Panama Canal, Mercado des Mariscos, Casco Viejo, September 29, 2017
The beds in my dorm at Luna's Castle are sort of like capsule beds in Japan-
We each have our own light and a curtain we can pull for privacy but unfortunately no plug in. The curtains work really well to keep out the cold - I decided to book a room with AC after hearing about the horrendous heat and humidity in Panama. It rains often so how could it be any different? The AC in our room is excellent and luckily I have a couple of blankets. Also, when I pull the curtain closed, my bed becomes a private room of my own.
After an included breakfast of pancakes, I started out for Miraflores to see the canal. It was pouring but fortunately after about 20 minutes it stopped, at least enough to get going. It is possible to go with Uber to the canal - two girls did it yesterday for $6 US each way, but I decided to check out the very new metro instead. After a 20 minute walk down a pedestrian only very commercial street, I came to the station. After buying a plastic, rechargeable card for $2 and adding some fare money, I was on my way. Upon arriving at the last stop, Albrook, I crossed the pedestrian sky walk to what turned out to be the National Bus Terminal in Panama. It's very similar to the one in San Pedro Sula, Honduras - filled with modern shops and many many ticket kiosks to go everywhere and anywhere in Panama and Central America. Passing through the terminal is where the local buses stop and for 25 cents, I was on my way to Miraflores. Now, the bus leaves the carreterra and drives the kilometer or so right to the entrance of the canal - something fairly new apparently.
I bought my $15 US ticket and went straight upstairs to the viewing deck and was lucky to see 2 ships in the process of passing. The first was in the main locks and was from Singapore.
The lock is ready and the ship is on its way-
The French were the first to begin digging the canal in 1879. The ditch was 22 meters wide and 8 meters deep. In 1884, there were 19,243 workers, mainly from Jamaica. Thousands died of yellow fever and malaria. In 1903, the canal was handed over to the United States to complete and update. It took 11 years. Over 150 million cubic meters of concrete and steel were used in construction. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed it over to Panama, effective December 31, 1999. This would also end U.S. military presence in Panama. By 2010, over one million vessels had crossed the Isthmus of Panama since its inauguration in 1914.
Rates are reviewed often. The cheapest crossing cost 36 cents paid by Richard Halliburton, a swimmer, in 1928! Today however, it's not cheap. Smaller ships pay $300,000 - $500,000 and large ships using the Neo Panamax pay $500,000 to $800,000. There are 14,000 transits/year. You do the math! Today close to 50% of total revenues come from container ships as opposed to former days of vessels carrying corn, soy, wheat, minerals and petroleum products.
The museum has some interesting artifacts. The Corozol, a ladder dredge, was built in Scotland and started working in Panama in 1912. It had 52 buckets so it could dig more than 1000 tons of material in less than 40 minutes-
There is also a fast forward video from an actual crossing, complete with sound effects, so it seemed like I was on the ship going through the chambers-
It has a floor dedicated to the flora and fauna of the region including Owl Butterflies-
The Canal is an 80 km waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It takes 8-10 hours to pass through a total of 5 locks in 3 lock complexes each with 2 lanes. At Gatun, on the Atlantic side, ships are raised 26 meters in 2 steps. After passing the Continental Divide, they are lowered back to sea level. Ships entering from the Pacific at Miraflores are raised 16 meters in 2 steps. The middle stop is called the Pedro Miguel Locks where in one step ships are raised to 26 meters-
A lock is 304.8 meters long to accommodate a 284.1 meter ship and 33.5 meters wide to accommodate 32.3 meter ships. They are as tall as an 8 story building. All chambers have the same dimensions and it takes 100 million litres of water to fill them. There are 40 pairs of miter gates with a 2 meter thickness and 19 meter width. They are 14 to 22 meters high depending where they are. Miraflores has the highest because of tidal variation. Each set weighs 730 tons.
Walking back to the hostel, I had a $3 lunch from a restaurante on the street-
There was a lot of fish to choose from including Red Snapper-
The vegetables looked fabulous-
Later on, I went on a walking tour of Casco Viejo. Reconstruction has only been happening for 4 years and is quite remarkable when I see the rubbiness to the newness. Up until recently, Casco Viejo was run down and only poor locals lived here. Now it's bustling with renovated hotels, restaurants, apartments, shops and bars-
According to the Heritage Council, the outside must remain intact but the inside can be gutted-
Parts of the original wall remain-
Looking forward to more exploring tomorrow!