The Panama Canal

From the moment we booked our South America cruise, one of the things I was most excited about was sailing through the Panama Canal. My introduction to the canal, however, wasn’t aboard our ship. Instead it took place at visitor centre of the Miraflores Locks, on the outskirts of Panama City, with Nghiem of Panama Your Way.

The Miraflores Visitor Centre

The Miraflores Visitor Centre

The museum at the visitor centre is fascinating, although seeing a ship passing through the locks is what people really come to see. And we were no exception.

My first view of the Miraflores Locks

My first view of the Miraflores Locks

Nghiem timed our arrival to perfection. We had just enough time to wander around the museum before heading up to the top observation platform to grab a good place from which to watch the first southbound ships of the day pass through the locks beneath us.

Here come the first southbound ships of the day

Here come the first southbound ships of the day

Despite this panorama making the Miraflores Locks look banana-shaped, I can assure you they're actually straight!

Despite this panorama making the Miraflores Locks look banana-shaped, I can assure you they’re actually straight!

Two ships entering the Locks

Two ships entering the Locks

Unsurprisingly, the locks themselves are massive. Yet when the gates close, enveloping each ship in a protective basin for its voyage upwards or (as it was in this case) downwards, there’s very little room to spare on either side.

Breath in!

Breath in!

Next morning we were up early for an even closer view of the Miraflores Locks, from the deck of our cruise ship, the Holland America Zaandam. But first we had to pass under the Bridge of the Americas, which until 2004 was the only fixed bridge across the canal.

Dawn arrives with a fleet of ships waiting for their turn to go through the canal

Dawn arrives with a fleet of ships waiting for their turn to go through the canal

The Bridge of the Americas up ahead

The Bridge of the Americas up ahead

Passing under the Bridge of the Americas

Passing under the Bridge of the Americas

There are currently six pairs of locks on the Panama Canal, three pairs to lift ships up to the level of Gatun Lake, 85 feet above sea level, and three to lower them back down again. Heading northwards from the Pacific Ocean like we did, the first two steps are combined into the Miraflores Locks.

Approaching the Miraflores Locks

Approaching the Miraflores Locks

Entering the first lock was very exciting. It hardly seemed believable that our ship would even fit. Indeed, it took six powerful locomotives, known as mules, to keep her steady as she slipped into the lock, like a letter into an envelope.

One of our mules taking up the slack

One of our mules taking up the slack

Entering the first of the Miraflores Locks

Entering the first of the Miraflores Locks

Up we go!

Up we go!

A different view of the Miraflores Visitor Centre

A different view of the Miraflores Visitor Centre

Moving into the second lock

Moving into the second lock

Exiting Miraflores

Exiting Miraflores

A mile and a half after, the Pedro Miguel Locks completed our the journey up to the level of Gatun Lake.

Approaching Pedro Miguel Locks

Approaching Pedro Miguel Locks

Between the Pedro Miguel Locks and Gatun Lake is a nine mile stretch called the Culebra Cut. This excavation through the hills of the Continental Divide proved the biggest challenge during the construction of the canal.

Sliding gently through the Culebra Cut

Sliding gently through the Culebra Cut

The Centennial Bridge, completed in 2004

The Centennial Bridge, completed in 2004

After that it was plain sailing (or at least it seemed to us passengers) across Gatun Lake, to the opposite side of the Continent!

Gatun Lake

Gatun Lake

One of the Panama Canal's flotilla of tugboats

One of the Panama Canal’s flotilla of tugboats

Thirty one miles after leaving Pedro Miguel locks we approached Gatun Locks for our three-step return trip to sea level.

Coming up on the Gatun Locks

Coming up on the Gatun Locks

Told you it was tight!

Told you it was tight!

I hope he's not driving!!

I hope he’s not driving!!

Going down!

Going down!

Panorama of one pair of gates at the Gatun locks

Panorama of one pair of gates at the Gatun locks

It's tight on the other side too...

It’s tight on the other side too…

But the mule driver isn't worried!

But the mule driver isn’t worried!

The last set of gates opening before us

The last set of gates opening before us

This end of the canal, beside the city of Colon, is generally referred to as being in the Atlantic Ocean, although I can’t help feeling it’s more correctly in the Caribbean Sea.

And we're free! - Looking back at the Gatun Locks

And we’re free! – Looking back at the Gatun Locks

Whatever the case, it was quite the adventure squeezing through the various locks of the Panama Canal. And by 2016, even bigger ships will be able to take this shortcut between oceans, when the new, larger-capacity locks are opened. I hope I get to sail through them one day!

The new Pacific locks under construction

The new Pacific locks under construction

The new Pacific locks are quite an undertaking

The new Pacific locks are quite an undertaking

As are those at the Atlantic (Caribbean) end

As are those at the Atlantic (Caribbean) end

This post was inspired by the photo theme Enveloped from Krista (of the Daily Post).

Whether or not you’ve ever passed through (or seen) the Panama Canal, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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About Jaspa

Star of my own award-winning adventure novels, Jaspa's Journey. Geocaching addict & F1 fan. Adventure Journeyer & blogger extraordinaire. Check out my website: www.jaspasjourney.com And don’t forget to download the books and see what the buzz is all about!
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16 Responses to The Panama Canal

  1. Mon says:

    Wow, you’ve generously shared so many pictures 🙂
    I love the New Pacific and Gatun Lake…mainly because I love the water ❤

  2. Cee Neuner says:

    This is a fun which way. I would be out taking photos too. 🙂

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  7. Cee Neuner says:

    Congratulations! I have chosen this post to be featured in Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge.
    http://ceenphotography.com/2015/05/20/cees-which-way-challenge-2015-week-20/
    I sure hope you are having a terrific week.

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