2.07.2019 – The day of the Eclipse

Dora is writing:
The planning experience of previous years serves as the proof for the proverb: “The early bird does not sit in the traffic jams and first gets to choose the best eclipse-watching spot”. Thus, we get up early, as we plan to depart at 6:45. No time for elaborate breakfast, it’s everyone for themselves and their sandwiches. The day seems promising – warm and with no clouds. We have made some sandwiches the previous night, so it’s just taking those and some chicken for lunch and by 7am we are ready to leave, even though there are some 8+ hours until the eclipse and we’re not going THAT far away (possibly, the Apple fanatics, who go to sleep in the queue for the newest iPhone the previous night, will understand this)
Everyone has their jackets and sun watching glasses, cameras and tripods are packed – we are ready (at least I don’t know what else we need to be ready). While leaving La Serena all around we see fog and clouds still sleeping in their mountain beds.

The road is quite empty so we’re moving briskly until we catch up to a line of cars going the same way – nice and slow. Meanwhile the clouds have left the mountains. At around 8am we have spotted a nice place, which gets an approval from Ilgonis after assuring the correct azimuth and degrees. Parallel to the main road, mountains in the background, a small river and some vegetation makes a nice view. At half-past-8 we have parked the cars for staying and upgraded our path over the stream. The Sun is rising over the mountaintops and illuminating the opposite ranges. Everything is beautiful; time to wait about 8h till the beginning of the totality.

Shortly before 10am I notice a slow line of cars on the main road to Vicuna, however soon the road is empty once more. There are only some pedestrians and a few cars passing by on our road. The inhabitants of the white car want to stretch their legs and walk to town to take a look at what’s new; we stay to guard our spot. When they come back it’ll be our turn to stretch our legs. With the passing of time more and more teams of cars appear and park on our road. At noon there’s a new line of cars on the main road going to Vicuna. Everyone wants to find their place in the Sun. Half an hour later the White team is back, and we go to look for some postcards – we have 3h. It’s warmed up quite a bit by then and it’s hot even in our t-shirts. At one point we split up and Agnese and I go to the post office hoping to find the postcards, but it turns out to be closed. Next we go to the central square to the touristic market – no postcards there either, but we find ice cream (the cinnamon one is, disappointingly, kind of meh)! We walk around for a bit and I’m surprised about the number of people, which is smaller than I imagined it would be in the World Capital of Astronomy (as they call themselves here). We meet up with the others, and, while we are walking here and there, someone passing has a case of light fingers and our team now has one wallet less. Agnese and I go to look for a police station to write a report, hoping it might help if even a little. First time in a police station; at least I’m there willingly.

As the partial eclipse starts, we leave the police office and hurry back to our watching spot. As the thought about my watching glasses left in the car passes through my mind, we happen upon the very nice gas station people giving some glasses away for free. Happily, we take them. I look at the Sun – yes, someone has bitten the pie (I was very hungry, that’s why the g-astronomical associations). IT has really begun! There are quite many cars on our road now and people have settled for watching. We get to our basecamp, where the Latvian flag is proudly blowing tied to the bushes (later in the evening I see a tweet by Juris, stating that he has proclaimed this little bit of Chile as more Latvian). Ilgonis and Imants have set up their cameras and started to photograph the whole event. Everyone is wearing glasses and watching the Sun pie getting smaller and smaller. Everyone has their jackets on as it has gotten chilly. A while before 4pm, dusk is setting in, but, somehow, it’s different from the other times, different shades. The crust is all that’s left of the pie now, weird shadows games happening in the sand. Just a little while until that too will be gone, people around are happy and applauding. Just one more flash and the pie is gone, the evening has set. I take off the glasses, look at the sky and.. it’s really gone. There’s just a black hole with a silvery outline.

My brain has been getting ready for this moment for more than 6 months, but it still can’t process what the eyes are seeing. Solar corona. Just a moment to take a closer look through the binoculars, trying to find some truth or explanation, yet the corona is already being replaced by the diamond ring – so bright, as if real, adorning the sky. One more moment (although Agnese is very sure that it was a relatively long time) and it’s over. Did it happen? I think I missed it. Could someone please rewind and still the picture?

The light is coming back, must put the glasses back on to see.
Have to go next year to watch it again, otherwise it seems impossible to understand what a total solar eclipse is, what it means. What forces of the universe have come together to make the Moon just the right size and the right distance away from the Earth to cover the Sun disk just so much to make the corona visible on the planet that is situated at the right distance away from the right kind of star to make it habitable and already inhabited by [relatively] sapient life forms. And what forces of nature have worked so that I (we all) could be there – thousands of km away from home – just in time, where there are no clouds, and everything is clearly visible. How?

Afterwards.. it’s not really important what happened, but for the sake of order I have to write it.
Ilgonis is hopping happily. Hugging, toasting, happy exclamations, discussing what everyone saw, eating sandwiches (because we left the chicken at home and I’m still hungry) and group pictures with our blue jackets on.
Instead of turning homewards (there’s a traffic jam anyway), we go to the town to look for Agnese’s wallet, but we do not succeed. After that, we do get to join the long caravan of cars towards La Serena, logging in another geocache on the way. Every once in a while, someone asks me if I liked the eclipse and what are my thoughts, as this was my first total solar eclipse; but all I can reply – still processing data.
In the car we play the capital quiz (the next year will be spent learning the world map) and the night is not over yet as we get back home. No one wants any chicken anymore, just a glass or two of wine or beer or pisco and we go to sleep. Tomorrow life goes on. Theoretically.

I’m still stuck in the moment. For me it was like welcoming the sunrise on John’s day, the first minute of the New Year and passing the last minute of my birthday all at the same time. The life does not simply go on after that, it starts anew. The cycle is over, the inner clock has been reset. I’m glad that this eclipse happened in the late afternoon, as there is time to enjoy and muse over the experience undisturbed and there are no new adventures that would take my attention away from it. Not enough ROM and RAM space to process the information so fast and gracefully save it on the HDD.
In conclusion: an inkling has been gained that the Total Solar Eclipse is a magical moment, but further repeats of the experiment are needed to get a more detailed and precise result.
Thank you for your attention!

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