Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Panama Canal: Eighth wonder of the world in a land that time forgot

Massive freighter enters a lock in the Panama Canal  (Taylor)
PANAMA CANAL ZONE, PANAMA Travel tip: If you really want to see the Panama Canal and how it operates, do it by land and sea rather than on a trans-canal cruise.
With a land/sea tour, travelers see the canal from the inside- out as well as the outside-in, discover the history, tour the manmade Gatun Lake, visit Panamanian craftsmen, scoot across the top of a rain forest and see the country up close and personal for about half the price of a cruise.
Some ships only have an 18-inch clearance on each side of a lock  (Taylor)
Collette Vacations offers one of the best travel packages going to this "land between the seas" where the 100 year old waterway connects the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean. You might just say that touring Panama through the countryside is a "lock."
The world's 50  mile shortcut
The fifty mile Panama Canal project began in 1881 with French teams attempting to link the oceans, but a high mortality rate, largely due to malaria, and engineering problems halted construction until 1904 when the United States took up the challenge.
As one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects in history, the canal eventually opened a decade later in 1914 allowing ships to reduce transit time between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as avoiding the hazardous route around Cape Horn at the tip of South America.
Curiosity seeker on Lake Gatun
There are only six locks for ships to negotiate, three at each end of the canal before exiting into the manmade Gatun Lake which was created to reduce the amount of excavation work. Though both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean are on relatively the same level, the lake sits about 85-feet above sea level, thus making the locks necessary.
While the canal has served its purpose magnificently for more than a century, the need for wider locks became necessary to accommodate modern-day shipping that is even larger. As a consequence, Post-Panamax ships have been making transits through an expanded canal and a third set of locks which began operation only about a year ago.
Where the old canal links with the new (Taylor)
Since its opening in 1914, when approximately 1,000 ships went through the canal, more than 850,000 vessels had cleared the locks by 2013 through one of man's finest architectural achievements.
Today, more than 15,000 ships transit the canal annually.
The canal can now handle modern day ships that are longer
and wider  (Taylor)
As early as 1534, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, ordered a survey across the Isthmus of Panama to determine if it would be possible to bypass the lower tip of South America. Not only would that be a major trade advantage but a huge military factor over the Portuguese as well.
Fast forward nearly four centuries later, and there was interest by some Americans to run the canal through Nicaragua rather than Panama.
Panama is new to tourism
By 1903 Panama declared its independence from Columbia, and as part of the recognition of the new country, a treaty was signed granting the United States rights to build the canal and indefinitely administer the Panama Canal Zone. In the process, the language of the treaty was misinterpreted as granting the U.S. a "99 year lease" on the project.
Though contentious for many months, in 1903, the Republic of Panama became a U.S. protectorate until 1939.
Freighters can carry huge loads to waiting railways  (Taylor)
Once convinced that Panama was a better location than Nicaragua, President Theodore Roosevelt stated at the time "I took the Isthmus, started the canal and then left Congress not to debate the canal, but to debate me."
Using the abandoned French equipment and excavations, including the Panama Railroad, work resumed primarily in the area known as the Culebra Cut.
Culebra Cut is now filled in to make Lake Gatun  (Taylor)
Lake Gatun was artificially created by closing off the mouth of the Chagres River, lowering the walls of Culebra Cut and dredging approach culverts. Large military bases were also constructed to defend the project.
Among the key factors in the success of the canal was the administration of John Frank Stevens, a self-educated engineer, who had the vision to bypass bureaucratic red-tape and send requests directly to the Roosevelt administration in Washington.
Monument to Goethals (Taylor)
Stevens recognized the need for proper housing, cafeterias, hotels, water systems and repair shops to aide the thousands of workers on the project.
Unlike the French approach, Stevens had the imagination to cut through the mountains and dam the Chagres River.
When Stevens resigned as chief engineer in 1907, he was replaced by Major George Washington Goethals of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who completed the project.
To this day the names Stevens and Goethals are as revered in Panama as any beloved leader in the history of any other country.
Cemetery honors the Panamanian soldiers and workers who died working on the canal (Taylor)
In October, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson sent a signal from the White House via telegraph to Panama. That signal triggered the explosion which flooded the Culebra Cut and created Lake Gatun. In that historic moment, the Caribbean Sea united with the Pacific Ocean.
And on August 15, 1914, the freighter Ancon became the first ship to transit the new Panama Canal. During the ten year of construction, some 5,600 workers lost their lives.
The Miraflores Locks building is also a museum telling the history of the canal  (Taylor)
For travelers interested in not only seeing the locks of the Panama Canal, but searching for wildlife on Lake Gatun, browsing the historic museum in the Miraflores Locks building on the Pacific Ocean side of the canal and immersing yourself into the wonders of the Panama Canal, the only way to do it is by land and water.
Panamanians will greet you with a
smile (Taylor)
Tourism is new to Panama. The infrastructure is there for travelers to savor with all the comforts of home, but the people themselves are still going through the learning curve of how best to adapt to their new role in the world. It is that gentleness and kindness of spirit that makes Panama unique and gives it its charm.
For visitors, that translates to stepping into the past to tour a land that time forgot while traveling to a place you will long remember.