Last Sunday the Panama Canal Authority held an open house in the new Panama Canal construction area. It was for friends and relatives of the employees. We were lucky enough to be invited. The offer was even extended to any friends we wanted to bring. Naturally we called our friends on Sunday morning at 8am and by 9am 12 of us were ready to go in 3 cars.
Since it was for friends and family only, not the public, we didn’t expect what faced us. There was no traffic going toward the city and life was good. Once we got to the Coclé off ramp, traffic was at a dead stop coming from both directions, Panama City and Coronado.
As we inched up the off ramp going toward Cocoli, a motorcycle officer parked himself behind us and in front of our friends and made them turn around. Not a happy moment.
We continued to inch forward and finally got inside the gate. Finding a parking place on a side road wasn’t too difficult, and not too far away was a bus stop. So far so good. As luck would have it we got on the first bus. It took us to another parking lot where the buses were lined up bring us to the construction site. And what a line it was. Literally thousands of people, dressed in long pants and closed toe shoes.
The ACP handed out lots of bottled water at all stops and there were trash containers for the empties. Fortunately, they set up “Porta potties” and, a radio station van was playing very loud music. There were even ambulances on standby for overheated visitors.
After a 2 hour wait we finally made it on the “real” bus. Guides explained various areas all in Spanish. Of course, this is a Spanish speaking country. But we only understood some of the narrative. Did you know the construction site has its own cement plant? We found that interesting.
Finally, our bus reached the first site in an area overlooking the new canal. On the opposite side was the Bridge of the Americas. What a view. Again, there were paramedics and lots of bottled water. The buses dropped us off, we looked around, took pictures and then it was wait in another bus line to take us to the next stop, inside the canal.
We viewed the huge doors which were already installed. Unlike the original canal, in the new canal doors will be sliding open and closed. In the old canal they swing open and closed. The doors are roughly 20 stories high. We walked around and took more pictures and, we made history. This will be filled with water and once filled, nobody else will ever walk there again.
After the “in the canal experience, we were bussed back to the main parking lot ending the tour. They said it would be a 45 minute tour, which was about right, once leaving the long waiting lines. But to us it was worth it. I’m glad we went on “Friends and family day” instead of this weekend where it’s open to the public. Some of our friends that got turned back, went again today. We are proud to be a part of history and of what our adopted country has accomplished.