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Published: January 20th 2017
Our first official port was Cartagena, Columbia. Out waitlisted tour came through and we drove to the National Avery. On the way our guide Sergio told us about the history of the revolutionary movement. The FARC started out as a protest by villages that were being shortchanged by the cities and the National government. Unfortunately the movement joined with the drug cartels to get money to buy weapons. The conflict went on for sixty years and a peace treaty is currently being negotiated, the first one was rejected by the people.
We drove through an industrial area where oil refineries and chemical plants pollute the air and ground. Although the soil was once very fertile, nothing grows there now.
The Aviary is a national treasure. We wandered the trails for three hours and saw all kinds and colors of birds. Some were too small and quick to capture in a picture. Of course, the battery died before I saw the condors. If I was to list all the birds we saw I would have a blog to long to post. It was a great tour
Transit the canal. We were up early and on deck as we waited for our ships turn. A large container ship was directed to the new locks; we followed a car carrier through the original locks. It always amazes me at the engineering skill that imagined this marvel and the huge cost in money, time and human life it entailed. We climb the first three locks up eighty feet to the largest man made lake, Lake Gatun.
The Panamanian sun and high humidity drove me inside and I watched the lock wall slid by and then up through my window. Another perspective and a cool one. Then the lake appears and the ships are lined up for the transit to the Caribbean.
We cross the lake and enter the Culebra Cut, the most time consuming project and the most costly in human lives as the workers blasted their way through solid rock. The remaining cliffs on either side are 600' to port and 300' to starboard. The entire Transit will take around eight hours. Waiting time at the entrance adds one or two hours depending in the traffic.
The Pacific locks
are a anticlimax. The first lock Pedro Miguel is a single step and the second, Miraflores, a two stepper. As we approach, Panama City skyscrapers loam to port while the Pan American highway bridge is to starboard.
The most amazing story of the Canal is that it's operation is self sustaining. Mother Nature provides the rain that fills the lake, gravity does the lifting and lowering. Electricity is generated at the hydroelectric plant and powers all the operations. Tolls provide the funds for maintenance, and the taxpayers pay zero. Built over a hundred years ago, the infrastructure, gates, culverts, lock walls are original. The latest upgrade of the little engines was in 1962 and they look new. The gates are so well balanced that if there were a power failure they could be operated by hand.
It truly is the engineering marvel of the age.
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