Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Thunder, lightning, the Panama Canal, and Rail Rage…

I was awakened during the night before our Panama Canal transit by some furious thunder and lightning plus a beautiful show of a  tropical rainstorm. So much, it seems, for “But, it only rains in the afternoons!” Then we were awakened by the wake-up call at 0530 to watch the entrance to the Canal locks. I’ve mentioned before that there should only be one 5:30 and it isn’t in the morning!

Both Randy and I have read The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough and we transited the Canal in 2002 so we thought we were prepared for, well, everything. But we weren’t. We had seen the Culebra Cut but somehow the sheer size of it was more than astonishing to us; we had watched ships in the locks before but this time the almost unbelievably tight fit of the ships and the speed of filling those giant locks just blew us away; the new locks (still under construction) we hadn’t seen before and they are even more impossibly big than the current ones. But there was one thing that I was absolutely not prepared for from our previous transit in the Zaandam: what we have taken to calling Rail Rage, the, yes, in many cases, rage from people who seemed to think they had the right to do whatever it took to get their perfect picture, nevermind who else was around. The pushing and shoving to get that perfect picture, the elbowing when someone was in the way, the name-calling when one person does what another doesn’t like, the snide comments about how some person is behaving; THAT we were not at all prepared for! I know it’s been ten years since we came through the Canal but I do not remember any of that from the Zaandam!

Another thing that many people commented on was the engineering of the canal. Remember, this was engineered and built almost 100 years ago. The lock gates are the same gates that were installed 100 years ago, the locks themselves are essentially the same as were built 100 years ago. And everything works! Still! The “mules” (they keep the ships centered in the locks) are now locomotives but the original idea is still in use. Seemingly, the engineers thought of everything!

We stayed long enough to see the ship enter the first lock and went back to our cabin to watch from the stern for the rest of the day. Our room service waiter gave us the idea to have a lunch on the deck so we ordered hamburgers and hotdogs and french fries for 20 and set about calling people to invite them. We ended up with 18 people who more or less spent the day with us on our deck watching the locks and the lake and just generally having a great time socializing and taking pictures. It didn’t really matter that we were looking aft rather than looking forward, the view was great and there was plenty of room at the railing for everybody and plenty of beer and soft drinks for everybody. Some people came a bit late because they didn’t get the message (we didn’t get the idea or start calling until about 1000) but there was plenty of everything except perhaps coolness.

The tropics are hot and steamy but luckily there was cloud cover for most of the day. That doesn’t make for the greatest photos but it sure made the hot and steamy more bearable. And we had our room to repair to on occasion to get a “cool fix.” Kathy, our daughter, and probably a few other people got to see us go through the Miraflores Locks (we were the only cruise ship transiting the Canal on the 29th) although they couldn’t see the American flag hanging from our railing; after all, it’s only four feet by six feet!

As the afternoon wore on the clouds got darker and darker and eventually a few drops spattered down and then whoosh, a bunch of drops—we all got drenched by one of those afternoon “showers.” As we were passing the last two locks we were being watched by hundreds of people! All these people had gathered in what appeared to be a restaurant right next to the locks and they were having a gay old time watching and waving and getting wet. We were having an equally great time waving to them and we all were taking pictures of each other.
Pam taking a picture of Steve and the hat that's gone around the world. It may be retired after this trip.

Party-goers on our deck watching the dredge.

Pam and Randy with Centennial Bridge behind them

Very, very early in the morning, starting toward the first lock.

Some of the group partying on our deck
Some of the crowd watching us go through the locks
Approaching the locks

Notice the little rowboat? They will grab the lines from the ship and bring them to the locomotive "mules" which will keep the ship centered in the lock. Why still use rowboats and not motorboats? "Oars don't malfunction."
One of the "mules"

A ship photographer taking pictures of us from the edge of the lock.

The standard digital photographer look, checking the photos on the tiny screen.

A closer look at the "panga" or rowboat that brings the line to the mule

This is why there is rail rage, nobody at the back is allowed any room to take a photo.

1 comment:

  1. Good idea to move to your deck for the party. What a huge deck you have! I, too, read The Path Between the Seas and still marvel at this amazing engineering feat. Cheers!