The alarm is set for 5:30 AM, dress quickly and walk out on the balcony. We are passing under the new highway bridge. Way ahead of schedule. No time for breakfast, the first stop is the helipad just down the hall from our cabin. Already occupied by many passengers, we find a good viewing spot as we approach the entrance to the first lock.
The locks work as smoothly today as they did over 100 years ago when the canal first opened. I don't see any ships heading west in front of us, but there is a steady stream of vessels heading east. Considering they are exiting to the caribbean at 6 or 7 in the morning, they must have made the transit in darkness.
The new locks have been open for several years, Much more efficient from both a labor and water conservation viewpoint, able to handle much larger ships, but only able to transit 15 ships a day. Some of the largest container ships pay over a million dollars to transit. A lot of money, but still a great savings over sailing around South America. Just helps to give perspective to the cost of ships waiting for days to unload at many ports.
The old locks can handle just over 40 ships per day. Conversations have already begun on adding another set of even larger locks.
We complete our transit over an hour ahead of schedule and move to a holding area in Gantun lake to await our return to Colon later in the day.
Our shore excursion to Panama city is about an hour late in departing despite our early arrival.
As is customary on Holland America, all excursions first gather in the theater to get number stickers, and then each group leaves the theater together to either go to the gangway or board a tender.
Today we tender to shore, board a bus, and are driven over one of the gates of the new locks. A very large container ship is in the lock as we pass by. Probably the scheduling of gate closure for the lock is what determined our excursion departure time.
The countryside is what one would expect. Hilly with lots of vegetation, and very sparsely populated.
We arrive in Panama City and drive through several sections of both the new and the old cities. View ruins of the oldest bridge and remnants of ancient buildings.
Panama City is nothing like what I anticipated. Yes there are modern skyscrapers, all built since the US returned the canal zone to Panama just over 20 years ago, and a lite rail system still under construction. What I did not expect was the dirtiest city I have ever visited. Garbage and trash everywhere. In the streets, the alley ways, in the few open spaces, and even on the balconies of apartment buildings. Trash and garbage is just strewn everywhere. The filthiest cities of medevil times, when there was no sanitation may have been cleaner.
Just to disappoint me a little more, Holland described part of the tour as "a leisure 45 minute, half mile walk" thru the old city, a UNESCO site. Well the half mile was more like a mile and a half, and the 45 minutes wasn't even close. The guide kept changing his mind about where we were going. Oh well you win some and you loose some. For sure though, I have zero desire to ever return to Panama City, Panama,
The tour ends in Colon at the pier of our awaiting ship.
In a process that makes no sense, after the customary walking past all the shops, Panama customs makes a copy of our passport and photographs evey passenger as we prepare to leave the county. It appears they are more concerned about who leaves Panama than they are who comes into the country. There was no check at all as we entered the country. Strange, but thier country thier rules.
With returning so late, we skip the dining room and head to the buffet. Many other passengers have the same idea. We finish in time to catch a new comedy act. Good, but not as good as the previous comedian.
At the beginning of the cruise we were given notice that there was a film crew from London on board. A young group of of about eight with at least three cameras. The first time I spotted them was as we were going thru the locks, yes, I avoided them, never had any desire to be on TV or film.
Our next port is Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. Our arrival time is scheduled for 7:00 AM with a shore excursion leaving at 7:15. The alarm is set for 6:00. The seas are very slight as we leave Colon and head North after a long day.