The 1988 Eclipse in The Philippines


In the West, I could see it getting darker as the Moon's shadow approached at nearly a kilometre per second. The horizon was turning red as the sky turned a deep blue.

Totality at 9:04 AM
Totality at 9:04 AM (Iglesia Ni Cristo)

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Trip Summary

The 1988 eclipse was part of a 15 month trip around Asia on my own (apart for a three month period): this remains my longest trip.

I flew from London to Manilla in the Philippines and changed planes to the southern island of Mindanao. This is where I saw the eclipse described below. I stayed in this island nation for 6 weeks. Next stop was a two week tour of Japan followed by a ferry ride to South Korea (6 weeks). Flights took me to Taiwan (2 weeks) and Hong Kong (3 weeks).

A friend from London, Giulietta Cinque, joined me for a three month adventure in China (bus, train, boat and rickety plane!). We returned to Hong Kong via Macao and then I was alone again.

Further flights took me to Thailand (a month) and my journey ended with a six month trip around east, south and central India. I flew back to London from Bombay.


The Eclipse

The plane descended over coconut and banana plantations set amongst volcanic hills. Davao is a city on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Most tourists to these islands visit the beaches, tribal areas, and discos further North. I was one of a handful of people who had come to see the total eclipse of the Sun in the next few days. A two hour bus ride across the green landscape took me to a town called General Santos City. It was on the centre line of the eclipse.

General Santos City
The morning fishing catch come in (General Santos City).

The area is not famed for its tourist sights so accommodation was limited. An Eclipse Task Force had been set up by the city authorities arranging home stay places with local families. Not many visitors had come for this eclipse. A civil war had been raging over parts of the island. I stayed with the Cortez family in a large house near the centre. There was a large palm-lined garden to while away the evenings. Friends of the family were frequent visitors to play marjong. I was the centre of attraction: why have you come? are you a scientist? do you like Philippinas? are you married? Even around the town I was an object of curiosity.

One day I relaxed in the main plaza. A group of school girls shyly approached. Hello, said one, where are you from? I said I came from England. They smiled and continued. What language do you speak in England? It was my turn to smile. English I told them. Can you teach us? they asked. What would you like me to teach you? I responded. Science. Oh, I said, Which Science? The wanted me to teach them about astronomy; in particular about the forthcoming eclipse. Questions and answers passed between us; others arrived and after a few minutes a large crowd had formed around me. The eclipse was on everybody's mind.

As the crowd drifted away, a young man called Jojo approached me. He asked if I would like to be interviewed by the local radio station, called DXCI FM. It sounded fun and I had never been on the radio before. The staff told me that several groups of professional astronomers had arrived in town. They had been asked for interviews but had declined due to being busy preparing their equipment for the eclipse. I, on the other hand, was not a professional. I was here a week before the eclipse to absorb the atmosphere and meet people. The station controller appeared to like me. Would I be interested in answering questions during a phone-in? Yes. I would. Before I knew it I was in the studio. I sat with a pretty female DJ called Lady Love. For two hours she played disco records and took phone calls from people asking questions about the eclipse. I answered questions like:

It was a fun time, everybody was friendly and I received many invitations to dinner. My answers were a mixture of fact and humour. I was invited back twice more. Since the station was next door to where I lived, I didn't have far to go.

One day in the plaza, I noticed people on the roof of city hall. Journalists were planning to use this as their vantage point. I went to the roof and met Ken. He was the American doctor with whom I had seen the 1983 eclipse in Java. We both decided that this roof would make an excellent viewing site for the eclipse. The city and its people would be laid out below us, the eclipsed sun above, and the distant mountains all around. It was not difficult to obtain permits to watch the eclipse from here: the mayor had heard about my exploits on the radio! We were still there as the sun set. A crowd of people, young and old had appeared and I gave a star party and another eclipse talk. That night I arrived home clutching gifts of pineapples, beer, bamboo pencil cases, bananas, coconuts, and a model of a fish made of shells. People were certainly friendly.

