Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Total Eclipse of the Sun (Salum, Egypt)

We stood, dumbstruck, staring upwards. Venus looked on, goosebumps covered our flesh and we stared. Straight into the eye of god.

The day had begun like the very first day - with chaos and confusion. After overnighting in the desert, we had struck camp at dawn, dew still wet on the tents, and headed west to find the foretold spot from which to view the eclipse. Confusion mounted, though - was it meant to be at 10:30 local time or GMT? Or some other time? Still, it was early, so no matter - we could wait. And as I waited, I wondered - how many people these days saw eclipses unexpectedly? It couldn't be many.

We drove West until reaching Salum, where some people were on the edge of town, asking for money to park in town. So, we turned around, drove 10m the other direction and parked. Then we waited, about 3 1/2 hours, during which time I occasionally looked up at the sun, through foil glasses, both checking for first contact and marvelling at the ability to look straight at the morning sun, its heat removed by the foil, and see it looking pale like the moon.

11:22 - First Contact. A nibble taken out of the bottom right of the sun disc. Then over the following 70 minutes the shadow grew and grew. At first you could only tel by looking at the sun directly, but then the light begun to change character and, by second contact (1/2 coverage), the light grew dim and grey. The wind picked up as the temperature plummeted and dark bands rippled on the ground (Does anyone reading this know what causes them? Apparently it's a fairly commoneclipse phenomenon).

12:25 - Venus appeared. Ready to usher in the eclipse. Less than 15 minutes later, the sun disappeared.

The sun disappeared and was replaced by the burning eye of god. A black disc surrounded by a burning white corona. With the immense quantities of energy involved, white flames reaching far out into space and clearly intense furnace of the sun one's brain expects (and notices the absence of) the sound of fire - burning, crackling flames. But there was no sound.

Just silence.

And that silence made it all the more moving, all the more intense. For several minutes this raging, angry, god stared down and inspected his charges. Then, suddenly, his attention changed focus and this god turned away. For a brief moment there was a flash of the famous diamond ring for a few seconds - one final beautiful moment - before we had to put our foil glasses back on to view the recession.

I have seen many wonders in my life and in my travels. This is the greatest of them all.


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