Okay, I can do better than flying a Lear jet to Nova Scotia to see a total eclipse of the sun. I flew in a prop plane to Pakuba Airstrip in Uganda to see a total eclipse of the sun. Does that make me vain?
The day started off with a rather disappointing and early game drive. Many of the animals were in hiding it seems almost as if they knew the humans were giddy about a spectacular event which was to occur later in the afternoon. We did manage to see a herd of elephants though and they were pretty close. But it was nothing like the lion sighting and the sheer quantity of game we saw the day before. Oh well, that’s the luck of the draw. It was still fun being out in the bush, watching the sunrise once again over Africa, and enjoying the commentary of Robert, our newly found friend and driver for the day.
When we arrived back at the lodge, it was readily apparent that there was a different vibe in Paraa. There was certainly more than a plethora of elderly hippies wearing tee shirts from current and past solar eclipses. I had discovered the eclipse nerd. Up to this point, I thought Joan was the only one.
The safari company we used, Premier Safaris, made this a wonderful event. We all piled into a matching set of Land Cruisers and made our way to Pakwach village en convoy. It was an impressive sight. I hope I never forget seeing the Ugandan children’s faces as we drove down the little dirt road of their village to a spot that, astronomically speaking, was ground zero for the viewing. They see me comin’. They smilin’.
Premier had originally picked out a spot for us to watch the eclipse, but it turns out that President Museveni also thought that was the perfect spot. While we had security clearance to be near him during the event, the staff at the safari company thought that the added security and additional hoopla (I’m pretty sure this is a Ugandan word–they can do hoopla no doubt), that it might be best to move to the grounds of a primary school about a half mile away. This turned out to be a good call.
It was a hot day but everyone was so excited and there were local people from the neighborhood that joined us to add some color. I’m sad to report that these people live in abject poverty. I’ve seen it before, but it’s always disheartening to be reminded that this is actually how most of the world lives.
First contact, second contact, third contact, fourth contact, first bite. These are all new terms I learned as we sat in the shade of the little school. Lo and behold, just a few minutes before the eclipse reached totality a thunderhead reared its ugly head to block our view. We had a meteorologist that specializes in solar eclipses along with us that informed us that we could move about a mile away and get into a clear spot before the eclipse reached its zenith. While I thought that our departure from the lodge was impressive, when we tore, like a bat out of hell, from our current location, through the thousands of people assembled to watch the eclipse, with all the kids waving, screaming, and showing their pearly whites, I did feel vain. So vain.
But we made it to a clear spot with minutes to spare!