A Mighty Big Deal in Panama - The Panama Canal

Friday, June 2nd

"Are you going to the canal??"

That was the first question anyone asked when we announced we were going to Panama.  It makes sense, really.  Panama is really known for the canal.

Except for me.  I knew the Panama Canal was a thing.  But I didn't entirely understand what kind of a thing it actually was.

The day before our cruise, we spent a day in Panama City.  It rained and we honestly didn't get a full feel for the city.  As much as I will say we can have a great day despite the rain, it's always a lie.  Rain changes everything and makes you hate the world.  But you put on a brave face as long as you can and you try to duck into buildings and take long lunches to wait out mother nature.

You might also have to wear a poncho.

We ducked out of the rain and into the Panama Canal Museum in the Old Town district of San Felipe of Panama City.  Adele and I had scoped this out a few days earlier as we Ubered it to meet a former co-worker for dinner and thought it might be something to do.  I don't think we expected it to be one of the only sightseeing things we were going to do in Panama City.  But it was.  And it worked for us.

The Canal Museum is a non-profit museum devoted to the construction and maintenance of the canal.  Makes sense, really.  It goes from the pre-canal days up through the transfer of the control from the US to Panama and for $10 (non-resident), it's a small price to pay.

You couldn't take pictures inside of the museum (though Adele did try and was shut down quickly).  The signage was a bit minimal, but we made our way from the importance of Panama before the canal and the two countries that tried to create the canal (only one was successful.  Sorry, France!!).  We saw the problems building the canal and stories of slaves (it's not just the US that had slaves, folks).  And we saw the pride when the canal was opened.  We were a little rushed near the end of our time at the museum (not the museum's fault.  We had lunch reservations), so we didn't see much of the handoff from the US to Panama.  Though it was nice to see President Carter again.  He signed the handoff in 1977 and Panama gained control over the canal on December 31, 1999.

The next day, we went on a cruise in the canal.

Our tour with Gamboa Tours began in the Amador Causeway.  We were dropped off by the van that picked us up at the hotel.  The Amador Causeway is a place where we should have spent more time.  Sure, it's a tourist stretch, but the causeway is a boardwalk of sorts that is filled with shopping and food.  The Frank Gehry designed Biodiversity Museum was there and based on our history with Gehry buildings, we wanted to go, but couldn't really find the time.  Looking back (months later), we should have found time to hang out here.  Next time, Panama.  Next time.

There's the Biodiversity Museum on the left hand side.

It was at the end of the Amador Causeway that we met up with the cruise.  We boarded a large ship and quickly made our way to the top level.  This is where traveling during the low season is great.  The cruise was maybe a quarter or a third of the way full.  So grabbing a seat out in the sun wasn't super difficult.  But it was necessary.  I was a little concerned I'd get seasick.  Happily, I did not.

We started in the third row and made our way to the front row almost immediately.

Adele chose the partial transit tour of the canal.  It ended up being the best option.  The tour started in the morning at the causeway and we made our way north up to and into the canal.  We entered the Pedro Miguel Locks and then the Miraflores Locks.  After going through the locks, we had a nice lunch on the ship and ended our tour around Gamboa.  At that point, we got on a bus and drove back to where we started.

It may sound like I'm just speeding through the meat of the cruise.  And honestly, I kind of am.  Once you get on the ship, there isn't much to do other than look around.  And after looking around for a bit, going through locks a few times, there isn't much to do.  I took pictures, reapplied sunscreen (multiple times), and had a lovely day outside.

This was the cargo ship we followed the whole day.

The tourist cruises in the Panama Canal need to follow the same rules as ships that contain cargo.  So we had specific times when we could go into each of the locks.  And really, that was cool.  Seeing how the locks work.  Closing the gates and seeing how the water rises or lowers depending on where we were in the canal.  The spectacle was great.  But doing two or three locks was enough.

One door closes and the water is let in or out.  Depending on where you are in the process.

I don't know what this building was, but the crowd had definitely formed as we went through one of the locks.

By the middle of the last lock, I had retreated into the ship.  I was happy to get out of the beating sun (though SPF 110 was my constant companion) and get into some air conditioning.  We were served a nice meal with plantains and chicken and once we finished eating, we had made our way to our drop off point.  It took us about an hour to get back to the causeway, taking the same general road we had been on a few days before, as we left the Jungle Lodge.

As we pulled into the lock... 
They used a rope to secure us at the top of the lock structure.

And the guys on the boat secured us too.

Another worker made sure the ship didn't scrape against the wall.

We arrived back to the causeway around 3p and our driver was there waiting for us.  It was kind of a bummer since we thought we might be able to shop and wander the causeway for a few minutes.  But it was not meant to be.  Sure, we could have gone back later in the day, but this was the last day in Panama.  And we were beat.  So the Amador Causeway would have to wait until next time.

I can't stress enough how important the Panama Canal is to the country of Panama.  Or the world, really.  Over our time in Panama, it was amazing to see how the canal was always a part of what was going on around us.  Spending our last day in the canal was the perfect way to end our journey to Panama.


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