So we had our second “Formal” night, something I could really do without, but you do what you need to do for da wife, eh?
Our next stop was Panama City’s island of Fuerte (Fort) or Puerto (Port) Amador.
Panama City's island of Fuerte Amador is located on the west side of the city, adjacent to the Pacific Coast entrance to the Panama Canal. We actually land at the Flamenco Island Marina on Flamenco Island. This is a high-end area of the city, which is to all appearances a prosperous place of almost 900,000 people. The city is surrounded by a large belt of tropical rainforest. Panama's dollar-based economy rests primarily on a well-developed services sector that accounts for three-quarters of the country's GDP. Services include operating the Panama Canal, logistics, banking, the Colon Free Zone, insurance, container ports, flagship registry and tourism. Panama City has a tropical wet and dry climate, and it almost always feels hot and humid. No matter the season, the daily high and low temperatures remain surprisingly constant throughout the year. Daily highs generally range from the low- to mid-90s F, while the overnight lows range from the mid-60s to 70° F.
Fort Amador and Fort Grant were former US Army bases built to protect the Pacific (southern) end of the Panama Canal at Panama Bay. Amador was the primary on-land site, lying below the Bridge of the Americas. Grant consisted of a series of islands lying just offshore, some connected to Amador via a causeway. Fort Sherman was the corresponding base on the Atlantic (northern) side. All of the forts were turned over to the Republic of Panama in 1999, and the area is now a major tourist attraction.
The offshore islands had always been considered excellent defensive grounds and were long visited by English pirates. Sir Francis Drake, Captain Cook, and Henry Morgan all used Taboga and Perico as refuges after raiding Spanish galleons. It was here that then-Captain Ulysses S. Grant ended his cross-Panama march in 1852.
During the construction of the Panama Canal, notably the Culebra Cut, waste material was dumped in a mangrove bush then known as the "Balboa dump". As the work progressed, the dump was backfilled to create a large breakwater, which was later extended to the nearest of the offshore islands, Naos. This work was completed in 1912, and the military reservations were given their official names that year. Fort Amador is named for Manuel Amador Guerrero, the first president of Panama, while Fort Grant was named to commemorate Grant's earlier crossing to that point.
The two forts initially claimed only about 70 acres of land, but this expanded over the years to over 344. Amador was the primary infantry and support area, and grew to include a rather prominent "tank farm" for fuel storage. Grant was used primarily for naval defense, and included a number of large batteries on the various islands. To supply them, the causeway was extended to connect from Naos to the other nearby islands, Culebra, Perico, and Flamenco, all of which had batteries of various sizes.
Fort Amador was initially armed with two batteries, each of two six inch disappearing guns. Batteries Birnie and Snith, begun in 1913, were completed in 1917. They remained in service until 1943, when the guns were removed, and the structures buried. The area was then used for housing. A 90mm Anti-Motor Torpedo Boat (AMTB) Battery replaced them in 1942; it, too, was disarmed and buried in 1948.
At this stop we chose to “splurge” a little (actually, a LOT for me) and took a $400 train ride through a Rain Forest and to the new, larger Lock. We’ve already been through the canal twice before so this was going to be a little different. We traveled in a restored executive rail car with booth seating on one side and rows of two seats with small tables on the other. The car had a rest room (comes in handy with us old folks) and a small, open-air observation deck. This is the first transcontinental railroad, built in 1855 and our car was a deluxe 1938 vintage executive railroad car. We enjoyed a leisurely five hour tour around the Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal expansion project also called the Third Set of Locks Project, doubled the capacity of the Panama Canal by adding a new lane of traffic allowing for a larger number of ships, and increasing the width and depth of the lanes and locks allowing larger ships to pass. The project has built two new sets of locks, one each on the Atlantic and Pacific sides, and excavated new channels to the new locks, widened and deepened existing channels, and raised the maximum operating water level of Gatun Lake.
The new ships, called New Panamax, are about one and a half times the previous Panamax size and can carry over twice as much cargo. For example, we saw a cargo ship go through the old canal carrying about 5,000 containers. When we visited the expansion project we saw another cargo ship going through that carried about 15,000 containers. The expanded canal began commercial operation on 26 June 2016.
The original Panama Canal has a limited capacity determined by operational times and cycles of the existing locks and further constrained by the current trend towards larger (close to Panamax-sized) vessels transiting the canal, requiring more transit time in the locks and channels. Also, periodic maintenance on the aging canal requires shutdowns of this waterway. Demand is growing due to the growth of international trade, and many users require a guaranteed level of service. Despite the gains which have been made in efficiency, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) estimated that the canal would reach its maximum sustainable capacity between 2009 and 2012. The long-term solution for the congestion was the expansion of the canal with a third set of locks.
All of the canal-widening studies since the 1930s have determined that the best way to increase canal capacity is by building a third set of locks larger than the 1914 locks. The US began excavations for new locks in 1939, but abandoned them in 1942 because of the outbreak of World War II. This conclusion was again reached in the 1980s by the tripartite commission formed by Panama, Japan, and the US. More recently, the studies developed by the Panama Canal Authority for its 2025 master plan confirm that a third, larger set of locks is the most suitable, profitable, and environmentally responsible option.
