So far, our program coordinators have really stressed the importance of the canal to the economy, culture and overall identity of the Panamanian people but we hadn’t actually seen the canal! Today we did. We visited Las Esclusas Miraflores, the Miraflores locks, on the Pacific side of the canal. There is also a huge museum that we were able t visit to learn more about the history of the canal. It was very interesting. Los Espanoles, the Spaniards, had the idea for a manmade passage through the narrowest part of the continent and then Los Fraces, the French, began construction but were overcome by the tropical illnesses born by mosquitos, Yellow Fever and Malaria, and financial problems. The U.S. took over construction and carried out a mass extermination of mosquitos. Overall there were workers from Barbados, France, Africa, China, the U.S. and many other countries. This melting pot of races and ethnicities contributed to the very diverse population of Panama. One thing that I have noticed here in Panama is that there are many mixes of races including Indian, Mexican, African, European etc and yet there does not appear to be any sort of prejudices or discrimination. I think the canal is to thank for that. Panamanians are proud to host the most important commercial route in the world!
Ships that pass through the canal must pay for passage in cash 48 hours before they go through and fares range from $150 to $400,000 depending on the length of the boat and the cargo. The canal operates 24/7 all year round and it takes approximately 7-8 hours to move through it. The largest boat to go through was a cruise ship in the early 2000s. Currently, plans are underway for an expansion of the canal. The water that is used to fill the locks is freshwater that comes from Lake Gatun and flows into the oceans on either side. The new locks will be built so that they can recycle the same water which will be more sustainable.
After investigating the canal, we traveled to al Parque Nacional Soberania. This is a beautiful park nearby the city and we finally got a real taste of the rainforest, which was wonderful. A storm moved through while we were in the forest so it was pretty dark the whole time, hence the very few pictures. I know we will be in similar places again soon so more pictures will come!