Being just 10 degrees north of the equator, it was not surprising that we arose to a hot and humid day. We would also be passing thru a large rain forest that has over 200 inches of rainfall a year. The ship was anchored off of the Fuerte Amador area which is across the bay from Panama City. The Fuerte Amador area is a manmade area that connects three small islands just off the coast from Panama City
. There are restaurants and shops on the islands that are now connected by a roadway that connects the islands to shore. Here on the third island is the tender dock that is used by the cruise ships to ferry passengers back and forth from the anchored ships in the large harbor to the small tender dock on the island. We tendered early in the morning as we had a long trip across the isthmus not once but twice on this day. Our tour guide was Uncle Marty who named every part of the tour after himself. But to this humor, he injected fact and history about the sights that we experienced during the day's adventure. Just on shore was a large complex of buildings and facilities that was used by the United States when it controlled the canal. Since the Canal was given back to Panama, the buildings and facilities have been converted to different function by the Goverement of Panama. What was once a large military base whose responsibility was to protect the Panama Canal, has been changed to private and governmental offices for the people of Panama as the country does not have a standing military force.
We soon arrived at are first destination; the railway station in Panama City. Here was the start of the railway that when completed in 1855 and was the first intercontinental railway in the Western Hemisphere. Yes, in 1855 you could cross the 50 miles of the Panama Isthmus from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean
. Today aboard the train we would be able to cross the distance from Panama City to Colon on the eastern shores in just over an hour. The trip could have been quicker, but the train engineer kept the speed of the train as slow as possible for the tourists that made up his cargo for this trip. So we were able to take better advantage of the transit because of the slow speed of the train. We were traveling in a restored 1938 vintage deluxe observation car. The observation car was constructed so that we could sit high inside of the car with windows both beside and above of us. We were seated at tables that provided for opportunities to have a drink and eat a sandwich while traveling the distance from Panama City to Colon. Although the train was built before the canal; it like the canal, was built to take advantage of the shortest distance across the isthmus. So today much of the train tracks lie directly beside the canal as it traverses the country of Panama. The train provided a very different view of the canal from the shoreline. We watched the workers clearing and widening the canal. We also were able to see parts of the new canal that will be opened August 15, 2014. That will mark not only the completion of the new canal, but the 100th Anniversary of the original canal. Major parts of the canal system such as Gatun Lake will be shared between the old and new canals, but the cuts and the locks will not be shared because of the increased size of ships that the new canal will allow to transit the Isthmus of Panama
. Using an old hobo term to describe the observation car, I will call the car an easy rider. It was a smooth comfortable ride across the continent as we slowly wound our way thru the dense rainforest of Panama heading for the port of Colon on the Caribbean Sea. Before the canal was in service this was part of the main shipping route between the east and west coast of North America. Without the railroad, ships would have to go south and around the continent of South America. The railroad was also a valuable aid in the building of the original canal. But today the railway trip was a leisurely method of showing us the interior of the country as well as a different perspective of the canal. There are also other trains that cross here carrying the large shipping containers of enormous seafaring ships, too large to transit the canal. The containers are off loaded on one side, shipped by rail across to the opposite side and then reload for the continued ship voyage to their destination.
