A Visit to The Panama Canal

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The Miraflores locks is the part of the Panama Canal located closest to the Pacific Ocean and Panama City. There is a visitor center with a museum and multiple viewing platforms. Everything has been layed out for the visitors’ Panama Canal viewing pleasure.  It is widely referred to as an engineering marvel, no wonder why two keen engineers (and two general keeners) were overly stoked to see it in real life action!

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The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Ocean and was built between the years of 1881 and 1914. With the drilling performed during the construction, a hole could have been drilled straight through our planet plus another 900 kilometers! In order to save labor during construction, man-made Gatun Lake is utilized for the passing. The lake is 26 meters above sea level and explains the need for the locks.

The Panama Canal is the only canal in the world where the captain of a ship give the control of the vessel to a trained pilot. The Panama Canal pilots are marine officers graduated from nautical school, who are especially trained to transit vessels through the canal. The size of the Panama Canal locks dictate the size of most cargo vessels. The largest ships that can fit through the canal are called Panamax. Generally, the size of the vessels transiting through the canal must fit within the dimensions 32.3 meters by 294.1 meters. More than one million vessels have transited through the Panama Canal since the opening in 1914.

We witnessed two of these today. Both ships were boats carrying boats! Apparently 6% of the transiting ships carry boats, whereas the most common type is container cargo ships making up for 54%. The rest make up for a mix of various cargo ships and tourist ships.

Notice in the photos below how the first ship (the other one is behind in the right sets of locks) approach the last sets of locks, gets lowered down and then pulled forward by six trains before eventually arriving at the Pacific Ocean. The little hills for the trains are made to compensate for the height difference made by the locks.

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We were not the only keeners on the viewing platform. That is where we spent most of our time. However, at 4 pm we realized the centre was closing at 5 pm and we had to spring into action to see it all. We went through the museum and learnt about the past, the present and the future of the canal. A third sets of locks are currently being constructed. They will be bigger than today’s, allowing for larger ships to pass though. After the museum, we caught the day’s last showing of the Panama Canal 3D movie. It was informative, and also highly entertaining. All 3D effects were being utilized. Containers went flying through the air, steel beams extended towards us with little movies inside them and so on. It was a great finish to a truly interesting experience!

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Panama Canal, it was well worth the drive!

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Team funlovingliving Exploring Panama City

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First of all, let me introduce you to the new funlovingliving team!

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From left: Kyler, Ellie, Siri, Todd

I have known Ellie since 2000 when I was an AFS exchange student in Delaware, USA, for a year in high school. Ellie’s family opened their doors and hearts to me. That year made way for lifelong friendships and they are all like family to me and Kyler. Ellie’s dad is from New Zealand and for the past few years, Ellie has been living there. Todd is Ellie’s awesome boyfriend from New Zealand, who we had the pleasure to meet for the first time three days ago, here in Panama City! We will be traveling together for the next month. Fun times have already been had and more fun times are on their way!

Our first day together in Panama was dedicated to taking care of business. Our vehicle importation permit would run out on January 10th and we wanted to be able to spend more time in Panama. We drove and drove around the city in search of the right office to get the extension. We first went to a police station (marked down as an immigration office on the map). They told us to go to the other side of town to find the immigration office. We drove there, entered, get told I have to wear a top with sleeves, go change, go back, get a number, get told Kyler has to wear pants, not shorts, go change, go back, get a new number, wait in line, get called up and get told that, oh, for the vehicle you have to go to the customs office. Unfortunately, they have no idea where the customs office is… We decide it is time to recharge with some lunch and Internet to find out where the customs office is located. We finally find out and set out with new energy and courage towards the customs office.

The office is a long hallway with a few different windows. We are pointed to the last window where we explain what we need. An older man points for us to enter his office, where he tells us to write a letter addressed to Herman Espino (which turns out to be himself) where we request an extension. The letter had to contain certain information, but he was speaking at the speed of sound and we were struggling to understand. He gave us a blank piece of paper and pointed for us to leave. Out in the hallway we sat down an felt like we were writing a Spanish exam paper in school. What we were able to scribble down was embarrassingly short and poorly written. We only had the one piece of paper, Ellie and Todd were boiling in the car, so we decided to hand it in and give it a shot! About an hour later, the papers had been moved from here to there, stapled together, signed and Herman Espino was finally ready to give it the final stamp. We passed the test! The extension had been given and we are now free to stay in Panama until February 10th.

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The next day, with the extension in hand, we were ready to explore the city. We drove across the Panama Canal bridge in daylight and stopped at a viewing platform donated by the Chinese (all due to a missed turn). It gave us a great view of the port and the bridge.

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Quite happy about missing the turn, we returned back across the bridge and made the right turn onto the Amador Causeway. The causeway was made from extracted rock from the making of the canal and serves as a breakwater. It connects four islands with mainland and is a beautiful stretch of land.

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On the causeway, we visited a Smithsonian Nature Centre located on what used to be a fort protecting the canal. When realizing, after WW2 and Pearl Harbor, that missiles could be fired from long distances, the fort was made obsolete and is now housing aquariums, sloths, birds, six armed sea stars and iguanas instead.

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We moved on through the slums to get to Panama City’s old town, Casco Viejo. It is quite obviously very old, with a large part of the buildings in poor condition. Parts had been upgraded to cater to tourists, but in general this part of the city did not seem to house much of local life. However, it was interesting to see it and the old buildings versus the skyscrapers across the water provided an insight into the diversity of Panama City.

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Off to the Miraflores locks and museum to inspect the engineering marvel of a canal up close!