The Panama Canal

Trip Start Apr 25, 2013
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141
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Trip End Nov 02, 2013


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What I did
panama canal

Flag of Panama  , Colón,
Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Panama Canal is a loch-type canal approximately 80 kilometres long that unites the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at one of the narrowest points of both the Ithmus of Panama and the American Continent. It allows passage through Central America to the Pacific without having to sail 21 days around South America. Its hard to imagine how the French conceived the idea for construction of the canal in the late 1800s. They dug out the foundations, much of it by hand, with minimal technology, in the foreign, wild, inhospitable, unexplored jungle of the Panama. Ultimately, their effort came too soon and failed. Living conditions were poor, and they were unprepared. Thousands died of illness, exhaustion, yellow fever and malaria. The Americans picked up where they left off in the early 1900s. With better technology, a priority on living conditions and much determination, the canal officially opened its doors to international trade on 15 August 1914. Up to 63 Pyramids similar to those constructed in Egypt could have been erected with the material excavated during the construction of the canal.
Our experience of the canal started involuntarily around 6.30am with a public service announcement confirming our arrival into the Gatun Lochs at the mouth of the canal. In total, the Canal has three separate loch chambers, each with two lanes. The first is the Gatun lock, which operates as water lifts to elevate ships 26 metres above sea level to the level of the Gatun lake in inland Panama. Ships in transit are assisted into each lockage chamber by two electric locomotives on either side. Once inside, the gates are sealed and approximately 197 million litres of fresh water are used for each lockage and ultimately flushed into the sea. Once through the Gatun Lock, we sailed over the Gatun Lake to the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks, and eventually lowered down to sea level into the Pacific Ocean. The entire process took around 10 hours, arriving at the Gatun Lock around 6.30am and passing through the Miraflores Lock around 4pm. The canal is entirely operated by Panama and a major source of income for the local government. Todays crossing toll for our ship came in at around $445,000USD.
It was a largely casual day on board, most spent on deck looking out at the lochs and tropical jungle of the Panama landscape. We still squeezed in a couple gym sessions and lunch. The jungle filled me with wonder, so dense and thick, I wonder if its all ever been explored. There were such few signs of human settlement throughout the journey around the Gatun Lake. That is, until the evening. From around 4.30pm, we parked ourselves in the spa to a beautiful sunset. Around 5, we passed under the huge Americas bridge to 'Black or White' by MJ, waving to locals on the bridge. A memorable moment. Also, the spectacular sight of one the most impressive cityscape skylines Ive ever seen in Panama City. Not what I expected, but truly a hidden gem, and city I will have to return to explore. Miami was impressive, but this was even more so from the sea, bigger and grander. What a day really. I only wish we could have had a day stop here, either to explore the jungle, or the grand city of Panama City. Definitely a place to mark for a return visit.
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