Eclipse morning at 5:30 was clear. There were clouds over the distant volcanic peaks. It took me five minutes to walk to City Hall and stake my place overlooking the plaza. Next to me there appeared Ken's triple headed tripod, as used in Java. Behind us were press photographers from around the world, groups of astronomers from Manila, Japan and the USA, some college students, and a handful of travellers. Patchy clouds appeared in the sky.

Journalists
Journalists setting up on the roof of City Hall.

The plaza below began to fill up with the curious citizens of General Santos City. Shops, businesses and schools had closed for the day. One of the more pleasant aspects about eclipses is that they occur roughly once every 350 years in a particular location. This means that when I travel to see one, it is an unknown experience for the locals. I spent the next hour advising people how to observe the eclipse safely and take interesting photographs.

Soldiers
Soldiers using eclipse viewers.

At 7:51 the partial phase of the eclipse began. Soon, the bite was clearly visible through our filters. Below, hundreds of filters were pointing skyward and an excited murmur was audible. After an hour, the light had mellowed and the crowd became subdued. In the West, I could see it getting darker as the Moon's shadow approached at nearly a kilometre per second. The horizon was turning red as the sky turned a deep blue.

1988 Totality 1
Totality with corona and prominences.
Image by Noritsugu Takahashi (© 1993)

Totality began at 9:03 and the sun vanished behind the moon. It was dark all over the city, like a late twilight; street lights switched on. The crowd below moaned in awe at the spectacle above. The covered black sun was surrounded by the pearly white delicate light of the corona. I could see rosy pink flames (called Prominences) around the surface of the hidden sun. The colours were delicate and lovely to look at. No filters are needed during totality and I gazed upwards with the naked eye. Behind me, an American newspaper correspondent (who had earlier been bemoaning her luck at having been sent to the Philippines) was in tears:

"This is the most beautiful sight I've ever seen".

1988 Totality 2
Totality with hand held camera.

Across the plaza, the church bells rang in defiance. The end of totality came after 3 minutes and 18 seconds, but by then I had lost all track of time.

1988 Totality 3
Totality (b / w).
Image by Philippine Astronomical Society (© 1988).

A huge diamond ring appeared banishing the darkness. Whoops of delight emanated from the people on the roof and those in the plaza. It was the only topic of conversation the rest of the day. Several students told me they now understood why I had come so far to see the eclipse. An old man told me that this was the first time anything in the Philippines had been on time. Others said they would never forget this day. It was different to Java where all the locals had hidden in their houses and watched the event on television.

7:30 AM - No Eclipse
7:30 AM - No Eclipse - The sky is normal
8:40 AM - 80%
8:40am - 80% Eclipse - The sky is dark but the clouds are bright
9:00 AM - 98%
9:00 AM - 98% Eclipse - The sky and clouds are dark
9:04 AM - Totality
9:04 AM - Totality - Darkness in the morning

One of the students, Salvacion, told me of a festival of dancing near the market and took Ken and I there - the day had been turned into a public holiday. The city authorities had given out Eclipse Certificates to everybody. The few foreigners were being asked to sign these. Everybody wanted their photograph taken with us. I amassed dozens of pieces of paper with (mainly female) names and addresses. Several people interviewed me using tape recorders. I assumed this was yet another student project. Instead I found myself quoted in some of the next day's newspapers.

Eclipse fiesta
Eclipse fiesta in General Santos City.

The next day I sadly left General Santos City to begin a fifteen month trip through Asia. News got around that I was leaving and a group turned up at the bus station to see me off. With my hosts, the Cortez family, were several of the young students I'd met and some of the staff from the radio station. I was the subject of many photographs. Mangoes and guavas were given to me for the journey ...

All photographs, unless otherwise credited, by Kryss Katsiavriades (© 1988).
Written by Kryss Katsiavriades (© 1988, 1997, 2006)


Postscript

Many of the people I met in General Santos City wrote to me after I returned home. I even received offers of marriage. One letter arrived after 12 years.

Later on my journey when I reached Manilla, I met one of the journalists who provided me with an eclipse photo taken by the Philippine Astronomical Society.


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KryssTal Related Pages

The 1988 eclipse main page.

Map of the path of the 1988 eclipse from Fred Espenak and eclipse details at the observation site.

Photographs of some of the people encountered at the 1988 eclipse.

Travel photos from the Philippines.