Panama is a country that I have always wanted to visit since I was a little boy. Everyone knows that Panama is on the narrowest part of North America and South America continent. My teacher told me about Panama Canal in school. People build the canal to let ships crossing between Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean. It is a great benefit reducing a long distance. I think to myself "Panama must be a rich and developed country". I have lots of questions and curious to know..."How the big ships cross the canal?"... Now I am going to explore Panama Canal.!!
November 14, 2003
We are flying with Avianca, a national Colombian Airline. We are getting close to the land of Panama seeing many big ships down the sea. The flight is one hour and 10 minutes from Bogota to Panama City. (Bogota is the third highest attitude capital city in the world. We are landing at Panama City at sea level.) We feel the heat in the airport. The weather is just like our country Thailand. We pick up the luggage and bicycle boxes. We got our entry-stamp on passport at the immigration. Customs carefully check on luggage of each passenger. As we flew from Colombia, a country with bad reputation on selling drugs, we may be more suspect. We talk to custom and inform him about our trip. We went through smoothly to the exit door. We need to load our boxes and put aside the wall. We see the sign on the wall say “The cart is not allowed futher to this point.” Many worker who has a cart lift were standing and wait to give the service of lifting luggage. It is only 20metres to the exit door of the airport terminal where taxis are stand. We decided to push our boxes to the exit door. Wan called Carlos De Janon, the Honorary Thai Consul General in Panama and ask him the advice how to get to downtown. We arrive at night. We ask Taxi to take us to downtown and find a cheap hotel. While we were about to check-in the hotel, one man show up and ask us “Both of you are Thai ??” We are very surprised how could he knows us. He said “ I am a Thai Consul General in Panama”. We both feel a great of honor to meet him and ask him “How could you find us here?” He reply, “This is my home, I know every corner around here.” Carlos warned us, it is not safe to walk around the city at night. He pointed street name that we should not walk.
It is quiet in the city on Saturday morning. Carlos wants to help us so he goes to a bookstore and bought us a guidebook of Panama as a gift. We informed Consul that we are moving to a cheaper hotel nearby. We pushed and pulled our 4 big boxes across the main street to the third floor of the hotel.
Thai Consulate would love to show us Panama Canal. It is a worth visit and interesting to learn the history of building the canal. Carlos give us a young man driver to drive us to Miraflores Lock, a good viewpoint of seeing Panama Canal. It is about 8 KM out of Panama City. The entrance is free. The staff of Panama Canal is very strict informing tourists to sit on the chair at all time. The observation is 3 metres high. We see big ships slowly passing through the canal. We hear the history of Panama Canal in both English and Spanish. Big ships filled with thousands of containers are moving in front of us slowing and then stop accordingly till reaching the sea level. Then the ship sail into the Pacific Ocean.
How Ships cross Panama Canal as the difference of 26 metres in the sea level of 2 oceans? We see ship move slowly close to the lock, the huge amount of water is filled up until the same level of water on the other side. The water gate is open to let the ship in. The gate is closed…The water is filled up again to the same level. Therefore, ships cross the canal at 80KM on different locks until reaching the sea. The observation on ships cross Panama Canal are live on video camera every 10 minutes at website www.pancanal.com
The history of Panama Canal is quite interesting. In 1502, Christopher Columbus sailed across Panama Canal and foung that this place is interesting and important. In 1519, Spanish came and colonized Panama. Government of Spain established and took many assets. In 1534, King Charles NO.5 of Spain, gave the order to explore Panama Canal at 80 KM long. It was not possible to build the canal at that time due to the lack of engineering. Three hundred years later, France has an agreement with Colombia which control Panama at that time. French tried to build the canal from 1859 to 1869. The effort to build the canal continued until 1879. The project is not successful due to the financial problem and illness of malaria. Many workers are dead. The technology is not efficient. In 1894, French sold the project to U.S.A U.S.A. start to build the canal in 1904. Panama got the independence from Colombia on Nov 3, 1903. More than 75,000 people work to build the canal and spend 400 Million Dollars. It takes 10 years to build the canal. U.S.A. also faces the problem of Yellow Fever, Malaria but the doctor is efficient to control. U.S.A. successfully built the canal and officially opened to use on August 15, 1914. U.S.A. could control the canal for 85 years until 31 December 1999. Panama Canal Authority (ACP) was established under the law of Panama. Panama gain a huge amount of a major income to the country.
Panama canal is 80 KM long in between of Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. There are 30 ships pass through the canal in a day, totally 12,000 ships a year. The ship requires a maximum width 32.30 meters and deep down 12 meters, the maximum 294.10 meters long. The reason is that if the ship is bigger than the required size it will not fit in the lock. The lock is 33.50 meter width, 305 meters long. The canal fee is US$30,000 per one cross. The highest fee paid is US$ 150,000 passing the canal. The lowest fee is US$ 0.36, Mr. Richard swam across the canal.
