I don’t think anyone would argue with me if I said that eclipse chasers really want to see the eclipse. But can we anthropomorphize the eclipse and say, it really wants to be seen?
The TSE of 11 July 2010 was visible from Tahiti and the surrounding islands – across Easter Island through the south Pacific – ending on the very tip of South America – in Patagonia. Eighteen months before the eclipse, I was booked on a small clipper ship out of Tahiti – we were going to sail the remote Tuamotu Islands of French Polynesia for a week – then see the eclipse in the ocean off Tahiti’s south coast. The perfect plan. I was totally pumped. The idea of sailing around these islands en route to totality was a life dream come true. I love trains. And I love sail boats.
But no sail ever happened! They cancelled it months in advance. Apparently, the ship operator decided to redeploy the vessel to other, richer waters and dumped 75 chasers from the manifest. Nice.
I was then without an eclipse plan.And I let it slide.For months.Pretty soon, all the other Tahiti cruises were sold out.I checked into the tours and the music festival happening on Easter Island – loved the sound of it – but too expensive.(The greed of the tour operators and the airlines early in the selling turned away many people, and in the final few weeks before the eclipse they couldn’t give away their seats. The throngs of people that were supposed to show up on Rapa Nui for this eclipse never materialized).So I booked the next best option – a reasonably priced eclipse flight – a private charter into the path of the eclipse at 35,000 ft.A guaranteed cloudless eclipse!We couldn’t miss!So I booked passage to El Calafate – a sleepy cottage town in Patagonia – where the flight would take off on 11 July 2010.
But two days before the eclipse – they cancelled the flight.Problems with the aircraft, we were told.I was halfway around the world already and feared I would miss my first Total Eclipse in 20 years.
But against all odds, the eclipse was seen in a pristine sky above the Andes Mountains.This was the eclipse that wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Part 2: The New Plan
And in keeping with my desire to see the whole world while eclipse chasing, I took advantage of the opportunity and booked two weeks in Peru before the eclipse. Lima – Puno – Cuzco – the Inca Trail – Machu Picchu. Classic Peru.
The big attraction for me in Peru was the Inca Trail – the famous 4-day hike through the Andes Mountains to the city of Machu Picchu. I had wanted to do this journey since I was old enough to read.
Entering Peru through the city of Lima, I move straight to Puno. At 12,500 feet, Puno is one of the highest places on the continent and it’s famous because this is where you go to visit Lake Titicaca – the world’s highest navigable lake and a critical location in the Inca heritage.
I head out on to Lake Titicaca and visit the floating islands of Uros – where a traditional culture lives on man-made islands, fashioned from the endless supply of reeds growing in the lake.
Part 3: Puno
The island of Taquile is three hours away by boat. This remote Quechua outpost still lives by the traditional Inca values of community collectivism. The island is gorgeous – lush – small farms – agricultural terraces – but the hike to the public square at over 4,000 meters above sea level takes the wind out of me. Until you have adapted to the altitude, you can’t draw a full breath – and walking uphill is slow and difficult for me.
Part 4: Train to Cuzco 1
The romance of long distance travel by train must be archetypal because I have fallen prey to its influence my entire life. This one was a real treat – best train journey ever! I leave Puno – travel through the Peruvian Altiplano and into the Andes that surround Cuzco – my destination. The ride takes all day – over 10 hours. En route I witness the most incredible sights – all part of a sparse but vibrant high altitude culture – thriving in the most remote of regions.
Part 5: Train to Cuzco 2
Part 6: The Altiplano
Cuzco is an incredibly busy place. One gets the sense that it has always been. As the starting point for hikers on the Inca Trail, it is constantly flooded with backpackers and tourists making their way through town. But this tourism hasn’t pushed the locals away. As I move around – shoulder to shoulder with the crowds – I pass as many moms with newborns as uniformed school kids as local cart merchants. There is probably a young hiker couple here from every city in Europe!
Part 7: Cuzco
Part 8: Pre Inca Trail
After a nerve-racking night of trying to pack smartly for my 4-day hike/camp along the Inca Trail (never take more than 5kg!), I make my way through the storied Sacred Valley. Like something from a history book, this whole region is at once stunning to the eye and overwhelming to the heart. I stop at several noteworthy sites along the way including Pisac – known for its great Sunday markets.
Part 9: Hike the Inca Trail
Part 10: High in the Mountains
The coca leaf is revered throughout Peruvian culture for its magical and medicinal qualities. The lift in spirit and energy that chewing on a few leaves can bring was a most welcome effect in these mountains! I learned to love it as my Peruvian friends did. Brought some home, too! (Shhh.)
Part 11: Dead Woman's Pass
Part 12: The Interior
Part 13: Living in the sky
Part 14: Machu Picchu
After the grueling trial of the trail, we final get to relax (and shower!) in Aguas Calientes – the hot springs town at the base of Machu Picchu mountain. This is where I check my email after many days – only to discover my eclipse flight has been canceled. You’re lucky you weren’t around when I got this news.
What you don’t see now is the long journey back to Cuzco – the flight to Lima – the flight down to Buenos Aires – the 10-hour layover in the airport – then the flight to El Calafate in Patagonia at the bottom of Argentina. I am furious at my eclipse tour company the whole time and not fun to travel with. If there is no flight – then I am stuck on the ground – and the weather is supposed to be overcast in Calafate – hence the plane idea. Take my eclipse away from me and watch out. To make matters worse, we are greeted at the airport by minus 20 degree temperatures and thick ice on the ground. It was bleak. With no eclipse on the horizon – what the hell am I doing here?
Against all good sense, the tour company asks me to pay if I want to come see the eclipse from their ground location. After leaving me with no flight! But it’s eclipse day already – I am out of options. I pay. But I could have strangled them. I now have just a glimmer of hope that these clear skies will hold out. That’s my focus. About 150 of us load into these wicked 4×4 trekking machines to haul us up to the top of the Patagonian steppe. If we stay down in Calafate – the eclipse will set behind the mountains before we can see it. If this eclipse really does want to be seen – it’s down to this machine –
Part 15: El Calafate
Part 16: Eclipse Day
Success sure is sweet! But I could have done without all the drama in the last few days. But that is what eclipse chasers deal with. I would do it all again. This really was the eclipse that wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Wanna come next time?