The 2002 Eclipse in Botswana

So much happening - so little time. A mere 1 minute and 14 seconds to see, marvel at, and absorb the wonders of the corona, the prominences, the three planets, the dark sky, the red sunset glow all around. And all the time changing as the Moon's shadow rushes past at half a kilometer per second.

The Kasane to Nata Road
Along the Kasane to Nata Road

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Pre-Eclipse

Our first visit to sub-Saharan Africa had been in 2001 for the eclipse in Zimbabwe. That had been a luxury trip in good hotels and buses with good food and guides.

2002 had been a year of house moving.

Talaat had hurt her knee ligaments and was not mobile enough to travel. By the time the decision was made for Kryss to travel to the eclipse on his own, many of the luxury tours had sold out. A mad dash on the internet secured a camping safari with CampWild for a three week trip beginning in Livingstone (near Victoria Falls) and ending in Cape Town.

A long flight took me to Johannesberg where I changed planes to the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls. The first part of my internet arrangements worked well as I was transported across the border to the Zambesi Waterfront Hotel in Zambia.

My first night was spent with a large map and a Global Positioning System (GPS) set determining the details of the eclipse.

On my first full day I visited the Mosi-Au-Tunya National Park in a jeep. This is a small park alongside the Zambesi River. I saw Chacma Baboons, Warthogs, Birchill's Zebra, Thorncroft Giraffe, African Buffalo, Impala, a group of Hippopotamus in the river, Cattle Egrets, Bee Eaters and Red Billed Ox Peckers. The highlight was the presence of six White Rhinoceros in a clearing and later by the river.

There were also termite mounds, several baobab trees and a sausage tree (Kikelia Africana).

In the afternoon I visited a traditional Toka village and saw the chief's palace.

The next morning I met the eight people I would be on safari with:

Eclipse 2002 People   Jim and Carolyn - from central England.
Dan and Janet - from New York, USA.
Salvador and Andrea - from Queretaro, Mexico.
Sue and Pete - from Durham in northern England.
Eclipse 2002 Route Map   Route map of the Livingstone to Cape Town safari.

As the odd person of nine, I travelled with CampWild's owner, Garth and his partner Sandra. A rickety ferry took me to my 80th country, Botswana. Today's wildlife included Grey Louries, roadside Elephant, a Hawk Moth, Zebra, Duiker (a small antelope) and several Chacma Baboons.

We stayed in a cramped camp site 18 km from the edge of the path of totality. We also met our driver and guide, Elton.

A night safari drive revealed more animals in the sky than on land (bull, ram, winged horse, great dog). The clear sky augered well for the next day's eclipse...


The Eclipse

I awoke at 03:45 on eclipse morning after a fitful and uncomfortable sleep. Camping makes my bones ache.

The sky was magnificent. Four planets were visible: Venus and Mars in the East; Jupiter in the South; Saturn in the West. The Milky Way arched above. Set amongst its gleaming beauty was the Southern Cross along with the pointers of Alpha and Beta Centauri, reminding me I was in the Southern Hemisphere.

Not a cloud could be seen.

I had coffee and cerial and learnt how to dismantle tents. Dawn came quickly and stars disappeared. Venus was the last to go. "We'll see it later", I promised to several sleepy grunts.

At 06:00, with the eclipse just over an hour away, we finally set off. Three vehicles headed South on the Kasane to Nata road. I was in the first vehicle with Garth. I sat at the front with a huge map opened on my lap and my GPS held in my hand counting down the distance to the centre line of the eclipse, over 70km away. I had not had the GPS for long and I had never used it on a journey before. It appeared to reflect what few features there were on this road.

The second vehicle had the members of my CampWild safari group. They were all looking forward to the eclipse and were happy to leave the navigating to me. Howls of laughter were frequent.

The third vehicle had another CampWild safari group. They were at the end of the reverse tour and they had camped with us the night before. Some were unhappy at wasting a good wildlife watching day in the middle of nowhere watching some silly eclipse. There was little sound to be heard.

The road was featureless, flat and uninhabited with only bushland on either side. There were no settlements or villages; no hills; no clearings. Just bush.

