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Visit the Panama Canal? How could I not.

August 30, 2009

My first encounter with the Panama Canal came in the form of a souvenir — a black metal shape molded into a female figurine with red and white napkins folded to resemble a flared skirt.  I pulled this figurine from my mother’s cedar travel chest, much like an predated travel blog, which contained pictures, photos, and memories of my mother’s travels from New Zealand to England via the Panama Canal by boat in 1953.

Being my mother, she romanticised this journey to me, the slow passage through the locks, the day spent wandering through the port town of Colon on the Caribbean side. She spoke of the intense heat and the green hues of the jungle mixed with the muddy browns of the waters and soils. This was her Panama Canal experience, would it be the same for me?

I’ve always thought that a visit to the Panama Canal can be likened to spending time watching ships load at a cargo port. Unless you like boats there is nothing to see.  And, knowing how easy it is to fall under the spell of built-up expectations crafted by wildly written prose, guidebooks and media hype, I didn’t want the only adjective to describe my Panama Canal experience to be — boring.  That word has already been overused by travellers and sadly travel bloggers.

by Cate

by Cate

Historical it is, boring it isn’t

Dependent on your outlook, history interests some people and bores others. History was something I never enjoyed until I grew up and realised that in order to appreciate the value given to a landmark or feat, you must first begin with its history.

Aside from being a major engineering accomplishment, the Canal brought rapid changes and growth to the local population. While earlier groups of immigrants came to work on the railroad, the Canal construction attracted peoples from throughout the Caribbean, China and Europe. These workers came with the usual set of hopes but faced ongoing discrimination, health problems, and poverty. They helped make the Canal what it is today.

It is still spoken about by elderly survivors. Some speak with pride and others with remorse. To hold such a place in the memories of these workers whether deserved or not, adds depth beyond the canal’s waters. These stories are seldom found in history books unless written by themselves or their descendants. One blog I discovered and recommend The Silver People Chronicle is written by Roberto Reid Jr a descendant of a West Indian immigrant, who tells of such stories. Open, honest and well crafted, Roberto’s blog goes beyond the fabricated glory stories, taking readers into parts of history undocumented before.

When I read these accounts the canal became alive. If I hadn’t, it would have just be a large chunk of concrete with water in between, and dull.

Canal Attraction

The Canal has proven it’s value over the decades — travellers come to photograph or simply look at the activity while businesses come to shake on a new deal or push forward a proposal.

by Cate

by Cate

Everyday the Canal brings to Panama’s government around five million dollars, just how much trickles down to it’s people is another post. When Carlos of Spain envisioned a major trade route somewhere in Central America back in the 16th century, did he picture the wealth hording corrupt regimes that would follow? Possibly not since Carlos was a Monarch.

by Cate

by Cate

Whether you visit one of the locks or take a cruise on the canal, there has to be something said about just sitting in a car on the highway with cars passing on your right, and on your left, an enormous container ship quietly gliding through what seems to be a narrow river, with the top of the ship jutting out above the bush. Oddly surreal. That is the Panama Canal.

Caffeinated Traveller

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5 Comments
  1. August 31, 2009 12:49 am

    I feel like to go there since I watched “Tailor of Panama”
    Have a nice day !

  2. August 31, 2009 3:46 am

    It is in fact a fascinating and creative engineering work. You are lucky to be there, witness and be part of the history.

  3. September 1, 2009 8:26 pm

    I have vivid memories of the Soo Locks in Michigan. My dad was very into having his children experience the details, so we rode a boat and waited as the water filled the lock and raised our ride. It would be quite fascinating to visit an international landmark such as the Panama Canal. I like your imagery from the highway -enormous ships passing as just another lane of traffic on the waterway…
    (Any word on your visa situation??)

  4. September 1, 2009 9:20 pm

    OnTravel – ahh the Tailor of Panama now that’s a movie I haven’t heard about for a long time. Haven’t come across any tailors yet. Plenty of sailors yes.

    Rainfield -It is an engineering marvel and to see the canal extension going on is part of the package I think. Wouldn’t mind going through the canal in a yacht.

    Heather – I can only imagine what that must have been like, those locks are immense. It was like that, just another lane of traffic, something locals take for granted I guess. But I did notice how all the local heads turned to watch the canal when I took a bus recently.

    Thanks for your comments everyone.

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