Panama had celebrated 100 years anniversary of Independence on November 3, 2003. We now understand that Panama would have high economic growth.
Panama City is not quite safe. There are many people beg for money. We see many poor people. We could not to every corner. We thought that Panama is quite a wealthy country, not as we learnt from school.
We see colorful paint on the bus in Panama City. The present President of Panama said to all Panamanian that she would help poor people for a better living.
Panama is quite hot. The policemen bicycle around the city for security check. We often see many policemen who look quite healthy and strong. The policemen in Thailand is quite fat so we like the idea of Policemen cycling to reduce weight and be healthy.
We spend few days in Panama City and finish our to do lists. After we were robbed, we bought a new digital camera. Our new digital camera is broken and not working having the error. We need to send camera to claim a new one by courier mail. We got the new one but had to pay a high tax of 33% when we receive it in Colombia. We had to deal with the custom for long time to get the camera and went through lot of processes and documents. We need to get a signature of Consulate of Colombia in Panama City and we need to pay US$33 to get the certify letter!!
We still feel a little bit uncomfortable to start cycling again on the road in Panama after we were robbed in Ecuador. (Even we have passed Ecuador.) We pay respect to Thai Consulate General Carlos De Janon at his office to say goodbye and continue our journey. He told us that there is one Thai lady living here in Panama City, only one Thai people here. Her name is Suparb Ho, she has been living in Panama for 26 years and never been back to Thailand. She is 61 years old. We called her Aunt Daeng (pronounce in Thai “Pa Daeng”). We talked to her on the phone. She invited us for a good meal at her house. We took a taxi to her place and met her and her husband. She told us her story that she studied in England and met her husband. She imagined that Panama is a wealthy country but not as she expected she realized that Panama is not civilized country when she arrived at the airport. She knew right away that Panama is not as she thought. Her husband is Chinese-French and always told her that Panama is very rich country because of the canal. Aunt Daeng said to her husband that Thailand is more developed. They both always have argument about Thailand and Panama. One day, Aunt Daeng’s husband had a chance to visit Thailand by ship, he came back and said to Aunt Daeng “we will have no more argument , Thailand is beautiful and quite developed country.”
We talk together and enjoy the meal. Aunt Daeng said “ eat all day” and laugh. We listen to Aunt Daeng story….she has no asset when she arrive Panama. She only has a small photo of the King of Thailand. She framed the photo and hang on the wall. We could feel how the respect of Thai people to our King. Aunt Daeng sing old Thai song for us, very beautiful song and touch our heart. She has tear in her eyes because she is very happy to meet us and enjoy talking to us.
Aunt Daeng ask when we are going to continue the trip. We plan to assembly our bikes. Aunt Daeng want to cook more Thai dish for us so she asked us to come to see her again tomorrow. She will cook more delicious Thai food for us. She feel very happy to cook more dishes for us. Aunt Daeng pack the food for us to take home so we could eat tomorrow morning. Aunt Daeng said that “I loves Thai Bike World project and envy you both for what you are doing”.
Mou unpack bicycle and slowly assembly 2 bicycles. We are now ready to be back on the road in Central American countries. We will be most careful of our travel.
We keep the promise to visit Pa Daeng again. We are a little bit late because stucking on the traffic jam in the heavy rain. She was thinking that we would be facing in crime or something happen to us. We apologize that we came to see her late because we were working on our bicycles.
Aunt Daeng hold my hand to her bedroom. She said, “ I had a dream”. She took a train. The fortuneteller book translate the meaning of the dream that you will have a cousin who travel long way to meet you. She think to herself, this is not true because I have no cousin “who would that be?”. Now, I know “Yes!!! You two are the one, you are my cousin to visit me” We feel that we both are Aunt Daeng’s cousin. Aunt Daeng said, she has 12 Thai dishes for us. How we going to eat all? Aung Daeng say, “eat slowly, we talk while we eat. I am very happy that you now have a chance to eat Thai food”. Aunt Daeng serve us Thai dishes one by one. We have never seen truly Thai dish this much abroad. We both are very happy. Aunt Daeng gives us lots of food pack in boxes to take home. Aunt Daeng said that she is very happy. She has not much money to give us...she could only give us Good Thai Food. We say goodbye to her and thank you for the wonderful meal. We told her that we are going to continue our ride tomorrow. We thank her for giving us Thai food that we really miss for 2 years.
We were so full eating big meal yesterday so we got up late in the morning. We decide to spend one more day in Panama City. We call Aunt Daeng and tell her that we are not leaving today. She say, “that’s great…. you two come to see me again. I will cook Thai Noodle 3 bowls for each of you”. Not just noodle, we have Thai dessert “Sa ku piak” waiting. A great memory that we will never forget with Aunt Daeng, truly Thai Cuisine with Aunt Daeng in Panama. Truly Thai heart is hidden in Panama, the narrowest land in America continent.
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