by Jeffrey R. Charles.
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Copyright 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 Jeffrey R. Charles.
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Registered Copyright MCMXCVIII by Jeffrey R. Charles. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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This journal is a factual account of the experiences of Jeffrey R. Charles during his expedition to the total solar eclipse of November 3, 1994. On this expedition, Mr. Charles sought to have more exposure to the local culture than would be possible in an organized group tour. This indeed happened on the expedition, but Mr. Charles got more than he bargained for in terms of exposure to what could be considered the few "undesirable" aspects of Bolivian culture.
In some cases, Latin American culture and politics can have a significant impact on a visitor to modern day Bolivia, particularly in situations where the visitor becomes sympathetic to the plight of the country's poor after seeing it first hand. Even when a visitor does not actively promote causes of the poor, simple association or identification with them can (but does not always) lead to difficulty. In Mr. Charles' case, the difficulty did not arise from poor people themselves, but from a few relatively wealthy local people who seemed to be bothered by his wanting to spend some time with certain indigenous or poor people. Occasionally, this type of circumstance may cause the unsuspecting traveler or those he meets to be drawn into a certain degree of political intrigue and socioeconomic conflict.
It is important to note that the difficulties Mr. Charles experienced in Bolivia were not the result of any government imposed or government sanctioned activity; all of the problems were brought about entirely by local people who were acting within their own independent social structure. It is also important to note that the people who caused these difficulties do not necessarily represent a cross section of all Bolivian people in their economic class; unknown to Mr. Charles at the time, some of the people involved in his situation had close relatives with high political ambitions, and this situation can make things more "interesting" than usual in certain Latin American cultures. The title for the part of this journal set in Bolivia is "Eclipse!" In that section, the names and relationships of some Bolivian people have been changed in order to protect their identity.
A second story, called Syzygy, is also being written. Syzygy is a fictional adventure/drama inspired by the experiences of Jeffrey R. Charles and a few Bolivian people he became acquainted with. Syzygy exaggerates Jeff's actual experience, but not to an extent beyond what could potentially occur in some areas. One need only recall the current political imprisonment of Lori Berenson in Peru to see the extremes of what can actually (though rarely) happen to a person who visits more volatile parts of Latin America. Such extremes can be even more severe (and even fatal) for the citizens of such countries. It is important to point out that the sanctioned oppression, paranoia, and resulting "guilt by association" attitudes often exhibited by the Peruvian government are not prevalent in modern day Bolivia, which has policies that are far more civilized by comparison.
In order to include more action in Syzygy, certain elements are changed. For instance, demands imposed on the fictional central character in Syzygy do not degrade his health as severely as Mr. Charles' health was actually degraded on his 1994 expedition. Syzygy begins with a fictional account of an eclipse as seen from the central United States during the 19th century. Click HERE to see parts one and two of Syzygy.
The Experience of Totality
The sunlight has been growing steadily dimmer for the last hour. Birds have begun to fly back to their nests and it appears as though it is near evening, but the sun is still high in the deepening blue sky overhead. The light continues to dim, and colors begin to appear washed out, as though it were a cloudy winter day.
The sky is getting dark near the western horizon. You have seen this deep blue color before. A storm must be approaching; but a closer look reveals that there are no storm clouds. This is unusual. A few minutes later you notice that the darkness is no longer confined to the western horizon. It is growing; wider and wider, higher and higher into the western sky.
Overhead, there is only a tiny sliver of light where the sun used to be and the ambient light is now more than 60 times dimmer than normal. Toward the west, the rapidly growing darkness now covers almost one quarter of the sky! Yellow color begins to appear on the horizon toward the north and south, near either side of the growing darkness. The light level begins to fall rapidly, getting dimmer and dimmer as the approaching darkness seems to completely cover the sky. You are being engulfed! Suddenly, all of the direct sunlight disappears!
The ambient light is now more than 1000 times dimmer than normal daylight, but the horizon all around is ablaze with the yellow and orange colors of a sunset! Some motion above the eastern horizon catches your eye. The moderately bright light remaining in the eastern sky is steadily retreating toward the horizon, as though it is being covered up by a great shadow. Overhead, where the sun used to be, you see a dark disc surrounded by a softly glowing ring of pearly white light. The ring of light is unlike anything you have ever seen before; it is about as broad as the diameter of the dark disc it surrounds, but there are many delicate fanlike streamers and bright lines extending from it. Small areas of bright pink light are visible around the edge of the dark disc. A few stars are visible overhead. All is quiet, and you stand in awe at what is happening.
The sky is already getting brighter in the west. Overhead, one side of the dark disc has become ablaze with a bright arc of pink light, far brighter than the pearly white ring. Suddenly an incredibly bright white light pierces the middle of the pink arc. It quickly grows so bright that you cannot see the ring of light any more. The whole sky brightens except for a dark area near the eastern horizon and the light intensity on the ground begins to increase. The darkness remaining in the east quickly disappears and soon the daylight seems normal again. You wonder, what was this strange and exciting experience?; and then you wonder, when will this happen again?
You have just witnessed the greatest celestial light show visible from earth; a total eclipse of the sun. The darkness covering the sky was the shadow of the moon, and the ring of light was the corona, the sun's atmosphere. - The moon covered the sun, yet you saw the sun in a way you had never seen it before!
Making an Eclipse:
A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves directly between the earth and the sun, and when the moon is close enough to the earth that its apparent diameter is larger than that of the sun. In a total solar eclipse, the end of the moon's conical shadow (umbra) usually moves rapidly across the earth from west to east. Those inside the shadow will see a total solar eclipse. In Bolivia, the Moon's shadow was 160 kilometers wide and its ground speed was more than 4,000 kilometers per hour. Hundreds of eclipse chasers will often travel thousands of kilometers to be in the moon's shadow for a few brief, awe-inspiring minutes. During the total phase of the eclipse, or "totality", one can observe the sun's beautiful corona. Just before totality, during totality, and just after totality, one can see the dramatic approach of the moon's shadow, (or umbra), the rapid dimming of the sunlight, and the appearance of sunset-like colors near the horizon. Like true eclipse chasers, myself and scores of Bolivians traveled to the Bolivian altiplano to "be in the shade" for three minutes...
As shall be seen in this journal, a total solar eclipse offers the observer many unique and fascinating experiences, and the expedition to the eclipse can offer even more.
Instrumentation and Preparation:
February 26, 1979 is a day to remember. It was the day I saw my first total solar eclipse. My father, J. Randall Charles, my brother, David L. Charles, and myself all traveled from our homes in Colorado to the small town of Grassrange, Montana to see and photograph this awe inspiring eclipse. This experience had a decided impact on my future interests.
In addition to seeing the corona, I was impressed by how fast the light dropped before totality; the unexpected, dramatic appearance of the lunar umbra as it rapidly moved across the sky; and the yellow-orange color that appeared around most of the horizon.
This experience is what inspired me to take 360 degree panoramic photos of the entire horizon during all subsequent total solar eclipses I observed. Over a year before the 1979 eclipse, I had invented and fabricated a unique Cassegrain axial strut wide angle 360 degree panoramic capture reflector to photograph the entire horizon in one circular picture, but I did not bring it to the eclipse because I did not have enough camera bodies and I was not expecting such an an all encompassing experience. The reflective 360 degree panoramic capture system has an absolute angle of view exceeding 300 degrees, allowing it to cover the entire horizon with nearly 130 degrees of vertical coverage when its reflector is oriented vertically. I decided not to use the axial strut wide angle reflector system at later eclipses because I wanted a faster f/ratio and a larger image scale than it produced. Its effective focal length is only 4 mm when configured for a 35 mm camera, so the resulting image scale is rather small unless a medium format camera is used. It was also time consuming to implement the darkroom techniques required to convert the circular image to a straight panorama. The advent of digital image processing later made this panoramic conversion process much more practical.
In order to get a relatively large image scale in 360 degree panoramas of future eclipses, I decided to take a series of photographs with a 16 mm fisheye lens or a rectilinear lens of slightly shorter focal length. The short duration of a total eclipse does not allow time to manually pan and position a camera for each series of panoramic pictures, so in 1991, I designed and built a remote controlled semi-automated motorized indexing rotary panoramic camera platform. I later added commutators to the platform in order to eliminate having to spiral a shutter release wire around the tripod. Still later (in 1995), I added a special circuit to the platform control box which allowed completely automated operation of the platform and two cameras. The entrance pupil of both lenses obviously cannot be over the center of rotation when two cameras are used, but this matter is not an issue here because my eclipse panoramas seldom included much in the way of nearby foreground subject matter.
My next total solar eclipse was the great eclipse of July 11, 1991, which occurred over Mazatlan and other parts of Mexico. The sun was behind clouds during this eclipse, so the corona was not observable from my site. Even so, watching the approach of the lunar umbra was a dramatic and worthwhile experience. Click HERE to see 360 panoramic photos of the 1991 eclipse which were taken with my motorized indexing rotary panoramic camera platform.
In addition to their artistic value, panoramic eclipse photos can be used to measure the position of the umbral boundary as it is projected on the sky, and the areas at which the colors around the horizon are the most prominent. This information will enhance our ability to predict the appearance of the umbra and the horizon at future total solar eclipses. Being able to accurately make these predictions is the ultimate goal of the project. Click HERE to read more about this experiment.
