Project Description

The Cloud Garden

Author: Tom Hart Dyke & Paul Winder
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Length: 395 pages
Publication Date: July 2011
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Highlights from The Cloud Garden:

  • This is a dual memoir written by two young men who decided to walk the Darien Gap from Panamá to Colombia, got kidnapped by Colombian (FARC) guerillas, held for nine months, and lived to tell about it.
  • Both guys are very likeable, which was very likely instrumental in their release and made this an enjoyable and somewhat humorous read.
  • Tom is a botanist who is crazy about orchids, so there’s a fair amount of technical plant knowledge peppered throughout the story.

You’ve probably heard about it — the Darin Gap is a beautiful section of jungle between Panamá and Colombia and the only place where the builders of the Pan American Highway, which runs between Alaska and the tip of South American, were unable to conquer nature. It’s also a scary place. Not only are there deadly big cats, tiny insects and “20 breath” snakes, but there are hordes of human guerillas and drug runners renowned for kidnapping and murder.

The Cloud Garden is the memoir of two young men—botanist Tom Hart Dyke and adrenaline seeker Paul Winder—who decided to take a massive risk and cross the Darien Gap on foot. Why? Tom was obsessed with orchids and Paul with adventure. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, they were kidnapped by FARC guerrillas who held them hostage for nine months.

Actually, very little of the story is about Panamá—it’s just the starting point of Tom and Paul’s journey. With the exception of the authors, the characters are Colombian and the majority of the book is set on the Colombian side of the jungle.

If Tom and Paul weren’t so likable, it would have been challenging to get past their horrible judgement. They ignored multiple warnings, including from members of the Panamanian military who wouldn’t go into the Gap unless they had no choice. In life’s typical ironic style, it was their excellent judgment and likable personalities that saved their lives—and kept the story interesting.

Despite it giving me little insight into Panamá directly, I now have a pretty good feel for the Darien Gap and lots of good reasons not to go there!

Must Read Quotient 50%
Difficulty 10%
Educational Value 30%
Snooze Factor 20%
Character Development 80%
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