I'll See You All Back at Midnight
By Patricio Roca, Expedition Guide, Safari Voyager
It is 6:30 PM and we are beginning our journey through the Panama Canal. Almost immediately, we see the Gatun Locks from the entrance of the canal in the Caribbean Sea.
And so, it begins. We are raised to the level of an artificial lake, as the Panama Canal only operates with fresh water. This water comes from the eight months of rain this small country receives every year. Up we go, to the level of Gatun Lake. The ship raises to 87 feet above sea level and it takes eight minutes to fill those millions of gallons of fresh water.
There are three different “steps up,” or chambers, as they are properly called, within the Gatun Locks. I explain to the group, a very attentive one, that in order to get to the other ocean, we are really going above the country since much of this country is at sea level.
My narration as we transit the Panama Canal is always fun, at least for me. I customize my narrations to every group, as the questions tend to vary. Everyone is very enthusiastic about the questions and the answers provided.
As we finish being raised to Gatun Lake level, and the Panama Canal pilot disembarks together with the line handlers (they keep the ship centered in the chambers together with the electric locomotives, also called mules) as the lights start to fade. The lake is quite large, but the only thing you can see is blinking green and red lights which mark the channel to follow.
I want to narrate some more, but the lack of lights will make it very difficult. So, my proposition is to meet back in the same spot for the way down to the Pacific Ocean.
Once we are raised to 87 feet above sea level, we must be lowered back down. The locks on the other side of the Panama Canal are the same size as the ones in the Caribbean. But there are two of them. Pedro Miguel and Miraflores are their names.
I ask the Panama Canal pilot the exiting time on the Pacific Ocean - he says 2:00 AM. So, I calculate that right before midnight those interested could meet again with me and we would all witness the hull lowering down to the Pacific Ocean.
I was expecting maybe one or two people to join me. To my surprise, more than a dozen guests were up and waiting by the time I showed up (11:35 PM).
This has definitely been one of my favorite narrations in the Panama Canal so far.