On Sunday, the 18th of November we were awakened by the sound of thunder at 5:20 in the morning. Pulling back the curtains of our stateroom we were able to see the coast of Panama, and ahead on the port side of the ship, the lights of the harbor at Colon.
We dressed in our bathing suits, as the temperature and humidity both were very high. Out of the darkness, as the sun rose, we could see many ships waiting for their turn to go through the Canal. It was quite an awesome sight.
Soon there was a knock on our door and breakfast was served to us, a split of Moet & Chandon champagne, hot coffee, fresh fruit and rolls and a crab quiche with Alaska King Crab legs draped over the top. As our friend Benn says, it only costs a little more to go first class.
Finally it was time to enter the Gatun Locks. A small rowboat came out with two men, one to row and one to carry the lines to be used by the small locomotives that help maneuver the large ships through the canal.
Our ship, which was steadied by the locomotives, moved slowly into place in the very tight slot in the canal. I kept looking at that narrow passageway, and I couldn’t help but think that we were not going to make it. However, we did, with just enough room to spare on each side. The ship went in, stopped and the lock doors swung shut behind us. Slowly water was drained from the lock above us into our lock to raise us up. The three locks raised us 85 feet by the same process to the level of Gatun Lake.
The locks closing.
Leaving the third lock, we passed the Gatun dam and spillway. Then we had to wait an hour during a rain shower to be sequenced into the lake shipping traffic. A large Chinese freighter passed us going in the opposite direction and I was a little nervous that we wouldn’t both be able to pass by without running aground but there was plenty of room in the lake channel.
We reached the town of Gamboa, also known as Dredge Central, shortly after we left Gatun Lake. We could see the dredge work being done there and we also saw the two large cranes which are used to remove the lock gates (65 tons each) for maintenance. Also in Gamboa we saw the railroad bridge over the Chagres River. A fast paced train was just going by us and Hubby caught a picture of it.
Then we entered the Culebra Cut, a 9 mile section of the canal that has had a number of landslides, including one which closed the canal for 7 months shortly after it first opened. Along the Culebra cut is the high point at the continental divide. It used to be 600 feet high, but 200 feet have recently been removed to help prevent landslides in the future.
A beautiful single support cable bridge, called Memorial Bridge, crosses the canal just beyond the continental divide. It was quite a sight.
Next we lined up for entrance into the Pedro Miguel Lock, which lowers you 27 feet to the level of Miraflores Lake. As we stood on deck watching this process, we were being observed from behind a chain link secutity fence by Panamanians who waved and greeted us!
We quickly crossed Miraflores Lake and lined up for the last time. The Miraflores Locks bring you down to Pacific Sea level. The lowest lock is the deepest lock, because it must compensate for the 21 foot tide on this end of the canal, so the lock doors are 85 feet high. Here there was a three story building with seats and tables where crowds gathered to watch the ships go by. There was even an announcer who told the Panamanians about the ships and canal in both Spanish and English.
As the ship passed them by, they cheered and waved and the children jumped up and down. Those of us on the ship also waved and cheered.
We saw a Panama Railroad train one more time just before we reached the International Bridge, a bridge which resembles the bridges over the Cape Cod Canal, where I grew up. In the distance you could see the Panama City skyline, quite beautiful, as the sun was setting.
Monday we have been at sea all day. We have seen gulls and dolphins and at breakfast I was surprised to see a whale! I have been a terrible slacker today, but when I finally sat down to write this out, suddenly my computer froze up and after nearly a half an hour of terror (all our pictures were on it and not backed up yet) I was finally able to get it going and immediately downloaded our pictures onto disks!
Tomorrow we will be in Costa Rica! We have a full day planned, including a visit to the rain forest there.