Panama Canal

This final installment of our Panama trip focuses on what some people travel to Panama for to see above all other things the country has to offer: the Panama Canal.

Our last day in Panama City, before flying home, was spent touring the "old city" (Casco Viejo) again with Gretchen, Doug and Sonya, having a nice final dinner at one of the best restaurants in the city-- Scena and visiting the famous Canal.

Just a background for those of you who have forgotten what you learned about the Canal in your middle school history class (some data below gathered from wikipedia):

The Panama Canal is a 48 mile ship canal that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and acts as a key conduit for international trade. Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships in the canal's early days to 14,702 vessels in 2008.

One of the largest engineering projects ever undertaken, the Canal had an enormous impact on shipping between the two Oceans, replacing the long and treacherous route via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco via the canal travels 6,000 miles, well under half the 22,500 km (14,000 miles) route around Cape Horn.

The concept of a Canal near Panama dates to the early 16th century. The first attempt to construct a canal began in 1880 under French leadership, but was abandoned after 21,900 workers died, largely from disease (particularly malaria and yellow fever) and landslides. The United States launched a second effort, incurring a further 5,600 deaths but succeeding in opening the canal in 1914. The US kept control of the Canal until September 7, 1977 when US President Jimmy Carter gave the Panamanians free control of the Canal so long as Panama signed a treaty guaranteeing the permanent neutrality of the Canal.

The treaty led to full Panamanian control effective at noon on December 31, 1999, and the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) assumed command of the waterway.

As with toll bridges, ships passing through the Canal must pay a fee. This fee is based on the size of the ship usually and the most expensive toll to date was a Disney Cruise ship that paid $331K to pass through in 2008. According to the tour guide at the Canal, this fee is around the norm these days for all large ships.

In case you were wondering... it seems that they charge ANY kind of vessel that goes through this passage. The least expensive toll recorded was .36 cents charged to an American adventurer that swam the Canal in 1928.

Tom enjoyed the tour as his engineering background sort of pre-disposes him to that enjoyment. For me--it is interesting yes, but I have been to the Ballard Locks SO MANY TIMES (in Seattle that this to me was just the Ballard Locks, on a larger scale...And no clam chowder restaurants within walking distance :)

I kid, I kid. It is an amazing world wonder and its construction brought a great deal of international presence and monetary gain to and for Panama and for that I am grateful. It is a gorgeous country and as I have said, we cannot wait to visit again.

Here are some pics Tom took of the Canal.

View from our hotel in Panama City--the start of the Canal.

Shots of a ship making its way into the Canal

These little "cars" keep the ships centered while traveling through the Canal; and a shot of the doors/water barriers of the locks.

A website for the Panama Canal for more information


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