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    Is This the Isthmus? Tour – Panama Part 7

    Saturday, July 22, 2017
    Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal, Panama

    Street art in Panama City, Panama.
    Street art in Panama City, Panama.

    “The Panama Canal is an artificial 48-mile long waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal, 85 feet above sea level, and then lower the ships at the other end. The original locks are 110 feet wide. A third, wider lane of locks was constructed between September 2007 and May 2016. The expanded canal began commercial operation on June 26, 2016. The new locks allow transit of larger, Post-Panamax ships, capable of handling more cargo.

    A Red Devil bus in Panama City, Panama.
    A Red Devil bus in Panama City, Panama.

    Don't mind us. We're just hanging out and selling food on Central Avenue in Ancon, Panama City, Panama.
    Don’t mind us. We’re just hanging out and selling food on Central Avenue in Ancon, Panama City, Panama.

    “France first began work on the canal in 1881, but stopped due to engineering problems and a high worker mortality rate due to tropical diseases. The United States took over the project in 1904 and opened the canal on August 15, 1914. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut greatly reduced the time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, enabling them to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America via the Drake Passage or Strait of Magellan.

    The Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City, Panama.
    The Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City, Panama.

    The entrance to the visitors center at the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.
    The entrance to the visitors center at the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.

    “Colombia, France, and later the United States controlled the territory surrounding the canal during construction. The U.S. continued to control the canal and the surrounding Panama Canal Zone until the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties provided for a handover to Panama. After a period of joint American–Panamanian control, in 1999 the canal was taken over by the Panamanian government and is now managed and operated by the government-owned Panama Canal Authority.

    An exhibit in the Panama Canal Museum at the Miraflores Locks just outside Panama City, Panama.
    An exhibit in the Panama Canal Museum at the Miraflores Locks just outside Panama City, Panama.

    A simulation of a ship's bridge navigating the canal in the Panama Canal Museum at the Miraflores Locks just outside Panama City, Panama.
    A simulation of a ship’s bridge navigating the canal in the Panama Canal Museum at the Miraflores Locks just outside Panama City, Panama.

    “Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships in 1914, when the canal opened, to 14,702 vessels in 2008, for a total of 333.7 million Panama Canal / Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) tons. By 2017, more than 1,000,000 vessels had passed through the canal. It takes each one of them six to eight hours to pass through the canal. The American Society of Civil Engineers has called the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world.”–Wikipedia

    The Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.
    The Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.

    The Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.
    The Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.

    Well, the big day finally arrived–it was time for me to go see the Panama Canal! I walked north out of Casco Viejo on Central Avenue to try to find the Metro (subway) station near Plaza Cinco de Mayo, maybe a mile away. On the way there at a crowded, chaotic intersection, an older lady told me to be careful with my camera out, as I’d been shooting photos and she thought someone might snatch it. I asked her where the Metro was, and she told me to follow her for a couple of blocks, where we hung a left, then proceeded up another block. She told me the Metro was just up ahead as she took off in another direction, but I couldn’t find it.

    The Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.
    The Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.

    A couple of ships approach the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.
    A couple of ships approach the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.

    It was so hot, my shirt was soaked with sweat and I was already getting tired and beat down by this furnace-like gritty reality. So, I walked back up past where I first encountered the lady, but had no luck anywhere around there. So, I ended up back where she told me to go in the first place and finally spotted the Metro station. Down inside, I had to show my passport in order to buy a Metro card to ride the subway, which was so crazy! At least the air con was blasting, which was a relief.

    The Melchior Schulte inside the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.
    The Melchior Schulte inside the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.

    After being lowered, the Melchior Schulte passes through the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.
    After being lowered, the Melchior Schulte passes through the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.

    Disembarking at the Albrook station, I proceeded up and over a huge pedestrian bridge into the Albrook bus terminal, where–you guessed it–I had to buy another card, and I’m pretty sure I had to show my passport again to do it. Once outside, I had to ask a couple of different people where to catch the bus to the Miraflores Locks, as signs for it were nowhere to be seen. Luckily, I found one soon after and basked in the cranked air con. The ride was shorter than I expected–maybe 15 minutes–and the bus let us off right in front of the visitors center at the Miraflores Locks around 1:00 pm.

    Just a small part of the mob scene on an observation deck overlooking the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.
    Just a small part of the mob scene on an observation deck overlooking the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.

    The Maersk Batur out of Singapore pulls into the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.
    The Maersk Batur out of Singapore pulls into the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.

    A big, towering place, the visitors center houses a small Panama Canal Museum, a restaurant and several observation decks. After shelling out the steep $15 admission price, I wound my way through the shiny, modern exhibits that tell the whole story of the canal with informative text, vintage photos, panoramic videos, evocative sound effects, detailed scale models and dioramas, etc. A couple of times, I heard an announcement in Spanish that I thought might mean that a ship was coming through. So, I scurried upstairs and out onto the observation deck, but no such luck. Apparently, most ships transit the canal in the morning, and in the late afternoon. In the early afternoon, the canal was really devoid of traffic, which surprised me. It seems like ships would be coming through constantly.

    Water is drained from the lock, lowering the Maersk Batur at the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.
    Water is drained from the lock, lowering the Maersk Batur at the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.

    The Maersk Batur pulls out of the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.
    The Maersk Batur pulls out of the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal just outside Panama City, Panama.

    So, I went back into the museum to see if I missed anything, then sauntered around on the top observation deck for a while. A bit later, the mother of all thunderstorms moved in and completely hammered the area with intensely driving horizontal rain, causing the crowd closest to the north side of the observation decks to retreat further under the roof, which was surprising, as it already had a huge overhang.

    A Red Devil bus as seen from above at the Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City, Panama.
    A Red Devil bus as seen from above at the Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City, Panama.

    Finally, around 3:00 pm or so, some ships appeared off in the distance under a white hot flash of lightning bolts in the black sky, heading for the Miraflores Locks–and just in time, too, because the visitors center closes at 5:00 pm, and the last bus back to Albrook is right after that. It took close to an hour for the first ship, the Melchior Schulte, to reach the locks (a small passenger ferry had proceeded it). At this point, the crowd around all of the railings of the observation decks was at least three or four people deep. It was a total mob scene.

    Restaurante Jonathan in Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama.
    Restaurante Jonathan in Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama.

    After most of the water was drained from the lock and the Melchior Schulte was lowered from the level of Gatun Lake to sea level, it started to proceed through the locks, tugged along by the six small locomotive mules rolling along up on the decks of the locks. At that point, the Maersk Batur out of Singapore reached the adjacent lock and was ready to be lowered down. It’s really an astonishing eye full watching these gigantic, hulking aggregations of metal slowly glide through the ancient-looking century old concrete of the locks right in front of your face. As the Maersk Batur passed through the lock, a few people onboard even smiled and waved at the crowd, which was a nice ending to such an awe-inspiring experience.

    Words and photos ©2017 Arcane Candy.

    One response to “Is This the Isthmus? Tour – Panama Part 7”

    1. Larry Balma says:

      Very cool, so great art too.

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