How to follow in Dara and Ed’s footsteps on a Pan Am adventure

The comical duo embarked on an epic 4,000-mile drive through central America. Producer Fiona Caldwell tells us the best places to replicate their journey

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In Dara and Ed’s Great Big Adventure, the Irish duo buckles up for a ride along the longest road in the world. Following the journey of three adventurers from Detroit, who set out to travel from north to south in a 1941 Plymouth, they try everything from Mexican wrestling to volcano surfing and riding a chicken bus.

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A lot of the places that Dara and Ed stop in on the Pan American Highway “are places that the three original adventurers from Detroit stopped when they first tried to drive the route, before there was a road,” explains series producer Fiona Caldwell, “We used the original journey as our guide for the show. The explorers’ book, Adventure South, had quite good descriptions of the places. We were keen to mirror their journey and see how things had change in the time between the 1940s when they passed through, and how it is today.”

Caldwell maps out the comedians’ route along this 4,000 mile stretch of tarmac and reveals how to follow in their footsteps on a middle American adventure…

Watch a wrestling show in Mexico City

“In the ‘40s, the city’s population was around a million people,” explains Caldwell. “Now it’s the fourth largest city in the world. It’s an extraordinary Metropolis. But the thing that really gripped Dara and Ed when they went there was  Lucha Libre. This kind of wrestling involves elaborate masks and costumes. It’s an elaborate pantomime wrestling show with baddies, heroes and villains. It’s more like a theatrical event than an actual sport. It’s hugely entertaining. Dara and Ed went to a little shop that sells wrestling gear, and they chose their wrestling masks. They also found out about the history of Mexican wrestling, the story goes that the masks were introduced by an Irish wrestler in the 1930s. They go over to the Mexico City Arena, the biggest wrestling venue in the city, it’s like going to Wembley to watch wrestling. They meet one of the wrestling stars they called Shocka, he takes Dara and Ed into the ring and does a few moves on them.”


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Experience the region of Tequila

“The pair go through the region of Tequila to try some traditional mescal,” explains Caldwell. “Throughout that region they use the local agave plants to make mescal and tequila. Dara and Ed stop at a local mescal press. During the prohibition era in the 1930s in America, a lot of European liquors were banned, things like gin and whisky weren’t imported. People would go over to Mexico for a tipple and they came across tequila, the tequila trade started to take off around the time of prohibition, and that trade has grown and grown and grown. There are traditional mescal distilleries at the sides of the road. Dara and Ed stop at a family run distillery, it’s very small and there’s a local woman pressing agave plants, and they drink some of it straight from the distillery.”

Visit Lake Atitlan

“Guatemala has an extraordinary landscape, cone-shaped mountain and lakes, it’s a very very beautiful country,” says Caldwell. “The original explorers from Detroit commented a lot about how beautiful Guatemala was, so we stopped at the same lake – Lago de Atitlán. Dara and Ed took a boat across the lake to visit a Mayan village called Santiago Atitlan, with an original indigenous tribe. They went to have a ceremony with a Mayan deity called Maximon. They took part in this spiritual blessing, but the thing about Maximon is that he’s a chain-smoking god, who likes a spot of rum. So they had to bring him cigarettes and rum to appease the deity. I think the ceremony has been adapted for tourists, shall we say. It’s quite a comical scene in the series.”

Ride a chicken bus

“As they are driving down the highway Dara and Ed come along these chicken busses, which are brightly painted vehicles that the locals use to get around in,” says Caldwell. “They’re decorated with silver, paint, chrome and lights. They are actually old American school buses and are called chicken busses because they travel at quite furious rates, they are quite kamikaze, and get people quickly around the country. Dara rides one of the chicken busses in to Guatemala City and Ed goes to the place where they spray paint the busses and gets their car sprayed. You could travel down the pan am in a chicken bus that’s highly decorated, but they’re not necessarily the safest form of travel.”


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Volcano boarding in Nicaragua

“We passed down the eastern side of Nicaragua on the Pan Am and Ed went volcano surfing on Cerro Negro volcano,” explains Caldwell. “Nicaragua itself has become quite a sea surfing Mecca, for Americans travelling down the Pan Am, as a result they’ve kind of started up this new sport where you climb up a volcano with a board, put on a big jump suit and goggles and slide down the soft ash at great speed for a thrill. It’s very high, very steep and quite dramatic. People can go up there, get kitted out in orange jumpsuits and do the same.”

Play cowboy in Costa Rica

“Dara and Ed went to wildlife sanctuary Rescate las Pumas Rescue Centre to see the effect the roads have had on the wildlife. They met baby anteaters, jaguars and monkeys. They also became Costa Rican cowboys for a day,” says Caldwell. “In one part of Costa Rica they have these cowboys called Sabaneros, they’ve been around for hundreds of years, from when the Spanish arrived, so there’s a real ranch tradition. Sabaneros look after the cattle, drive them over the plains and lasso them, and Dara and Ed have a go at it at the El Cortijo ranch. Visitors can also visit the cattle ranches. Costa Rica is very different from al the other countries in South America, you read about Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and revolutions and uprising, dictators and gang warfare, but Costa Rica is a pacifist country, which got rid of its army in 1948. It was officially voted the happiest country in the world, by the Happy Planet Index. They took all the money they would have spent on their army and they spent it on education and sustainability. They have a 98 per cent literacy rate and large parts of the country are national parks. Dara and Ed visited these wildlife havens. It’s green it’s lush, it’s full of amazing wildlife, tropical rainforests, and is an amazing place to go if you are at all interested in the environment or wilderness.”

Cruise along the Panama Canal

“One of the reasons for building the Pan American Highway was to give a road link to the Panama Canal. It’s an extraordinary piece of engineering,” says Caldwell. “It’s the largest canal ever constructed, 30 ships a day use the canal, it offers a quick route from China. Panama City itself is a really American-style glitzy city in the middle of Central America. It looks like Chicago; it’s full of these great skyscrapers. You can sail on boats through the canal. Dara and Ed went on a tug-boat and helped guide it through the canal. Sailors in sailing boats go through the canal as well. It’s one of those extraordinary pieces of engineering.”

Watch Dara and Ed’s adventure on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC2


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Visit Central America with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details