To switch between the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean without leaving the hull of the water, you must take the Panama Canal (80 km), and describe thus an amazing zigzag: Colon, the entry of the canal, is in fact north-west of Panama. You must start from the port of Cristobal (Colon), sheltered by two large piers, let a pilot boat that knows the channel by heart guide you, and cross the locks (six in all, a drop of 25 cm between the entry and output), such as gatum Locks, just after Cristobal, or the Miraflores Locks (just before the port of Balboa, Panama City). Huge cargo ships narrowly slip through narrow basins. All those who pass thus earn their nickname “panamax”, designating the maximum dimensions of ships transiting the canal: 34.5 meters wide and 305 meters long. You also pass through the Gatun Lake, which is lost in the rainforest, in which the Indians travel by boat from one bank to another.
Considered in 1500, the canal was finally realized between 1904 and 1914. About 14 000 vessels are crossing each year (5% of global maritime trade), avoiding the laborious trip through Cape Horn. Colon on the Atlantic side, and Panama City on the Pacific side, are very different: one populated by black communities, poor and very much alive, but decaying, the second is rapidly developing. Emptied of its U.S garrison since the retrocession of the canal area to Panama in 1999, Panama City cultivates contrasts and cosmopolitanism. On the waterfront, a wall of skyscrapers hosts the hardworking business district. Buildings are growing everywhere. In the bay near Casco Viejo, one of the historical colonial quarters, the fishing port, where one is still napping on fishing nets, seems remaining from another time. And the Bridge of the Americas, which crosses from 1962 the Panama Canal, is connecting the North American continent to the South.
Texte : Anne Jankeliowitch