Panama City, Panama

  • Date
  • 7 October 2001
  • Lodging
  • Miramar Hotel
  • Distance
  • 1620 KM
  • Total
  • 217881 KM

All my life I’ve heard about the importance of the Panama Canal, and just after college I learned more about it when I dated a guy who spent a few years on one of the nearby bases due to his career-military father. To see it firsthand was a must for me. Jim and I arrived to find two enormous cargo ships passing through the Miraflores Locks, and just as I’ve been told, there looked to be almost no room between the ships’ shell and the canal wall.

The Panama Canal turned out to be much smaller than I had imagined – yes, it runs 80 kilometers, but spectators don’t view most of that. The real action is when a ship passes through one of the three locks, where the tightest spot is 33.5 meters wide. The average cost a vessel pays, to be piloted through the stretch by one of the canal’s captains, is US$45,000 and the entire passing takes roughly 24 hours.

Almost since the Panama Canal opened in 1914, there have been constant, on-going widening programs, and, at present, Panama reports a US$1 billion expansion underway. Seems that back in the early 1900s, the architects – in their 10 years of building the canal – should have envisioned a need for a wider passageway through the locks, but I suppose they showed enormous forethought when looking at the boats being used back then. In an ever-changing and modern world – planning 100 years out is perhaps impossible.

The most shocking part of our Panama Canal visit was the hundreds of homes left empty from the 31 December 1999 pullout of the American military and their families, leaving a developed and well-built ghost town in the area around the canal. The US gave the military homes and facilities to the Panamanian government when the Canal reverted to Panama and we are told that the present government is trying to sell the homes for US$150, 000.