Since it was mostly cloudy at the 1991 eclipse, the most obvious projection of the umbra was on the clouds. This made the appearance and motion of the umbra very dramatic, but it did not allow observation of the umbra as projected on clear sky. Fortunately, a small area of clear sky low in the west allowed me to determine that the umbra could be detected several minutes before totality. This and other work also indicates that yellow-orange "sunset" colors are likely to be most intense near the most distant observable boundaries of the umbra, particularly when there are distant clouds to reflect the direct sunlight outside the umbra.
At the total solar eclipse of November 3, 1994, the primary focus of my work will be to conduct an experiment that should allow me to determine the altitudes at which the lunar umbra is most prominent projected on the earth's atmosphere. In order to predict the appearance of the lunar umbra at a total solar eclipse, one has to know the altitudes at which the umbral boundary is the most prominently projected on the earth's atmosphere. These altitudes can be determined if one knows the elevation angle and azimuth of an observed section of the umbral boundary and the relative position and size of the umbra at a given point in time. Since the eclipse is total only inside the umbra, there is no direct sunlight inside it to be scattered by the atmosphere. This lack of scattering is what makes the umbra visible as a dark area in the sky. The eclipse of November 3, 1994 is observable from the desolate Bolivian altiplano, where the high altitude and good weather prospects present ideal conditions for this experiment.
The primary data for the experiment will be obtained from time indexed video and several sets of photographs which cover the entire 360 degree horizon. The same rotating panoramic camera platform I used in 1991 will be used again at this eclipse. Some improvements were made to the platform since 1991, the most important of which is the addition of commutators for the remote shutter release switch. This eliminates the cumbersome shutter release wire that formerly had to hang from the camera.
To properly measure the projected umbral altitude, a number of conditions have to be met. These include clear weather, accurate timing of data collection, and other factors. In order to facilitate a proper match in the photos of each panorama, the exposure for each panoramic series must be set manually and in accordance with a light curve I developed from previous eclipse data. These stringent requirements make preparation, site selection, and alertness of paramount importance. Accordingly, I plan a very light schedule for the days prior to the eclipse. This should allow me to get over jet lag and begin to acclimate to the high altitude. The first day does not have any planned activity other than sleep, and I only have one eclipse presentation scheduled on each of the next two days. The rest of the time is set aside for rest, leisure, local eclipse preparation, and travel to the eclipse site. Each night, I have allowed at least 10 hours for sleep, since I typically require eight or more hours of sleep per night if I am to be alert and feel relatively healthy. Cochabamba, the city I will be staying in during most of my expedition, has an elevation of about 2500 meters. The elevation of the eclipse site is close to 4000 meters.
Much planning and preparation is required when traveling to observe an eclipse from a remote location. Instrumentation has to be built or acquired, then tested. In addition, the short duration of the eclipse dictates that all procedures should be repeatedly practiced until they can be reliably performed. My goals for the 1994 eclipse were relatively ambitious, so in all, my preparation took a few hundred hours. This included designing, fabricating, and installing a battery powered pulsed stepping motor drive in my Aus-Jena equatorial mounting, making modifications to my indexing rotary camera platform, fabricating other equipment, purchasing film and necessary equipment, obtaining a passport and other documentation, checking with health authorities about any required inoculations, and developing and repeatedly practicing my equipment set up, photographic program, and data collection procedures. This may sound like a lot of preparation for something that lasts only three minutes, but the eclipse will not offer a second chance if things should go wrong!
In all, my setup included a light meter for taking light curve and photo exposure data; two video cameras for the corona, one of which has a home made 3x telephoto converter lens; one video camera with a 0.45x wide angle converter for the lunar umbra; the motorized indexing rotary camera platform for taking 360 degree panoramas (for umbral data and artistic purposes) with a Nikon FM camera having a motor drive and a 16 mm fisheye lens; a camera with a 20 mm wide angle rectilinear lens for aesthetic pictures of the eclipse over the horizon; a Canon Photura for general shots of the site; a camera with a 350 mm lens for black and white shots of the outer corona with Kodak Tmax 100 film; and a VernonScope 94 mm f/7 refractor with my Versacorp VersAgonal for images of the corona at 1000 mm and 640 mm on Kodachrome 64 film, and at 640 mm on Royal Gold 100 film. The VersAgonal has built in optics which allow me to change the effective focal length of my telescope without removing the camera, and its built-in flip mirror makes it easy to look at the eclipse through the telescope. I have a 32 mm eyepiece for the corona, which provides a magnification of 20x. Totality is expected to last a few seconds more than 3 minutes, and I was able to regularly complete my photographic and observing program in 2 minutes and 25 seconds or less almost every time I practiced - even in the dark.
One item I acquired specifically for the trip was a JVC GR-SZ7U Super VHSC camcorder. This unit has ordinary camcorder features, plus a very unusual and useful feature for astronomical imaging: It has several "Slow Shutter" (i.e. integrated or time exposure) settings, the longest of which was a full second! Before and after the eclipse expedition, this proved very useful for planetary imaging with my VernonScope 94 mm f/7 refractor and other telescopes. It even allowed me to use the afocal method to get good full color images of Saturn through the 94 mm telescope with much less trouble than film photography.
Selecting Bolivia as the Country to Visit
In early 1992, I had moved to California to begin work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Well over a year in advance of the 1994 eclipse, the Bolivian Altiplano was selected as the observation site. This was due to weather prospects, accessibility, and my impression of the area's safety and political stability, (as opposed to Peru, for example). Some of my older colleagues at JPL still thought in terms of old stereotypes about revolutions and the like in Latin America, and they thought I was crazy to want to go anywhere in South America. I did not see this as a problem in 1994, but time would tell.
Shortly after starting at JPL, I began attending a Latino church in Pasadena. There, I met my friends Vidal and Ruth Juarez, their sons Johann and Ludwing, and their new daughter, Betsy. Vidal is the pastor of this church, and he and his wife are from Cochabamba, Bolivia. After getting to know Vidal and Ruth, I wanted to go to Bolivia at some time just to visit their relatives and friends, their former church, some rural mission churches they were involved with, and other aspects of the country and its people. Cochabamba is only about 200 kilometers from the eclipse path, so the eclipse offered a good opportunity to visit.
A few months before the eclipse, I was delighted to learn that some Bolivian people Vidal and Ruth were casually acquainted with had offered their hospitality. Even better, these people also wanted to see the eclipse! The house I would stay in was apparently owned by two or three sisters from a moderately large family. One of the sisters had a family of her own, and they apparently had at least some interest in the premises. Staying with these people in Cochabamba would allow me to become acquainted with them and the area more than would be possible otherwise.
In addition to seeing these people and observing the eclipse, I am looking forward to visiting a particular Bolivian school and speaking there about the eclipse and astronomy. The school is Colegio Buenas Nuevas, and Ruth's sister, Willma Alcocer, is the director.
Many weeks before my expedition began, the basics of my proposed schedule were reviewed with my host family, and they were very agreeable to it. My schedule will be light (particularly before the eclipse) in order to allow time for adequate sleep, adjustment to the local time and high altitude, and to locally prepare for the eclipse.
Murphy's Law Strikes Even Before I Leave Home
A couple of weeks before departing for Bolivia, I received my phone bill and was surprised to discover that my long distance phone service had been switched from MCI to AT&T, then to Excel (a company I'd never heard of before) without my consent. I investigated the matter with the help of Excel personnel and discovered that the switch had been made by an unethical salesman, the name of whom they provided. I was able to get my phone service switched back to MCI before I left, but I was unable to use my MCI calling card during my trip due to the recent switch. This resulted in a great deal of inconvenience and added expense because I then had to make calls on my host's phone account (which did not have cheap international rates) and reimburse them.
I later submitted a carrier restriction form to my local phone company. Due to this experience, I believe that unauthorized switching of a long distance carrier should expose a phone company to civil liability, and that the salesperson involved should be exposed to both civil liability and criminal prosecution. As it was, I thought the troublesome salesman was deserving of being tied to the sub reflector of a large dish antenna and zapped with about 500 kW of microwave power. This would get him out of the gene pool.
Only four days before I was to leave for Bolivia, CSE, my insurance provider, (with which I'd had an inland/marine policy on my telescope and cameras for two years and never had a single loss) said it would not cover my equipment during the trip to Bolivia unless I jumped through a lot of last minute paperwork hoops for them before I left. (My agent had known I was going on a trip because I had added a few new items to the policy a few weeks and months and earlier.) This took a lot of time and caused problems in regard to getting ready for the trip. I later switched insurance providers.
About 10 days before I left for Bolivia, I called my host family to confirm flight times and other details. I was surprised to learn that the husband of one of the sisters who owned the house, whom I will call Roberto, had taken it upon himself to take over arranging for my stay. This seemed surprising, since my schedule had been agreed to some time ago, and the schedule was so light that there was little arranging to be done other than the matter of travel to the eclipse site. Roberto said that he was the one in charge of arranging things, which seemed unusual to me because I had never heard of him before, and though he did live on the property at which I would be staying, he was not really a majority owner of it. I had been under the impression that I was really the guest of the sisters who owned most of the place. Roberto seemed in agreement with my schedule, but he wanted me to work in an additional presentation, possibly at a city auditorium. I though that it may be possible, but I made no guarantees. In spite of this new person on the scene, all still seemed well.
