Trip to Panama (Click on any image to load a larger copy)
One of things that I have desired to do was to transit the Panama Canal. At first I discovered that most transits through the canal that people can take are aboard cruise ships. I am not all that interested in cruise ships so when I found an ad for a company that does passenger transits without taking a cruise ship, I jumped at the opportunity. The company is Panama Jones, which is a tour provider in Panama. I booked their Panama at Glance Tour with an add on to the San Blas Islands. That way I could see Panama City, transit the canal, and see the land of the Kuna Indians.
I flew down to Panama City via Miami on a Thursday afternoon and spent the remainder of the day in downtown Panama City. One of the thing I found interesting is that the Panamanians use the US Dollar as their currency. This made currency conversion a snap, it always is 1.00. Downtown Panama City was not all that interesting and I looked forward to the city tour that I was taking the next day.
The city tour started off the next morning by first stopping of at the Panama La Vieja or Old Panama City. This was the original Spanish settlement and was founded in 1519. In 1671, it was destroyed by the pirate Captain Henry Morgan. Next we went by a large house that was one the market for a quick sale by its owner - Manuel Noriega (former leader of Panama and now a prisoner in the US).
I next visited the Plaza de Francia, where a monument exists to the 20,000 people who died in the French attempt to build the canal. After the Plaza, the tour stopped and visited the Interoceanic Canal Museum which has artifacts on the construction of the canal. The tour continue by diving by the Administrative Building of the Panama Canal. It is an interesting building built on a hill 26.4 meters / 86 feet tall - the same elevation that ship rise to get through the canal (Gatun Lake). In front of the building is a plaza that is 33.5 meters / 110 feet wide and 304.8 meters / 1000 feet long, the same dimensions of a canal lock.
After diving by the administrative Building of the Panama Canal, we drove over the Bridge of the Americas and entered North America. The bridge currently is the only road crossing over the canal and the only road connect North America to South America (A second bridge - the Centennial Bridge - is being constructed in the middle of Panama). Next we headed to the nearest lock to Panama City, the Miraflores Locks. There I was able to see a ship start at the top of the locks and be lowered to sea level, a distance of about 16.8 meters or 55 feet. I headed back to the hotel and went to bed early, as the next day we would begin the transit of the canal.
Before I write about the transit, a little history of the canal is important to note. The Panama Canal which connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the narrowest point of the Americas and the idea of it was conceived in the 1820s. In 1880 Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez canal, began construction of a sea level canal in Panama. The plan for a sea level canal was ill conceived and by 1889, de Lesseps company had declared bankruptcy without completing the canal. Panama Canal. in 1903, the US stepped in by first helping a group of Panamanians declared the independence of Panama from Columbia, then negotiating a treaty with the new country to allow the US to construct a canal. The US effort to build a lock canal began in 1904 and 10 years later, the first ship crossed the canal. The construction of the canal (by the French and the Americans) took nearly 25 years, over half a billion US dollars, and the lives of 25,000 men. It is quite an achievement of man over nature.
The transit began the next morning by leaving Panama City and heading out to the Pacific ocean so we could start our approach to the canal entrance at the Bridge of the Americas. The boat then entered the Miraflores Locks with a few other small ships and we began the process to raise the ship to the of the canal, 26.4 meters / 86 feet above sea level. The trip through the Pacific side locks (Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks) went by relatively quickly and the ship began to travel through the Gallard (Culebra) Cut. The cut covers 13.7 km / 8.5 miles and involved the excavation of nearly 120 million cubic yards of material. This was the hardest part of the canal to build. The soil is highly unstable and many landslides took place during the construction of the canal and still happen on a regular basis. After the Culebra Cut we entered Gatun Lake, which was created by damming the Chagres river and is the heart of the canal. With the lake the ships are able to make the transit and the water of the lake powers the locks which raise the ships from sea level to the lake level.
During our time travel in the lake, it began to rain. Which is a good thing. The rain gets collected in the rain forest, flows though the Chagres river to the lake providing a nearly endless supply of water to keep the canal working. The rain did slow our trip a little as we had to wait until it stopped before we could enter the Atlantic side locks (Gatun Locks). Eventually the rain stopped and we entered the Gatun Locks where the ship was lowered to sea-level and we proceeded to Colon. At Colon, we caught a bus and headed back to Panama City. The transit took about 12 hours and was quite interesting but if anyone want to do it, I would recommend only doing a partial crossing as the trip was a little too long.
The next morning, I woke up early and was driven to Panama City's domestic airport where I caught a flight to the San Blas Islands. These islands are located on Panama's Atlantic side and are home to the Kuna Indians. The flight down was the milk run and involved landing at three different spots before I arrived at my hotel, the Dolphin Lodge. It was great. Nothing to do but to relax and I and great food including grilled lobster. After two days, I headed back to Panama City where I spent another night before caching the plane back to home.
I used a Toshiba PDR-M81 4.2 Megapixel Digital Camera. The images were cleaned up a bit with Adobe PhotoShop Elements (To correct the color balance). Additional Camera Information
Panama Canal Transit
|Last Updated on January 2, 2009||Images and Text © 2003 Andrew Patton - Copyright Information|