Friday, May 25, 2007

Thursday 24th May


9 20.716 N
79 54.555 W

Today we thought we would go and see the Gatun Locks operation from the land. We took a taxi to the locks site where we paid a $5 admission fee each and then climbed the steps to the top of the locks viewing platform. From here we could see the entire lock system leading from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gatun Lake where we will be spending the night after passing through the first three locks. As we arrived there was a ship in the last of the Gatun locks heading southbound, we watched as it inched its way clear of the lock and out into the Gatun Lake. As soon as the ship had cleared the entrance / exit another large container ship began to make its way into the lock system from the lake end, we watched the entire process of the locks closing behind the ship, the water emptying out of the chamber and the ship sinking down below the sides of the lock; at the same time the next lock along was filling with water until it reached an equal level to the lock that the ship was in. Once the water in both locks was level, an alarm sounded and shortly afterwards the lock gates were opened by remote mechanisms. When the gates were fully open the mules, small trains which run on rail tracks along either side of the lock, slowly pulled the ship into the next lock where the process was repeated. At one point in the transit the mules have to go down a large slope which could be compared to a rollercoaster ride at the fair, if they were to loose control at this point it would be a total disaster. It was a fascinating process to watch, the water drains out of the locks at a rapid rate and the ships sink below the chamber walls very quickly; the water filling the locks causes quite a bit of turbulence as it pour in and it was easy to see why the boats inside the locks have to be firmly lashed to the side cleats, I could easily imagine us bobbing around like a cork if we weren’t tied up. We watched a couple of ships making the transit southbound and then it was time for us to leave. From what we can tell it appears that the smaller boats (that’s us) transit late in the afternoon / evening when going southbound, then stop in the lake overnight and continue through the Miraflores Locks the next day, completing the passage in the middle of the afternoon. The whole system is an awesome feat of engineering and we were very glad that we took the time to go and see it from the land perspective; it will be a very different view point when we go through on Saturday. On our way back to the marina our taxi driver took us on a detour to an animal refuge, it was small and had animals which needed care and attention before being let back out into the wild, we saw macaws, lorikeets, toucans, turkeys, several species of monkey, raccoons, ocelots, a couple of dogs and a single deer. They all seemed to be well cared for and we made a small voluntary contribution towards their care. Our next stop was the supermarket, we were happy to find that the supermarket was well stocked with everything we needed and was reasonably priced – can of coke was .47c. We did a bit of stocking up but will have to return there again as we need fresh fruit and vegetables before we leave here. After the grocery shopping we made our way back to the marina, weaving between the colourful buses which take up most of the road. Once back on board we began vacuum bagging some of the purchases and stashing others into whatever holes we could find. By the time 16.30hrs came around the sky clouded over and the rain started. I wanted to purchase a couple of “embroideries” for want of a better description, from the Little Indian ladies who sell them at the Yacht club so I went armed with a pocket full of cash and the camera to find them. There was only one lady there today but she had all the craft work out on display I picked out 4 pieces that I liked and then haggled over the price, they were more expensive than the ones I had purchased in Colombia but at the end of the day they were still cheap for the amount of work that they take. I know they aren’t everyone’s choice of art work but I love them and that’s all that matters! I was also fascinated by the features of the lady that was selling the stuff and asked if she would mind having her photo taken, she quickly donned a head dress and then agreed. This lady had row upon row of tiny beads strung around her arms and legs in intricate patterns, I don’t think she ever takes tem off, her skirt was a sarong wrap and her blouse was made of the hand sewn embroideries similar to those I had just purchased, her nose was pierced and she wore a beaded necklace, my photos don’t do her justice but I was glad she let me take them. The truly astounding thing about her is her height, she is under 5 foot – made me feel like a giant! I returned to the boat with my purchases and insisted that Gerry admire them. Then after donning wet weather gear we headed to the bar for happy hour and hamburger dinners before turning in for the night.



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