Just to be sure there was no misunderstanding, I arranged to fax Roberto a copy of my previously discussed schedule, but I found that he gave me the wrong fax number. When I called Roberto a few days before I left to get the correct number, he asked me if I could work in one or two more presentations. I told him that I could not do so on such short notice, but he said we would see about that when I arrived. I repeated that I could not add more presentations and that seemed to be that. At that point, I began to be a little concerned about his changing expectations.
Monday evening, October 24. The night before departure. 9 days before the eclipse. It's near midnight, but everything is ready. I had an interesting time cramming a few last minute clothes in my luggage that some people in the church wanted to send to their relatives in Bolivia.
The Expedition Begins
Finally, it is time to go catch the flight to Bolivia. Upon arrival at the airport, I found that sky cap service was not available for international flights, so I had the daunting and interesting task of getting a footlocker, a suitcase, and two carry on bags to the the airline check in counter by myself. To make things even more interesting, the airport was rather busy. By the time my place in line reached the counter, the time my departure was near enough that I decided to run part of the way to the gate. I was certainly glad that my carry on bags had wheels! I reached the gate in plenty of time and got on the plane, where I was able relax during the remaining minutes before departure.
Finally, the flight took off from LAX on the afternoon of October 25, 1994. Away at last, on my first ride in a Boeing 767. Just after takeoff, a very interesting vortex originated from the engine cowling outside my port side window. Condensation made the 20 cm diameter vortex very obvious, and I could even see its shadow on the wing. The vortex became invisible as we gained altitude. This American Airlines flight was to connected with a Lloyd Aero Boliviano flight in Miami which was to leave at about midnight.
At about 10:45 p.m., the flight landed in Miami and I went directly to my connecting flight. There were a lot of people waiting for the flight, so I waited in line with them, talking with a family from Bolivia as we waited. When my place in line reached the ticket counter 25 minutes later, I presented my ticket and seat assignment to the airline's ticket agent, but before he even looked at it, he began to smirk and curtly told me that the flight was full, and if I had wanted on the flight, I should arrived over an hour earlier than I did. This seemed unusual because I already had a seat assignment and my travel agent had assured me that the connection time would not be a problem.
The next flight would be 24 hours later; too late to allow preparation for my first Bolivian school presentation. I explained this situation to the smirking agent, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. I also pointed out that I had waited in line for 25 minutes. The ticket agent responded to this by telling me that I should have cut in front of everyone else. This made no sense because the Bolivian people I spoke with in line had not experienced any difficulty getting on the same flight.
I eventually realized that he and the other agents had been allowing dozens of other passengers (all of Latin American origin) onto the plane, and that I had been the only Anglo person waiting to get on the flight. I reluctantly began to think that I may be dealing with a "racist" ticket agent. Praying seemed like a good idea at the time, since I was not getting anywhere with this agent. I continued to politely plead my case, and as many precious minutes slipped by, more and more people were being allowed on the plane. Eventually, just a handful of passengers were left at the check in counter and only a few minutes remained before the scheduled departure of the flight. I had been dealing with this agent for the better part of half an hour, and I was getting desperate.
Finally, I raised my voice and repeated to the agent that I had arranged to speak at a school in Bolivia, and if I could not get on THIS flight, I would not arrive in Bolivia soon enough to be able to prepare for and make my first presentation there, (which was true if I was going to sleep at all between my arrival and the first anticipated presentation on Thursday afternoon). At that point, the ticket agent's supervisor must have overheard me, because he signaled for the wayward agent to come back to where he was. They both went through a doorway, and several seconds later, the same ticket agent returned, looking shaken and bewildered. He huffed that he would make an "exception" and put me on the plane, and added; "You're only getting on this flight because I decided to let you on". I thought to myself; "Yeah, right", but I was nonetheless thankful and relieved to get on the flight. By this time, all of the coach seats really were full, and the befuddled ticket agent had to upgrade me to business class - for free!
I had to run to catch the flight, and was the very last person on. I put one of my bags in the overhead compartment, took my seat in row three, and put my other bag under the seat. There were plenty of empty seats in Business class, but few if any were left in coach. Some of the flight attendants were very petite and were having some difficulty reaching the overhead storage compartments as they found homes for the few remaining bags which belonged to other passengers.
My expedition seemed to be off to a nail biting start. At about midnight on the morning of October 26, our red-eye flight left Miami. Next stop, South America. This plane was a rather beat 727. It was almost impossible to sleep after my tense experience with the ticket agent, though I could tell I definitely needed sleep. Fortunately, I was not alone. On this leg of the flight, it was my pleasure to be seated next to Alfonso Canelas, the director of Los Tiempos, the largest newspaper in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the city I was going to. We talked about the upcoming eclipse, and he eventually asked if he or his daughter could to interview me later during my trip if I had the time. I told him that I would try to work it in, adding that someone related to my host had asked me to squeeze in an extra presentation just a few days before I began this trip. He later said that a story about my experience in Bolivia would be nice if I had time to write one after my expedition was over. At that time, we both expected that my expedition would be an entirely good experience, and I looked forward to writing such a journal when I got back.
Soon, some lights became visible from the plane. I thought that it could be Havana, but I was not sure. Several minutes later, the plane started making a descent. At about this time, I started having a twang of Montezuma's revenge, probably due to sleep deprivation, which is something I am very sensitive to. Good thing I was in Business class - not as much competition for the rest room! Immodium AD was not an option for me due to a condition I had. It turned out that we were making an unscheduled stop in Caracas, Venezuela. We landed at around 3:00 a.m. I got off the plane for what I thought would only be a couple of minutes, but it turned out that the flight attendants would not let any of us back on the plane until just before departure. At about 3:45, they let us back on the plane and it took off a few minutes later. In a few more hours, the sun came up just about as we were flying over the Amazon river. After that, I was able to sleep for about half an hour. I have always had trouble sleeping on flights.
Later in the morning, I was looking out the starboard window at the rain forest. It was beginning to show clear spots and gradually gave way to vast, green grassy areas. I noticed that flight attendants were going in and out of the cockpit with increasing frequency, and whenever the door opened, I could hear male voices laughing and female voices giggling. They all certainly seemed to be having a good time. It was nice to see people having some fun on the job, just as long as the pilot remained attentive.
Around eight a.m., we started our descent into Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The aircraft was making turns during descent and the bank was sometimes different than would normally be used for a coordinated turn, so I could feel considerable side pressure in my seat. Suddenly, one of the meal serving carts rolled out of its closet and with a loud clatter and a thud, fell over in the aisle right next to me. It turned out that the closet door was missing. A flight attendant quickly appeared and began to stand the cart up and roll it back into place. I offered to help her move it and to let her use one of my luggage straps to secure it for the duration of the flight, but she said it would not be necessary. (I was thinking that I sure would not want to get beaned by something as big as the cart if we hit turbulence). A few minutes later, near the time of final approach, the plane made another partially coordinated turn and the serving cart again rolled out of its closet and fell over in the aisle. A flight attendant again attended to it. That was the cart's last attempt at acrobatics.
A little after eight, we landed in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and we went into the terminal. The connecting flight was to leave in about an hour, but we had to wait something like three hours because they held the plane for another connecting flight. Alfonso and I talked more, and he informed me of what to do when going through immigration. Normally, this is straightforward, but I was a bit spaced out from sleep deprivation, having had only half an hour of sleep since the previous morning.
At about eleven, we boarded the plane. Soon, the flight took off for Cochabamba. On this leg of the flight, I was in coach, which seemed very much like being in a sardine can compared to business class. It was more crammed than the coach seats I'd been in on other airlines; so crammed that my knees touched the seat in front of me. Out my window, I could see the plains give way to hilly terrain, then to treeless mountains. Cochabamba was in a large valley, partially surrounded by mountains that were about 4000 meters high. On final approach to Cochabamba, I noticed that we were flying over areas that looked very impoverished. These areas extended almost all the way to the runway. The plane landed a little after noon; over two hours late. As we taxied to the terminal, I could see Cochabamba stretching all the way up to the foot of a mountain range to the North. It was very picturesque. A few seconds later, it suddenly dawned on me that I was in a place very different than the U.S.
The plane finally came to a stop on the tarmac and we debarked. Two armed and uniformed men greeted us and directed all of us to the terminal. The recently self-proclaimed head of my host family, whom I will call Roberto (not his real name), was waiting for me at the airport. I went over to him and introduced Alfonso and myself, after which time Alfonso left the airport. Roberto and I talked as we waited for my checked bags. Aduana (Bolivian customs) did not bother to inspect my carry on bags and my checked luggage never materialized, so we left the airport without it. The next flight would not arrive until the next day, so I would have to do without the stuff in my checked bags for a while.
Roberto introduced me to his wife, whom I will call Gloria, and we walked toward their family car. A pleasant though sad looking older female beggar of indigenous descent intercepted us and Gloria eventually gave her a couple of coins, showing marked annoyance as she did so. Just after this, a radio announcer came up ready to tape an interview with me. He vigorously started asking me some questions. I responded by saying that I was going to get some sleep (I really needed to sleep), so he said he would catch up with me later. After this, I continued toward the car with my host. The announcer was not obnoxious, but I certainly wasn't ready to be interviewed at that time. Roberto and Gloria told me that I was famous in the area, and that the interviewer was a relative of Roberto's. I had hoped to keep a low profile, and recall thinking that I did not like the idea of being "famous" if it meant people would be sticking microphones in my face at the airport. I assumed that this new found and somewhat unwanted fame was due to some sort of promotional effort by Roberto, and that it had more to do with my working at JPL than with anything I may have accomplished personally.
