Monday, 21 December 2009
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Alright, even though it sometimes seemed like it, the Panama vacation was not only about family or wedding. There was another very important element. Sightseeing. Even in the limited time, my guide showed me a lot! Most important: The Panama canal. Seriously. If you ever go to Panama and have to decide between seeing your dying uncle and seeing the canal, ah, you better, ah, … never mind. But really, do trade everything else they might tell you is important for the canal. It is AWESOME! If you like big things you will never want to leave. You come across the canal pretty much with everything in Panama, but deservedly so. I don’t want to bore you with details, but just consider this:Panama December 2009 161

They have been thinking about a canal since 1523. The first who really gave it a go where the French in 1883, who, all said and done, could not make it happen (go figure). This was however not due to lack of effort. The guy they chose had successfully built the Suez Canal and in the 6 years they really tried it 22,000 workers died, mostly from malaria and yellow fever. Apparently it is a lot harder to build a canal through the jungle than through the desert. The French finished about a sixth of the canal.Panama December 2009 163

The Americans then gave it a go in 1903. Until they finished in 1914 it still cost almost another 6,000 people their lives. Overall 116 Million pounds of dynamite were used (KABOOM). Over 150 million cubic meters of earth were moved. That is a lot of dirt, if I may say so myself. The canal is 81 km long and shaves off about 20,000km of your journey compared to the voyage around the cape. You have to overcome an elevation difference of 26 meters between the 2 oceans and this is done in the giant locks. There is an own class of ships being built to the specifications of being able to pass the Panama canal locks. They are called PANAMAX ships and they can be have a maximum length of 295m and a maximum width of 32m. Most ships built these days are bigger than the maximum specifications, so since 2007 they have been working on expanding the canal (more KABOOM!). To go through one of the locks requires moving 197 million liters of water. To navigate the canal you have to have a Panamanian captain, which will usually be the pilot on board for the crossing. A canal passage takes somewhere between 8 to 10 hours, however, due to the heavy traffic it is now more like 12 hours on average. The price to go through depends on tonnage of the ship and is about $150,000 on average with the highest price paid so far at $317,000.  Panama December 2009 136

They have built a visitor center at the Miraflores locks and should I ever disappear and can not be located, give the viewing platform there a look. I’ll probably stand there with my mouth open.

Somewhat related to the canal are 2 bridges. Believe me, they know about bridges in Panama. They have the Bridge of the Americas, which for decades was the only roadway connecting North & South America. And then they have the far more recent Centennial Bridge which, most importantly, was built by Germans (feel free to contact us for any large-scale project you might have). Both well worth a look and crossing if you have the time!

This brings me to the next subject you need to be aware about: Driving in Panama. Take my advice: if you can at all avoid it, do so. If not, be aware of old, young, middle-aged, male & female drivers. Also know that in Panama, a car is totaled and fully depreciated if the horn does not work. I must assume that by law you are required to use the horn nonstop. Traffic lights are merely a colorful light display. If at all possible, drive a powerful, armored 4 wheel drive car. If given a choice, I would personally go for an M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. Contact the United States Marine Corps for details. That should protect you of most things that can happen to you. It probably won’t protect you against the taxis, the hundreds of people trying to sell you stuff in the middle of the road and the buses (Diablos Rojos – Red Devils). Here I can only suggest prayer, repentance and wish you good luck at the pearly gates.

Should you still be alive, there is then a lot more to see. However, I will have to tell you about it next time. Have a good night.

Monday, 21 December 2009 01:48:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  |