The Main Event: This was it, the reason for coming to Madagascar and one of the most beautiful sights in the heavens.

We were in Morombe for a total solar eclipse.  I had missed seeing one many years ago by a few hundred km. as the eclipse was passing to the south and I was too young to go by myself.  I had seen an eclipse in Germany a few years before but it was cloudy so it could only barely be seen through the clouds.  I had travelled thousands of km. to see this and if it was cloudy, that would be the way things went.

There were three days before the eclipse and the first order of business was to find a place to stay.  People were asking $80/night with three-night minimum…not very likely.   I followed some leads and tried this person or that person.  “Wait here, the patron will be back soon.” And one hour later you’re still waiting.  “Go talk to the schoolmaster Albert” but no luck, then someone else asking for $70/night, etc.  Vincent and I started looking together and heard rumors of an “eclipse village” being set up to the north and figured there could be no harm in having a look, so I procured some cardboard to sleep on just in case (having sent my sleeping bag home from Israel and my tent from Papua New Guinea).  On the way there, we met a traveler who brought us to their place and Vincent and I split a cheap room.  I talked with a local and they said that some people had been telling them this eclipse would be a gold mine for them but the truth was that the travelers who were getting to Morombe were generally the budget travelers who are more likely to sleep out than pay $70.

So, with three days to kill, I tried to find something to do.  There really wasn’t much to do and it was too cold to swim in the ocean, so that left hanging out and reading books.  I spent some time with Brian and Rosie and what I remember most about them is telling me about their work in Tanzania, he said, “The women there have the biggest asses in the world.  They’re not fat, but mathematically speaking, have huge asses.”  True poetry if I ever heard it.  Vincent and I also spent some time together; he was a little older than most and not prone to partying, which suited me just fine.  There really weren’t that many travelers there, you would measure the number in the dozens rather than the hundreds, but it was many, many more than they usually saw.

We went to a simple but nice restaurant on the ocean and got fresh poissons frit (fried fish); it was really good.  Ate that several nights in a row.  One of these nights, I was brought the meal and it wasn’t so much a fried fish as a fried fish head, a big one the size of the dinner plate.  I poked and prodded at it trying to see if there was some hidden cache of meat somewhere but there only a few forkfuls, so yep, pretty much just a fish head.  A big, fresh, fried fish head.  In  my best pidgin French, I tried to explain that what I really wanted was the rest of the fish.  Unfortunately no more fish was available and I opted for some veggies.

Morning MoonMorning BeachOn the morning of the eclipse, I got up while it was still dark and went out to see the moon.  I’ve heard that the moon on the morning of an eclipse is quite beautiful and today was no exception.  The eclipse was later in the day and it was unusual in that it was on the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) and when the sun set below the horizon, it would still be partially eclipsed.  There was nothing to do but wait.

It seemed that many of the local people didn’t really understand the eclipse.  Some people were heard to say that they had never had an eclipse until the foreigners started coming in such numbers and others had said they were going to close the curtains until it was over, which would be a shame because everyone was in for quite a show.  The sky was clear and things were looking very promising.

Around mid-day, I started walking north of Morombe, closer to the center of the path of totality.  The closer to the center, the longer the eclipse; besides that, some solitude was desired.  I ended up hiking about 12 km. north and passed up a few of the eclipse camps.  Rumor spoke of including one dedicated to photographers.  They had so much equipment set up, I don’t know how they could enjoy seeing being so busy with their cameras but to each their own.  I walked past everyone else and saw no evidence of another person and walked up to the top of some small sand dunes so as to see the sun shimmering in the ocean and noticed the sun had the first bite out of it.

Bites from the sunBit by bit, the sun was getting covered but even when half covered, the sun remained bright.  80% was covered and I thought, “Nothing in the world can stop the eclipse.  It’s going to happen.”  It was getting darker and cooler, 85%....90%...95%.  The sun was down to a sliver, then down to the barest sliver, but you still couldn’t look at it.  I held my eclipse glasses away from my eyes, that way one could keep an eye on the sun and on the water.  The sun was hanging above the Mozambique Channel and its light shimmered on the calm ocean but the light was getting less and less.

There is a shadow of an eclipse and it crosses the Earth at 1800km/h.  I held the glasses out from my face to be able to see the shadow.  Off in the distance I could see the light shimmering and then suddenly the water in the distance turned dark and that darkness approached very, very fast (1800 km/h fast).  I looked up in the sky and literally gasped.

Total EclipseThere was a ghostly thing…for lack of a better word, hanging in the sky.  It was indescribably beautiful and unlike anything I’d ever seen before.  Even the best movie cannot even begin to approximate it.  I took a few quick photos and then watched the most amazing show on the planet.

Diamond RingWords truly cannot describe it.  I have travelled so far for 2 minutes and 20 seconds and it was worth it.  I raised my arms above and beheld the heavens.  I just stood there and stared.

Eventually the light showed itself and the light coming from the sun shone on the land like the headlight of a train.  It had a very weird quality to it and the words “very weird” are the only ones possible.  I jumped up and down laughing out loud and literally nearly fell over.  It was over but I’ll not forget it.  It was the most heart-breakingly beautiful thing ever seen.

I went to the bottom of the dune and sat down to watch the rest of the eclipse. I was happy even watching the moon slip by.  The last little sliver of the moon covering the sun disappeared just as it touched the horizon.

Since the eclipse was fairly low in the sky, the sun’s light had to pass through a lot more atmosphere than if it were directly overhead and there was a more scattering of light (think of the colors you see at sunset) so it wasn’t completely dark.  There were some stars visible and there will be more of them during the next eclipse.  It will not be the last one for sure. There is one that traverses the continental U.S. on August 21, 2017 and I will be there to see it no matter what. 

I walked back to Morombe and arrived just as it was getting dark, to meet a Swiss and Ozzie couple who stayed in Morombe and were with some local guys.  The locals stayed outside but the as soon as it hit totality, they ran inside and refused to come out.  It’s not hard to understand this reaction.  We knew exactly what we were seeing and have looked forward to it for years but if you don’t approach it like that, seeing what is up there in the sky, you can understand how frightening it could be.  I completely understand how eclipses were viewed as evil omens in times gone by, they are a weird, weird thing to see and terrifying they can be.

The three of us went out to eat and all ordered the fried fish.  He and I had an excellent fish and thoroughly enjoyed it.  She…got a fish head.