Ends of the Earth Expedition, March 25-27, DAY 43-45

The days prior to our departure from Panama were spent relaxing, sightseeing, and preparing the trucks and paperwork for the journey back home via shipping container (not us, just the trucks). The boys spent ample time with the shipping agent and at the police station, waiting for the necessary inspections and paperwork to be processed to clear the vehicles for shipment back to the United States. The police station where the boys spent most of their time was located in a seedy area of town. Police officers in full battle regalia stood guard watching the vehicles. After a long morning of waiting, James decided to cross the street to get an ice cream. Before he could make it to the sidewalk, a police office approached him and said, “Get back in your vehicle and lock the door. You’re not safe here.” Needless to say, the girls were not welcome to accompany the boys with the shipping details. Fine with us…we were perfectly fine checking out the local shopping opportunities, including one of Central America’s largest malls. 

  

The following day, we took a trip to the Panama Canal. Special thanks to our in-country contact, Peter, who was able to score us a special access to walk across the locks of the canal and right up to the ships. Fewer than 100 people per year are allowed to do this so we were especially grateful. 

 

While we were waiting at the administrative offices prior to our tour, we noticed some commotion down below (we were on the second floor looked down at the front entrance). There were lots of people in suits, media, security, and then secret service (it was cool to see them talk into their super secret radios on their wrists). Soon everyone got “in place” – the cameras were rolling as the motorcade pulled up. The secret police came around and opened the door, quickly ushering the Prince of Belgium into the building. We were to learn later that the President of Panama was also at the Canal that day. 

  

The Panama canal is amazing. Many, many hands worked to make it possible to take ships from sea level, raise them up enough to allow them to travel over land via a waterway, then lower them back down to sea level on the other end. It is spectacular to see metal giants moved and manipulated by cable, water, tug boats, and train “mules.” 

  

Our tour guide, an older gentleman named Carlos, took us out the visitor center door and through the locked gate that kept the tourists away from the canal. Since the dignitary group was clogging up the closest lock, Carlos took us down to the next lock. (Yep, it was just us and the Prince of Belgium, President of Panama, and the secret service.  On our way down the walkway, Stacey waved to the prince and he waved back. We were giggling like school girls.) We were literally, mere feet from the water in the canal, stepping over the train tracks the mules use to pull the ships through the water. There was a ship in the far channel (big blue one) and another one approaching the second lane (black one). To get between the two channels we had to walk across the lock. When we were still on the first “door” of the lock a bell rang. Not knowing why it was significant, Stacey and I continued to stand there and take pictures. Pretty soon we realized the lock was opening with us on it. Me and Stacey had to quick run and take a big step to reach the other lock “door” which was swinging to the side of the canal we wanted to be on.  

  

Spent about 15-20 minutes between the channels. Received quite a few waves from the workers on the mules and cargo ships. I was most impressed with how quickly the ships are lowered once in the lock. (Check out the word “Maersk Sealand” on the blue ship to get a feel fro how much they lower the water level) and how close the ships are to the edge of the canal. (Fun fact: the black ship in the pictures is holding over 5,000 containers.)

  

  

  

Crossed back to the other side of the channel via the other lock, without incidence. Although I must admit, it is a little more scary walking across that lock when the water has been evacuated from one of the sides. It’s a long way down, but hey, but if the Prince of Belgium can do it, so can we.   

  
  

 

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