7 Oct 2011

Panama City 2 + Canal

From Bocas we returned to the big city to await our boat to Colombia.

The modern day Panama City is unashamedly commercial with little to no soul (and bad food!), the shopping mall is the cathedral of today packed with fast food, nike and aircon disciples. 
Panama City from the entrance to the canal (Pacific side)

Small confession - we joined right in and spent a Sunday tucking into Taco Bell, pursuing the art of shopping (some catching up to do) and going to the cinema with a bucket of popcorn - excellente!!!

We also fulfilled a dream I have had since a very young age, namely to travel through the Panama canal, and it did not disappoint...

Growing up in east Kent, the images and stories surrounding this massive human endeavour that enabled some of the biggest ships on the planet to travel from one ocean to another through the malaria infested jungle were just too much for words.

Of course the grown up cost in human and environmental terms isn't quite so romantic. The French started the modern day project in 1880 but abandoned it in 1893 after 21,900 people (sounds like a soft number!) had died due mainly to malaria and yellow fever. They only achieved 10kms of the 77 target. The Americans bought the French equipment and started again in 1904 and despite another 5,600 deaths it opened in 1914, the biggest difference being that the Americans went to great lengths to control the mosquito driven diseases. 

Today as in 1914 ships are lifted a total of 26 metres through three sets of locks, each lock is 110 ft wide and just over 1000 ft long. Boats of up to 50ft pay approx $1300 today, the most ever paid was a cruise liner last year at $402,000. Daily income is approx $3.2 million. 

Little aside - The people of Panama (only 4 million) should have some of the best education, health care and living conditions on the planet as a result of the fabulous income gained from the canal, but for some strange set of corrupt reasons that is definitely not the case.

One of the tugs in the photo cost $8 million and has diesel engines totalling 68,000 horse power - boys and their toys...

ALL vessels travelling through the canal, no exceptions even nuclear submarines, must hand over control to a Panama Canal pilot, who have to train for 13 years and already be of Captain status. They are paid approx $250k per annum and there are about 110 of them today.

Most of the journey in distance is done through the Gatun Lake (it's huge!) which was created with the damming of the river at the time of construction. Each lock emptying process means 22 million gallons of fresh water being dumped into the ocean, which sounds like a lot. They also built an entire causeway (several kilometres long) on the Pacific side to stop the bay silting up, so one could observe that the environmental effects have been enormous, but hey it saves 22 days of sailing south around the cape so that must justify it right?

All in all an amazing day despite not travelling all the way through to the Caribbean side (whole trip only available 1st Saturday of every month) and with mixed feelings in terms of what it has cost over the last century or so with no visible benefit for the majority of Panamanians.

I would however love to have a go in one of those tugs :)

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing! I had never really given much thought to the Panama canal, but it's incredible! Glad you are having a great time. xKaren