We arrived at the car and got in, but the engine would not start. Roberto hailed a cab for his wife and I, then stayed behind to tend to his car. I offered to stay so he would not have to call a cab, but he said it was not necessary. I was glad, because I was looking forward to many hours of uninterrupted and needed sleep, as allowed for in my schedule. We got in the taxi and it took off for a wild and fast ride to my host's house. It was by far the wildest car ride I ever had - even in my sleep deprived condition, the ride was more exhilarating than any I had ever experienced in a car, including the time way back in 1974 when a high school friend impulsively drove me past the Rocky Mountain National Park headquarters building at 117 mph in his Chevy Nova. (By the way, I would discourage such fast driving, particularly near the mountains.)
We soon arrived at the house. It was quite nice, with two levels and a fully enclosed yard. I was allowed to use an upstairs bedroom which had a hardwood floor and a nicely finished wardrobe cabinet. The fact that my checked bags were missing made it take a bit longer to get ready to sleep. My mouth tasted really bad, but my tooth brush and all my clothes were in my checked bags, as were the slides and materials I needed to make my presentation at the local school. I had filled my carry on bags with the most delicate pieces of equipment that I would be using for the eclipse. This left little room for other items, and I had not foreseen the degree to which I would want a tooth brush so soon after arrival. My first presentation at a school was not to be until late the following afternoon, which gave me at least 24 hours to rest. Finally, I was ready to crash.
The Perils of Being a Commodity
Just as I was getting into bed, Roberto arrived at the house. He knocked on my door and said he needed to talk to me right away, so I put my shoes on again and we met in the hall. He told me that I had to meet with some people at seven o'clock that evening about scheduling my presentations at schools. I told him that I thought the matter was already arranged, that I was speaking only at Buenas Nuevas and a maximum of one other place, and that I needed to sleep if I was to function properly. He said something like: "Gringos always think they need a lot of sleep after they arrive somewhere, but we don't need to do that."
I was somewhat surprised by Roberto's bluntness and reminded him that I had a migraine condition that required me to get adequate sleep, that I was currently in need of sleep, that my work at the eclipse was highly critical, that I had to acclimate to the local time and altitude, and that I could not consider continuing the trend of starting out the trip with inadequate sleep. Showing some loss of pleasantry, he said that I really did not need to sleep, and that the meeting would not take that long. I did not believe the meeting would be very short, since its purpose would probably be to get me to do things which I had not previously agreed to do.
I asked why I was not informed about this meeting in advance, and why it had to be scheduled in the middle of the time I had scheduled for sleep. He said that the people who would be at the meeting were not available at any time other than the evening. I suggested that I meet with them the following evening. He replied that they wanted me to do a lot of presentations the next day, so the meeting had to be before then. He added that the people who wanted me to present the additional lectures were influential. I said that Buenas Nuevas was the only presentation scheduled for the next day, reminded him that the slides required for my presentations were in my missing checked bags, and repeated that I needed sleep. He firmly replied: "You have to do this". It soon became clear that there was no way to change his mind on the matter, particularly in my present sleep deprived state, which made it difficult to think on my feet.
The first day in Bolivia, and already there are serious problems. I had planned to sleep off my jet lag as soon as I arrived. So much for that. I would have split and gone to a hotel right then if I had been able to access my bank account in the U.S. I did not have a credit card, and the funds and traveler's checks I had with me were insufficient to pay for lodging in a hotel for the two weeks I would be in Bolivia, so it appeared I was stuck.
Roberto then left the house. I was surprised that he would be so demanding, particularly in light of the fact that he allegedly had minimal ownership in the premises and I technically was not "his" guest. I complained to his wife about his actions and she seemed surprised that he had acted the way he had. She said she would talk to him about it. I got ready to sleep again. The newly imposed meeting was only 5 hours away, but I could not sleep at all due to being upset at the prospect of having my schedule turned upside down, which is what I justifiably feared the people would try to do at the meeting. A little after six, I got out of bed, tried to take a spit bath at the sink, and got ready for the meeting.
By seven, no one but Roberto had arrived for the meeting. He told me that everyone would be there at eight, (apparently eight is Bolivian standard time for seven as far as they were concerned) and that he had talked to his wife about the situation and thought the meeting could be limited to about 20 minutes. He then offered to delay the meeting until early the next morning, adding that he "thought" he could contact everyone in time to keep them from coming (all while making it clear that it would be a big deal to do so) but again added that the meeting would not take long. Having to get up early the next morning was not very attractive and I had already gotten up for the evening meeting, so I was inclined to get it all over with. We went into the dining room and waited for the others.
A little before eight, Willma Alcocer came by after getting off work at Buenas Nuevas. I guessed that she may have been ten to fifteen years older than I was. She came through the front door and into the dining room, apparently oblivious to my displeasure with Roberto. She saw me, and with a big smile, enthusiastically said "Hola!", kissed me on the cheek, and gave me a slim glass vase with a few flowers in it. "Gracias" was about the only response I could think of. I guessed that she may have been told about me by her sister in the U.S., since she acted as though she knew me. Strangely, I sort of felt like I knew her too, even though I'd never met her before. Her sister Ruth had told me some good things about her, but the impression I had upon meeting her was much more significant (in a platonic way) than just matching a face with a person I'd heard about. I wished that my senses had not been so dulled by sleep deprivation, since I may have been able to perceive more of the depth of her character if I had been alert. Even with dulled senses, I perceived that she had a goodness of character that was far deeper than her smile.
Willma started talking in Spanish to Roberto and I, while looking happy and excited. She was talking too fast for me to fully understand, particularly while in my sleep deprived state. When Roberto noticed that Willma had given me flowers, he said: "Giving the flowers is the cultural thing to say hello to a new person. I forgot to do that". Willma eventualy went into the kitchen but periodically came back into the dining room.
At about eight, some of the men arrived for the meeting. The rest arrived well after eight. Two of the three or four men were wealthy Bolivian individuals and the other(s) were apparently middle class. (By the way, I think the whole idea of "class" sucks). The meeting started with little in the way of pleasantries or introductions, and I was somewhat annoyed to later hear Roberto occasionally refer to me as "esta gringito" (this little gringo) instead of using my name.
The people who came for the meeting aggressively launched into making a ridiculously excessive number of demands on my time. Roberto produced a calendar and began writing on it. Initially, no one was ASKING me if I would do anything. Everything was being demanded with confidence, like they felt entitled to my cooperation. It was obvious to me that these people were not organized, since some of them had conflicting agendas. When they weren't pelting me with demands, they were arguing with each other, though usually not loudly. Initially, it was all so hectic that it was difficult to answer anyone and it appeared that working with them would be next to impossible. These people were trying to get me to make three and four presentations per day on several different days, even during the week of the eclipse. Not counting travel time, each presentation (including addressing participant questions through an interpreter) could last two to three hours. Anyone involved in public speaking knows what a ridiculously heavy schedule this would be.
One specimen, whom I will call George, made more demands of me. Then another, whom I will call Simon also did so, but more aggressively. I maintained that I had agreed to make only one presentation a day for the next two days (three days if the presentation Roberto had asked about on the phone was included), that the presentations were mostly at Buenas Nuevas, and that they had to be either in the afternoon or evening. They said that was not good enough, and that I had to speak at more places than that. I said that I did not. This went on for several minutes, and I was getting bewildered. I just wanted to leave and go to bed, but it was obvious that this was not an available option.
I eventually realized that these people were demanding that I appear at a lot of schools, but that no one was mentioning Buenas Nuevas, the school I had prearranged to speak at, so I said something like:
"I've heard you mention a lot of places you want me to speak, but I haven't heard any of you mention Colegio Buenas Nuevas. That is where I..."
George interrupted and said something like:
"That school is for poor people. It would not be a good use of you."
Roberto (with accent) then said:
"They are just Indians there. They would not understand what you tell them."
"But that is where I had arranged to speak! Besides..."
Roberto interrupted and said:
"They are only poor people there."
"All the more reason to speak there. The poor have less opportunity!"
Willma (standing by the table and making a fist) added:
"Amen!" and a member of the host's family also defended my position.
At this, Simon (in a rude tone of voice) said a few scolding words in Spanish to Willma and the family member. Willma temporarily looked taken aback by the rude reply, and I began to become very much more upset with these men, whoever they were.
I raised my voice and said:
"I am speaking at Buenas Nuevas. The poor here have less opportunity!"
More heated debate followed and Willma again left the room. I could not believe how rabid these people were about trying to deny even a small thing like my presentations to poor people of the area. They actually seemed to believe that the poor were less capable, a view much like the social views that were prevalent in the United States during the early 20th century. In light of this, I perceived that the poor of Bolivia should be given much more in the way of advocacy. The men kept trying to set up presentations that would conflict with my appearances at Buenas Nuevas, but I was able to at least hold the line on having one favorably timed presentation there.
At least one of the men began to claim that they had already promised all of the other schools that I would appear at them, so I HAD to appear. I was shocked that they would really have done this without checking with me first. I also replied that I had prearranged to speak at Buenas Nuevas, and that if they did not have a problem with trying to get me to break my commitment there, I couldn't worry about them having to break theirs. Of course, this did not affect things, and their continued demands were wearing me down, even though they were gradually becoming less aggressive.
