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Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama Canal! Part 5
Panama Cruise January 2011 - Last Trans-canal trip planned for the Disney Wonder at this time.
Shortly after passing under the Freedom bridge, the Pedro Miguel lock comes into view. It is a single lock that takes ships from the level of the Culebra cut down to the level of Miraflores lake. At first, unless there is already a ship ahead, you will only be able to decipher the lock with binoculars.
Also visible during the approach of the single lock and slightly to the right is the large Bridge of the Americas. It is a beautiful arched bridge that shares its design with many you may have seen in the US or elsewhere in the world, however, the view from the distance and passing under is a unique perspective.
Descending the locks you can see the water discharging from the lower level more clearly. Watch forward on the outside of the lock channel to see 26,000 gallons of water discharge in small basins then rumble into the lower lock channel.
This lock was most interesting because it stands alone. We were able to see every aspect of lock operation from beginning to end because we were the only ship on our side.
Miraflores lake is very small. There is only a one to two mile separation between the single Pedro Miguel lock and the Miraflores locks. The headquarters for the Panama Canal Authority is located just to the east of these last locks. The day we arrived, there seemed to be a very large crowd of people on the balconies overlooking the locks. Several tour buses had brought loads of people to see the locks and I believe that some were there because the Disney Wonder was passing through this day.
As we approached, we heard cheers and saw waving. Each time the people cheered on shore, the hundreds on the ship cheered back. The Captain even sounded the Disney Cruise Line signature horn twice during the pass which, as usual, was greeted with exuberant cheers and waving all over again.
On the second of the two Miraflores locks, we were once again able to see the 26,000 gallons of water rushing out on the level below, the actual level of the Pacific ocean. Interestingly, the tides on the Atlantic side of the canal only vary about three to five feet, but on the Pacific side, the water can vary as much as 18 feet in a single tide. Due to this great variance in tide, the descent through the Miraflores locks may be more or less. The difference is split between the two locks during descent.
There is a retracting rail bridge that can turn into place past the last lock, but is appeared to be out of use when we were there. A chain link gate was closed beyond the bridge that looked a bit more than a temporary measure.
After departing the final gate, the bridge of the Americas comes into view. Just to the left is the ship yard with large cranes used o unload cargo containers from ships. These containers are place on trains and trucks, some of which carry across the channel to be reloaded on the other side and some is transported down the coast to Panama City and beyond to Columbia and points south.
Directly adjacent to the container docks, the bridge of the Americas stands proud. The north side of the bridge shows a more industrial view while the opposite side boasts a more natural setting that accent the design more clearly.
Finally, past the last bridge, looking back to the north east, Panama City spreads before us as a vast metropolitan city filled with skyscrapers and other buildings that stretch up the mountainsides in the distance as far as the eye can see. During the whole of the Pacific descent more and more of the buildings of Panama City become visible, almost as a prehistoric beast crawling over the mountains. Once the ship arrives at this last point in the Panama Canal, the beast proudly shows itself, a nearly endless stretch of lights, roads and structures.
Panama is a country that typically receives nearly 12 feet of rain a year. It is not uncommon to get rained on during a crossing if not for the whole crossing, but our day in the Canal was rain free. The heat for many was nearly unbearable but frequent cloud cover provided relief from the pounding sunlight. Depending on if we were behind a mountain or clear from obstructions, the wind blew cool, almost to a chill at times through the canal.
One final important point to keep in mind is that the Panama Canal is only seven to nine degrees from the equator. In the winter the sun is a bit lower in the sky, but summer would bring it to directly above. You must plan to bring sun cover to remain on deck during any season. Hats, long sleeves, pants and plenty of high rated sunscreen are required. Don't be fooled into thinking and SPF 6 will be of any use. Settle for no less than SPF 30 sunscreen or higher for an extended stay on deck for the Panama crossing. I arrived on deck at 5:20 am and finally left the upper deck just past 4:45 pm. Nearly 11 1/2 hours on deck with little relief will make for a long and tiring day.
2011 Disney Wonder Panama Canal Cruise Index
Daily Navigator/Iwa Published Schedule