Total Eclipse

Eclipse in ChileMonday we drove back to Antofagasta and flew to Santiago, then La Serena.   At the La Serena airport, as previously arranged, a taxi driver was waiting for us with a sign.  Unfortunately, the sign read “Mr. Rovinho Hankieses,” so it took us a while to decide that was actually for Robin Hankinson.   But sure enough, it was, and the driver, a very nice if somewhat vague guy named Luis, led us to his van in the parking lot.  After what seemed a very long phone conversation with the landlady of our AirBnB place, he drove us there, and we settled into a very cozy bungalow in a suburban La Serena neighborhood.   We did stop on the way for bread, water, wine, and other necessities, of course.  


We arranged for Luis to come back at noon the next day, so Tuesday he drove us in exceedingly heavy traffic up north of La Serena toward La Higuera.  This small town is right on the maximum totality duration line, on a main highway, and both high and inland enough to avoid coastal fog.  In other words, eclipse central.  As we approached La Higuera we saw more and more cars parked out in the desert on random dirt tracks, and La Higuera itself was just a mass of cars.  We turned around and pulled off into the desert, found an open spot without major cacti, and parked.  

La Higuera mobbed with eclipse watchers

While we had evaded the mob, we still had quite a few neighbors; perhaps forty cars or so along a minor dirt track, with varying amounts of camera equipment, camping gear, and picnic supplies.  It was like a pop-up village in the desert.  I walked down the dirt track and passed a guy changing a baby’s diaper on the tailgate of a pickup, some people setting up a big sheet of cardboard for pinhole projection, a group roasting hot dogs, and several tents.  The desert was fascinating, full of flowering plants I’d never seen.  We were overjoyed to have found the perfect spot, more or less by chance.
Stroller in the desertDesert flowers

Our eclipse villageA couple with a teenage son and daughter parked next to us in a red pickup truck, and I said hi.  We struck up a conversation, and they said something about the eclipse glasses I had stuck in my shirt collar.  I asked if they had some, and they said no; I said I had lots of extras.  “Would you sell us some?”  I shook my head, told them to wait a minute, came back with my bag of eight pairs, and started handing them out.  The daughter thanked me in very good English, though it turned out her vocabulary was limited.  They’d driven five hours from Santiago, and the mom forgot their eclipse glasses.  


Robin came over, adding a lot more to our communication ability, and when we said we were from Missouri, the daughter, Millaray, was very excited.  Her high school has an exchange program with a school in Kansas City.  She’d been to Missouri, her English teacher was from Missouri, and she wants to go to Missouri to college.   So we wound up having a very nice conversation, and she and Robin exchanged emails so we can stay in touch.  

Millaray and us

At 3:23, the first nibble disappeared from the lower left edge of the sun, to scattered cheering.  Over the next hour, as the bite grew larger, it started to get cooler.  I’d taken off my sweatshirt earlier, but had to put it back on.  A breeze came up from the south.  It was still a bright, clear day, but the light seemed subdued. Our shadows became oddly blurred, and I amused our group by projecting the sun’s image onto the pickup truck with my binoculars.  Hamner’s mesh hat projected a grid of little crescent shapes. By 4:30 or so everyone was watching the shrinking sliver of sun.


At 4:39, when the last bit disappeared, I found myself yelling along with most of the crowd.  Without the glasses, the sun was a ring of white plumes around the dark moon disk, in a weird twilight sky.  Birds flew across the desert restlessly.  Even though I saw one just two years ago, and knew what was coming, I felt like I couldn’t get my breath, and tears came to my eyes.  As Peggy said, you start to understand how somebody could become an eclipse chaser. Eclipse in Chile

Before it seemed like time, the first beads of light appeared on the lower left, and it was like a white searchlight beam was shining in our faces.  More cheers, and soon it was fully light again.  Our impromptu village started to break up as people headed out to beat the rush on the road, full of traffic bound for La Serena.  On the way back, a guy danced ecstatically on top of a boulder by the ocean.

Guy dances after bringing back sun

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