Flexibility – Darian Gap

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One of the most important factors in traveling economically is flexibility! It is great when we make a plan and set out to do it and everything goes accordingly. Many times though, we run into obstacles, and sometimes because of these obstacles, we may realize that the original plan is not the best option anymore, that continuing on the planned route may bring your trip costs up substantially or it may be too difficult to face this unforeseen obstacle on the current trip. While we want to fight through the obstacle, no matter what the cost, to continue on the planned route and not give up or be beaten, we must remember that flexibility is key in our travels.

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When I planned my trip from Costa Rica to South America, I had no idea what the route would look like, but I felt I was prepared to take on any obstacle in my way! I had not known about the Darian Jungle that stood between Panama and Columbia, the only gap in the Pan American highway, littered with drug lords, bandits, and a forest so thick that a machete is necessary to pass through. The photo below is one of many wanted banners hanging in the Darian, his name is Gilberto Torres “The Calf” Muñetón, a commander of the notorious Colombian FARC guerrillas. Wanted for drug trafficking, arms smuggling, kidnappings, and a bombing that killed 80 people along the border of Panama & Colombia.

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I have found many solutions to the jungle, there are many ways to get from Panama to Columbia by air and by boat, such as those listed on Overlandtraveller.com, thedariangapster.com, mamallena.com, or use google traslate for this site my Costa Rican friend found for me, viajerosustentable.com. This trip will cost anywhere from $120-$600 for anything from a flight to a leisure boat, catamaran, or sailing vessel with multiple days of sailing and visiting beautiful uninhabited island beaches to an uncertain amount of very adventurous, difficult, and often boring days of switching boats and rugged towns with nothing to do and so dirty that a person may not even want to shower.

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With all of this being said, I started my trip in Costa Rica, being able to decide which direction I want to go. I have not traveled any further in Central America than Cozumel and one town on the mainland in Mexico and have not done any in South America yet, so I decided to go South because of Peru and Brazil. I decided that I will return to Costa Rica to fly home at the end of my trip to save hundreds of dollars by traveling with Spirit airlines where flights can be purchased for a total of around $150 or less. Knowing that the trip to Columbia and back will cost at least a extra $120 each way, I have decided that I will tackle South America and the Darian Gap another day on another trip when I have prepared for it. I have not been defeated nor am I giving up, I am simply taking a step back to reevaluate the task to find the most economical solution to this obstacle. That is the point of The Travel Economist, to find the most economical solutions to usually expensive trips and obstacles!

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A young indigenous girl in the Darian

I will now spend a few days in Panama before heading back into Costa Rica and beginning my journey into Nicaragua, Honduras, and continuing North into the rest of Central America! Always remember during your travels to be extremely flexible; the original plan may not always be the best plan, so do not get too attached to the idea of it and be prepared and willing to do a complete 180 and throw away all of your plans in exchange for another adventure in the budget of your plans!

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I would like to thank the Expert Vagabond, Matthew Karsten, for giving permission to use his photos of the Darian Jungle in this blog. His full photo essay of his trip into the Darian can be found here; expertvagabond.com/darien-gap-photos/

The Nerves Before a Long Trip

After my short break back home in Florida from my six months of traveling, I am about to resume my trip. I have just over a day left before I get on a one way plane to San Juan, Costa Rica. I will be arriving at nearly one in the morning their time, nearly three my time. I have no plans. Have you ever went on a trip and been caught off guard without plans? Or purposefully put yourself in that position? It can be an incredibly scary experience, but also very fun and rewarding!

When I arrived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, I was caught off guard by the two hour late arrival time and my Couch Surfing host backing out of his commitment. It was intimidating at the time, but looking back, I’m glad it happened the way it did. When struggles show up during a trip, they force us out of our comfort zones and we end up learning and experiencing things we may never have without the struggle. Struggle is what keeps us growing and the trip moving forward and when things don’t go as planned, if there are plans, do not worry about them. Go with the flow and enjoy the ride that is life, especially since we have decided to jump on the biggest, baddest, roller coaster of them all, backpacking!

My “plan” is to arrive in San Juan, very likely sleep in the airport with my backpack in my arms, or start walking until I find a somewhat hidden area to put up my bivy sack. From there; see where life takes me and what adventures are awaiting me. I will admit, I am very nervous, as I always am at the beginning of a trip. Thoughts run through my head, “What if you miss your plane again? What if you forget something? What if you get robbed again? What if you can not find a safe place to sleep? Are you crazy??” But these thoughts must be silenced, life will happen, if I miss the plane, I’ll break into my budget and get another, if I forget something, luckily, nearly anything can be bought pretty much anywhere, especially the necessities. If I get robbed again, that’s what travel insurance is for, if I can not find a place to sleep, keep walking until I do, and no, I am not crazy, there are many backpackers out there like me! Well, maybe not just like me, because most do not travel the way I do… So maybe I am.

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Energy on the Road

Have you ever wanted to go on a trip, whether it be a weekend camping trip or an extended backpacking trip, but worried about the inaccessibility of energy on the road? Not many people know that you can have plenty of energy with you at any time to last weeks of charging cell phones, tablets, and other small electronics. While wall outlets are still harder to access for things such as Li-ion battery packed camera’s and computers, as long as you have USB port style charging can have all the power you want, and soon they will have USB to wall outlet adapters.

The solution to power on the road can be found in a few options. First, there are power banks such as the EC TECHNOLOGY® New 22400mAh Portable Ultra-high Density External Battery Pack Backup Charger, my favorite because of the low cost, high battery capacity, and even though the size is a bit larger and it weighs about a pound, it is still about the same size and weight as power banks with half it’s capacity. These things can charge a cell phone about ten times! Secondly, for complete power independence and in conjunction with the power bank, there are great, light-weight solar charges such as the Anker® 14W Solar Panel Foldable Dual-port Solar Charger. Anker has proven to me numerous times of their quality electronics, which is why I trust them with so many of mine. Use the two USB charging ports to charge your power banks, cell phones, and other electronics, plug a USB hub into it to charge multiple electronics at once. These items combined can keep you charged no matter how long your trip is as long as you get some sun along the way!

Another way to get energy is to search restaurants, bus stations, and airports almost always have power outlets available, bring along a smart hub to distribute the power to you devices most efficiently for the faster charge available! If you hitch hike, bring along a car charger and the smart hub to get some juice on the go, even if it’s only for a few minutes!

With these tricks and tips, you can have all the power you want, anywhere you want! Never worry about your phone or tablet’s battery again!

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