The Panama Canal, continued.

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
Trip End Dec 25, 2007

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Flag of Panama  ,
Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I'm finally writing again! Geez! Sorry about that everyone it has been quite a week. Just you wait!

All right, where was I? We sat in the lake for about an hour and a half waiting our turn to enter the channel - the Calebra Cut, named in Spanish for the snake it resembles - and continue the canal transit. The lake was absolutely beautiful, and it was fun to see all of the other ships coming and going through the canal in both directions. Of course they were all cargo ships, and our little Oceanic II looked a little odd amid all those monster carriers. We had a beautiful lunch on deck so nobody had to miss a bit of the transit, and after lunch I went down to my cabin to try and catch a nap before I lost my chance. I woke up at 1:15 and panicked - our guide had predicted our entrance into the canal at 1:20 and I didn't want to miss it - and went running upstairs to my spot indoors on the bow and popped onto meebo to pull up the messenger. Mom and Dad were there, watching the webcam, but as it turned out the bridge with the camera was another hour down the channel. We had a chance to catch up and chat for a while and also a chance to figure out which camera was which and where we were in relation to the cameras in general.

Pretty soon I could see the bridge coming into view. In a rush of excitement I tried to relay the message to Mom, Dad, and Heather all at once in separate conversations and almost overloaded my internet capacity trying to do so many things at once. We watched and waited and waited and waited and still no sign of any ship coming under the bridge. For a few minutes I was convinced there were somehow two bridges and this wasn't the one on the camera at all. Pyxis had already passed almost completely under the bridge before the tip of the bow was finally visible around the vegetation-covered point that blocked the webcam's view of the rest of the channel on the other side of the bridge. Once the boats had finally come into view everything happened quickly, and the Oceanic II was in the camera almost as soon as Pyxis had disappeared on the other side of the frame. We're a tiny little boat compared to Pyxis, and having seen it go through the webcam ahead of us made us look even smaller. This tiny little white blob vaguely shaped like a boat - until the webcam zoomed in! Suddenly there was the Oceanic II filling the frame, still not close enough to see any people standing on the bow, but close enough at least to confirm that it was indeed our boat and that we were in the PANAMA CANAL!!!

It was a strange sort of out-of-body experience watching my little floating home go by on the screen while I watched the bridge and vegetation go by outside. Eventually we passed out of the bridge camera's view but I could already see the next set of locks coming into view and after a quick scan of webcams I was able to find us coming right into the next one! Although we were at a single preliminary lock and not the actual Miraflores Lock system, the Miraflores camera was picking us up since there were no ships in the Miraflores locks yet. Dad also suggested that perhaps since the camera had zoomed in on our boat once before, perhaps the cameras were focusing on us and would follow us all the way. That soon proved true.

We watched together as the Oceanic II and Pyxis gradually entered the locks. Mom and Dad relayed over meebo that we were not the only ones watching - Aunt Tami and Uncle Brian were watching and Grandma and Grandpa were there too, and Uncle Kevin had postponed plans to watch. Kadee and Heather were online, and Mom and Dad had everybody at the museum watching too. I feel so loved, you guys! Thank you so much for watching and for staking out the day to try to see our little boat go through the canal. If anybody was watching, let me know, whether you saw us or not. I'm so excited that so many people were interested and took the time out to watch. Thank you so much everybody! I'm sorry I couldn't give you better information about what to look for and when.

By this time the water level was dropping and gradually both boats started to sink behind the doors of the lock. At one point meebo started beeping madly with all the incoming messages everybody was sending all at once when the boat started to dip behind the doors and Heather goes, "You're meeeeellltiiiinnnng!!! Hahahahaha!" It really was pretty funny to watch our little boat almost disappear behind the massive 7-story doors. Then before I knew it the doors were opening and the Oceanic II was back out into the water, headed for the Miraflores Lock system. Sure enough, the cameras did switch angles to follow us in, and pretty soon we could make out on the camera where there were people standing, if only because of the thick dark line around the decks where ordinarily there would just be white railings.

