A Human Endeavor that Changed the Face of Earth
Human efforts over the centuries have shaped and reshaped the face of the planet. Whether it be the Great Pyramids in Egypt, the Great Wall of China or Machu Picchu in Peru, they all gave our planet a new identity. Among so many modern additions, the Panama Canal really stands out – not just because of its engineering achievement, but also because of its economic significance. My travels took me to Panama to see this human endeavor in action.
I began my eight day Panama itinerary in Panama City. At first glance, the city seemed to me yet another American City. Boasting a skyline of skyscrapers, modern office buildings, condo complexes and hotels of shining glass along the bay of Panama, the city claims a status of an emerging cosmopolitan center globally. No doubt why so many expats are attracted to its viable yet luxurious living. The city has redefined itself to become one of the hubs for international businesses. I took long walks in and around the city to feel its pulse, which was no different than that of Hong Kong, Dubai, New York or any other big city in the world.
So how Panama City managed to get there. The answer lies 40 kilometers from the city center. An engineering miracle happened in 1914 that changed the face of the Earth, and also the destiny of the country. It was amazing to watch the Panama Canal in action. A 82 kilometer long waterway built to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans has been a boon not only for Panama but for the entire globe. It is no surprise why the American Society of Civil Engineers has ranked the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world. A lock based canal system that was considered advanced in early 1900s is still functional letting thousands of cargo ships pass through the canal every month. A huge artificial lake, Lago Gatún, created between the three huge locks helps ships float across the canal. Words fail to give an idea of the massive scale and operation of the Panama Canal. To appreciate the engineering marvel born out of human minds, one has to spend 10-15 minutes there to see a ship pass through the canal. The mega-scale project began by France, finished by the US and now managed by Panama is the living story of human abilities.
Cutting across the country via bus, I headed the western Panama to see its coastal towns on the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. A short stop in David, an emerging tourist spot on the Pacific side, was enough time to walk along the calming waves of the Pacific ocean. One the Atlantic side, there was a different feel and different mood. One can sense party vibes from kilometers when entering the Bocas del Toro province. Although the island is known for its biodiversity, it has been a hot spot for tourist diversity now. The island warmly hosts backpackers from all over the world, and offers a wide range of activities including forest trekking, diving, bird-watching, water-sports etc. As sun goes down on this island, volume of sound systems goes up in every corner. Sleep is not in agenda for many, and some finish their last drink watching sunrise. Finding sloths and riding waves while tied to a boat were the challenges for day when we woke up. I spotted sloths for the first time and failed at boat surfing second time; nonetheless, I was happy to achieve 50% target. Panama is a beautiful country, but they are next to Costa Rica, a tough competitor for many beautiful countries.