I grew up in farm country so I’m pretty familiar with how food gets to the grocery store. But what about all the other stuff we buy at all the other stores? Well here is a clue for you…
One thing this trip through the panama canal has made me realize is just how amazing, complex, and expensive the global shipping system is. Have you ever wondered how much it costs for a ship to go through the Panama canal? Take a guess? Our cruise ship cost about $370,000 and larger ships can cost over a million!
I can’t even begin to guess the value of everything in those containers but just think about it. Cars, wood, electronics, furniture, carpet, gas, oil, grain, it all makes its way around the world in giant ships. In Colon there is a huge duty free area where buyers go and order containers of various things. Oh, I like these shorts I’ll take 2 containers of medium 1 of large, etc…
Going through the Panama canal you really see where this all comes together, literally, to fit through a bunch of locks that are a thousand feet long and 160 feet wide. Plus the new locks for the even bigger ships.
Our route through the canal started at the Gatun locks. These take you up 85 feet to lake Gatun. You can see our ship the Celebrity Millenium in the background just entering the first lock. The white and blue ship is a car carrier heading the opposite direction.
Here we are in the lock looking backward you can see a tanker heading out.
We then travelled across the lake (formed by damming the Chagres river) to the Pedro Miguel locks which stepped us down about 50 feet and then on the the Miraflores locks which took us down to the Pacific Ocean.
This sequence just shows us at the Miraflores locks dropping down the final step before we head out.
Panama City in the background.
The whole thing is such an engineering marvel. And not done with new technology! Much of the canal has not changed since it was built over 100 years ago. No pumps are used, it is all gravity fed. Which means that in order for the locks to work they are draining the lake. Of course it is refilled by the river, but each ship uses about 52 million gallons of water to traverse the locks. The rainy season has not been very rainy this year so the lake level is down which means some ships can’t go through, or they have to unload some cargo before they go. One interesting addition that helps conserve water is that now we can use water from the side going down to halfway fill the side going up. This is a nice bit of recycling that saves about 50% of the water.