Hello friends!! Today I will share one of the best and most memorable travel experience of my life. I am sure you all might have heard or some might have even seen this massive man made canal known as ‘Panama Canal.’ Infact mention Panama and most people will immediately think of its famous canal. And why not, it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and the country’s topmost attraction. The Canal was designed to let ships travel between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans with a passage through Central America.
Well, the golden opportunity to see this incredible system came along my way while I was on ship. We were travelling from Baltimore, US to Nagoya, Japan. It was a month long voyage where we had to cross the whole of pacific. Entering from the Atlantic Ocean, we had to transit the canal, exit at the pacific end and continue our journey towards Japan. I was way too excited as I have a heard a lot about this canal from my husband and other officers onboard. Transit was at 4 in the morning and I made sure I was at bridge with my friend, Smriti by 3.45. Our cameras were ready to shot and we were all set to witness the transit through world’s busiest canal.
Before I share all my experiences, let me brief the structure of canal. It consists of three sets of locks, several improved and artificial channels, and many lakes in between. An artificial lake, known as Alajuela acts as a reservoir for the canal. Locks help in the passage of ship as they consist of a system, that lifts a ship upto 85 feet (26 metres) to the main elevation of the Panama Canal and down again.
It usually takes full 24 hours to sail through the canal with much of that time spent waiting in anchorage with dozens of other ships. We were anchored a night before near Cristobal, the port of Panama towards Atlantic. The anchorage was beautiful, with so many small and big ships glowing in the night. The vastness of ocean, cloudy sky and lights of ships around totally mesmerized me. And I must say that was a scenic beginning of Panama Canal transit.
We arrived at Cristobal, and the first lock we had to cross was ‘Gatun Locks.’ These locks are on the carribean side of canal and lie near city of Colon. It was 4 in the morning and sun wasn’t up yet. We could see a huge ship beside us leaving Gatun Locks towards Atlantic. We were so startled to see the whole process of how a lock helps in ship transit. This was something we never saw before; hence we were busy observing every tiny detail. How lock gates open and captain and pilot onboard navigate the ship inside, how water fills and raise the ship and finally let it transit at higher elevation. At this moment I really felt a sense of gratitude and proud for all those engineers who made this possible. It was beyond our imaginations.
While crossing Gatun locks, dawn broke and canal was even more beautiful in daylight. The locks end up in a lake known as ‘Gatun Lake’ and you have nothing but so much of serenity ahead of you. Blue green clear waters, small green islands and stumps of old mahogany trees rising from the water. It’s really a visual treat. The lake is really long and in the centre of the lake is Guacha Island, a wildlife sanctuary. You will find many ships anchored here as they wait for their turn for the transit. The exquisiteness of this place is something I cant describe or capture in my camera. The sky was full of clouds, turning blue and grey, blue waters, greenery everywhere and small islands in between turning the whole view so picturesque. I was in awe of nature and its splendor. Silver clouds all over the peaks at distance and sunrays making them shine in between.
While you cruise along this lake to reach another major lock, you might be lucky to see sloths, spider monkeys, tamarins, capybaras, caymans and crocodiles. The ship was cruising really slowly through this lake and it soon turned hot. We were tired and sweaty but not in a mood to miss anything. We sat at the deck appreciating beauty all around, clicking pictures and waiting to reach next locks which was ‘Pedro Miguel’. And before we reach we saw a road bridge, which is called, as ‘The Centennial Bridge’ second major road crossing of the Panama Canal.
Since Panama is located in tropical region rains here are very unpredictable. We were about to reach pedro miguel locks when it started pouring in. We knew this would happen as we could see thick back clouds approaching us. But now we had to move inside. We were sad but soon the blues vanished away as we were called to forward station to see the transit.
Now this was again something out of the world. Till now we were at deck and being at height lock gates and water was below us, but as soon as we reached forward station, everything was closer and clearer. We could even see the crew working and all the operations being carried out. Being in forward station we also had a chance to interact with Panama Canal crew, who were onboard to help us transit. They happily clicked pictures with us and gifted us magnets and souvenirs. We really enjoyed our time here. By the time rain has stopped and we were back at deck.
We were now crossing ‘Miraflores Lake’ and soon we will be reaching the last lock gate of Panama Canal, ‘Mira Flores.’ From this lock gate one reaches Balboa harbor/port, which opens up in the Pacific. This is the last port of Panama before we enter the mighty Pacific Ocean. Mira flores locks have a visitor’s centre, where tourists across the world gather to see ship’s transit and also take the canal tour.
While exiting there is a huge container terminal, knows as ‘Balboa Container Terminal.’ Also you will see the gorgeous ‘Bridge of Americas’, which spans the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. It’s a gigantic road bridge overlooking pacific and I made sure I click enough pictures here. While you cross Balboa you will have the exceptional view of Panama city and huge skyscrapers.
You will see pacific at a distance dark blue in colour, fishing boats and yachts parked, clouds covering the sky, green islands in between, many ships anchored or sailing ahead you towards pacific. It’s a sight that remains not just in your memory but your heart. The transit ended here and our journey to Japan continued.
I came back to room after a full day of sight seeing and admiration. I was exhausted and dropped dead on my bed. My husband was still in engine room, working as the canal transit has just finished. I was lying down and thinking about the experience I had today. I always read about Panama Canal in my geography books, but never thought I would be able to see it some day. It’s an unusual world out there of which we know nothing and can’t even envision.
Well, some might say that there is nothing remarkable to see in Panama Canal or in transit, but I totally disagree on this. It’s a lifetime experience to see the functioning of world’s biggest and busiest canal.
While seeing the canal and its technology I really felt the hardwork and dedication people put in to make this world a better and easy place for all of us.