Panama City and the Panama Canal

Panama and Panama City is known worldwide because of the Panama Canal. Visiting the Panama Canal has been on our “bucket-list” since we started this adventure.

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But first we had to drive 600 km from Almirante to Panama City. We left Bocas del Toro in rain, and was hit by two thunderstorms with heavy rain on our way to Panama City. At this point we don’t even remember, when we last time had one day without rain. We feel that the rain keeps following us – is it a curse?

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But we also had some dry weather and sunshine on the way to Panama City. Riding on the Pan-American highway (highway 1), enjoying the well maintained pavement, very light traffic and the four lanes. We still had to kill the last kilometers.

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Killing kilometers and time while sitting on the motorcycle can be a challenge… but I had time to change my position on the motorcycle, and we put some music on from the GPS. First Esben connects our SENA intercom headsets and then he connects the GPS (Garmin). The music on our Garmin (ZUMO) has been downloaded from our computer. Something about riding my motorcycle happens, when hard rock is being played – I love it!

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During lunch we met these two iguanas. A lot more exotic than the ducks in Denmark

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We got to Panama City – please enjoy the panoramic pictures

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Panama City has big contrasts between the colonial Casco Viejo (the upper panoramic picture) and a center with sultry skylines of shimmering glass and steel towers (lower panoramic picture). On the lower panoramic picture you also se a highway, which has been built in the shallow water around the historic part of town “Casco Viejo”. Off course we had to drive on that piece of highway. There was almost no cars (just saying that the traffic in Panama City is horrible and not not working at all!) and the view of the city is amazing.

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We drove out on the Amador peninsula (also called the causeway) south of Panama City, to get a view of the containerships that are waiting to go through the Panama Canal.

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It is a 2 km palm-tree-lined calzada/causeway, that connects four islands of Naos, Culebra, Perico and Flamenco to the mainland. It almost felt like being in Miami (not that I have been there, but everything looked American) with big, bigger and biggest speedboats and sailboats lined up around the peninsula. We also passed by a colorful building, that turned out to be the Biomuseum. Panama has an astonishing biodiversity, and the museum is world-class. We just didn’t feel like visiting museums this day.

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Back in the Casco Viejo we walked around and saw some of the few ruins that was built after 1674. Panama City was founded in 1519 by the Spanish, that makes Panama City the first European settlement along the Pacific. It was ransacked and destroyed in 1671 by the English pirate Captain Henry Morgan, leaving only stone ruins of what today is called Panama Viejo. Three years later Panama City was relocated 8 kilometers south in the area known as Casco Viejo, where the city was easier to defend. I 1821 Panama gained independence from Spain and became a part of Gran Columbia. 10 years later the regional confederation dissolved and Panama belonged to Columbia until November 3, 1903 when Panama declared its independence from Columbia and Panama City established as the Capital.

We visited the fish market (Mercado de Mariscos). We had fish and shrimp cerviche – love it!

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The fishing boats laying in the shallow water at the fish market

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Casco Viejo

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Back to the Panama Canal and the impressive construction of the canal, which started in 1904 and was finished in 1914 opening a full transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. From May 12th, 1963 the Panama Canal begins operation 24/7, and on the 29th of February, 1968, an amount of 65 ships go through the Panama Canal in one day, that is the most transits on a single day. BUT… the first try in constructing the Panama Canal was made by the French in 1880, but financial troubles and diseases (about 22,000 workers died) made the initiative fail. In 1903 the government in Panama negotiates an agreement with the United States for the construction of the Canal, administration and operation.

We visited the Miraflores Locks

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On December 31, 1999 Panama takes over the administration and operation of the Canal. The Canal is 80 kilometers long, and since 1914 more than 1 million ships has passed through saving time and money. Depending on the size of the ship the transit takes 8-10 hours.

The visitor center at Miraflores Locks was great

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The Canal is an interoceanic waterway with a system of three lock complexes, each one with two lanes that operates as water elevators and raises the ships from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake, raising the ships 26 meters in total. From the Pacific ocean the ships first enter The Miraflores Locks, second continues across the Miraflores Lake to the Pedro Miguel Locks, third the ships sail through the Culebra Cut to Gatun Lake and fourth ending the transit at the Gatun Locks, lowering the ships to sea level at the Caribbean/Atlantic sea.

This vessel went through the Miraflores Lock when we visited

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The expansion of the Panama Canal began in September 2007. The expansion consisted of to new sets of locks on on the Atlantic side and one on the Pacific side, a 6,1 kilometer access channel connects the locks on the Pacific side to the Culebra Cut. The Culebra Cut is the Canals narrowest part and its 12.7 kilometers had to be excavated so bigger ships could go through. Also the water level in Gatun Lake was elevated. The expanded Canal is in the background of the picture, no ships going through. If you look close you can se a leveled line of brown dirt with lights poles which is the new Canal.

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During the 96 years when the Canal was operated by the United States the toll rates for the ships that go through the Canal was calculated on break-even basis, so that the income should only cover operation and maintenance costs. Since year 2000 the toll rates have change and are now based on a profitability criteria. The price are determined by the size and type of the vessel, as well as the value proposition that the Canal gives to the vessel. The costs is in average 300,000-400,000 USD for a transit. Those ships that transit the new expanded Canal are larger and transport greater cargo volume raising the price to 500,000-800,000 USD per transit. The lowest toll ever paid was 36 cent, when Richard Halliburton swam through the Canal in 1928. 

We are ready to leave Central America and go to South America – leaving Panama City

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Driving to Carti north of Panama City, where “Die Stahlratte Adventure” is waiting

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