Travel writer Andrew Evans recently returned from a trip to Panama, where his dreams of a cross-continental stroll were dashed...
All I wanted to do was to walk across the bridge. That’s all. And yet it almost got me arrested.
Let me explain: I love crossing borders, especially on foot. I think anyone who loves maps knows what I’m talking about. Stepping from one country into the next is kind of exciting, right? I don’t need to skydive or bungee jump to get a thrill. Just let me stand with one foot in each country and be in two places at once. And why stop there? Why not up the ante and walk between two continents? Well, because you can’t, that’s why. I know because I tried.
On a recent assignment to Panama City, I paid a taxi to drop me off in North America so I could walk back to South America. What’s more, the ride took exactly five minutes and only cost me two bucks. We simply drove across the Bridge of the Americas and over the Panama Canal. Man, was I excited—here I was, about to cross the waterway that links the world’s two great oceans while separating the two American landmasses. It was a glorious moment, the Pacific Ocean was shining in the distance and rows of giant cargo ships were lining up to pass under the bridge and on to the Atlantic. I raised my foot in North America when a uniformed soldier started yelling at me. Then he was running at me, machine gun in hand.
Despite the open-access intercontinental sidewalk and no signs announcing the contrary, el soldado told me that nobody was allowed to walk across the bridge, ever. According to the locals I spoke with, in recent years the Bridge of the Americas has become a trendy suicide destination and disheartened people travel from all over the world so that they can jump of the bridge. Panamanian military are now posted at both ends to stop suicidal pedestrians.
“Yeah, but I’m not gonna jump off the bridge. I just want to walk across.” I smiled and showed two fingers skipping cheerfully across my hand. I took another step forward, testing my boundaries, but the soldier shook his head and rattled his handcuffs.
“¡Prohibido! No puedes.” He was grabbing my arm now. It didn’t matter if mine was a lifelong ambition or childhood dream—or even if walking across this bridge would make me feel really, really cool. I quickly discovered that in Panama, no means no. The soldier flagged down a banana truck to drive me back to South America. I pouted in the passenger’s seat with a mouthful of banana, angry at all those suicidal travelers that had ruined a good idea.
In the hopes of taking my intercontinental walk elsewhere I did a bit more research. A call to the Panama Canal Bridge authority garnered this response from their spokesperson: "The Bridge of the Americas does have a walkway for pedestrians, and yes they are allowed to walk across the bridge." Hmm... we all know how that went. I sought out other options, only to arrive at a big dead end. Sadly, it seems jumpers outnumber walkers everywhere. Excluding the imaginary border across Russia, there are only three places in the world where you can cross a bridge from one continent to the other:
Panama Canal, Panama (North America & South America): The Bridge of the Americas crosses the Panama Canal at Panama City, while the newer Centennial Bridge crosses the canal further north and is now the official route of the Pan-American Highway. Both bridges have been permanently closed to pedestrians to prevent future suicide attempts.
Istanbul, Turkey (Europe & Asia): Two impressive suspension bridges (the Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Bridges) span the Bosphorus Strait, connecting the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. Due to their rising popularity among suicide jumpers, both bridges have been closed to pedestrians.
Suez Canal, Egypt (Asia & Africa): Alas, the Suez Canal Bridge (a.k.a. the Mubarak Peace Bridge) is also closed to civilian pedestrians for security concerns (i.e. terrorism) although plenty of soldiers make the intercontinental walk everyday. It’s still an amazing view from a car and the canal offers two more intercontinental options, the El Ferdan railway bridge and the Ahmed Hamdi tunnel.
Of course, there are a couple more options on the table. A tunnel or a bridge across the Straits of Gibraltar would link Europe to Africa. And the Russians are eager to build a tunnel to Alaska, connecting Asia and North America. Don’t laugh. Remember when people took ferries from England to France?
Have you managed to complete any of these continental crossings? Let us know in the comments, below.
Photo by Andrew Evans