A photo-journal of our Libyan Solar Eclipse & Sahara trip, Mar.-Apr. 2006
PAGES:   Index | Tripoli | People | Roman sites | In Tent City | Eclipse |Tent City story | To the Sahara
In the Sahara | Sun, sand, water | Desert notes | Drivin' | Some civilization | Last days
 Libya links | | Eclipse links | Photo gallery |

Photos & journal by John Leeson (Toronto, Canada)
 email:  jooktoronto@gmail.com

ECLIPSE DAY: Mar. 29, 2006

Click on photos for larger images                

Sights on Eclipse morning

The day 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 12:26. 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 sand).

Japanese/Libyan flags

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 Eclipse!

[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 naked eye.

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 Seaton:


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).


(After the eclipse, John O'Brien from the UK interviewed a number of people to get their reactions. See photo of him interviewing Oksana on the right. Click here to see his video - on Google Video.)


Some 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!)


Shortly after 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

The Jalu 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 Tripoli.


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.

Next: 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, and click here for links to some other photos and videos of the eclipse & travel in Libya

PAGES: Index | Tripoli | People | Roman sites | In Tent CityEclipse | Tent City story |To the Sahara
In the Sahara | Sun, sand, water |  Desert notes | Drivin' | Some civilization | Last days