As we neared the centre line, there was still nowhere obvious to stop for the eclipse. At last, 1.6 kilometers from where the road crossed the centre of the path of totality, we saw a radio or telephone mast on the left in a clearing. "That's it", I decided. We turned off along a short dirt track. Two vehicles were already there. One belonged to a German man with a huge telescope, a GPS and a printout of the eclipse path:

"Ja, vee are wun kilometer from ze centre."

The other belonged to a group of five Londoners and their Zambian friends. Everyone was set up in a small clearing. We joined them as the start of the eclipse was less than fifteen minutes away.

We set up our folding chairs. Carolyn lent me her shawl so that I could lay out my bits and pieces. I offered viewing glasses, mylar for camera lenses, camera batteries, my predicted eclipse times and an accurate clock and a canteen of water. I shouted out phenomena as they happened.

Carolyn had come on safari with her husband, Jim. She had no knowledge or interest in the eclipse. We had spent many a previous evening going over the order of events and what there was to see. Each new piece of information had been greeted with surprise, disbelief, panic, or astonishment.

"I'll never remember all that!"

"What do I do when you say 'First Contact'?"

"I know I'm going to be late and miss it."

"Why do I need the viewing glasses?"

"When can I look at it?"

She had gently mocked my eclispe stories and blamed my enthusiasm on the Larium malaria tablets I was taking. Many jokes and much banter was made at my expense. With the eclipse just minutes away, I gave her one of my eclipse viewers and showed her how to look at the Sun with it.

"I never knew the Sun was so small!"

"Why is it so small?"

I continued cutting pieces of mylar for everyone with a long lens who wanted to photograph the partial phases. I advised Carolyn to wait until First Contact. That came at 07:07. I told her to look for the first bite out of the Sun. She looked and saw the eclipsed Sun.

"Oh, Wow! It's great! I'm coming out all goose bumply. It's beautiful!"

The first half hour passed. Very little change could be seen in the surroundings. Half an hour before totality, the quality of the light began to change, turning into a golden colour. Everything and everybody went quiet. The temperature dropped perceptively.

"It's weird", said Carolyn.

We looked at the Sun through binoculars covered with mylar. I explained to Carolyn that these spots had to be larger than the Earth to be visible.

"Bigger than the Earth?"

Twenty minutes before totality, I spotted Venus virtually overhead. The temperature continued to drop. A few birds could be heard singing. Someone was on all fours, being sick. The light began to drop dramatically.

Kryss Making Notes
Kryss making notes during the partial phase of the eclipse

The blue in the sky was deepening as the Moon's shadow descended from space. We had a twilight sky with a pre-sunset ground. Birds of prey circled looking for a place to roost.

The shadow approaches
Looking North West at 08:07, three minutes before totality
as the sky darkens and the light fades.

A small cloud had condensed close to the Sun but had now moved away. The light dimmed - it was dark as the diamond ring appeared, signaling the beginning of totality.

"You can look at it now ", I advised.

The brilliant corona flashed into view. There were several pink prominences along the lower part of the Sun.

Totality (The Corona)
The Outer Corona.
Totality (The Prominences)
The Inner Corona.

The small cloud cleared for Mercury to be visible. "Mercury at 5 o'clock", I said. Venus was brilliant overhead. Away from the Sun I could see Jupiter. I had a quick look for Mars near Venus but couldn't see it. I noted the red sunset glow all around. I pointed out all these objects and effects to anyone who would listen.

Totality (With the Sun)
Spectacular view of the totally eclipsed Sun and the corona

"Where's the Sun?" joked Garth.

So much happening - so little time. A mere 1 minute and 14 seconds to see, marvel at, and absorb the wonders of the corona, the prominences, the three planets, the dark sky, the red sunset glow all around. And all the time changing as the Moon's shadow rushes past at half a kilometer per second.

And then I noticed Carolyn shaking with uncontrollable sobs, her face flooded with tears, unable to speak. The sheer awe of the moment written over her face.

A Total Eclipse of the Sun remains the one natural phenomenon that you cannot describe to somebody who hasn't seen it. You can try. You can show your maps and your figures. You can even show pictures. But nothing can match the experience of seeing it for yourself.

Carolyn reminded me of that today.

This eclipse had been frantic; it had been funny; it had brought tears of wonder and awe. And it became romantic. I noticed Salvador and Andrea kissing. Today was their third wedding anniversary - that was why they were here. Later I was told that Pete had proposed to Sue during the eclipse. She had accepted.

