The ship sailed away from Panama City early in the morning and we were entering the Panama Canal at the Miraflores Lock by 8am.
Even though our ship was small by Canal standards, it was large enough to require being guided by a pair of locomotives, called “mules” – there was one on each side of the ship.
Fairly soon, we were near the lock gates.
They don’t like to waste water, so we were accompanied by several smaller ships, including a local sightseeing boat loaded with daytrippers
and an even smaller passenger vessel, the Sundance Sunset which we nicknamed the “S. S. PortaPotty” for obvious reasons.
The Sundance Sunset tied up to the other ship for the transit through the gates; I’m not sure why.
About 45 minutes later, we had cleared both chambers of the lock and were about 50 feet higher in elevation, on the way to the Pedro Miguel locks, just southeast of the Centennial Bridge.
The process at the Pedro Miguel locks was very similar; this time, we could see traffic coming the other way – the container ship Maersk Innoshima. It’s not quite a Panamax ship, but it dwarfed us (233 meters long versus our 131 meters).
There was traffic moving on the Canal Expansion, too, which can take even larger “New Panamax” ships like the [Mendeleev Prospect]. It’s painted green, says “Powered by Natural Gas” in large friendly letters, and carries crude oil…but it’s greenwashed crude oil!
We spent a good part of the crossing inside, out of the sun, but we did go out from time to time for photos!
By 2:30, we were midway through the third and final lock, the Gatun Locks, which have three chambers. You can see the Atlantic Bridge in the distance.
We sailed under the Atlantic Bridge and anchored in Cristobal Bay for the evening, having made the westbound crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
The passage through the Panama Canal was the raison d’etre for the trip, but once you’ve seen one lock, you’ve seen them all!
In the evening, we enjoyed a classical piano recital by the ship’s pianist, Sergey Yurchenko, and bought his CD as a souvenir of our passage through the canal.
Even before we docked at Balboa Port, we could see the ships waiting at sea for their turn to cross the Panama Canal.
Our morning tour took us to the BioMuseo and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Punta Culebra Nature Center, both located on the Amador Causeway in the former Canal Zone, just a few minutes from our docking spot. As we drove there, we passed what I thought was a parking lot – the cars and trucks there were waiting for drivers to take them across the Isthmus because it was cheaper to unload them, have someone drive them across, and put them back on a ship than to pay the freight to send them through the canal! I wonder if the odometers get reset?
The BioMuseo was designed by Frank Gehry – inside, we learned about Panama’s natural history and its amazingly diverse wildlife.
The best part of the BioMuseo was spending time in the gardens outside, seeing the biodiversity in the real world.
And we couldn’t forget why we were in Panama – to explore connections, like the Bridge of the Americas, which connects North and South America over the Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic and Paciifc Oceans.
Punta Culebra Nature Center (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)
We got back on the bus and drove to the Nature Center – the Smithsonian was one of the groups on the tour, and the Director of STRI was one of the expert lecturers, so we were treated very well indeed!
We could see the remains of the old quarantine station (for yellow fever) just offshore.
When Noriega was the dictator of Panama, he used the aquarium here as a lounge – the bar is still here (but there was no beer to be had on the day we visited).
And of course, there was nature in profusion, like two-toed sloths
and a beautiful bird
and sea stars and sea cucumbers
and one BIG iguana!
Casco Viejo (San Felipe)
After lunch on the ship, we returned to the bus for a walking and shopping tour of the old city. John Meffert from the National Trust was our leader – we’ve traveled with John many times (in fact, we chose this trip because he was going to be the Trust’s leader), so we knew we were in good hands.
There’s a lot of construction going on in the old city – gentrification in some places, just maintenance in others.
John pointed out the sign offering “free entry” at the front of La Mayor – and explained that it was a brothel. Entry might be free, but….
We continued on to the Church of the Sisters of Mercy.
There’s an altar to Saint Hedwig inside – Panamaians pray for her intercession in their housing needs, and when their prayers are answered, they place a minature house on her altar. She must be good at interceding!
Gentrification and renovation are happening at a brisk pace, so you can see the new and the rather old side-by-side.
We stopped at Mosaico chocolate shop, which occupies the building which was the home of TomÃ¡s Arias, one of the founders of the Republic of Panama. The chocolate was excellent.
We wandered around the old city for a few more hours; many people, including Diane, bought Panama hats, but I didn’t need one – they’re actually made in Ecuador, and I’d bought one there in 2018.
We returned to the ship for trivia, dinner, and a show (“Frida”, about Frida Kahlo, told through dance and song). The docks stayed busy with ships making Canal transits; we would join them tomorrow.
We were the first group to leave the ship today, which meant we had to be on the tender at 6:30am. The tender took us to the town of Quépos, where we caught a bus to Manuel Antonio National Park and were met by our guide for the day, Luis.
We didn’t have to wait long to see wildlife – this three-toed sloth was waiting for us just inside the entrance.
The park was busy, even at 8am; fortunately, there were viewing platforms off the main path so we could look at wildlife without being trampled.
They have white-faced monkeys here, just like CurÃº — this one looked surprised to see us.
Luis didn’t carry his spotting scope in vain – we never would have seen this dragonfly without it.
We probably could have used the scope to see these baby bats better.
But this iguana was hard to miss.
Of course we took a selfie to prove we were here!
Hermit crabs enjoy having a nice beach.
There were nice flowers to look at even after we left the park on our way back to the bus, like this hibiscus.