Travellers spend a lot of their time visiting tourist attractions. But we rarely stop to think what it must be like to be a tourist attraction – especially when it’s the last thing you’re expecting. That’s what happened to these three sailors at the Panama Canal, and it helped create one of my favourite photographs.
Back in 2013, I spent a few days in Panama City. The big thing to see in Panama City is, of course, the Panama Canal. And one of the best places to do that is the Gatun Locks, the set of locks closest to the Caribbean side of the canal. It’s a place where you get a front-row view of the ships as they pass through — an amazing feat for large ships, with only a metre or so of clearance on each side.
On the morning I visited, a ship called the Parsifal, registered in Singapore, was innocently making its way through the locks. A few sailors were watching the show from large portholes on the ship’s flanks. But as they passed the Gatun viewing station, they suddenly realized they were part of the show, with spectators looking on – and taking photos. Their reaction was priceless. And since I was one of those taking the photos, it’s preserved for all time.
At the time I visited, the Panama Canal was readying to open a second channel, expanding its capacity and allowing even bigger ships to take this shortcut across the globe. The expansion opened last year, and from all accounts it’s working well, despite early problems with leaks and a drought that reduced water levels. But I don’t know if the brilliant new channel gives travellers such an intimate look at the ships, and the people who sail them on their long voyages. Call it a photo op lost.
Hint: click on the photo to see it larger