We arrived back Stateside last night, but are still wrapping up our final Panama Excursion postings. Lucky you! As far as FFDH goes, it is like we haven't really left (Panama, that is) or came back (to the States, that is).
After a grueling all-day bus ride from our magical beach villa surf retreat, we made it back to Panama City. The bus ride took 3 hours longer than was expected due to the highway (I use the term "highway" rather generously here) being blocked off by angry and frustrated townspeople up in the mountains protesting their lack of fresh water. We don't know if the municipal water pipes were broken, or if there was no municipal water service, or if the wells ran dry, or what, but angry, frustrated and probably thirsty folks were protesting, so the bus had to turn around and detour. I hope they get what they need to live and work and be healthy.
On to the locks. . .
To set the stage for the Panama Canal Locks, think hot tropical sun, palm trees, jungle, and amazing feats of endurance, engineering, public health policy, and political double-crossing.
The whole concept of a lock canal (vs a sea-level canal, which is really just a big ditch connecting two bigger bodies of water) is really awesome. The Panama Canal, through its use of locks, lifts boats up and over the mountains that run along the length of Panama.
The Panama Canal Authority does a far better job of explaining this process, so check out their site. TURN YOUR SOUND OFF OR DOWN. There is loud audio of barge ships sounding their horns when you open the site, so if you are at work (kudos to you, you dilly-dallier time waster! ) or have sleeping babies nearby, or don't want to hear barge ship horns, turn your audio down.
Totally cool, don't you think?
Our first stop was to watch the huge shipping boats pass through at the Pedro Miguel Locks. The Pedro Miguel Locks connect the locks to the big lake in the middle. If you are curious, check out the map of where the locks are relative to the oceans, the cities, the big lake in the middle (again, check your audio volume). http://www.pancanal.com/eng/general/howitworks/como-tour.html
We pulled over at a "scenic overlook" kind of a spot, and marvelled at the size of the whole thing. If it were not for the pesky chain-link fence, we would have been able to reach out and touch the tugs that were on hand to help steer the boats into or out of the lock channels.
Once we were sufficiently impressed and overwhelmed, Orlando herded us back into the taxi to take us to the Miraflores Locks.
The Miraflores Locks are the locks that connect the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean at Panama City. There is a 4 story tourist center there with a great deck from which you can watch the whole thing from above. These shots were taken from 4 stories up. . . keep that in mind when you think about the size and scope of the boats and the canal in the pictures.
The hugeness of the whole things is mind boggling. The two channels/lanes are each only about 30 yards across. The canal that splits North America and South America is only as wide as 1/2 a football field. Yet, it is totally massive, the boats that go through there seem so HUGE!!! Some fit in the canal channel with only a foot or two to spare. WOW!!
In these pictures, you can see the different levels of the water in the channel when the lock doors are close, the size of the boats in the locks, and some of our fellow lock-oglers up on the observation deck.
In our little videos below, you can see the canal filling, ships moving in and out of the locks, lock doors closing and opening. . . the whole deal.
For a real-time view of the canal, you can check out live camera links to the canal. Yay, Panama Canal Authority! http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html
The canal was completed almost 100 years ago, and is still working beautifully. For a really great history of the building of the canal, complete with all the stories of political double-crossing, US-backed revolution, the massive public health campaign to wipe out yellow fever, and the crowning engineering feats of the day, read _The Path Between the Seas_.
For quick-read factoids, Wikipedia has a nice Panama Canal Page
One last cool tidbit - since the water in the locks is fresh water from the lake, sea faring shipping boats coming through the canal reap the added benefit of having all their sea-water loving barnacles die off. Cool, huh!