[Total Solar Eclipse: 2015]
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The 1983 Eclipse in Java
The trip had consisted of three minibuses, two buses, a colt, a horse and cart, a bemo, a lorry, a becak and a motorbike. I had made it to the centre line.
Mount Bromo in Java
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This was my first trip to this continent. I flew from London to Sri Lanka, where I stayed for two weeks. Another flight took me to Singapore for a few days. I reached the island nation of Indonesia (again by air). I stayed for a month and visited two of the thousands of islands: Java (where I saw the eclipse described below) and Bali.
Backtracking to Singapore, I overlanded up the peninsula of Malaysia and cought a train to Thailand (two weeks). A side trip to Burma was followed by a flight to Nepal (10 days). From here I travelled overland to India (where I spent three months in the north and west) and finally Pakistan. I flew from Karachi back to London.
Before leaving London, I wrote an article about the eclipse in Trainfinders, a free travel magazine.
Three days before the eclipse I left Dieng Plateau, a collection of villages in a volcanic crater in northern Java. The journey to Tuban took fourteen hours and involved eleven vehicles. I was learning that just getting to an eclipse site could be an adventure on its own! I began with a minibus to Wonosobo. We followed a valley with tobacco terraces. Volcanic peaks lined our route, partially shrouded in cloud.
In Wonosobo, a horse and cart taxi took me to the bus terminal. Another minibus took me to Secang passing through a gateway made up of a pair of volcanoes. A third minibus brought me to Semarang passing through dense forest. A colt (small van) took me to the bus station. From here I scrambled onto a crowded bus. This followed a river to Kudus. Foreigners were not common here and I was stared at continuously. Hawkers, children, and beggars followed me everywhere. Very little English was spoken but I knew enough Indonesian to get by. It is not a difficult language and I had been in the country for over two weeks. The bus station manager sheltered me in his office while he found me the right bus. This took me to Lassem - it was beginning to get dark. I had been seated for twelve hours, often with my pack on my lap. A bemo (pick up truck with benches) took me along bumpy roads for over 30km. As it got dark I was still 50km from my destination and I was the last passenger. The driver wanted too much money to continue. Instead I hitched a ride on a lorry. The driver was with his son and they would be passing through Tuban. He refused payment but I gave him something to buy a drink on me.
Tuban was quite spread out. I took a becak (bicycle rickshaw) to a hotel recommended in my guide book. It was full. A friendly English teacher offered me a ride on his motorbike to another hotel. I had finally arrived; prices were high but with a total eclipse of the sun in two days, that is to be expected.
I was invited by the teacher to have coffee at his house. Everybody wanted to know about the eclipse, how to watch it safely, what it meant. The thought that people had come from other countries to see it caused much amusement. This was a frequent theme of eclipse trips. Only after the eclipse, did people understand.
The trip had consisted of three minibuses, two buses, a colt, a horse and cart, a bemo, a lorry, a becak and a motorbike. I had made it to the centre line. My only worry was the thin but thickening cloud in the sky.
The next day I awoke to a cloudy day. Not the big cumulonimbus clouds that frequent the tropics, rain heavily and disappear, but a blanket of stratus clouds like a frontal system in Europe. A frown appeared on my face. As I went for breakfast, I heard a commotion in the reception area. An American doctor called Ken was surrounded by locals. They were taxi drivers trying to get more money from him than they had agreed. Ken had never been out of the United States before and they knew it. After watching for a while, I helped him negotiate a fair price. The hotel was now full but I shared my double room with him. Most of his luggage consisted of his cameras; he had six. He also had a short wave radio. We tried to get some weather information. All we got was news of Margaret Thatcher's landslide victory in the General Election. My frown got deeper! While we wandered the streets "looking for an eclipse site", it rained. Everybody was curious about us. At one point seventy people were staring.
We met a few other eccentric souls here for the eclipse: Gilles (a French traveller), Martin (an American psychiatrist who was living in India), Mel (a merchant seaman on a world tour), and two worried Dutch astronomers from our hotel. The locals were telling us how unusual the weather was for this time of year: "it is normally clear and sunny". The Dutch astronomers had some weather information: a huge cloud system was covering all of Java; there was only a small chance of it clearing but if it did, the northern coast would clear first. We went to bed with the worry that the next day's eclipse would be washed out.
On eclipse day I awoke at 6am to the sound of dancing and singing. It was coming from the balcony outside our room. The two Dutch astronomers were responsible. The reason was up in the sky. A band of clear sky was moving from the North and pushing the layer of clouds out of its way. My frown turned into a smile. In the hotel lobby, a beer company was giving out free t-shirts and hats.
Our eclipse site was a children's playground on the beach. It, like the rest of the village, was deserted. Ken set up his equipment, five cameras, two tripods (one with three heads). He was planning general scenery shots, a close up during totality, and a multiple exposure following the phases of the eclipse. I had a single hand-held camera with a zoom lens. In the end, my photos came out while none of Ken's did. He visited me in London a year later and I gave him copies. The lesson with eclipses is to do a few things well rather than try to attempt too much.
In the five minutes before totality the sky turned an intense blue. The clouds stood out as the contrast increased. The thin high cloud around the sun produced a lovely halo. Venus appeared. Our two teenage companions were no longer looking at us and smiling. They were looking up and looking frightened. I also looked up and saw the sun's thin crescent disappear behind the moon.
Today it was spiky, not uniform. The edge of the sun was pink. This is caused by prominences, rose coloured clouds of hydrogen gas larger than the earth.
The planet Venus stood out near the eclipsed sun in the darkened sky. The horizon all around was red like at sunset. I managed to take some photos at different exposures until I used up my film.
I then watched.
It was beautiful. I could hear my companions' sighs of disbelief and squeals of delight. I heard the whirr of Ken's motor drive. As the moon's shadow swept across from South to North, I could see it brightening up in the South. A large cumulus cloud system that had been developing, dissolved as its heat source was removed. Because of high cloud, the "dark side of the Moon" was not black but grey.
After 5 minutes, 09 seconds of totality, the left side of the sun became brighter; the sun began to appear through a lunar valley producing a brilliant pink diamond ring. The corona disappeared as the pre-totality evening light returned. Venus remained visible and the sky was a deep blue.
Ken completed his sequence of photos during the final partial phases. We heard the sound of motorbikes. A group of local Hell's Angels pulled up and stopped near us. We looked on apprehensively. The lead biker, clad in dark glasses and leather, slowly got off his machine and started walking towards us. He coolly glanced at the tripod, looked us all up and down, and stopped. "Can I have a look?" he asked timidly. We relaxed and said yes. The bikers became excited as the looked at the partial phases of the eclipse through our filters.
As we returned to our hotel, the streets were full of vehicles and people. Everybody had seen the eclipse ... on television! We had a slow lazy lunch of sate (wrapped in a banana leaf) and relaxed listening to Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here.
It later became overcast and rain fell.
The talk amongst the foreigners was of coronas, prominences, diamond rings, and sky colours. The next day I continued my travels in Indonesia as the Muslim fast of Ramadan began...
Photographs taken with a hand held Olympus OM 10 camera.
On my 1988 trip, I took my t-shirt to China. In one hotel room, I left it on the floor only to find it had been taken away as rubbish. I had to look through all the hotel waste to find it looking rather battered and worse for wear. After that, I always buy two copies of each t-shirt: one to keep at home, one to take with me to subsequent eclipses.