Dundee and I were up at 4:30AM to make sure we caught it all. It’s part of the adventure, seeing every moment of it, and we wanted to be sure we didn’t miss a thing. We were the first on-deck, stars still twinkling overhead, to watch the pilot boat offload the 22 pilots to navigate our ship safely through the Panama Canal.
We’d done our homework, and knew the best seat in the house was at the bow, front & center, so we took our post and settled in, searching for planets & constellations to pass the time. In the darkness, the channel path came into view, green and red buoys marking the runway-like path through the water. We slowly set course, taking our place in line among cargo ships from points all around the globe. Gliding beneath the Bridge of the Americas just as the sun’s glow warmed the morning sky, Dundee excitedly narrated each moment, recalling everything he’d read and studied in preparation for this day. He got it; the connections were firing at full force, and as teacher/mom, I was simply ecstatic.
We were soon joined at the bow by another gentleman, also a bit giddy for the day. Turns out he’d been through the canal before . . . some 57 years ago as a young naval officer. He could recall every moment, and relived it with us – play by play – as we made our journey. History, technology, ingenuity, and American culture all rolled into one early morning: it couldn’t have been more perfect.
Everything about the experience fascinated and amazed us. Lining up for the first locks, a tiny 2-man row boat meeting us to grab our line and deliver it to the locomotive guide into the lock, watching the gates close, the waters fill, then feel the lift as we moved into position for the next step…then doing it again. Sacagawea watched the first locks from our cabin, and eagerly joined us on deck to report how she’d watch the lock walls overtake our windows, then watched as we lifted above it and were delivered back to open waters.
A canal passage is an all-day affair: three sets of locks connected by river-like waterways amidst the jungles of Panama. We made sure to see it all — the lock operations from the bow, then quickly running to the stern to catch the locks closing behind us and the next ships moving into position; the locomotive operations along side the ship, guiding us along the narrow passage and keeping us in position; the natural beauty of the waterway jungles, islands and habitat.
In the educational world, they call it a “teachable moment.” For us, it’s way more than that. These are experiences shaping a lifetime – moments that will forever loom in their collective memories – shaping their understanding of the world around them, kindling the notions of what’s possible, and igniting a passion of potential. As we recalled the best moments of the day over dinner, Dundee started talking about where our next adventures might take us…maybe Africa, or deeper into South America he suggested. When Sacagawea suggested he slow down, and simply enjoy this adventure, he quickly countered. “I’m seeing places I never thought I’d get to see. That means I can do even more, go even further, do things I never knew I’d get to do.”
Yep. It’s working.