Today we explored two great marvels of modern technology; the Panama Canal and the Panama heath care system. We planned on going to a National Park just outside of the city that has all kinds of birds, iguanas, deer and most importantly monkeys. If looking at a monkey doesn’t put you in a good mood then there is something seriously wrong with you. After breakfast Mom decided that her ear, which had been bothering her since the flight yesterday, needed medical attention. Amazingly enough there is 30 days of free emergency medical insurance for all tourists in Panama so Mom called the number and was told that since it started on the plane it was not covered by the insurance. It turns out that Panamanian insurance is a lot like American insurance. We got a recommendation for a private hospital that was within walking distance. Twenty minutes after walking in we saw a doctor who told us that Mom was suffering from a case of malignant ear wax. It was trapping the pressure in her ear and causing pain. Since we are flying again soon and then scuba diving this could be a problem. The doctor gave her a prescription for some ear drops and she paid her sixty dollar bill. Having taken care of one canal we jumped in a cab and headed for another.
A few things I learned today. The most expensive toll paid by a ship to transit the Canal was $400,000. The toll is based on weight, but there are different ways of assessing the toll for different types of ships. Balboa discovered the Pacific. The French started the canal in 1880 but surrendered after getting a few mosquito bites. The Americans, with the help of a lot of Barbadians, finished the canal in 1914. The massive tankers and container ships only have two feet of space on either side while moving through the locks.
As the taxi turned the corner and drove the last half mile to the canal we saw a massive white cruise ship that looked like it had fallen from the sky and landed in the middle of the jungle. Once we entered the visitor center and climbed to the observation deck we were able to watch the cruise ship lowered in the last lock to sea level and then sail out toward the Pacific. We watched two more ships enter and leave the locks. The whole time they had an announcer who explained in English and Spanish exactly what was happening, what the ships were carrying, where they were coming from and why they were flying certain flags. Later we hit the gift shop, checked out the small but nice museum and then watch a dated but interesting video about the construction of the Canal.
I really wasn’t that excited about seeing the canal. It sounded kind of boring but it also seemed like one of those things you are supposed to see when visiting certain places; like the Coliseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the, um Walmart in West Chester, Ohio. I really enjoyed it, the Canal, every Walmart is the same. It is pretty amazing hat human beings were able to cut a continent in half and the fact that they did it with some pretty basic equipment nearly a hundred years ago makes it even more impressive.