We have spent one week traveling around southern Ethiopia and reaching a spot near Kenya’s border for viewing the total solar eclipse. Tomorrow we have a long drive back to Addis Ababa and then fly back home.
The vignettes from this trip are priceless. A glance down to a river might reveal people washing clothes, bathing and filling water jugs. In one area, kids danced along the side of the road in an acrobatic fashion hoping for a tip from the occasional tourist. During a coffee break, I stood out in front of the entrance to the cafe and along came 10 young boys all wearing the same colored shirts. They exuberantly proclaimed “We are a team!” They were returning from playing soccer and held a trophy made from used oil cans and painted gold.
The village of Kenso was a maze of stone-lined walkways and walls that separated different levels of family compounds. Each level had a plaza with a tall generational pole where the villagers would gather for ceremonies and meetings. The children in Kenso make little wooden “TV sets” to sell to tourists for about four dollars. They write “Sony” on them and when you open the door there is a paper scroll on which they have drawn various animals, President Obama, etc. Of course we bought one.
In the afternoon, we went to the spot that had been scouted by TravelQuest. The eclipse was scheduled to start about 4:30 p.m. The total eclipse would occur about one hour later, lasting about 11 seconds. The partial eclipse would then continue until sunset. The 11-second duration also meant that there would be a swath of darkness four miles wide coming and going as the total eclipse passed over us.
It was cloudy most of the day, despite the fact that the forecast had called for a less than 10 percent chance of clouds. As the eclipse time approached, the clouds got thicker. The solar filters that we had worked on the evening before proved worthless, as the sun was not strong enough through the clouds to penetrate. Our next hope was that the clouds would serve as the filter, allowing viewing of the partial stage of the eclipse and the clouds would thin out to reveal the eclipse during totality.
About 15 minutes before totality occurred, a squall passed through briefly, then the clouds thickened. We were left with no alternative but to enjoy the anti-climactic experience of a total eclipse behind a cloud cover.
The sky did get noticeably darker, but the four-mile band of total darkness did not occur because the clouds diffused the light too much. There was a strange effect of greater light in the horizon in all directions. There remained the second half of the eclipse as the moon exposed an ever greater portion of the sun after passing over totality. The thick cloud cover continued to obscure any view.
Then, just before the sun disappeared below the ridge, the swirling, passing clouds revealed just enough of the sun that showed the pointed tip upwards of a three-quarters sun still covered in part by the moon just before the sun’s tip disappeared below the mountain ridge.
Fortunately, Ethiopia is a remarkable travel destination without an eclipse and we are delighted with the trip notwithstanding the inability to see the total eclipse. This experience adds to the appreciation of the total solar eclipses that we did see.
And the villagers did not believe us when we explained we were there for the eclipse and probably said to themselves “Those foreigners must have thought we’re fools to believe that story about the moon covering the sun. What was the real reason they were here?” There were many excellent reasons.