And now that the eclipse has come and gone, I
will offer a narrative of the events of that day - which in my
mind ranks as one of the most amazing in the annals of eclipse
chasing - EVER. It is certainly one of the highlights of
my experiences! But read for yourself:
The plan for eclipse day was very simple - we would gather in
the lobby of our hotel in Nairobi before sunrise, and take two
hired cars to the Wilson airport - smaller than the
International airport (but still quite large), it is the field
that serves mostly local flights. There, we would meet
with our air charter company, and pile into two
specially-prepared (several seats had been removed) Cessna Grand
Caravans. Our charter company did such an outstanding job,
I do not mind giving them an absolutely shameless plug.
When in Nairobi, look no further than Boskovic Air
. "Tad" Watts is the Managing Director
of the firm, and also serves in the capacity of pilot. He
did a magnificent job captaining the lead aircraft, and his
top-notch firm stand highly recommended by all for such superb
handling of the aircraft and logistics for our most amazing
Seven of us like-minded souls were to fly in plane #1, and six were to follow in plane #2, as follows:
- Glenn Schneider - the Guru of eclipse chasers.
Research Astronomer at the University of Arizona.
Inventor of camera-controlling software for eclipse
photography, and the undisputed expert on eclipse-flight
predictions and coordination. The sole reason for my
confidence in the ultimate success of this expedition!
HIS 31ST TOTAL ECLIPSE!!!!! (with the two-hour club
firmly in sight! [the 1973 Concorde flight
- Jay Friedland (from California)
- Benjamin (Jay's son)
- Dr. Joel Moskowitz (New York)
- Catalin Beldea - eclipse photographer extraordinaire from Romania
- Rowland Burley - from Hong Kong - the organizer of the trip
- Craig Small (from New Jersey) - tagging along for his 30th total eclipse!
- Charles Cooper - Living in Cambodia, to the envy of us all. Wonderful, passionate, eclipse chaser!
- Steve Kolodny - from Los Angeles
- Matthew Poulton - from England, but currently living and working beneath the aurora-draped skies of far-northern Norway!
- Dan McGlaun (yours truly, from the cornfields of rural central Indiana, USA)
- Bob Pine - cool guy, loves eclipses! Also hailing from the NE USA.
- Rick Brown - the financial coordinator of everything - handled the logistics and the money.
Entrepreneur. Eclipse chaser. Pilot. Nice guy...
Plus our pilots, of course! (Though only one per plane - just
like the number of engines!) Tad sat left seat on plane
#1, and Tom Cunningham was in command of the sister ship.
Note to self - though this was to be my 11th total eclipse
(putting me well above and beyond everyone I talk to in "real
life"), on this trip I believe EVERYONE else except maybe Benno
(who is yet a teenager) had more in hand than me. So I
therefore remained quite the novice among this elite group.
The process of boarding the planes was reasonably painless, and
we were off. Our destination was one Sibiloi National Park
- a remote (very
) preserve in the NW part of the country, visited
very seldom by anyone, but still staffed
by the Kenyan Government; and on this single day, to receive and
host more visitors than it usually saw in the better part of a
year. They had prepared and resurfaced a dirt landing
strip, along with a parking ramp that could (AND DID) serve well
over 20 planes
that day! There were two small
that served for shelter, along with an enclosed
(sporting two stalls!!) This was far
better than the bushes we had thought we would need to squat
behind (and which didn't exist - the land was indeed quite flat
The flight to the Park was stunning. We travelled over
mountains and plains, multi-colored riverbeds and terrain that
looked unchanged from what its appearance must have been a
million years ago. Everywhere the land was shaped by the
flows of ancient volcanic eruptions, and the park itself was
covered with the rich, black igneous
- reminiscent of the volcanic desert plains northeast of
Los Angeles, near Barstow.
As we flew in to land, we crossed over Lake
. On the shores of this ancient lake, the
Leakeys discovered some of the oldest humanoid skeletons known
to exist. Many of these are preserved in the National
Museum in Nairobi
, and a visit to that single room is what makes
a museum trip positively mandatory for any trip to Kenya!
The lake has no outlets - the only water that exits does so by
evaporation. So the alkalinity is very high, and the lake
is very green. But the lake itself is huge - 15 miles
wide, and over a hundred miles long, and we would be viewing the
eclipse from within a mile of its shores. (Well, that was
the plan, at least!)
We had departed Wilson at about 7:20am, and arrived
at the park
just before 9:30. We were among the first
few planes there
, and so we got the best
- which would be useful in making a hasty
exit. You see, The eclipse would occur at 5:25pm, and the
sun set about 50 minutes later. Because there were no
lights at this field, a restriction was firmly in place against
any flight activities after sunset. We would therefore
need to leave in a bit of haste, just following the
eclipse. This meant we didn't want to be stuck behind
Of course, most of the people who came in on their
(ALL Cessnas!) immediately headed out for campsites along the lakefront
. We did not have that luxury,
unless we wanted to stay the night.
Aircraft #1 was actually intending to stay the night, as many of
our group had indicated an interest in camping in order to
observe the sky that evening, and to watch the sun set while in
partial eclipse. The interest in this was for me
outweighed by the desire to return to a nice, comfy hotel bed in
Nairobi, so I was planning to be with the group planning to
depart yet that afternoon on plane #2. And, if the weather
turned bad, we all had the option of boarding our aircraft and
making an aerial observation of the eclipse. This would
preclude spending the night, for those who had expressed the
interest - but it was
in any event absolutely preferable to missing the eclipse.
So - whether we were to stay or to go, we needed to have a
beeline to the runway - and by arriving early, we were assured
of that preferential spot in line. While the weather in
Nairobi had been quite pleasant, our day in the desert was
forecast to be hot and humid - bordering on miserable.
Shade was only to be had within the small sheds that had been
set up - and so our hats, safari clothing and sunscreen came in
very handy. We had packed in enough TP for everyone to
partake, and enough water for all. Though weight
restrictions had limited the amount of astronomical and
photographic gear we could bring, no compromise could be made on
the safety of the gang. No major medical attention was to
be found in this quite inaccessible spot, and the danger of
heatstroke was very real.