Gatun Lake, Barro Colorado Island and Pedro Miguel & Miraflores Locks
Today we are getting ready to do our first outing of the trip on National Geographic Sea Lion, and we couldn´t be in a better place: Barro Colorado Island (BCI). This research facility is one of the best known tropical biological stations of the world, run by the Smithsonian Institute. We are the only ship allowed by the Panama Canal authorities to stop and interrupt the transit on the Panama Canal in order to come ashore.
The USA’s construction of the Panama Canal during the 20th century is a true story of adventure, ordeal and accomplishment. It followed the catastrophic French attempt to cut a path between the seas, which claimed more than 22,000 lives. Despite all the technological advances that have taken place since the completion of the canal almost 100 years ago, the lock and lake waterway remains as one of the great engineering marvels of all time. The canal extends 80 km from Colon on the Caribbean side to Panama City on the Pacific. Each year more than 12,000 oceangoing vessels transit it.
Last night we crossed the Gatun Locks, the first set of locks on the Caribbean side, and dropped anchor close to BCI. Today, after a very interesting introductory talk by one of the senior researchers about tropical ecology and the history of BCI, we left for our explorations. Some guests went on the Zodiacs, checking out the border of the jungle, and others went walking on the trails led by the naturalists. As we started getting on the trails, we kept hearing the strong vocalizations of the howler monkeys; finally we found them up in a tree. They were protecting themselves from the rain, so we did the same thing and in matter of ten minutes the rain stopped, and we saw how the group of five monkeys started to spread out up on the tree.
Yes it did rain, but isn`t this a rain forest? Thanks to the annual precipitation, the Panama Canal locks keep on running and of course keep this jungle healthy; hence the rain is vital for both humans and the creatures of these forests. In a matter of two hours we have seen troops of mantled howler monkeys, agoutis, snail kites searching for the snails close to the waterline, as well as lots of colorful birds, and a juvenile crocodile under the pier of BCI.
We started crossing the next set of locks before sunset, enjoying cocktails, as well a good light for our photographers. What a nice way to complete the passage between the oceans.