We are now back in Panama for the last four nights of our amazing trip around Central America. We have seen and learnt so much about both countries. The wildlife, nature, way of life. Also we have seen firsthand the poverty in both countries. We also had some interesting conversations with Taxi drivers about life in Central America. “You can always rely on a cabbie for the real low down on a country”. One told us last night that he and most of the working class people are not impressed with their president or political leaders (to be honest that’s probably the case the world over) He told us that the wages here are very low $500 dollars a month in some cases. We mentioned the fact that we had noticed so many banks , his answer was I quote “ probably to wash money “. I presume he meant drug money from Colombia. This seems astonishing as I look out the window of our hotel room at a skyline consisting of high rise luxury apartments, hotels, banks and a marina full of boats. Also when you consider the revenue made from the Panama Canal how can this be? When we visited this amazing feat of engineering (more on that later). We learned that on average a ship passing through the locks costs $188,000 dollars and rises to a whopping $450,000 for the very large ones. The canal operates 24hrs a day 365 days of the year and around 40 ships a day pass through. So if you just take the average cost for passage through that’s $7,520,000 dollars a day. Which equates to 7.75 billion dollars a year, that’s without all the countries other exports ie bananas and many other fruits, coffee, pharmaceuticals etc. So having seen first hand the areas on the periphery of town, where people are living in run down squalid housing in no doubt cramped conditions, it made me wonder how could this be happening especially for a country with a population of only 4.5 million people. Where does all that money go. Certainly from my point of view not on the infrastructure. Outside of Panama the roads are terrible, the pedestrian walkways even in Panama are a heath and safety risk. In David which is Panama’s second largest city it’s really run down. It has none of the fancy buildings that Panama has, its infrastructure is in bad need of updating. So my question is where does all this wealth go?
Panama Canal : Miraflores Locks
As we were unable to get to the canal when we arrived in Panama back in March due to Friday afternoon traffic. (See my post entitled What a day). We got there around 10:30 quite excited at the prospect of seeing this engineering marvel. When we got to the entrance a staff member told us that no shipping will be passing through until around 2:30pm. So as well as seeing the locks we wanted to view a ship passing through. So rather than going back to our hotel we took a taxi to a shopping mall called Albrook, as it was a short ride from the canal to get a coffee and some lunch. Now if you have seen one shopping mall you’ve pretty much seen them all, but this one is absolutely huge. It has a floor space of 380,000 square metres. In comparison the largest in the UK which is the Gateshead metro centre which is 193,000. Well enough of shopping centre facts back to the canal. We arrived back in time to see three huge ships pass through. It’s mind blowing how close these huge ships are the the lock sides. Also how tall they are. We were on the viewing platform on the fourth floor of the visitor’s centre and on one ship carrying cars towered above us. A really truly amazing spectacle. For some really interesting facts on the locks click here. Entrance fee to the visitor centre is currently $10 dollars.