Our guide was explaining how the locks were now completely computer automated, and that the operators had to simply "click with the mouse on the computer monitor" to make the water pump or drain. Apparently this was really important information because we heard it more than several times! Jonathan was there watching with me and we watched until we could just make out individual person-shapes on the bow of the ship and then headed up to be a part of it. Our ship was almost out of view at that point, and the camera didn't change angles again, but Jonathan brought his computer up with him and even though we couldn't pick out anybody individually, some students had a Mexican flag held up above their heads and we could make out the stripes in the camera. I'm hoping once I get home and can look at the pictures Mom printed off, I might be able to work out where I might have been standing. There were a few people on their cell phones, and it made me feel kind of isolated not being able to talk to Mom and Dad and wave at the camera at the same time the way they were doing. Except I don't think they realized how hard it was to see things on the camera; they all seemed to have the impression that their parents could see and recognize them, when those of us that were looking at it knew better. I couldn't wait to get to Balboa and get off the ship and call Mom and Dad. Instant Messenger just does not quite do it for me.

There were hundreds of people on the balconies of what I guess must have been a sort of visitor's center, and our guide mentioned that many of them had turned out just to watch us pass through the locks. I hadn't really realized before, although it makes perfect sense, that very rarely do cruise ships ever pass through the canal. Even world cruises don't often make that transit, simply because it is expensive and takes the entire day to complete. It was estimated that our boat paid over $100,000 to transit the canal, calculated based on the base toll and additional tolls based on our weight. I can't imagine what Pyxis had paid! I did get one bit of trivia about the Oceanic II: it weighs 21,710 lbs. I still don't know the length or size of the ship, sorry, Dad. I'll work on that, I promise! It was exciting to see all those people there, waving as frantically and excitedly as we were. For our part, we were pretty excited to see people in general, after 13 days at sea!

We were off the camera and through the locks in no time and then we passed out of the canal and into the Pacific Ocean. Just like that. All said and done, it seemed so simple. But it was such an exciting event for all of us. How many people get to go through the canal on a boat? Especially since cruise ships hardly ever pass through it, how many people actually get to be a passenger on a boat in the Panama Canal? I still can't quite get over that. We live on a BOAT!!! Whoa!!!

We actually got to Balboa a couple hours after leaving the canal. We anchored, instead of docking, and there was a crowd waiting to be tendered (shuttled on little boats) off to the port. Turns out there was an AFP leaving that night too and they weren't letting anybody off that was planning on getting back on. I had to leave early with my own AFP so I couldn't sleep off the boat and therefore couldn't get off at all - which meant no way to call my parents or my friends or buy camera batteries or postcards or anything. Everybody was really stressed out and irritable and I just went back to my room and hid. I think I did a little crying too, actually. Then the announcement came over the speaker that the water was too rough and they weren't able to get anyone off at all and that the AFP would have to leave in the morning and they were so sorry and everyone gets a free drink tonight to make up for it. That just sort of made me spiteful - they didn't offer me a drink for keeping me on just because I would have to come back. The boats would have had to come back anyway, why couldn't they bring people back on them? Whatever. I didn't want a drink so I went to bed early. From my position of writing this over a week after it actually happened, I wish I had stayed up a little later and finished writing about the day so that at least one more day would be up to date.

I'm going to keep doing these daily, simply because it's the easiest and most logical structure and without some sort of structure I would just ramble forever and not say anything. On the days that nothing interesting happens I'll think of something else to write about so you don't have to listen to schedules of my boring classes anymore. There's lots to reflect on, and I never have the chance to write about it when I'm thinking about it so maybe some of these boring days will give me a chance to go back to it. Again, sorry it's taken me so long to get started doing this again. I'm hoping I can write two or three a day and maybe in a week I'll actually be caught up!
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randiandersen on

Re: I was there, too!
That sounds perfect. It was indeed a very amazing day. I'm so glad I got to share it with you.

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