Monday, November 11, 2013

Afternoon at the Miraflores Locks

Only a thirty minute taxi ride from Panama City, the Visitor Center at the Miraflores Locks is a good way to begin your tour of the canal.  Before this trip, I had read the excellent book by Matthew Parker, entitled "Panama Fever."  It's a thorough study of the building of the canal and reads like an espionage thriller.  For a work of non-fiction, I tell you, it was a real page turner!  But to stand out on the observation deck and see first hand the incredible engineering and the ships that barely fit into the narrow locks as they cross from one ocean to the next, is an emotional experience that caught me totally by surprise.  Even my travel buddy was moved.  "This is far better than I ever imagined," he said.  "The Panama Canal was not on my Top Twenty, but it should have been."

I couldn't have agreed more.  Although the exhibits at the center were excellent, because I had read Parker's book, I made a cursory walk-through and then spent most of my time out on the deck.  I confess I had been a bit ashamed and even horrified by the methods our government used to get the damn thing built, but it struck me how miraculous it truly was, especially since it was done nearly one hundred years ago.  The same miter gates, the same concrete chambers, all still in use and all working smoothly to provide easy portage of goods from one side of the world to the other.  Ships from China, Africa, Japan and South Korea were squeezing through the canal.  Crewmen looked up, smiled and waved as they passed.  I felt like I was standing at the center of the universe.  My shame disappeared.  All I felt was an enormous pride at what America had done.  And thanks to President Carter, the canal was now operated solely by Panamanians.

I forced myself to eat a quick lunch in the restaurant, but then I was right outside again.  I could have spent the entire day watching the ships.  I wondered what the future will hold for the Panama Canal.  Even with the expansion, its days may be numbered.  China has just made a deal with Nicaragua to build another canal, one big enough to allow supertankers and massive freighters to cross the continent.  The population of the world continues to grow and our need for goods, food and oil, grows with it.

I shuddered.  I have a strong feeling America's role in the affairs of this canal is far from over.  

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