On June 9th I was elated to head to the airport for our third set of visitors on this RTW adventure-my parents!! I couldn’t believe that it had been a year since we said goodbye to them in the Kelowna Airport. The plan was to explore as much of Panama as we possible could for two weeks together. Let the Hughes-Enns adventures begin!!
Panama is a skinny little country at the very southern tip of Central America. Despite it’s small size, the country has a ton of importance in the world because of the Panama Canal. Way back in the 16th Century, the Spanish discovered this area and initially wrote it off entirely because of it’s unfriendly native inhabitants, ridiculously dense jungles, slews of mosquitoes and wonderful tropical diseases. However, they later realized that Panama was the narrowest point between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and an ideal connection (on foot at this time) to move gold from Peru back to Spain. Other countries soon took note of the benefits in this area and wanted a piece of the action. Battles ensued between Spanish colonists and Dutch and English pirates, including Sir Henry Morgan himself (more on that in our Portobelo post).
Fast forward to the 19th Century and although the Spanish were now out of the picture, the idea of utilizing Panama as a connection between the two oceans had not died. In fact, the powers of the world had taken notice of this and the idea of a canal was born. We spent our first day in Panama learning about how it came to be.
June is part of the rainy season in Panama so there is usually a massive downpour most afternoons. We decided to spend our morning outside cycling along the Amador Causeway and then head inside to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Centre to see the Panama Canal.
The Amador Causeway was created around the same time as The Canal-it was built to join four islands to the mainland. Among other things, it acts as a breakwater for The Canal. It’s a beautiful spot for walking and cycling and has lots of great little cafes along the way.It was a smokin’ hot morning so after sweating our tails off for a couple of hours we felt no guilt whatsoever indulging in gelato as we checked out the yachts at the end of the Causeway.
We arrived at the Miraflores Locks Visitor Centerjust in time to get out of the rain. We started with a tour of the museum which chronicled how the original contract for The Canal was given to the French. After 22,000 workers had died from yellow fever and malaria, the canal was still far from complete and the company was in financial trouble-they couldn’t complete the project. The US were the next to take on the task and in 1914 they completed the 83km canal.
The crazy thing is that the massive boats that come through The Canal only have about 2 feet on each side of them to get through. The “locks”, like the Miraflores Locks where we watched the action from, act like elevators. Water flows from lock to lock, raising the boats up from sea level to make it to Lake Gatun, and then back down again to get back to sea level and into the ocean. We were mesmerized watching the boats go through. And we were amazed to hear that the big container ships pay $400,000 for passage on The Canal!!
I guess its not just ships that use The Canal. On the way home we ran into a sign that you don’t see too often in Canada!
A great first day in Panama with “mis padres”!! From here we decided to rent a vehicle and do a road trip through El Valle and the pirate town of Portobelo. So much to see!!!