Panama's Canal: Strategic Interest

Trip Start Dec 06, 2004
Trip End Dec 13, 2004

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Flag of Panama  ,
Thursday, December 9, 2004

After a day spent on the beach and enjoying the luxuries of our hotel, the girls and I decided to get out and explore the country a bit. We decided to take a guided tour of the Panama canal. On the way to our first stop in the city of Panama, I quizzed our tour guide on some of the complexities of the political situation in Panama. It was very interesting to note that the tourism industry in Panama is nationalized, so all of the tour guides that are recognized by the state have extensive training. I suppose this probably leads to a "glossing over" of some of the issues in the country, but our guide was remarkably candid. Of course there are the usual problems such as poverty, corruption and economic issues. Panama's more pressing concerns include the possible development of an alternative passage through north of Canada connecting the two oceans, as this would greatly decrease the dependency on Panama's canal and therefore their economic viability. Also, there is a push to develop larger ships that can carry more goods, but the canal isn't engineered to accomodate them. Obviously, being the main source of Panama's economic prosperity, the canal figures prominently into any discussion of the economy. However, the government is making great aims to increase tourism to the country.

Visiting the canal was an amazing experience. I'm not really into engineering stuff (but having a civil engineer along on the trip was pretty fun!!). However, this was truly remarkable. The Gatun locks were so impressive - the amount of water that they use to move the ships, the economic impact of the canal as well as its environmental impact were all extremely facinating.

We went to Colon after, all the way across the country on the Atlantic Ocean. (Our hotel was on the Pacific side). Gotta say, Colon was a huge dive. Really really dangerous for tourists, extremely dirty and extremely unfriendly. Pretty much in stark contrast to the rest of Panama that we had seen to date.

We took a train ride back from the city of Colon through the rainforest and saw the man-made lakes that are required to maintain the canal. A thoroughly enjoyable trip. The only down-side was the city of Colon, a free-trade zone. Our guide was not comfortable at all with us walking around in the city, and since we weren't there to buy anything decided against a prolonged stay.
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