Friday, November 8, 2013

Miraflores Locks

The Panama Canal.  Up close.  Personal.
Next up in the whirlwind tour of all Panama City has to offer:  the Panama Canal.  More specifically, the Miraflores Locks, the canal locks closest to the Pacific Ocean.

I'm not going to reiterate the whole history of the Panama Canal and pretend that I knew it when I was copying wikipedia, but let's just say that (a) the building of the Panama Canal was a monumental engineering achievement, (b) it is the seminal event in the history of Panama, and (c) it is extremely important to the whole economy of the Republic of Panama.

The skies opened up and it started pouring rain on the drive over the Miraflores Locks.  It lightened up by the time we got to the Miraflores Locks, which are about eight miles from the Port of Balboa alongside the canal.  Eight miles may not seem like much, but considering that the whole canal is only about 48 miles long, that's a decent percentage of the entirety of the canal's length.

The purpose of the locks is to raise ocean-going ships from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake, the middle section of the canal, 85 feet.  Here is the view looking down at the Pacific side of the locks:

Miraflores Lock
This will give you a better view of the drop to Pacific level:
Miraflores Locks:  downward view
Unfortunately, I did not get to see a ship go through the locks.  The tour of the Miraflores Locks includes a 3-D film on the construction of the canal, and a small museum:

Artist's rendering of workers shoveling away rock on the original canal construction project
Tickets for the whole she-bang are only $8.00.  Panama is not a bargain-hunter's paradise.  They use U.S. dollars as their national currency and prices are comparable to those in most U.S. cities.  But the $8.00 admission price was worth it.  I'd pay even more if I could be guaranteed seeing a ship go through the locks and see the locks water level rise and fall.

Alas, I had paid my driver for only a four-hour tour.  So there was no waiting around on the off-chance a ship would roll through.  So it was back to the Country Inn & Suites in the old Canal Zone.  I was planning on walking down the Amador Causeway, but the skies really opened up and it was coming down in sheets of rain for the rest of the afternoon.  Apparently this is the "wet" season in Panama.  There is a dry season.  It lasts for about a week and a half late January, early February.

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