Enter Panama Canal Balboa
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The town of Balboa stands at the Pacific end of one of the world's great engineering wonders, the Panama Canal. Long the administrative center of the Canal Zone, it was U.S. territory until the last day of the last century, when it was returned to Panama on December 31, 1999. The 77-kilometer (48-mile) route that begins here and ends at the Caribbean unfolds like an epic tale.
Over the span of a decade, tens of thousands of workers drilled dynamite holes, drove belching steam shovels and labored with pickaxes, all the while fighting off malaria. While the French builders of the Suez Canal ultimately gave up in Panama, American crews persevered as they hauled away mountains and created a route across the continent. As David McCullough recounts in The Path Between the Seas, it was a combination of sheer human might and what was at the time the latest engineering prowess that made this feat possible. It has since saved many sailors from the almost 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile) journey around the tip of South America. In 2016 an expansion more than doubled the Panama Canal's capacity, ensuring that it will continue to be central to the world's maritime traffic.