A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!
Welcome to the eighth wonder of the world and one of humankind's greatest engineering achievements. Opened to traffic eighty five years ago on August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal took ten years, the labor of more than 75,000 men and women, and almost $400 million to complete.
This canal is marvelous and intense. We visited the Miraflores Locks, 30 feet above sea level, which houses an observation deck where we watched the ships transiting at the end of their course from the Atlantic to the Pacific. While we were watching, a small sailboat, a giant cruise ship, and a big tanker traversed the locks.
Can you imagine this historic period? The builders of the canal triumphed over landslides, tropical diseases like yellow fever and malaria, and they had to deliver, by train, every last nail, hammer, and board to the digging site and then transport every shovel full of dirt back out.
President Jimmy Carter, in 1977, signed treaties with the Panamanian government to gradually hand over control of the Canal to the Panamanians by noon on December 31, 1999. The Panama Canal Commission has an administrator, a deputy administrator, and a Board of Directors, made up of five US citizens and four Panamanian citizens. On December 31, 1989, the post of administrator changed from being held by a U.S. citizen to being held by a Panamanian citizen, while the deputy switches from being Panamanian to U.S.
As we speak, the more than 7,500 employees who directly work with the Canal and another 5000 people who make their living off the Canal are slowly getting laid off or retired, including Mikel's father, who's now in Tennessee looking for alternate work. They had to move from the full second floor of their house to a half of the house, to avoid paying higher rent and property fees, and as Mikel put it, "People don't want the Americans to leave. The minimum American wage is around $6.25. The Panama minimum wage is $1. We won't be able to make as much money, and you know how cheap it can be here in Panama." He worked a summer job for 30 hours/week at $3.40/hr, and now his prospects for earning that kind of paycheck are drastically reduced.
I was wondering why the Panama currency includes regular American dollars, as well as quarters, nickels, dimes, and 50 cent pieces, both American and Panamanian. Someone told me it's because ships pay the canal fees in cash. Tolls were started in 1974, to help with the costs of the canal. Average toll for ocean going commercial vessels? $35,691. Highest toll paid? $153,662.66 paid by Rhapsody of the Seas on May 23, 1997. Lowest toll paid? 36 cents, paid by Richard Halliburton for swimming the Canal in 1928.
As of this point, there have been more than 700,000 transits through the waterways, from small little sailboats to giant cargo ships like we saw. Truly an inspiration to watch and truly a marvel of design, engineering, and human ambition, the Panama Canal is an amazing construction that has shortened the voyages of ships passing from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. Bon Voyage!
Check out the map we made showing the Canal on the Odyssey Maps page!
For a GREAT website on the Panama Canal, click here!
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