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Panama day 2 – Panama Canal

Posted by on June 7, 2011
Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal from a distance

The Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal.

Since I was in Panama, there was one place that I wanted to go, no matter what, which was the Panama Canal and see it for myself as it is one of human kind’s most amazing engineering feats ever accomplished in history. Built in the early 1900s, this nearly 50 mile canal is one of human engineering’s greatest feats to where thousands of ships ranging from oil tankers to sailboats all go through to get from one ocean to the other.

The main place that you want to go to see is called the Miraflores Locks. These locks show how ships go in and out of the Pacific side and Atlantic side. I never knew how it all worked but I got an idea after going there. I originally thought that both sides of the water were of equal elevation but that was not the case at all. Due to geographical differences of the mountains and hills, people were forced to adapt and overcome them with a series of water levels. This had to be created so boats could go into one place, lock the gates, fill the area up with water (or drain the water) so it can proceed to the next level to another set of gates and repeat the same sequence until the ship is finally out.. I can’t explain the ingenuity of it but there are many sites that are more than willing to explain to you.

It costs about $5-10US to go to Miraflores from Panama City depending on the time of day and how good your Spanish is (and yes, the currency of Panama is the US dollar). Due to studying Spanish in school and learning on my own, I can speak passable Spanish so I’m able to get what I want or need. It just so happened that I went to the locks during midday which is when traffic is at its worst in the city so I got charged more – $8US. When you get there, there’s an entrance which requires people to pay to get in which costs about $8 (depending on status). The fee allows you not only to see the Locks from the building’s top story but also entrance to its theater and museum as well. I think I liked the view of it the most.

Miraflores Locks of Panama Canal

Me posing at the Miraflores Locks.

I didn’t see the movie they were playing because I didn’t want to just sit there for an hour watching about building the Canal. I wanted to see the Canal with my own eyes. So after buying my ticket and going through security, I went in see the museum first as I didn’t see any boats in the Locks. The museum was very interesting as it not only explained the difficulty of building it but also how people from all over the world came over to encounter so many challenges of different rock formations, bugs, animals, fish, and the jungle. The museum, in order to show what these people were faced with, had plenty of these living organisms to showcase in its aquariums. I thought the bugs were the most interesting part as they have some big old boys like below:

Big beetles of Panama at the Miraflores Locks Museum at the Panama Canal

Some of the critters workers encountered in the jungle while digging the Canal.

Big moths in the museum of the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal

Could you imagine if one of these things flew right at you in the face? Some worker did.

Another interesting thing I saw was this fossilized Rhino tooth that workers discovered as they were digging years ago:

Fossilized rhino tooth found during dig of Panama Canal

Fossilized rhino tooth that was found during the dig.

After I left the museum, I went upstairs which I then heard an announcement that a ship was coming through the Locks. I could already see some small sailboats trying to get through which I had to see how these Locks worked. Then after seeing how the operation flowed, I easily understood how the Locks worked.

Sailboats going through the Miraflores Locks of Panama Canal

Size doesn't matter to the Locks; all boats have to go through no matter what.

Big boat coming in through the Miraflores Locks of Panama Canal

Big boat coming in through the Locks and needs to be helped by getting towed. Otherwise, the sides of the boat will get scraped and damaged.

But then after about 20-30 minutes, I saw this big freighter ship filled with containers on it. Contrast the differences between a sailboat and a huge freighter. Look at how the freighter needs these 4 vehicles to tow it versus 4 people carrying ropes for a sailboat. The Panama Canal serves approximately over 5% of all water commerce in the world and I could see how important it is to the government of Panama and the rest of the world. Instead of spending more time, energy, and money going around South America, you could just go through the Panama Canal. The information I got was in order to cross the Canal it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (preferably in cash) and it required 2-3 days of waiting just to go through. It’s a major operation that everyone should see; just imagine how much labor, pain, time, energy, and headaches this canal gave back in the 1900s without the technology of today? Too much…



And dang, that music from Carnival was sure loud during the night! There were people streaming all over the place around the hotel that were heading towards it as well and the area I’m in was generally a quiet area.