Cruising the Panama Canal

By:  Carina Forster – Intern from Austria

The way to the dock itself already hosts one of the city‘s panoramic highlights: the Causeway, a road which is literally on the ocean, surrounded by water on both sides. Locals as well as tourists come here for jogging, biking or taking a walk while enjoying the stunning view of the skyline.

After a short bus ride leading through traditional canal villages and dense jungle forests you finally get to see what is considered one of mankind’s greatest ingenieuric feeds: the Panama Canal.

Starting with a nice and calm river cruise through canal landscapes, our little ship eventually reached the first lock. I heard in advance that ships are risen up to a total of 26 meters above sea level to cross the Gatun lake, but I just could not believe my eyes when I saw the sudden end of water behind the lock, making it look like our boat was on the edge of a cliff. I could not believe how incredibly high our vessel was, compared to the water level after the lock where we were about to go. And every year, 14.000 ships of several tons are lifted up and down this height, just by gravity! The technology behind this is amazingly simple, I actually could have thought of it myself, with a river dam-building experience of several years as a child. However, this simple technique is efficiently working like this since 100 years already, making the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of modern world. Together with two other passenger ships and a huge mountain of cargo ship transporting 6000 cars, we were slowly sinking down, making testimony of this amazing technology and the incredible force of human kind.

Ending this epic cruise, reaching the Pacific Ocean, you enter a scene where cargo ships are peacefully resting in the bay at dawn, surrounded by gulls fishing for their dinner in front of the Skyline.

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Celebrating the 100 years of the Panama Canal

By Marc Vedder

If I had to describe the wonder of mankind in one word it would be “unbelievable”.

Almost finishing the high season, I had the chance to take part in the Panama Canal Transit. I was really excited to see the Canal, because I have heard so much about it but I have never seen it before. After the trip I really wonder why the Panama Canal is not listed up in the modern wonders of the world!

The Panama Canal is a ship canal and connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. In total the canal is 77, 1 km long and was official opened in August 1914. Actual maintenance extends the canal to carry larger and much bigger ships.

Amber and I started our trip at Causeway Marina and drove with a bus to Gamboa where a ship waited for us. Thus the unforgettable trip began. Surrounded by curious elderly travelers from all over the world we found us in the position of the young chickens. Nevertheless it was a nice and relaxing atmosphere. The boat drove very slowly and calm through the canal, so we could totally indulge in the environment and atmosphere the canal creates. It is just amazing to pass huge ships which are 500 times bigger than you.

We were so lucky at that day because of the perfect sunny weather, which created the perfect condition for the canal transit and a sun bath on top of it. The fabulous guides were very informative. I would call it “informative entertaining”. They knew all the details about the canal and explained to us in Spanish, English, French and even in German. On top of it they were very authentic and entertaining at the same time, which generated a perfect trip for us. With much gratitude to the guides I gained a lot of new information about the canal and its history. I have learned for example that the docks in the canal just work with physics with regard to the water level and letting ships trough the docks. Furthermore before the trip I had no idea about the amount of money a company pays for a canal transit. Due to the guides I have learned that companies have to pay around $500.000!

Whilst passing through the docks, I tried to imagine how the people have built this canal but I could not. I was so impressed and astonished. Therefore I continued listen to the great guides, absorbed as many information as I could and enjoyed my lunch provided by the crew. Moreover it so striking being part of a boat that raised and lowered with the water level in the docks.

After a fantastic 5 hour trip we arrived at Causeway Marina and departed home.  I do not want to forestall too much, you have to experience it.

I can highly recommend the Panama Canal Transit Tour. It is informative, entertaining, marvelous and will stay in your memory forever.

For more information about the Canal Tour please do not hesitate to contact us directly www.ecocircuitos.com! We are more than happy to organize a trip and experience something unforgettable.

Come and discover Panama and experience an unforgettable adventure in 2014 only. The Panama Canal celebrates its 100th anniversary and we invite you to join this amazing event with a program that takes you to the most important and influential areas related to this man-made wonder.  For our Panama Canal Centennial adventure, click here.

