November 6th, 2011
When you say Panama, most people will think of the Panama Canal, a man made waterway connecting the Pacific with the Atlantic, allowing ships to cut across without sailing all the way around the southern tip of South America.
Of the three sets of locks on the canal, the Miraflores are the closest to Panama City, and only a few minutes ride from where I was staying (By the time you read this, Panama Passage will have moved to a new location, closer to the airport, but further from the canal). The Miraflores locks are also the most tourist friendly, with covered viewing areas and a series of exhibits inside about the canal.
There is also a restaurant with what looked like an amazing buffet. At $33usd, I passed on it.
There are two veiwing areas, but the upper one, with enough height to see into the locks, is more popular. Since it was also packed, the stairs were a popular choice two. I guess I should be glad there was no fire. Because visiting the museum is an additional charge, you can’t get from the upper platform into the building.
before the locks filled with water, to allow the ships to carry on.
The big, expensive cargo ships usually enter first thing in the morning, before the museum building opens (and before I want to be awake). This lets them complete the transit before dark. No ships are allowed to travel through overnight, to reduce accidents. So the locks work one way in the morning, and the other way in the afternoons, with the ships crossing paths in a man-made lake near the middle.
I watched the ships go through, then headed inside to the musuem.
The exhibits started with the French attempt to build the canal, starting in the late 1800s. They made some progress, but were defeated by Yellow Fever, and the limits of technology of the day. They weren’t gone very long before the USA started looking at finishing the canal.
The US team brought improved health care, paved roads (to reduce mosquito populations) and improved technology, particularly in steam railroads and dredgers .
When the canal was finished, the USA set up a protected area around it, basically US soil, and stationed troops and administrative staff. It wasn’t all bad, Summit Zoo, near Miraflores, is a park area that was part of the protected zone, as was Ancon (the hill I climbed on my first day in the city). Without US protection of these areas, it is possible they would now be covered in houses. Of course, since Panama has set aside massive areas for preservation and conservation, it’s also possible nothing would be different.
Either way, most of the area along the canal is still under government protection, and part of the museum details some of the wildlife (and insects) within the rainforests. In case you were wondering, the bugs were dead. At least, they didn’t move while I was there.
The part of the museum set aside for showing how the canal worked was undergoing maintenance, so I didn’t get to see it, and the last floor covered the modern canal, and the plans (to be completed in 2014, 100 years after the canal opened) to increase the size of the locks.
When I was done with the tour I got lunch (not the buffet), and walked around some.
I did consider staying for the afternoon session, which is really the only time to see big container ships, but I also wanted to check on my parts and I had some other things to get done, so I opted to head back to the hostel. After the on-schedule afternoon rains, of course.
One thing I have to say about Panama, it rains there a lot. But it was just rain and when is slacked off the ride was uneventful.