In Panama for busi­ness? Take a side trip to the canal

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE -

Dozens of spec­ta­tors gawk from an ob­ser­va­tion deck as a bulk freighter car­ry­ing a va­ri­ety of grains from the United States to China inches its way closer. Forty-ton lo­co­mo­tives known as mules latch onto the mas­sive ves­sel with ca­bles and guide it in­side the Mi­raflo­res locks, em­ploy­ing a me­chan­i­cal pre­ci­sion that keeps it from bang­ing into the con­crete walls de­spite the tight fit.

The ship’s cross­ing through the Panama Canal is nearly com­plete as the 700-ton steel doors swing shut. While most of their bulk is hid­den un­der­neath the wa­ter, they’re as tall as an eight-story build­ing and do­ing the job for over a cen­tury.

As a ma­jor Latin Amer­i­can hub of fi­nance, com­merce and trans­porta­tion, the Pana­ma­nian cap­i­tal is a grow­ing des­ti­na­tion for busi­ness trav­el­ers. For any­one look­ing to duck out of a con­ven­tion cen­ter for a few hours, fill a gap be­tween meet­ings or even if you’ve just got a long lay­over at the air­port, a visit to Panama City’s No 1 at­trac­tion and its newly ex­panded locks makes for the per­fect side ex­cur­sion.

Ship­ping geeks in par­tic­u­lar will de­light at this en­gi­neer­ing marvel that rev­o­lu­tion­ized global mar­itime trade when it opened for busi­ness on Aug 15, 1914, but it also ap­peals to a broader au­di­ence. Nearly 3,000 peo­ple visit each day dur­ing the

The Mi­raflo­res Visi­tor Cen­ter of­fers sev­eral sto­ries of space with an up-close view of the machi­na­tions of the canal, where ships pass through about 35 to 40 times a day. With each cross­ing, an en­thu­si­as­tic guide in­forms vis­i­tors on a re­cent sticky, trop­i­cal morn­ing, that the locks fill with about 26 mil­lion gal­lons (100 mil­lion liters) of fresh wa­ter that then spill into the Pa­cific Ocean.

“I’m im­pressed by the mag­ni­tude of this op­er­a­tion,” says Vicky Lon­dono, a Colom­bian trav­eler who flew into the air­port that day with her hus­band and hopped in a cab to see the canal be­fore con­tin­u­ing to their fi­nal des­ti­na­tion, Madrid. big bash in late June to for­mally in­au­gu­rate its new Co­coli locks, which dou­bled the wa­ter­way’s ca­pac­ity and can ac­com­mo­date huge New Pana­max-class ves­sels that carry up to three times as much carfit. There will be no sep­a­rate view­ing plat­form at Co­coli for at least two years, but for now you can see some of the ac­tion at a dis­tance from Mi­raflo­res. Tip: Bring binoc­u­lars.

“This is spec­tac­u­lar,” says from New York, as a sky-blue liq­uid petroleum gas ship emerged from Co­coli bound for the At­lantic. “The past, present and fu­ture of the canal, all right here.”

Get­ting to the canal is a agen­cies and ho­tel tours com­pet­ing for your busi­ness. For $30 or so, de­pend­ing on your will­ing­ness to hag­gle, taxi driv­ers will take you from the city cen­ter and pick you up a cou­ple of hours later. Plan on $60 or more if you’re start­ing from the air­port, as well as a 30- to 45-minute cab ride there— pos­si­bly longer due to Panama City’s chronic traf­fic con­ges­tion.

If no ship is pass­ing through right when you ar­rive, while away the time in the fa­cil­ity’s theater and mu­seum for com­pre­hen­sive ex­hibits on the canal and its con­struc­tion — which claimed the lives of more than 25,000 work­ers. Most of those who died were from Caribbean is­lands, most of them vic­tims of trop­i­cal dis­eases such as malaria and yel­low fever.

A sim­u­la­tor lets you play cap­tain and vir­tu­ally ma­neu­ver a ship through the locks. There’s also a snack bar, and a pricier restau­rant up­stairs that stays open into the even-


Tourists at the Agua Clara locks of the newly ex­panded Panama Canal.

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