Transiting the Panama Canal

By Franziska Beyer

When I was just starting my internship at EcoCircuitos, they already offered me the opportunity to participate on my first tour.  As the Panama Canal Transit is one of the tours that you can impossibly miss if you visit this wonderful little country, it was like a dream coming true when they asked me to take part.

The EcoCircuitos team was preparing all things carefully, expecting 12 tourists from Australia for the tour on the boat through the canal, starting from Calzada Amador.

While the sun was rising we left the base, I was swept off my feet when slowly we were able to see the amazing skyline of Panama City.

Every boat that passes the canal needs a captain that is authorized to maneuver through the canal; I noticed a mystic atmosphere when our tourists were welcoming him on our boat.

The Panama Canal is a 77km long passageway connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean via the Caribbean Sea, opened in 1914. Thinking about the fact that the construction of the canal took such a long time and people from different countries were working on this difficult project I got more and more excited when we started passing through the Bridge of the Americas. I felt so small in our boat gazing at a big container ship accompanying our boat all along the pass trough the canal.

Taking millions of photos when passing the first locks, the Miraflores Locks, to save this unbelievable and unique moment, I got even more nervous when I realized that I had the chance to live this moment once again passing the Pedro Miguel Locks.

I breathed deeply to prepare for this second marvelous moment.

Leaving the boat at Gamboa I felt like on top of the world because of having accomplished one of my dreams.

Our fantastic tour continued until we reached Fort San Lorenzo that was attacked in 1670 by buccaneer Henry Morgan leaving it in ruins. Henry Morgan invaded Panama City using San Lorenzo as his base; visiting this beautiful place you can almost smell Morgan and his crew. In 1980 UNESCO declared San Lorenzo as a World Heritage and EcoCircuitos completed this incredible tour with a luxurious picnic at this amazing place.

So far this tour with EcoCircuitos was my highlight visiting one of my favorite countries, the lovely and marvelous Republic of Panama.

Ready to visit the Panama Canal yourself? Find more information on our Website  

A Fantastic Journey: Part 2

Partial Canal Transit

Our EcoCircuitos driver, always on time, came by for us at 9:30 AM to take us to our Partial Canal Transit. All those going on the boat met at Flamenco Island to board buses that would take us to Gamboa. The boat had transited from the Pacific to Gatun Lake the day before, so now it was on its trip down to the Pacific. The old Gamboa one-way bridge is still there and it was quite a nostalgic experience to cross it. I had never given any thought to the fact that this bridge goes over the Chagres River. As our guide explained, on the way to Gamboa, the Chagres is on the right hand side of the bridge and Gatun Lake on the left. Wow! The town of Gamboa, of course, hardly exists now, although the dredging division is still headquartered there and some of the houses have been brought up to date and look rather nice.
We boarded the “Pacific Princess” along with some 400 other travelers looking for the most beneficial spot on the boat to see as much as we could. The boat was full, but it was a comfortable boat with an air-conditioned cabin and a gift shop, for those needing respite from the sun. And the sun was shining very brightly, so I took the precaution on placing a handkerchief under my cap, hanging down over the back of my neck and ears. It was not a very fashionable look, but it worked.
We had to wait a while before we got clearance to proceed to the Pedro Miguel locks. But as soon as this was secured, we reved-up the engine and, with the noise of boat horns, we slid away from our mooring and proceeded into Gatun Lake. In no time at all, we were in the Pedro Miguel Locks with a large schooner sharing the locks with us. We tied to the side of the locks and the schooner tied up next to us. As the water was let out of the locks, a process that took only 8 minutes, the lines holding us against the wall of the locks were released until we reached the level of the cuts and Miraflores Lake. I had expected to feel some downward movement, but felt none. As a matter of fact, the only way I could tell we were going down was by watching the sides of the locks. It was really surprising how fast we went down.
What an experience! I had never taken this trip and I was as excited as a young kid on Christmas. With cameras on hand I was taking photos at a speed that rivaled a movie camera. I, as well as Gene, could not help but to be in awe at the grandiose work done by American engineers without the help of computers . . . only their brains and a slide rule at best.
Entering the cut, we proceeded at a good clip towards the Miraflores Locks. We passed several large container ships in the process as well as a special short ship carrying automobiles. This sort ship required the assistance of a tug to facilitate making the turns. During this portion of the trip they started serving lunch, but I was not about to give up my front space on the boat. Looking at the sides of the cut, one can only wonder how hard these people worked, with the tools of the day, to dig and haul away all that rock and dirt. It just baffles the mind if one stops to think about it. The trouble is that most take everything for granted never realizing what others have done for us in the past. It was an incredible feat then and, in my book, it still is one of the great accomplishments of the world, including the present.

