Thursday marks a year since the disappearance of Swedish traveler Jan Philip Braunisch on the border between Colombia and Panama in 2013. The now 27 year old experienced traveler went missing in the north-western Colombian state of Choco on May 15, 2013 while on a trip which would take him to nine countries in 3 months. Jan Philip then had plans to return to Europe and start a post-graduate course in math at the University of Cambridge, England.
However Jan Philip sadly disappeared without trace while trying to cross the Darien Gap on the border between Colombia to Panama; a dangerous swathe of undeveloped swampland and forest which is well known for its popularity among smugglers and traffickers of arms, humans and drugs.
His trip into the Darien Gap was confirmed in the last contact made by Jan Philip in an email to family which stated his plan to travel by canoe and on foot through the dangerous area. However since this last message Jan Philip has made no contact and there have been no confirmed sightings of the Swede.
Jan Philip’s wife, Shiwen Gao, explained that “we know that he intended to walk across the Darien Gap, and that he was asking for directions in Riosucio,” where his last message originated from, but a lack of subsequent contact led family to report him as missing to Colombian authorities.
Working in conjunction with the Swedish Embassy, the Colombian Inspector General’s Office sent in their technical investigation team (CTI) to either recover the missing Swede or determine what had happened. However progress was limited according to Shiwen as “some parts of the border are inaccessible to state forces because of the high presence of gangs,” as well as the extreme geographical challenges of the region.
When the CTI had no news for the family, Shiwen flew out to Colombia in September and spent a month trying to follow any leads about her husband while staying with a family friend who continues to help with the investigation.
A dangerous decision
The plan to cross the Darien Gap into Panama was also confirmed on Jan Philip’s personal blog with the last update on May 15 reading: “I’m in Riosucio now, on the Atrato river. From here it’s not far from Panama. There are supposedly quite many paths from here to Panama. We’ll see how it goes.”
Such a trip may seem crazy to some but Jan Philip was not new to difficult travelling experiences. Having spent five months traveling alone around Africa, Jan Philip’s wife, Shiwen, explained how “he had experience in remote areas” and was a “determined and experienced traveler” who used just a 2kg bag and could walk over 30 miles a day.
However due to the disputed nature of the Darien Gap between a number of armed guerrilla groups vying for the inland smuggling routes, the area is riddled with anti-personnel landmines making the route treacherous for even the most seasoned traveler.
Furthermore church organisations working with local communities in the area reported repeat threats by armed groups in early 2013 with a peak during May, the time when Jan Philip possibly entered the zone.
Jan Philip’s family are still searching for answers and have requested that any information be shared with the Colombian authorities or sent confidentially to [email protected].
You can visit Jan Philip’s blog HERE
Safety in Colombia
Although Colombia has changed a lot over the years, with many parts being safe and accessible for travelers, there will always remain areas which are unsafe and those wishing to travel, especially alone, should heed warnings and advice from local authorities.
- Press release from family of Jan Philip Braunisch
- Un Sueco Perdido En Las Selvas Del Choco (Facebook)