A trip to the Panama Canal and beyond travel blog

Engine to Colon

On the train

Islands in the haze

Two ships in the lock


Gaton Locks

Open lock

In the lock


In the watch tower....

Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ant road


Boats waiting their turn to enter the Atlantic

New Lock system


The day didn’t start well. I was all stuffed up all night and got little sleep – I couldn’t breathe. Lots of pills and sprays did little but I finally drifted off only to wake at 5:15 to get ready for the day’s trip.

Down to the lobby and got our boxed breakfast – a fruit cup, some graham crackers, and a can of sugar water with fruit flavoring… Jorge was there and we hopped in the car and made our way to the Panama Train Station. We waited around a bit for the place to open (there are only two trips a day – one to Colon and one back to Panama City). We got our tickets and boarded the observation car – we were offered coffee and Minna had a cup. We both ate the fruit and not much else.

The trip was interesting but not spectacular. Mostly train through jungle with a few glimpses of the canal and Gaton Lake – a couple of ships too and some nice hazy islands – but otherwise not much. The whole trip took about an hour. When we arrived Jorge was waiting – he drove.

We headed off to Gaton Locks – the set of three locks on the Atlantic side of the canal. When we arrived there were very few people there but several ships both in the locks and waiting in line. The ships were mostly large tankers and container ships – most were “Panamax” – the maximum size allowed to fit through the locks. There was also a sailboat… it cost the sailboat $800 to travel the canal – the bigger ships $200,000 or more. The ships rose and fell slowly but you could see the movement. Once it reached the level of the next lock the gate opened, the ship sailed through under its own power but guided by four electric “mules” – which cost about $2,000,000 each. The sailboat had four guys guiding it. We never got real close to the ships but watched several traverse the locks. By the time we were ready to leave a cruise ship’s passengers had arrived and there were hundreds of people on the viewing platform. Usually 40 ships a day pass through the canal – but today only 28 were scheduled.

We headed out to San Lorenzo Castillo (and met a coatimundi on the way)that was one of the forts protecting Colon against pirates and buccaneers during the Spanish occupation. Later it was used as canal defense by the US military and there were still some foundations for the guns there. It was in a little better shape than Portobello but people had attempted to take some of the cannons from here too. It was a Vauban style fortress but quite overgrown. It was from here too that Francis Drake was killed.

On the way back to the van we came upon a line of carpenter ants – some carrying bits of leaves in one direction and others hurrying back in the other. They had been at it so long there was a definable road they had beaten into the grass. They use the leaves to grow a fungus which they eat.

We drove around a bit aimlessly with Jorge asking what we wanted to do… and then telling us we couldn’t do that. We stopped at a road side stand and got some sandwiches and banana bread – Minna found a roach in one of hers. Otherwise they were good!

We eventually went to the main overlook of the construction of the new canal. A colossal project that should be done in two more years. Apparently the Chinese are planning a canal through Nicaragua sometime soon. Maybe. Anyway, after short film and a walk around we got back in the car and headed back to town on the new super highway never having gotten into Colon at all.

Interestingly we passed a walled community of Middle Easterners who owned many of the duty free shops in Colon. They even had a mosque with a minaret.

We got back to the hotel and said goodbye to Jorge. We sat down and discussed the week’s tours and decided that Jorge was the worst of the lot – but still OK. The best was probably either the Embera or the Woohan tours. All were nice.

We then took a walk up to the Via Argentina to look for a restaurant later in the evening, then up to the roof to do the trip journal.

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