Stretching from Alaska to the pencil tip of Argentina, the 48,000km-long Pan-American Highway holds the record for the world’s longest motorable road. But there is a gap – an expanse of wild tropical forest – that has defeated travellers for centuries.
Explorers have always been drawn to the Darien Gap, but the results have mostly been disastrous. The Spanish made their first settlement in the mainland Americas right here in 1510, only to have it torched by indigenous tribes 14 years later – and in many ways the area remains as wild today as it was during the days of the conquest.
“If history had followed its usual course, the Darien should be today one of the most populated regions in the Americas, but it isn’t,” says Rick Morales, a Panamian and owner of Jungle Treks, one of a few adventure tour companies operating in the region.
“That’s remarkable if you consider that we live in the 21st Century, in a country that embraces technology and is notorious for connecting oceans, cultures, and world commerce.”
The gap stretches from the north to the south coast of Panama – from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It’s between 100km and 160km (60-100 miles) long, and there is no way round, except by sea.
Grouped together in Peru’s lush Cuzco region, the ringed Incan ruins known as Moray have long been a mystery, but it is looking more and more likely that the nested stone rings may have been part of a large-scale agricultural experiment.
Unlike a number of the elaborate metropolises and statuary left behind by the Incan people, the rings at Moray are relatively simple but may have actually been an ingenious series of test beds.
Descending in grass-covered, terraced rings, these rings of rings vary in size, with the largest ending in a depth of 30 meters (98 feet) deep and 220 meters (722 feet) wide.
Studies have shown that many of the terraces contain soil that must have been imported from other parts of the region.
The temperature at the top of the pits varies from that at the bottom by as much as 15ºC, creating a series of micro-climates that — not coincidentally — match many of the varied conditions across the Incan empire, leading to the conclusion that the rings were used as a test bed to see what crops could grow where.
An isolated cumulonimbus (an extremelydense,verticallydevelopedcumuluswith a lowdarkbaseandfluffymassesthatextend to greatheights,usuallyproducingheavyrains,thunderstorms, or hailstorms) overshoots the tropopause as we deviate around it at 37000 FT south of Panama City, Panama.
The only light source is the powerful lightning within the storm.