I was also concerned about something else: Upon seeing that Roberto, (the self proclaimed head of the extended family living at my host's premises) had made no response to defend me, Willma, or the member of his family who was disrespectfully snapped at by one of the men at the meeting, I became concerned for both myself and Roberto's family. I wondered if Roberto may have been manipulated or coerced by these wealthier people. They were very confident and aggressive, so I did not know whether or not they could pose a threat to Roberto or his family. No one there was wielding a rubber hose or a cattle prod, but the experience was intense enough to make me wonder what could eventually happen if I did not cooperate. I was too sleep deprived to think it all through rationally, so I eventually decided to be on the safe side and ultimately gave in to many of their demands. Later investigation (conducted mostly after I returned to the U.S.) showed that these people may not have had this kind of influence over the family, but there was no way to know this at the time, particularly with my senses dulled from sleep deprivation.
I had heard of sleep deprivation tactics being used in interrogations by corrupt police in various countries to get innocent people to confess to crimes they did not commit. I now knew just how effective these tactics could be. I was ready to say just about anything I had to say in order to get away from those people so I could sleep. The pressure that authorities could bring to bear on a person would be far greater than what I had experienced.
The meeting was grueling and lasted more than two hours, with the most intense part being in the first half hour or so. Resisting these people to the extend I did had radically increased the duration of the meeting, but it had also paid off in the sense that the maximum number of major engagements per day was now three instead of the four they had wanted, and I only had to present material on one day during the week of the eclipse instead of the three or four they had initially insisted on. In all, I had succeeded in eliminating about half of the work these people had initially sought to impose; however, the remaining number of presentations were still a copious burden, and having to present any talks at all on the week of the eclipse was really going to interfere with my planned preparations for it.
Even though I eventually took on this substantially heavier schedule, these people still were not satisfied. I do not think they would had been satisfied unless I had capitulated to every one of their demands, which would have been humanly impossible. Apparently, they were dissatisfied partly because I refused to cancel all of my planned appearances at Buenas Nuevas, but by then, I did not really care what their feelings toward me were. I just wanted to get away from them.
Many if not all of these men seemed to harbor prejudice against the poor, and they apparently did not want the poor to benefit even from little things like my presentations. Most of the poor in this part of Bolivia are the indigenous Quechua people. I soon learned that racial and economic prejudice in Bolivia was not limited to these few wealthy people alone. Even so, the social ills I saw Bolivia would seem minor when compared to places like El Salvador (particularly prior to the 1990's) or Colombia or Peru. Several decades ago, Bolivia at least had the common sense to implement some meaningful semblance of reformaguaria (land reform) and shameful atrocities against indigenous peoples have not been prevalent for some time.
In addition to the presentations imposed at the meeting, other unscheduled impositions followed. As a result of all these demands, my health failed within the first three days and I did not recover for the rest of the trip. Among other things, this significantly affected my performance at the eclipse. I may have voluntarily tried to make more presentations (particularly after the eclipse) if I had been given enough advance notice to have made it possible to extend my trip.
Though I did not know it at the time, some of the troublesome people at the meeting had political connections. I later learned that a local street bore the family name of some of these people, and that one (who worked for the Embassy) had a brother who was a Bolivian presidential candidate. More recently, this very person decided to lay the groundwork to run for president of Bolivia himself, in lieu of his brother.
After my expedition, I had write the brother of the presidential candidate in order to warn him that if anyone claimed or implied my endorsement of any associated political candidate or agenda, I would publicly disavow their claims. I determined that I probably would be opposed to any agenda these people would be associated with after having witnessed their apparent attitudes toward the poor of Bolivia and their roughshod treatment of myself. In addition, I did not want to have to worry about the implications such an alleged foreign political involvement or endorsement could have on my engineering career, should I eventually become involved with a DOD project. I assumed that these people may have been trying to gain political or social points by "arranging" for me to speak at various places. Some of them later kept introducing me as a "NASA scientist", but I kept correcting them and saying I was an engineer. This probably did not make them very happy.
The meeting had not been pleasant, but with it finally over, I could now go to bed, at least for a few hours. In spite of the fact that my slides had not arrived, the people had insisted on my making a presentation the next morning. Before I crashed, I saw Roberto alone and asked him who these people were. He said that he had not even heard of them until a couple of days before I arrived, but that they were "influential".
I went to bed, but I could not sleep, partly due to the stress of my new circumstances and partly due to jocular conversation the men were now having in the other room. Even though they were speaking in Spanish, I could overhear and understand some of what was said, and I was shocked to hear Roberto laughingly making light of my desire to allow 10 hours a day for sleep. I reluctantly began to realize that he could be a patsy or a chameleon, and that these particular men were probably too indifferent or unsophisticated to appreciate the preparation that is required for exacting work at an eclipse. That night, it turned out that the pressure of the meeting and worry about my schedule only allowed me to sleep only a few minutes, if at all, which was unusual for me. I was well on my way to unintentionally breaking my record of 79 consecutive hours without sleep that I had unintentionally set way back in October of 1976.
The next morning, (Thursday, October 27) I had developed even more severe Montezuma's revenge and also had related bleeding problems. (Gross, but part of the story since it significantly influenced events). This made me a few minutes late in being ready to leave for my first presentation, but my ride was late also. Less than 24 hours after arrival in Bolivia, I am about to leave for my first presentation. My dizzying new schedule has me so busy its hard to tell which way is up. It seems I've become a commodity. No time or energy for pleasant distractions like taking pictures or for errands like picking up a tooth brush.
Soon, the person I call Simon came by to pick me up for my first presentation. He was driving a white vehicle that looked like a VW van that had been converted to a pickup truck. He was going to translate at my presentation, but the airport had to be our first stop because I needed my slides and other presentation materials from my tardy checked bags. When I got in the vehicle, I was obviously displeased to be around Simon again, but I decided to try to make the best of it. Nonetheless, a long, icy silence followed.
Finally, Simon said:
"I wanted to see you speak at more Catholic schools. The others are always against Catholic schools."
Simon was not Catholic, so his preference seemed unusual at first. I thought that he should have realized I had been unable to significantly influence the outcome of the meeting we had both attended the night before, so I indignantly replied something like:
"You know very well that I had precious little to do with what was decided last night! I don't know why you're complaining to me about it."
I felt somewhat badly about unloading on him, so I was more courteous after that. I'd only had half an hour of sleep since the previous Tuesday morning, and this sleep depravation had tended to erode my diplomacy and other social skills.
After a few minutes, we arrived at the airport and went in to look for my luggage. The flight had arrived some time before, so no passengers were left in the area. Unfortunately, only one of my bags had arrived, and it was not the one that had my slides in it; however, it did have some material I could use to prepare a lecture. I needed the material because I was too spaced out to even remember my well practiced presentation. When I tried to get the luggage through Aduana, or customs, the agent inspected the contents. When he saw my telescope mount, he told me I had fill out some forms and leave the mount and other items with him for several hours while the forms were processed. I had been warned by my Bolivian friends not to go along with this scheme if I ever wanted to see my equipment again.
I had previously been informed that the usual solution to this type of problem was to pay the agent a bribe in the amount that he would subtly indicate with his fingers. I watched his fingers, but did not see the characteristic signal. I did not want to pay a bribe; both because I did not want to spend the money and because I did not want to contribute to the delinquency of an adult (the agent, in this case). I even offered to check my bag back into the airline's custody and come back later, when dealing with the customs situation would not conflict with my school presentation, but the agent would have no part of it. I patiently continued to argue with him through Simon, who was acting as my interpreter, for about 40 minutes. I considered the possibility of waiting by my equipment all day while the customs agent "processed" my forms. Praying came to mind again, and shortly thereafter, I realized that there may yet be an expeditious way to end the situation.
I recalled that while on my flight to Bolivia, Alfonso Canelas and I had discussed the matter of my writing an article for his paper about my experience in Bolivia. At the time, I fully intended to oblige, and I realized that my experience with this customs agent was just as much a part of my experience in Bolivia as anything else, so in the hearing of the agent, I said to Simon; "You know, I've been asked to write an an article for a local newspaper, and I sure would hate to have to mention that I was not able to appear for this morning's school presentation because I had to wait in an airport due to of a difficulty with Aduana". At this, the agent looked at Simon and, in Spanish, asked him what I said. Simon then translated my last remark to the agent, and the agent instantly lost his confident demeanor. He then went into a corner office and began talking to another person. When he came back a couple of minutes later, he waved us through and told us that we could leave immediately with my luggage!
We drove to Santo Tomas de Aquino, the first school I had been newly scheduled to speak at. As was the case virtually everywhere I visited that day, my first order of business was to use the restroom. The facilities in some schools were far more primitive than even the most basic facilities in the U.S. In order to attend my presentation, the students at this school were going to stay past the usual end of their school day, but most of them had left by the time we got there. Apparently, Simon and the others who pressured me had not been organized enough to call ahead and inform the school that we would be late. The few students remaining were all identically dressed girls who appeared to be in their later years of high school. They all were very attractive and looked very sad as they expressed disappointment in not being able to see my presentation. I felt sorry for them, but there was nothing I could do other than try to squeeze a short talk to their school in between my later imposed presentations. This was an unlikely scenario, so I did not mention the possibility, but I later learned that Simon had. Even though the people who pressured me claimed that they had arranged things with all of the schools in advance, I began to wonder if they had really done so.
