Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal (Pacific end)
On Saturday afternoon I arrived in Panama City
from Colombia. First time flying in a while, but no bothers apart from the over zealous manual bag checks in Barranquilla airport.
I was met at the airport by my couchsurf host Rosario and her family. While they drove me back home, they were asking questions about me driving, but I didn't take them seriously until they told me I was going to be driving the family car if we wanted to see anything. Scary, I had only driven a kart in the last 7 months!
Luckily the traffic is generally quiet on the weekends in Panama City. On Sunday morning we went to the Miraflores Locks, which is the last lock before boats go out into the Pacific Ocean. While there the first boat through was big, but not that big, but the second one was a Panamax.
This is a boat with the dimensions for the biggest boat allowable through the canal locks. It was a container ship with about 6 stories of containers loaded onto the deck. The clearance each side of the boat is only 60cm! The boat is tugged along by a team of electric mules on rails, supplied by Mitsubishi at about 2.5 million US dollars each (known as the Balboa in Panama). There is a spillover dam which allows all the excess water displaced by the biggest boats to go away without flooding the locks. So as we passed the dam coming in over a bridge, there was just a trickle of water at the bottom, but when the boat had come over it was now like a lake!
Yesterday we got up very early, but still almost not early enough, to get the tourist train from Panama City to Colon
The train runs through the jungle alongside the canal and at one point crosses through the middle of Lago Gatun, the lake created on the land side of the Gatun locks (where boats enter the canal from the Atlantic side). It was a very scenic ride, but unfortunately it had to end in Colon, which has fallen from being a useful city to now being a centre of crime and despair. We went to the Gatun locks by taxi, where we got a much closer view of the workings of the locks, with the bonus of seeing two Panamax boats together in the locks, both going towards the Pacific. Then we went to relax and eat lunch at the Hotel Melia Panama Canal, where I fell asleep in the gazebo overlooking Lago Gatun for an hour. Very peaceful.
Today I am going by plane to Isla Contadora
in the Pearch Archipelago, for some sun and crystal clear seas.