Gatun Lake, Barro Colorado Island, Culebra Cut
It is our first day on National Geographic Sea Lion and we are just beginning to travel through two Central American countries, Panama and Costa Rica. We are starting the trip by crossing one of the wonders of the world, the Panama Canal.
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 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 several thousand oceangoing vessels transit it – well over 30 a day.
Last night after our guests came aboard, we started crossing the first set of locks going southbound, from the Caribbean Sea toward the Pacific Ocean. Since National Geographic Sea Lion is 150 feet long, and each lock is 1000 feet long, we share the Gatun Locks with two small sailboats.
Afterwards, our boat drops anchor close to Barro Colorado Island (BCI) for today’s outings on the island. Here the Smithsonian Institute runs a world-class biological station on the Neotropics for research and conservation. Right after breakfast we came ashore; some of our guests went on the Zodiacs, searching for wildlife, and others decided to go for a rain forest nature walk. In a matter of a few minutes, wildlife started to be heard and found.
As we started walking on the trails, the howler monkeys kept performing their very noisy vocalization that could be heard even from the ship. Finally we found them up in a tree, eating the fruits known as “wild star apple.” To our surprise, we saw an adult male carrying on his right ear a tag set by the researcher to keep track of him and to study his socializations with other monkeys of his kind.
The group that went on the Zodiac cruises came back stunned by the amount of crocodiles and colorful birds they saw along the river banks on the Gatun Lake. At lunch time, we were all talking of the crested guan, agoutis, parrots, monkeys, lizards and other wildlife spotted during our short stop on the famous BCI.
Back on the Sea Lion, with the pilot of the Panama Canal Authority on board, we started cruising Culebra Cut, and the rest of the locks. By the end of the day, the ship had cruised the Panamanian Isthmus and we were dropping anchor off the Pacific Coast.
Making our transit even more attractive, we had a great sunset as we were enjoying cocktails and celebrating the path between the oceans.