Friday, March 12, 2010

Day 6: Panama Canal -Part 3

As we are approaching the final set of two locks it appears the novelty of the Panama Canal is waning... as evidenced by the lack of spectators on the front rail where previously everyone clamoured for this prime viewpoint.

The Miraflora Locks will take us down to sea level at the Pacific Ocean. This voyage which took us about 9 hours to traverse cuts about 13,000 miles off from having to travel around the tip of South America on a trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Los Angeles... probably saves about 20 days of travel time.

This close-up of a new mule also shows the cogs in the center of the tracks, as well as how close our ship fits into the locks. There is less than a foot of space on each side... and the purpose of the mules is to keep the ships from scraping against the walls of the locks as they move thru.

The black object between the green bushes is an old mule, a historic relic that tourists enjoy to see. Our captain pointed out it cost about $36,000 a hundred years ago... and the new mules the Japanese built cost about 1.4 million dollars each. It takes between 4 and 8 mules to guide a ship thru the locks, depending on the size of the ship. So you can see it takes a lot of mules to guide the vessels coming thru these locks.

Here is the spillway for the Miraflores Lake beside the locks. Picture taken from the back of our ship.

We didn't get to leave the ship to tour the Panama Canal Visitor Center, but maybe next time we could take a day excursion and come back here when the cruise ship docks near Panama City. There was lots of waving happening here... both on our ship and on the observation decks of the Visitor Center.

In the foreground is the emergency services... fire and ambulance services. The larger red-roof building behind in the center is the Administration Building for the Panama Canal Authority.

This is not a major highway any more, since the building of the Bridge of the Americas in the 1960's. It is now just a local road that allows traffic to get across the canal when ships are not immediately passing thru.

Notice the section of the bridge that is turned to allow our ship to go thru... and when we have passed, it will be swung around for local traffic to go over the canal.

Between the shipping cranes the sky scrapers of Panama City stand tall... apparently 20 years ago none of these were there.

This Bridge of the Americas completed in 1962 was a tremendous addition to the Pan American Highway. It is 1654 feet long and has 14 spans. The main span is 1128 feet and the deck is 259 feet above the water. The highest point of the bridge is 384 feet.

Trivia: This bridge cost about 20 million dollars... and 50 years later the new Centennial Bridge cost 100 million dollars. The cost difference is partly due to inflation, the other part has to do with the design... beauty often carries a higher price. The Centennial Bridge wins the beauty contest hands down!

When the Bridge of the Americas opened there were about 9,500 vehicles a day using it... but just before the Centennial Bridge opened in 2004 traffic had increased to 35,000 vehicles a day.

At both ends of the Panama Canal ships sit and wait their turn to pass thru. We were told that the cost of our passage, which is based on 1980 passengers and a crew of 992, as well as the ships size, came to $330,000 USD... which is about $166 USD per passenger. Now that is a serious toll, eh?

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