Interview with the author


Related links


About the book

About the author

Enter the Darién


Like this book?
Hear about more

Enter the Darién (If You Dare)

Inhospitable in 1854. Inhospitable now.


The spendid harlequin (photographed in 2001) looks like another, even less-yummy Darién native, the lethal poison dart frog.

From chapter 9:
"Truxtun and Maury sustained each other. They delighted in the smallest, most trivial victories, a quality experts associate with success in group survival situations. They talked, laughed and found humor—and, one would imagine, sanity—in even the most macabre moments. In an episode memorable to both, Truxtun snatched a toad from the underbrush and, biting off and discarding the head, ate the remainder whole. Coming up from behind, Maury shook his head and needled his well-bred companion as being 'something of an epicure.' Smiling, Maury picked up the head and swallowed it."

Photograph by Todd Balf


The feared—and unfortunately ubiquitous—bullet ant, the largest and nastiest of the new world species. Unlike it's cute tropical cousin the leaf cutter ant, the inch-long paraponera's sting feels like a high voltage shock and leaves victims with a punishing fever.

From the medical report of a 19th-century Darién expedition:
"The effects from bites from hordes of various kinds of insects, & etc may be alluded to, not simply from their local effects, which were sometimes severe, but from the loss of sleep occasioned by this persistent annoyance…''

Photograph by Todd Balf


Locally dubbed "bad woman'' the nettled ortiga brava has spiny venomous hairs that penetrate clothing and cause one to yelp like a child. A traditional Darién law-enforcement procedure is to lash petty criminals with a bouquet of the stuff.

From chapter 4:
"The English exploring party had overcome fetid swamp, tenacious sand flies, and head-high thickets of the shark-toothed pinello, thorny black palm, and broad leafed ortiga. Lamented the leader, of his men's wounds at the hands of native vegetation: 'If the Indians had wished to cut off all intercourse with the Pacific side, they could not have hit upon a more effective barrier.' "

Photograph by Todd Balf


Though jaguars are unlikely to be encountered, the author's party found tracks shadowing a pack of white-lipped peccaries.

From chapter 6:
"I shall never forget the 1st night, wrote Winthrop. "My watch was from 12 to 2 the moon had just risen; it was the type of a tropical night soft & clear, a glow of starlight & from time to time clouds passing over the moon made everything look strange & uncertain —every now & then one of the men would think he saw something moving in the woods which I as often found to be moonshine among the cacao trees; a dense forest surrounded us from it came all sounds of insect life, with strange screams of birds, unearthly roaring of monkeys & occasionally the cat-like mew of the tiger. The party lay snoring each man according to his own ideas of music."

Photograph by Rob Mackinlay




Large, easily irritated, and lethally venomous, the fer-de-lance is credited with more human fatalities than any other American reptile. Likes to hang out on tight, twisty trails but also swims in rivers and climbs trees. Chief reason for the age-old Darién trekking advice: Always let someone else go first.

From an article on the expedition in Harper's New Monthly magazine, 1854:
"About 5.15 p.m. they encamped on a wet sand-beach. In cutting down some guinea-grass to protect them from dampness, Strain narrowly escaped being bitten by a large snake of the adder species; his macheta cleaving the reptile just as he was about to strike...''

The Century Illustrated Monthly magazine, 1889


The minimalist modern pack of expert Darién guide Hernan Arauz includes a prized Colombian machete, a big gun, and prescription sleeping pills for those long, terrifying Darién nights.

From an officer's journal from the 1854 crossing:
"When you add to your own corporeal load you have to carry a knapsack with 10 ds. Prov., change of clothes, pistol, cartridge box, ammunition & carbine all wit thermom. At 80 degrees it is wearisome in the extreme.''

Photograph by Todd Balf




Home | About the book | About the author | Reviews | Enter the Darién
Interview with the author | Excerpt | Related links | Buy the book | Media & tour info