there is also an unconnected network of small winding roads to the east of the stretch of Colombia between the border and the river, connecting the coastal town Titumate with Unguia, about half way down to Cacaricas).

However, these peaceful looking meadows or marshes, according to this map: Lost In the Darien Gap is the area inhabited by the Los Urbeños gang, and beyond that, across the river and into Panama, is the FARC 57 militarized front. Between the national border and the river, and where the two turfs intersect around Cacaricas, is where a Swedish hiker was killed (and his remains found later), reportedly because the FARC thought he was a US spy!
This is probably why these other expeditors, after braving the worst of the jungle, then quickly head towards sea as soon as they enter Colombia, even though the actual landscape seems to be a relative breeze from there!

There had been plans to complete the highway (which the US was involved in), but opposition included that it would allow hand-and-foot-diseased cattle to cross over and infect North America cattle, in addition to making it easier for the drug gangs to cross, other tropical diseases, and also disturb the numerous indigenous peoples still living there (in little villages with no roads, and often living in straw huts. They do hand you “dusty bottles of Coca Cola” as the SAE article says. It also said “The people here hope one day to see a bridge spanning the [Atrato] river to complete the PanAmerican Highway”, but also points out how it would alter the local cultures there and “undoubtedly, plant the more loathsome aspects of Panamanian officialdom in that vast wilderness”. The Darkroastblend article points out “Building the road itself will not destroy too much of the forest but the subsequent development of the area would irreparably destroy delicate ecosystems”).
The construction of the road as far as Yaviza has already led to deforestation, with farms and other industry spreading. (It used to be just as much jungle as the area to the south, as can be seen in the first half of the Corvair film, but now is much more clear).
Wikipedia cites this article: http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/the-coming-era-of-mega-systems-part-1-transportation on an idea to “use a combination bridges and tunnels to avoid the environmentally sensitive regions.” (It also mentions other transcontinental connections, including the Bering Strait connecting to Russia, and even the trans-Atlantic tunnel idea).

I wondered what about driving along the coastline (beaches) on either side of the isthmus. The satellite shows sandy beaches in some places, and it’s hard to tell for others. There should be at least some space between the water and the forest. I can’t see the surf going right up to the trees and brush. Perhaps there are some cliffs (where the trees could go to the very edge). You would also still have to deal with the river inlets. To build a road along the cliff, cutting down only the 20 or so feet of forest, and then build bridges over the rivers, should not disturb the inland environment. But it seems no one has even thought of that. (In the 50’s, an amphibious jeep made the trip from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego, taking the water around the roughest portions of the gap

Here, political figure Lyndon LaRouche, in a sort of conspiratorial fashion, claims other [ulterior] reasons they want to stop the project, and says it would be good for everyone, and offers a plan for it: https://youtu.be/_u_dyWnukDE

This post on this site: http://en.allexperts.com/q/Colombia-1753/f/driving-central-south-america.htm says a “hard packed dirt road” has already been cut through most of the way, and that the people saying you can’t drive through are all connected with the shipping industry! (Don’t know how true it is, and this post was 8 years ago already. It’s true that shipping your vehicle around the gap can cost upwards of $1000!) He says “Outside Chicorodo [sic] off 62 northbound you will see a red/white sign with black 51l.. this is where the road starts. It ends at Boca de Cupe which then ties into the highway.” (Boca De Cupe is one of the villages somewhat beyond Yaviza, in the jungle. He initially said only six miles remained, and that might be what he was referring to. By now, that would have likely been finished). I don’t see this sign anywhere in the Street View (at least not in the areas I’ve mentioned, where I think the cutoff would be. It seems signs of that color with numbers are speed signs, usually displaying “30”).
If that were true, and the Chigorodó roads were connected, they would be like a secret “back door” exit to North America. I could imagine an action chase plot, where the pursuers are perhaps expecting the pursuee to head to Turbo, but instead, he stops at one of the gas stations or other businesses in Chigorodó, then cuts out to the rear, winds through the streets to the roads out of town, and heading for the Atrato swamp and the jungles ahead.

I wonder how such an unauthorized-sounding makeshift road would get over the Atrato, and through the surrounding wetlands. (A fixed bridge over the river would be very noticeable, and known about. So for now, it sounds like bunk).
However, this video from five years go seems to show some sort of clearing construction going on, and the commenters are angrily complaining about the forest being destroyed: https://youtu.be/Cv9zMCcDWCA One actually says “I was wondering why the imagery from terra server (google earth) is so low resolution.” (It may simply be part of the other deforestation occuring around the already completed road).