Slightly over an hour after boarding the train in Panama City, we pulled into the station at Colon. This was our fastest transcontinental trip that we have ever made. We exited the train and boarded the waiting bus for the next part of our tour. From the train terminus in Colon, we were driven to the Gatun Locks, either the first or last set of docks of the Panama Canal, depending on the direction of travel of ships as they transit the Panama Canal
. As we were traveling from the Pacific east, this would be the last set of locks that we will pass during our adventure on the Panama Canal. This was the third time that we had seen the observation building that was sitting on the very edge of the locks so close that you could almost reach out and touch the ships moving thru the locks either into or leaving Gatun Lake. Now our perspective was completely different, as we now were viewing ships from the land side of the locks. We looked pass the narrow mule rails to the edge of the canal and the side of the ships slowly but inevitably moving thru the locks on their journey to distant ports and adventures. The small distance between the locks and the side of the large ships was even more dramatically apparent. Our ship the Sea Princess had less than 21 inches on each side as it passed thru the locks. We are on a panamax ship which means that it is the maximum size ship that can fit thru the canal. The work of the mules to ensure that the gap between lock and ship is constant was as impressive from the shore as on the ship. As we watched the ships moving thru the locks, we knew that we would be on one of the ships moving thru on the following day. At the base of the small hill that the Observation Building sits on, was a display of the earliest electric mules that helped ships in the early 1900’s transit thru the locks and the lake that makes up the Panama Canal. We stopped and posed as a fellow traveller used our camera to take a photographic memory of us inside of the mule
After the Gatun Locks Observation experience, we headed back to our bus for a third method of crossing the isthmus; this last method would be made by automobile (bus to be precise). The route back by bus took us deeper into the rainforest so that glimpses of the canal were infrequent. This was a different view of Panama that showed many small grouping of building separated by long stretches of forest. Like most countries of the world that border on oceans, the major population of the countries live on or near the coastline of the country. Along this leg of the journey, we were treated to one of the frequent rain storms that contribute to over 200 of inches of rain a year. This is very important for the survival of the canal as the fresh rainwater is drained into Gatun Lake which provides the supply of fresh water that allows for the efficient operation of the canal locks. This method has worked almost flawlessly since 1914 when the canal first opened. Gatun Lake was the largest manmade lake in the world for many years until the Hoover Dam created a larger lake. The returning rain cooled the bus and made the return trip more comfortable.
But as all journeys begin with a first step, they also end with the last step. And our last step was on the tender docks of Fuerte Amador
. Many different tours had returned with us as it was now near the time of the last tender to the boat. A long line quickly developed for the small tenders that were tirelessly scurrying back and forth as they returned passengers to the waiting Sea Princess. The time was spent in line discussing the different views of Panama that we had seen during the day. The ship was a good final destination as we would have a leisurely dinner, some entertainment and then rest on the ship before it would enter the canal in the very early hours of the following morning.
Having the luxury of being thru the canal twice before, we were able to justify not rising at 6:00AM to see the ship enter the first set of locks. We awoke and went to breakfast as the ship as into the first cut and approaching the Pedro Miguel Locks. We were finishing breakfast as we sailed under the Bridge of the Americas. Today we selected a different method of viewing the canal. On our first transit, we watched the canal from our balcony. On the second, we watched from the top deck. So today, we went to the Plaza deck which on the Sea Princess has a deck walkway completely around the ship. So we walked the deck around the ship, occasionally, stopping to photograph one of the many wonders that comprise the Panama Canal. We enjoyed this method of transiting the canal as we were able to exercise and still see the sights that our journey thru the Panama Canal provided for us
. The day was a pleasant one and went by so that quickly we were at the Gatun Locks and were able to see the Observation Platform where on the previous day, we stood and watch ships pass thru the locks. As we entered the last lock of our passage thru the canal, we went to the stern of the ship to watch as we exited the last lock and ended our adventure of crossing the Isthmus of Panama on the Panama Canal.
Today, The Hunt for Harriet finds her watching as we transit the canal. As she has been thru before, step us beside her and she will tell you about the many sights that you can see here in the Canal Zone.
The winner was Linda Ferguson on October 22, 2010 This one is hard. I think Harriet is about half way down the deck by the rail. She has on pink pants and black sleeves top. She is out a little from the rest of the people
Our next two days will be in the port of Fuerte Amador and transiting the Panama Canal. This is our third time thru this modern marvel of engineering, but it will be a different trip thru the Panama Canal. First we will be in port for a full day before the transit and we will be traveling from the west coast to the east coast of Panama. On our full day in port we decided to take the Intercontinental Railroad across the isthmus and then take a bus for the return trip from Colon to Fuerte Amador. We will cross the isthmus twice the first day by rail and bus and once the following day by ship.