Panama Canal Transit: I'll see you back at midnight
By Patricio Roca, Expedition Guide on the Safari Voyager
It was 6:30 p.m. and we began the journey across the Panama Canal. The first thing on site was the French canal, or at least their effort to join the two oceans. Almost immediately we saw Gatun Locks from the entrance of the Panama Canal in the Caribbean Sea. And so it begins.
We are raised to an artificial lake level; you see the Panama Canal operates only with fresh water. This water comes from the eight months of rain this small country receives every year, and up we go to Gatun Lake level. It takes eight minutes to fill millions of gallons of fresh water as the ship raises to meet 87 feet above sea level. Three different “steps up” or chambers, as they are properly called, all 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 transverse the Panama Canal is always fun, at least for me. I customize my narrations to every group, as the questions tend to vary. Everyone was very enthusiastic with 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) 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 was 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 have to be lowered 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 went to ask the Panama Canal pilot the exiting time on the Pacific Ocean. He said 2:00 a.m. So I calculated that right before midnight those interested could meet again with me and we would all witness the whole lowering down to 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 p.m.) Definitely one of my favorite narrations in the Panama Canal so far.