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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Panama Canal

Traversing the Panama Canal was a big bucket list item for me, so I was really excited. I had visions of Theodore Roosevelt consulting on a dig site, moustached engineers conferring with one another as they looked over blueprints, and (now) antique machines removing dirt by the ton to make way for the ships of the future.

Centennial Bridge, 1/2 way up the canal
Obviously all of my ideas were rooted a bit in the past, but seriously, I wanted to see this WONDER that was made before modern technology. I mean, this thing changed the way the world could trade and import. Super exciting, dudes!

The start of the journey (or: Justin's toupee)
So, we got picked up in the city by a tour bus and two hours later (we rode the bus to the middle of the canal and floated back through to the city) we were headed down one of the man made wonders of the world. It was really incredible, seeing huge cargo ships right up against us in the Pedro Miguel Locks that filled completely (with almost 27 million gallons of water, mind you) in just 8 minutes--that's less time than it takes to fill an average bathtub.
This ship was massive compared to our teeny little tour boat 
Up close (within 40 feet) Notice the sailors in the windows 1/2 way down the hull
Being from Seattle, we were familiar with the idea of locks, but these dwarfed those in Ballard by a mile. The second set, a series of two, were called the Miraflores Locks. They were built one after the other to raise passing ships the final height (86 meters) to the level of the ocean (or raise them, depending on which direction they were headed).
Double Doors of Pedro Miguel Locks open after we've been lowered

Going through to man made Gatun Lake
The canal took more than 45,000 people to build and ten years to complete, after the US took over the abandoned French construction in 1904. They are currently working on expanding it and constantly have to re-dig the canal floor, as erosion and rain cause it to fill back in with dirt and silt a considerable amount every year.

There are two bridges along the latter half of the canal, the Centennial and The Bridge to the Americas. We got about 1002 pictures of the Centennial Bridge because our camera was about to die.

Centennial Bridge, Panama Canal
Centennial Bridge

Centennial Bridge, Panama Canal

Centennial Bridge, Panama Canal

Centennial Bridge, Panama Canal
We finally got a moment at the front of the boat, had to get our fill of photos. :) 
Bridge of the Americas, Panama Canal
Bridge of the Americas, Panama Canal

We also came across the crazy building below several times in our site seeing. As it happens, it was designed by Frank Gehry, the same man who designed the Experience Music project in Seattle (could you tell?). 

It's actually a biodiversity museum that has been under construction for over ten years and is millions of dollars over budget. They assured us it would "be open next month." Apparently thats been their promise for awhile...


Above you can see the incredible views of the city as we came round the last bend in the canal. I love the difference in perspective between the two photos.

Interestingly, only certified canal captains can drive boats through the canal. Because of this, every ship must allow a canal captain to board before entering the canal. Obviously, at the end of the trip, the captain must then disembark. Below is the captain rescue crew coming up to our tour boat to collect their employee.

Apparently, being a canal captain is one of the rarest, highly technical jobs in the world. These folks must know how to pilot everything from a small dingy (not likely to pay to cross the canal, but you never know) to top secret sub marines--and in order to pass, you must give up your vessel to the canal employee. 

All in all, though the day was grey, the canal tour was a great experience that we'd recommend to anyone. You can certainly see it without taking the tour, but I'd really recommend going for the full shebang.