The first time I saw the Panama Canal it was in the dark of night, onboard the USS Truxtun (DDG-103) in November of 2010. We were in the middle of a group sail with the George Bush strike group when we were redirected to get to the coast of Columbia to hunt semi-submersible drug submarines for an extra 3 months out at sea.
This involved us resupplying in Mayport, Florida and booking it to the Panama Canal, where we took a late night transit and were off the coast of Columbia in a week’s time.
Below, just chillin on the bridge wing in the middle of one of the lochs at about 2am, #thatNavylife.
Which is why Panama has remained one of the most elusive countries to me. I’ve seen the city skyline multiple times, but never set foot in the city.
My luck changed with the Visit Panama promotion that was a perk to my flight with Copa Airways. On the last leg of my journey back from South America, I’d have 2 days to hang out in Panama and only had to pay the tax fees for the layover, which was about $50 extra bucks. Awesome deal if you ask me. With 48 hours to play before my flight to San Francisco, I hired a driver to show me the city.
First stop of the morning was the Corozal American Cemetery, where over 5,400 Americans are buried and once I walked through the grounds there, my driver and I drove down the street to the Miraflores lochs of the Panama Canal for a visit to the museum.
DID YOU KNOW: Over 25,000 workers died building the Panama Canal? Some died because of diseases (around 5,000) but a large number of people died digging the canal and the treacherous conditions surrounding it.
When I walked into the museum, the guy at the front door tells me, “Pretty girls start the tour on the 4th floor with a personalized tour guide to explain to them how the Panama Canal works.”
Me: “Why don’t I explain to you how the Panama Canal works since I’ve transited through it twice on my first ship.”
Yes, it’s a true story.
I immediately walked up to the 4th deck where you can stand outside while a commentator tells you facts about the canal and the ships passing through. It’s quite funny, as if the Panama Canal is some sports event.
As it turns out, the exact morning that I went and was standing on the 4th deck, the Panama Canal was making history. The MSC Lisa was the largest container vessel to transit through the old canals, while the Panama Canal expansion is about to open for even larger vessels.
The U.S. owned the Panama Canal until 1999 although Jimmy Carter signed treaties with General Omar Torrijos of Panama in 1977.
On the first floor, there is a mini museum you can walk through for more interesting facts about the building of the Canal, and there is a short video that plays twice an hour. Only in Spanish, but you can get the drift.
It takes about 6-8 hours to transit the canal and in between the lochs is Gutan lake.
You can see the difference in water levels between the barrier. The water level is raised to the draft of the ship, the ship enters the lock, and then the water levels are equalized… alright this is really confusing to explain. Here’s a youtube video that explains it much better.A worker walking across the bridge of the lochs.
On the ground level, I grabbed a coffee at the coffee shop and watched the MSC Lisa go by. Then I went back down to meet my driver who was hanging out in the parking lot. I asked him to drop me off in the middle of town so I could wander through and see the city and meander my way back to my hotel. I hung out by the pool the rest of the day listening to podcasts and drinking cocktails. It was the last day of my trip to South America, and a very good end to my solo travel in South America.
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