We’ve been hanging around the Canal Zone, marveling at what a tremendous industrial miracle it truly is.   The crazy things humans do: like making water flow uphill (which is what the canal effectively does); creating a river that flows from sea to sea across a mountain range, which would be an impossible feat without the “locks” that are setup throughout the canal.  

          Locks are surprisingly simple, though pretty darn impressive to watch; basically they are 2 sets of giant double doors which separate one section of the canal from from another, each section is higher than the last – until the mountain is crossed and the canal starts descending (section by section). To change levels and pass through the canal, a ship first enters through one set of the double doors into the lock chamber (the section of canal between the doors) where the doors close, sealing the ship off in a little section of the canal.  Water rushes in and the level of the water in the lock rises (the ship with it) until it is even with the next section of canal. At this point the second set of doors open and the ship moves along the canal until it reaches the next lock. Going down simply reverses the process: the ship enters the full lock, the doors close, water is let out until the ship reaches the level of the lower canal, the second set of doors open….

 Here a few facts for the trivia buffs:

The most expensive regular toll for canal passage to date was charged on May 16th, 2008 to the 964-foot (295 m) Disney Magic Cruise Liner, which paid just over US$331,200.

The adventurer Richard Halliburton paid the lowest toll, 36 cents to swim the canal in 1928.  (No one else has ever been allowed to swim the entire canal; it’s apparently too dangerous).

The average transit takes 8 to 10 hours.

The record for the most transits on a single day, 65, was set on February 29, 1968.

A ship traveling from New York to San Francisco saves 12,674 kilometers (7,872 miles) by using the canal instead of going around the tip of South America.  

The builders of the Panama Canal included 20,000 Barbadians and just 357 Panamanians.

No pumps are used to raise and lower ships in the locks; it’s all done by gravity.

 

 

We’ve also spent a few days on the river honing our kayaking techniques.  Getting used to the 17′ sea kayaks before we head out to the open ocean.

 

 

 

A bit of kayaking on a river in Panama to prepare us for the sea journey we plan to embark on.

After a long day on the river, J and I went up for a little snack from a beat down mini-mart with bars securing the entrance and a bunch of construction workers hydrating themselves with the national cerveza.  The scene was destined to get ugly there in a few hours.  We got the rest of the prepared food the had available and went back to bring our picnic rations to the others.  It is still unclear what that tender morsel of deep fried flesh was, but Jackie certainly enjoyed it after recently emerging from a 10 year stint without eating meat.