We are up at 6 AM to see our grand entrance. They open up the bow of the ship. There are 200+ guests munching Panama buns with their morning coffee. There are 25+ freighters at anchor as the sun rises in the mist. We approach the breakwater slowly. Ahead of us is a freighter and strangely enough, a sail boat. We pass a port with another 25 freighters at anchor. This is Colon I believe where we will dock on our way back. We are clearly on one of the world’s backbones of trade.
We enter the Gatun (pronounced gatoon) locks and are impressed. There are little electric locomotives that attach cables and pull the ship. We go through 2 locks which takes us up 85 ft above sea level to Gatun Lake. We pass a stand of Jacaranda (pronounced hacarand) trees with yellow and purple blooms. Butterflies flit across the deck. Everyone waves as a big freighter goes by in the other direction.
These are “the old” locks opened in 1914. They are 110′ W x 1000′ L twin channels. There are also new wider locks that cost 5$B+ and were completed last year. They are 180′ W x 1400′ long but single channel only. More than a million ships have traversed the 80 km between the 2 oceans. It takes us less than 2 hours to go through to Gatun lake. Very, very impressive. The history not so much. Thousands of workers died due to yellow fever and thousands of locals were forced from their land when they created Gatun Lake. However everyone is happy that there are no mosquitos anymore!
We spend a lazy afternoon on the promenade deck. We dream about a Pacific cruise someday. The ship is soon reversing it’s course back through the locks. We get off at Colon 2 hours later. We walk to the duty free Zone but most stores have closed and the area is not pleasant. We stop for some beer – Balboa – and it tastes great. The outdoor cafe is packed and everyone is talking and laughing. Panama is a very interesting place but not your cozy tourist destination we observe.
Back on board we put our feet up and marvel at having had another great day on this great cruise.