So, from paradise to the big and busy city of Panama City only took a few hours.
We stayed in the city for a few days; to get everything organized again, to check on the route and to visit the Miramar locks in the canal. According to the taxi driver, we’d need about 1,5 hours to look around, but we ended up staying all afternoon. It was a very nice and interesting place and some very large ships passed us through the locks. Even a Dutch ship!
The Panama canal is 80 kms (50 miles) long and there are 3 sets of locks, 1 on the Caribbean side and 2 on the Pacific side. These locks lift the ships a total of 26 meters (78 ft) from sea level to the water level in Gatun Lake, which they have to cross. The French started building/digging the canal in 1880, but when it became too expensive they stopped. After Panama got its independence in 1903, they negotiated with the US for the construction of the canal and the locks. The whole project finished in 1914 and the US managed it till Dec. 31st 1999, when Panama took over control.
You can visit the first locks on the side of the city (Pacific side). There’s a visitors center, museum and viewpoints from which you can watch the whole process. Currently they’re constructing new and larger locks, so more and larger ships can pass through. That whole project is supposed to be finished in 2014, when the canal celebrates its 100th anniversary.
We leave the city tomorrow for our journey through the country. We think we need about a week to get to the Costa Rican border.