Tuesday, December 3, 2013

At the Gatun Locks

As I stood on the observation deck overlooking the Gatun Locks on the Panama Canal, I made myself a solemn promise--to some day cross the Pacific Ocean, from Los Angeles to Japan, via freighter.  I was so close to the passing ships, I could almost reach down and shake the hands of the crew members.  They were a friendly lot, waving and smiling at us tourists above.

What would it be like to spend day after day at sea?  To watch the crest and fall of rolling waves; to watch the sky turn colors and perhaps get angry with rage.  I would read dozens of novels, play cards and look forward to the delicious meals.  I hear they eat well on these ocean passages.  But more importantly, I want to get a feeling of just how big our world is.  Flying gives us a warped sense of reality.  Time and distance are measured in how many in-flight movies we see and how many boxed meals we consume.  This past year when flights were cancelled, delayed or security lines seemed endless, I thought:  This just isn't worth it.  And it alarmed me.  I want to embrace the act of traveling, not just the destination.  I want to travel SLOW.
The Gatun Locks are located at the Atlantic entrance of the canal.  I liked the intimacy of the visitor center here.   For one thing, there were less people than at the Miraflores site on the Pacific side.  I was allowed to watch the ships as long as I wanted.  No one elbowed me out of the way.  There's really nothing else to do--no restaurant or museum to visit,  which suited me just fine.  I have reached a time in my life when I am ready to slow down.  I no longer want to rush from one place to the next.  I want to use all five senses when I travel.  See the subtleties of nature, hear the wind, smell the algae in the water, taste the salt in the air and feel the waves rolling underneath me.   I want my days to be long, not short.  I want time to be measured in nautical-miles.  I want to travel SLOW.

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