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Published: January 13th 2016
Jan 10, 2016 The Canal
This morning at 7 AM we arrived at the entrance to the Panama Canal. I did not see it or hear it, but when we went up to breakfast, there it was. We were already in the third Gatun Lock. (See photo 1). It was all very slow and majestic- no scraping or bumping. When the lock filled, we were drawn by “mules” that run alongside- very small powerful tractors. You may remember when Jimmy Carter turned the Canal over to the Panamanians, many people said that such backwards people could not possibly run this complex enterprise. Actually, of course, it was like the great non-disaster of the calendar in 2K. Pro forma, we were boarded by a Panamanian official who acts as temporary Captain while passing through Panamanian waters. We are now out on Lake Gatun, 26 meters above sea level, one of a line of ships heading for the locks at the Pacific side. So we barely move, like a freeway jam. Next sight: the Culebra cut, the most daunting part of building the canal. This was where a whole mountain had to be removed, with massive landslides that several times buried the
work already done.
It is appalling to hear again that 30,000 people died on this project, mostly from disease. The French, who killed 20,000, never figured out the relation between mosquitos and yellow fever. Eventually they cut their losses by selling it to Teddy Roosevelt who tookit on as the first great American Government project- bigger and riskier, I would say, than the moon shot. Teddy bullied it through by changing the design from the Fench sea-level canal to an elevated canal with locks and an elevated lake. But the biggest deal was the extermination of all the mosquitos in the Canal Zone. At the time, many people doubted that the moquitos were the cause of yellow fever and malaria. But by the end, when the deadly epidemic was completeluy squelched, nobody could contradict the mosquito theory.
I attach a feww photos showing our progress through the canal. We were anchored in the Pacific just off Panama City by about 4PM, and the next day many people went into the city for a few hours. Carol did;I didn’t. Panama City was a big surprise to me. It is a white city of many high0rise
apartment towers and office towers, very pretty to look at from the sea. For some reason, I did not photograph it, so you will have to imagine.
That night we hauled anchor and set out into the Pacific for eight days at sea. First port: the French Polynesian island of Nuku Hiva. It is not one of the more famous islands, but a very undeveloped one of about 7000 people. It has a beautiful harbor in the caldera of an ancient volcano, and large stone statues a bit similar (but smaller, and better carved) than the ones on Easter Island.
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