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One needn't look hard to find a lively and informative virtual landscape linking history, travel, and exploration in Darién and Panama. Sites range from jungle survival (tens of thousands of American servicemen were schooled in Panama) to neotropical field biology (Darién is one of the most species-rich rainforests in the world) to modern Panama Canal history. Here are some of my favorites:

Panama Canal

For a Panama Canal interactive tour with 1911 video footage:

A modern, highly visual starting point for any canal buff is the official Panama Canal website (with English translation). A webcam at the Miraflores and Gatun locks gives you a perpetual bird's-eye-view of ships in transit:

If you have questions about a relative who worked in the Canal Zone, as tens of thousands of Americans did, make contact with the Florida-based, 4,000-member strong Panama Canal Society or CZBrats, a cyber organization with vast online resources (including a "nostalgia menu'' contributed by former Zoners):

The Museo del Canal Interoceanico offers a lively, native-based historical perspective on the wild French and American pre-canal eras:

A newspaperman described the completion of the 1855 transcontinental railroad between Panama and Colon as "the most sublime and magnificent nuptials ever celebrated upon our planet, the wedding of the rough Atlantic to the fair Pacific Ocean.'' You'll find an abundance of period images, with lively biographies of the key players, at:

In a similar vein, there is an excellent virtual exhibit on the California Gold Rush, the precipitating event to both the railroad and the ship canal:

If you want more than a taste of history, there are three must-see U.S. government archival sites— The Naval Historical Center; the official Navy website; the Library of Congress; and the National Archives:


19th-Century Exploration

Cornell University's archival "Making of America" project has produced a massive digital library of 19th-century magazines. Over 100,000 journal articles, including those from Harper's New Monthly and Scientific American, have been scanned into their database and may be accessed for free:

The American Philosophical Society is another treasure trove of early American scientific explorations, with virtual exhibits and a searchable manuscript collection. Available online is William Stanton's comprehensive inventory of "American Scientific Exploration, 1803-1860":

A robust selection of 19th-century travel narratives, many of them Darién-related, can be purchased through online antiquarian booksellers. One of the best is:



For Darién travel, a pre-trip necessity is the South American Explorers Club. They feature a pithy online newsletter and a fee-based archive with years' worth of trip accounts from individual trekkers visiting Darién:

The hip guidebook publisher Lonely Planet also offers posts from its intrepid correspondents:

Regrettably, the U.S. State Department's site is worth a look. It details any current travel advisories for Darién and Panama:

Most U.S. outfitters contract with the guides at Ancon Expeditions of Panama, the leading experts in Darién trekking and naturalist trips:

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Native Lands is a strong advocate for the Darién rainforest and it indigenous inhabitants. Its site features Darién-related articles and an online bookstore selling books and maps:

If you're curious about flora that may or may not kill, you should consult the Tico Ethnobotanical Dictionary, a comprehensive inventory of plantlife assembled by James Duke, author of the phenomenally obscure Darién Survival Guide:

The Panama City-based Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is home to the superb Tupper Library (which is searchable from the site) and lists ongoing seminars:

If you're searching for a way to visit Darién but don't want to rough it, try the luxurious Tropic Star Lodge, on the Pacific side:



The latest "Survivor: Pearl Islands" was filmed in the Panamanian island group off the Pacific coast of Darién:

If you like action-suspense films there is the 2003 flick Basic (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta) which is set in Darién at an Army Ranger Survival Training Camp:

Critically acclaimed director Brad Anderson's Darién Gap (1996) is the ruminative polar opposite—the troubled Gen X protagonist fantasizes about trekking the gap but never gets closer than Boston:

A Tramp in the Darién (BBC/WGBH, 1988), a personal travel documentary, is author Jonathan Maslow's funny and informative account of his trek through the heart of Darién. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) has also produced other programs about Darién in addition to a cyber site where you can test your general jungle knowhow and survival instincts.






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