before we arrived
at our Tent City, there had been a significant sand storm on the
site, with stinging sand and gravel whipping people’s faces, causing
great worry among the site organizers. The day after the
eclipse, there was some cloud in the sky.
But March 29 was a perfect day. Temperature in the
high 20’s, with a clear, cloudless sky. The partial phase would
start at 11:08; totality (all 4 minutes and 3 seconds of it) at
The excitement and anticipation was overwhelming. This was
why we were here – why we had traveled thousands of kilometers,
spent thousands of dollars: we were about to experience the glory
and awe that only a total solar eclipse can offer.
Activity picked up as people awoke. Telescopes and
tripods, computers and eclipse viewers (for the partial eclipse)
came out, were positioned and tested. One group even brought a HDTV
and hooked it up to a telescope.
Eclipse veterans wondered how this one would compare
to past events (some had seen a dozen or more total solar
eclipses!); first-timers must have wondered if this could possibly
live up to the excitement and hype.
That morning, I ran into a New York magazine writer
who hoped to do a story for Toronto-based Toro magazine. The
editor had expressed some interest, if the writer could find some
Canadians at the site, so I introduced him to a group of us
stationed in one area (with a few Canadian flags propped in the
Peter Tiedt, who initiated our trip, watches the partial eclipse
Waving the flag
Shortly before the eclipse started, a long line of
Libyan men lined up to pray, facing Mecca. Unfortunately, that was
also the direction facing the rear of the porta-johns which resulted
in rather bizarre sight.
Noelle & Kevin focus
[The sky] “deepened to indigo, a color never seen…"Look at
Mount Adams", I said, and that was the last sane moment I
remember. I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun
was going, and the world was wrong”.
- Annie Dillard, "Total
Eclipse" in Teaching a Stone to Talk
describing her experience watching a total eclipse in
Washington state, Feb. 1979
And then, it started: Excitement and shouts marked
the first small bite out of the sun. Viewing glasses and welders
glass went up; but this period was just the “moderately interesting”
prelude to what we knew would come.
As time got closer, events began happening faster
as the minutes and seconds counted down. The light started changing
dramatically; Venus appeared in the sky and the temperature dropped
drastically, as a spectacular 360-degree “sunset” appeared
everywhere on the horizon. In the distance, the dark funnel of
totality began rushing toward us from the west.
Bit by bit, darkness intensified, as excitement rose.
The sun disappeared, the only bits of it remaining -- briefly-- were
"Bailey's Beads" (the sun shining through lunar valleys), and finally the glorious “Diamond Ring” formed as the final
bit of sunlight flashed through the deepest moon crater, marking the
last few seconds before: totality! and the shimmering,
silver corona, extending thousands of km past the Sun’s surface.
Deep red prominences -- solar flares -- were clearly visible with the
Some cheered, some yelled, many just gazed in awe. One man near me,
a Libyan seeing his first eclipse, fell to his knees.
Four minutes and three seconds later, the second
diamond ring blazed, and the last total eclipse until Aug. 1, 2008
was over. (This time, there was actually a third diamond ring. An
English couple in our group got engaged then). Eclipse veterans
agreed that this was one of the most beautiful in memory.
Eclipse photos below are by Brendan
There is always a huge drop in energy and excitement
afterward, marked with a mix of sadness, excitement, elation and
wonder. (Doesn't Jeff look sad in that photo on the right? "Now I
have to wait until Aug. 2008 and go to Mongolia???")
In the minutes afterward, we relived the
experience in our minds, discussed its power, compared it to other
eclipses, if we’d
seen them, and just plain revelled in the beauty and
other-worldliness of it all. Many of us felt
drained from the whole experience… and from the heat. (And, for a
few of us from the very late night concert the previous night).
eclipse, John O'Brien from the UK interviewed a number of people
to get their reactions. See photo of him interviewing Oksana on
Click here to see his video - on Google Video.)
Libyan men came by us to join in the excitement. They started
waving our Canadian flag, asked me to sign it, and then walked
away with it. (Walked away with my Beck's imitation beer too!)
the eclipse, we heard that one of Ghadaffi's sons was there. We
went over, greeted him; he asked many questions of all of us --
where we were from, how we travelled to the site, how we found
it etc. Still not sure however, if he really was a Ghadaffi son,
or maybe nephew.
(and, just as I
decided not to wear my Ghadaffi watch later, I decided against
posting the photo of the two of us with him here).
Afterward, a number of people went for an after-lunch
nap, but the tents were much too hot, so some people found a bit of
shade in the gaps between tents, sleeping around the guy ropes.
That night, there was some limited entertainment at a
different stage that night, but we didn’t stay long; we were
physically and emotionally drained; at the same time we were eager
for the coming Sahara adventure.
Oksana gives her thoughts on what we just saw for posterity
Our Canadian flag finds a new home
airstrip: the tent, and some angry travellers
The next morning, we boarded buses back to the
airstrip at Jalu. The small and drab terminal building was full, so
we waited in a beautiful tent with “walls” of gorgeous carpets.
Unlike our tents back at the eclipse site, these were cool and airy
even in the mid-day Sahara sun, with the loosely-tied carpets
allowing the breeze to flow through. Many took advantage of the mats
on the sand floor to get some rest.
The tent was already half full of people including
some military and a number of very tired and unhappy-looking
European tourists. Most of our group was still excited and in great
spirits from the Eclipse, and the wonderful experiences we had had
in Libya, so wondered why these folks looked so miserable.
We learned that they were supposed to have left the
eclipse site the previous afternoon, and flown back to Tripoli.
Instead, their tour company promised them “an extra day” there, (so,
that’s why we ran out of food!), and a plane from Jalu early
in the morning to meet their ongoing flights. There was no flight,
and instead they watched others’ planes taking off one after the
other. Many had already missed their homeward bound flights from
Some complained enough that seats were found for them
on our charter flight, so returned with us.
Military officer gives me the eye, while Noelle & Oksana recuperate
Part 1 (Tripoli and Roman sites) and part 2 (eclipse)
of the trip were over. All of our experiences had far exceeded what we had
expected. This was already the most moving, spectacular trip we had
taken. Now we were about to embark on what we had expected to be the
jewel of our trip: our week in the “real” Sahara. We couldn’t
possibly have imagined how glorious it would be.
the fascinating story about
how Tent City came to be, and the planning behind the Libyan Eclipse
tourist flood. (written by Naser Edeeb)
For more of my photos
of eclipse day,
click here for links
to some other photos and videos of the eclipse & travel in Libya