When you’re planning a vacation to Colombia and all of your possible flight itineraries connect through Panama City, Panama…AND when one of your former bosses lives in Panama City, you reach out to see if you can have a meal during your six or seven hour layover. But, this is Latin America, so the answer isn’t just a simple “yes.” It’s more like a, “Megan! You must come the day before and stay with us!! We will take you to the canal and dinner and dim sum for breakfast!” So, of course, I made to plans to fly through Panama a day earlier than needed, so I could take them up on this generous offer.
Taking me to the canal proved to be a labor of love, because we got stuck in a dreadful traffic jam on the way. What should’ve been maybe 45 minutes, turned into two hours. The Panama Canal is always open. The museum has a closing time, but you can always go out and see the boats passing through the locks. We found a table at the restaurant overlooking the Miraflores Locks and sat for a while enjoying some appetizers and watching the HUGE ships pass through while the sun set.
I didn’t know anything about the Panama Canal prior to this visit. A couple of facts for you:
- The canal is 48 miles long.
- It is an artificial waterway.
- It has three locks.
- The canal project was started by France, but later finished by the US.
- It was opened in 1914.
- It takes 6-8 hours for a ship to pass through the canal.
[Isn’t this amazing?! There’s barely any clearance on either side of the boat!!]
[The little grey train cars on either side of the boat are helping to guide it through the locks. They are attached to the front and back of the ship with cords. This is the original canal – not the wider one that was just opened earlier this summer. In this one, the boats are guided through. They don’t drive (is that the right verb for operating a boat?) themselves through these narrow locks.]
[The locks are closing behind the big ship]
[One of my favorite pictures. I’m still amazed that these really tall ships sail all the way across the ocean without tipping over! And I’m amazed by the engineering behind the canal – especially over 100 years ago!]
I took pictures of this green boat going all the way through the locks (which probably takes 15-30 minutes…I didn’t time it exactly), so you can see the various stages…
Boat is starting to disappear…
The water levels are going down, and you can barely see the ship!
The ship is coming out the other side at the lower level!
After visiting the canal, it was time to meet up with all of the others I know in Panama for dinner. And what could be better than a rooftop terrace in the Old Town overlooking the water and the skyline?! Capital Bistro Panama was such a good pick!
In addition to my former boss and his wife, I got to see two other former colleagues and their spouses. (You may recognize one of them from our chance rendezvous in Mexico City a couple of weeks earlier.) We worked in St. Louis together four or five years ago. The other colleague worked in Switzerland at the same time as me. All of them are now working in Panama, and we had such a fun evening together!
The next morning, I woke up to a pretty great view of the Pacific Ocean and the city.
We went out for a dim sum breakfast at the Golden Unicorn. Apparently, a lot of Chinese people moved to Panama a long time ago to help build the railroad, and as a result, there is some Chinese culture that is embedded into Panamanian culture. Dim sum is one of those things. It’s a very typical breakfast in Panama. I had to laugh that an American and a Mexican who met in Switzerland were eating Chinese dim sum together in Panama!
We walked through Old Town (Casco Viejo) during the day. They are rebuilding a lot of the buildings, and there is some really beautiful architecture. Some of the buildings reminded me of New Orleans with their wrought iron balconies.
[I happened to look out the window a few minutes before landing as we were approaching Panama, and I was SHOCKED by the number of ships in the water. Almost all of them have probably just passed through the canal or are waiting their turn. I took a photo from the ground on my second day to capture some of them sitting out in the water.]
We also drove out to eat a late lunch at a water-front restaurant on the Causeway before heading to the airport. It was a whirlwind 30-hour visit, but according to my hosts, I saw 80% of the tourist sites. I think that means it was a success!