Thursday, Nov. 16 — We’ve traveled on planes, taxis, buses, and boat. Today we get to add the train.
But before that we took a bus tour of the Colon area, and then headed to the Agua Clara locks. These are the new locks that run parallel to the Gatun locks for the larger ships.
Rey told us a lot about the Colon area, as he lives here, and has most of his life. During the period of US control of the Canal, he worked for the US, and lived on the base near our hotel. We were given the tour on the bus, which also kept us out of the rain. As part of the transfer to Panamanian control at the end of 1999, the bases were turned over to the Panama Canal Agency. Much of the housing was sold to private ownership, and while the basic structures are all still quite similar to the eye, many have been improved and maintained.
Our next stop is the Agua Clara locks complex, opened in 2016. In 2007, the Panama Canal Authority was authorized by popular vote to bring the aging Panama Canal up to a higher capacity. The vote authorized the building of the wider canal lock structures to allow ships that exceed the old Panamax size vessels into the Gatun Lake and to deepen and widen the lake channels so more traffic could flow more easily.
Agua Clara locks on the Caribbean side provide this extra access. This aerial view of the locks shows clearly one of the obvious improvements over the older locks. Each lock bay empties its water into three reservoirs, which then are used to fill the bay back up when appropriate. The older locks on this end get water from Gatun Lake and dump it into Caribbean as they were designed back in the days long before global warming. The new design diminishes the water necessary to operate the locks. As with the older locks, there are no pumps, the water is moved strictly with gravity flow from place to place.
The picture above shows the Gatun Lake side of Agua Clara, coming up to the first gate. Note in the lower picture that the gates are car-capable-road width, and are pushed across the lock bay using hydraulic pressure rather than the electric cable systems used by the smaller gates in the older locks.
Above you see the lock bays emptying into the Caribbean, each bay slightly lower as your vision moves from left to right.
Here can be seen a number of ships that have either just completed the Canal crossing or are waiting for the next opportunity to head for the Pacific side.
After looking around awhile, we headed back to the bus. When we got there, we discovered that there is a family of howler monkeys in the trees behind where the bus is parked.
In the trees could also be seen this vulture, well camouflaged.
As we drive out toward our next stop, the driver (whose keen eyes provided us the more unique animal sights we saw along the way) caught sight of this sloth and her baby resting themselves.
While we are on the animals we saw from the bus, here’s a Coatimundi that was kind enough to pose for pictures. I’m told this animal is related to the raccoon that we know and periodically see in Michigan.
Next up is our train ride back across the isthmus to Panama City. I want to compliment our tour guides for their excellent timing on this trip. Even though we were visiting at the height of the rainy season, we almost never were out in the rain. As can be seen in many of the pictures, there were often huge cloud formations above us, but to our comfort, when we were outside (like on the boat trip, or walking around old town Panama City), the rain held off. This comes up now because our train ride back to Panama City finds us happily sitting in the domed car while the rain pelts down.
As with most train rides I’ve been on, this one opens with a view of the not-so-impressive parts of Colon.
This one is in some senses worse than usual, as we are treated to a view of the garbage dump on our way out of Colon.
Most of the trip (total time one and a half hours, compared to the nine hours on the Islamorada), gives us good views of Gatun Lake.
The clouds break up as we head south (yes, the Canal runs basically north-south as Panama itself can be seen on a map to run basically east-west).
The sun never really comes out from behind the clouds, although we do get some color from the sunset.
When we get to the station on the Panama City side, we are met by our favorite bus and its expert driver. He uses his considerable skill to take us to our hotel for the night in downtown Panama City.
We have a bit of time to settle in, and then its out onto the terrace looking out on the buildings near by to have our dinner. It is actually one of the best dinners we have had, and then when we are done eating, Juan Carlos has a surprise for us. For our entertainment, a group of dancers and musicians perform for us native Panamanian dances in spectacular costumes they have made themselves.
The men in the group wear hats that don’t look like what is considered a Panama hat. The Panama hat, which is sold by every souvenir store we walked by, has a flat brim all the way around. The hats these men wear are bent back front and back to be parallel to the rise of the part that fits over the head. These hats are considered authentic Panamanian hats. The souvenir Panama hats are modeled after a hat worn by President Teddy Roosevelt when he visited Panama during the building process. This visit, by the way, was the first foreign visit by a sitting president.
The ladies costumes are quite intricate, as shown by the picture. These are traditionally made by the dancer herself.
The dancers went through several traditional dances, and then invited a few of the group to join them for the final dance.
After the dancing was completed, Rey, Gabe, and Juan Carlos (l to r) were thanked by all of us for the wonderful job they did throughout the program.
Tomorrow, we go back to the airport for our return to Palm Springs. The return trip turned out to be a lot longer than it should have been, and we missed our plane from Miami to Palm Springs. We were rebooked on the next flight to Palm Springs, but instead of a comfortable trip on a 777, we had to settle for an uncomfortable one on a 737. Oh, well, the visit was fun, and quite a very well done tour!