We left the school and Simon expressed concern about my not having any presentation materials. I was equally concerned, because the sheer number of students anticipated for my next presentation could make the use of a black board impractical. I would at least need view graphs, so we went to a store and bought some blank view graph material and some view graph pens. Making view graphs meant that I could not take a nap before the next presentation, which was at 3:30 that afternoon. There was at least one good thing about that afternoon's presentation: It was at Colegio Buenas Nuevas, where Willma was the director. This is the school I had prearranged to appear at. Yea! I get to go to Buenas Nuevas!
We arrived back at Roberto and Gloria's house and I went inside, where lunch had been prepared. The family had a Quechua maid named Delfina who lived on the premises and had done all the work. We had lunch and Roberto's four children began watching a video tape of the movie "Home Alone 2" for one of what turned out to be many times. After lunch, I set to work on the view graphs. My Spanish dictionary was in my missing suitcase and I was too spaced out to remember how to spell some things in Spanish, so I checked with Roberto. Unfortunately, he did not know how to spell the words I needed either, so I guessed. If I spelled a few words wrong, it would probably make for some good laughs.
Roberto told me that a television reporter was coming by to interview me later in the day. I was not happy about this idea, because I had not been able to shave or brush my teeth since the previous Tuesday morning due to my missing luggage. He started telling me about a lot of interviews and other events that would be happening at the house between my presentations, and it became clear that he had no intention of allowing me any time to rest. The reporter either showed up that day or the next day, I don't recall which, and I sleepily muddled through the interview. I don't know if it was ever aired. Roberto's family did not seem to approve of the way he was treating me, but it appeared that they were in no position to do anything about it. Even though he allegedly was not an owner of the house, he was definitely in control of things in the household, probably due in part to the patriarchal nature of the culture.
At about three, another person, whom I will call Gerardo, arrived to take me to Buenas Nuevas. He was a very personable college student, and we began to talk. I eventually mentioned how I had been pressured into making a lot more presentations than I had planned, and how it was affecting my sleep and health. He asked me if I knew the names of the people who had pressured me, and I told him the names I could recall. Upon hearing this, he became visibly disturbed and related that some of the same people had made him translate at my presentations, adding that he had final exams the next week and the impositions on him could compromise his studies. He said that he did not like those people and added that he did not like Roberto very well either.
I enjoyed Gerardo's company, but I felt badly about the pressure translating so near the time of his exams was putting him under. As it was, he was going to miss the trip to the total eclipse due to his tests. The people who appropriated us apparently had little interest in doing much of the presentation related work themselves. Even though Gerardo was under this pressure, he enthusiastically gave me a tour of some of Cochabamba as we drove between various schools, restrooms, and Roberto's house. I appreciated this incremental tour with Gerardo because, as it turned out, that was the only tour of the city I would get to have.
As we drove south toward Buenas Nuevas, the town around us gradually took on a more impoverished look. We drove up a hill to get to the school and were able to see out over the vast area of Cochabamba. Finally, we arrived at Buenas Nuevas.
Gerardo and I got out of the car and he gave a Boliviano (about 22 cents) to an old Indian lady that was sitting under a small tarp by a "Foosball" table. I asked him why he was paying her, and he said it was so she would watch his car. I knew exactly what he meant, but asked to verify that it was so. It was for "protection".
Buenas Nuevas is an unassuming complex of red and yellow brick buildings that is attended by about 1,800 students. Half come in the morning and half come in the afternoon. Willma met us, and after my usual "bio stop", she escorted us into the lecture hall, where there were at least 400 children seated on benches. Most of these children were twelve years of age or younger. All of them had identical white gowns or smocks over their regular clothing. I had never seen this type of uniform in person before I'd gone to Bolivia, but I sort of liked the idea of this type of school uniform. Gerardo and I went to the stage at the front of the lecture hall and Willma introduced me to the children, then they all loudly and enthusiastically responded "Buenas Tardes Jeff Char-les" in unison. This was impressive, and both Gerardo and I were pleasantly surprised! Gerardo even did a double take.
Willma made a few additional introductory statements and led the students in a prayer. Prayer was practiced in virtually every Bolivian school I went to, and I liked the fact that prayer was both allowed and utilized. I am sure there are people in the U.S. who don't like the idea, but after seeing it first hand, my argument for prayer in school (particularly voluntary prayer) would be one of results. People will usually put something first in their lives, and if God is not allowed in the school, students will seek out someone or something else that they can put first. For some, this may be their studies, but for others (particularly in the U.S.), it will be drugs, guns, or gangs. Lethal violence in U.S. schools is the legacy left by our high court decisions over the last few decades. Prayer is allowed in Bolivian schools, and there is less violence in Bolivian schools. Go figure.
After the prayer, I began my presentation. Unfortunately, I only had four view graphs, so I quickly ran out of material. Most of the view graphs were to explain the difference between a partial and a total eclipse. Cochabamba was outside the path of totality, and I realized that few if any of the students would be able to go to the total eclipse, so my emphasis was on safe viewing methods for the partial eclipse. I wanted to use some balls for illustrations of the earth, sun, and moon, and asked Willma if anyone had any. One of the teachers went out of the room and soon returned with something that surprised me. She had a beautifully made articulated mechanical model of the earth, sun, and moon. It was the neatest gadget I had seen in a long time. After I finished marveling at it, I used it to illustrate how a solar eclipse occurs, then went to questions and answers. The children were well behaved and had a good attention span, particularly considering the fact that I was tired and had no photos to present. (Being tired imparts a Joe Friday quality to my presentation!) As we were leaving after the presentation, a few of the children came up to grab and/or shake my hand. They seemed very appreciative.
Gerardo and I left the school and started back to Roberto's house. Gerardo mentioned that he was very tired from the experience of standing and speaking for so long and did not know how I was able to have the energy to make more than one presentation a day. I told him that it was not easy, and that I would never schedule more than one or two presentations a day if it was up to me. He offered to show me some more things around town on the way back to the house. I accepted because I correctly anticipated that Roberto would not allow me time to take my own tour. We stopped at a few places including a few music stores where I got some music like I had on my shopping list. Some of it was for an amateur video about the trip that I had initially planned to produce. When we arrived back at Roberto's house, the Roberto said that he wished I had arrived home sooner so I could have done a bunch of other things he wanted me to do. I was glad I had gone on my little detour. It was much less pressure than Roberto's demands.
Roberto's wife could tell I was ill and offered me some Linasa tea. I was ready to try anything. I later (after the eclipse) even tried Coca tea. This tea is not what one would think it would be from the name, since it is too weak to have a narcotic effect. If it did, it would not necessarily make one well, but I presume that if it was stout enough, one just would not care if they were sick! Near the time I was having the Linasa tea, I was told that my other checked bag had arrived at the airport and that Simon had gone to get it, so I waited a few more minutes for it before going to bed. I was really wanting to brush my teeth.
That evening, while awaiting my late suitcase, I was finally able to take some video of the family. After dinner, Roberto's children came into my room with their cat, Perico. Two of them were holding the cat over their heads and in a position similar to that of Superman when he flies. I took a break to shoot some video of the flying cat, who did not seem to like his flying lessons. He later ran away from home for six days.
Roberto's family had more pets than just their flying cat. They have dog named Pelucha, and another dog, or at least I think it is a dog, named Snoopy: The latter has a reputation of being something like a Tasmanian devil. Whenever guests arrive, he is put into a room outside the house where he can't try to eat anyone. At one point, he got loose and ran into the house. I saw a small blur shooting past my door at about Mach 2. (Maybe he really is a Tasmanian Devil?) With alarm in her voice, Roberto's wife told me to shut myself in my room for my own safety and not to open the door until I was told it was safe. I eagerly did so while the family risked life and limb to apprehend the mystery creature and put him back in his room. Once snoopy was safely back where he belonged, I cautiously emerged from my room.
At about nine, Simon arrived with my suitcase and I unpacked my toothbrush and the Carousel tray with my slides in it. Simon said he would bring a projector by in the morning. Finally, I was able to go to bed. Partly due to Montezuma's revenge, related pain, and other factors, I was only able to sleep about two hours that night, mostly during the few hours just before I had to get up.
The next morning, I was still spaced out and felt even worse, so I still did not bring a camera with me to photograph the schools. It would have been nice to have pictures, but it seemed that it took extraordinary effort for me to do even the most basic of things. My health had failed with remarkable swiftness - even more rapidly than I had previously thought was possible from external circumstances. Gerardo picked me up and we drove to the Emanuel school for my 10:30 presentation. It was a brick building having a much different layout than Buenas Nuevas. The rest room was little more than a raised trough with a separate basin of water and a can which is used for "flushing". Other than Buenas Nuevas, Emanuel was the only school at which I had been allowed to speak where the students were from something other than rich and middle class families.
At Emanuel, the presentation was in a shaded meeting area that was partly outdoors. After we arrived, uniformed children started coming down some stairs from their classrooms. Many were carrying their desks down with them. This was a little time consuming, but it was amusing to see. As the children assembled, I noticed a large striped yellow hornet hovering above a wall ten meters or more to my left. I occasionally cast a cautious eye toward it as I began my presentation. I certainly did not want it coming my way! We made the presentation with my pictures, and I was delighted to find that the projections of my slides were visible in the relatively bright surroundings. I made many mistakes during the presentation: In my sleep deprived state, I was even forgetting the name of familiar constellations like Scorpius and Sagittarius. Fortunately, Gerardo remembered the names of some of them from my previous presentation. He could definitely tell that I was not all there.
