I recently had the opportunity to participate in the USB (United Soybean Board) 2014 See for Yourself Program. The See for Yourself Program allowed participants to see how U.S. soy is used throughout the world. On our tour we had the opportunity to visit Panama and Ecuador.
After touring a few agriculture sights in St. Louis, we were off to Panama to see the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal is very important to importing and exporting from the United States. The Canal allows ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans without having to travel around South America. This cuts significant time and cost off of transporting goods in and out of the U.S.
We visited during the 100 year anniversary of the Panama Canal’s completion. Currently, there are two lanes for the canal, and there is an expansion which will be done in the near future. This expansion will allow for bigger ships to pass through with the ultimate goal of shipping more freight at one time. It’s also estimated to cut shipping time down because ships will have to wait less time for their turn to go through the locks (kind of like have more lines open when checking out at the store).
Fun tidbits – Each year it rains 90″ on one side of the canal and 120″ on the other side this allows for enough water for the canal to properly function. In Panama, there’s an area where the sun rises over the Pacific Ocean rather than the Atlantic (look at a globe and try to wrap your mind around that!).
The first evening, we had the chance to see ships go through the locks. The locks work similar to the ones on the Mississippi River. This is a link to the History Channel of how the Panama Canal and how the locks work.
The next day, we took a ride along a section of the Panama Canal. Once we got to the locks, it was a game of ‘hurry up and wait’. To maximize the use of the locks, as many large boats and ships as can fit move through the lock at one time. Our tour boat would make it to the next gate while the ship that traveled behind us through the locks moved slowly. We went through a total of 3 locks.
The largest ships that can go through the original Canal are called Panamax ships. They are as wide as the Canal can handle (I believe leaving only 12” on each side) and draft as deep as possible when loaded. Grain shipped out of the Gulf of Mexico is often loaded on Panamax ships.
The second tour we had was the Port of Balboa. This port is a major employer, employing about 5,000 people. The Port of Balboa handles millions of containers each year. Containers are used to ship goods in and out of the U.S. For example, China loads containers with electronics to be shipped to the U.S.
The Panamanians understand what an incredible opportunity the Canal is for the economy of their country. From what our tour guide shared with us, there is a shift to make Panama a destination spot. The area where we stayed was very modern with a lot of construction of high rises and walking paths.
We had a few minutes to pick up souvenirs before heading to the airport. The Latin American woman who was traveling with us told me that the pattern of the lines sewn on are a sign of true Panamanian.
This visit to Panama piqued my interest in understanding the history of Panama better. I want to go back and study the U.S. military presence in Panama and how the Panama Canal operations were turned over to the Panamanians. After driving by the prison where Manuel Noriega is currently being held, I want to understand his influence better. In current news, Noriega recently filed a lawsuit against the makers of the “Call of Duty” games for using his image.
Next stop – Guayaquil, Ecuador