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The Panama Canal

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The Panama Canal took just 500 years to become an overnight success.

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The Spanish explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama in 1513 and declared that a canal would be great for shipping tons of looted Aztec gold back to Spain from Peru. “Una buena idea Vasco”, but way ahead of your time. The Scots had a better idea in 1690 when they named the Darién isthmus New Caledonia and thought everyone would be happy if they cut a road through the jungle. “Nae sa fast laddie - the natives are nae pleased.” The Yanks tried in 1826 but Colombian President Simon Bolivar was having none of their imperialistic nonsense, “No hay manero amigos!” And in 1843 the Brits tried, but never got a spade in the ground. “Sorry old chap. Bad luck.” After the Californian gold rush in 1849 the Yanks had another go, but built a railway instead, “Good call Joe– but no cigar.” and then came the French in 1880. “Ce n'est pas un problème. We 'ave dug zhe Suez canal.” But the Suez canal looks nothing like this...
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Digging a canal through a mountain range in a disease ridden, mosquito infested, tropical jungle full of jaguars and crocodiles proved too much for the French. Twenty two thousand men died, and eight hundred thousand French investors lost their shirts in the biggest corruption scandal of the 19th century. They paid a very high price, but made a good start by chopping 320 feet off the top of this mountain...
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The Americans got a fire-sale deal from the French in 1904 and spent $380 million finishing the work. They used more than a hundred thousand tons of explosives to shift 300 million tons of rock, (and the French had already excavated 100 million tons). But it takes a lot to make an enormous hole through mountains this big...
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That was enough rock and earth to fill train wagons stretching all the way around the world four times.
The 51 mile long Panama Canal was officially opened on August 15, 1914, and the 12 locks in use today are the original ones that are lined with solid concrete walls and floors 60 feet thick. That's a ton of cement! And these steel lock gates weigh over 600 tons each...
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As soon as the canal was finished it was realised that the locks should have been wider to accommodate the ever expanding merchant ships, but it wasn't until 2016 that a set of new, supersized, locks were opened. The giant ship in the background is dwarfed by the enormous banks on the new canal. It is carrying upwards of 8,000 containers...
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Container ships pay $99 for each full container to use the canal, ($59 for empties), and some have paid over a million dollars. Cruise liners like this one in the Miraflores lock pay $149 for each berth, (occupied or not)...
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Just one more thing. The Panama canal is the only seaway in the world where the pilot takes full command of every vessel and here's our pilot, Juan, on the bridge with the bo'sun...
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Thanks to Juan, and the nearly thirty thousand men who died creating this magnificent feat of engineering, we sail serenly across the Isthmus of Panama on a canal that links two oceans and we pass the continental divide...
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We started in the Pacific, but from here on it is all downhill to the Atlantic. It only takes a few hours – but what a ride!

Posted by Hawkson 06:42 Archived in Panama

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Comments

Fascinating history. Much medical history as well--Walter Reid/Yellow Fever.
Not a bad job that pilot has--hamburger, Tim Horton's donut(?), bottled water. Presumably all he has to do is tell the helmsman to aim dead centre canal.

by R and B

That’s an extraordinary amount of history packed into this episode of your travels. Really enjoyed reading this one.

by Sue Fitzwilson

Very interesting. One question...……..How did you get back to Panama City after ending in the Atlantic?

by Keith Myers

Looking good, Sheila and Jim! How big was your boat/ship? How many passengers? How long did your trip take? And how did you get back? We are going through the canal in March and look forward to your answers.

by Alison and Steve

Keith and Steve.
Ours was only a 400 passenger day cruiser. Because of the canal's limited capability and the fact that it has a one way system that switches at midday we could only get a little past the main lake and not all the way to the Atlantic. We returned to Panama City by coach.
It takes 12 hours to get all the way through but most ships stop halfway overnight.

by Hawkson

What an incredible history. Well told. Great photo of you two.

by Tom Whalley

Wish I could have been with you.
Your posts for some unknown reason are going to my junk mail folder.
As you might know Brexit is in a total mess as is England.
God save us ! Xxx

by Christine Lloyd

How nice to see you again! Great pictures and amazing post! I like your blog so much!

by Kamila - Villa Kiva

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