One of the seven wonders of the modern world, the Panama Canal is a 48-mile international waterway that allows 815,000 vessels, 2.4 million tons of automobiles, and about 140 million tons of commercial cargo to traverse the canal each year. Its vastness and expansiveness: indescribable. Its momentous impact on the world: undeniable.
Visitors to the Panama Canal are first exposed to three museum floors while slowly ascending escalators, which eventually leave them gaping open-mouthed at a lock lifting a massive barge through the Miraflores lock. The first floor of the museum: a film screening summarizing the history of the canal, primarily focusing on the death toll of the workers who sacrificed their lives for a global economy to flourish. An estimated 27,500 men perished from construction accidents or from the mosquito-driven disease, Malaria. Reflection was the postmodern way to start the tour.
I was the only American on this tour, accompanied by twenty South Koreans. One of which was their current diplomat. I shuffled amongst these business-suited men, observing the mandatory museum before facing the canal directly. From first floor to second floor, old to modern construction techniques are displayed. The sincere “oohs” and awes of the government officials delivered an additional appreciation to the canal’s technological advancements. Second floor to the third floor exhibits a model on the preservation of the surrounding Central American wildlife and rain forest that the canal’s funds help foster. Hopefully, this third floor perpetuates the idea that this man-made contraption doesn’t harm its flawless nature neighbor.
Finally – time to ascend the last set of escalators and experience the canal in all its glory. I stood at the end of the line, behind the South Koreans. The escalator slowly inched upward. As I waited to reach the high-enough point that would allow me to peer through the display window out onto the canal, one of the South Koreans in front of me (I personally like to think it was the diplomat himself) reached the display window first, and upon seeing the Panama Canal squealed, ‘Holy cow!’ A collective awestruck gasp exhaled from the other nineteen. I stifled a giggle, wondering why the man, in a moment of pure admiration, would use an American slang phrase instead of his native language.
The escalator continued to glide upwards and at last, I caught my first glimpse of the elephantine barge. Comprised of steel and metal as it floated through the prodigious Miraflores iron lock of the Panama Canal.
And without thought, I whispered, “Holy shit.”