Panama Canal

Before we get to the Panama Canal, on Sunday we visited a small town on a tropical island off the coast of Panama called Bocas Del Toro.  It is one of a group of islands, largely owned by United Fruit Co., which exports hundreds of thousands of tons of bananas every year, mostly to Europe.  They tell us that Columbus landed here on one of his voyages, & repaired one of his ships on one of the islands in this group.  Anyway, here is your opportunity to finally see this place you have never heard of before, and probably will never hear of again.  As mentioned the other day, if you hover your mouse over a picture, a caption will pop up.

Bocas Del Toro

Town Hall, Bocas Del Toro Many rooted trees in park, Bocas Del Toro

Simon Bolivar statue, Bocas Del Toro Christmas Tree in park, Bocas Del Toro

Library, Bocas Del Toro, with Mary

Leaving Bocas Del Toro we saw this unusual island, which reminded us of a certain animated character some of you might be hip enough to know.

Lionturtle, near Bocas Del Toro

On Monday we traversed the Panama Canal.  Interestingly, because Panama is shaped like an S the canal runs from Northwest on the Atlantic side to Southeast on the Pacific side.  After entering the canal from the Caribbean, you are lifted about 85 feet by 3 levels of locks at Gatun.  Then you cross a huge man-made lake, created by damming the Chagres River.  Then on the Pacific side you descend about 85 feet, one level at the Pedro Miguel lock, then two more levels at the Miraflores locks.

The current canal is only big enough to handle about 94% of the ships in the world, so they are building a new larger canal that will be able to handle the rest.  The larger canal, which is quite near the current one, was actually started by the United States in the late 1930’s but never completed because of the war.  Ships have to make a reservation to go through the canal more than a year in advance; it costs about $50,000 just for a reservation and another $250,000 or so to actually go through (rates are determined by weight), and all transactions are cash-in-advance.

The French tried first to build a canal across Panama in the late 19th century, but failed because they tried to do the whole thing at sea level (with no locks) & because of mosquito transmitted disease, particularly yellow fever which killed more than 25,000 workers.  When the Americans came in, they were able to exterminate all of the disease-carrying mosquitos, an impressive feat (particularly because those at the top refused to believe that mosquitos were the cause of disease).  There have been no cases of Yellow Fever in Panama since 1907.

Anyway here are a few of our pictures; the narrative above is designed to help you place where the pictures were taken along the canal.

Entering Panam Canal on Caribbean side - to left is the new canal under construction, to right is the old canal

First 2 locks at Gatun, with ship on second level on right entering lock at Gatun, dark part of lock doors will be underwater when ready to move to next level

Gatun lock doors tucked into canal wall Mechanical mule

You can see in the picture on the left above how the lock doors fit flush into the walls of the canal when open.  On the right is one of the mechanical “mules”; two of these on each side help guide the ship through the locks with ropes.  Below are two workers in a tiny rowboat next to the ship; the mule’s ropes are thrown down to them & they take them over to attach to the ship.  It looks pretty precarious from where we were standing.

Men in rowboat waiting for mooring rope from Prinsendam

Rick & Mary at Gatun Side of ship & canal wall

I tried to insert some video here of the locks opening, but apparently I can’t do that without being online.  So I probably won’t be able to do videos, since the internet is spotty & expensive onboard this ship.  Maybe I will figure it out later.

Mary at last lock door at Gatun (2)   Rick & Mary viewing canal from front of Prinsendam Pelican by the canal

05 Lock door opening at Gatun 08 Mule surmounting incline at Gatun

15 Rick at GatunWindstar 4 mast yacht moving from 1st to 2d level at Gatun

The ship above right is a 4 mast yacht operated by the Windstar cruise line.  Our captain told us near the end of the canal that he had been captain of that ship for 4 years.  Small world.

Below left are islands in the man-made Gatun lake that were mountaintops before the dam was built to create the lake.  The crest in the distance in the  picture below right is actually the top of the earthen dam built by the Americans to create the lake; it is half a mile wide at its base.

Islands in manmade Gatun Lake used to be mountain tops Dam of Chagres river near Gatun.  Far shore is a manmade earthen dam, half a mile thick at its base

Calebra cut, with terracesContinental Divide

Above left is a small portion of the “Calebra Cut,” which was several miles of solid rock they had to blast through to create the canal.  The terraces are where earth moving equipment & rail cars were brought to cut out the walls, layer by layer.  On the right is another portion of the cut, at the continental divide.

Blue Heron next to canal Dredging canal for larger ships from new canal (2)

Everybody likes wildlife, so above is a blue heron (I think) standing by the canal.  On the right they are dredging the canal to make it big enough for the larger ships that will come through the new canal locks.

People stopped to watch the ship pass Crowd at viewing platform at Miraflores locks watching us

Above are people stopped to watch our ship, first near the Pedro Miguel lock and then at the viewing center at Miraflores.  It was odd to see people taking our picture!  We had to stop at Miraflores for one of our passengers to be taken off in an ambulance.  Since he walked to the ambulance, we are hoping that nothing was seriously wrong.  Below left is a beautiful bird with swallow-like divided tail, many of which we saw at Miraflores, and below right is the Panama Railway, the first transcontinental railroad.  Then pictures of the Bridge of the Americas (where the Pan American Highway crosses the Panama Canal on its way from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego), and of Panama City at the Pacific end of the canal.

Swallow like bird at Miraflores locks (2) Panama railway, the first transcontinental railroad

Bridge of the Americas (4)

Panama City from Pacifi

That’s it for Panama.  Today it’s raining cats & dogs here in the Pacific Ocean but we are hoping for better weather tomorrow when we go ashore in Manta, Ecuador, where we will arrive at 4:00 AM.  The Captain has already apologized for waking us that early with the maneuvering engines but I’m sure an apology won’t seem like enough tomorrow morning.  We will probably post again after leaving Ecuador in a few days.

One response

  1. Irene Cohen

    I loved seeing these photos, Rick, of the land of my birth! My cousin used to be the head guy supervising the mules on the canal. I also remember as a kid, seeing Queen Elizabeth appearing in that tower & waving to all who wanted to see her. And, finally, my Grandfather went to work for the Panama Railroad in 1939. My mother was 14 at the time.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. 💓

    September 16, 2018 at 2:07 pm

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