The Dreamers: Part 9 of 10
Alejandra tightened her grip on the canal tugboat’s controls, maneuvering the muscular vessel to gently nudge the massive container ship Sternway through the narrow Corte Coche lock. Despite crossing the canal daily for a decade now, she still thrilled at this marriage of raw machine power and delicate finesse.
Ever since playing with toy ships as a girl while hearing her abuelo Javier’s stories of guiding canal vessels, Alejandra had felt fate calling her to Panama’s waters. She was born to be a tug captain.
Now at 36, her veteran crew made piloting the powerful tugs through the tight lock confines look easy. But in her youth, the job’s complexity had overwhelmed her. Each vessel required its own gentle handling, coaxed skillfully through with wheel, thruster and line, never touching the vulnerable lock walls. How would she ever master the art?
Yet trial and error through the years had slowly shaped Alejandra into an intuitive canal ‘mule’ captain, gliding ships of all sizes through the channels. Her hard-won skill was a point of pride.
These days, guiding the new super-mega container ships through the modernized locks demanded every ounce of talent she had honed. These floating skyscrapers stretched four football fields long, nudging the bounds of even Panama’s expanded capabilities. Without the delicate finesse of tug captains like Alejandra, they simply could not transit safely.
But Alejandra was in her element gently nudging each titan through the tight spaces, skillfully coordinating with the lock operators, linesmen, and onboard pilots. Teamwork was vital, the generations united in purpose.
Clear of the locks, Alejandra would always wave farewell to the departing ships she had just shepherded across the isthmus. Though merely brief acquaintances, she felt a bond from their shared voyage, like climbers roped together.
At day’s end, Alejandra would continue her own voyage, guiding her sturdy tug back home while reflecting on the legacy she was privileged to continue. The canal always moved forward, its waters endlessly shaping dreams.
Lately however, troubling news clouded the future. After over a century of service, Panama’s canal faced emerging threats unlike any before.
Alejandra increasingly heard colleagues worry that growing water scarcity from climate change could jeopardize canal operations someday. The waterway’s reservoirs fluctuated precariously during drought years now, straining to release enough for ships to transit.
Megaprojects by economic titans like China and India also unsettled canal workers. New canal routes across Nicaragua or Thailand could eventually divert shipping traffic, eroding Panama’s strategic chokehold. Powerful emerging technologies threatened to disrupt global trade patterns in unpredictable ways too.
To Alejandra, these threats all shared a common cure: faith in Panama’s spirit of ingenuity. The same resilience that built the canal could adapt it to survive changing times. But the people must believe in themselves first. External challenges were never the true obstacle.
On her day off, Alejandra took her teenage daughter Natalia along the canal path where she once walked as a girl with Javier. She shared stories of past generations who dreamed the impossible. Natalia’s generation had no different a destiny if they dared.
“Our canal has transformed the world,” she told Natalia, “but the real monuments are in the hearts of those with bold imagination.” Natalia smiled, feeling the current tugging at her as well. The waters called.
That night, Alejandra again dreamed of ships gliding silently through locks and channels extending to the horizon. She tried to record the ships’ names but they faded upon waking. Eyes opening, she knew they did not matter. All vessels passed the same.
Her purpose was tending the light each day so new dreamers could find the canal, whatever unknown waters ahead. Faith fueled the flame. The ships would come and go. But Panama’s spirit sailed on.