After this, we went to Buenas Nuevas. This was the only window of opportunity prior to the eclipse for me to make a presentation to the morning classes at Buenas Nuevas. We presented the talk, and after that, he challenged me to a game of Foosball. I knew he would beat me due to my condition, but I thought it would be fun. It had been 15 years since I had played foosball. He gave the Indian lady by the machine some coins and she gave him the balls for it. He beat me in seconds, so he offered to play the next game with just one hand. He beat me again, but it took him a few more seconds. If I am able to go back to Bolivia in a well rested condition, I will have to go for a rematch!
We drove to a few places on the way back to the house. He showed me the college he was attending and told me about his girl friend. He remembered the exact year, day, and even the minute, that he first met her. She would probably be impressed! Near his school, the traffic was particularly crazy and he nearly got stranded in the middle of an intersection as he was trying to turn left. He was worried for a while. Even though relatively few intersections have traffic control signals, he said that one could get a traffic ticket if they got stuck in an intersection. Seemed crazy to me that one could get a ticket for that, but we obviously were not on U.S. roads.
Gerardo later mentioned that if I wanted to, he and I could go out of town for target practice after he had finished his exams. I wanted to take him up, but I did not know if my condition (or Roberto) would permit it. Less than an hour after we had left Buenas Nuevas, it started to rain. He said it was the first rain they'd had for months. The rain made driving difficult, so he took me to his family business and showed me around, then we had a soda and I got to rest. After the rain let up, he dropped me off at Roberto's house.
After I came into the house, the usual impositions prevented me from taking a nap. This time, it was being demanded that I do not grant Los Tiempos (the paper directed by my fellow passenger on the flight to Bolivia) an interview during my trip, and that I instead had to grant an interview to a competing paper at five p.m. that day. While I did not say anything at the time, I was inclined to just disappear when the time of the competing interview arrived. I did not want to stiff Los Tiempos, and I also did not like the idea of being interviewed until after I was able to get a decent amount of sleep. Fortunately, the reporter never showed up. I eventually called Alfonso and told him that there I could have some difficulty meeting with him during my trip, but that I would still try to do so. It turned out that I never had the opportunity to meet him again.
The next presentation was at seven p.m. at Universidad Mayor de San Simon, which I believe is a state run university. Roberto was translating this time, and the talk was rather sluggish because of my lack of sleep and Roberto's ability to translate only a few words at a time. After the presentation, there were a lot of questions, but the meeting was pretty much over by around ten thirty. Just as I was getting ready to leave, a few people came up and told me that they were going to the center line of the eclipse too, and wanted to show me their material. I was feeling very ill and sleepy, so I said that I would have to hurry if I was to look at their material. They were obviously unaware of my difficulty earlier on the trip, so I felt bad about putting them off, but I was desperate for sleep.
What they showed me was very impressive. They had produced a table from the Besselian elements that showed detailed eclipse data for every major city in Bolivia. It was obvious that this was their own work rather than a copy from a Nasa publication. They had much more material that they wanted to show me (and I wanted to see it) so I got one of their business cards with a phone number. Then, they invited me to their next meeting, which was on the Saturday night following the eclipse. They even offered to pick me up. I accepted, contingent on the state of my health. The group was called Astronomia Sigma Octante (ASO) and they met at Centro Simon Patino. I was glad to have found fellow astronomers in Bolivia.
Roberto and I left the school. He seemed excited about the people from ASO whom I had just met. After hearing me talk with the ASO people, Roberto may have realized that serious astronomy, including an eclipse expedition, is not a thing one can just go out and do without some preparation. I had told him this before, but it never seemed to register. While Roberto's demands on me did not stop altogether, things did get substantially better after that and he began to show me some respect. He even began doing occasional things on my behalf. This made it much easier to get along with Roberto. Unfortunately, much damage had already been done. I was quite ill - more so than I had been in a long time - and there was no way to get out of doing the presentations of the next few days. This would make it a challenge to recover, particularly in time for the eclipse. Nonetheless, I did sleep better that night, getting about six hours. At least my surroundings no longer seemed hostile or indifferent.
At eleven on Saturday morning, I was scheduled to have a live one hour interview with a small group on a local radio station. Unfortunately, my Montezuma's revenge had become something much worse, probably due to the stress of the previous few days. I had a prolapse condition which also grew much worse that morning, causing pain that I expect would be as bad as having all ten of one's finger nails smashed at once. The swelling and bleeding could not be stopped for over an hour. This made me nearly an hour late for the radio interview, not to mention the distraction of the continuing pain. Only 5 minutes of the radio program remained after I arrived, so I did not say much.
I did not recover from this prolapse condition until after I returned to the U.S., but the problem came back later. (The next spring, when I had to unwillingly switch contracting companies due to recent JPL contract awards to "Small Disadvantaged Businesses" the condition returned and became even worse after one of these "disadvantaged" businesses tried to change previously negotiated provisions of their signed contract with me. When I resisted, their representative said that they would not execute my contract paperwork with JPL unless I let them change the provisions. This put me under a lot of stress, since I could lose my job due to their proposed inactions. Since this company would not honor its agreement, I had to either sue them for breach of contract or switch to yet another contractor, all on short notice. A suit did not seem viable at the time because it would have increased my stress level; I'd never filed a suit before. My worsened condition ultimately required major surgery in early 1996. After this contracting experience, I was glad to see Affirmative Action start to go the way of the dinosaurs.)
Getting back to the 1994 events; while I was still at the radio station, I loaned the announcer what I thought were tapes of music from the Latino Church in Pasadena. I had been so spaced out and wracked with pain that morning that it was a wonder I'd remembered to bring any tapes with me at all. Later that weekend, I noticed the radio station was playing songs by an artist called "Rabito" in exactly the same order I'd had them on one of my tapes. After a while, I began to wonder if I'd given the station the wrong tape. It turned out that I had, and here it was being played over the radio! Oops!
The heavy imposed schedule had taken a severe toll on my health, and many of the newly imposed school presentations (particularly those following the eclipse) ultimately had to be canceled. My original schedule (which allowed for plenty of rest right after arrival) would have allowed me to work in more presentations than I actually did, and remain healthy in the process. It seemed that those who demanded my cooperation did not care what the long term results of their actions were for anyone. Time was running out for making local eclipse preparations such as assembling and retesting my equipment, something I had planned to be well into completing by now. The eclipse was less than five full days away, and one day would be used entirely for travel.
That afternoon at 2:30, the presentation was at Laredo University. Roberto translated for that presentation. Later that day, I was able to start unpacking some of my eclipse equipment, but I was too tired to get much done. I also had to make relatively frequent and painful trips to the rest room because of my worsened prolapse condition. The plumbing in the house was rather finicky, and it was not unusual for the commode to become clogged. I typically tried to fix the problem when it occurred because I noticed that the maid did not have access to tools such as a plunger. Instead, she had to manually remove all water and blockages from the commode with her hands and a small can, then pour heated water in it as it was flushed. I asked the family if they could get a plunger so their maid would not have to go through this ordeal; I even offered to pay for it myself. Before long, the family got a plunger, and I typically would use it myself whenever it was necessary. The first time I used it, Roberto's wife Gloria almost laughed her head off when she saw how enthusiastic I was about it. It was important to me to have the plunger because I did not want to see the maid have to go through her former toilet unclogging ordeal any more.
The next day, I went to church at Iglesia Christiana Bolivar with the family. This is the church my friends in the U.S., Vidal and Ruth Juarez, are from. They met and were married in this church. We were late getting to church, but this time it was not because of me. Willma was at the church too. I took video in the church, but the image seemed to be strobing in the viewfinder. I thought something could be wrong with my camera until I realized that the blinking was probably caused by the fluorescent lights and the standard area power of 220v 50 Hz beating against the about 60 Hz of my video camera. During the service, they sang "El Senor Es Mi Rey", a song that was familiar to me because it was sung in the Spanish church I had attended in the U.S. After church, we went back to the house, where Willma and Roberto's wife occasionally tried to nurse me back to health.
On Monday morning, I went to Instituto Americano, the school attended by Roberto's children. This was my last scheduled presentation before the eclipse. The school was by far the most affluent looking one I had been to. The students wore uniforms here too, but these were "real" uniforms. I sort of liked the smock idea of the other schools better.
I began my presentation at about 10:45. The school had wireless microphones and other fancy gadgets, but the children there did not have the attention span exhibited by students at other schools. The audience was the largest for any of my presentations, with nearly all of the school's nine hundred students in attendance. Roberto translated because I had been able to get Gerardo freed from the responsibility so he could work on his exams. Gloria video taped some of the presentation with my camera. After my presentation, Simon gave a short talk to the students that was not eclipse related, then he helped in translating the student's questions and my answers.
After the presentation was all over, I went outside to look around. The school had nicely cultivated gardens, ornate white buildings, and other amenities. It was much larger and fancier than Buenas Nuevas, but it only had half as many students. I had nothing against this ritzy school, which could easily be mistaken for a school in the U.S., but it seemed that the people here had ample opportunities, and that my appearance made no difference to them. I was just one of many guest speakers. By contrast, it may have been more than a decade since the last foreign speaker appeared at a school like Buenas Nuevas.
