Friday, February 5, 2016


Panama City Skyline
We decided to take a quick trip to Panama so that we could see the Panama Canal which was something Caleb really wanted to do.    In addition, Caroline would have a an excuse to play Van Halen's song "Panama" over and over again.  After an uneventful flight we arrived at Tocumen International Airport.   The hotel we were staying at graciously provided transportation for us.   On the drive over we noticed that Panama City is very modern with many newer skyscrapers dotting the skyline.   Our driver was quite aggressive weaving through the traffic.   The most memorable however was his technique in approaching a toll booth plaza.   We had a few of these, and each time he would seek out a lane that didn't have any cars waiting even if it was 5 or more lanes away.  If the crazy swerving wasn't enough, the gate would raise once it recognized the car through the electronic tolling system.  The driver had obviously done this often such that he had it timed so that the gate would open just before the car would have it.  For us sitting and watching, it seemed like for sure he was going to just blast through the gate without stopping.   We made it each time, but the gate wouldn't even be all the way vertical yet when we were passing through.  I wonder if he has ever hit it.  

We struggled a bit communicating in Panama given that we know as much Spanish as most people we encountered knew English.  That's to say not much.   Google translate helped immensely here.   We considered taking a bus to the canal but read that there were some areas that weren't safe to be walking around.   We didn't want to inadvertently end up in one of these areas so we decided to take a cab.   Actually, we tried Uber for the first time.   It worked out great.  Putting the destination into the app avoided miscommunication for our intended destination.   Also, we didn't have to negotiate the price down from the high tourist rates many cab drivers try for.  The payment is just fixed based on the time and distance.   I actually wish I would have used them previously on the trip.

The Panama Canal has it's visitor's center at the Miraflores Locks.  This is a double step lock near the Pacific side of the lock.   We were able to watch a large cargo and tanker ship make its way through the locks.   It is cool to see such a huge ship get lifted up in this water elevator.   The ships are pulled along with these mechanical "mules" that run on tracks on both sides of the canal.    We could see in the distance the construction area where they a building a new set of locks to accommodate even bigger ships.  We learned about the history of the canal through the visitor's center.  A few facts that I thought were interesting:

• The French had originally been the ones to start constructing the canal but after several years they abandoned the project.  The United States finished it in 1913.
• The United States relinquished full operational control of the canal to Panama in 1999.
• The canal is 48 miles long, most of which is through artificial lakes.  
• The canal saves 7800 miles for a trip by sea from New York to San Francisco.
• There are 3 sets of locks to get the ships up 85 feet and back down again to cross the Continental Divide.

We also learned of a website called MarineTraffic which the kids really liked.  It provided the geographical location of all the ships and information about the vessels.   Caleb enjoyed looking up the boats that were passing though and figuring out how much they weighed, etc… 

View of the Canal out to the Pacific Ocean
Large Freighter passing through the canal
Caroline, Danielle, and Eden at the Canal

Near the Miraflores Locks

Lock Gates Closing

The ships get pulled by the silver "mules" on the tracks adjacent to the canal

Group Photo

After visiting the canal we went to Casco Viejo, which is the old town in Panama city.  The streets are paved in red brick and many of the buildings have great character.  There is a lot of restoration occurring to preserve this area of town.  After exploring this area and having a meal we headed back to the hotel.

We departed back for the airport the next morning.  It was a short visit but I'm glad we did it.  The Panama Canal is an impressive feat of engineering and it was good to see it firsthand.

Casco Viejo

Lunch at a restaurant in Casco Viejo

1 comment:

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