At first the French attempted to build the canal but failed due to diseases spread by mosquitos and the lack of proper machinery. The Americans picked up where they left off soon after and improved living standards dramatically. It took the US ten years to complete the canal.
There are three locks on each end of the canal. The lake that allows all this to happen, Lake Gatun, is 26 meters above sea level. It takes the average ship about 10 hours to completely traverse the canal from one end to the other.
Right now the cement and even the gravity-fed water system are all over 100 years old and still in use! Because ships are much bigger than they were "back in the day", the Panamanian government is constructing new locks that are larger and more water-efficient.
The next day we did more schoolwork and had to switch rooms because the air conditioning stopped working. We went back to the restaurant for dinner and this time we were able to witness more than 6 different types of ships pass through the locks. It was so cool! It seemed like the destination was just as amazing for the crews on the ships as it was for us because most of them were sitting in the front of their boats taking each other's photos as they went by the giant sign that says "Panama Canal".
All the ships are guided by electric machines that look similar to diesel locomotives. Most of them have less than six inches of space in between their hulls and the walls! The next day we drove to the airport and flew back to Miami and then to Dallas. This trip has been an adventure!