In the distance toward the south side of town, I could see the hill on which Buenas Nuevas was located. I recalled the kindness and dedication of Willma and the rest of the staff, the unison greeting I had received from the students, and their seeming eagerness to learn. I felt a connection with the faculty and students at Buenas Nuevas, and I wanted to be there again. After remembering the way some wealthy local people resisted my speaking at Buenas Nuevas, I wondered what would ultimately happen to the children there. Will they be held back by racial and economic inequality, or will they grow up in a Bolivia that offers them equal opportunity and privilege? Will any of them grow up to be engineers of scientists at NASA? I hoped they would get the chance to do so if they wanted. Fortunately, there are things more important than what one does for a living or how much money one has. Things like strength of character, which no one can take from them.
We left Institut Americano and went back to the house, where I resumed my eclipse preparations. I gave Roberto's family and their maid some eclipse viewing goggles for viewing the partial phases of the eclipse; one for each member of the household. His children looked at them and treated them with great care. I was delighted to find that Los Tiempos was going to issue eclipse viewing goggles with the newspaper that was to come out just before the eclipse. There were also good television commercials telling people not to look at the sun without proper filtration and the authorities appeared to be doing a good job of locating and shutting down operations that were selling defective or unsafe solar viewers, one of which was using color film as the filter.
In the evening, Willma came by so I could give her a couple of dozen eclipse viewing goggles for some of her students. I put them on the cabinet near the dining room table while we talked nearby. What happened next really surprised me. As soon as Roberto's younger children perceived that the goggles were for the children at Buenas Nuevas, they went over and grabbed them off the cabinet and started playing carelessly with them, even beginning to play tug of war. They were soon made to stop by Willma and their parents, but it was an almost unbelievable thing to see. These kids had also shown some disrespect for the maid, Delfina, by pulling her hair. I did not think it was right that she had to put up with that, but then, one of these kids had also pulled my hair on a number of occasions. I had told the kid to quit, but Delfina may not have been at liberty to do so. It bothered me to see Delfina have to put up with this because she seemed to be a very disciplined, sensitive, and gentle person.
Getting to the High Altitude Eclipse Site
I soon got back to my eclipse preparations. In my original schedule, this entire day was set aside for eclipse preparation, and I had initially expected to have everything ready for the eclipse by now. Most of the preparation simply involved setting the equipment up, testing it to be sure it was not damaged or misaligned in transit, practicing my procedures, and packing only what I needed to take to the eclipse. Unfortunately, I was still ill and felt confused all the time, so things went very slow. I took a break to shoot more video of people at the house. As I was taping, the women at the house played their usual game of hide and seek with the camera.
Tuesday, Nov. 1, 4:20 pm. The equipment is finally set up and tested, but there are problems. My condition has not improved, nor has it been possible to make up the more than 15 hours of time lost to unplanned meetings, interviews, etc. - let alone the situation with my health. I can no longer remember the proper sequence of my eclipse procedures, and the trial runs for these procedures took more than 3 minutes; far longer than any previous trial at home. The equipment still has to be packed again. It is clear that some projects have to be canceled. At last, there were no conflicting demands on my time, but there was no time to rest because I had to play catch up. We leave for the eclipse the next morning. It took me until almost eleven to get everything disassembled packed. Had I not been ill, this would have taken only about an hour.
Wednesday morning, November 2. We will soon be off to the eclipse. Our convoy includes a chartered bus and a few other vehicles. Roberto and his family are in the bus, as are Willma and a few people from Buenas Nuevas. (Yea! Buenas Nuevas!) The bus driver is a man from Sweden who has grown to really like living in Bolivia. I am riding in a missionary's van with nine other people. There were a lot of people in the convoy who I did not know. We are going through Oruro and then to Sevaruyo. We were initially going to go to Pampa Aullagas, but we decided not to after hearing that the road to it may not not very good. We left Cochabamba at nine. Less than 24 hours to totality.
The road to Oruro is impressive. It is clear that a great deal of effort went into it. A couple of hours after leaving town, we cross a very large arch bridge which extends over over a deep ravine. Just after crossing the bridge, we are treated to a panoramic view of the valley, with Cochabamba in the distance. Quite a while after that, we reach a pass which is the highest point on the road to Oruro. At 4800 meters, the road is higher than any of the mountains in the lower 48 United States.
The road has been paved almost all the way so far. A little less than an hour after reaching the pass, the chartered bus blew a tire. All vehicles waited for the bus while the tire was changed, which took the better part of an hour. I was not feeling too good so I moved from the van to the bus so I could try to lay down on one of the seats. I also figured that the smoother ride of the bus would be more agreeable with the Montezuma's revenge I was still experiencing. The way I was feeling, my personality was probably about as dynamic as that of a rock, and I could keep more to myself on the bus than I could in the more crowded van. I had been going batty and getting increasingly argumentative from hearing one person in the van repeatedly propose going to observing sites other than where we had planned. It later turned out that the spare tire on the bus was not fully inflated, so the bus had to slowly limp at about 30 km per hour to Caracollo, the nearest town. Meanwhile, the van I had been in went ahead to Oruro to locate a new spare tire for the bus.
This increased the time it would take to reach the next rest room, so I began to wonder if I'd made the right choice in switching to the bus. My condition made it undesirable to just use the great outdoors as a restroom for reasons relating to both pain and privacy. Some local people did not seem to place such a high a premium on privacy. On the way to the eclipse, one female shepherd who was passing by had just relieved herself right out in the open, not more than 20 meters from where our bus was parked to change the blown tire.
We finally reached Caracollo and inflated the tire. I noticed that the rest rooms were getting more and more primitive as we got farther from Cochabamba. With the tire fully inflated, we take off for Oruro, where we will pick up the spare tire. In less than an hour, we reach Oruro, but the tire situation is not solved yet. Roberto has relatives in Oruro, so we all go their place to wait for the tire. The house is an interesting four story building located in a business district - and it has a rest room.
After an hour or so, were able to board the bus and set out for some of the more desolate parts of the Bolivian altiplano. Before long, nothing but empty plain lay before us. Here, the ground is kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom all rolled into one. Bolivia's class economic system tends to cause so much of the wealth to be concentrated in major cities that there is little development of the rural infrastructure. Occasionally, I could see a small grass and mud hut. These were some of the more deluxe accommodations on the altiplano. While I was in Cochabamba, I had seen toilet bowls advertised on television and had been puzzled why they would be advertised so prominently. Such things are seldom advertised like that in the U.S. Now that I'm battling Montezuma's revenge while on the altiplano, I know why they are advertised. Many people in Bolivia do not have them, and one of the lovely contraptions would be a really welcome sight for me about now.
Near sunset, we could see that it was raining up ahead and that there were dust storms ahead. The deep blue under the storm was very similar to the color of the lunar umbra at previous eclipses. Several minutes later, crossed the northern limit of the eclipse near Pazna. Now, I felt like I could rest easier.
At dusk, we went into Challapata and stopped so I could see to my usual biological problem. The related facilities belonged to a small business that looked sort of like an old west bar on the inside. It was interesting, particularly since the inside illumination was provided entirely by candles and lanterns. The dark and detached facilities were reminiscent of a stable, consisting of a cement slab with three or four holes in it, each separated by a short cement wall.
A little after dark, we went through Huari. After this, the road became rough gravel, and our progress slowed considerably. At about ten forty, we were met by a member of the caravan who was out looking for our bus. By eleven, he had led us to the eclipse site that had been staked out by the people in the missionary's van. I was surprised to find that the van had arrived before dark, and I wondered if i had made the right choice in switching to the bus. We arrived at least four hours later than the van, but at least I had more or less been able to lay down in the bus. At the time, I did not know if I could have made it without laying down. Our bus had been delayed mostly due to its blown tire, but its slower average speed and my frequent restroom stops slowed us as well. The bus has a restroom facility, but did not work and was not accessible because it had been filled with bedding and luggage.
I got out of the bus to inspect the site, but it was so dark that I initially could not see anything. As I had mentioned before we left Cochabamba, I needed a site with low eastern and western horizons for my umbral experiment and pictures, so I asked asked how high the horizon was in each direction. When one of the people said that there was a mountain to the east that was fifteen degrees high, I became alarmed, but as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I measured it myself and found that it was only about six degrees high and situated toward the east-northeast.
It was partly cloudy, but I was able to see the southern night sky for the first time in my life, with the large and small Magellanic clouds both at the same elevation angle above the southern horizon. It was a beautiful sight, and I wanted to photograph it and look at it through my telescope, but I knew I could not do so because I needed sleep. I had to get up before six in order to get ready for the eclipse. First contact was going to be at 7:19 and totality was going to start at 8:22.
I set out to sleep in the bus, but Roberto told me that he had made a place for me in his family's tent. He added that he had brought a small padded mattress just for me. I gladly accepted and was able to fall asleep by a little before midnight. The mattress was nice, and I was so tired that I almost hoped it would rain during the eclipse so I wouldn't have to get up - really!
Continued in Eclipse '94, Section 2:
New Friends: Astronomia Sigma Octante
The School Children of Colegio Buenas Nuevas
Getting Back Home
Reflections on an "Interesting" Expedition
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Document originated: XX January, 1995
Bolivian experience outline originated: 12 December, 1996
Document converted to HTML: 11 September, 1997
Document last modified: 15 June, 1998
Document separated into two parts: 10 February, 1998
Links Last Modified: 20 March, 1998