Sea Day 3 of 4 – Panama Canal

Well, not really a sea day, technically. It’s Panama Canal day. Although I think it counts as a sea day, cos we can’t get off, so it’s not a Port Day either.

Awake at 6am, because we were still. You get a time slot because it is single alternate line traffic, so you have to all be lined up in a queue before you go. That’s why they have been building more (and much bigger) locks. And haven’t finished on time. Surprise, surprise. If anyone can find me an infrastructure project anywhere on Earth that came in on time (and prove it), I’ll buy you dinner. So it’s the old locks for us. Which is nice. Because it means if we ever come back, we will have a different experience to look forward to.

Canal Factoids:

I won’t bore you with the sizes and weights and lengths and numbers of rivets and tonnes of cement. If you want to know all that, you can Google it for yourselves. These are just the highlighty bits that struck me as the most interesting.

A visit to the building of the Panama Canal by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 was the first time an American President had EVER visited a foreign country while in office. Wow, think about it.

It took the Americans seven years to build the Canal.

The French failed for thirty years first, because they failed to clear the area of malaria and yellow fever first, so their workers were too busy dying to get much done. They thought it would be easy, because they had already done the Suez Canal. 22,000 men lost their lives, most at Calebra.

Calebra is not really one mountain. It’s solid volcanic rock forming part of the Continental Divide.

At the time, yellow fever killed more than half the people it infected, in less than an eight days.

Four hundred men fumigated the area three times over, screened windows and closed sewers. They used 120 tonnes of sulphur-based pesticide, the same used in the whole United States in a year.

Dr William Gorgas, who eradicated yellow fever ENTIRELY from Panama (and Cuba before that), and reduced malaria in the Panama “Great Ditch” (as Roosevelt insisted on calling it) to below the levels then prevalent in North America, received a State funeral when he died. And well he deserved it, too. That’s quite a feat.

Stevens (the civil engineer in charge) called the supply railway built by the French, “two streaks of rust and a right of way”. He built a proper one. From scratch.

The dirt removed from the Calebra Cut filled enough trains to encircle the planet four times.

The workers ate 40,000 loaves of bread a day.

Twelve villages had to be evacuated to create the lake in the middle. They built a new town called Gatun, at higher altitude, for the villagers to move to. It then took five years to clear the area, by hand, of trees and obstacles.

The canal reduced the journey time between San Francisco and New York by over a MONTH.

All this was garnered from a documentary called “Panama Canal: The mountain and the mosquito”, produced by National Geographic in 1999, and shown on a loop on our in-cabin telly. Narrated with typical American hyperbole, it is, nevertheless a fascinating insight into how this thing was brought into existence. If you have the time and the patience, I recommend seeking it out. It’s quite riveting (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Lunch was the usual. I was late, because there was no noon announcement. The bloke doing the commentary on the canal was hogging the mike. Had an apple first, which I thought would be enough, due to my continuing lack of appetite, but the apple seemed to remind my system that it ought to eat, so I then found the appetite to eat the pasta.

Dinner was just avocado vinaigrette for starter and another avocado for main. Just couldn’t face anything else.

(No GF bread came on board, in case you were wondering).

Sad news: I have packed my first case – the big one.

There are only two formal nights left, so I have packed almost all the dresses and some of the t-shirts. Part of the problem with packing is that some of the dresses are in plastic protective sleeves, and it takes time to squeeze the air out, so by packing that one now, it can lie and settle, with the assistance of gravity, and then I can add more to the case later on. I have kept out the long-sleeved t-shirts, because I think the drop between 30+ degrees here and 15 degrees at home will be quite a shock. If you could perhaps work on raising the temperature a little over the next fortnight, prior to my return, that would be much appreciated, ta.


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