The Panama Canal
07/29/2008 - 07/30/2008
We have arrived safely in Panama City. Yesterday, we went shopping and purchased a new digital camera. Let's hope this one lasts for awhile. There's a great shopping mall here called Albrook, which is very similar to the malls back in Arizona. In fact, it reminded us of the Chandler Fashion Center.
The population of Panama is very diverse, with people from many different ethnic backgrounds. The official currency is the U.S. Dollar, and prices on most items are similar to the States. The real estate market is still strong here and the city skyline is filled with high-rise condos under construction.
Today we visited the Miraflores Locks at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. It's quite an impressive operation. They have an excellent visitor center with lots of interactive displays and exhibits. The U.S. completed construction of the Canal in 1914, and oversaw its operation for more than 85 years. However, as part of a treaty agreement, the canal was officially handed over to Panama in 1999.
The Panama Canal is a lock-type canal, approximately 80 kilometers long, that joins the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Canal's three sets of locks operate as water lifts to elevate ships 26 meters above sea level to the level of Gatun Lake. Ships then cross the channel and are lowered back down to sea level on the other side by another series of locks. The entire process takes approximately eight hours.
It was really neat to see the locks in operation. A large container ship was about to enter the Canal system as we arrived. Cables are attached to the ship and small electric train engines guide it through the lock system. At the correct time, water starts to flow from one chamber to the next. When the water has equalized, the giant gates open and the ship continues to the next section.
Passing through the Canal certainly isn't cheap. The fee for the ship above was over $66,000. When the U.S controlled the Canal, Panama only received a small portion of the fees. Today, the Canal generates more than $500 million a year for Panama and efforts are underway to add three additional locks which will be able to accommodate much larger ships.
In the afternoon, we visited some older sections of Panama City called Casco Viejo and Panama Viejo. These areas have a very rich history, with cobblestone streets and a mix of colonial architecture. Many of the government buildings and embassies are located in this part of town.
Tomorrow, we are planning to move on to El Valle, a mountain town about 120 kilometers west of Panama City.
Steve & Ann