And there was sadness because Talaat was not here with me on this trip.

Totality
Observing totality

"There's the diamond ring", I warned, as a brilliant light forced its way from behind a Lunar valley. For three seconds it beamed down on us before the Sun finally asserted its authority and returned the light of day to the landscape.

Third Contact (1) Third Contact (2)
The landscape lights up as totality ends.

I spotted the shadow of the Moon moving rapidly away. Jupiter and Venus remained visible for several minutes after the end of totality.

Carolyn imitated me pointing out all the eclipse phenomena. She particularly liked the fact that Mercury had been "at five o'clock". She asked me if I would shout out all the phenomena again but more slowly this time. Everything had gone by too quickly.

The eclipse over and the temperature rising, this was not a place to linger. Addresses were exchanged, anectodes shared, and equipment packed. Garth and the other group headed north.

Elton took our little group of nine in a white minivan and trailer. We set off heading south on a journey that would take us through three countries and finish in Cape Town.

The rest of the day was a long tedious drive via Nata to Maun. We saw several solitary male Elephants by the roadside, a Brown Snake Eagle, and an Ostrich. At the camp site, the wimp in me was exposed when I upgraded to a chalet.

A few hours earlier, eclipses had been a mystery to Carolyn. That evening, I suddenly quipped a question to her: "Where was Mercury?"

"At five o'clock!" was the instant and unhesitating reply.


Post-Eclipse

I helped take down some of the tents. Two Scorpions were found beneith one of them. Elton told us the difference between the poisonous and non-poisonous varieties. A Hawk Moth rested on the bark of a tree.

Our minivan took us to a Etsha 6, a small village on the edge of the Okavango Delta. A large lorry took us on dirt roads to a motor boat which took us to Makwena Island, our camp site for three days.

The Okavango Delta is the world's only inland delta. It covers 15,846 km2.

The small part we saw was a pretty and quiet area with plant and bird life in abundance. During our stay we enjoyed African Jacana walking on Water Lilies (with yellow, white or blue flowers), Black Eared Starlings, Black Crakes (very loud in the mornings), Fireball Lilies, Papyrus Reeds, a pair of African Fish Eagles (which we saw catching fish), many Malachite Kingfishers, some Pied Kingfishers, the snake necked African Darter, Squacco Herons, the black faced Blacksmith Plovers, Long Toed Plovers (with white faces), a Yellow Billed Kite, a Lilac Breasted Roller, the Common Moorhen, Little Egrets, a single Woodland Kingfisher, and a diving Wisko Turn.

Animals included Vervet Monkeys, Hippopotamus splashing about in the lagoons, young Wart Hog, Red Lechwe, Bushbuk, Harvester Termites and Side Striped Skink.

While on one walk Elton found fresh leopard tracks.

Our next destination was Namibia, my 81st country. After three days in a tent I was ready for more chalets. My wimpishness had infected the others as everybody was now upgrading.

The scenery in the Caprivi Strip had continued the flat bushland we'd had for several days but now, as we headed south, we were seeing more hills. The first highlight was Etosha National Park, covering a 23,175 km2 area and centered on a dry pan. We stayed for three days, seeing a variety of wildlife.

Namaqua Chamelions (which rapidly changed colour to match their background), Steenbok, numerous Plains Giraffe (including 24 at a single waterhole), Greater Kudu (with the largest horns of any antelope), Black Faced Impala (a subspecies only found in Etosha), Springbok, a single Damara Dik Dik (another species endemic to Etosha), Blue Wildebeest, Black Backed Jackals (some even came close to our dining area), Oryx (with their long straight horns - also known as Gemsbok), Birchill's Zebra, Warthogs, a large family of Banded Mongooses, a Spotted Hyena (hiding under some shade), Ground Squirrels, six Red Hartebeest, a Cape Fox, a single Yellow Mongoose, the red eared African Wild Cat and a pair of big eared Scrub Hares.

At one of the illuminated water holes, we saw six Black Rhinoceros including a mother and calf.