Former president Martín Torrijos, in a 24 April 2006 speech announcing the project, said that the canal "is like our 'petroleum'. Just like the petroleum that has not been extracted is worthless and that in order to extract it you have to invest in infrastructure, the canal requires to expand its capacity to absorb the growing demand of cargo and generate more wealth for Panamanians".
The growth in usage of the Panama Canal over the past few years has been almost entirely driven by increased US imports from China passing through the canal en route to ports on the US East and Gulf coasts. But it is increasingly recognized in both the US and China that this imbalance in trade is unsustainable and will be reduced via some sort of adjustment in the coming years (although such an imbalance need not be made up by physically shipped goods, but could be made by other trade such as intellectual property as China upgrades its intellectual property protection laws). The ACP, however, presumes that trade will continue to grow for a generation as it has for the past several years.
According to the ACP, the third set of locks will be financially profitable, producing a 12 percent internal rate of return. The project's financing is separate from the governmental budget. The state, which has a lower credit rating than the ACP, does not guarantee or endorse any loans borrowed by the ACP for the project. Assuming that tolls increase at an annual average rate of 3.5 percent for 20 years, and according to the traffic demand forecast and construction schedule deemed most likely by the ACP, the external financing required will be temporary and in the order of US$2.3 billion to cover peak construction activities between 2009 and 2011.
For over 50 years, Howard Air Force Base was the bastion of US air power in Central and South America. In its heyday, it was the center for counter-drug operations, military and humanitarian airlift, contingencies, joint-nation exercises, and search and rescue. It was the hub of Air Force operations in Latin America, boasting fighters, cargo planes, tankers, airborne warning and control system aircraft, operational support airlift "executive" jets, and search and rescue helicopters. It was also home to a host of transient U.S. Army and U.S. Navy aircraft. Personnel assigned to tenant commands at Howard AFB tracked drug traffickers out of South America, and its cargo aircraft, primarily rotational C-130 Hercules aircraft from the active duty U.S. Air Force, the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, provided theater airlift for United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) contingencies, exercises, and disaster relief, and conducted search and rescue in the vast region. Only a portion of the transports, several special-mission C-130s, two C-27 Spartan aircraft, and executive jets belonged to the host unit, the 24th Composite Wing, later redesignated the 24th Wing (24 WG). Although Regular Air Force C-130 aircraft rotated to Howard AFB for 90-day detachments in the 1970s and early 1980s in the support mission called CORONET OAK, this mission was later transferred to the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, which then provided C-130s for VOLANT OAK, as well as A-7 Corsair II and later F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters that also rotated into the base.
Today was our last stop before heading to Florida, a two day sea trip. We are visiting the town of Cartagena, Columbia. We were just here last March and saw what we wanted to see so today we are just walking around a bit.(If you’d like more info on Cartagena, check out our Travel Journal at http://www.mytripjournal.com/travel-877559-santo-domingo-citation-needed-international-airport-los-coches). When we arrive in Florida we will post all our travels for this trip on our Travel Journal and will let you know.
We left Puerto Amador and cruised through the Panama Canal. Even though it is our third time doing this, the engineering feat of the canal is constantly amazing. American ingenuity at its best and it brings in over $2 billion a year to Panama. Tell me again why we gave up the canal, Jimmy Carter? We just relaxed, took in the sights, had a small outdoor lunch and had more pictures taken.
BTW – speaking of pictures --- photos taken by the “pros” usually at each stop, every formal night and some other events will cost you about $20.00 each if you want them. If you plan to have any taken as mementos think about this: Princess (and probably the other cruise lines) offer a package deal of a print of EVERY photo they take of you PLUS a digital copy on a USB drive. The cost of the package on board is $259.00. If you buy it ahead of time on line it is $199.00. We had FIFTY photos taken so I do believe we got our money’s worth; we just don’t do it every cruise. In fact this is only the second time we bought the whole package ;-)
Anyhow, to wrap things up for this leg of our trip, our final stop before heading across the Caribbean was Cartagena, Columbia. As I mentioned earlier we were here back in March so we didn’t take in any sights past the port. They had a shopping area (mandatory for every port, of course), but they also had a mini-zoo with a couple of dozen Macaws (or Parrots, IDK what they’re called, but they are noisy, bossy, aggressive and beautiful all at the same time). Also had Anteaters, deer, Iguanas, etc. and a whole bunch of tour guide and taxi drivers to help pass the time.
We also had another “formal” night where I just put on my suit and didn’t mess with a tie; Mo Betta for me. Met a couple on their Honeymoon through new friend “John da Brit”. They had both lost their partners in 2014, both moved into a home and found each other. He is 93 and she is 84. There’s hope for some of us after all. ;-)
Next stop --- Florida (at least we missed the latest hurricane)