The Panama Canal: More Than a Cruise
2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. This man-made waterway changed economics, politics and probably affects your life today without you even knowing it. For instance, 10 percent of all U.S. shipping goes through the canal. That means goods you purchase come through the canal, and many jobs are directly impacted by the ability of companies to save money on fuel and shipping.
And for as many years as the canal has been a success, it took twice as long to come to fruition. Its creation is the stuff of soap operas, filled with a political revolution, a massive outbreak of yellow fever and a scandal that turned a hero into a criminal.
The Storied Story
The history starts back in the 1500s when the Spanish first found Panama and discoverer Vasco Nunez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama. This set the wheels in motion for a connecting roadway, and eventually a canal shortcut from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. However, the first real attempt at building the canal didn’t come for another three hundred years.
In 1879, after France’s Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps was successful in connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas by building the Suez Canal in Egypt, he decided to attempt to do the same thing in Panama. Unfortunately de Lesseps didn’t realize all the mitigating factors, including tropical jungles, disease-carrying mosquitoes, primitive equipment and the lack of an understanding of the challenging terrain.
After nearly a decade of work, and with over 20,000 dead from malaria and yellow fever, de Lesseps had only managed to excavate some land. The project lost its funding and de Lesseps was found guilty of both mismanagement and fraud for bribing France’s public officials to promote his project and win investors.
After France’s failed attempt, the United States, under the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt, saw an opportunity to show its might and build the canal, but first they needed the permission of Columbia, the country where the canal would be built. After an unsuccessful treaty attempt with Columbia, the U.S. sought more drastic alternatives and ultimately aided Panamanian rebels in their coup to gain independence from Columbia. After the successful revolution, Panama signed a treaty with the U.S. and work on the canal began again in 1904.
It was an arduous ten year process requiring extensive mosquito eradication and the creation of Lake Gatun, which was at the time the largest man-made lake in the world. The canal finally opened on August 15, 1914 and began operating under U.S. control until January 1, 2000 when it was transferred to the control of Panama.
As the 100th anniversary approaches, the Panama Canal is undergoing a major expansion where two new sets locks will be added and the existing channels in Lake Gatun will be expanded to accommodate larger ships.
Experience the Canal
Now you can be a part of the Panama Canal’s amazing history by partaking in a number of special sailings in 2014 that will commemorate the 100 year anniversary of this engineering marvel. Here are a few itineraries to consider:
- January 20, 2014
Itinerary: San Diego to Ft. Lauderdale
Highlight: Explore the relaxing Mexican Riviera with stops in Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta before crossing the Panama Canal.
- February 22, 2014
Itinerary: Ft. Lauderdale to San Diego
Highlight: Enjoy scenic cruising through Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica, one of only three tropical fjords in the world.
- March 27, 2014
Itinerary: Callao, Peru to Cristobal, Panama
Highlight: This sailing visits remote islands offering you the chance to discover exotic animals and learn about Peruvian traditions steeped in history. This sailing also features Sabrina Guerra Moscoso who will speak about the history of Ecuador.
- April 15, 2014
Itinerary: Ft. Lauderdale to Seattle
Highlight: Remarkable ports-of-call in Puerto Caldera, Puerto Chiapas, Huatulco, Puerto Vallarta, San Diego and Victoria.
- September 25, 2014
Itinerary: Los Angeles to Houston
Highlight: Explore the exciting jungle in Costa Rica by white water rafting, going on a crocodile safari or boarding a tram to take you through the canopy level of the jungle.
- October 7, 2014
Itinerary: Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale
Highlight: Enjoy a partial transit of the Panama Canal where you sail both west- and east-bound in the canal.
- October 11, 2014
Itinerary: Quebec City to San Diego
Highlight: Enjoy seeing the entire North American continent while visiting nine separate sovereignties. See how the cultures change as move from Canada to the U.S., the Caribbean and Central America.
If you have cruised through the Panama Canal or have been fascinated by its sheer ingenuity, we’d love to hear what makes this waterway so compelling to you. Share your thoughts in the comment section below.