Day 13 – Sunday – Oct 7 – Fuerte Amador, Panama

Published: October 8th 2012
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Hello from Fuerte Amador (Fort Amador), here at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. This is a special day being the 8th anniversary of us becoming grandparents. You see, today is Alex Chinn’s 8thbirthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALEX!

We anchored in the bay, along with a couple of dozen other ships waiting to go through the canal. However we are staying here all day and will not go through until tomorrow. Fuerte Amador is actually a man-made peninsula made by building a long causeway out to two islands (it gave them something to do with part of the material dredged from the cana)l. It also provides shelter for several marinas of private boats from either visiting tourists or wealthy locals.

Janet’s cold developed into quite a persistent cough much of the night, so she did not sleep too well. We are happy that today’s plan does not require a lot of walking and is only a 4-hr tour. Anyway, we started with breakfast. Our evening waiter (Francis) brought Janet a cup of hot tea with honey and lemon, and that seemed to help a little. We had some food too, but didn’t over-do it in the buffet today.

We waited in the Princess Theater until they called out tour group. Since the ship is anchored in the bay, everyone has to tender to shore, and that was more time consuming today because we are kind of far out in the bay. But they called us and we made it uneventfully to shore and boarded our bus. We drove through a little of town and then arrived at Mira Flores Lock

This is the first of 3 locks to transit the Isthmus of Panama. The canal actually goes north and south and due to a peculiarity of the geography, the Pacific if on the eastern side of Panama and the Caribbean is on the western side (at least around here). A map should be attached to help you visualize how this works. Also, Panama is the only country in the world where you can see the sun rise in the Pacific and set in the Atlantic (or so they say).

Well, back to our story. The bus took us to the Mira Flores lock (will be explained more in tomorrow’s episode) and we started by watching a 3-D movie about the canal. After seeing 3 days of Enrichment Lecture, there wasn’t too much new news, but it was interesting graphics. Then we went up to the observation platform on the 4th floor and watch a couple of small ships and one large ship pass through the locks (out of the Pacific and into the channel leading to the Atlantic).

Small boats have better maneuverability, so they zip in and out of the lock more easily than large ships. But it takes just as much time and water to fill the lock regardless of the size of the ship. The big ship had to be pushed into position by tug boats (as we will tomorrow) and then used six train engines to keep it from banging into the side of the lock. There are two chambers at Mira Flores (slightly more than a mile long) and a 3rd chamber at Pedro Miguel a little ways up the channel. The 3 locks raise a ship 82 feet – to the level of Lake Gatun which connects the east and west locks. We watched the big ship through the first chamber and moving into the 2nd chamber – we saw the smaller boats all the way through both chambers. It was really very interesting.

We then went back inside to quickly go through a 3 story museum. It covered the local geography, fish and birds, plants and flowers, etc (giving basic information about Panama in general). The second floor of the museum addressed the current locks, including a mock-up of the control tower where everything is operated. There were various depictions of the canal and how the locks operate, but we’ve kind of gotten that info by now. The 3rd floor of the museum was smaller but discussed the enlargement project which is underway. Even from the 4th floor observation tower you could only see the terraced hillsides being prepared for the locks (due for completion between Oct 2014 and May 2015). But all-in-all it was very informative.

Then we were back on the tour bus and headed for a “drive around” of the general area. We went up the canal to Pedro Miguel. They have had to move the 3rd chamber up river because there was not enough original bedrock to build all three chambers in one place. Then we drove through the old Army post (Fort Clayton) which has been turned into the City of Knowledge. When the US returned the canal to Panama, they also got all the military installations. Even today the buildings have a strong resemblance to classic military facilities, but they are being rented out to universities and business which are conducting Research and Development projects. The “base housing” was sold to whoever wanted to buy a house, and now there are some quite expensive looking places. We drove past the gates of the US Embassy, but the bus driver could not even slow down, much less stop for photos.

Then they drove us through the old air Force base (Albrook Air Force Base). This is the new domestic airport for the area. The whole area has been converted into a commercial and high-end residential district. And we drove near the Bridge of the Americas, which we sail under tomorrow – it is part of the Pan American Highway and connects North and South America. Then it was back to the marina for the end of our 4-hour tour. Vic and Carol were booked the same tour as us, but they had the afternoon shift – we were glad to have had the morning tour. It was REALLY interesting to see the canal from a side-view before we go through it tomorrow.

We drove around the town of Balboa (named for the explorer – next year is supposed to be the 500 year celebration). Balboa seems to be a real working class town. By contrast, we did not go to Panama City, but saw the skyline of skyscrapers (one of them is a Trump Tower – even here in Panama). Everyone was very friendly, but then tourists are an important part of the local economy. But we enjoyed ourselves anyway.

We visited a few gift shops after the bus ride was over, but we were kind of tired and hungry. After a little shopping, we took the tender back to the ship. Along the way we had a great view of Panama City – a long stretch of high rise buildings along the coast. When we got back we headed up to the grill for a 2:00 burger or dog.

After eating, Janet took a nap and David went up to the pool for a little swim. The water was very comfortable and the sun was shining brightly. By the way, yesterday (at sea) had sprinkles most of the morning and heavy clouds all afternoon. Anyway, our two land excursions (here during the raining season) have so far been nearly perfect weather. Just before sunset, it got cloudy but we are all inside for the evening, so no problem. We just hope that luck holds for the rest of our trip.

Janet did get a call about our disembarking procedures, so we will have to go back to Passenger Services and straighten out the arrangements. They said our 10:40 flight was too early to ride their shuttle, so we will need to catch a cab instead. But we will get it fixed.

Dinner this evening was highlighted by Surf & Turf. There were various appetizers, soups/salads, and desserts, but the Filet Mignon and Prawns were really delicious. Afterwards we went to see a pianist in the theater. She was very good at playing the piano but the repartee between songs was kind of blah. But still the music was enjoyable.

Tomorrow the pilot comes
Ship at edge of lockShip at edge of lockShip at edge of lock

after water level raised
on-board at 5:45 AM and we are scheduled to enter Miraflores Lock about 7:45. Exit from the lock should be about 9:00 and entering Pedro Miguel Lock about 9:30. Exit from the second lock should be about 10:30. We will travel down the canal and pass by Gamboa about 11:30. We enter Gatum Lock about 1:30 and exit about 4:00. From there we head out into the Caribbean and start toward Columbia. ALL THESE TIMES ARE ESTIMATES and we have been advised to be on deck up to an hour early if we want to be sure to see the first sights.

So that will wrap up today’s entry – look for more interesting info tomorrow. Again – HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALEX, from Grandma and Grandad.

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