Panama Day 7. Checked Off Another Bucket List Item On A Visit To The Panama Canal
Followers of my blog would know my desire to travel the world started in elementary school. As impossible as it seemed at the time ( my family was very poor), I wanted to see the Great Wall of China, Ayers Rock, the Pyramids, the Acropolis , the Panama Canal, and so many others exotic and historic places I first learned about in grade school. I loved the Geography and History classes taught by the Bernadine nuns at Transfiguration Parochial School in West Hazleton Pennsylvania. I dreamed of someday being able to visit these places. This was many decades ago and I have been blessed to have visited so many of the wonders of the world I learned about in those classes in my early years.
And on this trip I would finally visit another, the famous Panama Canal. I still remember the Geography book , ( the photo I found on Google is one of the actual books ) with it’s photos of the famous canal and the large ships making their way through the massive locks. It was called the “Eight Wonder of the World” I wanted to go there. ( I wanted to go everywhere.) So I was looking forward to the tour I had scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday on my recent visit to Panama. . My guide, Orlando, arrived at the Panama Marriot hotel and immediately impressed me with his perfect English and knowledge of Panama, and the Panama Canal. I didn’t realize I had booked a private tour, so just the two of us were soon on our way to the Canal.
We drove about fives miles to the Miraflores Locks, the first set of locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. I already had learned so much more about the Canal on the short ride here. And I would learn a lot more.
We entered the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center. It was crowded. The reason for the crowd the entry of a large cargo ship into one of the two locks. You are able to watch the large ship enter the lock and watch as it is lowered as water is released from the lock. It was an interesting and informative experience.
Once lowered the lock will be opened, and the ship will than continue it’s journey, that began on the Atlantic Ocean. It would s leave the Canal, and continue on the Pacific Ocean. Weeks of travel, and large amounts of fuel are saved by taking this shortcut through the Isthmus of Panama instead of sailing around South America.
As I watched the ship move through the locks, I saw this much larger cargo ship in the background. I learned, for the first time, that the Canal built by the United States from 1904 to 1914 was recently enlarge and expanded. Two new locks were added, one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic entrances to the Canal allowing much larger cargo ship to transit the locks.
I learned even more about the Canal after watching a beautifully produced, and informative 3D movie about the history of Panama and the Canal in the Visitor Center, . I again learned, for the first time, that a large part of the Canal is a man made lake, Gatun Lake , created by damming the raging Chagres River in 1912. Ships are raised to the higher elevation of the lake in the locks, cross the Isthmus on Gatun Lake, and are lowered back to sea level at the other end of the Canal.
And I would should learn firsthand the experience of traveling on Gatun Lake. After the movie we left the Miraflores Locks and drove on the now familiar road to the town of Gamboa. I had just had a wonderful five day stay at the nearby Canopy Tower ecolodge
Orlando gave me much more information about the history, culture, and wildlife of Panama. We drove to a boat launch on the Charges River that creates Gatun Lake. It was a partly sunny and mild afternoon, perfect weather for a boat ride on the “Panama Canal”.
As I boarded the small boat I still found it hard to believe this lake was a part of the famous Panama Canal. I always imagined that my voyage through the Canal be on a long narrow waterway with tropical rainforest on both sides of the Canal. I sure was wrong.
It didn’t look so large in the distance but I became aware of the massive size of the ship as we got closer . The number of large ships on the canal, i.e. lake are regulated and there is always a wait at the locks to enter the canal. Some pay a million dollars for the passage. I learned smaller ships are also allowed to use the canal, for, of course, a much smaller fee, just a few $100 dollars, for a small private boat.
In addition to seeing and learning about the canal, the tour included nature watching and a visit to the “monkey islands”. There were many islands created when the Chagres River was dammed creating Gatun Lake
they also were waiting for us and gave us a wonderful show in exchange for a few bananas. While we watched the capuchin monkeys as another boat of tourist arrived making the monkeys even more excited. It wasn’t a natural scene, the monkeys here obviously have come to expect their handouts, but it still was a wonderful experience to see these still wild primates up close . Here is a link to a gallery on my blog webpage with some more photos of the monkeys . Panama Day 7 Panama Canal monkeys October 22 2023.
We also saw the Panama Express Train traveling along the shore. I love trains, and hope to return someday and travel on this one. We returned to the dock and drove back to my hotel near the Albrook Mall. It was almost 6 p.m. when we arrived. It was a great afternoon with a great guide. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog webpage with some more photos from my visit to the Panama Canal. Panama Day 7 Panama Canal October 22 2023.
I was very hungry, I only had a light breakfast so I had to eat. I didn’t want to walk through the crowded mall again, as on the previous evening, so I decided to eat at the hotel. After showering, I had a nice meal at the hotel restaurant starting with an interesting and delicious Caesar’s salad,
I also had a cup of coffee, I rarely drink coffee this late. I was tired from my long day, but I knew I had to stay up to watch my favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles play the Miami Dolphins. I returned to my room hoping to watch it on a local station. It wasn’t on any station and I couldn’t find it on the internet on my laptop computer. So I returned to the restaurant/bar where I found in on one of the televisions near the bar.
I also had a late dessert, another cup of coffee and ‘a dessert I think was called ‘tres leches’ it was three separate desserts of chocolate, cake and ice cream topped with rich cream. It was delicious.
I was rewarded with my determination to watch the Eagles game. They beat the Dolphins. It was at least the fourth time I watched the Eagles win while in a foreign country. I have also watched them win games while I was in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, in Cienfuegos Cuba and London England. I was exhausted and ready for sleep. It was another great day in Panama. I reflected those carefree days so many years ago when I first learned of the Panama Canal. I finally saw the “Eight Wonder” of the world and crossed off another item on a very long bucket list. I feel asleep looking forward to one more day of exploring Panama before I would head to the airport hotel the next evening.
“Oh the places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss
“To travel is to live.” – Hans Christian Andersen
” Born to wander, Born to roam; blame it on my gypsy soul. – Anonymous