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
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.
On 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
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.
Bit 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.
There 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.
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
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.