The whole time you scan the canopy for colorful birds, you also keep an eye out for ships ahead and behind, both coming and going. This is another surreal aspect of the passage: 40 ships pass each day, or 15,000 per year, day and night, so it’s really very busy (at the mouths there are always dozens of ships waiting to enter) – and yet it is quiet and, at times, strangely quiet. The whole operation has a machine quality, well oiled after all these years.
If it’s a wonder of the world today, imagine what the Panama Canal was like to those who used it for the first time. When it was officially opened on August 15, 1914, the canal saved weeks on the journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific. For example, the trip from New York to San Francisco has been reduced by 8,000 miles. Today, it takes about nine hours for a ship to cross the canal, or 22 days to get from Panama’s Caribbean coast to its Pacific coast via the Strait of Magellan – that’s 22 days, which is a long time. waiting for bananas or frozen food, and a lot of fuel. The weather at Cape Horn is not that mild either.
Approaching Panama City – an intoxicating glamorous and corrupt metropolis – lines of cranes and tall mountains of shipping containers appear. Merchant crews all over the world are busy doing their jobs, but when you pass them up close on the bridge, you can see that they are even excited to use the iconic chain. As a proud Lancastrian I see him as a descendant of the Sankey Grand Canal who first showed the world how to revolutionize transportation with a shovel and a pickaxe and raw muscle.
But the Panama Canal is more than that. A first-rate industrial landmark, a world trade route and a wildlife corridor of supreme importance, it ticks all the boxes for a traveler like me, equally captivated by human ingenuity and the gifts of the nature. So here’s a feliz aniversário in Panama on the occasion of its bicentennial of independence, and a rum cocktail applauds another 100 years of cruising and conservation of the Panama Canal.
How to do
Audley Travel (01993 838675; audleytravel.com) offers a 14-day Grand Tour of Panama package from £ 6,650 per person, including domestic and international flights, transfers, excursions and accommodation, as well as a partial transit of the Panama Canal. For recommendations on where to stay, check out Telegraph Travel’s guide to the best hotels in Panama.