You can’t help being a little awed by Panama City (photos). The skyline is a seemingly endless array of skyscrapers – and the building continues. Wikipedia lists the population at 880,000 with a metropolitan total of over 1.2 million. It is spread along a long stretch of Pacific coastline. The old colonial nucleus of the city, Casco Viejo occupies a point of land at the western extreme of the city across Balboa Bay from the entrance to the Panama Canal. The city becomes more modern as you move to the east with the recently expanded and renovated Tocumen International Airport on the eastern fringe of the city. Panama assumed complete control of the Panama Canal from the United States on January 1, 2000, and freely touts its operational accomplishments since and has begun a $5.25 billion expansion project expected to be completed in time for the canal’s 100th anniversary in August 2014. Panama seems very confident in its future.
This vessel, the Maersk Danbury, belongs in a category known as “Panamax”, the designation for the maximum size allowed to transit the canal. Container ship builders design their ships to this specification in order to get the most cargo possible through the canal. This vessel paid $350,000 for this trip from the Pacific side to the Caribbean side of Panama. We arrived at the Miraflores Locks at 9:00am just as the visitor’s center was opening for the day when this ship was ready to make its way from the first chamber to the second chamber of the locks. During the morning, the traffic flows from the Pacific to the Caribbean, then switches to the opposite direction in the afternoon. (Likewise, during the night they alternate directions.)