Thursday, 9 June 2011

Geri and Skip's Excellent Adventure - Part II

After leaving Cartagena, early the next morning we entered the Gatún Locks of the Panama Canal. Skip and I had ordered room service for breakfast so we could stay out on our balcony for the first set of locks. It was pouring rain, a common occurrence during the rainy season, and we were glad to have a balcony above us for cover. Here's our approach to the first lock.
The canal has a total of six locks which raise and then lower the ship 85 feet to get over the continental divide. Our ship is called a Panamax ship. It is the maximum width and length possible to go through the 110 ft.-wide and 1050 ft. long locks with a beam of 106 ft. and a length of 965 ft. The Panama Canal is the only place on earth where another captain comes aboard to steer the ship, as a 2 foot clearance on each side of the ship leaves a very small margin of error. The locks fill up surprisingly quickly. The water comes from Gatún Lake which is fed by the Panamanian tropical rainforest. On the other side of the continental divide the locks are fed by the Miraflores lake. Panama has carefully preserved the rainforest as there is a delicate balance in play for the rain water to fill the locks.From Wikipedia, "There are two parallel flights of locks at each of the three lock sites. This, in principle, allows ships to pass in opposite directions simultaneously; however, large ships cannot cross safely at speed in the Gaillard Cut (Culebra Cut), so in practice ships pass in one direction for a time, then in the other, using both "lanes" of the locks in one direction at a time".

The ship is connected to diesel-electric locomotives (old-timers called them ‘mules’) which guide the ship through each lock while the ship is under its own power. To go up the steep inclines at each lock, the locomotives are on a cog rail. Once through the Gatun Locks, we sailed through Gatun Lake, a man-made lake made by relocating all the towns in the area and flooding it.

This is a photo from the 'bridgecam' while we were in one of the locks. Bridgecams for all Princess ships are viewable online here. This photo was taken from the bridgecam broadcast on the TV in our stateroom.
Skip's brother, Andy, and his wife, Nancy had the stateroom next to us. Here, they and Skip (with his cheesy grin) were all delighted to be going through this man-made marvel.
The canal officially opened in 1914 and allows 27 ships to traverse it each way each day. It takes between 6 - 8 hours for a ship to go from ocean to ocean. It truly is the crossroads of the world being the shortest distance from practically anywhere in the Pacific to most locales in the Atlantic Ocean. Half the day, ships travel from north to south (from the Atlantic to the Pacific) and the other half of the day ships travel from south to north. As the water drains from one side of one lock, lowering the ship, it is raising a ship in the next lock. A new, wider canal is being built parallel to the old one with a completion date of 2014, the centennial of the opening of the original canal. The new locks will be more efficient with water collection areas storing the outflow from the locks and pouring back into them with gravity. 60% of the water will be preserved continuing the balance of nature powering this very important transportation system. The old locks will continue to function after the opening of the new ones. However, larger ships will be able to pass through the new locks, in many cases side by side. Here’s a YouTube video showing time-lapse photography of the Coral Princess and two cargo ships going through the Miraflores Locks.

