When I was a junior high school teacher, I taught students about the Panama Canal. It is one of the true man-made wonders of the world, and I always wanted to see it firsthand.
Well, last week I got my wish, and it was one of the thrills of a lifetime.
Now, the Panama Canal is not just a historic engineering achievement; it is an economic engine. And the expansion of the Canal currently underway will be a real bonanza, not just for Panama, but for the world.
At a recent summit on ports in San Diego, I saw that everyone in the American maritime community is anticipating the 2014 opening of the expanded Panama Canal. They know how important the increased capacity will be to world trade, and they know that this increased capacity means greater activity for US ports.
So to see the progress of that expansion up close was really something.
Before my visit I knew the Canal would be impressive from a transportation point-of-view. After all, it has made possible the transit of over 960,000 ships since 1914. But I had no idea it would be so beautiful. I urge anyone who is interested in learning more about the Canal or seeing its magnificence to visit the Canal's website or check out one of the many live webcams.
I want to thank my hosts in Panama, US Ambassador to Panama Barbara Stephenson and Panama Canal Authority Administrator Alberto Aleman. It was a delight to tour the Miraflores Visitor Center and to watch as a ship passed within inches of either side of the Miraflores locks.
Closing the lock...under close supervision
Administrator Aleman even let me close one of the locks. Don't worry; he assured me that it was fail-safe! Not bad for a former civics teacher from Peoria.