Part 1 

My 10th Solar Eclipse

My 6th successful Total Eclipse in a row

My 5th continent on the chase zambia kids look

The best days of my life have been eclipse days. The rush of exotic travel – the unparalleled excitement of finally arriving in the eclipse zone – the gratification of sharing such a sublime natural event with the local families – and that post-eclipse glow that keeps me going well into the next day, and beyond. All this makes for some pretty remarkable memories. In fact, over the years, I have meditated on my eclipse experiences so frequently that I can recall the most exquisite of details even years later.

Much of the richness of the experience comes from the location you choose to observe the eclipse. Your immediate surroundings can add tremendously to the impact of the day if you choose carefully. I like to be somewhere that already has its share of magic – like a Hindu temple in India, an ancient archeological site in Turkey, or in the case of Africa, a school yard in rural Zambia full of local children.

I usually end up on the chase by myself (it’s hard to find people who can take these big trips!), but on this one I traveled with a group of mostly Canadian chasers organized by the Calgary Science Centre.

zambia group Friends celebrate the eclipse. That’s me holding the Canada flag!

Along with seeing the eclipse we took the opportunity to explore a bit of central Africa. We flew into Harare, stayed a few nights in Lusaka to do some night sky observing, visited the famed Victoria Falls, and spent a week on safari in Malawi.

zambia vicfalls My helicopter shot of the great rift that is Victoria Falls.
zambia jeep On safari in eastern Zambia! These jeeps can go anywhere.
zambia giraffes I saw so many giraffes and elephants and rhinos and exotic birds I could never post all the pictures!

Part 2 

Being on this safari was like being transported back into prehistory. In this part of Africa, time has stood still for centuries. And as a first time visitor I was amazed by the beauty of the habitat and the sense of the ancient in everything. Quite a tactile difference compared to my North American home environment of all new concrete and steel.

Each day we set out on to the land in our Jeeps at sunrise and at sunset. These are the times when the animals are moving around. With two cameras in a bag, a proper hat and a cold beer between my legs I was in heaven everyday as we bounced across fields and forest and streams hoping to sneak up on some big animals. And it happened daily.

If you’ve never been on a safari I would recommend making plans now to get it done. Not to be missed!

zambia dust trail Dust trails at dusk. A night time safari begins.
zambia road Taking a stretch on the road to our eclipse site.

Eclipse day is always the best day! Like my chaser friend, Jeff Collinson, likes to put it, “…it’s like Christmas morning!”

Our observing site, the village of Malambanyama, was a four hour drive from Lusaka that started at 8am. The road looks good in the above picture – but that was the only good spot! The rest was only tolerable because I knew there was a pot of gold waiting for us at our destination. And indeed there was.

One of the best things I have ever been involved with was the presentation of school supplies by our group in exchange for permission to observe the total eclipse from the school’s playground. A poor, rural village, devastated earlier in the year by floods, the Head Master of the school was thrilled to make the arrangement. And they were right in the path of totality – perfect for us. The exercise books, dictionaries, pens and materials will last them ages – and the memories for all of us, a lifetime.

The ceremonial presentation of our gifts is in my video Africa Total Eclipse. Get your copy!

zambia shoots eclipseguy gets video of the school children in song before the eclipse.

A fun thing to do when the partial eclipse has started is to play with projections of the image of the partially eclipsed sun. Projections can be thrown in all sorts of neat ways – with pieces of mirrored glass – with telescopes and binoculars – through bushes and trees and hats – and by punching pinholes in a piece of cardboard. The picture below was made from the lid off my box lunch! All the holes reveal little crescent suns!

zambia pinholes

Even the smallest pinholes reveal the sun in partial eclipse.

Serious eclipse chasers usually fit into one of two categories. The ones who just want to be there when it happens – to drink-in the sublime beauty of totality – and the ones who are equally serious about taking pictures of it. With totality normally so fleeting you can’t really do both. This is one of the chaser’s inescapable realities. Sometimes a computer can work the camera for you while you watch the sky, but your full attention is still not on the eclipse. I had seen many eclipses without paying much attention to shooting them and I never regretted it. But this time – with totality almost 4 minutes long – I decided to try to do both!

In a playground somewhere in rural Africa I waited for the shadow to come with forty foreign and frantic eclipse chasers, with hundreds of pounds of telescopes, and a few dozen African kids who had never seen such a scene! What a day for all of us!

Part 3 

zambia totality

A single “Baily’s Bead” adorns the eerie blackness of the Moon’s dark side just as totality begins. Photo: Glenn Schneider

zambia wide

My first good shot of an eclipse! Taken 21 June 2001 w/28mm lens.

We could see the shadow coming at us from miles away. Totality hit right on time and the corona came into view. Spectacular! The chromosphere was intense this time and there was a neat, detached prominence that you can see in Glenn’s shot above. The playground went wild! I spent the first minute yelling and screaming about how great it was, and framing up my video camera, then I let it go and sat down beside my Nikon to fire off a planned sequence of shots with a cable release. It was a lot to do in such a short time. When it was over, I had a few moments when I wished I hadn’t spent so much time shooting! Every second truly is precious.

The corona was tremendous. A nice, round, even set of streamers with intensely sharp, sword-like brushes.

zambia corona

The crowning glory of a total eclipse! photo Andre Sirois

The school yard had been turned into an alien planet. The sight of totality is unreal! You’ve got to see one of these things before you die!

Check out the clips from my film Africa Total Eclipse in the Media Vault!

Now I am very busy organizing the next total eclipse chase! See you there?

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