I’ve lost interest in doing the NY—Punta Arena ride, until that section is filled in. To me, to fly or boat over is “cheating”, and then I might as well fly from NY to Colombia! (I also wonder if it is possible to build a bridge over the two mile wide narrowing of the Strait of Magellan. I read it was cliffs, but zooming in with satellite, [as it figures] a section of it is regular low banks —where you drive onto the ferry!
But seeing very familiar looking kinds of countrysides and urban stores, and almost feeling like I’ve made it my [temporary] home, in this electronic journey, I’ve seen that these far off areas, which seemed as remote and otherworldly as another planet, and were so exotic and yet dangerous, are inhabited by the same old humanity as I find right here.

* ** ***[Footnotes in comment]

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2 Comments
  1. very interesting

  2. Splitting off some trivia from the main article:

    *I grew up hearing the Banana Boat Song, and then seeing in textbooks the image of the supposed “deadly black tarantula” crawling on the bananas, and felt so lucky to be far from them, with our wispy little spiders and harvestmen (“daddy long legs”, which is actually a different order of arachnids, and most of the true spiders are likely the similar pholcidae species) which were icky enough. So I figured tarantulas were in the Caribbean islands. It was not until Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West” that I realized they were here on the mainland, including the US, in the deserts as well. And I had been out there with them in the Mojave for a whole summer a decade earlier, and had no idea! Apparently, I got out of there just in time, at the end of the Summer; as the early Fall is when the males start crawling out and are seen crossing roads and such, looking to mate!
    When I would ask Jamaicans and other islanders and visitors if they had tarantulas, they all seemed to say no. If there were any, they were likely killed off by all the development, though I think someone said Haiti/Dominican Republic and Trinidad had them. In any case, the bananas on the islands are apparently imports, not exports, and so this stretch of the Latin American mainland we are discussing is where most of them— and their eight-legged stowaways— come from! The big theraphosids [or “terror-foxes” as I call them!] I hear aren’t really dangerous, though there may be other spiders mistaken for them that are. The song is most likely referring to a “Brazilian wandering spider” (Phoneutria; “tropical wolf spiders”), which is also called a “banana spider” (though there are others called that as well), and is recorded by Guinness as the world’s most venomous spider. They’re located in the forests from Costa Rica to northern Argentina.

    This site http://tarantulas.su/en/america does list tarantula species in most of the islands, including Jamaica, Puerto Rico and even the Bahamas. Still,it seems a lot of people don’t see them. On this page, : https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g147237-i26-k406543-Tarantulas_Where_are_they_most_prevalent-Caribbean.html someone boldly assures an arachnophobe “Tarantulas do not exist in Jamaica. You’re safe at the Royal Plantation.” On thus Utah page: http://wildaboututah.org/tarantula-tales, people visiting the Nature Center that has them on exhibit often say “Wow! I’m glad those things don’t live around here!” But the page points out that they DO live in “most of Utah”. However, being “the far northern part of the tarantula’s distribution range”, the environmental conditions are less optimal for them than in locations to the south.
    The Missisippi and part of the Missouri rivers seem to be the eastern and northern barriers for them in the US. http://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/missouri-tarantula Though at least in Arkansas, they are largely absent in the Mississippi alluvial plain comprising the eastern third of the state http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2625 (Where the Missouri turns north, the limit probably continues straight west from there, so that as stated, Utah is one of the northern reach).

    Florida didn’t have them, until not too long ago, when a Mexican species was released or escaped into the wild, and apparently took hold in “central Florida”. (Not sure exactly where). Not knowing this, or likely before it happened, I was nevertheless asking locals about spiders when I visited Orlando for my wife’s NCCA conference 11 years ago, and was told about “banana spiders” out in the orange groves. (This would be one of the other species besides the Brazilian wandering spider, I don’t think).

    The only tarantula or similar I’ve seen in this Darién research is one video [Hasta Alaska], where the traveller’s dog was swatting one in a coastal town, but that may have actually been a crab. Other, large but much thinner legged spiders were shown, both in this video, and one of the other links! All the focus on the tarantulas makes one forget that he would not want to run across any of those either!)

    **Paraguay, BTW, is not actually on the main PanAm highway, as that country is inland, and the highway hugs the Pacific coast, and then cuts across Argentina to Buenos Aires further down. (There is a branch, from Asuncion, Paraguay to Buenos Aires, though, but that’s going the other way if coming to America). A more direct route to the southern tip would use Ag route {40}, through 1400 miles of totally barren, flat Patagonia desert or steppe (with some little sections of unpaved road), all the way until Punta Arenas [Sp. “the tip of the world”, i.e. international area of activity, or simply “sand point”; seeing “arena” can be either “area” or “sand”], the southernmost continental city.
    From the Atrato area to the Santiago area, where the highway heads east, is about 3000 miles; like a US coast to coast trip! The equator is crossed, a little over 500 miles down, in a rocky mountainous area near Quito, Ecuador (which has a huge stone marker in a little plaza, in northern suburban parish San Antonio de Pichincha. Though not too far in distance from the PanAm, it’s a bit out of the way, with the mountains and valleys inbetween).
    Out in the ocean from there are the Galapagos Islands, which are the closest land to the intersection of the equator with the 90°W longitude, and thus the center of the Western Hemisphere. I always considered it the “West Pole”. (The corresponding “East Pole” would be in the Indian Ocean off of Sumatra).

