[Total Solar Eclipse: 2019]
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The 2019 Eclipse
Our flight to Chile and from Argentina allowed us a few days stopover in Toronto with its galleries, museums, tall buildings and access to Niagara Falls.
It was our second visit to Chile and we began in Santiago. We revisited a few places and went to some that were not there back in 1994.
Valparaiso was new for us and we enjoyed the setting, the hills and using all the transport systems.
In Ovalle we were told that the eclipse would be "99.5% total" there. We settled for the petroglyphs but moved North to La Serena, our eclipse base.
Accommodation here had been a problem for the last two years with many places cancelling, not responding or raising their prices. One host had sold his property and offered us a room in his new house about ten days before our arrival. The only trouble was that he had moved to a different city.
In the end we stayed in a family run home stay. Although safe and central it was probably one of the coldest places I had ever stayed in.
We had a car (for 4 days) and drove to Vicuna, where many people were planning to see the eclipse. We managed a night tour at one of the many observatories in the region. We considered the area above the observatory as an eclipse site but discarded it due to bad roads.
We looked at a lake (actually a resevoir) in the Elqui Valley. The views were good but facilities were few.
In the end we found a small fishing village close to the centre line and decided that was the place for us.
We packed the car with our eclipse day items and waited. Dave Wetherall joined us. He had been with us in Indonesia in 2016; he was in town and he needed a ride.
At 8:40 we set off for the 30km ride to the village of Caleta del Hornos. We were there in 30 minutes. The parking areas near the village entrance were taken but we managed to find a spot 100m away by the village school.
Breakfast was a delicious seafood empanada (like a pasty) in one of the many seafood restaurants. The village is a popular lunch stop for Chileans travelling on the nearby highway.
The village was quiet and people were going about their business as normal. The restaurant staff remembered us from the previous day and greeted us warmly. People pointed at the clouds over the sea and said they'll be gone by 11.
We walked around looking for a good place from which to see the eclipse. High up was good with a panorama but it was windy and close to cars on dirt roads - the dust would not be good.
We ended up by the fishing pier. There was no wind and few people. Most of the visitors were Chileans, and most of those were from the capital. They wanted to know how to view the eclipse safely and what to look out for. Many were not aware that you can look at the totally eclipsed Sun without protection ("sin lentes").
I chatted to the marine police who informed me that the street lights were automatic so I assumed they would switch on as it got dark during the eclipse.
We set up the tripod and Talaat planned a series of shots of the mountains before during and after the eclipse. I had my trusty hand held camera, a new one since the last eclipse. I wanted to get a panorama showing the Sun over the sea, hopefully with Venus. I also wanted the corona and the diamond ring. Everything was set.
Except the clouds had returned.
And they were over the sea blocking out the Sun. Higher up and inland there were none - we were getting messages from people in the eclipse FaceBook group who had gone further along the coastal highway to the self proclamed "eclipse city" of La Higuera. This was higher and free of coastal mist or clouds.
Should we stay or should we go?
After 30 minutes the clouds disappeared within minutes and that was the last we saw of them. The villagers' description of their local weather was spot on.
First Contact, the beginning of the partial eclipse was at 3:22pm. We could see the small bite after a few minutes but all around us things looked normal. Partial phases normally last between and hour and an hour and a half. For the first two thirds of the time, you would not be aware that anything was happening if you did not have lenses to look at the Sun with.
By 4pm, half of the Sun was missing. Now you could notice that the light had changed. It was more mellow and more golden. We watched the birds, mainly pelicans, coots and gulls. There were also a few eagles soaring in the updrafts. They were all looking normal.
By 4:20, the light was looking very eerie. The sky had begun to darken. The reflection of the Sun on the sea was no longer painful on the eyes. The birds were now flying, looking for somewhere to roost. Flocks of birds could be seen high up. One smaller bird landed nearby and started singing.
It was now 4:30 and a few people near were putting their coats on - but they were going nowhere. The ambiance was now something they'd never seen before. A few dogs barked. The sky was a deep blue and getting darker. I looked for stars but didn't see any.
The Moon's shadow swept over us at just under 3km per second. The last lingering golden beautiful light from the Sun was extinguished. Gasps of awe and delight could be heard.
I looked West.
The eclipsed Sun was hanging over a misty Pacific Ocean with Venus gleaming beneath it. The corona was a pale ghostly white hue with streamers marking the Sun's magnetic field.
It looked big as the Sun and Moon do when near the horizon.
It was a beautiful sight. I spotted Venus, a white star-like glint in the mist just above the horizon and below the Sun.
The Moon's shadow was a long elliptical shape and it had plunged us into darkness. The colours of the boats in the sea were no longer visible. The street lights had come on. I glanced back to see a night time view of the village even though the Sun had not set.
It was cold.
The sky began to redden below the Sun and an enormous diamond ring appeared bringing back the light to the world. It was a pale world of reds and golds.
Totality was over.
It slowly brightened and within minutes there was little to show that such a magnificent spectacle had just occurred.
1 minute before Totality
Beginning of Totality
Middle of Totality
End of Totality
The chief of the marine police came to see us and shook our hands as if somehow we were responsible for what had just been witnessed.
A family that we had given information to came to us, the woman almost in tears. They thanked us for telling them how to enjoy the eclipse. They said that no pictures and no words could capture what they had just seen. She shared a video with us and we could hear the gasps and cheers as the Sun was completely covered by the Moon. I could also hear her telling others it was safe to look at totality.
Others said they had seen stars - the Southern Cross had been seen overhead. I had forgotten to look up.
We stayed until Fourth Contact when the Moon moved off the Sun. The Sun was now orange a few minutes from setting. We watched it set. Then we really felt cold.
We picked up our things, said our goodbyes and walked to our restaurant for a seafood supper and much papaya juice.
We learnt that La Higuera had closed because too many people were trying to get in. Several members of the FaceBook group that we knew had simply turned back and seen the eclipse from the beach close to us. The rest of their party was stuck in traffic so we were invited to sit with them for supper.
Many an eclipse story was told.
We could see a steady stream of vehicles coming past the village and heading South to La Serena and Santiago.
By 10:30pm we decided to head back as the traffic had eased. It took us three hours to drive the 30km back to our freezer like home.
It had been a successful eclipse. Two years of planning had all paid off.
Next one, Argentina 2020.
We returned to Santiago and - after a rest - took the bus over The Andes to Argentina.
Much wine was consumed (sorry "tasted") in Mendoza in sight of the snow capped Andes. Talaat had the biggest slab of meat I have ever seen on her plate at one grill restaurant. I had to help her eat it and it made our jaws ache.
Much historical culture was consumed in Cordoba.
-- BUENOS AIRES
The approach and departure of the shadow.
Village with street lights.
Brisa Marina, Caleta del Hornos
For breakfast and superb sea food, especially supper after the eclipse.
Rental car. They allowed me to take the car early as they were closed for a national holiday on my booking date.
Special thanks to Maria Ponce.
For setting up the 2019 eclipse FaceBook group which has been a great source of pleasure and information.
For advice on which barrio to stay in Santiago.
For organising my talk to the group and for the t-shirt.
For the eclipse stamp and fig roll biscuits.
Hostal Casa Matta, La Serena
Accomodation for eclipse week but no heating and little hot water.
I made several bookings, most of which cancelled or raised the price. One sold his property in La Serena and offerred me a room in his new house - in a different city. AirBnB gave me a full refund.