Sunday, 17 April 2011


This morning we arrive in Panama where we are booked on the Gatun Lake Eco cruise at a fairly leisurely 9.30. We're on deck to watch the ship arrive at a very short berth where the lines have to be passed to the dock by dinghy. The colourful buildings at the port look welcoming. After breakfast we assemble in the theatre ready for the tour. It's a 20 minute drive to the hotel where we will meet our boat, the Sol Panama Canal. The Gatun Lakes provide the water for the canal's locks and were manmade for the purpose. Former mountains now form islands which we will pass by on our boat trip.

We're on the water for just over an hour but see very little wildlife. There are loads of vultures and a possible sighting of a sloth but little else. It's still a pleasant trip, though. The real highlight is the visit to the Gatun Locks where we watch huge container ships transit through. It's quite surreal to see them towering above us and then dropping so we can see right over them. Small engines on tracks pull them throuh, there's very little clearance either side. A large container ship pays up to half a million dollars for the privilege. We drive past the site where new locks are being constructed which will both use less fresh water and recycle it. Then back to the ship for lunch.

After lunch Alex goes to kids club while Simon and I explore on foot. We very quickly realise that the billions of dollars raised by the canal don't benefit the residents of Colon. It's extremely run down, although it's possible to see the colonial elegance of former times in the dilapidated buildings. We don't venture far before returning to the port shopping complex, the contrast is quite startling. Colon is the second largest duty free port after Hong Kong and the former canal zone is occupied by rich Arab merchants but next to their huge warehouses people live in squalor.

The barrio has the feel of a place where people have given up. The supermarket on the quay, part of a chain owned by the president, displays a sign asking customers to leave their guns outside. I buy some spices there.

We spend the rest of the afternoon by the pool, where Alex joins us after kids club. He will go back when it re-opens at 7 but we're getting used to that. We have a pre-dinner drink at the lawn club. It's much windier tonight and the sea is quite rough.

No comments:

Post a Comment