At lunch time, we passed through the Pedro Miguel locks and then the Miraflores locks.
When we entered the Pedro Miguel locks, we could see the construction site of the new canal west of us. The anticipated date of the opening of the new, wider canal is in 2014, the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal. Once we passed under the Bridge of the Americas we were at the Pacific Ocean - a distance of 51 nautical miles from the Caribbean Sea. We then anchored off Fuerte Amador - a jetty about 1km into the ocean where we were tendered ashore the next day to take our various excursions. A tender is one of the lifeboats that is lowered upon which we clamoured for the short ride to the shore. Here is the skyline of Panama City from our tender. It was a very humid day and one could almost see the moisture in the air.
We went on an excursion where we took a bus back up the canal to the Chagres River and boarded power boats and headed up river to see the what wildlife we could see. First we saw an anteater up in a tree. Then a group of white-faced Capuchin monkeys who came right down to the boats.
We assume they are accustomed to being fed as they immediately appeared once we approached. We also saw a three-toed sloth high up in a tree.
That evening we set sail for Puntarenas, Costa Rica on the Bay of Nicoya - a 478 nautical mile sail. Heading for the open Pacific Ocean we reached our southernmost point of 6 degrees N - the closest I’ve ever been to the equator. The sail to Puntarenas would give us a day at sea. This provided us an opportunity to do some laundry on the ship. There are laundromats on every deck that has staterooms. There are 5 stacking washer/dryers and it only costs $1 per load. There is also an ironing board which doubles as a folding table and a wash tub. I brought my own laundry soap and was able to get two washers and two dryers within about 15 minutes. While I waited for the loads to finish, I headed up to the Library to sit and knit. The comfy leather armchairs face out to the ocean and there are nice footstools to put one’s feet on. When Fred was in quarantine, we got our laundry done for free but I wasn’t in the room when Fred had to bundle up the dirty clothes so a lot of my tops and shorts hadn’t yet been washed.

Once in Puntarenas, we got on the bus for our Scarlet Macaw tour. We got into flat-bottomed boats that held about 40 people each and motored along a river. Although there is no guarantee that any specific wildlife will be seen on any of these tours, we were very pleased to clearly see a pair of Scarlet Macaws up in a tree near the river.
They just sat there seemingly undisturbed by the excited people in the boat looking up at them.

On this tour, we also saw a huge green iguana and a ringed kingfisher who had just caught his next meal. He sat there for the longest time posing for us. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get the best photo.
Then we saw this huge crocodile. He was so pale we all thought he was fake.
Until he turned towards us and dove into the water.

Back on the ship we set sail for a long haul to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - about 1600 nautical miles or 2900km. With an average speed of about 42km, it was going to take almost three full days. We continued our frivolity on the ship - participating in trivia contests, going to informational talks (about the navigation system, the upcoming ports, best shopping deals, etc.) and eating like royalty at every meal, particularly supper.

My sister-in-law, Nancy, observes a gluten-free diet. The dining staff on the ship bent over backwards to accommodate her dietary needs by bringing her gluten-free bread at every meal, letting her select her menu for the next evening so they could prepare it gluten-free, and surprising her every night with a specially-prepared gluten-free dessert usually with a second choice at the ready. The Argentinian head waiter, José, far surpassed the call of duty in seeing that Nancy had as many meal choices as we did and personally supervised the planning as well as the serving of each meal. He also had a very entertaining and personable manner which kept us laughing and gave us even more to look forward to each night.
Our group had selected ‘anytime’ dining which meant we went to the same dining room every night but didn’t have to observe the rigid first sitting or second sitting times. In order to reserve our preferred dining time of 5:45pm, one of us had to call the ‘dine line’ to reserve the table. Susan did this pretty much every morning so it was routine for us to just walk in the reservation door and proceed directly to Table 51 and meet up with the others in our group to compare the days’ activities.
Our waiters were Arnel and Robert from the Philippines. Dinner usually lasted 1 3/4 - 2 hours with 15 - 20 minute intervals between courses. There were about 10 appetizer choices at each dinner with 4 soup/salad choices and about 6 entrée choices. We had 2 ‘lobster nights’ on our 17 days at sea. I had shrimp cocktail at every dinner except the very last one where I had begun my attempt at tapering off the quantity of food I had been consuming. We also had 2 Baked Alaska nights.

After that, we’d either go to a show or back to the cabin for a bit of a rest before the evening’s trivia challenge. Our group “Team Watson Plus” made a very respectable showing in the evening challenges. Here we're waiting for evening trivia to start.
to be continued....

1 comment:

  1. That looks like a totally amazing trip! I didn't realize that there were locks on the canal, but of course they would have them... that only makes sense!

    How lucky you are to have seen all those animals in their native habitat. I hope someday to do the same trip!