Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal

I bit the bullet this morning and took a taxi, I knocked the driver down from his original asking price but it was still a lot more than taking a bus. A bus was an option but I would’ve had to take one all the way into the center and then one back out which would’ve resulted in doing two very long sides of an equilateral triangle and taking about 2 hours instead of the 20 minutes in the taxi. The price for entry ($15) was quickly making this an expensive day but by the time I got to the top viewing deck the little boy who gets excited by how things work took over and money was quickly forgotten about and replaced by fascination and awe of the mechanics and ease of transit for the monstrous vessels that were passing through.

The construction of the 80km canal itself was completed in 1914 but the locks were finished in 1913, there are two locks which operate parallel to each other. Each lock gate can weigh up to 700 tons (the Miraflores gates are the largest), which is comparable to more than 300 elephants which in my eyes makes them pretty hefty. Panama is in the process of upgrading the canal and has nearly completed the construction of a third lock which will allow larger ships to pass through but currently the largest vessels that can pass through measure 32.3m wide, 294.1m long and 12m of draft depth (the measurements are exact because many ships are built to fit exactly inside the Panama Canal locks), the locks are so large that it take 100 million litres of water to fill them and due to the length of time to fill each lock segment and takes between 8-10 hours for a ship to negotiate it’s way through the canal, considerably quicker than going round Cape Horn although the average cost for a large ship is $300,000.

The second (and final) taxi of the day took me back towards the city centre where I indulged myself with a greasy pizza for lunch. The afternoons activities would’ve burnt off all the calories and more as I walked 10km along the coast to the Panama Viejo Ruins. “Panama City was founded in 1519 by the Spanish governor Pedro Arias de Ávila. In 1671 the city was ransacked and destroyed by Welsh pirate Henry Morgan, leaving only the stone ruins of Panamá Viejo.” (Lonely Planet)  I hadn’t read that there was a fee to enter but when I got there the area was fenced off and a tourist office was charging $8 for the privilege of seeing the ruins up close. I instead walked round the road and saw all the ruins, I’ll admit my photographs might not have been as good as they could’ve been had I been the other side of the fence but I’m not much of a photographer anyway. I can’t see why the price is so high, the only people willing to pay that must be either archeologists or rich tourists (most of whom would’ve got a taxi there too). I decided to save my legs a little and caught a bus to the centered and then walked back to the hostel from there. Having showered and changed out of sweaty clothes I went for dinner, after which I went to the supermarket to buy breakfast for tomorrow, it so happened I bumped into the son of the owner of the hostel who recognised me and gave me a lift back, he’s planning on moving to New York for 5 months so was keen to practice his English.

Here ends my final full day in Central America

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