Week of February 08, 2004 (for Central America only - see South America Diary Index for last half of week)
Well, we did it! We not only got Cindy shipped out on the evening on February 9th, we caught our flight out the next day to Quito, Ecuador with no problems. Ahhh, but I am ahead of myself. Quito's experience is to be found by referencing the South America Diary Index and I have yet to finish our exhilarating last day in Panama City.
We spent our last day in Panama City, tying up loose ends and fretting over whether Cindy would get seaborne. We had Walter, our very patient shipping agent, acquire the departure information and to our devastating chagrin, Cindy would go through the locks of the Panama Canal in the following schedule: Gatun around 5:00 p.m., Pedro Miguel around 11:00p.m. - midnight., and Miraflores around 1:15 - 2:00 a.m. We were so hoping to catch a glimpse of Cindy and wave to her as she passed through the locks, but for a reactive moment, it appeared it was not to be.
We were two hours away from Gatun and it was 3:00 p.m. when we got the news. Miraflores' observation center closes down at 5:00 p.m. and the restaurant closes at 11:00 p.m. Gatun was definitely out. Pedro Miguel is in the middle of nowhere, has no observation area, but through a 10' high fence, you can watch the ships pass into the canal from 100 yards away. Miraflores? Well, we went to the observation center just before it closed and tried to sweet talk the restaurant into allowing us to remain behind while the employees clean and close; however, in all of Latin America, it just so happens that this blasted restaurant has to be the only business that is efficient and cleans and closes within a half hour of its last customer, meaning around midnight.
After visiting Miraflores, we went back to our hotel, depressed and down, but not totally out. We had dinner, sulked a bit and walked the streets. While crossing the street to our hotel, we saw one of the many taxis that flitter around and thought "Why not?" - let's ask the driver if he could take us the 20 minutes out to Pedro Miguel and leave us there, and come back to pick us up at 12:30 a.m.. Our biggest concern was the deficiency in return transportation and then being stuck out along the highway that early in the morning. So, with our "Why not?" attitude, we asked and received a resounding "absolutamente" and we were whisked away to the Pedro Miguel locks.
We arrived around 10:15 p.m. and sat and sat and waited and waited and watched ship after ship after ship after ship negotiate the Pedro Miguel locks. There were benches along the intimidating fence so we sat down for the tiresome wait. I found myself, with my head cupped in my hands, falling asleep and being started awake just an eye blink away from falling off the bench.
The taxi driver, Rolando, returned just before midnight and decided to catch some sleep while these two "crazy people" watched for their "carro casa". 12:30 a.m. came and went and Gerson and I looked sleepily and sadly at each other and agreed that we will wait for the next pair of ships (the medium to smaller ships go through in pairs), and then, we would reluctantly return to the hotel.
At 12:35 a.m., with the use of binoculars, we saw the shadow displacement across the black waters that signified a ship was coming. In a few minutes, we saw a large bow breaking through the darkness and it began to pierce the light of the locks. At 12:45 a.m., the ship came into dim view and we could finally clearly see.....that it was not the "GREETSIEL", which was to be Cindy's ship. So, letting out our collectively held breaths, we sunk back onto our cold bench and agreed to wait and see if there was a second ship.
At 12:55 a.m., a wink in the canal's distant lights caught our eyes. Then another light ceased to exist and then gleamed back into life. Then the moonlight on the water seemed to be absorbed into an abyss and suddenly we realized that yes, yet another ship, albeit small, was creeping along. Gerson's binoculars proved our deduction correct and all we could do was to wait until the ship crawled nearer the locks and their illumination.
1:00 a.m. came and went and we could just make out the light absorbing, black bow of the ship. With both of our hearts pounding and Gerson's eyes squinting through his eyepiece, he thought he saw the white letters of the ship's name and that he was looking at a "G-R". Gerson handed the binoculars to me and with the assistance of the ship sliding forward yet a few more feet into the light, second-by-second, foot-by-foot, I read aloud "G-R-E-E-T-S-I-E-L". "THAT'S IT!!!!" I mildly exclaimed (yeah, right) and the taxi driver was awakened to two grown adults jumping and screaming like banshees.
We ran down the length of the fence to get a better angle in which to view our little girl and Gerson hoisted me up to the top of the 10' fence. Hanging on with one hand, I readied myself to take the pictures across the 100 yards of black water hoping the digital camera will like the lighting around the lock itself and produce an acceptable image of the ship and its precious cargo.
Then suddenly, without warning, Gerson quietly yells at the top of his lungs "THERE SHE IS, THERE'S CINDY!!!!!". Like a madwoman, I pressed the camera into service (which took about 15 seconds for each picture because the digital camera had to process the poor light and the blackened distance) and I caught a fleeting glimpse of Cindy's blue stripe above a neighboring container. Cindy was up front, nestled in between her shipmates, and sitting on top of her stack in her deserved queen-like position.
And then, a minute later, she was gone...out of the lights and swallowed up by that thing called the Panama Canal.
Needless to say, seeing Cindy slip into the lock was an adrenaline-filled, awakening experience. Well, only awakening until we got back to our hotel at 1:45 a.m. wherein we slept to the last possible minute before meeting our taxi to the airport at 9:00 a.m..
You know, I can just imagine the ship's crew telling their friends and family "We heard the weirdest noises when we were entering the Pedro Miguel locks..." :-)
After an anxiety-free sleep, we made it to the airport and flew
over the Equator and into Quito, Ecuador (and for those of you that do not know,
"Ecuador" is "equator" in spanish). From here, you will need to go to the