    This is not even half way, for a US/Cape Horn trip. NYC is at lattitude 40°N. From here, the equator is half way to 40°S, which is near San Carlos de Bariloche, the one sizable town on the {40} route when it brushes against the Andes; and on the Atlantic coastal route {3}, San Antonio Este/Oeste, one of the narrowing points of the continent. (The Colorado and Barrancas Rivers pass just above this area, and this is considered the entry to the region called Patagonia. Santiago and Buenos Aires are around 34/36°, which are opposite LA and Atlanta). Punta Arenas and the start of Tierra Del Fuego are around 52°S! By comparison, 52°N is up in the area of the first “opposite end” article https://erictb.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/hudson-river-to-hudson-bay-or-polar-express-canoe-version/ around the southern tip of Hudson Bay. Further west, its Saskatoon, or Red Deer, AB, which lies between Calgary and Edmonton. (Red Deer is a place where media files were done by fellow transit fans, of the GMC “new look” buses that ran there, past the new millennium). On the Atlantic, it’s southern Labrador.
    So if you’re on a Cape Horn trip, when you reach the equator, you still have to travel the same distance you would if you turned right around right there and headed for northern Canada!
    (At least there’s no Darién gap to go back through if you continue south!)

    If they complete the passage, and I ever make such a trip, I would need to be in a huge RV, where I can completely be at “home” day to day on the road, and have a bunch of people I know go along, so that it’s as much like normal life as possible and I’m not on such a journey like that alone.

    ***Making the scenery look more homey, they apparently filmed this area in the winter, when the sun’s transit remains further south, like the middle of the day up here. We only see the sun in three directions; rising in the east, setting in the west, and passing to the south inbetween. In the summer, when the sun is to the north, high noon down there would look different, and north-south would look essentially reversed. North would look like south, but with the sun moving in the opposite direction. When you go further south, like Argentina or Australia, it’s always like this. I realized this a long time ago, but started thinking about it more upon seeing the scenery of the movie Muriel’s Wedding, set in Australia. It’s hard for me to fathom the sun ever to the north, especially in high noon. (Sunrise and sunset may be slightly north, though. But never due north. The angle of some streets and grids may make the sun look more north, though). North is that forever “dark” direction, leading to the forests and icy wildernesses I discussed in the North Pole and “trans-Hudson” articles I spun this off of; and eventually the north pole. South is the bright, sunny direction leading to the summer beaches and Coney Island, here in NY, and then warmer climates ahead. But in the southern hemisphere, this is all reversed.

    The closest I came to this, was my trip to Key West, in the hottest day of summer. I hit Fort Pierce at high noon, and the sun was directly overhead. I had never seen anything like that before. All directions look the same. On the way back the next day, I was passing through the Everglades at high noon, and it looked like the sun was slightly ahead, going northbound! (Given the wobble of the earth’s rotation increasing a bit, it seems the sun comes further north and south than it used to when the maps were drawn and the “tropics” defined. I likewise was able to still find the sun slightly to the south in certain northern Chile street views).
    I tend to figure direction by the sun’s position, and could imagine being in the southern hemisphere and if I didn’t realize this, getting completely “turned around”, heading in wrong directions.
    But in this region, the bona fide literal “tropics” (between the 23.5° latitude ‘tropics’ of Cancer and Capricorn, respectively, over the sea between the Keys and Cuba, and Antofagasta, Chile and São Paulo; 2200 miles down from our entry point to south America), you have the anomaly of the sun being seen in all four directions, though at different times. (Hence, a compass is especially necessary in areas like the Darién. It’s also like that at the poles, but for an opposite reason, and it’s perpetually lower). In most satellite “earth” views of this northern Colombia area I’m looking at, you can see the shadows of the clouds fallling to the north, meaning the sun is to the south, like the Street Views, but then on one satellite view I saw, the shadows were falling to the south, meaning the sun is north, and thus it’s northern hemisphere summer. But again, Street View in this area was all filmed in the winter.

    Funny, you never hear anyone discuss this. I guess it’s taken for granted by world travellers, or people don’t make an internal “directional map” image of places as I do.

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