Walking the Americas
1,800 Miles, Eight Countries, and One Incredible Journey from Mexico to Colombiaby Levison Wood
A breathtaking journey across some of the most diverse and unpredictable regions on earth.
Levison Wood’s famous walking expeditions have taken him from the length of the Nile River to the peaks of the Himalayas, and in Walking the Americas, Wood chronicles his latest exhilarating adventure: a 1,800-mile trek across the spine of the Americas, through eight countries, from Mexico to Colombia.
Beginning in the Yucatán—and moving south through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama—Wood’s journey takes him from sleepy barrios to glamorous cities to ancient Mayan ruins lying unexcavated in the wilderness. Wood encounters indigenous tribes in Mexico, revolutionaries in a Nicaraguan refugee camp, fellow explorers, and migrants heading toward the United States. The relationships he forges along the way are at the heart of his travels—and the personal histories, cultures, and popular legends he discovers paint a riveting history of Mexico and Central America. While contending with the region’s natural obstacles like quicksand, flashfloods, and dangerous wildlife, he also witnesses the surreal beauty of local landscapes, from cascading waterfalls and sunny beaches to the spectacular ridgelines of the Honduran highlands. Finally, Wood attempts to cross one of the world’s most impenetrable borders: the Darién Gap route from Panama into South America, a notorious smuggling passage and the wildest jungle he has ever navigated.
One of the rawest and most exciting journeys of his life, this expedition required every ounce of Wood’s strength and guile to survive. Walking the Americas is a thrilling personal tale, an accomplished piece of cultural reportage, and a breathtaking journey across some of the most diverse and unpredictable regions on earth.
“So often books on great treks seem to relish recounting only maladies, sexcapades, or drunken capers. Not so with Wood; he focuses on the people and places he and Alberto encounter, which makes for great reading.”—Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Library Journal (starred review)
“[Wood’s] narrative skills are enlivened by a droll wit and entertaining descriptions of his traveling companions and the characters encountered during his journey . . . The greatest value to the American reader of this book, however, may be the unbiased observations by this perceptive Brit of the impact which the present United States’ immigration policy has upon the vast region stretching from South America to our Southern border. . . . Wood’s interactions with both notorious MS-13 gang members and innocent families trying to enter our country illustrate the chaos caused by our present system. While he hearkens back to the classic British explorers of our planet, Wood’s travels are as current as today’s headlines.”—J. Kemper Campbell, Lincoln Journal-Star
“One of the most engaging aspects of Wood’s narrative is his ability to bring his passion for adventure, for history, for learning about indigenous cultures and interacting with native peoples and for the natural world to the reader in an unpretentious manner. Reading Walking the Americas places the reader alongside Wood in his feats, as he ponders his motivations and reasons for hiking long distances and as he exclaims over the sheer beauty of the world he sees from a mountain peak few have climbed. His is travel and adventure writing at its best.”—Shelf Awareness
“A thrilling narrative trek through towns, back roads, and natural wonders of Central America, all on foot. He elevates this already fascinating landscape with lively prose that combines travel journal with history lessons, memoir, and survivalist handbook. This skillful weaving of genres creates intensity and suspense chapter to chapter, keeping the reader’s interest piqued and the pages turning as Wood pays deep respect to a dangerous and extraordinarily beautiful part of the planet.”—Frank Tempone, Booklist
Longlisted for the Banff Mountain Book award for adventure travel
Sunday Times top 10 bestseller
Nothing could have prepared us for the sheer brutality of the terrain that we encountered in the Darién.
At least the porters were cheery. For the Embera, it was a well-paid holiday away from their wives. The older and bolder amongst them had been this way before, five or ten years ago; they couldn’t remember when exactly. Only Leo knew the route, at fifty-seven years he was the oldest of the group. Even the chief hadn’t been this way in over twenty years and couldn’t remember the path. For several of the youngsters it was their first major outing, and if they made it, it would be the first time they had ever seen the ocean. A few of the lads wore old trainers and flip-flops. Only one had boots. The rest were quite content to walk in rubber wellies.
“We’re used to it,” grinned the chief. “But if you want to donate any of your boots at the end, we won’t say no.” He winked.
The first day in the Darién we walked for five hours and covered only six miles and by the time we found a suitable place to camp, on the bank of the river, Alberto and I were utterly exhausted. Even the Embera and Segundo looked tired. We cleared a patch with our machetes and strung our hammocks and cooked some rations up to eat. By six o’clock it was pitch black and there was nothing left to do. Each of us slid into our hammocks as the noise of the forest roared in the darkness. Only then did it finally sink in how far away from civilisation we really were. This was true wilderness, and if anything went wrong here, there would be no one coming to find us.