Bird life was also plentiful: Cattle Egrets, a Night Heron, Moorhens, Kori Bustard (the heaviest flying bird), Blue Winged Stilts, Black Korhan, Masked Weaver Birds (which are a vivid yellow), a herd of Ostrich, the strange looking Secretary Birds, Black Winged Stits (with long pink legs), Red Billed Teals, more of the common Blacksmith Plovers, a brilliant Crimson Breasted Shrike, a Spotted Eagle Owl, the elegant Hoopoe, a pair of Southern Yellow Billed Hornbills, Guinea Fowls, White Quilled Korhan, a Lanner Falcon, a large Bateleur Eagle ("It Looks like a fat chicken" - Carolyn), a well hidden Crowned Plover, a Goshawk and Social Weavers.

The centre of the country was mountainous and featured many weird rock formations like Finger Rock. We visited a petrified forest thought to be 260 million years old. Some of the fosilied trees were over 30m long. They were mainly conifers and cycads washed down by an ancient flood. Another area had volcanic clinker.

A very interesting plant was Welwitschia Mirabilis; it is a long living relative of the conifer. The two sexes look different: the male has seeds, the female has fruits.

At Twyfelfontein (local name: /ui //ais), there was an enormous gallery of San petroglyphs. These were cut with quartz from the local sandstone and are over 30,000 years old. There were also a few paintings, around 6000 years old. The pigments were made from animal blood, ostrich eggs and roots. Most of the images were of animals hunted by the San, people, and water maps.

By now, the only way that Elton could get us into the tents was by selecting a camp site in the middle of nowhere. We camped next to the 2573m high Brandberg, Namibia's highest mountain. We spotted Agama Lizard and Hyrax. The sky that night was spectacular and the dawn fired up the Eastern sky.

Namibia's coatal region is called the Skeleton Coast and is a dry, sandy, barren desert. The cold Atlantic Ocean brings a persistant mist to this coast. At Cape Cross there was an enormous colony of Cape Fur Seals. These are actually a species of sea lion. There were thousands of adults and hundreds of newly born pups. Our first city was Swakopmund. I enjoyed the coffee shops, strudel, and painted buildings. I tasted baked kingklip with a seafood garnish, one of the nicest meals I'd ever had.

Sossusvlei was a region in the Namib Desert famous for its sand dunes, some of the biggest in the world. My attempt to climb one for sunrise left me out of breath on the soft ridge. It was a spectacular place but hot - the temperature touched 40 degrees. Ostrich, Tapper Beetles and a Dancing Lizard braved these harsh conditions.

The Fish River Canyon was impressive. It is a gorge 160km long and 27km wide reaching a depth of 550m. On the rocky valley walls we spotted Klipspringers. The days of dusty gravel roads were washed away in the hot spings of Ai Ais where we all upgraded to rooms so elaborate that they should be called apartments. So much for camping safaris!

I took a canoe along the Orange River, seeing Goliath Herons, an African Darter, two African Fish Eagles, a colourful Red Bishop, a Great Egret and Egyptian Geese.

Our final journey was to Cape Town in South Africa. The group disbanded and I had a day to myself exploring this interesting city. The District Six Museum was a fascinating look at the country under apartheid.

A day or so before Christmas I swapped the hot, dry conditions of southern Africa for the freezing and damp conditions of London. Back to reality!


Credits

Text written or edited by Kryss Katsiavriades (© 2003, 2005)

Photos by Kryss Katsiavriades:
Group photo, pre-totality and shadow pictures on Olympus OM2 with 400ASA Fuji film and 28mm lens.
Elephant with 50mm lens.
Close up photos of eclipsed Sun on Olympus OM2N with 400ASA Fuji film and 210mm lens at 1/1000th second.

Photos by Janet Ha and Dan Huddle:
Photos of route map, Kryss making notes, panorama of totality and people during totality.

Many thanks to CampWild Adventure Tours and Safaris.


Books From Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com


KryssTal Related Pages

The 2002 eclipse main page.

Maps of the path of the 2002 eclipse from Fred Espenak and eclipse details at the observation site.

A photo of the camping safari group.

The excitement during totality is such that not all photos come out as expected.

Accounts of the 2002 eclipse sent to this web site are reproduced here.

A map of the three week safari route.

The story of how Kryss arranged the CampWild camping safari for this eclipse over the internet.

Travel photos from Botswana.