If our stop in Costa Rica was about natural beauty and wildlife, our time in Panama has been about the awesomeness of industry.
Where Costa Rica has tourism, Panama has shipping. Since the Panama Canal opened in 1914 when about 1,000 ships passed its 48 mile stretch, in 2008 about 15,000 ships made their way from Atlantic to Pacific (or vice versa). But more on the Canal in our next post…
On our first morning in Panama we docked in Colon. Our guide tells us that the city is basically being torn down and rebuilt and that, seemingly, is a good move (although, no doubt there are most likely going to be issues with relocating an entire population in the two years he said it would take for this to happen).
Colon is a contrast of cruise ship, shipping economy and abject poverty. The “social security” hospital (pictured below- the big blue building) stands next to the city center (which looks more like a slum) and across the razor wire topped fence from the area designated for cruise ships and the shipping industry (the “free zone”).
The massive cargo container field lines the port and cargo ships mill in and out all day.
On our first day in Panama we took a step back in time and rode the Panama Canal RailWay from Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean (north to south).
The rail was built through the jungle (and passing on it helps you appreciate what hard work that would have been) in 1855, just about 60 years before the Panama Canal was opened.
The railway opened up an easier path to get across the Americas from the east coast of the US to the west coast. The other routes (across the American Rocky Mountains, around the Strait of Magellan or over mountains and across Lake Nicaragua) were slow and/or dangerous.
The rail line made this trek easier and runs parallel to the Canal and past Lake Gatun through the rain forest and jungle to Panama City on the pacific coast.
The ride took about an hour and was well worth it (the bus ride back on the highway was far less interesting).