I had never experienced a total solar eclipse, but after being in Easter Island at the moment when the moon covered us with darkness at noon, I understand why eclipses create addiction. But let's start from the beginning. Why is there a traffic jam of literally hundreds of kilometers in this area? It took 4 hours to travel 60 kilometers on a 430 km trip.
We left the previous night in anticipation of a circulatory chaos. The journey was quiet, and just when entering the area of totality began the most absolute of follies. Every few kilometers there were areas enabled with tents, signs, rest areas, gas stations, and food stores. At the end, we entered a camping area where hundreds of people began to assemble telescopes and equipment for the next day.
Immediately we started talking with the people around us. The nervousness about what was going to happen the next day was palpable in the environment. After assembling everything and doing some night photos we went to sleep as the next day was the great show.
We were tired and we slept like logs, but that did not prevent us from waking up very early. We began to prepare all the equipment. The area kept filling up and as the great moment approached it seemed that the world was going to stop. The moon made its appearance and began to partially cover the sun.
Minutes before the magical moment, the area of the Tahai archaeological complex was a coven of different geek tribes. On the one hand, there were fans of astronomy and eclipse hunters, with their tripods, cameras, and telescopes covered with filters to worship the sun god. On the other hand, are the neo-hippies. They are willing to dance, to feel vibrations, and to merge in communion.
There are a handful of journalists and tourism professionals. And logically, the Rapa Nui people try to make the moment even more enjoyable. They offer us Pisco sour, dances and memories of the day in which we would live five minutes of astral spectacle, in the circus of the celestial spheres.
And in all this, I was walking around the area, taking pictures of the Moai, the dancers, and the geeks. From time to time I throw a glance at the sun protected by glasses for that purpose. It is true that it was noticeable that the moon covered the sun for minutes. But to my disappointment, there was no sudden sharp drop in light on the island.
I had time to talk a little with the Rapa Nui guide, who told me some things. He had lived an eclipse in another area of Chile when he worked as a camera assistant for a television network. "When the eclipse is total, the wind will blow. It will be cold and all these people will go crazy, he assured laughing as a mischievous kid before my skepticism.
The clouds played to annoy us. For a few seconds, they acted as a natural filter that allowed us to see through the naked eye. But again, around me, there was as much light as before, although the tribes mentioned released the first cry of surprise. And when I thought that was going to be all that I would live that day, everything happened just as the guide had said.
By then there was a kind of tense calm, but there was a moment when everything suddenly changed. Suddenly, the light began to fade and the landscape began to take metallic tones. We began to get into ecstasy, prepare cameras, change objectives, run from one side to another as the light vanished in seconds. Hundreds of people stopped their vehicles on the sides of the road while the world seemed to go out.
The moment came when the sun was reduced to a black circle in the sky. The moon extinguished the light, the wind blew, the sea roared and all of us who were there exploded with surprise. We just vibrated standing there, open-mouthed, with the camera hanging, hands shaking, listening to the growing murmur of admiration around me and noticing how a knot of emotion closed my throat.
The previous minute is inconceivable for someone who has not seen a total eclipse of the Sun. The light vanishes in a spectacularly fast way. People start screaming, howling, jumping, running from one side to another with excitement.
I don't even know how to describe what can be seen at that moment. Let's begin with the environment. The sky does not darken as it does when it gets dark, but it takes on a silver, metallic, completely surreal color. The horizon in all directions becomes a color between orange and pink. Some stars appear in the sky, as also the planet Venus. In the meantime, people shout and whistle.
There are expressions of amazement in different languages. The temperature suddenly goes down. The Sun is now nowhere. In its place, there is a silver ring in the sky, surrounded by filaments like feathers of a wing. At a first glance looking up was like feeling in another reality on another planet. It is an experience so completely different that it can not be described. One can only feel ecstatic.
After two minutes of ecstasy, the whole process is repeated in reverse. The Sun begins to appear just behind the moon and suddenly the day returns in just a few moments. Just 2 minutes after the whole thing it seemed that nothing had happened. But if it had, people kept hugging, jumping, watching the pictures of their cameras and running madly to see the result.
Everyone who looked through our telescopes came to see our images, to share their enthusiasm, to invite us to play with them, and even offer a pickup! After having shared a moment like this one cannot help but enjoy humanity, the people, the sensations of all people who smile even with the image of the eclipse in their retina.
We leave while the stars begin to appear in the sky, between distant storms in the plains and the first silhouettes of the mountains. The light returned, the moon continued to haunt our ridiculous and wonderful planet. Men again pretended to be men, and the wind and the sea calmed down. We got on the bus and of course, the reality came back. It's been a while since I started writing these words and have barely made progress.
We're still stuck in a monstrous traffic jam. We see people outside the cars stretch their legs. People throw gasoline with carafes because there are lines to access the gas stations. We are exhausted. We know that we will be trapped in the car for hours, but what difference does it make? In a way, this is also part of having lived one of the astronomical events of the century, and we have lived it in a very special way.
After days like this, it is impossible not to fall madly in love with science, and with astronomy. Can something that you know will happen and that has a scientific explanation of the simplest to leave a man who claims to be rational on the verge of crying? Can the beauty of an eclipse cause a guy with gray hair to weep like a child? Well, to my surprise, yes. And my eyes still moisten days later writing this.
I understand that the reader of this blog now has a grimace of disbelief. I imagine that there are things that can only be understood if they are lived. Or that I'm clumsy with words and cannot explain myself better. But the truth is that now I understand why there are people who dedicate time and money to pursue eclipses, to see them at the best point in the world to observe them.
I presume that I am not the only one to have lived that way that way. The reddening of the eyes of some of those around me during the nearly five minutes in which the ones the sun went out is not due to the sun's rays. And the question I heard the most that day was, have you also been excited?