While going through the cut, we passed under the beautiful new bridge spanning the Canal. I have heard nothing but criticism about this bridge, but I found it to be beautiful. The access roads are not finished yet, but work is going on at a good pace. We saw evidence of this on the road to Gamboa as well as on the way to El Valle, on the other side of Chorrera. The roads to the bridge should be finished by the end of the year. It will help with the traffic coming from the Atlantic side going to the interior.
As we entered the top lock at Miraflores, I felt a strange sensation when looking at the next lock in front which was, of course, down to the level of the Pacific. It looked as a huge hole in front of us and I could not help but be amazed at the strength of these gates that have been serving without failure for some ninety-two years! I have a photo of my father standing on one of these gates back around 1915-20 when he was still a Christian Brother!
Not until we had entered Miraflores Lake and gone down the two Miraflores locks and I had again taken a bunch of pictures, not until then, did I give up my place in front of the boat and went down to the Air Conditioned cabin to get my buffet lunch. It was delicious, consisting of rice with guandu and coconut, sautéed chicken, salads and another dish which I by-passed doubling up on the rice. There was also dessert and beverages.
Having gone through the locks, we continued towards Flamenco Island at a good clip and passing under the Bridge of the Americas, circling the island until coming to our pier. This is the area which is now full of shops and excellent restaurants and on which a couple of expensive yachts were tied up. ECOcircuitos was right there to get us and return us to the hotel.
As you may know, not counting the tremendous efforts by the French, it took the United States 10 years, the labor of more than 75,000 workers, and almost $400 million to complete the job. Like the French, the builders faced landslides, the complexity of massive excavations, the unprecedented massive use of concrete on the locks and other hurdles never faced before. Their biggest advantage over their predecessors was the discovery of the causes of malaria and yellow fever and their eradication. I could feel all this history as I went through the locks and cuts. After 19 years of living right by the canal, I had finally transited it and it was a wonderful experience.
That evening, we walked over to the El Panama Hotel and had a very good dinner, relaxing by the pool in an open restaurant that allowed the cool dry season breeze to go through. By the time we walked back to our hotel, around 8 PM, the crowds had thinned out both on the streets and the sidewalks. I was a bit apprehensive at first because of all the tales that had been sent to me by family and friends, but we were perfectly safe and soon felt at ease walking on the streets around and near our hotel. We made several trips to Via Espana during our stay there without any problems. During the week, the traffic and the noise were atrocious, but on Sunday, there were very few cars on the streets and hardly any one walking. It was almost a ghost town.
The El Panama, which had been such an outstanding landmark during my school days, is now hardly visible among all the buildings that now surround it. The grassy hill with acacia trees in front has been replaced with tall buildings. The hotel is so tightly surrounded that I had trouble finding its tiny entry on the street leading to the parking area in front of the lobby. Such are the changes in Panama that I never knew for sure where I was.

Every Monday we publish part of Louis Celerier’s mesmerizing tale of how he rediscovered the country of his childhood. Subscribe to this blog or follow us on Facebook to make sure not to miss anything!

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