Why you win too when you realize someone else’s dream
Travelling for a year with 50+ people is an amazing experience. You always have someone to share adventures with but sometimes it’s nice to take off by yourself too. As I sat in my apartment in Colombia, I pulled up a map and looked at the options for my solo escape.
I didn’t want to backtrack, so I looked at neighboring countries. My options were Venezuela (too dangerous right now) or Ecuador (then I’d want to do the Galapagos or Amazon, both out of the budget at the moment). Looking north, there was Costa Rica but I’d already been there. My eyes landed on the country in between, Panama.
Yes, that is where I wanted to go!
As I talked to my mom about my plans, she reminded me that Granny always wanted to travel through the Panama Canal, and at 92 years old, probably wasn’t going to get to scratch that off her bucket list.
That sealed my plans – I was going to transition the Panama Canal for my Granny!
As I started my research, I was shocked to see most dates already sold out. Fortunately I found a spot on a ship going through the Canal on Saturday. I booked it before even confirming my flights!
And since it had been a long time since I had a room to myself, I decided to splurge on a five-star hotel with rooftop pool overlooking the city and ocean.
This trip was coming together nicely!
Up at 4:30am to head to the airport, I grabbed by backpack and eagerly bounded out the door. The hour-long flight went by quickly and before I knew it, I was walking down the plane steps into 36 degrees and full on humidity.
I felt my fluffy hair growing bigger and curlier with each step!
The airport was tiny (I later learned they have two airports) and I quickly went through immigration – adding another stamp to my (increasingly full) passport.
When I checked in, I was pleasantly surprised to discover they had upgraded me to a corner suite on the 20th floor!
King-size bed, fluffy pillows, soft sheets, marble bathroom, floor-to-ceiling windows and stunning views.
Ahhh, I was “home”.
I unpacked and headed up to the rooftop pool. It was as lovely as the website and I settled into a lounge chair to soak up some sunshine and the views.
Then early to bed as my driver was picking me up at 5:30 am for my transition through the Panama Canal!
I arrived at the Flamenco Marina in pitch-black darkness but the excitement of the people waiting to board was electric. As I stood in line to check in, I met people from Sweden, Portugal, USA and Canada.
As we boarded the Pacific Queen, I couldn’t help but notice I was probably the youngest passenger. But that didn’t bother me – I like meeting adventurous travellers of all ages!
We stood on the top deck, watching the sunrise as we slowly headed out to sea.
Our guide, Gus, outlined the day which included breakfast, lunch, snacks, and transition through all three locks, arriving at the Atlantic Ocean in about 10 hours.
Everyone I spoke to was bouncing with energy and enthusiasm about being on board. They had dreamed about this day and now that it was here, it was exceeding all expectations.
There was an 89-year old woman, whose four children had surprised her with this trip (and accompanied her for a full-family vacation), and a 65-year man celebrating his birthday with his wife, brother and sister-in-law.
There was Tom and Jackie, a lovely couple in their 70s who had travelled to 110 countries (so far!). Their stories inspired me and I sought them out at lunch to share a table and learn more.
I met another couple from New Jersey who told me all about their single son (Rob) who couldn’t find the right woman who enjoyed travel as much as he did and finally left Portland to go travel/work on his own. (It seems all moms play match-maker!)
The transition itself was amazing!
There were huge cargo ships – some carrying over 5,000 vehicles, others carrying thousands of shipping containers, and others carrying LNG – liquid natural gas.
And the tug boats! Oh, I loved them!
I remember reading children’s books about the hard-working tug boats and it’s true. They push here and pull there and play a critical role in keeping the massive ships on course.
The first set of locks, Miraflores, saw us sharing space with another passenger vessel and two tug boats. Beside us came the massive car carrier.
As Gus explained the process, we marvelled at the engineering minds who built the system. The whole process is done without pumps – water flows in and out through a series of tunnels and valves, all due to gravity!
Once all the ships are in the lock, the process takes only eight minutes to raise or lower the water level and move to the next lock.
Every time a ship passes through the locks, 26,700,000 US gallons of water is released – all to be replaced by rainfall!
Yes, it rains that much (and explains why everything is so lush and green).
We did this a series of three times, before moving into Gatun Lake.
Cruising across the lake, the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, I couldn’t stop smiling. Not only was the experience thrilling and being on the water always makes me happy, but I was there for my Granny. I was taking in the sights and feeling the emotions for her. I wanted to soak up every moment so I could tell her all the details when I get home.
We passed ships of all sizes and cargos, saw sailboats and speed boats, watched birds and crocodiles.
Even though it was a 12-hour day, we didn’t want it to end.
As the sun started to set, we arrived in Colon and got off the ship to the waiting buses which drove us back to Panama.
I fell asleep grateful – it had been an amazing day.
The next morning, my tour guide, Miguel, arrived and informed me I was his only guest so he was at my disposal for the day!
We checked out the Old Town (aka French Quarter), explored old churches and monuments and squares, drove along Balboa Avenue and Amador Causeway, visited a local handicraft market and went to the Miraflores Lock Visitor Centre.
From their observation decks, I watched ships go through from a different perspective (great to do if you’re tight on time but I highly encourage you to plan your trip around a full transition of the Canal – there is nothing like experiencing it from the water.)
Driving back to the hotel, we started talking about real estate. Miguel told me his goal this year was to become a “financial expert”. He said that by focusing his energy on one thing and being dedicated to improve and learn a little more every day, anyone could become an expert. That’s how he taught himself English.
I was blown away.
Here I was, thousands of miles from home, travelling around the world for a year and this quiet, intelligent man gave me the advice I needed to hear. I’ve tried this, thought about that, dabbled with another thing but I’ve never had his drive and determination to chose one thing and put all my energy towards accomplishing it.
He inspired me.
I flew back to Bogota the next day, still thinking about what he’d said. And I had to admit it got me excited for 2018.
I have some big plans and dreams but I’m going to choose one – and focus all my energies on moving towards it by the end of this year. I will become an expert and rocket my life forward in the direction of my dreams!