Saturday, May 09, 2009

Hasta luego, Panama!

You know what they say about "all work and no play".... We spent much of my week in Panama working on inventory, but on Friday afternoon, the Cabo Panama manager, Herb Butler, took the afternoon to show us some of his favorite spots. He is from Smithers, B.C. and has quickly transitioned to living and working in the Central America.

Herb (below with Roger) took us to Cabo's new office on the old Howard Airforce Base; it was interesting to see the huge infrastructure leftover from the America's time in Panama.

Here is a video (just click on the triangle) of some leaf cutter ants. We had seen them before and found them fascinating to watch. Leaf-cutter ants have powerful jaws which vibrate a thousand times a second to slice off pieces of leaf. Size for size, their bodies are amazingly powerful, able to carry pieces of leaf that weigh at least 20 times their own body weight - that's the same as a human carrying a one ton load.

Herb took us to a photo op spot, the Bridge of the Americas, and then to a local fruit market --Safeway's produce section doesn't look like this!

On Saturday, we hoped to take a half day trip on a boat that would take us through the locks. As it turned out, the tour was sold out, so we decided to take a taxi to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center.

We had a great day as we lucked into getting a wonderful, informative taxi driver, Adriano, (with us below) from our hotel who spent a few hours with us as our guide. Our timing was great as we saw a huge container ship, plus 4 sailboats transit the locks while we were there.

As you can see with the photos and videos, the ships are guided into the lock by trains that use cables to slow the ship down, and then help it exit. This system has been used for almost 100 years, but in the new set of locks being constructed, tug boats will be at the bow and stern to guide the ships through.

Click on the button on the next 2 videos to see the tanker move through the Miraflores locks...

Afterwards, we visited the interpretive center which opened about 3 years ago and is an excellent place to learn about the canal system.

Did you know?

  • A boat traveling from New York to San Francisco saves 7,872 miles by using the 50 mile long Panama Canal instead of going around Cape Horn.

  • Ships transiting the canal must be raised 85 feet to cross the Continental Divide, and then lowered again to sea level - the transit takes about 8 to 10 hours

  • The canal runs north/south --- not east west (which still confuses me)

  • Tropical diseases killed some 22,000 workers when France first attempted to build a canal in the 1800s. The United States completed it in 1914. French artist, Paul Gauguin was employed as a labourer on the canal in 1887

  • The Canal operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

  • Each lock is 110 feet wide by 1,000 feet long.

  • Work is being done to widen the canal, as well as another set of locks is being constructed that will allow larger cruise ships and tankers to transit the canal

  • There were 14,011 oceangoing transits in 2005

  • The lowest toll paid was US$ 0.36 and was paid by Richard Halliburton who crossed the Canal swimming in 1928. The highest was over $300,000; the average tanker pays $50,000.

So, the "con-jungle" trip that we jokingly called our visit to Panama City is nearing an end. It was great to revisit the first place that got us thinking that working and living in another country would be something to go for. Fourteen years later we have learned and seen far more than we ever thought possible -- and we've only just begun.

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