Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Panama City and The Miraflores Locks

This morning we drove to the ruins of Panama Viejo (Old Panama).  This city was founded by the Spanish in 1519.  It was a gateway to gold in the Inca Empire.  Some of the stones from this first city were used for the second city - Casco Viejo.  In Casco Viejo we visited the San Jose Church and saw the famous Gold Altar, saved from the famous pirate Henry Morgan.  A priest covered the altar with mud and painted it black so when the Pirate arrived and saw it, he did not realize it was covered with gold.
Bell Tower Ruins of the Old Church in Old Panama

More Ruins in Old Panama

San Jose Church in Casco Viejo, Panama City

Famous Gold Alter in San Jose Church

We learned about the early years of Panama, the exploration, and beginning of the building of the Canal by the French.  It was interesting to see the French influence in the building in Casco Viejo.  It looks so much like New Orleans, accept that at this point it is in poor condition.  However Panama is committed to restoring this area of the city and they have started – construction is everywhere. 

French Influenced Architecture

By lunch we drove through downtown Panama to the Panama Canal Visitors Center at Miraflores Locks, where Caravan had reserved a 3rd floor room with a balcony from where we could observe the Canal and eat our lunch. It was wonderful, to watch ships go through the locks.  We saw three car transport ships, one tanker and a grain transport so through the locks.  Ships are simply lined up, waiting to go through the canal.  As we few into Panama City, we could see the ships simply waiting.  It cost $200,000 dollars for one of those car transports to go through the Canal.  It is not cheap to use the Canal, but it saves time, salaries and fuel instead of going around the tip of South America.  Many of the container ships come to the docks on either coast, unload the containers onto railway cars that take them across the isthmus to the other Ocean, where they are reloaded onto other ships.  Car transport ships are totally closed on the front and sides so the salt water does not reach vehicles. 

Things did not go well for the French in 1882 – they lost lots of lives due to disease and accidents.  In 1907 the US began on the project.  A lock and lake system had to be part of this canal as there is a significant different tidal movement in the two oceans.  The tidal difference in the Caribbean is 2 to 3 ft, whereas on the Pacific side it is 12-18 ft. The Panama Canal officially opened on August 15, 1914.

It was an interesting day.  Tomorrow we leave Panama City and are driving to the Caribbean port city of Colon.            

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