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Cristobal, Panama


77th Day


Panama was widely inhabited by the people of Chibcha, Choco and Cueva before the arrival of Europeans. The Spanish explorer Rodrigo de Bastidas arrived at Panama in 1501, and the following year, Christopher Columbus arrived and explored the Mosquitos Coast. In 1513, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa arrived at the Pacific Ocean, another side of the isthmus of Panama. Panama was part of the Spanish Empire for more than 300 years, serving as the important shipping point to and from South and Central America. Explorations and conquest expeditions also launched from Panama City. In 1821, Panama declared its independence from Spain, and became a part of Gran Columbia. Gran Columbia was dissolved in 1830 and Republic of New Granada was established. Panama separated itself from Republic of New Granada for a short period of time, but rejoined it in 1841. In 1846, the U.S. and Republic of New Granada signed the Bidlack Mallarino treaty, which allowed the active intervention of the U.S.A. until 1903. Under the treaty, the U.S. guaranteed the control of Republic of New Granada over Panama and gained rights to construct railway through Panama. In 1855, the first transcontinental railway, the Panama Railway was completed by the U.S. During 1880’s, the French company under the direction of Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had completed Suez Canal, first attempted to construct the Panama Canal. However, due to diseases and engineering challenges, the attempt resulted in failure. In 1902, the U.S. planed to take on the Canal project but its proposal for the canal rights was rejected by Colombia. In 1903, Panama proclaimed independence with the support of the U.S., which originally supported Colombia but changed sides. In the same year, the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty was signed which allowed the U.S. to construct the Panama Canal and to exercise the sovereignty over the Canal Zone “in perpetuity”. The Panama Canal was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. In 1977, Omar Torrijos, the Commander of the Panamanian National Guard as well as the President of Panama, and U.S. President Jimmy Carter signed the Torrijos-Carter Treaties for the complete transfer of the Panama Canal from the U.S. to Panama by 1999. The revenue from Canal tolls is of economic importance to Panama. Panama is the fastest growing economy in Central America, promoting tourism and international trade.

Our ship stopped at Port Cristobal for seemingly adjusting the time to pass through the Panama Canal. The ship entered the port early afternoon. We were told to go back to the port terminal by 7.00 p.m. and to the ship by 9.00 p.m. for our safety.
I visited Gatun Locks by a tour bus. The bus passed through downtown Colon to Gatun Locks.
The downtown Colon looked noisy and dirty, but the district where Americans  once lived in the past, and the area where the Arabic (Jewish) people currently lived were clean. Public buses were all gaudy. According to the guide, they were once school buses for Americans and then the city bought them at low price.
Our bus passed by the sites where the construction to expand the Panama Canal was underway before arriving at Gatun Locks. I heard that the vessel traffic in the Panama Canal was so close to the capacity limit that the expansion projects were planned to improve the Canal to allow the passage of vessels with the larger sizes than the current size limit defined as Panamax. Panamax was the size limit for ships passing through the Panama Canal. According to the guide, there was a rule that 10 trees should be planted when one tree was cut for the constructions, and animals living on the construction route were being moved to safe places.

*DMC-ZS10/TZ20 records images in max.14-megapixel and DMC-ZS7/TZ10 in max.12-megapixel.

The bus arrived at the Gatun Locks in right timing. A few ships were passing through the Locks. From the observation deck, I could see the operation to pass the ship through the Locks, but to tell the truth, I could not see well because the deck was situated low and too close to the large locks.

On the return route to the terminal, the guide told us never to go to these streets because of the safety concern and that it was so dangerous that even the locals did not go. I asked the guide why the authority did not enforce strict control. According to him, because a duty-free shop like a huge warehouse was under construction near Colon and the construction related to it was to start around the ill-controlled area in a few years, people living the area would be forced to move, and as a result, the dangerous area would disappear in the course of the construction. That, he said, was why the authority did not strictly control the area at present. I wondered if the duty-free shop in such a place where tourists did not visit could achieve success. But I later learned that such facilities were being built for promoting the free trade utilizing the Panama Canal.

After returning to the terminal, I had lunch inside the terminal and looked around the souvenir shops. I bought a canned beer in the supermarket there. It was inexpensive! Was it because of custom-free price? 350ml canned beer cost only 0.5 to 0.8 dollars.
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