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Traversing the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal

A journey of a lifetime can sometimes be summed up in a short boat ride.  So is the case of our journey through the Panama Canal.  

When one first hears about a canal that connects the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic, one can only marvel hat such a feat was achieved so many years ago.  Van is quite the historian and had recently read a book on the politics and creation involved in the successful completion go the canal in the early 1900’s.  Seeing the marvel much as it looked in it’s inception was an amazing adventure.  The technology was brilliant in the end.  And still functions perfectly today.  The impact on the environment is fairly significant.  There are dams created to manage the fresh water and huge amounts of water that flow in and out of the locks.  The journey is magical and fast!  

Our trip took us by bus from the port at the Flamenco Marina to the docks at Gamboa on Lake Gatun.  We booked with Panama Marine Adventures as one of my goals was to travel the locks.  There are only two local companies that provide these tours and the schedule varies daily as to direction and time.  We arrived at the Marina for a9:30 am departure.  We arrived about 30 minutes later at Gamboa.  

The boat was a smaller vessel that just qualified for the lower rates.  It still costs about $4000 per trip for this boat to travel through the locks.  We were able to secure a special transit where we along with 6 sailboats traversed the canal without any other larger boats with us in the locks.  We went from the Lake through three steps down on the original canal pathways.  There is a split where the really big ships can now traverse.  I took a lot of video while the tour guide was telling us things of interest.  It is amazing how the system works.  Watching the locks open and close is amazing just in itself.  The speed at which the boat falls in our case since we were stepping down to sea level was amazing to experience.  As I stood at the side of the ship you could see it lower in just 8 minutes generally about 30 feet in that time.  We stepped down in three stages to get down to sea level.

We enjoyed a nice lunch between locks one and two.  The Mira Flores locks were a two step process and amazing to experience.  Thousands of people visit the museum there where they can watch the process from the outside.  The canal traffic is regulated by a single control person.  Direction can be only one way or both ways just depending on time of day and demand.  Each ship and boat pays a fee based on the size and weight of the ship.  

We returned to the Pacific and to the Flamenco Marina before 2:30 pm so the journey was pretty quick.  We saw many ships waiting to traverse the canal the next time the traffic was allowed to go from the Pacific to the Caribbean which would be later in the day.  We traveled from Gatun Lake South to the Pacific.  The journey was the culmination of years of dreaming that I might someday travel through the canal and be amazed at the magnificent structure which saves ships many many hours of sailing time and fuel costs.  The tolls through the canal are still the most affordable way to travel from ocean to ocean as it adds nearly two weeks to each trip to go around and all the fuel and labor for that additional time.  Amazing journey!  There is nothing quite like it for sure on this planet!  Maybe someday…but for now it is the only connecting path through.

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